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The Greek's Royal Mistress
By Jane Porter
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE jet, part of La Croix's royal fleet, groaned and shuddered and Princess Chantal Thibaudet glanced up, her tea sloshing in her cup.
It'd been a relatively smooth flight until now. They'd been in the air for nearly three hours - almost halfway home to La Croix enroute from her week stay in New York - and although the princess's secretary and ladies-in-waiting were happily visiting in the back, Chantal was desperate to get home to her daughter again.
Yet she managed not to fidget, her expression remaining calmly neutral, too ingrained by years of public service to ever give away what she was truly feeling.
Chantal's lips curved slightly, fighting a self-deprecating smile. It still amused her - the vagarities of life. People didn't want to know the reality behind the palace doors. They wanted the beautiful hair and smile, the tiara, the stylish clothes. They wanted the fairy tale, not the truth.
The truth. Ah, the truth. Now that was something else altogether ...
Chantal's smile faded and for a moment the bleakness of her future stunned her, the walls, the rules, the silence ... it wasn't the life she thought she'd have. She'd always been so good, so earnest about everything, she'd been sure life would turn out differently.
Abruptly the plane dropped, a sharp somersaulting lurch that had Chantal's retinue giggling and glancing nervously around, checking other's reactions. Chantal herself skimmed the clusters of passengers. Her own skittish assistants, a couple members of the media, several men interspersed, executives, friends of the Thibaudets, airline personnel.
She hated rough flights. They were inherent in flying, and she'd grown up on airplanes, but now that she was a mother, Chantal dreaded takeoffs and landings and the rough patches of air in between. Yet outwardly she feigned calm and took a sip from her cup.
No sooner had she lifted the cup to her lips than sound exploded from the back of the jet. The aircraft shook, a shiver like teeth chattering, metal scraping metal. The jet dropped yet again, a steeper descent, and suddenly the teacup saucer seemed miles away.
She didn't like this.
Uncrossing her legs, Chantal planted her feet firmly on the floor, doing her best to look relaxed. Unconcerned.
They weren't going to crash. It was just turbulence. Nothing serious. Planes hit pockets of turbulence all the time.
A flight attendant in the red and cream uniform of La Croix Royal airlines came hurrying toward her. "Let me take your cup," she said, swooping the cup and saucer from the princess. "We don't want to get you burned."
The plane was jolting now, great shudders like a silver belly dancer in the sky, and passengers were murmuring in the back even as Chantal's hairdresser began to cry.
Glancing up, Chantal's gaze met one of the male passengers. He was sitting not far, just across the narrow aisle in a matching leather chair, and his dark gaze continued to hold hers, his expression calm, compelling. He wasn't English, or French. He was too hard-looking, beautiful but hard, face all severe lines and planes - an uncompromising line of brow, nose, mouth, chin.
"It's bumpy," she said, raising her voice a little, compelled to make a connection. She didn't want to be afraid, hoped she didn't look afraid.
Chantal had the feeling that he resisted company - people. "Do you fly a lot?" she asked, trying to keep from thinking about the terrifying shimmying of the plane.
"Yes." His dark gaze was nearly as hard as the line of his cheekbone and jaw. "And you?"
"Quite a bit." She swallowed. But she'd never been afraid like this before. Her fear was intense. "I've never -" She broke off as the plane sank abruptly, and someone behind her screamed.
The hair rose on Chantal's nape and gripping the arms of her chair she concentrated on breathing. Be calm. Be calm. Be calm.
Heart racing, eyes burning, she turned and looked at the man across the aisle. She couldn't disintegrate. She had to remain focused.
Talk to him.
Make contact with him.
She drew a shallow breath, her head spinning. "You have an accent."
His black eyebrows dropped. "So do you."
Maybe he was Latin. Italian? Sicilian? The burning in her eyes turned to tears. She felt ashamed of her loss of control. "I'm from Melio," she said, naming her independent country off the coast of France and Spain.
"I'm from Greece," he said, suddenly rising. He crossed the narrow aisle, took the empty chair next to her.
Ah, Greek, she thought, even more unnerved by his close proximity. "I'm Princess Chantal Marie -"
"I know who you are."
Of course he did. How silly. She struggled to sound normal. Natural. "What's your name?"
Her lower lip quivered. Her throat felt swollen, a lump lodged right in the middle. "That's quite a mouthful."
His gaze held hers, eyes so intense they dazzled her. "Yes."
The jet groaned loudly and did a strange ripple as if it'd become serpentine. Flexible. Mobile.
Chantal's lips parted. She gasped in air. She turned to Mr. Mantheakis. "This isn't turbulence anymore, is it?"
She hadn't thought so, and she nodded, exhaling slowly, trying to ignore her fear, which had become a huge, tangible thing. The fear was cold and heavy, like that of breaking a sweat in the middle of a bad dream and wanting to wake, needing to wake, and yet being unable.
Demetrius leaned toward her, his broad shoulder bumping hers. "How's your seat belt?" he asked, but he didn't wait for her to answer. He reached over and checked the tension on her seat belt personally.
His actions said more than words ever could, and her fear grew, spreading within her. "You don't have to do this."
"Do what?" He stared at her, his dark gaze narrowed and focused on her face.
She thought his voice was like gravel, hard, sharp, and she found herself thinking his Greek accent wasn't like the Greeks she'd ever known. His tone was harder. His inflection harsher. "Entertain me. Distract me. Whatever it is you're doing."
"I call it company."
She tried to smile but couldn't. She felt wild on the inside, her heart pounding, her pulse racing. They were flying over the Atlantic Ocean, heading back to Europe. There was nothing below them but water. Even if they needed to land, they couldn't.
She turned to the window. The shuddering of the plane, the inky clouds, the sense that destruction was just a heartbeat away heightened her senses, time stretched endlessly so that the future was impossible - far, far out of reach.
She felt the acid at the back of her eyes. She pressed her knees tight to keep from letting tears form. Princesses don't cry. Princesses don't show emotion in public. Princesses must be above reproach.
But her daughter's face swam before her eyes, the sweet pale face, the fair hair, the little lips shaped like a Valentine.
She covered her face with her hands, rubbed her eyes, drying the tears before they could fall. She couldn't lose control. The captain hadn't made any announcement. The flight attendants were buckled into their jump seats but they looked quiet, focused, professional.
The jet shuddered and banked steeply left. Chantal sat forward as the plane continued to verve left. She glanced to her window again.
"I can't see anything," she said, the jet appearing to settle back into a more normal flight pattern. The world beyond her window was dark, thick with heavy cloud, and the plane sailed through the dense blackness shuddering every now and then as if to remind passengers that the danger wasn't over.
"It's dark out," he answered calmly, leaning back in his seat, his body relaxed, no tension anywhere in his big, powerful frame.
She wished she could take comfort in the fact that he was at ease, but his confidence shook her even more. "Can the pilots see?"
"They fly by equipment."
But what if their equipment was wrong, she wanted to ask? Instead she thought back on life, the choices made, the opportunities passed up. "Moments like these are great for self-analysis," she said with a brittle laugh. "Nothing like facing one's self."
"Regrets?" he asked.
Her eyes felt like they were on fire. "Dozens."
Excerpted from The Greek's Royal Mistress by Jane Porter Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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