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Behind Palace Doors

By:Jules Bennett

Behind Palace Doors
Jules Bennett

       Prologue

"Ever tried skinny-dipping?"

Victoria Dane gasped as Stefan Alexander, Prince of Galini Isle, stripped off his shirt.

"Umm..." She swallowed, watching as an impressive set of abs stared back at her. "No. No, I haven't."

He toed off his shoes.

"You're not going to..."

His soft chuckle caused goose bumps to spread over her body. Even at  fifteen, she was totally aware of this handsome prince, who was  technically a man, as he was three years older.

They'd quickly become friends since her mother was filming on his  estate, and she assumed her girlish crush was normal. But was he really  going to strip naked?

"I'm not doing it alone," he told her, hands on his hips.

Her eyes darted to his chest. "You got a tattoo?"

With a wicked grin, he nodded. "My first of many, I hope."

"What is it?" she asked, stepping closer to inspect.

Would it be rude to touch? Probably, so she slid her hands inside the  pockets of her swim cover-up instead. Still, she imagined her fingertips  sliding along the new ink.

"It's my family's crest," he told her. "I thought it appropriate to  have that as my first. Besides, my father might not mind as much since  it's symbolic."

The afternoon sun beat down on her, but Victoria knew the heat  consuming her had nothing to do with the weather. She'd been on location  with her mother for almost two months now, and she and Stefan had  clicked from the moment they met. Of course, he probably saw her as a  little sister and had no idea she was halfway in love with him.

The boys back home were nothing like this.

"Has your father seen it yet?" she asked, using the tattoo excuse to continue to stare at his chest.

"Nah. I've been careful to keep my shirt on around my dad since I got  it two weeks ago. He'll throw a fit, but it's done, so what can he say  now?"

Victoria moved toward the pool, dropped to the side and let her feet  dangle in the cool water. "You're so relaxed about breaking rules and  defying people. Aren't you worried you'll get in serious trouble one  day?"

"Trouble?" He laughed as he sat down and joined her. "I'm not afraid of  trouble. I'd rather be myself and live my life the way I want. I don't  want to be ruled by what is considered to be the right thing. Who's to  say what's right or wrong for me?"

She admired his take-charge attitude about life. He reminded her of her brother, Bronson.

"Don't you consider that lying?" she asked, still studying him. "I  mean, you knew you were going to do it, so why not just tell your dad?"

Stefan glanced over to her, those bright blue eyes holding hers. "Lying by omission doesn't count in my book."

"Well, it does in mine. Maybe that's a cultural difference."

He scooped a hand in the water and playfully tossed it up onto her bare thighs. Shivers coursed through her.

"I think it's the difference between towing the line and living in the moment," he joked. "So how about that skinny-dipping?"

"I tow the line, remember? No skinny-dipping for me." Smiling at him,  she placed a hand on his back and shoved him into the pool.





     One

Every little girl envisioned a fairy-tale wedding. The long white  train, the horse-drawn carriage, like the magical coach from Cinderella  of course, and the proverbial tall, dark and handsome prince, chest  adorned with medals and a bright blue sash that matched his eye color  perfectly.

And while Victoria Dane wasn't living the fairy tale herself, she did  have the glorious job of designing the royal wedding dress that would be  seen by millions and worn by the next queen of Galini Isle.

Okay, so being the designer wasn't even a close second to becoming a queen.

"Victoria."

The familiar, soothing tone of her old friend's voice had Victoria  turning from the breathtaking emerald ocean view. With a slight bow as  was custom in this country, Victoria greeted the prince.

With his tight-fitting black T-shirt tucked into designer jeans, most  people would have a hard time believing Prince Stefan Alexander-owner of  the most impressive set of blue eyes and some new ink peeking beneath  the sleeve of his shirt on one impressive bicep-was the next in line to  reign over this beautiful land.

Those muscles seemed to grow between each of their visits. Muscles he  acquired from his passion of rock climbing. Yeah, that would make for a  beautiful picture. A golden Greek god, shirtless and dangling high above  the ground by his sheer strength....                       
       
           



       

There was one lucky bride waiting for her prince. Victoria would be  lying if she didn't admit, even if only to herself, that at one time  she'd envisioned herself as the one who would finally tame the great  Prince Alexander, but his friendship had been invaluable and something  she'd feared risking.

Strong arms that she had missed for the past few years pulled her into a  warm, inviting embrace. Yes, this was the connection, the bond that  phone calls and emails couldn't deliver.

"Prince Alexander," she said, returning his embrace.

"Don't ‘Prince Alexander' me." His rich laughter enveloped her, making  her feel even more excited to see him after so long. "And for God's  sake, don't bow. Just because we haven't seen each other in a while  doesn't mean I've become some royal snob."

"It's so great to see you, Stefan." She eased back and looked up into  those striking blue eyes. "When you called to tell me you were getting  married, I was shocked. She must be someone very special."

"The most important woman in my life," he said, lifting one of her hands to his lips.

Prince Charming had nothing on Stefan, and a slight surge of jealousy  speared through Victoria at the fact another woman would be entering his  life...and not just passing through like all the others.

He gestured toward the settee and matching chairs with bright orange  plush cushions. "Let's have a seat and discuss my beautiful bride, shall  we?"

Stefan dismissed his assistants with a silent nod. A man of his  position and power didn't need to use words, but to Victoria he was  still that rotten teen who'd tried to get her to go skinny-dipping in  the royal pool...while a dinner party had been taking place in the grand  ballroom.

"I've brought sketches of several dresses for you and your fiancée to  review," she told him, laying her thin portfolio of designs on the tile  tabletop and flipping it open. "I can also combine styles or come up  with something completely different if nothing here catches her eye.  They are all classic designs but different in their own way. Any would  be flattering for the next queen."

"I've no doubt you'll make the perfect dress." He laid a hand over  hers, a wide grin spreading across his devilishly handsome face. "It's  so great to have you here, Victoria. I've missed you."

She returned his smile, unable to hide her excitement about not only  seeing him again, but also the fact he'd finally found true  love...something she'd started to have doubts about. And yes, she'd once  wished his true love had been her, but their friendship was more  important. As his best friend, she was thrilled that he was so happy and  in love. She needed that reminder that not all men broke their promises  of engagement.

"It's my pleasure to design for you, and it gives us both a reason to  set aside our busy lives and get some face time," she told him, sliding  her hair over her shoulder. "Phone calls just aren't the same."

"No, they're not," he agreed.

That sexy, sultry smile remained. Heavens, but the man was literally a  tall, dark and handsome prince, and that cotton shirt stretched so  perfectly over his broad shoulders and chiseled biceps. She wondered  what the new tattoo was of, but if she knew Stefan, he'd find a reason  to shed his shirt in no time.

Yeah, he'd changed over the years, and definitely in all the right places. Rock climbing does a body good.

"These are remarkable," he told her as he fingered through the drawings. "Did you do these yourself or do you have a team?"

A burst of pride ran through her. She may be one of the most sought-out  designers, but each client earned her undivided attention and she loved  hearing praise for her hard work...especially coming from such a good  friend.

"I have a small team, but these are all my own. I was selfish when it  came to your bride." She moved one thick sheet to the side, eager to  display the rest of her designs. "I'm partial to this one. The clean  lines, the cut of the neckline and the molding of the bodice. Classy,  yet sexy."

Very similar to the one she'd designed for own wedding. Of course that  had been six months, a slew of bad press and one shattered heartache ago  when her up-and-coming actor/fiancé decided to publicly destroy  Victoria. But working with Stefan and his fiancée would help her to  remember that happily ever afters do exist.

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