To Recapture a Rake: A Hephaestus Club Novella (8 page)

BOOK: To Recapture a Rake: A Hephaestus Club Novella
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Please continue reading for an excerpt from
another of my works, the contemporary romantic comedy novella
The Tourist of
Zenda

 

An
excerpt from
The
Tourist of Zenda

 

“I am Crown Prince Paolo Andreas
Bartholomae
Zara.”

Dana Miller snorted. “You are not.” In a
moment, they would veer to the left down some side drive, and someone would
yell the
Seravish
equivalent of “You’ve been
punk’d
.” It probably had a lot of umlauts. She could
already vouch for the fact that it wasn’t very funny.

A few silent seconds passed and they were
still headed for the front doors. She could see the scurry of activity at the
approach of the limo, as servants and guards hustled to be in the correct place
on arrival. She looked back at the man in front of her.

“Remove your wallet.” His smile was gone. He
made an expansive gesture toward her purse, and waited. “Now examine the local
currency.”

She pulled out a bill. The face on the corner
of it looked strangely familiar. She held it up to compare. “This looks nothing
like you.”

“It is not a perfect likeness, perhaps. But
it is the only thing I can offer at this time. There are paintings in the great
hall that will assure you.
And a rather nice photo on the
national website.”

The bill slipped from her fingers and she
grabbed her phone and punched furiously for the internet. He’d
said,
my country.
She’d have said the same thing
about America. But not the way this man had said it. It was his country, all
right. He’d inherited every last goat from his father.

She stared at her phone. He was right. There
was a better picture on the website. And he was definitely royalty. If the
picture did not tell her, she should have recognized it in the casual air of
superiority, and the total lack of guilt at upending a commoner’s life to suit
his own desires. “What do you want with
me
?” His identity put paid to
most of her more lurid speculations. The real question became, if he could have
any woman in the world just by asking, then why did he want her?

“I have a problem. Something only you can
help me with.” His eyes turned liquid, warm and dark, almost begging for her
sympathy.

“Me.” She was probably supposed to be calling
him highness, or something. But that was just one more thing that was not in
the guidebook.

“Only you,” he repeated. “Perhaps you have
heard of my engagement and pending marriage?”

This was a head scratcher. And then, she
remembered her mother had been the one to suggest this leg of her journey in
the first place. “Go see if you can catch a glimpse of the playboy prince,”
she’d said. Or get me a picture of…”


Sylphine
Jones.”
She stared at him again. “You’re the royal who’s marrying
Sylphie
.”

He looked almost pained that she was able to
recognize him by his famous fiancée. Then he nodded. “It has garnered quite a
bit of media attention in recent months. That is the purpose for it. There will
be a resultant increase in tourism for the ceremony, a line of authorized
souvenirs, and complete tabloid coverage before and after. The rights to the
photos have already been sold.”

Prince Not-so-charming was talking about the
most important event in his life as if it were nothing more than a prearranged
media event. “You sold the rights to your wedding.”

He shrugged. “Royal weddings happen once in a
lifetime. It hardly makes sense that others should profit from it.”

“That is the most cold-blooded thing I have
ever heard.”

He gave her a look that was not so much cold
as dispassionate. “In your country, you do not have the concept of a marriage
of state. But it is an old tradition in my family. There are times when one
must put the needs of one’s country ahead of one’s personal feelings.”

“And your country needs you to marry a movie
star?”

“At one time, it would have been a princess,
or some noble daughter of a neighboring country. But there are risks attached
to any political alliance. And princesses are not
so
thick on the ground as they once were, nor are we threatened with invasion. Our
current requirements are much more complex. My people need me to marry someone
who will bring tourists to the country, generate interest in our products, and
raise the stock prices of the things we trade.”

“You’re marrying
Sylphie
to make the stock market go up.”

He smiled. “Everybody loves a wedding.
Even Wall Street.
My treasurer seems most pleased with the
results thus far. It will repair the financial damage. I am not adverse to it.
Nor is Miss Jones.
I believe she is expecting to see a
benefit to her career.”

What career?
Dana was too polite to say it. But recent
stories about the notorious
Sylphie
Jones painted her
as an unstable party girl. “Marrying you is a ploy to get work?”

“Her publicist calls it The Princess Grace
effect. He plans to display her as transformed by love. Her job as Princess
Consort will include charity work. When she returns to Hollywood, the title
will add gravitas. It will enable her to have,” his lips gave a slight twitch
of distaste, “meatier roles.”

 They had stopped in front of the
castle, proper. The prince gave a nod and the limo doors were opened. The men
from beside her evaporated as though they’d never existed.  Then he
stepped out of the car, turning back to her and offering his hand.

For a moment, all the muscles in her body
froze, allowing her to stare at his perfectly manicured nails. Then she reached
out for him, letting him draw her out of the car and to her feet.
Which led to more etiquette questions.
Did she walk in front
of him, beside him, two steps behind? Was this a ‘speak when spoken to’
situation?

Did she even care about being polite? He had
been the one to hijack her, after all. He was also the sort of creep who could
auction his wedding photos to the highest bidder. Even her mother would admit
that the guy was tacky, even if he was gorgeous.

And he was holding her hand.

Then she remembered the conversation they’d
been having in the car. “So you’re getting married as a publicity stunt. What
does any of this have to do with me?”

If royalty ever looked embarrassed, the man
next to her might have, at her comment. But the only change she saw was a
slight stiffening of his upper lip. Then, he said, “Recently, Miss Jones met
with an unfortunate accident.” He saw the shocked look on Dana’s face and added
hurriedly, “Nothing life threatening. The damage to her face is superficial and
will heal without a trace in a week or so.
If she is not
perfect for the wedding?”
He shrugged, again. “A heavy application of
cosmetics should cover the bruises.”

Bruises on her face? She not so subtly pulled
her hand from his grasp. In her experience, there was only one way a woman got
to that condition. He might look like a suave royal who wouldn’t dirty his
hands. But he was also the sort of alpha Neanderthal who thought he could slap
around his fiancée.

“Miss Jones is residing in the castle now, in
seclusion. I do not feel it is my place to explain the accident. But she can
assure you that I had no part in what happened.” And Dana could see for the
first time, what he must look like when truly angry. Her suspicion had enraged
him. There was the barest flicker of outrage in his dark blue eyes, and his
words were clipped as though he had to chip them from ice to release them.

She glared back at him. He had no right to be
outraged over what she might think, after the way she had been treated. “You
still have not explained your reason for kidnapping me,” she reminded him
making sure that her anger was much
more easy
to read
than his.

He seemed to recognize that he was in no
position to antagonize her. His words were marginally warmer, although his
smile was forced. “I prefer to think of it as a chance to be alone with you, so
that I might offer you an unusual opportunity.”

“I suppose you would. I prefer to think of it
as abduction, until you give me reason to change my mind.
So
spill.”

He took a small breath before speaking, as
though choosing his words with care. And in that pause she found proof that
whatever was happening was difficult to master, even for a seasoned diplomat.
“During the time that Miss Jones is recuperating, there are social
responsibilities that need to be met. There is a planned engagement
documentary. The director and crew are here, but my fiancée is in no condition
to appear before a camera. It was proposed to me that I should locate a double,
a woman who could stand in for Miss Jones, so that filming could continue, with
the intention of shooting close ups at a later, more convenient time. In
scanning recent visitors to the country, your passport information was
uncovered…”

“And you think I should be a stand in for
Sylphine
Jones.” She snorted. “You have got to be kidding
me.”

He was back to giving her the reasonable
smile he had been using from the first, even as his bodyguards threatened her.
“I am quite serious.”

“I look nothing at all like her.”

“True.” He was examining her closely, as
though he could weigh each feature against the other. It was more than a little
annoying.

“Then what good am I to you?”

“You look nothing like her. And yet, you look
enough like her to suit my needs. You are the right height, the right size, and
your hair is blonde.”

“There’s more to it than that.”

“Not necessarily. It seems that most people
do not see what is before their very eyes. You had seen my picture, had you
not, before we met in the café?”

“Well, I suppose. It was on the wall at the
train station, and on the money.”

“And yet, you did not recognize me.”

“Because I didn’t expect to find a prince
ordering off the lunch menu to save money.”

“Nor will the people who see us expect to see
anyone other than Miss Jones. They will see me. And at my side will be an
attractive blonde wearing the ring, the right clothes, and perhaps a large pair
of dark glasses.”

“The Prisoner of Zenda?”

“I beg your pardon.”

She gave him an exasperated look. “You have
movies in your country?”

“Mobile phones, internet access, and indoor
plumbing as well,” he said, with a frosty stare.

“What you’re describing is the plot to
The
Prisoner of Zenda.
Which would make me Ronald Coleman.

She thought for a moment.
“Or maybe Stewart Granger.
I
can’t remember.”

He gave a heavy sigh.
“As I
was saying.
You will appear with me. And we will appear to be intimately
acquainted. The guards will keep the paparazzi at a respectful distance,
allowing them enough access to prove to the world what I want it to believe.”

“Hold on. Back it up a minute.” She put her
hands on her hips. “Intimately acquainted? What exactly is that supposed to
mean?”

He smiled at her, and she noticed his
exceptionally white teeth. “Nothing
so
dire as you
fear. We will dine together, walk together. Perhaps I shall touch your hand. We
might kiss.”

“You are going to kiss me?
In
public?”

“There would be no reason to kiss you in
private.”

Gee, thanks.
The statement shouldn’t have bothered her,
but it did.

 

 

Want the rest?

Get your copy of
The
Tourist of Zenda for Kindle

About
the author:

During a stint as a stay-at-home
mom, Christine Merrill decided that it was time to "write that book."
It would be a part-time job. She could set her own hours, and would never have
to wear pantyhose to work.

How hard could it be?

Seasons changed, as did the century.
Manuscripts piled up, along with rejections. But she slogged onward and seven
years later, she got the thrill of seeing her first book hit the bookstores.

When not writing, Chris can be found
at the movies, halfway back and towards the center, with
a
large
buttered popcorn (but only if the film has a happy ending).

Visit her on the Web at

www.christine-merrill.com

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK: To Recapture a Rake: A Hephaestus Club Novella
5.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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