Sophie Kent loves her new job as press liaison for Kyra Duncan, fiancee of Britain’s Prince Nicholas. But there’s one downside, and it comes in the form of a very sexy, very annoying American reporter named Garrett Smith.
He’s determined to make life more difficult, and so far, he’s succeeding. But these two just might discover their chemistry is stronger than their combat.
Read the first chapter here!
“Kyra! Hey, Kyra! Look here, love!”
“One picture, Kyra! Give us a smile!”
“Kyra, any wedding details?”
“Kyra, does Her Majesty approve of you shacking up and living in sin with her grandson?”
In front of me, with her chin high and a vague smile pasted on her face, Kyra Duncan waded through the crush of journalists and photographers as we pushed our way from the car to the door of her office building. She was doing fine, ignoring all the yells and questions, until that last one zinged in. Even then, her steps stuttered just a little bit—and maybe I was the only one who noticed, because I was watching so carefully.
She kept going, though, walking up the three cement stairs to the door and pausing as the lobby security guard opened it for her. Within seconds, she had disappeared behind the tinted glass.
I continued behind her, sweeping my gaze from left to right as I registered who was here from the press as part of the Kyra contingent. I tried to maintain a general idea of which papers and media outlets were covering her so I could follow what they wrote. Today, I recognized everyone in the crowd . . . but only one made my stomach clench with irritation and nerves.
He was at the front of the pack—of course, he would be—and he was impossible to miss. He stood a head above the other reporters, but even if he’d been shorter, it wasn’t hard to see that he was different; his dark hair was long, brushing the tops of his shoulders, and above the collar of his jacket peeped the top edges of several colorful tattoos on his neck. His face, I thought to myself, wouldn’t be half bad if it wasn’t for the expression of arrogance it carried.
Garrett Smith had shown up about two months ago, right around the time I was named to my current position of press liaison to Kyra Duncan, fiancée of Prince Nicholas. At first, I hadn’t known who he was; I’d spent the first five weeks buried deep in the Kensington Palace offices, learning all the ins and outs of navigating the press as an official member of the Royal Family’s staff. There were so many rules, so much I had to absorb, that I barely paid attention to anything in the outside world.
But even there, the infamous Garrett Smith somehow managed to intrude. I’d been sitting at a table one day, studying old press releases and announcements from the Palace with several of the more experienced members of the staff, when Aline Perkins had sailed in, a scowl on her pretty, perfectly made-up face.
“The nerve of this man. I mean . . . really, the nerve.” She threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes. I’d never seen this woman, who was second-in-charge of the press office here at Kensington Palace, as anything but calm and collected. Something drastic—or someone extreme— had to have rattled her.
“Who is it, Aline?” Jessica leaned forward, her eyes displaying the same curiosity as I felt.
“That awful man. That Garrett Smith.” She spit out his name as though it tasted foul on her tongue.
“Ugh.” Jessica shook her head. “Him again? What’s he done now? What horrid story has he written this time?”
“It’s not what he’s written—although there was a piece in a tabloid rag today with his byline. In it, he speculated that Ms. Duncan forced the prince into an engagement through her grandparents’ business connections.”
I couldn’t help a snort of derisive laughter at that. “Prince Nicholas is crazy about Kyra! How could anyone think otherwise?”
Aline spared me just a passing glance, but still, I was well aware that I’d broken a couple of protocols. We did not speculate or comment on the lives of the Family, nor did we refer to them by anything other than their correct titles. Even though Kyra insisted that I call her by her first name, I knew well enough to stick to Ms. Duncan when I was in the office.
“But those sorts of stories are to be expected. We see them every week. What else did he do to upset you, Aline?” Jessica tilted her head expectantly.
“He’s requesting an interview with Ms. Duncan. A personal, one-on-one interview.” Her tone was incredulous. “He made some overblown claims about the need to offer a balanced view, that it would only be right to have the American press represented and able to ask her questions that apparently only an American reporter could produce.”
“He’s got to be joking.” Jessica shook her head, and around the table where we all sat, there rose a murmur of agreement. After all, even I knew better than that. Interviews with any member of the Family were granted sparingly, usually on special occasions such as landmark wedding anniversaries, engagement announcements and certain state occasions, and even then, those interviews were given to carefully vetted journalists, usually those who had been long-time supporters of the Royal Family. An American freelance paparazzi had no chance of winning one of those coveted spots.
“I would have thought so, but he’s persistent. He won’t stop submitting requests and calling my office.” She lifted her nose as though she’d scented something unpleasant. “He’s a pest.”
That day was far from the last time I heard Garrett Smith’s name—and it was always in that same tone of voice. And then once I actually began my job . . . I met him, and I realized why Aline, Jessica and everyone else in the press office felt the way they did.
Now, as I made my way through the dispersing crowd of reporters and photographers who knew that their quarry would likely stay in her office for the rest of the day, I made a deliberate effort not to look at Garrett Smith. I didn’t want to give him any opening to begin lobbing questions at me.
“Hello, Sophie, how’s it going on the other side?” Bob Cruise, a reporter I’d known when I was still a staff member at The Lloyd Post, smiled at me. He was one of the friendlier members of the self-dubbed Kyra Corps, the mass of news people who dogged my new boss’s steps from dawn until dusk—and often, beyond.
“Can’t complain, Bob.” I nodded at him, careful to be friendly but not too familiar. That had been one of the lessons drummed into my head during my crash course at the palace press office: I had to remember who I was now, and even more importantly, for whom I worked. Aline hadn’t made a secret of the fact that the power brokers inside the palace didn’t like to hire from within the ranks of journalists. They’d only grudgingly given into Kyra’s stubborn demand that if she had to have a press liaison, only I would do.
“Lucky you, not having to tromp around in the weather anymore.” Bob cast a sideways glance at the black car that waited at the curb. “Stepping up in the world, I see.”
I bit down on the corner of my lip, swallowing the need to jump to my own defense. I might have had just a little bit of a guilt complex about the perks of my new position.
“Always good to see you, Bob.” I flashed him a quick smile that I hoped looked genuine. “Stay warm and dry.”
He chuckled, and I headed for the door again, studiously ignoring the fact that Garrett Smith was still lingering just at the top of the short set of steps, about two feet away from my destination.
“Sophie Kent.” He didn’t yell my name the way he did Kyra’s; instead, he said it in a leveled, moderated tone.
I risked a quick glance at him, more of an automatic response to hearing my name than anything else. But when my eyes met his, I was startled to see the interest in those piercing crystal blues. It wasn’t the calculating, crafty expression I’d expected. Instead, he seemed almost . . . friendly.
Flustered, I gave a brief nod, not willing to say anything that could be considered an invitation to a conversation.
“Former staff reporter for The Lloyd Post. Worked the social circuit for a few years, reported on weddings and parties for the most part. Covered the royals here and there. Was just breaking into real news when Kyra Duncan burst onto the scene, and then you were assigned to report on her romance with the prince. You spent months two years ago following Kyra around Maine and Florida. When he dumped her in the fall, you wrote an impassioned piece, talking up Kyra and basically calling the prince a fool.”
I paused with my fingers wrapped around the handle of the glass door, frozen, listening to him recite my curriculum vitae, as if it were somehow news to me.
“And then, once the happy couple hooked up again and made it official this time, Kyra hired you to be her press rep. From what I hear, she actually battled to have you on her staff.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “Now, here you are, trailing behind her every day while the rest of us grub around to get a decent picture or a genuine quote. Must be nice.”
Irritation flared, making my heartbeat stutter. “Mr. Smith, was there a question buried in there somewhere, or was that recitation of my recent past meant to make some sort of point?”
He laughed, softly. “Neither one. I was only trying to get your attention.”
I felt my face go red. “Why?”
“Maybe just to see if I could. Now that I did, how about considering my request for an interview with Kyra?”
I heaved a huge sigh and rolled my eyes. “There it is. I knew it was coming. Mr. Smith, all requests for interviews with members of the Royal Family go through the press office. I believe you’re well aware of that.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that line before. Once or twice, I guess.” He winked at me. The shameless idiot winked at me, like we were some kind of old friends. “But the weird thing is, even though I submit the requests every week and go through the so-called proper channels, I never hear a word back. I figured maybe if I went directly to the source, you could set me up. Make it happen. Cut through the red tape.” He smiled then, his full and generous mouth stretching into a wide, winsome grin. “Help out a fellow stringer.”
“Mr. Smith.” I gritted my teeth in an effort to keep my voice even. “You’re wasting your breath. Even if I were inclined to help you—and I assure you, that’s a big if—I don’t have the amount of influence you seem to think I do. I’ve just begun this job, and I’m the lowest of the low at the press office.” Not to mention that my loyalty was still in question, in the opinion of many of the higher-ups—but that wasn’t something I cared to divulge to Garrett Smith.
“That’s why now’s the time to strike. Step out and make this job your own. You have Kyra’s ear. Tell her about my request. I’m open to laying down guidelines or topics that are off-limits. I just want to nail the first interview.”
I quirked an eyebrow his way. “Too late. Both Ms. Duncan and the prince were interviewed on the occasion of their engagement announcement.”
Garrett waved his hand. “That doesn’t count. Everyone knows that’s just the palace’s chosen reporter asking exactly what the suits tell him.”
The wind had begun to whip up, and a chilling gust swept through the street, making me shiver. My fingers on the door handle were beginning to go numb.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Smith—”
“Garrett.” He stepped slightly closer. “My name’s Garrett.”
I ignored that. “—but I’m not willing to jeopardize my own job so that you can have bragging privileges to Ms. Duncan’s first solo interview. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“Have a drink with me.”
I’d begun to open the door, but in my surprise, I let it go. “Excuse me?”
“C’mon, you heard me. Have a drink with me.”
I blinked, incredulous. “It’s barely past nine in the morning.”
He laughed, throwing back his head, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and I got a better look at those intriguing tattoos. They were colorful, and I was suddenly insanely curious about what they looked like in full.
“I didn’t mean now, sweetheart. I meant later. After work. Come around to the bar, and we’ll chat. I’ll buy you a beer. Or do you only drink fine wine, now that you’re part of the establishment?” He cocked his head, and in his gaze, I read challenge.
“That’s none of your business, and thank you, but no. I’m not interested in a drink. And I have to get inside now.” I grabbed the door again and pulled, and this time, when he called after me, I just kept walking.
* * *
“All right, lay it on me. What did I do wrong?”
Kyra’s office at the London headquarters of Honey Bee Juices was smaller than one might expect, given that she was, for all intents and purposes, running an entire division within the company. But I’d come to realize early on in my tenure with Kyra that the Duncans as a whole tended to be unassuming people. Her grandparents, whom I’d met soon after I’d been hired, were a gentle, loving couple who laughed easily. They were given to grand gestures of generosity, and I’d seen that same trait in their granddaughter.
She sat behind her desk now, her elbows resting on the blotter as she steepled her fingers and peered at me, waiting for my response to her question.
I settled myself more comfortably in my chair. “I think you did very well today, overall. You kept your head up this time, and you weren’t thrown one bit by all of the questions thrown at you.”
Kyra sighed. “But . . .”
“No but.” I smiled. “As far as I can tell, you’ve made loads of progress. Once the pictures hit the internet, I can let you know if there’s anything we need to address there.” I paused. “Even when that horrid Garrett Smith called out, you barely reacted at all.”
“But I did react. I just—he seems to be able to figure out the most unexpected question and then throw it at me.”
“He’s insufferable.” I sniffed. “I can’t stand him.”
“Wellllll . . .” Kyra drew out the word. “I mean, he’s just doing his job, I guess. And he might be a little rough around the edges, but there’s no denying the dude is seriously hot.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Do you think so? Really?” Under the cover of the desk, my leg jiggled just a little.
“He’s not my type,” Kyra hastened to assure me. “I’m more into shorter hair and that good guy vibe—with just a hint of bad boy thrown in for good measure. But you have to admit that from a purely objective point of view, Garrett Smith is sexy.”
“Hmmm.” I was noncommittal and hoped Kyra didn’t notice.
“I think it’s his size. And his hair. And the muscles on top of muscles. And the tattoos—don’t they make your mind wander? Like, to really interesting places, like . . . how far do those tats go? And what are they, exactly? Don’t those things just pique your curiosity?”
I coughed. “Not at all. Not one bit. He’s a crude, pushy . . .” I couldn’t think of a word to fit what I needed to say. “. . . reporter.”
“Oh, really?” Kyra regarded me with narrowed eyes. “You know, Sophie, Garrett’s not my type, but that doesn’t mean he’s not someone else’s type.”
“I suppose so. My gran used to say there’s a lid for every pot.” I refused to be drawn into Kyra’s teasing. “And on that note, you have work to do, I’m sure. I’ll take a look at the photos as soon as they go up, and then we can review them when you arrive home.”
“Oh, joy. I just love looking at pictures of myself and figuring out how to make sure I don’t look like a moron when I’m walking from the car to my office.” Kyra made a face. “I’m having trouble mastering the vague smile. It just eludes me.”
“Practice makes perfect.” I stood up. “The more you do it, the easier it will become—until you’re smiling vaguely without even thinking about it.”
Kyra snorted, a most un-princess-like sound. “That doesn’t really sound like a life goal I want to have.”
Laughing, I executed a perfect queenly wave as I paused in the doorway.
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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