Stepping into the Prince's World

BOOK: Stepping into the Prince's World
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Falling for the secret prince

Claire Tremaine accepted the post as sole caretaker of a gorgeous island after a professional betrayal left her life in tatters. It's the perfect place to heal, until her solitude is interrupted by a gorgeous solider who's shipwrecked on her shores!

Raoul breaks down Claire's barriers with his kindness and kisses, but she's stunned when he's revealed as Prince of Marétal. She believes they can't be together...until Raoul whisks Claire to his palace! She's stepped into the prince's world—but can Claire capture this prince's heart?

I'm royal and there'll be a worldwide search...

He couldn't tell her.

For some unknown reason, a voice in the back of his head was pleading “not yet.” She thought he was an equal. A soldier, nothing more.

She'd been battered by people who'd treated her as trash. She was feisty and brave, but she'd retreated to this island, hurt.

He didn't want her retreating from him. He knew he'd have to tell her, but the voice was almost yelling.

Not yet. Not yet.

Dear Reader,

Stepping into the Prince's World
started life in my dentist's waiting room. The dentist surgery is understandably not my favorite place to visit, but with a lovely pile of glossies I can block out the thought of what's ahead. I flicked through the pages, looking at pictures of a certain soldier/prince and thought, what a combination!

And suddenly I was off and dreaming. By the time I was escorted into the dentist chair I had my own soldier/prince in my head, and a heroine who deserved him. I had shipwrecks and deserted islands, I had chandeliers and tiaras, I had my own kingdom—all I had to do was get rid of one small dental cavity, escape the dentist and go write a book.

Welcome to Claire and Raoul's world. Enjoy.

Marion

STEPPING INTO THE PRINCE'S WORLD

Marion Lennox

Marion Lennox
has written more than a hundred romances and is published in over a hundred countries and thirty languages. Her multiple awards include the prestigious RITA® Award (twice), and the
RT Book Reviews
Career Achievement Award for “a body of work which makes us laugh and teaches us about love.”

Marion adores her family, her kayak, her dog, and lying on the beach with a book someone else has written. Heaven!

Books by Marion Lennox

Harlequin Romance

The Logan Twins

Nine Months to Change His Life

The Larkville Legacy

Taming the Brooding Cattleman

Sparks Fly with the Billionaire
Christmas at the Castle
Christmas Where They Belong
The Earl's Convenient Wife

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

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For Doug and Natalia. Wishing you a fabulous wedding and an amazing, fulfilling Happy Ever After. Welcome home.

With grateful thanks to Jennifer Kloester who certainly knows where and how to kick. If our Jen met a prince on a dark night, she'd know what to do. :-)

CHAPTER ONE

Y
OU
'
RE
TO
TAKE
your place as heir to the throne and find yourself a bride.

If Crown Prince Raoul Marcus Louis Ferdinand could cut that last order from his grandmother's letter he would, but he needed to show his commanding officer the letter in its entirety.

He laid the impressive parchment of his grandmother's letter before his commanding officer. Franz noted the grim lines on Raoul's face, picked up the letter and read.

Then he nodded. ‘You have no choice,' he told him.

‘I don't.' Raoul turned and stared out of the window at the massive mountain overshadowing Tasmania's capital. It was a mere shadow of the mountains of Marétal's alpine region.

He needed to be home.

‘I've known my grandfather's health is failing,' he told his commanding officer. ‘But I've always thought of the Queen as invincible. This letter might sound commanding, but it's a plea for help.'

‘It is.' Franz glanced at the letter again. It was headed by the royal crest of Marétal and it wasn't a letter to be ignored. A royal summons... ‘But at least it's timely,' he told Raoul.

Marétal's army had been engaged as part of an international exercise in Tasmania's wilderness for the last couple of months. Raoul's battalion had performed brilliantly, but operations were winding down.

‘We can manage without you,' he told him. He hesitated. ‘Raoul, you do know...?'

‘That it's time I left the army.' Raoul sighed. ‘I do know it. But my grandmother effectively runs the kingdom.'

‘The Queen's seventy-six.'

‘Tell
her
that.' He shook his head at the thought of his indomitable grandmother. His grandfather, King Marcus, even though officially ruler, hardly emerged from his library. Queen Alicia had more or less run the country since the day she'd married, and she suffered no interference. But she was asking for help now.

‘Of course you're right,' he continued. ‘My grandparents' chief aide, Henri, has written privately that he's worried about the decisions my grandmother's taking. Or not taking. Our health and legal systems need dragging into this century. More immediately, national security seems to be an issue. Henri tells me of threats which she refuses to take seriously. He suggests increasing the security service, making it a force to be reckoned with, but the Queen sees no need.'

‘You're just the man to do it.'

‘I've never been permitted to change anything,' Raoul said flatly. ‘And now...' He turned back to Franz's desk and stared morosely at the letter. ‘
This
. She wants me home for the ball to celebrate her fifty years on the throne.'

‘It'll be a splendid occasion,' Franz told him. He, too, glanced back at the letter—particularly at the last paragraph—and try as he might he couldn't suppress a grin.

‘You think it's
funny
?' Commanding officer or not, Franz copped a glare from Raoul. ‘That the Queen decrees I bring a suitable partner or she'll provide me with one herself?'

‘She wants to see you married, with an heir to the throne. She fears for you and the monarchy otherwise.'

‘She wants me under her thumb, with a nice aristocratic bride to match.'

‘You've never been under her thumb before.'

Franz had known Prince Raoul ever since he'd joined the army. Raoul presented to the world as the perfect Prince, the perfect grandson, but Franz knew that underneath his mild exterior Raoul did exactly what he wanted. If the Queen had known half of what her grandson had been doing in the army she'd have called him home long since.

But therein lay the success of their relationship. To his grandmother, Raoul was a young man who smiled sweetly and seemed to agree with whatever she decreed.
‘Yes, Grandmama, I'm sure you're right.'
Raoul never made promises he couldn't keep, but he certainly knew the way to get what he wanted.

‘Our people will approve of me in military uniform,' he'd told the Queen when he'd announced his decision to join the army. ‘It's a good look, Grandmama—the Crown Prince working for the country rather than playing a purely ceremonial role. With your approval I'll join the Special Forces. Have you seen their berets? It can do the royal image nothing but good.'

His grandmother had had to agree that his military uniform suited him. So had the country's media. At thirty five, with his height, his jet-black hair, his tanned skin and the hooded grey eyes that seemed almost hawk-like, the added ‘toughness' of his uniform made the tabloids go wild every time they had the opportunity to photograph him.

‘His uniform makes him look larger,' the Queen had told a journalist when Raoul had completed his first overseas posting.

Franz had read the article and thought of the years of gruelling physical training turning Raoul into a honed Special Forces soldier. His admiration for his royal charge had increased with every year he knew him.

Now he came round and gripped his shoulder. Franz had been Raoul's first commanding officer when he'd joined the army fifteen years ago. As Raoul had risen up the ranks so had Franz, and over the years they'd become friends.

‘If you were a normal officer you'd be taking my place when I retire next year,' Franz told him. ‘The army wouldn't give you a choice and that'd mean desk work. You know you hate desk work. There's so much more you can do working as heir to the throne—and you'll wear a much prettier uniform.'

Raoul told him where he could put his uniform and the older man chuckled.

‘Yes, but you'll be wearing tassels, lad, and maybe even a sabre. There's a lot to be said for tassels and sabres. When do you need to leave?'

‘The ball's in a month.'

‘But you need to leave before that.' Franz glanced at the letter and his lips twitched again. ‘According to this you have a spot of courting to do before you get there. First find your bride...'

Raoul rolled his eyes.

‘I may have to go home,' he said carefully. ‘I may even have to take up the duties of Crown Prince. But there's no way my grandmother can make me marry.'

‘Well,' Franz said, and grinned again, ‘I know Her Majesty. Good luck.'

Raoul said nothing. Some comments weren't worth wasting breath on.

Franz saw it and moved on to practicalities. ‘Let's consider you on leave from now,' he told him. ‘We'll work out discharge plans later. You can fly out tonight if you want.'

‘I don't want to fly out tonight.'

‘What
do
you want?'

‘Space,' Raoul told him. ‘Space to get my head around what I'm facing. But you're right. I need to go home. My grandparents are failing. I know my country needs me. I
will
go home—but not to find a bride.'

* * *

If she edged any closer to the end of the world she might fall off.

Claire Tremaine sat on the very highest cliff on the highest headland of Orcas Island and thumbed her nose in the direction of Sydney. It was Monday morning. In the high-rise offices of Craybourne, Ledger and Smythe, scores of dark-suited legal eagles would be poring over dull documents, checking the ASIC indexes, discussing the Dow Jones, making themselves their fifth or sixth coffee of the morning.

She was so much better off here.

Or not.

She sort of...
missed
it.

Okay, not most of it—but, oh, she missed the coffee.

And she was just ever so frightened of storms. And just a bit isolated.

Would there be a storm? The forecast was saying a weather front was moving well east of Tasmania. There was no mention of it turning towards Orcas Island, but Claire had been on the island for four months now, and was starting to recognise the wisps of cloud formation low on the horizon that spelled trouble.

A storm back in Sydney had meant an umbrella and delays on the way home to her bedsit. A storm on Orcas Island could mean she was shut in the house for days. There was a reason the owners of this island abandoned it for six months of the year. This was a barren, rocky outcrop, halfway between Victoria and Tasmania, and the sea here was the wildest in the world. In the worst of the storms Claire couldn't even stand up in the wind.

‘But that's what we put our names down for,' she told Rocky, the stubby little fox terrier she'd picked up on impulse from the animal shelter the day she'd left to come here. ‘Six months of isolation to get to know each other and to forget about the rest of the world.'

But the rest of the world had decent coffee.

The supply boat wasn't due for another week, and even then on its last visit they'd substituted her desired brand with a no-name caterers' blend.

Sigh.

‘Two more months to go,' she told Rocky, and rose and stared out at the gathering clouds.

To come here had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, and she'd had plenty of time to regret it. She was looking at the rolling clouds and regretting it now.

‘I'm sure the weather forecast's wrong,' she told her dog. ‘But let's go batten down the hatches, just in case.'

* * *

He should tell someone where he was going.

If he did his bodyguards would join him. That was the deal. When he was working within his army unit his bodyguards backed off. As soon as he wasn't surrounded by soldiers, his competent security section took over.

Only they didn't treat him as a colleague. They treated him as a royal prince who needed to be protected—not only from outside harm but from doing anything that might in any way jeopardise the heir to the throne of Marétal.

Like going sailing on his own.

But he hadn't let them know he was on leave yet. As far as they were concerned he was still on military exercises, so for now he was free of their watch. He'd walked straight from Franz's office down to the docks. He was still wearing his military uniform. In a city full of army personnel, based here for multinational exercises, his uniform gave him some degree of anonymity. That anonymity wouldn't last, he knew. As soon as he shed his uniform, as soon as he went home, he'd be Crown Prince forever.

But
not
married to a woman of his grandmother's choosing, he thought grimly. He knew the women she thought suitable and he shuddered.

And then he reached
Rosebud
, the neat little yacht he'd been heading for, and forgot about choosing a bride.

This was Tom Radley's yacht. Tom was a local army officer and Raoul had met him on the first part of their combined international operation. They'd shared an excellent army exercise, abseiling across ‘enemy territory' in some of Tasmania's wildest country. Friendships were forged during such ordeals, and the men had clicked.

‘Come sailing with me when we're back in Hobart,' Tom had said, and they'd spent a great afternoon on the water.

But Tom had been due to take leave before the exercises had ended, and a mountain in Nepal had beckoned. Before he'd gone he'd tossed the keys of the yacht to Raoul.

‘Use her, if you like, while you're still in Tasmania,' he'd said diffidently. ‘I've seen your skill and I know you well enough now to trust you. I also know how surrounded you are. Just slip away and have a sail whenever you can.'

The little yacht wasn't state-of-the-art. She was a solid tub of a wooden yacht, built maybe forty years ago, sensible and sturdy. Three weeks ago he and Tom had put up a bit too much sail for the brisk conditions, and they'd had fun trying to keep her under control.

And now... Conditions on the harbour were bright, with enough sun to warm the early spring air and a breeze springing up from the south. Clouds were scudding on the horizon. It was excellent sailing weather.

He didn't want to go back to base yet. He didn't want to change out of his uniform, pack his kit and head for home.

He should tell someone where he was going.

‘It's only an afternoon's sail,' he said out loud. ‘And after today I'll have a lifetime of telling people where I'm going.'

He should still tell someone. Common sense dictated it.

But he didn't want his bodyguards.

‘I'll tell them tomorrow,' he said. ‘For today I owe no duty to the army. I owe no duty to my country. For today I'm on my own.'

Prince Raoul's movements were supposed to be tracked every step of his life. But it drove Raoul nuts.

Even his afternoon's sail with Tom had been tracked. Because he'd been off duty that weekend, his bodyguards had moved into surveillance mode. He and Tom had had a great time, but even Tom had been unsettled by the motorboat cruising casually within helping distance.

‘I couldn't bear it,' Tom had said frankly, and Raoul had said nothing because it was just the way things were.

But this afternoon was different. No one knew he was on leave. No one knew he was looking at Tom's boat and thinking,
Duty starts tomorrow
.

No one saw him slip the moorings and sail quietly out of the harbour.

And no one was yet predicting the gathering storm.

* * *

‘I'm sure it's a storm,' she told Rocky. ‘I don't care what the weather men are saying. I trust my nose.'

Clare was working methodically around the outside of the house, closing the great wooden shutters that protected every window. This house was a mansion—a fantastical whim built by a Melbourne-based billionaire financier who'd fancied his own island with its own helicopter pad so he could fly in whenever he wished.

He'd never wish to be here now, Claire thought as she battened down the house. In the worst of the Bass Strait storms, stones that almost qualified as rocks were hurled against the house.

In the early days, Mrs Billionaire had planted a rose garden to the north of the house. It had looked stunning for half of one summer, but then a storm had hit and her rose bushes had last been seen flying towards the Antarctic. It had then been decided that an Italian marble terrace would look just as good, although even that was now pitted from flying debris.

BOOK: Stepping into the Prince's World
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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