From New York Times bestselling author Tracy Anne Warren comes the conclusion of an enchanting trilogy about three princesses brought together by friendship and fate. This is Princess Ariadne’s story…
On the threshold of receiving her royal inheritance and tired of the London Marriage Mart, Ariadne has decided to defy convention and declare her independence. She will not seek a husband–she will take a lover instead, no matter how notorious she may become.
The prince of a small European kingdom, renowned bachelor Rupert Whyte is in London to enjoy a last bit of freedom before choosing a wife. When he learns about Ariadne’s scheme to take a lover, he decides he must prevent her from embarking on such a ruinous course.
What begins as a well-deserved reprimand quickly spins out of control when Rupert agrees to give Ariadne a few lessons in lust. But just how far will their passion go? And will their forbidden liaison lead them too far astray to turn back?Read an Excerpt
2013 Romantic Times Book Reviews Nominee for Best Historical Love and Laughter
Finalist in the 2014 National Readers Choice Awards for Best Historical Romance.
4 1/2 Stars! "A sexy charmer that delivers what readers want. Simply a pleasure." — RT BookReviews
"A lively and witty tale." — Fresh Fiction
“…a totally delightful novel. [It] made me laugh. A perfectly romantic read.” — Bookworm 2 Bookworm
“Simply Irresistible!... An outstanding, steamy and suspenseful novel. A must read for lovers of historical romance!” — My Book Addiction Reviews
“…very exciting, steamy, and romantic…” — I Heart Romance
“Delightful! Filled with love and lust…” — Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
Ariadne gazed at Prince Rupert across the darkened study, silently grateful for the intrusion. Not that she had any intention of letting Rupert know that, but his unexpected entrance was exactly the excuse she needed to put an end to a tryst that had not gone at all as planned.
This looking for a lover was proving to be a great deal more difficult than she had imagined, and a lot more bothersome.
As part of her effort to choose her first paramour, she had decided to kiss a few of the top contenders. As important as mutual interests and like-mindedness might be, physical compatibility was essential as well. How else was she to know if she wanted a man in her bed if she hadn’t so much as kissed him first?
So far though, her kissing trials, as she thought of them, weren’t proving nearly as satisfactory as she’d hoped. Still, she’d held out high expectations for Mr. Knightbridge when she’d agreed to a tryst with him in the study.
He was strong, handsome and athletic––a Corinthian who moved across the dance floor like a dream. She’d been sure he would be the one to set her senses afire with his kisses. But almost as soon as their lips met, she’d known he was not the one for her.
Apparently he’d enjoyed their embrace a great deal more than she and had interpreted her response for genuine enthusiasm. Which is why she’d found it far from easy to end their kiss.
For the first time in her life, she could genuinely say she was thrilled to see Prince Rupert.
Taking advantage of the interruption, she stepped sideways, putting space between herself and Knightbridge.
For his part, Knightbridge looked startled and not a little annoyed. He was plainly not happy to see Rupert.
“Your Royal Highness,” he said in a clipped tone.
Rupert, arrogant as few men could be, spared him barely a glance before turning his sights on her.
“Prince Rupert. What brings you here, so far from the party?”
Rupert raised a sardonic brow. “I could easily ask you the same, although it seems rather unnecessary given the circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
Deciding that Shakespeare was right and discretion really was the better part of valor on certain occasions, she linked her hands in front of her and did not reply.
He turned suddenly toward Knightbridge. “You may return to the party. You will, of course, say nothing of this to anyone. I presume I make my meaning plain?”
Knightbridge, who was every inch as tall and muscular as Rupert, flushed like a schoolboy at the reprimand, his cheeks growing ruddy even in the low light. “Of course not, Your Highness. I would never think of besmirching the Princess’s good name. She and I––“
“Whatever you are, pray spare me the details. I do not wish to know,” Rupert said, cutting the other man off mid-sentence.
Knightbridge closed his mouth. He frowned, his gaze moving uncertainly between Ariadne and Rupert.
But he did not leave.
“Have we been speaking English?” Rupert demanded with cool impatience when Knightbridge continued to hover.
The other man’s frown turned to confusion. “Y-Yes, Your Highness, we have.”
“Then why are you still here?”
Knightbridge’s flushed again, then gave a pair of jerky bows. After a last look at Ariadne, he exited the room.
She waited until Knightbridge was out of earshot. “That was cruel. There was no need to mock him.”
“If he doesn’t wish to be treated like a fool, then he ought not act like one. Whatever do you see in him?” He paused, then held up a hand. “No, do not answer that. Again, it is more than I wish to know.”
“Well,” she said, smoothing a hand over a wrinkle in her skirt, “that being the case, I believe I will take my leave too.”
But she managed only three steps before his words drew her to a halt again.
“Not so quick, Princess. There is the little matter of your behavior tonight.”
She drew a calming breath and turned. “Yes? And what of it?”
“You and that cloth-headed pretty boy were kissing when I came in.”
“He is pretty, isn’t he?” she interjected, knowing the remark would annoy him. “But I thought you weren’t interested in details.”
Rupert’s jaw tightened. “I am not. But as the brother of your best friend, I think it my duty to advise you––“
“You overstep yourself, Your Royal Highness. You have no duties where I am concerned and I require no advice.” The gratitude she’d felt at his earlier timely interference had melted away.
“And you underestimate the amount of influence and goodwill you enjoy among the English Ton. They are a fickle lot and turn on each other like hungry dogs fighting for prey. You would do well to be careful.”
She fisted her hands at her sides. “Having cut my eye teeth among those at my father’s Court, I am quite familiar with fickle people and their deceitful ways. Your concern is unnecessary.”
She glared at him and he glared back, her pulse beating hard.
“The man you were with tonight may be a fool, Ariadne, but you are not. What if it had been someone other than I who caught the pair of you together? Unless there is something you are not telling me and you have a happy announcement to make.”
She stared for a moment as his meaning sank in. “Heavens no. There is no understanding between Knightbridge and me. We are most definitely not engaged.”
“Then it really is a good thing I happened by or you might even now be making plans for your wedding.”
Slowly she shook her head. “But I would not. Being compelled to marry for the sake of my reputation supposes that I care what Society thinks of me. I do not.”
He scowled. “Even if I believed that, which I am not sure I do, what of the scandal that would surely ensue?”
She shrugged. “What of it? People will talk or not as they like. It would be no concern of mine.”
“Then what of Emma? As your close friend, she would naturally suffer from any rash actions you might take, or have you no care for her feelings?”
“Of course I care about Emma. She is like a sister to me, as you well know. Which is the reason I am doing everything I can to be discreet in my efforts. Even so, I cannot live my life solely for the sake of others and what use is there in protecting my good name and reputation when they do nothing but stifle me? You are right that I would be sorry to hurt or embarrass Emma and Dominic. Very sorry indeed. But I must do, what I must do, you see.”
Rupert crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh? And what is that?”
Should she tell him? Never in a million years would she have imagined she might consider the idea. But the notion of telling him, of seeing his expression, made it somehow all worthwhile. And really, would it matter if Rupert knew her secret? He wasn’t her guardian and she would be coming into her majority and her inheritance soon anyway. There would be nothing he could do to stop her, even if he decided to try.
“Well,” Rupert repeated imperiously. “What is this grand scheme that is so important you care nothing for the scandal it may cause?”
She hesitated for a moment, then plunged ahead. “I have decided to take control of my independence and pursue my own goals, aspirations and desires. Rather than suffer the misery of a loveless marriage that I do not want, I have decided instead to take a lover.”
Rupert stared at her for several long moments, then tossed his head back on a hearty laugh. “A lover?” he repeated between guffaws. “Och, liebchen, you have a better sense of humor than I ever realized. How amusing.”
Ariadne’s mouth tightened. “It is not meant to be amusing. I fail to understand why you and Emma both find the idea so preposterous.” She crossed her arms over her breasts. “And I am not your liebchen!”
He laughed again, but as his merriment began to die out, her words started to sink in. What did she mean that she wasn’t trying to be funny? Surely she wasn’t serious?
His laughter ceased abruptly. “What is this about Emma? You have told her this as well?”
“Yes. And she laughed at first too. Until she realized that I am in deadly earnest.”
“But you are unwed.”
“She said the same thing. I’ve never thought the two of you had much in common as siblings, but now I see that I was mistaken.”
“What else did Emma tell you? Surely she did not encourage this insanity.”
“No, she tried to talk me out of it, but my mind is made up.”
“You really are insane.”
“I am nothing of the sort. Women take lovers all the time.”
“Yes. Experienced, married women who know what they are getting themselves into and all the things that may happen, good or bad.”
“No one can know all the things that may happen in a relationship,” she countered dismissively. “At least I will not be committing adultery through my actions.”
“No, you will just land yourself in the boughs and ruin any chance you may ever have of making an acceptable marriage.”
“I told you how I feel on that score. I have decided to live my life as a woman of independence without need of a husband.”
“I’ve always known you were a willful, headstrong creature but this…well, this is just absurd.” He paced a couple steps before a new thought occurred. “Don’t tell me that is why you and what’s-his-name, the pretty boy, were in here together tonight. Surely the two of you aren’t actually…” He twirled a pair of fingers through the air to finish his sentence.
“No, we are not,” she said, forcing down a flush. “And his name is Mr. Knightbridge. I met with him this evening so I could find out if we are compatible.”
“I wanted to know if he has any talent at kissing.”
He glowered. “And does he?”
She linked her fingers in front of her again. “He’s reasonably skilled. Much better than the others.”
“Others? What others? Just how many would-be lovers have you wandered off into secluded corners with lately?”
“Three or four,” she said with a casual shrug, as if such behavior was a commonplace thing. “I had to have some means of comparison, after all, since I am conducting kissing trials.”
Rupert stopped dead. He had assumed she couldn’t surprise him any further, but apparently Ariadne had more alarming details up her sleeve than even he could have predicted.
Kissing trials? Good God.
He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Did it never occur to you that word might get out? That one of your gentlemen…friends…for want of a better term, might mention your new penchant for secret assignations?”
“Well, I cannot see why. None of them has reason to expose our trysts and it isn’t as if I’ve revealed my intentions to them. As far as each man is aware, he is the only one I’ve let kiss me and our little rendezvous is nothing but a harmless flirtation.”
“Believe me,” he said on a low growl, “there is nothing harmless about you, Princess. And though you may have no care for your reputation, you ought to have a care for your safety. You’re playing a dangerous game, Ariadne. A very dangerous game, one that may well get you hurt.”
“Oh, I’m not worried. They’ve all been lambs,” she said dismissively. “I am perfectly safe.”
He moved closer. “And what if you aren’t? What if you choose a wolf next time and he isn’t as pliable and obedient as the others?”
“I have everything well in hand. All the men in my circle are gentlemen.”
“Even among gentlemen, predators exist. As far as I can see, you’ve been lucky up to now. Take heed and put an end to this ridiculous pursuit of yours.”
“It is not ridiculous and I shall not stop. I crave passion and adventure and that is what I am going to have whether you approve or not.”
He took another step closer, narrowing the space between them so that she was only a few inches away. “So you like living life as if you were balanced on a cliff’s edge, do you? Perhaps you need someone to show you just how risky such choices can really be.”
She set her hands at her hips. “Oh, and I suppose you’re the one to do it? Preparing to read me another lecture, are you, Your Highness?”
“No,” he said with soft menace. “No lectures. I think in your case a more direct form of instruction seems appropriate.”
Reaching out, he caught hold of her wrists and pulled her arms behind her back, imprisoning her against him. “Prepare to be taught a lesson, Your Highness.”
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