Queen of Hearts
Publisher: Cerridwen Press
Contemporary Romantic Comedy
Available in ebook & Print
Garden District princess, Samantha Vines, is all about propriety, etiquette, and responsibility. She’s worked nearly her whole life to be Headmistress of the prestigious Wheaton Hill Academy and one wrong move could cost her everything. Cross-dressing, Vic Cabarini has wrong-move written all over him but Sam will learn one wrong can lead to a whole lot of rights.
For French Quarter bad-boy, Vic Cabarini, things are hard enough trying to figure out who’s sabotaging the Queen of Hearts drag club, add dresses, high-heel shoes, scratchy wigs and a daughter bent on worrying him to an early grave and it’d seem things couldn’t get any harder. But when Samantha Vines pokes her nose into his life, Vic finds ignoring his growing feelings for the curiously sexy schoolmarm might be the hardest thing of all.
Ms. Cuccaro's voice is fresh and funny, the characters vivid, and the sexual tension well placed. Queen of Hearts restores my confidence in contemporary romance.
~ Reviewer: A.D. Roland romancedivas.com
“Cuccaro pens a fresh and compelling read that will engage the reader. Her characters are unique, yet completely authentic and well rounded. Readers will want to root for this couple to overcome class lines and prove they go together like cafe au lait and beignets.”
~ Reviewer: Jennifer R. Wells-Marani RT Book Reviews
~ Queen of Hearts is an extremely well developed and delightfully entertaining story. The chemistry between Vic and Sam explodes off the pages. When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I was reaching for the ice bucket - Paige Cuccaro has penned a definite must-read! Read the entire review...
~ Reviewer: Kerin Euro Reviews
Copyright © PAIGE CUCCARO, 2006.
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
“Good Lord, is that…a woman?”
“Miss Vines, mind your tongue.”
“Yes, Headmaster Wadsworth, sir. My apologies, Katrina.” Samantha sealed her lips and watched.
Brown helmet-hair curled along a thick jaw and bounced with each heavy step as the large woman neared the open office door. Her God-awful purple dress, with its wide lapel and run of enormous buttons down the front, rippled around thick muscled legs. Dark hairs specked her meaty hands, pumping on either side of her body like the pistons of a train. Thick, coal-black brows hiked her painted face to a smile that seemed more handsome than pretty.
The poor thing looked as if she’d fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
Katrina Cabarini craned her neck around the doorway toward the approaching woman. “Christ Almighty.” She groaned, shook her head then slumped back in her chair.
“First impressions, Miss Vines,” Head Master Wadsworth said. “Mrs. Cabarini’s a close personal friend of Mr. Winterbourne. Her appearance not withstanding, the Winterbournes are pillars in the community and strong financial supporters of the school.” He pushed from his big leather desk chair to his feet, smoothing his maroon-and-navy-blue-striped tie beneath the triple buttons of his suit jacket.
Melanie Cabarini clomped a foot over the office threshold, snagging her two-inch heel on the Oriental rug. She stumbled forward, catching the corner of the desk in one hand and Sam’s shoulder with the other. The impact nearly sent them both toppling to the floor.
“Jeezus H Chri…” she said then snatched her hand off Sam as if she’d been burned. “Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am.
Her voice was deeper than Sam had expected, startling, but not unappealing. There was a richness to its tone, solid, the kind of voice that could vibrate through a body when raised in song and command instant obedience in spoken verse. Despite Mrs. Cabarini’s larger build, it was weirdly out of place on a woman.
“That’s not my mother,” Katrina said. “That’s my pathetically confused father Victor.”
Wadsworth’s round face puckered all the way up to his bald head. “Mr. Cabarini?”
“Yes, sir. ’Fraid so.” Vic offered a wide grin, a quick nod and outstretched hand. “Beg-pardon ’bout the dress. Ran straight from work. They said there was trouble with Kat, so I hightailed it right over.”
Obvious shock kept the headmaster’s hands at his sides and his eyes narrow in calculated study. Victor Cabarini used the pause to snag the wig from his head, revealing a tousled mess of ink black hair. A quick raking with his fingers fluffed the thick wealth of curls and trained them into a semi-ordered state. “Everythin’ all right?” he said.
Wadsworth’s mouth flapped open then closed. A curt shake of his head and his cool, collected demeanor snapped into place again. “No, Mr. Cabarini. Everything is not all right. I am Headmaster Wadsworth and this is Miss Samantha Vines, Katrina’s math teacher and student mentor.” He gestured toward Sam.
Vic’s gaze shifted to her, his dark eyes glinting with an intelligence that belied his backwater accent. His attention traveled down the length of her and back to her eyes, contacting with an audacity that spoke volumes of his manners and breeding—or lack thereof.
“Miss Vines,” he said, cocking his left brow to match his crooked, boyish grin. “It’s a divine pleasure.”
Sam was not one to be easily intimidated—certainly not by someone as…unrefined as Victor Cabarini. Never mind that her perception of him had changed from a big-boned woman to a tall, broad-shouldered, hard-muscled man—in a dress. Forget that the voice she’d thought strange coming from a woman was infinitely more luxurious, more visceral, from a man.
It didn’t matter how his studied gaze had left a wake of tingles over her body. There were rules, codes of conduct, polite society must adhere to or risk chaos—anarchy. The most basic of these rules is eye conduct. A single heartbeat as a show of strength, confidence, respect, then the connection is broken. Victor’s blatant stare was rude beyond excuse, not to mention the way it made her palms sweat and her chest tight.
Shoot! Sam narrowed her gaze and forced a smile that was exceedingly polite but not the slightest bit warm or kind. A practiced ability. She offered her hand. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Cabarini.”
He cradled her hand in his then pressed a moist kiss to her knuckles. Electricity, hot and delicious, sizzled along her skin, made her flinch, but he held her firm. Good gravy.
“Truly a pleasure,” he said in that deep chocolaty voice. He released her hand but held her gaze.
Rude. Just…rude. Sam looked away—at least she had manners—and gestured to the empty chair along the wall by Katrina. “Please, have a seat,” she said. “You’ll have to forgive us. We’ve never met Mrs. Cabarini. She’s always opted for phone conferences rather than coming in personally.”
Victor seemed to pay no mind to her apology. He twisted around toward Kat, his expression and voice high with surprise. “Baby doll! Hey there,” he said.
Kat rolled her eyes. “Hi, Vic. Nice outfit.”
His playful grin crinkled the corners of his eyes as he plopped into the chair. But the second his butt hit the seat he sprang back up like a crazed jack-in-the-box.
“Yeow! Lordy, Lordy, Lordy.” He shook his head, tugging the front of his dress at his thighs. He yanked down then twice to the right and once to the left. A few hard shakes of his knees while he fiddled at his waistband then he smoothed out the crinkle marks on his skirt and slowly lowered himself to the chair.
When he looked up, he couldn’t miss the bewildered expressions all around.
“Pantyhose.” He snorted. “Damnable things. Cut you in the worst places.”
Her arms folded across her belly, Sam fisted her blouse under each arm, pursed her lips and clenched her teeth. She would not laugh. She would not laugh…but, Good Lord, what a sight. The man looked as if he’d sat on a spring. And that yeow…at least for a second there he’d sounded like a woman.
Wadsworth’s frown wrinkled his shiny head. “Yes, well…one can only imagine.”
Sam raised her chin and drew a cleansing breath through her nose. Better. Her gaze drifted to Vic’s just in time to catch his wink. Her jaw dropped.
What was that? Flirting? Was he flirting with her? The nerve. The man was wearing a dress for heaven’s sake—an ugly purple-spotted dress. Okay, so he was somehow pulling it off with his masculinity intact, which was strangely impressive, but he was still a man in a dress.
Yes, it was slightly adorable the way his eyes sparked when he smiled at his daughter. And fine, looking at all that dark wavy hair made her hand twitch with wanting to run her fingers through it. Was it really as silky as it looked? What conditioner did he use?
Ugh! Stop that. He was a man in a dress. Where was his pride, his dignity? Where were his manners? Why on Earth would a father come to his daughter’s school in a dress? He was clearly uncouth, beneath her. He was…gay? OhmyGawd, he’s gay.