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The Royal MacAllister
By Joan Pickart
Chapter OneAlice "Trip" MacAllister stood outside the five-star restaurant engaged in a heated argument with her toughest opponent ... herself.
She did not, she fumed as she began to pace, want to be here, taking part in the huge family dinner that would include the royal family of the Island of Wilshire.
Royal family. Her cousin Maggie was going to marry an honest-to-goodness prince, for crying out loud. Maggie had met Devon Renault on New Year's Eve while on duty in the emergency room at the hospital, and it had been practically love at first sight for the dewy-eyed pair.
It was now the first week in March, and Devon's family had finally managed to make all the necessary arrangements to enable them to travel to Ventura, California - the upscale city where the MacAllisters lived.
Unbelievable, Trip thought, continuing her trek. Ever since Maggie was a little girl she'd dreamed of marrying a prince, had made it her wish each time she blew out the candles on her birthday cake, and - ta-da - she was going to do exactly that ... marry her Prince Charming.
She was happy for Maggie, she really was, but ... The wedding would be held on the island in six weeks, and would be a gala affair with all the royal pomp and circumstance. And she, Trip MacAllister, in what must have been a mentally diminished state at the time, had agreed to attend.
But that was a nightmare to think about later. What had her nerves jangled tothe point of near hysteria now was that she was expected to attend the dinner inside this restaurant, was in fact late in showing up.
But she didn't want to be here. Family gatherings were not her thing, per se, hadn't been for as long as she could remember. She always felt uncomfortable, edgy, constantly ticking off the seconds until she could leave whenever she was surrounded by the multitude of MacAllisters.
And this dinner also included a royal family, for Pete's sake, who had just arrived early this morning. Devon's father, King Something ... oh, what was his name? Chester. King Chester had decided it would be best to get acquainted with his son's fiancée and her family in a more relaxed setting rather than amid the hoopla surrounding the wedding.
Dandy, Trip thought with a sigh, as she stopped wearing a path in the sidewalk. But why hadn't she begged off? Even worse, she was wearing a dress she'd borrowed from her sister Jessica. A slip dress, Jessica had called it. It was skimpy and clingy and made her feel like a little girl playing dress-up.
She'd recently worn the one nice outfit she owned to Jessica and Daniel's wedding and couldn't show up in the same thing. The remainder of her wardrobe consisted of jeans, shorts and casual tops. Oh, yes, and the tacky polyester number that was the color of Pepto-Bismol that she wore when waiting tables at the café. Asking Jessica to loan her a dress had seemed like a good idea at the time, but this creation was absurd.
She was going home, Trip decided. She'd send a message inside to her parents saying she had the flu, or a killer headache, or the chicken pox, or some lame thing, and hightail it out of there. Yes.
No, she thought in the next instant. That wasn't fair to Maggie, or to the rest of the family she was attempting to mend fences with after years of keeping emotional and physical distance between them. A goal that, in her opinion, wasn't going too well so far.
Get a grip, Trip told herself, patting her cheeks. March in there, and smile while you're marching.
Trip took one step toward the door of the restaurant, then halted in her tracks as a man came striding past, obviously not seeing her as he fumbled with a tie while muttering under his breath. He stopped two feet beyond where Trip stood.
"Dumb," he said. "Why does a man have to put on a tie to eat dinner? Who made up these rules? And who invented these god-awful things? It must have been a woman who hated men." He flipped one end of the tie around the other, pulled it through, then turned slightly as he shoved the knot to the top of his shirt. "There."
"It's lumpy," Trip said. "And the tail is too long and ... you'd better start over."
"Well, hell," the man said, yanking the tie apart. "For two cents I'd ditch this shindig."
Trip laughed. "I'd ditch my party for one cent."
"Oh, yeah?" he said, looking at her for the first time. "Would you be dead as a post if you did?"
"In spades," Trip said, matching his smile. Good grief, she thought, he was handsome. He was grumpy as all get-out, but he was drop-dead gorgeous, that was for sure. He was tall, probably six foot or more, had thick, black-as-midnight hair, rugged tanned features, and the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, surrounded by long, dark lashes a woman would kill to have. Broad shoulders, long muscular legs, dark suit custom-fitted to perfection ... Absolutely gorgeous.
"Well, I guess I've put this off as long as I can," Trip said with a sigh. "I'd better go in there, apologize for being late, and smile, smile, smile."
"Wait," the man said quickly and a tad too loudly.
"Wait?" Trip said, cocking her head slightly to one side. "Could you add something to that command so I know what you're talking about?"
"What? Oh. It wasn't a command, it was a plea. Would you help me with my tie? Then I'll go find my group, too, I guess. I'm already late, I'm probably in hot water and I don't dare show up without a tie."
Excerpted from The Royal MacAllister by Joan Pickart
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.