For anyone who enjoyed Ordinary Girl in a Tiara, and who wondered what Lotty was getting up to while Caro was in Montluce, The Secret Princess is coming soon.
Lotty is the ‘perfect princess’ who goes AWOL. Bored with the merry-go-round of political dinners and enforced good behaviour, she escapes to the Highlands of Scotland, where she meets Corran McKenna and gets more than she bargained for!
The Secret Princess is released in North America in August, and in the UK in September, but I’ve got some copies here to give away right now … All you need to do is comment and tell me where YOU would escape to if you had the chance to try a completely different life on for size.
I was thinking of Lotty’s story as I walked the West Highland Way last September, and the beauty of the Highlands was fresh in my mind as I started writing. I remember trudging up a hill at the end of a very long day walking from Crianlarich to Inveroran, and it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. And then we crested the hill, and saw the loch below, mirror still in the evening light. ‘That’s where Lotty goes,’ I said, and it was as if the whole story fell into place right then. I still don’t know what this loch is called, but for me it will always be Loch Mhoraigh.
I’ve included an extract from the first chapter below, with some pictures from that walk that inspired me as I was writing. If you’re interested, you can see more photos of the West Highland Way here:
Don’t forget to tell me where you’d go if you, like Lotty, had the chance to escape from everything for a while, and to check back to see if you’ve won a copy of The Secret Princess next Thursday – I’ve got lots of copies to give a way, so have a go!
In the meantime, here is Lotty, climbing the hill as we did, and seeing Loch Mhoraigh House for the first time:
WAVING her hands around her head in a futile attempt to bat the midges away, Lotty paused for breath at the crest of the track. Below her, an austere granite house was planted between a forbidding sweep of hillside and a loch so still it mirrored the clouds and the trees clustered along the water’s edge.
Loch Mhoraigh House. It looked isolated and unfriendly, and according to all reports in the village, its owner was the same.
‘He’s a miserable sod,’ a disgruntled ex-employee had told Lotty. He’d been drowning his sorrows in the Mhoraigh Hotel all afternoon, and his words were more than a little slurred. ‘Not a smile, not a good morning, just straight to work! I told him if I’d wanted to work in a labour camp, I’d have signed up for one. It’s not as if he’s paying more than slave wages either. I told him he could stuff it.’
‘Quite right too.’ Elsie, the barmaid, polished glasses vindictively and warned Lotty against making the trek out to Loch Mhoraigh House. ‘We don’t want Corran McKenna around here. The Mhoraigh estate should have gone to his brother, we all know that,’ she said, hinting darkly at some family feud that Lotty didn’t quite follow. ‘Nobody from the village will work for him. You go on up to Fort William,’ she told Lotty. ‘You’ll find a job there.’
But Lotty couldn’t afford to go any further. Without her purse, she was penniless, and when you needed money, you got yourself a job, right?
Or so she had heard. The truth was that until an hour earlier, when she had realised that her purse was missing, Lotty had never in her life had to think about money at all.
Now she did.
It was Lotty’s first challenge, and she was determined to rise to it. Her life was so luxurious, so protected. She understood why, of course, but it meant that she had never once been tested, and until you were, how did you know who you were and what you were made of? That was what these few short weeks were all about. Was there any more to Her Serene Highness Princess Charlotte of Montluce than the stylish clothes and the gracious smile that were all the rest of the world saw?
Lotty needed to know that more than anyone.
Here was her first chance to find out. When you didn’t have any money, you had to earn some. Lotty had set her slim shoulders and hoisted her rucksack onto her back. If everyone else could do it, she could too.
Three miles later, she was very tired, tormented by midges, and looking doubtfully down at the unwelcoming house, it occurred to Lotty, belatedly, that she could be making a terrible mistake. Loch Mhoraigh House was very remote, and Corran McKenna lived alone out here. Was it safe to knock on his door and ask if he could give her a job? What if Elsie had been right, and he was a man who couldn’t be trusted? Elsie’s dislike of him seemed to be based on the fact that he wasn’t a real Scot, but she had implied that he had acquired the estate under false pretences.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t have a choice, Lotty knew that. One phone call, and a close protection team would be on its way within minutes. A helicopter would swoop down and scoop her up, and take her back to the palace in Montluce. There would be no midges there, no money worries, no need to put herself at risk. There would just be her grandmother to face, and the knowledge of her own uselessness. She would be the princess who ran away and couldn’t last a week on her own.
Lotty grimaced at the thought of the humiliation. Three months, she had agreed with Philippe and Caro. Three months to disappear, to be anonymous, to see for herself what she was made of. She couldn’t give up at the first difficulty, and slink home with her tail between her legs.
She was a princess of Montluce, Lotty reminded herself, and her chin lifted. Her family hadn’t kept an iron grip on the country since the days of Charlemagne by giving up the moment the going got tough. She had been raised on the stories of the pride and courage that had kept Montluce independent for so long: Léopold Longsword, Princess Agathe who had been married off to a German prince nearly fifty years her senior in order to keep the succession safe, and of course the legendary Raoul the Wolf.
They had faced far greater challenges than Lotty. All she had to do was find herself a job. Was she going to she going to be the first of the Montvivennes to accept defeat?
No, Lotty vowed, she wasn’t.
Squaring her shoulders, Lotty adjusted her rucksack more comfortably on her back, and set off down the rough track towards Loch Mhoraigh House.
The house loomed grey and massive as Lotty trudged wearily up to the front door. An air of neglect clung to everything. Weeds were growing in what had once been an impressive gravel drive and the windows were cold and cheerless. It was very quiet. No lights, no music, no sign of anyone living there. Only the crows wheeling above the Scots pines and the cry of some bird down by the loch.
Lotty hesitated, looking at the old-fashioned bell. What if Corran McKenna wasn’t there? She wasn’t sure her feet could take her back up that hill.
But what if he was? Lotty chewed her bottom lip uncertainly. She had never had to persuade anyone to give her a job before. She’d never really had to persuade anyone to do anything. Normally people fell over themselves to give her whatever she wanted. It was a charmed and privileged existence, Lotty knew, but it made it a lot harder to prove that she was a worthy successor to all those doughty ancestors who had fought and negotiated and bargained and married to keep Montluce free.
They wouldn’t have been deterred by a simple no, and neither would she.
For these few weeks, she had abandoned her title and her household. There was no one to arrange things for her, no one to make sure she got exactly what she wanted.
She was going to have to do this for herself.
Taking a deep breath, Lotty pressed the bell.
She could hear it clanging inside the house somewhere. Immediately, a furious barking erupted. It sounded as if there was a whole pack of dogs in there, and instinctively Lotty took a step back. There was a sharp command, and the dogs subsided, except for a high-pitched yapping that continued until it was suddenly stifled as a door was shut firmly on it.
A few moments later, the front door was jerked open.
A tall, tough-looking man, as forbidding as the hills behind the house, stood there. He was younger than Lotty had expected, with dark, uncompromising features and a stern mouth, and his eyes were a pale, uncanny blue.
‘I’ve c-come about the job,’ said Lotty, cursing the stammer that still resurfaced at times when she was nervous. Raoul the Wolf wouldn’t have stammered, she was sure.
His fierce brows snapped together. ‘Job? What job?’
‘I heard in the hotel that you needed help restoring some cottages to let.’
‘News travels fast … or did Gary stop at the bar on his way back to Glasgow?’ Corran added with a sardonic look.
Lotty brushed at the midges that clustered at her ears. Raoul the Wolf wouldn’t have put up with being left on the doorstep either, but she could hardly insist that he invite her inside. She concentrated on sounding reasonable instead. ‘He said you didn’t have anyone else and that you’d be stuck without anyone to work for you.’
‘And did he also say that it was the worst job he’d ever done, not to mention being the worst paid, and having the worst boss?’
‘Something like that.’
‘And yet you want to work for me?’
‘I’m desperate,’ said Lotty.
The pale eyes inspected her. Lotty had never been the subject of that kind of unnerving scrutiny before, and in spite of herself she stiffened. No one in Montluce would dare to look at her like that.
‘Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t look desperate,’ said Corran McKenna. He nodded at the high tech walking trousers and micro fleece she’d bought in Glasgow only four days earlier. ‘Those labels you’re wearing are brand new, and they aren’t cheap. Besides,’ he said. ‘You’re not suitable for the job.’
‘You’re not a man, for a start.’
‘That’s not a good enough reason,’ said Lotty, who might not want to rely on her royal status to protect her, but didn’t have to like his dismissive tone. ‘I think you’ll find there’s such a thing as sex discrimination.’
‘And I think you’ll find that I don’t give a toss,’ said Corran. ‘I need someone strong enough to do physical work, not someone whose most strenuous activity is probably unscrewing her mascara.’
Lotty’s eyes sparked with temper. All at once she could feel her celebrated ancestors ranging at her back.
‘I’m not wearing mascara,’ she said coldly, ‘and I’m stronger than I look.’
For answer, Corran McKenna reached out and took her hands, turning them over as if they were parcels so that he could inspect them. His fingers were long and blunt, and they looked huge holding hers. He ran his thumbs over her palms and Lotty burned at the casualness of his touch.
‘Please don’t try and tell me that you’ve ever done a day’s rough work in your life,’ he said.
‘That doesn’t mean I can’t start now.’ Lotty tugged her hands free. ‘Please,’ she said, trying to ignore the way her palms were still tingling. If she looked down, she was sure she would be able to see the impression of his fingertips seared onto her skin. ‘I really need this job.’
‘I really need someone suitable,’ said Corran. ‘I’m sorry, but the answer is still no.’From the book: The Secret Princess
By: Jessica Hart
Imprint and series Harlequin® Romance™
Copyright © 2011
By: Jessica Hart
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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