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Authors: Leanne Banks

The Prince's Texas Bride

BOOK: The Prince's Texas Bride
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“I suppose it didn't occur to you that you could fall in love with me,” he said in a lethally sexy voice.

She swallowed over a knot of denial. “It's not likely,” she said.

He tilted his head to one side. “Why is that,
cherie?

Her nerve endings were still leap-frogging over themselves, but she refused to give in to the situation. “Because I've never fallen in love before. Why on earth would I start with you?”

He laughed, which infuriated her. “Do you think it will be that easy?”

“We're both adults,” she said, pushing aside her doubts. “I've had to exercise mind over matter many times during my life. Let's shake on it.”

He took her hand, but instead of shaking it, he shook his head. Then he lifted her hand and turned it so her wrist was open and vulnerable. He pressed his mouth against her and she felt her pulse jump. “Sorry, Eve, I don't make promises I don't intend to keep.”

Dear Reader,

It's almost May! One of my favorite months of the year, May means birthdays, babies, Mother's Day and the return of warm weather. Add in all those wonderful spring flowers and I'm as happy as a clam. Another reason for my happiness is
The Prince's Texas Bride.

You may remember Prince Stefan Devereaux from
Royal Holiday Baby.
Well, the truth is, Stefan is a strong man who can, on occasion, be a pain in the patootie. I took one look at him and knew what he really needed was a strong woman who didn't give a flying fig about his title. Eve Jackson is just that woman. When Stefan hires Eve to get his royal stables in order, he has no idea how quickly Eve will get under his skin straight to his soul. When his life takes a screeching unexpected turn, Eve encourages him to be his best self. You'll see. Stefan learns that having Eve in his life is not optional, it's mandatory. But can he convince a woman who insists she's not princess material that she is the queen of his heart?

Enjoy this story! It's my big hug to you to start off the magnificent month of May!

xo,

Leanne Banks

THE PRINCE'S TEXAS BRIDE
LEANNE BANKS

Books by Leanne Banks

Special Edition

Royal Holiday Baby
#2075

The Prince's Texas Bride
#2115

Desire

*
Royal Dad
#1400

Tall, Dark & Royal
#1412

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His Majesty, M.D.
#1435

The Playboy & Plain Jane
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*
Princess in His Bed
#1515

Between Duty and Desire
#1599

Shocking the Senator
#1621

Billionaire's Proposition
#1699

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Bedded by the Billionaire
#1863

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Billionaire's Marriage Bargain
#1886

Blackmailed Into a Fake Engagement
#1916

†
Billionaire Extraordinaire
#1939

From Playboy to Papa!
#1987

**
The Playboy's Proposition
#1995

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Secrets of the Playboy's Bride
#2002

CEO's Expectant Secretary
#2018

LEANNE BANKS

is a
New York Times
and
USA TODAY
bestselling author who is surprised every time she realizes how many books she has written. Leanne loves chocolate, the beach and new adventures. To name a few, Leanne has ridden on an elephant, stood on an ostrich egg (no, it didn't break), gone parasailing and indoor skydiving. Leanne loves writing romance because she believes in the power and magic of love. She lives in Virginia with her family and four-and-a-half-pound Pomeranian named Bijou. Visit her website at www.leannebanks.com.

This book is dedicated to Doris and Bud Banks.
Thank you for all your love and support
and for teaching us the game chicken scratch!

Prologue

T
he full moon wasn't offering any answers.

Eve Jackson sat in the small palace courtyard and drank in the scent of blooming flowers and ocean air as she debated the most recent offer she'd received from the official representative of the Royal House of Devereaux. She still wasn't sure she could possibly fit in as the chief stable master for the royal horses. She was from Texas, for Pete's sake, and had never traveled out of the States before this week. She'd been raised to say “yes, ma'am” and “no, sir,” but the idea of performing a curtsy made her laugh every time she even thought of it.

The lure of the job, however, was too tempting for words. Her current job as a regional manager for a major hotel chain bored her so much that there were days she was tempted to poke herself in the eye with a pencil. Training horses was her first love, but when Eve had received the opportunity to go to college, she'd chosen
a practical, marketable degree. Her parents had been so poor that she'd been sent off to her Aunt Hildie for most of her teen years.

Training this stable of horses was her dream job and she'd been offered a startling amount of money to do it. But she wondered if she could be happy here in a place and culture so far removed from rural Texas. And there was another concern. She felt a shift of air against her skin and her nerve endings prickled in awareness. She wasn't alone. Glancing around, she saw Prince Stefan Devereaux, tall with his chiseled features unsoftened by the moonlight, watching her from just a few feet away.

Crap,
she thought, trying to remember what the proper protocol was for greeting the ruler of Chantaine. She stood because she figured she wasn't supposed to remain seated.
Crap,
she thought again. Was
he
supposed to speak first? It seemed rude to just stare back at him.

“Hi, Your Highness,” she said. “How's it going?”

His lips twitched and he moved toward her. “Fine, thank you, Ms. Jackson. I hope you're enjoying your visit to my country.”

“It's beautiful,” she said. “Though much smaller than Texas. Not that there's anything wrong with that,” she rushed to say, in case he thought she was insulting his country.

“Yes, it is, to both of your observations. My representative told me he presented you with the latest offer, but you haven't given him an answer,” Stefan said. “The terms are generous. Why haven't you accepted?”

Demanding and direct, she thought, but she supposed he had the right. This was the third offer his representative had made to her, and the palace was paying for her
trip to Chantaine. Eve had met Prince Stefan Devereaux of Chantaine on two other occasions. Both times, he'd surprised her. From his sister Tina, Eve had gotten the impression that he was a pompous prig. He was. For some reason, she'd also expected him to be prissy and ignorant. He was neither.

“Are you uneasy about living so far from your home?” he asked and paused a half beat. “I was under the impression you were more adventurous than that.”

She lifted her chin at the subtle challenge in his tone. “It's a big move. I have to make sure it's the right one.”

“You don't have children or a husband. You're young and free. What's holding you back?” he asked. “Or is there another concern?” He studied her for a moment. “If there is, you must tell me. If you're not going to accept the offer, we need to know. I must fill this position. My horses deserve consistent care.”

“Your country is beautiful. I want to work with your horses,” she said and decided to blurt it out. “I'm just not sure about this royal thing. I'm not big on the curtsy and I'm likely to mess up how to address you and others.”

“No need to curtsy unless it's a public situation. I can have one of the advisers prompt you if necessary. When you and I are alone, you may call me Stefan. In public, it's Your Highness. It's quite simple,” he said dismissively. “What else?”

“I'm not sure about the chain of command. Who is my boss? Your aide or you?”

“I am,” he said. “I may deliver instructions through an assistant, but you answer to me. If you have any questions or concerns, you may approach me directly if I'm available. Anything else?” he asked, a faint thread of impatience sliding into his voice.

“Just one thing,” she said, meeting his gaze but preparing herself for a big, fat turndown. “If you choose to fire me, I want six months' pay and my airfare back to the States.”

His Royal Highness blinked. “Why would you request such a thing?”

“What happened to your last stable master?”

“He was fired because he wasn't doing his job properly,” Stefan said.

“And the one before?” she asked.

“He was fired for negligence.” Stefan narrowed his eyes. “Are you suggesting I'm a difficult employer?”

“I'm suggesting that when prized horses, powerful men and women grow accustomed to getting their way they can become…temperamental.”

Stefan met her gaze and his lips twitched once again. “I don't recall ever being compared to a prized horse, but I'll choose to take it as a compliment. I'll meet your conditions if you'll meet mine. You must move to Chantaine within two weeks.”

Chapter One

D
ay two of palace orientation and Eve's eyes were glazing over.

“Wait for His Royal Highness to address you first. Wait for His Royal Highness to extend his hand first. If you are wearing gloves when greeting His Royal Highness, you need not remove them first. Women need not wear hats before 6:30 p.m.,” the elderly male adviser droned on. “Call the prince by Your Royal Highness on first meeting. Thereafter, if the conversation continues, refer to him as ‘sir.' Stand whenever a royal enters the room. Never turn one's back on a royal….”

“Oh, Jonathan, give the poor girl a break,” a young woman said from behind Eve.

Eve whipped her head around, spotting Princess Bridget, whom she'd met during her previous visit to Chantaine. She remembered the underlying, not-quite-
buried impatience she'd sensed when she'd met Princess Bridget, a young woman close to her age.

Eve immediately rose and attempted an awkward curtsy.

Princess Bridget waved the gesture aside and tossed her head of brown, wavy hair. “Please don't. Will you join me for lunch? I need a royal break,” she said. “We can discuss American reality shows.”

“Your Highness,” Eve said,
trying
to follow the rules she'd just been given.

“Stop, stop,” Bridget said, taking Eve's hand and pulling her away. “And if you dare call me ma'am, I'll scream the palace walls down. Please call me Bridget. I'm counting on you to forget everything you've learned today so that you and I can become great friends. Thank God we have an American around now. You're just what we need.”

Eve felt a combination of relief at getting away from the interminable orientation session and anxiety at Princess Bridget's plans for her. “I don't really watch a lot of reality TV.”

“Well, I'm sure we'll come up with something. You know, ever since Tina got pregnant and left Chantaine, I have to do most of the public appearances.” Bridget stopped and met Eve's gaze. “I'm not well suited for this. Tina was born and bred for this job. It drives me crazy.”

“What specifically about the job drives you crazy?” Eve asked.

Bridget paused, blinking. Her eyebrows knitted in a frown. “I haven't thought about that. I've just been so resentful to be thrust into this right when I was enjoying my time in Italy.”

Eve nodded. “I hated my last job, but it paid very well.
After working in that position, I realized that being able to do something that was my passion every day was a gift, if not a luxury.”

Bridget paused again. “How profound. And I was hoping you would be a rebel.”

Eve chuckled. “I am a rebel. I just try to be smart about it.”

“Hmm,” Bridget said. “Maybe I can learn from you. I think we should have champagne for lunch to celebrate your arrival. Dom Pérignon. If Stefan finds out, he'll be livid. I do so love to make him livid.”

“No champagne for me. I don't want to start my second day on the job making my boss livid.”

Bridget gave a pout and sighed. “You have a point. It wouldn't do for him to fire you right off the bat. Chardonnay?”

“And water, please,” Eve said, thinking she definitely needed to remain sober around these Devereaux.

Bridget led her to a small table on a balcony that overlooked the east end of the palace grounds. Floral gardens were surrounded by lush, green grounds with trees that transitioned to rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. The ocean was a mouthwatering shade of azure.

“Beautiful view,” Eve said, shaking her head in wonder. “Stunning.”

Bridget stared out the window and nodded. “Yes, it is, but it can be a bit confining being surrounded by all that water. No easy way out,” she said, then shrugged. “Can't change that at the moment.” A staff member approached the table with a pitcher of water and filled two glasses. “Thank you, Claire. Could you also bring us a nice bottle of Chardonnay? Is lemon-roasted chicken and a green salad okay with you?” she asked Eve.

“That would be great, thanks,” Eve said, swallowing
a secret laugh over the fact that she'd probably be eating peanut butter and jelly on the run if she were at the Logan Ranch.

Bridget met her gaze. “What are your interests? Besides horses, of course,” she said. “Do you like to shop? Do you like music? Art?”

“Yes to music and art. I'm more fickle when it comes to shopping. With my new position here, I imagine I'll be busy enough in the beginning that I'll be getting most of my music fix from my iPod. What about you? Are there times of the year that are busier than others?”

“It seems as if it's always busy since Tina left, but I'm dragging my other sister and brother to participate in the royal appearances more often. I keep nagging Stefan for a vacation, but I think he's afraid once he lets me off the island, I'll never return,” she said with a laugh.

“I apologize for my lack of knowledge, but does Chantaine have museums?”

“Two,” Bridget said, not hiding her disapproval. “I've tried to talk Stefan into expanding, but he insists that both parliament and the citizens would balk when so many of our people are struggling economically.”

Eve nodded, her mind wandering the way it often seemed to do whenever someone presented her with a problem. “It might go over with everyone better if you could make it a children's museum,” she mused, and took a sip of her water.

Bridget stared at her for a moment. “That's a brilliant idea. If you're this brilliant about everything, it's no wonder Stefan was so intent on hiring you. You're right about starting out with a heavy workload, though,” she said sympathetically. “I just remembered there's a parade in three weeks. The royal horses are featured, ridden by several top leaders and advisers.”

Eve swallowed her water the wrong way and choked. “Three weeks?” she echoed.

Bridget nodded in commiseration. “Yes, and I can't help but believe that the horses are a little green.” She shuddered delicately. “I hate the image of Count Christo being thrown. He's eighty-two years old. Sweet man, a little daft. He always insists on bringing a whip with him when he rides in the parade.”

Eve felt her heart sink to her feet. “A whip?” she said, appalled, then sucked in a breath of air. “A
whip,
” she said again, her voice rising.

Bridget shot Eve a cautious glance. “He hasn't ever actually used it.”

“But he carries it,” Eve said, distressed. She'd learned the uselessness of whips a long time ago.

“He's an old man,” Bridget whispered. “It gives him a false feeling of control.”

Eve took another deep breath and clenched her fists in her lap. More than anything, she wanted to run to the stables and begin her work with the horses. More than ever the rest of this palace protocol and orientation seemed like horse crap. She didn't want to waste one more second. Glancing at Bridget, she saw that dashing away from the princess wouldn't be possible. She clenched her fists again then released them, resolving that she would head for the stables as soon as the meal was done.

 

Hours later, after Eve had skipped the afternoon orientation session, she worked with a third of the many palace horses. This one was a gentle palomino mare that, like the others, hadn't been ridden often enough. She pushed down her anger that the horses hadn't been
exercised. Yet, at the same time, she knew Stefan had been stalling. For her.

A smidge of guilt mixed in with her anger.

The scent of horseflesh reached her on a cellular level as she reined in the palomino. The horse submitted to her, but Eve felt the mare's urge to run. She would need to ride most of the horses once a day, if not twice during the next weeks. And the whip—God help her. How was she going to get the whip away from Count Christo?

Eve returned the mare to her stall and walked to the separate building that housed the stallion. Black was Arabian and quite the handful. She would work with him first thing in the morning, she decided as she leaned against the wall opposite his stall where he paced restlessly. The good news was that he wasn't beating down the walls of the barn.

She felt more than heard footsteps approaching and, even before she turned, her nerve endings went on alert. Turning, she saw Stefan's strong, tall form. Emanating a restless energy and power that reminded her of the stallion, he wore black riding pants and a half-buttoned shirt. His gaze was intent. “I'm the only one who rides Black,” he said.

Eve refused to be intimidated. This was her job now. She would own it. “How often do you ride him?”

“Two or three times a week,” he said. “Hard.”

“He needs a minimum of five times per week,” she told him. “Look at how restless he is.”

“That's because he's a stallion,” Stefan said. “Are you questioning my treatment of the horse?”

“Of course,” she said. “That's why you hired me.”

His mouth lifted in a half grin. “We'll do Black my way.”

“For a week,” she said. “If he's still restless, he'll be ridden more often, and I'll be the one riding him.”

Stefan chuckled. “You?” He shook his head. “He's too much for you to handle. He was too much for the previous two men to handle.”

“We'll see,” she said, confident she could handle Black. She was not nearly as confident about Stefan. She watched him as he approached the stallion. The horse seemed to immediately calm. Stefan placed a bridle and saddle on the horse. He led him out of the stall, mounted him and galloped into the distance.

Chill bumps rose on her arms at the sight of man and horse flying into the moonlight. There was a mystic connection between the two of them that she couldn't deny. She felt a rush of excitement and tried to temper it with resolve. Stefan was a powerful man, but he had distractions. He wouldn't be able to ride the stallion every day. He had other demands. It wouldn't take long before she would step in as a substitute to help Black release some of his energy. Less than a week, she suspected, and she would be ready….

 

Exactly one week later, Stefan stared into the empty stall of his prized stallion and felt a stab of alarm.
Where is Black? Has someone let him out? Escaped?
He walked into the stall and stared at the walls.
What had—

Realization hit him and his alarm shifted to anger. Eve had taken Black for a ride. She'd told Stefan her plans, but since he'd stated that he would be the only one to ride the stallion, he'd dismissed her statements. He'd assumed she would follow his orders. Frustration rushed through him as he glanced at his watch. He'd
left his office later than usual for his ride this evening, but she still shouldn't have defied his orders.

He paced from one end of the barn to the other, his temper rising with each step. Hearing the sound of hoofbeats outside, he immediately strode to the barn door. He watched in shock as Eve swung off the stallion and led him around the corral for a cooldown. Black loped alongside her as docile as a lamb. He heard her voice, low and somehow seductive, as if she were making small talk with the stallion.

As she turned around, Black glanced upward. The horse must have caught his scent. His ears prickled and he gave a soft whinney before pulling away from Eve and trotting toward him. Stefan felt a measure of satisfaction that Black had left her behind so easily.

“There you go,” Stefan said to the horse, rubbing Black's sleek throat. “I've missed you, too.”

Eve, her hair escaping the long braid that hung down her back, stepped toward Black and Stefan. Her hands rested on her hips, her lips were firm and unsmiling.

“You were told not to ride him,” Stefan said, deliberately keeping his voice mild as he patted the horse.

“And I told you that he needs to be ridden more frequently. If you don't do it, then I will,” she said. “You've only shown up twice this week. He's been so restless it's a wonder he didn't kick down the walls of his stall.”

“It seems you don't understand. What I say goes about Black,” he said, turning toward her.

She met his gaze. “But you still expect me to be in charge of his health, well-being, diet, etc….”

“Yes,” he said, relieved the impertinent woman was beginning to understand.

She nodded. “Okay. I quit,” she said and turned to walk away.

Stefan stared at her in shock, again. “Bloody hell,” he muttered under his breath. “You can't quit.”

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Sure I can. You and I agreed that you would let me be in charge of running the stables. That includes Black. If you're going to interfere with me performing my job—”

“Interfere,” he repeated, nearly speechless at her lack of respect. “As your employer, it's my right to agree or disagree with how you conduct your duties. Particularly in regards to Black—”

“Not if your plan isn't in the best interest of the horse,” she interrupted, surprising him yet again. With the exception of his siblings, very few people interrupted him. “And as far as Black is concerned, you're not rational about him. Your insistence that you be the only one to ride him is ridiculous. You're a busy man, leader of a country for Pete's sake. You have obligations and responsibilities that are more important than making sure your favorite horse is getting enough exercise.”

“I don't need you to inform me about my position. I
make
time to ride Black. It's as much for me as it is for him,” he said, revealing more than he'd intended.

She stared at him for a long moment. “So is this about your ego, or about how going for a midnight ride saves you from the craziness of your position?” she asked softly.

He felt as if she'd stabbed him. What right did she have to judge him? His rides with Black were the only time he felt truly free.

“I'm not trying to step on your toes or prevent you from the pleasure of riding Black. I'm just being realistic. He's a prize of an animal, smart, powerful and fast,” she said, glancing toward the horse. “But he's full
of energy and if he isn't exercised more frequently he's going to be miserable. I don't think you want that.”

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