Wavin' atchya, D. D. Scott-ville Readers!!!
Y'all have been waiting so patiently for my next release - THE KEYS' PRINCE (The Royal Heirs, Book 1).
Thanks bunches for all of the sweet messages about when it will be released. Nothing means more to an author than knowing her readers can't wait for the next book. :)
As a little treat while you wait for me to finish it up, how 'bout I give you a Sneak Peek at the cover and then the first two chapters?
Okay, Peeps...here you go...
Welcome to my new story world - The Royal Heirs, beginning with Book 1 in this series, THE KEYS' PRINCE
A European prince and the daughter (and sole heir) of a billionaire shipping tycoon have found a break from the blinding glare of paparazzi cameras on the beaches of Sarasota and St. Armand’s Key, Florida. They’ve also rekindled the love they shared twenty-five years ago. Back then, their love wasn’t strong enough to defeat the enemies waiting to destroy them. Is it strong enough now?
Stella DeAngelo took another miniature spoonful of her no-sugar-added, double chocolate gelato. With bits of Belgium chocolate brownies swirled into the rich milk, cream and dark chocolate confection, it was borderline sinful. But the kind of sinful Stella could get used to.
If she wasn’t careful though, she’d end up gaining back all of the weight she’d lost before leaving her villa in Ibiza for a new life in Sarasota. And if she did that, she’d blow her cover. A risk she wasn’t willing to take.
The gelato shop was next door to her new shop. Go figure. Nothing about her new adventure was going to be easy. But that’s okay. She’d never had it easy, even though most people probably thought that she had.
Sitting on the marble bench tucked into the palm trees and tropical garden bordering the sidewalk in front of her St. Armand’s Circle store—Neptune’s Treasures, Stella finished her gelato and vowed to make it a weekly treat instead of a daily boost.
She loved to sit here, almost out of view, and catch peoples’ reactions as they stopped and took in her shop’s windows. She worked hard on her displays—her favorite part of shop-keeping. And according to the comments she’d overheard and the sales receipts from the holiday season, her windows were definitely working well to increase her customer base.
She still couldn’t believe how well she’d done during her holiday grand opening stretch. Kudos to her auntie Eloise who’d pushed her to have the store ready to go for a Black Friday roll-out. Auntie Elo was getting ready to celebrate her seventy-fifth birthday, but when it came to business, she still had the edge that had made her a fortune for over fifty years as a small business owner in the Florida Keys. If Stella kept soaking up her advice and trying her fabulous ideas mixed in with her own creative instincts, she’d do very well for herself in her new, beach décor store.
Take the witches’ balls, for instance. Her bestsellers by far. At Auntie Elo’s suggestion, Stella had artfully hung dozens of them right inside the doorway. The hand-blown glass balls came in a fabulous selection of colors, covering all of the moods of the Gulf of Mexico and its stunning bays and beaches—from brilliant turquoise and aquamarine to cerulean blue, storm-surge gray, sandy beige and glittering, sun-dusted copper and bronze. Hanging from satin ribbons, the balls dazzled under the shop’s lighting, shimmering even more from the natural light shining through the windows and door.
According to the card that came with each one, the witches’ balls offered protection against dark energies and forces. Stella wasn’t so sure she believed in the balls’ mystical purposes, but she couldn’t deny that when she looked at them, hope surged through her body, reminding her that just maybe she could have a life outside of the one her father had left her.
So maybe the balls were magical. If they could help her see past her treacherous destiny, perhaps they were also reaching out to her customers in unexpected ways. Magic or not, the whimsical glass creations sure got people into her store and more willing to explore all she had to offer in Neptune’s Treasures.
“I know those balls are worth every minute you’re giving them,” Auntie Elo said, snapping Stella out of her gelato and witches’ ball fog, “but I thought you said you needed to be at the city commissioners meeting by one-thirty.”
“Oh boy, you’re right. Thanks bunches. I lost track of time,” Stella said, feeling her brief respite of hope deflate almost as quickly as it had come.
“No worries, my dear. I just didn’t want you to miss the meeting. I know how important this issue is to you.”
The issue was important to Stella, but she so wished there was another way to find out what she needed to know. But there just wasn’t. One of the few things she’d learned from her father and actually approved of was his insistence on face-to-face meetings with everyone he did business with. You couldn’t gage peoples’ reactions by reading reports of what happened. You had to be there and take it all in for yourself. In order to give anything the full support of the Anastas Foundation, she attended all public and private meetings made available to her. But attending those meetings meant taking a chance that someone would recognize her. So far she’d been lucky in Sarasota. No one had figured out who she really was. But she knew better than to think or hope—with or without the help of the witches’ balls—that her luck would continue indefinitely.
Auntie Elo led the way back into Neptune’s Treasure, with Stella following close behind.
“I hope Mr. Schmidt’s report is well-received,” Stella said reaching for the sequined cardigan she always slipped into her tote bag to shield her from the AC that blasted full-force in the commissioners’ meeting room. “It’s high time helping Sarasota County’s homeless population is more than a talking point on an agenda.”
“Oh, I think Dean’s going to blow ‘em outta the water, so to speak,” Auntie Elo said, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Dean, huh? You two are on a first name basis now?”
“Perhaps.” Auntie Elo’s cheeks had a red glow, despite her sun-worshipper’s tan.
Stella kept her observation to herself, not wanting to impede whatever progress her aunt was making with Dean Schmidt. It was about time Auntie Elo found a companion who cared about the community’s well-being like she did.
From what Stella had learned about Dean, when it came to dealing with the homeless, he was much more than a paid consultant. He cared about them and had helped many counties and municipalities across the United States not only plan wonderful programs to get these often forgotten people the help they needed for long-term advancement, but he’d often stayed on for greatly reduced fees, and sometimes at his own expense, to implement his plans. With Dean’s guidance, many homeless people came off of the streets and forever stayed off of them.
“Perhaps I should invite Dean over for dinner,” Stella suggested, anxious to see how Auntie Elo reacted to the idea.
“Maybe I already have,” Auntie Elo said looking over her bifocals in the way she did that left no doubt she didn’t need her niece’s help when it came to deciding who she’d socialize with.
“Atta girl, Auntie Elo,” Stella said and laughed, not the least bit surprised that her aunt had beaten her to the proverbial punch. She often did.
“Maybe you should follow my lead,” Auntie Elo said, not hiding the sweet ribbing she loved dishing out.
“You want me to invite Dean to dinner too?” Stella asked, knowing darn well that’s not what her aunt meant.
“Very funny. But Dean’s mine. That said, I’m absolutely positive he’s not the only eligible bachelor in Sarasota.”
Stella rolled her eyes and pretended to be way too busy packing her tote bag to consider Sarasota’s slew of eligible bachelors. To be accurate though, the county’s demographics gave Auntie Elo many more possibilities than it did Stella. Eighty percent of the population was fifty-five and older.
“You can ignore me now, but not forever, sweet girl. Just say the word, and I’ll have Emma Lou and Hollywood set you up a profile on the online dating service they use.”
“Oh no you don’t. First, I’m perfectly capable of creating my own profile. IF I wanted to. Second, even if I did buy into online dating services, I would NOT enlist the help of Emma Lou and Hollywood.”
“Well, I don’t know why you say it like that. Those girls have a lot of fun with it,” Auntie Elo said acting as if she couldn’t possibly understand why anyone would have a problem with her friends’ man-hunting methods.
“I’m sure they do have fun. It’s the men they hook up with that I’m worried about. Emma Lou and Hollywood put them through hell and then some,” Stella said, thinking about the conversation she’d overheard the day before when Auntie Elo’s dear friends had been over for Happy Hour cocktails.
“You’re reading way too much into that,” Auntie Elo said, tsk tsking her perfectly manicured fingers as if she could simply swoosh away Stella’s well-founded impressions.
“I am? Am I? Emma Lou refuses to continuing seeing any man who, and I quote, ‘hasn’t put a ring on it in three months,’ and Hollywood only dates men who will agree to take her to all of her favorite fancy restaurants.”
Auntie Elo rolled her eyes and pretended to fill the stapler, which was already full of staples.
“Don’t roll your eyes, Auntie Elo. You heard the same conversation I did. Those two nut jobs said they’d just keep on clicking if the poor chaps can’t measure up to their standards,” Stella said, still laughing out loud at the absurdity of their demands.
“Aren’t you going to be late for that meeting?” Auntie Elo asked with a smile.
“Okay. Okay. I’m going. But NO Emma Lou and Hollywood to the rescue. Got it?”
“Got it. For cripe’s sake. I’m just trying to help you out a bit. It’s been way too long since you’ve even attempted to find someone.”
“I don’t need that kind of help,” Stella said, kissing her sweet and sassy aunt’s soft, wrinkled cheek before heading for the door. “So when’s Dean coming over for dinner?”
“Your meeting, nosy posie?” Auntie Elo asked, shooing her toward the door.
Stella laughed while walking under the witches’ balls and out into the Sarasota sunshine. Even though she did find the sense of humor in the whole situation, she tossed up a little prayer that the balls would protect her from her aunt’s and her friends’ meddling enterprises. She had enough to worry about trying to keep her new life under the radar while building a new business. She didn’t need a new man to complicate things even more.
Stella had been sitting in the commissioners’ meeting for almost two hours. She could tell by the look on most of the players’ faces that Dean’s proposal was a hit. The sixty-page report he’d walked all of them through appeared to have the political backing to pass a vote, so long as local, deep-pocketed foundations ponied up the cash to make it happen.
Stella, along with dozens of other interested people in the community, had been involved in serious discussions for months to remove the stigma Sarasota achieved from being named the meanest city in the USA—mean because of the way it had historically refused to deal with its huge homeless population.
Under Dean’s plan, adult shelters were to be built as well as villages for homeless families that would include much-needed case management and mental health services. Street outreach teams made up of law enforcement officers and social services experts would work together to convince the homeless to choose the help these shelters and villages could give them instead of serving jail time.
Stella thought it all sounded wonderful. But how would the county pay for it? Yes, there were private foundations and non-profits already waiting to pledge funds, but Stella knew that the large scope of Dean’s plans would take millions more than had already been promised. She had the millions needed, but if she pledged them, they’d come with her name attached, meaning her cover here would be blown along with the new life of relative obscurity she’d come to love.
At the end of his presentation, Stella slipped her notebook back into her tote and reached for her phone, texting Auntie Elo to see if she’d like her usual, late afternoon iced mocha.
“Excuse me, miss.” A low, heavily accented, ultra masculine voice filled her ears while strong hands came to rest on her shoulders.
No way. Totally impossible. It just can’t be. But it had to be. If there was one thing Stella was sure of it was that no matter how hard she tried—and darn it if she hadn’t given it everything she had—she’d never forget that voice. And she’d also never forget the touch of the person who owned that voice. Feeling his skin against her bare shoulders caused a flame to ignite inside her that she’d started to think was snuffed out forever.
Stella jumped straight off of her seat. Her phone tumbled out of her hands and onto the floor.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. You were about to leave behind your sweater. Here, let me get that,” he said, reaching down to retrieve her phone.
Stella turned around to an exquisitely dressed man, with a devastatingly debonair, ebony black pony tail and a deep bronze, Mediterranean tan bending down to pick up her phone. When he started to straighten again, she couldn’t help but notice that even after all these years, he still took her breath away.
She inhaled sharply, which forced his way too familiar, spicy exotic scent straight up her nostrils. Good thing she was still seated. Otherwise, his animal-like magnetism would have sent her to the floor.
“Thank you,” she whispered as the man she’d managed not to run into for twenty-five years placed her phone in her hands. He gently wrapped her fingers around the protective case. If he hadn’t, it would have been right back on the floor.
“Your voice is gone? You’re sick, no?” He asked, the tender, genuinely concerned look in his eyes making Stella feel like even more of a bumbling idiot.
Was her cover so good that even he didn’t recognize her? Although, she could tell by the way he tilted his head and looked her over from top to bottom—as if sizing her up—that he was trying to decide if it was just an eerie coincidence or if it really was her.
“No, I’m not sick,” she said, clearing her throat. “I’m fine. Really. I’m fine. You just startled me. That’s all.”
She stood up, way too quickly. If he hadn’t abruptly moved back, she’d have nailed his forehead with hers. So much for coming off as a smooth and competent Sarasota business owner, she thought. She was acting as if she’d never seen an attractive man, let alone a man who she used to know better than anyone else. A man who’d been much more than her lover all of those years ago. ‘Course, if she was totally honest, she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a man as handsome as he was. With his natural good looks and charisma, a decent comparison was close-to-impossible to come by. And no man she’d met had ever come close to his good heart and kind spirit.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked, a smile beginning to feather out from the corners of lips she’d love to feel pressed against hers just one more time. Stella knew his well-practiced public smile, one of his sweet-natured, charmers. But this one ran much deeper.
“Yes. Yes. I’m fine. Sorry for being such a klutz.”
He tilted his head as if he hadn’t heard her correctly.
Damn, she was a bonehead. Even after twenty-five years, it was very clear that when he was around, she couldn’t think straight.
A man with his thick accent probably shouldn’t be familiar with American slang, but this was no ordinary man. Klutz. He knew that word. Why she’d said it was beyond her. She’d been teased about being a klutz since she was a child. And he’d often laughed with her about it. Fortunately for her, unfortunately for him, he’d even been at her side for several of her embarrassing missteps. There was simply no way he wouldn’t associate that word with the woman who was once his everything.
Stella shook her head, not willing to give up her identity in this public setting. She had to do her best to convince him that they didn’t know each other. Otherwise, they’d ended up creating a scene that both of them would regret.
“A klutz...as in I tend to be rather clumsy at times,” she said.
“You don’t say. I knew someone like that once,” he said.
Judging by his full smile and the new twinkle in his double-chocolate gelato eyes, her remark and her identity were no longer lost in translation.
To be sure he was onto her, she held his gaze a bit longer. Boy could she get used to those eyes all over again. They were the dark rich color of her favorite snack, without the calories.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” he said, filling the awkward silence between them, his words sounding like a challenge instead of a statement of fact. “I’m Dario Adonis.”
He reached for her hand, which Stella thought he was about to shake. But just as she raised her hand in kind, she bumped her knuckles against his lips. Could she get any dumber? Of course he’d planned to kiss her hand instead of shake it. He wasn’t American. And they’d long since gone far beyond the formality of shaking hands.
“I’m sorry...again. You should probably leave right now and run before I really hurt you,” she said, for the first time getting a full view of the amazing, even more distinguished man he’d become since she’d last stood in front of him.
No one should get this much better looking with age. It almost seemed against nature itself.
He’d said his name was Adonis. Dario Adonis. And he sure gave the Greek god by that name a run for the beauty he was known for. Interesting that, while traveling in the States, he’d shortened his name just like she’d abbreviated hers.
Dario was six-foot-five, and he was built like an NFL wide receiver—broad shouldered with a torso that narrowed into a perfect v-shape at his waist. He had lots of lean muscle mass, every contour of which she’d memorized. Stella would bet money that he still had the sexy-as-hell six-pack he’d always worked hard to maintain.
He was a man who had his clothes hand-tailored in order to fit his athletic body and his place in life. From the looks of his suit, he must still use the Italian master suit maker his family had employed for years. The luscious, navy, tone-on-tone, pin-striped fabric alone costs thousands of dollars. But money was no object for a family like Dario’s, who lived only by the highest standards.
Fashionable didn’t cover Dario. Couture, private label, made specifically for the customer was more apropos. Dario’s clothes had always been designed, cut and sewn just for him, even when he was a child. Every time he stepped out into the public eye, he was perfection.
Behind closed doors, he was also perfection, she thought then mentally kicked herself for even letting her mind go there.
“So you’re saying that I should be afraid of you?” Dario asked, raising his thick, dark eyebrows.
“Very, very afraid,” Stella said, laughing in spite of their situation. Only she could scare away the one man she’d ever loved, not once, but twice. And she had no doubts she could do it again and probably should. It would be better for both of them.
“In your case, I’m willing to take my chances,” Dario said, his eyes traveling from her head to her toes and then back again.
Thank goodness she’d had a pedicure the day before.
“Suit yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said. “I’m Stella DeAngelo, by the way, and it’s nice to meet you, Dario.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he said, never taking his eyes off of her as he draped his gorgeous jacket over his arm and rolled up the sleeves on his white shirt.
He’d done the same thing when she’d known him long ago, her stomach fluttering with the recognition. Her phone vibrated in her hand, momentarily drawing her attention away from him.
The incoming text confirmed she’d be stopping by the café a few doors down from Neptune’s Treasures to fetch an afternoon pick-me-up for herself and Auntie Elo. Nothing like an iced mocha to reduce the heat, she thought.
“Would you care to join me for an espresso, Stella DeAngelo?” Dario asked, putting extra emphasis on her name. “I know this great little café on the circle.”
“Java Love, by chance?” Stella asked, silently thanking the gods and goddesses above for guiding Dario toward using discretion for the time being.
She’d go along with the coy game they were playing. Anything to get them moving away from the crowds. The longer they stood here like two love-sick fools, the more risk they took of exposure. Instead of staring into each others’ eyes looking for answers they’d already given each other years ago, they’d best get going.
“Java Love. Why yes. You know the place? They make the best espresso I’ve found here in the States.”
“That they do, and I think I’m quickly becoming their best customer. Actually, I’m on my way there now for my afternoon mocha. I own a shop a few doors down. I suppose, since you’re willing to take a chance on my uncanny ability to do you bodily harm, you could accompany me,” she said, doing her best to get them out of the meeting room.
“Yes. I’d like that very much.” Dario swept back his hand in a grand gesture and tipped his head, signaling Stella to lead the way.
He was a brave fella to want to have anything to do with her again. Although, she supposed, they’d always been brave. But they’d also been stupid—stupid to ever have thought that they could make a relationship work between them, considering all that they each had to face.
“Well, okay then. Let’s go,” she said.
They left the meeting room and ventured back into the brilliant, late afternoon Sarasota sunshine.
“So where are you from?” She asked, taking their game up to an entirely different level.
He hesitated a moment, as if deciding how to answer her question.
Knowing exactly how he felt trying to answer that most basic of questions put Stella on edge. ‘Where are you from’ is normally not a tough question. But it sure is when you don’t want to answer it and when your answer risks your identification with a family you want nothing more than to escape from.
At least Dario only had one place to call home, Stella mused while waiting for his answer. Her father had left her twelve properties around the globe and a private island, none of which she currently called home, and all of which were on her short list of assets she could sell, if need be. Based on her own issues with defining home, she figured she should cut Dario some slack.
“A small country in Europe, along the Riviera. You’ve probably never heard of it,” he finally said, looking at his fine-crafted Italian loafers instead of at her.
“Try me,” Stella challenged, not about to let him off the hook that easy.
Another stretch of silence hung between them. This one even longer than the first.
“Kristianico. I’m from Kristianico,” he said looking at her with more hope for understanding and acceptance than she thought she could ever reconcile in her head or her heart, no matter how much she wanted to.
Stella stopped midway across the pedestrian crossing leading across St. Armand’s circle, which could very well get them both killed. Not that Dario hadn’t been warned that she wasn’t any safer of a bet now than she’d been two decades ago. Luckily, unlike in her past, these days she could handle herself well in a crisis.
The dashingly debonair rake joining her for an afternoon mocha wasn’t Dario Adonis. Well, he was. But he was also Konstantinos Dario Adonis Magnus—the Prince of Kristianico, next in line to succeed his father, King Adonis. He was also the man who she was once supposed to marry.
Now that he’d played his hand, Stella wasn’t sure how to respond. But she certainly knew how it felt to be put on the spot about who you are, so she tried to stay grounded and think through the best way to handle this.
Given the fact that he still hadn’t acknowledged that he knew exactly who she was, he obviously at this point didn’t want either one of them to acknowledge their past.
She could deal with that. Well, she had to, didn’t she? They were in the middle of a crosswalk in broad daylight, which wasn’t the time or place for the kind of discussion they needed to have. So, for now, she’d keep his secret safe with hers.
“So what brings you to Sarasota?” She asked, trying to lighten the mood, although she was very curious to see how he’d handle that question.
“Just trying to get a little R & R. I think that’s what you call it, right?”
“Indeed it is,” she said, noting that he’d definitely practiced that answer.
“Well...you’ve definitely come to the right place for rest and relaxation.”
Dario opened the door to Java Love and followed her inside. She smiled and looked directly into his eyes, hoping that would help ease their mutual angst. She felt bad for him. She really did. She of all people knew how it felt to hide from destiny and how precious it was when you’d finally done it, even if temporarily. Dario knew though, like she did that, someday, sooner rather than later, it would catch up with them. Hell, maybe today was that someday.
“The usual, Stella?” Tatyana, the Java Love’s owner asked. “And one or two today?”
“Two please...with almond milk,” she said.
“And you’re the espresso king, right?” Tatyana asked Dario.
Good thing Stella wasn’t already sipping on her mocha or she’d have choked. Little did Tatyana know how close to the truth she really was.
There you have it...Chapters One and Two of THE KEYS' PRINCE, The Royal Heirs, Book 1!!!
I can't wait to share the whole book with you in the late March!!!
In the mean time, let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.
Oh, and if you'd like to be a part of my brand new Beta Readers and Review Club, sign up on Facebook, and you'll be one of the first to read the book (in exchange for your review and/or comments).
Happy Reading!!! ---
D. D. Scott
Amazon and B&N Top 100 Bestselling Author
PRAISE FOR D. D. SCOTT:
“…one of the top Romantic Comedy/Humorous Mystery writers out right now.” —ENT (Ereader News Today)
Praise for D. D.’s last release—HOLLYWOOD HOLIDAYS, Home for the Holidays, Book 1:
5-Stars: “A must read for the holidays before, during and after...hard to put down…” --- Carolyn M. Kenney
5-Stars: “I thought it would hit the spot. It did with bells on! A fantastic book which I highly recommend, it was lovely watching the true characters unfold. Every chapter I kept saying to myself this would make a great film—I could clearly visualize watching the scenes played out on the big screen. Crossing fingers this happens.” --- Crooks on Books