The Prince's Chambermaid

By: Sharon Kendrick

Chapter One

FOR a moment she thought she must have misheard him. Either that, or she was going crazy. And maybe she was. For hadn’t her foolish dreams of love just been dealt a death-blow in time-honoured fashion? From her position behind the reception desk where she was covering for the receptionist’s lunch-break, Cathy stared up at her boss in disbelief and tried not to think about the crumpled-up letter which was lying in the bottom of her handbag. Or the battering to her self-esteem which had left her feeling lonely, and wounded.

‘Sorry.’ She cleared her throat, wondering if he was having some kind of joke at her expense. ‘For a minute then, I thought you said—’

‘A prince? Yes, I did.’ Rupert’s smirk was supercilious, his upper-crust English accent even more pronounced than usual, as he paused to allow the significance of his statement to sink in. ‘A royal prince is going to be gracing our hotel with his presence—what do you think of that, Cathy?’

‘A prince?’ Cathy echoed in disbelief.

Rupert’s smirk became even more pronounced. ‘Prince Xaviero of Zaffirinthos. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of him?’

Cathy bit back the defensive response which sprang to her lips. Just because she was a chambermaid who’d never really qualified for anything didn’t mean that she was a complete write-off, did it? The implication being that such a woman would barely recognise the name of a member of the English royal family—let alone a rather more obscure foreign version. But Rupert was right, damn him. Despite doing her best to keep up with world events via newspapers and books, it seemed that Zaffirinthos had somehow slipped off her radar. ‘N-no,’ she answered uncertainly. ‘No, I haven’t.’

‘Then let me enlighten you. He’s next in line to an island kingdom, a world-class polo player—and a lover of beautiful women,’ said Rupert, puffing out his chest. ‘In fact, the most glittering VIP we’ve ever had.’

Cathy stared at him, screwing up her eyes in confusion because something didn’t make sense. They both knew that important guests were few and far between—despite the fact that there was a world-famous polo club nearby as well as some pretty impressive stud farms. But there were also other, more upmarket hotels and she couldn’t imagine why on earth a prince would choose to stay somewhere like this. Yes, the building was listed and yes, originally it had been a very elegant private home before it had been turned into a hotel. But Rupert’s general mismanagement and dwindling guest numbers had left house and grounds in a pretty run-down condition, which didn’t tend to attract VIPs.

‘But why?’ she questioned. ‘I mean, why’s he coming here?’

Rupert’s smile disappeared as quickly as a ray of April sunshine. ‘Why is none of your business,’ he snapped back, but then seemed to relent—glancing round to check that the coast was clear and paying lip-service to discretion, but clearly busting to tell someone. ‘Well, keep it to yourself—but he’s moving over here from his home in New York and he’s about to complete the purchase of the Greenhill Polo Club.’

Cathy’s eyes opened wider. She thought of the acres of valuable real estate which housed the prestigious club, which brought international celebrities flocking there every weekend during the polo season. ‘A place like that would cost an absolute fortune to buy,’ she said slowly.

‘For once, you’re right, Cathy—but that won’t be a problem, not in this case. You see, this man is not just any old prince—with genuine blue blood coursing around in his veins—he also happens to be outrageously wealthy.’ Rupert’s eyes narrowed calculatingly. ‘Which is why there are going to have to be some changes made before he and his entourage arrive.’

Cathy had been working for Rupert long enough to know just when to sense trouble. ‘Changes?’ she said, hoping that she was hiding the instinctive alarm which sprang up inside her. ‘What kind of changes?’

‘Well, for a start—we’re going to have to spruce up the public rooms to accommodate a man of his calibre. They’ll all need a lick of paint—especially the downstairs washrooms. I’ve organised for a firm of decorators to come in and start work first thing tomorrow morning.’

Cathy stared at him. ‘That quickly?’

‘Yes, that quickly. Someone will be in later to measure up—and you’ll need to show him around,’ said Rupert testily. ‘The Prince will be arriving next week and there’s a lot to be done between now and then if it’s to meet royal expectations. Apparently, he only sleeps on Egyptian cotton sheets—so I’m going to have to send to London for those. Oh, and one other thing.’