Ex-princesses Nikaela and Saige have a nice little swindle going where they fleece unsuspecting noblemen of their pocket change at royal balls. It’s not exactly a lucrative line of business, but it pays the bills.
At least until Saige (not the sharpest eel in the barrel) picks the wrong man to swindle: one with a plotting moustache and a penchant for dancing on air.
Was there something sneaky about that smile?
No, it was that sinister-looking moustache. Any smile under that thing would look underhanded and sly. He should really consider getting rid of it. So little, so seemingly harmless, and yet it looked like it was plotting to take over the world.
The moustache-plotting man turns out to be an enchanter who curses the princesses so they will never be able to plot and deceive a man again. He leaves Saige no longer able to hear others and others unable to hear Nikaela.
Until the day Prince Nathanial Blade finds them. He’s been on Nikaela’s trail ever since she became an ex-princess, for he’s still in love with her mussed hair and determined personality even after she left him curled up in agony on her throne room floor when she refused his last offer of marriage.
Now he’s resolved to beg another chance.
“I mean you no harm,” Nate rushed to begin earnestly, and in a split second he decided to lay all his cards out on the table. “I love you! I know you rejected me twice, but people are always changing their minds, so I thought maybe you’ve changed yours?” He grinned, waggled his eyebrows and showed off his impressive princely muscles to their best advantage. “So what about it, Nika? Want to marry me?”
Nikaela stared at him as if he’d gone completely berserk. “You are one sick man,” she muttered.
“I assure you I am in perfect health!” Nate exclaimed, crossing his arms in affronted princely pride. “I’m deeply offended that you would think such a strapping man as I could be ill.”
Nikaela stepped back, disbelief etched in her dropped jaw, shaking head, and rapidly blinking eyes (although actually Nate thought it simply looked like she was having a mini-seizure). “You can hear me?” she asked incredulously.
Nate paused, unsure of how to respond. Was she now offering insult to his princely ears? Well, when in doubt (his father had always taught him), fall back on princely indignation.
Nate drew himself up to his full princely height. “Of course I hear you,” he snorted. “I’m not deaf and decrepit, you know. Princes never are. We are all born with perfect ears.”
Nikaela’s mini-seizure of surprise stopped. “You can hear me?” she asked again, her voice rising a pitch.
“Of course,” Nate held onto his indignation with the tenacity of a hunting hound. “I assure you that my ears are no less capable of hearing now than they were ten seconds ago.”
Nikaela spun toward the flighty friend, who was watching them curiously. “Can you hear me, Saige?” Nikaela asked her.
The girl’s forehead creased in a frown. She pointed at her ear and shook her head briefly.
“Can anyone else hear me?” Nikaela shouted at the top of her lungs, but no one in the tavern paid her any heed. The dog lounging by the hearth didn’t even flick his ears.
Nate fidgeted, uncomfortable with her insulting everyone’s ears. This had to stop. And he was the one to stop it.
Preferably in a way that wouldn’t end with him curled up in a painful ball again.
“Nika,” he began carefully, “do you truly want to beleaguer the public’s auditory senses this way?”
“La la la la la!” Nikaela yelled. “No one can hear me, you overgrown toadstool mold!”
“Princess, a deaf granny in the well could hear you!”
At that, half the tavern turned and stared – at him, as if he was the crazy one.
Well now, that would never do.
Flipping his shoulder-length blond curls back over his shoulder, Prince Nate lifted his chin in a very princely manner and huffed proudly.
At this very princely behavior, the guests of the tavern were assured that all was right with the world, or at least with this particular prince, and returned to their meals and their ale.
With that disaster deflected, Nate turned and studied the girl he loved. Where did this sudden infatuation of hers with insulting everyone’s auditory faculties come from?
And, more importantly, did that in any way improve his chances of her marrying him?
As if having a suitor with a head full of chivalrous nonsense dogging their tail wasn’t bad enough, Saige is kidnapped by a dragon, and before Nikaela can rescue her, a would-be hero sweeps into the dragon’s den and does the deed first.
Saige’s once would-be kidnapper and now would-be savior whooped suddenly and shot to his feet beside the trunk, holding a key high in victory. “Found it!” he announced grandly. “Now, my lovely, prepare to be grateful!” He strode over, turned the key in the lock, and flung open her prison doors.
Saige didn’t budge. “Exactly how grateful do you expect me to be?”
His grin faded somewhat. “Extremely?”
Saige crossed her arms primly. “I mean what exactly do you want?”
Saige paused. That sounded reasonable. “Saige.” She stepped out of the cage.
He had her in his arms in an instant, dipping her so low she was almost parallel to the ground. “And a kiss.” He grinned and pulled her close, his green eyes intent on hers and his head coming ever nearer.
“No, you can’t!” Saige fought out of his grasp and bolted to a safe distance – out of kissing range. “You’re a man.”
He stared at her in astonishment. “Yes, I am a man.” He gave a little bow. “Thank you for noticing. Though I don’t see why that should be an impediment to kissing.”
“I’m supposed to hate men.”
“‘Supposed to hate men’?” He shook his head. “What? Why?”
“Well…um…Nikaela says men cannot be trusted. They’re the cause of all our problems.”
“And Nikaela is…your wicked stepmother?”
“A wicked one?”
“What’s your fascination with wicked?”
“Because nice, good women don’t hate men.”
“Smart women hate men.”
“Wicked women hate men. Isn’t it wicked to hate half the world’s population when we’re so innocent?” He attempted a wide-eyed mien of virtue.
“Unconvincing.” Saige crossed her arms again and lifted her chin.
And that’s only the beginning of a tale that contains an ornery horse, a misunderstood five-headed troll, five kidnappings, monks, pirates, strawberries, goats, and of course, men so charming the women might have their opinions of them turned on their head.
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