Princess Lucia du Charbonneaux has worked hard to create her life of relative autonomy. But her new bodyguard refuses to play by her rules. Even worse than him cramping her style are the heated looks he gives her that threaten to melt her carefully constructed Ice Princess facade.
The princess may a royal pain, but Eric Delmonico is a professional, and he promised her brother he’d keep her safe. No matter how much sleeps he loses while protecting her sinfully sexy body, he’s determined to stay until the threat against her is neutralized.
When an attempt is made on Lucia's life, Eric whisks her away to where he can best keep her safe, but they have to learn to work together before Lucia's safety—and their connection—are lost forever.
Each book in the Royals and Rebels Series is STANDALONE.
Lessons in Love
Lessons in Trust
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Princess Lucia Anastasia Mirabella du Charbonneaux wanted a foot massage.
Or a nice hot basin of scented bubbles, perfect for soaking her aching feet. Or, barring that, a new pair of shoes.
But none of those items appeared to be in the offing, so she pasted on her best royal smile and turned to greet the next guest.
"It was a lovely ceremony." The contessa gave her a bone-crushing handshake, her myriad rings cutting painfully into Lucia's hand. "So when will we be hearing an announcement regarding your wedding?"
At least now that Lucia was an adult the contessa had abandoned the habit of pinching her cheeks. Lucia gritted her teeth in a close approximation of a smile. She'd been dodging the same question for the past hour. "You'll be among the first to know," she said politely, and passed the busybody down the line to her mother.
"Oh, you know young women today." Her mother air-kissed the contessa on both cheeks. "So busy with their careers."
"At least you have one child married," the contessa said with a commiserating smile. "That must be a relief."
Mercifully, another guest came forward at that moment, distracting her from yet another highly public discussion of her unmarried status.
Forget a foot rub. What Lucia wanted was a drink.
In one respect, the contessa was right. The wedding had been lovely, with just enough pomp and circumstance to keep the royal-watchers happy, and personal touches that highlighted the absolute joy and adoration her brother and his new bride shared.
She glanced down to the head of the receiving line. Brynn was fairly glowing, her love for Alex shining out for all to see. Her dress, a confection of lace and beading, was not merely beautiful. It captured her personality so perfectly, so delightfully, that she was the absolute picture of wedded bliss. Lucia had no doubt it would be the most-copied gown of the season. After all, didn't every bride want to look like a princess on her wedding day?
At least, Lucia assumed that was the case. She'd never been a bride. And after spending her entire life acting, dressing, and looking like a princess, she was heartily tired of it.
"Auntie Lucia, how much longer do we need to stand here?" Lucia's five- year-old niece was starting to droop. "My feet hurt."
Ignoring her mother's censuring frown, Lucia crouched down. "So do mine," she whispered behind her hand.
"I'm tired," Carissa whimpered.
"We'll be done soon, sweetheart." She nodded surreptitiously at the end of the line of well-wishers. "Then we get to eat."
"Good." Carissa's face lit up. "I'm totally starving."
Lucia laughed. "You sound more like an American girl every day," She tweaked her niece's nose. "Must be that new stepmother of yours."
"She's not a stepmother," Carissa said with a frown. "She's my mommy."
Lucia smoothed a hand over Carissa's sleek blonde hair, swallowing back a surge of emotion at the heartfelt statement. "Yes, she is," she agreed. Standing, she turned back to the line of wedding guests.
And as she straightened, she caught another glimpse of the stranger across the ballroom.
Lucia prided herself on remembering names and faces. The skill had been drilled into her from an early age, since a princess could ill afford to cause insult to someone by failing to remember them. The circle of royalty was a small one, and she had grown up with many of the people in attendance. Acquaintances of her parents, boarding-school classmates, people she knew from years of charity functions and social events. Add in the world leaders and celebrities that rounded out the guest list, and Lucia could identify nearly everyone in the room.
That included staff. As the personnel director for the palace staff as well as the government, she was acquainted with just about everyone who might be working at the reception, from chauffeurs to musicians to wait staff.
Except she had no idea who the stranger could be.
Perhaps he was a friend of Brynn's? She'd met the group who had arrived from America last week, but this man might have shown up later. If that was the case, though, why wasn't he mingling with the other guests?
And why, for heaven's sake, did he keep staring at her?
She glanced at him again. Yes, he was still watching her, his eyes shadowed but unwavering. He lounged against a pillar on the other side of the ballroom, his dark suit stretching enticingly across broad shoulders. His chocolate-brown hair was on the short side, trimmed with a military precision that somehow made him look dangerous.
No, it wasn't the haircut. The man himself exuded strength and power. Combined with a raw sensuality that almost oozed from each pore, he was definitely someone who would be hard to forget.
She turned to the next guest, feeling unsettled but masking it through the skills learned from a lifetime in the public eye. Soon, this endless receiving line would be over and she could sit. And, hopefully, the disturbing man across the room would find something else to pull his attention away from her.
For the thousandth time, Eric "Demon" Delmonico wondered what in the world he'd been thinking when he had agreed to take this job. He could be training the new recruits. He could be traveling. He could be fishing at the lake, relaxing on the flybridge of his Tollycraft.
He could be spending his injury-required downtime doing something he actually enjoyed. But no, he'd signed on to protect a princess.
A princess who, if he didn't miss his guess, would be less than appreciative of his efforts.
She stood in the receiving line in her maid — of-honor dress, a slim blue gown that matched her eyes. He'd bet money that it was a designer original. Unlike her mother, she wore only the bare minimum of jewels, pearl drop earrings and a matching pearl choker that emphasized her long neck. The only concession to her rank was a thin gold band around her upswept blonde hair. No flashy tiara for this reluctant royal.
Her posture was impeccable, her smile gracious if a little distant. She wasn't known as the Ice Princess for nothing. Her patrician features could have been carved by a master artist. He wondered if she was as cold as she looked, or if fire lurked below the cool exterior.
Not that he was in any position to find out.
Eric crossed his arms over his chest. The receiving line was winding down; it was almost time for dinner and then dancing. Princess Lucia would take her place at the lead table, still in the public eye but not quite so vulnerable. Especially since he would be at her back.
She'd noticed him, he knew. He'd seen the flash of — something — as she glanced his way. But she didn't know who he was, or why he was here. He'd agreed to keep his acceptance of the job quiet until after the wedding, as requested by Prince Alex. He suspected that the prince had wanted to keep things calm until he and his new bride could escape on their honeymoon.
All the precautions led him to believe that once the truth came out, there was going to be hell to pay. Because Lucia wasn't going to like this. She wasn't going to like it one bit.
Of all the wedding traditions, Lucia disliked this one the most.
"Come on," Carissa urged, pulling on her hand. "Mommy Brynn is going to throw her flowers."
Reluctantly, Lucia followed behind, more unwilling to make a scene than to avoid the archaic tradition. A group of single women stood in a half-circle, angling for a good spot. Her new sister-in-law stood at the center, holding her bouquet. "Great," she called out, flashing a smile at Lucia. "We couldn't start without you."
Despite the urging of the bride, Lucia took her place at the back of the group, well out of catching range. Laurivenia's newest princess shook her head, then turned her back to the group and lifted the bouquet. The gathered crowd counted down, all eyes on the unmarried women waiting for the toss. Flashbulbs turned the room white with light as the press captured the moment for posterity. Then Brynn tossed the bouquet over her shoulder.
Immediately Lucia realized that she had made a drastic error. The bouquet sailed over the heads of the other women and hit her smack in the face. Almost unconsciously, she put her hands up and caught the silly thing. This was no accident of chance — Brynn must have expected her to take the furthest position. Lucia wouldn't have put it past her to practice just to make sure she could reach the back.
Lucia gripped the bouquet tightly, trying to maintain a polite smile as the photographers went crazy again. The last thing she wanted was more attention on her single status. But the damage was already done.
"It appears that you will be planning another royal wedding soon," the contessa brayed to her mother, her voice carrying over the sound of the assembled revelers.
Wonderful. There would be no stopping her mother now. As Dowager Queen, she had far too much time on her hands, and a decided interest in her children's love lives, or lack thereof. Lucia had spent the majority of her adult life dodging the eligible bachelors her mother insisted on parading in front of her. And although her brother had been a target as well, Lucia had always borne the brunt of it. Alex had even been lucky enough to meet and woo Brynn while Mother was out of the country, giving the relationship time to flourish outside the intense pressure and scrutiny their mother could create.
Now that Alex was safely wedded, all that focus would be on her. And the catching of the bouquet would give her mother the extra ammunition she desired.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught her sister-in-law's grin.
Ooh, Brynn was going to pay.
But first she was going on her honeymoon. Niles, Alex and Brynn's chauffeur and bodyguard, had appeared in the entryway, the signal that the newlyweds needed to leave. The attention of the crowd shifted, and once again Lucia was out of the spotlight.
Exactly where she wanted to be.
Relieved, she sucked in a breath, grateful to be ignored for once. Everyone in the room was focused on the departing couple.
Startled, she looked across the room again. Tall, dark, and dangerous was still watching her. Her mother had moved closer, so she finally gave in and asked. "Who is that man over there?"
"Man?" Her eyebrows rose. "It appears the bouquet is working sooner than I expected."
"Mother, please ..."
"All right. Show me which man."
Surreptitiously, Lucia tilted her head in the stranger's direction. "He keeps watching me."
"And why shouldn't he? You are, after all, one of Europe's most eligible single women."
That wasn't why he was observing her, although Lucia couldn't have said how she knew that. "I assumed I would know everyone at the wedding. Are we sure he was invited?" Though he exuded an aura of danger, she didn't feel threatened by him — at least not in any immediate sense. But she could not shake the discomfort she felt under his watchful eye.
"Sorry, my dear, I don't recognize him. Perhaps you could ask Alex before he leaves, if it truly disturbs you."
With a shake of the head, Lucia turned away the suggestion. She was being foolish. With multiple background checks and a security force in full effect, she was as safe here as she was in her own bed.
And speaking of which ...
"Now that the happy couple has departed, I think I will take my leave as well," she murmured to her mother.
The comment did not make the dowager queen happy. "You have rooms in the castle," she whispered back. "Why not stay here tonight?"
Lucia refrained from rolling her eyes. "Perhaps another night."
"But Carissa would be so happy to have you here," her mother argued.
"Right." This time she did roll her eyes. "She's got her new nanny and a sleepover planned with her best friend. Carissa wouldn't even notice I was around."
"Mother, are you or are you not leaving for the Riviera in the morning?"
The dowager queen took her hand. "Darling, please. I feel safer knowing you are at home."
Lucia bit back a retort. It was an old argument, and not likely to be resolved any time soon. She'd already spent two nights in her palace suite, preparing for the wedding. If she didn't get to her own apartment soon, she would go stark raving mad. "Another time." She gave her mother's hand a comforting squeeze before letting go. She meant well, but just didn't understand.
The palace wasn't home to her. It hadn't been for a very, very long time.
Time to make her escape. She looked around for her driver. "Do you know where Leo is? I haven't seen him all day."
Her mother shrugged. "One would think it was your bodyguard's job to keep track of you, and not the other way around."
That, however, was the way Lucia liked it. Leo had been with the royal family for years, and was more likely to be resting his arthritic bones or reading a book. In truth, he should have retired ages ago, but Lucia had tapped him as her bodyguard and driver with delight. His quiet nature and deference to royalty afforded her a measure of freedom that she so enjoyed. Unfortunately, it also meant he was not immediately available during those few times she needed him.
Oh, well. It was a small price to pay.
She looked around again, noting that the disturbing stranger had disappeared. A mix of relief and disappointment swept through her. "I suppose I should go find Leo and let him know I am ready to leave."
"That won't be necessary," a low voice clipped behind her.
She whirled around, somehow not surprised to find her mystery man standing at her shoulder. "This is a private conversation," she said, too rattled to be polite.
"You're looking for your driver, right?"
Frowning, she nodded.
"I regret to inform you that Mr. Burns has taken his retirement," he said, with no trace of regret in his voice at all.
"He most certainly has not," she retorted. "He drove me here just two days ago."
"Mr. Burns retired last night."
Lucia stared, her mouth agape. "And who, may I ask, are you?"
He held out a hand, which she stared at as if it were a snake poised to strike. "I'm Eric Delmonico, Your Highness. And I'm your new bodyguard."
They rode back to her apartment in silence.
His announcement had been met with a disbelieving glare and a great view of her back, as she whirled around in search of someone to contradict his claim. The other palace bodyguards, however, backed him up, leaving the Ice Princess with nothing to do but fume.
She'd tried to hunt down Leo, but it was no use. Prince Alex had given him a cabin in the countryside as thanks for many, many years of service, and he was already moved in. And none of the other security staff would take her anywhere, despite pleas, bribes, or even commands.
Eric bit back a smile. It seemed warnings from the prince carried more weight than threats from the princess, even one who was responsible for all the hirings and firings at the palace. The impotent fury of this woman scorned was almost palpable inside the limousine.
"Thank you for the ride back to my apartment. However, you will be reassigned by tomorrow," she said now, looking out the side window of the limo.
"No disrespect intended, Your Highness, but that's unlikely." He glanced at her in the rearview mirror.
"As personnel director, I have that right," she retorted. "I have final say over my personal employees."
"Normally, yes," he said, earning another barely-restrained glare from her. "Not in this case."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
He shrugged. Looking in the rearview mirror again, he caught her glance. Even in the dim interior of the vehicle, he could see the clear blue eyes flashing fire. "I was hired independently by Prince Alex. He has left strict orders that no one except me is to drive you anywhere or act as your bodyguard. You're stuck with me — at least until he returns from his honeymoon."
"That's two weeks!" She shook her head. "Unacceptable. And what was he thinking, hiring someone for me? That's my job. I do the hiring. I choose my own staff. I have no intention of abdicating my responsibility."
"Funny, I feel the same way." The limo slid to a stop, idling at the red light. "Regardless of your feelings, Highness, you don't have any choice. The fact is, you need me."
"I don't need anyone."
"Judging by the lame excuses for bodyguards that you've chosen for the past few years, that's pretty obvious."
The fire was back. "What do you know about my bodyguards?"
Excerpted from "Lessons in Trust"
Copyright © 2007 Kate Davies.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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