You said all I must do to regain my youth is play matchmaker for twenty-one couples. Well, it's harder than you made it sound! Luckily, I've only got six more to go.
Take my latest attempt: ex-ugly-duckling Jackie Hammond and sexy rancher Steven Rollins. There's sizzle between these two strangers--even I can see it--but Jackie just found out that Steven's one-year-old cutie is biologically hers. (How? You'd have to ask the fertility clinic.) I can't blame her for wanting two weeks with a child she has to give up, but how can I make Jackie see that she should fight for the little girl--and the one man who makes her feel beautiful?
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Their Little Cowgirl
By Myrna Mackenzie
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMerry Montrose, known in another life as Princess Meredith Bessart of Silestia, put her hand on the small of her back and rubbed. She was the manager of La Torchere, an island resort in southwestern Florida, and in early May the island should have been paradise. Many people would have deemed themselves lucky to be here, and she knew that, but Merry just felt rather used up and slightly panicky. She frowned at her companion, Lissa Bessart Piers, the resort's concierge.
"If you had to put a curse on me," Merry told Lissa, "did you have to make me a crone? I think I'm starting to creak."
Lissa smiled slightly. "As your godmother, I have a duty to make sure you either turn out to be a good princess for the people back in your homeland, or that you end up being no princess at all. There was a reason for the curse, as well you know, and there's a way out, as you also know."
Merry wrinkled her nose. "I didn't even do that much. I don't deserve to look and feel so old."
Lissa didn't react.
"All right, maybe I did insult Prince Alec a little."
"He was your betrothed and you did more than insult him a little. And that wasn't the only thing you did, either."
Merry shrugged. "I suppose you mean that teensy little incident where I tried to break up my father's engagement. It wasn't that big a deal."
"It was a very big deal. He's a king."
"She was older than my father."
"She was his choice, and you not only tried to sabotage the engagement, you took it a step further when that didn't work and did your best to interfere with the wedding itself. You were out of control. Those were hardly the acts of a princess."
"I'm not sorry."
"Even though you're getting older and grayer every day?"
Merry touched her wrinkled face. "All right, I'm a little sorry, and this way out you've discussed, I'm - " She covered her face completely with her hands. "I'm just not sure I'm going to make the deadline. If I don't ..."
"You'll always be a crone. Silestia and your ties to your family will be a thing of the past."
"But there's so little time left, and the task is so great. To get twenty-one couples to fall in love and marry, it's almost impossible."
"You only have five to go."
"Yes, but less than a year to do it in."
"You wasted a lot of time when I first put the curse on you. I gave you seven years, all the way to your thirtieth birthday, and the first couple of years you didn't do a thing."
"I know," Merry admitted, surprising herself. "And once I began, it was so difficult. It took me four years and several mismatches to get things straight. I've been doing this long enough now to be realistic. One year is not enough time to ensure that five couples will meet, fall in love and marry. Could you - "
"What?" Lissa asked, her eyes kind, but her voice firm.
"Give me a little more time."
Lissa shook her head sadly. "A princess wouldn't ask for more time."
"So, it's hopeless."
"If you just stand around talking, yes, it is."
Merry let out a sigh. She looked down at herself, at her once beautiful body, now ravaged by age and riddled with aches that even the warm winds of this Florida island couldn't take away. To be like this forever, to never go back to her lovely pampered life ...
"All right, I'm working on it," she said. "I just have to keep taking it a step at a time, a couple at a time. Let's look at who's due at the resort this week." She sat down at her computer and called up the schedule of guests. A groan escaped her. Lissa looked over her shoulder.
"I see what you mean," Lissa said. "There doesn't appear to be anyone very promising in this batch. You might have to wait until next week."
But by next week she would be that much closer to losing her youth and beauty and life of royalty forever.
"No, if there aren't two people in this group who are likely to fall in love, well then, I'll just have to choose two people who are unlikely to fall in love and work a little magic."
"Your magic is limited, you know."
"I know." Of course, she knew. She had discovered that time and time again. But all she had was her subtle magic. And, oh yes, she did have one thing more.
"If they won't fit, I'll make them fit," she said defiantly. "I may not have much, but I have determination."
She ran her finger down the list. "There. Him. And her. She's already here, which might make it easier for me to persuade her. And as it happens, the two of them already have a connection of sorts."
Lissa crossed her arms. "It's not a positive connection. They're likely to be adversaries, not lovers."
Merry crossed her arms in kind and glared at her godmother. "You set me a task. I'm tending to that task. You may want me to fail, but I don't intend to do that if I can help it. Now, if you don't mind, I have business to see to. If I'm going to attempt the nearly impossible, I have to rest up. There's matchmaking to be done, whether the man and woman want to be matched or not."
She took a deep breath and stalked off.
Behind her, Lissa smiled. "Oh, I don't want you to fail, my dear. I very much hope you succeed, but, you're right - this is a difficult task. And you've chosen to make it more difficult by trying to match two people who won't appreciate your efforts. For the first time, even I am beginning to doubt that you might make it." And she sighed and went back to work.
Excerpted from Their Little Cowgirl by Myrna Mackenzie Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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