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21 February 2011

Expecting Royal Twins by Melissa McClone

Today I'm taking a break from 'Monday's Word' and am delighted to welcome guest author  Melissa McClone to my blog. 
Melissa is a fellow author of romance and is celebrating her latest Harlequin Romance release, Expecting Royal Twins, a sweet contemporary romance novel. Enjoy reading about her book and don't forget to enter the contest!

I asked Melissa how she came up with this intriguing idea for her story and this is what she had to say: 


Thanks for having me on your blog today! When I first came up with the idea for a royalty themed marriage of convenience romance, I had no idea what I would go through until I wrote The End!

I write what I love to read, so in 2007, I thought it was time to write another royalty romance.  (I'd had one published by Silhouette Romance in 2000) I've always loved the idea of someone finding out they're not who they thought they were. What if an American discovered she was royalty? Sounds a lot like Princess Diaries, I know. But every story idea has to start somewhere.

In November 2007, I pitched a story to my editor called Princess Nobody.  Set in a small European country, it was a Plain Jane/Cinderella story with a marriage of convenience thrown in.

I could easily picture the heroine living in Oregon, working as a motel maid. I'd even named her Ellianna aka Ellie. Yes, I was taking the Cinderella archetype quite literally. Her grandmother had told her stories of being a wealthy aristocrat, but Ellie thought they were fairytales.

My editor gave me the go-ahead, but asked me to rethink the motivations for the marriage of convenience. While I mulled that over, I finished a Christmas book and submitted it in December of 2007. After the holidays, I began the Princess Nobody proposal, but found myself struggling with the project.

In February 2008, my editor offered me a spot in a trilogy miniseries. I thought writing another manuscript would give me time to let the royalty idea percolate some more. But when I finished the trilogy manuscript in June, the Harlequin Romance line already had enough royalty books scheduled. My editor asked if I'd mind putting it on the back burner for a little longer so I wrote something else instead.

In July of 2008, while I was attending the RWA conference in San Francisco, a different royalty story popped into my head. It still had the Cinderella element and a marriage of convenience, but with a little twist. What if the hero and heroine were already married, but didn't know it? I knew the line didn't want any royalty themed stories so I focused on writing ones they would want. But I played around with the royalty idea when I had free time. The story began to change.

In late 2009, I asked if could write a royalty romance once I finished the Christmas book I was working on. I told my editor I'd written about 60 rough pages and thought I'd found a story that was a combo of the old Princess Nobody idea and a new one.

In early 2010, my editor asked to see what I had as-is. Gulp! When I said rough, I meant rough. But I emailed her the pages anyway. Fortunately she saw the potential and asked me to polish them into a proposal. But the proposal still wasn't right. Here's what my editor said:

Melissa, this story has so much potential – it is a pure fantasy with Ellie discovering she is a real life Princess and being whisked off to a castle in a faraway land! I do have some points for revision to make sure that the characters remain sympathetic and contemporary, and the premise remains believable.

 My then-editor Joanne Grant (she's now Joanne Carr and Senior Editor of the Harlequin Romance line) had written three bullet points with various ideas/questions for me to address in the revisions. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn't fix the proposal. The spark of the idea was still there, but something was wrong. It was coming off too clichéd. I wanted it to be fresher. That meant rethinking everything, including my characters.

Once I did that, the story seemed to fall into place. The heroine being a long lost princess and the marriage of convenience remained plotlines. I also kept the royal twins. The book had been pushed up in the schedule to be part of Harlequin Romance's February 2011 Babies and Brides mini-series so they needed to be there. I was happy keeping them in the story because that meant the royal couple would get an heir and a spare in one swoop. I wanted them to live happily ever after without any extra baby pressure!


BLURB

Suddenly a Princess...

It's not every day that a tall, dark, handsome prince strides into your workshop and announces he's your husband!  Mechanic Izzy nearly drops her wrench. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she'd become a princess!

Independent Izzy struggles with exchanging her oil-stained overalls for silken gowns, let alone becoming responsible for an entire country! Yet her attraction to Prince Niko tempts her further into the fairy tale. And then two small surprises change all the rules of the game....

EXCERPT
Nikola Tomislav Kresimir, Crown Prince of Vernonia, strode past his father's assistant and the two palace guards standing watch. As soon as he entered the king's office, Niko heard the door close behind him.

He grimaced.

Niko didn't have time for another impromptu assignment. His in-box was overflowing. The upcoming trade conference was turning into a logistical nightmare. Princess Julianna of Aliestle was patiently waiting to have lunch with him.

He was used to juggling competing demands, thrived on them actually, but the collar of his dress shirt seemed to have shrunk two inches since he'd left his own office three minutes ago. He tugged on his tie.

Not that it lessened his frustration level.

A summons from the king trumped everything else and often messed up Niko's schedule for the rest of the day, sometimes week. Not to mention the havoc royal protocol played with his priority of turning their provincial country into a modern nation. But he followed his father's orders out of respect and for the good of the country.

King Dmitar sat behind his large mahogany desk staring at a manila file folder in his hands. His once dark hair was now as white as the snowcapped peaks of the Balkans and Carpathians. His face, like Niko's own, was as rugged as those same mountain ranges. His wire-rimmed reading glasses rested low on his nose, making him look more like a professor than a soldier or a king who had spent the majority of his rule trying to unite his country against all odds.

Niko stood ten feet away, waiting.

A breeze blew through an open window, carrying the sweet fragrance of flowers from the royal gardens. A vast improvement over the acrid smell of gunpowder and sickening scent of blood that used to taint the air around here.

Five years had passed since the ratification of the peace treaty. Tensions between the two warring factions erupted occasionally, but peace prevailed. Niko intended to ensure it always would. A totally united Vernonia, however, seemed like a far off dream. A fairy tale, really.

Not wanting to waste more time, he cleared his throat. His father looked up. Dark circles ringed his eyes.

"You sent for me, sir," Niko said.

The lines on his father's face seemed deeper, more pronounced, than they used to be. The conflict had aged him; so had grief. But still the corners of his mouth curved upward into a rare smile. "I have good news, my son."

The best news would be that Vernonia had been accepted into the European Union, but Niko knew they still had too many improvement projects to complete first. He stepped closer to the desk. "I've spent the morning wading through the demands of the trade delegations. Good news will be a welcome relief, Father."

"Your bride box has been located."

Not located. Found.

The unexpected news sunk in. Niko respected the past, but the fact something as important as his marriage was dependent on such on antiquated custom as presenting his wife a family heirloom on their wedding day irritated him. Traditions could only take his country so far. "You are certain it is mine?"

"As certain as we can be until we have the box in hand."

His bride box hadn't been seen in over twenty years. Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union brought turmoil to many Balkan countries. Vernonia had avoided the ethnic strife that ravaged many of its neighbors, but terrorist acts had led to a deadly civil war that tore the country apart and nearly destroyed its economy. "Where is the box?"

"The United States." His father adjusted his glasses and studied the folder. "Charlotte, North Carolina, to be exact."

"A long way from home."

"Yes."

The location wasn't really important. Niko would have the box back. Tradition—and his father—would be satisfied. Nothing would stand in the way of Niko's marriage to Julianna. He could finally fulfill his duty as his parents and people wished him to do. The marriage would give him the means and opportunity to do what he wanted—needed—to do with Vernonia.

Plans formed in his mind, but he couldn't get too far ahead of himself. Nothing could happen until he had possession of the box. "How was it discovered?"

"The internet." His father shuffled through papers in the file. "Someone posted on an antiques forum looking for the key. After a few exchanges verifying the seriousness of our interest, we were sent a picture that confirmed our suspicions. The box is yours."

"Incredible." Niko considered the number of private investigators and treasure hunters hired to find the heirloom. He laughed at the irony. "Technology to the rescue of an Old World custom."

"Technology may be useful at times, but our people desire tradition. You must remember that when you wear the crown."

"Everything I've ever done has been for Vernonia." Niko's family had ruled for eight centuries. The country was in their blood and hearts. Duty always came first. "But we must modernize if we are to succeed in the twenty-first century."

"Yet you have agreed to an arranged marriage."

He shrugged, but the last thing he felt was indifference. His marriage would act as a bridge between the past and the future. He might not be the United Kingdom's Prince William, but Niko had the attention of royal watchers. The publicity surrounding a royal wedding would be good for his country's nascent tourist industry. He would use whatever he could to Vernonia's advantage. "I may not be a stickler for tradition, Father, but I will always do what is best for the country."

"As will I." His father placed the folder on his desk. "You have the key."

"Of course, sir." Niko always had the key. He had been wearing the damn thing ever since the decree that he could never take it off twenty odd years ago. The only thing that had changed since then was the size of the chain. He pulled the thick silver one from beneath his shirt. A key that looked more like a cross and heart welded together dangled from his fingers. "Can I finally stop wearing the necklace now?"

"No." The word resonated through the spacious office until the tapestries on the wall swallowed the sound. "You will need the key when you go to North Carolina tomorrow."

"Send Jovan. I can't travel to the United States right now. I'm needed here," Niko countered. "My schedule is full. Princess Julianna is here."

"The box is yours," his father said. "You will be the one to bring it home. The travel arrangements have already been made. Your aide will be provided with an itinerary and the necessary information."

Niko bit his tongue. Further resistance would be futile. The king's word was final even if it made little sense under the current circumstances. "Fine, but you do realize I have never seen the box."

"You have seen it. You were a child, so you don't remember."

What Niko remembered from his childhood and early adulthood was war, the one thing he wanted and hoped to forget. Keeping peace and modernizing Vernonia were his main goals now. Though the parliament wanted him to provide an heir. Might as well get on with that, now that nothing stood in his way of marrying. Speaking of which…

"Do you wish for me to propose to Julianna before I leave for America or upon my return, Father?"

The king's face reddened. "There shall be no official proposal."

"What?" Niko remembered the open window and the people on the other side of the office door. He lowered his voice. "We've spent months negotiating with the Council of Elders in Aliestle. Even the Separatists are in favor of the marriage since King Alaric supported them during the conflict. The only obstacle to marriage has been the bride box. A delay will send the wrong—"

"No proposal."

Frustration mounted. Niko had searched for a suitable bride for almost a year. He didn't want to have to start over. "You agreed Julianna is an excellent choice for a wife and the future queen of Vernonia. That is why finding the bride box has been a priority."

"Julianna is more than suitable to be queen, but…" His father removed his glasses and rubbed his tired-looking eyes. "Are you in love with her?"

Love? Niko was surprised his traditional father had broached the subject. His parents' marriage hadn't been a love match. Niko had never expected one for himself after his older brother, Stefan, had been killed during the conflict.

"We get along well. She's beautiful and intelligent. I will be content with her as my wife," Niko stated honestly. He'd always known as crown prince he would marry for Vernonia's good, not his own. "The publicity surrounding a royal wedding will increase our visibility to the tourist industry. Most importantly, an alliance with Aliestle will give Vernonia the capital it requires to complete rebuilding. That will help our efforts to join the European Union."

"You've looked at all angles."

Niko bowed his head. "As you taught me, Father."

"And Julianna. Are her feelings engaged?"

"She cares for me," Niko answered carefully. "As I do for her. She understands what is expected."

"But is she in love with you?"

Uncomfortable, Niko shifted his weight between his feet. "You've never spoken about love before. Only duty and what a state marriage would entail."

"You are old enough to know whether a woman has feelings for you or not. Answer my question."

Niko considered his outing with Julianna yesterday afternoon. They'd left their security detail on the shore and sailed on the lake. He'd kissed her for the first time. The kiss had been…pleasant, but Julianna seemed more interested in sailing than kissing him again. "I do not believe she is in love with me. In fact, I'm certain she isn't."

"Good."

"I do not understand what is going on, sir. If something has changed with Vernonia's relationship to Aliestle—"

"Nothing has changed there." His father's drawn out sigh would have made the parliament members' knees tremble beneath their heavy robes. "But a slight…complication in regards to you marrying Julianna has arisen."

Ooh, that is such an intriguing excerpt, Melissa, thank you so much for sharing it with us and for being her today, and wishing you amazing sales and much success!

If you have a question you'd like  to ask Melissa, please feel free to do so - or if you just want to leave a comment that's fine too.  Remember everyone who comments will be entered into her great 'Giveaway' draw.


GIVEAWAY 
Melissa has offered to giveaway $20 Amazon.com Gift Certificate to one randomly drawn commenter on her tour. To enter all you have to do is leave a comment and your e-mail address.
Contest ends 1st March and is open to all.


Visit Melissa's WEBSITE: http://www.melissamcclone.com

Join Melissa on her next stop on her virtual book tour:
http://www.myeclecticbookshelf.blogspot.com/

Find out more about Melissa's blog tour here