Chapter Three Heart of Mine

My debut novel is HEART OF MINE, a royal romance with a touch of mystery and suspense. It is set in the small fictional kingdom of Coradova, a breathtaking Mediterranean paradise near France.

They were never supposed to fall in love.

He was the Crown Prince of Coradova, and she was the one girl he shouldn't want. Can they overcome a centuries-old prejudice, or will they both have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their one true love?

If you missed it, you can read Chapter One of HEART OF MINE right here! Read Chapter Two here!

Read on for Chapter Three!


CHAPTER THREE:
JUNE 2013
It had been over two months since Arianna’s emergency liver operation. After six weeks of recovery, she was back to her usual vivacious self. Since we had yet to reschedule our date, the princess had taken it upon herself to invite Ethan over to the palace for a picnic lunch near the pond. It was nestled at the base of a small hill, surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn and various stepping stone trails. Pond weeds floated in drifts along the surface, tangling in the tall reeds that swayed in the breeze.

The three of us had spent the last two hours together, but I was certain that Arianna would be making up some excuse to leave us alone any minute now. My emotions were jumbled, torn between eagerness and hesitation.

After that spark had been ignited with Alexander I couldn’t help but wonder at the possibilities. His interest in me had become very carefully contained, but on occasion I could swear that I’d caught him watching me with longing. Sometimes after a casual touch or hug, his blue eyes would seem to smolder, and I would get the feeling that he wanted to kiss me.

Confused about what was happening between us, I kept finding excuses to postpone my date with Ethan, thinking that maybe Alexander just needed a little more time. But my hope was beginning to deflate and I was getting tired of waiting for something that might never happen. Maybe it was time to take that final step in my relationship with Ethan.

As if on cue, Arianna rose to her feet and said, “I need to go check on something inside. I’ll be back … later.” Her blue eyes sparkled meaningfully, and she shot me a cheeky grin before sauntering away.

“That wasn’t obvious at all,” Ethan remarked, drawing my attention back to him.

I smiled. “Arianna’s not particularly subtle.”

We laughed, then Ethan held out a strawberry. “Do you want the last one?”

“Sure, thanks.”

I took the offered fruit, trying not to blush when my fingers brushed against his skin. Now that we were alone, my awareness of him was acute. Feeling nervous, I looked away and took a small bite.

Ethan shifted on the picnic blanket. I peeked over to find him leaning toward me, his gaze focused on my mouth. My heart rate sped up and I carefully set the strawberry down on a plate. His brown eyes drifted up to meet mine, now a warm butterscotch heated with longing. We moved closer, ever so slightly.

Ethan trailed his hand slowly up my bare arm to cup my cheek, pausing to gauge my reaction, giving me the chance to pull away. I scooted infinitesimally closer, and a dazzling crooked smile lit up his face. He lowered his head and my eyes fluttered close, heart pounding in anticipation.

“Well this is awkward,” a voice spoke from behind us.

I jerked away from Ethan and looked up to see Alexander standing at the edge of the blanket, scowling down at us with his arms crossed over his chest. My face burned from being caught in such an intimate embrace—and by Alexander, of all people.

He leveled an over-protective glare at Ethan before turning his gaze to me. A flicker of jealousy crossed his face and my embarrassment shifted into outrage. He had no right to interfere in my relationship with Ethan, or to be jealous of me kissing him. Alexander had no claim on me.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded, rising swiftly to my feet.

His eyes narrowed at my tone. “I live here.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I came down to fish in the pond, but I didn’t realize that you had claimed this spot for a make-out session.” He shot me a dark look, and I couldn’t stop the flush that crept up my neck and blazed across my cheeks. “You should try to be more discreet next time, Madison.”

Fury raged through me at his scolding. I wanted to throw his own personal indiscretions in his face.

“I’ve seen all the girls you’ve taken out into the garden, Alexander. If we kiss behind the hedges next time, would that be discreet enough for you?”

Alexander stalked toward me and growled, “What I do with other girls is none of your concern.”

He towered over me with a tightly clenched jaw, struggling to hold on to his temper. Passionate emotion swirled thickly around us, tinged with anger and jealousy. There was no denying that he stirred something in me that no one else did.
I glared up into his stormy blue eyes. “And what I do with other guys is none of your business!”

“You make it my business when you do it where everyone can see.” He reached out to clasp my upper arms, and although he was clearly angry, his touch was gentle, almost like a caress.

“There was no one else around,” I argued.

“There are hundreds of people on the palace staff alone and many of them love to spread gossip.” His grip on my arms tightened briefly, and I could see the hard protective glint in his eyes. “What do you think that will do to your reputation?”

“I’m not a princess,” I whispered. “No one in Coradova will care about my reputation.”

“I care about your reputation,” Alexander murmured.

His concern for me touched my heart and I felt my anger begin to dissipate. For a moment, I was lost in the dark blue eyes that watched me with a tender sincerity. His hold on my arms softened and with the lightest of pressure he carefully drew me closer. I couldn’t remember what we had been arguing about. All I knew was that I wanted him to kiss me.

Beside us, I heard a loudly cleared throat.

“Maddy, I think I should leave and give you two … a moment alone,” Ethan said quietly.

Utterly embarrassed, I stepped away from Alexander and looked sheepishly at Ethan. In the passion of the moment, I had briefly forgotten that he was here.

“Yes, you should,” Alexander muttered, crossing his arms.

“Alex!” I shot him a look but he ignored me. Turning back to Ethan I said, “I’ll walk you out.”

After a brief goodbye we left the prince at the pond, though I could feel his eyes on my back during the awkward and silent trek back to the palace with Ethan. It wasn’t until later that night when I realized that Alexander hadn’t had any fishing gear with him.

~ ~ ~

OCTOBER 2013

On a cool October night, the Royal Family celebrated His Royal Highness Prince Ashton’s seventeenth birthday in style by inviting three hundred guests to the palace for a grand party.

The lavish ballroom was two stories high, in shades of soft gold and white, with parquet flooring and a diamond patterned coffered ceiling. A golden light spilled across the dance floor from the four crystal chandeliers that dangled overhead. Along the back wall, two sets of French doors opened out to the palace garden, letting in wafts of the salty sea air.

Wandering through the crowds, I noticed that Ashton’s friends kept snickering and shooting admiring looks my way. I rolled my eyes and ignored them as I walked past their group. The cool fall breeze blew in through an open set of French doors, making the long skirt of my pink dress billow around my calves. The boys whistled appreciatively and when I frowned at them I saw a tall red-head elbow Ashton. Their laughter drowned out whatever he said to the prince.

“No way! She’s like my sister,” Ashton exclaimed, red-faced.

I ventured out into the garden, feeling a twinge of empathy. Since I’d turned seventeen three months ago, my friends at school kept asking if I was in love with one of the princes. I repeatedly explained that Ashton and Alexander were like my brothers, though that was no longer exactly true of Alexander.

I took a deep inhale of the fresh air, loving the mixed scent of salty sea and rose petals. Alexander had disappeared out into the garden a while ago, so I wandered down a random path in search of him. I moved quickly down the patio steps and over the glazed decorative tiles that were set in a lively mosaic. Wandering down a gravel pathway, I passed by clay pots brimming with greenery and vibrant flowers. The scattered succulents were a tranquil palette of cool pastels. Surrounded by this beautiful exotic garden, I felt relaxed and peaceful, slowing to a leisurely stroll.

As I walked deeper into the garden I realized that someone was following me. Expecting to see Alexander, I glanced over my shoulder but was surprised to meet the brown eyes of the tall red-head instead.

“Hello, Maddy,” he said with a smile. “I’m William. I saw you inside the ballroom.” He drew closer, looking at me with such intensity that it made me nervous. “You’re very pretty. Ashton says you’re like his sister, but what about Alexander?”

I didn’t like what he was suggesting and frowned at him indignantly. “They’re both very protective of me so you need to be careful.”

William stopped in front of me, standing way too close, and glanced over his shoulder. We were next to a three-tiered fountain with trickling water, centered amidst a simple layout of clipped hedges. William was blocking my way back down the pathway and there wasn’t another person in sight. He turned back to me with a wicked grin.

“Well, they’re not here now. If you don’t have a thing for royalty then why don’t you give me a kiss?”

“No, thank you. I’m not interested.” I took a step back and tried to appear arrogant instead of afraid, but William wasn’t deterred.

“Oh, come on. Just one kiss.” He grabbed my arm, holding me in place. Between his tight grip and the tall hedges at my back I couldn’t move away.

“No,” I said sternly, beginning to panic. “Don’t touch me!”

“It’s just a kiss, Maddy,” William said, lowering his head toward me. I struggled to get away and shoved against his chest with my free hand. William flew back, tripping over a bench and landing in the bushes.

I stared in shock for a moment before I caught sight of the angry prince stalking toward him. Alexander reached down to grab William by the jacket and roughly hauled him to his feet. William was tall, but Alexander was taller. The prince towered a good four inches above him and his livid expression was quite frightening.

“You need to leave right now,” Alexander warned. “And don’t ever touch her again.” William nodded briskly and fled back down the pathway without a second glance.

The prince crossed over to me in a heartbeat and quickly scanned me for harm, his blue eyes blazing fiercely with concern.

“Are you all right, Maddy? Did he hurt you?”

“I’m fine, Alex. He just scared me.”

Alexander sighed in relief, then narrowed his eyes. “What were you doing out here by yourself?”

“I was looking for you.” I noticed that Alexander’s hair was unusually disheveled, and his face was flushed. “What were you doing out here?”

The tips of his ears turned red and he cleared his throat, looking away abruptly. But not before I saw his gaze pause on the hedges behind us. A surge of jealousy shot through me and my teeth snapped together.

“Were you kissing another girl behind the hedges?”

He shifted uncomfortably and scowled at me.

“Come on little trouble maker,” Alexander muttered, tucking my hand through his arm and leading me down the pathway. He shot an irritated glare at me. “I’d better not catch you out here with anyone else. I’m getting tired of walking in on you kissing a bunch of guys.”

“It was only two guys,” I said defensively. “And you’re being over-protective for nothing. I’ve never kissed anyone—not even Ethan.”

We were almost to the doors when Alexander stopped and turned to look at me, his expression arrogantly pleased.

“Didn’t want to kiss a frog before finding your Prince Charming?”

At that moment, a gorgeous girl with curly black hair sauntered by, her eyes centered on Alexander in admiration. He sent her a dazzling smile in return, making my heart churn painfully.

“Prince Charming doesn’t exist. All guys are frogs,” I muttered, knowing he wasn’t paying attention. I tried to shove past him but tripped over my heels instead.

Alexander caught me before I could fall on my face, his arms wrapping tightly around my waist. My hands were braced against his chest, fingers curled around the lapels of his charcoal dress suit in a firm grip. Suddenly, I was all too aware of how closely he was holding me, and looked up into his face, feeling breathless.

Intense blue eyes met mine. “Not all of us are frogs, dolcezza.”

My heart fluttered at the sound of my nickname on his lips. Dolcezza. It meant sweetness. Alexander had called me that since our first meeting after we had discovered a mutual fondness for sweets and a particular obsession with chocolate.

Still holding me close, his smoldering gaze drifted down to study my mouth. I could feel the rapid beat of his heart beneath my palm and my pulse quickened in response. By the look on his face, it was clear that he felt something for me.
“So what would happen if I kissed you, Alex?”

His grip on me tightened, and he tore his gaze away from my mouth, looking up to meet my eyes.

“What?” He sounded slightly strangled.

“Would you turn into a frog … or a prince?”

“I’m already a prince.”

The smile I sent him was daring and full of challenge.

His eyes blazed in response. Cupping the nape of my neck he stared into my eyes for a long, breathless moment. I could see his carefully hidden longing, which stirred my own. Alexander drew me infinitesimally closer, as if accepting my challenge, but then hesitated. Without warning, he released me and carefully took a step back.

When he spoke, his voice was ragged. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

He turned away without waiting for a response and I watched him until he disappeared from view. It was a while before my racing pulse calmed and even longer before the butterflies in my stomach settled. But it was my heart that was irrevocably changed. After that near kiss, I couldn’t deny it any longer.
I was falling in love with Alexander.



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