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Olivia Montgomery was attractive for a scientist.
Attractive in a brainy, geeky sort of way. From a distance, at least. And not at all what Prince Aaron had expected.
He watched her gaze up at the castle from his office window, a look of awe on her heart-shaped face, her bow mouth formed into a perfect O beneath eyes as large as dinner plates.
He supposed it wasn't every day that a woman was asked to uproot her entire life, stay at a royal castle for an indeterminable period and use her vast knowledge to save an entire country from potential absolute financial devastation.
Of course, from what he'd read of their new guest, her life to date had been anything but typical. Most kids didn't graduate from high school at fifteen, receive their Ph.D. at twenty-two and earn a reputation as a pioneer in the field of botanical genetics at twenty-four. He would swear she didn't look a day over eighteen, due in part to the long, blondish-brown hair she wore pulled back in a ponytail and the backpack she carried slung over one shoulder.
He watched as Derek, his personal assistant, led her into the castle, then he took a seat at his desk to wait for them, feeling uncharacteristically anxious. He had been assured that in the field of genetic botany, she was the best. Meaning she could very well be their last hope.
Specialist after specialist had been unable to diagnose or effectively treat the blight plaguing their crops. A disease that had begun in the east fields, and spread to affect not only a good portion of the royal family's land, but had recently been reported in surrounding farms, as well. Unchecked, the effects could be financially devastating to their agriculturally based economy.
His family—hell, the entire country—was counting on him to find a way to fix it.
Talk about pressure. He used to believe that his older brother, Christian, the crown prince, had it rough, carrying the burden of one day taking over as ruler, and the responsibility of marrying and producing a royal heir. But to Aaron's surprise, after a slightly rocky start, Chris seemed to be embracing his new title as husband.
For Aaron, the thought of tying himself down to one woman for the rest of his life gave him cold chills. Not that he didn't love women. He just loved lots of different women. And when the novelty of one wore thin, he liked having the option of moving on to something new. Although, now that Chris was blissfully married off, their mother, the queen, had taken an active and unsettling interest in Aaron's love life. He never knew there were so many eligible young women with royal blood, and his mother seemed hell-bent on setting him up with every single one of them.
She would figure out eventually that all the meddling in the world wouldn't bring him any closer to the altar. At least, he hoped she would. She could instead focus on marrying off his twin sisters, Anne and Louisa.
Several minutes passed before there was a rap at Aaron's office door. Undoubtedly Derek had been explaining policy for meeting members of the royal family to their guest. What she should and shouldn't do or say. It could be a bit overwhelming. Especially for someone who had never been in the presence of royalty before.
"Come in," he called.
The door opened and Derek appeared, followed closely by Miss Montgomery. Aaron rose from his chair to greet her, noticing right away her height. He was just over six feet tall, and in flat-heeled, conservative loafers she stood nearly eye level. It was difficult to see her figure under the loose khaki pants and baggy, cable-knit sweater, although she gave the impression of being quite slim. Too slim, even. All sharp and angular.
Missing was the lab coat, pocket protector and cola-bottle glasses one might expect from a scientist. She wore no makeup or jewelry, and was for all accounts quite plain, yet she was undeniably female. Attractive in a simple way. Cute and girlish. Although at twenty-five, she was definitely a woman.
"Your Highness," Derek said, "May I introduce Miss Olivia Montgomery, of the United States." He turned to Miss Montgomery. "Miss Montgomery, may I present Prince Aaron Felix Gastel Alexander of Thomas Isle."
Miss Montgomery stuck her hand out to shake his, then, realizing her error, snatched it back and dipped into an awkward, slightly wobbly curtsy instead, her cheeks coloring an enchanting shade of pink. "It's an honor to be here, sir—I mean, Your Highness."
Her voice was softer than he'd expected. Low and breathy, and dare he say a little sexy. He'd always found an American accent undeniably appealing.
"The honor is mine," he said, reaching out for a shake. She hesitated a second, then accepted his hand. Her hands were slender and fine-boned, with long fingers that wrapped around his with a surprisingly firm grip. Her skin was warm and soft, her nails short but neatly filed.
She gazed at him with eyes an intriguing shade— not quite brown, and not quite green—and so large and inquisitive they seemed to take up half her face. Everything about her was a little overexaggerated and… unexpected.
But she couldn't be any less his type. He preferred his women small and soft in all the right places, and the more beautiful the better. Not particularly smart, either, because frankly, he wasn't in it for the conversation. The fewer brains, the less likely he was to become attached. As long as she could navigate a golf course or squash court, or rock a pair of crosscountry skis. Sailing experience was a plus, as well, and if she could climb a rock wall, he would be in sheer heaven.
Somehow he didn't see Miss Montgomery as the athletic type.
"I'll be in my office if you need me, sir," Derek told him, then slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him. As it snapped shut, he could swear he saw Miss Montgomery flinch.
He gestured to the chair opposite his desk. "Miss Montgomery, make yourself comfortable."
She set her backpack on the floor beside her and sat awkwardly on the very edge of the cushion. She folded her hands in her lap, then unfolded them. Then she tucked them around the sides of her thighs and under her legs. She looked very uncomfortable.
"I apologize for being so late," she said.
He perched on the corner of his desk. "I hear you hit some bad weather on the way over."
She nodded. "It was a bumpy flight. And I'm not real crazy about flying to begin with. In fact, I might look into taking a ship home."
"Can I offer you a drink, Miss Montgomery?"
"No, thank you. And please, call me Liv. Everyone does."
"All right, Liv. And because we'll be spending quite some time together, you should call me Aaron."
She hesitated, then asked, "Is that… allowed?"
He grinned. "I assure you, it's perfectly acceptable."
She nodded, her head a little wobbly on the end of a very long and slender neck. She had the kind of throat made for stroking and nibbling. But somehow he didn't see her as the nibbling type. She had shy and repressed written all over her. No doubt, he could teach her a thing or two. Not that he intended to. Or even possessed the desire.
Well, maybe just a little, but purely out of curiosity.
"My family apologizes that they couldn't be here to greet you," he told her. "They're in England to see my father's cardiologist. They'll be back Friday."
"I look forward to meeting them," she said, although she sounded more wary than enthusiastic.
She had no reason to be apprehensive. In the history of his father's reign as king, her visit might very well be the most anticipated and appreciated. Not that she was offering her services for free. They had agreed to make a handsome donation to fund her research. Personally she hadn't asked for anything more than room and board. No special amenities, or even a personal maid to tend to her care.
"I'm told that you looked at the disease samples we sent you," he said.
She nodded, not so wobbly this time. "I did. As well as the data from the other specialists."
"And what conclusion have you drawn?"
"You have yourself a very unusual, very resistant strain of disease that I've never seen before. And trust me when I say I've pretty much seen them all."
"Your references are quite impressive. I've been assured that if anyone can diagnose the problem, it's you."
"There is no if." She looked him directly in the eye and said firmly, "It's simply a matter of when."
Her confidence, and the forceful tone with which she spoke, nearly knocked him backward.
Well, he hadn't seen that coming. It was almost as though someone flipped a switch inside of her and a completely different woman emerged. She sat a little straighter and her voice sounded stronger. Just like that, he gained an entirely new level of respect for her.
"Have you thought about my suggestion to stop all agricultural exports?" she asked.
That was all he'd been thinking about. "Even the unaffected crops?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Is that really necessary?"
"For all we know, it could be lying dormant in the soil of areas that appear unaffected. And until we know what this thing is, we don't want it to get off the island."
He knew she was right, but the financial repercussions would sting. "That means we have only until the next season, less than five months, to identify the disease and find an environmentally friendly cure."
Environmentally friendly so that they could maintain their reputation as a totally organic, green island. Millions had been spent to radically alter the way every farmer grew his crops. It was what set them apart from other distributors and made them a valuable commodity.
"Can it be done in that time frame?" he asked.
"The truth is, I don't know. These things can take time."
It wasn't what he wanted to hear, but he appreciated her honesty. He'd wanted her to fly in, have the problem solved in a week or two, then be on her way, making him look like a hero in not only his family, but also his country's eyes.
So much for that delusion of grandeur.
"Once I get set up in the lab and have a few days to study the rest of the data, I may be able to give you some sort of time frame," she said.
"We have a student from the university on standby, should you need an assistant."
"I'll need someone to take samples, but in the lab I prefer to work alone. You have all the equipment I need?"
"Everything on your list." He rose to his feet. "I can show you to your room and give you time to settle in."
She stood, as well, smoothing the front of her slacks with her palms. He couldn't help wondering what she was hiding behind that bulky sweater. Were those breasts he saw? And hips? Maybe she wasn't as sharp and angular as he'd first thought.
"If you don't mind," she said, "I'd rather get right to work."
He gestured to the door. "Of course. I'll take you right to the lab."
She certainly didn't waste any time, did she? And he was relieved to know that she seemed determined to help.
The sooner they cured this blight, the sooner they could all breathe easy again.
.Liv followed her host through the castle, heart thumping like mad, praying she didn't do something stupid like trip over her own feet and fall flat on her face.
Prince Aaron was, by far, the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on. His hair so dark and soft-looking, his eyes a striking, mesmerizing shade of green, his full lips always turned up in a sexy smile.
He had the deep and smoky voice of a radio DJ and a body to die for. A muscular backside under dark tailored slacks. Wide shoulders and bulging pecs encased in midnight-blue cashmere. As she followed him through the castle she felt hypnotized by the fluid grace with which he moved.