Eva Rutland.

Her Own Prince Charming






Youre not going to run away again, are you, Cinderella? About the Author Title Page Acknowledgments CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN EPILOGUE Copyright

Youre not going to run away again, are you, Cinderella?

My name is not Cinderella, Paula said stiffly.

Oh? But you did run away at the stroke of midnight. She was halfway out of the door, but he blocked her way. Wait. Dont go. Why are you so angry?

Im not angry. I just...I dont indulge in fairy-tale games, Mr. Vandercamp.

This isnt a game.

Whatever you call it, I dont like it. I came here to...to work!

Eva Rutland began writing when her four children, now all successful professionals, were growing up. Eva lives in California with her husband, Bill, who actively supports and encourages her writing career.

Her Own Prince Charming
Eva Rutland


www.millsandboon.co.uk

Special thanks to the University of California School of

Veterinary Medicine, and all the members of the noble profession of veterinary health. And to John and Irene, with fondest memories of the Renegade.

CHAPTER ONE

I DONT like red hair, Rae said.

His hairs not red. Its brown. Whitney buttered a piece of toast and bit into it. A touch of red, maybe, but that just brightens it up. I rather like that color.

What you like is the color of his money . . .green and growing.

Whitney giggled. Thats the icing on the cake, isnt it! she said, lifting her cup.

Paula, heat this up, will you? Or better still, bring me a fresh cup.

Paula dried her hands, emptied and refilled Whitneys cup while the two sisters continued to postulate.

You neednt get your hopes up, dear heart. Hes in San Diego for the polo match, not to see you.

Paula listened idly as she scrubbed the frying pan. The San Diego Polo Classic, sponsored for charity each October, had for weeks been the main topic of conversation. Now that the Vandercamp yacht was anchored at the San Diego Yacht Club and they had had a glimpse of Brad Vandercamp, who would participate, he was the main topic. And not because he was the so-called Prince of Polo! Like Rae said, it was his money. He was single, eligible and sole heir to the Vandercamp millions. Or was it billions?

All San Diego was agog that they were honored by his presence. At least, she corrected herself, a smile hovering on her lips, those of the elite set who would attend the polo matches and the grand balls attendant upon the event.

But see me he will! Whitney said, with smug certainty.

Paula, noting the gleam of conquest in Whitneys eyes didnt doubt that he would. Not that Whitney was all that beautiful. Her lips were too large, too voluptuous, and her nose...

Im being catty, Paula scolded herself as she put away the frying pan, and went into the laundry room to sort the clothes. Whitney was fairly attractive, with that black hair and sensuous dark eyes. But mainly it was her confidence and that inviting sexuality that drew men to her. Yes, the prince will see her, and yes, Rae will be jealous, and

Wheres that girl? Mrs. Ashfords voice, slurred but sharp, cut into her thoughts. Paula dropped the lingerie she held and hurried to the kitchen. Oh, there you are! Why didnt you bring my coffee to my room?

Im sorry, maam, I thought you were still sleeping.

Mamie Ashford dropped her plump form into a chair and pressed a hand to her temple. Oh, my poor head! How could anyone sleep with all the racket going on in this house! Cant you girls manage to cease your squabbling long enough to let your poor mother get a bit of rest!

Her daughters apologized profusely, each insisting it was the fault of the other.

Paula placed two aspirin and a glass of tomato juice before her. This might help, and Ill bring your coffee right away.

Mother, I do hope youre not going to have one of your nasty migraines, Whitney said. You know were to go shopping today.

Oh, sure, Rae said. Whitneys got to get decked out for the costume ball where she plans to dazzle the prince!

As if youre not planning to

Girls! Must you! My head... And I do feel a bit queasy. I think Id better have something on my stomach, Paula. Bacon and maybe some of your cinnamon toast.

Coming right up! Paula took out the frying pan she had just scrubbed and hoped she wouldnt have to miss class again. If she could get the washing done and the beds made before twelve, she could make it. That is, if they got out of the house before Mrs. Ashford could think up something else for her to do. She hoped to goodness the migraine wouldnt stop the shopping trip.

It didnt. Three cups of coffee and a hefty breakfast did wonders. Or perhaps it was the mention of Brad Vandercamp that did the trick.

So rich! And so British! Mamie Ashfords eyes took on a dreamy haze. As if she was as young as her daughters, as hopeful of catching his fancy.

And hes so good-looking, Whitney said.

As handsome as his grandfather, her mother said. And just as big a devil, I hear!

Devil?

The same eye for a pretty lady. One affair after another, just like the old man. Cyrus Vandercamp, his grandfather, started the family fortune with railroads. But they do say he spent a big chunk of it on that movie queen of the thirties. She was no lady, mind you! But he practically deserted his family. They tell me it was quite a shameful scandal.

Rae said she wouldnt put up with that from any man.

Whitney sniffed Once I get his ring on my finger, Brad Vandercamp can have as many mistresses as he chooses.

Mrs. Ashford agreed that the ring was the thing. Thank goodness both her daughters were ladies and wouldnt settle for less. But she did hope the polo prince would turn out to be more like his father.

How so? Whitney asked.

Not a breath of scandal about him. Seems more interested in playing with gold mines, oil wells and such than with women. Hes parlayed that railroad fortune into billions. Married some Lady. Somebody whose family was poor as church mice. They say hes turned Balmour, her familys crumbling estate, into a real showplace. Lord, Id like to see it!

Well, you never know. Again Whitney sounded smug. Did you say he had an eye for a pretty lady?

Mamie Ashford chuckled. Yes, and thats what you are. Far prettier than any of the others, all of whom will be after him. Hadnt we better get to Mademoiselles Boutique first? Theres sure to be a rush.

They did leave in plenty of time. Paula was able to finish the laundry, clean the kitchen and tidy the bedrooms before eleven. By eleven-thirty, she had showered, dressed and was on the bus headed for the university.

Paula had dreamed of being a veterinarian for as long as she could remember. She loved animals, from the tiniest kitten to the biggest horse on the Randolph cattle ranch in Wyoming, where her father was a ranch hand and her mother the family cook. As soon as she could read she became immersed in the tales of James Herriot, the famous vet who tended the sheep and cattle on the Yorkshire moors. As often as allowed, she would tag along with a cowhand or vet who tended a sick cow or horse. She and Toby, the foremans son, planned to marry and buy a spread of their own. He would train race-horses, and she would be a veterinarian. That dream had lasted through two years of college. Then, the next fall, Toby had fallen head over heels in love with a freshman named Cynthia, and it was as if Paula had lost an anchor she had clung to all her life. Devastated, she floundered and nearly flunked out of college.

It was her uncle Lew who had steadied her. That summer, on his yearly visit to the ranch, he had a long talk with her. Tobys just one man among millions. Stuck on this place, you just been so close to him you never looked around. And dont forget. Youve still got your dream. Toby aint got nothing to do with your being a veterinarian. Thats up to you.

He was right. That would be hers, her career, a part of her that no man could take away. She determined to have it. She threw herself into her classes, made up her failures and graduated on time. But with not enough credits for the hoped-for grant to the school of veterinary science.

Disaster struck again. Her father had a spell of illness that strained the budget, and prospects for vet school were dim. They were discussing the possibilities when Lewis Grant, her fathers brother, came again for his yearly visit. He offered to pay half the monstrous tuition, but even that would not be enough.

Guess Paulall have to stick around the ranch this year, Hank, her father, said, maybe be a help to her mother.

Shed rather help you, Lew said.

Paula smiled. Of course Pop would never permit her to go out on the range, but she was very much at home on a horse and rather liked tending the animals, had even assisted at a difficult calving a couple of times. Youre right, she said. I would rather help Pop.

Beats me, Lew said, why anybody would want to be on a horse out in rough weather rather than be nice and cozy in a warm kitchen. He shook his head. Cant understand it.

To each his own, Paula said. She remembered that Lew had long ago deserted ranch life for the city. Any city. After much traveling and several odd jobs, he finally landed a steady one as chauffeur and handyman for a Mr. Angus Ashford of San Diego, California.

We could manage the tuition, her mother said, returning to the main topic. But not the room and board. The state college was a hundred miles away, over mountainous roads treacherous with snow during the long winter months.

Lewis looked at Paula. She knew he understood. Still got that veterinary bug in your head? he asked.

She nodded.

Well, he said, maybe you could come to San Diego with me and go to school there.

They stared at him. What difference would. that make?

Room and board, he said. The Ashfords live-in maid just gave notice. He gave Paula a keen look. Got any objection to a little housework?

She grinned. You mean like Ive been doing all my life?

Well, he said, still studying her, I might could get you on. I cant promise, but maybe... And the old mans a pretty decent guy. He might allow you to take time for some classes.

Paula thought about it, her spirits lifting. San Diego U. Does the university have a veterinary school? she asked.

Dont know about that. He hesitated. Then his chubby face lit up. Oh, yeah! It sure does. Thats where I took the old mans collie when she had to be put down.

Paulas eyes brightened. That would be perfect! That is, if I could get admitted.

She looked at her father, reading the message in his eyes even before he spoke. It wont be like living in a dorm, and youll be a long way from us.

Ill be there to look out for her, Lew said. Dont forget...Im her godfather.

As Hank nodded his consent, Paula threw her arms around Lew. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Lucky me... Ive got a real honest-to-goodness fairy godfather.

Her parents laughed, but Lew frowned. We aint there yet. I better phone the old man. Ill pour it on thick about how my very smart niece wants to go to vet school and needs a job. He owes me. After you drive a man home and put him to bed slopping drunk a few times...

That was how it had happened. The unknown Mr. Ashford approved of a young womans ambition, and of course he had no objection to her arranging her work to allow time for classes. Moreover, he did have some influence. She should get her papers to the school right away, and he would contact the dean.

Lew, youre wonderful! Paula cried, throwing her arms around her uncle.

Maybe you wont think so when Mrs. Ashford gets hold of you, he said. None of the other maids have lasted moren a few weeks. Shes tough. And theres another thing, he added dubiously. Youre much too good-looking. If you could tone down a bit... He looked at Paula as if trying to diminish her slender willowy figure, the golden curls, the alert bright blue eyes.

Whats that got to do with anything? Paula asked.

Well. Mrs. Ashford dont like nobody outshining her girls.

I dont understand.

Theyre... what you call it? Debs this year, pictures in the paper and everything. The old lady sets a big store bout them being prettier than the other ones. Theyre big society, you know, and she has big plans, like getting both of them hooked to some big shot thats loaded.

For goodness sake, thats nothing to do with me. Id be the maid. I surely wouldnt be hobnobbing with them!

Right, Lewis assented, but he still looked dubious. Anyway, Im glad you got hired sight unseen.

Angus Ashfords influence got her admitted that fall, and against his wifes wishes, Paula was allowed to arrange time for classes. She was grateful and worked hard during early morning hours and sometimes late at night so nothing was left undone. Even Mrs. Ashford began to rely on her.

But when Mr. Ashfords liver gave out and he died a year after she had been there, Paula was afraid Mrs. Ashford, who had not fully taken to her, would dismiss her.

However, fate intervened. It turned out that Angus Ashford had not only been more of an alcoholic than his wife, he had also been an inveterate gambler and an unwise investor. With the death of her husband, Mrs. Ashford found that her income was somewhat reduced. She had to rid herself of the gardener and the woman who came once weekly for the wash and heavy cleaning.

Mrs. Ashford was inclined to be a bit silly, but she was no fool. She knew who would and who would not willingly do it all. She retained Lewis as chauffeur, gardener and handyman. Paula became the cook, washwoman and maid. All with very little increase in salary.

Paula didnt complain. She was used to hard work. Im just lucky I didnt have to drop any classes, she thought that afternoon, as she joined her group in the chemistry lab.

As she was leaving class, Link, one of the boys in her lab group, caught her arm. Hey, Paula, some of us are going over for a little volleyball and then to the Hut for some pizza. Want to come along?

Oh, Link, Id like to, but I dont have time. Im sorry, she said.

Jeez, you never have time, Link complained as he moved off with the gang.

Paula looked after them with longing. But what could she do? She had to get back in time to make dinner.

She couldnt seem to still the sense of longing. It was intensified that evening after dinner when the Ashford women displayed all the outfits purchased that day. The black linen Whitney would wear at the match, the outfits and fancy masks for the costume party, and turquoise chiffon, sure to be a hit at the final ball.

That color does so much for my eyes, dont you think? Whitney focused her sultry eyes on Paula. But youll have to tuck in the shoulders a bit. Not too much. She giggled. Wouldnt want to spill that cleavage thats going to knock him out!

Rae tried to get in a word as Whitney preened before the mirror. Do you like this blue on me, Paula? And will you do my hair for the dance? You know, like you did last week!

Paula praised and promised and tried not to be envious. But the next day, as she made the tuck in the turquoise chiffon, her fingers lingered over the soft material. She had never in her life owned such a dress. How would it look on her?

Well, why not see! While they were out buying more. What harm would it do?

Quickly she shed her jeans and shirt. Stepped into the soft folds and zipped it up. It was too big and too long, but she gathered the dress about her and preened as Whitney had.

She brought her face close and peered into the mirror. Did it do something for her eyes? She tried to look sultry.

No good. Her eyes were too big.

But they did take on that color, didnt they? She bet if she went to the dance and he looked at her, his eyes would melt into hers, and they would dance and dance and...

Oh, for goodness sake, shed best stop twirling around. If she tore that dress thered be hell to pay.

And why was she standing here, wasting time? She couldnt afford such a dress, and, even if she could, where would she wear it? She wasnt going to any ball, and she certainly wasnt going to dance with him. And why was she thinking of him, anyway. He wasnt a real prince. Not that she gave a dam if he was.

She took off the dress and went back to work.

When she had first come to San Diego, Paula had signed up with a caterer. She was often on her own in the evening and could earn a little extra money serving at a catered affair. She was putting away as much as she could for the time when she might enter veterinary school. But with the extra work at the Ashfords, she hadnt had much time for other jobs.

Im not sure I can make it, she told Harry, the caterer, when he called, wanting an extra hand for the Moody costume party. The Ashfords will be attending, and she likes me to help them get dressed.

Thats okay. Arent they going to some dinner first? Everybody is.

Yes, they are, Paula said, remembering.

Well, then, that gives you time. I dont care if youre a little late. Please, Paula, I really need you.

Cant you get somebody else this time?

Then Ive got the problem of a uniform. The caterer was persnickety about uniforms and had had Paula fitted for one.

Well . . . Paula felt guilty about the uniform, and the caterer did pay well. All right, she said, though she didnt want to go. She was tired.

But that night, as she stood in the Moodys oversize pantry arranging hors doeuvres and setting out clean glasses, she didnt feel at all tired. Somehow, the gala party mood seemed to revive her. She was fascinated by the colorful costumes of the masked figures that talked, laughed and danced to the beat of the band. The scintillating music penetrated the thick walls of the pantry and seeped into her funstarved heart. She threw back her head, humming the melody, her feet tapping in perfect rhythm as she danced around the table.

She did not hear the door open and was unaware that he watched.

Perfect. Beautiful. But must you dance alone? The deep voice startled her.

She stopped in her tracks. Despite the mask, she recognized him immediately. He was more handsome than in the newspaper, and his hair was like copper. Oh, Im sorry, she muttered, feeling humiliation flood her cheeks. I was... I... Can I help you? she asked.

Indeed you can. He held out his arms. May I have this dance, fair lady?

She tried to laugh. No. Sorry, but Im not a guest. I work here.

Oh? Well, lets fix that. The amber eyes that showed through his mask glittered with mischief. From somewhere he produced another mask and tied it over her face. There. Now youre my guest. Shall we dance?

She couldnt resist. He drew her to him, and for a long time she was only aware of the feel of his arms about her, the pleasant fresh smell of aftershave and the gentle firmness of his guidance as the music swelled around them. She followed his lead with easy grace, abandoning herself to the joy, reveling in the colorful pageant, the dance.

From somewhere an old grandfather clock intoned the midnight hour. The music stopped, and someone shouted, Masks off!

Dear Lord, she was in the middle of the ballroom!

The man bent toward her, his hand cradling her neck, his lips lightly touching hers. Time to unmask, little one.

The slender gold chain of her necklace snapped as she fled.

CHAPTER TWO

HEY, wait! Too late. She had slipped through the crowd and vanished. All that was left of her was a slender gold chain dangling from his fingers. Feeling strangely bereft, he started after her. She would be in that room where

Brad Vandercamp, take off that disguise! The daughter of his host blocked his way. She tugged at his mask. You didnt fool anybody, anyway. We all knew you.

Oh? He looked at the costume that hugged her figure and glittered with sequins in the shape of fish scales. Well, my little mermaid, he said trying to remember her name, some of us are not as clever as

A sultry voice interrupted. No matter how clever, you couldnt hide that copper hair.

No more than you could hide those eyes. Sensuous and suggestive, he thought.

Whitney gushed with pleasure. So you knew me! Tell me, are my eyes distinctive?

Indeed they are. Theyre, er, so...so expressive, he said, thinking of the last dance. She had been as light as a feather in his arms, and her blond curls had a fresh soapy scent, more tantalizing than any perfume. He must see her again, ask

Come along. The mermaid took his arm. Lets have a refreshing drink. Theyll be serving breakfast in a few minutes.

She will be serving, he thought, as he was borne off between the two women.

Breakfast, however, was served buffet-style, with several well-groomed waiters attending. No sight of long slender silk-clad legs beneath a short maids costume. No sight of merry blue eyes and golden curls topped by a frilly bit of lace.





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