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"Music and laughter make such a lovely symphony, don't they, Eugenia?"
Eugenia smiled over at her sister, whose comment echoed exactly her own thoughts. They were floating, unseen, in the corner of the music room. The family had gathered for an impromptu celebration in honor of the just announced engagement of Princess Rachel of Boisdemer to Peter Jones. Michael, Rachel's oldest brother, had chosen a selection of light rock music to play on the sound system while Alex had ordered champagne.
"Indeed they do. I must say, I'm feeling better than I have in a long, long time."
"It's because that nice young Peter Jones said he believed in us, and we didn't even have to suggest it to him."
Eugenia narrowed her eyes as she observed Alex and Hannah, who both pretended not to be ignoring each other.
"Well, Gwendolyn, two down and two to go, though I must say if our plan doesn't work with those older ones I don't know what we'll do! Perhaps this is why we usually provide our services only for the young."
Gwendolyn's uncharacteristic response startled her sister.
"Piffle?" Eugenia asked, sounding out the word carefully.
"Yes, piffle. These two are more deserving of our help than most of those coquettes and do-nothings we aided in the past." Then she sighed. "Although they are proving to be quite a challenge."
"They are indeed." Eugenia then focused her attention on the king's eldest daughter, Sophie. Her bearing was regal, her long black hair fashioned in an elegant chignon. Even as a child, Eugenia remembered fondly, Princess Sophie had been dainty and lady-like, always the proper princess. And thosetraits had only grown over the years. Her Highness never left her suite without being perfectly turned out. She was the epitome of a well-bred gentlewoman. Before her elder brother had married, she'd proven herself a talented chatelaine in managing the royal household, too.
"She deserves to be a Queen," Eugenia said aloud.
"Well yes, of course Hannah. But I was thinking of Sophie. It's just too bad that there are no Crown Princes available."
"But Eugenia, you know that's not so! As a matter of fact, one is arriving in a few days. He's one of Philip's groomsmen."
"Him? Oh, no, he'll never do for our Sophie. No, never."
"But Eugenia," Gwendolyn opened her hands and a book appeared. "Look, see? It's even written down, right here in the Book!"
Eugenia scowled as she gave the Book only a passing glance. "To use your word, Gwendolyn, piffle. That one certainly doesn't deserve to even be in the same room as our Sophie. Why, the very idea!"
"I rather like him, myself. He's a good boy."
"A good boy? That one is a rake-hell and a wastrel, if ever I saw one."
Eugenia turned her attention back to the party. Seeing the two betrothed couples so obviously in love lifted her spirits. Sparing another glance at the older couple, she returned to contemplating Sophie. She folded her arms, her resolve strong. Her Sophie would be a Queen. It would just take a little creativity.
Everything would turn out to be a happily-ever-after for everyone, if it took every ounce of magic she possessed.
"My God, now she is beautiful."
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Stephan of Montgermane turned his head slightly, flashing a quick smile at his friend groom-to-be Philip de la Croix. He waved his hand toward the women gathered by the front pew of the Royal Chapel, awaiting the commencement of the wedding rehearsal. "All of them of course, my friend, but I was especially looking at that tall woman with black hair and violet eyes. She looks beautiful and untouchable at the same time."
"It has been a long time since you've visited us. The lady is both beautiful and untouchable. That's Sophie."
"That is the Ice Princess?" The question had escaped his lips before he remembered whom he was talking to. He winced and shot Philip an apologetic look. "Sorry. I meant no offence to your sister."
"No offence taken. I had heard some were calling her that. The really sad thing is I can understand why. Ah, there's my Kate. Excuse me."
Stephan could only shake his head at how besotted the man was. Of course, Philip's brother, Michael, was the same with his Helene. The two de la Croix men, it would seem, had each found that one woman who was everything to them. It hadn't happened for Stephan yet. Some wondered if it ever would. He himself rarely considered the matter. There were, as far as he was concerned, far too many lovely ladies in the world to limit himself to just one--though he did manage to restrict himself to one at a time. He would never divulge the truth that there hadn't even been one for more than a year. Neither had there been nearly as many as the gossip hounds would have the reading public believe. The paparazzi of the world seemed enamored of believing him involved with every woman he spoke to. Stephan smiled when he considered that the only person who resented his press-bestowed moniker of 'the playboy prince' was his mother.
He focused his attention back on Sophie. She'd not been present earlier when he'd arrived and been welcomed by the family in the solarium. He'd been too entranced meeting Philip's fiancée and her utterly charming family for her absence to have registered. As he watched, the two children he had met earlier, the son and the niece of Philip's fiancée, Catharine, ran up to Sophie, each grabbing one of her hands. They pulled her away from the other women, and were chattering excitedly.
Gracefully lowering herself to a crouch, she put herself on eye-level with the pair.
Ah, you don't look so untouchable now. In fact she looked soft and sweet. She was the sister of two of his best friends in the world, one of whom had just mildly warned him away from her. So he wouldn't go after her, but he couldn't help but wonder what Sophie de la Croix tasted like.
She turned her head slightly and looked directly at him. Her gaze became cold, instantly and implacably. He nearly shivered from the frost of it. Then she turned her attention back to the kids. He had the impression that he'd been summarily dismissed, as if he were of no consequence.
Well, now. Friendly warnings aside, he couldn't let such an implicit challenge go unmet.
He directed his footsteps toward her, his timing impeccable, arriving just as the children ran off. He extended his hand to help her to her feet.
He smiled, knowing she was too well bred not to take the assistance offered--especially in front of so many people. She placed her hand in his, rising quickly to her feet. Before she could withdraw, he closed his grip and brought her hand to his lips, placing a lingering kiss there. The entire time, he kept his gaze riveted to hers, pouring as much heat as he could muster into his expression. When she looked away, he felt the satisfaction of knowing he'd made his point.
Choosing an intimate tone to match his look he said, "Your Highness, how nice to see you again."