A Royal Mess and Her Knight To Remember

BOOK: A Royal Mess and Her Knight To Remember
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Two brand-new stories in every volume…twice a month!

Duets Vol. #85

Talented Jill Shalvis first launched the RED-HOT ROYALS miniseries in Temptation with #861
A Prince of a Guy
. The romantic regal romp continues this month with a very special Double Duets featuring
A Royal Mess
and
Her Knight To Remember
. Jill is “fast, fanciful and funny. Get ready for laughs, passion and toe-curling romance,” says
Rendezvous.

Duets Vol. #86

Two talented writers make their Duets debut this month—with a splash. Samantha Connolly, who hails from Ireland, was an avid reader before trying her hand at writing, with great results in
If the Shoe Fits
. Dorien Kelly is still walking on air after selling her first book,
Designs on Jake,
to Duets. She's now hard at work on a second novel. A welcome to this delightful duo!

 

Be sure to pick up both Duets volumes today!

A Royal Mess and Her Knight To Remember
Jill Shalvis

A Royal Mess

Jill Shalvis

With a screech, Natalia whirled around from the counter.

“Tim! You just took five years off my life.” She put a hand on her chest.

“What are you doing?” He pushed away from the wall, a hesitant look on his face.

“Cooking.” She took in his expression and narrowed her eyes. “And you know what? Believe it or not, some people think I'm quite good at it.”

He tried to remain casual, tried to think of an answer, but at that moment her tongue darted out and licked a spot of chocolate off her lips. His body leapt to attention, and he stared at her, hoping she'd do it again.

She poured the chocolate batter from the bowl into the blender, then put the lid on. She slammed down a button that started the blender whirring, clearly not impressed with him. “I wanted this to be a surprise. Now go away.”

“But I—”

Which was all he got out before the top of the blender blew off, spraying the contents across the room. And covering Natalia in rich, thick chocolate.

Looked as if he was getting dessert a little early.

 

Dear Reader,

How many of you have dreamed about wearing a tiara? Admit it, we all wanted to be princesses, to marry a prince and never have to clean again.

In
A Royal Mess
and
Her Knight To Remember
, my princesses find out what it's like to live in the real world. Not quite the piece of cake they had imagined. In the real world people don't rush to fulfill their needs. Men don't fall at their feet.

And in the real world, love can blindside. Which is exactly what happens to Natalia and Annie, with two of the most rough-and-tumble, most rugged, most gorgeous men they've ever seen.

I had so much fun torturing my princesses with
real
men. I hope you enjoy their stories.

Happy reading!

Jill Shalvis

P.S.—I love to hear from readers! You can reach me at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96160-3945.

Books by Jill Shalvis

HARLEQUIN DUETS

28—NEW AND…IMPROVED?

42—KISS ME, KATIE! HUG ME, HOLLY!

57—BLIND DATE DISASTERS EAT YOUR HEART OUT

HARLEQUIN TEMPTATION

742—WHO'S THE BOSS?

771—THE BACHELOR'S BED

804—OUT OF THE BLUE

822—CHANCE ENCOUNTER

845—AFTERSHOCK

861—A PRINCE OF A GUY

878—HER PERFECT STRANGER

885—FOR THE LOVE OF NICK

SILHOUETTE INTIMATE MOMENTS

887—HIDING OUT AT THE CIRCLE C

905—LONG-LOST MOM

941—THE RANCHER'S SURRENDER

1019—THE DETECTIVE'S UNDOING

To the real princesses in my life:
Kelsey, Megan and Courtney

1

T
IMOTHY
B
ANNING
needed a vacation from his New York vacation. That wasn't going to happen, and he could brood all he wanted once he got back to his Texas ranch, but for now he had to at least get there.

The airport was mobbed. A typical Sunday afternoon. He braced himself for an overbooked, underfed flight. At least he'd gotten a boarding pass, which was more than he could say for the angry crowd currently huddled by the check-in counter.

Grateful to be anyone other than the lone, harassed airline employee trying to soothe too many tempers at once, he got in line to board the plane.

He was exhausted, more mentally than anything else, but visiting his so-called retired grandma did that to him. She was unstoppable—shows, shopping, talking. Nothing a good nap wouldn't cure.

Oh, and note to self: next time Grandma says hang gliding over Central Park, she's not kidding. Tim stretched his sore neck and winced. She'd nearly killed him this time.

And still, she'd refused to consider coming back with him to Texas. Refused to even talk about his taking care of her in her golden years.

In front of him was a little girl—maybe five years old—in her mother's arms. She had serious bed head and wore a sundress that said I am Adorable. Wide-eyed, she stared at Tim, loudly sucking and slurping on a bright blue lollipop.

As adorable as she might be, he nonetheless hoped to God she didn't sit near him on the plane.

With an audible
smacking
sound, she pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled, her teeth and tongue a distinctive shade of blue. Drool dripped down her mother's neck. “Tish, careful.” Her mother shifted the girl's weight to her other arm. “Keep that in your mouth, now.”

Yeah, Tish, keep that in your mouth.

Tish finally stuffed the lollipop back into her mouth and eyeballed Tim's hat. “You a cowboy?”

Tipping back the Stetson with a finger, he nodded. “Yep.”

“You gots a horse?”

“Yep.”

“Does she like sugar?”

“About as much as I'd guess you do.”

Tish grinned and sucked on her lollipop some more.

The line to get onto the plane hadn't moved. In
fact, the crowd pressed in slightly, shifting him closer to Tish and her sticky, blue lollipop.

Chaos continued to reign around him; loud passengers, the crackling of the intercoms, the weary voices of the airline employees and the smell of plane.

Quite different from his usual setting of gently rolling hills and the call of cattle.

“Excuse me.” A supremely irritated female voice rung out behind him. “I want on this flight.”

Tim glanced over his shoulder and did a double take. The leather-wearing, silver-studded, spiked-hair juvenile delinquent did not match the cultured, demanding voice. Tim spared a moment to feel sorry for the poor attendant facing this newest customer, then gripping his boarding ticket with gratitude, shuffled forward in line with the rest of the lucky ones around him.

“Ma'am,” the ticket clerk said. “This flight is overbooked.”

“What?”

“We've oversold the flight,” the ticket clerk said calmly. “Now we can—”

“I don't care if you oversold the entire state of New York!” She sure didn't
sound
like a teenager. “I'm holding a ticket that entitles me to a first-class seat. Now find my boarding pass.”

Tim shook his head at the queen-to-peasant tone. His line was moving now, even if only at the pace of a snail. Only three people left ahead of him, and in a moment he'd be on the plane, snoozing.

Then, finally there was just Tish and her lollipop extraordinaire. Soon he'd be prone, eyes closed, lost in dreamland. Tim stepped on board, and smiled at the pretty redheaded flight attendant when she moved in front of him to serve a drink to someone already seated in first class.

“Hi,” she said breathlessly, once again squeezing her hot little bod in front of his to get back to her station.

Suddenly catching some Z's took a back seat to his second-favorite hobby.

Women.

But unfortunately for him, it was just a spectator hobby, as most women didn't find his demanding, outdoor lifestyle on the ranch conducive to a long-term relationship. No one wanted to take a back seat to a sick horse or a herd of cattle.

The line wasn't moving again, this time thwarted by the crowd of people in front of him fighting for overhead compartment space.

The pretty flight attendant tipped her head up at him, a sweet smile on her lips. “I'm Fran.”

“Hi, Fran.”

“We're swamped today.” Her eyes were hot as they ate him up.

“I'm just glad to be boarding,” he said, enough of a red-blooded male to enjoy her frank appreciation of his body—a body that was so tired he was practically weaving in the aisle. Give him his dawn-to-dusk job of running a ranch over sight-seeing and grandma rustling any day. But finally he could move, and with a last smile for Fran, he found his seat.

He could still hear the furious demands of the passengers not as lucky as he ringing in his ears—the ones who hadn't checked in the requisite hour ahead of time, the ones foiled by both heavy spring storms and an airline that had sold more seats than they had available.

Not his problem. With a wide yawn, he tipped his hat over his eyes, and attempted to stretch his long legs—which resulted in two bruised knees. But he'd long ago learned to sleep anywhere, anytime, and today was no exception. As he drifted off to the tune of a flight attendant's pleas to stow any additional items beneath the seats, he sent out one last, no doubt useless hope that the two seats beside him would remain empty.

It was not going to happen on an overbooked flight, so he adjusted that thought to…may whoever land here please be small and quiet.
Very quiet.

Slowly he drifted off, only to be jerked awake when someone behind him kicked his seat. Opening his eyes and craning his neck, Tim encountered a set of green eyes and a blue, drooling, grinning mouth.

“Hi, Cowboy!” Tish the lollipop queen grinned and waved, popping her mother in the nose.

With an inward groan, Tim waved and turned back, closing his eyes again, this time dozing off to a rousing rendition of “Old MacDonald's Farm.”

 

T
HE NEXT TIME
Tim was rudely awoken, he expected that it was Tish again, and he feigned sleep in the hope she'd ignore him.

It wasn't Tish.

From beneath his hat he caught a glimpse of long, toned legs sporting black combat boots as the passenger plopped huffily into the seat next to him.

“Unfriggingbelievable,” muttered the jailbait juvenile delinquent from the check-in counter. She'd gotten a seat after all, and as luck would have it, right beside him.

“The seats back here are too close together.” She wriggled back and forth in an apparent attempt to make him as miserable as she was. It worked.

Her black leather mini hitched a little higher, and Tim wondered how her mother could have let her out of the house dressed like that. Could be worse, he
told himself, closing his eyes once again. Could be someone who wanted to gab the entire flight—

“No one's going to believe this.” She popped her gum so loud his ears nearly exploded. “Flying
coach.
Ha! I'm packed in here like a sardine.”

Ah, hell. She
was
someone who was going to gab the entire flight.

“How is one supposed to stretch—
Ouch!
” She rubbed her leg, and because they were too close together, the backs of her fingers slid against his legs as well. “This should be illegal sitting like this. I should file a complaint.”

He wasn't going to look at her. No sirree, not going to even peek. Pressing his hat to his face, he slid farther into his seat, practically jamming his knees to his chin.

“It's astounding, really,” she said over his groan of pain. “The luck I've had today.”

Who was she talking to in that voice that seemed almost…British? He risked a sideways glance from beneath his hat. Was she talking to him or the rather large woman who sat at the end of their row? Since that woman wasn't responding and he was faking sleep, there was only one conclusion.

She was talking to
herself,
which meant she wasn't just a talker, she was a crazy talker.

“I bet American royalty doesn't have this prob
lem,” she said. “I mean, really, when was the last time a Kennedy had to sit coach?”

Tim managed to slink a little more in the seat without further mangling his knees. He kept his eyes firmly closed.

“And how could I have gotten bumped from first class? Who do they have up there, Prince William? It's such an insult.” She must have tipped to the side, trying to get comfortable again, because Tim felt her hair brush his arm. With it came an exotic, almost irresistible scent. Flowers and woman.

Normally he'd love that—both the sensation and the scent—but he drew the line at far-too-young, crazy women.

The plane started to move. Good. People didn't like to talk during takeoff. At least, he didn't. It was the ultimate sleeping time.

She didn't speak for fifteen whole seconds. His hopes rose.

“Oh, dear.” Her voice wobbled, suddenly not sounding confident at all. “You'd think with how many times I've done this, I'd be better at takeoff.”

He felt her arm slide against his as she gripped the armrest between them. Soft, smooth skin. Warm to the touch.

Don't open your eyes, Banning.

“Did you hear that sputter in the engine?” she
wondered, nudging him. “Excuse me, I'm sorry to disturb you, but was that a sputter, do you think?”

Maybe a different man could have ignored that note of sharp fear in her voice, but he'd never been able to turn from someone who was afraid. Opening his eyes, he craned his neck her way. “Just normal takeoff noises,” he assured her.

She stopped chewing her gum and bit her lip, hands still clenched on the armrests at her sides, which meant in the small confines they shared, her elbow was plowing into his ribs.

“Really,” he added, a little startled at the depth of her dark gold eyes. She had dark gold hair to match, even if it was spiked straight up, showing off ears that were pierced all the way up the outside. “We're going to be fine,” he added, wanting to clear that up before his nap in order to avoid another interruption.

She nodded. Her eyes were lined in heavy black, with blue eye shadow, which matched the blue lip gloss she was nibbling off with her nerves.

In front of them, Fran the flight attendant whisked closed the curtain between first class and coach, but not before she sent Tim a saucy little wink.

Next to him, his copassenger sat up straight and pointed. “Did you see that? They were being served lunch up there! That's
my
lunch! Yoo-hoo!
Hello?

Fran didn't reappear.

Smart Fran.

“Well.” She sat back, looking genuinely surprised at being ignored. “Honestly. I'm starving back here and they're eating.” She huffed over that a moment, then raised her voice. “I'm a starving princess, you know!”

Fran poked her head out. “Please. I'm going to have to insist you keep it down.”

“But—”

“You can have me beheaded as soon as we land if you'd like, but for now,
I'm
the queen.”

The curtain closed with finality.

“I really am starving,” Princess-In-Leather said to Tim, somewhat subdued now.

“I'm sorry.”

She stared at him. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“Let me guess. A starving princess?”

“Yes!” She seemed pleased, until she realized he was humoring her. “Well, this is different, not being recognized.” But she laughed and shook her head while putting on a set of headphones.

Crazy,
thought Tim.

From behind them, Tish popped her head between them. “Hi!”

Princess-In-Leather smiled and removed her ear
phones. Loud, obnoxious noise pumped out of it. “Hi back,” she said to the little girl.

“I'm this many.” Tish leaned over the back of the seat, smacking Tim in the head when she held up five sticky fingers.

The princess nodded. “I'm that many times four plus four.”

Tim did a double take. “You're
twenty-four?

She blinked overly made-up gold eyes at him. “How old did you think I was?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve, huh?” She took off her leather jacket, revealing a little black crop top that told him she indeed was far older than twelve.

She laughed at his expression. Tish laughed, too, and dropped her lollipop. In Tim's lap.

Tim removed it before Tish could and mentally tossed his nap right out the window.

“Tish, sit down,” her mother called.

Yes, Tish, sit down.
He stared at his companion. She smiled. He did not. He'd liked it better when she was twelve.

A different flight attendant came through the aisle, tossing each passenger a pathetically small bag of peanuts.

His hungry companion wasn't quite quick enough on the uptake and took hers in the face. She stared
down at the bag of peanuts that landed in her lap. “I hate commercial flights.”

But at least she'd forgotten her fear. That left him in the clear. Hoping for a little sleep, Tim settled back, confident she'd be okay now.

And quiet.

Hopefully very quiet.

“I can't sleep while flying,” she said, sounding a little dejected as she played with the bag of peanuts.

Crinkle. Crinkle. Crinkle.

With a sigh, he reached out and put his hand over hers.

“Thank you,” she whispered, entwining their fingers and holding his hand. Amazingly, she said nothing more.

BOOK: A Royal Mess and Her Knight To Remember
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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