[Montacroix Royal Family Series 02] - The Prince & the Showgirl

The Prince The Showgirl

By

JoAnn Ross

Contents


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The kingdom of Montacroix has been described as a fantasyland. But to me, it's always been home. And while I've enjoyed the privileges of wealth, after my coronation my life will change.

It is, after all, one thing for the heir to the throne to be perceived as a playboy; it is quite another for the regent to be perceived that way. My father, determined that I marry, has been parading innumerable suitable prospects before me. Yet I remain determined to choose my own consort.

Although Sabrina Darling insists she isn't princess material, the American actress who haunts my dreams and torments my waking moments is most definitely a woman born to wear flowing silks and rich, disturbing scents. Sabrina is everything I've ever dreamed of in a woman, more than I'd hoped for in a bride.

And despite her claim that she no longer believes in fairy tales, I fully intend to make her my beloved wife. Forever.

Prince Burke Giraudeau de Montacroix

ISBN 0-373-81039-3

THE PRINCE THE SHOWGIRL

Copyright © 1993 by JoAnn Ross

Dear Reader:

I'm delighted that
The Prince The Showgirl—
my retelling of the classic legendary romance,
Cinderella
— has been chosen to be part of the MEN AT WORK series.

This is definitely not your mother's fairy tale. I couldn't resist tossing in a pinch of danger and intrigue to add spice to the story. Also, Sabrina's stepmother and stepsisters are worlds different from those original harridans.

And since Prince Burke Giraudeau de Montacroix is a very modern man, I knew he could fall in love only with a woman capable of slaying her own dragons.

Even with these changes,
The Prince The Showgirl
(like all good fairy tales and Harlequin/Silhouette novels) does, of course, end with Prince Burke and Sabrina living happily ever after.

Which is, as always, my heartfelt wish for you.

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Once upon a time, when she'd still believed in fairy tales, Sabrina Darling had fantasized about becoming a princess.

Instead of the hated thrift-store clothing she was forced to wear—worn and outdated outfits that inevitably drew taunts and jeers from her classmates, she would dress in richly colored flowing silks that whispered as she walked, sparkling glass slippers and a gleaming gold-filigree crown studded with priceless diamonds, emeralds and rubies.

Although Sabrina had always been an imaginative child, the princess fantasies, which she had indulged in for as long as she could remember, began in earnest shortly after her eighth birthday. That was the year her mother died.

Sabrina had never known her father. Her mother, Melody, had divorced him before Sabrina was born. Bitter over various grievances—some real, others imagined—Melody had not told her young husband— a struggling country singer and songwriter—that he was about to become a father.

Such short-sighted stubbornness resulted in mother and daughter living in near poverty in San Antonio. Unfortunately, lack of funds hadn't kept Melody out of the honky-tonks; after all, she was pretty and young and there was always some man willing and eager to buy her a drink. Or two. Or more.

Then, late one night on a cold, rainy December, unhappy fate caught up with Melody. On her way home from a local cowboy bar, she had the misfortune to be a passenger in an oil rigger's metallic blue Thunderbird that rolled over on the interstate outside of town.

The car was totaled. The kindly highway patrolman who'd broken the news to Sabrina had assured her that her mother had died instantly.

"Don't worry, sugar," he'd soothed, "your mama didn't suffer none."

And that was the reason Sabrina ended up in a cramped trailer on the outskirts of Waco, Texas, with her grandmother, a disapproving harridan who found a naturally spirited young girl difficult to deal with.

Wretchedly unhappy and forlorn, Sabrina passed most of the next year escaping into her bright, sparkling world of daydreams.

She spent long lonely hours desperately wishing for a fairy godmother to suddenly appear and, with one wave of her sparkling magic wand, transform her miserable life.

While the rest of her third-grade class was struggling to learn long division, Sabrina would lose herself in romantic daydreams. Her favorite one had the classroom door suddenly burst open. Prince Charming would ride in astride his magnificent white steed, sweep her up behind him and carry her off at a heady gallop to his castle. A dazzling palace with turrets and towers that pierced the sky. And a moat.

Of course it went without saying that she and her handsome prince would live happily ever after.

On the first anniversary of her mother's death, her grandmother decided to call Nashville, Tennessee, and instructed Sabrina's father to come and fetch his daughter. It was time father and daughter got to know each other.

Sabrina had been stunned to learn that Sonny Darling was her father. Why, he was famous. More than famous, he was a star! She watched him all the time on television, singing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, exchanging quips with Minnie Pearl.

But never once had she imagined that the man on the television was the man her mother had always talked about so disparagingly.

When Sonny showed up at the trailer, looking strong and rich and incredibly handsome in his black Western-cut suit and silver-tipped ostrich-skin boots, he embodied the prince in all Sabrina's escapist daydreams.

She was welcomed into her new Nashville home—a huge white pillared Georgian mansion reminiscent of antebellum days—by Dixie, Sonny's pretty red-haired wife.

In no time she'd inherited two new parents, two half sisters and a new and famous last name. But deep down inside, Sabrina never quite outgrew a need to prove to her father that she was worth saving.

Maybe that's why, nineteen years later, she was standing on the deck of a sleek white boat speeding toward a castle, halfway around the world in the principality of Montacroix.

From a distance, the palace rising up from the island in the middle of the lake appeared to be a many-towered Camelot. Its wedding-cake spires pierced the silver mist, gleaming like polished alabaster in the golden shafts of sunlight. It could have served as the inspiration for her long-ago daydreams.

"Oh!" breathed Ariel Darling, Sabrina's half sister.

The lake wind ruffled the pleated miniskirt of Ariel's robin's egg blue designer suit, revealing the long, coltish legs that had made her famous as a vamp on a popular daytime soap opera.

"It always affects people that way," the man piloting the boat said when he heard Ariel's sharp intake of breath.

"It's like something from a fairy tale," Raven said, gazing at the edifice across the diamond-bright waters of Lake Losange. At thirty, Raven was the middle of the three Darling sisters.

"That's what they all say," he agreed amiably. "Especially Americans. We Europeans are more blasé about our palaces, since we've got them scattered all over the place."

Sabrina remained silent, staring at the enchanting sun-gilded vision. The Montacroix royal palace was like a dazzling jewel set in the very center of the lake's sapphire waters.

The fact it was inhabited by the Giraudeau regents, the most talked-about European lineage, made it all the more glamorous.

Something stirred in Sabrina. Some lingering fanciful emotion she recognized as intrinsically dangerous. Frowning, she folded her arms across the front of her scarlet satin baseball jacket.

The boatman's dark eyes, beneath his cap, took a quick tour of Sabrina's alluring looks—her gleaming golden blond hair, flowing from a red, white and blue sequined baseball cap all the way down to her waist and her attractive legs encased in over-the-knee, lace-up red suede boots.

"Are you ladies friends of Prince Burke?"

Last month's
People
magazine had referred to Burke Giraudeau as the world's most eligible bachelor. And now, with his upcoming coronation, he was even more in demand. From the boatman's overtly masculine appraisal, Sabrina suspected that he was viewing her sisters and her as three more females determined to capture the prize.

"Hardly," Sabrina said dryly. From what she'd read of Prince Burke's life-style—polo playing in Monaco, skiing in the French Alps, photographing endangered species in Kenya, and Grand Prix auto racing all over the world—she was certain that she wouldn't like such a self-indulgent man.

Her twenty-eight years had taught her a few things—and one of them was that she had no interest in a man who was obviously nothing more than an international playboy.

Then, again, she couldn't help feeling smug about the fact she'd be performing in front of a real prince for the first time…

"Then you must be a friend of Princess Noel's," the man probed a little deeper.

"We've never met."

"Perhaps you know Princess Chantal. Her husband's an American, you know," he offered, as if hoping to encourage a more detailed response.

"I know," Sabrina answered with blatant disinterest.

Her mind still on the errant playboy prince, she didn't bother to add that she'd met the princess when she and her sisters had performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She'd found her to be a warm and gracious person.

Ariel shot Sabrina a mildly rebuking look and said, "We're here to perform for the coronation."

"Not exactly the coronation," Raven corrected. She pushed a cloud of jet black hair from her face. The wind picked up; pewter clouds gathered overhead.

"Actually, we've been booked to sing for the public festival the day before the coronation. And Princess Chantal's fund-raiser." The gala event, staged to raise funds for the princess's favorite charity—the Rescue the Children Fund—was definitely a professional coup.

The man's eyes lighted with recognition. "Then that would make you the Little Darlings."

"We dropped the
Little
years ago," Sabrina said. Her tone was unnecessarily sharp, earning her warning glances from both sisters and her mother.

"My daughters prefer to call themselves simply The Darlings now that they've grown up," Dixie divulged. Her honeyed Southern accent turned as thick as molasses in an obvious attempt to soothe the man's injured feelings. "Do you have daughters,
monsieur
?"

"Two," he mumbled.

"Then I'm sure you'll understand how sensitive some young girls are," Dixie soothed, placing a hand on his beefy arm.

Sabrina had always thought of her stepmother as a velvet bulldozer, especially when she pulled out her Southern belle routine. Dixie's behavior was every bit as obvious as Scarlett's had been when she'd put on those drapes and gone to entice Rhett into giving her money. Transparent it might be. But it never failed to work. And this time was no exception.

The boatman looked down at Dixie's black suede glove. Color flooded into his already ruddy cheeks, like a spreading fever.

"That I do,
madame
," he acknowledged. "When my oldest girl, Gabriella, turned sixteen, she instructed her mother and me never to call her Gabby again. Wasn't 'sophisticated,' she said." He scowled at the memory.

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