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Authors: Elizabeth Thornton

The Perfect Princess

LAVISH PRAISE FOR THE BOOKS OF
ELIZABETH THORNTON

PRINCESS CHARMING

“Delightfully entertaining.”—
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Ms. Thornton excels at writing a steamy, passionate tale of love and
Princess Charming
gives you all that and more in this fast-paced historical romantic suspense.”

Romantic Times

STRANGERS AT DAW N

“An out-of-the-ordinary murder mystery set in the early 1800s with lots of suspects and a lovely romance.”

The Dallas Morning News

“Thornton has been a long-time favorite thanks to her well-told tales of intrigue peppered with sizzling romance and
Strangers at Dawn
is among the best.”—
The Oakland Press

“With her talent as a superb storyteller, Elizabeth Thornton skillfully blends suspense, murder, and a powerful love story into a jewel of a book.”—
Romantic Times

WHISPER HIS NAME

“Thornton creates appealing characters and cleverly weaves in familiar Regency settings and customs.”

Publishers Weekly

“Ms. Thornton has delivered. This is a terrific book from cover to cover. The dynamic plot and characters will thrill and delight. Bravo!”—
Rendezvous

“Thornton scribes another terrific tale that sub-genre fans will take immense pleasure reading. The action-packed story line is a thrill a page without scrimping on a warm romance. Very Highly Recommended.”

Harriet Klausner

YOU ONLY LOVE TWICE

“This book is an absolute joy to read. I loved every minute of it! We are given humor, a murderer, sensuality, scintillating dialogue, and characters to cheer for. What more could you want?”—
Rendezvous

“If you love mystery, murder, and mayhem along with your romance, then
You Only Love Twice
will be your cup of tea.”—
Romantic Times

THE BRIDE’S BODYGUARD

“Cleverly plotted intrigue.”—
Publishers Weekly

“This witty Regency romance/mystery will keep you up all night.”—
The Atlanta Journal/Constitution

“A rich, satisfying blend of suspense and passion.”

Brazosport Facts

MORE PRAISE FOR ELIZABETH THORNTO N

“Elizabeth gives you delicious stories filled with mystery, sensual romance, and dynamite characters. I have been reading this woman’s wonderful stories for years and years. I hope she never stops writing.”

The Belles and Beaux of Romance

“Fast-paced and full of suprises, Thornton’s latest novel is an exciting story of romance, mystery, and adventure . . . a complex lot that exuberantly carries the reader. Thornton’s firm control of her plot, her graceful prose, and her witty dialogue make
Dangerous to Kiss
a pleasure to read.”

Publishers Weekly
 on 
Dangerous to Kiss

LADY FUGITIVE

“Rosamund, I’m not going to let you get behind me.”

Her eyes jerked up to meet his. He wasn’t smiling, but she was almost positive there was a glint of amusement in his eyes, only this time she could have sworn he wasn’t laughing at her.

It was mortifying. She was twenty-six years old and felt as skittish as an adolescent girl.

With brows down, she wrapped her arms around him, and fumbled with the bandages. When her breasts brushed against his chest, he flinched.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but the binding must be tight.”

He had that strange look on his face again, as though someone had just stabbed him in the back. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she murmured.

He didn’t say anything, but just stood there, staring at her. The silence lengthened.

“You . . .,” he said.

She couldn’t drag her eyes from his. “I . . . ?” she said.

They edged closer. His hands wrapped around her arms. She touched a hand to his bare chest. His skin was warm. She could feel the thundering of his heart. Or was it her own heart? It seemed the most natural thing in the world to lift her face to his.

Books by
Elizabeth Thornton

Almost a Princess

The Bachelor Trap

The Bride’s Bodyguard

Dangerous to Hold

Dangerous to Kiss

Dangerous to Love

The Marriage Trap

The Perfect Princess

The Pleasure Trap

Princess Charming

Shady Lady

Strangers at Dawn

Whisper His Name

You Only Love Twice

Prologue

R
ichard Maitland decided that he wasn’t ready to die yet. Not that he had much say in the matter. A black mist was closing in on him.
So this is what it’s like to die
, he thought. His brain was telling him to give up and go to sleep. Why was he fighting it?

He was fighting it because his death would be ignoble, and his murderer or murderers would get away with it. They were clever and he’d played right into their hands. He was a lone wolf—a fatal character flaw according to Harper. In this instance, Harper was right. No one knew where he was. He hadn’t thought to tell anyone because it wasn’t important and had nothing to do with his work at Special Branch. Though his friends wouldn’t accept the neat little scenario that had been laid out for him, they wouldn’t know where to begin to look for answers to why he had to die.

He wasn’t sure he knew himself.

Who would want him dead?

His laugh turned into a dry, rasping cough, and he
clamped his arm across his chest to stifle the stab of pain. He’d made enemies in his time, scores of them. Soldier, agent, chief of staff of Special Branch—a man in his position attracted enemies like flies to a rotting corpse.

Hard on that thought came another.
Lucy
.

The black mist faded as his mind grappled with a burgeoning fear. Lucy. Where was she? What had they done with her? He remembered the boy . . .

He could smell the blood. The air was ripe with it. Lucy’s blood. His blood. He had to open his eyes, had to get his bearings.

It seemed to take forever before his lashes lifted. Lights flickered. Shapes advanced and retreated. He frowned as he willed everything to come into focus. He was staring at a bed, and the half-clothed body of the young woman who lay on top of it. Lucy.

He thought his lungs would burst as he tried to scream his protest. This should never have happened. She was innocent. Her only crime was that she had known him. She was a prop in this grotesque drama. That’s all she was to her killers, a prop to make his own murder seem more plausible.

It was all coming back to him: the boy who had been waiting for him at the top of the stairs; the bastard who had stuck a knife in him; how they’d dumped him in this chair in a corner of the room and had left him to bleed to death. His hand was splayed against his chest, and something warm and sticky oozed between his fingers. He looked down. A large crimson stain was spreading across his shirt. If he didn’t do something soon it would be too late.

He couldn’t pull himself to his feet, so he sank to the floor, on his knees, and used one arm pressed tight against his chest to staunch the flow of blood. Now that he was more awake, sensation was coming back, and his chest felt as though a red-hot poker was lodged in it. Ignoring the pounding inside his head, he propelled himself
forward on his knees, inch by painful inch, till he came to the edge of the bed.

He groped with his free hand and found the pistol that had fallen between the mattress and the footboard. He had very little strength left, and though he knew it might be the death of him, he took his arm away from his chest and used both hands to cock the gun. Bracing his back against the bed, he aimed for the window and squeezed the trigger.

The report of the shot sent waves of sound echoing from wall to wall. There were shouts from below, then the thundering of footsteps on the stairs. He had no way of knowing whether he’d summoned help or his would-be murderers. Not that it made much difference.

The mist was becoming thicker and he had no more will or strength to fight it. It sucked him under like a great black wave.

Chapter 1

W
hy do you want to marry me, Michael?” She immediately regretted asking the question. She knew she was going to refuse him. Now she would have to appear interested in his answer.

“Prince Michael,” he corrected automatically. “Because, Lady Rosamund, I think you’ll make a perfect princess.”

A perfect princess
. The words grated on Rosamund. That’s what they were calling her in the newspapers, ever since Prince Michael of the diminutive principality of Kolnbourg had made her the object of his attentions. And the depressing truth was, she probably
would
make a perfect princess.

She was the daughter of a duke. She’d led a sheltered existence. From the day of her birth, she’d been trained in all the feminine arts, the ones that were essential for the wife of some gentleman from her own sphere. She’d
never been to school like other girls, or had beaux, or been kissed or had adventures.

If only she’d been born a boy, things would have been so different! She had two brothers, Caspar, the elder, and Justin, who was three years younger than she. They’d done exciting things such as having a Grand Tour, and fighting for king and country. They’d also done other exciting things she wasn’t supposed to know about . . .
La Contessa
was what everyone was calling Caspar’s latest mistress, who was haughty, expensive, and had the temper of a tigress.

Rosamund’s smile was fleeting. La Contessa’s temperament would never do for a duke’s daughter, of course. She’d been raised to be polite to everyone from His Majesty down to the lowest menial. She knew the rules of protocol back to front and inside out. She always knew where to sit at the dinner table, or to whom she should curtsy and whom she should not. Small talk was her forte, except when her mind wandered, as it did from time to time, and she forgot where she was. If she had to describe herself in one word, it would be . . .
bland
.

Bland
. It was a word that had stuck in her mind ever since Lady Townsend’s ball, where she’d overheard some of the younger women discussing her character. No one could possibly dislike her, someone said, because she was as bland as a blancmange. And everyone laughed.

Her mother had been anything but bland. By all accounts, Elizabeth Devere had been impatient with the constraints her exalted position had placed on her, and saw no reason to follow them slavishly. In the end it was her downfall. She’d gone out riding alone and had taken a tumble while jumping a fence. It wasn’t the accident that killed her, but the fact that she hadn’t been found till the following morning. She’d come down with a fever and had quietly slipped away.

Maybe if her mother had lived, her grief-stricken father wouldn’t have been so strict with his only daughter. And maybe, if her mother had lived, his only daughter wouldn’t be feeling so restless right now.

All that happened twenty years ago, but she still missed her. She wondered what her mother would think of the way her daughter had turned out if she could see her now.

“Lady Rosamund?”

Uh-oh. She’d done it again, forgotten where she was.

She looked at Prince Michael and sighed. There must be something wrong with her, she thought. Prince Michael of Kolnbourg was tall, dark, and handsome. He was also titled and legions of women had tried to lead him to the altar. Then why didn’t he appeal to her?

Perhaps because she, too, was tall, dark, and handsome as well as titled. She was also wealthy in her own right and no fool. It didn’t take much intelligence to deduce that this was why Prince Michael had chosen to court her. Meanwhile, next month, she would turn twenty-seven, and she knew her father was becoming desperate for her to accept one of her suitors.

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