The Prince's Texas Bride
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
The man standing before Kerry looked intense and extremely sexy as he glared at her.
“Hello, Alexi,” she said hoarsely, past a lump that she couldn’t attribute to morning sickness.
“It’s been three months! Dammit, Kerry, you should have phoned me immediately.”
“And what could you have done? I’m having this baby whether you like it or not.”
“You think I don’t want you to have my baby? Don’t be absurd. I would never—”
“I don’t know that. We didn’t have much time to discuss the subject.”
“We managed to talk about almost everything else.”
“Including your upcoming nuptials to the contessa.”
Alexi’s expression grew fierce. “First of all, I’m not marrying Contessa Di Giovanni.”
“Second, you and I are getting married. Our child will be the legitimate heir to the throne of Belegovia.”
It’s that time of the year again. Pink candy hearts and red roses abound as we celebrate that most amorous of holidays, St. Valentine’s Day. Revel in this month’s offerings as we continue to celebrate Mills & Boon American Romance’s yearlong 20th Anniversary.
Last month we launched our six-book MILLIONAIRE, MONTANA continuity series with the first delightful story about a small Montana town whose residents win a forty-million-dollar lottery jackpot. Now we bring you the second title in the series, Big-Bucks Bachelor, by Leah Vale, in which a handsome veterinarian gets more than he bargained for when he asks his plain-Jane partner to become his fake fianc?e.
Also in February, Bonnie Gardner brings you The Sergeant’s Secret Son. In this emotional story, passions flare all over again between former lovers as they work to rebuild their tornado-ravaged hometown, but the heroine is hiding a small secret—their child! Next, Victoria Chancellor delivers a great read with The Prince’s Texas Bride, the second book in her duo A ROYAL TWIST, where a bachelor prince’s night of passion with a beautiful waitress results in a royal heir on the way and a marriage proposal. And a trip to Las Vegas leads to a pretend engagement in Leandra Logan’s Wedding Roulette.
Enjoy this month’s offerings, and be sure to return each and every month to Mills & Boon American Romance!
Associate Senior Editor
Mills & Boon American Romance
The Prince’s Texas Bride
To our Thursday Lunch Group, for your continued encouragement. Thank you Judy Christenberry, Jane Graves (w/a Jane Sullivan), Barbara Harrison (w/a Leann Harris), Tammy Hilz, Karen Leabo (w/a Kara Lennox) and Rebecca Russell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After twenty-eight years in Texas, VICTORIA CHANCELLOR has almost qualified for “naturalized Texan” status.She lives in a suburb of Dallas with her husband of thirty-one years, next door to her daughter, who is an English teacher. When not writing, she tends her “zoo” of four cats, a ferret, five tortoises, a wide assortment of wild birds, three visiting chickens and several families of raccoons and opossums. For more information on past and future releases, please visit her Web site at www.victoriachancellor.com.
Books by Victoria Chancellor
MILLS & BOON AMERICAN ROMANCE
844—THE BACHELOR PROJECT
884—THE BEST BLIND DATE IN TEXAS
955—THE PRINCE’S COWBOY DOUBLE *
959—THE PRINCE’S TEXAS BRIDE *
Kerry Lynn Jacks pulled her blue chenille robe tight around her, fought back another urge to run into the bathroom and headed instead for the insistent pounding on her door. This had better be important. Mornings were not her best time of day. Hadn’t been ever since that little test strip had turned blue—and she’d started turning green.
She wove her way around her coffee table and chair. The tile in the entryway to her apartment was cool on her bare feet even though August in Texas was anything but temperate. “This had better not be someone selling magazine subscriptions,” she murmured to herself as she stood on tiptoe and peered through the peephole.
Her heart began to pound and she sucked in a much-needed breath. Either her friend Hank McCauley had started wearing designer clothing or there was a prince on her doorstep. Either way, she had to let him in.
She turned the deadbolt and doorknob, then took a shaky step back as the door swung open.
The man standing before her looked intense and extremely sexy as he glared at her from beneath furrowed brows.
Definitely the prince.
“Hello, Alexi,” she said hoarsely past the lump in her throat that she couldn’t attribute to morning sickness.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She couldn’t pretend not to know what he was talking about. “I was going to.” She shrugged, then crossed her arms over her chest. “I just hadn’t decided how or when. You’re not exactly the easiest person in the world to get in touch with.”
“It’s been three months!”
“Well, yes, but it’s only been about a month and a half since I was sure.”
He ran a hand through his hair, looking suddenly weary. “Can we go inside and talk about this?”
“Of course.” She stepped back and gestured toward her living room. “Make yourself comfortable.”
She followed him, adjusting her robe, smoothing her blond hair into some semblance of order. The very feminine part of her wished she looked better—more pulled together, with a bit of makeup to hide behind. But Alexi would probably see through whatever cosmetics she might apply, so why bother? And since she’d already decided to tell him the truth, what did she have to hide…except her pride?
“If you want some coffee, you’ll have to make it. My stomach…Well, let’s just say I’ve given up on my morning jolt of caffeine for a while.” She sank into the chair across from the couch and curled her feet beneath her.
“I didn’t travel thousands of miles for coffee, even though I’m sure yours is excellent.”
“I’ve had a lot of experience making coffee,” she commented casually, reminding Prince Alexi Ladislas of Belegovia that she had been a lowly truck stop waitress when they’d met. Reminding him that they lived in separate worlds and always would.
“Dammit, Kerry, you should have phoned me immediately.”
“And what could you have done if you’d known a month or two ago? I’m having this baby whether you know about it or not.”
“Then you admit it? This is my child?”
“This is my child,” she stated, placing her hand over her slightly rounded stomach. “Maybe conception was an accident, but I want this baby. I don’t need permission from you or anyone else to deliver my son or daughter.”
“You think I don’t want you to have the baby? Don’t be absurd. I would never—”
“I thought I did at one time, but now I realize I don’t know you well enough to know how you would react. We didn’t have much time to discuss the subject in the short time we spent together.”
He leaned forward and placed his forearms on his knees. “We managed to talk about almost everything else.”
Kerry bowed her head and took a deep breath. She would not cry in front of him, even though her nerves were as jumbled as her thoughts. Even though her stomach clenched with tension and she had the urge to run out of the room.
“I suppose you found out from Gwendolyn.” The idea that her friend had called him and revealed a confidence sickened her. Kerry thought she was a good judge of people, and Gwendolyn had seemed like such a loyal friend. But she’d been Alexi’s childhood buddy and then a trusted employee for years. Maybe that went beyond a three-month friendship based mostly on a set of bizarre circumstances that few people would believe…and even fewer knew to be true.
“She didn’t call me to reveal your secret, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Alexi said. “I was actually on the phone to her when you came to the ranch.”
Kerry frowned, remembering yesterday’s conversation clearly. “She told me she had to put a call on hold.”
“Gwendolyn has many good qualities and abilities, but anything above the technology of a manual pencil sharpener is beyond her. She obviously thought she’d put me on hold, but she didn’t because I heard every word. I immediately flew to Texas and went to your mother’s house so we could resolve the problem, and she informed me where your apartment was located.”
“My baby is not a problem!”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said quickly. “I meant that I wanted to talk to you about the situation. At least your mother was glad to see me.”
“I’ll bet. She had your autograph framed, you know.” Charlene Jacks had probably loved playing matchmaker. It’s a wonder she hadn’t phoned to tell Kerry that a prince was on his way to her apartment. Of course, her mother didn’t yet know why Prince Alexi might be in such a snit. And if he’d asked her to remain silent so he could surprise Kerry with his mere presence, she would have complied in a heartbeat.
“Why did you tell Gwendolyn instead of calling me?”
“I was so upset. I didn’t know who else to talk to. I didn’t even tell my mother, for Pete’s sake!”
Kerry took another deep breath, wishing she had some soda crackers and ginger ale to calm her queasiness. She wouldn’t go into the kitchen to get them when she and Alexi were in the middle of this conversation. Even though she didn’t want to discuss her baby at this moment, she knew she’d have to face him sooner or later.
“I just needed advice,” she admitted in a small voice. She looked into his eyes and saw a fading of anger. A smidgen of sympathy. “I needed to determine what I should do that would be the most fair to everyone. You, me and the baby.”
“And she told you about Belegovia’s laws of succession.”
“Yes.” She’d been surprised when Gwendolyn had volunteered the information, but then Kerry had realized that she had to consider all these factors to decide what was best for her baby.
“So you know that whether you have a boy or a girl, this child could succeed me as king or queen.”
“Yes,” Kerry said, lifting her chin, “but only if you declare it as your heir. Otherwise, any children you and—” she choked out the words “—the contessa have after your marriage will be your legitimate heirs. This baby would still be the half sibling of the royal heirs, but wouldn’t be in line for the throne.”
Alexi leaned forward, his expression once again fierce. “First of all, I’m not marrying Contessa di Giovanni.”
“But my mother told me that there was a big party this weekend where your engagement was going to be announced.” Charlene Jacks was an avid royal watcher and had kept Kerry informed of every event involving Belegovia—until she’d realized her daughter was hopelessly in love with the prince.
Alexi held up his hand, obviously impatient. “Second, there won’t be any half siblings.”
She knew that as the crown prince he’d be expected to have at least two children to ensure the succession. His father, King Wilheim, had given him a deadline of age thirty to find a bride. Which had led him to run away while on a trip to Texas in May.
He’d run away with her.
Kerry’s stomach clenched as she asked, “Why?”
He covered her hands with his, making her look into his sky-blue eyes. Her heart pounded at the warmth and strength of his grasp, the scent of his cologne. She hadn’t seen him for three months, but it seemed like only three days.
When he spoke, his voice was softer, more intimate. “Because you and I are getting married as soon as I can arrange for the ceremony at the cathedral in Belegovia. Our child will be the undisputed legitimate heir to the throne.”
Kerry took one look at his intense expression and knew it was too late for soda crackers and ginger ale. She leapt from the chair and fled to the bathroom, remembering in vivid detail just exactly how she’d gotten herself pregnant by the prince.
Three months earlier
“Hank McCauley, you devil!” the young woman squealed, throwing her arms around Alexi’s neck. “Did you remember to bring me a present?”
Alexi, stunned by the feel of her firm breasts pressed against his chest, her soft-as-silk blond hair brushing against his neck and her light floral fragrance filling his senses, could only wrap his arms around her petite, curvy body and hold on tight.
Sooner or later he was going to tell her he wasn’t Hank McCauley…whoever that might be.
Before he could gather his wits, she pulled back, grinned and placed a smacking kiss on his lips.
Her lips were as soft as her breasts were firm. She tasted of cinnamon and mint, and he immediately wanted her.
When she pulled back, her smile faded. Her arms slipped away from around his neck and he allowed his hands to slide down her arms until they were both standing in the truck stop, breathless and confused. Her light brown brows drew closer together over a cute little nose sprinkled with freckles.
“You’re not Hank.”
“No, I’m not.”
She tilted her head. “But you look just like him.” She stared, leaning forward to examine him as though he were an interesting new species of insect. “You don’t have the little scar above your lip.”
“No, I don’t.” He folded his arms across his chest, expecting some accusation or scorn. “I didn’t mean to deceive you. You took me by surprise.”
“Are you British?”
“I was born and raised there, but I live in Belegovia now.”
“Belegovia. Where have I heard that name?”
“Perhaps on the news?” he offered.
Comprehension dawned swift and sure. “You’re the prince.” She grinned and shook her head. “You don’t look very much like the grainy photo I saw in the newspaper this morning.” She placed a uniform down on a stool—she’d obviously just changed clothes also—and reached for a section of the paper resting beside the cash register. It was crumpled from many people sharing the newsprint. “See. You look a lot more…stern in the paper.”
“Thank you, I suppose,” he replied, more and more fascinated by this young woman who seemed completely unimpressed by his position. He was about to ask for an introduction when Lady Gwendolyn Reed walked up, frowning. She’d probably witnessed the whole incident from her position by the double glass doors. Gwendolyn didn’t miss much.
“No, I mean you look better,” the petite blonde continued, sparing a quick look at Gwendolyn. “Like Hank McCauley. He used to be my boyfriend…well, for a little while. Not that we were ever serious. We’re just friends now. I thought maybe he’d come to visit me here at the truck stop.”
“And bring you a present,” Alexi finished.
The cute blonde grinned. “I like surprises.”
Alexi felt his answering smile all the way down his body. “So do I.” Especially when they come in such attractive packages, he thought.
“Your Highness, we really should be leaving,” Gwendolyn said. She looked businesslike and slightly severe in her purplish woolen suit, black pumps and combination purse and briefcase. Her dark hair was pulled back in a simple clip. She appeared the exact opposite of the slightly disheveled truck stop waitress whose blond hair curled in an attractive style around her head.
“I’d introduce you,” he said to his public-relations director, “but I have yet to learn the name of our new friend.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The young woman in question tossed the paper back onto the counter and thrust out her hand. “Kerry Lynn Jacks, from Ranger Springs.”
Alexi turned it over so he held her fingers and kissed the back of her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Kerry Lynn Jacks. I am Prince Alexi Ladislas of Belegovia. May I present Lady Gwendolyn Reed, the formidable woman who is urging me ever closer to San Antonio and another round of boring public appearances?”
Kerry laughed. “Sounds like a difficult job.”
“You have no idea,” Gwendolyn said, her nostrils flaring as her eyebrows rose. Don’t give me any trouble, she seemed to be saying. Please, just get back in the Land Rover and we’ll forget all about this little encounter.
Fat chance, he’d learned to say when he’d lived in the States several years ago. Sometimes he simply couldn’t resist tweaking Gwendolyn’s nose—figuratively, of course, as he’d done when they were much younger. She preferred a much more restrictive view of his public life than he favored. He enjoyed much of the baby-kissing and hand-shaking, but Gwendolyn scheduled a plethora of those appearances. He would rather focus on promoting tourism and stimulating economic development in his country, which he’d just done in Dallas. As far as he was concerned, he’d accomplished his mission to Texas. Gwendolyn, on the other hand, still believed he had several days of public appearances to endure before finding out if he’d be meeting the president on his Texas ranch late Saturday.
“Well, I’d better let you go. I’m sorry about assaulting you. I’m sure that doesn’t happen often.” She frowned. “Not that women wouldn’t want to throw themselves at you. I just meant that I’m sure you’re not usually confused with someone else.”
Alexi smiled. “I can honestly say that has never happened before.” And he couldn’t have imagined a more pleasurable case of mistaken identity, either.
“Nice to meet you, Lady Gwendolyn,” Kerry replied with a smile. “I hope y’all have a nice time in Texas.”
She turned away with one more friendly smile over her shoulder. Alexi stood rooted to the spot, still tasting her lips and feeling her petite, curvy body pressed to his.
“We really should be going,” Gwendolyn reminded him. “Between the incident in the Land Rover and this distraction, we’re nearly an hour behind schedule.”
The “incident” involved a soft drink Alexi had purchased on their last stop. He loved American soft drinks. They tasted different in the States than in Europe. This particular bottle, however, had either been shaken on purpose or dropped by clumsy hands, because the minute he’d twisted open the lid, cold, sticky liquid had spewed from the bottle, soaking his shirt and the seat of the Land Rover, and saturated his hair and face.
He’d needed a change of clothing and the truck stop seemed a perfect place to wash his face, neck and hands. To his surprise, the large facility contained showers for both men and women, clothing, a variety of recordings and books, and every type of food imaginable. The combination showers and rest rooms separated the retail part of the truck stop from the restaurant, which occupied about one third of the building.
He’d chosen jeans, a Western-cut shirt in bright stripes and a tooled leather belt that he knew would remind him of Texas long after he returned to Belegovia. With his new wardrobe and impatient looks from Gwendolyn, he’d slipped into the men’s showers.
When he’d emerged clean and in his new clothes, Kerry Lynn Jacks had launched herself into his arms.
Alexi narrowed his eyes and watched her hug two waitresses and wipe a tear from her eye. “She’s certainly an interesting young woman.”
“One we don’t have time to linger over.”
“You are no fun,” he told Gwendolyn, who was single-minded in her duties. Mainly she scheduled, then escorted him from event to event, competently and without any surprises. And she never scheduled any temptations.
With one last look at Kerry, who had picked up a canvas tote bag and was waving goodbye to her friends, he turned away also. “Okay. Let’s get on the road.”
“You don’t need to sound so disappointed,” Gwendolyn chided. “This trip was your idea.”
“The meetings in Dallas were my idea. The photo ops were for you and my father.”
They emerged into the bright morning sunlight. The newly cleaned Land Rover with their Texas driver, Pete Boedecker, and Alexi’s man, Milos Anatole, stood ready at the door.
“We’re off to San Antonio, Mr. Boedecker,” Gwendolyn announced. She stood beside the vehicle door, waiting for Alexi to enter first, as was his right. He still had a hard time remembering to observe the formality when he was in the States. He’d lived in Boston for five years, never once failing to act courteously to women—most of whom knew him only as Alex.
Just when he was getting ready to enter the vehicle, a loud compact car, partly blue and partly rusted, pulled up beside them. Milos immediately stepped in front of him, but as soon as Alexi saw who was driving the disreputable automobile, he smiled.
“It’s okay, Milos. I don’t think the young woman is going to abduct me.”
“Prince Alexi,” Kerry called out breathlessly, “I almost forgot to ask you for a big favor.”
“What is that, Miss Jacks?”
“My mother is a huge fan of all the European royalty,” she explained as she stepped out and walked around her sorry excuse for a car. “If she found out I’d met you and didn’t get her an autograph, she’d tan my bottom.”
The image of Kerry Lynn Jacks’s firm, round bottom popped into his mind and wouldn’t leave. Not that he wanted to “tan” her, but he would like a peek at what was hidden by her jeans.
“What would you like me to autograph?” he asked, straight-faced.
She handed him an envelope from the truck stop and a pen that had been chewed on the plastic end. “Would you make it out to Charlene Jacks, please?” Kerry asked, peering at the paper he held as though she didn’t trust him to give a proper autograph.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî