Read an Excerpt
By Beth Pattillo
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
Nicholas St. Germain paused from his labors, leaned against
the handle of the gardening hoe, and eyed the obese, blond pug
stalking him much as a lion would an antelope.
"If you're going to savage me, Wellington, do it now. It will
save me having to weed the rhododendrons."
Wellington, who more resembled a wrinkled, overstuffed pillow
than the famous general, sniffed with disdain.
Nick raised his eyebrows. "You took the idiotic notion to dart
into the middle of Bond Street. Crispin wagered I could not go
twenty-four hours without playing the hero and, traitor that
you are, you proved him right in less than twelve."
Wellington growled in umbrage. Nick snorted and lifted the hoe
to attack a weed. At least he thought it was a weed. "I should
have let you be trampled by Coverley's greys." He whacked at
the offending stalk, and it broke off just above the ground.
"Never perform a heroic act for a dog."
Wellington barked in indignation.
"Don't look innocent, you mongrel." Nick glanced down at the
stained smock and rough wool trousers. "Crispin is no doubt
peering down on us right now, enjoying the sight of me mucking
about in his grandmother's garden." He grimaced. "And talking
to her dog."
Nick looked toward the house and, as expected, caught sight of
his friend waving heartily from the drawing room window. When
the urge to throw down the hoe and throttle Crispin had
passed, Nick wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.
"I'm done with wagers, Wellington. And no more heroism. Ever.
It's devilishly hard on my boots." He surveyed his ruined
hessians with dismay. The cards had not been falling in his
favor of late, and his credit with Hobby was stretched beyond
hope of repayment. His father had said he would see him
barefoot before he sent him another farthing, and the King of
Santadorra's prediction might soon come to pass.
Wellington responded to Nick's declarations by sidling closer,
lifting one leg, and relieving himself on the scuffed brown
"The devil!" Nick cried.
Wellington shot off down the gravel path and Nick sprinted
after him. The dog veered around a statue of Diana, skirted a
small fountain, then leapt through a bed of iris. Nick crashed
after him, cringing at the destruction his hessians left in
their wake but determined to corner the blasted pug at any
cost. Wellington reached the rear wall and skidded to a halt.
"You're trapped now, you overbred cur." Nick stooped to grab
the dog, intent on retribution. At that precise moment, the
door in the garden wall swung open, and with a thwack, the
weathered wood knocked the Crown Prince of Santadorra
* * *
"Ahh." Nick winced at the light touch of a hand at his temple,
and his stomach lurched. Stars danced behind his closed lids.
The last thing he remembered was stooping over to grab that
canine menace, Wellington, as they skidded to a stop at the
back of the garden.
A feminine voice, light and airy, penetrated the haze of pain
enveloping his head. "Drat! I've murdered a gardener."
Nick wanted to object that he was in too much pain to be dead.
The owner of the breathless voice, whoever she was, ran soft
fingers through his hair-soft, that is, until they brushed the
spot where his skull felt as if it might explode.
"Ow!" His eyes flew open. His vision was still a bit fuzzy,
but his sight was clear enough to register the blue-eyed,
blond goddess biting her lip and looking at him as if he were
in need of last rites.
"Who the devil are you?"
The goddess bristled. "I might ask you the same thing,
although I suppose you were hired by Lady Belmont to replace
young Whitley who ran off to sea. What an idiotic notion,
putting your head in the way of the door. I could have killed
Nick groaned. Self-righteous and dangerous. A complication he
didn't need, even if the package included skin like Devonshire
cream and pink, bowed lips. Wellington barked in agreement
with the chit's scolding and Nick winced. "Pipe down, both of
you. My head feels as if it's been run over by a carriage
wheel." "And well it should, if you intend to go about
colliding it with doors."
Nick stared at her. "If I intend? Colliding it with doors?"
Was she a lunatic?
The girl rose to her feet, her limbs tensed for flight. She
was small, a pocket Venus, the very kind of woman who always
brought out his damnable heroic tendencies. She was looking
anywhere but at him, as if he were of less consequence than
Fortunately, you seem to have recovered, and I'm expected
home. Good day."
"Whoa!" He grabbed the much-turned hem of her skirt as she
passed. Did she think he would let her trespass so blithely
through a private garden? "One moment, princess." Princess?
What bit of madness had made him utter that endearment, even
in mockery? He cleared his throat. "You may leave the same way
you entered." He nodded toward the garden door, expecting the
movement to bring sharp pain, but thankfully there was only a
The girl hesitated, and then she glanced toward the door she'd
just come through. Nick's eyes followed her movement. His
sight was still a trifle bleary but not blind.
"Is someone following you?"
She jumped. "Following me? Certainly not."
Nick lumbered to his feet, and to his surprise, the girl
grasped his arm to steady him. The warmth of her touch
penetrated the rough sleeve of his gardener's smock. He gained
his balance and she dropped her hold as if his arm was on
fire. Their eyes locked, and Nick felt the ground shift
beneath his feet. Surely not. Surely it was only his injured
head, woozy from the door's attack. This girl was
anathema-beautiful, troubled, obviously in need of a hero. The
Almighty had seen his vow to Wellington as a challenge, and
had responded immediately by sending the ultimate temptation.
Nick, though, would not be so easily undone. He had sworn an
oath, even if it was only to the most troublesome dog in
Christendom, and by Jove, he intended to keep his word.
And yet the part of him that defied his best intentions made
the damning questions tumble from his lips. "Have you run away
from your employer? See here, if you're in trouble, I can-" He
stopped abruptly. "No," he heard himself mutter, as if
watching the too-familiar scene from a distance. "No. Not-"
Before he could finish the thought, the garden door swung open
and a pair of burly ruffians stepped through the portal.
Wellington erupted into a frenzy of barking and made a dive
for the boots of the closest intruder. The stocky man gave
Wellington a kick that sent the pug flying. The girl cried out
and started toward the dog, but Nick grabbed her arm and
thrust her behind him. With his other hand, he reached for a
scythe propped against the wall. He cursed his own stupidity,
for he should have expected this from the moment he'd noticed
her eyeing the door.
"Aw, look, 'Ector." The first man smirked, revealing a great
quantity of rotten teeth. "She's gone and found 'erself a
Nick's shoulders tightened in anticipation of battle. Two
against one, and the one's head still felt as if it had
connected with a cricket bat. Behind him, he could feel the
tension thrumming through the girl as surely as he could feel
his own pulse. The second man, larger than the first but
somehow less menacing, cast an uncomfortable glance around the
garden as he shifted from one foot to the other.
"Get on with it, Tully. Somebody might 'appen along."
Nick tightened his fingers around the handle of the scythe. If
there was one thing he had learned, it was how to play the
part of a hero, right down to the lines of dialogue.
"Whoever you are, you are trespassing on Lady Belmont's
property. I suggest you leave." His voice sounded firm even as
he trembled with the effort of holding the unwieldy scythe as
he would a rapier.
"Alright, alright." The stocky man turned toward the door.
"C'mon, 'Ector. 'E's too much for the likes of us." Suddenly,
though, the ruffian whirled about and lurched forward, making
a grab for the scythe.
Nick feinted and parried with his awkward weapon, thrusting
the blade beneath his attacker's nose. Behind him, the girl
gasped, for he had stopped just short of cutting the man. His
attacker grunted in surprise and stepped back.
"'Ow'd you learn to fight like a nob?" The ruffian wiped his
nose on his filthy sleeve. "C'mon. Put up yer fives, and fight
me fair, man to man."
Nick groaned. That was it, then. The challenge he'd never been
able to resist. Not merely to play the hero but to stack the
deck against himself, to make his task as difficult as
possible. After all, wasn't that what true heroism required?
He tossed the scythe to the ground and squared his shoulders.
"Man to man it is, then."
Behind him, the girl bit back a cry of feminine exasperation.
The second ruffian sank down onto a nearby bench. "I'll just
rest meself 'ere a bit, Tully, until you're done with poundin'
'im to a bloody pulp."
The first thug shot his fellow blackguard a disparaging
glance. "Demme, 'Ector, you'd still be hanging at your
mother's teat if she'd let ye. If you've not the stomach for a
fight, make yerself useful and fetch a rope to tie her. This
bloke won't take long to bash."
"Aye, Tully. 'Tis just what I'll do." The squeamish giant
looked delighted at the opportunity to escape from the garden
and in a moment, he was gone. Nick breathed a sigh of relief.
The ruffian's arrogance had at least evened the odds.
The girl stepped forward and bent to retrieve the scythe, but
Nick caught her arm. "No." Despite his years away from the
palace, the word held the imperial authority of a monarch's
command. The girl flushed with fury.
She shook off his grip. "There's no need to play the hero."
Her words caught him like an uppercut. She looked magnificent
in her righteous indignation, despite her obviously laughable
belief that she could fend for herself. "Princess," he
drawled, "where have you been all my life?"
Princess? Princess? If any of the matchmaking mamas that
haunted London's beau monde ever heard him murmur that
endearment to their daughters, he'd be wed within a week.
Nick's stomach sank as he realized the depth of his attraction
to her. No woman was as irresistible to a would-be hero as one
who spurned his aid.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a sudden flash of
movement. The ruffian had retrieved the scythe and now raised
it above his head like an ax.
"Watch out!" the girl cried and then she shoved Nick backward
into the thug. The contact threw his attacker off balance and
they fell into a heap on the path. Nick felt the air rush from
his chest with one quick whoosh. The scythe flew through the
air and landed at the girl's feet, the blade mere inches from
the tips of her half boots. Nick, truly afraid for the first
time since the men had entered the garden, fought to regain
his breath. The first thug, who lay beneath him, roared and
shoved Nick aside as came upright. The fiend spied the scythe
at the girl's feet and lunged forward.
Just in time, the girl reached down and snatched the handle
before the ruffian could claim it. The scythe wavered
precariously in her grasp but her expression showed not the
slightest tremor. Breathless, Nick could only
watch-fascinated, intrigued, furious-as she attempted to
brandish the weapon.
"Well, wot 'ave we 'ere?" Blood trickled from the corner of
the ruffian's nose and his smile was truly evil. "'Tis me
lucky day. I like 'em young and blond as a guinea." He turned
and spat and Nick could have sworn he saw a tooth go sailing
through the air. The girl shuddered at the vile words but she
held her ground.
Nick had dreamed such scenes before, in the haunting
combination of memory and nightmare that stalked his sleep.
Only this time he would not awaken to find himself in his own
bed, the linens twisted and soaked with sweat.
"Back!" She waved the scythe as menacingly as she could, but
he could see that her arms were tiring quickly.
"More like 'on yer back,'" the man smirked. "'Tis where you'll
soon be, you-"
Nick sucked in a lungful of air and rolled to his feet.
Glancing about, he spied a small stone urn on the potting
bench along the wall. He grabbed the vessel and raised it
above the ruffian's head. The thug, unaware of Nick's
recovery, continued to advance on the girl. With all the force
he could muster, Nick brought the urn down on the man's crown
with a resounding blow. A second thud followed the first as
the ruffian dropped to the ground.
The girl stood immobile, stunned by the violence and more than
a little bit green beneath that creamy complexion. Nick looked
down. At his feet, the thug lay in a crumpled heap, blood
oozing from his crown. This skirmish was over, but how long
until the other villain returned with a rope-or
He knew the best antidote for the shock of battle was
practical action. "He'll come 'round before long. We should
toss him out."
The girl exhaled and then squared her shoulders, and Nick
knew, from that one small movement, that she was pluck to the
backbone. She looked up, capturing him again in those clear
blue eyes before she turned her attention back to the man at
their feet. "Can we manage? He looks heavy."
"He's not likely to grow any lighter." Nick leaned down and
grasped the thug under the arms. Without waiting for
instructions, the girl took hold of his ankles.
"One, two, three-" In unison, they inched the man's dead
weight across the path and to the threshold of the door. With
a grunt of satisfaction, Nick shoved the thug's torso across
the threshold and then set his hands on the girl's shoulders
to slide her aside. The brief sensation of her flesh beneath
his palms sent a shiver down his spine. Nick dropped his grip
on her shoulders, grasped the man's legs, and swung them out
the narrow portal. With a final shove, he rolled the thug onto
the cobblestones and shut the door. The girl threw home the
bolt and dropped the crossbar like a chatelaine preparing for
Nick took a long look at his undoing and could only suppress a
groan. Curse it, why couldn't she have been plain and wan?
"Care to tell me why those two ruffians had you so firmly in
The girl feigned innocence. "I have no idea why those men
followed me," she protested, and Nick had to allow that she
was a credible enough actress. Just not credible enough to
fool him. Again, she squared her shoulders, those shoulders
that had felt so right beneath his hands. "Men see a female
servant alone and take a great many notions. Thievery. Or
rapine." She shuddered at the thought, and Nick did as well.
He was all too aware of the vulnerability of a woman alone.
"Indeed," was all he said.
She knotted her fingers in her skirt and shifted from one foot
to the other. "I do thank you, sir, for your assistance and
will trouble you no further." She bobbed a curtsy and her eyes
darted toward the other door in the garden's eastern wall.
"Trouble?" He was irritated, intrigued, and foolishly
reluctant to let the hoyden leave. "Pray tell, princess, what
makes you think you've been any trouble?"
She flushed a becoming shade of pink, and Nick's body
responded with alacrity to her beguiling combination of
brazenness and embarrassment. She spread her hands in front of
her in a gesture of apology.
"See here, I'm dreadfully sorry about your head, but how was I
to know you were waiting just this side of the door? And I'm
sorry for the thugs, too, but it's not as if I asked them to
follow me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way and we
can forget this small incident." "Small incident?" Nick eyed
her in disbelief. "I am struck unconscious, the most repulsive
villain ever dredged up from the Thames attacks us, and it's a
small incident? Remind me, my sweet, not to be present when
you become ensnared in anything large."
The girl bit her lip, her features white, and Nick cursed
himself for a cad. While she obviously prided herself on her
independence, she clearly wasn't accustomed to street brawls.
An apology formed on his lips, but before he could utter a
word, the girl burst into tears.
Blast and damn! Instinctively, Nick grabbed her and pressed
her against his chest. With an awkward, hesitant motion, he
stroked her hair, for he was far more used to fighting on
behalf of fair maidens than comforting them. "C'mon, now,
don't cry, princess. I abhor when women cry."
Excerpted from Princess Charming
by Beth Pattillo
Copyright © 2003 by Beth Pattillo .
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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