Lucy ran as fast as her short legs could propel her, waving frantically, praying the driver would spot her in his mirrors and wait.
The bus pulled out onto the narrow country road. Moments later it had rounded the bend, its taillights winking maliciously at her through the gloom of the grey, drizzly day and then it was out of sight.
Defeated, she doubled over and sucked huge gulps of air into her burning lungs. First her stupid car wouldn’t start and now she’d missed the only bus that would get her to the station in time for her train’s departure to Oxford. The school she was heading to had such a lovely reputation that of all the potential jobs to apply for, this was the one she wanted the most. And now she’d blown it without even stepping foot through the door.
Ready to scream or cry, she was rendered mute instead when a shock of cold, muddy water suddenly splattered her from head to toe.
In her frantic attempts to catch the bus, she hadn’t noticed that she’d stopped right next to an enormous puddle.
And now she was soaked. The outfit she’d selected with such care for the interview was ruined. Her carefully applied makeup streaked down her face.
A long, gleaming black car that had to be worth a thousand times that of her old banger pulled to a careful stop beside her. The passenger in the front got out and, ignoring her completely, opened the back-passenger door.
A tall, vaguely familiar man in a beautifully tailored navy-blue suit appeared.
Despite the situation, Lucy had to stop herself from gaping. The man was gorgeous.
“I am incredibly sorry,” he said in a smooth, deep, cut-glass voice as he circled the car and strode to her.
Lucy hurriedly wiped the splatters off her face with her hands and tried to muster a smile. “It wasn’t your fault. You weren’t driving.” As she spoke, she realised the black Range Rover that had driven through the puddle and soaked her was reversing back to them. Another Range Rover had stopped behind them.
“Clive is under my employ and therefore the responsibility is mine.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She focused on trying to smile, trying to hide the desolation ripping through her, not wanting to make a bad day worse by bursting into tears in front of the most handsome man she’d ever clamped eyes on.
She was quite sure they’d never met but there was something so familiar about him…
Piercing blue eyes locked onto hers.
Her heart twisted.
The air she’d sucked back into her lungs only moments before flew back out in a swoop.
She couldn’t look away.
Time seemed to stretch.
As he continued to gaze at her, a slight frown appeared on his forehead.
He blinked then gave a subtle shake of his head, as if clearing it. “It does matter. Are you waiting for a bus?”
“I was. I missed it. It doesn’t matter,” she repeated, trying to speak—trying to think—coherently.
“Where are you going?”
“The train station.”
“Let me give you a lift.”
As tempting as the offer was, only a fool would get into a car with a stranger. Even if he was gorgeous. And it wouldn’t only be him. There were two other men in the car with him too, and two other cars in their convoy. “That’s very kind but no, thank you.”
He held the palms of his hands up. “Please? I feel terrible about what’s happened to you. It’s the least I can do.”
He really did have incredible eyes. And a beautiful straight nose. And a wide, generous mouth. And thick cropped dark hair. And a chiselled jawline that could cut the glass his beautifully modulated tones failed to slice through.
She clamped down hard on the beats of excitement thrumming through her. “I can’t accept a lift from a stranger.”
His eyes narrowed quizzically before a grin broke on his face. “I’m James and now that you know my name, I’m not a stranger any more.”
A nagging bell chimed in the back of her mind.
Why did his name sound so familiar? James was a pretty common name.
She had never met this man before—there was no way she would have forgotten meeting him—but the more she looked at him the more she felt she knew him.
A huge drop of rain landed on her nose.
He looked up. “The heavens are about to open again. Please, let me take you to the station.”
And then the heavens did open. In the blink of an eye, the drizzle that clung to the air they breathed became a deluge. In the blink of an eye, Lucy’s already damp blonde hair was saturated.
James’s rain-lashed face scrunched with amusement and he burst into a roar of laughter. “See? The heavens want you to come with me.”
Oh, the temptation!
He held out a hand to her.
And still she hesitated.
“You have nothing to fear,” he said with such sincerity that the last of her doubts melted and she found her hand stretching to meet his.
Warm fingers wrapped around hers and before she knew it she was in the back of the plushest car she could have dreamed of.
Her mouth gaped open.
This was the interior of a car?
Four cream leather seats faced each other in pairs with enough space between them that even the tallest of men could stretch out with comfort. A veneered folding table was open in front of one of the seats, a newspaper spread out on it. The driver and passenger at the front were shielded by an opaque glass partition.
James sat himself at the seat with the opened table and folded his newspaper. She couldn’t help but notice his ring finger was bare.
Why was she even looking at his fingers? This man was completely out of her league.
“If you put your coat on one of the seats, it can dry before we reach the station.”
Almost certain she was dreaming, Lucy did as he suggested. He leaned forward and pressed a button on the seat’s armrest. His movement released a wave of citrusy cologne that her greedy senses sniffed with delight.
Not only was James tall, handsome and rich but he smelled amazing.
“If you press the same button on your seat, you’ll be warm in moments.”
She took the seat opposite his and found herself sinking into the softest leather imaginable. Then she pressed the button he’d spoken of and found warm air curling through her wet clothes. She stifled a sigh of pleasure at the welcome heat.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked, watching her reaction, his generous mouth quirked with humour. “A cup of tea or coffee to warm you up? Or something stronger from the drinks cooler?”
“A coffee would be lovely, thank you.” She shook her head. “This car is fabulous. Is it yours?”
“It is, yes.” He pressed a button on a veneered panel and a small coffee machine with pods attached to its side appeared.
He met her eye and grinned. “Everyone should have one for their cars.”
Selecting a pod, he placed it in the machine, then slide a cup into it. A bone china cup.
“I would love to get one but unfortunately I don’t have a chauffeur, so it might be a little dangerous for me to make myself a drink while driving. And messy,” she added.
He gave another dazzling smile that set her pulse racing all over again. “If you have a car why were you taking the bus?”
“Because it’s old and battered and refused to start this morning.” She sighed. “I think it’s ready for the scrapheap.”
“What will you replace it with?”
“I don’t know.” She grinned. “If I win the lottery I’ll get myself a car like this.” The English countryside wound past them but she could only see the movement, not feel it. “Thank you so much for diverting your journey for me. I hope I’m not making you late for anything important.”
“Nothing that can’t wait. Where are you travelling to?” He handed the coffee to her. Their fingers brushed.
Sensation darted like shots through her skin and it took a moment for Lucy to unscramble her brain enough to answer. “Oxford. I’ve got a job interview.”
He stretched his long legs out. “What do you do?”
Her veins thickened from the warmth of his stare. “I’m a newly qualified primary school teacher. What business are you in?” But before she’d finished asking her question, the answer came to her with a loud boom that almost made her spill her drink all over her lap and she hastily put the cup on the table. It felt as if all the blood vessels in her cheeks had exploded. “Oh my god. You’re Prince James.”
The reigning monarch’s youngest son.
No wonder he looked so familiar! She’d grown up seeing his face on an almost daily basis. Her childhood best friend had insisted she was going to marry him.
Somehow the sparkle in his eyes deepened. “You recognise me after all.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t before. I’m so sorry. You must think I’m a right idiot.” She clutched her flaming cheeks. “I didn’t even curtsy…”
“Don’t worry, you won’t get thrown in the dungeons for it.” He gave another quick smile then rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward to stare at her intently. “And I don’t think you’re an idiot. Not in the slightest.”
Lucy rubbed her forehead and scrunched her face, trying desperately to mask the disappointment lancing her.
Prince James had a reputation for being aloof which was perhaps why she hadn’t recognised him. In the flesh he was much more vibrant than she would have expected and much, much more approachable.
He was also much, much sexier and strikingly handsome. This was no cardboard cut-out but a real man with a hypnotising smile, kind yet piercing eyes and the most divine smell.
This was a man who dated fellow members of the gentry. Ladies with titles.
The only title Lucy had was Miss, or Ms when she wanted to be ambiguous.
“Thanks for being nice but I still feel like one. Who would expect a prince to come to their rescue?”
She met the dancing eyes still focussed entirely on her.
It wasn’t every day a girl got to travel in a car worth more than her family home and with such a dazzling man. He might be out of her league but she was here, so she might as well enjoy his company while she had it and soak up the experience as something to one day share with her future grandchildren.
“I’m glad you didn’t say Snow White—I might be an idiot but even I wouldn’t be daft enough to eat a stranger’s apple when I knew my stepmother was a witch intent on killing me.”
His laughter echoed around the cabin and he opened his mouth to say something else but suddenly his attention was taken by the window, and the amusement that had laced his features since the heavens opened dimmed. “We’re at the train station.”
The lance of disappointment stabbed even deeper this time.
She took a long breath and squared her shoulders before gathering her coat to her. Amazingly, it was dry. She was dry. “Thank you very much for the lift.”
His smile was rueful. “I don’t even know your name.”
She couldn’t even manage a rueful smile. “It’s Lucy.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Lucy.”
Their eyes met one last time before she gave a short nod and stepped out of the door his driver had opened for her.
The rain had stopped.
Her heart now lodged in her throat, Lucy concentrated on putting one leg in front of the other, forcing her eyes to focus on the station door and not on the convoy of cars disappearing forever from her life.
“Have dinner with me.”
She spun round to find him striding towards her. The station was relatively quiet but she was very much aware the few people there were all gawping in astonishment to see a prince of the realm in their midst.
“I can’t let you walk out of my life like this. The heavens opened on us for a reason. Have dinner with me, Lucy.”
There was no amusement in the piercing eyes, only the sincerity she’d seen when he had promised she had nothing to fear from him.
Now she didn’t have to force a smile. It burst from her. “I would love to.”
His answering smile was equally wide. “Tonight?”
A short while later Lucy looked out of the train’s window. In the distance, a rainbow shone brightly.
What had started as a gloomy day had turned into what her fizzing veins told her was something special.
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