(A Prasala Romance) #2
Darcy Matthews doesn’t believe in love.
But she’s thrilled to travel to Prasala for her sister’s royal wedding. What big sister doesn’t know is the day after the ceremony Darcy plans to head to LA to start the singing career she’s dreamed of all her life.
Katy doesn’t want her to go but Darcy’s mind is made up.
Except for the dark, knife-like stare of the seductively handsome King. The look that sends shivers down her spine. That might make her put her plans on hold for a while. Maybe.
Six months ago Leopold de Chambonay was crowned King of Prasala by a quirk of fate. Now he must prove that act was not a mistake. He longs to be a great King like his father. But the graceful carefree creature who is now his sister-in-law has cast some sort of spell over him. He finds himself drawn to her, longing to forget his duty and take her in his arms.
This cannot be. He must rid himself of her before he does something that might threaten the kingdom.
Why should Darcy care what the enigmatic King thinks of her? This crazy yearning in her heart for him doesn’t mean anything. Besides, she would never pine over a man. After all, love is just a game.
This really was going to be a fairytale wedding, wasn’t it?
Darcy Matthews could feel her heart thump as she peeked out from the high scrolling arches of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral at the excited throng on the sidewalk.
In the shadow of the tall Byzantine spires and ancient gargoyles, the streets were filled with Prasala’s faithful. For hours they had stood in the afternoon sun—warm for early spring, so she’d heard—in honor of their new Prince.
Everyone was waiting for a glimpse of his Princess Bride.
Suddenly a clip-clop sounded, the church bells rang out above, and everyone turned toward the far end of the street.
Around the corner a gilded rose-covered carriage appeared, drawn by the ebony stallion and chestnut filly Katy had told Darcy so much about. The coach moved slowly, majestically over the cobblestone lane, and after what seemed like half an hour came to a halt along the curb. A footman riding along the side disembarked and opened the door.
He extended a hand to help the lady down from carriage, and she waved graciously to the crowd.
As she made her way to the cathedral’s massive entrance the people shouted for joy.
Darcy’s heart swelled.
She was used to seeing her sister in jeans and old shirts with her blond hair tousled by the wind. She’d never seen her quite like this before.
But there she was in a stunning strapless designer creation of white satin and veiled lace scattered with floral appliqués and studded with pearls and diamonds. The matching veil had a real diamond tiara and the train was so massive it took three ladies-in-waiting to carry it.
Katy looked like a real princess.
Well, she was a real princess. Or she would be in a few minutes. Darcy would have to get used to that.
She stepped forward to speak to her sister but the thin dark woman who was in charge of the ceremony—and who reminded Darcy of the wicked witch in fairy tales—ushered her back inside.
“It is almost time for the bridesmaids to go down the aisle,” the witch woman whispered in a thick Prasalian accent.
“Okay, okay.” Darcy hissed under her breath.
The woman’s eyes flashed with indignation but luckily there wasn’t time for a conversation.
The music had started.
As she took her place under the archway of the crowded church with a bouquet of ladyslipper orchids and pale yellow roses in her hands, Darcy wished she’d had a moment to apologize for the fight she’d had with Katy last night. She hadn’t wanted to spoil her day.
But no, it was too gorgeous to spoil. Too thrilling. Too fairytale-like.
Her heart beating anew with excitement, Darcy began the slow procession down the long flower strewn aisle toward the huge, elaborate altar at the front.
Megan Russell, Katy’s best friend from back home, preceded her. Second in line, Darcy took fashion-model-like steps in time to the soft strains of Handel from the colossal pipe organ. Behind her were seven other bridesmaids, three flower girls, and a young ring bearer.
The ladies-in-waiting who had escorted Katy from the coach weren’t in the wedding party. They were real ladies-in-waiting, part of the royal court.
Goose bumps prickled on her arms. She wanted to pinch herself. Was she really here in Prasala? In her sister’s royal wedding? Was she really marching down the aisle in a mermaid-cut gown of blackberry and tea-rose, created by the incomparable Valsois?
She couldn’t believe it.
Gazing up at the tall flying buttresses of the massive church, Darcy felt she had stepped into a fairy tale herself.
If love were real, this exotic southeastern European country would definitely be the place for it. It had been for Katy.
But Darcy knew it wouldn’t be for her.
She didn’t even believe love was real. Not for her anyway.
She’d built a high impenetrable wall around her heart long ago—when her father died when she was thirteen. She’d been devastated by his loss. While other girls her age were starting to date and form crushes on the popular boys in school, she’d remained unmoved. Her heart didn’t work that way anymore. As the years went by that wall remained. Darcy had never felt anything she could call love.
She had been Daddy’s little girl. No man could ever live up to him.
Of course, that didn’t mean a girl couldn’t have a little fun.
She eyed the dignitaries and nobility from all over the world who were crowded together in the pews.
On one side a handsome blond guy, well-groomed and all dressed up in a fine tux might have just winked at her. Across from him a whole row of young men seemed to be selecting partners from the procession of bridesmaids. One of them caught her eye and she risked a flirtatious grin. An older man standing next to what must have been his mother looked as if he were making a mental note to dance with her later on.
She might. After she made him wait his turn.
Oh, she was going to have a good time at the reception tonight.
She reached the alabaster stairs and grinned at the dark, handsome groom awaiting his bride. There he was. Julio de Chambonay, Prince of Chevalia, one of the country’s provinces. Dressed in full Prasalian uniform, the man was absolutely stunning.
Now there was a reason not to believe in love.
Despite his amazing good looks, Julio de Chambonay had broken her sister’s heart in two a few months ago. Darcy had witnessed firsthand the pain Katy had endured, had listened to her cry herself to sleep every night. And Julio’s mother, the Queen, had had something to do with it, too. The woman was sitting in the front pew now and Darcy had avoided even looking at her.
According to Katy all was well now. Of course it was or this day wouldn’t be happening. But Darcy kept her reservations about the man.
Katy had never told her the details about how things had worked out. She’d run off somewhere with Julio right after he’d come to Kentucky.
All Darcy knew is that she would never go through that for a man.
Beside her Megan cleared her throat. Oh, right. Turn and face the entrance. She’d missed most of the dress rehearsal and Megan had gone through the ceremony with her that morning.
She pivoted carefully, hoping to focus on her mother who was sitting on the opposite side from the Queen. Darcy knew she’d been beaming with pride and joy for both of her daughters.
Instead Darcy caught sight of the dark mysterious man standing next to the groom.
Like Prince Julio he was clad in the country’s uniform and girded with sash and gold epaulets at the shoulders. The pair looked enough alike to be twins, though this one was taller and infinitely more handsome, in her opinion. With his regal dress and the shining medallions decorating his broad chest, he exuded strength and power.
That was right. He was Julio’s brother.
The reigning king.
She wished she could have gotten here earlier so she would know everyone better.
Darcy winced, thinking again of the harsh words she and Katy had thrown at each other last night. Katy had wanted her here in Prasala a week ago for the wedding preparations, but Darcy had had a farewell concert with her band back in Kentucky. She couldn’t miss that.
Katy didn’t understand why Darcy had changed her plane reservation and arrived late yesterday instead.
And to top it off, Katy told her the wedding planner—the wicked witch lady—had selected a local singer for the reception. Darcy wouldn’t be allowed to sing at her own sister’s wedding.
Okay, she could understand her timing was bad. She’d missed rehearsals. And the type of music they wanted wasn’t her usually thing. But she could have handled it. She was a professional, after all. Why hadn’t Katy stuck up for her?
She knew why. Katy thought her singing was a silly hobby and that Darcy needed to settle down and get serious about life.
That was what stung the most.
Katy might think she was frivolous and shallow but making music was as important to Darcy as Katy’s horses were to her.
If only her sister got that.
It didn’t matter, she told herself, battling down the angry memory. She would show Katy and everyone else, too.
This wedding was going to be a turning point for her. From this moment on her life would be different. For years, she’d put her own dreams on the back burner while she’d helped her mother with the family’s struggling horse farm back home. But with Katy’s marriage to Julio those days were in the past.
At last she was free. At last her time had come.
No one knew it yet, but tucked in her bags back in the palace was a plane ticket and it wasn’t for a return trip to Kentucky. She wasn’t going back to her boring dead-end paralegal job. She was starting a new adventure.
A hush came over the crowd.
The organ filled the vaulted ceiling with loud, majestic chords. At the end of the aisle the bride appeared.
Darcy sucked in her breath.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Megan whispered.
“She’s gorgeous.” Darcy blinked back a sudden rush of tears, all anger forgotten.
In that amazing Valsois gown, Katy looked as if she were floating in a dream. Darcy was overjoyed for her sister. She hoped she would be happy with her Prince. Suddenly Darcy realized how much she was going to miss her.
But things were changing and life went on.
For her, traveling to Prasala for Katy’s royal wedding was just the first step in her plan. Next stop was Los Angeles and a singing career. She might not have started with the best voice in the world but she’d worked long and hard to develop it. And she wanted a career as a singer more than anything.
It was time for some adventure—high time she struck out on her own and started going after her heart’s desire.
It would all start tomorrow morning.
Once more Darcy’s gaze drifted to the man beside Julio. Hmm. Talk about desire.
Suddenly she was caught up in his aura of power.
How the royal colors of his deep blue and purple attire set off his rich black hair and intense features. How seductively handsome he was. How his presence seemed to fill the room.
And most of all, she was carried away by his dark, piercing stare. The one that was sending shivers down her spine—right to her very toes.
Leopold de Chambonay found himself taken off guard.
His senses betrayed him, sending his mind reeling, his thoughts out of balance.
Who is that woman?
She was dressed in the same garb as the other females of the wedding party but somehow she stood out from the others like no woman he had ever seen. She had an unmistakable glow.
What was it about her?
The rich dark hair piled under her veil? Her alabaster skin? Those dark, inviting eyes? That pearl-like mouth with the teasing smile?
She was a vision of pure loveliness. And just now she was making him want to run his hands over that delicate skin, his fingers through that hair, to taste those lips. He wished he were alone with her. In his rooms at the castle. At the seashore. In a hotel suite in the city. Anywhere but at his brother’s wedding.
With a jolt he snapped back to the present. Where in the world had his mind gone?
Shame filled him.
What inappropriate thoughts to have on today of all days. His brother’s wedding day. His brother, to whom he owed all he was.
And then he recognized the shape of the woman’s face. It was the bride’s sister. His new sister-in-law.
This was no way for a king to behave. His father would have been sorely disappointed. But no worse than he was with himself.
Chastising himself for his indiscreet thoughts, he turned away from the delectable sight and concentrated on the ceremony.