The Inconveniently Engaged Prince by Mindy Neff released on Oct 25, 2002 is available now for purchase.
|Product dimensions:||4.14(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.70(d)|
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The Inconveniently Engaged Prince
By Mindy Neff
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe was surrounded by luxury, the best money could buy, but this particular October in Manhattan was damned cold. He paced the richly decorated rooms of his midtown apartment, ice tinkling in his tumbler of scotch - the finest brand, of course.
When his private phone rang, he didn't immediately answer, hoped to God that idiot he was spending a king's ransom on would remember to use the code.
After three rings, he punched the call button. "Speak."
"Jace Carradigne's clean. One speeding ticket four years ago. That's it."
"Not good enough. You know what I need." He gulped scotch, desperate to feel the buzz. The buzz sharpened his mind, calmed him.
"Yes, of course. It might take some time, though. His company's telecommunication stock is due to split-for the third time. His employees regard him as a pal. He can name his own hours or take a five-year sabbatical and never have to alter his lifestyle. The guy's rolling in dough."
His fingers tightened around the crystal tumbler in his hand, the pressure threatening to shatter the heavy, obnoxiously expensive glass. Why did everyone else get these lucky breaks?
Money and power should be his. It was his right. And the old man wanted to take it away from him. It's not going to happen. If he couldn't find the information he needed to discredit Jace Carradigne, he'd just have to do it the hard way.
He sipped his scotch, letting the smooth fire dance on his tongue. Truthfully, arranging ... accidents wasn't as difficult as most people believed. And pointing the finger away from himself was like taking candy from a baby.
He nearly giggled at the rush of power that swam through the pleasant haze of alcohol. Let anyone dare to get in his way and they'd suffer the consequences. He just had to let them know they were getting in his way.
After that ... well, forewarned was being sporting on his part. He wondered if Jace Carradigne liked to play.
"You have one week. Either get me something, or you're out."
* * *
Victoria Meadland's stomach cartwheeled as she looked up and saw him crossing the crowded bar.
Jace Carradigne had been coming to the trendy nightclub in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter every Friday evening with his pals for several months now.
Recently, he'd been coming in more often. And alone.
To see her. Her fingers trembled against the tray of dirty glasses and half-empty beer bottles she was in the process of dumping. She cleared her tray and handed the bartender, Paul, the next round of orders she'd collected.
Diamond Jim's did an excellent business on most any night of the week, but Fridays were the busiest. She only worked part-time, but she needed the job until she could get her final college credits and start teaching school, which was her real dream.
And that meant she shouldn't be fraternizing with the customers. Or anticipating a certain man's contagious smile or exuberant compliments.
The problem was, Jace's appearance was something she'd come to count on, to look for. It was like a standing date that neither of them had actually agreed to. Every time she saw him, she wanted to pinch herself.
Tall and surfer-guy handsome, his skin tanned, his dark blond hair streaked from the California sun, he headed straight toward her, made her feel as though she'd stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.
He always had a ready smile on his face and was quick to laugh or tease. His dynamic personality simply swept others along in his powerful presence.
She cautioned herself to be careful. God knows she'd made enough mistakes in her life. She wasn't going to jump so fast this time. No matter what her heart bade her otherwise.
She swept her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ear and tried to still the pounding of her heart. Jazz music vied with the raised voices of couples, tourists and business pals unwinding after the workweek. For an instant, everything seemed to fade into the background, as though a friendly sorceress or angel had snapped the world into freeze mode.
Jace eased up to the bar, a dimple creasing his cheek, his hair tousled from the late October evening breeze.
"I swear I've never seen a prettier sight. Marry me, Victoria."
She nearly choked on her breath. The din of music and voices swirled into the forefront of her consciousness once more.
For one heart-stopping moment, she almost imagined he was serious. Then she got a grip.
She shook her head. "Jace, Jace. You know I can't do that."
"Sure you can. Say yes and I'll have the company plane wing us over to Vegas."
"And be responsible for hearts breaking all over Southern California? Sorry, pal. Too much burden for my conscience." This wasn't the first time he'd greeted her with the outrageous suggestion.
"I already told you. I'm free as a bird. Not a single heart on the line for you to worry about."
"You might be surprised," she murmured. Her own heart was straddling a precarious line.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." She wiped away a circle of water on the bar and refilled the bowl of popcorn.
"Hmm." The twinkle in his eye said he didn't believe her, but would let it go for the moment. "Since I've asked you to marry me, don't you think you should at least agree to go out with me?"
"You're crazy," she said, half-amused, more than a little tempted.
Lord, he was cute. Funny, attentive, wealthy ... "You don't even know me."
"Sure I do. I've seen you at least once a week for the past month. That makes us practically engaged." He checked his watch. "You're off in half an hour, right? Let me take you out for a late dinner."
"I have to study."
"No one should study on an empty stomach. It's a Carradigne rule."
She bit her lip to keep from laughing. "I already had dinner."
"What, at five o'clock? That was almost six hours ago. Okay, how about coffee? Come on, Vickie. Say yes."
She picked up the tray Paul had filled with the latest drink order and scooted out from behind the bar. Passing his stool, she hesitated for a fraction of an instant. The darn man was simply too irresistible.
"Yes." He whooped and she hid a grin as she made her way through tables filled with patrons, several of which shouldn't be ordering another alcoholic beverage. The saxophone player on stage announced this was the last song of the set and rattled off the dates and places where their group would be appearing next.
As she delivered drinks and stuffed tips in her pocket, she kept a subtle eye on Jace Carradigne. More than one female in the room tried to get his attention, but he didn't seem to notice. Instead, his gaze followed her as though she were the only woman in the universe.
It was a heady experience. Especially for Victoria. A man like Jace Carradigne seemed too good to be true. Then again, she might be building fantasies where they didn't belong. She hadn't even had a formal date with him.
Excerpted from The Inconveniently Engaged Prince by Mindy Neff
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.