Dear Reader,

I'm a huge fan of fairytales. Reading the words "Once upon a time..." and "...lived happily ever after" makes my heart want to sigh. Needless to say, I was thrilled when my editor asked if I wanted to participate in the Harlequin Romance miniseries Once Upon a Kiss. Each story in the miniseries is a modern take on a classic fairytale. Authors were asked what tale they wanted to use. I chose Sleeping Beauty for Not-So-Perfect Princess.

The first thing I did before writing a word was read the older versions of the fairytale. I knew I'd have to strip the story of fairies, magic and ogres. That was okay because what I wanted to focus on with my take on Sleeping Beauty was the story of an awakening. I had the perfect heroine in mind for such a tale—Princess Julianna aka Jules.

Julianna first appeared as a secondary character in my Silhouette Romance If the Ring Fits... released way back in April 2000. In February 2011, she reappeared in my Harlequin Romance Expecting Royal Twins! The books are stand-alone, but in both stories readers saw a woman who was a dutiful royal and perfect princess, willing to sacrifice her own dreams for the good of her people. She's accepted her fate to the point of sleepwalking through life.

When Julianna agrees to marry a total stranger, Crown Prince Enrique, she's hopeful love can grow out of an arranged marriage. Life has to be better on the Mediterranean island off the coast of Spain than in her Grimm-worthy country in the Alps. But she never expected the crown prince to have such a sexy, rebellious younger brother. One who shares the same passion as Julianna—sailing. For the first time in her life, Julianna faces the temptation to remove her princess mask and show her true self.

Alejandro hates being a prince, especially the "spare." He can't stand anything to do with royalty and wants absolutely nothing to do with Princess Julianna. She reminds him so much of a female version of his proper and stuffy brother. Alejandro has no doubt the two will live happily ever after. But he soon realizes there's more to the oh-so-perfect-and-pretty princess than meets the eyes.

Before long, the two are spending their nights sailing together while the rest of the palace thinks the princess is sleeping. Her secret is safe...for now. Soon Julianna will have to decide—continue sleepwalking through life and remain the perfect princess, or wake up and follow her heart!

Enjoy!

Melissa



Excerpt from Not-So-Perfect Princess

© Melissa McClone


After dinner, Jules stood out on the terrace alone. Cicadas chirped. A breeze rustled through the palm fronds. The temperature had cooled, but no jacket was required.

She glanced inside through the open terrace doors to see Brandt having a brandy with King Dario. Enrique must still be on his telephone call with the ambassador to the United States.

Jules enjoyed the moment of solitude, a break from the endless conversation at the dinner table. At least the topic had finally turned something interesting.

With her hands on the railing, Jules gazed up at the night sky. The stars surrounding the almost full moon winked at her. A smile graced her lips.

Perhaps she wasn’t cursed.

Enrique hadn’t said yes to the sailing invitation, but his words “right now” filled Julianna with hope. He’d raced sailboats. Alejandro built racing sailboats. Her wedding date was a couple of weeks away.

What were the odds of so many things working out so well? Not only was she marrying into a family of sailors, she would soon be Enrique’s wife. She could say goodbye to being submissive for the rest of her life. On La Isla de la Aurora, she would be able to do what she wanted. Personal freedom, yes, but she could also help Brandt to show the world Aliestle was more than an eccentric, backward country. Maybe by doing that, Jules would be able to live up to the spirit of her mother.

Laughter bubbled up inside her.

Oh, she’d visit her homeland, but she would no longer be expected to live by all the restrictive laws and traditions. The only thing missing was falling in love, but given how well everything else was turning out she believed it would happen. She would fall in love with Enrique and he with her. The same way her parents had fallen in love after their arranged marriage.

It was all going to work out. “I know it will.”

“Know what will?” a male voice asked from the shadows.

Jules jumped. “Who’s there?”

“I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She squinted. She couldn’t see anyone, but recognized the voice.

“Alejandro.”

He ascended the staircase leading to the terrace where she stood.

“Good evening, Julianna.”

Her heart lurched. She fought against the burst of attraction making her mouth go dry. It wasn’t easy.

The stubble on his face made him look so much like a sexy pirate. She could easily imagine him standing behind the wheel of a sailing ship trying to capture a vessel full of gold or pretty wenches. He’d removed his jacket, tie and cummerbund. The neck of his dress shirt was unbuttoned, the tails hung out of the trousers and his sleeve were rolled up. The high rollers decked out in the finest menswear on the Côte d’Azur had nothing on Alejandro. Even with his bare feet.

“How long have you been lurking in the shadows?” she asked.

He moved gracefully like a dancer or a world-class athlete. “Long enough to hear you laughing.”

Heat enflamed her cheeks. “If I’d known you were there...”

Alejandro crossed the terrace to stand next to her. “No need to apologize for being happy.”

Maybe not for him. But happy wasn’t an emotion Jules was used to experiencing let alone expressing. Sharing that moment embarrassed her. Still she owed him for what he’d said at dinner about sailing and the wedding. But one was more important than the other. “Thank you for suggesting a short engagement.”

“Afraid you’ll change your mind?” he asked.

“Worried Enrique will.”

“Not going to happen.”

Jules wished she shared Alejandro’s confidence. “I’ve heard that before.”

“He’d be a fool, a complete idiot, if he didn’t marry you.”

His compliment made her feel warm all over. His opinion shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it did. “Well, intelligence has never been a requirement to be a crown prince.”

The deep, rich sound of his laughter seeped into her and raised her temperature ten degrees. “You’re a contradiction, Julianna.”

“How so?”

“Your dress and demeanor present the image of a proper, dutiful princess, who dots her I’s and crosses her T’s. Yet you show glimpses...”

No one had ever looked beneath the surface or beyond the label of dutiful princess. She wouldn’t have expected Alejandro to, either. Full of curiosity, she leaned toward him. “Of what?”

“Of being a not-so-perfect princess.”

It was her turn to laugh. That wasn’t who she was. Oh, well...Perhaps Enrique would recognize the real her. “You’re reading too much into my words and deeds. Women are second-class citizens in Aliestle. We must obey the men in our lives or deal with the consequences. Duty becomes our way of life. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the same hopes and dreams, the same sense of humor, as women in more contemporary lands such as this island.”

“As I said, a contradiction.”

She eyed him warily. “Thank you, I think.”

“It’s a compliment.” He glanced back toward the sitting room. “Your groom has returned.”

Jules looked behind her to see Enrique holding a brandy and talking with the others.

“I should leave you.” Alejandro took a step toward the staircase.

“I don’t want my brother to think I’m trying to steal his princess bride.”

Would Alejandro do that? Her pulse skittered thinking he might.

Stop. Now. She couldn’t allow herself to be carried away with girlish fantasies. She raised her chin. “Enrique wouldn’t think—”

“Yes, he would.”

“Have you stolen his girlfriends in the past?”

His eyes raked over her. “No, we have different taste in women.”

Alejandro’s stark appraisal should have made her feel uncomfortable, but he also made her feel sexy, a way she’d never felt before. She wet her lips. “Would your being the black sheep and all the gossip have something to do with Enrique feeling this way?”

Alejandro grinned wryly. “Possibly.”

“So the rumors and stories are true.”

“Some are,” he admitted. “Others are exaggerations.”

He was a gorgeous prince. That often led people to act out of... “I’m sure a few tales are due to jealousy.”

He eyed her curiously. “Has this happened to you?”

“Oh, no. I’m about as proper a princess as you’ll find.”

“Proper with obvious skills of manipulation.”

“Proper with practiced social skills and manners that help others get along.”

“Yet you downplay your intelligence by saying your knowledge about international trade is nothing but a hobby.”

His perceptiveness made her feel like a mouse caught in a trap. He might be a black sheep and prefer to go barefoot, but he was sharp. She’d have to watch herself. “Education opportunities for females in my country exist, but are limited. Women are allowed to hold only certain jobs. We must work within the system. I’ve been more fortunate than others and able to use my time traveling abroad to…expand my knowledge base. But the last thing my country wants is their princess spouting off how smart she thinks she is.”

Laughter lit Alejandro’s eyes and made her temperature rise ten degrees. “You’ll be good for Enrique. Keep him on his toes. But he won’t mind.”

“I hope not. What about you?” Jules liked the easy banter between them. Earlier when she’d arrived, she thought Alejandro didn’t like her.  “Will you mind not being second in line for the throne after Enrique and I have children?”

He glanced inside once again. “I can honestly say the more children you and my brother are blessed with, the happier I’ll be. I’ve been hoping to be made an uncle for years.”

His words sounded genuine. She ignored her disappointment that he wouldn’t want her himself. That was stupid. Her father would never approve of a man like Alejandro, and she needed to be a queen to best help Brandt and Aliestle. “That’s sweet of you.”

 “The kitten is sweet. I’m not.” He took two steps down the stairs.

 “Enrique’s on his way out here. That’s my cue to fade back into the shadows.”

Alejandro’s cryptic words intrigued her. “Do you usually hang out in the shadows?”

 “Yes, I do.”


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Contest!


Melissa wants to celebrate the release of Not-So-Perfect Princess with Newswire readers with the following contest!

To enter, visit Melissa's website and find the answer to this question:

What is the name of the stray kitten in the story?

Then email us at staff@authorsoundrelations.com with the answer and be sure to include your full name and mailing address in the email.   Please also remember to mark the subject heading as 'NSPP'.

Do make sure you email your answers only to staff@authorsoundrelations.com or your entry will not be counted!

Four winners will be chosen and contacted via email shortly after July 12th.

1st Prize: $20 gift card to Amazon or BN.com (winner's choice) and a set of 3 Romance Trading Cards featuring characters from Not-So-Perfect Princess.
2nd Prize: $15 gift card to Amazon or BN.com (winner's choice) and a set of 3 Romance Trading Cards featuring characters from Not-So-Perfect Princess.
3rd Prize: $10 gift card to Amazon or BN.com (winner's choice) and a set of 3 Romance Trading Cards featuring characters from Not-So-Perfect Princess.
4th Prize: $5 gift card to Amazon and a set of 3 Romance Trading Cards featuring characters from Not-So-Perfect Princess.

Please include your preference of which gift card you'd like and include both your email and home address. Gift cards will be sent via email. Romance Trading Cards via USPS.

Good luck!

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