(A Prasala Romance) #1
To escape the pain of a humiliating breakup with her wealthy fiancé in Kentucky, Dr. Katlyn Matthews travels to the faraway country of Prasala to replace the royal family’s horse doctor. The famous Prasala Invitational is in three weeks and the demanding Crown Prince insists everything be perfect.
Katy heard the heir to the throne could be an ogre when it came to his horses. And that he had a very un-ogrely appearance. All the titled ladies in Europe flock after him because of his dazzling good looks.
But Katy’s broken heart can’t handle another rich spoiled playboy.
Crown Prince Julio de Chambonay doesn’t know what to make of his new veterinarian. She’s a woman. She was hired without his approval. He has a good mind to send her packing.
But her eyes are bold, full of strength, and as blue-green as the seas of Darthalia. Unlike the ladies he’s known at court she has a natural loveliness that radiates from the inside. It arrests his attention.
Unfortunately the ladies at court and his country demand that attention first.
Still, the position of royal veterinarian is his decision. And if this woman does not pass his test, she’ll soon be on her way back home.
Dr. Katlyn Matthews stood before the century-old stone stable and inhaled the clean air of the old world country where she’d arrived just yesterday. The smell of freshly groomed horseflesh greeted her nose as the stable master led out her first patient.
Katy preferred conducting her first examinations in the daylight. Not only because it gave her a better view of details that could be missed in a darkened barn, but because she loved the outdoors.
Holding her breath, she ran her hands over the quivering crest of the beautiful horse before her.
He was a healthy animal. His coat, black as a coal pit, shimmered like jewels in the warm morning sun.
At the unfamiliar touch, the thoroughbred whinnied nervously and stamped the ground of the royal courtyard with an authoritative hoof.
“Easy boy,” Katy whispered to her new friend. “I won’t be a stranger to you for long.” Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to come to this place, she thought.
After all, she’d longed to see the magnificent horses of Prasala for years.
Though the country seemed backward with its ruling aristocracy, the breed had fascinated her since she was a child. They were strong and tall as Clydesdales but as delicate as thoroughbreds and lightning fast. And this spirited stallion was a fine specimen. Better in her opinion, than even the celebrated Derby winners she tended back home.
She was here in this strange faraway country in southeastern Europe, with its French and Slavic influences, in a professional capacity. As temporary veteran, she was filling in for the one who had fallen ill. But at the thought of home she had the sudden urge to lay her face against the stallion’s neck and let the tears come.
She’d traveled halfway around the world to escape heartache but apparently it had followed her.
She bristled as the all too recent memory formed in her mind. Her well-to-do ex-fiancé, Randall Winslow, in the parlor of his family’s luxurious mansion with his hands up the skirt of his old girlfriend—two weeks before their wedding.
As if he sensed her thoughts were elsewhere, the horse nuzzled Katy with his nose.
“Oberon seems to like you,” said Gustaf Hartwig, the elderly gentleman who’d been holding the yearling’s halter. “The Crown Prince will be impressed. His prize steed isn’t usually so friendly.”
Hartwig’s gentle eyes crinkled as he studied her with curiosity, a smile teasing his broad mouth.
Katy stroked the probing muzzle, watched the nostrils twitch. “He’s probably just curious. I’m new to him.”
“Oh, no, Doctor. I can tell he likes you.”
Katy’s own lips turned up at the compliment, and it’s delivery in Hartwig’s thick Prasalian accent. It was a charming sound, she decided.
And she liked what she saw in the stable master’s wizened face. Kindness, knowledge, good judgment, years of experience, and a deep love of the animals under his care. One could always tell a person’s character by how they felt about their horses.
“It took Oberon’s sire some time to warm up to Doctor Ryzhkov when he first came to the stables,” Hartwig added.
Katy twisted her mouth. Doctor Ryzhkov was the royal veterinarian she’d replaced. He’d taken ill, just weeks before the Invitational, the Prasala Stakes, the country’s famous annual steeplechase, and Hartwig had flown all the way to Kentucky to hire Katy as his substitute—at the behest of the Crown Prince, of course.
She’d been flattered, and the Prince’s fee would certainly help cover the rising cost of hay and horseshoes on her mother’s struggling farm. But she wouldn’t enjoy being compared to her predecessor. Thank goodness it was a temporary job. She’d be returning home after the race.
“I’ll need to see the herd’s schedule for vaccinations and deworming, Hartwig.”
Katy lifted the horse’s forefoot and frowned. “Looks like Oberon is due for new shoes.”
“Oh?” Hartwig bent over the hoof, his brow wrinkled with concern. “That should have been taken care of while I was away. His Majesty will be displeased.”
“It’s all right. There’s still some thickness. As long as it’s taken care of by tomorrow.”
In her opinion, there was no need for alarm. Hartwig obviously kept the stables in regimental order. The large building with its red-thatched roof and spacious, airy compartments were impeccably clean and smelled of saddle soap and fresh hay. And Oberon had been meticulously groomed for her inspection this morning.
She set down the hoof. “This Crown Prince of yours seems to be a bit anal.”
Hartwig’s brow furrowed. “Why whatever do you mean, Dr. Matthews?”
Of course, he would never badmouth his sovereign. You didn’t get to be Chief of the Royal Stables that way.
But she’d already heard some of the servants whispering about Prasala’s future ruler. Crown Prince Julio de Chambonay was exacting. Demanding. And he could be an ogre when it came to his horses.
She’d also heard he had a very un-ogrely appearance, and women, including all the titled ladies in Europe, flocked after him, not just because of his position, but for his dazzling good looks. And he swatted them away when he was done with them, like a stallion shooing flies off his rump with his tail.
That was all she needed. Another spoiled, rich playboy to deal with.
“Never mind. Let me see his mouth.” While Hartwig held Oberon steady, Katy gently opened the horse’s lips and took a cursory look at his teeth.
“Ho, there!” someone shouted in the distance.
Startled, she turned in the direction of the cry.
Shielding her eyes, Katy squinted at the emerald green fields, almost as lush as the blue grass back home, that stretched to azure hills at the horizon. She gazed at the spot before the hills where the magnificent castle Avante sat, home of the ruling de Chambonay family.
She focused on the trail that ran between the stables and the castle. And blinked. There was a man running down the pathway, flying at a mad dash, right toward them.
“Stop,” he barked.
What in the world?
He was dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt. Or almost dressed—the shirt was half-open and flapped behind him in the air like a flag. His raven black hair was flung back as he ran, and his fierce, dark blue-black eyes flashed with anger. He looked like some mad pirate racing for his crew ship.
Katy swallowed hard as he neared. The man had the face of a god. More than that. He was the most gorgeous creature she had ever laid eyes on.
Dazzling good looks. But this couldn’t be the Crown Prince. What sort of sovereign runs outside half-dressed?
“Hartwig!” he bellowed, pulling up just short of barging into them. “What’s going on here?”
Katy would have jumped, if she hadn’t been mesmerized by the heaving chest muscles that peeped through his half-open shirt, raising and lowering as he caught his breath. A pair of binoculars hung around his neck. A neck that looked as strong as an ancient Viking’s.
“Sir.” Hartwig came to attention, while Katy took Oberon’s halter. “I didn’t expect you so early.”
The man gestured toward Katy without looking at her. “Who is this woman?”
“This woman?” Hartwig stammered. “Why this is—”
“Never mind.” The godlike man began to pace, waving his hands in the air. “I was dressing for breakfast, looking at the paddock, as is my habit every morning,” he held up the binoculars, “when I saw this young woman tampering with my prize steed. You know that no stranger is to touch these horses. How could you allow it, Hartwig?”
He came to a halt just in front of her and eyed her with a fierce, powerful look that took her breath away. Not to mention his sensual, exotic accent, melded from Italian and French. The hint of foreign bath soap teased her nose.
Then her blood ran hot. Allow it? Who did this arrogant blowhard think he was, anyway?
“Excuse me.” She held out her hand to him, her irritation rising to match his. “We haven’t been introduced. I’m Dr. Kate Matthews. And you are?”
“What?” he grunted at Hartwig, ignoring her gesture.
Hartwig lifted his hands in a plea. “Sire, let me explain.”
“Sire?” Katy folded her arms. This couldn’t be the Crown Prince. It had been his idea to bring her here. “I think you’re mistaken, Hartwig. A royal personage would have better manners.”
The good-looking man glared at her, clearly shocked.
She patted Oberon’s neck. “Whoever you are, this three-year-old is getting jittery from your antagonism. The Crown Prince would be very displeased.”
He put his hands on his hips and glared at her with those deep, dark blue eyes. “The Crown Prince?”
“Yes. The owner of these stables? The future ruler of this country? Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”
Both dark brows rose to the sky. “I think I have.”
“In case you didn’t know, the Crown Prince hired me.”
His eyes flashed. “That’s impossible.”
“That he hired you.” There was a rumble in his voice.
Katy wanted to slap him across that gorgeous cheek. “And why is it impossible?”
“Because I didn’t know anything about it.”
“Perhaps you were overlooked.”
“Impossible,” he said again, even more emphatically.
She raised her chin. “I have to ask again. Why is it impossible?”
He inhaled deeply, as if trying to control his temper, while his bare chest gleamed in the sun. “Because the Crown Prince of Prasala, the owner of these stables, the future ruler of this country, is none other than myself.”
Katy had to fight to keep her jaw from dropping. She almost lost her balance. “There must be some mistake.”
“There certainly is.” And with that, he grabbed Hartwig by the sleeve and pulled him into a corner.
Now Katy’s mouth did drop open. She didn’t care if he was the Crown Prince. He must be the rudest monarch in Europe.
Did he think he was being discrete? Katy could make out every word he growled at the poor stable master.
“She’s the one you chose, Hartwig? I trusted you. My orders were to find the best. The best. Didn’t you understand?”
Apparently, the Prince hadn’t signed off on the deal, as she’d thought. But he hadn’t bothered to read the fine print.
“You know my horses must have only the very finest of care,” he grunted. “Did I not make myself clear?”
“Of course, you did, sir.”
Katy’s face flushed. Her hands fisted into knots. Anger rippled down her spine. A ten-point earthquake rumbled in her chest. She didn’t know whether she was more upset about how he was insulting her or how he was treating Hartwig. How dare he? She knew that kind of arrogance. She’d seen uppity horse owners back home mistreat their servants.
She narrowed her eyes. She didn’t care what his pedigree was. Somebody had to straighten him out. Firmly, she led Oberon back to his stall, strode to the corner and cleared her throat loudly.
He turned to her, his face demanding how she dared to interrupt him.
“Your Highness?” She uttered the title with sarcasm.
His brows drew together in dark annoyance. “What is it?”
“You have no call to speak to Hartwig like that.”
He blew out a frustrated breath. “Oh?”
“You ought to have some faith in his judgment. I’ll have you know that I am one of the best.”
Once more, the Prince put his hands on his hips. “Oh, really?”
Ignoring his muscular chest, which was still so unfairly visible, she looked him square in the eye. “I’m a specialist in the care of thoroughbreds, Derby runners in Kentucky mostly. Several winners. I’ve worked with horses all my life. I was accepted into veterinary school on the first try, which rarely happens. I’ve been a practicing horse vet outside Louisville for five years. I have an outstanding reputation.”
For the first time, he laughed. He actually laughed at her. “A woman with such credentials? And from the US? I refuse to believe it.”
So that was it. Katy struggled to breathe. She’d wondered about that sort of attitude, since the country was the last bastion of a ruling monarchy. “I see chauvinism is alive and well in Prasala.”
He scoffed, as though offended. “What do you mean?”
She shook her head at him. She’d had enough. “I won’t force my services on you, sir. If you don’t want a woman vet, that’s fine. I’ve encountered prejudice like that before.”
He took a step toward her.
She held up her hands. “I can leave. This afternoon, if there’s a flight out of Prasala. However, I will be presenting you with my bill, and I expect to be paid before I go.” She wasn’t going to come all this way for nothing, just because she didn’t fit the whim of some arrogant aristocrat.
In her wildest dreams, Katy couldn’t have imagined a more regal stun. The shock spread over his gorgeous face like a sunset.
The man was obviously used to obsequious bowing and scraping, not to mention the hoards of beautiful women who threw themselves at his feet everywhere he went. But he wouldn’t be getting that from Katy Matthew from Kentucky. This wasn’t the first time she’d stood up to a rich snob.