Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Way to a Man’s Heart + Giveaway

The Way to a Mans Heart

The Way to a Man’s Heart

by Ann Marie James

Book1 in the Kingdom of Corazón series

Word Count: 33,982
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 135

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
GAY
GLBTQI
ROYALS
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

The heart wants what the heart wants…

Christian Diaz grew up as the best friend and unofficial bodyguard to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Corazón. After an incident left him questioning his place in the castle, Christian joined the military and didn’t return for ten long years.

Now he’s been assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison to investigate the source of some recent threats against the crown. The annual Midsummer’s Ball is the perfect place for the anti-monarchy group to make their next move, so that’s where Christian will be too. If it gives him a chance to reconnect with his friends in the castle and make a play for the man he has compared all others to, it’s even better.

Max Ramirez is now the head chef for the castle. He started as a sous chef at age twenty when Christian was just an awkward teen. Now that Christian’s back at the castle, all grown up and interested in Max, the chef is determined not to let an opportunity with Christian pass him by.

When someone tries to sabotage the Midsummer’s Ball, Max and Christian need to work together to track down the people determined to make this event their last.

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of drug use, obsession, references to parental abuse, drink spiking, violence, attempted rape, and attempted murder.

Excerpt

The royal family of the Kingdom of Corazón greeted their guests for the Midsummers Ball as Christian watched. He ran a hand down the front of his dress military uniform to straighten it while he waited for his turn to be announced. This was his first formal duty as the newly appointed Royal Military Liaison, and he needed to make sure he looked his best. He shifted his feet to find some relief for his ankle, which was still sore from him standing for a long time. His last mission had not gone to plan, and a broken ankle had been the result. Although the cast had come off a couple of weeks prior, it still wasn’t one hundred percent.

“Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz,” the herald announced. Christian caught the eye of Crown Prince Sebastian toward the end of the greeting line and his best friend’s eyes widened in surprise before his face lit up with happiness at seeing him. As the only child of the Castle Commander, Christian had grown up here, but he’d been in the service away from the castle for ten years. At thirty, Christian was the same age as Crown Prince Sebastian. They had been best friends from the time they had been in diapers, and even though Christian and the prince still got together when their schedules allowed, it wasn’t the same as seeing and being with him every day. Christian had missed him fiercely.

The royal children of the kingdom were usually paired with a young playmate from the age of about ten. Christian had started earlier than age ten as Sebastian’s companion, since he was always with him anyway. As Castle Commander, his father was the head of the guard slash castle security. He’d taken the companion idea a step further and trained Christian to be as good as he could be in martial arts and marksmanship. In his father’s eyes, Christian was to act as another line of defense for the Crown Prince. While Christian had not carried a gun—that was the role of the actual bodyguards—he was trained in case he ever had to use one.

With a nod to the herald, Christian stepped forward to greet the Queen of the Kingdom of Corazón. Queen Tania reached out both hands to Christian, and he clasped them and raised them to his lips while bowing over them. “My Queen… It is a pleasure to see you. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Lieutenant Diaz, it is a pleasure to see you as well. Ten years is way too long. We have missed you.”

“I apologize for the lengthy absence, Your Highness. I needed a change, but I am assigned here for the foreseeable future, so you will have time to get sick of me again.”

“So my husband has told me. I am excited to have you home, although in a different capacity as the Royal Military Liaison. I look forward to catching up.”

“As do I.”

The queen turned a stern eye on her eldest daughter, who was standing to her right. “Princess Zia, isn’t it wonderful that Christian will be back with us for a while?”

Christian tried to mask his sneer as his gaze went to Zia, who was not at all happy this evening. Of course, she wouldn’t be, since she wasn’t the center of attention. She wasn’t a very nice person and never had been. She was also part of the reason he’d left and joined the military. What she did… No, he wasn’t going to think about it. It was in the past. He was stronger and even more deadly now. It was time for him to face his demons. The military had finished the training his father had started, turning him into a true weapon. At twenty-eight, Christian had hoped Zia would have grown up and stopped being so self-absorbed, but the affliction seemed to have gotten worse instead of better in the time Christian had been away.

Christian gave Princess Zia a shallow bow. “Princess Zia.” That was all he could manage. He wasn’t going to lie and say he’d missed her.

Princess Zia tossed back her hair and gave him her haughtiest look. “Mr. Diaz.”

“It’s Lieutenant Diaz, actually, Your Highness.” Christian didn’t wait for her to respond, instead turning to greet the king of the Kingdom of Corazón. A striking man, even in his fifties, King Raul Hart exuded a sense of calm authority that Christian had always admired, making him seem larger than life. “King Raul.” Christian bowed low in front of the man. When he straightened, Christian was shocked to realize that he was now taller than the king. When they had met briefly the day before, the king had been busy on a phone call and had just waved him into his office and into a chair. Christian had experienced another surprise growth spurt after he had joined the military at age twenty and was now six-three, but he hadn’t realized that made him taller than the king.

“Hello again, Royal Military Liaison Lieutenant Diaz.” The king’s eyes twinkled at him as he ignored protocol and pulled Christian into a hug. “I didn’t get a chance to do that when we met yesterday. I wanted to correct that error.”

“Yes, sir.” Christian returned the hug before stepping back and offering him a crisp salute. “Lieutenant Diaz reporting for duty, sir.”

“As you were, Lieutenant. Now I think there’s someone here who can’t wait to greet you. It was hard keeping this a secret from him.”

“I know. I talked to him earlier, and I almost spilled the beans.”

Christian moved down the line and tried to keep a stern expression on his face as he saluted before grinning at one of his best friends. “Crown Prince.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were being assigned to the castle as Royal Military Liaison?”

“I thought you would like the surprise of it. It just happened a few days ago.” Christian once more ran a hand down the front of his military uniform. “First mission, the Midsummer’s Ball. It’s a very tough assignment.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here. I can’t wait to see more of you, and as a bonus, now I won’t have to drive to visit you.”

Christian scoffed. “Like it’s that far to the base or my house from here.”

“When I was used to you being always at my side, it’s too far.”

“It’s been ten years, Bas.”

“Too far. Too long.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Christian couldn’t help the eye roll at the end. It was good to be back with friends.

Prince Sebastian just grinned in response.

“My turn. My turn.”

Christian turned his head to the left to see Princess Katarina waving him down the line. “Princess Katarina, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

“I am so excited you made it and that we will get to see more of you.”

“Me too, Your Highness.”

He leaned forward to kiss her cheek and she took the opportunity to whisper in his ear.

“I think you have broken our Head Chef.”

“What?” Christian pulled back so he could look in her eyes, as if that would somehow make what she’d said make sense.

“He is standing over by the hors d’oeuvres table and has been staring at you since you were announced.” Katarina giggled. “He looks like someone has struck him.”

Christian shook his head at her, although his heart sped up at the thought of seeing his old crush, but he tried not to show that her words had affected him. “I will leave you to greet the rest of your guests. We can catch up later.”

“Save me a dance, please, Lieutenant.”

“It would be an honor, Princess.”

Christian glanced over at the hors d’oeuvre table to find Max Ramirez indeed staring at him. The eye contact must have startled him because he jumped then looked at his shoes for a moment and clasped his hands behind his back. Christian strode across the room to greet him, determined not to make an ass of himself. He pulled Max into a quick hug in greeting, before holding him out at arm’s length so he could get a better look at him.

Max had been his older teenage crush and was the epitome of everything he had ever dreamed of in a man. I obviously still have it bad for the guy. At six-foot-five, Max was a giant—but a gentle one. Christian was still leaner than Max, but along with the growth spurt, he had put on a lot of muscle and his frame had filled out a lot since the last time they had seen each other, making them more equal in stature. There was something about the man that had always called to him.

“Max! How are you doing?”

“I’m doing great. Head Chef now.”

“I heard. Six years ago now, right? Everyone was talking about you being the youngest to ever get the job.”

“Yeah. They told me on my thirtieth birthday. I did not see it coming.” Max had started as an apprentice to the head chef, Howie Klein, straight out of culinary school. The twenty-year-old had met the chef’s cranky, militaristic style in the kitchen with a smile on his face. Which, as the last apprentice had stormed out of the kitchen after throwing a pan at Mr. Klein’s head, had been important.

“Yeah. It’s too bad about the arthritis in Mr. Klein’s feet. I still talk to his son Ryan frequently. He told me his father was gutted to have to retire but happy to have you to move into the position. Good for you. It was a well-earned promotion.”

“He still stops in from time to time to give his opinion on things, so I still get to see him. Thank you. I’m proud of their faith in me. I’m assuming this is a promotion for you?”

“Yep. Going to be assigned to the castle for a while.” There was an awkward pause in the conversation. Christian turned so he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Max and could have a better view of the room. He waved a hand indicating the greeting line. “I can’t believe Princess Katarina is eighteen already.”

“Right? She was, what? Eight when you left? She seemed pleased to see you. I’m surprised she remembered you.”

“I was assigned to be her personal guard when she visited colleges last summer. We spent eight weeks together. We got to know each other pretty well.”

“Oh. No one said. What about Prince Sebastian?”

“We still hang out and talk as often as we can. I inherited my grandmother’s cottage on the west side of the island. Sebastian usually visits me there when I’m on-island.”

“What about Ryan? You said you still talk to him frequently?”

“I still consider him one of my best friends, along with Prince Sebastian.” Christian laughed self-deprecatingly. “We bonded over our unrequited crushes. His on Prince Sebastian and mine on you.” He gave Max a quick wink before turning his attention back to the room. “I visit him as often as I can in Boston, and we try to talk at least once a week, when possible. He’ll be here tonight, actually, along with his best friend from college and her husband.”

“He will?”

“Yep. Princess Katarina insisted. We stayed with Ryan while touring colleges in Boston, and she got to know all of them.”

“Ryan is almost a full-fledged doctor now, right?”

“He’s actually done already. Four years as an undergrad at Harvard, then four years of medical school. He finished up his residency a few weeks ago. Speaking of…” Christian elbowed Max in the side, ignoring the tingle where they touched, and nodded toward the entry. Christian made sure to be watching Prince Sebastian’s expression, when first the Surgeon General of the Island, Doctor Guttschein, was announced, then Ryan Klein was there with his friends Emma and Ian Robinson.

“Wow. He’s definitely grown up.” Max chuckled. “The prince obviously thinks so too.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched Sebastian’s jaw drop in astonishment. Ryan had changed a lot over the years, going from gangly and coltish to becoming a well-proportioned hunk. Yep. He’s just Sebastian’s type now. He followed Ryan and his friends with his gaze as they made their way through the greeting line, chuckling to himself as he noted Sebastian’s impatience as he waited for his turn to speak to Ryan.

Princess Katarina waved a hand in Christian and Max’s direction as she finished greeting them. Ryan’s face lit up as he saw them, and he hurried over to embrace Max after shooting Christian a grin.

“You are certainly a sight for sore eyes, Ryan.”

“Thanks, Max. It’s great to see you.”

“Gah.” Max slapped Ryan on the back then gave him an assessing look. “You are way too thin. We need to work on fattening you up a bit.”

“I was busy learning. Didn’t have much time for cooking. Let me introduce you to my friends from America. Emily and Ian, this is the chef you heard me going on about. Emily is also a doctor in the Island Doctor program and will be working with me here on Corazón. Ian is her husband and a very talented carpenter. Ian did his best to keep us fed, but sometimes it was a decision between sleep or eating,” Ryan finished with a shrug.

“It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Ian extended his hand for a shake. “This one”—with a thumb point back to Ryan—“talked about yours and his dad’s cooking all the time. Memories of food and the kitchen were like his happy place when he was particularly stressed.”

Ryan grinned widely at Ian’s comment but didn’t deny it. “The kitchen was my happy place. Max did a great job of making sure there was always something available for Christian, Prince Sebastian and me during those starving teenage years.”

“Yes, I couldn’t wait to meet you. I feel like I know you already.” Emily stepped up and hugged Max instead of shaking his hand.

Max looked shocked for a moment but gently hugged her back. “It is great to meet you as well.”

“Christian,” Emily gushed, “how are you? Ian has missed you.”

“I did.” Ian nodded. “It’s great when I have someone to talk to about something non-medical related or who isn’t zombie-level tired.”

“Yes, dear, I know we have treated you so badly.” Emily patted his cheek in a condescending but loving manner before turning back to Christian. “Anyway, all that’s behind us. Ryan and I start at the hospital in August. They are giving us a few weeks to settle in and reset.”

“I look forward to hanging out with all of you. You’re staying with Ryan in his cottage, right?”

“Just for a short time. Surprise! We bought the cottage on the other side of Ryan from you.”

“Really? The Svenson place? I heard Mrs. Svenson passed away a couple of months ago but didn’t even think about it.”

“Yep. We bought it. It needs a lot of updating, though.”

Christian cringed thinking about the last time he had seen inside the very dated house. “I remember the avocado appliances.”

“Yeah, but it’s all ours.”

“Can’t wait.”

“How’s the ankle? Glad to see you are out of the cast.”

“What happened to your ankle?”

Christian looked at Max in surprise when he heard the note of panic in his voice. “I broke it about eight weeks ago on my last mission. Just got out of the cast a few weeks ago, so it’s light duty for a few more weeks until I can finish the physical therapy. Should be good as new after that.” Christian held his foot out and rotated it in a circle to show it was fine.

“Why didn’t you let me know? I could have come to help—or at least sent food, wherever you were. I’m assuming you were here on the island for at least part of your recovery.”

“Why would I have called for help? It’s just an ankle. I’ve had worse.”

A look of shock crossed Max’s face. “When were you hurt worse?”

Christian gave another one-shouldered shrug. “It comes with the job, Max. You know that.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of Christian’s father before the discussion could go any further.

“Christian. Ryan.” No hug. No smile. Just their names and a head nod. “I heard you were back.”

“Yes, sir. On light duty for a few more weeks, but the powers-that-be thought it would be good for me to represent them at this shindig.” Christian waved a hand to encompass the ballroom and all the people as he finished speaking. If Christian had expected the great Juan Diaz, head of the royal guard, to be happy to see him—which he hadn’t—he would have been hurt by his father’s reaction.

“Huh. And here I thought you’d actually smartened up and were ready to come back full-time and accept your responsibilities here.”

“I am coming back to accept my responsibilities here. I’m a lieutenant in this country’s army and I am doing my duty as assigned.”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man.”

“I’m not, sir.” Christian squared his shoulders and faced his father, looking him directly in the eye and lowering his voice so the other people around them wouldn’t hear. “I am living my life the way I want to—not your plan for my life…mine. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some appetizers to eat and friends to catch up with. I’ll let you get back to your duties.” Christian made sure to put as much emphasis on the word ‘duties’ as he could.

He had heard enough lectures growing up about the importance of performing his duties—how he had to be at his best at all times, how he had to be serious. There had been no time for play in the Diaz household.

Juan Diaz’ only reaction was a clenched jaw. Christian swore he could almost hear his father’s teeth creak from the pressure. Without another word, Juan turned on his heel and strode away.

Christian closed his eyes while pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment to get his emotions under control. He’d done it. He’d stood up to his father. Ryan wrapped his arm around Christian’s waist and gave him a side hug.

“Good job,” he whispered.

“Thanks,” he whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”

Ryan squeezed him again. “Because I know you don’t know how to take a compliment. Not sure if he actually heard you, but you said what you’ve been wanting to say, so that’s good.”

Christian wrapped his arm around Ryan’s waist and gave him a quick squeeze in return before raising his voice to normal levels. “Yeah. Well, let’s forget about it for now and focus on the wonderful food Max and his crew have made for the ball.” He turned toward the chef. “You have truly outdone yourself, Max.”

“You know I love to do stuff like this. It’s been a blast working with Katarina. I love the tradition where the royal gets to plan the Midsummer’s Ball as their first adult event-planning after they turn eighteen. I think everyone is really going to enjoy everything she has come up with for this event.”

“I don’t think that’s what my father said when he was working with Princess Zia when it was her turn,” Ryan said dryly.

“Well, Zia’s event was a bit different. She wanted to make hers an exclusive event only for certain people, and that was her choice of how to use her budget. Katarina has been more about including as many people as possible. It’s been great to see her operate. She is well-loved—and look at how great everything is.”

Everyone turned to inspect how the room was decorated for the event. Princess Katarina had gone with a fairy garden party theme. Flowers in a rainbow of colors were distributed throughout the room, with small, twisted grapevine sculptures of different fairies sitting on beds of petals serving as the centerpieces. Christian was especially impressed by the artistry of the Fairy King and Queen ice sculpture over by the drinks table. The whole effect was warm and yet classy. The doors were open to the outside, where the garden was decorated with lights, and more grapevine sculptures were hidden in the branches of the bushes and trees.

Christian chuckled. “As I told you, I can’t believe she’s eighteen already and doing stuff like this. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was feeding her a bottle and changing her diaper.”

Ryan scoffed. “If memory serves me correctly, you avoided diaper issues at all costs.”

“Only because I had very important duties to handle with the prince.”

“Uh-huh. Like sneaking out to go for ice cream?”

“We only did that once!” Christian’s feigned outrage made Ryan laugh, which had been his intention.

Ryan reached out and cupped Christian’s neck. “I’m glad you’re here right now. I’ve missed you. Hopefully now that I’ve moved here permanently, we will be able to hang out more.”

“We will. I only have a few months left on this enlistment. I’m not sure if I’m going to re-sign or not. Don’t know what I would do next, but I think I’m ready for something new. Right now, I’ve actually been reassigned as the liaison to the castle for the foreseeable future.”

“Wait. You’re going to be around more?” Ryan sounded truly pleased with the idea.

“Yep. Anyway”—Christian rubbed his hands together while looking over the food on the tables—“I’m starving. I know the dinner isn’t for another hour, so let’s dig in. I have definitely missed Max’s cooking.”

Max grinned at all of them. “I look forward to having you all around, both old friends and new. I have missed the two of you. Now, I must get back to my kitchen. Who knows what crisis is lurking?” With a wave, Max turned and disappeared through the door leading into his domain.

Christian couldn’t help watching Max’s ass as he walked away, only to be interrupted by Ryan clapping him on the back. “You’ve still got it bad, man.”

“Like you can talk,” Ian said as he threw his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “Did you see him drooling over the prince?”

“I did. I also saw the prince doing his own drooling.”

“I can’t deny it. Prince Sebastian is still very fine.”

“Agreed,” Christian said. “Now to put operation Come to Daddy in action.”

“For the last time, we are not calling it that.”

Operation Nookie Time?”

“No.” Ryan gave Christian a shove. “Let’s just get some food, dork.”

Christian laughed as he grabbed a plate and started loading it up with a little bit of everything…except the fish. Christian hated fish in any form. Always had. Max had tried for years to find a fish dish he liked. As they were an island country, that made it difficult for him sometimes. Luckily, the island also had sheep, poultry, some beef and he was okay with different kinds of seafood, but not fish.

Christian and Ryan talked and joked with everyone in the group, in between speaking to all the people who came up to welcome them home. Ryan introduced Emily and Ian as they talked and everyone made sure they both were included in the conversations as much as possible. Ryan snagged the hand of a sneak thief trying to steal a shrimp from his plate.

“Sorry, Your Highness,” Ryan quickly released Sebastian’s wrist, when he realized who it was. “You do know there’s a ton of food right there, don’t you?” Ryan pointed at the still-full tables of appetizers.

“Yep, but stolen treats taste better. It’s been scientifically proven.”

“Has it now?” Ryan queried dryly. “And where can I find the results of this scientific study?”

“It’s well known. You can find it anywhere,” the prince responded.

“Uh-huh.”

“Whew,” Emily interrupted fanning herself with her hand. “Is it getting hot in here or is just me?”

Christian shook his head in mock disgust. “The two of them have always been that way. Although it’s nice to see that the prince finally bought a clue and understood what is right in front of him.”

The prince whipped his head around so he could stare at his long-time friend. “What?”

“What? Ryan is one of the few people who can challenge you intellectually and keep up with you physically as far as training. I am one of the others, but there has never been any chemistry between the two of us. The two of you, on the other hand? You start talking and it’s like the rest of the world ceases to exist.”

“Really?” Ryan said. “That’s interesting to hear. I always thought my crush on the prince was hopeless. In fact, I believe the prince even told me he didn’t see me as anything but a friend.”

Christian pretended to lower his voice and spoke in a stage whisper. “Plot twist, spoiler alert. He lied.” Christian switched his voice to normal. “Especially now that Ryan has grown into”—Christian paused to wave a hand in Ryan’s direction, indicating his body from top to bottom—“all this. Ryan is everything Sebastian ever said he wanted.” Christian watched with amusement as the prince squirmed.

“Not to change the subject or anything, but what are you doing here? You didn’t tell me you were coming to the ball.” Prince Sebastian stepped forward and pulled Christian into a quick guy-clench.

His friend’s laughter and joking eased something inside Christian. Man, it’s good to be home.

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About the Author

Ann Marie James

Ann Marie James is fluent in two languages, English and sarcasm. She believes that you will never learn anything new if you don’t read as much as you can, and/or talk to every stranger you meet. She always looks for the best in people and to treat people the way she wants to be treated. Above all Ann Marie believes in love, whatever form it takes. Relationships are hard, love is the glue that keeps it together.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Runaway Royal + Giveaway

Runaway Royal Banner

Runaway Royal by Wendi Zwaduk

Word Count: 50,742
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 198
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Sexometer: 2

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
ROYALS

Add to Goodreads

Book Description

Will this runaway royal ever find her place…and true love?

All Princess Catherine Zara of Lysianna wants to do is attend college like everyone else her age. So she’s a royal and requires a security guard to move about in public, but if she goes to university, she doesn’t have to marry the man chosen for her. He’s not her true love, so why torture herself? All she has to do to get her life started is to run away to the US…

And then she meets Luke.

Luke Cobb wants to survive college with a degree in studio art and guarantees that he can show his paintings in the local galleries. All he needs is the right break to get his work mainstream and the right woman to stoke his dormant muse. When he meets Zara, he’s smitten and his creativity sparks.

Except, she’s a princess and he’s a commoner, which could be a big problem…

Excerpt

“I can do this.” Princess Catherine shored up her courage. She was a royal. A princess. She could do anything she set her mind to—except stand up to the king and queen.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her parents, the king and queen of Lysianna, wouldn’t allow her to head to another country on her own. They insisted she be an advisor to her brother, the future king. Charlie could handle himself and he’d be a great king—whenever the time came.

If she didn’t practice what she wanted to say, she’d flounder and this was not the time to lose her nerve. She tucked her hair behind her ears. “Mother, Father, I need to speak with you. I’ve completed two years of online schooling towards a degree in art history and I’m going to Kenton State College in the United States to finish it.” Did she sound convincing enough?

She’d already completed her application for acceptance on campus, chosen her classes for the first semester and landed a good apartment in a building just across from the main portion of the campus. Her plane ticket had been paid for and she’d packed most of her things. All she needed to do was tell her parents she’d be leaving.

She abandoned her image in the mirror and resumed packing the last of her things—her brushes, photos and stuffed rabbit in her bag. She’d come back, but she wasn’t sure when. Sadness filled her mind. Change would be hard—she’d only ever lived in the castle—but she needed to move forward with her life. She’d never be happy living as part of the court. Even if she did nothing more than teach an art class or run a portion of a museum back home, she’d be happy and doing something with her life.

Her lady-in-waiting, Corinne, hurried into the room. “I guess you’re ready to go.” She folded her arms. “Want me to go with you? I should.”

She had plans for her lady and wasn’t about to disclose them now. Corinne was terrible with secrets and would’ve told her parents before the point of no return. “It’s handled.”

Corinne sat on the bed. “What am I going to do with myself? I have nothing to do if you’re not here. They might let me go.”

“They won’t.” She closed her bag. “They like you. If my brother wasn’t gay, they’d have married you off to him by now.”

“But he is gay.” Corinne groaned. “Sucks.”

Her lady hadn’t been shy about her crush on Charlie. In the whole of their time together, Corinne had insisted to Catherine she wanted to marry Charlie. The problem? Besides Charlie being gay, he wasn’t going to marry Corinne simply to make an heir. He refused to change just for the royal line.

“Your parents would rather you marry Duke Elmore. He’s handsome,” Corinne said. “If you’re into older guys.”

Catherine shivered. “Older isn’t the half of it. He’s almost twenty years older than me, he’s not handsome at all and I don’t like him. I don’t want to be married to someone who sees me as a ticket to the good life. He wants a title beyond duke.” Her stepmother would never understand. She’d married the king, despite their ten-year age difference, just to have a title.

“So you’re going to America to avoid him?”

“No.” She simply refused to marry someone out of duty, not love. “I want to finish my degree. Art makes me happy. Him? Not so much.”

“Well, it’s time to talk to your parents.” Corinne walked with her to the corridor. “Need me to do anything?”

“Nope. I’ve got this handled.” Catherine gave her bag to the butler. “Thank you.” She shored herself up again and headed down to the throne room. The car was ready and once she reached the airport, the plane would be waiting to whisk her to the States. Even if her parents said no, she’d left nothing to chance.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother, Eloise, closed her book. “You look determined. Have you made a decision concerning the duke?”

“I have.” She clasped her hands together. “I refuse to marry him.” She stood tall. “I’ve made a choice about my future, too.”

“Oh?” Her father finally looked up from his paperwork. “What have you decided?”

She sucked in a ragged breath, then sighed. “Mother, Father, I’m attending college.”

Her father tipped his head and said nothing. Her stepmother gasped. “Why? You’re a royal. You don’t have to do schooling. Elmore will take care of you and you can play with your art all you want. Royals don’t dirty their hands with studies.”

Her stepmother spit the words out like sour candies. Catherine didn’t care. She had to focus. “I want a degree in art history. I’d like to learn about the art here in Lysianna and around the world—like my mother used to know.”

“Interesting,” her father said. He tapped his pen on the table. “Why do you want to follow in your mother’s footsteps?”

She’d prepared for this question. “I need to have something that’s mine. I love art and I’m dying to continue my studies.” She had to keep her explanation short and sweet. The more she talked, the greater the chance her parents would coerce her to change her mind. “I want something to hold on to that reminds me of my mother. I don’t remember her and this is my private link.”

“She’s gone,” her stepmother snapped.

“Let her have this, Queen. It’s her choice,” her father said. “She’ll get bored after a year or she’ll find this is the thing she wants to do. As for Elmore, he can wait. Or maybe he can’t and he’ll choose someone else. Doesn’t matter to me. He’s a pest.”

She wasn’t going to get bored, but if her father thought Elmore was a pest, then why try to palm her off on him?

“What about Charles?” her stepmother said. “He should be the one to go first. Yes, he deserves a degree.”

“He already has one.” Catherine gritted her teeth. Their parents didn’t know Charlie well. He hated being referred to as Charles and he wasn’t interested in going to college again. Charlie had attained a degree on his own and had his plan for making his own way without their parents to intervene. Now was her chance to do the same.

“Anyway, I’m leaving.” She turned on her heel and left the room. If she looked back, she risked changing her mind. Only forward now.

“You’re what?” Her stepmother chased after her. “You cannot. We need to arrange lodgings and security and everything else. You’ll need handlers and Elmore should accompany you for protection. Or he should set up a security detail so he can keep you safe, but stay here to run his businesses.”

God, no. Catherine headed through the foyer to the waiting car. “Goodbye, Mother.” The idea of calling her stepmother Mother annoyed her. She’d had a mother and the queen wasn’t a very good substitute.

“Catherine.” Her stepmother caught up to her. “We’ll summon Elmore. You cannot make the flight unprotected.”

She sighed. “He’s old enough to be my father and he’s not attractive, so no.” She tossed her bag onto the seat. “I’ll be fine. No one in the United States knows me, so I won’t need the huge protection you’re planning.” She’d have her roommate in her new apartment and a few transplanted palace security guards around, but out of sight.

“Take Corinne, please?” Her stepmother pushed Corinne at her. “You can’t go alone. And don’t forget, you need to have an approved consort by the time of your official portrait reveal.”

“Fine.” Catherine nodded to her lady-in-waiting. “Let’s go.” She ducked into the car without bothering for hugs or kisses from her stepmother. That wasn’t her stepmother’s style. Her father hadn’t left the throne room. Her stepmother glared at her, but didn’t otherwise show emotion. She wouldn’t dare. Any bit of cracking might show she was human and the people of Lysianna didn’t think she had emotions. She wanted to say goodbye to her brother, but he wasn’t even in the country.

Catherine settled on the seat and sighed. “That worked out exactly as I planned.”

“What about me?” Corinne asked. “You said I’d stay here.”

“I lied.” She winked. “I couldn’t go totally alone. They’re right. I do need someone with me that I can trust.” Well, mostly trust. “I packed you a bag and added your name to the charter. You’re flying with me.”

Corinne’s eyes widened. “My princess.” She grinned. “Naughty.”

She sighed again. “I’ve never been naughty a day in my life. Crafty, maybe, but never naughty.”

“You’ve lived in your brother’s shadow for too long.”

“He’ll be king and I won’t hold the throne. Even if something happens to him, they won’t let me be queen, so why not have something that’s mine?” Catherine asked. “I don’t mind.” She didn’t. “This way I’m out from under their thumb and can experience life.” She couldn’t wait for the next chapter to start. There was a great big world out there just waiting for her to explore it.

There was the tricky thing about her needing a consort, but she had plenty of time. The portrait reveal wasn’t for another year. The world wouldn’t wait a year—not when her consort might be out there somewhere.

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About the Author

Wendi Zwaduk

Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to BDSM and LGBTQ themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com and the former AllRomance Ebooks. She also writes under the name of Megan Slayer.

When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

You can find out more about Wendi on her website or on her blog. You can also find her on Instagram, Bookbub and Amazon.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Billionaire and the Princess + Giveaway

The Billionaire and the Princess Banner

The Billionaire and the Princess
by
Katherine E. Hunt

Book 1 in the Sag Harbor series

Word Count: 60,151
Pages: 238
Book Length: Super Novel
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Sexometer: 2

Genres:

BILLIONAIRE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
ROYALS

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When a British journalist gets her dream job in The Hamptons, she doesn’t expect to find her dream man too.

All Caitlyn has to do is catch a plane, move to Sag Harbor and start her new job as editor of a brand-new society magazine. That’s what she’s promised herself. No more Mr. Wrong, no more pandering to everybody else’s needs. New life, new Caitlyn.

So when she meets a handsome gentleman on the plane, after a couple of drinks, she’s going to walk away, right? She’s certainly not going to try to join the mile-high club with him.

If it turns out he’s her new boss, Hank Baresi, the youngest son of one of the biggest media moguls in America, but no matter, he doesn’t appear to remember her, anyway.

She’s just going to do her job. No serenading him. No succumbing to his sweet charms and absolutely no falling in love with him.

And, well, if he happens to fall in love with her, she’s just going to say no, right?

Excerpt

There is no excuse for this kind of behavior. I’ve promised, sworn and vowed never to fall for a bad guy again. Take some time out, I told myself, learn the real Caitlyn, love yourself before you love others. Why, oh why, then, am I half-naked in an airplane bathroom with a frickin’ drunken, horny cowboy? Why indeed? He’s hot, there’s that, like six-foot-two hot. You know what I’m talking about. The type of guy that makes you catch your breath when he brushes past you, hair a little unkempt, jaw a little too sharp.

In my defense, I’ve had a very strange year and, frankly, life’s gotten really, really complicated. Then there’s the free alcohol, first time in Business Class… It’s all gone to my head. I might be forgiven for getting carried away. But still, no excuse, Caitlyn, no excuse.

He traces a solitary finger down the outside of my thigh—my leggings hang off one ankle, dragging on the floor. My other foot, placed firmly on the closed toilet seat, is the only thing holding me up.

I lift my hair, curl it up on my head with my hands, soft lips brush against my neck. “You’re so freaking hot,” he slurs.

At first, I’d thought he had a Texan drawl until he’d confessed, giggling as the words came out, that he’d stolen the cowboy hat from the guy in the next seat down.

He’s not Southern—he’s just drunk off his head.

He brushes his fingers up my spine, circling the crux of my neck before gliding over my breasts, past the tips of my nipples, until they stop at the slick gusset of my undies. Fuck. For a man who smells like a brewery and has lost the capacity for coherent speech, he’s pretty deft with his hands.

Pressing tightly onto my pussy, like it’s the only thing holding us up, he fumbles with his trousers, pulling at his belt.

“Do you have a condom?” I ask.

“Uh…shi-it. Maybe?” He tries to grab his wallet with his one free hand and we rock back and forth as he tugs at his pocket.

Is this really happening? It was all going smoothly. Steamy, unexpected, drunken smooch in the corridor, unilateral decision to glide into the bathroom. Semi-naked foreplay.

It’s all so serious, all of a sudden. Sex with a stranger. That’s a sobering thought. Is this how I want to start my new life? It isn’t part of the plan, that’s for sure.

I’ve never done anything like this. I’m not an angel, but I’ve always been the wait a few days, get to know the guy kind of girl. Admittedly, they’d all turned out to be Mr. Emotionally Unavailable, Mr. Terrified of Commitment or Mr. Sleeps with Your Friends Plural Behind Your Back, but hey, I’d always kept my side of the bargain.

His fumbles prove fruitless. He takes his hand off me to grab his wallet, falls backward, slams hard into the door and slides to the ground. Turns out I was holding him up after all.

I spin around. “You okay?” He doesn’t have any visible injuries, but he’s a tall man in a small space and his knees are around his ears. He still looks cute though. God, I need to get laid. My horny is showing.

“Oh shit!” He says it way too loud. Fuck, he’s going to get us caught. I’m not sure what the punishment is for kinky stuff in airplane bathrooms, but I know I don’t want to start my brand-new life in America in an orange jumpsuit.

“Shh,” I whisper, placing my finger over my lips.

“Shh. Hee-hee.” That giggle again. He’s wasted–like, actually out of it. This is rapidly turning into a very bad idea, not that at any point sneaking around with a man I’ve just met had been a solid choice. Kissing him? That had been fun, but now it feels a little like taking advantage.

He flicks through his wallet, still sat, half on the floor, legs splayed either side of me. “Shit. I got nothing.”

I lean down and put my arms around him. He nuzzles into my neck. God, he smells delicious. Whoever he is when he isn’t half-naked and hammered, he has incredible taste in aftershave. “Let’s get you up.”

“Wheeee!” With one hefty yank, he’s on his feet. The effort sends my back crashing against the toilet roll dispenser. It’s like getting a devastatingly handsome, six-foot-two, curly haired, horny octopus to stand to attention. Impossible.

Stepping back to steady myself, I hear a crack. Shit. Hopefully, his phone isn’t super important because it has just smashed into a million pieces under my foot. I kick it out of sight, sit him down on the toilet seat and pull my leggings back up. My libido is fading. Fast.

I pull up my leggings and put my top back on. “You don’t wanna do it anymore?” he drawls, his face downcast.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, do you?” He can’t even stand up for a start. God knows whether he can get anything else up.

“You’re hot.” He snakes his hands up my sweatshirt.

“Thank you. You’re very, very drunk.” I fasten his belt for him, inciting more giggles, and hand him his wallet, which had flown into the sink. “I think I’m going to go back to my seat. It was very nice meeting you, cowboy. Maybe we’ll meet again someday in better circumstances.” I might sound like I’m fobbing him off, but some part of me sort of wishes it’s true. I most definitely shouldn’t. The type of guy who allows himself to get in this much of a state is not boyfriend material. Not for me, anyway. But he’s a sweetie, and he’s cute when he giggles.

Oh, Caitlyn, you’re such a damn pushover.

* * * *

The old lady in the seat next to mine looks very concerned. “Did you hear all that noise in the toilet?”

“Yes. Apparently, some drunk guy fell over.”

“Oh dear.” She cringes. “Some people do get carried away with the free drinks on these flights. I hope he’s all right.” She’s been reading a guidebook on New York for the last four hours and hasn’t even acknowledged my presence, but now that I’ve got gossip, she’s all ears.

“I’m sure he’s fine. So where are you flying to today?”

She closes her book and looks at me. “New York.” Her eyes widen with excitement. Bless her. She has to be at the very least in her seventies. I see a little of myself in her, always excited by new experiences, no matter how old I get. That’s the only way to live.

“Well, yes. I meant for business or pleasure.”

“I’m going to see my son. He’s got a fancy job in Manhattan, going to show me the sights.” She curls her lips into the biggest grin.

“Oh, that’s lovely.”

Something loud crashes behind us. “Oh dear,” she mutters. “What now?”

A flash of white comes racing past our seats. A butt. A very naked butt attached to a very handsome, drunken, giggly cowboy.

“Shit,” I whisper under my breath. Maybe I shouldn’t have left him to his own devices after all. He turns and waves his not-insignificant appendage at a room full of dozing passengers before a hand reaches through the curtain behind him and pulls his drunken, naked butt into First Class.

“Good lord,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “I haven’t seen one like that since my Henry was alive.”

I turn to her and smile, hiding my deep regret at my rash decision not to get cowboy’s number before I’d left him. “Lucky you,” I reply.

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About the Author

Katherine E Hunt

Katherine E Hunt ran off with a Frenchman twenty years ago. She now lives on a French mountain with three children and two dogs. When she isn’t writing contemporary romance she can be found huddled up in front of a roaring fire, with a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and a book in the other.

You can find out more about Katherine on her website.

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