Read Not-So-Perfect Princess Online

Authors: Melissa McClone

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

Not-So-Perfect Princess (9 page)

BOOK: Not-So-Perfect Princess
8.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Consider the consequences if you don’t race.”

The word
no
sat on the tip of Jules’s tongue. That word would end further discussion. But her heart wasn’t ready to do that yet. She wanted to know what racing might feel like. But reality kept poking at her, reminding her what was at stake. “There are no consequences if I don’t race.”

Alejandro held her hand. “Your happiness, Julianna.”

“I’ll find happiness.”

“Life on the island will be good for you, but Enrique is self-involved. He’ll most likely ignore you.”

“Ignoring me will be better than trying to control me,” she admitted. “And I’ll be happy once I have children. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. Children will bring me great happiness and joy. I’ll devote myself to being the best mother I can be. That will make me very happy.”

“Will children be enough?”

They had to be.

“I’m sorry, Alejandro.” Julianna pulled her hand out of his. “I must find contentment in the life I’m meant to live. If I believe I can or should have more, that will make the days unbearable.”

“You’re a wonderful, brave woman.”

“If I was brave, I’d say yes even though it would be a really bad idea.”

“It could be sheer brilliance.”

“Or an utter disaster.”

“You want to.” Alejandro gazed into her eyes. “I can tell.”

Her pulse skittered. She flushed. She did want to. More than anything. “I told you. It doesn’t matter what I want. I can’t.”

“What’s really stopping you?”

“Common sense.” She raised her hand in the air to accentuate each point. “Duty. Obligation.”

“Royal duty doesn’t mean making yourself a slave.”

“It’s not slavery, but a responsibility to build something better.”

“I’m trying to build something better here on the island. But you can’t pretend to be something you’re not,” Alejandro said. “However much we love people or have loved them, we still have to be the person we are meant to be. Follow your heart,” his voice dipped, low and hypnotic.

Emotion clogged her throat. She’d followed her heart once. Tonight. The thought of doing so again made her mouth water. “I…”

“Say yes,” he encouraged. “You won’t regret racing.”

Oh, she would regret it. Jules had no doubt.

But tonight’s glimpse of freedom had spoiled her and made her feel carefree and alive. She wasn’t ready for that feeling to end.

“Yes.” Her answer went against everything she’d been raised to do or be. She needed to reel herself in and set clear boundaries to temper this recklessness. She remembered her plan from this morning. “I’m saying yes for the same reason I sailed tonight. Once I marry Enrique, things will change. I must honor my husband and my marriage. I will step fully into my role of the crown princess who will one day be queen.”

“The people of La Isla de la Aurora have no idea how fortunate they are to have you as their future queen.”

“Let’s make sure I’m not caught so one day I
can
be their queen.”

“That’s the number one priority,” Alejandro said. “I’ll take every precaution to keep your identity a secret. I have as much to lose with this as you do.”

His words didn’t make any sense. This had nothing to do with him. “What do you mean?”

Alejandro hesitated.

“I want to know what you have to lose,” she said.

“My freedom,” he admitted. “Once you and Enrique marry and have children, I’ll be free from all royal obligations. I can concentrate on business and not have to worry about any more princely duties.”

Enrique had said Alejandro didn’t want to be royalty anymore. She’d thought Enrique had been exaggerating. Maybe that was what Alejandro had meant about being the person he needed to be. “You really want to turn your back on all your duties?”

“Yes.”

She admired his being true to himself while dealing with some of the same burdens she had as a royal, but his wanting to break off completely from his obligations and birthright saddened her. Yet she had to admit, she was a tad envious. Alejandro would sail off into the sunset and do what he wanted, whereas she would carry the weight of two countries’ expectations on her shoulders for the rest of her life.

At least she knew he would do everything in his power to keep them from getting caught. “I guess we both have something to lose.”

“We’re in this together, Julianna.”

Yes, they were, but the knowledge left her feeling unsettled. Being out here alone with him did, too. His nearness disturbed her. His lips captured her attention. She still felt an overwhelming urge to kiss him. Even if he was the last man she should kiss.

Keep walking.
Julianna saw the grotto up ahead. “We’d better get into the tunnel before someone sees us out here.”

“No one will see us.” Alejandro spoke with confidence. “I own this place.”

“What place?”

He motioned to the land surrounding them. “The dock. The park. Everything you see.”

She tried to reconcile this new piece of information with what she knew about him. Enrique had made Alejandro sound as if only sailing mattered to him. “You’re a boatbuilder and a real estate investor?”

He nodded. “My goal is to turn the island into a travel hotspot. Most of the tourist traffic goes to other islands along the coast of Spain. La Isla de la Aurora doesn’t have enough quality hotels, resorts and marinas to attract the big spenders. My father and brother have a more low-key vision of how to improve the economy. But the Med Cup has helped attract the yachting crowd. Now I have to get the travel industry onboard.”

Impressive. And unexpected. He was so much more than she’d originally thought. Not that anything he owned or said or did should matter to her.

But it did. A lot.

She chewed on the inside of her cheek.

“As I mentioned,
La Rueca
’s result in the Med Cup could help that happen sooner,” he said. “If we finish well.”

We.
The realization of what she’d agreed to hit her full force. Pressure to do well. Practice time. Being with Alejandro, a man she was attracted to. One who would be related to her when they finished racing. Oh, what a tangled web she was weaving. No way would she be able to escape unscathed.

“This isn’t going to work.” Doubts slammed into her like a rogue wave. “Someone at the palace will notice I’m not around if we have to practice a lot.”

“Don’t worry.” He tucked a stray strand of blond hair up into the wig and adjusted the cap on her head. “I’ll figure everything out. Trust me.”

Jules shivered with desire and apprehension. She would have to trust him in a way she’d never trusted anyone before.

“Do you really think we have a shot at doing well?” she asked.

One side of his mouth tipped up at the corner. “With you at the helm, we have a good shot at not only placing, but winning.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

T
HE SOUND OF
voices woke Julianna. Lying in bed, she blinked open her eyes. Morning already. The bright sunlight made her shut her eyes again. But she’d glimpsed enough to know this wasn’t her room back in Aliestle. She hadn’t been dreaming.

Last night had been real. The sail. Alejandro.

A shiver ran down her spine.

She’d agreed to race, to be on his crew.

Somehow, she would have to be Enrique’s conventional princess-fiancée and Alejandro’s helmsman. And not let the two roles collide. Her temples throbbed thinking about trying to negotiate between the two different worlds without anyone figuring out what she was doing.

“The princess is sleeping, sir.” Yvette’s voice became more forceful. “I don’t want to wake her unless it’s necessary.”

“This is important,” a male voice Jules recognized as Brandt’s said.

She opened her eyes and raised herself up on her elbows.

Yvette wore the traditional castle housekeeper uniform—a black dress with white collar and apron. Her brown hair was braided and rolled into a tight bun. She had the door cracked and held onto it with white knuckles, as if to keep an intruder out. Jules pictured Brandt standing on the other side, trying to sway the young maid with a flirtatious smile.

“I’m awake, Yvette,” Jules said. “Send Brandt in.”

“The princess is no longer sleeping, sir.” Yvette opened the door all the way. “You may come in.”

Brandt strode in, looking every inch the crown prince in his navy suit, striped dress shirt and colorful tie. He laughed. “I was out clubbing most of the night yet you’re the one in bed. Must have been an exciting night watching TV?”

Jules shrugged. The night had been more exciting than she imagined. She hadn’t been able to fall asleep when she’d returned to the palace. Too many thoughts about Alejandro had been running through her brain. Each time she closed her eyes, she’d seen his handsome face, as if the features had been etched in her memory.

She watched her maid head into the bathroom. “What is so important?”

“Prince Enrique wants you downstairs now.”

Jules glanced at the clock. A quarter past ten. “Nothing is listed on my schedule.”

If so, Yvette would have never allowed her to sleep in. The maid always made sure Jules was ready on time for her scheduled events.

Brandt raised a brow. “It’s a surprise.”

Her brother sounded amused. That set off warning bells in her head. “Care to enlighten me about this surprise?”

“No.”

She tossed one of her pillows at him.

He batted it away. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only doing as requested. I assumed you’d rather have me wake you than Enrique.”

Alejandro would have been better. Especially if he woke her with long, slow kisses… She pushed the thought away as she fought a blush. Steering the boat was her responsibility, not kissing him. “I’ll get dressed.”

Brandt held up his hand as if to stop her. “That won’t be necessary.”

She drew back. “Excuse me?”

Mischief filled his eyes. “Enrique said a robe and slippers are fine.”

She made a face. “I don’t like the sound of this.”

“No worries,” Brandt said. “Bring Yvette. She and I will ensure your reputation isn’t sullied.”

If Jules had been caught last night, her reputation would have been more than sullied. “You’ve been spending too much time with Father. It’s influencing your vocabulary.”

“I happen to like sullying young maidens.”

She rolled her eyes. “Give me five minutes. I’ll meet you in the hallway.”

“Don’t take any longer,” he cautioned. “Enrique said this is important.”

Worry shivered down her spine. Had Enrique found out about last night? But if that were the case, why wouldn’t he want her to dress before coming downstairs?

Brandt strode out of the room and closed the door behind him.

Jules slid out from under the covers and stood on the rug. Her simple white nightgown looked nothing like what a stylish princess would wear to bed. Her father forbade her to wear any sort of pajamas that were too pretty or feminine because she wasn’t married. Forget sexy lingerie. She felt lucky wearing underwire bras decorated with lace. The castle’s head housekeeper confiscated purchases she deemed inappropriate by King Alaric’s standards.

Yvette returned, holding a lavender-colored, terry-cloth robe and matching slippers. “ma’am.”

“I’d rather dress.”

“I don’t think there is time, ma’am.”

Jules heard the sympathy in Yvette’s voice. “Do you have any idea what’s going on downstairs?”

“No, Ma’am.” Yvette helped her into the thick robe. “But people have been arriving at the palace since early this morning. I’m surprised the noise didn’t wake you.”

Jules had been dead to the world once she’d quieted her thoughts of Alejandro and fallen asleep. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so soundly. She didn’t remember any of her dreams. A rarity for her. “I didn’t hear a thing.”

“You must have been tired, ma’am.”

She nodded.

Lines creased Yvette’s forehead. “Are you feeling well, ma’am? Should I request a doctor be sent to the palace?”

“No worries, Yvette,” Jules said. “I’m not sick. Let’s go see what Enrique’s surprise is all about.”

Something good, she hoped. And something that had nothing to do with last night.

Alejandro stared at the attractive, stylish women carrying boxes into the palace’s large music room. These weren’t members of the normal staff. Not with those long legs and short skirts. His curiosity piqued, he decided to take a closer look and entered the Grand Hall.

Enrique paced with his hands clasped behind his back. Wrinkles creased his forehead. Sweat beaded at his brow. The crown prince looked nothing like the oil paintings of the island’s rulers hanging on the walls alongside him.

But Alejandro had seen his brother this way once before, when he prepared for what would turn out to be a disastrous date with a famous movie actress. The spoiled, pampered, egotistical couple had clashed from the moment they said hello. Each expected the other to cater to their whims.

“What are you up to, bro?” Alejandro asked.

“I wondered when the scent of perfume would lead you here.” Enrique dabbed his forehead with a linen handkerchief. “Look, but don’t touch. The women are being paid handsomely for their services.”

Alejandro raised a brow. “I didn’t realize you paid for female services.”

“Not those kind of services, moron.” Enrique sneered. “This is a surprise for Julianna.”

“A surprise. Really?”

“Don’t sound so shocked.” He continued pacing. “She is going to be my wife.”

Alejandro wasn’t about to forget about that. He’d resisted tasting her lips last night for that very reason. But her agreeing to be his helmsman made up for the lack of kisses.

Asking her to join his crew wasn’t his smartest move given consequences involved, but he believed
La Rueca
had a better chance of winning with her behind the wheel. She’d also looked so happy sailing. He wanted to show her how beautiful life could be here. All he had to do was douse his attraction for her, and things would be fine.

“I know.” He tried to sound nonchalant, even if he was a little…envious. Enrique hadn’t had much luck in the dating department, but he’d hit the jackpot finding a bride. Not that Alejandro was in the market for one himself. “But you’ve never gone to so much trouble for a woman before.”

Any trouble, really. Enrique expected women to fall at his feet. Those with dreams of being a princess and queen would until they tired of his self-centeredness. But Julianna was different…

“The royal wedding will generate a tremendous amount of publicity.” He lowered his voice. “Julianna must be dressed appropriately for the ceremony and reception.”

Too bad Enrique needed to feed his ego, not please Julianna the way she deserved to be pleased and cherished. Alejandro rolled his eyes in disgust.

“The princess is always at the top of the Best Dressed Lists.” He hadn’t been able to sleep last night. He’d searched the internet to learn more about Julianna. “She is a fashion icon for women, young and old.”

“In everyday clothing, yes,” Enrique said. “Being a princess bride is different. I have assembled the top experts here. A dress designer and her team, makeup artists, hairstylists and many others. This is all for her.”

Alejandro rolled his eyes. “Don’t pretend any of this is for Julianna. It’s about how you want her to look when she’s with you.”

“This is important. The royal wedding will change the island’s fortune and future. Everything must go perfectly.” Enrique sounded more like a spoiled child than a crown prince. “Today’s trial run of our wedding day preparations will work out any kinks and problems. The dress designer will also take care of alterations needed on the wedding gown.”

Practical, perhaps, but so not romantic. Julianna was practical. Her words last night about her embracing her marriage told Alejandro that. But the woman who had sailed with stars in her eyes also seemed like the kind who liked the hearts, flowers and violin type of romance. Arranged marriage or not.

“Alterations?” he asked. “I didn’t think Julianna had a wedding dress yet.”

Enrique smirked. “She has one now.”

The look on his brother’s face worried Alejandro. “What have you—?”

“Good morning, gentlemen.” Julianna walked toward them with Brandt at her side and her maid following.

Julianna looked regal wearing a bathrobe and slippers. Every strand of her hair, worn loose this morning, was perfectly placed. She’d applied makeup, too. Not as much as she usually wore, but enough for him to notice the difference from her clean face last night. No one would guess the perfectly groomed princess had another side, one that had taken her out onto the sea with him until early this morning.

She stopped in front of them. “I was told you wanted to see me, Enrique.”

Her formal tone contradicted the casual way she’d spoken on the boat and during the walk back to the palace.

“I do.” Enrique beamed. “I have a surprise for you, my lovely bride.”

The corners of her mouth tipped up, but her eyes didn’t sparkle the way they had last night. Of course, no one would notice that except Alejandro. He found it strange she showed no hint of the woman he’d spent hours sailing with. Her mask was firmly in place, a disguise like the sailing clothes she’d worn.

Julianna rubbed her hands together. Excited or cold, he couldn’t tell. “I love surprises,” she said.

Alejandro didn’t think she would like this one. She wanted freedom, not be told what to wear and how to act on her wedding day. He needed to warn her so she would be prepared. “Why don’t you grab Father, Enrique? I’m sure he’ll be interested in seeing this.”

“Father is attending his weekly breakfast meeting with the head of the Courts. Something you would know if you had a clue about what went on around here.” Enrique extended his arm, and Julianna laced her arm around his. “Ready for your surprise?”

She nodded with a hint of anticipation in her eyes.

The woman always hoped for the best. Alejandro respected that about her, but he knew she would only be hurt that much more.

The doors to the music room opened.

Alejandro stared at the floor. He didn’t want to see her disappointed.

Julianna gasped.

His gaze jerked up. White satin, tulle and miniature white lights covered the walls of the music room. A thick, white rug lay on the hardwood floor. A white silk curtain separated a third of the room from the rest of it. No expense had been spared in transforming the space into a spa complete with a private beauty salon and a massage table.

Impressive. Enrique had managed to get it right this time. If only his motivation had been for his bride and not himself. Alejandro glanced over at Julianna.

She surveyed the entire room with wide-eyed wonder. “What is all this?”

“Everything you’ll need to prepare for our wedding day,” Enrique said proudly. “This will be your bride room.”

“Oh, Enrique.” Her smile widened. “I can’t believe you would go to all this trouble.”

Don’t believe it, Alejandro wanted to shout. This was nothing but smoke and mirrors on the part of his brother. Ambition and pride run amuck à la Lady Macbeth. But Alejandro saw how moved Julianna was. He wanted her to be happy, even if that meant she was happy with his brother. Enrique might get Julianna the princess, but Alejandro took fierce delight in getting Julianna the sailor.

“This is amazing, Enrique,” Brandt said. “Thank you so much.”

Even Brandt had been fooled.

Enrique kissed the top of Julianna’s hand, the gesture as meaningless as the over-the-top display in the music room.

“It was no trouble at all.” Enrique’s smooth tone made Alejandro want to gag. “Anything for my princess bride.”

Julianna’s eyes didn’t sparkle, but they brightened. She looked relieved, pleased with what she saw in the music room and with her fiancé. “Thank you.”

Warmth and appreciation rang out in her voice. Perhaps she would be content, even happy, in this marriage. But Alejandro couldn’t shake his misgivings.

Enrique’s chest puffed out. “There’s more.”

Alejandro had to admit he was curious, but in a train-wreck-waiting-to-happen kind of way.

With a grand gesture of his arms, Enrique motioned for the curtain to be opened. Two young women, both dressed in the same hot pink above the knee dresses and black sling-back stilettos, opened the white silk curtains to reveal a wedding gown on a busty mannequin wearing a diamond tiara and a long lace veil.

“Surprise,” Enrique shouted with glee.

Julianna gasped again. Not in a good way this time. A look of despair flashed across her face before her features settled into a tight smile.

Alejandro didn’t blame her for the reaction.

A cupcake. That was his first impression of the gown. The frilly dress with big puffy sleeves, sparkling crystals and neatly tied bows would look perfect on a Disney princess, but not on Julianna. She would look like a caricature of a princess bride in that dress.

BOOK: Not-So-Perfect Princess
8.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan
Broken Chord by Margaret Moore
The Last Living Slut by Roxana Shirazi
Chinaberry by James Still
The Devil's Breath by Tessa Harris
Till We Meet Again by Sylvia Crim-Brown