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Playing the Royal Game Mass Market Paperback – November 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Carol Marinelli recently filled in a form asking for her job title. Thrilled to be able to put down her answer, she put writer. Then it asked what Carol did for relaxation and she put down the truth - writing. The third question asked for her hobbies. Well, not wanting to look obsessed she crossed the fingers on her hand and answered swimming but, given that the chlorine in the pool does terrible things to her highlights – I’m sure you can guess the real answer.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

She was better off without the job, Allegra told herself.

No one should have to put up with that.

Except that walking in the rain along grey London streets, taking the underground to various employment agencies, the anger that her boss could make such a blatant a pass at her and then fire her for not succumbing started to be replaced with something that felt close to fear.

She needed that job.

Needed it. Her savings had been obliterated by the bottomless pit that was her family's excess spending. At times it felt as if her lowly publishing wage supported half the Jackson family. Yes, she was the boring reliable one, but they didn't mind her dependability when their erratic ways found them in trouble. Just last week she had lent her stepmother, Chantelle, close to five thousand pounds in cash for credit card debts that her father didn't know about. It was laughable to think that she might now have to have her family support her.

It was a miserable day, with no sign that it was spring; instead it was cold and wet, and Allegra dug her hands deeper into her trench coat pockets, her fingers curling around a fifty-pound note she had pulled out of the ATM.

If her boss refused to put her pay in tomorrow it was all she had before being completely broke. No!

She'd been through worse than this, Allegra decided. As Bobby Jackson's daughter she was all too used to the bailiffs but her father always managed to pick himself up; he never let it get him down. She was not going to sink, but hell, if she did, then she'd sink in style!

Pushing open a bar door, she walked in with her head held high, the heat hitting her as she entered, and Allegra slipped off her coat and hung it, her hair dripping wet and cold down her back. Normally she wouldn't entertain entering some random bar, but still, at least it was warm and she could sit down and finally gather her thoughts.

There had been a confidence to her as she'd stalked out of her office with dignity. With her track record and her job history, a lot of the agencies had called over the years offering her freelance work.

It had been sobering indeed to find out that they were hiring no one, that the financial crisis and changes to the industry meant that there were no causal jobs waiting for her to step into.


Well, a chance for a couple, but they added up to about three hours' work per month. Per month!

Allegra was about to head to the bar but, glancing around, saw that it was table service so she walked over to a small alcove and took a seat, the plush couch lined with velvet. Despite its rather dingy appearance from the street, inside it was actually very nice and the prices on the menu verified that as fact.

She looked up at the sound of laughter—a group of well-dressed women were sipping on cocktails and Allegra couldn't help but envy their buoyant mood. As her eyes moved away from the jovial women they stilled for a fraction, because there, sitting at a table near them, lost in his own world, was possibly the most beautiful man ever to come into her line of vision. Dark suited, his thick brown hair was raked back to show an immaculate profile, high cheekbones and a very straight nose; his long legs were stretched out and crossed at the ankle. But despite his rather languorous position, as he stared into his glass there was a pensiveness to him, a furrow between his eyebrows that showed he was deep in thought. The furrow deepened as there was another outbreak of laughter from the women's table, and just as he looked up, just as he might have caught her watching, Allegra was terribly grateful for the distraction of the waitress who approached.

'What can I get you?' Allegra was about to order a glass of house wine, or maybe just ask if they could do her a pot of tea and a sandwich, because she really ought to try a couple more job agencies, but hell, a girl could only take so much rejection in one day and she may well be living off tea and sandwiches for a long while yet!

'A bottle of Bollinger please.' It was an extravagant gesture for Allegra, an unusual one as well. She was extremely careful with her pay cheque, saving twenty percent to put towards her first mortgage before it even hit her account, determined never to be like her family—but where had that gotten her?

The waitress didn't bat an eye; instead she asked how many glasses.

'Just the one.'

She was given a little bowl of nuts too! 'Celebrating?' the waitress asked as she poured her drink.

'Sort of,' Allegra admitted, and then, left alone, she decided that she was. For months she had put up with her boss's thinly veiled leers and skin-crawling comments. It was worth celebrating just to finally be past all that, so she raised her glass to the window, in the general direction of her old work place.


As she turned she caught Mr. Gorgeous watching her—not staring, just idly curious—and she couldn't blame him for that. After all, she was raising a glass to the window. She gave him a brief smile and then turned back to her thoughts, took out a pen and the notebook and list of contacts that she always carried and set about making copious lists, determined, determined, that by the end of the week she would be back in work.

Halfway down the bottle and she didn't feel quite so brave. If anything, half a bottle of champagne on an empty stomach had her emotions bubbling and she was dangerously close to tears, especially when the waitress came over.

'You didn't sign the register when you came in,' the waitress said, and even before she continued Allegra knew what was coming and inwardly flinched as realization dawned. 'You are a member, aren't you?' She felt a blush spread on her cheeks. Of course it was a private club that she'd entered, not some bar she'd just wandered into, and just as she was about to apologise and fling down her fifty-pound note and flee, a voice that was as pleasing as its owner saved her the embarrassment.

'Why are you hiding there?' A deep warm voice had both Allegra and the waitress turn around and she found herself looking now into the eyes of the pensive stranger—very brown eyes that stayed steady as hers blinked in confusion. He turned and addressed the waitress. 'Sorry, she's my guest. I'll sign her in in a moment.' The waitress opened her mouth to say something—after all, Allegra had been sitting there alone for a good half an hour or so and he had made no effort to join his guest—but perhaps he was a favourite customer, or maybe it was just his impressive stance, because, without comment, the waitress left them to it.

'Thanks,' Allegra said as he took a seat in front of her. 'But no thanks. I'll just settle my bill… .' She went to go, but as he moved to stop her, his hand reaching across the table, she shot him a look that told him unwelcome contact would be a very foolish mistake on his part. Given the day she'd had, Allegra had enough pent-up energy to give this stranger a little piece of her mind.

'As I said, thank you, but no thank you.'

'At least finish your drink,' said the stranger. 'It would be a shame to waste it.'

It would be a crying shame actually.

Maybe she could take it with her, Allegra thought wildly, having visions of herself walking down the street, half-drunk bottle in hand, bemoaning her situation. She found herself smiling at the very thought—not smiling at him, of course, except he interpreted it as such, because he clicked slender fingers in the direction of the bar and summoned another glass. Allegra sat bristling as the waitress poured him a glass of her champagne.

'I'm just trying to enjoy a quiet drink alone,' she said pointedly.

'Then sign in,' he suggested.

'Ha, ha!'

'Or,' he offered, 'you can be my guest, which means you sit with me. I wouldn't hear of it otherwise.' She couldn't place his accent. He spoke English terribly well; in fact, his voice was clipped and well schooled, unlike Allegra's rather more London accent, but there was a slight ring to it, Spanish or Italian perhaps. She was determined not to stay long enough to find out.

'Anyway,' he carried on despite her lack of response, 'you don't look as if you are enjoying it. In fact, apart from the small salute to the window you seem as miserable as I am.' She looked at him and saw that the impressive suit he was wearing wasn't just dark, it was black, and so, too, the tie. Not just from the attire, but from the strain on his face, he had clearly come from a funeral. Now he was close, she could smell him—and he smelt nothing like the usual man in a bar. It wasn't just the delicious hint of cologne that was unusual; he actually smelt of clean—there was no other way to describe it. His eyes were clear and bizarrely she felt herself relax just a little, for this was surely not a man who usually pressed attention, and it wasn't as if she had anywhere else that she needed to be.

'Are you usually so invasive?'

He thought about it for a moment. 'No.' He took a sip of drink and seemed to think about it some more. 'Never. I just saw you looking so fed up and then when the waitress came over I thought.'

'That you'd cheer me up?'

'No.' He gave a small shrug. 'I thought we could be miserable together. Don't look, but there are a group of women…' He gestured his head and as instructed she didn't look, but she knew who he meant. She'd heard their flirting laughter, and had easily guessed it was aimed towards him. 'One of them in particular seems determined to join me.'

'I'd have thought you'd have no trouble at all fighting off unwelcome attention.' Unlike me, she didn't add, but then she wasn't particularly used to men vying for her attention—well, not gorgeous ones anyway. But knowing how...


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780373131082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373131082
  • ASIN: 0373131089
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.5 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,643,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carol Marinelli was born in England to Scottish parents, then emigrated to Australia, where there are loads of Scottish and English people who did exactly the same, so she's very at home there. She lives in the outer suburbs of Melbourne--pretty much in her car, driving her three children to their various commitments.

In her life, Carol has been a typist, a nurse, a fruit-picker, a backpacker, and has also applied to be a policewoman and to study midwifery, psychology...the list goes on. They all appealed - just not enough.
Since the age of eighteen she's dabbled with writing, but it was a rather sporadic effort at first - then finally she decided to take it more seriously.

The biggest thrill in Carol's writing life (and it still is to this day) was typing, for the first time, the words "The End". For so many years there had been chapters and outlines and endless stop-starts, but having a full story, from start to middle to end, gave her a rush she had never expected. Of course it was rejected, but she'd got the bug and kept going till she was accepted.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By It's on March 9, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The review that stated there was no romance was correct. The first couple chapters started out interesting that a prince makes a deal with a woman he meets in a bar to set up a false engagement so he would be able to get out of his arranged marriage that was due to happen soon. However it backfires and she's expected to just go through a royal wedding without having any say so. She had no backbone whatsoever and was just ditched at the palace most of the time. They had one encounter I thought the book might turn around when paparazzi were onto them, but it was just a chaste kiss for the cameras. Meanwhile she's hating her life being separated from her friends and family most of the time and then being told she's not good enough and needs to change her hair, voice, walk, etc. They spend no moments together but at night they share a room & he's on the couch and after all of this I didn't care if they ever got together. I was rooting for the girl to stand her ground and walk out! This was a book with a case of Stockholm Syndrome rather than romance. The lead was an insensitive jerk who didn't earn nor deserved her love at the end. I won't be reading another by this author again, sorry.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Clare O'Beara on May 21, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A modern Cinderella tale complete with paparazzi and talent shows; meet a royal family that needs to get with the times. Allegra Jackson is fired from her publishing job in London for not returning the boss's advances. She meets a handsome man while drinking defiant champagne. He's a financier, but after some conversation he reveals that he is Alex, Crown Prince of a Mediterranean island called Santina, and he has been betrothed to a women he does not love, and is trying to think of a way out of it.

Allegra, slightly giddy from the bubbly, agrees to pretend she and the prince have fallen in love and wish to marry. Her wildly unsuitable family will shock his parents and public, and Alex will be urged not to marry for some time. Initially Allegra accepts a hefty cheque and ring to play along, but she is assured that there will be no sleeping together. The press are all over the story, and Allegra's family are invited to Santina. Here, her endearing football star dad gets tipsy and makes an impromptu speech, as he would at home, and her talent show winning sister sings just as if it was a karaoke night. Shock ensues but guess what, the public love the Jacksons. Allegra's determination to see the island leads her to elude her driver and shop and drink coffee, and far from being in danger she is respectfully loved by the islanders, who seldom see their queen. The frosty royals are against such loose behaviour. Meanwhile the couple at the centre of the situation, forced into close proximity, predictably discover an unforeseen attraction - if only they were not so resolute not to wed!

Carol Marinelli has obviously mixed and matched from genuine royal goings-on, and she spares us too many cliches in order to get with the real people. I liked it a lot more than I'd expected and while I was hoping for more detail about what the rulers actually do on Santina, there is ample location description to make it feel a long way from home for the Londoner.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By ReadytoRead on January 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After the first chapter, the book just fell apart. I am not sure how the book got to the end where the characters were in love with each other. I figured with about five more chapters, the characters may begin to like each other; and then five additional chapters after that, they would show the obligatory love for each other. This is just how far off this book was. There was no romance and not even "like" between the characters, let alone love.

There were a host of characters (and couples) in the book. With just a few lines, each of these other characters showed more love toward each other (or at least had it indicated through the writing). It is really bad when you are more interested in the sub plots or the other characters.

And then, you would think in an epilogue, the clean up would be done and the love would show. Well, it didn't, but we did get more info about the other couples, whoo hoo.

...and I felt really bad for the lady, it was like the tone of the book just kind of beat the woman down and didn't want her to shine at all

Not a romance in my book...
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alex on November 12, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After losing her job, Allegra goes to a private bar and meets a mysterious man Alex. She doesn't know that he is royalty. After she finds that he is Prince Allesandro of Santina, they have a serious conversation - considering. Alex makes a rather interesting proposal for Allegra worth of a million pounds. He has to be engaged for a short period of time.
Is Allegra ready to get into this wild adventure?
She better wish the money are worth it.

Allegra is a strong character but she has a vulnerable side. And Alex is vain, self-absorbed and flamboyant and yet they make the perfect couple.
My favorite character was Allegra's dad. He was pretty fun.

Playing the Royal Game was very enjoyable read. Fresh Harlequin romance that everyone will like.
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By bratcat22 on February 28, 2014
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the final book in the Santina crown series that ends with Allegra Jackson & Crown Prince Alex's wedding. This book makes one wonder why any SANE person would marry into royalty. I especially liked the part where that rascal Bobby Jackson, the Jackson family patriarch, puts the moves on Santina's Queen Zoe & she's loving every minute of it. At the last of the book, there are email, texts & letters that give updates on the previous couples in the series. A fitting finale to the series.
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