“Something in the Heir” by Jenny Gardiner
He’s a prince with a problem, she’s a commoner with a getaway plan.
Modern-day Prince Adrian of Monaforte has a most old-fashioned problem: his demanding mother wants him wed to her best friend’s daughter, the hard-partying Serena. When his refusal falls on deaf ears, Adrian decides it’s time for him to slip away from his gilded cage and figure out his life, all on his own. As luck would have it, event photographer Emma Davison, weary of a revolving door of lost-cause men and tired of her outsider-looking-in career, is in need of her own escape clause, just in time to help a wayward prince in need. And she soon discovers that sometimes a girl’s gotta sweep a prince off his feet.
For any girl that’s ever held out hope that some day her prince would come…or better yet, hoped that some day she’d come to him.
CHAPTER ONE TEASE
Emma Davison had a date with a prince. Well, not really a date, but yes, really a prince. Calling it a date would be a bit of a stretch, considering she would only be within breathing distance of the man by dint of her professional skills. Emma had been hired to photograph His Royal Highness Crown Prince Adrian William Philip Nicholas Winchester-Westleigh, future King of Monaforte, in a series of grip-and-grins with wealthy donors at a Washington, DC charitable event. Which worked out well, considering she’d sworn off dating men, and since a prince was a guy, and guys, well, she was totally over them, it wasn’t like she’d have entertained the idea anyhow. Not that it was even an option.
Besides, princes were a part of fairy tales, and Emma wasn’t a big subscriber to that sort of fiction. Having already tossed back into the swamp more than her share of warty toads over the years, she knew that at the end of the day, even a prince was just a man. And in her world, men hadn’t exactly panned out. Besides, she’d seen the tabloids: this pretty boy was a player, a new woman on his arm in every city, rumor had it. As far as she was concerned, they could keep him. Prince-schmince. She sure didn’t need another love ’em and leave ’em type in her life. She was here to do a job, and the sooner she did it, the sooner she could go home and take a nice hot bath with a good book and a glass of red wine.
As she awaited the arrival of His Royal Whatchamacallit, hovering just inside the cordoned-off velvet rope section in the palatial Great Hall of the Library of Congress, Emma mentally ticked off the essentials she needed to keep in mind for the shoot. She’d thoroughly reviewed the protocol handbook with the palace’s press secretary earlier in the week. All forty-six pages of it. She’d been told a curtsey would be a nice gesture, and warned not to shake the man’s hand, which sort of seemed annoying, as if her own wasn’t good enough or something. No doubt royals were snooty, but she was there to earn a paycheck, not to pass judgment on how full of himself the guy was. Which she assumed he was. Not that she was passing judgment or anything.
Emma had actually practiced how to address the prince for a good while in advance of the event so that she wouldn’t come across like a complete country bumpkin in his presence, repeating in front of the mirror, “Pleased to meet you, sir” till she could say it no more. She was ready. She’d even straightened her shoulder-length chestnut curls for the occasion, thinking straighter hair lent her a bit of gravitas. Yeah, Emma Davison did not care at all about impressing any prince.
She’d brought along her assistant and best friend Caroline McKenzie, whom she knew wouldn’t screw up—just as long as she didn’t hit on the man herself. Caroline, a green-eyed redhead with a penchant for serial flirtation, was known for her ability to pick up pretty much any guy she wanted. But Emma knew even Caroline had her limits.
Tonight Emma got to remain on the VIP side of the velvet rope as she set up to shoot the prince alongside all sorts of deep-pocketed D.C. dignitaries, with the President of the United States thrown in for good measure. Normally, it was hard to remain too starstruck in her line of work, shooting famous people as regularly as she did. But a prince and a president? As much as she liked to play it cool, even she had to admit that was none too shabby.
Caro, standing just behind Emma, squealed in surprise when the prince’s arrival was announced with blasts from those long royal trumpets draped with crimson flags bearing the Monaforte royal crest. It was straight out of a Disney movie when Prince Charming’s arrival was heralded to the guests at the ball. As soon as the trumpets fell silent, a deep blue velvet curtain parted and the prince, followed by his right-hand man, stepped forward to the thunderous applause of the audience.
Emma was close enough to see that he had mesmerizing bright blue eyes. Dammit, she was a sucker for blue eyes.
Just then a quartet struck up a tune and the music shattered her momentary reverie. She knew she had all of about two minutes to greet the prince and then get started with the host of images she needed to capture. There were titans of industry, political muckety-mucks and a collection of pandering celebrities already queued up, desperate for their own eight-by-ten glossy with famous royalty that they could mount on their wall like some taxidermied bear head. She had no time for gawking.
The prince walked slowly down the line, greeting one by one the organizers of the charitable event and members of the Monafortian embassy staff, all standing in the VIP zone near Emma. Everyone seemed to do a perfectly fine job with his or her allotted three seconds of undivided royal attention, making casual chitchat with the prince. Until it came to Emma. Because as soon as the man approached her, she felt as if her tongue had become a sandbag weighted down in her mouth. And while a curtsey wasn’t mandatory, it was what she’d planned on, until that very moment when her eyes made contact with his deep, sapphire ones, and she knew for certain she’d face-plant on his expensive royal bespoke Italian shoes if she dared try any tricky maneuvers.
Without staring too much like a creeper at those amazing eyes, Emma tried to give him a discreet once-over, but it felt awkward, like gawking at a stranger’s tattoo, or trying to read the T-shirt message on the chest of a person walking by. She knew she’d only look a bit stalkerish, and stalker-chic so wasn’t her style. But then she found herself focused on his thick, wavy black hair, which led to a fleeting fantasy that involved burying her fingers in it while he was busily…Oh, stop it! She tamped down that betraying though, dismissing it as some stupid latent celebrity crush, all the while recognizing that her darned body was selling her out and swooning over the guy despite her strong inner protestations.
So when Prince Adrian bent his head down but raised his gaze and continued to fix it on Emma’s eyes only, reaching both hands out for hers — totally defying royal protocol — she simply stammered, and wished that he’d lean more toward her mouth, darn it! And when he pressed his lips to the top of her hand, she could only gulp as she tried to clear what felt like a giant hairball lodged in her throat.
“Peas to greet you, slur,” she said, failing miserably to just mouth correctly those five simple words, turning about fifty shades of red in the process. She felt certain she was going to be fired on the spot.
But instead of calling for his royal bodyguards to toss her out into the cold December night on the grounds of insanity, he clasped her hand in both of his for a moment longer, his eyes continuing to hold hers, and smiled broadly. Emma could feel her heart beating in her throat, and she wondered for a minute if he was only holding onto her hands until someone else could grab them and haul her away. In handcuffs maybe. You’re under arrest for complete and utter lunacy.
“The pleasure is all mine. And please, call me Adrian,” he said in what seemed barely a whisper, adding with a wink, “Oh, and by the way, I’m most peased to greet you as well.”
Emma was so glad she wasn’t prone to throwing up because if she were, that would’ve been the unfortunate outcome of her moment in the spotlight with her “date.” Instead she let him cling to her hand a second longer while she trembled just a bit and hoped to God her palms weren’t sweating too badly.
The spell was broken when Caroline blurted out, and not in her inside voice, “Oh, my God. His accent is orgasmic. And did you get a look at that friend of his?”
Adrian and Emma’s heads followed her friend’s pointing finger, which led right to the tall, handsome brown-eyed blonde man standing beside the prince.
“You mean Darcy?” Adrian said, waving his hand dismissively. “He’s hardly anything to write home about!” He laughed as he elbowed his friend in the ribs.
“Don’t listen to a word he says,” Darcy said. “He’s just jealous that women always choose me over him.”
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