One summer with the prince… One scandalous consequence!
Prince Hugo goes rogue after being betrayed at the altar. He escapes to Australia and finds solace with unconventional Amber Hartley.
Brave and sassy, she’s everything his princess shouldn’t be.
Although he expected her fiery response to discovering he’s royalty, he didn’t imagine his deception would hurt her deeply.
But before he can decipher why that is, Amber has her own bombshell—she’s pregnant with his royal baby!
AMBER PLONKED HERSELF onto the rickety stairs out front of the shack hovering on the edge of Serenity Hill. Stretching her arms over her head, she blinked sleepily at the view.
A misty glow slithered over the acres of wild lavender carpeting the hillside. The first hint of morning sun peeked between the hilly mounds beyond creating a starburst of gold on the horizon and making silhouettes of the willows meandering along the banks of Serenity Creek below.
“Could do with some rain,” said Amber. “That said, can’t we always?”
Ned stared fondly up at her from his mismatched eyes. She gave the mottled fur behind his good ear a thorough rub.
Then, nabbing her bright yellow gumboots Amber tugged them on over faded pyjama bottoms. She rubbed a smudge of mud from one of the bees Sunflower – from the bright purple caravan up on the hill – had painted on them for her. Then she twirled her heavy hair into a low bun and ducked her head into her fencing-style veil. Last came elasticised gloves then, ready, she pushed herself to her feet.
Ned answered with a wag of his tail.
“Then let’s do this.”
But Amber only made it down one more step before she spied Sunflower hustling down the hill behind the shack towards her.
With her fluffy strawberry blonde hair and pixie face, her feet bare beneath her long paisley skirt, Sunflower looked like she’d fallen to earth on a sunbeam. But like everyone in Serenity she’d come in search of sanctuary.
Amber pulled off her veil and tucked it under her arm before wiping the dislodged strands of hair from her eyes. Not used to seeing anyone else out and about this early, Amber called out, “Everything okay?”
Sunflower waved a hand while she caught her breath. “I have news.”
“For you to be out from under your blanket this early it must be pretty good news.”
The look Sunflower shot her was thick with meaning.
“Not so good then.”
Sunflower shielded her face against the rising sun and said, “I’m actually not sure. New is they’ve opened up the Big House.”
Amber glanced up the hill; even though Hinterland House - the big, deserted Tuscan-style villa that everyone in the area simply referred to as the Big House - was perched too far over the other side to be seen.
“Grim mentioned seeing smoke coming from the chimney a couple of weeks back. But considering Grim lives in a cloud of smoke, I ignored it. Then Daphne claimed she saw sheets on the clothesline and I began to wonder. Last night, when he was taking one of his wanders, my Johnno saw a fancy black car barrelling up the drive and pulling into the garage.” She paused for effect, then announced, “It seems the family is back.”
“What family? The way the place was always kept so well tended I’d figured it was a tax write off for some overseas conglomerate.”
“Oh no,” said Sunflower, her eyes now dancing. “It belongs to the Van Halprins. A family as famous for their money and power as their tragic bad luck. As the story goes they all died off, in one tragic manner after another, until only one remained. The beautiful youngest daughter, Anna. Twenty-one and all alone in that big house, the townspeople feared what might become of her. Then, in a fairy tale ending, she married a prince from some far-off land and the place has been barren ever since.”
“And now this fairy tale Anna is back?”
Sunflower shook her head, her eyes sparking. “The person my Johnno saw driving the car was a man. City haircut. Deadly handsome. They say its him.”
Amber knew she was meant to say ‘him who’ but her throat had gone dry. Her earlier frisson of concern now bearing the hallmarks of full-fledged anxiety. Sweaty palms. Ringing in her ears. A strong desire to run inside and bar the door.
But the door to her shack was barely holding on its hinges as it was, so what would be the point?
Oblivious, sweet Sunflower went on. “It has to be Anna’s son! Anna’s royal son. Prince Alessandro Giordano himself.”
Not one to follow that kind of thing, Amber didn’t know Prince Alessandro from Prince Whathisname.
Only she had an awful feeling she did.
“Don’t you see?” Sunflower went on. “As heir to the Van Halprin estate, Prince Alessandro owns Hinterland House, which means he also owns pretty much every bit of land you can see. From one side of the hill to the other, from the river to the township. Including the land you and I are standing on.”
Amber found she had to swallow before asking, “Whoa. Back up a little. I assumed the commune owned this land. Or that the township simply let them stay.” So deeply grateful had she been, for the place to stay, she’d never thought to ask. “Are you saying that this prince owns Serenity Hill?”
Sunflower nodded slowly. “And there are more rumours.”
There were always rumours. Especially in a town this size. Having had parents whose chief personality trait was ‘being deeply involved’ Amber had developed a sincere lack of interest in knowing other people’s business.
Sunflower said, “Apparently a man meeting that description – tall, citified, handsome, and with an accent - has been seen meeting with the town council. And the only reason for an outsider to meet with council is - ”
The wind had picked up, creating eerie paths through the field of lavender. And despite the sun lifting into the air, Amber shivered. She wriggled her toes in her gumboots in order to keep the blood flowing.
Unlike some of the old-timers living in tents, wigwams, caravans and Kombi vans up the hill, Amber was a relative newcomer to Serenity. But while her history of the area was sketchy, her experience with the law was sharp and clear.
“The commune has been occupying this land for years. Decades, right? Long enough to build structures. To hook in plumbing. Electricity. To have signs pointing the way. It’s even noted as a point of interest on the tourist map. Surely that gives us rights.”
Sunflower blinked. “Rights?”
Before Amber could take the thought further, something banged inside her shack. Both women turned to see what it was. Amber took a subtle step back up onto the porch.
“Probably Ned demanding breakfast.”
Sunflower backed away. “Of course. I’m off to spread the news to the rest of the morning folk. See what else we can unearth. Feel free to fill everyone in yourself. Fire pit meeting tonight. On sunset.”
Another bang came from inside Amber’s shack. She took another step nearer her front door. Said, “You bet. See you then. I’d better check on Ned.”
Of course at that moment Ned came running out of the fields below, purple flowers caught in his fur.
Amber madly ushered Ned inside the shack, then yanked the door shut behind her before leaning against it, holding the doorknob tight.
In the quiet her heart thumped against her ribs.
All she had to do was lean forward to see past the cupboard-come-kitchen-wall and into her small bedroom. To spot the crumpled sheets. The colourful crocheted blanket kicked into a pile on the floor.
And the masculine shape of the stranger in her bed.
A chop of sun-kissed hair slid over one eye. Broad shoulders lifted and fell as he breathed. The profile cast against her pillow was achingly handsome. Even now. Even with the indignation building inside of her.
To think she’d only slipped out from under the warm, heavy weight of his arm ten minutes before, smiling at what a deep sleeper he was. And the reason why.
He’d said his name was Hugo. And she’d believed him.
That particular something in his eyes – directness, authority, unflappability – allowing her the rare luxury of taking everything he’d said at face value. No doubt the foreign accent had helped too. Not only was it devastatingly sexy, it meant he was a tourist, just passing through. There was no point worrying too much about details when their dalliance was only ever going to be short term.
And yet if she hadn’t indulged in a clandestine, three week affair with Prince Alessandro Giordano, the owner of the land on which she and her friends lived illegally, she’d eat her gumboots.