9780373131129

Harlequin
December 1, 2012
ISBN 9781459249271

A Royal World Apart

#1

(Mak and Eva’s Story)

When duty wars with desire, which one wins?

With her life mapped out since birth, Princess Evangelina Drakos—known for her dramatic flair—hopes the minor scandal she plans to create will deter potential suitors.

Hired for Eva's security, unemotional bodyguard Makhail Nabatov never makes a mistake, but the impulsive princess pushes his resolve to the limits. It's not long, however, before the beautiful and imprisoned Eva entices him to leave his bonds of duty and honor behind.

While their chemistry reaches fever pitch, Makhail knows he knows he must deny his desire—for Eva is promised to another man….

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Excerpt

The scandalous princess had done it again. Evangelina Drakos had slipped away from yet another one of his top security guards. It was inexcusable. It was something that should never happen. And yet, it had. Three times in as many weeks.

Makhail Nabatov did not tolerate mistakes. Mistakes, no matter how large, from losing the princess one was meant to be guarding, down to the simple act of spilling hot coffee on yourself while driving, could be disastrous.

He slammed his car door and rolled his shoulders forward, trying to ease the tension that had every muscle in his body bound into knots as solid as stone. He didn’t believe in letting anything affect him like this. Yet another way Princess Evangelina seemed to be messing with the carefully, well-ordered life he maintained.

When he’d met her for the first time, all glossy brown curls, dark, glittering eyes and golden skin, she had seemed every inch the demure princess. Nothing like the bold, vivacious party girl that was making tabloid headlines with increasing frequency. He had wondered if the media had exaggerated her image.

Over the past six months he’d discovered that the tabloids were right, and he was wrong. He was never wrong. And yet the Drakos princess had proven him so.

He didn’t like it.

It defied logic that one petite royal could cause so much trouble. And yet, this one seemed to have a knack for it.

He punched the speed dial on his phone for the man he’d had watching out for the princess. “Ivan, where did you last see her?”

“The casino. She disappeared into the crowd,” he said, his voice filled with fear. More weak emotion. He despised it.

“You’re fired.” Makhail clicked the end call button and stuffed the phone back into his pocket, straightening his tie before striding down the electric strip of the only major city on the island of Kyonos. He was willing to bet Evangelina was still in the casino. Gambling away her father’s money, no doubt.

He moved seamlessly through the crowd, weaving past revelers on his way through the gilded doors. Princess Evangelina wouldn’t be in the main entry trying her hand at the slots. He’d bet she was in one of the high roller rooms. It was the only place in a casino for a spoiled brat with a penchant for drama and pink champagne.

He passed quickly through the lobby and headed toward a pair of black doors in the back, flanked on either side by guards in suits.

“Name?” One of the men asked.

“Mak,” he said. “I’m here to see the princess.”

“I’m afraid you can’t just…”

One of the doors opened and a socialite in a skin-tight dress breezed out, the scent of alcohol clinging to her body. He took advantage of the moment and gripped the edge of the door, pulling it open the rest of the way and walking in.

He spotted her right away, bent over the table, laughing as she watched the man to her right roll a pair of dice, cheering when the numbers came up favorable. Then she looked up, at him.

Her dark eyes rounded, her pink lips parting slightly. She touched her companion’s arm and said something quickly before edging away from him. She wasn’t trying to run, not from him. She knew better than that.

One of the guards rushed into the room and everyone looked up from the game. “Princess,” he said, “is everything…?”

She regarded Mak cooly, her manner distant, disdainful. “I would prefer it if this man wasn’t here, but trust me when I say there’s no way you can remove him,” she said crisply. “He’s in the employ of my father. You can see where that would become problematic.” Her tone was commanding, haughty. Her dark eyes glittered with anger, proving her collected tone of a voice to be a lie. “So, I’m to be taken back to my cell then?”

“Your cell?” he asked. “Is that what you call that frilly pink bedroom of yours?”

A hint of raspberry color touched her golden cheeks. “Not officially.”

“How did you lose your tail?”

Her lips curved upward into a smug smile. “Did you see the women at the slot machines in front? The ones who make change for patrons?”

He shook his head once. “No.”

“Ah. Well, your guard did. Or more specifically, he noticed the fact that the necklines of their dresses were cut down to their navels. I took the opportunity to slip in back. He must have assumed I’d gone out front, as he’d suggested.”

Mak clenched his teeth. “He was deluded. Naive enough to believe you would do as commanded.”

Evangelina raised her eyebrows, her expression overly innocent. “Indeed.”

“I am not.”

One side of her mouth quirked upward. “I noticed.”

He regarded her for a moment. She had a feline quality to her. Lithe, graceful, and more than ready to bare her claws if the need presented itself. He could see how she’d managed to intimidate the palace guards, how she’d managed to dupe his men.

She would not do the same to him.

“I would recommend, printzyessa, that you come with me.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Your father will hear of this,” he said.

She crossed her arms beneath her breasts. Now, her breasts, he noticed. She wasn’t showing off every bit of skin she could get away with and still be considered dressed. And it made her figure all the more enticing for it. It made him wonder. Made him wonder if she was golden all over. Made him wonder what her breasts would look like, uncovered for him.

He clenched his hands into fists, battling the images that flashed through his mind. He didn’t let women distract him. Ever.

This was an aberration. As unusual as it was unwanted. It would not happen again.

“I’m not all that concerned over my father hearing about this. What will he do? Lock me in the dungeon? Or perhaps he’ll marry me off to a stranger at his convenience? We both know he won’t do the former, and he’s actively attempting to accomplish the latter.”

“I’ll throw you over my shoulder and carry you out. If your designer heels don’t make it…” he shrugged, “it’s not my problem.”

Her dark eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”

He took a step toward her. She didn’t shrink, didn’t step away. “You don’t think?”

She regarded him for a moment. “I’ll allow you to escort me out.”

He reached out and took hold of her arm, running his fingers over her smooth skin, her flesh hot beneath his palm. He pulled her to him, linking their arms. He leaned in, his lips brushing her ear. “I will allow you to leave on your own two feet.”

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