In less than a month I'll be releasing book four of my IT'S REIGNING MEN series, LOVE IS IN THE HEIR. So I thought I'd give you a preview. And I'm excited to be well into writing book 5, SHAME OF THRONES (thanks to my husband for that great title!). Hope you enjoy this sample of LOVE IS IN THE HEIR--it's available for pre-order now: Amazon, Apple, Kobo. And pre-order for Shame of Thrones will be available in a few weeks!
Pippa Grimaldi, a decidedly modern Monafortian duchess and all-around life of the party, didn’t normally ogle men. It just wasn’t her style. And she’d certainly never held up any man in the royal family as anything but friend material. That is, until she ran into His Royal Highness Prince Christopher, Duke of Esmeralda—Topher, for short—for the first time in many years.
Pippa and Topher, third in line to the throne of Monaforte, had a history, and not such a great one. Back when he was fourteen, Pippa, best friends with Topher’s brother Zander and a regular at the palace, wandered in on Topher with his pants down, in mid, uh, self-service mode.
Mortified, Pippa burst into a nervous laughter, then hightailed it out of his room to Zander’s room so fast that her friend immediately noticed something was wrong. And once Zander—long the bad boy prince in the family—latched onto what she’d encountered, he never let it go. Poor Topher was dubbed “The Wanker” by his older brother and teased mercilessly by his siblings for years.
Over the years, it was obvious that Topher took great pains to avoid Pippa’s presence, because aside from his continued embarrassment over The Episode, whenever the two of them were together, invariably the whole thing was dredged up yet again, much to his deep chagrin.
And so when Topher encountered Pippa at the reception following the royal wedding of his brother Adrian, he could only hope that royal decorum would trump his siblings’ propensity for jocularity. The last thing he needed while suited up in his regal princely military garb for this shindig was to be reduced to that shamed teenager of years earlier, with a round of guffaws and elbows to the side while the siblings all referenced Topher’s manual dexterity. Sometimes, even his usually sweet sister Isabella got in on the act. And it would only make matters worse if his new sister-in-law Emma joined the fray.
He really just hoped that after being gone for so long, maybe at last the event had been tucked away in the cobwebbed attic of family lore, finally forgotten, laid to merciful rest. It always amazed him that no matter how old you got or how accomplished you became, you were always brought to your knees by some stupid happening in your life you wish you’d never committed. Or at least wished you’d locked the door for.
Of course one thing he always, always, always held close to him about that day was this: the only reason he was in the midst of the deed at that particular moment was that Pippa had showed up at the palace in a particularly skimpy skirt and tight tee that highlighted her burgeoning assets. And what gangly, awkward teenage boy could resist that? As the two-years-younger brother, Topher always had a little bit of a crush on his brother’s friend, but he also never confided this to a soul. And so in deference to her dignity, he realized all the more it needed to remain tucked away in his mind only, as it would merely serve to humiliate Pippa.
But from then on, he forever associated Pippa with his shame from that event, and rarely did he ever dare to entertain thoughts of Pippa as anything but a family friend.
Topher, his gentle gray eyes and wavy dark hair highlighted by the bright blue royal military uniform he wore, had just finished his drink at the wedding reception when his brother Zander pulled him into a conversation unwittingly.
“Plus,” Zander said to his beautiful blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend Andi, extending his arm as his younger brother came toward them. “Soon this strapping young man will find himself a woman and the paps will latch onto him instead. Even though I am the much better looking brother.” Andi had seemingly pulled off the impossible, taming the womanizing Zander, known for his scampish good looks, with his scruffy dark hair, perpetual five o’clock shadow, and mesmerizing green eyes.
Apparently Andi was fearful of the paparazzi, which had caused her to flee her blossoming romance with Zander, and Zander had only somehow lured her back to Monaforte just in time for the wedding.
Topher looked at him with wide eyes like he was crazy. “Yeah, right. Besides, don’t hold your breath on that,” he said. “The chances of my marrying any time in the next millennium are slim to none.”
“That’s what I said, and look at me now,” Adrian said as he walked up to the group. The oldest of the siblings, Adrian was devastatingly handsome, and on this, his wedding day, his brilliant sapphire eyes were alight with happiness. “Zander, looks like finally your invisible girlfriend here took pity on you?” He nodded toward Andi, who blushed.
Topher was thrilled the conversation was focusing on Zander’s romance, but only then did he notice that Pippa was lurking on the fringe of the conversation. Pippa—looking so damned hot in the halter gown Topher tried desperately not to stare at because it highlighted her breasts and her shapely waist—was the last thing he needed to think of right now. Those thoughts could get him into a lot of trouble. Her hazel eyes seemed to sparkle against the warm melon color of her chiffon gown.
Two times two is four, four times four is sixteen, sixteen times sixteen is two hundred and fifty-six, he repeated in his head, tamping down all potentially damning sexual thoughts involving the woman, including the time he’d seen her naked when she came out of the shower of the palace pool house when she was seventeen. Two times two is four, four times four is sixteen, sixteen times sixteen is two hundred and fifty-six,
Topher could feel the front of his dress blues getting just a little bit snug, and he continued distracting himself with simple mathematical equations until he could extricate himself from present company. He glanced out of the corner of his gray eyes to see that Pippa’s cascading brown curls—which as a teenager looked so sexy on her, tumbling over her shoulders like a riotous waterfall—had been pulled up in a loose chignon, her hair topped with the obligatory tiara that most women of royalty wore to such events. Hers was interlaced with tiny flowers, and soft strands of curls framed her face, which had grown only more beautiful with age. He thought she looked like quite the princess herself, even if she was actually a duchess. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but in the pecking order of royalty, she wasn’t a princess. Even if she looked like the fairytale version of one.
“Don’t worry, Andi,” Pippa said, piping into the conversation. “We all take care of each other here. You won’t be bombarded by anyone trying to get at you. Just a little here and there. Otherwise we cut ‘em off at the knees.” She made a slicing motion across the throat, jokingly.
Topher knew only too well how everyone took care of each other around here, even when it involved totally dicking on your brothers. Slicing across the throat indeed. That might have been easier for him if they had just slit his throat. Lost in thought, he rejoined the conversation as Pippa continued talking.
“I must say, most intriguing of all is little Topher here,” Pippa said, turning to him. “I don’t think I’ve seen you since you were a scrawny kid. You’re looking awfully filled out.” She eyed him up and down with a look of hunger on her face.
“Down, boy,” Zander said, tapping on Pippa’s head. “I think Topher is allergic to girls.”
His brother discreetly flipped him the finger.
Awfully filled out?
If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought he was perhaps a baby wildebeest and Pippa a very hungry leopard about to pounce.
Topher said a mental prayer that this was not the segue he’d been dreading and breathed a sigh of relief when, not a half a minute later, he was saved by the arrival of Adrian’s new bride, Emma, ravishingly beautiful with her chestnut curls loosely pinned up and tucked behind a dazzling tiara. Her hazel eyes were wet with tears of happiness. Thank goodness for all of this wedding nonsense as a distraction.
This time he was spared.
Pippa tried to concentrate on the conversation at hand. Something to do with Adrian and Emma’s wedding and then something more about Emma’s good friend Caroline and Adrian’s best friend Darcy showing up to the wedding engaged, of all things. Which apparently happened after Darcy’s sister Clementine orchestrated a fabulous fake-out at a party at Pippa’s family estate, which left Darcy thinking Zander was hitting on Caroline. At this very party, Zander then ended up hooking up with Andi, with whom Pippa had worked at a refugee camp in Africa months earlier.
Pippa couldn’t help but wonder why everyone around her seemed to be finding soul mates, while she only seemed to find another excuse to host a party or play cupid with her friends’ relationships. Not that she was looking or anything; she was too busy to really worry about dealing with a boyfriend. But sometimes it seemed like it would be nice to have someone to maybe just go on a date with. Or make out with. Or more. She hadn’t scratched that itch in as long as she could remember. The opportunity didn’t present itself when Pippa was working overseas in various philanthropic capacities, which she did as manager of Zander’s Prince’s Trust foundation.
Her thoughts migrated to Topher, standing several feet from her—though she knew if he’d had his way, there’d be several hundred feet separating the two of them. It had always been that way. Well, not quite always. But certainly since The Episode. Honestly, to this day Pippa could still close her eyes and conjure up the image of Topher in that compromising position. It had always left her feeling conflicted—embarrassed, no doubt, but kind of hot and bothered, too.
She’d never seen such a thing before, and it was the first time she’d ever seen one of those things live and in action. God, she still felt like a rookie in the sex department. She’d had a handful of less-than-compelling relationships in college and since, but nothing that aroused much, well, arousal. Most of the guys she’d dated were kind of boring, often trying to rub shoulders with royalty and rarely interested in Pippa as a person.
She tried to discreetly check out Topher from the corner of her eyes. He looked so damned handsome garbed in full military regalia: the crisp blue uniform, the sheathed sword, the sash, and all the medals. For the first time in forever, she felt her heart almost skip a beat over a guy. But could it be a worse guy? Thanks to Pippa, Topher was pegged with that embarrassing nickname by his brothers and could never live down something that undoubtedly the whole lot of them did daily under that palace roof. Poor Topher had the grave misfortune of being caught red-handed. Literally.
She burst out laughing at her own mental joke, so loudly that everyone in the conversation turned to look at her. She tried to cover up her laughter by pretending to be choking on a sip of champagne. But her eyes met Topher’s and in that brief exchange, they both knew they were each revisiting that moment yet again.
Pippa felt horrible: the poor guy could never live down such an isolated instance in his life. No thanks to her.
Topher spent dinner engaged in conversation with some princess from Sweden or Denmark or another very blonde country. She was absolutely stunning: deep blue eyes, natural blonde hair (he assumed), perfect skin, knockout figure. Who could complain? In the days of his ancestors, no doubt he’d have been seated by the woman someone else had deigned it necessary for him to marry to forge a union with another country. Which made him quite happy this was not the culture nowadays. Because while this blonde princess was incredibly hot, she was a bit boring. And her breath smelled. Besides, the last thing he wanted was a) to get married, and b) to be told he had to get married.
He was perfectly happy pursuing an advanced degree in marine biology and traveling to tropical climates in pursuit of that pursuit. What he didn’t need was an anchor in the form of a woman to tie him down. Nope, the type of anchor he preferred got lowered by a chain into sand at the bottom of the ocean, when whatever boat he was sailing in was stopping for the night.
Nothing thrilled him more than being on the water, maybe kicking back with a steak fired up on the tiny grill on the back of the boat, a cold beer in his hand, and Bob Marley blasting on the speakers as the horizon swallowed the last of the day’s sun in a spectacular show of color.
It’s not that he didn’t get into the whole dog and pony show of royalty, it’s just that as third in line to the crown, he didn’t have to bow to it quite so often, and he really did enjoy his freedom.
After dinner, the orchestra resumed playing, and he made a point to avoid his dinner companion before having to take it to the dance floor with her halitosis. But soon everyone was coupled up, and while he stood discreetly to the side, trying to not be seen and making small talk with people he really couldn’t have cared less to talk to, he noticed Pippa stood, not far away, perhaps also avoiding being seen. But she had a little bit of a sad look in her eyes, and it made his heart ache just a touch. Enough so he decided to approach her.
“You’re looking somber for such a happy occasion,” he said, handing her a flute of champagne he’d grabbed from a passing waiter.
Pippa shook her head. “Really?” she said. “I didn’t mean to look so disconnected. I guess I’m just lost in thought.”
Topher shook his head. “Please, don’t tell me it’s that thought.” He decided it was high time to just make light of the damned thing, at least face-to-face with her.
She blushed and stammered her reply. “Oh, God, no! I mean, what thought?”
He lowered his head and arched his brow. “I think it goes without saying which thought.”
“You mean that? Heavens no! I thought about that hours ago.” She covered her mouth with her hands. “I mean no! I haven’t been thinking about that! I haven’t thought about that in ages. Actually I’ve never thought about that.” Pippa placed her hand over her eyes, mortified at her stupid remarks.
Topher repeated his dubious look. “I’m pretty sure if I thought about it when we first ran into each other, then you did.”
Pippa cringed. “Oh Toph. It was so long ago. I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to resurrect that dead issue.”
He laughed. “Not to worry. It never died, so you can’t be accused of bringing it back to life. Like it or not, it’s part of me now.”
Pippa snorted. “Were it not for me, it wouldn’t have remained in you long enough to be an issue.”
She burst out laughing.
Topher smiled. “Yep, talk about wank-us interruptus.” They both laughed. “I think it’s time we let bygones be bygones with this one, what do you say?”
She nodded and looked down, blushing, which surprised Topher because he’d never known her to be one to wither at the first sign of awkward conversation. Of course if any topic would make her cringe, this one certainly would be it.
Topher reached out his hand in invitation. “Would you like to dance?”
She smiled and nodded, and he pulled Pippa toward him to escort her to the dance floor as they joined the hundreds of guests around them. For several minutes they just enjoyed each other’s company, not saying a word.
When the orchestra started playing “Beyond the Sea,” Topher pulled her closer, his hand around hers, pressed to his chest.
“This is my song,” he said to her.
“You have your own anthem?”
Topher smiled. “Smart-ass,” he said, tapping her on the nose with the tip of his finger. “No. But it makes me think of what makes me happiest: being out on the ocean.”
Pippa cocked her head. “Oh really? You’re a seagoing creature, are you?”
He nodded. “Something about the water calls to me. I’ve been pursuing my studies in marine biology, which takes me there often. I feel most at home when I’m bobbing on a boat in azure waters.”
She nodded. “I understand what you’re saying. It’s like how I feel when I’m helping others. It’s almost like I’m home, too, in a way.”
“I work for Zander’s charity,” she said. “I often travel all over the world, whether I’m trying to enlist financial support or simply helping out with a project myself.”
Topher had no idea that’s what Pippa did. He was relieved she wasn’t one of those trustafarian royals who rested on her daddy’s bank account and shopped till she dropped. Though to be fair, he could easily be of the same ilk. Except that his parents would kill him if he tried that.
He found himself leaning in and whispering into her ear, “Wow, you’re quite the international woman of mystery, now.”
Pippa shook her head. “Not so much. Just doing my job is all. But I’d love to hear about your travels.”
Topher’s eyes lit up. “I’ve been doing research on global warming and its impact on coral reefs. Which means I get to sail in beautiful locations all in the name of work.”
“Not too shabby,” she said. “I could almost be jealous about that.”
“Maybe you could figure out a way to incorporate your charitable work with it and come sailing with me some time.” Topher lifted his brow.
Pippa caught her breath. “Me? Sailing with you?”
Topher leaned back to take in her demeanor. “If it’s something you might enjoy.”
“Who doesn’t love to sail?” she said. “But I’ve only sailed in the Mediterranean. What’s it like in the Caribbean?”
He took a breath as he thought about it. “The water is so clear and comes in so many intoxicating shades of blue and green.”
She smiled dreamily. “I never thought of those colors as intoxicating.”
“Oh, but they are,” he said. “Imagine, looking at water the color of the finest turquoise stones. So pure and so inviting. It warms the soul.”
“But what about sharks?”
Topher shook his head. “The biggest sharks you have to worry about there are of the male variety,” he said. “Some of those beach bars, you just never know what type of disreputable men you’ll encounter.”
They both laughed.
“Disreputable, eh?” she said, cocking her eyebrow. “But surely you’d protect me from these shark men, right?”
Topher pulled her in tighter, thinking of how he’d always fantasized about being that man to take care of Pippa.
“That goes without saying,” he said, his voice warm and rumbly in her ear.
“So what do you do with yourself when you’re all the way out there in the ocean? How do you while away those long, lonely nights?”
He laughed. “To be honest, I’ve never had to concern myself with whiling away the hours. After a long day of work, the best I can muster is kicking back with a rum drink, grilling a steak, and blasting some music while absorbing yet another perfect sunset.”
“There’s always the skipper,” he said.
“Now that’s not exactly romantic,” Pippa said. “You, a romantic sunset, and the captain.”
Topher cracked up. “Unless the skipper’s a woman,” he said with a wink. “But seriously, you’ve got a point. Though I suppose some might find it romantic to be with the captain.”
“What about companionship?” she asked. “Don’t you find it lonely being out to sea so long?”
To be truthful, he occasionally did. It wasn’t like you could pick up a one-night stand so easily when you were out to sea. Nor did you want to pick up someone you’d regret being stuck with. He tended to keep his philandering shore-side. Not that he philandered much, but still.
“You ask funny questions, you know that?” he said. “For someone who would barely talk to me for all those years, now you’re concerned about my love life?”
Pippa paused as if to think for a minute, then broke into a wide grin. She glanced up into his face, and he knew exactly what triggered her reaction.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Surely you’re not asking me that?”
She shook her head. “I wasn’t at first,” she said. “But then I started to think about it. I mean what else does one do when one is away from members of the opposite sex and the need is there?”
Topher grinned. “That might depend upon whom you’re talking about. I am a man, after all,” he said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Pippa’s mind flashed to The Episode, where the boy Topher was deeply engrossed in that very activity. Her face flushed as she recalled it.
“But,” he added, “If you really want to discuss this, then what about you? What would you do all alone on a boat?”
She pursed her lips and thought about it. “Depends if the boat has thin walls.”
He laughed some more. “I’m starting to think I’d love to be your skipper. I’d tell you the walls were fortified, if that’s what it took.”
Pippa fake-slapped him. “Why, how dare you, Prince Christopher!”
“Oh, so we’re going to do it on a dare, then?” he asked, pulling her in closer, whispering into her ear.
Her breathing got heavier as she thought about him all alone on a boat. “I could be persuaded,” she whispered back into his ear.
It was Topher’s turn for heavy breathing as he pressed himself up against her, leaving no question about where this discussion was going in his mind. “It’s gotten so crowded in here. Perhaps we should continue this discussion somewhere a little more…private.”
Pippa locked her hazel eyes onto his soulful gray ones. “But everyone would know we’d disappeared together.”
He shook his head. “We’ll slip off discreetly. You go first and I’ll follow in a minute. I think you know the way to my apartment.”
She took a deep breath. “Our secret?”
He nodded. “No one will be the wiser.”
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