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IT WAS, Jacoba Sinclair decided, the perfect setting for an evening of high romance. A full moon sailed across the sky, burnishing the panorama of mountains with heartbreaking glamour and silhouetting their rounded, muscular shapes above a lake that shone with the glossy blackness of obsidian.
In stark contrast, the people inside the building drank cham-pagne in the sort of clothes seen only at very formal balls. Light from the huge Venetian chandelier gleamed on bare shoulders adorned with jewels, their warm glow highlighting the seduc-tive glimmer of satin and the elegant austerity of men's evening clothes. Candle flames bobbed from tables set with crystal and silver and festooned with white and gold flowers.
Jacoba smoothed a hand over her hip, her long fingers skimming the crimson silk that billowed out with subtle sen-suality from a tiny waist into an extravagant skirt. The gems in her tiara caught fire from the chandelier, each diamond pulsing with cold, clear fire.
They were genuine, like the stones in the drop earrings and the necklaceand worth an obscene amount of money. The mountains and the lake, and the Southern Cross emblazoned across the clear New Zealand sky, were real too, their raw per-manence mocking the transitory glitter of the room.
Because everything else inside was as fake as the furs that draped the wall behind her. By day the exotic pavilion led a workaday life as a restaurant at the top of a ski lift, and the elegantly dressed men and women sipping imitation cham-pagne had been hired for their patrician faces and sleek bodies.
This was her life. She was being paid a vast amount to smile, to look haughty and seductive, as expensive and unattainable as the gems that blazed at her throat and hung from her ears.
"Perfect," Zoltan said throatily. "Yes, like that, looking down at the lake, then turnand see your prince. I want a kind of stunned wonder, followed by just the beginnings of a smile, all your glossy confidence transmuted into a flash of wistful longing." He paused before adding snidely, "Think you can do that?"
Jacoba knew he'd been lured to direct the advertisement by huge money and the promise of a prestigious campaignand that he'd wanted a Hollywood screen goddess to play her part. Tired of being addressed as though she were a five-year-old, she decided to show him that models knew a thing or two about acting.
"I think I can manage that," she drawled, her voice pitched low, and turned her head to fix him with the look he wanted.
Zoltan gave her a sharp glance. "All right, let's see it for the camera," he said curtly.
Ignoring his open scepticism she switched her attention to the magnificent view, pulling back an artificial taffeta curtain. She recalled how it had felt to look at other families when she'd been a kid, how she'd watched children play with their parents and wondered why she didn't have a father,
"Great,'the director said, not bothering to hide his surprise. "OK, catch some movement on the other side of the room, look across, and see him. Slowly now, "
His voice rattled on, tearing at her concentration. Perhaps he'd heard that some photographers used a barrage of talk at fashion shoots to enthuse and inspire models. Irritated, Jacoba tuned him out.
The extras played their roles, chatting, flirting and laughing softly. Ignoring the camera, she let her gaze drift over the crowd, move on slowly towards the door at the back, find the one particular man who'd just walked in through the door,who played her lover, was confined to the Lodge with a stomach bug. They'd decided to shoot around his absence,
But Jacoba's startled gaze met that of a man who strode through the door as though on cue. Mind spinning, she ignored the feverish shiver that ran the length of her spine as her fingers tightened on the curtain.
This wasn't the double!
Tall, effortlessly elegant in the stark black and white of his evening clothes, the newcomer moved with a leashed, vital energy that hooked into something hidden and vulnerable in Jacoba. The breath caught in her throat as her gaze roamed a Mediterranean face honed into formidable angularity, olive skin a startling contrast to pale eyeseyes that locked on to her.
The noise faded until all she could hear was the rapid thunder of her heartbeat while Prince Marco Considine of Illyria walked towards her, his arrogant features taut and intent as though she were the only person in the room.
In a purely instinctive gesture, one gloved fist covered her heart, protecting it from the overpowering impact of a man she'd avoided for the past ten years.
"Brilliant," the director said eagerly. "Yeah, keep it like thatOK, cut!"
He turned, and his expression hardened. "What the hell?" he began explosively, only to rein in his aggression when he recognised the man coming towards them. An ingra-tiating note appeared in his voice, "Ah, Prince MarcoI didn't expect you."
The comment ended in an upward inflection that conveyed a question he dared not ask; it wouldn't be prudent to quiz one of the most powerful men in the world about his actions.
Especially not when he controlled the huge cosmetics con-glomerate that was spending millions on publicity for their first perfume, Jacoba thought cynically.
By then she'd composed her face into a maskproud, aloof, almost disdainful. She stood very still, letting her breath ease out between tense lips, trying to minimise the space she took up.
Difficult for a woman with hair the colour of a tropical sunset who stood six feet in heels, wearing a dress designed specifically to catch every eye and enough jewels to outshine the southern sky! She fought back a panic-stricken gigglea shock response left over from childhoodand concentrated on the conversation between the two men.
"I'm staying at the Lodge in Shipwreck Bay,'Prince Marco said, his voice cool and deep and English-accented. "So I thought I'd come up and see how things were going."
Jacoba's stomach knotted. She too was staying at the Lodge. But she could deal with that. Like the rest of the world, he had absolutely no idea who she really was. Her parentsactors in the terrifying, unremembered drama that had been her infancy in Illyriawere now dead. And a lot had happened in the past few years in the small, impoverished princedom between the European heartland and the sunny Mediterranean. With the dreaded cadres of the Illyrian secret police disbanded, she and her sister Lexie were safe from them, and it didn't seem likely that in the twenty-first century her mother's other fear, the blood feud, would still be part of Illyrian life.
Anyway, the prince, born and brought up in his mother's country of France, wouldn't care.
She stole a glance at him, and a superstitious shudder iced her skin.
He'd care. Marco Considine looked as though he believed in revenge. Morbidly, Jacoba found herself recall-ing stories from Illyria's historyancient tales of wars to avenge honour,
Don't be an idiot, she commanded, furious with her over-active imagination.
She switched her attention to the crowd, but there was no escaping the prince's overwhelming impact. Height had a lot to do with it; she'd probably never have done so well in the modelling world if she hadn't been so tall. And he topped her by at least four inches. Add his powerful build and lethal male grace, and he quite literally dominated the room.
But the strong framework of his face proclaimed an intan-gible, inherent authority. He was a Considine, boasting a heritage that reached back into the ages of myth.
Younger brother to the Grand Duke of Illyriawho was second in position only to the ruling princeMarco Considine would have been raised with the same attachment to their castle in the mountains, the same pride in the history of their illustrious family.
And he was therefore dangerous, and forbidden.
Jacoba dragged in a sharp breath, and Prince Marco's gaze settled on her for a second before moving back to the director. Only a moment, yet she felt as though his steel-blue gaze had penetrated her innermost secrets.
Panic turned her witless, but she fought through it. He didn't know she was Illyrian by birth too. Apart from her sister, no one didwell, only her oldest and best friend, and Hawke would never tell. To everyone else she was a New Zealander. Her name, coupled with fair skin and brilliant hair, made most people assume she had Scottish connections.
She forced her mind away from the dark shadow of the past to wonder why the prince was wearing evening dress. The garments fitted him with the precision that indicated a superb tailor, subtly emphasising those broad shoulders and narrow hips, and his long, heavily muscled legs. He made every other man in the room look synthetic, a colourless imitation of the real thing.
OK, she told herself angrily, so he was gorgeous, a truly impressive hunk of a man. But she had worked with some of the most beautiful men in the world; goggling at him like a schoolgirl was embarrassing.
Composing her face into a serenity she was far from feeling, she forced her attention back to his conversation with Zoltan.
The prince said deliberately, "I hope everything is going well.' "Very well," the director assured him, and embarked on a swift run-down of progress so far.
Jacoba was accustomed to being valued only for her deco-rative appeal, but this was the first time she'd been so com-prehensively ignored.
Perhaps I'm getting spoiled, she thought wryly. Just as well I'd decided to give up this life.
She'd always intended to retire in three years' time when she reached thirty, but the astonishing payment for this campaign meant she could finish immediatelywell, once she'd worked through the two bookings left,
In spite of the brevity of the conversation, she sensed in the prince a formidable, decisive intellect and an unyielding will that intrigued her. An interesting man, this scion of the house of Considineand, she thought after a swift glance at his compelling, imperious face, a dangerous one.
As though he sensed her attention, his cold blue eyes met hers, clashing in a primitive, heady challenge.
She held his gaze for a couple of seconds, then let her lashes hide her thoughts, but she could feel his gaze as he said smoothly and with just a hint of censure in the deep, slightly abrasive voice, "We haven't met."
"Sorry," the director said shortly, "I didn't realise. This is Jacoba Sinclair."
The omission of the rest of the introduction was deliber-ate, but it didn't sting. She had better things to do than obsess over stupid men who considered fashion models a lower form of life.
Summoning her most aloof smile for the prince, she held out her hand. "How do you do, sir?" she said coolly.
"Ms Sinclair." He lifted her hand almost to his lips, dropping a formal kiss into the air just above the glove.
In anyone else she'd have thought the gesture unbearably pretentious, but somehow the prince turned it into a sensuous invitation. A sliver of sensation knifed its way through her. She realised she was breathing more rapidly and she needed a large slug of that ersatz champagne to wet her suddenly dry mouth and throat.
Dangerous indeed! she thought, trying hard to be dismissive. "My name is Marco Considine," he said pleasantly as he straightened up, but his astonishing blue eyes were direct and uncompromising.
And appreciative. Jacoba had seen the glitter of lust too often not to recognise it, even though this man's formidable self-possession kept his features under control.
Her heart rate surged.