There’s fantasy in the air, and more than a touch of irony, as Amanda Wilderman taps her dainty glass slipper impatiently and watches the clock. Would this costume party ever end? But when an anonymous Prince Charming sweeps her off her feet and onto the dance floor, Amanda tries to have some innocent fun before returning to the real world. Her obligations to the family business keep her too busy for love—and, besides, she’s never known anyone like this mystery man.
Despite his elegant attire, Ryder Foxx is a butcher when it comes to the competition. No one’s ever brought the ruthless mogul to his knees, until his dance partner leaves him holding her glass shoe . . . literally. But when fate—or perhaps a matchmaking fairy godmother or two—finds him snowbound at a Wyoming dude ranch with a gorgeous redhead who seems strangely familiar, Ryder realizes that Cinderella’s also his biggest competitor. And if the shoe fits, maybe he’ll have to start believing in magic—or at least in the power of love.
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
About the Author
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“This is the most absurd idea either of you has had. Ever.” The only reason the statement wasn’t wailed was that Amanda Wilderman hadn’t been heard to wail since her infant days, some twenty-odd years before.
“It’s an excellent idea,” Amanda’s seventeen-year-old cousin Samantha countered, “if only to get you out of your jeans and off your horses. Dammit, Manda, put your foot in!”
Amanda obeyed, but when she stepped into the other shoe and looked down at what was adorning her small, narrow feet, she really came close again to wailing. “You’re out of your minds!”
Her other cousin, sixteen-year-old Leslie, giggled as she stood back, observing the effect of the costume Amanda wore. “This is going to be great!”
“It won’t work,” Amanda said, her voice taut as steel. “I’ve seen the guest list for this damned masquerade, and I know for a fact there are at least fifty women attending who can, and no doubt will, knock the socks off even so jaded a man as Mr. Ryder Duncan Foxx. So what makes you think I’m going to bowl him over?”
Samantha and Leslie exchanged glances, and the former said dryly, “Don’t tell her; it’ll only make her head swell.”
Amanda gave both her cousins a disgusted look. “Funny. That’s funny.”
“Look, Manda,” Sam said gravely but with a twinkle lurking in her eye, “you gave your word, remember? Any favor short of breaking the law, which this isn’t. We’ve been collecting IOUs from you since last Christmas, and tonight’s your night to pay up—in full.”
If Amanda gnashed her teeth, at least it wasn’t audible. “I should have known you two were up to something when you taught me to play poker. Why can’t I just pay up in cash like any normal person?”
“Because we play for favors. You agreed.”
“I agreed to too damned many things, it seems.” Amanda frowned suddenly. “I have an awful hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Have you two been planning this for six months? No…not even you—”
“Guilty.” Leslie grinned. “That’s when the masquerade was announced.”
In a reasonable tone Sam said, “Ryder Duncan Foxx is absolutely perfect for you, but you’d shy away in a minute if he knew who you were. This way he won’t know anything about you. All he’ll see is a mysterious, beautiful young woman who’ll steal his heart.”
Amanda made a choked little sound, a sound that was an odd mixture of anguish and horror. “You two aren’t safe. You aren’t sane. And I hereby revoke any deals made with you on the grounds of insanity. Yours. Not mine. Also on the grounds that neither of you is of legal age yet. God help the men of America when you do come of age, but that’s their problem, not mine. Get me out of this costume.”
Sam frowned. “No. A deal’s a deal. Come on, Manda, what’s one lousy night? You can leave on the stroke of midnight. In fact, we insist you leave before the stroke of midnight, otherwise it won’t work.”
“Otherwise it won’t work,” Amanda repeated dazedly. “I never realized that when I was reading fairy tales to you ten years ago they would corrupt you. Uncle Ed has to have you committed. Immediately.”
Briskly Leslie said, “Manda, if you’re so convinced it won’t work, why are you protesting this much?”
Amanda pulled herself together. “You’re right. Absolutely. What do I have to be upset about? I’m going to a costume ball, where I shall find at least a score of Cinderellas and an equal number of Prince Charmings. I shall dance and have my glass slippers trod upon. I shall drink champagne and promptly flee before the stroke of midnight. The man you two demons have decided is my Prince Charming will never even know I was there.”
Sam started to examine her fingernails. “Well, not exactly. Only one Prince Charming, you see. And only one Cinderella.”
Amanda felt that hollow feeling again. “What?”
“Hmm,” Les muttered, “we could hardly let anyone steal your limelight, could we? Ryder Duncan Foxx is coming as Prince Charming because he was asked to by the committee. Of course we couldn’t have other Cinderellas there, so we booked up all the Cinderella costumes in town months ago.”
“That,” Amanda said, “must have cost you two a bundle.”
Cheerfully Sam said, “Our allowance is in hock until the turn of the century anyway. Besides, one must expect a considerable cash outlay in any investment. You’re ours.”
“You sound like Uncle Ed.” Amanda got a grip on herself again.
Samantha was pleased. “Thank you.”
“Except that he’s the sanest man I know.” Amanda drew a deep breath. “Okay, fine. If your prince manages to find me in a crowd of two hundred people, he can have his dance—if he wants one—and I’ll do my best to gladden your sweet little hearts and vivid imaginations. And that’s all.”
“He’ll find you. You’re going to make an entrance,” Les intoned dramatically.
Amanda closed her eyes briefly. “I knew you were going to say something like that, you little monster.” She was, by this time, resigned. Sighing, she said, “At least I can wear pink tonight.”
“That’s why we made you a blonde,” Les explained. “With your red hair, you never wear pink. And everyone knows it. Honestly, Manda, nobody’ll recognize you. Even your voice is different.”
A little dryly Amanda said, “Because I’ve just gotten over a cold, and I’m still hoarse from coughing. Don’t tell me you planned that.”
“No,” Les said, faintly dissatisfied. “We couldn’t, of course. We were going to have you speak very softly, but this is a much better disguise.”
“And the best disguise of all,” Sam said, “is your contact lenses. We knew your spare set was tinted blue, so when you took the other set out to clean them last night, we—um—switched them.”
Amanda sighed. “I wondered. Thought I was going nuts. So my eyes are now blue-green instead of merely green.”
“Actually,” Les said, “they’ll look completely blue. The mask is black, so your eyes will look darker. And Ryder Duncan Foxx will find himself dancing with a blue-eyed blonde instead of a green-eyed redhead.”
“Maybe he doesn’t like blondes,” Amanda suggested with a faintly hopeful air.
“Well, actually—” Leslie broke off with a yelp as Samantha kicked her.
“Actually, he loves blondes,” Sam said.
Amanda eyed her cousins suspiciously. “Actually,” she said, “I wonder how you demons know that.”
“We must be overusing the word,” Samantha said innocently to her sister.
“Must be,” Leslie agreed in a murmur, rubbing her abused shin.
Amanda clasped her hands together in front of her and glanced down at the spangled pink silk ball gown that was, in all fairness to her cousins, something straight out of a dream. Then she cleared her throat and spoke carefully.
“I really hate to burst your pretty bubble, kids, but there are a few tiny elements missing from your plan.”
“Such as?” Sam asked.
“Have you looked out a window lately? Surprise! We’re in the twentieth century. Ryder Duncan Foxx is not, from all I’ve heard, a prince in search of his princess. In fact, I imagine anything out of a fairy tale would get pretty short notice from him; by all accounts, the man is quite firmly rooted in the logic of business. And, in case it escaped your attention, I don’t believe in princes.”
“We know.” Samantha’s voice was suddenly and unexpectedly soft, and her eyes were very bright. “You’ve had that knocked out of you.”
Amanda was conscious of a lump in her throat. “Well, don’t sound so unhappy about it, dammit,” she said irritably. “I’m twenty-eight; if I haven’t learned about the absence of princes by now, I should be locked in a padded cell.”
Sam smiled. “Manda, you’ve been like our big sister our whole lives, and we love you. Tonight is our present to you. Tonight you’re Cinderella. When the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella leaves the ball, as anonymous as she came. And tomorrow, when the society press does its bit about the latest charity affair, they won’t have their usual paragraph about Miss Amanda Wilderman and how much money she has in the bank.”
Amanda managed a smile. “It’s a lovely present, Sam, Les. Thank you.” She forced herself to keep quiet this time about her inevitable doubts.
“Just remember,” Les said firmly, “you must leave before midnight. If you have to take your mask off, everything’s ruined. We’ll be waiting in the limousine out front at eleven forty-five.”
“We wanted a pumpkin coach,” Sam explained, “but we couldn’t find one anywhere.”
“But it is a white limousine,” Les said with an air of having made the best of things.
“Where do I drop the glass slipper?” Amanda asked, chuckling.
“Anywhere you like,” Sam murmured.
Amanda eyed her cousin but wasn’t sure if she was supposed to take that seriously. She decided not to; it was just too absurd—even for Samantha.