Prince Phillip had sworn to do his royal duty. Someday he'd take a suitable bride--in the traditional loveless "arrangement"--and father an heir to the throne. But then he unexpectedly became king. And when he met Hannah Renault the virtual stranger who was his intended bride all his plans to keep her at arm's length were suddenly forgotten.
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June 09, 2008
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Excerpt from The King's Convenient Bride by Michelle Celmer
Though she had been preparing for this day for eight years, as the limo pulled up to the palace steps and Hannah Renault caught her first glimpse of the prince--make that the king--waiting to welcome her, she trembled in her ecru Gucci pumps.
Wearing his royal dress uniform, King Phillip Lindall Augustus Mead stood at the top of the stairs flanked by what had to be the entire palace staff. A collection of medals and commendations on his jacket glittered in the sun and a gilded sword hung at his hip.
Outside the gates, residents of Morgan Isle crowded to get their first glimpse of their soon-to-be queen.
The limo stopped at the base of a gold-rimmed red carpet. The door swung open and a gloved hand appeared to help her out.
She smoothed the skirt of her dark blue linen suit. This is it, she told herself. This is the day you've been dreaming of. The time to make a good impression on your husband-to-be and, from the looks of it, half the country. So, whatever you do, as you're climbing those stairs, don't trip.
With all the grace and dignity a woman could manage while climbing out of a vehicle, her heart fluttering madly in her chest, Hannah stepped into the balmy sunshine. Beyond the gates a cheer broke out among the onlookers.
Warring with the sudden, intense urge to turn around and dive back into the limo, she took a deep breath, straightened her spine and lifted her chin high. As per the instructions she received from the royal social secretary, she stood her ground and waited for the king's formal greeting. She held her breath as he descended the steps and a deafening hush fell over the crowd, as though they were holding their breath with her. Don't be nervous, she told herself, but nervous didn't even come close to what she was actually feeling. She bordered more along the lines of terrified.
Just breathe, Hannah. In and out. You can do this.
It had been two long years since she had seen her fianc? face-to-face, and he was more handsome, more heart-stoppingly beautiful than she remembered.
As instructed, the instant the king's foot hit the bottom step, Hannah stepped forward and dipped into a routinely practiced curtsy. With a bow of her head, and in a wobbly voice, she said, "Your Highness."
"My lady," he returned in a deep, rich voice, with proper British inflection, then offered his hand. A small burst of energy arced between their fingers an instant before they actually touched. When she met his eyes, something warm and inviting swam in their smoky-gray depths. Taking her hand gently in his own, he bent at the waist and brushed his lips across her skin. "Welcome home."
Her stomach bottomed out and her legs went weak while thunderous applause rattled her eardrums.
You must appear regal and confident, but never cold, she had been told a million times from her royal-appointed etiquette coach.
But under the circumstances, it was all she could do to stay upright and conscious.
This was really happening. In two weeks she would marry this handsome, powerful man. In two weeks, she would be a queen.
Shaking with excitement and fear, from her toes all the way to the ends of her hair, she allowed him to lead her up the steps, chanting to herself: please don't trip, please don't trip.
Picking up on her abject terror, and in a serious break of royal tradition, he slipped his arm around her waist and drew her close to his side. Then he dipped his head and said in a low whisper, so only she could hear, "Relax. The worst is over."
She was so grateful she nearly dissolved into tears right there on the steps. He felt so solid and sturdy and he radiated self-assurance. If there were only a way she could absorb a bit of that confidence for herself.
They reached the top step, where they would stop and she would formally greet the staff and country. But in another breech of ceremony, the king swept past the receiving lines and led her directly to the enormous, gilded double doors that, seemingly on their own, swung open to welcome her inside.
He led her through the cavernous foyer. Two royal attendants were close behind them, the soles of their shoes clicking against the polished marble floor. He stopped in front of a pair of ceiling-high, carved mahogany doors.
"Give us a minute," he told the two attendants, which Hannah took to mean they were not to be disturbed. Then he ushered her inside and closed the door behind them.
She found herself surrounded on three sides by bookshelves that climbed high to kiss the outer rim of an ornately painted cathedral ceiling. She'd never seen so many books in one room. Not even in the university library back home. Furniture upholstered in a rich, deep red leather formed a sitting area in the center of the room. He led her to a chair and ordered, "Sit."
Her legs were so shaky it was that or fall over, so she sat, and took what was probably her first full breath since the limo pulled up to the wrought iron gates.