A LAST ROYALS series standalone romance
For her, he would put his heart on the line again.
When world-renowned GT pilot Prince Rhys Lewis of Allemand rescues a puppy, he could not imagine it would lead to an offer to fix a rare collection of antique cars. Or better yet, that the beautiful owner of the isolated Scottish estate doesn’t even know who he is. In need of a safe haven where he can lick his wounds and mend his broken heart, he instantly jumps at the chance.
For the last five years, all Penelope MacPherson has known were promises shattered, hopes dashed, and precious truths revealed to be lies. It left her beaten and alone. But a gorgeous stranger makes her feel something intense, unforgettable. She’s alive again! But can she dare trust in him enough to tell her secrets?
But there are secrets in heaven.
And a dream come true might just be their worst nightmare.
Their chemistry is off the charts and undeniable as it leads them on to what could be heaven on earth—even as their wary minds resist it. Because the path to their potential paradise has no shortage of perils as their pasts and truths are just around the corner, waiting to tear them apart.
Royal Secrets is the third standalone novel in the Last Royals contemporary suspenseful romance series and introduces you to the another Last Royal lineage, the Allemands.
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Other books connected with Royal Secrets
Royal Secrets stands on its own; you don’t have to read the entire series. Unless you want to. :)
A note to the Last Royals Series fans
Most of my readers like to read series in order, even when the books stand alone, but you can read them in your own way. Here is the complete series reading order. I hope you enjoy all the royal love stories.
Penelope MacPherson wiped her dirty hands down the front of her jeans, wondering how much of a mess her life had become. She’d been at Ackergill Tower for one year, but it felt worlds different than the life she’d left in the Middle East.
That can’t be right. Only one year? Just twelve months?
She sighed and dried her sweaty forehead with her sleeve. Surely, she has been in this sprawling piece of land that did look like her grandparents’ estate in the Highlands, a few yards from the sea and a couple of hours from for at least twelve years now.
And it went without saying that it was galaxies away from the life she’d known on Earth.
Yeah, that’s right. Maybe I’ve been abducted by kind aliens, who took me to a similar planet where time glides out in a slower tick-tock.
She surveyed the room holding more stuff than she’d ever owned in her life. No, she was still in the Scottish estate Sir Bruce MacPherson, her seanair—or grandfather, in Gaelic—had his 5-dropping-star hotel.
It only felt like she’d kidnapped off to Saturn and was trying to organize it and all its eight moons.
Almost two years ago, when her grandfather called her, asking if she wanted to visit, another word for help, Penelope had planned her life carefully to be here as soon as she could. Not only she needed to flee her ritzy—painful and shameful—life as a wife of Malik al-Saleh, the older son of a sheik of a very small Arabian kingdom full of oil, but she needed a place where Malik wouldn’t find her.
At eighteen years old, she’d thought an older, handsome, and wealthy man, plus branding clothes, sparkling jewels, and everything a woman could dream of—and some they could never even imagine—would make her happy, but now five years later, she knew differently.
But even though now she was sleeping as late—and gladly alone—as she wanted in her comfortable bed in her childhood room on the second floor of her grandparents’ castle; wearing jeans and all style of trousers all the time; and showing an inordinate amount of flesh and hair without having to know who would be walking in on her, she wasn’t really freed.
She still needed Malik to sign the divorce, which she knew would not be easy.
The fact that she was still cleaning out years of hoard her grandfather had gathered since her grandmother had died was just a detail. Still being the keyword, since she had been at it for more than three hundred days already.
So maybe…just perhaps, she hadn’t thought through this choice as much as she should have. It had been her own choice, maybe her only right choice in years, and so far, she was happy she had done it.
But how was she to know that Ackergill Tower’s bastard of the last manager had been stealing her grandfather alive?
It only showed her how much she had been out of touch with people who helped raise her. Despite having lived with Malik between London, Paris, and New York, and travelled all around the world, she hadn’t made a single stop in Ackergill Tower in more than three years.
She shook her head, not wanting to dwell on the years of her marriage.
She picked up a jar with an unknown substance in it, hoping it was well-sealed and would stay that way. Probably something her grandmother had canned decades ago. Maybe turnips.
Penelope wasn’t entirely sure, and she wasn’t going to find out. She’d rented an industrial-sized dumpster that she was filling faster than the sanitation department had been coming to pick it up.
Although she was proud of the great progress she’d already made on the hotel, there was still the problem of the farm; getting the outbuildings cleaned out was something that was taking months since she didn’t have money to hire personnel to do that. As well as the fifteen hunting cabins that sat just behind the game pavilion she was cleaning now.
She smiled thinking about all the hard work her grandparents had welded together just to renovate and refurbish it, adding a heated swimming pool just because they knew she loved swimming.
Those cabins had been empty for a while, and Penelope hadn’t done much to them to transform them into bungalows, just enough to make sure they were habitable, and maybe destine them to tenants who would be working on the hotel and on the adjoining farm.
If she wanted to save Ackergill Tower, she’d need to fill them with men and women willing to work for house and food. And then she’d need to find a way to pay those people.
And she’d need to figure out how to get her grandfather to let go of some of the stuff he thought he couldn’t live without. They were not scraps of memories of what was most precious to him: Isla McPherson, his wife.
Another sigh left her mouth, and she gently set the jar of whatever-it-was in the wheelbarrow she was using to haul trash from what used to be the steam room to the dumpster. Oh, yes, this would be a steam room again, and she’d sit here sweating after her swimming exercise.
Tomorrow. But when she looked at her watch, she re-evaluated. Maybe the day after tomorrow.
She dug back into the work. Item by item piled into the wheelbarrow until she tried to lift it and could barely do so. She hefted it into position and started for the dumpster, which was concealed at the back of the pavilion.
That way, when the guests arrived—if they arrived—they wouldn’t see all the trash.
In fact, Penelope was hoping to get all the trash off the premises before the only one couple who had a reservation for the last weekend of the month showed up. Considering that the woman hadn’t even responded to the email she had sent asking for a confirmation, she was betting no one would appear.
Oh, and the hotel had come with exactly three employees—an middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, who had been working for her grandfather since she was a kid and knew it from inside out, and their strapping son, William Andrews, who did all the hard work he could. But as he told her sheepishly on the first day, he was No Superman. Though he certainly looked like one.
Penelope had hardly seen William in the year she’d been at Ackergill Tower, so much he worked, and that was just fine with her. She was not interested in romance. Nope. Not happening.
She cleaned her forehead again. All this physical labor would certainly have her sleeping like a baby in a way slavering through her marketing online course at the same time being a perfect wife and hostess for Malik never had.
On her trek to the garbage container, she passed the garage building which housed a myriad of old and broken cars and trucks. She had no idea what to do about those. She knew some were considered antiques and could have great value, but since she didn’t have any skill to fix them, she would be selling them in the state they were and get some much-needed cash.
All she needed to do was figure out to whom. Because she had offered them to everyone in town and only managed to sell a truck.
“At least, Seanaircan’t drive any of them,” she muttered as she approached the trash bin and started throwing items in one at a time since she wasn’t strong enough to lift the cart high enough and shove it all inside.
In the distance, dogs barked from their barn in the area of the farm Penelope had affectionately called the Kennel Club. Her grandfather loved the dogs too, and he spent most of his time with them on the south side of the estate. When she’d asked him how many dogs lived there, he’d said, Maybe twenty.
“Maybe?” Penelope hadn’t meant to screech the word. “You don’t know how many dogs you have?”
“Maybe twenty,” he’d said again.
And so, around the end of her tenth day there, when Penelope’s muscles were screaming at her to stop using them so strenuously, she’d went out to the Kennel Club, just to be greeted by more than twenty Border Collies and ten Shetland sheepdogs and two volunteers from some nearby animal NGO, who were coming out every week to help her grandfather take care of the dogs. The maybe twenty of her grandfather had been way off, and the budget to feed and care for these dogs exceeded what they brought in from their work herding sheep. But that was the one thing her grandfather had set his foot on: he was keeping all the dogs.
And she didn’t have the courage to go behind his back and donate at least half of them. He knew every dog by the name and it was clear he loved them.
She finished unloading the last of the trash from the wheelbarrow, the thought of returning to go through more garbage almost so depressing she wanted to fall on her butt and stay seated there. But she didn’t. She kept her back straight and clapped her work gloves together, sending dirt and dust into the air.
But then it would better if she saw what was happening with the dogs, who were barking up a storm.
Penelope left the wheelbarrow near the Dumpster and started south, down the path to the dog kennel and several barns where the sheep lived.
Sheep terrified her, and she’d never been happier to know that old Alfie McIntyre still worked the little devils.
Penelope didn’t see Alfie or her grandfather, as she passed the barn where the lambs were kept and entered the kennel.
“What’s going on?” she asked Buba, a blue merle Border Collie, who seemed to be the matron of the pack. “Where’s Alfie?”
A male voice, which was not Alfie’s, said, “Hello.”
Penelope spun toward the voice to find a giant of a man, wearing a cap and holding in his large left hand Thor, her two month Shetland sheepdog puppy, who had been following her around instead of staying inside the castle.
The hard, muscled body the dusty clothes showcased was nothing short of incredible—if she went for that kind of man, which thankfully, she didn’t. Her heart betrayed her by sending out a couple of extra beats. Well, maybe only in her fantasies.
Reaching up with his free hand, he lifted his cap and pushed his hair back.
Luscious raven-black hair framed a square jaw and defined cheekbones not hidden by at least a week worth of stubble—make that a beard—and pale green eyes shone. The most beautiful eyes Penelope had seen in her whole life. And so very sad.
Awareness swirled in her stomach and spread through her body. Absolute quiet seemed to fill the room and even the dog barking disappeared. Nothing existed but the two of them, as if a magic circle had been drawn enclosing her with her perfect stranger.
Penelope licked her lips nervously and his gaze followed the action, lingering on her lips. It was the moment that allowed her to regain her sanity. How long had she been spellbound by this man?
“What are you doing with Thor?” Anger was the only defense she’d have against this man, she could tell.
“He was out on the road, tangled in brambles,” the man said, glancing down at the puppy long fur still sporting a few leaves in it, and then at the big dog by his side. “And…huh, Odin managed to make friends with him. Maybe he felt some kind of paternal obligation.”
Penelope noticed the huge black Labrador at the man’s side—no leash required. So, he had enough charm to make dogs do things according to his command. Of course, he did. Penelope felt his charisma and charm tingling way down in her toes.
“I wasn’t sure if he came from up here or not. I followed the sound of all the barking…” A shrug lift his big, broad shoulders.
“He belongs to me,” Penelope said, stepping forward to take the puppy from his hand. “Thor, you’ve got to stop running away.” And not just because Penelope worried about him. Belatedly, she reminded herself of manners. “Thank you.”
Stretching out his large hand, in a voice that could melt ice, he said, “I’m Rhys Lewis.”
So what if he has a velvet voice? So does Malik. She gave herself a mental shake as she noticed the tattered cuffs on his heavy jeans coat, the well-worn hiking boots, the heavy backpack on his back, the hint of dirt under his fingernails that could very well be grease. And the sparkle in his pale greenish-blue eyes.
This man probably hadn’t bathed in a couple of days. Probably as long as it had taken to grow that sexy scruff.
I probably also need a shower. “Penelope MacPherson.” She shook his hand looking for and finding details no one else normally did. What for, she was not sure, because those fine details didn’t serve to protect her from Malik’s charm and anger.
“I noticed a hotel on the way in,” he said as his dog laid down by his feet. “Do you work in it?”
Suddenly, she felt the urge to rush into her bedroom, pull out her compact and whip out her lip gloss and teasing comb. Maybe that would make her look a bit more in charge.
But she stifled the impulse because it was just flat out ridiculous. She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, much less to a stranger. She knew who she was, what she’d accomplished, and that she belonged here as the woman in charge.
“What of it?” she asked, trying to keep in her arms a squirming Thor.
“Its gates could use a tune-up,” he said. “I had to shake them hard to close them. Thor might have run away by the gap between them.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “And I suppose you’re just the man to do it.” Does he wander roads, looking for jobs?
“I could,” he said. His dog looked up as if doubting his words.
An idea formed in Penelope’s mind. She definitely needed help, especially if he was a handyman, one who did all kind of jobs. She’d been tending to them every morning and evening, but she had no idea what she was doing. “We have a guy who does all kinds of jobs here.”
Rhys nodded and put his cap back on his head as if to say: Point taken. You don’t need me.
“I can’t pay you much,” Penelope said quickly, not wanting to lose him. “But I have a cabin you can live in. With Odin, too. We need to clean and fix it a bit…I also offer three meals a day.” She cocked her head, not sure about what she was doing, trusting a man she had just met when everything about him screamed unsafe. But those eyes…those eyes were transparent, unshuttered.
In them, she saw pain, and that made her ask, “How handy are you with cars?”
If His Royal Highness Prince Rhys Lewis Allemand had been asking himself why he’d turned up this obscure, empty and dusty road when he’d heard a puppy bark, he quitted the moment he had looked into that blonde beauty’s blue eyes and she had asked him how handy he was with cars. And when she didn’t recognize his face or his name, he knew he was in the right place.
Some would say it was a coincidence, but he didn’t believe in coincidences, just in fate.
“I do all right,” he said evasively. He didn’t want her connecting the dots, at least not at first. He also couldn’t help the steady chant that started in his head: Please, hire me.
Over and over the words looped through his mind.
Not exactly because he was in need of money, no. That he had in abundance. But he still needed a distraction from the disaster that his life had become.
And what better than rough, hard work to whip from his mind how his marriage had fallen apart suddenly?
Well, not so suddenly according to the letter his late wife, Emilia, left before she killed herself. Maybe it had seemed this way to him because Rhys had lived so long in unknowing bliss that Emilia wanted more than a heterosexual relationship and was being unfaithful for almost all the duration of their marriage with their best female friend, Jackeline Lambert.
Before anyone could blink—especially the press—he had a death certificate saying she had died of a heart attack. Only his brother, King Kasper, the royal doctor, and their best friend and Emilia’s confidant, Mikael Schwarzen, knew the real reason of Emilia’s death. And him, of course.
After she was buried and the dust settled down, it all came crashing down on him.
Her lifeless eyes and drowned body in the bathtub was the first thing he saw when he closed his eyes—and even when he didn’t—and to know he could have avoided her killing herself just by granting the divorce left him disheartened.
A day after the seventh-day mass, he left a message to his agent ordering to cancel the renovating of his World Touring Car contract with Mercedes. Since he didn’t want the gossipers and paparazzi, which surrounded his family estate in Allemand to get a glimpse of his dark, depressed mood, or to bother his brothers and sisters, he flew to Aragon, in Spain, for a brief chat with his cousin, the ex-Grand-Duke of Lektenstaten, Ludwig Von Kröenenberg.
On a whim, he started making his way through the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, as they called it in English, trying to find the so miraculous change within him or a deep insight on why it had happened to Emilia and him. Or…whatever.
And when he arrived in Santiago and found nothing—although the effort had been well worthwhile—he decided to visit another pilgrimage place, Canterbury, in England, and from there he made his way up to Scotland, happy just to go on walking and assuring himself at each step that he did know his limits, that he did have his control in place.
Until he found himself looking into the blue depths of Penelope’s eyes. And that made him want to stop, to stay.
“Looks like you’ve worked on a motor recently,” she said, taking him out of his reverie and nodding toward his hands.
Silently, he cursed his wandering thoughts and the fact that he suddenly wanted to hide his hands. “Just…erm…helped someone on the road.”
Dressed in dark blue jeans, a pale blue sweater, that had seen better days, and an indefinite color leather jacket and gray-of-dust boots, she was also dirty—somehow that added to her allure—and didn’t seem to mind his hands showed signs of work.
“Well, I’m running the hotel with my grandfather, apart from all kind of small services needed, he’s got a fleet of old vehicles on the property. Some that need fixing, some just ready to be dumped in a junkyard. If you manage to fix and sell some of them, I’ll split the profit with you.”
She smiled and his gaze was drawn to her mouth. Her lips were full, sensual. Kissable. As interesting as she was, though he had no business finding anyone interesting anytime in the near future. “What kind of split?”
“Eighty-twenty,” she said, without missing a beat.
He scoffed, almost offended, but enjoying this game too much. “You’re joking, right?”
“We own the vehicles. They just don’t run.”
“Which makes them useless,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’d accept…eighty-twenty in my favor.”
She gaped at him, like he was insane, those beautiful eyes like pools of Caribbean waters he could dive into and swim around.
When she started laughing, Rhys smiled. Something he had never did much and had stopped doing since the divorce, almost a year ago.
“You’re a funny guy,” she said, still giggling and still holding onto that puppy like she was trying to choke him.
Rhys stepped forward and took Thor from her and put him down on the ground. When the puppy started jumping up excitedly, he said, “Thor. Stay.”
The dog sat down and looked up at him, tongue lolling out of his mouth, waiting for some approval. He scratched his chin and praised, “Good boy.”
“How about seventy-thirty?”
“Nope, thanks.” He moved past her, hoping she’d counteroffer. And again not because of the money, but if there was one thing he learned on his way to the top was to demand value for whatever services he was rendering: be it from being the third in line for a title; the best pilot in the World Touring Car Cups in the last decade; or fixing cars in an obscure hotel. Whatever it was, it had to be valued accordingly.
“Sixty-forty,” she said finally.
The curvy Barbie doll was actually trying to negotiate with him? “I want to see the cars.”
Her eyes blazed with a fire that wasn’t entirely anger, but that he knew would burn him just the same. And he didn’t mind. In fact, he thought he might like to be singed—make that torched—by this woman.
But then…not really.
He’d been operating on half a heart since Emilia’s death and still in highs and lows with his own control. And he got his heart broken because he had not followed the most important of his rules: be always in control.
“Are you really going to say no to me?”
Fighting a wave of something dark he’d rather not name, he shrugged, maintaining his steely composure. “My mother is the only person I can’t say no to.”
She gave him an odd, quizzical look. “The only person?”
“Yes, Ms. MacPherson. The only person.”
She frowned. “I’m sorry.” And then she waved him toward the door, saying, “The cars are parked in another building. You can leave your backpack here.”
She is…sorry? Rhys’s eyebrows went up but before he could say anything, she snapped her fingers at the puppy. “Thor.”
With that, she turned and started walking, expecting him to follow but he was rooted to the spot, staring after her.
What the hell does that even mean?
But as his eyes followed the curvy woman and her petite puppy, he found another smile forming on his face. The view was certainly better than any he’d had in a while.
“C’mon, Odin,” he said as he ignored his mind wanting to know why did he have this intense need to race after her, when he never—ever—ran after anyone?
He fell into step with her, just in time to open the door for her and a cold gust of January air blasted them.
She shivered and hugged herself. “I guess I shouldn’t have left my coat inside.”
But when she didn’t make it to return, but continued walking by his side, he flicked an amused look at her.
Just to have her saying, “And I guess you’re too macho to need one?”
She didn’t wait for his reply, waving his forward yet again, and took off running, declaring, “I’m freezing. Come on!”
For a moment he just stood there, watching her race away from him again. He was macho, yes, and his clothes were light, appropriate for hiking in this weather, while hers weren’t.
An irritated sound escaped him before caving to the inevitable pursuit of chasing her. Chasing a woman who was supposed to be his new employer. Well, that was a novelty—two novelties.
Penelope marched down the road, Rhys matching her stride for stride.
“There’s a couple of trucks,” she said. “About…twenty sports cars, ten sedans, and some…unrecognized carcasses. There are also four old, old, old Mercedes, including a 1940 convertible, which are not too bad. William, the son of our housekeeper, says I could get good money with them and that they only need a thorough cleaning.”
“And do they?” he asked.
“I don’t really know,” she said. “I think everything around here needs a lot of attention, mending, good cleaning, and who knows what else. The vehicles included.” She shot him a look out of the corner of her eye that he wasn’t sure if it was a glare or just a glance. “I’ve only been here for one year already, and Seanair…well, my grandfather that is, he’s seventy-five-years-old, and a hoarder. So, I’ve been Frankensteining the things I have to do before I collapse dead.”
An ache in Rhys’s gut throbbed in understanding. She had stepped into a situation she couldn’t control. And was making the best of it. It took some grit and determined spirit for a person to do it. “Frankensteining is not a word.”
“It is, since I just said it.”
This woman is a piece of work. He shook his head and, as impossible as it seemed, he smiled again—almost laughed.
“There they are,” she said, motioning to a one story large building.
His mood was remarkably lighter as he tried opening the door for her, but it was locked. Just like last time he’d tried it. Maybe this gorgeous woman was distracting him too much.
She was a refreshing glass of water when he’d been drowning in the fires of hell for such a long time, and, damn it, she smelled good, too. A sweet, floral scent he couldn’t place, but it made him want to lick her skin to see if it tasted as good as it smelled, or better. And he was betting on better.
“It takes a key card,” she said, squeezing in beside him and swiping a card in front of the reader. A click and big door opened smoothly to the side, just to stop mid-way with a loud clank. She sighed and gestured for him to go in.
Inside the huge barn, there were disordered rows of vehicles in all states possible.
He made his way through the mess, mentally cataloging the vehicles.
There were old trucks—older than him, but nothing all that noteworthy. But if they ran, and the upholstery was in good shape, she could get a few thousand pounds for them. People bought cars like that for their teenagers all the time.
But the rest…it could be an eye-popping collection of antique cars—a few from the beginning of the last century—that would fetch millions of pounds if he took his time updating them and searching for the correct buyer.
“So, what do you say?”
“Fifty-fifty?” He glanced at her, before returning his stare to the cars and again making his way through them. From a modest-by-comparison Duesenberg Model SJ to a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder, that would roar deep in its masterfully engineered two-hundred-seventy-six horsepower throat and a very rare Maserati A6G 200 Berlinetta, the garage was a treasure cove.
“Yes, fine,” she agreed with a sigh. “But you buy the material and we split the costs after the sales.”
Her tone was nonnegotiable, and while he was damned good at negotiating others’ nonnegotiables, this wasn’t necessary in the case. If he could get those running, they’d cause a stir in the antique car market and fetch a lot of money. Much, much more than she could imagine. Much, much more than she needed to get the estate in pristine shape.
Rhys scrubbed his hand over his week-old stubble and peered at the row of vehicles like he was really thinking hard about it and let a long moment pass before he said, “It’s a deal, Ms. MacPherson.”
Her brows dipped at that. “You have to stop”—she made quotation marks with her fingers—“Ms.-MacPherson-ing me.”
“As your employee, it’s just natural—”
“I’m from marketing.” She shrugged. “Plus, Penelope, or just Pen, is nicer and more informal and makes me feel relaxed. Feeling all edgy and nervous gives me performance anxiety.”
He felt his lips quirk at her logic and boldness. “And my calling you Ms. MacPherson makes you edgy and nervous?”
She studied him for a moment and a weird look came over her face like somehow she was listening to something he hadn’t said.
“Aye.” She stepped back.
His instinct automatically kicked in, and he grabbed her hand.
Her lips parted in surprise, her gaze colliding with his. Heat flared instantly between them and yet the obvious challenge lost interest as she visibly shivered—maybe feeling cold.
Or maybe something else.
Because there was a hint of some unidentifiable emotion in her eyes, but she cut her gaze away, lowering her lashes, before he could read it.
He knew she was hiding her reaction to his touch, but there was something else. Despite himself, he was intrigued.
Even more so when, almost instantly, she smoothly recovered, her eyes directly meeting his. Any sign of whatever she’d felt was gone. “I’m too cold to stand here, debating name usage.” She paused and added, “Rhys.”
Impressed by her rapid recovery and quick control, he was surprised by how reluctantly he released her wrist. Especially since he was rarely reluctant about anything.
“I won’t disappoint you,” he assured her, and mimicking her pausing for effect, he also added, “Penelope.”
“I’ll take you on your word.” She turned toward him, that long dark blonde hair swinging in its ponytail, a smile on her face, and extended her hand.
He took it, ignoring the fizz of excitement and attraction simmering even hotter in his bloodstream. For some people, drinking was a way of de-stressing. For others, it was fighting. Or even signing in the shower.
His drug of choice?
And he had been avoiding it for a long time already. But it was not an eligible escape right now. Not when he didn’t have full control over himself.
They shook hands, and she said, “I’ll get the paperwork drawn up. Do you want to see the cabin?”
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