Sally Fletcher ducked behind a pillar, clutching a napkin filled with canapés in one hand, a glass of champagne in the other, and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Who was she trying to kid? She wasn’t a Ball-with-a-capital-B kind of person. She was barely a standing-in-the-kitchen-during-a-house-party kind of person anymore. After six years of being a single mother, the only kind of party she was comfortable with involved pass the parcel and a competitive game of musical statues.
But here she was at an embassy ball and not as one of the waitresses—although she would have felt more comfortable serving the canapés than eating them. She just didn’t know what to say to her fellow guests, a mixture of local business tycoons and aristocracy and well-connected Brits.
At least she looked like she belonged thanks to the—borrowed—full-length emerald silk dress and diamond earrings and necklace. Diamonds lent by a princess. Just another in the list of bizarre things that had happened to her in the last few weeks.
First, she’d found out—along with the rest of the world—that her oldest and best friend, Clem Beaumont, was the illegitimate daughter of King Zorien of Asturia. Then she’d discovered Clem’s cousin Arrosa was actually her half-sister and the Crown Princess of Asturia. With that revelation, the world’s press had descended on their small Cornish village with their sights firmly set on Sally. They’d thought, wrongly, that she knew all Clem’s secrets.
Sally understood why Clem had kept her parentage from her—she’d kept it from everyone—but it still stung a little. After all, she’d always told Clem everything.
Luckily Arrosa had offered Sally and her daughter, Alice, a safe place to stay in Asturia until the press interest died down at home. So now not only was she staying in an actual royal palace but she, Sally Fletcher, university dropout, waitress and single mother, was a guest of the British ambassador in Asturia at an embassy ball. A guest currently hiding behind a pillar.
She looked up guiltily as Clem rounded the pillar.
‘I was just…’
‘Hiding?’ Clem raised an eyebrow.
‘And eating canapés…’ Sally displayed the napkin. ‘Want one?’
‘Ooh, yes, I haven’t got the hang of making small talk and eating at the same time yet.’ Clem selected an olive cracker with goat’s cheese. ‘But you can’t hide out here forever. Come on, there’s someone I want to introduce you to. Apparently his company is interested in investing in Asturia’s green economy.’
‘Um, very laudable?’ It was, but what did Sally know about the green economy except that it was probably a good thing?
‘Well, yes, but more importantly where you’re concerned, he knows Cornwall, includingPolhallow really well. Isn’t that amazing? We may have even met him when we were teenagers! Come and say hi.’ And with that Clem firmly steered her from behind the pillar and marched her towards a small group. ‘Lord Askett? Can I introduce my oldest and dearest friend?’
Lord Askett? No, it couldn’t be! But there was something achingly familiar about the man’s half-hidden profile as he turned, and as he came clearly into view, Sally felt her stomach drop through the floor.
‘Ben? What on earth are you doing here?’
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