Authors: JoAnn Ross
"Aren't you at all curious?"
Chantal's voice was little more than a whisper, but easily heard in the intimate confines of the limousine.
"Curious?" Caine asked.
"I've been wondering for days what it would be like to kiss you," she said, turning her gaze toward him.
"I suppose it's a natural enough curiosity."
"Then you have also wondered?"
Caine shrugged. "Of course. You're a remarkably enticing woman, Princess. Any man would be tempted to kiss you."
"Yet you are not a man to easily succumb to temptation, are you, Caine?"
"No. I'm not."
Chantal found herself admiring Caine even though his rigid self-control was driving her crazy. She sighed. "Then I'm afraid we have a slight problem."
"Unlike you, I've always believed in following my instincts." She leaned toward Caine, her eyes gleaming with sensual intent. "And to tell the truth, I'm not certain I can get through the night without knowing…"
JoAnn Ross is breathing easier these days. For the past few years, the trend in romance has been toward the simple life and down-home values. And while JoAnn enjoys these themes as much as the next writer, she was dying to brush off her tiara and go for the glitz.
, her sixteenth Temptation, is pure glamour. JoAnn had a ball creating a fairy-tale princess, dressing her up in diamonds and designer gowns and launching her on a whirlwind romantic adventure with her very own Prince Charming.
is proof positive that JoAnn
treats her fans royally!
Books by JoAnn Ross
36—BAIT AND SWITCH
For my editor,
Valerie Susan Hayward,
who was this book's Fairy Godmother
Published April 1990
Copyright © 1990 by JoAnn Ross.
Her name was Chantal, from the French form of the Latin
, meaning "a song."
The very sound of it conjured up scenes of Parisian nightlife: smoky cafes, boisterous bistros and the lively music halls of Montmartre. Any woman graced with such a musical name was expected to be forever bright, beguiling and beautiful. In every respect, Princess Chantal Giraudeau de Montacroix did not disappoint.
As the celebrated love child of American film star Jessica Thorne and Prince Eduard Giraudeau, the tragically married regent of the tiny European principality of Montacroix, Chantal's birth twenty-nine years ago had made headlines. When she was five, as flower girl at her parents' formal wedding, she succeeded in capturing the heart of the world. She was, one particularly ebullient society columnist declared, the quintessential fairy-tale princess.
Through the years, she proceeded to lead a jet-set existence that brought her both scandal and fame. During her teens, she flirted with the European film industry, captivating audiences with her world-weary dark eyes and childlike pout. At twenty, she became engaged to the French director and star of her latest film; their subsequent battles fueled the columns until the inevitable breakup six months later.
Unsurprisingly, the movie, when released, was an international hit. No one seemed to care that the plot was nonexistent or that, critics had unanimously panned the film. Fans flocked to the theaters in droves for an opportunity to watch the ill-fated pair's passionate love scenes. It was voyeurism, pure and simple, but as P.T. Barnum had discovered so long ago, voyeurism sold one helluva lot of tickets.
While soothing her broken heart at the French ski championships at Chamonix, Chantal fell madly and publicly in love with one of the sun-bronzed, devil-may-care Scandinavians who flocked to the Alps each winter. When the passionate romance ended with the season, Chantal drifted down to the Greek isles, where she was reported to have fallen in love with an heir to a shipping fortune, who, according to the ever-vigilant tabloids, she subsequently dumped for an Italian count.
Her highly publicized romances continued to scandalize Europe until, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, she eloped with an American race car driver who had taken the Grand Prix by storm. If the marriage came as a shock to her long-suffering parents, the subsequent announcement that Chantal was now retiring from the social whirl in order to direct all her energies toward becoming an ideal wife and mother stunned everyone who knew her. Not so surprising was her divorce two years later.
Caine O'Bannion's frown deepened to a scowl as he flipped through the various news clippings he'd been handed immediately upon entering the office. There was probably no one in the civilized world who wouldn't recognize the stunning face instantly. Just this morning it had smiled at him from a supermarket tabloid as he'd bought a jar of instant coffee and a package of frozen bagels.
"I don't understand," he said finally. "What does some jet-set princess have to do with me?"
"Patience, Caine." The man on the other side of the wide mahogany desk banged the bowl of his pipe into an ashtray to dislodge the tobacco. "Everything will become clear in the proper time."
Silence hovered over the room like a cloud. The only sign of Caine's building frustration was the flash of irritation in his gray eyes as he automatically reached into his suit jacket pocket for a cigarette; he'd quit smoking during his enforced stay in the hospital two months ago. Times were definitely changing, he considered with grim humor, when an assassination attempt could prove beneficial to a guy's health.
His gaze drifted out the window. After a bleak and particularly harsh winter, Washington's weather had suddenly turned unreasonably balmy, bringing with it the heady promise of spring. The Japanese cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin were in full bloom, looking like fluffy pink clouds against a clear blue sky.
But Caine's awareness was focused not on the weather or the bright blossoms. He turned back to the man who was currently jamming a fuzzy yellow wire into the briar stem of his pipe—his superior, James Sebring, Presidential Security director.
"May I say that you're certainly looking well, Caine," the director said.
"Thank you, sir. I'm feeling quite well."
"Good. I hear that you're eager to get back to work."
Caine decided that "eager" didn't begin to describe his feelings. "Let's just say I've discovered that I'm not cut out for a life of leisure."
Sebring held the pipe up, peering into the long, narrow stem as he twisted the pipe cleaner with practiced movements. "Still, you don't want to rush healing."
"I certainly wouldn't ask to be returned to active duty if I wasn't fit to perform capably, sir."
The older man raised a snowy eyebrow at Caine's atypically gritty tone. "No one is questioning your professionalism, Caine. By the way, I've been meaning to ask, how is your mother?"
Caine reminded himself that he was a patient man: all too often his career demanded that. But no one, he thought in exasperation, could draw out a conversation longer than James Sebring.
"Mom's fine, sir," he said, knowing that nothing would be gained by not playing along. "She framed my medal and hung it on the wall next to Dad's Medal of Honor and his Purple Heart."
Caine had been eleven years old when Alan O'Bannion, a crack naval aviator, had been shot down over Vietnam. All his memories of his father, sketchy as they were, were of a strong, brave, larger-than-life man. There were times, in his rare introspective moments, that Caine wondered if he hadn't spent the twenty-two years since his father's death trying to live up to those memories. Trying to be the man Alan O'Bannion would have wanted his son to be.
"She's a lovely woman, your mother," the director said. "I was pleased to meet her at the ceremony."
Small talk. Normally Caine enjoyed an opportunity for these little one-to-one chats with his superior. But today it was driving him crazy.
"I got the feeling that little piece of bronze meant a great deal more to your mother than it does to you," Sebring said.
"I was just doing my job," Caine insisted, not for the first time since what he'd begun to think of as
. "That doesn't make me a hero."
"Try telling that to the rest of the nation." After tapping the loose tobacco down, Sebring lit it, and with a satisfied expression, leaned back in his chair and began puffing. "Although the Presidential Security manual may state that an agent is expected to step in front of a bullet meant for his commander in chief, those individuals not under such an obligation considered your behavior an extreme act of heroism."
Sebring's gaze reflected concern as he looked from Caine's impassive face to his injured shoulder. "So, how are you really feeling?" he asked again. Before Caine could answer, the director held up his hand. "The truth this time."
For one brief instant, Caine was tempted to lie. "I still get a few twinges," he admitted, "when I first get up in the morning. But after I work out, it's fine."
"I'm glad to hear that. By the way, I received the report from the attending physician at Walter Reed this morning."
Caine forced down a flare of anxiety, but outwardly he remained completely calm. "And?"
"Dr. Lansing's opinion seems to second your self-diagnosis." He brushed at the ashes that fell onto his slacks. "So, it looks as if you're back on active duty."
Believing the interview to be over, Caine rose from his chair. "Thank you, sir. I'm looking forward to accompanying the president on his upcoming trip."
"That won't be necessary."
A frown furrowed Caine's brow. Next week's economic summit had been months in the planning. "Has the Mexican conference been called off?"
"No. The president is still going to Mexico, as planned. But I'm afraid you're not."
A giant hand began to squeeze Caine's gut. For the past eighteen months he had been privileged to work on the plum presidential detail; he couldn't believe that he'd been called into his superior's office this morning to be demoted.
"I see." He remained military rigid: neck, shoulders, back, jaw.
"No, my boy," James Sebring said patiently, "I don't believe you do. Please, sit back down."
Not one to disobey an order, no matter how badly he wanted to leave the suddenly stifling confines of the office, Caine returned to his chair. This time, however, instead of sitting back comfortably, he perched on the very edge. Patience be damned.
"You asked what a European princess had to do with you," the director reminded him needlessly. "Well, I'm about to tell you. First of all, what do you know about Montacroix?"
Caine tried to recall the European history course he'd taken during his midshipman years at Annapolis. "As I recall, it's a small principality, purchased by the Giraudeau family from the French government shortly after Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign in 1812. Principal industries are banking, tourism, with a steady growth in wine production. The per capita income is among the highest in the world, taxes among the lowest."
"Do you know that Montacroix is also one of our strongest economic allies?"
"Yes, sir," Caine answered, wondering where this little history lesson was leading.
"Then it should come as no surprise that the United States cares very much about the security of the Montacroix government."
"No surprise at all, sir." Caine glanced down at the manila folder he was still holding, curious about where the jet-setting princess came in.
"Eduard Giraudeau and his wife are also close personal friends of the president," the director continued. "As are Prince Burke and the princesses Chantal and Noel."
"I see," Caine murmured with a thoughtful frown, liking this conversation less and less. For the second time since entering the office, he wished he hadn't stopped smoking.
"You may have read about our cultural exchange program with certain foreign governments."