The Prince's Ultimate Deception (Monte Carlo Affairs #2)


by Emilie Rose

Chapter 1

“Please. You have to help me.”A woman’s desperate plea caught Prince Dominic Andreas Rossi de Montagnarde’s attention as he and his bodyguard Ian waited for the elevator inside Monaco’s luxurious Hôtel Reynard. He observed the reflected exchange between a long-haired brunette and the concierge through the gilt-framed mirror hanging on the wall beside the polished brass elevator doors.

“Mr. Gustavo, if I don’t get away from all this prewedding euphoria I am going to lose my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy for my friend, but I just can’t stomach this much romance without getting nauseous.”

Her statement piqued Dominic’s curiosity. What had soured her on the fairy-tale fantasy so many others harbored? He had never met a woman who didn’t wallow in wedding preparations. Each of his three sisters had dragged out the planning of their weddings for more than a year, as had his beloved Giselle.

“I need a tour guide who can work around my bridesmaid’s duties for the next month,” she continued. “One who knows the best places for day trips and impromptu getaways because I don’t know when I’ll need to escape from all this—” she shuddered dramatically “—happiness.”

American, he judged by her accent, and possibly from one of the Southern states given her slight drawl.

The concierge gave her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, Mademoiselle Spencer, but it is nearly midnight. At this hour I cannot contact our guides to make those arrangements. If you will return in the morning I am sure we can find someone suitable.”

She shoved her fingers into the mass of her thick, shiny curls, tugged as if she were at her wit’s end and then shifted to reveal an exquisite face with a classical profile. Her bare arms were slender, but toned, and she had a body to match beneath the floor-length green gown subtly draping her curves. Nice curves deserving of a second glance which Dominic willingly took. Too bad he couldn’t see if her legs were as superb as the rest of her.

His gaze slowly backtracked to the reflection of her lovely face and slammed into mocking and amused emerald eyes the same shade as her dress. She’d caught his appraisal and repaid him in kind with a leisurely inspection of her own. Her gaze descended from his shoulders to his butt and legs. One arched eyebrow clearly stated she intended putting him in his place. He fought a smile over her boldness, but he couldn’t prevent a quickening of his pulse. When her eyes found his once more he saw appreciation but no sign of recognition.

Interesting.

She returned her attention to the concierge. “In the morning I have to ruin two years’ worth of dieting and exercise by stuffing myself with wedding cake samples. Please, I’m begging you, Mr. Gustavo, give me a guide’s name tonight so I’ll at least have the promise of escape tomorrow.”

Escape. The word echoed in Dominic’s head as he pondered the elevator’s unusual slowness. He needed time to come to terms with his future, to marrying and having children with a woman he didn’t love and might not even like, without the paparazzi shoving cameras in his face. In a word, he needed to escape—hence the lack of his usual entourage, dying his blond hair brown and shaving the mustache and beard he’d worn since he’d first sprouted whiskers.

This would in all likelihood be his last month of peace before all hell broke loose. Once the paparazzi caught wind of the proceedings at the palace they would descend on him like a plague of locusts, and his life would no longer be his own. He could see the headlines now. Widowed Prince Seeks Bride.

Apparently the American needed to escape, as well. Why not do so together? Looking at her would in no way be a hardship, and discovering how she’d willingly divorced herself from romance would be an added bonus.

He glanced at Ian. The bodyguard had been with him since Dominic’s college days and sometimes Dominic swore the older man could read his mind. Sure enough, warning flashed in Ian’s brown eyes and his burly body stiffened.

The elevator chimed and opened, but instead of stepping inside the cubicle Dominic pivoted toward the concierge stand. Ian hovered in the background, silently swearing, Dominic was sure. “Perhaps I could be of assistance, Gustavo.”

Gustavo’s eyebrows shot up, not surprising since the man often arranged Dominic’s entertainment.

“Pardon me for eavesdropping, mademoiselle. I could not help but overhear your request. I would be happy to act as your guide if that meets with your approval?” Dominic waited for recognition to dawn in her eyes. Instead a frown pleated the area above her slim nose. From her smooth porcelain skin he guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties—far too young to have forsaken love. As was he. But what choice did he have when duty called?

Her gaze traveled over his white silk shirt and black trousers and then returned to his face. “You work here?”

Surprise shot through him. Was his simple disguise so effective? He had hoped to throw off the paparazzi from a distance, but he hadn’t expected to fool anyone up close, and yet she apparently didn’t know who he was. Admittedly, he’d lived as low profile a life as any royal could in the past few years, and he avoided the press more often than not, but still…Was this possible?

Dominic made a split-second decision not to enlighten her. He’d had a lifetime of cloying, obsequious women due to his lineage. Why not enjoy being a normal man for as long as it lasted? “I don’t work for the hotel, but I am here as often as I can be. Hôtel Reynard is my favorite establishment.”

She looked at Gustavo. “Can I trust him?”

Gustavo seemed taken aback by the question. As he should be. Dominic, as next in line to the throne of Montagnarde, a small three-island country four hundred miles east of New Zealand, wasn’t accustomed to having his integrity questioned.

“Certainement, mademoiselle.”

Her thickly lashed emerald gaze narrowed on Dominic’s. “Are you familiar with Southern France and Northern Italy?”

His favorite playgrounds, and in recent years, prime examples of the types of tourist meccas he intended to develop in his homeland. “I am.”

“Do you speak any languages other than English, because I barely scraped by in my college Latin class, and I only know health-care Spanish.”

“I am fluent in English, French, Italian and Spanish. I can get by in Greek and German.”

Her perfectly arched eyebrows rose. Amusement twinkled in her eyes and curved her lips, rousing something which had lain dormant inside him for many years. “Now you’re just bragging, but it sounds like you’re just the man I need, Mr….?”

He hesitated. To continue the masquerade he’d have to lie openly not just by omission and he detested liars. But he wanted to spend time with this lovely woman as a man instead of a monarch before fulfilling his duty and marrying whichever woman the royal council deemed a suitable broodmare to his stud service. What could it hurt? He and the American were but ships passing in the night. Or in this case, one small corner of Europe.

“Rossi. Damon Rossi.” He ignored Gustavo’s shocked expression and Ian’s rigid disapproving presence behind him and extended his hand. Dominic hoped neither man would correct the hastily concocted variation of his name or his failure to mention his title.

“Madeline Spencer.” The brunette’s fingers curled around his. Her handshake was firm and strong and her gaze direct instead of deferential. When had a woman last looked him in the eye and treated him as an equal? Not since Giselle. Unexpected desire hit him hard and fast and with stunning potency.

A similar awareness flickered on Madeline’s face, expanding her pupils, flushing her cheeks and parting her lips. “I guess that only leaves one question. Can I afford you?”

Caught off guard by her breathless query and by his body’s impassioned response, Dominic glanced at Gustavo who rushed to respond for him. “I am sure Monsieur Reynard will cover your expenses, mademoiselle, since you are an honored guest of the family and a dear friend to his fiancée. Hi—Monsieur Rossi should not accept any money from you.”

Dominic didn’t miss the warning in Gustavo’s statement.

Madeline’s smile widened, trapping the air in Dominic’s chest. “When can we get together to set up a schedule?”

If he weren’t expecting a conference call from the palace with an update on the bridal selection process momentarily he would definitely prolong this encounter. “Perhaps tomorrow morning after your cake sampling?”

He realized he hadn’t released her hand, and he was reluctant to do so. Arousal pumped pleasantly through his veins—a nice distraction from the disagreeable dilemma which had driven him into temporary exile.

Madeline was apparently in no rush, either, as she didn’t pull away or break his gaze. “That’d be great, Damon. Where shall I meet you?”

Dominic searched his mental map for a meeting place not haunted by the paparazzi. The only option his testosterone-flooded brain presented was his suite, but the tour guide he’d implied himself to be could hardly afford penthouse accommodations. Already his lie complicated the situation.

Gustavo cleared his throat, jerking Dominic back to the present. “Perhaps le café located in the lower terrace gardens, Your—Monsieur Rossi?”

Dominic nodded his thanks—for the recommendation and for the conspiracy. He was used to being a leader and making decisions, but even a future king knew when to accept wise council. “A very good suggestion, Gustavo. What time will you finish, mademoiselle?”

Straight, white teeth bit into her plump bottom lip and Dominic struggled with a sudden urge to sample her soft pink flesh. “Elevenish?”

“I shall count the hours.” He bent over her hand and kissed her knuckles. Her fragrance, a light floral mingled with the tart tang of lemon, filled his lungs, and his libido roared to life like the mythical dragon island folklore decreed lived beneath Montagnarde’s hot springs.

Dominic had not come to Monaco with the intention of having a last dalliance before beginning what would in all likelihood be a passionless marriage. But he was tempted. Extremely tempted. However the lie, combined with his duty to his country meant he had nothing to offer this beautiful woman except his services as a guide. He would have to keep his newly awakened libido on a short leash.

It wouldn’t be easy.

Madeline Spencer’s fingers squeezed his one more time and then she released him with a slow drag of her fingertips across his palm. A sassy smile slanted her lips. “Until tomorrow then, Damon.”

With a flutter of her ringless fingers she entered the penthouse elevator—the one he’d just abandoned. The doors slid closed.

Dominic inhaled deeply. For the first time in months the sword of doom hanging over his head lifted. He had a short reprieve, but a reprieve nonetheless.

“Oh. My. God.” Madeline sagged against the inside of the penthouse suite door and pressed a hand over her racing heart. “I think I’m in lust.”

Candace and Amelia, two of Madeline’s three suite mates, straightened from their reclining positions on the sofas of the sitting room. They’d already changed from the evening gowns they’d worn to the casino earlier into sleepwear.

“With whom?” Amelia, wearing a ruffled nightgown, asked.

“I have just hired the most gorgeous man on the planet to be my tour guide.”

“Tell all,” Candace ordered. The bride-to-be was the reason Madeline, Amelia and Stacy, her bridesmaids, were sharing a luxurious suite in the five-star Hôtel Reynard. The quartet had been granted an all-expenses-paid month in Monaco compliments of Candace’s fiancé, Vincent Reynard, to plan the couple’s wedding, which would take place here in Monaco in four weeks.

“His name’s Damon and he has the most amazing blue eyes, thick tobacco-brown hair and a body that won’t quit. He’s tall—six-three, I’d guess. It was nice to have to look up at a guy even when I was wearing my heels.”