Read an Excerpt
"The prince is staring right at you."
"Maybe he needs a refill." Ariella Winthrop sent a text requesting another round of the salmon and caviar. The gala event that Ariella had planned was a fund-raiser for a local hospital and nearly six hundred guests were milling around the ballroom. "I'll send a server his way."
"You haven't even looked at him." Her glamorous friend Francesca Crowe was an invited guest at the party. With her long dark hair in a shiny sheet down her back and her voluptuous body encased in an expensive beaded dress, Francesca fit right in with the crowd of billionaires and their buddies. It was often awkward when friends came to Ariella's events and wanted to chat and hang out while she needed to attend to the details. Luckily, Francesca was the kind of person she could be blunt with.
"I'm busy working." She responded to another text from her staff about a spill near the main entrance. "And I'm sure you're imagining things." She didn't glance up at the prince. Hopefully he wasn't still looking at her. She was starting to feel self-conscious.
"Maybe he's as intrigued as everyone else by the mysterious love child of the United States president."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. And I'm going off the idea of meeting President Morrow on your husband's TV network." Francesca would know she was kidding, but her heart clutched as she thought about it. Everyone was talking about her and her famous father and she'd never even met the guy.
"Go on. Look. He's gorgeous." Her friend's conspiratorial tone, and the fact that she'd ignored her comment about the TV special entirely, made Ariella glance up in spite of herself.
Her eyes locked with a tall man halfway across the room. His short-cropped dirty blond hair contrasted with his black tuxedo. A jolt of energy charged through the air as he started walking toward her. "Uh-oh, he's coming this way."
"I told you he was looking at you." Francesca smiled and stared right at him. "And he doesn't need champagne, either. Look, his glass is full."
"I wonder what's wrong." Her pulse quickened and she plastered on her most helpful smile as he approached. It was never easy to know if you should introduce yourself in these situations. She was working at the event, not attending as a guest, so was it a breach of etiquette to greet a prince? She wished her business partner, Scarlet, was here. With her background as a D.C. socialite, she knew just how to handle these dilemmas.
Before she could collect her thoughts he stood right in front of her. He held out his hand, so she shook it. His handshake was predictably firm and authoritative. "Ms. Winthrop, Simon Worth."
He knew her name? Her brain scrambled. He must have read the media stories like everyone else. "Pleased to meet you." His eyes fixed on hers with startling intensity. A dark honey color, they seemed to see right past her studied professional facade to the woman beneath.
"I'm impressed." His voice was deep, with a masculine gruffness that stirred something inside her. Oh dear. There was nothing good about being attracted to a royal guest. Still it was kind of him to compliment her.
"Oh, thank you. That's sweet of you." It wasn't often that guests thanked the party planner personally. Or even noticed that she was alive. "We do enjoy hosting these fund-raisers."
He'd let go of her hand, but his gaze still held her like a deer in a rifle sight. Humor sparkled in his golden eyes. "Not your party planning skills, though I'm sure those are impressive, too. I admire how well you've handled the blazing spotlight of press attention on your personal life."
"Oh." She felt her cheeks heat, which was unusual for her. This man was having an unsettling effect on her sanity. "I suppose it helps that I don't have much of a personal life. I'm all work all the time so they haven't found a lot to write about." Now she was babbling, which made her feel even more hot and bothered. "And it's easy to stay detached when I genuinely have no idea what they're talking about half the time."
"I know how you feel." He smiled. "I've had cameras poked in my face since before I could speak. I finally realized that if there isn't a good story, they'll just make one up and hope you play into their hands by making a fuss over it."
She smiled. "So it is better to put your hands over your ears and hope that they go away?"
"Pretty much." He had a sexy dimple in his left cheek. He was taller than she'd expected. And more strapping, too. His tuxedo stretched across broad shoulders and his elegant white shirt collar framed the sturdy neck of an athlete. "It helps if you travel a lot, then they have trouble keeping up."
"I'll have to plan more parties abroad." He was easy to talk to. Which was weird. Especially with this unsettling attraction clawing at her insides. "I did one in Paris a couple of months ago, and we have one coming up in Russia, so it should prove quite easy once I get the hang of it."
He laughed. "There you go. I travel to Africa a lot now that I'm ex-military. It's quite easy to lose photographers out in the bush."
She chuckled at the image. "What do you do in Africa?" She was genuinely curious. Surely Britain didn't have colonies there anymore?
"I run an organization called World Connect that brings technology and education to remote areas. The staff is all local so we spend a lot of time recruiting in the local villages and helping them get things off the ground."
"That must be very rewarding." Gosh, he was adorable. A prince who actually cared about something other than entertaining himself? There weren't too many of those around.
"I thought I wouldn't know what to do with myself once I left the service, but I'm busier and happier than ever. I'm hoping to drum up some donations while I'm in D.C. That's another challenge that keeps me on my toes. Perhaps you can help me with that?"
"You mean, plan a fund-raiser?" Scarlet would be thrilled if she enticed another royal onto their roster of clients. They attracted other clients the way a sparkling tiara attracted glances.
"Why not?" He'd drawn so close to her that she could almost feel his body heat. "Would you join me for tea tomorrow?"
Her brain screeched to a halt. Something about his body language told her he wanted more than tea. He had a reputation for boyish charm, and although she couldn't remember reading about any romantic scandals in the papers, the last thing she needed was to give the tabloids more fuel for their gossip furnaces. "I'm afraid I have an appointment tomorrow." She stepped backward slightly.
Instead of looking angry or annoyed, he tilted his head and smiled. "Of course. You're busy. How about breakfast? That's got to be the quietest meal for a party planner."
She swallowed. Every cell in her body was telling her to run screaming from the room. He was dangerously good-looking and must have years of experience seducing women in far less vulnerable emotional states than herself. But he was a prince, so in her line of work she couldn't afford to offend him. At least not here, in public. Planning a fund-raiser for his charity would be great for DC Affairs, so Scarlet would kill her if she turned him down. And really, what could happen during breakfast? "That sounds fine."
"My driver will pick you up at your house. It will be discreet, trust me."
"Oh." Somehow that sounded more worrying than ever. If the meeting was to be all business, why would they need discretion? But she managed a shaky smile. "My address is"
"Don't worry. He'll find you." He gave a slight nod, like an ancient courtier, and backed away a step or two before disappearing into the crowd of well-dressed partygoers.
She wanted to sag against a wall with relief. Unfortunately she wasn't near a wall, and her phone was buzzing.
"Well, well, well." Francesca's voice startled her.
"I'd forgotten you were there."
"I could tell. You forgot to introduce me to your royal friend. Very hot. And I thought his older brother was supposed to be the good-looking one."
"His older brother is the heir to the throne."
"Just think, if the USA was a monarchy like England, you'd be next in line to the throne." Francesca looked at her thoughtfully. "Your dad is the president, and you're his only child."
"Who he didn't even know existed until a few weeks ago." She tried to stay focused on her job. "And I still haven't actually met him in person." That part was beginning to hurt more and more.
"Liam's in negotiations with the White House press office about the date for the reunion special. Ted Morrow's on board with doing it. I'm sure he wants to meet you, too." Francesca squeezed her arm gently.
"Or not. I was an accident, after all." She glanced around the room, packed with wealthy movers and shakers. "It's hardly a reunion when we've never met before. We really shouldn't be talking about this here. Someone could be listening. And I'm supposed to be working. Don't you have bigwigs to schmooze with?"
"That's my husband's department. I wish I could be a fly on the croissants tomorrow morning."
"I wish I could have found an excuse not to go." Her heart rate quickened at the thought of meeting Prince Simon for breakfast. They couldn't talk business for the entire meal. What kind of small talk did you make with a prince?
"Are you crazy? He's utterly delish."
"It would be easier if he wasn't. The last thing I need is to embark on a scandalous affair with a prince." Ariella exhaled as butterflies swirled in her stomach. "Not that he'd be at all interested, of course, but just when I think things can't get any crazier, they do."
"Um, I think someone's throwing up into the gilded lilies." She gestured discretely at a young woman in a strapless gown bending over a waist-high urn of brass blooms.
Ariella lifted her phone. "See what I mean?"
The long black Mercedes sedan parked outside her Georgetown apartment may not have had "By Appointment to His Majesty" stenciled on the outside, but it wasn't much more subtle. The uniformed chauffeur who rang the bell looked like a throwback to another era. Ariella dashed for the backseat hoping there were no photographers lurking about.
She didn't ask where they were going, and the driver didn't say a word, so she watched in surprise, then confusion, then more than a little alarm as the car took her right out of the city and into a leafy suburb. When the suburbs gave way to large horse farms she leaned forward and asked the question she should have posed before she got into the car. "Where are you taking me?"
"Sutter's Way, madam. We're nearly there." She swallowed and sat back. Sutter's Way was a beautiful old mansion, built by the Hearst family at the height of their wealth and influence. She'd seen paintings from its collection in her art history class at Georgetown University but she had no idea who owned it now.
At last the car passed through a tall wrought iron gate, crunched along a gravel driveway and pulled up in front of the elegant brick house. When she got out, her heels sank into the gravel and she brushed wrinkles from the skirt of the demure and unsexy navy dress she'd chosen for the occasion.
Simon bounded down the steps and strode toward her. "Sorry about the long drive but I thought you'd appreciate the privacy." She braced for a hug or kiss, then chastised herself when he gave her a firm handshake. Her head must be getting very large these days if she expected royalty to kiss her.
He was even better looking in an open-necked shirt and khakis. His skin was tanned and his hair looked windblown. Not that it made any difference to her. He was just a potential client, and an influential one, at that. "I am becoming paranoid about the press lately. They seem to pop out in the strangest places. I don't know what they hope they'll find me doing." Kissing a British prince, perhaps.
She swallowed. Her imagination seemed to be running away with her. Simon probably just wanted ideas about how to attract high rollers who would donate money to his charity.
He gestured for her to go in. "I've learned the hard way that photographers really do follow you everywhere, so it's best to try to stick with activities you don't mind seeing under a splashy headline." His grin was infectious.
"Is that why I'm afraid to even change my hairstyle?"
"Don't let them scare you. That gives them power over you and you certainly don't want that. From what I've seen, you handle them like a pro."
"Maybe it's in the blood." Her private thought flew off her tongue and almost made her halt in her tracks. Lately she'd been thinking a lot about the man who sired her. He faced the press every day with good humor and never seemed ruffled. It was so odd to think that they shared the same DNA.
"No doubt. I'm sure your father is very impressed."
"My father is was a nice man called Dale Winthrop. He's the dad who raised me. I still can't get used to people calling President Morrow my father. If it wasn't for sleazy journalists breaking the law in search of a story, he wouldn't even know I existed."
They went into a sunlit room where an elegant and delicious-smelling breakfast was spread out on a creamy tablecloth. He pulled out her chair, which gave her an odd sensation of being cared for. Very weird.
"Help yourself. The house is ours for now. Even the staff have been sent packing so you don't have to worry about eavesdroppers."
"That's fantastic." She reached for a scone, not sure what else to do.
"So you have the press to thank for learning about your parentage. Maybe they're not so bad after all." His honey-colored eyes shone with warmth.
"Not bad? It's been a nightmare. I was a peaceful person living a quiet lifepunctuated by spectacular partiesbefore this whole thing exploded." She cut her scone and buttered it.
"I'm impressed that you haven't taken a big movie deal or written a tellall expose."
"Maybe I would tell all if I knew anything to tell." She laughed. How could a foreign prince be so easy to talk to? She felt more relaxed discussing this whole mess with Simon than with her actual friends. "The situation surprised me as much as anyone. I always knew I was adopted but I never had the slightest interest in finding my biological parents."
"How do your adoptive parents feel about all this?" He leaned forward.
Her chest contracted. "They died four years ago. A plane crash on their way to a friend's anniversary party."
She still couldn't really talk about it without getting emotional.