Excerpt from A Season to Give

CHAPTER ONE

Sophie Jordan had done the unthinkable. She’d fallen in love with her boss.

 
She didn’t know exactly how it had happened, or when, but that morning she walked into his office for their morning briefing, their eyes met, and . . . bam! Warmth had flooded her chest and a feeling of happiness at the sight of him had settled over her. She’d never been in love before, but she had to believe this was it.


In the profession of private secretaries, this was untenable. One did not fall in love with one’s boss, especially when said boss was also a royal prince.


But what woman wouldn’t fall in love with Prince Adrian, even if he weren’t royalty? With his dark, broody looks, patrician nose, chiseled jaw, and dimpled chin. And those eyes! A cool gray like she’d never seen. He could pin you with a gaze you felt right down to your soul. But there was also pain in their depths. 


“Hey, you work for the prince who bought the Pitkin property about year ago, right?”


Sophie looked up and blinked at the woman sitting next to her at the coffee bar. “I’m sorry?”


“Prince Adrian, I think his name is. I read about him in the paper. To think little Northridge has a royal prince living in our midst. It’s really something.”


“Oh. Yes. I work for him.” The last thing she wanted was notoriety for her job. She was the person behind the behind-the-scenes. She made things tick—she didn’t do the ticking. And she’d spent over a decade shedding her childhood. Laser-focused attention on her would only dredge it up again. She wasn’t ashamed, but she couldn’t bear to face the scorn, or worse yet the pity, from people once they knew.


“What’s he like? I mean, do you have to call him ‘Your Royal Highness’ and curtsy whenever you see him?” The woman continued without Sophie answering. “Are his shoulders as broad as they look in photographs?”


Oh yes, Sophie thought. His shoulders are broad. And they taper to a narrow waist and a tight derrière. And then there are his powerful thighs, displayed to perfection in the slacks he wears when he’s working. And to even better perfection when he was running in shorts cross-country on the grounds of the estate


“And his eyes. Are they really that icy shade of gray in person?”


Sophie didn’t remember answering the first three questions, and here was yet another that she could daydream over. Icy? No. His eyes . . . well, his eyes were . . . beautiful. She’d almost call them pewter. And they were set off by thick dark lashes she’d kill for and regal (there was no other word for it) dark brows. All this in a face that would make Narcissus jealous.

 
“Abby, the new Nora Roberts is here. Why don’t you go check it out?” Kristen Kincaide said with a wink at the woman. Kristen was the owner of the Beans ’n’ Books Café, and in her limited time off, Sophie had joined Kristen’s book club and become friends with some of the other Northridge residents.

 
“It’s here! Ooh, I can’t wait to read it,” the woman said, abandoning her interrogation of Sophie and heading for the bookshelves in the back of the café. 


“I’m sorry. My mother-in-law gets a little carried away. When they were filming Battle of the Heart last year, she’d show up at the locations hoping to get a glimpse of the actors. She even signed up to be an extra.”


“It’s not a problem. I guess it’s natural curiosity.” Sophie turned to see her interrogator flipping through a book. “That’s your mother-in-law?”


“Yes.” Kristen’s eyes softened, then she laughed. “But I love her anyway.” Kristen eyed Sophie’s mocha latte. “Don’t like it?”


“What? Oh, no. I mean yes, I do like it.” Sophie gave a sheepish grin. “I guess I was wool gathering, as my mother used to say.” Her smartwatch buzzed a reminder of her appointment with the local attorney Marshall MacKinnon to discuss the sale of her late mother's house. “Sorry, I’ve got to run.”


“See you at book club on Wednesday?”


“Definitely! I’ll bring the wine.”


*****


As she walked down the street after her appointment, Sophie thought that Northridge, Georgia was the prettiest town she’d ever seen. Not that she’d seen that many. It was a far cry from her hometown of Henpeck, Kentucky, with its grimy, dilapidated buildings, muddy streets, and boarded-up windows. 


Every inch of Henpeck wore layers of coal dust, and the black soot permeated everything within ten miles of the mines. 
When she’d moved to Louisville, she’d been overwhelmed by its size and the bustle of the city—a far cry from the mining town of Henpeck. Louisville had seemed a veritable cosmopolitan city with its horse-racing complex, bourbon distilleries, and annual Kentucky Derby. But it was just that, a big city (at least in her limited experience).


Northridge, on the other hand, was idyllic. The perfect blend of small town and trendy. She’d been in Northridge a year and had experienced every season, but Christmas was her favorite. As she strolled down the sidewalk, she admired the lampposts adorned with hanging baskets filled with bright red poinsettias and deep green holly. The shop windows sported Christmas displays complete with beautifully decorated trees and sparkly lights. At night, the town became a fairyland when the willow oak trees lining Main Street glimmered with white twinkling lights. 


The town also boasted friendly residents who welcomed strangers like her with open arms. 


A half hour later, Sophie eyed the car following her then drove through the security gate, waving at Roscoe, one of the guards on duty. Another paparazzi, she assumed. They pulled off to the side of the public road and she saw the lens of a camera pointed at her car. She sighed in frustration. 


Would they ever leave the prince alone? What did they hope to get a photo of? Her pulling through the security gate? Not very titillating material if you asked her. 


Drawing in a cleansing breath, she understood why Prince Adrian had chosen this secluded estate.


He wasn’t the first uber-wealthy man she’d worked for, but his property never failed to impress. The spectacular four hundred forty-six acres of property featured rolling pastures, a winding river with waterfalls, and a lake. 


Stately willow oaks lined the driveway, creating a natural arch and dappling the road with shadow and sunlight. She rounded the curve and the massive stone mansion came into view, dominating the high point of the property. Wraparound terraces afforded spectacular views of the property.


The main house offered an open lodge feel with reclaimed beams, wide-plank pine floors, and carved solid oak doors. The main level had a theater, a billiards room, a full bar with gleaming copper ceilings, and rooms that had been repurposed for the prince’s suite of offices, which included hers and his estate manager’s, as well as a wine closet that had been converted into an office supply closet. 


The master suite, which she had never seen, was on the main level with four additional bedroom suites upstairs. 


Maybe not a palace, but a residence fit for a prince just the same. 


In addition to the main house, there was a gardener’s cottage, stables, and a guesthouse. She snorted as the guesthouse came into view. At almost four thousand square feet, it was larger than most family homes. Jacques Etienne Lombard, Prince Adrian’s best friend, estate manager, business manager, and confidante lived in the guesthouse.

 
As part of the employment negotiations, she’d claimed the eighteen-hundred-square-foot gardener’s cottage for herself. In her talks with Jacques, she had explained that she required a place of her own instead of living in the main house, so as to create a separation of work from her personal life. He’d agreed to her request.

 
Never mind the sum of money her previous late employer had left her, which was currently sitting in an investment account, with the excellent salary, and no need to pay for room and board, she had managed to save quite the nest egg, and to afford an extravagant (for her anyway) one-week vacation at a lovely resort in the Caribbean over the Christmas holidays.

 
She had never left the southeast, much less the U.S. She’d never even seen the ocean. But after years of working to pay for a house for her late mother’s last years, it was time to enjoy herself. A week lounging in the sun on a white-sand beach sounded like just the thing. It would also give her time and distance to assess her current situation. 


Sighing, she wondered how she had allowed herself to fall in love with Prince Adrian. Could she continue to work for a man she’d fallen in love with? But more importantly, could she continue to work for a man who could never love her in return?


Because, to borrow a sentiment from the ever-wise Jane Austen, how could the prince fall in love with a woman whose condition in life was so decidedly beneath his own?