by Carla Caruso
A dark secret from Hollywood’s Golden Age. A possible prince-in-hiding. Astonvale’s about to implode...
Professional organiser Celeste Pretty swore she’d never work with uber-blonde interior designer Imogen Karmel again, but then she’s presented with a project she can’t refuse.
The prestigious Astonvale College is celebrating its centenary and needs the pair to ensure the festivities go off without a hitch.
As Celeste sets to work in a flurry of activity — in between organising her own engagement party — she finds herself blowing away the cobwebs on a sixty-year-old secret.
Meanwhile, Imogen becomes enamoured with a substitute teacher, Hudson Addison, who may or may not be a royal in hiding. And there’s nothing Imogen dreams of more than becoming a princess. Will all be revealed on party night?
Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, Australia, and only ‘escaped’ for three years to work as a magazine journalist and stylist in Sydney. Previously, she was a gossip columnist and fashion editor at Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser. She has since freelanced for titles including Woman’s Day and Shop Til You Drop. These days, she plays mum to twin lads Alessio and Sebastian with hubby James.
Visit www.carlacaruso.com.au, her blog www.theunitalianwife.com, ‘Carla Caruso Author’ on Facebook, or @CarlaCaruso79 on Twitter.
The path behind the building was narrow, even more weed-ridden, and rubbish-strewn. Like the dark underbelly of Astonvale College. It was obviously a space the school council had forgotten about as they busied themselves with approving new computer labs and design and technology classrooms. That was until the centenary celebrations and a chance to link to Arnold Foxling had rushed the theatre back into their focus. Imogen had only gotten a quarter of the way in when she decided enough was enough. It was time to turn back. Creative inspiration wasn’t about to strike back there anytime soon.
She spun around and screamed blue murder as a shadowy face suddenly filled her vision. Clumsily, she stepped back from the dark stranger, her hip hitting a metal drum. Pain shot through her. A hand gripped her arm before she lost her footing, its owner’s features, all at once, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight.
Oh my. Imogen drew in a sharp breath, immediately forgetting about the throbbing in her hip. The stranger was male. A very attractive male. Really something else, and she’d had her share of chiselled hunks in her time. He had eyes as cobalt-blue as the Mediterranean, cropped light brown hair tinged with blonde, and the perfect shadow of sexy stubble. She couldn’t feel a wedding band against her skin, his fingers still warm on her arm. She was never this lucky. Unless she’d actually fallen, hit her head, and was now hallucinating.
‘Sorry to scare you,’ the stranger said in an accent she couldn’t quite pin down. ‘I wasn’t expecting anyone to be lurking around here.’
He had a hint of laughter in his eyes. She tried to claw back her composure while imagining dirt streaked across her cheek. ‘Neither was I. What’s your excuse for being here?’
Unfortunately, he lost his grasp on her arm to reach for something amid a low bunch of prickly weeds. He held up the found object. A football. ‘Retrieving this. And you?’
Imogen tossed her hair, grateful it didn’t get stuck on an errant metal pole or some such. ‘I’m working on an interior design project for the school.’ She arched an eyebrow. ‘And you look too old to be a student.’
For a moment, he looked down, tossing the ball from one hand to the other. ‘I’m a substitute phys. ed. teacher and, despite the football, coach the Year Elevens’ winning soccer team.’ His eyes met hers again. ‘They call me Mr Addison, but you can call me Hunter.’ Then he bent into a mock bow, despite the limited space. ‘Enchantée.’
Hold the phone. He spoke French? He was a substitute phys. ed. teacher… as in, on loan to the school for an unspecified amount of time? He’d even looked down when he’d said it! And the stubble could be part of a disguise. Plus, if a royal was to pick a phony name, certainly they’d choose one to do with a sport like hunting.
Could… Could the guy in front of her actually be Prince Alexis, in the flesh? Sure he was wearing a tracksuit and sneakers right now, but she could so see him in sash-adorned military attire. A living, breathing prince — who wasn’t school-aged — right across from her mini Georgian-style mansion. Was this fate?
‘And I’m Imogen Karmel.’ Her voice had transformed into a purr. She had to hold herself back from curtseying as she teased, ‘But I don’t mind being called Ms Karmel.’
He raised an eyebrow in question. ‘Ms Karmel?’
He leaned in and she forgot to breathe. ‘You’ve got a leaf in your hair.’ Then he reached to pluck it out — the most erotic millisecond she’d ever experienced — before he turned to walk back in the direction he’d come, the football wedged under his arm. Not even a goodbye. Maybe he’d seen in her eyes she’d guessed his little secret? She clattered after him but her heels were a disadvantage.