Desert Isle Keeper
A Prince on Paper
Whenever I read a romance by Alyssa Cole I think ‘okay, this one is my favorite!’ – and then she writes another book. That’s been my experience with The Reluctant Royals series, novellas included, and her most recent addition about two people used to hiding their innermost selves is a delightful, emotionally satisfying story of unexpected love.
Nya Jerami thought that New York City and an lifestyle opposite to her stifling upbringing in Thesolo would be her chance to express her true self only to discover an overwhelming experience that did not live up to her dreams. She’s certainly having better luck with the One True Prince dating app than real life. With the main character Hanjo modeled on playboy prince Johan Maximillian von Braustein (a friend of her cousin Naledi and her soon to be husband Prince Thabiso), she can fantasize that he might take an interest in her even though all signs show him unaware of her existence.
Heading home for the royal wedding and subdued by the knowledge of her failed experiment to branch out, she discovers none other than Johan asleep in the bedroom on their shared plane, unaware that he’d hitched a ride to Thesolo for her cousin’s nuptials. In repose, Johan exhibits a far different demeanor to the one she’d expected, looking so lonely and sad it touches Nya’s heartstrings. But once awake, Johan’s usual party boy antics make her think it must have been her overactive imagination to imagine him vulnerable
For his part, Johan is secretly delighted and appalled to have Nya so close. He’d done a more than effective job of keeping her at arms’ length despite his intense attraction to her after being warned off by a friend. As the step-brother to the Prince of Liechtienbourg, a small European principality in the throes of a referendum to overthrow the monarchy, Johan has spent years drawing paparazzi attention away from his sensitive younger sibling. With the future of his family uncertain, and his own brother starting to ignore him, the stress is starting to wear on him. Nya’s appearance could be a boon or a curse. Either way, it’s clear that ignoring her isn’t going to work any more.
With gossip at a fever pitch when Johan and Nya arrive for the wedding, a solution to their mutual dilemma appears – a fake engagement. It will enable Johan to keep the eyes of his country fixed on him and boost the support for the monarchy with thoughts of a royal wedding, while giving Nya a chance to escape prying eyes wondering about her return. It will also provide a buffer for the questions about her father, jailed for many misdeeds. Can their tentative friendship, boosted by a mutual lustful attraction, give way to a real life love affair?
Like previous installments in The Reluctant Royals series, the author has done a wonderful job in creating a fictional African country full of rich history and culture in Thesolo, and a delightful fairy tale that is told in fragments in this romance at chapter starts. The intricate family structures and relationships that have built since the beginning of the series are expanded in Nya’s story, and her father’s evil deeds, including those perpetuated against her, are exposed. He abused her, emotionally and physically, by poisoning her with her tea any time she made moves he considered too independent. He blamed her for her mother’s death in childbirth, and whenever she talked about branching out on her own she would find herself inexplicably bedridden again. Discovering that her father had used her in such a manner for his own ends is heartbreaking and difficult for her to wrap her head around. The idea that she isn’t weak is slowly filtering into her psyche, building up her self-esteem, so the setback in New York is disheartening. But with Johan by her side, fake engagement notwithstanding, her internal strength starts to shine through.
Johan and Nya’s friendship is built on honesty and trust, the ability to speak their minds and not be afraid of the consequences. For them both this is refreshing and cements their growing feelings for each other. Nya is inexperienced with men and sex and Johan is the perfect teacher (once he’s made it clear that this is a friends with benefits arrangement and not to expect love in the bargain). There are plenty of laugh out loud moments as their sexual journey – which begins with some “light debauchery”- moves into steamy and mutually fulfilling passion.
While Nya struggles to put her past behind her, Johan is faced with a difficult present. His brother Lukas has been hiding parts of himself, fear of being bullied for being non-binary keeping him from sharing his true self with others. Nya is fully accepting of Lukas and keeps his secrets, but ultimately Johan must face that in trying to protect Lukas he’s inadvertently taught him that being himself is not acceptable, and he has to remedy that in order to rebuild their sibling relationship. It’s admirable that their father, King Linus is accepting of Lukas’s genderfluidity on first hearing about it and offers his full support as I’d have expected a bit more time needed for full acceptance. Perhaps that’s one area that’s more fantasy than reality. Similarly, the country of Liechtienbourg uses a language that is a mixture of French and German, making for some interesting phrases that speakers of both languages may cringe over but it didn’t bother me. Johan’s pet phrase to Nya, ‘Comme tu willst’, is a mixture of French ‘comme tu veux’ and German ‘wie du willst’ both of which mean ‘as you wish’, a cute nod to The Princess Bride and Westley’s favorite saying to Buttercup.
While family relationships certainly play a significant role in this story, they don’t overwhelm the romance between Johan and Nya. It proceeds at a measured pace, mixing sensual love scenes with emotional conversation and revelations. They both have secrets that cause them some consternation once revealed, and it’s only the trust they’ve developed that sees them through to the other side. I’m delighted to recommend A Prince on Paper as an example of a royal romance that tackles real life problems while still maintaining elements of fantasy and the delivery of a believable, satisfying happy ending.
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