Excerpt: Cameo Appearance
Cameo Dreyden raised the bat in her hand and stared at the stranger who she was certain had been sent to kill her. No murderer's thug would kill her without a fight, especially not so early in the morning. "Out," she said with a determined voice. "Or you'll regret it. This is your last warning."
The stranger backed up, lifting his hands into the air as if to deflect a blow. "Don't kill me. I mean you no harm." His soft British accent filled the room.
She paused. She was such a sucker for British accents, but couldn't afford to back down. Her fingers tightened on the handle. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Cameo's roommate, Jane, rushed into the apartment carrying some bags. "What's going on? Cameo, why do you have a bat?"
The blond man turned toward Jane, his hands still lifted. "She thinks I'm a masher. Tell her who I am."
"Wait." Cameo held the bat in the air, even though Jane was in front of her. "Why are you home so early?" Cameo asked Jane. "You shouldn't be here until tonight."
Jane put her hand on her hip. "I wanted to bring Reggie home to meet you." She pointed toward the stranger, who still looked horrified.
Cameo lowered the bat and returned it to the corner. "Sorry. I didn't know. I wasn't expecting anyone so early in the morning." She reached out and shook the man's hand, but he still looked a little shaken. "So I take it you're Reggie and are dating Jane now? I thought—"
"Wrong," Jane said. "I'm still with Benson. I just wanted you to meet Reggie. He's a friend of mine…" She glanced at him. "…from work. Yeah, that's it. He works with me."
The very handsome blond-haired, blue-eyed man turned toward Jane. "No, I don't. I'm not even from the United States, but I am here on a mission."
"A mission?" Cameo returned to the kitchen, grabbed a bowl, a spoon, and a cereal box. She put those things on the table, and then grabbed the milk from the fridge. "What's your mission in the States? Are you a spy or something?" She chuckled to herself while dumping cereal into the bowl. "I scared a spy with a bat. Hilarious."
"No, I'm a prince."
She spun toward him. "I scared a prince with a bat? Even funnier." She chuckled and put the spoon into the bowl.
Dressed in light-colored khaki pants, a dark blue polo shirt, and a black jacket, the man bowed slightly with a grin, his gaze on her face. "Prince Reginald at your service. But you can call me Reggie."
She watched him, stunned, and poured the milk into her bowl. "A prince? A real live prince in my apartment. That doesn't happen every day."
He had strong masculine features and slight dimples. She was a pushover for dimples, blue eyes, and a British accent. Since he was a prince, he really was someone to watch. Stunning. That was the only word for Prince Reginald. He had the whole package, from what she saw.
He pointed down at her bowl. "I think you have enough milk on your cereal."
Cameo glanced downward and yanked the milk container up, the liquid dripping all over the table, off the side, and onto the floor. "Oh no." She put the container on the table, grabbed a few paper towels, and started mopping up the milk. "How stupid am I?"
Reggie lifted the paper towel roll off the dispenser and helped her with the milk as it dripped onto the floor. "Not stupid at all," he said. "There's no use crying over spilled milk."
"I thought so. Now why did you carry a bat to the door? Are you afraid?"
He didn't need to know anything. He was a stranger, and for all she knew, someone who might hurt her. She darted her eyes to him, while continuing to wipe up the milk. "It's nothing to worry about."
"I do worry about you." He touched her arm. She turned as her stomach fell from the sentiment of the comment. The heat from his fingertips burned her skin, making her swallow hard.
He leaned a bit closer, invading her personal space. "I see I have a mission here, even if it's just to make you unafraid." He smiled, taking away all her fears. "My primary mission, though, is very important, and it involves you."
She couldn't let him into her life, chiding herself for falling for his looks.
Did he say something involved her? He must be mistaken. "Me?" She turned toward Jane, standing in the kitchen doorway, checking her phone. "Jane. What's this about?"
Jane lifted her eyes. "Sorry. I wasn't listening."
Reggie finished wiping the table and took the paper towel from Cameo, throwing it into the trashcan. As he stood at the sink and washed his hands, he spoke to the side. "I need you, Cameo. But I have to explain it, so give me a minute."
"I don't even know you and you think you need me? Are you some crazed lunatic who was sent here to hurt me?"
He grabbed a paper towel and turned toward her in confusion while drying his hands. "No, I'm not here to hurt you. Why would you think that?"
Considering the nightmare of her life, it would make sense. "Don't worry about it. So why are you here, really?"
He studied her face for a moment. "I'm here to present you with a legal contract that you might want to consider."
"Look, buddy." She crossed her arms. "If you want to sue me for something, I have nothing, so you're out of luck. I have to get to work and I don't have time for legal contracts. If you have any ideas about making me late, forget it. My boss already hates me."
Even though Reggie appeared to be frustrated, he didn't comment. Instead, he took the big bags from Jane and put them on the counter. Jane ignored him, still working with her phone. After opening the bags, he removed a box containing three cups of coffee from Cameo's favorite coffee shop and a box of what looked like donuts. "I knew you'd be like this, so I brought a peace offering." He read the side of each of the cups, finally handing her one. "Large latte with four sugars, just like you like it."
She studied the cup, finally lifting her eyes. "How did you know that?"
"I told him." Jane grabbed a cup and turned toward the door. "I'll be back. I have to email the people at work." She left the kitchen.
Reggie took the box of donuts and the third cup of coffee to the table. "Have a seat," he said to Cameo. "This won't take long and I don't think you'll be late for work. You take the bus, right?" He sipped his coffee.
"Yes." She checked her watch as she sat down, wondering how he knew that. "It gets here in about seven minutes."
"Plenty of time." He opened the donut box. He shoved it toward her, got two plates out of the cabinet, and handed her one. "Your favorites are in there."
She stared inside, realizing he knew more about her than he should, considering he really was a stranger. He and Jane must've had a few conversations about her. But why?
She decided to start with the obvious. "Who are you and why are you here? You're too nice to be a burglar or a masher."
"I'm not a burglar or a masher." He took one of the cream-filled chocolate-covered donuts and put it on a plate. "Cameo, I came the whole way from my country to see you." He produced a thick document from his jacket pocket and laid it on the table. "This is a legal contract for marriage."
Her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Marriage? For whom? Jane and you? But she's dating Benson. What do you need me for?"
"You're beautiful, with your blonde hair and blue eyes. I want you to be my wife." He lifted the donut to his lips and bit into it.
Cameo stopped breathing, trying to understand his words while playing them over and over again in her head. Did he say wife? Maybe she heard him wrong. She glanced down at the papers lying in front of her. Yes, it was a contract of marriage and her name was at the top.
She stared at him, suspended for an extra moment in disbelief. "Your wife? Are you insane? I don't even know you, much less be in love with you." She leaned closer. "I don't believe in marriages of convenience, loveless marriages, or marriages based on looks. You have the wrong girl." She grabbed her spoon and shoved a few spoonfuls of soggy cereal into her mouth. "Besides," she said, the milk seeping out from between her lips. "Wait a minute." She took a drink of the coffee and swallowed, while Reggie grinned at her. "Besides, you're not even from this country, right?"
"No, I'm not."
"Why are you doing this? For your green card or something? Do you want to use me to get your citizenship?"
He shook his head. "No. I want to marry you and take you back to my country with me. You'd be a princess and all my people would worship you."
"I don't want to be worshipped." She stuffed more cereal into her mouth and swallowed. "I want a normal life, here in the States. You've definitely got the wrong girl."
"I don't think so. Look at it from my side. I know more about you than you realize. You're exactly what I'm looking for—someone who's independent, strong, and beautiful. Why wouldn't I want to marry someone like you?"
She leaned up, shaking her head so he'd get the message. "Because it takes two to want to marry, and I'm not what you think. I don't know where you got your information, but you're sadly mistaken. I'm not for you, but I wish you the best." With a quick glance at her watch, she blew out a breath, jumped up, and ran toward the door. "Now I'm late for work!"
"Just wait," Reggie said. "Don't forget your purse."
He grabbed it from the couch and threw it to her. She caught it on the first try, but stopped with her hand on the doorknob and stared at him. "What a nice man."
He approached her. "See? I'm marriage material."
She slapped his arm. "Nope. The diamond tiara doesn't fit this girl." She opened the door, ran down the stairs, and outside. The bus was just pulling away, heading down the street.
"Wait! I have to get on that bus!" Cameo waved her hand in the air, trying to get the driver's attention. She ran after it until she realized there was no way she'd get it to stop. The thing was two blocks down the street before it even slowed to run through a red light.
"Taxi!" She whistled and raised her hand to hail a cab, but there were none in sight while other cars whizzed by. Why did morning rush hour in San Francisco have to be so busy?
With no bus or cab, she was doomed and would probably be fired. Typical for her luck for the day. What was next?
Barnes & Noble