Her Royal Masquerade (Her Royal Romance)

By: Natasha Moore

Chapter One

“Princess Birgitte of Stagatland?”

Mia Holmberg handed over the engraved invitation and lied smoothly. “Yes. Good evening.”

Nerves scrambled in her stomach as she followed the line of elegantly dressed dignitaries headed toward the palace ballroom. Birgitte said there would be no one here who knew her well.

Everything was going to be fine. There was absolutely nothing to worry about.

If Mia repeated it enough times, she just might believe it.

The ice blue satin gown slid sensuously against Mia’s skin, so unlike the cotton and wool she usually wore. The plunging neckline showed more cleavage than she ever had before, not that she had that much to begin with. Her face felt like a mask with the heavy make-up and false eyelashes. The sparkly heels would be killing her feet before the night was over.

Everything about tonight was so unlike Mia’s everyday life, but she knew how to play the game. She’d done it plenty of times before. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made a mistake by agreeing to this deception tonight.

Her cousin Birgitte, the real princess of their small Scandinavian nation, had called her last week, begging Mia to take her place at the birthday celebration for the king of Mezzano this evening. The two of them looked nearly enough alike to be twins, and when they’d been younger they’d had fun switching places to fool the palace security and the paparazzi. Still, it had been a while since Mia had played the part of a princess.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Birgitte had said in that persuasive, entitled tone she’d developed over the years.

“If it’s going to be so much fun, why don’t you want to go?” Mia had lesson plans to write up and she knew nothing about the small Mediterranean nation.

“I’ve already made other plans,” her cousin replied. “I hadn’t expected this invitation.

Our countries don’t have much of a relationship with each other.”

“Maybe they want to start one.”

“Maybe.” Mia heard the careless shrug in her cousin’s voice. “My parents want me to go to Mezzano but I promised some friends to be at their gallery opening in Paris. I can’t let them down.”

Mia would love to go to Paris someday. “Even if I wanted to go, I don’t have anything to wear to a ball.”

Birgitte had laughed. “I’ll play your fairy godmother and bring you a lovely gown and glass slippers. Okay, not really glass slippers, but I know you’ll look gorgeous in the dress.” When Mia still hesitated, Birgitte added, “You can keep the dress. And the shoes.”

“Where am I ever going to wear a ball gown again?” But she’d finally given in because, when really would she have ever had the chance to wear a ball gown in the first place? And if she couldn’t go to Paris, at least she could escape the icy Stagatland winter for a couple days and enjoy some sunshine in Mezzano.

“I knew I could count on you,” Birgitte had said, as if there had ever been any doubt.

The quiet murmur of cultured voices now rode the air around Mia. Strains of lovely music grew louder as she neared the doorway of the ballroom. All around her were members of royalty from neighboring nations, along with presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors. What would they think if they knew the woman in their midst was an imposter? A mere commoner?

The last thing she’d want to be was a real princess. To have to deal with all the pomp and politics on a regular basis? No, thank you. Mia was happy living a quiet life with her students and her gardens. Still…she couldn’t deny she enjoyed dressing up once in a while.

Mia wasn’t totally out of her element. She often visited the Stagatland palace to see her aunt and uncle, had even attended a few parties there over the years. But if she ever made a misstep, she was forgiven. After all, she was the poor relation.

Her breath caught when she entered the ballroom. It was enchanting, almost as if she’d stepped into a fairy tale. Tiny lights dotted the darkened ceiling, giving the impression of walking beneath the stars. Potted plants and flowers were scattered everywhere and she could almost imagine she was strolling on an outdoor terrace instead of inside a huge palace.

Mia swept her gaze around the room, looking for a place to land. Small, round tables adorned with flowers and trays of finger food had been placed around the outer edges of the room, leaving the center of the floor clear for dancing.

She sighed. She loved to dance. Birgitte would probably walk up to one of the men wearing tuxedos or military dress uniforms and ask them to dance without a second thought. Maybe Mia could get up the nerve after a drink. Or two. A waiter paused and offered her a flute of champagne and she resisted the urge to down the entire glass in one gulp. Time to plant herself at one of the tables, nibble on some hors d'oeuvres and watch the couples on the dance floor for a while.