Royal Masquerade

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Blurb: Alessandra Ranieri is forced to adopt a name that isn’t really hers, when she returns to Monterra to claim an inheritance…that isn’t really hers. She’s certain that her Romany grandmother intended to leave her the property nestled in the foothills of the Monterran Alps.

Raul Forli, heir to the dukedom of Forli, is determined to unmask Alessandra’s masquerade. He knows she’s lying. More importantly, he needs the same property she is claiming, and he’s sure that his need is more desperate than hers. Because the duke is not all he seems, either. And he’s got nothing to lose.

This battle will be fiercely waged.

Not in a court of law.

But in the hearts of Alessandra and her fairy-tale duke.

Excerpt: Alessandra saw a cannonball barreling down the slope off to her left, a crescendo of speed that lifted off in a marvelous burst of power. She simply had to watch him land, knowing it would be beautiful. And it was. The moment when he hit the ground in a shower of snow and swirled to a graceful stop thrilled her down to her toes. Of course, her lapse of attention to her own skiing had been costly. She crossed her tips, tumbled over her skis, and slid to a stop just shy of the woods.

It had been worth it.

The power and grace of Raul skiing was enough to take her breath away. She began to giggle. Of course, whatever breath she’d had left had definitely been knocked out by her fall. She allowed herself to rest on her back for a moment, checking to see if she’d been hurt. Her skis had both popped off, so that was good. Her poles were still around her wrists, secured by the straps. All in all—

A shadow darkened the air above her. Raul. He must have seen her fall and skied over. He was stepping out of his skis, flinging away his poles, and in general looking and behaving like a crazy man. Her giggles intensified. What was he planning to do?

He yanked off his helmet and knelt down on one knee beside her. “Alessandra—”

At the moment he spoke her name, he seemed to notice she was alive and well. He frowned down at her. “What in hell is so funny?”

“I fell.” She laughed up at him. “Serves me right.”

“Probably,” he growled. He was still kneeling over her, his brow furrowed. “What the hell happened? You should have been able to handle that. You had a great lift off.”

“I was watching you!” She laughed again at the surprise on his face. “Lost my concentration—”

Slowly, as if it took a moment for her admission to sink in, he smiled. “I guess I can’t complain about that.”

“You’d better not, you ungrateful wretch.” Without thinking, she lifted a handful of powdery snow and flung it at him. He ducked just in time, but a few white flakes landed in his dark hair, sparkling.

“Why you—” He leaned over her, picked up his own fistful of snow and held it over her. “You don’t want to challenge a champion snowball thrower.”

“Champion? Is there an Olympics for that sport in Monterra?”

“I don’t know about that,” he admitted.  He shook a few snowflakes down onto her red jacket, threatening her. “But that was my title in third grade.”

“Oooh, I’m scared—” She laughed up at him again, loving the moment of lying here in the snow with this handsome man looking down at her, the sun shining around him, and his broad shoulders filling her world. It was a once in a lifetime moment. She felt her laughter die as he stared, his expression changing—from mock threatening laughter —to lust. The heat in his eyes scorched her, wiping out the laughter.

He was going to kiss her. He held her gaze, his eyes gleaming, as he leaned down, shaking off one glove, and then the other. The handful of snow fell to the ground, forgotten.

“Alessandra,” he murmured in a low, intimate voice. He placed one hand on her cheek, his fingers cold on the outside, but warm within. “You look like a Christmas present.”

“Not something glittery and fake, I hope?” She couldn’t shake the knowledge that he thought she was living under a false name in Monterra, masquerading as someone she was not.

“No.” He shook his head slightly, a half-smile on his lips. “Something sparkly and fun. Something unexpected.” His voice went even lower. “Something I want to unwrap.”

He closed the gap between them and his hot mouth met hers.

The touch electrified her, as if her laughter, and the sparkling snow, and the brilliant sunshine had all been bottled up and passed into her through his kiss. Her lips parted instantly, to taste more of him. She tasted winter and heat and strength and, most of all, man. His lips were firm, molding hers,  savoring them. She felt the roughness of his chin, and the cold of his cheeks.

Then, best of all, the warmth of his tongue. He ventured into her mouth gently, but surely. He knew what he was doing. And she responded instantly, welcoming him, tasting this more intimate part of him. Her mind began to cloud with pleasure as she fell deeper into the kiss. His clean scent of fire in winter enveloped her.

This was the man she’d first met at the ball. A man who’d been interested in getting to know her. A man who’d looked at her as if she were special. A man who knew how to hold her tenderly. Dreams swirled in her head as his heat pressed her into the cold snow, his body hard even under the layers of clothes, his mouth plundering as if he couldn’t get enough. In the background, she vaguely heard the sounds of skiers whizzing past, some calling to each other and some calling Raul’s na—

Her eyes flew open. Who was calling Raul’s name?

Several clicks sounded around her. Clicks? She looked around. They were being photographed. People were calling Raul’s name to get him to turn toward them. What the heck?

Skiing in Monterra

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