MILLS AND BOON
100th Birthday Collection
- UK February 2008 -
"Ms. Gordon squeezes a lot of emotion, love, passion and tenderness into this story that shows how two people can grow because of their love for one another."
Lizzie has sought out King Daniel of Voltavia because she’s writing a biography of his grandfather, the late King Alphonse. She has a special interest in him because her aunt, a popular entertainer, was once known to be his mistress.
Daniel refuses her an interview, but that night she is unexpectedly invited to a ball at the Voltavian Embassy. There he summons her to dance with him...
He was a good dancer, every step correct, but his body was tense. By contrast, Lizzie danced like liquid, gliding this way and that in his arms.
“I had you investigated,” he informed her calmly, “and discovered you to be an historian, as you said. The list of your degrees and professorships was impressive - and alarming.”
“There's no need for Your Majesty to be alarmed,” she said demurely. “I don’t bite.”
“But you do pursue. And I’ve been your prey.”
“Naturally. I only pursue the big bears. They're the most rewarding.”
He looked down at her with a faint, curious smile. "And do you think you'll find me 'rewarding'?”
“I'm not sure yet. It depends whether you give me what I want?”
“And is that how you judge men - by whether they give you what you want?”
Lizzie raised delicate eyebrows in well simulated surprise. “But of course. What other yardstick is there?”
“Are you by any chance trying to flirt with me, Miss Boothe?”
“Certainly not,” she said, shocked. “It would be improper for any woman to flirt with the king.”
“It’s for the king to flirt with her.”
Her demure tone took him off guard, and he frowned, as though unsure that he'd heard her correctly. Then he smiled, cautiously.
“And if the king didn't flirt with her?” he asked. “Might she not show a little enterprise in the matter?”
“She wouldn't dare,” Lizzie informed him, straight-faced. “Lest he think her impertinent.”
“I don't think you fear the opinion of any man, Miss Boothe.”
“But Your Majesty is a king, not a man.”
“Is that what you think?”
She looked straight into his face, saying demurely, “I’m waiting for you to tell me what to think.”
“By heaven, you're a cool one!” he exclaimed softly.
“But of course. A woman would need to stay cool when entering the bear’s cave,” she pointed out. “Unless she's well protected.”
“You, I think, are protected by your effrontery.”
“Oh dear! I have offended Your Majesty.”
His eyes gleamed. “Do not fish for compliments, Miss Boothe.”
“Is that what I was doing?” she murmured.
“Yes. And it was quite unnecessary.”
There were a dozen ways to take that but, raising a questioning eyebrow to him, she sensed exactly what he was telling her and a swift excitement scurried through her veins.
She hadn’t meant this to happen. So far and no further. That was the idea. Flirt with him, intrigue him until he was putty in her hands. It had worked before.
“Use your charms to bring them to heel,” Dame Elizabeth had always advised. “What else are charms for?”
But it had never been part of the plan for him to charm her. Now matters were getting out of hand. Beneath his stiff exterior this man had a devil in his eyes. Lizzie had an uneasy feeling that he’d sized her up and decided he could deal with her.
“The music is ending,” Daniel observed. “I've ordered champagne served on the terrace.”
Once outside indicated for her to be seated, and handed her a glass of champagne.
“So you’re writing a book about my grandfather?” he said, seating himself opposite. “Why do you wish to do this?”
“Because he's fascinated me all my life,” she replied. “Aunt Lizzie told me so much about him.”
“The world knows, of course, that he admired her. But how did she value him?”
“She kept his photograph on her wall to the end of her life. Not just a formal picture. It was inscribed in friendship and gratitude, Alphonse.”
“Friendship and gratitude,” Daniel repeated slowly. “Yes, my grandfather was a restrained man. I can imagine him using such words when what he really meant was something a great deal more intense, and emotional.”
There was a new note in his voice as he said the last words that made the silence hang heavy between them. Lizzie knew this man held every card in the pack, yet she was trying to gamble with him on equal terms. It was heady wine, and his sudden urgent tone made it headier still.
The music of the waltz was floating out onto the terrace.
“Dance with me,” he commanded, taking her into his arms without waiting for her answer.
He held her close enough for her to feel his breath on her bare shoulder, and his hand was firm in the small of her back. She had said that he was only a king, not a man. And she’d been so wrong.
“I’m glad we’ve had this talk,” he said. “It makes many things clearer. Tell me exactly what you want.”
“Access to the royal archives,” she said, breathless with hope. “Official memos, private correspondence...”
“Private - ?” With a swift movement his hand tightened on her waist, drawing her hard against him.
“I want to show him in the round, and for that I must see everything,” she said, speaking breathlessly for he was holding her very tightly. “It’s the things the world didn’t know that have real value.”
“Ah yes. Value. We mustn’t forget that. And of course their value is higher precisely because the world doesn’t know.”
“Exactly. There’s no substitute for private letters.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” he murmured, sending warm breath skittering across her cheek. She saw how very close his mouth was to her own, and tried to control her riotous thoughts. But they wouldn’t be controlled. They raced ahead, speculating about the shape of his mouth, the firmness of his lips, how they would feel against hers....
She looked up and what she saw gave her a shock. Despite the apparent ardor in his behavior there was only cool calculation in his eyes.
She tried to clear her head, to know what this meant, but that was hard when the world was spinning around her. Then he was smiling at her, and she could believe, if she wanted to, that the chill look of a moment ago had been all her imagination.
“You’re not the only historian who wants to write about my grandfather, Miss Boothe.”
“No, but I’m ahead of the pack,” she said simply.
“Yes. Because of Aunt Lizzie, who knew him as nobody else did.
“I wasn’t forgetting that, nor that such knowledge is valuable.” He stressed the word in a way that fell oddly on her ear.
“Priceless,” she agreed.
“I’d hardly say priceless. Sooner or later most things have a price. The problem is agreeing on it.”
“I’m not sure that I understand Your Majesty.”
He smiled. “I think you do. I think we understand each other very well, and have done from the beginning.”
The reserve had gone from his eyes, replaced by something that made her heart beat faster. Almost unconsciously she raised her face towards him as he lowered his mouth onto hers.
She was no green girl experiencing her first kiss, but it might almost have been the first from its effect on her. His mouth caressed hers with urgency. In repose his lips were firm almost to the point of hardness, but now their movements were teasing, driving her as though he was being harried by his own desire. She tried to master her own rising excitement, determined to stay in control, but he was equally determined to strip control away from her. And he was winning.
He kissed the soft skin beneath one ear and she gave a small gasp. She was so sensitive there that normally she tried never to let a man approach it, but he’d known her weakness by instinct and gone for it without mercy. He continued the subtle assault down her long neck while she trembled and clung to him.
When he raised his head she longed to pull it down to her again and tell him to continue what he’d begun. Instead she became hypnotized by his eyes, which were brooding over her as though he too was trying to comprehend her, and failing.
A noise from nearby made him release her reluctantly.
“We must talk more - in Voltavia,” he said. “I leave tomorrow. You will follow me next week.”
“I’ll be there,” she said quickly, fearful of seeing the prize snatched away. “I promise.”
“Of course,” he said, amused. “There was never any question of your refusing. No, don’t be angry with me. I hold all the cards, and you know it.”
He walked away, leaving her to return to the ballroom on Frederick’s arm. She felt as though she was walking on air. The glittering professional prize had been held out to her. That, she told herself, was the reason for the swift beating of her heart. That, and no other reason.
But she was deceiving herself, and she knew it.
When the last guest had departed the king relaxed with a brandy and soda, indicating for Frederick, his most trusted aide, to join him.
“This lady is going to be a pleasure to do battle with. You know the plan?”
“Yes, sir.” Frederick took a deep breath before venturing to say, “You don’t think that this way of doing things is a little - a little - ?” His voice ran down as his nerve ran out.
Daniel took pity on him. “Devious, unprincipled, cold blooded?”
Frederick ran a finger around his collar. “Those are Your Majesty’s words.”
“Coward,” Daniel said without rancor. “Yes, Frederick, I’m being all those things. But then, so is she. This is no ordinary lady. She’s sharp, shrewd, and utterly unscrupulous. So the only way I can fight her is to be the same.”
From the book THE KING'S BRIDE by Lucy Gordon.
UK Release February 2008
Copyright 2002 by Lucy Gordon
UK ISBN 978-0263854589
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
~ a taste of italy at home ~