His Thirty-Day Fiancée

By: Catherine Mann

One




Catching a royal was tough. But catching an elusive Medina was damn near impossible.

Teeth chattering, photojournalist Kate Harper inched along the third-story ledge leading to Prince Duarte Medina’s living quarters. The planked exterior of his Martha’s Vineyard resort offered precious little to grab hold of as she felt her way across in the dark, but she’d never been one to admit defeat.

Come hell or high water, she would snag her top-dollar picture. Her sister’s future teetered even more precariously than Kate’s balance on the twelve-inch beam.

Wind whipped in off the harbor, slapping her mossy green Dolce & Gabbana knockoff around her legs. Her cold toes curled along the wooden ridge since she’d ditched her heels on the balcony next door before climbing out. Thank God it wasn’t snowing tonight.

Wrangling her way into an event at the posh Medina resort hadn’t been easy. But she’d nabbed a ticket to a Fortune 500 mogul’s rehearsal dinner for his son by promising a dimwit dilettante to run a tabloid piece on her ex in exchange for the woman’s invitation. Once in, however, Kate was on her own to dodge security, locate Prince Duarte and snap the shot. As best she could tell, this was her only hope to enter his suite. Too bad her coat and gloves had been checked at the door.

The minicameras embedded in her earrings were about to tear her darn earlobes in half. She’d transformed a couple old button cameras into what looked like gold- and-emerald jewelry.

The lighthouse swooped a dim beam through the cottony-thick fog, Klaxon wailing every twenty seconds and temporarily drowning out the sound of wedding-party guests mingling on the first floor. She scooched closer to the prince’s balcony.

Kate stretched her leg farther, farther still until… Pay dirt. Her pounding heart threatened to pop a seam on her thrift-shop satin gown. She grabbed the railing fast and swung her leg over.

A hand clamped around her wrist. A strong hand. A masculine hand.

She yelped as another hand grabbed her ankle and hauled, grip strong on her arm and calf. His fingers seared her freezing skin just over her anklet made by her sister. A good-luck charm to match the earrings. She sure hoped it helped.

A swift yank sent her tumbling over onto the balcony. Her dress twisted around her thighs and hopefully not higher. She scrambled for firm footing, her arms flailing as her gown slid back into place. She landed hard against a wall.

No, wait. Walls didn’t have crisp chest hair and defined muscles, and smell of musky perspiration. Under normal circumstances, she’d have been more than a little turned on. If she wasn’t so focused on her sister’s future and her lips weren’t turning blue from the cold.

Kate peeked…and found a broad male torso an inch from her nose. A black shirt or robe hung open, exposing darkly tanned skin and brown hair. Her fingers clenched in the silky fabric. Some kind of karate workout clothes?

Good God, did Medina actually hire ninjas for protection like monarchs in movies?

Kate looked up the strong column of the ninja’s neck, the tensed line of his square jaw in need of a shave. Then, holy crap, she met the same coal-black eyes she’d been planning to photograph.

“You’re not a ninja,” she blurted.

“And you are not much of an acrobat.” Prince Duarte Medina didn’t smile, much less say cheese.

“Not since I flunked out of kinder-gym.” This was the strangest conversation ever, but at least he hadn’t pitched her over the railing. Yet.

He also didn’t let go of her arms. The restrained strength of his calloused fingers sparked an unwelcomed shiver of awareness along her chilled skin.

Duarte glanced down at her bare feet. “Were you booted for a balance beam infraction?”

“Actually, I broke another kid’s nose.” She’d tripped the nasty little boy after he’d called her sister a moron.

Kate fingered her earring. She had to snap her pictures and punch out. This was an opportunity rarer than a red diamond.

The Medina monarchy had pretty much fallen off the map twenty-seven years ago after King Enrique Medina was deposed in a coup that left his wife dead. For decades rumors swirled that the old widower had walled up with his three sons in an Argentinean fortress. After a while, people stopped wondering about the Medinas at all. Until she’d felt the journalistic twitch to research an individual in the background of a photo she’d taken. That twitch had led to her news story which popped the top off a genie bottle. She’d exposed the secret lives of three now-grown princes who were hiding in plain sight in the United States.

But that hadn’t been enough. The paycheck on that story hadn’t come close to hauling her out of the financial difficulties life had thrust upon her.