Prince’s Son of Scandal
BOOK 4 in the Sauveterre Siblings
Carrying the prince’s secret heir!
For one night, reclusive heiress Trella Sauveterre throws off the fear-ridden shackles of her childhood abduction—succumbing to a sizzling seduction, she falls unexpectedly pregnant! Deeply uncomfortable in the spotlight, Trella can’t bear a high-profile pregnancy and keeps the identity of her baby’s father hidden…
Then a tabloid photo of a scorching kiss implicates Crown Prince Xavier of Elazar in the scandal. He’ll do anything to claim his shock child—even kidnapping Trella! Now Xavier must legitimize his son. And it’ll be his pleasure to make Trella his royal bride!
Prince’s Son of Scandal
BOOK 4 in the
Passionate Worldwide Romance
Prince’s Son of Scandal
is BOOK 4 in the Sauveterre Siblings
The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: Pursued by the Desert Prince
- Book 2: His Mistress with Two Secrets
- Book 3: Bound By The Millionaire’s Ring
- Book 4: Prince’s Son of Scandal
Far too late, she realized what was happening. She was being kidnapped. Again.
— Trella, Prince's Son Of Scandal
I was still in high school the first time I sat down thinking, “I’m going to write a book.” I scribbled about a hundred words, realized it was a daunting task, and set aside the goal for five years.
When I sat down to write a quartet featuring two sets of twins, I again realized the task wasn’t as easy as it sounds. In this case, however, I had deadlines. Faint-heartedness was not an option.
Here’s the thing about writing. You’re always looking for ways to up the stakes and provide a bit of suspense. This was why my editor suggested I move Trella’s story to the end of the quartet. Trella was the twin who was kidnapped. It would be nice to explore that last, she said. She was right. I was happy to make that change.
But as I wrote the other three books, I kept looking for fresh ways to show how Trella’s experience had impacted her siblings. By the time I got to writing her story, poor Trella had been through so much!
And yet, she’s resilient. I adore her. She’s brash and imperfect and extreme. She also deserves to be loved—not in spite of her flaws, but because of them. I was so, so happy to give her a prince of a man who deserves love every bit as much as she does.
I sincerely hope you enjoy Trella’s story and all the rest of the HEA’s in The Sauveterre Siblings.
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Prince’s Son of Scandal
Six months ago…
When the greeter at the ballroom entrance asked Trella Sauveterre for her name, she nearly gave an arrogant “you know who I am.”
She bit it back. Her sister was never acerbic. Not with strangers, and definitely not with underlings. Her twin was perfectly capable of terse words and might even hurl some blue ones at Trella when she learned what she was doing right now, but Angelique’s personality was one of sensitivity and empathy. Gentleness and kindness.
Trella? Not so much.
“Angelique Sauveterre,” Trella lied, wearing her sister’s polite yet reserved smile. She ought to feel more guilty. She ought to feel like an overused cliché from a children’s movie, but she didn’t.
She felt alive.
And apprehensive. Terror could overcome her if she let herself dig deep enough. This was like swimming toward the middle of a lake, where the bottom was too deep to imagine. Who knew what dangers lurked in those dark watery depths? Monsters. They existed. She had met them. Had nearly been consumed by them.
But she wouldn’t think about that.
Nothing in her outward appearance revealed the way her heart bounced and jostled in her chest, fighting internal battles. She moved gracefully, even though her muscles felt stiff and petrified, twitching to run.
Because, along with the trickles of fear, a tumbling waterfall of joy rang through her. It was all she could do to keep tears from her eyes or laughter from escaping her throat.
I’m doing it! she wanted to call her family and cry. Look. I’m in public. By myself. I’m not shriveling like a vampire in the sun.
But they didn’t know where she was and it was best to keep it that way. This was the sort of sneaking out a window she should have done years ago, when she’d been an adolescent. Instead, she’d been a grieving survivor with an eating disorder and more baggage than a passenger jet.
Still was, if these people only knew.
She quashed the negative self-talk and moved like a normal person through the crowd. Gazes lingered, noting Angelique Sauveterre had arrived. Her bodyguard kept anyone from approaching, though. Maybe that wasn’t normal for everyone, but it was for the Sauveterre twins, even the eldest set of brothers.
With her sister’s aloof nod, she returned a few greetings to people she imagined she was supposed to know.
In a few weeks, she would come out as Trella and have nothing left to hide behind. No more walls, literal or technical. No broad-shouldered brothers. No playing her sister to avoid being herself. She had determined, had sworn on the blood she had shed when she nicked her ear cutting her own hair before Christmas, that this was the year she would free herself from the prison she had created.
For now, she was still hiding behind Angelique. She had impersonated her sister a few times recently, with her sister’s permission, escorted by their brother Henri to watch his twin, Ramon, race. They’d also taken in a fellow designer’s latest collection during fashion week. It had been spectator stuff where they didn’t interact with anyone and kept to places her sister had been seen with their brothers before.
Trella had never walked out in public alone. In her entire life, she had rarely done anything alone. As a child, Angelique—Gili to her family—had been the needy one and Trella, the protector. She had held Gili’s hand so her sister wouldn’t tremble and cry at the attention they had received. Their brothers had barely given them breathing space even before Trella’s kidnapping at age nine, always ready to catch a tumble from a swing or to keep them from wandering too far from the group.
Then she’d been stolen and had wished that her captors had left her alone.
She swallowed and veered her mind away from those memories. They were guaranteed to bring on an attack and she was doing far too well. It was coming up to two years without one.
The attacks had manifested years after her rescue, when she should have been finding her feet and moving on with her life. Instead, she had become a horrible burden. Her siblings would never say so, but they had to be sick of being on call for her. She was certainly tired of being the weakest link. She had to change.
Tonight was another step toward that. The press would go mad when she finally came out of seclusion at a friend’s wedding in a few weeks. She had to be ready, but she had to know she was ready.
So she was testing herself, if somewhat impulsively, because this charity dinner hadn’t been on her agenda at all when she had arrived in Paris.
She had been beside herself with pride when she’d landed, high on travelling from the family home in Spain—by private jet with trusted guards, always—but without her mother or siblings. It had taken her newfound independence to the next level.
So, when Gili tentatively had asked if she could run to London for a hot secret weekend with her new paramour, of course Trella had told her to go. Her sister had looked incandescent when she’d spoken about Prince Kasim. He was clearly something special.
Trella wanted her sister to be happy, wanted to quit holding her back. Spending a night alone at their tightly secured living space above their design house, Maison des Jumeaux, had seemed a perfect cherry on top of Trella’s already sweet split from old fears.
As the evening stretched on, however, she had restlessly poked around the flat, picking up after her sister and teetering on feeling sorry for herself. Wistfulness had closed around her.
Would she ever have a romantic liaison? Her feelings about men were so ambivalent. At fourteen, she’d had the usual rush of hormonal interest, even shared an embrace with the gardener’s son behind a rosebush. Then their father had died and the most terrifying predators had emerged online, threatening her in vile ways. Her fear of men, of everything, had compounded a hundredfold. As her panic attacks escalated, the deepest fear of all had crept into her very soul—that she was so damaged and broken, no one would ever want her.
For years, she had barely allowed men near her, interesting or otherwise. She slipped from one secured location to another through shielded walkways, accompanied by a mostly female guard detail. Occasionally, her brothers introduced her to a friend, but even if she had wanted any of those bankers or race-car drivers to make a pass, Ramon and Henri wouldn’t have allowed it.
Their dearest family friend, Sadiq, was the only man she’d spent real time with and theirs had never been a romantic relationship. He was the shy, heart-of-gold computer nerd who had helped the police locate her, returning her to her family. She loved him, but as her savior, not as a man.
Which was why his engagement had shaken her out of her ivory tower. She would do anything for Sadiq. If he wanted her at his wedding, of course she would attend, even though it meant overcoming her demons and returning to the public eye.
It had been a struggle to come this far, but now, as she stood on the cusp of achieving something like a normal life, she found herself resetting the goalposts.
She wanted her sister’s anticipation for a weekend with a man. She wanted to be the person she would have been if she hadn’t been stolen and assaulted, stalked and bullied, but it would never happen if she kept living behind these damned walls!
A disgusted toss of the latest fashion magazines onto the coffee table had sent a pile of paperwork sliding to the floor, revealing an invitation to this ball.
The fundraiser benefited orphaned children, something that would go straight to Gili’s tender heart. Even if Gili had sent regrets, the Sauveterre checkbook was always welcome.
Not letting herself overthink it, Trella had briefed a security team and slipped on one of her sister’s creations.
Where Trella loved powerful touches like strong shoulders and A-lines, along with eye-catching beadwork and bold colors, her sister’s style was gentler. The champagne gown had a waifish quality in the way the sleeves fell off her shoulders. The bodice and torso were fitted to her figure, but the ruched skirt across her hips created a sensual impression of gathered satin sheets around a nude form.
She added her sister’s earrings and a locket with a panic button, but kept the look simple, arranging her hair into a fall of dark locks and painting her lips a soft pink.
Now she was here, breathless and petrified, yet filled with more optimism than she’d experienced in years. She moved to speak to the aloof Russian host and his much warmer British wife, Aleksy and Clair Dmitriev.
“I’m so glad you came,” Clair said, drawing her aside in a confiding way that revealed Clair had no idea she was talking to Gili’s twin. “You’re not my only supporter who comes without a date, but you’re the only one who won’t be silly about my guest of honor. Don’t even ask how I got him here. I was hideously shameless, interrupting their trade talks and putting him on the spot in front of everyone. I talked him into auctioning himself for the first dance.”
Trella scanned for a glimpse of this exalted personality. Clair continued her confession as she wound them through the crowd.
“Aleksy said at least I use my power for good instead of evil, but I feel a little evil because the ravens surrounded him the minute he arrived. They’ll back off if you’re there, though. I know you’ll put him at ease. Everyone loves you. Do you mind?”
Trella could see how Clair got what she wanted, sounding sincere in her flattery as she took agreement for granted. Still, she was curious enough to murmur, “Bien sûr,” in her sister’s preferred French.
Clair beamed and gently pushed into the thicket of gowns.
The mystery man turned, revealing a red sash beneath his black tuxedo jacket. He was tall. Intimidatingly tall, with broad shoulders and an economy of movement, suggesting a huntsman’s physique lurked beneath his sophisticated attire. The blond glints in his light brown hair looked natural, given the hint of gold in his eyebrows.
Those eyes. They were such a piercing blue they struck like slabs off a glacier, peeling away to fall and rock the world. The rest of his features were precisely carved in sweeps of long cheeks under sharp cheekbones, a jaw hammered square and a mouth of two perfectly symmetrical peaks over a full but uncompromising bottom lip.
He was so compelling a force, so beyond her experience, the room faded from her consciousness. They became trapped in a noiseless, airless bubble as they took each other in.
Had she really longed to be seen as a woman? Because it was happening. He skimmed his gaze down in unabashed assessment. She saw the flash of interest in his gaze as it came back and locked with hers. He liked what he saw.
He saw Gili, though. Sweet Gili who was used to being in public, where men routinely sized her up as a potential conquest.
The strangest reaction slithered through Trella. She ought to have prickled with threat, or acted like Gili and let his male interest drift past her as if she didn’t notice or care.
Instead, she took issue with her sister being seen as a trophy. Protective instincts honed since birth pushed her confrontational personality to the forefront of the image she presented.
You’ll have to go through me, she projected, tucking Gili safely behind her.
His stare intensified. Burned. He saw her. Whatever shields she had walked in here holding—including her sister’s persona—were gone. She felt completely unprotected against his thorough exploration of her face, his gaze touching each curve and dip of her features.
It felt like a spill of magic, making her cheeks tingle. She had to disguise a rush of unprecedented sensual awareness. Men didn’t affect her, but the spell he cast sent invisible sensations from her throat to her nipples and her pelvis, into her thighs and terminated in a paralysis that nailed her feet to the floor. All the while, delicious stirrings swirled upward through her, making her feel drawn toward him.
“Your Highness,” she heard Clair say from what seemed like another universe. “Have you met Angelique Sauveterre?”
“Ms. Sauveterre, the Crown Prince of Elazar, Xavier Deunoro.”
Xavier had known exactly what he was doing when Clair Dmitriev had cornered him into making an appearance at her charity event. He was buying a future favor from her powerful husband, a man who was notoriously difficult to influence.
He had also known it would be an evening rife with what he had before him: Women in daring gowns, swishing their hips in enticement, sweeping lashes in false shyness while they twisted their hair in invitation.
As Europe’s most eligible bachelor, he was used to having his pick from such an array. He only needed to drop a claw and let it pick up one of the brightly colored toys before him. It didn’t matter which one fell into his hands. They were all the same, providing brief entertainment and something soft to embrace for a night, before forgetting them in the hotel room when he left the next morning.
Given the news he had received this morning, tonight’s plaything would be his last before his royal duty took precedence. It was another reason he had agreed to this ridiculousness. At least he had a decent selection for his final visit to the amusement park.
He was taking his time singling out his companion. They all had their charms. Was he in the mood for voluptuous or fair? Should he be practical and choose the one wearing enough gold not to covet his own? Or go with the one who promised some spark as she set her chin and glared at the rest?
Then his hostess presented a newcomer like a gift, one who made the rest of the women take sharp little breaths and step back.
She was taller than most, with divine features that matched her name. Her skin was soft and flushed, too warm to be called cream yet not dark enough to be olive. Golden as a sunrise glancing off a snowy peak.
A muse, clearly, since he felt poetic stirrings just by gazing at her. How could he not admire her? Her figure was goddess-perfect, her mouth sinful, her eyes fey and mysterious, colored somewhere between gray and green. If he pulled her from the cloud of perfume surrounding them, he bet she would smell like mossy forest and clean cold streams.
That was what she presented on the surface, at least. In a blink, she had shifted ever so slightly and it was as if she’d hit exactly the right angle to catch and reflect the sun. Something less tangible than external beauty seemed to concentrate and strike out in a sharp white light that pierced his eyes, like a star being born.
She was the diamond in a bowl of imitations, a woman of facets and contrasts, infinitely fascinating and priceless. If recognizing that caused him a stab of regret because he didn’t have time to fully explore her depths and contradictions, he ignored it. Such was his life. He took what he could, when he could.
Tonight, he would take her, grazie mille.
“Good evening.” He bowed over her hand, letting his breath warm her knuckles and feeling the tiny flex of her reaction. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“A rare treat indeed.” The tilt of her lips suggested an inside joke. “The honor is mine.”
“I’ve seated you at the VIP table,” Clair said. “Please find your way when you’re ready. Has everyone seen the silent auction items?” Clair broke up the knot of disgruntled women, most of whom drifted off.
A few opportunists remained, one being the redhead with the determined chin. He sighed inwardly as the redhead flashed a too sweet smile before asking, “Angelique, how is your sister? Still keeping to herself?”
Ah yes. That’s why the name had struck him as familiar. The family had a tragic history. One of the twin girls had been kidnapped as a child. She was rumored to be batty, so they kept her out of sight. As someone who had been reported as everything from born of an alien to outright dead, he put little store in such gossip, but did wonder how she would respond to such a blatant intrusion. It was clearly meant to disconcert.
She swung a scythe-sharp glance at the redhead, revealing the compressed carbon beneath her sparkle.
“She’s excellent.” Her tone struck him as ironic. “What’s your name? I’ll tell her you were asking about her.”
“Oh.” The redhead was startled, but flicked him a glance and decided to take a final stab at snaring his interest. “Lady Wanda Graves.”
“I’ll be sure you’re added to our list.” She smiled distantly and turned to him. “Shall we find our seats?”
She didn’t see the redhead brighten briefly before a darker thought struck, one that tightened her mouth. The other women who’d been standing by widened their eyes then averted their gazes before they scurried off.
He offered his arm and dipped his mouth to her ear. “You have a blacklist?”
“Nosy people do not wear our label.”
Catty, ruthless, or both? Either way, he was entertained.
And now he was reminded that the sisters had some kind of design house. Women’s fashion was last on his list of interests, but he took a fresh assessment of her gown, appreciating the peek of thigh exposed by the slit and the gather of strapless satin that left an expanse of upper chest and breast swell to admire.
“This is one of your creations? It’s pure artistry.”
“I can tell when I’m being patronized,” she warned.
“Then you’ll know I’m sincere when I say the dress is lovely, but I see the woman inside it. Which is the point, is it not?”
“Do you?” She tilted a considering look up at him, something dancing in the elfin green of her eyes. He could have sworn they were gray a minute ago. Her gaze dropped to his chest, where the band of silk slashed across his heart. “I see the crown, not the man. Which is what this is meant to convey, isn’t it?”
Astute, but a woman who made her living with clothing would understand such nuances.
The sash in question felt unaccountably restrictive this evening. Duty hovered in his periphery, set there by a brief news item passed along from his PA about Bonnafete, a small principality in the Mediterranean. The reigning prince’s daughter, Patrizia, had called off her marriage to an American real estate mogul.
Patrizia was a longtime acquaintance. Xavier was not as sorry as he had implied when he had sent his condolences. He was in need of a titled wife. His grandmother wanted him married so she could step down. Patrizia was infinitely suitable.
He had asked that his grandmother be made aware of the broken engagement. It was an acknowledgement of his responsibility toward her, their bloodline and the crown. Loathed as he was to marry, he preferred to spearhead such actions himself, rather than wait for her to issue orders. She might be the one person on this earth with the power to govern his actions, but he didn’t have to encourage it. He was confident she would approve and God knew she would let him know if she didn’t.
“Is it heavy?” his final sewn oat asked of his sash. The levelness in her tone told him she didn’t mean physically, proving she was even more perceptive than he’d imagined.
Compassion was not something he looked for in anyone, though, least of all his temporary companions. There was no room for any weakness in his life. No one saw him flinch. No one was privy to his bitterness at the hand life had dealt him.
It was a wasted emotion to feel.
So he ignored the chance she might understand him in a way no one else ever had and held her chair. “Nothing could weigh me down while I’m in your beguiling company, bella.”
She froze and looked over her shoulder. “Why did you call me that?”
“It’s an endearment. Elazar’s official language is an Italian dialect, though French and German are commonly spoken along with English.” He adjusted her chair as she sank into it then leaned down to speak against her hair where it fell in loose waves against her nape. “Why? Don’t you like it?”
Tiny bumps lifted on her skin in a shiver of reaction. Her nipples tightened into peaks against the silk that draped over them, making him smile. She liked it.
Awash in more sexual anticipation than he’d felt in a while, perhaps ever, he seated himself, pleased he would end his bachelorhood with such a terrific bang.
Trella was a natural extrovert. The chatter and color around her, the voices and music and attention, was like standing in the sunshine after years in an oubliette.
But to have this man glance at her with that admiring look on his face as he seated himself next to her was a deliciously sweet accompaniment. He was clearly an accomplished seducer, wearing charm and entitlement as comfortably as his sash, but she was excited to be singled out by him all the same. It was the flirtation she had yearned for.
“What brings you to Paris?” he asked.
Although, if she was going to do this, she wasn’t settling for plain vanilla.
“Surely you can do better than asking what a nice girl like me is doing in a place like this?”
“Let me consult my app.” He glanced at an imaginary phone. “How about… What sign are you?” He affected sincere interest.
Her mouth twitched. “Gemini. Twins. Obviously. You?”
“No idea. August sixth.”
“Leo. The lion. King of the jungle.”
“Obviously,” he said, with a self-deprecating tilt of the corner of his mouth.
She bit back a smile, intrigued by his position, but only because she knew what it was to be in the spotlight. He’d glossed over her query about the weight of his crown, but surely he wearied of attention and responsibility.
“You take horoscopes seriously?” he asked, nodding at a server who offered them champagne.
“Not as a belief system, but I used it as inspiration for a collection a few years ago. We used it,” she amended quickly, clearing her throat over the white lie and sliding her gaze to ensure the people searching for their seats hadn’t overheard her. It was well known in fashion circles that Trella had designed that particular line.
“How?” He seemed genuinely curious. “The patterns in the fabric?”
“Not that literal. More how the nature of each sign is perceived. They fall into different qualities, like fixed or mutable, and elements, like air and fire. There’s a lot to play with. I work better with deadlines so I approached one sign a month. It was an interesting exercise.” She leaned closer, wrinkling her nose. “Also a terrific marketing hook.”
The corners of his mouth deepened. “Beauty and brains. Always an irresistible combination.”
This prince, causing her heart to thud-thud under a simple compliment, should have sent her running. She had learned healthy caution from her childhood, but even though most men put her on edge, this one filled her with a giddy lack of fear. It was like breaking out of a shell. Like discovering she had the ability to fly.
She definitely wanted more time with him before this evening ended.
On impulse, she motioned for her guard, who was actually one of Gili’s, and quietly gave him an instruction about the silent auction. He melted away.
Was she being too forward? Reckless?
Their table filled up, forcing her to wait to find out. Dinner passed in a blur of neutral conversation. Someone asked the Prince about his country’s foray into green energy. She vaguely recalled his mountain kingdom between Italy and Austria had been accused of providing a tax haven during the world wars. Elazar sounded very modern and self-sufficient now. He spoke about exporting hydropower, since rivers and streams were one of their few natural resources. There was also a decade of investing in education, attracting engineering and technology start-ups, solar and wind power.
Her inner businesswoman should have been taking mental notes, but she was mesmerized by his casual command over his audience and subtly seduced with how close his sleeve came to touching her arm. Beneath the table, she imagined she could feel the heat from his thigh mere inches from her own. All she could think about was dancing with him.
Dancing. Tears pressed the backs of her eyes. She ached for that simple pleasure.
This adolescent reaction was ridiculous, but she let it happen. Embraced it. This is what she should have been doing at twenty, not hand-sewing sequins on mini-dresses for other young women to wear to exclusive clubs, killing hours with concentrated work so she could get through one day, one more hour, without a breakdown or the drugs that were supposed to prevent them.
Then Prince Xavier turned his terrifically handsome face toward her, bathing her in the light of his regard. “You must travel a great deal for your work? What drew you to fashion?”
He had given each of the others a moment in his attentive sunlight. Now it was her turn. He must engage in small talk with a thousand people a day, at ribbon cuttings and children’s hospitals, but she would have sworn on her life the tension around his eyes eased as he met her gaze. He’d been doing his duty, impatiently waiting to get back to her. She felt delirious even as she prevaricated her way through her reply.
“Both of us are quite creative.” Gili more so. She was the artist who designed out of love and ran the business out of necessity. Trella was the ambitious one, determined to turn a healthy profit. Practicality, not passion, had driven her into making her own clothes, because she couldn’t bear being judged by trolls for merely buying something, let alone how it looked on her.
“We had some start-up help from our brothers but surprised them and ourselves with our success.” Another fib. She wouldn’t have rested until they were making buckets of money. She was competitive and driven by an I’ll-show-you desire for revenge against those who had thrown shade.
“It can’t be an easy field. I’m sure your success is due to hard work as much as anything else.”
He was trying to get her into bed. She knew that with the brains he’d said he admired, but his flattery worked. She was ridiculously affected by his compliment. She wanted to say “It was a ton of work. Thank you for noticing.” Gili was the face of Maison des Jumeaux, which meant she received the bulk of the credit—not that she didn’t deserve a lot, but Trella worked just as hard and was not a naturally humble person. Hearing his praise went into her like a transfusion, tipping her further under his spell.
Their hostess moved to the podium to make a short speech, thanked the guests for their donations then announced the winners for the auction items. Trella grew increasingly self-conscious as the moments ticked down, certain she had truly lost her mind this time. Maybe she should leave before—
“Finally, our most coveted prize, a dance with the Prince of Elazar, has been won by…Angelique Sauveterre!”
The applause was polite, the knives in her back proverbial, but she felt them. She privately smirked, then blushed as Xavier showed no surprise. Was he so sure of her?
“You should be. I promised to double the next highest bid. You had better dance well enough to be worth it.”
“I do,” he assured her, rising to help with her chair, doing that erotic thing of speaking against her hair so tingles raced all over her skin. “For that sort of generosity, bella, I’ll give you the whole night.”
Oh, he was good. Lightheadedness accosted her every time he called her bella, the same nickname her family called her. Her pulse pounded so hard she thought it would bruise her throat, but it fed the thrilling excitement washing over her. He made her feel so alluring. Sexy.
He made her feel as though he wanted her.
That was beyond captivating. She had spent a lot of dark nights telling herself how flawed she was, how she didn’t want men anyway, so she didn’t care if they didn’t want her. She did want, though. She wanted to feel normal and alive. Happy and desirable.
The touch of his hand on the small of her back had a terrific effect on her. The awareness that had been teasing her all evening became a suffusion of deeply sensual lethargy. Dear Lord, was she becoming aroused?
It was what she’d envied her sister for—which was when it struck her what was happening. She and Gili had a twin connection. They didn’t read each other’s thoughts or anything so intrusive, but they picked up hints of the other’s emotions despite whatever physical distance might separate them. The preternatural sense was stronger on Gili’s side. Trella had been so messed up for years, taking anti-depressants to quash anxiety attacks, she hadn’t been as receptive to her sister’s moods.
Lately, however, she’d become more aware, particularly if Gili was restless or having an off day. Tonight, her sister was with a man who truly excited her. She was usually so careful, so rarely selfish, yet she was basking in something that made her incredibly happy.
Her sister’s buoyant heart lightened Trella’s. She was happy for Gili, happy her sister wasn’t weighed down by all the things Trella had put her through. It added another lift of carefree joy to her own evening.
“You dance well yourself,” Xavier said as he spun her in a waltz.
She was too exhilarated to respond. The sparkling ballroom circled around her in a kaleidoscope of colors. His embrace was confident and reassuring, making her feel light as a fairy.
“I feel like Cinderella.” It was too true. She was the smudged sister who had escaped from the attic, wearing borrowed clothing to dance with a prince.
“You look like something out of a fairy tale.” The line of his brow twitched and the corner of his mouth deepened, like he both surprised and disparaged himself for saying. “You’re very beautiful,” he added gruffly.
Gili was the beautiful one. Trella had fought hard to get back to the same weight as her sister, wanting to feel as good as Gili looked. She had let her hair grow out to her sister’s length so she could impersonate her for her dry runs going out in public, but she never thought of herself as beautiful. She too often thought of herself as broken.
Not tonight. She diverted herself away from any thoughts other than how glorious this was. Around and around they went. His thighs brushed hers, his fingers splayed as though trying to touch more of her. She let her fingers trail closer to his collar so she could rest the side of one finger on the hot skin of his neck. It was electrifying. The magnetic sensations grew as he kept her dancing into the second song, tugging her toward an unknown crescendo. When someone tried to cut in, Xavier shrugged him off.
“The privilege of position?” she teased.
“I’ve never seen anyone glow like you. I’m enthralled.” Again, misgiving seemed to flicker like a shadow across his face. He didn’t like admitting to whatever he was feeling, but it added to her own exuberance.
“I feel like…I can’t even describe it. Like it’s Christmas. Like anything is possible.” She brought her gaze down from the chandelier into the turquoise blue of his eyes.
She reminded herself that becoming over-excited could have a rebound effect. She didn’t want to backslide. It would be a long fall from this height.
Then she forgot any sense of caution when he said, “I need to kiss you.” The desire in his words was a sensual squeeze that stole her breath.
A very long time ago, she had been quick to agree to anything that sounded adventurous. A dungeon full of shackles and bars had kept her grounded since then, but somehow, with a few words, this man reached past all the darkness and invited her into the light. To be the impulsive, audacious person she was in her heart.
“Me, too,” she said through sensitized lips. It’s only a kiss.
His sharp gaze moved beyond her. The next thing she knew, he had her off the dance floor, through a small break in the crowd and into an alcove hidden by the giant fronds of a potted plant.
She wasn’t given time to decide whether she’d been too quick to agree. His arm tightened across the small of her back, pulling her in, arching her against the layers of his tuxedo. He was steely beneath his civilized covering. He knew what he wanted. His hot mouth covered hers without hesitation.
For a second, she was terrified. Not of him, but of how she would react. Would she panic?
Then her senses took in the way his mouth fit against hers, moving to part her lips, questing for her response. Something primitive moved in her, shaking her foundations, waking the woman she might have been if her life had been different, drawing her beyond old traumas into a place she barely understood.
Pleasure flooded her, making her stiffen, wary of such a strong reaction, but primal need quickly took over. Her brain might not be able to process what was going on, but her body knew how to respond.
Rather than put the brakes on, her hands went behind his neck. She found herself running her fingers into his short hair, shaping the back of his head as she drew herself up, parting her lips so he could plunder at will.
His arms tightened around her and she thought he made a growling noise. It should have scared her. Male aggression, especially the sexual kind, was something she’d taken pains to avoid.
Strangely, with excitement pulsing through her, she found herself thrilled by his response. She kissed him back with abandon, just as if she knew what she was doing.
Something flashed behind her closed eyes and he abruptly lifted his head.
“That was a camera,” he muttered, fingers digging in near her tailbone as he pressed her close enough to feel the thick shape straining the front of his trousers. “Let’s find some privacy.”
Her analytical mind urged caution, but her old self, her true self, trusted her instincts. She released a breathy, “Let’s.”
He dipped his head to lightly scrape his teeth against her neck, urging against her ear, “You leave first. I’ll follow you upstairs.”
She gasped, mind going blank before a million thoughts rushed in.
“You have a room here? In the hotel?” What had she thought when he had said privacy? Was the idea of being alone with him intriguing or alarming?
“The penthouse, yes.”
“Is it safe?”
“Of course.” Good gracious he was handsome, even when he frowned. His features weren’t too refined. There was just enough toughness in the intensity of his gaze, just enough stubbornness in the square of his jaw to make him look stern and rugged.
As he read her hesitation, his hand cupped the side of her head while his gaze flicked with irritation at the noise around them. “I want you to myself.”
Empathy panged within her. She knew the wear and tear that being in the spotlight took on a person. She instantly wanted to give him the break he needed. He was a sophisticated man. She had nothing to fear from him physically, but was compelled to say, “I have guards. For a reason.”
She was using her sister’s tonight, both to give her own a much-deserved night off as well as to maintain the illusion she was her twin. She should tell him who she was.
“The room is completely secure. More secure than here,” he added, mouth twisting in dismay at their having been photographed. He led her back to their table. “I won’t keep you waiting long.”
Voices of caution crowded into her head, but when would she have a free pass like this again? When would she meet a man who made her feel anything like this? It wasn’t just physical, although that part was so heady she felt drunk, but there was a rarity, too. There were other men in the world who were a safe bet, men vetted by her brothers, but when would she feel this pull? This compulsion to know more about this man?
Before she talked herself out of it, she let her finger press up for the penthouse. It wasn’t that she didn’t have misgivings, or that she ignored them, she overcame them. It was different. It was another small triumph that had her stepping lightly off the elevator onto thickly carpeted floor.
It was easy to spot the Prince’s room. Two guards were stationed outside the door. Her own accompanied her as she approached them.
“Mademoiselle Sauveterre,” one greeted with a respectful nod. “We were notified to expect you.” He stepped inside and invited her guard to sweep the rooms.
Both men behaved with the utmost professionalism, not betraying a hint of judgment about what they must know was a preliminary for seduction.
A smile touched her mouth as she thought about how her brothers would blow their tops if they knew where she was right now, even though they had both been on the Prince’s side of this equation hundreds of times, the hypocrites.
Then she was left alone and she took in the elegant shades of ivory and sage green on the walls and the furnishings. A glass of watered-down Scotch had been abandoned on an end table, ice long melted. She sniffed, then dared a sip, thought about looking at the view, then decided to leave the drapes closed.
The double doors to the bedroom stood open. She stared at the bed, taking another quick sip of liquid courage just as the main door opened. His star power impacted her anew, making her heart skip.
“You made yourself comfortable. Good.”
“This is yours.” She tilted the glass, then set it aside, instantly wishing she’d kept it to keep her hands busy.
“I’ll make you a fresh one. Or, how about champagne?” He moved to the bar. As he peeled the foil from a bottle, the crinkle seemed overly loud.
This was the moment she should have admitted she was Trella.
A very real fear sat within that admission—that he would develop his own misgivings. He would either want explanations she didn’t care to give, or he might jump to conclusions that made him averse to being with her. In no scenario did she imagine this exciting, lighthearted atmosphere would continue.
“You’re nervous,” he noted as he popped the cork.
“You’re observant,” she said, compelled to at least confess, “I don’t do this.”
It was true no matter which twin she represented. Gili running away for a weekend with a prince was as out of character as her being here with this one.
“I already guessed that.” He set two glasses as he poured, canting his head to eye her. “You’re not a virgin, are you?”
She choked. “No.”
True again for both twins, but she had to look away, mind skipping off the dark memory like a stone off the water’s surface.
No, that was another reason she was here. Being alone with a man was another snapped link in the chain that bound her to the past. She was really, really proud of herself right now. Even though her proffered excuse of “I’m just out of my comfort zone” was the understatement of the year.
He brought the glasses across the room to her and offered her one. “Saluti.”
They sipped, gazes locked, unspoken expectations hovering between them. Her throat grew abraded by the bubbles.
“What if I change my mind about being here?” she asked in a soft rasp.
“Then I will be disappointed.” His intent expression didn’t change.
“Disappointed. Very disappointed, bella.” His gaze acted like wildfire, igniting her blood as he swept it across her cheek and down her throat.
He turned away to set music playing. The notes were low and sultry, matching the thick feeling in her veins, the sensual throb of her pulse.
“Either way, I’m pleased to have you to myself.” He came back to her, steps laconic, touch smooth and confident as he looped his arm around her. “Whether you want to talk or dance or…pass the time in other ways.”
He swayed them into a dance that was really just the press of two bodies. Foreplay. They both still held their champagne flutes. Held gazes.
“I wasn’t in the mood to fight other men for your attention.”
“Was anyone else even trying? I hadn’t noticed.” She batted her lashes.
His mouth tilted. “I like that wit, bella. I find myself regretting we only have tonight.”
She tucked her chin and gave him an admonishing look. “You’re patronizing me again. I don’t need the rules spelled out. I’m not that green.”
“See? Such sharp intelligence is the sort of thing that holds my interest longer than a few hours.”
“Is that how long your liaisons usually last?”
He stopped dancing, arm remaining across her back, but loosely. “That’s probably not a good topic of conversation.”
“I know.” Bubbles tickled her nose as she sipped, trying to wash away a strange bitterness on her tongue. It shouldn’t matter what his past looked like. Whatever man eventually attached himself to her wouldn’t come to her pristine. She couldn’t expect it when she had such a complicated history herself. “I think I’m looking for reasons not to like you so I won’t feel so…”
She frowned. The hand she’d rested on his shoulder slid down to splay on his chest as if she had the right to touch him with such familiarity, but touching him felt very natural. Her fingertips dipped beneath the ribbon of red, sliding the tips of her polished nails beneath it as she ever so slightly lifted it off the crispness of his shirt.
“I’m not a pushover. I’m normally the most contrary person you could imagine. A fighter.” Her family told her that all the time, so why was she letting this happen? Her usual streak of rebellion was absent.
Actually, she realized with a spark of insight, it was directed against the life she’d been leading, pushing her to break free of old restraints. No one was stopping her from spending a night with a man except her. All she had to do was choose to.
“I’m not trying to pressure you. I’m sincere that I wish we had more time to get to know one another, but my life has never allowed for long term relationships.” His hand shifted to splay in a warm brand against her lower back, offering a soothing caress. “For what it’s worth—” He bit the inside of his cheek, seeming to weigh what he was about to say. The shadow moved behind his eyes again, telling her that he was uncomfortable with how revealing his words were. “If you walked out of here right now, I wouldn’t go looking for someone else. You’re the only woman I want to be with tonight.”
“Why?” It came out of her with a pang of disbelief. “Please don’t say it’s because you like the way I look.” She didn’t want him to want Gili. It would break her heart—it really would.
His breath came out in a soft snort of disbelief. “Because of the way we make each other feel.”
He lowered his head to graze his damp lips along her jaw and down to her neck, making her shiver. Her nipples pulled tight so quickly they stung. He chuckled softly at the way she audibly caught her breath.
“We’re positively volatile.” His hot breath bathed her ear before his teeth lightly closed on her lobe, nearly causing her knees to buckle.
She pressed her hand more firmly to his chest.
“No?” He drew back, but held her close. Held her up, if she was honest.
“I’m trying to think,” she gasped, nearly overwhelmed by sensations that were the furthest thing from fear.
“And you can’t? Then we feel the same.” His tight smile only made the edgy fist of need inside her clench harder. “Feel, bella. Feel how much you’re exciting me.” He moved her hand all the way under the sash, so the pound of his heart slammed into her palm. “This isn’t anything I’ve ever experienced, either.”
Her scalp tingled. She dropped her champagne glass, ignoring the delicate break of crystal, wanting too badly to touch him with both hands. She slid her fingers to the back of his neck and raised her mouth, inviting him to kiss her. It was pure instinct and he didn’t hesitate, covering her parted lips as though he’d been let off his leash after having been tempted for too long.
The world stopped then spun the other way, dizzying her. She made one whimpering noise, astonished by how thoroughly such a thing could devastate her, wilting all her muscles.
She distantly heard another delicate shatter, then he picked her up, lifting his head to reveal a fierce expression. Victory? Not quite, but there was something conquering there. Something exalted.
Yet his bright gaze asked a question.
She nodded, unable to speak, just gave herself up to it, to him. She knew when to fight her body and when to surrender. Perhaps it was the silver lining to all those years of having to accept that physiology trumped logic. This was bigger than anything she could make sense of.
He set her on the bed and she watched him throw off his jacket, shaken by the feelings that were carving a valley through her. He joined her and dragged her half under him, kissing her again. Thorough, drugging kisses that set her alight, yet she felt stiff and frozen.
“What’s wrong?” He lifted his head, proving himself to be attuned to her in a way that was reassuring and disturbing all at once.
“I’m shy,” she admitted, ducking her head as she said it because that wasn’t her at all. Her eyes stung with emotive tears at how monumental this was. She was alone with a man, on a bed, and he had set the sun inside her. He made it radiate outward, filling her with such heat and joy she was going to burst. “I want to touch you, but I don’t want to make a fool of myself. I don’t know if I can contain myself.”
“Don’t even try.” His voice brimmed with graveled warning, which might have made her chuckle, but she released her breath and let her hands move to greedily stake a claim.
He was firm everywhere, taut and strong. Hot. Her fingers discovered the textures of his clothes, then slid beneath his shirt as he yanked it free of his belted pants. He made an approving noise as she found satin skin and the tension of his abdomen, then the shape of his rib cage and the sleek muscles across his chest. The sharp beads of his nipples fascinated her.
She made her own appreciative noises, utterly rapt with the contrast of his body to her own, all flat planes and crisp hair and indomitable strength.
He released her zip and dragged down the loosened front of her dress. As he bared her breasts, something elemental gripped her. The spirit of womanhood. She melted onto her back and arched, emphasizing their differences, liking that he made a noise that sounded almost suffering, yet growly and ferocious. He opened his mouth and engulfed her in such a place of earthy pleasure, she released her own cry of agonized joy.
Volatile. Was that what this was? She hadn’t known she could feel like this, frantic yet intoxicated. Impatient yet timeless. She wanted to stay like this forever, running their hands over each other, kissing, mouths needing to fuse and breathing be damned. But as his hands moved on her, shifting silk with a touch so hot it burned her through the fabric, she wanted more. So much more.
His fingertips grazed the slit in her gown and she found herself offering more of her leg then trembling in anticipation, waiting for the feel of his touch on her skin. The pet of his hand on the outside of her thigh made her shiver. She gloried in the way he kissed her harder, deeper, hand shaping her hip, exploring her belly, then tracking to her other thigh. He squeezed the taut muscle then moved with delicious confidence to cup the center of her.
Breath stalling, eyes opening, she waited for panic, but before she could entertain a grim memory, he firmed his touch and rocked his hand, sending a jolt of incredible pleasure through her pelvis. Her eyelids grew heavy again and she found herself lifting, spellbound by the lightning bolts of sensation that grew in strength as they kissed and he caressed her.
How could anything feel this good?
She wanted to touch him as intimately, but she could hardly think of anything but how he was making her feel. Just as she tried to shape him through his pants, his touch changed, exploring beneath silk with knowledge and intention.
She bucked in reaction. “I can’t—My heart is going to explode.”
She moved a reflexive hand to cover his, not quite stopping him, because the slide of his fingers against her was so mesmerizing, but so sensitizing she almost couldn’t bear it. Her entire focus narrowed to that delicate circle and stroke.
“I want to be inside you, but I don’t want to stop touching you. Like that?” He pushed a long finger into her.
She couldn’t speak, could only hear a keening noise that came from her as he penetrated and circled where she was so sensitive and molten that she ached. She tightened, trying to savor, trying to hold back the build, but wanton mindlessness took over. Her hips danced against his hand, the pleasure growing too acute to bear, tension growing and growing until she couldn’t stand it—
“Oh!” Her world exploded in a sudden release that had her shaking and shuddering, flesh pulsing and eyes tearing at the absolute beauty of it.
She pressed his hand still, trying to ease the sensation, trying to catch her breath.
He kissed her, tongue questing for hers, and continued to gently caress her, soothing and teasing so her level of arousal didn’t fade, only edged into deeper desire.
With a groan, she rolled into him, strangely ravenous. She wanted the barriers between them gone. Wanted all of him. What was he doing to her?
He made a feral noise and they tugged at each other’s clothing, stripping in seconds, then rolled back together, naked, gloriously naked. Now he was hers, all hers. She swept her hands over him, enamored with his broad shoulders but equally fascinated by his rock-hard biceps and the way his Adam’s apple bobbed in a swallow.
When she cradled the fiercest part of him in her palm, she wasn’t frightened at all. She felt powerful, especially when he looked agonized and closed his eyes and breathed, “Bella.”
With a smile, she pressed her mouth to his throat and tried to roll him onto his back. He rolled her beneath him instead, pressing over her as he kissed her, letting her caress him as he used his tongue to mimic what he wanted to do until she couldn’t take it and tore her mouth from his. “I need—”
She didn’t know what she needed. She was restless and urgent, loins feeling achy and neglected. Empty.
He reached over to the night table then rose over her, knees sliding between hers and parting her legs with effortless strength.
She felt so many things in that moment. Vulnerable, yes, but strangely trusting. It didn’t matter if she didn’t particularly enjoy this part. She wanted to know she could take a man—
He paused, tip pressing for entry, the invasion startling enough that she tensed.
His head came up. His whole body was taut, his cheeks flushed, his eyes glittering, but there was a shred of man still governing the animal. “I might literally die if you’ve changed your mind.”
Maybe that’s what made her smile. Maybe it was the fact her body was so eager for his. Maybe it was simply the joy of this crazy, magical night.
With a little arch, she invited him to complete his thrust and he did with a shudder, sinking deep, gaze never leaving hers, but glowing hot as the center of a flame as their flesh melded.
To say she became a woman under his possession was silly, but she felt like a woman in that moment. Mature and whole and sacred. She was responding exactly as nature intended under the advances of a mate. Her mate. With this act, he gave her back her sexuality, her desire. Her self.
She closed her eyes against something too big to contemplate, but it only made the sensations intensify as he took a testing withdraw and return. She shivered as though velvet passed over her skin.
“Yes,” she moaned, savoring the deliciousness that lingered with anticipation for another stroke. “More.”
Lucidity faded as he did it again. And again.
He began to thrust with more purpose. She found her hips rising to meet his, longing for the return of his. Needing it. The dance delivered such acute pleasure, she released a strangled groan of enjoyment.
He picked up the tempo and magnificent sensations ran through her. She wanted to tell him but couldn’t speak, as she was too enraptured. Tension gripped her. A kind of tortured ecstasy—her body searching for an answering call in his.
She needed him to be as driven beyond himself as she was. To come with her to this place where nothing existed but this new being they had become with their joining. Scraping her nails down his back, she grasped at his buttocks and pulled him into her. Into the eye of the storm.
They struck the pinnacle together, the climax so intense, she opened her mouth in a soundless scream. Pleasure like she had never known flooded in, drowning her as he held himself magnificently deep inside her, throbbing in her jubilant grip as he released a ragged cry of exhilaration and shuddered with completion.
“What’s wrong?” Trella murmured, hands moving with endless appetite over his damp shoulders.
He withdrew and rolled away. “The condom broke.”
She was glad it was dark now. After the first time, they had turned out the lights and slid under the covers to fondle and caress for ages, barely speaking, just kissing and enjoying. Bonding, she might have been tempted to think, yet something in his silence, and the condoms in the night table, told her he had done this a lot.
She had suffered a hollow ache as she’d forced herself to accept that, despite his sweet words, she was merely the woman du jour for him. A lady of the night, really.
Whether he had sensed her withdrawal, or she was just that easy, he had grown more passionate. The second time had been even better than the first. Her inhibitions were gone and he held out, giving her two shattering orgasms before taking her on a third ride that nearly killed her, their shared climax being so powerful.
She was too sweaty and lethargic to be triumphant, but she was pretty darned smug at having taken a lover. She had distantly been hoping she had rocked his world as thoroughly as he had rocked hers, but reality struck like a brick through a window at his words.
“It’s okay. I won’t get pregnant.” She swallowed, trying to clear the thickness that gathered in her throat.
“You’re on the pill or something?”
Or something. “Yes.”
“I have physicals all the time.”
“I’m fine, too.” Did people really have these conversations? It scraped the romance off a wonderful evening, leaving her thinking about the rest of reality. Guilt crawled in. She had kept secrets from him and—far worse—from her family. They’d be worried sick if they knew where she was.
As if on cue, her phone plinked with the harp notes of her sister’s ringtone. Like some kind of empath, Angelique was picking up on her sudden discord.
“I have to get that,” Trella murmured, then she groaned. Her muscles ached as though she’d run a marathon. She forced herself to rise and move naked across the shadowed room, finding her clutch where she’d dropped it in the lounge, then came back to the bedroom door.
She stayed there, slyly hoping he was looking at her, silhouetted by the lamplight. In a quick exchange of texts, she reassured her sister she was fine. Gili knew something was up, though. Tendrils of misgivings began working through Trella’s system. It was time to call it a night. She needed to hole up at the flat where she knew she was completely safe and process all of this.
“I have to go.” She clicked off her phone and sent him a smile of cheerful resignation.
“Is everything all right?” He rose to pull on his pants, not bothering with underwear, which pleased her for some reason, but he didn’t invite her to stay, which depressed her as well.
“Just my sister. She needs me to get home.” She texted her guard that she would be ready in fifteen minutes and stepped into her thong.
Xavier shook out her gown and brought it to her, then moved behind her as she stepped into it. Hurrying her? She pulled up the gown then lifted her hair while he zipped.
His hands lingered on her skin, not moving, not holding her in place, but his grave words pinned her motionless. “I remember her kidnapping.”
She dropped her arms, letting her hair fall over his hands, as helpless and as terrified as she had ever been. Her breastbone turned to ice and her ears strained to hear what he would say next.
“I was fourteen. My father was renouncing the crown. My mother was already gone, exiled by my grandmother for their divorce. I was feeling very sorry for myself. Then I saw photos of this little girl, so pretty and happy, stolen. I stopped worrying what would happen to me. I was so relieved when she was recovered.”
His fingertips stayed across her shoulders, not caressing, just resting in small hot prints. She thought she would bruise from the contact. Not in a painful way. It was the opposite of injury. Healing?
He drew in a sharp breath and pulled his touch from her skin. “I don’t know why I said that. It was far too personal for both of us. You’re clearly still worried about her if you’re rushing off.” He bent to retrieve her shoes. “I hope she’s all right.”
It was me. She should have said it, but her throat was too tight.
She knew there were people who had rooted for her family all the way along, but it was so wrapped up in their notoriety, she didn’t differentiate the kindly meant from the intrusive or downright cruel. Her family hadn’t asked to be famous for the odd trick of nature that had created two sets of identical twins. They were just people, perhaps better looking by certain standards, definitely richer than average, but regular humans.
Yet the world was insatiably curious about what brand of soap they used and held strong opinions on how they should conduct themselves.
To have this man, who was completely removed from it, reveal such a personal memory connected to her affected her, changing the careful constructs inside her. Defenses that held darkness at bay while keeping her open to the people who loved her shifted and angled to provide space for him to enter.
No. She couldn’t let him in! Tie herself to a man? Lose herself behind someone else’s goals and wishes and expectations when she had so many unreached aspirations of her own? She couldn’t attach herself to someone whose life was bigger than hers. She was trying to escape all the restraints that had bound her for so long.
Shaken at how vulnerable she was to him, she jiggled her bodice against her breasts, then perched on a chair to strap on her shoes, hands trembling.
“Is she really as beautiful as you?” He watched her with his fists pushed into his pockets. His naked shoulders were relaxed and outlined in pale gold while the shadows in his face suggested a brooding expression. The dark patch of his chest hair narrowed to a suggestive line, arrowing to his navel, then lower.
He was the beautiful one. She memorized this last intimate glimpse of him.
“Exactly as beautiful.” She smiled, amused with her own joke, then poignant gratitude accosted her. “Thank you for tonight. I—” She stopped herself from saying something truly gauche.
She wanted to ask if he’d meant it when he’d said it wasn’t always like this for him. She wanted to tell him what he had given her. She wanted to get out of here before she revealed too much.
She glanced at the clock. If she didn’t show her face promptly, her guard would knock and enter. They were paid very well to be diligent and investigate when she wasn’t where she said she would be.
Xavier moved to offer a hand, helping her to her feet. “Thank you. This was lovely.” The words came off lighthearted, punching into her as she imagined the legions of other women who had heard such offhand praise. Not even, I won’t forget you. Just, this was lovely. A pleasant meal. Nothing life-changing.
He brought her hand to his mouth, exactly as he had when they’d met, except this time he turned her hand over and kissed her palm.
Trying to hide how deeply that affected her, she said, “Goodnight, sweet Prince.”
He snorted. “I could have you beheaded for that.”
With a lightning move, he pulled her close and wove his fingers into her hair, planting a real kiss, a final one, on her mouth. It was painfully sweet. Thorough, yet tender. Oddly heartbreaking.
And even though she was the one to draw back, her lips clung to his. Temptation to stay, to say more, gripped her, but he distracted her.
“You’ve lost an earring.” His fingertip flicked at her lobe.
“No!” Both hands went to her ears, finding one empty. “Here? In the room? Did you notice if I had both while we were downstairs?”
“I’ll buy you new ones,” he offered with an offhand shrug.
“They’re sentimental. A gift from my father.” To Gili. She clicked on the lamp and flung back the bed covers, searching.
A polite knock tapped on the main door, her guard telling her the car was in position. They avoided waiting whenever possible. It drew a crowd.
“I’ll find it and send it to you at the design house.”
“Promise?” She looked from his muscled chest to the sheets to his eyes. Oh, he was spectacular in the golden light, emptying her brain all over again.
“I only make promises I can keep.”
“Thank you.” She didn’t bother worrying about him addressing it to Angelique. She would intercept it or come clean if she had to. “I really did, um, enjoy this.”
His eyes warmed with laughter. “My pleasure, bella.”
She was starting to sound like the neophyte she was. Definitely time to make her escape. She ducked her head and made for the coach before she turned into a pumpkin.