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A tiny bead of perspiration traveled down her back, keeping time with the cowboy's slow, steady pace. Who would have imagined early May would be so dashedly hot, even in Texas?
Gwendolyn resisted the urge to tap her foot on the wide wooden planks. She didn't want to be here. Looking back briefly to the black Land Rover parked in the gravel drive, she was at least assured she wasn't alone. A very nervous valet watched her from behind tinted glass. The driver - an Austin resident who had grown up driving on the wrong side of the motor-ways - appeared stoic and unaffected, as usual.
One must have nerves of steel to negotiate the frightening dual carriageways and twisting rural roads of Texas, where everyone drove large vehicles - from huge lorries to caravans on holiday - at an alarming rate ofspeed.
"Mr. Hank McCauley?" she asked as the man stopped before her.
"That's me, darlin'," he drawled, running a hand through his too-long hair. He opened the thin barrier of the screen door and stepped outside. Dressed in low-slung jeans, a white towel draped around his shoulders, he appeared as though he'd recently stepped out of the shower. His long bare feet told her she'd interrupted his morning - his very late morning - grooming. His stubble indicated he hadn't shaved yet today. He ran a hand through sun-streaked, tousled brown hair.
He looked just like a James Dean-ish, Hollywood-style version of Prince Alexi Ladislas of Belegovia.
Oh, my. Gwendolyn looked up into his sleepy, hooded blue eyes, telling herself that she should be evaluating this Texan for his suitability, not comparing his masculine attributes to the prince. Still, any woman would appreciate his tall, broad-shouldered form, his smooth, tanned skin, and the intangible air about him that screamed - no, make that whispered in a bedroom voice - I am one-hundred-percent male.
Odd that Prince Alexi, who appeared the mirror image - albeit a more polished one - of Hank McCauley had never affected her this way.
She blinked away the notion of cool sheets and warm showers, clutching her combination purse and briefcase tighter until she was sure she'd left imprints in the leather. "Mr. McCauley, my name is Lady Gwendolyn Reed and I have a proposition for you."
He grinned. "Well, that's a real surprise, darlin', especially this early in the day. Most of those come at night out at Schultze's Roadhouse."
She assumed this roadhouse was some type of pub, one this man frequented with some regularity. "A business proposition," Gwendolyn clarified, fighting the urge to lose her composure completely on the porch of this ranch house in the Texas Hill Country. She wondered what King Wilheim would say if she pulled her hair loose, threw down her briefcase and ran screaming across the blue-and-red flower-dotted countryside.
She'd had a very bad morning.
"I represent the royal family of Belegovia on this trip to the United States. Unfortunately, Prince Alexi - you may have read or heard of his trip to Texas - has disappeared."
"Oh, yeah. I saw that prince guy on the television. Looks like he could be my twin," Mr. McCauley said with a heart-stopping grin.
"Yes, well I'm sure the two of you are unrelated, although the resemblance is remarkable. Prince Alexi, of course, grew up in England while the royal family was in exile."
"You don't say. What did they do wrong?"
"To get exiled."
Gwendolyn gritted her teeth. "Their only crime was to be taken over by the Soviet Union after World War II. The monarchy was restored to Belegovia after the breakup of the communist government."
"Ah, one of those political things."
"Quite. Now, as I was saying, I need your assistance."
He leaned against the door frame, close enough that Gwendolyn smelled his spicy cologne and envisioned a diamond-bright sparkle coming from his sexy grin. "What can I do for you, darlin'?"
"May I come inside so we may talk?"
He straightened, using one arm to push the screen door wider. "Come right on in, Wendy."
"That's Lady Gwendolyn."
"We're not much on titles in the U.S. of A."
"So I've heard. In that case, you may call me -"
"Darlin', you look just like a Wendy to me."
She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Be nice to the man. He's probably the only person in this barbaric land who looks exactly like Prince Alexi. Thankfully, she'd overheard the rather vivacious waitress - the very reason Alexi was now missing - mention Hank McCauley's name and hometown.
He leaned close enough that she saw a tiny crescent-moon scar to the right of his upper lip. "Lady Wendy, you shouldn't ever leave an offer like that on the table to a real Texan."
Excerpted from The Prince's Cowboy Double by Victoria Chancellor Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.