Married for the Prince's Convenience

By: Maya Blake
CHAPTER ONE

SHE WAS A THIEF.

A thief...

Jasmine Nichols’s heart pounded the indictment through her bloodstream. She hadn’t stolen anything yet, but that was beside the point. She’d travelled thousands of miles for the sole purpose of taking something that didn’t belong to her.

Telling herself she had no choice didn’t matter. If anything, it escalated her helplessness.

By the end of the night, she would wear the damning label as close to her skin as her black designer evening gown clung now.

Because failure wasn’t an option.

Fear and shame duelled for supremacy inside her, but it was the deep knowledge that she couldn’t turn her back on her family that propelled her reluctant feet up the sweeping crimson carpet towards the awe-inspiring masterpiece that housed the Contemporary Museum of Arts, perched on a cliff-side overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Even the jaw-dropping beauty of her surroundings couldn’t detract her from the simple fact.

She’d come here to steal.

The smile she’d plastered on her face since alighting from the air-conditioned limo threatened to crack. To calm her nerves, she mentally recited her to do list.

First, she had to locate Crown Prince Reyes Vicente Navarre.

And there was her first problem.

All effective search engines had yielded no pictures of the reclusive prince, save for a grainy image taken at the funeral of his mother four years ago. Since then, no pictures of the royal family of the South American kingdom of Santo Sierra had been released to the public. They guarded their privacy with a rigour that bordered on fanaticism.

As if that weren’t bad enough, according to reports, the House of Navarre’s Crown Prince had left his kingdom only three times in the last three years, all his time spent caring for his gravely ill father. It was rumoured King Carlos Navarre wasn’t expected to live past the summer.

Which meant Jasmine had no means of identifying Prince Reyes Navarre.

How did she get close to a man whose identity she had no idea of, distract him long enough to get her hands on what she’d come for before her mother and, more importantly, her stepfather, Stephen Nichols, the man who’d saved her life, and whose name she’d adopted, found out what she was up to?

Stephen would be heartbroken if he knew she was being blackmailed.

A nerve-destroying shudder rose up from the soles of her feet, making her clench her teeth to stop its death rattle from escaping. She smiled some more, mingled with the insanely wealthy and well heeled, and tried to reassure herself she could do this. By this time tomorrow, she’d be back home.

And most importantly, Stephen would be safe.

If everything went smoothly.

Stop it! Negative thinking was the downfall of many a plan. How many times had Stephen told her this?

She fixed her wilting smile back in place, stepped into the main hall of the museum, but she couldn’t summon the enthusiasm to gawp at the stunning paintings and sculptures on display.

A waiter approached bearing a tray of champagne. Accepting the sparkling gold-filled crystal goblet, she smoothed a shaky hand over the pearl choker around her throat, ignored the nervous flutter in her belly, and made her way to the bowl-shaped terrace where the guests were congregating for pre-dinner drinks.

So far the plans set out by Joaquin Esteban—the man threatening her stepfather’s life—had gone meticulously. Her name had been on the guest list as promised, alongside those of world leaders and celebrities she’d only seen on TV and in glossy magazines. For a single moment, while she’d waited for Security to check the electronic chip on her invitation, she’d secretly hoped to be caught, turned away. But the man who held her stepfather’s fate in his cruel hands had seen to every last detail she needed to pull this off.

Everything except provide her with a picture of the thirty-two-year-old prince.

The first stage of the treaty signing was to take place in half an hour in the Golden Room behind her. And with the occasion coinciding with Prince Mendez of Valderra’s birthday, guests had been invited onto the terrace to witness the spectacular sunset and the prince’s arrival, before the signing and birthday celebrations began.

Crown Prince Reyes himself was expected at eight o’clock. A quick glance at her watch showed five minutes to the hour. With every interminable second that ticked by, Jasmine’s nerves tightened another notch.

What if she was found out? Certainly, she could kiss her job as a broker and mediator goodbye. But even if she succeeded, how could she ever hold her head high again? She’d worked so very hard to put her past behind her, to tend the new leaf she’d turned over. For eight years, she’d succeeded. And now, at twenty-six, she was on the slippery slope again.

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