He cuts me off before I can speak another word, his arm sliding across my lower back and drawing me to him in one swift, hard movement. When he brings his mouth down on mine, the world stops. Everything in the universe pauses.
I’ve never been kissed the way he kisses me. He kisses me with an intensity that takes my breath away, his tongue finding mine hungrily, and I melt against him.
It’s the kind of kiss that demands more.
It’s the kind of kiss that demands everything.
I think I let out a moan that is completely inappropriate for a wedding chapel, even one in Vegas with an Elvis impersonator. The fact that I’m so swept away by Albie sends a pang of fear through me, and I break away. I look at him, my fingers touching my lips, still swollen from his kiss.
“Just a dare,” I repeat.
But the way my hands tremble, the way this kiss has shaken me to my core, says it’s not as simple as just a dare.
I shake off the memory. I try to shake off the feeling it leaves with me, the goose bumps that dot my arms at the thought of his lips pressed against mine, his tongue finding my tongue. I try to forget the thrill that rushed through me at his touch.
He was deceptive. He could have told me he was a prince.
He’s a playboy.
He’s definitely no good.
And he’s my new stepbrother. That fact alone makes him off-limits.
I can still feel his lips against mine. How fucked up is that?
It’s even more reason for me to leave.
The knock on the door startles me out of my thoughts and I jump, immediately feeling guilty for sitting here thinking of Albie the way I’ve been thinking about him. I clear my throat. “Yes?”
I swear to all that is holy, if it’s Albie at the door, I’ll kill him. He seems to have a way of turning up at the most inopportune times, and an uncanny knack for being able to read my thoughts.
And the thoughts I’ve been having about him are certainly not ones I want read.
“Are you going to hide out in here all summer, or what?” Alexandra stands just inside the doorway, her hand on her hip, glaring at me. She’s still dressed in her t-shirt and jeans, and she twirls a piece of jet-black hair, laced with colored strands – pink and lime green – around her fingers as she surveys me.
“I was thinking that might be nice,” I say. “At least until I find my passport.”
“You’re going to leave?” she asks. She sounds simultaneously accusing and disappointed, and I don’t know what to make of her. I’m not sure if she wants to be friends with me, or if she hates me on sight.
I cross the room to sit on the bed. “You can come inside, you know,” I say. “If you want, I mean.”
Walking inside the room, she looks around. “I haven’t been in here in a while,” she says. “I forgot how stuffy these guest residences are. You’re not the stuffy type, the kind of girl that goes for all of this.”
“Thanks,” I say. I think it’s a compliment, although I’m not quite sure about her, especially considering her reaction to my broken engagement earlier. To describe her reaction as gleeful would be an understatement.
She has her back turned to me, looking at one of the paintings on the wall. “All this shit,” she says. “You know this painting is worth like a million dollars. It’s practically a museum in here. You should definitely redo it, if you stay.”
A million dollars. I’m afraid to touch anything.
Alexandra turns around, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, and I notice a lip piercing I didn’t see before. Maybe she takes it out for special events -- like engagement announcements sprung on her new stepsister. “I’m sorry I was a bitch before,” she says, her tone matter-of-fact. “About you not getting married, I mean.”
I shrug. “It’s pretty scandalous, I guess.”
“I’m usually the one disappointing my father,” she says. “It was nice to not be the center of a scandal, for once. That sounds terribly selfish, I’m sure.”
I can understand not wanting to be the center of gossip. “It must be hard being in the spotlight all the time.”
She cocks her head when she looks at me. “It’s about to be your turn, you know,” she says. “Your whole life is going to be torn apart.”
Her words send a pang of anxiety rushing through me. “Did you just come here to make me feel worse?”
Shame flickers in her eyes, and she glances down at the ground. “I didn’t,” she says. “Shit. I mean, sorry. Sometimes I – I’m too blunt.”
Her phone buzzes, and she slides her thumb across the screen, a look of relief crossing her face. “I have to go,” she says, not looking at me as she walks away.
I watch the door close behind her, filled with a sense of dread.
Your whole life is going to be torn apart.
“It’s not a formal event. It’s only dinner with the family. I can dress myself, Ben, thank you,” I say, not bothering to even try to hide the edge in my voice. A flicker of embarrassment crosses the valet’s face, and I feel badly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
He nods. “I can have Doctor Evanston called, if you like, Your Highness,” he says.
“No,” I say, quickly. Too quickly. “It’s nothing. It’s fine, I mean.” It’s not nothing. I haven’t slept well all week, not since I got back from the States.
“As you wish, Your Highness,” he says, retreating toward the door.
“Ben?” I ask. “Were you able to find Miss Kensington’s misplaced passport?”
“Not yet, Your Highness,” he says. “But, rest assured, I will find it.”
The idea of having Belle Kensington around the palace all summer might be entertaining, but if she really wants to go back to the States, she should.
I wonder if she’ll even be at dinner. It’s casual tonight, according to the agenda – which really means that it’s black tie and not full dinner dress. For me, dinner dress would mean military dress with full regalia. This is the dinner engagement announcement to my cousins and aunts and uncles, a small family gathering before the more public events get underway.
I walk down the hallway in the direction of one of the dining rooms, an informal one, not the formal ones used for the larger dinners.
“Alb, wait,” Alex calls, and before I can react, she’s slamming into me, swinging her arm around my shoulder.
“God, you’re a pain in the ass,” I joke, as she leans into me. “What are you doing? Are you coming to dinner?”
“Yah,” she says, snapping her gum loudly in my ear. “Why are you dressing up for this bullshit, anyway?”
“Because I’m a responsible member of society,” I say, grinning. “And a respectable member of the royal family.”
Alex wrinkles her nose at me. “You’ve never been responsible, you lying liar,” she says. “Don’t even try to scam me – I know the Army didn’t change you that much. And seriously, what is with the tux? You can’t make me the only rebel. Who are you trying to impress? Ohhh.”
I shake my head as her eyes go wide. “I’m impressing no one,” I say.
“The girl,” she says, her voice a sing-song. “Yeah, you are. You’re trying to impress her cause she’s totally hot.”
I shrug. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, right,” she says, laughing. “You noticed. She’s your new stepsister, in case you haven’t figured that out. That means you need to keep your dick in your pants.”
“That’s a phrase I could do without ever hearing come out of your mouth again,” I say. “You might want to go put on something that isn’t jeans. Maybe consider buttering our father up a little bit by actually playing by the rules, for once. Aren’t you planning on going to Monaco?”
“So?” she asks. “Finn’s father has a plane.”
“Yes, but aren’t you using our house in Monaco?”
Alex exhales heavily. “Fine. You have a point.”
??s that?” I ask, cupping my ear. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Could you say that louder, please? Did you say I was right?”
“I liked you a lot better before you did the whole military thing, you know,” she says. “Before, you would have shown up to dinner stoned or with a stripper on your arm. Now you’re all about working for the man.”
“It’s called picking your battles, Alex,” I call to her back as she stomps off in the opposite direction. “And I never brought any strippers to the palace.”
Well, I never brought any strippers to dinner at the palace.
I'm about to turn in the direction of the dining room, but I don't. Instead, I head in the opposite direction.
Toward her room.
"Yes?" Belle asks, her voice muffled. When I open the door, she's turned with her back toward me, her arms contorted as she tries to zip the back of her dress. "I guess I do need help with the zipper, after all."
"I'm better at unzipping dresses than I am at zipping them up, but I'll give it a try," I say.
Belle whirls around at the sound of my voice, one of the straps of her dress sliding over the edge of her shoulder. Shit, her and the damn straps of dresses. It's enough to make me want to rip the fabric off her entirely.
"Oh my God, what are you doing here?" she squeals, pressing her hands to the top of her dress, and clutching the garment against her breasts. "I thought you were the woman who was supposed to help me dress. She just left."
"Turn around," I say, crossing the room toward her. I know full and well that this is a bad idea. I shouldn't be in here with her, not when the sight of her shoulder has me hard as a rock. I swear to all that is holy, my dick is acting like I've never seen a woman’s shoulder before.
“I will not,” she says. “You need to leave. I’m sure you’re not supposed to be in here. Isn’t there some kind of palace rule against this kind of th–”
She stops talking when I reach her, and I hear her inhale deeply, the sound sharp in the stillness of the room. Her breasts rise underneath her palms, and I think about covering my hands with hers and simply moving them, causing her dress to fall to the ground in a pool at her feet.
I could do it. It would be so easy.
And the way she’s looking at me right now, her eyes big and her pupils dilated, makes me think she would let me do exactly that.
“Some kind of what?” I ask, my voice soft. She looks up at me with her lips slightly parted, and a sheen of gloss on them. Even though it’s simple, the effect is somehow the most seductive thing I’ve ever seen. “A rule against a prince welcoming his new st—”
“Do not say it,” she whispers. “I’ll slap you.”
I look down at her hands. “Please do,” I say. “But use both hands. I’d like to see that dress on the floor.”
Belle blushes. “You have to leave.”
“Or what, luv?” I ask. “Are you that afraid of being in the same room alone with me? Relax. I’m harmless.”
She laughs. “Said the lion to the mouse.”
“Isn’t there a story about a lion and a mouse? One where they’re friends?”
She narrows her eyes at me. “It’s probably more like the fox in the henhouse,” she says. “I did some reading about you.”
“Mmm,” I murmur, not sure whether to be irritated or flattered that she’s reading about my exploits – tabloid sensationalism, no doubt. Quickly, before she can protest, I reach around her waist and spin her so that her back is to me. Her dress falls open, revealing an expanse of bare creamy skin.
Shit, she’s not even wearing a bra. I wonder what else she’s not wearing under that little black dress of hers. The thought sends a rush of blood to my cock, which tents the fabric of my pants.
Fuck. This girl is going to unravel me.
“And?” I ask, clearing my throat to cover the arousal I think must be evident in my tone. I reach for the zipper at the base of her dress, my hand resting lightly on the small of her back, the apex of the curve of her ass. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t step forward or protest the way I linger there.
Maybe she’s not aware that I’m contemplating flattening my palm, running it over the curve of her ass and down her thighs, yanking up that skirt of hers.
“What did you learn about me from all your research?” I ask.
“You’re a playboy,” she says.
“Boring,” I whisper, pulling on her zipper, my other hand on the top of the fabric, guiding the zipper up, up, up her back. “You already knew that.”
My fingertips graze her back on the way, and she shivers visibly at my touch, her head lolling to the side. I pull the zipper farther, my lips close to her ear.
I blow lightly on her neck, scattering a few errant hairs that have come astray from her updo. She squirms at the sensation. “What sordid secrets of mine did you learn from your research?”
“Do you have sordid secrets?” she says softly.
“You tell me, luv.” I trace my finger lightly across the back of her neck. “I could. I have one with you, in fact. That one’s not as sordid as I’d like it to be, unfortunately.”
“You should stop…doing…that,” she says, when I trace my finger up to the baseline of her hair. I’m two seconds away from taking the decorative pin out of her hair, this silver piece with antiqued edges that must be some relic from the palace she was told to wear, and letting the whole thing tumble down in waves. I’m this close to unraveling her completely.
“What should I stop doing, luv?” I whisper, watching the way she moves when my breath wafts along her skin. “Should I stop making you wet?”
“You’re not making me w—” Her voice drifts off. She doesn’t say the word.
“I know you can’t stop thinking about me,” I say. “Did you think about me last night?”
“God, no,” she says, her voice catching. Then, more firmly. “No. No. Absolutely not.”
She’s lying and we both know it.
The knock on the door startles us both, and she jumps away, looking at me in horror. “Shit,” she whispers. Then, louder: “I’m just…getting dressed. Who is it?”
But secret passageways are made for times like this, aren’t they? I press on the electronic panel on the wall beside the fireplace, and wink at her before I leave.
I am so wet.
He asked me if he was making me wet, and I lied. If he had reached between my legs a moment ago, he would have known I was lying through my teeth. Every part of my body is on edge, like I’m charged with static electricity or something.
No one has ever made me wet by whispering into my ear. He’s barely touched me, and I’m practically melting.
I’m going to be late for dinner, something that’s surely frowned upon in a palace. I’m not certain about palace etiquette, but that’s probably right up there with a real offense.
Like marrying your future stepbrother in Vegas.
I tell myself I’ll just be a minute. I tell myself that I can’t possibly go to dinner like this. I can’t sit at the same table as