Nancy Morse whisks us off to Imperial Russia with her contribution to Once Upon a Kiss. (Buy links below)
By secret decree, Nicholas Romanov, a prince of Imperial Russia, is next in line to the throne. Driven by dark passions and yearning for freedom, he has sworn to avenge the death of his father who led an ill-fated revolt against the Tsar and the murder of his mother who spurned the Tsar’s love. But the dangerous charade he plays is threatened by those who would stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching the throne, and by the fiery American beauty who teaches him that, without love, freedom is just an illusion.
What begins for Alana Welles as a capricious European holiday turns into a journey of deceit and betrayal, where friends become adversaries and misguided affections lead to heartbreak. From the blood-soaked sands of the Spanish bullring to the verdant English countryside, from the war-ravaged Crimea to glittering St. Petersburg, Alana follows her reckless heart into the arms of the handsome Russian prince whose secrets can topple an empire.
“Leaving so soon?” Nicholas asked. He stepped in front of her, barring her path with his tall frame. “Tell me, what is your name?”
She answered with all the courtesy due royalty.
“Ah, the Senator’s daughter from America. If I am not mistaken, your room should be on the floor below this one. Are all Americans so lacking in direction? Or is it discretion?”
Alana’s blue eyes flared. “I told you, Your Highness, I lost my way.”
His green eyes sparkling brightly, he said with a laugh, “I assure you, Miss Welles, the title is as decorous as the uniform. I don both for special occasions. As you can see, my personal tastes are somewhat simpler.”
He had removed the jacket with the gold buttons and was dressed casually in a plain white cambric shirt that was opened to expose a chest of darkly curled hair. The black trousers tucked into the tops of well-worn riding boots and the wind-tossed look of his hair told her he’d just come back from an evening gallop. Without the garnishment of his uniform and jewel-studded scabbard, there was nothing to distract from his alarmingly good looks. That, and his disarming candor, threw Alana off her guard.
“Why do you dress like that, then?” she inquired.
“They have come to expect it to me.”
“And you oblige them?”
He shrugged elegantly. “Whenever I can.”
She began to grow uncomfortable beneath the heavy weight of his stare. Gathering her skirts in her hands, she brushed past him. “If you will excuse me, I’ve been gone far too long and I wouldn’t want Monica to worry.”
He stepped aside with a speculative look. “I see. But it is rather uncommon of you to care what others think, is it not?”
The accuracy of his remark took her back. “How would you know what is uncommon of me?”
With a cool but devastating smile, he replied, “Just a guess.”
Alana started for the door.
“Will you join me for a ride in the morning?”
His invitation sounded more like a command, causing her to bristle. Tersely, she replied, “I have promised someone else.” She saw no particular reason to tell him that she had already committed her morning to Ross.
“Perhaps you would consider changing your plans to accommodate me.”
She whirled to face him, indignation brimming in her blue eyes. “I realize you must be accustomed to having your way,” she said heatedly, “but in this case, I’m afraid you cannot.”
“Oh?” he ventured. “And is that a guess into my character?”
“Not at all,” she replied. “Your reputation has simply preceded you.”
She was almost blinded by his luminous smile “I will take that as a compliment.”
“It was not intended as one.” And with that, she swished past him out the door.