Chapter One 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?

You can read Chapter One of HEART OF MINE right here!

APRIL 2013
The charming storybook country of Coradova was nestled on an island in the Mediterranean Sea near France. After living here since I was seven-years-old, I had fallen in love with the small, peaceful kingdom that was a Mediterranean paradise. Now at sixteen, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

The early morning sunshine glistened off an endless expanse of brilliant blue sea and spilled golden rays over the terra-cotta rooftops of nearby cottages. As we drove down from the heights of the capitol, I watched as the water rose and buckled in shimmering waves and listened to the roaring sound of the sea as it crashed upon the rocky cliffs down below.

The shiny red convertible sped around a curve. I laughed with reckless delight and glanced at the handsome nineteen-year-old behind the steering wheel. His raven-black hair fluttered in the wind, and his blue eyes were bright with excitement. He shot me a heart-stopping grin as we raced along the twisting turns of the scenic seaside road.

We passed by tall waving palms and vibrant wildflowers, with the smell of the sea strong on the wind. I could see the distant silhouettes of gulls wheeling through the cloudless sky and the tiny pinpoints of sails as we drove closer to the harbor.

Alexander maneuvered flawlessly through the small, narrow roads of Les Arès, one of the finest ports of call in the Mediterranean. Clusters of small, colorful houses and shops lined the cobblestone roads that were a favorite tourist destination. There were rows of sailboats bobbing in the water, and fishermen returning from the sea with brimming nets full of fish and lobster. The docks expanded through the port town to accommodate cargo liners and warehouses, and further beyond I could see the military buildings of Coradova’s naval base.

We drove through a set of security gates and parked in the backlot of the brand new marine life aquarium, where a line of men and women were waiting for us. Alexander patted down his wind-ruffled hair, then winked at me before hopping out of the car. He strode around to open my door with a charming smile. I stepped out and smoothed a hand down my navy and white dress, wondering briefly if my brown, wind-blown hair looked presentable.

“Are you ready?” Alexander asked, buttoning the jacket of his gray suit. “I’m afraid there’s going to be hours of pomp and circumstance.”

“It’s not my first ribbon cutting, Alex,” I reminded him.

Alexander smiled. “Well, thanks for coming to another one, Maddy.”

We turned toward the waiting group and I watched as the handsome boy I’d known for nine years transformed into the dashing Crown Prince of Coradova. The mantle of his birthright settled around his shoulders in an invisible, yet tangible cloak, and his stride was undeniably regal.

We exchanged greetings and introductions with the Board of Directors, then received a private tour of the top-notch research and education facility. It was a non-profit organization that Prince Alexander had helped to establish for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of local marine life. When we stepped out in front of the building, cheers arose from the excited crowd huddled together behind the security barricades.

Alexander smiled and waved, then approached the podium to give his speech. Two royal guards hovered within arms-length behind the prince, and I could see the various members of security out in the crowd. After Alexander had cut the blue ribbon and posed for countless photos, we passed back through the aquarium to meet the staff.

Standing beside Alexander while he spoke with the director, I noticed the gaggle of female staff members who paused nearby. Their eyes were centered adoringly on Alexander. I watched them shamelessly shoot him flirtatious smiles and batted eyelashes.

Biting my lip to hide my amusement, I peeked at Alexander. He had noticed the girls as well and sent them a dazzling white smile. They nearly swooned in response. We shared a smirk before he returned his attention to the director, both used to the outrageous lengths some girls would go to in order to catch his attention.

On our way out of the aquarium, I paused near a massive fish tank, a memory from our childhood flashing through my mind. I tried to suppress a smile, but Alexander caught my look and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“What does that look mean?”

I grinned mischievously. “I was just thinking about that day you put fish in the swimming pool. You were such a trouble maker, Your Highness.”

Alexander laughed. “I did it because you said you wanted to go swimming with the fishes.” He nudged me playfully with an elbow as we continued walking. “You were always the mastermind, Madison.”

An hour later, we were speeding back down the winding road along the coast. Alexander had tossed his suit jacket into the narrow backseat, along with the invisible crown of his birthright. Alone with me, he could leave behind the burden of royal duty and obligation that came with his title. For the moment, he was merely Alexander. Young and carefree, with the wind whipping across his face as we raced recklessly down the twisting road that would lead us home.

As we passed through the outer edges of the capitol, the towering silhouette of the royal palace came into view. In the colossal, elegant white palace that sat on the top of a hill overlooking town and sea lived the Royal Family of the House of Markham. While most would be awed by the sight of fairytale turrets and red uniformed guards, to me, it was more than just a royal palace. It was my home away from home, and the Royal Family who resided there were like my family.

We had moved to Coradova nine years ago from America. My little sister, Mackenzie, was two years younger and still in middle school. My dad, Sam, was a fourth-generation cattle rancher from Montana. My mom, Claire, was an exceptionally talented artist.

After commissioning several pieces for the Royal Family, visiting nobles and members of the Coradovan aristocracy, my mom had decided to open an art gallery in this lovely storybook country. Because he loved her with a deep devotion that I often found inspiring, my dad had encouraged her to follow her dreams, which led us to our new life in Coradova.

Two weeks after our move, I attended a royal ball in the palace where I’d met the young princess and two young princes for the first time. After that night, my life changed forever.

It was one thing to live in a Mediterranean paradise, but to live in a real-life fairytale with castles and princes had been a dream come true.

It didn’t take long for me to grow close with the royal children after repeatedly being thrown together by our mothers. My mom had been friends with the Queen of Coradova for nearly thirty years after meeting at a college in Italy while studying abroad. At the time, nineteen-year-old Lady Gabriella was just the daughter of an Italian diplomat, before she met twenty-year-old Prince Mathis on a tour of Italy with his father, King Henri.

Now, King Mathis and Queen Gabriella were the reigning monarchs of Coradova. Their daughter, Princess Arianna, was my best friend. Their youngest son, Prince Ashton, was my energetic little brother. And their eldest, Prince Alexander, was my friend and protective big brother.

~ ~ ~

The minutes were dragging on, ticking away so slowly that my body practically trembled with impatience. The entire school day had moved along at a sluggish pace and these final ten minutes of class had been beyond brutal. I tried to focus on the algebra equation on the chalkboard, but math held absolutely no interest right now. Not when I had received a text message from the prince early this morning telling me to pack a swimsuit for a mysterious outing after school. By his cryptic message, I knew that Alexander was up to something and I was anxious to find out what he had planned.

Although he was the Crown Prince of Coradova, he occasionally tried to rebel against the confines of his royal obligations by dragging me off on some wild, hare-brained adventure. Not that I ever complained, I thought wryly. The escapades we often got into were usually my idea.

Trying to distract myself during the final three minutes of school, my gaze strayed over the aisle to the dark-haired boy sitting across from me. I watched his long fingers drum hypnotically on the top of his desk, then allowed my eyes to drift over the tanned skin of his arm and shoulder, until I was lost in the sight of his handsome profile. Ethan Deimos. I’d had a crush on him since the beginning of the school year and kept waiting for him to ask me out.

As my mind wandered away with images of Ethan holding me close in his arms, he shifted in his seat and glanced at me over his shoulder. In the moment that our eyes met I blushed, embarrassed that he had caught me watching him. He shot me a crooked grin, and my heart flip-flopped within my chest just as the final bell rang. My classmates jumped to their feet in a whirl of excitement. I lost sight of Ethan in the horde, but he was waiting for me out in the hallway with a wide smile.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he asked as we maneuvered through the crowd.

“Nothing much. Arianna wants to go to the beach tomorrow.” I shrugged. “What about you?”

We moved around the corner, the crowd thinning as we passed through the gated front entrance of the school. From here, I could see the stretch of white beach in the distance, enticing and welcoming. It was as if the sea in the background beckoned me. I hoped that Alexander’s secret adventure involved a trip to the beach. We stopped near the front curb and I glanced over at Ethan, waiting for his reply.

“Well, that sort of depends on you,” Ethan said, sounding slightly nervous. He stepped closer, until we were almost touching, and gazed down at me with brown eyes like warm butterscotch. “Maddy … will you go on a date with me tomorrow night?”

My stomach fluttered with eager butterflies. “I’d love to, Ethan.”

He grinned in response. “Great. I’ll pick you up at 6:00 pm.” He reached out to take my hand as a black jeep drew to a stop at the curb in front of us. “Is dinner and a movie okay?”

“It’s perfect.” Anything that he wanted to do was fine with me, as long as it involved being together.

“Who is that hottie?” The girl next to me suddenly questioned, interrupting my thoughts. Her face was bright with interest. 

I followed her gaze to the black jeep and immediately recognized the dark-haired boy leaning across the seat to peer at us through the passenger window.

Alexander, the Crown Prince of Coradova.

He was dressed casually in a plain gray t-shirt with his dark hair covered by a faded ball cap. I knew that it was in an effort to blend-in, just as I knew that the sunglasses on his face intentionally hid his striking blue eyes. Since I didn’t see any sign of a black sedan nearby, I guessed that the prince must have ditched his security—again.

“Hey, Maddy,” Alexander called out, shooting me a grin.

The girl next to me practically swooned when she caught sight of Alexander’s smile and I shook my head. Even when he wasn’t trying, Prince Alexander was incredibly charming and often seemed to dazzle any girl who looked his way.

“Just give me a minute,” I responded, then turned back toward Ethan. “I’m sorry, I need to go. But I’ll see you tomorrow for our date.”

Ethan studied the boy in the black jeep, then leaned in to whisper, “Is that Prince Alexander?” I nodded, and Ethan frowned. “There are surfboards in the back of his jeep.”

“I guess he wants to go to surfing,” I said, feeling a thrill of excitement at the idea.

“The prince likes to surf?”

“Yes, but we keep it low-key. He doesn’t want to be recognized when we go to the beach because he wants to pretend to be a normal teenager.” I shrugged, hoping that Ethan would understand. He was one of the few people in school who knew of my close friendship with the royal children. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw him. It’ll create a mob scene.”

“Sure, Maddy.” His brown eyes focused back on me, and I thought I caught a hint of jealousy before his expression softened. Ethan smiled and lowered his head, kissing my cheek before nudging me toward the jeep. “Have fun surfing. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

I moved away from him in a daze and climbed into the passenger seat, still feeling the warmth of his kiss on my cheek.

“Is that Ethan?” Alexander asked, bringing me back into reality. He shifted gears and hit the gas pedal.

I looked out the window as we started to drive away. Ethan was still standing at the curb, watching me with his familiar crooked smile. He sent me a slow wink before disappearing from view. My heart somersaulted in my chest.

“Yeah, that was Ethan.”

“He was very … hands-on,” Alexander muttered.

I could hear the protective tone in his voice and sighed as I stuffed my backpack onto the seat behind the surfboards. Alexander had a tendency to act like my big brother and was usually over-protective when guys showed any interest in me.

“Don’t worry about Ethan. He’s just a friend.” At least until tomorrow, I thought, as a spiral of anticipation curled through me. We drove in silence for the next few minutes and I watched as the sea drew closer.

“Has he tried to kiss you?” Alexander asked suddenly.

“Alexander!” I gasped, swatting at his arm. “That is none of your business.”

He maneuvered through the parking lot, slipped into a vacant spot and turned to face me. His dark sunglasses hid his eyes, making it difficult for me to read his expression. But based on the stubborn set of his jaw and his tightly compressed lips, it seemed like he was in full over-protective brother mode.

“You’re right, Maddy. Your relationship with Ethan is none of my business. But will you promise me one thing?” He continued at my nod. “Don’t let him take advantage of you, or pressure you into anything you’re not ready for.” Alexander smiled with brotherly affection and a wicked twinkle in his eye. “Or I’ll throw him in the palace dungeon.”

“You mean, the dungeon that doesn’t exist?” I said wryly.

“Ethan doesn’t know that.” Alexander grinned and I rolled my eyes. He climbed out of the jeep and began unloading our surfboards while I grabbed the towels out of the backseat.

It was mid-April. Since tourists didn’t usually flock to Coradova until May, the seaport village wasn’t very crowded. Tiny restaurants and tourist shops were packed closely together within easy reach of the beach. Locals milled about along the cobblestone streets or pristine white sand, and out on the water I could see sailboats and surfers, with the occasional body boarder.

We found a mostly deserted section of beach, then stripped down to our bathing suits. The girls nearby shot interested looks at Alexander as he removed his shirt, revealing a perfectly sculpted torso. Honestly, I couldn’t blame them. Alexander might have been like my older brother, but I could admit that he was undeniably sexy. The muscles of his golden olive-toned skin rippled with his every movement, and the charming smile he sent their way was dazzling. The girls giggled in response.

Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, I grabbed my board and shot off toward the water, calling out to him over my shoulder, “Last one to catch a wave buys dinner!”

“Hey!” Alexander shouted, scrambling after me.

I reached the water first but Alexander was only seconds behind me. We waded out into the surf and worked our way past the breaking point. Sitting on our boards with the sun warm on our faces, we waited for a good swell.

With a smirk, Alexander reached down to splash a handful of water at me and I retaliated in kind. We were soaked and laughing by the time a wave arrived moments later. Turning our boards around, we started paddling in earnest. I felt the swell rising and jumped to my feet, wobbling only slightly before gaining my balance. In front of me, Alexander glanced back with a wide grin as we surfed down the curling wave. I lost my balance at the last minute and tumbled into the knee deep water.

Laughing, Alexander splashed over and reached down to help me to my feet. With his board tucked under one arm, he grinned at me. “It looks like you’re buying dinner, Maddy.”

“We caught the same wave, Alex,” I argued, reaching down to grab my board.

“But I didn’t fall off,” Alexander pointed out. His blue eyes were gleaming with amusement and his lips twitched into a smug grin.

With a scowl, I took a step toward him and shook out my sopping wet hair, sending droplets flying everywhere.

“Hey!” Alexander protested, laughing.

Slicking the long, wet hair away from my face, I said in a dare, “Rematch?”

His smile was full of challenge. “You’re on.”

We spent the next two hours trying to best each other on the waves. I wiped out several times and so did Alexander, but the prince claimed the victory with an arrogant grin. We decided to take a break and headed back along the beach, tossing our boards down onto the sand near our clothes. The girls from earlier returned as we were spreading out our towels, but Alexander hadn’t noticed them yet.

He was kneeling in the sand next to me, our arms just barely brushing. I nudged him with my elbow, trying to let him know that his admirers were back. Alexander glanced up at me, and the smile he sent my way caused an unexpected flutter in my stomach. His wet black hair was mussed, making him appear roguish, and his handsome face was lit by golden sunlight. He had tossed aside his sunglasses, so his striking blue eyes looked straight into mine, filled with the warmth and affection I had grown accustomed to over the years. Brotherly and friendly, intermingled with a platonic love for the girl he thought of as a sister.

When he caught sight of the girls over my shoulder, I noticed the spark of interest that flashed across his face. He tossed on his sunglasses, then rose to his feet and strolled over to the group of girls with a charming smile.

They grinned in delight, clearly pleased with his undivided attention. An angry bitterness surged through me, and I rocked back onto my heels in utter surprise. Was I … jealous? No, that couldn’t be right. Alexander was my friend. My protective big brother. I couldn’t possibly be having feelings for him. That would be … unthinkable.


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