His Highness’s Hidden Heir

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His Highness’s Hidden Heir

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Sleep alone or come to my room where you won’t get much sleep at all.
— Magnus, His Highness's Hidden Heir

For this one, I knew I wanted my heroine to have been a child star–someone who is both beloved and deeply misunderstood by the public. Finding the right hero for her was difficult, though. Lexi is strong and capable and has had to take care of herself from an early age. What kind of man could challenge that?

My editor suggested a royal hero so I began playing with where his fictional island might be located and Wow! In walked Magnus. Or should I say stormed? He’s a six-foot-five viking with all the strength and arrogance you can imagine in a man with his presence. He falls like a redwood for Lexi, but she’s a magnet for scandal and he can’t afford such things. Duty prevents him from offering her more than a single night.

Of course that night has consequences! Soon he discovers she’s carrying the next heir to the throne. He has to marry her, but they’re both incredibly strong personalities so there’s a lot of flash and clash and passion before they surrender to each other. It’s worth it, though!

Prepare to be ravaged. Magnus is about to carry you away…

His Highness’s Hidden Heir


Chapter One

The adage that said If you want something done right, do it yourself defined Lexi Alexander’s twenty-five years of life.

Unfortunately, there were some things she simply couldn’t do. For instance, she couldn’t be famous and also be her own security detail.

Quietly cursing under her breath, she dismissed Nishan, the bodyguard her brother had hired, and left for the ballroom alone.

Poor Nishan hadn’t meant to contract food poisoning. She knew that. Hadley was the real problem. Her brother had hired a man who hadn’t been up to the task of protecting her even before he’d lost his lunch. Nishan hadn’t known how to navigate her through the airports or the streets of Paris and there’d been a very un-reassuring alarm in his eyes as they’d run the gauntlet of paparazzi from the car to the hotel. He had allowed stylists to come and go from her room all afternoon without checking their bags. Now Lexi was without an escort as she joined the queue in the corridor, inching their way toward the ballroom.

She was perfectly safe, she reassured herself. The hotel was in a type of lockdown, given the guest list for this gala included muckety-mucks from across Europe. It wasn’t as though she wore millions of dollars in jewels the way she used to when attending something like this. Her fall from grace two years ago meant she’d had to call in a favor to rent one of last year’s gowns, and her jewelry was costume. Very good costume, but costume nonetheless.

The bloom was so far off her rose, she half expected to be refused entry.

Which would break her, financially and emotionally. She had dropped funds she couldn’t afford on the flight, the hotel and the plate fee of a five-figure donation benefiting war-injured children. She was hoping her attendance would polish out some of the tarnish on her reputation, but was really here to “bump into” one of the other guests, a French woman Lexi desperately wanted to direct her in an adaptation she was trying to get off the ground.

All of this was high-stakes gambling, something Lexi objected to in principle, but she had so few choices. Being famous since childhood meant she was perceived as rich and powerful. That made her a favorite target for paparazzi and others who were even less savory. She would love to get a job as a barista and live a quiet life above a bookstore, but that option wasn’t available to her. She had cut back as much as she could, but she still needed an income that would pay the mortgage on her high-security mansion and allow her to keep her staff.

“Ms. Alexander.” A young woman in a little black dress greeted her with a smile of recognition when Lexi arrived at the front of the line. It was the delighted smile Lexi had seen most of her life. The one that seemed to exclaim, You’re that girl from that show!

The young woman’s expression faltered, the way they all did these days, as she recalled the more recent headlines: Unapproved Ingredients. Chemical Burns. Class Action Lawsuit.

The young woman touched her earpiece and flashed Lexi a more sober look. “May I ask you to step to the side with me, please?”

No. Lexi kept her star-powered smile frozen in place. “Is there a problem?”

“Not at all. Only…” As they moved to the left of the entryway, the young woman looked back the way Lexi had come.

Lexi followed her gaze and watched all the people in their tuxedos and evening gowns, designer shoes and sparkling jewels, step toward the wall. Some bowed their heads.

She heard someone murmur, “Your Highness,” right before a man—an absolute Viking—appeared.

He was tall, six four at least. He led his entourage like an invading party, ignoring everyone as he marched toward the ballroom, head high with his right to cut the line.

Maybe Lexi was supposed to lower her gaze, too, but she was too dazzled.

He wore a gorgeous tuxedo with a white jacket that hugged his broad shoulders. A sash of midnight blue was tucked beneath it, running diagonally from his left shoulder to his right hip where the silk protruded. It was pinned with a silver emblem shaped like a starburst. A row of medals sat in a line above his pocket square and a crest of some kind was embroidered on the pocket.

His dark blond hair was combed back from his forehead, revealing the rugged bone structure of his brow and cheeks and jaw. His nose was hawkish, his mouth wide and accentuated by his closely trimmed bronze beard.

All of that was mesmerizing enough, but his eyes. They were such a vivid blue, they made her shiver as his gaze slammed into hers while he approached.

He turned his head as he passed her, holding her gaze an extra second, never missing a step in his long, ground-eating stride.

Then she was staring at the pewter wolf’s head that secured his long hair at his nape.

He melted into the crowded ballroom, taking all his dynamic energy with him, leaving a wake of rippling voices.

“Whew!” Lexi heard beside her. She had completely forgotten the young woman who was now blushing and fanning her face. “They told me to let him go by without stopping him. You can go in now. Thank you for waiting.”

Lexi dragged her mind back to where she was and what she was supposed to be doing, but her thoughts were scattered like stars across the sky.

“Who, um, who is he?” she asked under her breath.

“Prince Magnus of Isleif.”

“Of course.” She pretended that meant something to her, but she was an American born in Scottsdale, Arizona. She’d been raised on film sets and didn’t know much about the royals of Europe. Isleif was an island somewhere between Denmark and Greenland, if she recalled her online geography classes correctly. Otherwise, she knew nothing about it.

With a nod of thanks, she entered the busy ballroom.

She hated to enter a crowd alone. I’m safe, she affirmed to herself. The hotel had its own security in place and that young woman at the door was only letting in the approved guest list. These were all sophisticated people who cared very little for American actors turned failed online influencers.

But there had been some terrible posts over the years, especially after that most recent lawsuit.

She ignored the anxiety that tried to churn her belly and scanned the crowd, looking for her target, Bernadette Garnier.

Lexi wasn’t short. She was five eight and wore five-inch heels, but it was still difficult to spot the director. The room lights were dimmed. Balloons floated above highboy tables and streamers draped from the ceiling. Clusters of people were shifting and pressing around the silent auction tables. More were jockeying at the bar. Waitstaff circulated, offering champagne.

She waved that off, moving closer to where an ensemble played a lively tune that was barely audible over the din of voices.

“Paisley!” A man close to her age brightened with discovery as she tried to excuse herself past him.

This was why she preferred to have a bodyguard with her.

“Guilty.” Lexi forced a friendly smile and offered her hand. “My real name is Lexi Alexander.”

Yes. My mother named me Alexandra Alexander, she often had to add.

“No, you’re Paisley Pockets,” he insisted. “My sister made me watch your show when we were kids.” He leaned in to add in a tone that bordered on creepy, “Then I made her watch Bungalow Bingo.”

This was typical from a man. He hadn’t enjoyed a show about a girl who could travel in pockets, but he couldn’t wait to brag about ogling her in her later work, when she’d worn short shorts and a bandeau.

“Can we get a photo?” He threw his arm around her and brought up his phone.

It was always more expedient to agree than protest that this was an invasion of her time and privacy, but damn Hadley for hiring such a green bodyguard. Who ate a shrimp-filled croissant from a street vendor’s cart?

She smiled sunnily for the photo, experiencing a prickle of awareness as she did.

It took all her control to wait until the photo was taken before she glanced left, to where her inner radar was pulling her attention.

Prince Magnus was watching them. Her. He was tall enough he stood like a lighthouse amid the streaming crowd. As she held his stare, an itching sensation rose behind her breastbone, making the rest of her tingle.

The prince blinked once and glanced away, leaving her deflated at losing his attention.

“Darling.” A woman arrived to grip her fan’s arm, digging her nails into his sleeve.

“Look,” he said with an excited wave at Lexi. “It’s Paisley Pockets.”

“Lexi Alexander. Hi.” Lexi always offered her real name with her hand, even though she was resigned to having Paisley Pockets on her tombstone.

The woman offered a flat, dismissive smile. She ignored Lexi’s hand and insisted to the man, “You need to meet my friend.” She mumbled something in his ear.

The man shot Lexi a look and the tension in Lexi’s belly twisted into a blistering knot.

That look was becoming familiar, too. Don’t speak to her. She’s radioactive.

“Excuse me,” she said, even though they were already turning away.

This was why she was in Europe, taking long shots at finding work. No one in the American film industry would touch her.

You just have to stay in the game, her mother would say cheerfully, but Lexi was growing tired of the fight.

If she had other options she would take them, but this was all she had and the press loved to chum the waters with her old mistakes, making it impossible for her to outswim her past.

The next hour was a roller coaster of similar encounters. She wound her way around the auction items, bidding on the ones she knew she would lose since she couldn’t afford any of them.

She didn’t find Bernadette. Was she even here? People were still arriving, but she was very done with being here. This evening was starting to smell like a huge mistake.

The music paused for speeches. Lexi listened with half an ear, scanning the faces as best she could until she joined the polite applause. A gorgeous couple took to the dance floor in an elegant waltz.

“Shall we?” The deep, accented voice stirred the fine hairs near her ear while a wide, hot palm took possession of her hip.

She turned her head and her cheekbone grazed the silky whiskers of the Prince’s chin. He essentially surrounded her, causing her heart to belatedly leap. She was snared. Caught. Claimed.

A dozen thoughts zipped through her mind—one of them that he couldn’t possibly know who she was—but he was trailing his hand across her lower back, thumb grazing where her gown dipped to reveal her spine, leaving a spark of electricity against her skin.

He removed his touch and caught her hand, tugging her toward the dance floor.

It was as though a barbed hook in her chest pulled her to follow him, instantly painful yet impossible to resist.

He gathered her a little too close. Close enough that her legs brushed his as they moved, causing the silk lining of her gown to caress her thighs.

She knew how to dance, but she’d never moved so fluidly with anyone. Not without weeks of rehearsal. She was instantly in sync with him, her body giving over to his dominant lead with instinctive trust.

Don’t, a protective voice warned. She’d learned the hard way that trust needed to be earned. Even then, it was conditional. She’d been hurt too many times to take anyone at face value, even a prince. What did he want? Sex?

“What’s your name?” he asked in his accented English.

“You don’t know?” She was genuinely surprised.

“Should I?”

“I’m Lexi Alexander, an actor from America.” She didn’t mention the cosmetic thing. “I would have thought someone on your team had recognized me.” And warned him not to talk to her, let alone dance with her. People were noticing.

She glanced toward his entourage and saw a silver-haired man wearing an expression of subtle horror.

It wasn’t funny, but she had a dark enough sense of humor to be amused.

“You didn’t know who I was when you saw me,” the prince chided. “I could tell by the way you looked at me.”

“How was that?” She lifted her lashes, curious, and was instantly snared by the banked heat behind his startlingly blue irises.

“As a man.”

Oh. Her heart lurched. He did want sex.

But maybe she did, too? A sensual weight seemed to land in her belly, one that emanated intense warmth through her torso, arriving in pinpoints at the tips of her breasts and between her thighs.

It was disconcerting enough to make her cheeks sting. She lowered her gaze, embarrassed at having such a visceral, obvious reaction.

“You’re very beautiful.” His voice deepened with admiration. Intimacy. “I couldn’t help noticing you, too.”

She knew she was judged to be beautiful. Hollywood told her that all the time, not that she believed her beauty was anything more than symmetrical features and above-average height. She did have genuinely nice hair, but the honey-gold streaks were placed there by her mother. Rhonda Alexander had trained in hair and makeup before Lexi was born, then treated her daughter as her own personal dress-up doll, an asset to be polished and shown off.

Thus, Lexi knew how to emphasize her eyes so they seemed bigger and shape her mouth into more of a sensual pout. She wore push-up bras and kept her weight audition-ready. Her nails were always manicured, her fashion choices edgy, but flattering.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she dismissed lightly.

“Aren’t I the lucky one to be holding it.” His mouth twitched. “You’re here alone?”

“I am, but—” She gave a barely perceptible shake of her head, regretting that she had to rebuff him. It made her throat feel raw, but it was necessary. She was used often enough that she wouldn’t do that to a stranger for a bit of positive press, no matter how badly she needed it.

The way his expression hardened told her he wasn’t used to being refused what he wanted. And he wanted her. Not the way other men did, either. This was different. She understood that at a cellular level, as his hands subtly tightened on her. He wasn’t intent on possessing a pretty object. No, this was elemental sexual desire—the kind she had never really experienced. She only recognized it in him because it was coming alive in her blood and nerve endings, sharpening her senses and filling her with craving.

Her heart tipped unsteadily in her chest. The pull toward him was so profound, the need to be near him so acute, it was terrifying. She wanted to fall into him and damn the consequences, which conversely made her want to run the other way out of self-protection.

“You need to t-talk to your people.” She stopped dancing and pressed for him to release her.

He turned to stone, holding her in place without effort for three crashing heartbeats.

The strength in his arms was an iron cage, but he held her more with the pierce of his gaze. Then he dropped his touch and gave her a disinterested nod.

She had to do some of her best acting as he walked away, hiding how bereft she was as she moving in the opposite direction.

He left the gala moments later. She felt the energy in the room change. Maybe it was the awareness inside her that dimmed. Either way, she was dejected and swimming in loss.

She told herself it was because she hadn’t managed to find Bernadette. She went back to the entrance of the ballroom and asked the greeter if the director had turned up.

The young woman checked her tablet. “It doesn’t seem so.”

Damn. Everything about this trip had become a complete waste of resources.

Lexi threw in the towel, unwilling to go back into the ballroom and face the growing stares. They were even more rude and speculative now that she’d danced with the prince.

He had probably wanted distance after being informed about her. She imagined he was furious that she’d compromised him.

For some reason that ate at her worse than the money she’d thrown away by coming here. Why? He was a total stranger. He meant nothing to her.

Yet she couldn’t stop thinking about him as she made her way down the corridor to the elevators, worrying over their brief interaction like an abscessed tooth, poking at all the most painful aspects.

She had to keep an unbothered look on her face as she went. Small groups of people were chatting in alcoves and she had to step aside for another entourage of royals.

Wait. Was that—? It was!

Lexi was rarely starstruck, but she paused to watch Queen Claudine and her husband, King Felipe, continue toward the ballroom. Claudine had been a beauty contestant from New York, competing in Nazarine when she’d fallen in love with its crown prince. He had since ascended to the throne. Their courtship was straight out of a romance novel, the kind Lexi would love to develop into a movie and star in, not that she could touch Queen Claudine’s natural beauty—

“Lexi!” a male voice called.

She glanced to the end of the corridor where it ended at the mezzanine. A man stood on the far side of the circular rail that looked onto the hotel’s entrance foyer below. He lifted his camera to point it at her.

The paparazzi was roped off outside, but that wasn’t just any photographer. Her heart nearly came out her throat as she recognized her stalker.

Instinctively, she pushed through the nearest door.

She had an impression of half a dozen men, including Prince Magnus, before someone grabbed her. Shock rendered her meager self-defense training useless. Her right arm was twisted into the middle of her back and her scream was still trapped in her throat when her face smacked into the wall.

Chapter Two

Magnus Thorolf had already been in a foul mood when he arrived at this hotel. It was a version of the foul mood he’d been stewing in for the last fourteen years, ever since he’d been plucked from his training session on a ski hill in Norway and shuffled into a van by men in suits and sunglasses.

One blood test later, he was deemed the legitimate heir to the Isleif throne, something his mother could have told him at any time in the previous eighteen years of his life.

I was afraid they would take you away from me, she cried when the truth came out.

That was exactly what had happened.

His life, which at the time had been filled with endless possibility, had shrunk to duty and protocol and service to a crown he had no desire to wear.

Which suggested he didn’t love Isleif, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. The best memories of his life were summers and Christmases at his mother’s cottage in the windy island nation, chasing his brother and sister down a beach or across a snow-covered field. He couldn’t think of that time without a knife of nostalgia turning in him.

Ignorance really was bliss.

It certainly had been an hour ago, when a woman had snared his attention and he’d thought he might have amenable company in his bed tonight.

He wasn’t even sure how or why she’d caught his eye. Yes, she was beautiful. Her blond hair was swept to the side, exposing one of her high cheekbones. Her pillowy lips were painted an earthy red, her eyeshadow bronze to match her gown.

The gown itself had been both elegant and sexy as hell. The silk had wrapped her throat then left her shoulders bare as it parted to cradle her ample breasts. It was fitted to her waist and hips, then fell open across one thigh, making the most of her stunning figure.

So, yes, she was easy to look at, but beautiful women made themselves available to him all the time, not that Magnus took full advantage of that small perk of his title. He’d had lovers, obviously. They were always vetted to within an inch of their life and his private secretary, Ulmer, damned near applied the condoms to Magnus himself.

Given the absolute dearth of spontaneity and the growing pressure to find a “suitable” partner and produce an heir, Magnus mostly eschewed sex—which probably contributed to his terrible disposition.

He’d grown numb to all of it.

Tonight, however, he’d felt something besides the frustration of living in a cage. Sure, it had been lust, but it was overwhelming lust. The sight of that woman had shaken him awake, spurring him with fierce need. When they danced, her voice and scent and grace had piqued his appetite. Not just for sex, although in his mind her legs had already been around his waist. No, he’d wanted her. It wasn’t rational or even civilized, but he didn’t care. From the moment their eyes had met, he’d made up his mind that she would come to his room.

Then she’d rejected him.

You should talk to your people.

He hated talking to his people. He hated what they said.

Not a good look, sir. Absolutely not.

Magnus had walked out of the gala, loathing these hellish appearances anyway.

He’d bumped into King Felipe of Nazarine on his way to the elevators. They had a friendly acquaintance, both facing a similar challenge of representing a small island nation on the greater world stage. They’d stepped into this breakout room long enough to agree to support each other’s position at an upcoming climate conference, then Felipe had escorted his wife, Claudine, to the ballroom.

“I saw a photographer in the mezzanine,” Ulmer said, barely looking up from his tablet. “We can avoid him by using the service elevator.” He signaled one of the bodyguards to check the catering hall.

At that moment, the door thrust inward.

Magnus caught a glimpse of bronze and blonde, heard a cry of alarm, then his guard shoved the intruder against the wall with far too much force.

“Let her go!” Magnus was across the room before any of the security protocols that had been drilled into him could register. He clasped his bodyguard’s shoulder in the bite of his hand and yanked him away from her, damned near throwing him across the room.

“Sir!” That was Ulmer, trying to prevent a scuffle as his bodyguard turned on Magnus in reflex before realizing his employer was the one attacking him.

“She could be armed, sir,” the bodyguard said, tugging his jacket straight and keeping a watchful eye on Lexi.

She turned so her back was to the wall, but her shoulders were hunched and her arms were folded upward defensively. She had one hand pressed to her cheek.

“In that dress? Use your eyes!” Magnus took hold of her wrist, trying to draw her hand down so he could examine her cheek.

She shook him off and slid sideways, still darting frightened looks around the room.

“Let me see,” Magnus ordered.

He placed himself between her and the rest of the men, trying to remember to be gentle as he crooked his finger under her chin, but he was beside himself with unnatural fury, especially when he saw how red her cheekbone was.

“If this bruises, I’ll give you one to match it,” he told his bodyguard in Isleifisch. It was a modern version of Old Norse that was more a dialect between Danish and Norwegian, given Isleif’s close ties to both countries.

Lexi brushed his hand off her face, still trembling.

“You’re safe,” Magnus assured her, belatedly switching to English.

She made a choked noise that held such lack of belief, the hair on the back of his neck rose. Then something caught her attention beyond him.

“There’s nothing in there but my phone and room card,” she protested crossly. “And that clutch is on loan. Kindly don’t destroy it.”

Magnus swore and held out his hand to Ulmer, who had turned out the lining of her rhinestone-bedecked handbag.

Ulmer was about to tear the silk open, but replaced the contents and disdainfully handed it to Magnus.

“It’s our job to protect you, sir,” Ulmer said in English, no hint of apology in his tone. “She’s already damaged your reputation. Now she’s followed you in here? Why?” He directed that last imperious query to Lexi.

“I wanted privacy to use my phone.” She snatched the clutch from Magnus. “You can all go to hell. I have my own threats to deal with.” She slid along the wall again, distancing herself as she placed a call.

“All clear, sir.” The bodyguard who’d been sent into the service hall came in the far door.

“Even more reason to use a discreet exit,” Ulmer muttered and looked expectantly to Magnus.

Magnus ignored the hint to leave. His hackles were still up, his attention fixated on Lexi. He sensed aggression rising off her, but it wasn’t directed at them despite how she’d been treated. It was the defensive kind that hunched her shoulders forward.

“Pick up the phone, you— Oh!” She halted as she arrived at the corner and kept her face to the wall. Her voice seethed through her clenched teeth. “How does Carmichael know where I am? Because he’s here. In Paris. At my hotel. Did Janet post about this trip? Because I told her to wait until I was home. And that child you hired as a bodyguard ate a bad shrimp and can’t leave the—”

She turned to pace the other way and froze as she saw they were all watching and listening. The flags of color across her cheekbones deepened to crimson. Her mouth tightened.

“Call me back.” She ended the call and let her arm fall to her side. Her throat flexed as she swallowed, but she kept her chin up. “Which one of you is in charge?” she asked loftily.

“Ha!” Magnus barked. “Who the hell do you think?”

Her spine stiffened a fraction more. “If you needed a bodyguard right now, immediately, who would you call?”

“Money is no object?”

“It’s definitely an object, but so long as I get my money’s worth, I’ll pay whatever is necessary.” She was pretending to take all of this in stride, but he heard the quaver of real fear underpinning her words.

It was disturbing, further abrading his protective instincts.

Magnus touched his smartwatch, sliding his fingertip to place a call.

“Your Royal Highness,” a pleasant female voice answered. “How may I assist you?”

“I need someone in Paris as soon as possible, Kiran.”

“Can you wait one moment, please?” She put him on hold long enough for Ulmer to mutter a dismay-laden, “Sir.”

Magnus understood his private secretary’s concern. Magnus was involving the very security firm that trained his own men, but they werethe best. And they hadn’t become the best by allowing themselves to be compromised by actresses with soiled reputations. Involving them would allow Magnus to run a dossier on Lexi and learn very quickly if she posed any real threat to him.

“Sir?” Kiran’s voice returned. “My brother, Vijay, is on his way to Paris as we speak. He said he will join you first thing in the morning. If your team forwards more information, he should have everything you require in place by then. Will that suffice?”

“Thank you, Kiran. Lexi Alexander has a stalker, last name Carmichael.” He glanced at Lexi.

“Aaron,” she provided. “There’s ample coverage of it online. I have a restraining order against him.”

“Did you get all that? He’s here in our hotel,” Magnus added.

“I’ll make hotel security aware of that and have them forward tapes for any legal action that may arise. Shall I ask them to provide a guard for Ms. Alexander?”

“No,” Magnus decided with a leap of dark satisfaction. “She’ll be safe with me until Vijay arrives.”


Magnus ended the call, then waved Lexi toward the door to the service hall, where one of his bodyguards was still stationed.

She hesitated, but when she thought of walking out to the mezzanine and around to the elevators, toward Carmichael, her blood congealed.

Forcing a swallow past her dry throat, she complied. She ought to protest that she only needed an escort to her own room, but the fact was, she really needed a moment of feeling safe so she could compose herself and think this through.

Not that her brain managed anything except sparking awareness, crammed into an elevator with the prince and three other men. She pressed into the back to make room. Magnus joined her there, facing her, while the rest of the men entered and faced front.

Disapproval was wafting like musky cologne from the white-haired man who’d gone through her handbag. He didn’t like her at all.

Prince Magnus didn’t seem to care. He touched beneath her chin again, angling her face slightly before he caressed her still-tender cheek with the pad of his thumb.

“It’s fading.”

She touched where the knock had happened, probing, but also using it as an excuse to brush away his touch because it was far too disturbing, sending trickles of sensual awareness into her throat and down to her chest.

“Why are you helping me?” she asked.

“You know why.”

A learned cynicism had her wondering if he expected sex in exchange for his help, but she wasn’t sure she minded if he did. Which was a troubling thought.

The elevator stopped and opened, allowing fresh oxygen to rush in.

They had arrived in a laundry room where a guard waited. He nodded a confirmation that seemed to reassure everyone.

Magnus took her hand, sending a zing of electricity up her arm and into her torso. He led her through a kitchen where two staff stopped to nod as they went by.

“Are you hungry?” he asked as they moved through a dining area into a luxurious lounge decorated in shades of gray and ivory with accents of sapphire blue. The drapes were closed and several table lamps glowed.

“No. Thank you.” She wriggled her hand free of his, then closed it into a fist, holding on to the sensation of his fingers woven between her own.

His bodyguards dispersed in all directions, checking behind doors and stepping onto the terrace, then checking beyond the door to the hall.

“Are you in danger?” she was compelled to ask. “You seem to have a lot of protection.”

“An abundance of caution. The previous king—my father —” his lip curled with irony “—was assassinated.”

“I’m so sorry. That must have been horrible for you.”

“It happened years ago. I never met him.” He shrugged off his tuxedo jacket and removed his sash, handing them to that circumspect fellow who was still giving off vibes of hostility and suspicion. “Sit. I’ll save you the trouble of looking me up.”

Magnus hitched his tuxedo trousers and lowered into an armchair that faced the sofa, instantly turning the chair into a throne with the simple act of lounging his magnificent body upon it. He pulled his bow tie free and discarded it on the side table, then released the button at his throat, shoulders relaxing.

She lowered into the corner of the sofa, sparing a moment for how surreal this was, sitting to converse with a prince. The force of his undivided attention was like a spotlight, hot and blinding.

“Isleif was on the brink of financial collapse and King Einer was living high. I mean that literally as well as figuratively. He was a fan of party drugs and places where they’re offered in abundance. He had built a network within the government that was helping him cut inside deals for offshore drilling. In exchange for greasing those wheels, he was given anything he wanted. I’m not telling you anything that isn’t in the six-part documentary series.”

“He sounds…” She cleared her throat. “Larger than life.”

Corrupt is the word most use. It’s a wonder he only had the one illegitimate child.”

“You?” She widened her eyes.

“Yes. And believe me, I’ve looked for more. So has Queen Katla, his legitimate heir. She took the throne when he died, but she has never been able to conceive. There had long been rumors in the palace that the king had fathered a child with a commoner, after he lost his son, Katla’s older brother. She found me and I was brought to the palace as her successor.”

“That sounds like a fairy tale.”

“Written by the Brothers Grimm, perhaps.”

The grumpy assistant returned. He carried an ice bucket and two wineglasses. He showed Magnus the label on the bottle and Magnus nodded.

“No wine for me, thank you. I don’t drink alcohol,” Lexi said.

“What would you prefer?” Magnus asked.

“Soda with lime?”

He held up two fingers and the other man disappeared with the wine.

“I don’t mind if you drink,” she said. “My teetotaling is for PR purposes.”

His brows lifted in a command for her to elaborate.

Since she was rarely given a chance to tell her side of things, she did.

“When I was sixteen, one of my brother’s friends put drugs in my bag. It was hard stuff that I never would have touched. My father managed to keep me from being charged, but I did a stint in rehab, then a year of community service.”

In some ways, the counseling had been a blessing. She probably would be a drug addict by now without that perspective, given all she’d been through. At the time, however, her counselor had feared she was in denial, lying about not having a drug issue.

“I live sober now,” she added. “It’s simpler.”

Her phone burbled in her clutch, but she ignored it.

“Probably my brother calling me back,” she said when the Prince’s gaze dropped to the noise. “Half brother,” she clarified. “He runs the entertainment agency that manages me.” The agency her career had built, if she wanted to be petty about it, which she definitely did. “Our father was an entertainment lawyer. Mom worked in hair and makeup before I was born. They had an affair, but he was already married. I was born on the wrong side of the blanket, too.”

A choked noise came out of Ulmer as he set a soda with lime on the table beside her.

Magnus gave the man a laconic blink. “You have an opinion you wish to share?”

“You know my opinion, sir.”

“I do. Pack it with your things from your room.”

“You’re not firing him!” Lexi blurted. “I get way worse from trolls online. And I know what the press says about me. I don’t blame him for wanting to keep you out of that blast radius.”

“If only I could fire him,” Magnus said with pained tolerance. “Ulmer serves at the pleasure of the queen. Her goal is that I experience no pleasure at all. I’m actually doing him a favor, giving him the means to report truthfully that he made every effort to offer you a bed that wasn’t mine, including providing his own.”

“I—” Her throat tightened, cutting off her voice while heat suffused her chest. He was taking a lot for granted! Wasn’t he?

Maybe not. She kept imagining how it would feel to straddle him in that wide chair while she finished unbuttoning his shirt.

He held her gaze in a way that suggested he knew exactly what she was thinking. And wanted that, too.

The heat under her skin sizzled into her cheeks and streaked downward into the pit of her belly.

“The hotel is full. Ulmer will need to stay in your room. Give him your key. Unless you have something to hide?” Prince Magnus was like a cat, she realized with a leap of her pulse. He appeared lazy and bored, then surprised with a lightning move that trapped his prey in his sharp claws.

“Only a racy historical romance on the night table. Don’t lose my place in it,” she said as she opened her clutch.

“Send back something for her to wear in the morning,” Magnus instructed.

Lexi thought about insisting on going back to her room. She could ask hotel security to check it, but she knew from experience they were no more qualified than Nishan. She would lie awake all night, fretting they had missed something, terrified by every footfall outside her door, waiting for Carmichael or someone else to break in.

“Will you have one of the men look for cameras, please?” she asked as she offered her key. “That’s what Carmichael did the last time he got into my hotel room.” She shuddered remembering all the snippets of film that had been shown in court.

Ulmer plucked the card from her with a tsk.

“I don’t want to need protection,” she said shakily, using anger to cover the way she was inwardly cringing with shame. She knew exactly how badly she had already tarnished the prince’s reputation. Judging from what he’d said of his father, he couldn’t afford any smudges.

“I’ll see that you have something comfortable to sleep in, too,” Ulmer said stiffly.

“Are you suggesting my bed isn’t comfortable?” Magnus taunted at the man’s back.

Ulmer sniffed and walked away.

“Please don’t make this worse for me,” Lexi pleaded. “If you needle him, he’s liable to plant something incriminating in my room as retaliation.”

“He won’t. That could blow back on me. Besides, he prefers to tattle so I can be called on the carpet for a lecture from my sister. It’s very tiresome. Let’s talk about something else.”

“Such as?”

“Tell me why your reputation is so far in the gutter.”

“Your people haven’t told you?”

“They told me you were involved in a lawsuit. That you are a lightning rod for sensationalism. That you encourage it.”

“That last part is not true.” She sat back and exhaled, wishing there was somewhere far enough she could retreat to. A remote jungle in Indonesia, perhaps? “I’ve always tried very hard to be professional and a decent role model to the younger generation.”

“You’ve been acting from a young age, Ulmer said.”

“I was famous before I knew what acting was. I was a cute baby so Mom put me in commercials for diapers and whatnot. She didn’t need the money. Dad paid her support. He paid her to stay in Scottsdale, let’s be real. But I had a temperament for it.”


“Being on set and doing as I was told, yes. I’m patient. A bit of a pleaser. I was then, anyway. I was cast in a soap opera and that led to Paisley Pockets.”

His brows went up again.

“A girl who shrinks and travels in pockets. That went for six years and it was very wholesome. Then I did some coming-of-age movies and campy comedies and had just landed a part in a superhero movie when the drugs were found. That was my first scandal and a huge setback career-wise. I tried to drop acting, actually, and went back to college, but notoriety followed me. Frat houses would claim I was at their party and it would turn into a riot when fans showed up and I wasn’t there. The dean asked me to leave. My father had just died and Hadley took over the agency. I needed to support myself so I let him talk me into doing a reality show that was bikini-based. The money was great, but it got me a fan base I really wish I could undo.”

“Like the stalker?”

She nodded jerkily. “Carmichael got off on a technicality. I could have appealed, but I had already lost three years of my life to him. And the cost.” She rolled her eyes. “There was no upside to staying in that fight. Half the time the press framed it as a stunt I had pulled because I was an attention whore.” Tightness invaded her chest. If only people knew how badly she would love to disappear into obscurity. “From a producer’s viewpoint, I was too expensive to hire because I need on-set protection. My image was blonde bimbo from the reality series so no one was considering me for serious roles. I couldn’t get work, but I needed security.”

“From Carmichael? Or are there others?”

“From everyone.” She lifted helpless hands. “Most of my fans are perfectly rational and nice, but the volume is challenging. I need walls and gates. Long story short, I became the face of a cosmetic brand that paid for all of that until they switched out some ingredients due to supply chain issues. It was something the FDA hadn’t approved. It reacted with other products and people started getting chemical burns.”

He swore under his breath.

“It was very bad,” she agreed, nauseated every time she thought of it. “I did everything I could to make it right. I took responsibility for promoting it and paid a huge fine. I sold a bunch of my assets to pay the legal fees because people wanted to sue me, even though I had nothing to do with creating the actual product. Anyway, I’m not allowed to put my name behind anything anymore, not that anyone wants it. That’s another drawback to hiring me. These days, every film has merchandising licenses attached to it. No one wants me to be the next action figure sold to children. I’ve made a million apologies and I’ve donated to every organization I can find, but the bottom-feeding gossip sites still frame me as a monster who doesn’t care who she harms so long as she gets ahead.”

“Tonight was another photo op? Is that why you danced with me?” His tone held a lash of cynicism.

“That’s why I stopped dancing with you,” she corrected frostily, but her insides shriveled. “I don’t want to be performative about giving to charity. I know how icky that is.” She hated that she was reduced to this. “But if my mistakes are going to be made into headlines, I might as well have some good press to balance it. Mostly I came here to meet a director who was supposed to attend. Bernadette Garnier.” She rubbed her eyebrow. “I have a project I genuinely think she would find interesting. One that could help me stage a comeback or at least keep the lights on a little longer. She wasn’t there, though.”

He sat in a comfortable slouch as he regarded her, so casually sexy it was difficult to look at him without more fantasies exploding in her head.

He couldn’t want her now, though. Not after she’d laid bare all her flaws and drawbacks. He ought to ask her to leave.

Ulmer stalked back into the room. He held a small valise and paused behind Magnus to send her a hard glare over the prince’s shoulder.

She held her breath, awaiting banishment.

“I’ll text if I need anything,” Magnus said without so much as turning his head.

Ulmer’s mouth tightened. Seconds later, the door closed firmly behind him.

“He’s not wrong,” she pointed out, still wobbly on the inside. “I’m accepting your help because I don’t have many friends left. I had to come all the way to Europe for a chance at work. You don’t want to be associated with me.”


The single word was an arrow straight into her chest, stopping her heart and lungs before radiating a sharp pain through her entire being.

He rose in a graceful move that was so abrupt it took her heart on a fresh dip and roll, and offered his hand. “I’ll show you to your room.”

His Highness’s Hidden Heir

is available for pre-order in the following formats:
His Highness’s Hidden Heir
Early from Harlequin: Nov 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Nov 26, 2024
His Highness’s Hidden Heir
Early from Harlequin: Nov 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Nov 26, 2024
Pages: 210

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