Carrying the crown prince's baby!
On the Prince of Santo Sierra's long list of prospective brides, Jasmine Nichols is at the bottom. Their impulsive night together might have proved their compatibility in the bedroom, but her later behavior proves she would not make a suitable princess.
Yet Jasmine is catapulted to the top of the list when Prince Reyes discovers she is carrying his heir! He should be planning her punishment, not their wedding, but there is an old saying keep your enemies closer.
Except Reyes's cold, tactical marriage is about to be jeopardized by their explosive chemistry and what he learns when he uncovers his new bride's secrets
About the Author
Maya Blake's writing dream started at 13. She eventually realised her dream when she received The Call in 2012. Maya lives in England with her husband, kids and an endless supply of books. Contact Maya: www.mayabauthor.blogspot.com www.twitter.com/mayablake www.facebook.com/maya.blake.94
Read an Excerpt
She was a thief. A thief
Jasmine Nichols's heart pounded the indictment through her bloodstream. She hadn't stolen anything yet, but that was beside the point. She'd travelled thousands of miles for the sole purpose of taking something that didn't belong to her.
Telling herself she had no choice didn't matter. If anything, it escalated her helplessness.
By the end of the night, she would wear the damning label as close to her skin as her black designer evening gown clung now.
Because failure wasn't an option.
Fear and shame duelled for supremacy inside her, but it was the deep knowledge that she couldn't turn her back on her family that propelled her reluctant feet up the sweeping crimson carpet towards the awe-inspiring masterpiece that housed the Contemporary Museum of Arts, perched on a cliff-side overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Even the jaw-dropping beauty of her surroundings couldn't detract her from the simple fact.
She'd come here to steal.
The smile she'd plastered on her face since alighting from the air-conditioned limo threatened to crack. To calm her nerves, she mentally recited her to do list.
First, she had to locate Crown Prince Reyes Vicente Navarre.
And there was her first problem.
All effective search engines had yielded no pictures of the reclusive prince, save for a grainy image taken at the funeral of his mother four years ago. Since then, no pictures of the royal family of the South American kingdom of Santo Sierra had been released to the public. They guarded their privacy with a rigour that bordered on fanaticism.
As if that weren't bad enough, according to reports, the House of Navarre's Crown Prince had left his kingdom only three times in the last three years, all his time spent caring for his gravely ill father. It was rumoured King Carlos Navarre wasn't expected to live past the summer.
Which meant Jasmine had no means of identifying Prince Reyes Navarre.
How did she get close to a man whose identity she had no idea of, distract him long enough to get her hands on what she'd come for before her mother and, more importantly, her stepfather, Stephen Nichols, the man who'd saved her life, and whose name she'd adopted, found out what she was up to?
Stephen would be heartbroken if he knew she was being blackmailed.
A nerve-destroying shudder rose up from the soles of her feet, making her clench her teeth to stop its death rattle from escaping. She smiled some more, mingled with the insanely wealthy and well heeled, and tried to reassure herself she could do this. By this time tomorrow, she'd be back home.
And most importantly, Stephen would be safe.
If everything went smoothly.
Stop it! Negative thinking was the downfall of many a plan. How many times had Stephen told her this?
She fixed her wilting smile back in place, stepped into the main hall of the museum, but she couldn't summon the enthusiasm to gawp at the stunning paintings and sculptures on display.
A waiter approached bearing a tray of champagne. Accepting the sparkling gold-filled crystal goblet, she smoothed a shaky hand over the pearl choker around her throat, ignored the nervous flutter in her belly, and made her way to the bowl-shaped terrace where the guests were congregating for pre-dinner drinks.
So far the plans set out by Joaquin Estebanthe man threatening her stepfather's lifehad gone meticulously. Her name had been on the guest list as promised, alongside those of world leaders and celebrities she'd only seen on TV and in glossy magazines. For a single moment, while she'd waited for Security to check the electronic chip on her invitation, she'd secretly hoped to be caught, turned away. But the man who held her stepfather's fate in his cruel hands had seen to every last detail she needed to pull this off.
Everything except provide her with a picture of the thirty-two-year-old prince.
The first stage of the treaty signing was to take place in half an hour in the Golden Room behind her. And with the occasion coinciding with Prince Mendez of Valderra's birthday, guests had been invited onto the terrace to witness the spectacular sunset and the prince's arrival, before the signing and birthday celebrations began.
Crown Prince Reyes himself was expected at eight o'clock. A quick glance at her watch showed five minutes to the hour. With every interminable second that ticked by, Jasmine's nerves tightened another notch.
What if she was found out? Certainly, she could kiss her job as a broker and mediator goodbye. But even if she succeeded, how could she ever hold her head high again? She'd worked so very hard to put her past behind her, to tend the new leaf she'd turned over. For eight years, she'd succeeded. And now, at twenty-six, she was on the slippery slope again.
Because once a juvie princess, always a juvie princess?
No. She hadn't let that voice of her detention cellmate taunt her for years. She wasn't about to start now.
And yet, she couldn't stop the despair that mingled with anxiety as her gaze drifted over the orange-splashed water towards the stunning silhouette of Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.
Under normal circumstances, the sights and sounds would have filled her with excitement and awe. For a girl with her past and dire upbringing, sights such as these didn't feature in her normal. Except these weren't normal circumstances. And fear was threatening to block out every other emotion.
Which was dangerous. She couldn't afford to fail. Yet success would bring nothing but shame. Would prove that the past really never stayed in the past.
But the reality was her stepfather had gone too far this time, hedged his bets, literally, with the wrong person.
Joaquin, with his soft voice and deadly smile, had calmly given her two choices.
Come to Rio or watch Stephen rot in jail.
Of course, Joaquin had counted on the fact that, aside from his very public humiliation of being thrown out of his Foreign Office position for gambling away government money, Stephen Nichols's devotion to his wife meant he would do anything to save her the distress of watching him suffer. As would Jasmine.
Even when Jasmine was a child, long before Stephen had entered their lives, her mother's fragility had meant she had assumed the role of the caretaker. Her mother wouldn't survive losing Stephen.
So here Jasmine was, about to step into a quagmire she wasn't sure any amount of self-affirmation would wash her clean of.
She roused herself from her maudlin self-pitying. A quick glance showed it was precisely eight o'clock. Her heart double somersaulted into her throat. When her stomach threatened to follow suit, she took a hasty sip of champagne. Whatever Dutch courage she hoped to gain was sorely lacking as the butterflies in her stomach grew into vicious crows.
Following the direction of excited voices and pointing, she focused on the bottom of the cliff. A sleek speedboat approached, foaming waves billowing behind the fast-moving craft. It gathered speed as it neared the shore. Swerving at the last second, it created a huge arc of water that rushed to the shore in a giant wave before heading away from the jetty.
The pilot executed a series of daredevil manoeuvres that brought gasps of delight from the crowd and left the other two occupantsbodyguards, judging by their bulging muscles and ill-fitting suitsclinging grim-faced to the sides.
Finally, bringing the vessel alongside the quay, the tuxedoed figure stepped boldly onto the bow of the boat and jumped lithely down onto the jetty. Smiling at the enthusiastic applause, he clasped his hands in front of him and gave a deep bow.
Jasmine released the breath trapped in her lungs. So, this was Prince Reyes Navarre. Considering his near reclusive status, she was surprised he'd chosen such a narcissistic, highly OTT entrance. She wrinkled her nose.
'You're not impressed with His Royal Highness's maritime prowess?' a deep voice enquired from behind her left shoulder.
Jasmine jumped and whirled around. She'd assumed she was alone on the terrace, everyone else having rushed down into the main hall to welcome the prince.
How had this man moved so silently behind her? She hadn't even felt his presence until he'd spoken. Jasmine's gaze raced up, and up, until it collided with dark grey eyes.
Immediately, she wanted to look away, to block the probing gaze. She had no idea why, but the urge was so overwhelming, she took a step back.
A strong hand seized her arm. 'Careful, peque a. It is a long tumble from the terrace and the evening is too beautiful to mar with tragedy.'
Glancing behind her, she realised she'd stepped dangerously close to the low wall bordering the terrace.
'Oh. Thank you.' Her words twisted around her tongue. Her senses dovetailed on the warm hand that held her. She looked down at the elegant fingers on her skin and drew in a sharp breath. His bold touch transmitted an alien sensation through her blood.
As if he felt it too, his fingers tightened imperceptibly. A second later, he let go. 'So, you don't like speedboats?' He nodded over her head at the spectacle below.
She tried to pry her gaze from his face, but she only succeeded in moving her head a fraction, before becoming equally hypnotised by the alluring spectacle of his mouth.
It was just spectacularly sensual. Like his eyes, the lines of his lips drew equal interest from her stunned senses. Without stopping to assess her reaction, she found herself raising her hand to his face.
A hair's breadth away, she saw his eyes widen. Her heart slammed with horror and embarrassment at what she'd almost done. She snatched her hand back and for a split second contemplated taking that fatal step backwards. Maybe dashing herself over the rocks at the bottom of the cliff would knock some sense into her.
'What makes you say that?' she prevaricated when it became clear he expected an answer to his question.
'You have a very expressive face.' His beautifully deep accented voice was solemn.
'Oh.' She stalled and tried to think fast. What could she say without causing offence? 'They're okay, I guess. I mean, they're not my thing. Too fast. Too wet.' Not to mention, they reminded her of the times Stephen had taken her out on his boat very soon after she and her mother had gone to live with him. Still in her destructive phase, she'd given him a hard time about those trips. Despite his many reassurances, a part of her had remained untrusting, afraid he'd end up being like all the men her mother had fallen for in the past. Each morning, she'd woken up anxious that that would be the day Stephen tossed them out of his life. He hadn't, of course, but she still couldn't look at a boat without remembering that distressing period. 'But they're nice to look at, I suppose.' She bit her lip to stop further inanity spilling out.
The stranger's grave nod did nothing to distract her stare.
'But exhilarating, some would say. No?'
Light-headedness encroached. Exhilarating. Breath-stealing. Captivating. But all those adjectives had nothing to do with speedboats and everything to do with the man in front of her.
Belatedly, Jasmine realised she hadn't taken a single breath since she'd clapped eyes on him. Sucking in oxygen restored some much-needed brain activity. 'I wouldn't know. I've never been inclined to take a trip on one. Mainly because I get seasick standing on a beach.'
'That's a shame. There is a tranquillity I find on water that I haven't found anywhere else.'
The thought of this man, powerfully built, quietly commanding and confident, craving tranquillity touched a strange place inside her.
'My stepfather loves the water too.' Damn. She needed to watch her tongue.
'But something about it makes you sad?' His voice softened as his eyes grew even more solemn.
Her startled gaze flew to his. 'Why do you say that?'
'You speak with fondness but your eyes darken with un-happiness.'
His intuitiveness disturbed her, made her feel vulnerable. Wrenching her gaze from his, she looked around. The terrace was deserted, but soft lights glowed from exquisite crystal-cut chandeliers and showed the guests slowly filling the large hall.
Where she should be. Trying to make contact with Prince Reyes Navarre.
Instead she was alone with this strangely captivating man. A man she didn't know.
Although she'd talked herself into believing not every stranger meant her harm, she knew better than most which situations to avoid. Being alone with a man twice her size wasn't a good idea.
But rather than fear, a thrum of excitement fizzed through her veins. Her breathing constricted, her heart thumping loud in her ears as she inhaled. Almost drawn by an invisible force, her gaze returned to his face.
His black dinner jacket and crisp white shirt gave his features a vibrancy, helped in no small measure by the golden perfection of his skin. Cast in part shadow by the broad shoulders blocking the light, his taut cheekbones and strong, uncompromising jaw made her fingers tingle with the urge to explore him.
As she stared his mouth hardened into a tight line, as if he held some emotion in. The strong need to touch those lips, experience their firm texture and soothe them softer with her thumb grew. Her eyes flashed back to his to find him regarding her, waiting for a response.
'I have issues with water. Let's just leave it at that.'
He looked as if he would demand more. But he merely nodded. 'Tell me your name.' His authoritative tone demanded nothing but her compliance.
Without questioning why, she answered, 'Jasmine Nichols.'
His solemn expression altered, fleetingly replaced by a small smile that creased his lips. 'You are named after the flower that blooms in the gardens of my home, Jasmine.' His voice caressed her name in a way that made all the hairs on her body strain to life. 'It is a fragile yet sturdy flower that has soothed us with its heady fragrance for thousands of years.'
Overwhelmed by the equally heady blend of emotion swirling through her, she gave a nervous laugh. 'Blimey, I hope I don't look that old!'
'Be assured. You don't.'
His smile disappeared, but she suspected he was still amused by her. The thought created a joyous fizz in her blood. It struck her that this man, whoever he was, hadn't smiled or laughed in a long time. The urgent need to catch another glimpse of that enigmatic smile grew.
'Great. Living to a thousand sounds like fun, but I bet it becomes a nuisance after that. A few more decades will do me just fine, though. I have things to do, people to impress.'
Joy sang in her chest when he rewarded her with another fleeting smile.
'I have no doubt that you will make your mark on the world before you leave it.' His head dipped in a shallow bow. 'Enjoy the rest of your evening, Jasmine.' With graceful, long-limbed strides, he walked away from her.
His abrupt departure stunned her into stillness. She watched four figures detach themselves from the shadowed doorway and fall into step behind him. She didn't need to be told they were bodyguards.
And rightly so. He was far too lethal to walk around without armed escort.
It wasn't until he reached the bottom of the stairs that led into the main hall that she regained the power of speech.
'Holy hotness, Batman,' she muttered under her breath, still more than a little stunned.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Unexpected circumstances and events lead a Prince on a roller-coaster ride of secrets, betrayal and heartache. But will he also find the happiness he never expected to have. Married for the Prince's Convenience was a surprisingly beautiful story of misconceptions and redemption. Received an ARC of this story for an honest review.