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Her Frog Prince
By Shirley Jump
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMerry Montrose sat on the deck of Lady's Delight, the small cruise boat owned by La Torchere Resort and Spa, and tried not to look miserable. Being an old lady was getting to be, well ... old. The curse her godmother Lissa had put on her seven years ago was nearly over, thank goodness. All she had to do was serve as matchmaker to three more couples. So far, she'd put eighteen together; surely, three more should be a cinch. Then she could go back to being twenty-nine-year-old Princess Meredith of Silestia and kiss this old-lady life - and the clunky shoes that came with it - goodbye.
Today, with the horrendous heat, Lissa's spell seemed especially onerous. The air was sticky and thick, the kind of weather that made her wish it would just rain and get it over with.
Merry had gotten on the boat early, to make sure she got the biggest, best and comfiest deck chair. As the resort manager, she should have deferred to a guest, but she did, after all, deserve the good chair, being a member of the elder set. Anyone who looked at her crone-like face and wrinkled skin would think she was at least ... well, she didn't want to think about how old she looked. That kind of thought did nothing but depress her.
She glanced down at her vein-mapped legs and age-spottedhands and bit back a sigh. Soon. Soon she'd be her young self again and the only wrinkles she'd have would be in her favorite linen suit.
If the heat didn't kill her first. Once the boat got moving, the ocean breeze would cool her down and take her mind off the fact that she had only a few weeks until her thirtieth birthday. If she didn't finagle three more happily-ever-afters, she'd be stuck in this crone body forever.
Merry had been forced to leave the kingdom of Silestia where her family - the royal family - lived and relocate to this island in southwest Florida. Once upon a time, she'd been a corporate lawyer. Now, without her résumé, her looks or her money, she'd had to talk herself into this job as resort manager at La Torchere Resort and Spa.
Well, she'd worked a little magic along the way, too. Thank God for that Bessart Family perk. Then Lissa had gone and followed Merry here, getting a job as Lilith Peterson, the concierge. Probably so she could make sure Merry stuck to the conditions of the curse: No telling who she really was. No overt magic. And no return to her old life until she helped along twenty-one happily-ever-afters before she turned thirty. Now Lissa had added a twist - she wanted Merry to work this happy ending without the aid of any magic at all. She'd accused Merry of using it as a crutch. Well, what did Lissa expect? Merry was walking around in the body of a member of the elder set. She needed all the help she could get.
She really needed to get Lissa a hobby so her godmother would stop interfering with Merry's life and quit this lesson-teaching thing. All it did was make her joints ache.
Finally the resort guests began boarding the boat. The last one on - and in three-inch pink Prada heels no less - was Parris Hammond. They'd attended the same college together years ago, back when Merry had been Princess Meredith. Parris had arrived a few weeks ago to help with the resort's charity auction coming up soon and had been a thorn in Merry's existence ever since.
Parris the Princess. Parris the Persnickety. Parris the Annoying.
She'd run out of "P" words, but she had quite a few left from other letters of the alphabet to describe the former debutante.
A lot had changed for Merry in the years since college, but from what she'd seen of Parris lately, not much had changed for - or about - her former classmate.
Parris took a menu from the cook's assistant as she stepped into the boat and immediately let out a sharp sound of disapproval. "I cannot believe the catered lunch for this cruise is nothing more than tea and a bunch of garden vegetables between two slices of bread."
The skinny sous-chef looked like he wished he'd stayed belowdecks instead of greeting passengers. "Ma'am, I assure you, the chef's portabello and artichoke sandwiches are a delight. They'll be quite filling."
"Steak is filling. Lobster is filling. A mushroom, however, is a fungus." Parris shook her head, dug in her purse and tugged out a minirecorder. "Note to self - double-check the menu for the charity auction. If people have empty stomachs, they'll leave with full wallets." She clicked the recorder off, then slid it back into the tiny pink purse dangling from her wrist.
Parris. Still the same as she had been back in college. A major pain in the -
"Can I get you anything, Miss Montrose?"
Merry pressed a handkerchief to her forehead. "Ice water. Extra ice."
"Are you people ever going to get this boat moving?" Parris asked, toe tapping against the wooden deck. "We're ten minutes late leaving. I have a meeting with the Phipps-Stovers at three." She parked her hands on her hips and eyed another crew member.
"Well? Are we leaving or not?"
The mate, who couldn't have been more than nineteen, scuttled back several steps. "Right away, ma'am."
As they got underway, Merry thought if there was anyone she'd known over the years who needed to learn a little humility, it was Parris Hammond. The woman had all the warmth of a porcupine. Somebody ought to teach her a lesson. Maybe put a heel in her pink designer-clad behind when she got too close to the edge. Let some fisherman find her.
Merry smiled and adjusted her sunglasses. The cruise boat was coming upon a small fishing vessel with a very scruffy looking fellow sitting in it. Hmm ...
Now that was a match she hadn't tried before. Up-pity Parris Hammond and a male who spent his days in the dregs of the ocean - a fisherman.
Well, she always had liked a challenge. And Parris looked awfully hot. A little cooling off might do them all a world of good.
Excerpted from Her Frog Prince by Shirley Jump Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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