The Girl Nobody Wanted

By: Lynn Raye Harris


ANNA CONSTANTINIDES stood at the edge of the gathered crowd and hoped the serene countenance she’d practiced before the mirror for the past week was holding up. Tonight was, without doubt, the most humiliating night of her life. Her fiancé—correction, former fiancé—was marrying another woman.

It would not have been so bad, perhaps, if her fiancé wasn’t Prince Alessandro, heir to the Santina throne. She should have been his queen, yet she was currently the jilted bride.

A fact the media took great delight in reporting.

Again and again and again. She’d hardly had a peaceful moment since Alex had dumped her so publicly and humiliatingly for another woman. He hadn’t even had the courtesy to inform her personally. No, he’d let her find out in the pages of the tabloids. Simply mortifying.

The pity she’d had to endure. The knowing looks—even, surprisingly, a hint of censure. As if it were her fault somehow. As if she were the one who’d been caught kissing another man while engaged to someone else, as Alex had been photographed with Allegra Jackson.

Anna wanted nothing less than to be at his engagement party tonight, but she’d had no choice. “Anna,” her mother had said when she’d refused, “you must. Protocol demands it.”

“I don’t give a damn about protocol,” she’d replied. And she hadn’t. Why, when she’d dedicated her life to protocol and duty and been so spectacularly punished for it?

Her mother took her hands. “Sweetheart, do it for me. Queen Zoe is my oldest and dearest friend. I know she would be disappointed if we were not there to support her.”

Support her? Anna had wanted to laugh, to shout, to rail against the unfairness of life—but she had not. Ultimately, she had done precisely what her mother asked because, for pity’s sake, she felt guilty.

Anna stiffened her spine as the king began to toast the happy couple. But she lifted her glass of champagne along with everyone else, and prepared to drink to the health and happiness of Alex and Allegra, the woman who’d turned her preordained life upside down.

At least, thank goodness, she could be certain there were no photographers present tonight. They would be waiting outside the palace gates, naturally, but for now she was safe.

And yet she still had to smile, had to pretend she wasn’t dying from embarrassment. She would have to endure the stories, the photos, the quotes from anonymous “friends” who claimed she was holding up well, or that she was fragile, or that her heart had shattered into a million pieces.

Anna sipped her champagne on cue. Only an hour more, and she was out of here. Back to the hotel where she would crawl into her bed and pull the covers over her head. The toast ended, and then the ensemble began to play a waltz. Anna slipped her barely touched glass onto a passing waiter’s tray and turned toward the doors to the terrace. If she could escape for just a few moments, she could endure the next hour with a great deal more fortitude.

“Anna,” a woman called. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Anna gritted her teeth and turned toward Graziana Ricci, the Amanti foreign minister’s wife. The woman sashayed toward her, a bright smile pasted on her cosmetically enhanced face. But it wasn’t Signora Ricci who captured Anna’s attention. It was the man beside her.

An Englishman, she assumed, as there were so many who had descended upon Santina recently.

He was tall, dressed in a bespoke tuxedo like nearly every other man in the room, and quite striking. Handsome, in a boyish way that somehow wasn’t boyish at all. No, it was devilish, as if he knew the temptation he offered merely by existing. Eyes the color of roast coffee glittered in a face that had been carved by Michelangelo. Somehow, the look in those eyes dared her to envision him naked atop a pedestal.

Anna shook herself. Perhaps he was a work of art, but he had not been carved by Michelangelo. How silly.

But he could have been. His face was a study in angles sculpted for the sole purpose of making the owner appear sinfully irresistible to the female of the species. Sharply defined cheeks, a blade-straight nose, firm sensual lips and a small cleft at the base of his chin that deepened when he smiled.

And when he turned that smile on her, her heart skipped a beat.

Several beats.

The picture that filled her mind at that moment was decidedly uncharacteristic of her. She had absolutely no desire to kiss this man, no matter what her mind conjured up. It was stress, pure and simple.

As were the skipped beats. Stress.

The man smiled and winked, and Anna very deliberately looked away. Honestly, what was wrong with her?

“Anna, this is Leo Jackson,” Signora Ricci said, and Anna instantly stiffened. The other woman didn’t notice as she giggled, hugging his arm to her surgically enhanced body. Shameless hussy. “Leo is Allegra’s brother.”

As if he could be anyone else.

“How nice,” Anna said frostily, her heart careening out of control with anger and helpless frustration. Allegra’s brother. As if his sister ruining her life weren’t enough, she now had to be faced with another Jackson when she quite simply wished them all to hell. Which wasn’t very polite or charitable of her, she knew, but it was how she felt right now. “Welcome to Santina, Mr. Jackson. If you will excuse me, I was just on my way an appointment.”

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