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Authors: Melissa McClone

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Series, #Harlequin Romance

Not-So-Perfect Princess (6 page)

BOOK: Not-So-Perfect Princess
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“That’s very modern compared to where I come from.” She wiped her eyes. “You see, I’d hoped to use my position as future queen to effect change back home without embarrassing my country and family.”

Alejandro remembered what she’d told him. “Working within the system.”

She nodded. “Royals can’t be selfish and ignore the people who look up to them.”

“That’s noble of you,” Alejandro said. Too bad most royals didn’t feel that way. “But you shouldn’t be too upset. My brother’s pulling one of his power plays with you. He’s done it to me many times and will change his mind. Your life will be better here than in Aliestle. You’ll have royal obligations, but you’ll also be able to do what you want to do, including help your country and sail.”

Her shoulders remained slumped. “Enrique could annul the marriage if I defy him. I’d have to return to Aliestle.”

“I don’t see a ring on your finger.”

“Not yet anyway.” She glanced at her left hand. Straightened. “No ring.”

“What?” Alejandro asked.

Her gaze met his. “Maybe Enrique will change his mind about things or maybe he won’t. I can’t change anything that will happen once I marry. But if I go sailing now, I wouldn’t be disobeying my husband since Enrique is only my fiancé.”

Her tone sounded different. Not as distraught. “You lost me.”

Julianna’s gaze met Alejandro’s with an unspoken plea.

Understanding dawned. He leaned away from her. “No. No way. I can’t get involved in this.”

“You’re already involved.” She scooted closer. “All I need is a boat for one sail.”

The flowery scent of her shampoo filled his nostrils and made him waver. He leaned backed to put some distance between them. “If you’re caught disobeying your father…”

“I’ll make sure I’m not,” she said. “You believe Enrique will change his mind, but you didn’t see the look in his eyes. It’s worth the risk for one last hurrah before I get married.”

“Maybe to you, but not to me.” Alejandro would be in deep trouble. That had never bothered him in the past. But the stakes were higher this time.

“What do you have to lose?” she asked.

His chance at freedom. He hated the way Enrique was treating Julianna, but Alejandro didn’t want to cause an even bigger problem between the couple. He needed the two to marry and have children.

A deep shame rose up inside him. He was thinking of himself while Julianna was trying to do her duty even if it made her unhappy.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I won’t be the reason you get in trouble.”

Disappointment shone in her lovely eyes.

“Fine.” She flipped her hair behind her shoulder with a sexy move. “I’ll find a boat myself.”

She would, too. He pictured her heading to the marina and going out with anyone who’d take her. That could end in disaster. If he helped her…

Alejandro couldn’t believe he was contemplating taking her out, but he didn’t want to think only of himself. “Sailing is that important to you?”

“Yes.”

The hope and anticipation in the one word made it difficult for him to breath.

“Please, Alejandro.” Julianna stared up at him with her wide, blue eyes. “Will you please help me?”

A long list of reasons why he shouldn’t scrolled through his mind. But logic didn’t seem to apply in this situation. Or with Julianna.

He thought about it a minute. Taking her sailing wasn’t that big a deal. “I suppose it would be against my character and ruin my bad reputation if I turned down an opportunity to do something Enrique was against.”

She leaned toward him giving him another whiff of her enticing scent. “So is that a yes?”

CHAPTER FOUR

Y
ES
.
I’ll take you sailing tomorrow night.

Jules fell asleep thinking about Alejandro’s words. She woke up with them on her mind, too.

Sunlight streamed through the windows. Particles in the air gave the rays definition, as if a fairy had waved her magic wand to make the sunshine touchable. She reached out, but felt only air.

With a laugh, she rolled over in the queen-size bed eager to start her day. She couldn’t wait to go sailing tonight. Of course if she was discovered…

Don’t think about that.

She needed to do this. Everything else in her life, from her education to her marriage, had been determined for her. Not out of love, but because of what tradition dictated and what others believed to be best for Aliestle.

Going sailing tonight was the one decision she could make for herself. She was desperate enough for this one act of disobedience. A secretive rebellion of sorts, the kind she never did as a teenager.

Jules tossed back the luxurious Egyptian cotton sheet and climbed out of bed. Her bare feet sunk into a hand-woven Persian rug. Only the finest furnishings for the grand palace.

She entered the large bathroom. Yvette had set out her toiletries on the marble countertop. The gold plated fixtures reminded Jules of every other castle she’d stayed in. Gold might be considered opulent, but didn’t any of the royal interior designers want to be creative and try a different finish? Then again, royalty could never be too creative or different. The status quo was completely acceptable.

Jules stared at her refection in the mirror. Today she would maintain that status quo. People would look at her and see a dutiful princess. Even if she would be counting down the hours until her first and last taste of…

Freedom.

Her chest tightened. She had no idea what true freedom would feel like.

So far, Jules’s choices in life had been relegated to what she wanted to eat, if it wasn’t a state dinner, what books she wanted to read, if she’d completed all her assigned readings, and what she purchased while shopping. Perhaps that was why she’d become a consummate shopper.

Choosing what she wanted to do without having to consider the expectations of an overprotective father and a conservative country would have to feel pretty good. She couldn’t wait to experience it tonight.

Jules had thought about what Alejandro said about the island not being Aliestle, about the legal rights she would have here and about his mother leaving his father. Those things had led her to devise a new plan.

She would sail tonight, then return to being a dutiful princess in the morning and marry Enrique after the Med Cup. Once they had children, she would work to improve her position, get Enrique to be more cooperative and try to change things.

Thirty minutes later, Yvette clasped a diamond and pearl necklace around Jules’s neck. “Excellent choice, Yvette. You have quite an eye when it comes to accessories.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” The young maid stared at their reflection in the mirror. “You look like a modern day Princess Grace.”

Jules felt a little like Princess Grace, who had been forced to stop acting because someone said the people of Monaco wouldn’t be happy if she returned to making movies. Life for many royals didn’t always have a happy ending.

“Thank you, Yvette.” The retro-style pink-and-white suit had been purchased on a recent trip to Paris. Jules tucked a strand of hair into her French roll. “I’m sure the hairstyle helps.”

“Prince Enrique will be impressed.”

“Let’s hope so.” Jules tried to sound cheerful, but her words felt flat. She doubted Enrique would be impressed by anything she did. He was nothing like…Alejandro.

She couldn’t imagine Enrique cradling her in his arms and offering sympathy while she cried. He would have cursed her tears, not wiped them away as Alejandro had.

A black sheep? Perhaps, but he was taking her sailing. She guessed he was more of a good guy than he claimed to be.

She smiled. “Perhaps I’ll make an impression on the entire royal family.”

“Not Prince Alejandro.” Yvette sounded aghast. “I’ve been told to stay away from him.”

The words offended Jules. She would rather spend time with Alejandro than Enrique. “Who said that?”

“One of the housekeepers. She’s young. Pretty,” Yvette explained. “She said Prince Alejandro has a horrible reputation. Worse, his taste in women is far from discriminating. Royalty, commoner, palace staff, it doesn’t matter.”

Alejandro had warned her about the gossip. But the words stung for some reason. “That could be a rumor. The press loves to write about royalty whether it’s true or not. People will believe almost anything once it’s in print or on the Internet.”

“The housekeeper sounded sincere, ma’am,” Yvette said. “She’s especially concerned about you.”

“About me?” Jules remembered the warmth of Alejandro’s body and the sense of belonging she’d felt in his arms. He could have taken advantage of the situation and her emotional state last night, but he hadn’t. He’d acted like a friend, not a man who wanted some action. She’d actually been a tad bit disappointed he hadn’t found her desirable.

Silly. Pathetic, really. She straightened. “I appreciate the warning, but I’m going to be Alejandro’s sister-in-law. He doesn’t see me in the same way as he sees other woman.”

Doubt filled Yvette’s eyes. “I hope you’re correct, ma’am.”

Jules didn’t. She wouldn’t mind being wrong about this. Alejandro was…attractive, but the way he’d made her feel on the beach—understood, accepted, safe, ways she’d never felt before—intrigued her the most. After tonight, following the housekeeper’s advice and staying away from him would be the best course of action. No matter how much a tiny part of Jules wished he were the one she was marrying.

Better squelch that thought. Alejandro was going to be her brother-in-law. Nothing else.

“Don’t worry.” She raised her chin. “I’m not about to risk my match with Enrique for a fling with a self-avowed black sheep.”

Even one who was gorgeous and sailed and sent tingles shooting through her. More reasons to keep her distance.

After tonight.

Tonight would be her first chance to experience freedom. The initial step in figuring out how to be an influential princess and her own person.

“That is smart.” The tight lines around Yvette’s mouth relaxed a little. “Being matched to a man outside Aliestle would be a dream come true for most of our countrywomen, ma’am.”

Be careful what you wish, or in this case, ask for.

Jules recognized the maid’s wistful tone. She’d sounded the same way on more than one occasion. The weight on her shoulders felt heavier. She wanted life to be different for her countrywomen. “Has a match been secured for you?”

“Yes, ma’am. A very good match.” Yvette gave a half smile. “One that will be advantageous to my family.”

“That’s excellent.”

“Yes, ma’am. We marry in two years, after I complete my obligations on the palace staff.” The look in Yvette’s eyes didn’t seem to agree with her words. “I am…most fortunate.”

Most likely as fortunate as Jules. Her heart ached. She wanted men to treat the women of Aliestle with respect, consideration and love. Not like commodities.

When Brandt became king…

Yvette adjusted her starched, white apron. “I transferred the contents of your handbag into the purse, ma’am.”

“Thank you, I’ll…”

A high-pitched noise sounded outside the bedroom door. Not quite a squeal, but not a squeak, either.

Yvette’s forehead creased. “It sounds like a baby, ma’am.”

Jules hurried to the door and opened it. The noise sounded again. She glanced around the empty hallway. A black ball of fur scratched at the door across the hall.

“You’re correct, Yvette. It is a baby. A baby cat.” Jules picked up the kitten who pawed at her. A long, white hair above his right eye bounced like an antenna in the wind. “I can’t imagine someone let you out into this big hallway on purpose. Did you escape again?”

The kitten stared up at her with clear, green eyes.

Her heart bumped. She’d always wanted a pet. This one was adorable.

“I can see where he belongs, ma’am,” Yvette offered.

“I’ll return him.” The kitten wiggled in Jules’s hands. She cuddled him closer in hopes of settling him down. He rested his head against her arm and purred. “I know where he belongs.” With Alejandro.

Anticipation spurted through her. She wanted to see him. Because of the sailing, she rationalized. That was the only reason. Anything else would be too…dangerous.

“Cat?” Alejandro checked the closet, the bathroom, under the bed and beneath the other furniture. No sight of the furball anywhere.

The kitten didn’t come running as he usually did.

Maybe he was locked in the bathroom? Alejandro checked. No kitty.

The last time he’d seen the kitten was before his shower. He glanced around the apartment again. A vase with colorful fresh-cut flowers caught his eye. Those were new.

Only Ortiz knew about the kitten. If whoever delivered the flowers had left the door to the apartment open, the kitten could have gotten out.

Alejandro ran to the door and jerked it open.

Julianna stood in the doorway.

He froze, stunned to see her.

A smile graced her glossed lips. Clear, bright eyes stared back at him. Her pastel-pink suit made her look like the definition of the word princess in the dictionary.

She was the image of everything he didn’t like in a woman—royal, wealthy, concerned with appearances. He shouldn’t feel any attraction toward Julianna whatsoever. But he couldn’t stop staring at her beautiful face.

Awareness buzzed through him. Strange. Alejandro didn’t usually go for the prim and proper type. But this wasn’t the time to examine his attraction to her. He needed to find a kitten. “I—”

“I was about to knock,” she said at the same time. “Look who I found.”

Alejandro followed her line of sight. The kitten was sound asleep in her arms.

Relief washed over him. “I was on my way out to look for him. Where did you find him?”

“In the hallway trying to squeeze under the door across from mine. A futile effort given his size, but he made a valiant attempt.” She smiled at the kitten. “I figured he must have escaped and you’d want him back.”

“Yes.” Alejandro tried focusing on the cat, but his gaze kept returning to her. He wanted to chalk his reaction to her up to gratitude but knew better. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Alejandro waited for Julianna to hand over the cat. She didn’t. He needed to go to the boatyard, but he wasn’t in that much of a hurry. He motioned into the apartment. “Please come in.”

Julianna looked to her left and then to the right. “Thanks, but I’d better not.”

He gave her a puzzled look. “You have plans.”

“No,” she admitted. “I don’t want to upset Enrique.”

Alejandro ignored the twinge of disappointment. He understood her concern. “You’re right. We don’t want to add fuel to the fire.”

“Especially with tonight,” she whispered. Excitement danced in her eyes.

He was looking forward to the sail. He wanted Julianna to like it here. For his sake as much as hers. She’d realize she wouldn’t be a prisoner on the island. Enrique didn’t know how to treat women properly; a combination of selfishness and lack of experience. His brother would settle down eventually.

“Rest up today or you’ll be exhausted,” Alejandro said.

“Like the kitten. He fell asleep on the walk over here. He must have tired himself out during his adventure.”

Alejandro wouldn’t mind tiring himself out with Julianna. He imagined her beautiful long hair loose and spread across his pillow, her silky skin against his, the taste of those lips…

His blood heated and roared through his veins.

He pushed the fantasy out of his mind. Thinking of Julianna in a sexual way was wrong and dangerous. They both had too much to lose.

“I’ve been wondering what the kitten’s name is,” she said.

Good, he could think about something other than her in his bed. “Cat.”

“Cat is the kitten’s name?”

“Yes.”

Julianna drew her delicately arched eyebrows together. Her pretty pink mouth opened then closed, as if she thought better of what she wanted to say.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s nothing.”

Alejandro recognized the look in her eyes. “Tell me.”

Julianna hesitated. “You’re doing me a favor taking me sailing. I shouldn’t criticize.”

He’d been criticized his entire life by his father and by his brother. He never could live up to what the people wanted him to be, either. The bane of being the spare. Nothing he did was ever good enough. Alejandro had grown immune to the put-downs. “I want to know.”

“You might get mad.”

He didn’t want her to be afraid of him. “Enrique might get a little heated at times. You don’t have to worry about that with me.”

She squared her shoulders, as if preparing for battle. A one-hundred-eighty-degree difference from her sobbing on the beach last night. “Cat isn’t a proper name for a pet.”

That was what this was all about. Alejandro almost laughed. He thought it was something serious. “Cat doesn’t seem to mind the name.”

“That’s because he loves you.”

The warmth in her voice wrapped around Alejandro like a soft, fluffy towel. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had made him feel so good. But he knew better. The feeling was as fleeting as the love she spoke about. “Love has nothing to do with it. He’s a cat. He comes because he’s hungry.”

“He’d come no matter what you call him,” she continued.

“Cat isn’t a child.”

“No, he’s your pet.”

Children and a family weren’t something he’d considered before. Saying he had a pet was pushing the level of commitment he was comfortable with. Love and commitment didn’t last so why bother? His mother had claimed to love him. But she’d abandoned him to a father who disapproved of him and a brother who antagonized him. Alejandro rocked back on his heels. “Cat’s a stray.”

BOOK: Not-So-Perfect Princess
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