Pure Princess, Bartered Bride
As quiet and dangerous as a jungle cat, achieving the impossible is one of Luc Garnier’s defining characteristics.
Princess Gabrielle is invaluable–a pearl beyond price. Yet Luc has defied the odds, and a contract for marriage is drawn up. This will be a union on paper first, and in the bedroom later….
Except Gabrielle is just the same in private as in public–well-bred, well behaved and a credit to her country. Luc is determined to find the wanton within and leave his pure princess in total disarray!
Pure Princess, Bartered Bride
"Do your duty," her father ordered her only moments before the organ burst into life—his version of an encouraging speech. He frowned at her. "Make me proud."
That was the entirety of his fatherly pre-wedding advice.
The words swam in Princess Gabrielle's head even as the heavy weight of her silk taffeta wedding gown tugged at her and slowed her down. The long train swept back from her dress, extending almost ten feet behind her as befitted a royal princess on her wedding day. Gabrielle only knew that it was hard to walk with ten feet of fabric to pull along with her, though she kept her spine erect and her head high—as always.
Thank God for the veil that covered her face, hiding the expression she was afraid she couldn't control for the first time in her twenty-five years—to say nothing of the prickly heat flooding her eyes.
She could not cry. Not here. Not now.
Not as she walked down the aisle of her kingdom's holiest of cathedrals, holding fast to her father's arm. Her father— King Josef of Miravakia. The man she had spent her life trying—and failing—to please.
Even at university she had been too determined to win her father's elusive approval to do anything but study hard. While her peers had partied and explored all that London had to offer, Gabrielle had lost herself in her books and her research. After university, despite the degree she'd obtained in Economics, she had dedicated herself to charity work, according to her father's expectations of the Crown Princess of Miravakia.
Anything and everything to curry her father's favor. It was the mantra of Gabrielle's life.
Even this. Marriage to a perfect stranger of his choosing.
Why was she going through with this? Hers was not some ancient feudal kingdom—and she was no chattel. But if there was a way to go against her father's wishes without incurring his wrath she did not know what it was. She knew that she could have said no. Couldn't she? Or was she simply too desperate to prove to her father that she was worthy of his approval—even when the stakes were so high?
"I have accepted a marriage proposal," King Josef had told her one morning, barely three months ago, jolting Gabrielle from her contemplation of the day's schedule. He had not glanced up from his breakfast as he spoke. It had surprised Gabrielle that he'd spoken at all—he generally preferred to breakfast in silence, with only his newspapers spread around him, though he insisted that she join him every morning.
"A marriage proposal?" Gabrielle had been amazed—her father had shown no interest in remarrying, not in all the long years since Gabrielle's mother had died of cancer when Gabrielle was barely five.
"I found the combination of a royal bloodline and near-limitless wealth sufficiently attractive," the King had said, almost thoughtfully. "And it will certainly bolster the standing of the Miravakian throne."
It had been as if he was discussing the purchase of a vehicle. But Gabrielle's thoughts had raced ahead anyway. Was she really to have a stepmother? She rather thought it might be fun to have someone else around the palazzo. Much as she loved her father and tried to please him, he was not an easy man.
"There will be no tedious long engagement," he had continued, touching his thin, disapproving lips with his linen napkin and signaling one of the hovering footmen for more coffee. Finally, he'd looked at her. "I've no patience for such things."
"No, of course not," Gabrielle had agreed. Her mind had been racing wildly. Who on earth could possibly meet her father's high standards? He had a universally low opinion of almost every woman he'd ever encountered, as far as she knew—and then again, as King of Miravakia, he would only consider a bride from a select class of royals. And how like him to keep his intentions a secret, she'd thought, almost amused.
"I expect you to conduct yourself well," he'd said, sipping at his coffee. "None of the hysterics that seem to afflict your sex when they come into contact with a wedding ceremony, thank you."
Gabrielle had known better than to respond to that.
He'd sniffed. "I have confidence that you can put everything together quickly and efficiently, with as little disruption as possible."
"Of course, Father," Gabrielle had said at once. She had never planned a wedding before, but how different could it be from the state events she'd put together in the past? She had a marvelous staff whom she already knew could perform miracles. And who knew? Perhaps a new wife would bring out the softer side of her stern father. She'd give quite a bit to see that.
Lost in her reverie, she had been startled when her father had pushed back his chair and stood. He'd moved toward the door without another word—the subject closed. Gabrielle had almost laughed. How typical of him. She'd felt a surge of affection for his brusque ways—because clearly something romantic lurked beneath the cold exterior.
"Father," she had called, stopping him before he quit the room. He'd turned back to face her, a slight frown between his eyebrows.
"What is it?" he had asked impatiently.
"Am I to know the bride's name?" she had asked, biting back an indulgent smile.
He'd stared at her. "You need to pay closer attention, Gabrielle, if you are to succeed me without running this country into the ground," he'd snapped, his arctic tone making her wince. His frown had deepened as he'd glared at her. "You, obviously, are the bride."
And then he'd turned on his heel and strode from the room, without a backward glance.
In the cathedral, Gabrielle felt her breath catch in her throat as the memory of that morning washed over her, while her pulse fluttered wildly. Panic was setting in, as heavy around her as the veil she wore and the train she trailed behind her. She fought to pull air into her lungs—ordered herself to stay calm.
Her father would never forgive her if she made a scene. If she showed anything but docile acceptance—even gratitude— for the way he'd chosen to manage her affairs.
Gabrielle felt the crisp, heavy sleeve of her father's ornamental coat beneath her trembling fingers as he led her down the long aisle, his measured steps bringing her closer and closer to her fate.
She couldn't think of it. Couldn't think of him—her groom. Soon to be her husband. A man she had never even met, and yet he would be her spouse. Her mate. King of her people when she became their queen. Gabrielle's lips parted on a sound that was far too close to a sob—though it was thankfully hidden in the swirl of music that surrounded her.
She could not. Not here. Not now. It was too late.
The cathedral was packed to capacity on all sides, filled with Europe's royals and assorted nobles. Political allies and strategic partners of her father's. The music soared toward the stained glass heights, filling the space and caressing the carved marble statues. Outside, she knew, the people of Miravakia were celebrating their princess's wedding day as a national holiday. There would be rejoicing in the streets, the papers claimed, now that their Gabrielle had found her husband. Their future king.
A man she did not know and had never seen—not in person. Not face-to-face.
Her husband-to-be was a man who had won his wife through contracts—meetings with her father, bargains struck and approved without her knowledge or consent. Her father had not asked Gabrielle for her input—he had not considered her feelings at all. He had decided that it was time she married, and he had produced the bridegroom of his choice.
And Gabrielle never argued with her father. Never rebelled, never contradicted. Gabrielle was good. Obedient. Respectful to a fault. In the hope that her father would one day respect her back. Love her, maybe—just a little.
Instead, he'd sold her off to the highest bidder.