Authors: Kate Hewitt
The Playboy Prince
Prince Philippe Montvidant was exactly the kind of man Ella Jamison despised. Not that she’d actually met him. Even so, a quick scan of the tabloids told her all she needed to know about him. Rich. Womanizing. Shallow. And all too attractive. Four reasons to hate him. She knew all about men like him, men who took and used and didn’t care. She had no desire to make his acquaintance, but unfortunately it was a professional necessity.
Sighing, she leaned back against the seat of the limo that was taking her to JFK Airport and flipped through the file of information she’d compiled on the prince for her boss, architect Chase Bryant. He had submitted a bid to design a luxury hotel on Montvidant’s unspoiled Mediterranean coast—and
was the one who was supposed to meet the royal at the airport and take him out to dinner. But earlier today, Chase had called Ella at the office.
“I’m tied up this afternoon, Ella. You’ll have to meet Prince Philippe yourself.”
“Tied up? He’s your biggest potential client—”
“I know that.” Chase’s usual easy humor had been replaced with a surprising curtness. “Something came up. You’ll have to do it.”
“I could arrange a limo service—”
“Every major firm in the city wants this bid. I can’t risk giving any of them access to the prince. You need to be on him, Ella.”
“On him,” she repeated, disliking the images those words called to mind.
“On him. Like a tick on a dog.”
She smiled, glad to hear her boss’s good humor briefly restored, even though she was still uneasy about accepting this assignment. She’d rather not get too close to a man like Prince Philippe, but she was utterly committed to her job. After all, it was pretty much the only thing she’d had in her life for the past four years, the only thing she felt she’d made a success of. “You’re still on for dinner at the Mandarin at eight, right?”
“Yes,” Chase said after a second’s pause. “Just get him to his hotel.”
That should be simple enough, Ella told herself as the limo pulled up in front of the terminal and she hopped out. She was surprised that the prince was traveling by commercial airline. Trying to prove to the masses he was just like everyone else, she thought cynically.
The plane from Paris—there were no direct flights to Montvidant—had only just landed, so Ella knew she had a few minutes to wait, even if the prince got special treatment and was hustled through Customs and Baggage Claim. She glanced disparagingly at a rack of newspapers, and saw a photo of Prince Philippe with not one but two bodacious blondes on his arm as he stood in front of a glittering casino. The Playboy Prince Visits the Big Apple!, the headline gushed.
A stream of people was emerging from Arrivals, and her gaze zeroed in on a tall, lithe man in an elegant gray suit, two burly dark-suited men walking three paces behind him. Prince Philippe and his security detail. Quickly—and more nervously than she would have liked—Ella stepped forward.
He stopped midstride, quirked an eyebrow. “You are not Chase Bryant, I think.” His voice was low and faintly accented, his gaze both assured and assessing.
“No, I’m afraid Mr. Bryant has been delayed. My name is Ella Jamison, I’m his assistant.”
She stuck out a hand for the prince to shake, not sure if that was proper protocol, and he shook it. The warmth of his hand as it encased hers almost made her drop his hand and step back. Awareness tingled from her fingers, spreading a treacherous heat through her whole body. She determinedly ignored the sensation. Basic bodily reaction, that was all.
All she had to do was deliver this man to the hotel, then Chase would take over. She’d have done her job as successfully as she always did, and she wouldn’t spend any more time with the Playboy Prince. Simple, she told herself as he finally released her hand. It had to be.
Philippe slid his hand from Ella’s with a faint, knowing smile, and she realized she’d been standing there clutching at him like a complete dolt. Clearing her throat, she nodded toward the exit. “I have a limousine waiting.”
“Excellent. You travel in style.”
“As I am sure you do, Prince Philippe.”
His smile deepened, revealing a dimple. “Of course.” He followed her to the limo, and Ella’s gaze was helplessly drawn to his lithe yet powerful figure, encased in what had to be a very expensive suit.
“What about your men—” She gestured to the security detail waiting behind them.
“They can take a separate car. They are only for high-profile functions—” His smile twisted slightly. “—and of course my image.”
The one thing she really hated, she thought as she climbed into the limo, a man obsessed with his image. And yet there had been something rather self-deprecating about Philippe’s remark…almost as if he’d been making fun of himself. She didn’t understand it, and didn’t want to.
Philippe slid into the limo next to her, and despite the acres of leather, his thigh nudged hers. Awareness flared again.
“Pardon,” Philippe murmured, his eyes glinting mischievously. Ella flushed. Did he realize how he affected her? Or did he just assume he affected everyone, that women fluttered around him like moths to a flame?
It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t let it, she was a professional. Clearing her throat again, she turned to the prince. “We have a suite reserved for you at the Mandarin. I’ll take you there now, and then Mr. Bryant will meet you for dinner in the restaurant at eight.”
“Excellent. Thank you for being so efficient.” Philippe smiled at her again, and Ella gritted her teeth.
Stop being so charming
. “I’ve heard the restaurant has a wonderful view of Central Park.”
“This is my first time in New York, you know.”
Ella said nothing. But in truth, she was shocked. She would have expected a player like the prince to have visited every major city in the world, or close to it. “First time to the United States, actually,” Philippe said, sounding wry.
“I hope you enjoy your visit,” Ella answered, her voice stilted and stiff. She could not talk naturally to this man. He reminded her too much of her own past, of the terrible mistakes she’d made.
“I’m sure I will. I hope I have time to see the sights.”
“Of course.” Though that would be Chase’s job, not hers, she thought with relief. Still she figured she needed to make some conversation. “What are you hoping to see in particular?”
“The Pierpont Morgan Library interests me.”
“It does?” Ella blurted. Not what she would have expected from the Playboy Prince.
His eyebrow quirked upward. “Surprised?”
“A little,” she confessed. “It’s not usually one of the top ten tourist attractions.”
“Have you been there?”
“Ye-es,” she confessed reluctantly. The library was one of her favorite places in the city. She went there when she needed a sanctuary.
“Perhaps you could show it to me,” Philippe suggested, and Ella didn’t hear any flirtation in his voice, just sincerity. She didn’t know how to respond, so she just nodded toward the window.
“The traffic’s not too bad.”
Neither of them spoke again during the rest of the ride. As Ella climbed out of the limo at the Mandarin, her phone buzzed with an incoming text. It was from Chase.
Can’t make dinner. Take my place
Ella grimaced at her reflection. The black silk cocktail dress was simple and elegant, but she couldn’t help wondering if it looked like she was trying too hard. Like she wanted to impress the prince, which of course she didn’t.
He’d been surprisingly amenable to the change in dinner plans. “Mr. Bryant is a busy man,” he’d said, a teasing lilt to his voice, and Ella had bristled.
“I’m afraid it’s an emergency,” she’d said, although she had no idea what was keeping Chase from wooing his client. This sudden absence was utterly out of character for him, and she was starting to get worried.
“In any case, I shall look forward to having dinner with you,” Philippe had said, and Ella had smiled tightly. She couldn’t say the same; although, really, the problem was that she
. She didn’t want to like Prince Philippe, but so far he wasn’t what she’d expected. Underneath that easy veneer of arrogant charm he seemed surprisingly easygoing, sometimes whimsical. Which was the real man? She knew men could put on two very different faces…and she had proven herself incapable of telling which one was real.
She turned away from the mirror and headed for the Mandarin’s restaurant in Columbus Circle. It was only a short walk from her apartment, and the early December night was glittering and cold. The prince was waiting by the maître d’s desk when she entered the restaurant, on the thirty-fifth floor of the hotel with a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree view of the city.
“Prince Philippe.” She just kept herself from clicking her heels as she stopped to stand in front of him. He smiled.
“Please, call me Philippe. I don’t stand on formality.”
Was he flirting? She didn’t think so, but it still seemed like a line. He was just too smooth. He made her both suspicious and stiff.
She nodded, and the maître d’ led them to the best table in the restaurant, a private alcove with deep chairs and a view of Central Park, now shrouded in darkness. Ella busied herself with the menu, not sure what to do with her hands, or even her face. She was trying to look coolly professional, but the intimate, romantic atmosphere of their private table was making that expression feel like a mask. Her heart was beating far too hard.
Philippe leaned forward to get a better view of the city, Columbus Circle visible just beyond the park, glittering with neon lights.
“What is your first impression of New York?”
“Frenetic.” He sat back, his smile turning wry. “I must admit, I prefer a quieter life in Montvidant, but as many have said before me, it’s nice to visit New York.”
“A quieter life?” Ella heard the skepticism in her own voice. “But your life is far from quiet, Prince—”
“Just Philippe.” He arched an eyebrow. “I didn’t realize you knew so much about my life.”
“I don’t,” Ella said quickly. “Just what I’ve seen in the newspapers.”
“Ah, the newspapers.” He nodded, his eyes flicking away from her.
What was he saying? That what the newspapers reported wasn’t true? “You seem to have a rather jet-setting lifestyle,” Ella said carefully.
“Of course I do.” He shrugged carelessly and reached for his wine. “I’m a prince.”
Ella glanced at him uncertainly, for she’d heard something dark and unfathomable in his tone. Then he looked up, his expression clearing, although for the first time his smile didn’t seem quite sincere.
“Enough of that,” he said lightly. “Now shall we order?”
Philippe gazed at the woman across from him, her face now flushed from the two glasses of wine he’d convinced her to have, her hair falling a bit out of its too-tight chignon so that a few auburn tendrils framed her heart-shaped face. Ella Jamison was lovely, and he’d been both intrigued by and attracted to her from the moment she’d approached him in the airport, looking like she’d rather have been meeting anyone else.
It was obvious she believed everything she’d read about him in the tabloids, and he could hardly blame her. By all accounts he should be glad. It was exactly why he’d posed for those photographs, solicited the interviews and articles. He wanted people to believe he was the Playboy Prince. Judging by the way Ella Jamison glanced at him when she thought he wasn’t looking—with chilly disdain—he was succeeding.