“This isn’t her Royal Highness,” the headmistress told the man and the woman who were staring at Lucinda with their mouths hanging open.

“But it could be.”

These words turn the life of Lucinda North upside down. Within hours, she agrees—against her better judgement—to impersonate the missing Princess Louisa of Aachen-Düren. Within a week, she meets the queen and the handsome and charming Lord Melfield. Within the month, she is living at Buckingham Palace, lying about her true identity not only to Queen Charlotte, but to all of Regency society, while someone is trying to kill her. Within her lifetime, she will never regret a moment of it.

 Anthony Melfield would rather not waste his time helping a spoiled princess learn how to conduct herself. He would certainly rather not have to return to society after a heartbreak. And he most definitely would rather not have feelings for the princess, no matter how sweet, funny, and beautiful she is. To top it all, he would much rather not have to use his skills to save her life and figure out who wants her dead.

Chapter One

Chapter One

March, 1815

Lucinda North took in a deep breath, reminded herself that she was, in fact, a highly qualified woman, and then strode into the Abingdon School for Select Young Ladies. It had taken her six months of dealing with the glares at both her and her sister from her cousin’s wife, snide comments from her cousin himself, and more than her fair share of troubles to get her to this point. But she was here now, and she wasn’t going to be shy nor allow herself to be intimidated.

Lou strode up to the walnut paneled door marked Mrs. Minerva Carter, Head Mistress, and knocked.

Holding tightly on to her portfolio, filled with letters of recommendation in three languages, an article she’d written in German on the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains, and, just in case, three watercolors she’d done about four years ago. She could feel her nails dig into the palm of her free hand. Deliberately, she relaxed her hands. It would not do to walk into this job interview with white knuckles.

“Come!” came a voice through the door. It sounded a good deal stronger than Lou expected, considering the look of the door. Perhaps it was hollow, she told herself. If it wasn’t, a voice that strident could do some serious damage to a gently budding young lady such as herself or, more importantly, the students of this esteemed institution of learning.

Lou pulled her thoughts together, took in one more full breath, and opened the door. She hadn’t taken two steps into the room when the stern-looking woman on the other side of an enormous walnut desk let out a relieved sigh. “Oh, thank goodness, Your Highness, there you are!”

The woman’s dark hair was pulled into a tight bun on the top of her head, and she wore a black high-necked gown that looked like it wouldn’t dare wrinkle or crease. She stood and gave Lou a broad smile. “I was certain all the fuss raised by Herr Mueller and Frau Schmitz was for nothing. These last two days have been rather complicated without… You know, we had to let it out that you were in mourning for your brother so that no one would realize you were… well, but you are back. Tell me, where were you hiding?” The woman came out from behind the desk and stood with her arms folded neatly across her waist.

“I, er, I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Carter. I’m Lucinda North. I wrote to you two weeks ago concerning a position on your teaching staff?” Lou said. She had no idea what this woman was going on about.

“What?” The woman stepped closer, allowing her eyes to rove down and then back up again, clearly taking in Lou’s ultra-conservative gown. Brown, so it wouldn’t show any dirt, a high collar with just a hint of lace, and no other adornments whatsoever. It had taken Lou and her sister, Sophia, hours to remake the dress, removing every bit of lace, every flounce, but now she was glad they had taken the time.

The woman’s eyes widened as she took in the white cap Lou had worn. Truly, she could not have looked any more pristine and, hopefully, properly middle-aged—especially considering that Lou had only just passed her twenty-second year. She was hoping not to reveal that minor fact to the headmistress and so had dressed the part of an older spinster.

“You said you had an opening for a language teacher? I, er, I brought references as you asked. I’m afraid two of them aren’t in English, but I do hope that won’t be too much of a problem,” Lou said, fumbling as she opened her portfolio while still standing in front of the headmistress. “I also have an essay which I—”

“But you look…” the woman started, completely ignoring the letters Lou was trying to hand her. “You are the spitting—”

“She cannot be found anywhere. I have ridden…” A man’s deep, accented voice made Lou spin around. “Oh! Eure Hoheit! Meine Prinzessin! Wo bist du gewesen?” He started to scold her gently in German before Lou held up a hand. He was a large man, probably a full foot taller than Lou, and looked strong enough to pull a horse rather than the other way around. His pale blond hair was windblown, and he was wearing riding clothes. He smelled as if he’d been in the saddle for some time.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she told him in German, “but you seem to have mistaken me for someone else. I am Lucinda North. I’m here to apply for a teaching position.”

He stopped and stared at her as if she had just grown a second head. “Was? Ist das eine Art Spiel?” He gave her a tentative smile.

Lou shook her head. “No. This is no game. Truly, I—”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Another woman joined them, also speaking German. “Where were you, Your Highness? You should know better than to scare us like that!”

“It’s not her,” the man said, turning to the middle-aged woman. She had dark blonde hair pulled into a tight chignon and a fashionable yet sensible gown of deep blue that made her cheeks look flushed.

“What do you mean? What nonsense are you—” The woman came forward and stopped just in front of Lou. Her eyes widened. “Your eyes. They are brown. Why are your eyes brown?”

“This isn’t Her Royal Highness,” Mrs. Carter told the man and the woman who were now staring at Lou with their mouths hanging open.

“It could be,” the woman said in strongly accented English. She stared at Lou as if she were a painting, examining every detail. “She’s got the same heart-shaped face, the same features, her height, build… She even has the same shade of blonde hair… But for the eyes.”

“What are you saying, woman?” the man snapped, turning to look at the lady.

“Who is she?” the woman asked the headmistress, ignoring him.

“She’s here for a teaching position,” Mrs. Carter told them.

“I am Lucinda North,” Lou said yet again. She turned to Mrs. Carter. “Could you please explain to me what is going on? I feel as if I’ve walked into the middle of something. I can come back another time if that would be—”

“I think we had all best sit down. I’ll ring for tea,” Mrs. Carter said, interrupting her. She strode to the bellpull next to the door.

Lou followed the woman into an adjoining room that turned out to be a small sitting room. “I don’t suppose you would be interested in looking at my letters of reference?” Lou asked quietly, offering the letters to the headmistress once again.

The woman pursed her lips together and gave a tiny shake of her head.

“Right,” Lou said with a sigh. She wasn’t going to get this job. She would have to return with her sister to her cousin’s house and pray they allowed them back in and didn’t just throw them out on the street, as his wife had suggested any number of times. She sank slowly onto a cream upholstered chair.

“Miss North, I must first insist that anything you hear today you keep in the strictest confidence,” Mrs. Carter stated firmly. “This information is not to be shared with anyone. Anyone,” she said again, just to be sure Lou understood her.

“Of course!”

“This is Herr Mueller,” Mrs. Carter said, indicating the gentleman. “He is the bodyguard to the Princess Louisa Guelf of Aachen-Düren, who is a student here.” Mrs. Carter nodded to the woman. “And this is Frau Schmitz, her companion.”

Lou nodded to the two.

Mrs. Carter continued, “You may have already surmised that the princess is missing.”

This time, it was Lou’s turn to widen her eyes. “Missing? What do you mean, missing?”

“When I went to wake Her Highness two days ago, she was not in her bed. Missing!” Frau Schmitz said, her eyes becoming glassy.

“But we found this with a note saying that she was going to find her brother,” Herr Mueller said, fishing a scrap of newspaper from his pocket and handing it to Lou.

“That horrid Lady Elizabeth showed her the article in the paper,” Frau Schmitz hissed as she crossed her arms.

Lou just frowned at her, not understanding.

“This article,” Mrs. Carter said, picking up a newspaper from the corner of her desk and handing it to Lou.

Lou read the paper.

“In an unfortunate accident, amid rough waters, the ship carrying the Prince Heinrich Nikolaus Alexander, heir to the throne of Aachen-Düren, sank yesterday as it was crossing the English Channel while taking the young prince home. There were no known survivors. The prince leaves behind his sister, Princess Louisa Catherine Anneliese, and his father, Prince Heinrich Norbert Albrecht of Aachen-Düren. We extend our condolences to His Majesty, Prince Heinrich.

“Oh dear! Poor thing!” Lou said, feeling her stomach knot.