The bachelor prince, p.1
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       The Bachelor Prince, p.1

           Debbie Macomber
 
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The Bachelor Prince


  The Bachelor Prince

  New York Times Bestselling Author

  Debbie Macomber

  A Royal Groom

  Prince Stefano Giorgio Paolo is the kind of man most women only dream of marrying. And now the very handsome--and very eligible--bachelor has arrived in America to search for a bride.

  A Bride Not-To-Be

  Hope Jordan’s prince has finally come--but there’s no happy ending in sight. Her royal suitor needs a wealthy wife to save his country from ruin. And Hope has nothing to offer Stefano--except her love.

  A Dutiful Marriage?

  Hope Jordan is the first woman to capture Stefano’s heart--but can he give up his kingdom for love? For Hope?

  Look for more heartwarming titles from New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber, available now from Harlequin MIRA!

  Other titles by Debbie Macomber now available wherever Harlequin ebooks are sold:

  Blossom Street Books

  The Shop on Blossom Street

  A Good Yarn

  Susannah’s Garden

  Back on Blossom Street

  Twenty Wishes

  Summer on Blossom Street

  Hannah’s List

  The Knitting Diaries: “The Twenty-First Wish”

  A Turn in the Road

  Cedar Cove Books

  16 Lighthouse Road

  204 Rosewood Lane

  311 Pelican Court

  44 Cranberry Point

  50 Harbor Street

  6 Rainier Drive

  74 Seaside Avenue

  8 Sandpiper Way

  92 Pacific Boulevard

  1022 Evergreen Place

  A Cedar Cove Christmas (5-B Poppy Lane and Christmas in Cedar Cove)

  1105 Yakima Street

  1225 Christmas Tree Lane

  Dakota Series

  Dakota Born

  Dakota Home

  Always Dakota

  The Manning Family

  The Manning Sisters

  The Manning Brides

  The Manning Grooms

  Christmas Books

  A Gift to Last

  On a Snowy Night

  Home for the Holidays

  Glad Tidings

  Christmas Wishes

  Small Town Christmas

  When Christmas Comes (now retitled Trading Christmas)

  There’s Something About Christmas

  Christmas Letters

  Where Angels Go

  The Perfect Christmas

  Angels at Christmas (Those Christmas Angels and Where Angels Go)

  Call Me Mrs. Miracle

  Heart of Texas Series

  VOLUME 1 (Lonesome Cowboy and Texas Two-Step)

  VOLUME 2 (Caroline’s Child and Dr. Texas)

  VOLUME 3 (Nell’s Cowboy and Lone Star Baby)

  Promise, Texas

  Return to Promise

  Midnight Sons

  VOLUME 1 (Brides for Brothers and The Marriage Risk)

  VOLUME 2 (Daddy’s Little Helper and Because of the Baby)

  VOLUME 3 (Falling for Him, Ending in Marriage and Midnight Sons and Daughters)

  This Matter of Marriage

  Montana

  Thursdays at Eight

  Between Friends

  Changing Habits

  Married in Seattle (First Comes Marriage and Wanted: Perfect Partner)

  Right Next Door (Father’s Day and The Courtship of Carol Sommars)

  The Man You’ll Marry (The First Man You Meet and The Man You’ll Marry)

  Orchard Valley Grooms (Valerie and Stephanie)

  Orchard Valley Brides (Norah and Lone Star Lovin’)

  The Sooner the Better

  An Engagement in Seattle (Groom Wanted and Bride Wanted)

  Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove Cookbook

  Debbie Macomber’s Christmas Cookbook

  To Anna Eberhardt who suggested I write a book about a Prince.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Prologue

  PRINCE STEFANO GIORGIO Paolo needed a wife. A very rich one. And soon.

  He couldn’t put off the inevitability of marriage any longer, not if he planned to save his country from the international embarrassment of bankruptcy.

  Tightly clenching the Minister of Finance’s latest report, he paced the royal office, his mind racing as he tread past the series of six-foot sandstone windows adorned with heavy red draperies.

  The view of the courtyard with the huge stone fountain, which dated from the seventeenth century, escaped his attention. At one time the scene below would have given him great joy. But no longer. Now it brought a heaviness to his chest. All because the courtyard was empty of tourists.

  San Lorenzo, a tiny European principality, had once thrived as a fairy-tale kingdom, and drawn hordes of sightseers from all across the globe. But with the civil unrest in the Balkan states so close to its borders, the tourists stayed away.

  It didn’t help that San Lorenzo had no international airport of its own and the closest one was now closed to commercial traffic because of the fighting.

  A knock against the heavy oak door distracted him. “Yes,” Stefano blurted out impatiently. He’d left word he wasn’t to be disturbed. Only a fool would dare interrupt him.

  His personal secretary and traveling companion, Pietro, stepped inside the room. Stefano amended his earlier thought. Only a fool or a fiiend would dare intrude on him now.

  “I thought you might need this,” Pietro said, carrying in an elaborate silver tray with two glasses and a cut-crystal decanter.

  “You know I don’t drink during the day,” Stefano chastised, but without any real censure.

  “Generally that’s true,” Pietro agreed, “but I also know you’re thinking about marriage, and the subject, as always, depresses you.”

  “Once again you’re right, my friend.” His shoulders sagging, Stefano rubbed a hand over his face and stared out the window at his small kingdom.

  “Have you made your decision?” Pietro asked, lifting the stopper from the decanter and splashing two fingers into the glasses. He handed the first to Stefano, who gratefully accepted it.

  “Do I have any choice, but to marry?” He felt as if he were sentencing himself to the gallows. He savored his life as a bachelor, and the freedom it offered him to sample the favors of some of the world’s most beautiful women.

  Frankly, he enjoyed the title of the Bachelor Prince that the tabloids had bestowed on him. The papers, if they were to be believed, claimed he was the perfect romantic prince. They touted him as tall, dark and handsome, with enough charm to sink a flotilla.

  It was true he was tall—six foot two—and his skin was tanned a healthy shade of bronze from the many hours he spent out-of-doors. The handsome part, he took with a grain of salt. His features were aristocratic, he supposed. His forehead was high and his chin stately, but then his family had reined over San Lorenzo for nearly seven hundred years.

  “Have you decided upon the lucky lady?” Pietro asked in that casual way of his that made Stefano’s most troublesome worries appear minimal.

  Frowning, Stefano thought for a moment, one hand clenched behind his back. “No.” He gestured with his drink toward his friend. “I prefer to marry an American,” he decided suddenly.

  “Having attended Duke University, you’re well acquainted with their ways. American women can be most charming.”

  Stefano slapped his drink down on the desk. “I d
on’t need charm, I need money.”

  “Trust me, Stefano, I know that.” Pietro reached inside his perfectly tailored black suit and withdrew a piece of paper. “I’ve taken the liberty of listing several eligible American women for your consideration.”

  Stefano paused and steadily regarded his friend. Oftentimes he wondered if Pietro could read his mind. “How well you know me.”

  Pietro bowed slightly. “It was a lucky guess.”

  Stefano laughed, doubting that. Pietro was much too thorough to leave anything to guesswork. In some ways his secretary knew him better than he did himself.

  Like a spoiled child, Stefano had put off dealing with the unpleasantness of his situation. He sat down and rested against the back of the plush velvet chair. “Tell me what you’ve learned.”

  “There are a number of excellent young women from whom to choose,” Pietro began.

  For the next half hour, his secretary provided him with a list of names and the information he’d collected on each woman. There wasn’t one who even mildly captured Stefano’s curiosity. Perhaps Stefano was just old-fashioned enough to believe in marrying for love. When it came to choosing a wife, he would have preferred to cherish his bride with all his heart and soul, without an eye on her purse strings. But courtly ideals weren’t going to save San Lorenzo.

  “Well?” Pietro asked, when he’d finished.

  Stefano gestured weakly with his hand. “You choose.”

  Pietro’s eyebrows arched. “As you wish.”

  His companion ran his index finger down the list, pausing at one name and then another. His frown grew darker. Gauging from his reaction, Pietro was having as difficult time choosing as Stefano.

  “Priscilla Rutherford,” Pietro announced thoughtfully.

  “Priscilla,” Stefano repeated, attempting to remember what he could about the woman. “The shipping magnate’s daughter?”

  “She’s the one.” Having made his decision, Pietro relaxed and sampled the first taste of his drink.

  “Why her?”

  Pietro shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ve seen her picture.”

  “She’s beautiful?”

  It took Pietro a moment to respond. “Yes.”

  “You don’t sound convinced.”

  One side of Pietro’s mouth quirked upward. “She’s not a flawless beauty, if that’s what you want, but she’s a gentle, kind woman all San Lorenzo will love.”

  “Do you have as much faith she’ll fall in love with me?” Stefano asked.

  “But, of course.” Pietro crossed to the other side of the room and pulled open a drawer. “I’ve even come up with a way for the two of you to meet.”

  Stefano slowly shook his head. “You never cease to amaze me, my friend.”

  “Do you remember the letter we received last week from Ms. Marshall from Seattle?”

  “Marshall, Marshall,” Stefano repeated, running the name through his memory. “Wasn’t she the one who wrote to invite me as her guest of honor to some kind of conference? Some group, something nonsensical…I don’t recall what—only that I’d rather be shot than attend.”

  “She’s the one, and it was a Romance Lovers’ Convention.”

  “I sincerely hope you declined,” Stefano said with an elongated sigh. “For the love of heaven, I have no time for such nonsense.” Romance had no place in the life of a man who was forced to marry for money.

  “Fortunately, I haven’t responded one way or the other.”

  “Fortunately?” Stefano eyed his companion wear-fly.

  “I have it on good authority that Priscilla Rutherford will be attending the convention. It would be the ideal way of casually meeting her.”

  Stefano resumed his pacing, circling his desk a number of times, his hands clasped behind his back. “You can’t be serious? The Marshall woman had come up with some ridiculous idea of raffling off a date with me. Dear sweet heaven, Pietro, has it come to this?”

  “This conference can help you achieve your goal.”

  Stefano’s gaze narrowed. Surely his friend wasn’t serious. He had no desire to stand on the auction block and be awarded to the highest bidder.

  “The Romance Lovers’ get-together offers you the perfect opportunity to meet Priscilla Rutherford,” Pietro reiterated.

  “You’re serious?”

  “Yes, Your Highness, I am.”

  It was the reference to his title that told him exactly how sincere Pietro was. “See to the arrangements, then,” Stefano murmured. This had to be the low point of his life. He was about to become a sideshow at the circus, but if that was what it took to save his country, than Stefano would gladly sacrifice his considerable pride.

  Chapter One

  “THE PHONE’S FOR YOU.”

  Hope Jordan glanced irritably toward the wall of her minute coffee shop on Seattle’s Fifth Avenue and dragged her wet hands across the white butcher’s apron tied about her waist. She hurried toward the phone and reached for the receiver.

  “Hello, Mom,” she said, not waiting for her mother to announce herself.

  “How’d you know it was me?” Doris Jordan asked, her voice revealing her surprise.

  “Because no one else phones me when I’m this busy.”

  “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” her mother said, not sounding the least bit contrite, “but you work too hard as it is.”

  “Mom, unless this is really important, I have to get off the phone. I’ve got three runners waiting for orders.” Hope smiled apologetically toward the trio.

  “You’ll phone me back?”

  “Yes…I promise. But sometime this afternoon, all right?”

  “Sure. It’s important, Hope. I’ll give you the details later, but I want you to know that I’ve invested twenty-five dollars in tickets to win a date with Prince Stefano Giorgio Paolo of San Lorenzo.”

  Hope’s head bobbed with each one of his names. She’d recently read a lengthy article about Prince Stefano, and his beautiful country. “You want to date someone young enough to be your son?”

  “No,” Doris said with an impatient sigh. “I bought the tickets for you. ”

  “Mom…”

  The line went abruptly dead. Hope stared at the phone for several seconds before replacing the receiver. Her mother was bound and determined to see her married, but buying her raffle tickets for a date was “one step over the line” of what Hope found acceptable.

  Not that it would do her any good to argue. Her mother wanted her married. The wedding itself wasn’t the important point. Grandchildren were. Her mother’s three closest friends were all grandmothers. It had become a matter of social status for Doris to see Hope married and pregnant. In that order, of course. And if Hope needed a bit of encouragement along the way, well, Doris was more than happy to supply it. Unfortunately, her means of nudging Hope toward marital bliss bordered on meddling into her already-complicated life.

  “We’re ready anytime you are,” Jimmy, the lovable nineteen-year-old college student, said with a mildly sarcastic smile.

  “All right, all right,” Hope muttered, lifting the thick paper cups holding a variety of coffees and carrying them from the counter to the waiting trays.

  “The idea is to deliver them while they’re hot,” Jimmy reminded her.

  Hope poked his ribs with the sharp end of her elbow.

  “Hey,” Jimmy protested, “what was that for?”

  “Just a little incentive to get you to move faster,” she said, grinning broadly.

  “I’m outta here.”

  “That’s the idea, Jimmy, my boy.” She laughed as he rushed out the back door toward the Federal Building, where the majority of his thirsty clients waited.

  When this last batch of runners was out the door, Hope brewed herself a latte and slumped into a chair. The morning rush was a killer.

  Coffee Break, Incorporated, had been an idea whose time had come, if sales these past few months were any indication. Hope had started the business with a staff of three who made dai
ly exotic coffee and latte deliveries to the office buildings around Seattle’s thriving downtown area.

  Soon she’d added a variety of low-fat muffins and other products to the menu and expanded to fifteen runners, who serviced a number of businesses each morning and midafternoon.

  “What’s wrong?” Lindy, the woman who baked the world’s greatest muffins, asked as she pulled out a chair and plopped herself down next to Hope.

  Hope flip-flopped her hand, too tired to complain. “My mother’s up to her old tricks.”

  “Has she found another matchmaker?”

  Hope was tempted to smile at the memory. Unfortunately, the woman at the matchmaking service hadn’t completely understood that the men Doris wanted were meant for her daughter. Consequently Hope had been matched with a man sixty-three years old. Doris had been outraged and demanded her money back. But in the end, it had worked out for the best. The gentleman had taken a fancy to Doris and the two had dined together several times over the winter months.

  “That was last time,” Hope said.

  “Did she arrange another date for you with her doctor’s nephew?”

  Despite her fatigue, Hope was tempted to laugh outright this time. “That mistake isn’t likely to be repeated, either.” Her dear, sweet, matchmaking mother had learned a lesson with that fiasco. Doris had insisted Hope meet Arnold Something-or-other. A doctor’s nephew was sure to be a real catch, the perfect husband for her stubborn daughter.

  Fool that she was, Hope had agreed to the blind date because her mother had been so excited. Doris had made it sound as if she’d miraculously stumbled upon the perfect man for Hope. If she agreed to just one date, then Hope would realize it herself.

  Unfortunately, Arnold was a kleptomaniac and was wanted by the authorities for questioning in three different states. The date had been a nightmare from beginning to end. The moment they sat down in the restaurant, Arnold started lining his pockets with pink packages of artificial sweetener. Hope could see this man was no prince.

  “Mom’s on a different kick this time,” Hope said, musing that her mother was determined to find her a prince, only this time it was for real.

  Lindy handed her a fresh applesauce-and-raisin muffin still warm from the oven. “What’s she up to now?”

 
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