cabins are designed to look rustic when they really cost a fortune.
Inside, one of the horse trainers greets us with a bow. "Your Highness, no one told me you were coming down here."
"Rudolph!" She draws the man in for a hug. "It's been forever since I've seen you. How's Emily?"
"My daughter is doing just fine now," he says, pulling out a wallet and showing her photos. "Thanks to you, she did that treatment in Switzerland and she's been in remission six months."
"I'm so glad." Alexandra beams. "She's beautiful. How's Apollo?"
"Your horse is still as ornery as ever," Rudolph says, shaking his head. "You're the one who always had a way with him."
"I haven't gotten out him out to ride as much as I'd like," the princess comments.
"Don't worry. He'll still remember you." Rudolph pauses and looks me over. "Your security is coming to the stables with you now? Is everything okay?"
Alexandra laughs. "You mean, is anyone trying to kill me?" She pauses for a beat. "My security staff might want to kill me most of the time, but no one other than him. Rudolph, this is my bodyguard." I pause, waiting for her to say my actual name, but she just gives me an impish little smile, then finishes: "James."
Rudolph puts his hand out. "Nice to meet you."
"Max Donnelley," I tell him. "James is just the princess' pet name for me. It's because I'm her favorite bodyguard."
Rudolph looks at me, his expression flat, then back at the princess. "I like this one," he says, pointing at me.
Princess Alexandra pretends to evaluate me, pursing her lips. "He's rather ornery."
Rudolph grunts. "Speaking of ornery, let's get you on Apollo."
Alexandra's expression brightens. "James, would you like to ride?"
I refrain from making a dirty comment. "I think I'll just stand over here and watch."
"I told you I'd teach you," she insists. "It's like driving a car."
"I'm fairly certain that riding a horse is not like driving a car."
"Suit yourself," she says, squealing when Rudolph brings her horse. She coos at him and nuzzles his face. I'm not sure why the trainer described the horse as being ornery because that animal is like putty in her hands.
I stand by the arena, watching as she rides. After a while, Rudolph appears at my side, watching silently as she takes the horse over a series of jumps. "She's always had a thing for the difficult ones."
"She's not easy herself."
"The king bought Apollo for the princess after the queen died, God rest her soul." He looks upward and makes the sign of the cross. "Lord, that horse was a wild one, just like the princess. But she and that animal, they were something else. They had an understanding from the very beginning. I think he sensed she needed him."
I grunt my response.
Rudolph doesn't say anything for a few more minutes as I watch the way the princess moves on the horse. She's elegant and light as a feather, perched in the saddle, and the pair move like one as she guides him into the jumps, making the entire thing look effortless.
"It's kind of that way with people sometimes," Rudolph says. "Funny how life gives you just what you need."
I don't say a damn thing because I don't know what the hell to say in response to that. Rudolph isn't exactly all that subtle. But he doesn't want a response, either. He's wandering back off to the stable, whistling to himself before I can say anything.
I go back to standing there, my arms on the edge of the fence as I watch her ride. I've never been much for riding – owning horses is not exactly a cheap endeavor, and my family definitely doesn't have horse money – but watching her, I can see the appeal. When she finishes, she dismounts and strokes the horse's head, cooing to him in a gentle, soothing voice that's far different from her regular sarcastic persona. She leads him out of the arena, and I walk with her and the horse back to the stable.
"How long have you been riding?" I ask her.
"Oh, God, since I was able to walk," she replies. "As long as I can remember. My mother grew up on horses. She taught me to ride. I mean, Rudolph taught me to ride, too – he's been around here forever. But it was a thing my mother and I did together when I was a kid. After she died, I didn't come out here for a while."
"Rudolph said your father bought you Apollo after that."
She puts her arm around the horse's neck. "Yeah, he got me back in the saddle again."
Rudolph walks toward us from across the stable, but Alexandra waves him away. "I'll brush him down," she tells him. "It's been a while since I've seen him. Besides, I'm sure you have better things to do."
Rudolph looks back and forth between us. "Yes, Your Highness. I will happily make myself scarce."
"I think Rudolph thinks there's something going on between us," I tell her after he's gone.
Princess Alexandra nods, a tinge of pink rising to her cheeks. She takes off her helmet and hangs it on a hook on the wall. After pulling her hair back from her face, she looks at me. "Oh?" she murmurs before ducking into the stall with the horse and removing his saddle. She hangs it up and begins brushing down the horse, who seems more than content to be standing there with her.
But she doesn't answer the question.
When she's finished, she washes her hands at the sink beside the horse stall.
"Is he wrong, princess?" I repeat the question.
She faces me, standing close. "Obviously, something happened yesterday at the pool."
"Yes, something definitely happened."
Her face is flushed from the riding and the glow on her cheeks is irresistibly sexy. "That doesn't mean that something is happening between us," she insists.
"No?" I ask. I'm unable to keep the edge out of my voice. Why does the fact that she's acting nonchalant bother me so much?
She sets her jaw. "That's right."
"That's unfortunate," I tell her.
"Why is that?"
"Well, because if something happened – past tense – and isn't happening – present tense – then I can't tell you what I'd like to do to you right now."
She runs her tongue along her lower lip, her eyes on mine. "Something definitely happened yesterday. Past tense."
"Yes. You touched yourself after I specifically told you not to."
"The way I recall it, you seemed more than happy watching me do it."
What happened yesterday is fresh in my mind. In fact, I wasn't able to get the image out of my head all night – Alexandra naked on the lounger with her thighs spread and her bare pussy glistening, her fingers sliding in and out as she fucked herself right in front of me.
No woman has ever done that in front of me before, and I've never seen anything as hot as that in my life.
"I'd think the fact that I came all over your perfect little tits was evidence of exactly how happy I was to watch you do it."
She blushes. "A lot of evidence."
"Did you think about it after the pool?" I ask, my voice low. "Did you touch yourself last night thinking about it?"
"No," she whispers. But her cheeks flush a deeper shade of red, the way she does only when she's lying.
Sliding my fingers underneath her chin, I tilt her head up toward me. Her lips – lush, pink, and irresistible – fall open and it's torture not to press mine to them. My other hand slides down her waist to her hips, and I pull her against me. "Liar," I whisper. "Are you wet right now, thinking about it?"
"No," she says defiantly.
"So if I slide my hand right there," I say, slipping my fingers between her legs, over the fabric of her riding pants, "I wouldn't find that you're the least bit wet for me?"
She bites her lip.
"Lying is such a bad habit," I say, my voice low as I flick open the button on her pants. "Don't you agree?"
She smiles slyly. "Maybe."
"It's almost like you're trying to test me." I unzip her pants but I don't go any farther.
"Why on earth would I do that, James?" she whispers.
"I'm not sure
, princess." I slip my fingers down the front of her pants and between her legs, eliciting an audible gasp as I find her clit. "It's almost like you want me to punish you."
Her hands go up to my arms and she grips my biceps to keep herself upright as she lets out a little moan. "Why would I want to do that, James?"
"Because the spanking in the library was so good that you want more," I reason.
"You think very highly of yourself," she retorts.
I pull my fingers from between her legs, and she whimpers her disappointment. "You're the one who brought me here," I tell her, sliding my hands beneath her thighs and picking her up. I carry her to the middle of the stable and set her down, glancing out the open window to make sure there are no other cars or any other stable hands around. It's just rolling hills stretching all the way out to the summer house in the distance. I start to walk around the stable, closing the windows. "You brought me to a stable. Where there's lots of rope."
"Excuse me?" she asks.
I go to the front door and pull it closed, sliding a large wooden latch across the middle before returning to the princess. She's leaning with her back against a wall, her arms crossed and looking amused. "Did you just secure the stable?"
"Something like that," I tell her. I stand there, my eyes flickering down the length of her body, taking in every inch. "Now, what am I going to do with you, princess?"
I inhale sharply, the morning air cool between my teeth. "I'm not sure."
The exciting thing is that I'm really not sure what he's about to do. Max has a way of keeping me off-balance that's different from anyone I've ever met. It's strange because it seemed like he was such a rule-follower, so stable and predictable and boring.
But he's not. Or not anymore, anyhow.
He crosses his arms, evaluating me with an intense gaze. "Take off your clothes," he orders.
I raise my eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
"You heard what I said, so don't pretend you didn't."
"Right here?" I squeak.
"You didn't have a problem with doing it by the pool yesterday," he observes, totally calling me out on my sudden reticence. He's right, but yesterday was different. Stripping everything off for him was on my terms. Yesterday, I was in control – teasing him, tormenting him, making him watch me. I was performing for him and he was at my mercy.
Today, he's turning everything on its head.
"I'm waiting, princess," he says, his voice firm. Dominant. "Do you trust me?"
I smirk. "That's a loaded question, isn't it?"
I respond sarcastically, but as soon as I speak the words, I get a little nagging thought: The answer is yes. You do trust him.
That might be the scariest thought I've ever had.
So I put the thought right out of my head, distracting myself by pulling off my shirt. Unhooking my bra, I slowly slide the straps over my shoulders, more than aware of Max's eyes on me, taking in my every movement.
My breath catches in my throat, my body anticipating what he might want to do with me. His gaze is even more intense, more unyielding than yesterday, and I'm increasingly self-conscious as I drop my bra to the ground on top of the discarded shirt.
I'm hardly ever self-conscious.
"Take off the rest of it," he orders, his voice thick. The large bulge in his pants is impossible to miss, and the sight of his hardness sends heat rushing to my core. He was right about my being wet for him, although that seems to be a given lately.
Bending over, I unzip my boots and set them on the ground before shimmying out of the rest of my clothes as slowly and seductively as I can manage. I feel awkward and shy, like a teenager about to have sex for the first time. No one's ever just stood there watching while ordering me to undress, and definitely not like this out here in the early morning sunlight.
Then I'm finished undressing. I stand there completely naked in front of him, feeling suddenly very vulnerable. He looks at me with an expression that's lust and something I can't quite place.
I want him to strip down now. I want him to order me to do something, to push me down to my knees the way he threatened to do before and thrust his cock in my mouth. Anything but what he's doing right now, standing here looking at me.
I fold my arms over my breasts uncomfortably, and when he speaks, his voice is strangled. "Don't," he orders.
"You're just standing there, looking at me," I whisper.
He crosses the space between us. "Can you blame me? You're breathtaking."
Breathtaking. This gruff former Marine bodyguard just used the word "breathtaking" to describe me. If I'd have heard that word come out of the mouth of any other man, I'd have probably rolled my eyes and laughed. I'm not one for corny romantic stuff.
Except this man says it, and my thighs tremble.
"Are you wet?" he asks.
I spread my legs and slide my fingers between them. As my fingers brush my clit, arousal courses through me and I let out a little gasp. Wetness coats my fingertips and I pull them away to show him. "Yes."
He brings my fingers to his mouth with a low rumble in his throat as he tastes me. "What makes you wet?"
What kind of question is that?
"I – I'm not sure." I stumble over my words.
"Liar," he whispers. His gaze is intense, and I feel myself warm, looking away.
"Turn around," he growls. I do as he says, facing the wall as my heart races until I'm sure it must be beating a thousand times faster than normal. "Put your hands on the wall."
I place my palms firmly on the wall, arching my back and sticking my ass out as heat surges inside of me, settling between my legs. The cool morning air wafts over my body, tickling my skin. The breeze has the effect of turning me on even more, causing my nipples to go erect and goose bumps to ripple across my arms and shoulders.
"Spread your legs," he tells me.
I do exactly what he says. I step out, spreading my legs, and the air hits the wetness on my bare pussy. I'm throbbing, standing there anticipating him.
Waiting for him to touch me.
Wanting him to touch me.
He stands beside me, his fingers trailing lightly over my back and slowly across my ass. He draws out the movement like he wants to memorize every inch of me, but the slowness of it sends shivers down my body.
"Does this make you wet?" he asks, his voice thick.
I bite my lip. "Yes," I answer, this time finally honest.
He reaches for something. "Look at me," he says, showing me a riding crop. A dark look passes over his face. "Does this make you wet?"
I hold my breath as my heart seems to completely stop beating. I'm not scared, though; instead, the sight of the crop sends a shock of arousal right between my legs. I choke out the word, "Yes."
A smile pulls at the corners of his lips. "What's my name, princess?"
He knows my answer already, yet we're both going to play this game. I have to bite down on my lower lip to keep my own smile from spreading across my face.