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Emily Rodgers sat in the backseat of a rusted-out taxi next to her longtime friend and pseudo-assistant, Addie Cahill. The ad agency should have had a limousine waiting at the airport, not an old cab that burped and passed gas. But Emily had been sent to Alvernia, a small European country, for damage control, not a holiday.
The taxi driver zigzagged around two cyclists.
Her head ached and her body longed for sleep after four flights and fifteen sleepless hours of travel from San Diego, California, but she found herself captivated by the postcard perfect street lined with charming shops and cafés. Elaborate engraved wooden signs hung from each storefront. People filled the sidewalks, enjoying the sunny spring day.
She rested her head against the hard backseat. The ibuprofen she’d taken at the airport hadn’t kicked in yet. “I hope it’s not too far to the hotel.”
“Shouldn’t be.” Concern clouded Addie’s eyes. “Have a plan?”
“Yes.” Not one hundred percent set, but Emily would figure out the other details soon.
So what if she worked in advertising not television? Her boss, Don Peabody, wanted his wife Kendra’s production company to succeed. He was willing to use whatever resources necessary, including Emily, to make that happen. This wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to help a fledgling reality TV show. If she received an overdue promotion, she hoped this one would be the last.
“Once I save the day again, they’ll have no choice but to make me a partner.”
“You deserve it and a raise, too.”
Emily nodded. She should have been promoted last summer, but her boss told her that she needed to bring in a top level client first. She’d been working on doing that ever since.
The taxi jerked to a stop. The driver swore. A translation guide wasn’t necessary. “Traffic jam.”
An imaginary clock went tick-tock in her mind. She pressed her lips together to keep from saying anything. The cars on the road weren’t the driver’s fault.
She checked her cellphone. Nearly one o’clock in the afternoon. Traveling made her lose all sense of time. She stretched her arms over her head and yawned.
“I see the hotel.” Leaning forward, Addie’s long, brown ponytail swung back and forth like a pendulum. “A crowd is gathered out front.”
Emily did a double take, noticed cameras. Lots of them.
Not just people. Paparazzi. They jockeyed for position like hungry piranhas hunting for their next victim.
Every muscle twisted into a going-to-need-a-massage bundle of knots.
Only one person could cause a near riot in the quaint, picturesque town surrounded by snowcapped peaks—His Royal Highness Lucas Alexander Leopold Casimir von Rexburg. The reason she’d been sent here. Black sheep and reckless royal didn’t begin to describe King Leopold’s youngest son, who was so far down the line of succession he wasn’t considered a spare heir, but a liability.
Emily’s French-manicured fingernails dug into the car door’s armrest. “I’m going to kill him.”
“That’s what Nick said he wanted do, too.”
Nick Cahill was Addie’s husband, a former Green Beret hired by Emily to handle security during the filming of a new reality TV show called The Search for Cinderella starring Prince Luc as he looked for a princess to marry.
“Nick couldn’t believe the prince ran off while everyone was suffering food poisoning,” Addie said.
Based on Luc’s reputation, Emily could believe it. She tapped her finger against her face. She was here to get the filming and dating back on track after the producer fired their royalty consultant. She had five days to fix the problems before she returned to San Diego for a client presentation.
The biggest obstacle to her succeeding was the prince himself. A plan formed in Emily’s mind. “With Nick’s special ops training, I bet he can dispose of a body and leave no evidence.”
Addie drew back, a frown on her pretty face. “Stop. Now.”
“Okay, maybe death’s a bit extreme.” And no doubt would be a PR nightmare. But there had to be something they—okay, Nick—could do so Prince Luc would have to be replaced. Any other handsome royal would have found a fiancée and be making wedding plans by now. “Maiming might be covered by insurance.”
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
Emily remembered the photos that had gone viral after the prince’s strip poker game with college women on tour with an a cappella choir. The next day, she’d hired Nick to babysit the royal rogue. That had been a month ago.
“There’s nothing innocent about Prince Luc.” His name tasted bitter. Emily wished she hadn’t thrown away her water bottle at the airport. “The man is the devil in disguise.”
Addie tsked. “How can you say that? You’ve never met him.”
“True.” Hearing about his exploits was bad enough. “But he’s living up to his reputation of being a self-entitled, spoiled twit.”
“Tell your boss he needs to be fired.”
“I did when problems started the first week of filming, but no one listened. The production company believes the show will be a hit, and they’re brainstorming a royal wedding spinoff.”
“Has the prince found a bride?”
“No.” And if something didn’t change soon, the show would have to be retitled How To Lose a Princess in 10 Hours or Less. Not one princess was interested in a second date with Prince Luc. Few agreed to a first one. The majority wanted nothing to do with the guy. “But I have the names of nobility from duchesses to baronesses to add to the list of princesses.”
“Why not a commoner?” Addie asked. “That worked out well for Prince William.”
“King Leopold wants his son to marry a royal. That was a requirement for the show.”
The cab backfired. Emily’s heart pounded. A good thing they were almost at the hotel.
Addie’s lips twisted. “What about love?”
Her words held a touch of whimsy. Not surprising. She believed in happily ever after and one true love.
Emily knew better thanks to her divorced parents. Being with a man could be enjoyable. Everyone needed companionship and attention at times. Affection, too. But forget about making things permanent.
“It’s reality TV,” Emily said. “No one cares about love.”
“I did. Nick, too.”
“The two of you are in love.” Last June, Emily had cast Addie and Nick in a reality TV show and ended up with a hit show. “The prince’s father ordered Luc to go on the show and find a bride. He’s only doing his duty.”
Emily shrugged. “That’s the life of a royal.”
“Maybe that’s why the prince is so…troubled.”
Troubled? Yeah, right. More like a troublemaker.
“No one is forcing Luc to hang around half-naked women and drink until he passes out.” Thankfully the photos of the prince’s party habits had stopped being uploaded to social media once Nick arrived on the set.
“I read about the fabulous events Prince Luc puts on to raise money for his charity foundation,” Addie said. “At least he’s trying to do good.”
Trying wasn’t enough. The fundraisers were probably excuses to have a good time. His just-have-fun party attitude made finding him a wife impossible. “I wish he’d be good for once.”
The cab double-parked twenty feet away from the hotel.
“This is as close as I can park.” The driver spoke English with a slight accent. “You’ll have to get out here.”
“Fine.” Emily paid him. “We can handle our own luggage.”
The driver removed their suitcases from the trunk and carried the bags to the sidewalk.
The sun shone bright in a clear blue sky. Emily squinted, then put on her sunglasses. The temperature was pleasant, only a slight breeze. The mountain air refreshed her after breathing in the recirculated air in the various planes.
She grabbed the handle of her suitcase. “Ready?”
“Yes.” Addie wore sunglasses and a San Diego Padres cap. She held the handle of her wheeled bag. “But will the prince be ready for us?”
Emily pulled her luggage. “He’d better be.”
A man ran past, bumping into her. She stumbled forward. The pavement rose to greet her.
Addie grabbed Emily’s arm and kept her upright. “Hey, you jerk.”
The man, who carried a camera bag, kept going. Typical.
“No worries.” Emily smoothed her tunic over her pants then picked up her suitcase by the extended handle. Probably shouldn’t have worn new shoes. They felt tight after the flight. “He’s only thinking about a celebrity being in the vicinity.”
Him and two dozen others.
Chaotic was the only way to describe the crowd in front.
Prince Luc’s location and the show were supposed to be top secret. That was one reason they weren’t filming in Alvernia until the end. The king’s youngest son drew attention wherever he went.
“If I pinch myself, do you think I’ll wake up and discover I’m having a bad dream?” she asked Addie.
“This might be your nightmare, but I’ve been dreaming about seeing Nick.”
Emily shook her head. “Newlyweds.”
“Don’t knock marriage until you try it.”
She didn’t want a boyfriend let alone a husband. Casual dates when she felt lonely were good enough for now. She needed to focus on her career.
“Let’s see if you’re singing the same tune after your one year anniversary.” Emily continued toward the hotel. “I’m not in any rush to take that plunge.”
“Not every man is like your dad.”
Logically, Emily knew that. Convincing her heart would take some doing. She squeezed past the throngs of paparazzi. Finally she reached the uniformed doorman.
“I’m Emily Rodgers.” She removed her sunglasses to look the man in the eyes. “I have a reservation.”
He opened the door. “Please check in at the front desk.”
“Thank you.” She stepped inside. Addie followed.
Cool air greeted Emily. The scent of money, too. Plush carpeting and heavy gold drapes swallowed the noise from the crowd outside. Old World was the only way to describe the décor with hanging chandeliers, gilded wood molding and exquisite oil paintings on display. The luxurious atmosphere seemed one-hundred-and-eighty degrees from the party animal prince who would be more comfortable at a college fraternity house.
At the front desk, she handed an envelope full of cash to a man behind the counter. Inside was the amount Nick had told her to pay. “I’m Emily Rodgers.”
“We’ve been expecting you.” The man handed her a room card. “You’ll find what you’re looking for in Suite 428. Will you need anything else?”
“Send up Nick Cahill when he arrives.”
The man replied with a nod.
A few minutes later, Emily stood in front of Suite 428. A Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door handle. Was the prince alone? Or would they be disturbing a romantic rendezvous?
Addie stared down the hallway toward the elevator. “We’ve never met the prince. He might not take kindly to us bursting into his room.”
“Luc chose to disappear like a rebellious teenager. Now he has to face the consequences.”
Those included Emily. She knocked.
She slid the card into the door reader. The little diode next to the card slot turned green. She turned the handle.
Addie sighed. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Emily might not have a firm plan in mind, but she did her best thinking under pressure. So what if the guy was royalty? A random accident of birth didn’t make him different or special.
She pushed open the door.
Darkness greeted her. No movement or sounds, either.
“Is he gone?” Addie whispered.
“Let’s find out.”
Emily turned on the nearest light switch. She saw a sitting area, decorated in white and gold.
Someone grunted. Not a passionate moan, but an I’m-not-feeling-well groan.
Addie sucked in a breath. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
So did Emily, but she chalked up the thought to jet lag. She could handle anything. That was why she’d been sent. “Come on. Let’s go meet our runaway prince.”
End of Excerpt