A chance meeting, a misunderstanding, and a second chance for a royal love affair...
Once, King Gabriel was bewitched by a violet–eyed beauty at a masquerade ball, but she left the function without a trace...not even a slipper. Now, Cinderella has a name. Fate has thrown India Hamilton right in Gabriel's path, and he's determined to expose her as the gold–digger he knows her to be.
But Gabriel's attempt at revenge soon loses its appeal as he spends more time with India. Her generous actions and smart control of his sister's foundation suggest a strong, kind woman, undeserving of his scorn and anger. It soon becomes clear that this is not a Cinderella story at all: India is a beauty, and Gabriel has been behaving like a beast.
About the Author
Alyssa lives with her husband and three children on a five-acre property nestled into a mountain range south of Sydney, Australia, and enjoys having the space for gardens, a dog, horses, goats and chickens. Visits from the native wildlife (echidnas, wallabies and a variety of native birds) are particularly welcome ... although visits from native wildlife with scales and fangs aren't met with quite as much enthusiasm!
She continues to work in her private practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist. Previously she's done a stint with Qantas Airways as an international flight attendant, completed her Master of Science degree, and has also been a professional pianist.
If you'd like to know more about Alyssa, her books, or to connect with her online, you can visit her webpage: http://www.alyssajmontgomery.com
Follow her on Twitter: @Alyssaromance or like her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AlyssaJMontgomery
Read an Excerpt
'Your Majesty, Miss India Hamilton is here to see you.'
King Gabriel de la Croix tore his concentration away from the documents set out on his large oak desk and glanced at his one-of-a-kind Christophe Claret wristwatch. Although he was mildly irritated by the interruption to the flow of his work, this appointment was scheduled and required his attention.
He'd almost completed the task of authorising the most pressing matters of the kingdom of Santaliana. Another ten minutes and he could be finished, but he wouldn't keep the managing director of his late sister's charitable foundation waiting when she'd flown from London to meet with him. At the end of the day, he'd make the extra time he needed to sign these documents.
'Please show her in, Michael,' he directed crisply into the intercom speaker as he stacked up the paperwork and placed it to his right.
Mere seconds later, after one knock, the door swung open.
'Miss Hamilton, Your Majesty,' Michael announced.
Gabe was up out of his chair, and had already taken a step toward the door to greet his appointment when he met clear, violet eyes.
They were such a remarkable colour, they initially stole attention from her high cheekbones, flawless complexion and shining blonde hair. They also triggered an acute jolt of recognition, which stalled his heartbeat, locked his vertebrae rigid and made movement impossible.
It had to be her.
Nobody else could possess those exquisite, violet eyes.
Six years ago, when she'd failed to return to him at the masquerade ball, he'd directed his aides to search high and low for her. There'd been no clues as to her identity — not even a slipper. Now she stood right here in his office.
It was incredible.
Disbelief warred with the evidence of his eyes and he told himself he must be mistaken — after all, it had been a long time ago and they'd both been wearing masks. But even as he tried to convince himself otherwise, he knew it had to be her. Apart from her eyes, there were her soft, lush lips. Lips that had been more intoxicating than the Champagne he'd tasted upon them.
His heart restarted, but there was nothing rhythmical about its beating. The organ pounded against his rib cage and sent blood rushing past his eardrums.
'Your Majesty.' Belatedly, she lowered her head and dipped into an awkward curtsey. 'It's an honour to meet you in person at last.'
But we have met.
She was unforgettable.
He'd never forget nor forgive the way she'd made a complete fool of him that night in front of his two closest friends, nor how long it'd taken him to banish her from his dreams.
Gabe's jaw clenched and he felt his eyes narrow as anger surged through him. Did she truly not recognise him, or did she stand there hoping he wouldn't remember how she'd behaved?
If she wanted to play with him again, this time she'd find herself the loser.
Forcing his jaw to unlock and his lips into a polite smile, he asked in a deliberately vague tone, 'Have we met somewhere before?'
Her finely arched eyebrows drew together in a frown. 'I don't believe so, Your Majesty.'
Her confusion seemed genuine and it galled him to think she didn't recognise him as easily as he recognised her — or that she'd forgotten their encounter so readily.
Allowing his gaze to skim from her pert nose all the way down her body, he was even more certain this was the same woman he'd met in London. She was exceptionally tall at just over six feet, but she still had feminine curves in all the right places and shapely legs that went on forever. A perfect model's body. A body he'd craved to explore intimately.
Feeling his burgeoning arousal, he cursed inwardly. Yes, this was definitely the woman he remembered, and even after all this time she still had a potent physical effect on him. Somehow, in the intervening years, her deeply sensual femininity had intensified.
Get a grip, he demanded of himself. He wouldn't fall under her spell again. He knew her now for what she was — a gold-digging, party-loving playgirl, just like the woman he'd married.
This woman, with whom he hadn't exchanged names, had teased him with her passionate kisses and breathy sighs, then left him to go to the bathroom. She hadn't returned as promised. The following day one of his friends told him he'd seen her flirting with a man who was recognisable even with a mask — a sultan's son whose parting gift to his lovers was rumoured to be a king's ransom in precious jewels.
The thought jarred him back to the purpose of her presence in his office.
How in God's name had Cinderella become Managing Director of the Princess Eden Foundation?
It beggared belief.
'Will you be requiring anything else, Your Majesty?' Michael asked.
Yes. He required much, much more — but not from his assistant. Gabe required answers from this woman. It alarmed him to think she was in such a responsible, high-powered position, making decisions about the allocation of millions of dollars.
Michael cleared his throat and his visitor shifted uncomfortably in the awkward silence.
Gabe fought against the dryness in his throat and took a few steps around his desk. 'Thank you for making the trip to see me to iron out the last of the details, Miss Hamilton. Would you like tea?' He exercised practised control to keep his expression neutral and his tone formal, even though questions burned through his brain, and several conflicting emotions battled to melt his cool.
'Tea would be lovely, thank you.'
There were traces of a cultured, upper crust, British accent — more British now than when they'd met. Yet her speech still held rich layers of an accent he couldn't identify. It was as unusual and absorbing as the colour of her irises.
When he'd asked her at the ball about her accent, she'd been evasive and replied that it was global. Perhaps it was. She'd most likely done her share of trotting around the globe from one ski slope or party to the next. All he knew about her was that she'd belonged to London's young, jet-setting crowd — the spoiled rich set he generally avoided.
'I'll see to the tea and be back directly.' His assistant bowed and made his exit.
Gabe gestured toward an armchair. 'Please, sit down, Miss Hamilton.'
'Thank you.' She settled herself and crossed one long leg over the other. The action made the skirt of her cream suit ride just a little higher and Gabe felt his pulse jump at the tantalising glimpse of her thigh. 'I've been looking forward to meeting with you to discuss the plans for the ball. It's great to have the chance to be here in Santaliana to see the venue for the gala fundraising evening and check how everything's coming together.'
No sign of any discomfiture.
'I'm looking forward to hearing your view about the arrangements.' He stroked his thumb and forefinger along his jaw and decided to press her once more. 'Are you certain we've never met? You seem quite familiar.'
'I'm sure you're mixing me up with someone else — although I wouldn't have thought it likely.' She laughed a little self-consciously. 'I've been told there are fewer than six hundred people in the world with my colour eyes.'
'They're certainly an unusual colour.' Was she playing a game with him, even now?
He searched her expression for any hint of remembrance, but saw none. That had been the point, he supposed. He'd attended the masquerade ball at the insistence of his friends, Prince Khalid of Turastan and Prince Marco of Ralvinia. They'd insisted he accompany them to see the type of crowd with whom they claimed Angelique — his betrothed — socialised. The fact that he dressed as the character Zorro ensured his identity was never discovered.
There'd been no indication anyone at the ball had identified him, and no tabloid stories of his attendance the following day — which was just as well, given the debauchery of the event.
In the first half hour, Khalid and Marco realised they'd made a serious mistake in attending the masquerade. It was even more depraved than they'd expected. The two princes may have enjoyed partying, but they'd never been into drunken, cocaine-fuelled orgies, which was exactly what the trio had encountered when they'd entered rooms connected to the main ballroom.
But the truest of friends, the men had insisted on staying long enough for Gabriel to witness Angelique in what they claimed was her natural social environment. Hoping their identities wouldn't be discovered and their presence at the event reported on by the press, they'd dug in — determined to prove to Gabe it'd be a mistake to proceed with the marriage he'd arranged for the sake of protecting his kingdom's borders.
They'd waited two hours, but Princess Angelique hadn't turned up. Making discreet enquiries, Khalid reported that the princess wouldn't be attending as she'd succumbed to a migraine and was home in bed.
Just as the three men agreed to leave the ball, an utterly beautiful woman cannoned into Gabriel. Through the slits of her mask, her violet eyes had captivated him and — much to Marco's and Khalid's annoyance — Gabe had been determined to stay to get to know her.
Now the utterly beautiful woman had a name.
It was incredible to think he'd corresponded with her for the last two years in her capacity as Managing Director of the Princess Eden Foundation, unaware she was the young woman who'd haunted his dreams for months after they'd met.
'I love Santaliana,' she told him now as she shifted a cushion to one side and settled more comfortably into the armchair. 'Being here is like taking a journey back in time into an enchanted fairytale.'
Gabriel suppressed a cold smile at the mention of fairytales, wondering just what she'd think if she knew he'd always thought of her as a darker version of Cinderella. A woman who'd fled the ball not because her coach was about to turn into a pumpkin, but because she'd simply bored with her game of leading him on and had found a man she'd incorrectly assumed was a much bigger catch.
'I can understand why visitors flock here.' Her words were rushed and seemed a deliberate attempt to fill the conversational void. 'I'm completely charmed by the narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with buildings from medieval days.'
Leaning back against the edge of his desk he said, 'The older section of the capital does have a fairytale feel.'
'Not to mention this beautiful castle,' she enthused. 'It's impossible to look at the high turrets without imagining Rapunzel letting down her golden hair.'
'You have quite an imagination.' She also had golden hair, which would rival Rapunzel's if she let it grow longer.
A small, melancholy smile tugged at her lips. 'My grandmother sent me a book of classic fairytales when I was a little girl and I absolutely adored those stories. I used to beg every grown-up I met to read them to me until I was old enough to read them to myself.'
Every grown-up? 'Were your parents sick of reading them to you?' The clear violet shade turned to a troubled purple and she seemed to choose her words carefully. 'They were very busy people with no time for storytelling.' A second later it was as though an unseen artist had dipped his brush into a palette and decided to paint the softest pink of a blush along her cheekbones. 'I'm sorry, Your Majesty. We're meant to be discussing the plans for the ball and instead I'm gabbling on about fairytales.'
'No need to apologise.' Her reminiscing was an interesting insight to her childhood. If she was a fan of fairytales, maybe she'd attended the masquerade ball to find herself a prince? It was ironic, then, that she'd unknowingly found and captivated a king, but lost her opportunity with him. Clearly, she hadn't picked her mark well. The sultan's son was well known for taking lovers for a few months, whereas Gabe had been keen to explore the possibility of a more serious relationship with her — especially in light of the doubts he had about Angelique.
'It's good to hear a visitor's perspective of the kingdom. We've worked hard to keep the medieval flavour and invested a lot of money in restoring some of the older buildings. The fairytale character you describe is part of what makes Santaliana such an attractive tourist destination.' He couldn't help noting the fresh, youthfulness of her skin and remembering how soft it had been to his touch when he'd framed her face in his hands.
Damn it! Every masculine fibre of him responded to her feminine beauty on the most primitive level. It heated his blood and he had to fight against the impulse to close the distance between them and take her in his arms. He had to remind himself she was poison.
Studying her more closely, he saw that her thin layer of make-up had been applied carefully. What he'd thought was a flawless complexion was actually marred by a scar that ran just under her left eye. It didn't look new. It'd probably been obscured by the mask she'd worn at the ball. 'How old are you, Miss Hamilton?' Her lush lips parted in surprise. 'Twenty-seven.'
Seven years his junior. 'I'm curious. How did you come to be Managing Director of the Princess Eden Foundation?' A tiny furrow appeared between her eyebrows and he realised his tone had been a little sharp. 'I met Princess Eden when I was twenty. I liked her immediately and was inspired by what she'd set out to achieve. She encouraged me to do volunteer work with the foundation.'
That would've been before the masquerade ball. Hadn't his sister realised what this woman was like?
He tapped one finger against the top of his desk a couple of times as he analysed her explanation. Eden had been an excellent judge of character. Perhaps she'd seen something more to the party-loving India and thought volunteer work might be able to help bring it to the fore? Eden had always managed to see the good in people-even when there was none. If his sister knew the crowd India Hamilton ran with, he doubted she would've been willing to have her work at the charity in any capacity.
'I'm sorry for your loss of Princess Eden, Your Majesty,' she told him softly. 'I managed to pass on my sympathies to your brother at the funeral, but didn't manage to speak to you.'
She'd been at Eden's funeral?
'I loved spending time with Princess Eden and treasured our friendship. I've missed her more than I can express.'
Friendship? What the hell ...? 'You considered Eden a friend?' 'Absolutely.' Her nod was accompanied by a sad smile. 'We met for the first time at a garden party to raise funds for the foundation and we clicked straight away. From that time on, whenever she was in London she invited me to have tea with her, and when she was back in Santaliana we often chatted on the telephone.'
That couldn't be true!
Gabriel's lips tightened. Eden and he had been very close. After trips away, she'd made a point of having dinner with him her first night back. She'd always spoken to him about her trips to London. She'd never mentioned India Hamilton, but according to the woman in front of him, she and his sister had met together every couple of months over a period of almost three years. Clearly, Miss Hamilton was not just a party girl but also a liar.
Eden may have been deceived initially into thinking India was a suitable young woman to volunteer at her foundation, but if she'd met her on a regular basis, she was astute enough to have seen through any deception and work out this woman's real character. There was not a snowflake's chance in hell that his sister would've taken tea on a regular basis with Miss Hamilton. The MD of the Princess Eden Foundation sat there and lied bald-faced, knowing Eden wasn't alive to refute the claim.
He unfurled the fist that his right hand had formed and swallowed down on the bitter taste that filled his mouth.
'You did volunteer work for the foundation.' He spoke slowly, half-disbelieving her claim. 'Did you volunteer part-time while studying for your degree?' She sat straighter. 'No.'
He felt his eyes narrow. 'When did you obtain your management degree?' 'I didn't.' Her chin jutted forward defensively. 'I've never been to university.'
What? 'Then how are you qualified to be the managing director of a foundation that distributes millions of dollars each year to international charities?' 'I didn't realise I was called here because my qualifications were in question,' she said frostily.
'You weren't. But-'
'Is there some aspect of my management you're unhappy with?'
Excerpted from "The Formidable King"
Copyright © 2017 Alyssa J. Montgomery.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
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