Jessica Hart

The Secret Princess

Release Date: 2011

Finalist Booksellers' Best Award 2012

Frustrated with the merry-go-round of political dinners and enforced good behaviour, Lotty’s determined to try a normal life on for size. However, she’s completely unprepared for her sexy new boss, Corran McKenna.

Bored with people bowing and scraping, Lotty doesn’t mind Corran’s frowns, but his wicked grin causes trouble! A no-strings fling with the only man who’s ever seen the real – rather than the royal – her is irresistible, but what will happen when her real identity becomes headline news?


 Telling Meg to stay, he stepped inside the cottage. The door on the left led into the living room, and there, sure enough, was his mother’s dog, fawning over the girl who had turned up on his doorstep the night before.

The girl whose stricken expression had sent him on a fool’s errand to the village just to make sure that she hadn’t collapsed in a heap in the middle of the track.

For a long moment, Corran couldn’t trust himself to speak.

She had abandoned her rucksack somewhere, and was in the same clothes she had worn the day before, except that now the scarf was knotted around her head like a Fifties housewife, which should have looked absurd but somehow looked chic instead. Her sleeves were rolled up in a businesslike way. She had clearly been sweeping up sawdust, and she still held the broom in her hands as she crouched down to make a fuss of the dog.

At Corran’s entrance, though, she straightened. ‘Good m-morning, she said brightly, and he heard the slight stammer he’d noticed yesterday. Corran guessed that it only happened when she was nervous.

As well she might be.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he demanded, which he thought was fairly restrained under the circumstances.

‘Well, I could see you’ve been working in here, so I thought I could start c-clearing up.’

‘Oh, did you? And what part of me telling you that I wasn’t going to give you a job and wanted you off my property didn’t you understand?’

The soft mouth set in a stubborn line. ‘I wanted to prove that I could do the job. All I’m asking is a chance to show you what I can do.’

‘I drove all the way to Mhoraigh last night in case you’d collapsed on the track,’ Corran told her furiously. ‘Are you telling me you were here all the time?’

‘There was some straw in the barn. I slept there.’

It had easily been the most uncomfortable night of Lotty’s life. In spite of her exhaustion, she hadn’t slept at all. Late in May, the night had still been cool, and even wearing all her clothes she had been cold and bitterly regretting that she had ever heard of Loch Mhoraigh.

Why hadn’t she tried harder to persuade the hotel to give her a job of some kind, just until she had earned enough to move on to Fort William? But she had chosen to come out here, and now pride wouldn’t let her accept Corran McKenna’s casual dismissal. She might not be using her title, but she was still a princess of Montluce.

Not that pride and the knowledge that she wasn’t letting down the family tradition had been much comfort as Lotty shivered on the straw and suffered the midges that swarmed through the cracks in the old barn doors. Now she wanted nothing so much as a shower and a cup of coffee.

But first she had to convince Corran to let her stay.

He wasn’t looking at all encouraging. His brows were drawn together in a ferocious glare and his mouth set in what could only be called an uncompromising line. Lotty couldn’t, in truth, really blame him for being angry, but how was she to know that he would be chivalrous enough to drive out and make sure that she was all right? If he was going to be nice, why couldn’t he just give her the job?

It was time to be conciliatory, she decided. Some victories were won by battles, but sometimes negotiation won just as effective a result. Lotty had learnt that from her family history too.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I know I’m trespassing, but I can do this job – I can!’ she insisted at Corran’s expression. ‘Gary - the guy I met at the hotel - told me he’d been cleaning and painting, and I can do that.

‘You don’t even need to pay me,’ she went on quickly as Corran opened his mouth. ‘I heard you can’t afford to pay much in the way of wages, and I’m prepared to work in exchange for somewhere to stay.’

He paused at that, and she pressed on, encouraged. ‘Why not give me a chance? I’m not going to cost you anything, and I’m better than no one surely?’

‘That rather depends on how useful you can be,’ he said grimly. ‘ I hope you’re not going to try and tell me you’ve got any building experience?’

‘I know how important it is to keep a building site clean,’ said Lotty, who had once laid the foundation stone of a new hospital and been impressed by the neatness of the site. She’d assumed that it had been tidied up for her arrival, as things usually were, but the foreman had assured her that wasn’t the case. He wouldn’t tolerate mess on his site at any time. ‘An untidy site is a dangerous site,’ she quoted him to Corran.

‘And just how many building sites have you been on?’ he asked, clearly unconvinced.

Lotty thought of the construction sites she’d been shown around over the years. Her father, the Crown Prince, had been more interested in Ancient Greece than in modern day Montluce, and after her mother had died it had fallen to Lotty to take on the duties of royal consort.

‘You’d be surprised,’ she said.

Corran studied her through narrowed eyes. ‘Would I indeed?’

Oh, dear, she was supposed to be allaying his suspicions, not arousing them. Lotty bent to pat the little dog who was fussing at her ankles still.

‘Look, I can see that in an ideal world, you’d employ someone with building skills,’ she said, ‘but I gather experienced tradesmen aren’t exactly queuing up to work for you, so why not give me a try until you find someone else? What can be so hard about cleaning and painting, after all? And at least my services will come free.’

Corran was thinking about what she’d said, Lotty could tell. She held her breath as he rubbed a hand over his jaw until she began to feel quite dizzy. It might have been lack of oxygen but it was something to do with that big hand, too, with the hard line of his jaw. It didn’t look as if he had shaved that morning and Lotty found herself wondering what it would be like to run her own hand down his cheek and feel the prickle of stubble beneath her fingers.

The thought made her flush and she tore her gaze away and got her breathing back in order. Taking a firmer hold of the broom, she went back to tidying up the curls of wood and sawdust that covered the floor. No harm in giving Corran McKenna a demonstration of what she could do. It might not be the most skilled job in the world, but a quick look round the cottage had shown her that there was plenty of cleaning to be done.

‘I’m not denying that I’ve found it hard to find anyone prepared to stick the job longer than a few days,’ Corran said at last.

‘I gather you might need to work on your management skills,’ said Lotty, still sweeping.

‘I see you and Gary had a good chat!’ Corran snorted in disgust. 'All he had to do was plaster a few walls. Why the hell would he need managing?’

‘Well, you know, an encouraging word every now and then might have helped,’ she suggested before she could help herself. ‘Not that I’d need any encouragement,’ she added hastily.

‘No encouragement, no money …’ Corran watched her brushing ineffectually at the floor and looked as if he couldn’t understand whether to be intrigued or exasperated. ‘I don’t understand why you’re so keen to work here. Why not look for a job where you’d get paid at least?’

‘I can’t afford to go anywhere else.’ She might as well tell him, Lotty decided. ‘I lost my purse yesterday.’

It had been so stupid of her. She just wasn’t used to being careful about her things. There was always someone who would pick things up for her, deal with settling any bills, check that she hadn’t left anything behind.

‘I haven’t got money for a cup of coffee, let alone a bus fare.’

Corran’s look of suspicion only deepened. ‘When most women lose their purses they go to the police,’ he pointed out. ‘They don’t set off into the wilds to doorstep strange men, insist on jobs they’re not qualified to do, and trespass on private property!’

Lotty flushed. ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do.’

‘What about calling your bank or credit card company for a start?’

How could she explain that a phone call to her bank would likely have led straight back to Montluce, where her grandmother would have the entire security service looking for her?

‘I don’t want anyone to know where I am,’ she said after a moment.

Corran’s black brows snapped together. ‘Are you in trouble with the police?’ he asked.

For a moment Lotty toyed with the idea of pretending she had pulled off a diamond heist, but she abandoned it regretfully. Corran’s eyes were too observant and she would never be able to carry it off.

‘It’s nothing like that.’ She moistened her lips. She would have to tell him something. ‘The thing is, I … I needed to get away for a while,’ she began carefully.

It went against the grain to lie, and her grandmother would be horrified at the idea of denying her royal heritage, but Lotty was determined to spend the next few weeks incognito.

‘My mother always talked about the time she walked the Highland Way, and I thought it would be a good idea to walk it for her again, the way I always told her I would, and think about what I wanted to do with my life.’

So far, so true. Lotty had spent long hours sitting with her mother when she was dying. She had held her thin hand and kept a reassuring smile on her face all the time so that her mother wouldn’t worry. She’d only been twelve, but she hadn’t once cried the way she wanted to, because her grandmother had told her that she was a princess of Montluce and she had to be as brave as all the princesses before her.

There was no need to tell Corran about giving her close protection officer the slip in Paris, or about the crossing to Hull, where she was fairly sure she wouldn’t meet anyone she knew, and where she had her hair cut in a funny little place upstairs on a side street.

She had dyed it herself that night, just to make sure she was unrecognizable but the colour wasn’t anything like it had promised on the box. She had been horrified when she looked in the mirror and saw that it had gone bright red. She looked awful! The only comfort was that no one would ever, ever associate Princess Charlotte with red hair. She was famous for her sleek dark bob and stylish wardrobe, and there was certainly nothing sleek or stylish about her now.

Apart from the hair fiasco, Lotty had been pleased with herself that night. She had got herself across the Channel, and she was on her own. Not a huge adventure for most people, but for Lotty it was a step into the unknown. She was free!

Text copyright © 2011 by Jessica Hart

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin S.A.

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