Tempting the Prince - Christi Barth

Chapter One

Mallory Wishner crossed her fingers as she sidestepped a suit of armor and turned the corner. It was the third time today she’d gotten lost in Alcarsa Palace. At least it’d been down three different hallways, so the same footmen weren’t snidely rolling their eyes at her.

Not that they would—openly. All the staff were unfailingly polite to her, as the sister of the princess who’d been missing for twenty-four years. They nodded, curtsied, and bowed to her as if she had an actual royal rank.

She didn’t.

Mallory was 100 percent All-American stock. She’d voted in every election, marched in her tiny Michigan hometown’s Memorial Day parade every year, and rolled her eyes at the rest of the world calling soccer “football.”

But once they’d discovered, six months ago, that her sister Kelsey was actually 1) not in any way related to her and 2) the long-lost princess of Moncriano, everything had changed.

They’d had to leave their fourth-floor Manhattan walk-up after only living in it for three exciting days. They’d flown to Europe on a private jet and been installed in this 715-room palace. Prince Christian, the heir to the throne, had kindly made Mallory a lady-in-waiting so she could be included in almost everything Kelsey did.

And then, at the ceremony on the steps of Parliament officially welcoming Kelsey back as a full member of the House of Villani, an assassination attempt gone wrong had ended with a bullet in Mallory.

After months of recuperation under her parents’ watchful eyes in Michigan, she’d come back to Moncriano. The shooting had meant she couldn’t start her new Manhattan job. Couldn’t afford a Manhattan apartment without Kelsey to split the rent with her. All her plans went poof the moment that bullet entered her body.

Including her plans for an eventual family…

But who was she to complain about a job that mostly sounded made up but consisted of hanging out with her sister? And living in an honest-to-goodness palace?

A palace that she’d officially moved into two weeks ago, but still hadn’t learned her way around. A palace full of staff who mostly spoke English. But Mallory constantly worried about what they were saying about her in their own language. Were they royalists, thrilled to have their missing princess back—along with her hanger-on pseudo-sister? Or were they nationalists like the man who’d shot her, pissed as hell that an American would dare taint the seven-hundred-year reign of the House of Villani?

So yes, maybe the footmen were mocking her. But that was waaay down on her list of things to worry about.

With a rush of relief, she recognized the portrait of eighteenth century Queen Nicola on the wall. This was the right wing, with her room and Kelsey’s. The footman in his purple vest nodded at her before knocking on Kelsey’s door.

Geez, even that was different. She’d spent her whole life first sharing a room with Kelsey and then just barging in whenever she felt like it. Not here. Alcarsa Palace might as well have been surrounded with a ten-foot-deep moat of protocol.

It was Mallory’s job to stay on top of it all because Kelsey sucked at 1) respecting and 2) following protocol. From day one, she’d resisted her princess-hood. Pushed back hard against all the protocol she knew, and pretended to ignore what she didn’t. Mallory was the one who’d dived into it, determined to not let her sister embarrass herself.

That meant pushing down her annoyance every single time she came to a door, waiting for the footman to knock, waiting for him to announce her presence to those within, and waiting for the royal okay to enter.

Footmen. Why were they all men, anyway? There weren’t any gender-specific requirements to the job.

She did not wait for him to open the tall, gilded door more than a crack before pushing inside. “I’m here.” Mallory waved a green velvet box in the air. “With the aquamarine-and-pearl earrings from the Royal Jewel Vault. There really ought to be a pneumatic tube system to get stuff from down there up to your room. It is a hike.”

“Some people have treadmill desks in their office to get exercise while working. Instead, you get to wander around a palace filled with priceless antiques and artwork.” Kelsey looked up from where she sat in the middle of her canopied bed and raised one blond eyebrow. “I think you’ll live.”

“Um, you’re the one who complained about having to wear these gorgeous earrings tonight.” Earrings that were more than a century old. Earrings previously worn by princesses