His Scandalous Christmas Princess
Part of the Royal Christmas Weddings Series
His Christmas bride:
His ruin or his redemption?
Melody Skyros lives in the shadows of her notorious family. But now, it’s her turn to step into the spotlight—as Prince Griffin of Idylla’s convenient princess. The only problem? He’s a walking scandal! Who she finds obnoxiously, outrageously tempting…
Griffin’s reputation for misbehavior is legendary—marrying Melody could never make an honest man of him…could it? But as the electricity between them ignites, the stakes in this royal game of vows couldn’t be higher. Because despite their scandalous start, Griffin is suddenly imagining a very different ending…
His Scandalous Christmas Princess
Melody Skyros had entertained herself for years by imagining that, at any moment, she could embrace her true destiny, become a deadly assassin, and go on a targeted killing spree of only those who really, really deserved it.
But that wouldn’t be ladylike.
She had trained in various martial arts for years. In secret, thanks to one of her gently bred, blue-blooded mother’s few acts of marital defiance. Because Melody’s notoriously unpleasant father, aristocrat and media magnate Aristotle Skyros, could never know that his despised second daughter was receiving anything but the basic comportment classes expected of Idylla’s lofty patricians, who cluttered up the ancient island kingdom with enough hereditary snobbishness to fill the gleaming Aegean Sea.
Aristotle could certainly never know that a daughter of his had been training less in how to sit gracefully at a formal dinner and more in how to neutralize multiple attackers with her fingertips.
He had never forgiven her for being born flawed. He never would. Melody was blind and therefore useless to him—except as a weapon to wield against those who actually cared about her.
Melody’s earliest, happiest daydreams of what she could do with the lethal skills she was learning and then mastering had all been focused on ridding the world of Aristotle.
Who most definitely deserved it.
But her older sister Calista had handled her father, shockingly enough. Calista, born perfect enough to please Aristotle, had worked her way up to become her father’s second in the family corporation, all with an eye toward beating him at his own game. And sure enough, she’d embarrassed and humiliated him by having him removed from his own board and summarily fired from his position as CEO two days ago.
This was in no way as neat, clean, or personally satisfying a solution as an assassination, in Melody’s opinion.
Especially when Melody was the one who had to pay the price of Aristotle’s embarrassment.
Though the price in question had its own rewards, she could admit.
Because tonight she had a new target in mind: His Royal Highness Prince Griffin of Idylla, who was her brand-new brother-in-law, since her sister had married King Orion the night before.
That was bad enough. Melody was still having trouble processing what else the famously oversexed and dissipated Griffin was. To her, personally.
Because it had all happened so fast. Too fast. Dizzyingly fast.
After Calista had become the Queen, the King had swept her off to the tune of cheers and much merriment as the clock in the palace struck midnight. Christmas Eve had ended, Christmas had begun. Glad tidings were exchanged on high, as befit the traditional, arranged marriage of an Idyllian king that Melody knew included deep and genuine emotion on both sides.
It only took a few moments in Orion and Calista’s presence to feel how much they adored each other. A good and proper fairy tale that the whole kingdom could rejoice in and a balm for a nation wearied by the squalid, scandalous antics of Orion’s predecessor, the deeply polluted King Max.
Orion had promised—since long before he took the throne—that his reign would be scandal-free.
When a palace aide had come to escort her away, Melody had assumed she’d be packed off home to her parents’ house, where her father would no doubt be up waiting for her—keen to make her tell him every detail about the wedding and then punish her for attending it. She’d been looking forward to it, as matching wits with her father was one of her favorite games. He always assumed he was the smartest man in any room when, in fact, he was woefully unarmed.
Instead, she had been whisked off to a suite in the palace, something she found pleasant enough until she realized she’d been locked in. And come morning, her sister had emerged from what should have been newly wedded bliss to make her announcements.
“This is about making sure you’re free, Melody,” she’d said over breakfast. Sternly. Taking to her new role a bit too eagerly, in Melody’s view. They’d sat in a private salon so sunny that Melody had leaned back in her chair, the bitter coffee she preferred between her hands, and tilted her face toward the heat of it.
“Are you sure? Because to me it sounds like a royal decree. Your Majesty.”
Calista sounded the way she always did, stressed and sisterly and racked with grave concerns. Melody never had the heart to tell her that she enjoyed her life a whole lot more than anyone—including Calista, who unlike the rest loved her dearly and was thus forgiven her unnecessary concern—seemed to imagine. That didn’t suit most people’s view of what blindness must be like, Melody was well aware. She had learned to keep it to herself.
“I appreciate your help, of course,” Melody had told her. “But I don’t need it. You shouldn’t be worrying about such things, Calista. It’s the first day of your new life as the Queen of Idylla, all hail. Not to mention, it’s Christmas.”
“I know it’s Christmas,” Calista had retorted, but her voice was softer. “And once a few practicalities are sorted out, I promise you that we’ll celebrate the way we always do.”
“You mean, with Father drunk and belligerent, shouting down the place around our ears while we all cower until January?” Melody had laughed. “As appealing as that sounds, maybe it’s time for new traditions.”
“But tonight is the Christmas ball,” Calista had continued, sounding ever more dogged. Melody could feel the daggers her older sister was glaring at her, and, she could admit, took pleasure in remaining as placid and unbothered as possible. Because it annoyed Calista so deeply and obviously. “And I want to give you a gift that no one, least of all Father, can ever take back.”
That Melody had not wanted this gift was neither here nor there.
“I think I’d rather take my chances with Father’s temper,” Melody had said when Calista had told her what she wanted Melody to do.
What she, as Queen, had decreed Melody would do, that was.
“You can’t,” her sister had replied. “If you go home again he will ship you off to one of those institutions he’s been threatening you with for years. It might as well be a prison, Melody! And it’s unlikely that he will ever let you out again. Do you hear me?”
“My ears work perfectly well, Calista. As I think you know.”
But the new Queen had made up her mind.
That was how Melody had found herself in the arms of Prince Griffin, Idylla’s so-called charming rogue as he led her in an excruciatingly formal and horrifically long dance in the Grand Ballroom of the palace.
Prince Griffin, who was forgiven his many sins and trespasses in the style of his father because he was considered delightful, for reasons unclear to Melody.
Prince Griffin, who had declared he planned to turn over a new leaf to better support his brother back during coronation season, but had taken his sweet time in the turning.
Prince Griffin, her new assassination target.
And to her dismay, as of an hour or so ago, her husband.
Melody had considered knifing him in the back at the altar, for the poetry of it all, but Prince Griffin—renowned across the land for his cavorting about with any and all women, his cheerful debauchery, and his disinterest in the usual charitable pursuits of royalty that were usually erected to cover up the consequences of the first two—was under the impression that he was Melody’s…protector.
She would have been only too happy to disabuse him of this notion. But that, too, had been forbidden.
By yet another royal decree.
“Don’t be absurd,” Melody had said, while she’d stood gamely still in another of the palace’s innumerable salons. She’d been subjecting herself to a phalanx of dressmakers, all of whom poked and prodded and pinned her into a dress she had not wanted to wear at all, and certainly not after the extraordinarily formal Christmas lunch she’d eaten her way through. “I have no need or desire for protection. Prince Griffin’s or anyone else’s.”
Her sister and her new husband had been there, lounging about in their post-Christmas luncheon haze. And perhaps post–private time haze as well, though Melody knew her supposedly hard-as-nails, professional sister was enormously missish about such things. At least to Melody.
As if her eyes were the not the only thing that did not function as expected.
Everything smelled sugary and sweet, floating up toward the high ceilings. And over the mutterings of the vicious dressmakers and their sharp, cruel pins she could hear various rustles from the settee the King and his new Queen sat upon. Telling her there was a lot of touching. Perhaps more touching than had been seen in the palace for some time.
“I know you don’t need any protection,” Calista had replied, but in a tone of voice that suggested to Melody that her sister was rolling her eyes. “But it’s not about you, you see.”
“The forced wedding I want no part of is not about me?” Melody asked. Rhetorically, obviously. “And here I thought it was meant to answer my dreams of becoming a princess at last. Not a dream I’ve ever had, to be clear.”
She heard her sister sigh. She heard the King shift position.
Orion was a different order of man than Melody’s father. Or his own father, come to that, or the country could never have embraced him. Not after the things Terrible King Max had done and laughed about when they’d turned up in the tabloids, as they inevitably did. That Orion was fully in control of himself—and therefore everything else—was palpable. Comforting in a king.
As someone who’d spent her entire life learning how to control herself in various ways, physical and mental and more, Melody was forced to admire him.
“Your sister has regaled me with tales of your abilities,” Orion had said then. Melody had felt the astonishing urge to offer him the appropriate obeisance. Not that she could with so many people around her, pinning and prodding and demanding she remain still. She was surprised she even had the urge to drop a curtsy, but there it was. The first time in her whole life she’d actually felt decidedly patriotic. “And I’m delighted that my brother will take such a remarkable woman as his bride. But you must understand something about Griffin.”
Melody had felt certain that she understood Prince Griffin all too well. The spare had not followed in the footsteps of the heir. Griffin had always preferred gambling halls, the beds of unsuitable women, and any other form of debauchery available to him. And as a royal prince, there was very little that was not available to him. He was not the sort of man who would require work to figure out. Melody had been bored of him and his high-profile antics long before she’d ever met him.
This was something she would have said happily to her sister. But Orion was not only the King, he was Griffin’s brother. So, uncharacteristically, she’d remained politely silent.
“He has always played a certain role, particularly with women,” said the King, and somehow, Melody had kept herself from letting out an inelegant snort. A certain role was one way to describe an unrepentant libertine who had spent the better part of his life knee-deep in conquests. “But with you, he is…different.”
This was true, but not for the reasons Orion likely imagined. It had always amused Melody to cringe about and act as if she might crumble to dust if someone paid attention to her. It gave her great satisfaction to allow people she could easily have maimed to fawn all over her and treat her as if she was too damaged to sit without assistance,
In other words, she’d long enjoyed acting the part of damaged goods.
The first time she’d met Prince Griffin, it had been second nature to act as if his mere presence was enough to give her the vapors. As if her blindness made her timid and she could do nothing but quail and cower.
Melody did so enjoy being underestimated.
“I would take it as a personal favor if you would allow my brother to imagine that he can, in fact, protect you. Not because you need protection, but because I believe it would do him good to indulge that feeling.” Orion sighed. “I ask you this, not as your King, but as his brother.”
What could Melody do with that but acquiesce?
She had not knifed Prince Griffin at the altar, though it had caused her pain to refrain. She had even smiled—if tremulously, the way the person the Prince thought she was would smile, surely—though that was something she usually avoided doing in public. Her father always raged at her that she should smile more, so, naturally, she had taken it upon herself to smile as seldomly as possible. When Prince Griffin had finally led her into the ballroom, it was as his supposedly submissive and overwhelmed wife. His charity case.
It had been the longest, strangest Christmas of Melody’s life.
So long and so strange that she found herself almost nostalgic for the usual Skyros family Christmases past. Idyllians tended to reserve the gift-giving for Boxing Day and then again in January on Epiphany, the feast of the three wise men. Christmas was for the traditional breads, walnuts, and pork or lamb, depending on the family. In her own family, Christmas was one of the few occasions Melody’s mother insisted her father acknowledge that Melody existed, which made for a long, fraught, unpleasant meal that likely gave everyone indigestion, reliably left at least one member of the family in tears, and inevitably ended with smashed china and threats.
That sounded like a lovely Christmas carol in comparison to this, she thought as she was introduced to the King, the palace, and then the watching nation as the kingdom’s newest Princess.
Then came the interminable dancing.
“You are remarkably good at this,” the Prince told her, as he waltzed them both around and around and around.
Melody was entirely too aware of the pressure of so many pairs of eyes on them. The weight of it all. And the murmuring and whispering and muffled laughter, snaking about beneath the music, as all the gathered Idyllian nobles attempted to come to terms with what shouldn’t have been possible.
Everybody’s favorite prince, married to the damaged, discarded, scandalous-by-virtue-of-her-notable-imperfections daughter of the already highly questionable Skyros family. Yes, Calista had done well for herself. But Aristotle was a stain on the kingdom. Everyone agreed—until they wanted to do business with him.
Well. Not any longer, perhaps. There was that silver lining to hold on to.
Melody found dancing silly. It was so much more pleasurable—and effective—to fight. But the simpering creature, fragile and overwhelmed, that she was playing tonight would never think such a thing.
Nor have the tools to fight in the first place, she reminded herself.
She shivered dramatically, hoping Prince Griffin would imagine it was fear.
“I hope I don’t embarrass you,” she said, in a quavering sort of voice. The kind of voice she liked to use around her father, mostly because it always made her sister laugh. And usually also made her father choke with rage that such a daughter had been inflicted upon him. “I couldn’t bear it if I embarrassed you.”
Prince Griffin was tall. His shoulder was broad and remarkably firm to the touch. Much as his mouth had been when he’d kissed her, swift and perfunctory, as the wedding ceremony had ended. The hand that grasped hers was large, and dwarfed her fingers in a manner both powerful and gentle. Its mate was splayed across her back, pressing heat into her with every step of the dance.
Years ago, when she and her sister were still teenagers, Calista had spent untold hours describing various members of the royal and aristocratic circles their family moved in. Painting each and every character for Melody, who had her own impressions of them based on how they took up space, how they breathed, how they fidgeted and smelled. But even if Calista had not exhaustively detailed Prince Griffin’s wicked gaze and shockingly sensual mouth long ago, these things were apparent in the way he carried himself. The way he spoke, his voice rich and deep. And more curious, capable of stirring up something…electrical.
Deep within her.
Melody didn’t know what to make of that.
“You could never embarrass me,” Prince Griffin said gallantly. “I have spent far too many years embarrassing myself.”
And while part of Melody wanted to laugh at that, there was another part of her that… shuddered. Deep inside, where that electricity seemed to hum louder than before.
It was almost alarming.
The orchestra was still playing. And as was tradition and ancient royal protocol, the newlyweds were required to dance to the bitter end. On display, so all of Idylla could form its own conclusions about the new couple before the tabloids took them apart come morning.
Given that Melody was the daughter of a media king who had long trafficked in tabloids as a matter of course and a means to shame his enemies and rivals, she expected there would be quite the tabloid commotion tomorrow. On Boxing Day, when the whole of the island would be tucked up at home opening gifts, stuffing themselves with food, and perfectly situated to read, watch, and judge.
Judgment being the foremost occupation of most of the island’s citizens, as far as Melody had ever been able to tell.
The dance finally ended. Mercifully.
But Prince Griffin did not release Melody’s hand.
Instead, he placed it in the crook of his elbow, a courtly sort of gesture that Melody, by rights, should have found annoying. She did find it annoying, she assured herself. She did not need to be ushered about like an invalid. She only used a cane sparingly—and usually for effect—having spent so many years working to hone her other senses and her spatial awareness through martial arts. Because she loved the notion that she could be as graceful as any other Idyllian lady, when and if she wished.
She reminded herself that tonight’s show of weakness wasn’t about her. It was about the man beside her, who needed the King to intercede on his behalf. Who needed his brother to not only arrange his marriage, but make his new wife complicit in pulling one over on him. For his own good.
Something in Melody twisted a bit at that. She knew the particular, crushing weight of her own good better than most. It had threatened to flatten her for most of her life.
But she reminded herself that Prince Griffin was a stranger. That she had done what was asked of her, that was all. He was the King’s brother—but she was nothing but the King’s lowly subject.
That didn’t make the twist in her belly go away. But it helped.
The night wore on. Griffin stayed at her side, which meant Melody had no choice but to smile. To simper. To pretend to be overwrought by her remarkable elevation in status.
When instead, what she really was, she found, was…entertained.
Not just by this stranger, this husband foisted upon her, who acted as if she needed him to dote on her in this way. But by all the women who contrived reasons to swan up and congratulate Prince Griffin on his nuptials.
And it was him they were congratulating, Melody was well aware. Not her. They all seemed to suffer from the same common ailment—the notion that because Melody couldn’t see them, she also couldn’t hear them.
They came to him in clouds of scent, their voices dripping with greed. Malicious intent. And when aimed at Melody, nothing short of pure disdain.
“I’m so deeply happy for you, Your Royal Highness,” they would flutter at him. “But how hard it is to imagine one such as you truly off the market.”
“Do you mean the local farmers’ markets?” Melody would ask, disingenuously. And tried to beam just slightly angled away from the direction of whatever woman stood before her. “I am told they’ve made such a difference in the city center. So festive, particularly at this time of year.”
Perhaps her favorite part of the whole thing was standing there in the aftermath of such fatuous statements, feeling the reaction all around her.
Oh, yes, she was enjoying herself.
She would never have chosen to marry of her own volition. But having been forced into it, and having received an order from King Orion to play a part, Melody found the whole thing far more amusing than she’d expected.
Until the trumpets blared and it was her turn to be swept out of the ballroom by her royal husband.
Melody wanted to complain at length to her sister, because no one else knew her well enough to listen to her without simultaneously pitying her in some way she would likely find deeply tiresome. But the Queen was not available for sisterly grousing, leaving Melody to surrender herself to this last part of the royal marriage ritual while keeping her feelings to herself.
She thought this particular part of the traditional Idyllian royal wedding was cringeworthy. Everyone stood about as if they were in some medieval keep, cheering on the bridegroom as he ushered his new wife off to what they claimed was happy-after-ever.
What they meant was the marital bed.
Melody had never understood these strange architectures erected around sex. In the case of a royal wedding, everyone pretended it was about courtly manners. Or ceremony. Or tradition itself, as if the fact people had long done something meant everyone must forever carry on doing it.
But at the end of all the theatrics, it was about sex. It was always about sex. It amused her to no end that she seemed to be the only person capable of seeing that.
Prince Griffin drew her along with him and because Melody could not comment on this the way she would have liked, she had no choice but to…allow it.
And there was suddenly nothing to concentrate on but him. Awareness swept over her, whether she wanted it or not.
He was hot to the touch. Too hot. He had a hand splayed at her low back again and she wished he would remove it, because it was far too… confusing.
She told herself it was because they were climbing stairs. That was why she seemed to be heating up, almost steaming. But deep inside, low in her belly, it was if her body was far more exultantly medieval than she’d ever imagined possible.
He moved with a certain quiet power that made the fine hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Because she recognized it. He was…contained. Not quite what he seemed on the surface. And she could feel that so distinctly it was as if he was making announcements to that effect as he led her away from the crowd.
He kept a firm, if gentle, hold of her, as if she needed help navigating through the wide corridors of the palace and their acres and acres of gleaming, empty marble. He did not make small talk, and when she noticed that, it made all the strange things churning about inside her start to glow.
Because the character of Prince Griffin that everybody knew so well had never let a moment go by without filling it with sound of his own voice. Everyone knew that. Notorious charmers were rarely shy and retiring.
Not that she thought the real Prince Griffin, whoever he might be, was shy. The quality of his silence was different than that. It was too confident. Too secure.
She could feel it in the way he guided her, with an ease that suggested he’d spent the bulk of his life matching his pace to hers and maneuvering her where he wanted her, and this wasn’t the first night he’d ever done so. It felt so natural it was almost as if she was leading the way.
Melody understood, deep in her bones, that this was not a man to be trifled with.
But she couldn’t make that odd glimmer of understanding work with the fact he was Prince Griffin, so she shoved it aside. And pretended she was flushed from the walking in such a cumbersome gown, nothing more.
Instead of taking her toward the guest suite where she’d been put up the night before, he headed in a completely different direction. And paying attention to him was too disconcerting, so instead, she paid attention to the direction they moved in. A long walk, then left. Down a set of stairs, then out into a courtyard. There was a fountain making noise, and she could hear the sound of the water bounce back from the walls.
Then she remembered. Prince Griffin did not live in a wing of the palace, the way his brother did. He maintained his own residence on the far side of the palace grounds.
She could feel the press of the December night, chilly for Idylla, though mitigated by blasts of heat at equal intervals as they walked. Heaters, no doubt. Because royal personages could not be expected to suffer the travails of weather.
Melody wanted to laugh at that. But didn’t, because it occurred to her that she was now one of those royal personages. Like it or not.
Then they were inside again. His home, she understood. Hers, now. There was the scent of him, or something that reminded her of him. A certain richness, a hint of intensity. She could sense walls around her, suggesting an entry hall, and then a room. He led her to a couch, placing her hand on the arm and encouraging her to sit. She ran her fingers over the wide arm of the couch, done up in a deep, sumptuous leather. Then she sank down on the seat, tossing the skirt of her enormous dress out as she settled into place, and getting a sense of the width of the couch as she did.
And then she listened.
Her husband moved almost silently. So silently, in fact, that it once again made her shiver in the grip of too much awareness. She had the sense of him prowling, and he was…
Not the same, here.
Away from the crowds, something in her whispered.
Was this where Prince Griffin was truly himself? Whatever that meant?
That electric charge deep inside her connected again, lighting her up. Sending heat and flame and something else shivering through all parts of her body, making her want to leap to her feet to do something to dispel it—
But instead, she reminded herself to be meek. This was not where she could be herself. She could only play her prescribed part, as ordered. Melody bowed her head.
And listened as her surprisingly formidable Prince—her husband, God help her—fixed himself a drink. Then one for her too, she corrected herself, as she heard ice hit heavy crystal for a second time.
Sure enough, he was soon beside her again, pressing a cool tumbler into her palm.
“I thought we could both use a bit of whiskey,” he said, in a low sort of growl that bore almost no resemblance at all to the cultured, charming, carefree tone he’d used in the ballroom as all those women had vied for his attention.
It was fascinating. He was.
Melody felt herself flush.
“I want you to be comfortable here,” Prince Griffin told her, still sounding growly, but with a more formal note mixed in. “And you have nothing to fear from me. I do not intend to…insist upon any marital rights.”
Her flush deepened. She told herself it was outrage that he would even mention marital rights in the twenty-first century. But she knew better.
If she was outraged at anything, it was that he’d apparently decided his own wife didn’t merit the same sexual attention he was literally famous for flinging about like it was confetti. Without even asking if, perhaps, she might like to partake of the one thing he was widely held to be any good at.
“Why not?” Melody demanded. Then remembered herself. She tried to exude innocence and fragility, and only hoped she didn’t look constipated in the process. “Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding the situation we find ourselves in here. But I thought the entire purpose of these royal weddings with all the protocol and the carrying on about bloodlines and history was the sex?”
End of excerpt
His Scandalous Christmas Princess
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