Protected by the Prince

By: Annie West
CHAPTER ONE




‘HIS HIGHNESS will be here soon. Please remain in this room and do not wander. There are strict security controls and alarms in this part of the castle.’

The prince’s aide spoke in clipped English and gave Tamsin a stern look. As if after finally passing the barriers of royal protocol and officious secretaries she’d run amok now she was within the royal sanctum.

As if, after weeks working in the Ruvingian royal archives and living in her suite on the far side of the castle courtyard, proximity to flesh and blood royalty might be too much for her! She’d never seen the prince. He never deigned to cross the courtyard to the functional archive room.

She stifled an impatient sigh.

Did she look the sort of woman to be overcome by pomp and wealth? Or be impressed by a man whose reputation as a womaniser and adventurer rivalled even that of his infamous robber baron ancestors?

Tamsin had more important things on her mind.

Secret excitement rippled through her and it had nothing to do with meeting a playboy prince.

This was her chance to rebuild her reputation. After Patrick’s brutal betrayal she could finally prove herself to her colleagues and herself. Her confidence had shattered after the way he’d used her. He’d damaged her professionally but far worse, he’d hurt her so badly she’d wanted only to crawl away and lick her wounds.

She’d never trust again.

Some scars wouldn’t heal. Yet here, now, she could at least kick start her career again. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and she was ready for the challenge.

For ten days Prince Alaric had been too busy to meet her. His schedule had been too full to fit her in. Clearly an expert on old books didn’t rank in his priorities.

The notion ignited a shimmer of anger inside her. She was tired of being used, dismissed and overlooked.

Had he hoped to fob her off by seeing her so late in the evening? Tamsin straightened her spine, clasping her hands in her lap, ankles crossed demurely under the massive chair.

‘Of course I won’t leave. I’ll be content here until His Highness arrives.’

The aide’s dubious expression made it clear he thought she was waiting her moment to sneak off and gape at the VIPs in the ballroom. Or maybe steal the silverware.

Impatient at the way he hovered, she slipped a hand into her briefcase and pulled out a wad of papers. She gave the aide a perfunctory smile and started reading.

‘Very well.’ His voice interrupted and she looked up. ‘It’s possible the prince may be…delayed. If you need anything, ring the bell.’

He gestured to a switch on the wall, camouflaged by the exquisite wood carving surrounding the huge fireplace. ‘Refreshments will be brought if you need them.’

‘Thank you.’ Tamsin nodded and watched him bustle away.

Was ‘delay’ code? Was the prince busy seducing a glamorous beauty from the ball? If gossip was right Prince Alaric of Ruvingia, in line to the crown of Maritz, was a playboy par excellence. Pursuing women would be higher on his priorities than meeting a book curator.

Tamsin ignored a fizz of indignation.

Her gaze strayed to the ceiling height bookshelves. The inevitable spark of interest quickened her blood. Old books. She smelled the familiar scent of aged paper and leather.

If he was going to be late…

Not allowing herself second thoughts, Tamsin walked to the nearest bookcase. It was too much to hope it would yield anything as exciting as what she’d unearthed in the archives, but why sit reading documents she knew by heart?

Her reluctant host was probably hours away.



‘You must excuse me, Katarina. I have business to attend to.’ Alaric disengaged himself from the countess’s clinging grasp.

‘So late? Surely there are better ways to spend the night?’ Her ruby lips parted and her silvery eyes flashed a familiar message. Sexual promise, excitement and just a touch of greed. She swayed forward, her barely covered breasts straining against her ball gown, her emerald-strewn cleavage designed to draw the eye.

Acquiring lovers had always been easy for Alaric but he was tired of being targeted by women like Katarina.

His rules were simple. First, no long term commitment. Ever. Emotional intimacy, what others called love, was a mirage he knew to be dangerous and false. Second, he did the chasing.

He needed diversion but on his terms.

Katarina, despite her genuine sexual desire, was another who’d set her sights on marriage. Permanency. Royal prestige. Wealth. Right now he had more significant concerns than satisfying the ambitions of a grasping socialite.

‘Sadly it’s a meeting I can’t avoid.’ Over her head he caught the eye of the steward hovering at the entrance. ‘Your car is here.’ He lifted her hand, barely brushing it with his lips, before leading her to the door.

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