Santina's Scandalous Princess

By: Kate Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE

‘NOW there, at least, is a Jackson who has bettered himself.’

Princess Natalia Santina glanced at her mother, whose arctic tone belied what had sounded like a compliment. Queen Zoe’s eyes were narrowed, her lips pressed together in disapproval. Her usual look then. Natalia turned to see who was the subject of her mother’s grudging praise. Her gaze moved through the crowd of well-heeled guests who had come to the engagement party of her older brother Alessandro and his unexpected fiancée, Allegra, daughter of British tabloid fodder and ex-footballer Bobby Jackson, to finally rest on Ben Jackson, Allegra’s older brother and self-made millionaire. Not that the money made a difference to her mother. Anyone, she liked to say with a sniff, could make money. Breeding was what mattered.

After all, the fiancé who had thankfully just broken Natalia’s own engagement—Prince Michel of the small mountain principality of Montenavarre—hadn’t had much money. He’d claimed Natalia had possessed impossibly expensive tastes, which was undoubtedly true for him. Prince Michel might be second in line to the throne but he was practically penniless, and in any case Natalia had no intention of spending her life in some draughty castle in the Alps, listening to her husband go on and on about his country’s tediously noble history.

The question of just how she intended to spend her life remained, as yet, unanswered. For the moment Natalia was simply glad to enjoy her reprieve from matrimony. Nothing in her experience so far had recommended it.

Now her own gaze narrowed as she took in Ben Jackson’s powerful form. He was dressed in a well-cut grey silk business suit, his tie a sober navy, his movement restrained and precise as he chatted to another guest. Unlike his father, whose flashy tie, booming voice and expansive gestures proclaimed new money like nothing else could, Ben Jackson was the epitome of understated male elegance. Queen Zoe, Natalia had noticed with a stab of amusement, had held out only two fingers for Bobby Jackson to shake and flinched visibly when he’d lavishly kissed her hand instead.

‘What does Ben Jackson do exactly?’ she asked her mother, who stiffened at the vulgarity of such a question. Natalia knew you weren’t supposed to ask what people did, because of course people of class didn’t do anything. Not for money. Queen Zoe didn’t even like to mention the successful business ventures of her own son and heir to the throne. Sometimes Natalia wondered if her mother had stepped from the pages of a Victorian novel, or even a time machine. Her attitudes certainly did not belong to this century.

‘He’s an entrepreneur, as far as I can tell,’ Zoe said stiffly. ‘Something in finance.’

How boring, Natalia thought, even as she eyed the oldest Jackson with undisguised feminine appreciation. The set of his shoulders underneath the tailored grey silk was impressive indeed. He lifted one long-fingered hand to make a point, his blazing eyes and set mouth creating an expression, Natalia decided, of controlled enthusiasm. He felt deeply, but he didn’t want anyone to know. She’d always been good at reading expressions, and gauging a person’s attitude. It had certainly helped her through twelve years of incomprehensible education, when often the curve of a mouth or lift of an eyebrow was the only clue as to whether she’d got it right or wrong.

‘Who is he talking to?’ she asked her mother. ‘Ben Jackson, I mean?’

Her mother sighed with the kind of weary disappointment Natalia was long used to. ‘He’s talking to the minister of culture and tourism,’ she told her, ‘which you would know, if you professed any interest in or duty to the country of your birth and family.’

Natalia did not reply. She knew her mother was really referring to her recently broken engagement. Both her parents had wanted her off their hands and out of the country. At twenty-seven, happily unmarried and with a rather active social life, she was an embarrassment to the royal family. At least this time it was by choice.

‘You’re right, Mother,’ Natalia said with as much docility as she could muster. ‘I should be familiar with Santina’s ministers. I suppose I’ll have to remedy that immediately.’

And with a suggestive sway of her hips, she sauntered over to where Ben Jackson was still looking intriguingly…passionate.

The word slid slyly into her mind. Ben Jackson didn’t look like a passionate man. The shoulders were impressive, yes, but everything about the man from his sober suit to his close-cut brown hair said restrained. Controlled. Boring, even. A man who guarded his passions—if he had them at all—carefully.

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