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Michelle Willingham

Switched at Marriage

Switched at Marriage

Click here to read Chapter 1

I’m pregnant. And the baby isn’t yours.

Prince Amadio of Lohenberg stared at the horizon from the balcony of his bedroom, the numbness sinking deeper inside him. Any other man would have been furious, raging at his fiancée for her infidelity. As for himself, he felt only emptiness and the familiar solitude closing in.

Camille had left him that fateful voice mail, shattering their engagement and telling him that she’d gone to Italy. She’d begged him not to tell her father why.

How had this happened? He dug his fingers into the balustrade, gathering command of his emotions and transforming them into rigid control. As the heir to the Lohenberg throne, he had to maintain a calm demeanor at all times. He couldn’t afford to make a rash decision or allow his own feelings to rise to the surface—not when this arranged marriage had meant a truce between his country and the neighboring kingdom of Badenstein, a means of ending the uprisings along the border checkpoints.

Her betrayal had cut deeply, making him wonder what he’d done wrong. He’d tried to be kind to Camille, even knowing that he wasn’t her choice of husband. Truthfully, the marriage had been the King of Badenstein’s demand, trying to control his daughter by forcing her into a union she hadn’t wanted. Amadio had been prepared to make the best of it for the sake of peace. But he’d never imagined that the princess would go this far to avoid marriage.

No doubt his tiny country would make headlines because of a royal runaway bride. Camille had dragged both of them into a scandal that wasn’t his. And what was he supposed to do now? He refused to play the part of the humiliated bridegroom, appearing weak in front of his people. No, he would demand that Badenstein relinquish all claims to the disputed territory. Then he’d send troops to guard the borders and end the attacks once and for all.

Outside, the sunlight drifted across the country he loved with its green hills and vineyards. The silvery river was calm, unlike the storm brewing inside him. Tonight, he was hosting diplomats from countries throughout Europe. It was meant to be an engagement party, a celebration of the peace to come.

He couldn’t possibly attend and pretend that all was well—and yet, he could hardly cancel it at such a late time. It would be a serious breach of etiquette to deny the guests dinner. Many of them were staying at the palace, and explanations were unavoidable. But how could he admit that his bride had run away?

His mobile phone rang, and Amadio stared at Camille’s number, letting it ring several times until he finally let it go to voice mail. Right now, he didn’t want to hear explanations about her behavior or reasons why she’d wanted someone else. 

She had left him with a hell of a mess. As far as he knew, she hadn’t told anyone else what had happened. Amadio was the only one who knew that there wouldn’t be a wedding. A headache throbbed at his temples as he tried to think of what to do. Now, he had to find a way of keeping the media under control.

Behind him, the door opened, and he turned to see his Lord Chamberlain. “Your Highness.” Johann Sichermann bowed low. “The necklace intended for your bride will be delivered to you later today. I inspected it earlier, and it’s exquisite. I believe the princess will be quite pleased.”

“I couldn’t care less about a damned necklace,” Amadio muttered. The only thing on his mind right now was how to break the news. But he trusted Sichermann above everyone else, and he needed advice. “There won’t be a wedding. Camille called it off last night.”

The Lord Chamberlain blanched. “I am so sorry to hear this, Your Highness. Is there…anything I can do?”

“Not unless you can find another princess from Badenstein for me to marry,” he remarked drily. “There will be diplomats and dignitaries at the engagement party tonight. See to it that they enjoy their dinner and entertainment. I won’t be attending.”

The thought of their pity ground against his pride. Right now, his head was throbbing, and he had no desire to see anyone. It sounded quite appealing to spend the night with a bottle of whiskey and drink himself into oblivion.

The Lord Chamberlain turned thoughtful. “Forgive me, Your Highness. But there was…something unexpected that I encountered this morning. In regard to the necklace, I mean. Something that may be of use to you. Or in this case, someone.”

“Just send it back,” he ordered. He had no need of a diamond necklace anymore. “And tell King Heinrich that I want to meet with him first thing in the morning.” Now that Camille had severed their arrangement, he intended to force the sovereign’s hand and demand peace without a formal alliance.

“Of course, Your Highness.” The Lord Chamberlain cleared his throat. “But, as I was saying, you really ought to meet with the jeweler’s granddaughter. When she arrived in Lohenberg this morning at the airport, she caused quite a stir.”

“What do you mean?” He had little patience for this. 

“She looks exactly like Princess Camille. I mistakenly believed that she was the princess when I first saw her. You can only imagine how the hotel staff reacted.”

A stillness slid over his mood, for he was beginning to see what the Lord Chamberlain was implying. “They could not tell the difference?”

Johann shook his head. “No, Your Highness. They were convinced she was the Princess of Badenstein.” He winced. “Apparently she has been living in the United States all her life.”

“Send her to me in a private audience,” he ordered. “Let her believe it’s about the necklace. And try not to let anyone else see her.” Although the woman’s appearance could be a strange coincidence, he needed to judge it for himself. If she looked similar enough to Camille, she might help to buy him more time. He could pass her off as the princess for a few days while he negotiated with King Heinrich, and that would avoid a tabloid storm—at least for now.

Sichermann bowed again. “Yes, Your Highness. But sir, may I suggest that you might reconsider attending the party tonight?”

Amadio gritted his teeth. The future of his country was hanging by a single thread, and he had no desire to socialize or drink champagne. 

But he understood the need for discretion—at least until he could speak with the King of Badenstein about what they would do next.

 

 

Genna Hamilton stared at the Lohenberg palace and tried to gather the last remnants of her courage. It wasn’t there. Although she was only here to deliver a necklace, she couldn’t push back the nerves mingled with excitement. Earlier today, she had met the Lord Chamberlain when he’d inspected the necklace. Then he’d called the hotel an hour ago, asking her to bring the jewels to the palace. 

Truthfully, she’d been shocked by the invitation. She’d never expected the opportunity to visit the home of the royal family. The Lord Chamberlain had sent a private car for her, and as Genna drew closer to the palace, she drank in the scenery. Brick walls surrounding the gray stone palace stretched high, while an intricate wrought iron gate stretched across the road. Around the castle, she spied several towers with copper rooftops weathered green. Ivy stretched over the surface of one tower, and she took a moment to savor the beauty. But when the black sedan pulled to a stop in front of the doors, her stomach gave a lurch of uncertainty.

She had been summoned by the Prince of Lohenberg. A prince. Her heart was pounding, and she wondered again why her grandfather had sent her to deliver the necklace, instead of coming here himself. Whenever her grandfather had spoken of Lohenberg, there’d been a wistfulness in his tone, but also the sense that he would never go back. Yet, he’d asked her to come in his place.

Genna had brought the bridal gift with her—a diamond necklace that was worth millions. A security guard sat beside her in the sedan, and the jewels were safely contained within a locked briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. She possessed the only key.

The driver opened the door, and she stepped outside into the sunlight, her heels wobbling against the gravel. Before she could take another step, she spied a door opening from the lower level. The Lord Chamberlain approached, dressed in an impeccable suit. Johann Sichermann was his name, she recalled.

“Miss Hamilton, it’s good to see you again.” His English had a trace of an accent, and he smiled. “If you’ll just follow me.” He didn’t wait for an answer but led her toward the same doorway off to the side. A servant’s entrance, she realized. Which made sense. She wasn’t a guest here, really—only a delivery girl.

Even so, she was memorizing every inch of the gorgeous castle. How many rooms did it have? Fifty? One hundred? She hoped she would have the chance to see at least a few of the rooms before she returned to her hotel. Especially the library. She imagined a sliding ladder that stretched to the top of the bookshelves.

Mr. Sichermann led her inside and toward a narrow marble staircase. Genna glimpsed large oil portraits hanging on the walls as she rounded one staircase and climbed another, with the security guard following behind them. When they reached the landing of the third floor, Mr. Sichermann saw her lingering gaze and remarked, “That is Prince Michael and his English bride, Princess Hannah. They ruled over Lohenberg for nearly fifty years.” In the oil painting, the royal couple were seated beside one another, the prince gazing into his wife’s eyes. 

“They look very much in love,” Genna said.

“They were.” Johann cleared his throat. “But unfortunately, most royal marriages are alliances not based on personal feelings.”

She understood the unspoken message about Prince Amadio’s wedding and offered, “Sometimes love can come later.”

The expression on his face was bemused, as if he didn’t really believe that. “Sometimes.” He paused a moment and said, “His Royal Highness, Prince Amadio, has asked to see you regarding a personal matter.”

Was it possible for her heart to pound any faster? Genna tried to behave as if it didn’t matter—as if she met princes all the time. “Of course. He will want to see the necklace.”

“After he has spoken with you,” he corrected. To the security guard, he said, “You will wait outside until the prince sends for you.” 

Genna wasn’t certain what to think about that, but there was no reason to argue since she had the briefcase key. “All right.” 

Mr. Sichermann continued down the hall until he reached a room with double doors. Three chairs were outside, and he motioned for the security guard to take a seat. Then he knocked at the door.

Genna heard a man’s voice commanding them to enter, and her anxiety ratcheted up a notch. Was this a throne room of sorts? She imagined a large wooden chair and wondered if anyone else would be there. His fiancée, the Princess of Badenstein, perhaps?

She had no more time to wonder before Mr. Sichermann opened the doors and said, “Please go inside.”

Genna hesitated but obeyed, expecting the older man to join her. Instead, she was startled when he closed the doors behind her, leaving her alone with Prince Amadio.

Oh my, was all she could think when she saw him for the first time. Although he was seated behind a large wooden desk, she could tell that the prince was quite tall. He wore a charcoal gray suit, and his black hair was combed back. His sun-warmed skin was a stark contrast against the white color of his shirt, and the top two buttons were open. He was a walking men’s cologne advertisement.

A flush slid over her cheeks, for she hardly knew what she was supposed to do. Curtsy? Shake his hand? What should she say? 

At last, she decided to introduce herself. “I’m Genna Hamilton.” She stepped closer and offered her hand, but he remained seated at the desk and didn’t take it. Awkwardly, she let her hand fall to her side. 

“The jeweler’s granddaughter,” he said, and she nodded.

Even though he was behind a desk, power radiated from his demeanor. The prince stared at her as though he couldn’t quite decide whether to toss her out or allow her to stay. His gaze remained fixed upon her face. Behind his blue eyes, she saw the flare of a response she didn’t understand. Had she done something wrong? 

“Would you like to see the necklace for the princess?” she ventured. “My security guard is holding it right outside. I’d be happy to answer any questions about it if you’d like.” 

His expression sharpened, and behind those ice-blue eyes, she sensed that there was something he wanted from her.

This commission was critical, one she and her grandfather couldn’t afford to lose. Not only because of the ten million dollars, but also because the princess would be photographed in the necklace. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring Seraphina Jewels into the international spotlight.

Her grandfather needed her help, and she intended to do everything possible to ensure that the Prince of Lohenberg was pleased with the necklace.

“Are you aware of your resemblance to Princess Camille?”

Genna almost flinched at the question. “Um…I don’t really know.” She didn’t want to admit that she’d paid little attention to the wedding, much less the bride. She’d barely heard of Badenstein until a few months ago, since it was such a small country near Germany. She was embarrassed that she’d never bothered to look at photos of the prince and princess online. And it wasn’t exactly polite to tell a prince that she’d paid no attention to his wedding—her entire focus had been upon designing the necklace.

But it wasn’t entirely her fault that she’d ignored the outside world. Her grandfather had led a simple life in upstate New York, refusing to allow technology into his home. He had no computer, no internet, and it was a wonder that he’d permitted electricity. Her only access to the web had been at school. Even the Seraphina website was run by a business partner, and it redirected buyers to their store in New York City. Genna had never been to the city, for that was her grandfather’s domain. She was content to work in her studio at home.

Years ago, her friends had teased her about Grandfather’s hermit ways, but the truth was, they’d enjoyed coming over to his house. They’d played board games, baked cupcakes, and there was a sense of stepping back in time. And really, she didn’t think it mattered. Sometimes it was nice to wash the dishes by hand and just talk. Maybe that made her old-fashioned, but she didn’t care. She designed jewelry, so why did it matter if she isolated herself from the world?

The prince stood from his desk and crossed to stand in front of her. His gaze was penetrating, as if he were pushing back every layer to find the woman beneath. “I need someone to stand in for the princess tonight. A great many dignitaries have traveled to celebrate my engagement, and Camille cannot attend the party.”

She blinked at that. “I’m sorry, what?” Surely, she hadn’t heard him right. Someone to stand in for the princess?

His presence unnerved her, for he was fixated upon her appearance. “You’re going to pretend to be Camille tonight.”

Well, that was blunt. And he hadn’t exactly asked—he’d commanded her.

“No,” she blurted out. “I can’t do that.” She knew nothing about how a princess was supposed to behave in public. And why would he ask her, a perfect stranger, to fill such an important role? It was impossible.

“Why don’t you just tell everyone she’s not feeling well?” she suggested. “You can attend, and it won’t matter if Princess Camille isn’t there.”

“I have my reasons,” he said. “All you have to do is take her place. It’s temporary.” The hard expression on his face warned her that there was more to this than he was telling her. He wanted the outside world to believe that everything was normal. Why else would he go through such a ruse?

“Johann will show you everything you need to know. Just wear a gown, smile, and don’t speak to anyone. If you remain by my side, no one will know the difference.”

He was insane if he thought she could pull this off. There was no way it would work. “Absolutely not. I’m not going to pretend to be a princess. This is your engagement party, not Halloween.” The very idea was horrifying. There was no reason why he should go through with such an elaborate façade. 

Unless…something had gone wrong. Something ominous that he didn’t want anyone to know about. What if something had happened to the princess?

“Has she gone missing?” Genna ventured. “Was she kidnapped?” 

Prince Amadio’s gaze had gone cold, and he ignored her question. “I don’t want to alert the media. It’s best if we go on as if all is well.” 

Then she was right. He wanted her to stand in, so that no one would know Camille was gone. If they were quietly looking for the princess, it might be safer if the outside world believed she was still here.

Genna had vaguely heard that there had been fighting along the borders between Badenstein and Lohenberg. And if the princess had been kidnapped, it could mean an outbreak of war. “Then she’s…missing?” 

Another nod, but she sensed that there was something else he wasn’t telling her. “I’m so sorry,” Genna said quietly. “You must be so afraid for her. I hope she’s found quickly.”

His gaze swept over her, and he said, “There’s not much time before the party this evening. You will have to look exactly like Camille. Johann will see to it that you have a stylist to help you with your hair and so forth.”

“But—”

“When you attend the party tonight, we will claim that you’re recovering from losing your voice. You will wear the necklace.” He eyed her more intently, and she felt the scrutiny of his gaze. “It’s a business opportunity for you.”

She knew he was referring to the necklace, but this kind of opportunity wasn’t what she’d been hoping for. The thought of being the center of attention terrified her. There were a hundred ways to screw it up.

“This isn’t a good idea,” she insisted. “I don’t know anything about behaving like a princess. I still think you should tell everyone she’s sick. It would be easier.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”

The coldness on his face grew more calculating. “Then I’ll send the necklace back with you.”

The air seemed to leave her lungs. Although Prince Amadio had already paid half the commission, the majority of the money had paid for the diamonds. They needed this sale to keep the company afloat. But worse, if the prince refused the necklace, the outside world would believe that Seraphina jewels were not good enough. It could cause irreparable damage to her grandfather’s business. 

It was a power play—she could see it in his eyes. Prince Amadio was accustomed to getting what he wanted. And for some reason, he wanted her to make everyone believe that his engagement would continue as planned.

“What happened to the princess?” she asked quietly.

He ignored her question. “If you do as I ask, everyone will know that the necklace was made by Seraphina. You will be photographed in the jewels. That will be enough publicity in return for your cooperation.”

His voice was resonant, but she didn’t miss the subtle threat. It irritated her that he was trying to intimidate her for his own gain. Unfortunately, she didn’t see a choice. And though she was inwardly quaking, she lifted her chin and demanded, “Wire the remainder of the money to my grandfather, and I’ll do it. But I’ll only switch places with her for tonight.”

He drew closer and she felt eclipsed by his broad frame. She inhaled the clean scent of his aftershave, and she suddenly wondered what it would be like to kiss such a man. His presence emanated power and domination. He was accustomed to getting whatever he wanted, and she wasn’t used to male attention. When he put his hands on her shoulders, her thoughts scattered like marbles rolling across the floor. 

“One week,” he countered. “You will pretend to be the princess, and if no one learns the truth about your identity, I’ll wire the remainder of the payment.” He reached out to cup her nape. The heat of his touch made goosebumps break out over her skin. She imagined him pulling her closer, claiming her mouth with his. The vision was electric, though she knew it was only a royal fantasy.

“In addition, if you play the role well enough, I will reward you with another million dollars for your trouble.”

Well enough? What did he mean by that? Color flooded her face, and she shook her head. “I won’t sleep with you. I’m not that kind of woman.”

There was a faint softening at his eyes. “That wasn’t what I was asking. But you may need to pretend…affection you don’t feel.”

In other words, she might have to kiss him in public or hold his hand. It seemed almost incongruous that such a gorgeous man would pay her to do this. Just because she looked similar to a princess.

“What is your decision?” he demanded.

Six million dollars. For one week of pretense. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of her lungs, and Genna sat down. It was a dangerous game he was playing, and she didn’t entirely understand why he didn’t just tell the world that his princess was missing. She wanted to ask again, but something made her hold back.

“I will try it for tonight,” she answered. “And I will decide afterwards, if I can handle it for the rest of the week.”

 

 

Though he ought to be relieved that Genna was willing to stand in for his bride, Amadio felt a sense of unrest instead. Common sense warned that he ought to reveal Camille’s disappearance and her decision to call off the engagement. But he didn’t want any more negative press toward Lohenberg. His country was already viewed as the aggressor in the border disputes, and this marriage was meant to be a distraction and a means of peace. Without a royal wedding to bring Lohenberg into a more positive light, he had to find another way of managing his country’s image. If that involved a night of deception, so be it. 

“Do you…want to see the necklace now?” Miss Hamilton asked. 

He shrugged. Truthfully, he hardly cared what it looked like. The jewelry mattered to her, but he would only pay the remainder of the commission if she was successful in her role-playing.

She went to the door and opened it, instructing her guard to bring the jewels inside. Then she opened the blue velvet case and revealed the necklace. Amadio hardly paid any attention to her description of the flawless diamonds, but instead, he took a moment to discreetly study her. She wore a blue wrap dress around her slim body, and it revealed soft curves and long legs. Her blond hair was shorter than Camille’s, but that could be disguised with the right styling. Her eyes were the same, and she had the identical patrician nose. But unlike Camille, Genna had a stubborn streak. Most people didn’t even attempt to bargain with him because they knew they would lose. And yet, she had made demands of her own.

Her determination was either going to be a big problem or it would prove that she had the courage to handle the immense pressure.

He lifted his gaze to hers and studied her features more closely. There was something refreshingly bold about this woman, as if she cared nothing about what anyone else thought. And he didn’t know what sort of behavior to expect from her.

“Put on the necklace,” he commanded. “I want to see what it looks like on you.”

She did, and he studied the tiered jewels hanging around her neck, the large teardrop diamond nestled above her breasts. He couldn’t remember how many carats she’d said it was, but the diamond was larger than his thumb. In the sunlight, the jewels sparkled against her skin.

Her resemblance to Camille made it hard to look at her. It was as if another version of his bride had stepped into this room. He wondered if she was a bastard daughter from someone related to King Heinrich. There was no denying the possibility. 

“You will need the right gown to wear this necklace,” he pointed out. “Did you bring something appropriate?”

She bit her lower lip. “I suppose I’ll have to go out dress shopping.”

“No, the gowns will be brought to you,” he said. “In Lohenberg, princesses do not go out in public to shop.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not a princess,” she said in a teasing voice. A faint smile caught her lips, and he realized that this deception might be dangerous. Trusting her was a risk he shouldn’t take.

“Tell Johann your size, and he will have several selections delivered to your room. You have six hours to prepare yourself for the party tonight. I need you to look exactly like Camille. You cannot make a single mistake.”

“I’m aware of that.”

He reached out to help Genna remove the diamonds, and her fingers brushed against his. They were cold, as if he’d made her nervous. The clasp was complicated, but he unfastened it slowly, his thumbs resting against the line of her neck. 

Camille had once accused him of being a frigid man with no passion at all. It was true. He’d learned the hard way, years ago, never to let himself fall in love. He’d been young and stupid, infatuated with a beautiful debutante—until his father had sent the woman away. She’d sold her story to a tabloid, filling the pages with stories that embarrassed him even now. The king had warned him never again to lower his guard. “Don’t ever be foolish enough to think that a woman loves you. She loves your title and your money. But never you.”

Over the years, his father had been proven right, time and again. By the time he’d become engaged to Camille, Amadio had learned his lesson well. He’d never felt much of anything for her, and now, her cheating only infuriated him. 

A part of him wanted to prove that he could be seductive to a woman, drawing her under his spell and into his bed. And for that reason, his hands lingered upon Genna’s neck. She could have pulled away, but instead, he saw goosebumps rise up on her skin. When he pulled the diamonds away, she turned to face him.

There was interest in her eyes and a faint blush on her cheeks. When she stood up from the chair, she had to tilt her head back to meet his gaze. Amadio took another step closer, but Genna held her ground. Fear loomed behind her green eyes, but her soft lips enticed him. He imagined sliding his hands into her hair, dragging her down for a kiss.

She’s not Camille. He was well aware of that. But there was more about this woman that he didn’t know. And he looked forward to uncovering her secrets.

“Do you like it?” she asked, her voice breaking.

“Yes.” His voice went husky as he imagined this woman wearing nothing but the necklace. 

“Good.” She swallowed hard. “I guess I’ll need to start getting ready for tonight. What do you want me to know about the guests?”

“Nothing at all. As I said before, I want you to remain silent and walk with me. Smile. Perhaps dance.”

“I’m guessing you mean slow dancing, right?”

“Obviously.” But he saw the amusement in her eyes. She bit her lip, as if trying to imagine a royal dance party.

Genna managed to regain her composure and turned serious again. “Are you certain you don’t want to just tell everyone the truth? It might help you find her faster.”

He thought about revealing it to her but decided against it. Instead, he shook his head. “Go with Johann, and he will find a stylist to help you prepare. Whatever you do, don’t speak to anyone about this.” He reached for her hand, needing her to understand the precarious position he was in. He had no qualms about being ruthless.

“Don’t fail in this, Miss Hamilton. A great deal lies at stake.”

 

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Full Description

After his bride ran away only weeks before the royal wedding, the last thing Prince Amadio wants is to be humiliated by the media. But when American jewelry designer Genna Hamilton arrives with a diamond necklace for the bride, Amadio is stunned by her close resemblance to the princess. He offers her an ultimatum—pretend to be his stand-in bride for seven days and he’ll pay her handsomely.

Genna never imagined being thrown into the world of Lohenberg royalty, especially with the violent uprisings within the tiny country. But as she spends time with the gorgeous prince, she starts to melt his frigid demeanor…and wonders if a real royal marriage could be in her future?

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