Read an Excerpt
The Princess's Bodyguard
By Beverly Barton
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat he needed was some fun, Matt O'Brien decided. A week of wine, women and song. And what better place to enjoy himself than here in Paris. He'd checked into the hotel the night before, arriving from Switzerland on an evening flight. His latest assignment had left him in bad need of a vacation, so he hoped to spend a week in France, seeing the sights and enjoying the company of at least one or two lovely mademoiselles. When he opened the door to allow room service to roll in the breakfast cart, he lifted his index finger to his lips in a silent request for the waiter to enter quietly. Matt nodded toward the man sleeping in one of the double beds. The waiter bobbed his head up and down and smiled. Matt signed for the meal. As soon as the waiter left, Matt poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to take a look at the latest edition of Le Monde, the Paris newspaper he'd requested.
Being able to speak several languages - adequately if not fluently - was a plus in his business. He'd been an agent for the Dundee Security and Investigation Agency, based in Atlanta, Georgia, for several years now, after serving his country in the Air Force for more than ten years. Since the agency's reputation as "the best in the U.S." had become known worldwide,more and more requests were coming in from foreign countries. That's how he and Worth Cordell, his fellow Dundee agent, had wound up in Switzerland investigating the disappearance of a wealthy Swiss banker. They'd been hired by the man's daughter, who hadn't been satisfied with the way the local authorities had dealt with her father's case. In the end, Matt had risked his life to protect Maura Ottokar, whose stepmother had arranged the murder of her husband and had intended to kill Maura, too, as she was the only other heir to the man's fortune.
Matt propped his feet on the ottoman, flipped open the newspaper and scanned the headlines. He had discovered that reading foreign newspapers was a great way to practice his language skills. As he sipped the coffee and indulged in a delicious pastry, a headline caught his eye. The engagement of Princess Adele of Orlantha to Dedrick Vardan, Duke of Roswald, was announced by King Leopold. Matt chuckled. Why any modern-thinking people would allow themselves to be ruled by a monarchy seemed implausible to him. It was one thing for the monarchy to be a figurehead and another if they were part of the governing power, as they were in the Rhode-Island-size country of Orlantha. In the equally small neighboring principality of Balanchine, the monarchy was the absolute governing body. From time to time news about these two little squabbling countries that had been one country two hundred years ago became a front-page item.
"What's so damn funny?" Worth Cordell rolled over in bed, opened his eyes and glared at Matt.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
Matt grinned. Worth didn't. The Switzerland assignment had been the first the two men had shared, and Matt had found out rather quickly that his comrade-in-arms wasn't the friendly good-ol'-boy type like Jack Parker, a former Dundee agent who'd been a hell of a lot of fun when they'd shared assignments. Worth was a quiet, withdrawn man, with a deadly stare that could destroy an opponent a good twenty feet away. He didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't gamble and, as far as Matt could tell, didn't womanize. And he didn't share war stories or personal confidences with his co-workers. All Matt knew about the big, rugged loner was that he stood six-four, had originally come from Arkansas and had once been a Green Beret Ranger.
Worth rolled out of bed wearing only a pair of cotton boxers, but quickly slipped into the faded jeans he'd hung across the back of a nearby chair.
"Hey, are you sure you don't want to stay on in Paris with me?" Matt called as Worth disappeared into the bathroom. "Couldn't you use some R & R before your next assignment?"
Worth didn't respond. Matt shrugged. The guy could be downright unfriendly. After finishing off the pastry and coffee, Matt refilled his cup and returned his interest to the newspaper. He glanced at the picture of the princess and her betrothed. The guy was gangly, with a long, narrow face and a bored expression. A real toad. He had the appearance of a guy whose gene pool included a little inbreeding. On the other hand the princess looked like ... well, like a princess. Petite, small-boned, fragile. And lovely.
But there was something else about her. She didn't look happy. In fact, she looked more like a condemned woman than a bride-to-be.
Worth emerged from the bathroom, his auburn hair damp and his dark eyes wide open. "How's the coffee?"
"Not bad." Worth poured himself a cup and sat across from Matt in the chair at the desk. "Are you about finished with the paper?"
"Just started looking," Matt said. "This -" he held up the page to show Worth " - caught my eye."
"I didn't know you were a royal watcher." Worth brought the cup to his lips.
Matt chuckled. "I'm not. I just happened to notice the headline." Matt folded the paper in two and tossed it to Worth, who caught it midair.
"My French isn't too good," Worth admitted.
"Why don't you call the front desk and have them bring up a copy of the -"
"Nah." Worth flopped the paper down on the desk, opened it and scanned the page. "Am I reading this right? These two have been engaged since they were kids?"
"Politics," Matt said. "Makes you wonder what century those people are living in, doesn't it?"
Worth turned the page. "I'm catching the next flight back to Atlanta," he said, abruptly changing the subject. "While you were down in the bar last night, I called Ellen and she already has my next assignment lined up."
What was it with this guy? Matt wondered. Ever since he'd joined the Dundee Agency over a year ago, he'd gone from one assignment to the next, without a break. Didn't he ever rest? Ever have any fun?
"Have you got something against taking a day off?" Matt asked. "You're making the rest of us look bad."
Worth didn't glance up from the paper. "I prefer working."
"Yeah, well, to each his own. I for one plan to whoop and holler a little while I'm in Paris."
Worth continued glancing through the paper, for all intents and purposes ignoring Matt. Hell, with an attitude like that, Matt was glad Worth wasn't going to stay on. The guy was a real stick-in-the-mud. Matt leaned back, folded his hands behind his head and slowly closed his eyelids. Instantly a pair of dark eyes set in a sad little face appeared in his mind. The unhappy princess. Maybe here in Paris he'd meet someone half as pretty as Princess Adele. But a tempting little tidbit of Parisian fluff wouldn't be able to compare to the princess. Her full, pouting mouth materialized in his mind. Damn, he could almost taste her.
Matt's eyelids flew open. What was the matter with him, daydreaming about a rich, snobbish woman who would never give a guy like him the time of day? But there was something about her that made her unforgettable. Was it the beauty or the sadness? Or a combination of the two?
Matt grunted. He knew two things. One, no woman was unforgettable. Two, if he was the princess's fiancé, she'd be smiling.
Excerpted from The Princess's Bodyguard by Beverly Barton Copyright © 2002 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.