New York Times Bestselling Author

Chapter One

Callum “Cal” Redmon pulled his Rolls-Royce Cullinan into the Greens’ driveway on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Traffic had been terrible, and he’d arrived much later than he’d hoped. He was in an awful mood. His back hurt, his knees were throbbing, and he had a horrible headache. Ever since he’d been a POW and endured relentless torture, his body hadn’t been the same. He felt as if he was at least twenty years older than his thirty-seven years.

The last place he wanted to be was here. He’d told his relatives that he wasn’t a bodyguard. That ever since he’d gotten out of the military, he didn’t want anything to do with covert operations or any kind of security. And yet . . . here he was.

Being part of the Liechtenstein royal family wasn’t easy. Even though he hadn’t grown up in the tiny country, and even though he barely knew the queen and king, he was still expected to be loyal. Still expected to drop everything to do their bidding when they asked. So when Carla Green had told his second cousin—who she’d met online—that she was being stalked, his cousin had reached out to Cal to see what he could do about it.

When Cal, being Cal, had told him he couldn’t do anything about his latest online model friend’s personal troubles, that she should call her local police, his cousin had ignored him. He’d talked to his mother, who’d talked to her sister, who’d spoken with the queen. She, in turn, had called Cal’s parents . . . and the next thing he knew, he was being guilted into driving to DC to “investigate” the situation.

Cal wasn’t qualified to do a damn thing about Carla’s problem. Yes, he could shoot. Was a damn good shot, in fact. But that didn’t make him qualified to be some amateur investigator and certainly not a bodyguard. He could barely handle his own body.

Most days, his very bones hurt. The torture he’d received as a POW had screwed him up, bad. Torn ligaments, broken bones, pulled muscles . . . those were just the tip of the iceberg. Technically, all the injuries he’d sustained had healed, but the effects were ongoing, and his scars—inside and out—were many.

Not only that, but since his release, Cal didn’t particularly care for people in general. He was grumpy on the worst of days and standoffish on the best. He’d seen the worst humanity had to offer, and he much preferred to hole up in the house he’d bought in the small Maine town where he and his friends had settled after they’d gotten out of the military.

Thanks to his royal lineage and parents who’d invested their family money carefully, Cal never had to worry about the size of his bank account. No one would know simply by looking at him that he had over a billion dollars in his extensive portfolio. Most days he wore faded jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts, and he definitely didn’t flaunt the fact that he had money, and lots of it.

Yes, the Cullinan was obnoxiously expensive. No one needed a Rolls-Royce SUV. But he hadn’t been able to resist. It was sleek, had all the bells and whistles, and, most importantly, was excellent on the snowy roads of Maine. Most people would assume the vehicle was just another SUV like thousands of others on the road. It was covered in dirt and looked more like a work truck at the moment than a three-hundred-thousand-dollar vehicle.

As instructed, Cal drove his SUV around the back of the fairly large house sitting on five acres and parked in the large paved area. He took a moment to reach for his phone to text JJ and let him know that he’d arrived at the Greens’ safe and sound.

He’d call his friend later tonight and tell him what he’d learned after talking with Carla, but for now, after sending the brief text, he allowed himself a second to enjoy the silence that surrounded him. Closing his eyes, Cal took a deep breath. What he really wanted to do was turn around and drive right back to Maine. To hole up in his quiet house and be left alone. But he hadn’t been able to say no to his mom.

He and his parents had a complicated relationship with the royal family back in Liechtenstein. His mom and dad had left the country after she’d been knocked over by a member of the media while pregnant with Cal. They hadn’t been trying to take pictures of her but rather the queen and king, and his mom had simply been in the way. That was the last straw for his dad, and he’d moved them to England.

The queen and king hadn’t been happy, but it wasn’t as if his dad was ever going to be king. He was so far down the succession line, it would be nearly impossible for him to rise to the top. They’d lived a peaceful albeit public life in London, only going back to their home country now and then for short visits and official functions.

Cal had joined the British Army, eventually becoming intrigued by a team of Delta Force operatives he’d seen in action while overseas. Strings had been pulled, agreements made, and not long after, Cal had found himself in the United States training to become a Delta. It was hard work, grueling at times, but he’d loved it. He was assigned to work with Chappy, Bob, and JJ.

Cal had never clicked with anyone the way he had with his teammates. The men became inseparable, and when they’d made the decision to get out of the military after being taken hostage, there hadn’t been any question in Cal’s mind that he’d go wherever the others did.

They’d settled in Maine—after Cal had won a game of rock paper scissors—and had established Jack’s Lumber, a tree service. And while the work could be difficult, especially with the relentless chronic pain Cal suffered day after day, he’d been satisfied and mostly content for three long years.

Opening his eyes, Cal sighed. He was stalling. He needed to go inside and meet Carla Green and her mother. Get some facts, see what kind of evidence Carla had on her stalker, assess the seriousness of the threat. His cousin Karl had always been overdramatic, especially as a kid. If he’d stubbed his toe, he yelled and cried as if someone had chopped it off. When he’d gotten an A-minus on a test, he expected everyone to treat him as if he’d just cured cancer. He’d fallen madly in love with every girlfriend and gone into monthlong sulks when they inevitably broke up.

Cal didn’t know if Karl and Carla had truly only met on the internet, but he was mostly certain his cousin was being overly dramatic once again when he’d gone up the chain of relatives to get Cal to do his bidding.

Wiping a hand over his face, Cal took another deep breath before leaning over and opening the glove box. He shook out two aspirin and swallowed them dry, praying they’d make a dent in the throbbing of his head.

He reached for the door handle and climbed out of his SUV. He arched his back, trying to stretch out the kinks from sitting for so long. Wincing at the way his movement pulled against the scars all over his torso, Cal sighed.

Every day, every movement, reminded him of the hell he’d been through. His friends had done what they could to turn their captors’ attention on themselves, but once they’d realized who they had in their clutches, they’d been positively gleeful. They’d laughed as they cut him, as they’d beaten him, as they’d turned on their video cameras to show the world how low a real-life prince had fallen.

Forcing his thoughts away from the not-too-distant past, Cal started to head back around toward the front of the house . . . before movement caught his attention.

A woman exited through a side door of the home, carrying a trash bag and heading toward a bin directly opposite. Cal instinctively took a single step back, concealing himself behind the house as he studied her. She was short, perhaps a full foot under his six-foot-one frame, and full figured . . . with the kind of curves Cal loved. Probably because he’d grown up around the opposite—skinny women who did whatever was necessary in order to fit into designer dresses, to resemble society’s version of what a pretty woman should look like.

Regardless, he’d always been far more attracted to women who carried some meat on their bones. He loved how they felt against him, under him, how their full tits jiggled and bounced, how their thighs and rounded stomachs were so soft in his hands. A Rubenesque woman was the epitome of sexiness.

Cal would take a curvy woman over a stick-thin one every day of the week.

Curves aside, there was nothing particularly notable about the woman he was watching at the moment. She was wearing an oversize T-shirt that she’d tied into a knot at her waist, her long brown hair pulled into a ponytail at the back of her head. A pair of well-worn, faded jeans hugged her thighs, and she had no makeup on her face, as far as he could tell. But there was something about the full effect that had Cal watching her closely.

She pushed the lid off the bin and grunted as she hefted the obviously heavy trash bag. After throwing it in, she wiped her brow on the sleeve of her shirt, then sighed deeply and turned her face upward to the sun, closing her eyes.

She stood there for a long moment, her head tilted back, a small smile on her face, as if feeling the sun on her skin was the highlight of her day.

Cal was entranced. He hadn’t even said one word to the woman, and yet he could tell by the way she was enjoying the simple pleasure of the sun on her face that this was someone he wanted to know.

The first time he’d stepped outside after being rescued, he’d done the same thing she was doing now. He’d taken a deep breath, closed his eyes, and lifted his face to the hot Middle Eastern sun. It had actually hurt, the blazing sunshine burning the cuts and bruises on his skin, but even three years later, nothing had felt as good as that first breath of fresh air.

And for some reason, Cal had a sense that this woman was feeling just a little of what he had that day. As if standing out here in the weak late-winter rays, with the birds singing around her, she was free. Free of her worries and troubles.


The shrill voice screeching from inside the house made the woman jerk in surprise, and she turned her attention toward the door she’d exited. The small smile on her face disappeared, and Cal watched as she removed any expression from her face and headed back toward the house.

“Juniper! Where the hell are you?” the voice called out again.

It grated on Cal’s nerves, the pitch high enough to exacerbate the throbbing in his head.

“I’m coming!” his curvy stranger called out calmly, as if she was used to being yelled at. And Cal supposed she probably was. She was most likely hired help for the household; it made sense if she was taking out the garbage. Cal’s family had certainly had their share of maids, gardeners, cooks, and other staff over the years. But he couldn’t remember his mom ever speaking to any of them as disrespectfully as the unseen woman inside the house, whoever she was.

Juniper. Cal smiled. It was a beautiful name.

He watched as Juniper reached for the door handle that led back into the house. She turned and looked up at the sky for another brief moment, and Cal could clearly see the expression on her face. It was no longer blank.

The longing, sorrow, and frustration he saw there spoke to him deeply. But as soon as he caught a glimpse of the emotions, they were gone, as was the woman.

Cal’s heart beat fast in his chest. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but he’d never felt quite like this before. He wasn’t a believer in love at first sight, like the sort found in fairy tales. Yes, he was a prince, but he wasn’t going to meet his Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty and fall madly in love at first glance.

But . . . he couldn’t deny he’d never experienced a draw toward a woman like he’d felt with the enigmatic Juniper. It wasn’t just her looks, although her body was exactly what he preferred in his lovers. It was the peacefulness that exuded from her as she’d turned her face to the sun. An underlying strength as she serenely responded to the angry woman inside the house.

Shaking his head, Cal scoffed at himself. He was being ridiculous. There was no way he could’ve deduced all that from a woman who’d simply been taking out the rubbish.

Yet he had. His body knew, even if his mind wouldn’t admit it.

Cal had no idea who Juniper was, but he knew he wanted to seek her out. Talk to her. Maybe that would bring him to his senses. She’d say something annoying or find out who he was and act like so many other women had in the past . . . simper and flirt and do everything in her power to try to make him fall in love with her.

Wasn’t going to happen. He was immune to love.

But that didn’t make his curiosity disappear. Or his libido. Something he’d ignored since his rescue.

For the first time in years, Cal found himself looking forward to the hours and days ahead. Yes, he had to meet Carla Green and assess her stalker situation, but now he had a second goal . . . find the enigmatic Juniper, and see if the draw he felt toward her was a momentary blip. Or something more.

The story his dad told him of the day he’d met Cal’s mom popped into his head unbidden. How he’d taken one look at her and known she was the one. He’d told Cal that was how love worked for every man on his side of the family. They met the person meant to be theirs, and the stars aligned, the birds sang, and that was that.

Cal had always rolled his eyes and secretly thought his dad was making up the stories. That he was perpetuating the “royal” Disney myth about soulmates and love at first sight for his young son.

Now, for the first time in his life, he wavered in his long-held assumptions about how his parents had gotten together.

Shaking his head, Cal continued toward the front of the house as he glanced at his watch. Just after five o’clock, with evening fast approaching. And now he was actually eager to get inside . . . because on the other side of the door was a woman who’d caught his attention without even trying.

* * *

Juniper “June” Rose wiped her brow on the sleeve of her T-shirt for what seemed the thousandth time since this morning. She was exhausted. She’d been going nonstop for hours. Her stepmom and stepsister had been in a tizzy for days. Ever since they’d gotten confirmation that a real-life prince would be staying in their house.

From what June had been able to figure out from the bits and pieces of whispered gossip she’d overheard from Elaine and Carla while cleaning, Prince Redmon, from some small European country, was coming to DC to talk to Carla about her “stalker.”

June snorted out loud. Stalker. Yeah, right. No one was stalking her stepsister—it was just another made-up story for attention. All Carla Green was interested in was mimicking her idols, the Kardashians. Everything she did was toward that goal. She wanted to be rich, famous, and adored.

The problem was, Carla was truly awful. June had never met a meaner, colder, more self-centered woman in her entire life. She actually enjoyed making people cry. To that end, she certainly did everything she could to make June miserable. She was eight years younger than June and acted more like fifteen than her actual twenty-four.

But Carla was also gorgeous. She was six feet tall and slender, had long blonde hair and big blue eyes, and when she wanted to, she could be extremely charming. June assumed that was how she’d been able to sweet-talk the man she’d met online who knew Prince Redmon.

June had accidentally interrupted her stepsister one night when she was FaceTiming with the man, Karl—and had been appalled to find Carla naked from the waist up, holding her DDD boobs aloft for the camera.

When caught, Carla had run straight to her mom and accused June of spying on her, and June had to endure an hour of being yelled at and called “ungrateful” and “jealous.” Which was ridiculous, of course, but per usual, Elaine didn’t give June a chance to tell her what had really happened.

June had dreamt of leaving the nasty women behind more times than she could count. She was thirty-two. She wasn’t chained to the house. She could walk away at any point.

But in years past, every single time she’d worked up the nerve to leave, she’d look around and see the chair where her dad used to hold her in his lap and read to her. Or see the marks on the wall of her height throughout her childhood. He’d always made a huge deal when she grew a fraction of an inch, though she’d always been the shortest kid in her class, eventually topping off at a petite five-three.

She’d remember her dad kneeling with her in the garden out back as they pulled weeds and laughed about something or other.

Her dad had adored this house. He’d scrimped and saved in order to be able to buy it, to give his daughter a beautiful home—nothing like the cramped apartment he’d lived in during his youth. Things had been tough in her early childhood, but he’d always managed to pay the mortgage, even if they had to eat hot dogs and ramen noodles for weeks on end.

And throughout all their struggles, they’d had each other. They’d played on the five acres around the house. He’d taught her how to cook. Cleaning never seemed like a chore when he was doing it with her.

Then, when June was fourteen, he’d met Elaine and her six-year-old daughter, instantly smitten with both. A year after that, he was gone, passing away just a few months after his and Elaine’s whirlwind courtship.

It wasn’t fair. Every day, June still missed her dad terribly. The house, and the land itself, was all she had left of him besides her memories.

It was hard to believe he’d died so long ago. Throughout the years, her stepmom had slowly but surely sold most of the things her dad had loved so much, moving everything else to the basement or attic. The rooms looked nothing like they had when it had been just June and Dad.

As he’d lain in the hospital dying, he told June that the house was hers. That he knew she’d love and care for it as much as he did. And she’d promised to do just that. To preserve their happy memories.

When he died, she was devastated. Hadn’t been able to think straight for months due to her grief. At first, her stepmom had been her rock, had kept June from falling apart. But looking back, June now knew the woman had been grooming her. Building her up only to tear her down. Somehow, she’d even convinced June that college would be a waste of time and money. Saying she’d never been academically inclined, and her dad would want her here, taking care of the house.

She’d had her first real moment of clarity in her early twenties and started looking into ways to kick Elaine and Carla out of the house before they removed every vestige of her father—only to learn she’d unknowingly signed away her rights to the home her dad had loved and cherished.

One day, right after she’d turned eighteen, Elaine had brought a bunch of papers home and explained they were legal documents June needed to sign for her inheritance, now that she was of age.

She’d stupidly trusted the woman, had signed page after page without reading . . . and had ended up giving ownership of her home to her stepmom without realizing what she was doing.

Reluctantly, June had stayed. Partly because she had nowhere to go and no money to rent her own place, considering Elaine and Carla had basically turned her into a servant, leaving her no time to find work elsewhere. Not that she had enough marketable skills to get a well-paying job.

But mostly she’d stayed because this was where she and her dad had been happy.

Now, with each year that passed, June’s stubbornness to stay the course, to not abandon her dad’s beloved house to her awful stepfamily, was waning. Carla was a bitch, her two corgis were horrible and just as nasty as their owner, and Elaine had a calculating look in her eye that June didn’t trust.

She’d been squirreling money away for a few years now . . . bills she found around the house, change in the washer that Elaine and Carla had left in their pockets, leftover cash from running errands.

It still wasn’t enough, not really, but June had finally reached the point where she knew she had to leave. She didn’t have any friends to help her, because Elaine had skillfully isolated her long ago from the kids with whom she went to middle and high school. For years, she’d been kept busy working, doing all the cleaning, shopping, cooking, and other errands, leaving no time for a social life of her own.

When she was just out of high school and still deeply grieving the loss of her father, and when she still thought Elaine had her best interests at heart, June had been glad to help out. To do her part to help raise Carla and keep the household running as smoothly as possible.

But now she was keenly aware of just how stupid she’d been. For too many years, she’d been Elaine and Carla’s slave—and she was done.

She’d miss the house, but the happy memories with her dad had been replaced by moments of humiliation and degradation. The house was no longer a cherished safe space—it had become her own version of hell.

June didn’t know where she’d go or what she’d do, but anywhere would be better than here. She’d been researching the best places in the country to live, the cheapest places, and hadn’t decided exactly where she wanted to head yet. Somewhere far from Washington, DC, that was for sure.

“Juniper!” Carla shouted as she burst into the kitchen.

June hated how Elaine and Carla insisted on calling her by the name her father always had. At first it had been comforting—it felt intimate and was a reminder of him. But now her full name on their lips was grating and made her skin crawl.

“Yes?” she asked as she turned away from the pot she was stirring on the stove.

“He’s here! Finally! He’s gonna stay in the room next to mine. You need to get up there and change the sheets. Make sure he has a clean towel—and make it one of the small ones.” Her stepsister grinned with a mischievous glint in her eye. “Because I’m gonna accidentally walk in on him, and I want to see how big his dick is. Can’t do that with a huge beach towel wrapped around his waist. Oh! And spray some of my perfume on his sheets. I want him to associate my smell with being in bed.”

“Right now?” June asked. She wanted to roll her eyes at Carla, tell her she was disgusting and far too desperate, but she knew better. It was much easier to fade into the background, to do what she was told, than to disagree. She’d learned that from experience.

“Of course, right now! Duh! You’re so stupid.”

“Okay, but the dinner might burn if I do,” June told her.

“Shit! That won’t work. Fine—after you serve us, after the appetizers and before the dessert, while we’re eating the main dish, run upstairs and get everything done. Oh, and make sure that the door between our rooms is unlocked too. How else will I be able to accidentally catch him naked?” Carla cackled. “Have you seen him?” she asked.

June shook her head. She wanted to ask her stepsister when the hell she’d possibly have had time to spy on their guest when she was busy doing last-minute chores—like sweeping dog hair from the entryway floors, taking out the trash, and cooking the four-course dinner Elaine had insisted the prince would be expecting.

“I’ve heard he’s covered in scars. Karl actually warned me not to make a big deal about them, but I went online to see what he meant, and he’s hideous without his clothes. I’ll have to close my eyes when he’s on top of me because . . . gross!” She paused to shudder dramatically. “But luckily his face is fine. I mean, his nose is crooked, and he’s missing part of one of his ears, but I’ll make him grow his hair long so it covers that up. As long as he has a big dick, I don’t really care what the rest of him looks like. We’ll still be beautiful together. I’ve already started looking at wedding dresses! I want to rival any other royal wedding that’s ever been televised! I’m going to be a princess—and I can’t wait!”

June felt a pang of pity for the prince. He had no idea the vipers’ nest he’d walked into. Had no clue Carla was already planning their wedding, all while calling him “hideous” and “gross” for things he’d had no control over.

Carla stared at June for a long moment. “Well?” she finally demanded.

June knew what she wanted to hear. “You’ll be a beautiful bride,” she said sedately.

With a fake smile, Carla nodded. “Of course, I will. Mark my words—Prince Redmon is going to be my husband within three months. No one can resist me. I haven’t had all those plastic surgeries for nothing. I’m going to be a princess!” she declared again.

Then she glared at June. “Don’t be late with our dinner. Keep your mouth shut—and don’t even look at the prince. He’s mine, and I’ll do whatever I have to in order to have him. Understand?”

June nodded immediately. “Of course.”

“Good. God, you’re so pathetic. As if he’d ever look twice at a fat cow like you, anyway.” Then Carla turned and flounced out of the kitchen.

The second she left, June let out a breath. She’d stopped letting her stepsister’s insults get to her years ago. She knew she was overweight, but as long as she was otherwise healthy, she didn’t mind. Her dad had struggled slightly with his weight, and she’d seen pictures of her mom. June definitely had the Rose genes . . . she would never be tall and skinny, but she was content with that. While she didn’t exercise like most people, working around the house and in the yard kept her muscles strong and her stamina up.

Turning back to the pot on the stove, June heaved a deep sigh. She really did feel bad for Prince Redmon. Carla would be relentless in her pursuit of him, and like most men who got caught in her snare, he’d be hooked before he realized exactly what kind of woman her stepsister was.

But it was none of June’s business. She’d tried to warn some of the men Carla had dated in the past, and it hadn’t gone well for her. Inevitably, Carla or Elaine found out what she’d said and made her life extremely miserable for weeks afterward. It was easier to just keep her mouth shut—and let Carla’s suitors find out for themselves that she was a raging bitch.

June shook her head at the thought of Carla becoming a princess. She’d ruin Liechtenstein’s reputation for sure. But again . . . it wasn’t her business. When she left, she’d be free of Carla and Elaine Green, and she’d never look back. Her time was coming, and as Carla would say, June couldn’t wait.

The Royal

Aug 8, 2023

In this modern Cinderella story, New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker weaves a tale of stepfamilies, stalkers, and a suspenseful, sweeping romance that proves true love can conquer all.

Former military man and member of a royal family Callum Redmon can’t deny his sense of responsibility. So when his cousin’s latest love interest claims to have a stalker, Cal reluctantly meets with the young woman and her mother. He wants to write off the situation as a complete farce—if only his feelings for another member of the household could be as easily dismissed.

Since her father’s death seventeen years ago, Juniper Rose has been at the cruel beck and call of her stepmother and stepsister. Her fantasies of escape mean leaving behind her father’s beloved home, but enough is enough: when Cal offers her a way out sooner rather than later, June takes the leap.

Cal’s home in Maine with his military brothers seems like the safest place to start fresh. But as Cal and June’s fairy-tale romance blossoms into something real, they find that the dangers stalking them may have been real all along.