The Prince's Chambermaid(8)

By: Sharon Kendrick

She did a little swivel to regard her back view, and shuddered—because from the back it looked even worse, if that were possible. The material clung to her bottom and seemed to draw cruel attention to its over-generous curves.

Her nerves were already shot to pieces and picking up her new uniform from the dressmaker’s had only made her precarious mental state seem a million times worse. She’d put it on with trembling fingers but it seemed unsuitable no matter what angle she came at it from. Too small and too tight—the man-made fabric strained over the lush lines of her breasts and made them look absolutely enormous.

She didn’t want to wear clothes which made her feel self-conscious about her curvy figure, nor to plaster her face in make-up—which she hadn’t a clue how to apply properly. But Rupert had read her the Riot Act and so she had reluctantly complied—just as she had agreed to jettison her normal comfy flat shoes and replace them with a pair of heels so high she could barely walk in them. Beneath the mascara and lip gloss, she felt like a fraud, but one who was not in any position to object—because how could she possibly do that when she had placed herself in such an unwise situation?

Her boss was ignorant of the fact that she had behaved like a complete fool who had allowed a complete stranger to kiss her in a way that still made her cheeks burn when she remembered it. Only in this case, the complete stranger had turned out to be a royal prince. A guest of honour who would shortly be arriving with all his royal entourage.

A lying and duplicitous prince, she reminded herself bitterly—and one who clearly found it funny to unleash his potent sex appeal and to amuse himself with a naïve and stupid woman who had fallen completely under his spell. Playing games with commoners—was that how he got his kicks?

After he had walked out of the hotel last week it had taken only minutes for Cathy to work out that the man with the golden eyes had not been a humble decorator—but Prince Xaviero himself. A fact which had been confirmed by her subsequent heart-sinking search on the Internet, where his official portrait had flashed up in front of her disbelieving eyes. Yet the sternly handsome face which had stared back at her from the computer screen had seemed worlds away from the denim-clad man who had kissed her with such careless sensuality.

On the official website of Zaffirinthos Xaviero had been pictured dressed in some sort of formal uniform—wearing a dark jacket with several medals pinned to the front of it. His black hair had looked tamed instead of ruffled and his lips had been hard and unsmiling. And try as she did to resist, Cathy hadn’t been able to help drinking in his remarkable beauty—before reminding herself that he had deliberately deceived her.

Dragging her eyes away from his portrait, she’d clicked onto the history of the island instead. Zaffirinthos. A beautiful, crescent-shaped paradise set in the Ionian Sea—close to Greece and at no great distance from the southernmost tip of Italy. It was rich in gold and other precious minerals, and the di Cesere family was fabulously wealthy—with property and business interests in just about every part of the globe.

With one final fraught glance at the unfamiliar image gazing back at her from the mirror, Cathy realised that she couldn’t keep delaying the inevitable. It was time to go and face the man she had kissed so impetuously and who, for one stupid and unedifying moment, had made her heart sing. And then what? Pray that he wouldn’t inform her boss that she had behaved so unprofessionally—and leave her to fade into the background with her embarrassing memories.

It was a sunny summer’s day and a pretty walk through green and golden lanes to the hotel. Although it was still early, she could see a big shiny black limousine parked in front of the entrance and a burly-looking man standing sentry at the doors.

‘I work here,’ she said in reply to the rather hostile gaze which was levelled at her as she approached.

‘Identification?’ he clipped out.

Fishing around in her handbag, Cathy produced her driving licence and gave it to him and stood while a pair of emotionless black eyes slowly compared her face to the photograph. Eventually, he nodded and stepped back to allow her through.

Bodyguards clearly didn’t need much in the way of people skills, Cathy thought wryly as she made her way inside. But once she’d substituted her trainers for the dreaded high-heeled shoes and locked away her handbag she looked around—marvelling at what a transforming effect a little care and attention could have.

All the walls had been painted a pale sienna colour—so that the whole place looked bigger and cleaner. Cobwebs and dust had been removed from the chandeliers, which now cascaded from the ceilings like floating showers of diamonds. Huge bowls of flowers were dotted around the place, and they seemed to make the biggest difference of all. Blue irises and white roses added scent, beauty and focus to the downstairs rooms.

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