"Browne is in great form in this page-turning love story, and Melissa is as endearing and empowering as ever -- the perfect lead for this contemporary fairy tale."
The Little Lady Agency and the Princeby Hester Browne
Hester Browne created a unique heroine in Melissa Romney-Jones a.k.a. Honey, London's ultimate freelance girlfriend, who won the hearts of readers on both sides of the Atlantic in her "charming and feel-good"(Cosmopolitan) and "funny and original" (People) earlier adventures. Now her New York Times bestselling series sparkles brighter than ever/i>/i>/i>
Hester Browne created a unique heroine in Melissa Romney-Jones a.k.a. Honey, London's ultimate freelance girlfriend, who won the hearts of readers on both sides of the Atlantic in her "charming and feel-good"(Cosmopolitan) and "funny and original" (People) earlier adventures. Now her New York Times bestselling series sparkles brighter than ever as irrepressible Melissa is hired to reform a playboy prince and finds she could get used to the royal treatment.
Making plans for her wedding to American fiancé Jonathan Riley, who now runs a prestigious Parisian real estate company, Melissa agrees to do a favor for her beloved grandmother: transform the notorious Prince Nicolas von Helsing-Alexandros into a proper gentleman for the sake of preserving a family inheritance. Even possessive Jonathan agrees it's a great opportunity to make social connections. But taming a prince might prove too big a professional challenge for Melissa when she's confronting so many seismic changes in her own personal life.
Jonathan needs her in Paris. Her sister Emery's newborn son needs a christening ceremony, as well as a proper name. Emery herself needs Melissa to protect her from their bulldog nanny who's returned to do much more than babysit. Most unsettling of all, Nelson needs her to find him a new flatmate because she'll be moving out soon. Balancing all this with late-night dinners, polo matches, and a Mediterranean cruise with Prince Nicky, who is as charming as he is exasperating, suddenly has bride-to-be Melissa dreaming of a fairy-tale ending and not the one she expected!
"This reader was overcome with happiness after tearing open the package to reveal a most coveted item, a new novel by Browne. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Little Lady Agency and Little Lady, Big Apple, this reviewer had reason to believe this final installment might be the best yet....From start to finish, this take is a joy to read."
"This reader was overcome with happiness after tearing open the package to reveal a most coveted item, a new novel by Browne. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Little Lady Agency and Little Lady, Big Apple, this reviewer had reason to believe this final installment might be the best yet....From start to finish, this take is a joy to read." Library Journal
"A delight." Kirkus Reviews
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Read an ExcerptThe Little Lady Agency and the Prince
By Hester Browne Pocket Copyright © 2008 Hester Browne
All right reserved.
My name is Melissa Romney-Jones, but pretty soon, you'll be able to call me Melissa Romney-Jones-Riley! My fiancé, Jonathan, thinks it has quite a ring to it, although we've had one or two discussions about whether it should be Riley-Romney-Jones or Romney-Jones-Riley. Whichever, it certainly isn't any more ridiculous than my professional name, Honey Blennerhesket, which...
Actually, let's start at the beginning.
As Melissa, I am many things to many people: long-suffering daughter of notorious Member of Parliament Martin Romney-Jones; undereducated but perfectly mannered Old Girl of several fine boarding schools; and the delighted fiancée of the debonair, successful, and charming Jonathan Riley, a paragon who gives estate agents and American men a good name. I'm what parents like to call a "nice girl," i.e., cheerful, practical, sturdy in the leg and ample of bosom, and entirely without embarrassing tattoos. Not what you'd call a sex kitten, in other words.
But then there's my other life. Add a satin corset, and some serious red lipstick, and I'm Honey Blennerhesket, bootylicious troubleshooter for London's hapless bachelors and chaps generally in need of a woman's multitasking mind. As far as they're concerned, there's no domestic problem Honey can'tsort out, no etiquette dilemma she can't advise on, and no sticky social situation she can't winkle them out of faster than you can say "Gina Lollobrigida." It's weird, but I can't be bossy when I'm everyday Melissa, yet somehow when I'm walking in Honey's stilettos I turn into a whirlwind of retro-glamour and female dynamism. A supernanny for grown men, if you like.
I've tried to keep my two identities apart, but my two lives have a habit of running into each other. Even the name of the business -- The Little Lady Agency -- comes from the annoying manner in which my father, an unreconstructed male chauvinist pig, would refer to my mother, and indeed any woman, as The Little Lady. If men want to engage this little lady to run their lives the way my mother runs my father's, they pay very handsome hourly rates. But in return, I sort out their problems, advise them gently on the real reasons they're going wrong socially, and ideally, leave them not only spruced up but also in a better state to tackle things themselves.
I really do love my job. As my flatmate, Nelson, says, it's a form of social work. And he should know, being the third most well-meaning person in Britain, after Bono and Jamie Oliver.
In fact, it was by shamelessly playing on Nelson's mile-wide humanitarian streak that I'd managed to enlist his reluctant help in The Little Lady Agency's first job of the day.
"You understand that I'm doing this on the sole condition that I don't tell a single lie?" he stressed for the ninth time, as he flipped through the stack of glossy mags on my office coffee table.
Nelson was my oldest friend. He looked how you'd imagine an English cricket hero should -- tall and strapping with a shock of blond hair. At thirty-three, he was a couple of years older than me, but really he should have been born around 1815, when he could have spent his time striding across some vast estate, tending kindly to his peasants, railing at the iniquities of the slave trade, and eating enormous gourmet meals.
Instead, he worked in fund-raising and administration for a charity and spent a lot of time sailing with his school friend Roger Trumpet, who, coincidentally, had the personal hygiene habits of a nineteenth-century serf.
"Absolutely," I reassured him. "I'll be doing all the talking. You just have to look patient. You're good at that."
"But what I don't understand is why Jethro Lorton-Hunter needs you in the first place," he said, furrowing his brow like a baffled Labrador. "If his girlfriend's so flaky that she can't bear to see him talking to another woman, why doesn't he just tell her to pack it in? Before he packs her in?"
For all his eligibility -- and despite having lived with me for years -- Nelson understood women about as well as I understood computer programming.
"Because it's not as simple as that."
"It never is," he sighed. "Explain."
Jethro Lorton-Hunter brought his own personal cloud of gloom into my office three days ago when he arrived for his consultation. Like most of my clients, he'd been sent on a friend's recommendation; apparently I'd "done wonders" for his mate George's party chitchat technique, to the point where George now had three girlfriends. Jethro's problem was his girlfriend, Daisy, who was an absolute sweetheart, apart from one thing: she went bug-eyed if she saw him talking to another woman.
"It's because of some stupid mix-up at a party," Jethro sighed, nervously shredding a tissue into flakes. "We were playing that game with the orange, you know, where you pass it along with your chin, and, well, you know how things roll down Tilly Chadwick's...chest...and then Daisy walked in -- it was totally innocent, but you know how some people jump to conclusions and no matter what you say you can't convince them otherwise. Daisy's been like the secret police ever since. Convinced I'm eyeing up women every time we go out." He stuck his hands in his thick black hair. "She even accused me of flirting with a traffic warden this weekend! I mean, Daisy means the world to me, but nothing I say makes the slightest difference, and it's driving me nuts." He raised his big eyes to me. "What can I do?"
I heard that phrase at least four times a day. "Don't worry," I said, patting his knee. "There's a very quick way to fix this."
"...so," I said to Nelson, "we're going to go have lunch with Jethro and Daisy, who thinks I'm -- or rather Honey is -- an old schoolmate of Jethro's. I'm going to give him the full Honey Blennerhesket charm offensive, and Jethro's going to make a big show of being utterly uninterested in me." I smiled encouragingly. "All you have to do is sit there and give her the impression that you're my boyfriend."
"But I'm not," Nelson pointed out. "If I was being your boyfriend I'd need to get my teeth fixed, a much more expensive suit, and a faint air of superiority."
Nelson wasn't all that keen on Jonathan. I put it down to jealousy, plain and simple, combined with the fact that they were, in many ways, quite similar. Their manic attention to detail, for one thing.
"You don't have to lie," I said, ignoring the dig. "Just...play along. Listen, I need to get changed, so could you put the coffee machine on? I could do with a quick cup before we leave."
"Fine," said Nelson. "I'll pretend you use my razor to shave your legs. Oh, hang on -- you do."
I gave him a reproachful look, then slipped into the spare room, removed Melissa's comfy wide trousers, and began decanting myself into Honey's stockings. My office had once been a little one-bedroom flat, and in the old bedroom I kept my foxy Little Lady wardrobe of pencil skirts, neat tweed suits, and deep V-neck cardies. I had the sort of unmanageable figure that made high street shopping pure misery, even with my bestfriend, Gabi's, encouragement, but somehow, my ample bosom and even more ample hips filled Honey's fitted outfits like cream in an éclair, as if things constantly threatened to burst free, but in a good way.
I wriggled into a tight black pencil skirt. In the beginning, when I'd tried to keep my agency a secret, the clothes had been more of a disguise than anything else, but since the bombshell uniform had seemed to focus both the client's mind and mine on the job at hand, I'd continued to use it. There was no way our little plan for this afternoon would work, for instance, if I was just plain old Melissa. Believe me, I was perfectly resistible as Melissa.
"So what are you going to do to the poor man?" yelled Nelson.
"Oh, you know, the usual Honey stuff." To be honest, I never really planned anything as Honey: it just seemed to come out of its own accord. I buckled a waspie belt round my waist. At least having hips like a Russian doll meant your waist looked smaller by comparison. "I've told Jethro that he has to ignore me, whatever I do, go on about how happy he is with Daisy, and if necessary, ask me to stop flirting because he's simply not interested. Just don't let her slap me."
"Don't worry, I'm the office first aider," said Nelson. He did a gratifying double take as I sashayed into the main office and slid my feet into a pair of patent leather peep-toe sandals. "Good Lord. How does anyone get any work done with you dressed like that? How do you walk downstairs? How do you breathe?"
"I'm a woman of many talents." I winked, then paused as I caught a glimpse of my curvaceous reflection in the mirror. Something was missing. I was still too...Melissa.
"Do you think I should...?" I made a halo motion around my head.
"Should what?" he said sternly, as if he didn't already know what I was talking about.
"Should I...put it on?"
We held each other's gaze.
He knew I was talking about The Wig.
I used to offer a rather ingenious service whereby I'd pretend to be a client's girlfriend -- just to tide them over a tricky social hump, you understand. Weddings, meetings with nosy mothers, that sort of thing. To stop other people from recognizing me -- I know an embarrassing number of people -- I'd bought a blond wig because I hadn't wanted my freelance girlfriend work getting back to my family. But the weird thing was, tossing my fabulous blond mane around gave me an amazing thrill. I wasn't frumpy, reliable Mel anymore, I was a fearless, quick-thinking blond goddess.
It was how I'd met Jonathan, actually. He'd moved here from New York after a horrendous divorce, and he'd needed a smoke screen to keep himself from being matchmade to death by all the hostesses desperate for gorgeous thirty-something bachelors. So when he and I had gotten together for real, Jonathan had decided for obvious reasons that he hadn't wanted me wearing the wig for work anymore. I could see his point. I was never quite sure what would happen myself when I put the wig on. So I'd promised him it would stay in the box.
And it had, more or less.
I bit my lip now. The wig would be the cherry on the cake. Things always turned up a few notches when I wore the wig. And I needed to look like a real knockout to convince Daisy of Jethro's devotion....
I turned on my heel and wiggled off to the spare room.
"Oh, Mel," groaned Nelson. "I'm not sure I can cope with the wig."
Heading straight to a filing cabinet that housed the personal details of enough London bachelors to fill a Tatler Eligibles list, I lifted the lid off a fabulous old red satin box.
Carefully, I opened it and withdrew a coil of gleaming blond hair. The golden strands shone as I smoothed and stroked the wig around my hand. My secret weapon.
Between you and me, I did miss it.
Jonathan was in Paris. He would never know. Nelson wouldn't tell. And Jethro would thank me later.
Deftly, I began pinning up my own thick brown hair.
We'd arranged to meet for lunch at Cecconi's in Burlington Gardens, and I spotted Jethro and Daisy through the big windows as we got out of the taxi. They were holding hands over the table, and Daisy looked the image of sweetness in a white sundress and strawberry blond Heidi braids.
"Is Jethro looking at me?" I asked Nelson as I paid the driver.
"Mel, of course he's looking at you. There are people in offices looking at you."
"Don't be silly," I said, blushing. "And call me Honey."
As we made our way into the restaurant, I saw that Nelson was right: people were looking at us. That was the wig -- my very own exclamation mark. It suddenly dawned on me that though I'd run through the Honey persona with Jethro, I hadn't told Jethro I'd be arriving in a blond wig. That, presumably, was why he was looking so very shocked. I tried to look at him reassuringly but Honeyishly at the same time, and psyched myself up into Honey Mode.
"Jethro! How long's it been? You haven't changed at all!" I cried, opening my arms and advancing on him for a social kiss or two.
I sensed Nelson stiffen behind me, and at once a dark cloud passed across Daisy's pretty face, rather like when you try to take a bone away from a Jack Russell.
"H-h-honey," he stammered, his eyes running up and down me frantically. "Lovely to see you again. This is Daisy, my girlfriend. Daisy, this is Honey, an...an old friend."
"Hello!" I said, mwahing her pink cheek. "This is Nelson Barber -- Nelson, Jethro Lorton-Hunter and Daisy -- "
"Daisy Thomsett. We've been together eighteen months," she said at once, shooting daggers at me.
I made to sit down, and both Nelson and Jethro went to pull my chair out. I shook my head warningly at Jethro and glared at Daisy's half-empty glass.
"More water, Daisy?" he said instead, turning his attention back to her, as we'd practiced at his consultation.
"Yes, please, darling," she said, without taking her narrowed eyes off me.
I leaned my elbows on the table so my cleavage rose up in my red shirt like two fresh white loaves. "So, Jethro," I purred, "you're looking well."
"Yes," he said, staring at my cleavage. "That's domestic bliss. Daisy really looks after me. I've never been so happy."
I coughed, and he dragged his gaze upward. "Lucky Daisy," I cooed.
"Lucky in what way?" demanded Daisy.
"Lucky Daisy to have a boyfriend who's complimentary about her in public," said Nelson, opening his menu. "Something Honey here is always complaining about."
"Nelson!" I began, knowing he meant Jonathan, who wasn't what you'd call demonstrative in public, but he flashed me a quick smile and put his arm around me.
"Although she knows I adore her," he added, giving me a boyfriend-ish squeeze. A little too boyfriend-ish, maybe -- one grip of his strong arm practically cuddled me onto his lap. Not that he seemed to mind. Nelson and I were Friends Who Hugged, but this was something else. This was stage three dating handsiness. I boggled my eyes at him from under my blond bangs.
"Who could resist that smolder?" he went on, beaming adoringly. "Certainly not me."
"Or me," added Jethro. "I mean, I could resist. Ha! I don't have eyes for anyone but Daisy!"
"Then stop looking down her top," snapped Daisy so emphatically that Nelson and I sprang apart -- almost as if we really were going out.
This wasn't going quite as planned: for my cunning reverse psychology to work, Jethro's ignoring needed to match my flirting exactly, and...it wasn't. I must have thrown him off with the unexpected blondness. Daisy was looking crosser by the minute.
"Funny Jethro never mentioned you before," she said suspiciously. "I'd say you were the sort of old friend who'd stick in the mind."
"Oh, Jethro, I'm crushed!" I pretended to look hurt, then shrugged toward Daisy. "He's a one-woman man, obviously!"
With excellent timing, the waiter appeared before anyone could say anything else.
"Ready to order?" he asked, pen poised.
"Oh, I think we're ready," glowered Daisy. "More than ready."
I opted for spaghetti and ate it in a deliberately Sophia Loren manner, all slow twirling and lip-licking. Daisy stabbed her ravioli viciously, and I had to keep kicking Jethro under the table to stop his gawking at me and start talking up Daisy's many charms. If it hadn't been for Nelson's heroically taking charge of the conversation, I don't know what I'd have done.
"So, Honey," said Daisy as our plates were cleared, "does it take you ages in the morning to look so...glamorous?"
"I prefer the natural look, personally, Dais," said Jethro at once. "Some women don't need all that makeup and what-have-you."
"You think I don't make any effort?" she demanded.
He looked bewildered. "No. No, just that...Oh, God."
"Women!" said Nelson, as if he knew anything about it.
"It does take a while," I said, shooting Jethro a flirty glance. "All the hooks...and clips..."
Honestly, I couldn't help it. It was the wig.
Jethro swallowed hard. "Waste of time!" he croaked manfully.
"I don't think I could be bothered," snapped Daisy. "And I have a job to get to in the mornings. Unless it's part of your job?"
"It is," I affirmed.
"Oh, she's a different girl at home," Nelson assured her. "You wouldn't recognize her."
"Anyone got room for pudding?" asked Jethro, trying to change the subject. "The strawberry tart sounds nice."
"I'm not all that fond of tarts," seethed Daisy.
"I'll just have a black coffee, I think." I put my napkin on the table. "Would you excuse me?" I said, as Nelson and Jethro half rose from their seats.
"What a good idea!" said Daisy grimly. "I'll come with you."
She practically hustled me into the loos. Then, as soon as the door swung closed, she turned on me with a ferocity I hadn't seen since my sister Allegra had her car towed.
"What are you playing at?" she demanded. "Jethro is off-limits! Off-limits! Leave him alone, you hear me?"
"Darling," I said, leaning against a washbasin and affecting a sorrowful expression. "If only. Jethro is utterly devoted to you. He told me so when I -- "
Daisy's eyes boggled. "When you what? Has he been meeting up with you behind my back? I knew it! Right, I'm going to have it out with him this minute."
"God, no," I said quickly, grabbing her arm. "I mean, we spoke on the phone and..."
Nelson's constant warnings about not spinning a web of complicated lies reverberated in my head.
Keep it simple.
I put a hand to my throat and smiled bravely. "I must admit...Jeth is a wonderful man. A real keeper. He made it very, very clear to me that you're the only woman for him!"
Which was true.
"He said that?" she asked hopefully. "And he wasn't...drunk?"
"Oh, yes." I nodded, as her guard fell and revealed a sudden flash of something I recognized: vulnerability. Poor Daisy. She must have had a bounder in her past. I'd had enough bounders myself to spot the ugly scars of paranoia. "I wouldn't stand a chance. He's absolutely mad about you. Adores you. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he -- "
Daisy's eyes lit up and she grabbed my hands. "Really? Ohmigod! You think he's about to propose?"
"Um! Who knows?" I gasped, but she was already barging back into the restaurant, doors swinging behind her.
"I think that went off all right," I said, as Nelson and I strolled arm in arm down Piccadilly afterward. I'd changed out of my crippling high heels into the more manageable pair I kept in my vast handbag, and shaken out my brown hair from underneath the wig. It was one of those rare early spring days in London when the trees are out, the sun is shining, and you feel as if you're breathing in summer instead of the usual grime.
What with that and a strong sense of a job well done, I was positively floating along.
"Indeed," Nelson agreed. "It was nice of the manager to give us that champagne. Not that they had much choice after Daisy announced her engagement, mind you. I heard her telling the waiter how like Jethro it was to have arranged lunch so near Bond Street, for Tiffany's."
"Well, what about you being such a great pretend boyfriend?" I gave his hip a nudge with mine. "If you're that good at pretending, I have no idea why you're still single."
He looked sideways at me. "I learned from the queen of pretend girlfriends. Look, this is my office -- are you taking the rest of the day off?"
"Certainly not," I said. "I've got a wardrobe consultation, a broody mother, and an unknown family drama to fix this afternoon." I leaned up to kiss Nelson on his cheek. "Thanks for your help."
"My pleasure," said Nelson. "I'll see you back home."
The flat Nelson and I called home was a few streets away from my office, in a friendly but rather run-down residential area behind Victoria Coach Station. We had nearly the same postcode as Buckingham Palace, which impressed Jonathan's mother to no end, but it really wasn't that posh at all. Still, I thought, noticing the first flickers of pink blossoms on the cherry trees as I walked home that evening, I'd miss its shabby gentility when I moved to Paris.
My living arrangements at the moment were rather complicated, due to the fact that Jonathan had just taken a job running the upmarket Parisian branch of Kyrle & Pope, a tony estate agency, while I still had to run the one and only branch of the very London-based Little Lady Agency. Consequently, I was working hard in SW1 from Monday to Thursday lunchtime, and living at Nelson's, then hopping on Eurostar to Paris and into the arms of Jonathan for the rest of the week.
Not seeing each other all the time did have its romantic advantages, if you know what I mean. Jonathan had been living there for nearly four months, and we still hadn't found time to go up the Eiffel Tower.
However, I couldn't go on living in two places, and Jonathan had been nudging me for a while about exactly when I was going to move to Paris. I did want to, honestly. It was just...quite a wrench.
When I got home, Nelson was going through the post and yelling at a radio phone-in show, as was his wont. I kicked off my shoes and put a bottle of wine on the table next to him.
"A little thank-you for this morning," I said. "Do you want to open it now? I've had a hellish afternoon trying to coach a client into telling his dragon of a mother he's living with his girlfriend and has been for the last five years. Not to mention the fact that his father's practically got him lined up to marry his cousin. God, sometimes I just don't know where to start."
Nelson looked up from a selection of bills. "It's a good thing these people don't know you and your own family arrangements, or else they'd find it hard to take your Nightmare Family Management very seriously."
I would have disagreed with him if it hadn't been true. The Romney-Joneses were, not to put too fine a point on it, a bunch of melodramatic, self-centered schemers. Jonathan thought they should all be in therapy, which of course we had been, for about a month in the early nineties, until my father had found out that the therapy bills cost as much as the mortgage.
"More to the point," Nelson went on, "I hope you're going to put some of those Nightmare Family Management skills into action this weekend."
"Oh, don't. At least I'm taking Jonathan home with me for backup," I sighed. "We need to start talking about the wedding, and Mummy's invited everyone for a family dinner -- Allegra and Lars, Emery and William, Granny -- "
"The whole lot. Blimey." He wandered over toward his room, pulling off his tie. "Maybe you should take the wig with you? Might help you put your foot down."
"I don't think Jonathan would go for that," I said heavily. "He has quite strong views on the wearing of the wig."
Nelson paused on the other side of the room. "Mel. I was joking."
"Any chance of a foot rub?" I asked hopefully. Nelson's foot rubs were legendary. He had very strong thumbs and could turn me to jelly in seconds. That and his cooking made him Flatmate of the Year, indefinitely. "I'm walking on knots here."
"Sorry, running late," he said, catching sight of the kitchen clock. "Maybe later?"
He vanished into his room, and while I was still making pleading noises, he reappeared, wrapped in a towel at his waist, and headed for the bathroom. "You'll have to get your own supper tonight. And can I borrow that fancy bath oil of yours? I've run out," he yelled over the sound of the boiler cranking into action.
My jaw dropped. One, Nelson was suggesting I make supper. Even when he'd been rushed into hospital overnight with blood poisoning, he'd left instructions about what I should heat up from his freezer of delights. Two, he wanted to use bath oil. Three, he was wandering around the flat in a towel.
The sight of Nelson's upper body, which he kept Englishly under wraps for as much of the year as possible, was a rare thing indeed. Even though we'd known each other forever, we'd agreed on dressing gowns as part of my moving in.
So it was quite startling to have his upper body so suddenly unveiled, and I couldn't help noticing his newly rounded biceps, flecked with a thick crop of freckles where his T-shirt sleeves stopped and his tan started. He'd spent a lot of the spring crewing some yacht with his mate Roger, and heaving all those mainsails around had clearly had an effect.
Before I could recover my dropped jaw, he slapped a hand over his stomach.
"What are you staring at?" he demanded, turning away from me so I couldn't see whatever it was he was so self-conscious about. "Haven't you ever seen an appendectomy scar before?"
Mel! I told myself, with a brisk mental shake. That was the trouble with having a boyfriend you only saw on the weekends. By midweek, I could almost fancy Gordon Brown.
"Bath's about to run over!" I caroled. "Use whatever you want! I'll make the tea!"
And I turned on my heel and scuttled to the kitchen.
Nelson never lingered in the bath, and after ten minutes, he plonked himself down at the kitchen table. He was now dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue shirt, and he toweled his damp hair as I pushed a mug of tea toward him.
"What's the big rush?" I asked, hoping he'd stay long enough to put dinner on.
Nelson stopped toweling and looked up. "Dur. I'm taking your friend Jossy Hopkirk out for dinner. We're going to a new organic pub in Islington. Come on, you set up this date."
In an effort to kick-start Nelson's love life, which, to be honest, had been a little lackluster of late, I'd turned to my bulging address book and set about creating a program of blind dates for him, in the hope that he too might get to enjoy the delights of couplehood currently experienced by me and Jonathan. I had high hopes for Jossy. She had an advanced driving certificate and worked for a donkey charity. Competent parking and animal aid featured high on Nelson's Top Ten requirements in female company.
"Is that a new shirt?" I asked curiously. Nelson seemed to be making more effort than normal -- a haircut, a fresh shirt, the trip up to North London....
"Ah, you noticed!" he said. "Yes, it is."
"Good!" I said. "That's...good."
"You like it? It's the right color?"
"Yes. It's great."
I wasn't sure what this was about. Nelson normally spurned my help in clothes shopping. He was the one bachelor I wasn't allowed to fix up.
"Suppose I should really get you to give me a final checkup," he went on, as if he'd been reading my mind. "Sort out my wardrobe, and all that. Before you...go."
"Before I go where?"
"To Paris." He ran a hand through his hair. "Have you sorted out a date yet? For your big move?"
I blinked. "No. Not yet."
For the second time that evening we stared at each other in silence.
"I expect I'll be discussing that with Jonathan this weekend," I said, trying to sound excited.
I mean, of course I was looking forward to setting up home in Jonathan's gorgeous Parisian apartment, and it wasn't like we'd never be in London again, but leaving Nelson and the flat I'd lived in for so long was something I hadn't spent too much time dwelling on.
Nelson made a really obvious attempt to look jolly. "Yes, well, I need to know, so I can aim to get one of these blind dates of yours moved into the spare room," he said. "Place wouldn't be the same without tights over the radiators and nine different shampoos in the bathroom."
"And then there's my rent!" I said, in an equally lame jokey tone. "I know it's subsidizing your organic food addiction."
He pulled a face. "And what if she doesn't like eating?"
I felt a terrible pang in my chest at the idea of Nelson patiently putting up with some dreadful bimbo's messy kitchen habits and yappy friends talking over the archaeology programs he watched on the telly. We'd come to an understanding over the years.
"I'll miss you, you grumpy sod," I blurted out, grabbing his hand over the table.
"I'll miss you, you daft baggage," he said, squeezing my hand. The phone rang on the wall next to me. It was half six, the time Jonathan called me from work every day. His timekeeping, like everything else about him, was meticulous.
I squeezed Nelson's hand apologetically. "That'll be Jonathan. We'll talk later, OK?"
Nelson looked as if he was about to say something, but then he shoved his chair back. "Right. I should get a move on."
"You look v foxy, by the way," I added, reaching for the phone. "I hope Jossy's made as much effort!"
Nelson mumbled something I didn't catch, but I wasn't really listening. My skin was tingling with delicious anticipation as I picked up the receiver and reeled off our number.
"May I speak with Mrs. Melissa Romney-Riley-Jones?" inquired a smooth American voice.
I sighed with pleasure and leaned against the kitchen wall. "Not quite yet. In a month or two?"
"Not sure I can wait that long, Mrs. Romney-Riley-Jones," said Jonathan.
I didn't care what order the names were in, I would never ever get sick of hearing them strung together.
Copyright © 2008 by Hester Browne
Excerpted from The Little Lady Agency and the Prince by Hester Browne Copyright © 2008 by Hester Browne. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Hester Browne is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Little Lady Agency in the Big Apple, The Finishing Touches, and Swept Off Her Feet. She lives in London and Herefordshire with her two Basset hounds Violet and Bonham.
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