If the Slipper Fits
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“Truth doesn’t matter much to gossip columnists.”
Prince Conrad continued. “Charity doesn’t matter at all. They want the promise of a fairy-tale romance at best or a sex scandal at worst.”
Lily nodded. “I imagine that happens a lot with you.”
“Indeed, and it seldom matters but this week it does. I need to have a woman—the right woman—to accompany me to the foundation ball. Someone to stand by and allow the press to conclude there is romance where there is none.”
Well, there is no shortage of women who are willing to do that,” Lily said.
“There is only one person I have in mind,” Conrad said. “You can begin and end with her.”
After looking at winter’s bleak landscape and feeling her icy cold breezes, I found nothing to be more rewarding than savoring the warm ocean breezes from a poolside lounge chair as I read a soon-to-be favorite book or two! Of course, as I choose my books for this long-anticipated outing, this month’s Silhouette Romance offerings will be on the top of my pile.
Cara Colter begins the month with Chasing Dreams (#1818), part of her A FATHER’S WISH trilogy. In this poignant title, a beautiful academic moves outside her comfort zone and feels alive for the first time in the arms of a brawny man who would seem her polar opposite. When an unexpected night of passion results in a pregnancy, the hero and heroine learn that duty can bring its own sweet rewards, in Wishing and Hoping (#1819), the debut book in beloved series author Susan Meier’s THE CUPID CAMPAIGN miniseries. Elizabeth Harbison sets out to discover whether bustling New York City will prove the setting for a modern-day fairy tale when an ordinary woman comes face-to-face with one of the world’s most eligible royals, in If the Slipper Fits (#1820). Finally, Lissa Manley rounds out the month with The Parent Trap (#1821), in which two matchmaking girls set out to invent a family.
Be sure to return next month when Cara Colter concludes her heartwarming trilogy.
Ann Leslie Tuttle
Associate Senior Editor
If the Slipper Fits
Books by Elizabeth Harbison
A Groom for Maggie #1239
Wife Without a Past #1258
Two Brothers and a Bride #1286
True Love Ranch #1323
*Emma and the Earl #1410
*Plain Jane Marries the Boss #1416
*Annie and the Prince #1423
*His Secret Heir #1528
A Pregnant Proposal #1553
Princess Takes a Holiday #1643
The Secret Princess #1713
Taming of the Two #1790
If the Slipper Fits #1820
Silhouette Special Edition
Drive Me Wild #1476
Midnight Cravings #1539
How To Get Your Man #1685
Diary of a Domestic Goddess #1727
Falling for the Boss #1747
Lone Star Country Club
Mission Creek Mother-To-Be
has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember.After devouring the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series in grade school, she moved on to the suspense of Mary Stewart, Dorothy Eden and Daphne du Maurier, just to name a few. From there it was a natural progression to writing, although early efforts have been securely hidden away in the back of a closet.
After authoring three cookbooks, Elizabeth turned her hand to writing romances and hasn’t looked back. Her second book for Silhouette Romance, Wife Without a Past, was a 1998 finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award in the “Best Traditional Romance” category.
Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her husband, John, daughter Mary Paige, and son Jack, as well as two dogs, Bailey and Zuzu. She loves to hear from readers and you can write to her at c/o P.O. Box 1636, Germantown, MD 20875.
To Connie Atkins, the best mother, supporter, proofreader and cheerleader there ever was. Thanks, Mommy.
Twenty-five years ago
“Easy now, climb down slowly. Slowly.” Panic surged in Sister Gladys’s chest as she tried to persuade the small blond toddler down from the top of the jungle gym.
The child, Lily, was always getting into things. She was fearless. Ever since she and her sisters had been left in the church adjacent to the Barrie Home for Children, it had been evident to everyone that this child was the leader of her little pack.
Sister Gladys knew that when she brought Lily and her sisters, as well as a handful of other children from the Barrie Home for Children, outside to play. But it was such a beautiful day and they’d all been stuck inside because of rain for weeks now.
It was an impulsive decision she regretted now. Virginia Porter, the director of the home, had a rule about no more than five children per adult outdoors. Maria was out shopping and would have been back soon enough to help Sister Gladys, if only she’d waited.
But they were so eager to play. Sister Gladys had thought there would be no harm in just taking them out for a few minutes…that is, until little Dudley fell and hurt his ankle. Gladys had spent no more than one minute with her back turned to the girls and in that time mischievous Lily had climbed to the very top of the metal contraption while her sisters looked on.
“One step at a time,” Sister Gladys said, taking one step up onto the jungle gym. She was terrified of heights, even low ones, so she was about the worst person for this job. But she was the only adult here. She couldn’t leave, even to ask for help. It was up to her.
Lily, meanwhile, giggled, showing no signs of concern at all. Her pale golden hair glowed almost like a halo, though this child was not always an angel.
“Come on, dear.” Gladys held a shaking hand out toward the child. Fortunately, Lily began climbing down. “Good girl. That’s a good girl.”
“Lil,” a little voice called. It was Lily’s more cautious sister, Rose. She frowned up at Lily, the sun bouncing off her copper hair. “Come down, Lil.”
“I coming.” Lily climbed confidently down the metal rungs.
“Careful,” her other sister, Laurel, said. Then she became distracted by a butterfly. “Flutterby!”
Good, Sister Gladys thought, as Lily took the last step down onto the safety of the ground. The fewer witnesses, the better. If Virginia found out about this, she’d—she’d—
“Let this be a lesson to you,” a voice said sharply from behind her.
Sister Gladys turned to see an angry Virginia scowling at her. “This is exactly why we have the rule requiring adult supervision for all the children when we go outdoors.”
“I know. It was just such a beautiful day.”
“It could have turned into a terrible day.” Virginia picked up the blond child and gave her an affectionate squeeze. “Especially with this one around. You know she’s always up to something.” She smiled at the girl. “You have too much energy, little one.” She sighed. “And way too much determination.” Lily ran off as soon as Virginia put her down.
“But she’s a good girl,” Sister Gladys objected. “She’s such a sweet little thing.”
Virginia raised an eyebrow. “True, but she is as headstrong as they come. Once she decides she wants something, she won’t let anything stand in her way.” She shook her head and looked at the child. “It’s almost uncanny how she always gets her way.”
“Like when she got the cookies off the top shelf in the kitchen?”
“Exactly.” Virginia smiled. “We kept telling her no, but the minute she got her chance she went for the cookies and got them. To tell you the truth, I almost admire her for it. I just hope it doesn’t get her into trouble some day.”
“The Belvedere Suite is for Prince Conrad of Beloria. His stepmother and stepsister, Princess Drucille and Lady Ann, will be in the Wyndham Suite.” Gerard Von Mises ran his fingertip down the ink-stained register of the Montclair Hotel, listing the guests that concierge Lily Tilden would be in charge of. It was old-fashioned, but that’s the way Gerard, the owner of the hotel, preferred it. Computers, he said, were too impersonal.
Lily didn’t tell him that she kept the records on her laptop in the office as well, just in case there was a conflict that they didn’t notice on paper. Tradition was great, but a girl had to be practical as well.
“The prince and his entourage will be here tomorrow,” Gerard said. “And I’ve arranged to have the full staff here to greet him, as his stepmother is quite…exacting about such things.”
Lily nodded. She had already taken several calls on behalf of Princess Drucille. Requests were for pink towels and verbena-scented soap, and a particular brand of French spring water that Lily had paid hefty customs taxes to acquire.
“Mrs. Hillcrest leaves the Astor Suite tomorrow,” Gerard continued, looking over the book. “Which leaves us with just Prince Conrad, Princess Drucille, Lady Ann, Samuel Eden and, of course, Mrs. Dorbrook for you on the executive level. The rest of their party will be on the lower floors.” He sighed and turned to Lily. “It is good clientele, but business could still be better.”
“Things have been tough all over the city as far as tourism goes,” she assured him, though she knew the situation was serious. “It’ll pick up. Especially with Prince Conrad coming. The Post gossip column has been positively filled with stuff about him.”
Gerard gave a smile. “He’s popular with young ladies, that much is true.”
“Well, popular playboys tend to get a lot of photo ops. So you see? We’ll probably get lots of business from that alone,” Lily said, but she wasn’t so sure. They had hosted popular celebrities before, but it usually resulted in more autograph-seekers and paparazzi hanging around outside rather than clients checking in. Still, the fact that Prince Conrad was coming would undoubtedly raise the profile of the hotel and she knew the Montclair needed that pretty desperately.
“All right.” Gerard closed the book. “You’ve almost convinced me.” He smiled. “You’ve worked a long day. Go home.”
“You’ve got it.” Lily had been on her feet for nearly ten hours, and it wasn’t the first time this week. Since Gerard had cut the staff back, she’d had to sleep at the hotel more often than any of the guests, except for Bernice Dorbrook, who had been a resident since her oil-rich husband had died in 1983.
Now all Lily wanted to do was go home and soak in a nice hot bath, maybe with some Epsom salts thrown in. Lately there had been more long days than short ones at work, and although it was getting to her, she knew Gerard couldn’t afford to hire another concierge. Between herself and Andy, they would have to handle whatever came up. “See you in the morning.”
She went to the back office to collect her things. She would take a cab home tonight. She just didn’t have it in her to wait for the bus and make transfers. Fortunately, Samuel Eden had given her a generous tip after she’d gotten him tickets to a sold-out Broadway show his wife had been wanting to see, so she could afford a few extra bucks to get home faster.
“Good night, Karen, Barbara,” she called to the women working the front desk. “See you tomorrow!”
Karen laughed. “It’s almost tomorrow now.”
“Don’t remind me.” Lily smiled and made her way across the rich Oriental carpet that Gerard had centered proudly on the marble lobby floor. It represented his only foray into the twenty-first century—he’d won it from an online auction after Lily had seen it there and persuaded him to bid. Even stubborn Gerard had been unable to resist the bargain.
She was about two yards from the gilded revolving door when it creaked to life and two dour-faced men walked in, wearing black suits and expressions that made her think of mobsters in old movies.
“The royal party is arriving in five minutes,” one of the men said.
“Tonight?” Lily asked, glancing quizzically back at Gerard and Karen at the front desk.
Panic had frozen Gerard’s features in something of a grimace. “But—but I was told Prince Conrad and his family were arriving tomorrow.”
“We’ve had a change of plans,” the other man said, his accent thick with guttural Germanic tones. He frowned. “Are you saying you cannot accommodate them?”
“Of course not!” Gerard burst. “It’s just that—that we wanted to greet them properly and we are short-staffed at this hour of the night.”
The men exchanged knowing glances, and Lily imagined they were both anticipating the reaction of Princess Drucille.
“I have some requests from Her Highness.” The man produced a sheet of paper from his pocket. “This is what she would like. Dinner from Le Capitan as well as some champagne and a certain kind of flower.” He looked at the paper and frowned. “Birds of Paradise.”
For Gerard, it probably couldn’t have gotten worse. Everyone knew Le Capitan was the new hot spot in Manhattan. It was so popular that even some A-list celebrities had been turned away at the door. The food was extraordinary, but the main reason people wanted to go there was to be seen. If Lily were to ask them to deliver a meal, they would laugh at her.
However, she knew a bartender there and she was pretty sure he could put together a take-out order for her to pick up.
She sighed inwardly. So much for a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. “I’ll take care of this,” she said to Gerard, taking the paper from him. She looked at the paper and almost laughed. Three plain salads, no cucumbers, no dressing. Three beef filets, cooked medium, no sauce. Two triple-fudge cakes. She could have gotten this food almost anywhere for a fraction of the cost, but royalty wanted to eat—and pay—like royalty, she supposed.
She looked at an item scribbled on the bottom of the page: Dom P?rignon 1983, four bottles. It was already 11:00 p.m. It wasn’t going to be easy to get the champagne tonight. And the flowers? If the hospital gift shop didn’t have them, she’d be out of luck.
That’s what her job was about, though. Achieving the impossible for guests. And she did have a touch for it, she had to admit. Sometimes she couldn’t even believe her own luck. Seat reservations would be canceled just as she was calling to ask for them; caterers would have last-minute availability. Once a famous Broadway actress had even come in from the rain just as an ambassador’s assistant was asking if there was any way to win an audience with her. That coincidence had seemed nearly supernatural, but she wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Lily was about to leave when two women, clearly mother and daughter, entered with an exaggerated air of self-importance.
“I imagined that the great Montclair would have more staff than this waiting to greet royalty,” the woman said indignantly. She was almost as wide as she was tall and Lily didn’t know how she managed to affect such a regal aura, but she did.
The younger, and maybe even wider, woman with her raised her chin in haughty agreement.
“We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow, Your Highness,” Gerard said, hurrying over to her. He gave a small, awkward bow. “Please accept my apology. I am Gerard Von Mises, the proprietor.”
Princess Drucille sniffed. “Prince Conrad will be most displeased with this reception.”
Lily could only imagine what Prince Conrad was like, given his stepmother’s attitude. She hated to see poor Gerard struggling with this woman’s insults, knowing that business had been so rough recently that he was lucky to have the staff he had.
“When will he be here?” Lily asked, hoping, for Gerard’s sake, that he might be far enough behind to get a better showing of staff members, even if it meant pulling people off of other floors.
Princess Drucille looked as if she’d heard a fly buzzing nearby but couldn’t tell exactly where it was.
“He is here now,” the younger woman, Lady Ann, responded. “So you are too late.”
“Tell me, boy,” Princess Drucille said to Gerard, “has Lady Penelope arrived yet?”
Gerard went pale.
Lily went blank. Lady Penelope? Who was that?
“Lady Penelope,” Princess Drucille said again, and, answering Lily’s unasked question, she added, “The daughter of the Duke of Acacia. My secretary made a reservation for her as well.”
Gerard snapped his fingers behind him and Karen and Barbara quickly looked in the book, but Lily knew there was no Penelope on the list, Lady or otherwise.
“She hasn’t arrived,” Lily said quickly. “But the Pampano Suite is ready for her.” There was no Pampano Suite, but once, when a Russian dignitary had checked in at the last minute, they had configured two adjoining rooms and called it the Pampano Suite, in honor of the waiter who had come up with the idea.
Gerard looked relieved. “Of course, the Pampano Suite. Yes. I remember.”
“Excellent.” Princess Drucille began walking again. “Then we will retire to our rooms now and wait for our dinner. I expect it won’t be too long,” she added pointedly.
“Not too long, no,” Gerard said. Then asked Lily quietly, “Can you do it?”
She looked at him. He was clutching his hands so tightly in front of him that his knuckles were white. His brow was drawn up as if it were being pulled by a string. “Sure,” she said to him, with a little more confidence and a lot more energy than she felt. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“I don’t know how you always manage these things,” Karen whispered. “But if you can score dinner from Le Capitan, I will be amazed.”
“Me, too. Just keep your fingers crossed for me,” Lily told her.
She was about to go into the back office and start making calls when the prince himself came through the door like a cool breeze on a stagnant summer night. Lily wasn’t often impressed by fame or title, but something about the man’s energy, and the way he carried himself, was absolutely commanding. For a moment she couldn’t take her stunned eyes off him.
He was taller than she’d realized—his broadly muscled physique made him look more compact in photographs. Also, his eyes, even from a distance of several yards, were the most striking pale blue she had ever seen. She didn’t know if that was an optical illusion because of his raven-dark hair and tanned skin, or if they really were as vivid as they seemed. He slowed as he came into the lobby and his eyes locked onto hers. For one wild moment she felt as if someone had whispered in her ear, sending shivers down her spine.
All that and a royal title, too.
No wonder women fawned over him.
Not that Lily had any intention of doing so.
“Good evening,” he said, his voice clipped, and just barely accented.
“Good evening, Your Highness,” she said, feeling a little silly using the unfamiliar formality.
“Ah, you know who I am.”
His gaze was the definition of penetrating. “I’m a day early, I realize. Are my quarters ready?”
She nodded. His manners were slightly better than his stepmother’s—at least he acknowledged that they might not be prepared for him. “Yes. And I’m getting ready to call Le Capitan now.”
His driver came through the door carrying several heavy-looking dark suitcases and an expression of fatigue, his breath bursting out in short shots.
“Le Capitan?” the prince repeated quizzically.
“For dinner, darling,” Princess Drucille said, almost fawning but for the hard edge to her voice. “You remember.”
He looked at her coolly. “I have an appointment tonight.”
Her smile was false and self-conscious. “Very well.”
Lily gave her very best customer-service smile. “Is there anything else we can do to make your stay more comfortable, Your Highness?”
Prince Conrad leveled his blue gaze back on her and she felt a tremor course through her. “Give me privacy,” he said.
She felt taken aback by his tone and the implication that she intended to sit around and chat with him. “Of course.”
He gave a short nod. “And I expect that when I have guests, you will be…discreet.”
He was referring to women, obviously. Guests. Plural.
Lily had to ignore a lot with this job. This was just more of the same. Yet something about Prince Conrad’s demeanor made it a little less palatable than usual. “Of course,” she said again, reminding herself that any media attention he brought to the hotel would only do Gerard’s business good. And she was all for anything that helped Gerard.
“Good.” He turned his gaze to Stephan, who was standing at the front desk with Karen, and asked him something in his native tongue.
Stephan nodded and held up the key Karen had just handed him.
Prince Conrad gave a single nod, and both Stephan and the other man jumped to attention, picking up the suitcases and carrying them toward the elevator.
Princess Drucille watched him with a sneer, then said to Lily, “I’ll be waiting for my dinner in my suite. I assume it has a dining area.”
“Yes, it does, of course,” Lily said, still watching Prince Conrad walk away, his trim shape and well-cut suit slicing through the atmosphere like an arrow, as Princess Drucille followed
“Lily…Le Capitan,” Gerard reminded her in urgent tones, drawing her attention back. “Her Highness does not look like a woman who likes to be disappointed.”
“No, she certainly doesn’t. I’m tempted to go to the nearest chain restaurant and bring her a quickie salad and steak.”
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