me wonder why the hell she’s even keeping up the pretense of not being attracted to me, when we both know it's not true.
“That’s the only reason,” she says. "I'm quite positive."
“My eyes are up here, luv,” I tease.
“I’m not even looking anywhere else,” she protests, her face coloring. “And you should…put on a shirt or something. Why are you answering your door like that, anyway?”
“Well, if I’d have known it was you at the door, I’d have answered without any pants,” I tell her.
"That would have only been embarrassing for you," she says. "It's quite chilly in here, with the air conditioning, you know."
"Don't worry, luv," I say. "The royal scepter has no issue with shrinkage."
Her eyes go wider and she shakes her head. "Did you seriously just refer to your dick as the royal scepter?"
I don't bother to hide my grin. Little Miss Do-Gooder acts like she's offended, but she totally wants me. "Do you want to touch the royal staff?" I ask. "Give the crown jewels a little polish?"
She wrinkles her face up in disgust. "Ugh. Anyone ever tell you that you have a twelve-year-old boy’s sense of humor?"
"Usually I'm accused of having the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old boy. So I'll take the sense of humor bit as a compliment."
"You would," she says. "And for the record, I came here on business. Not to talk about your little Prince Albert."
"Oh, there's nothing little about it, luv," I say, reaching for the button on my pants. "Here. Take a look."
She puts her hand up. "Oh my God. Seriously. Are you that hard up for female attention?" she asks. "We're right in the middle of your doorway, in case you've forgotten."
"You're going to need to find your sense of humor," I say. "I think you might have forgotten it somewhere in Vegas."
Her face colors. "I have a sense of humor," she says. "Just not…your kind of humor."
"Joking about my cock isn't your style?" I ask. "Well, I'm glad you take my dick seriously."
Belle rolls her eyes. "You're so not my style."
"Well, I've got news for you, luv," I say. "Girls like you aren't my style, either." That part is definitely true. No matter how fucking hot this chick is, uptight women aren't exactly my type.
“Then why do you keep hitting on me?” she hisses.
“I’m just having a little fun, that’s all. If I were hitting on you, you’d know it. Trust me.”
“Oh yeah?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest. The movement has the effect of pressing her breasts together, putting her cleavage so directly in my line of sight that I can’t possibly look away. I can’t decide if she’s doing it naively or if she wants to get a rise out of me. In a literal sense.
“Like I said, you’ll beg me to hit on you.”
Belle rolls her eyes. “I’ll do no such thing,” she says. “Just because we had one kiss doesn’t mean that anything else is going to happen between us.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night, Belle,” I say. “But we both know you’re thinking about my lips on your lips.”
She shrugs. “It was no big deal,” she says. “I’ve had better kisses.”
“I wasn’t talking about those lips,” I say, looking down.
Her eyes go wide again. “We did not do anything like that,” she protests.
“We didn’t,” I say. “That doesn’t mean you haven’t been thinking about it. And we both know you’re lying about having had better kisses. I looked up your ex-fiancé. I saw photos of him. He wasn’t lighting your world on fire.”
“You have no idea what my kisses have been like,” she protests. "Or my love life. At least mine has been tame enough that I don't have to worry about any fires down there."
"Is that your clumsy attempt to insinuate that I've got some type of VD, luv?" I ask.
"I told you I looked you up," she says. "You have a revolving bedroom door. That's what the magazines say."
I lean closer to her. "Don't worry, Belle," I whisper. "I'm clean as a whistle. You could even have me bare, if you like."
"Oh my God," she says. "That is not what I was implying."
"Hey, you're the one who keeps bringing up my cock," I say, enjoying the appalled look on her face.
"I am not bringing up your…" Belle's voice drifts off, and she glances over her shoulder and down the hallway. "Penis."
"Penis," I say, laughing. "That's sexy. You can say the word, luv. Cock. Admit you can't stop thinking about it."
"I am not going to admit it," she says, groaning in frustration. "I can't even remember why I came down here now. I should have known it was a mistake."
She whirls around before I can stop her, and flounces off in the direction of her room.
"This is so bizarre, and yet so exactly a Kensington kind of story," Raine says, her voice partially muffled on the phone as she turns to tell someone in the room to "hold on a minute." Raine did a stint in Africa, volunteering with another aid organization for six months while I was there. She's a free spirit, a hippie chick traveling across Europe with her boyfriend – and exactly the kind of outside perspective I need on all of this.
"Wait, why is this a Kensington kind of story?"
"Seriously, isn't this right up your family's alley?"
"We're not royalty," I say, dropping my tone to a whisper. "It's insane."
"But you're like, a real fucking princess," she says. "Soon to be, anyway."
"Yeah, right," I say. "That's the last thing I want to be. And you can’t tell anyone, Raine. They haven’t made an announcement yet.”
"Phoenix," she says, laughing as she calls for her boyfriend. "Belle is living in a castle. Like, for real. With a king and shit."
"Shh," I say, cutting her off. "Seriously. That's not public knowledge. They're probably listening to my phone calls or something. I don't even have my passport."
"They're keeping you prisoner?" she squeaks. "That's fucked up, Belle. You're an American citizen."
"Relax," I say. "I think it just got misplaced or something when they unpacked my bags, maybe. I have to go to the embassy and get a new one.”
"Do you want Phoenix and I to come pick you up?" she asks. "We're in Amsterdam for a few days. Protrovia wasn't exactly on our tour, but we're flexible."
"It's okay," I say. I can't even imagine the shitshow it would be if Raine and her boyfriend showed up at the palace. I adore Raine, but the thought of her walking inside the palace, reeking of patchouli and weed and admonishing the royal household for their gratuitous wealth, is enough to make me giggle. "Maybe it's good that I'm here for a little while. Derek has texted me about a million times."
"What?" she asks. "Screw that. Your ex-fiancé cheated on you with your maid of honor. You didn't respond, did you?"
"Of course not," I say. "I'm just saying that maybe it's good I'm not in the States right now. Maybe I should be here for a little while."
As I speak the words, I start to realize I might actually be considering staying for the summer.
"Protrovia," she says. "Isn't that the place – Phoenix, who's that prince, the one who's always in the news? Albert. Prince Albert. I remember his name because of the whole dick-piercing thing. Is he gorgeous? Are they all ridiculous?"
I groan. I haven't breathed a word about Albie to anyone. Not a single soul knows what happened in Vegas except Albie and I, and it's staying that way. "Yeah, I mean, I haven't really seen him much. I just got here. And, yeah. It's all pretty ridiculous."
"He's the prince with the pierced cock, you know," she says. "Have you ever screwed a guy with a piercing? It's pretty fantastic." She pauses, then laughs and whispers to her boyfriend. "Yes, Phoenix, I'm talking about you."
"No, I haven't done it with a guy with a pierced you-know-what." I sigh. I called the one person I thought would have never heard of Prince Albert, and she knows all about him and his pierced cock.
"Well, you should," she says. "In fact, he’s what you should do while you're there. Shake off the cobwebs. You need a fling. Rebound sex."
"I do not need rebound sex," I protest.
Raine's voice comes back muffled. "No, Phoenix, remember, I told you her fiancé cheated on her." She pauses, then returns to the phone. "You know how Phoenix feels about marriage. And lawyers. He says good riddance to Derek."
"I can't believe you're telling me to hook up with a prince," I say.
"It's not like I'm telling you to marry him," she says. "Just have a good ol' fashioned fling. Hasn't he slept with half the women in Europe, anyway?"
"He's my new stepbrother," I say. I fail to mention the part where I've already married him.
"That makes it even more appropriate," she says, laughing. "Don't all the royals marry their cousins and siblings? Hey, I have to go. We're having lunch with some other people from the hostel. Are you going to be okay?"
"Yes, go," I reassure her. "I'm totally fine.”
"Fling," she says, laughing as the background in her room is suddenly filled with conversation. "Go have a fling. It'll be good for you. When is the last time you had casual sex?"
The phone cuts off before I can answer. Never, I think. I've never ever had a fling.
But that doesn't mean I'm going to start by screwing the biggest manwhore in Europe.
I whirl around to see Albie pushing open the wall panel in my room. "Are you kidding me with this popping-out-of-secret-passageways bullshit?" I ask. "You have no right to push your way into my room like this. I should scream for security."
Albie raises his hands in mock surrender. "Relax, luv," he says. "I come in peace. And I knocked on the wall. Twice. You didn't hear me?"
"Barging into my room through the passageway? Yeah, that's totally peaceful. And not at all completely creepy."
"I came in this way for a reason," he says, giving me an impish grin that immediately grates on my nerves. He flashes that grin around like it gets him out of everything. And the truth is, it probably does.
But not with me. Not even if the way he looks at me makes me want to drop my panties right this second.
“And you’re going to head right back out the way you came in,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest and giving him my best glare.
“I come bearing a gift,” he says. “Ben – my valet – found your passport. The footman never unpacked it from your bag.” He hands it to me, and I turn it over, feeling simultaneously grateful and skeptical.
“Why didn’t he bring it to me?” I ask.
“Because I asked him to find it, and he mentioned he did,” Albie says. “Besides, I know that last night you said no tours, but I came to change your mind. I’m offering you a private tour of Protrovia.”
“Yeah, right,” I say. “A private tour of your bedroom, you mean.”
He raises his hands in mock surrender. “I have no ulterior motive,” he says. “I swear.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “Somehow I doubt that.”
“Suit yourself, then, luv,” he says. “If you’d rather have tea with my grandmother and a bunch of her stuffy old friends this afternoon, then have at it. I’m sure they’ll have lots of opinions about your charity work in Africa.”
The thought of enduring tea with Albie’s grandmother makes my stomach queasy. “You’re ditching out on the afternoon agenda?”
“Obviously,” he says. “But if you’d rather spend the afternoon with the old ladies, be my guest.” He turns to push the panel on the wall again. “Have fun, luv.”
“Hang on,” I say. “Let me get my bag.”
“I knew you’d see reason.”
“It’s not reason,” I say, stuffing my wallet into one of the designer purses from my well-appointed closet. “You’re just the lesser of two evils.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Albie says, grinning. “I’m clearly growing on you.”
I stifle my laugh as I follow him into the passageway. “Yeah,” I say. “Just like a fungus.”
Outside, Alexandra and two men in suits are waiting on a launch pad beside a helicopter. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or relieved that Albie and I have chaperones.
Relieved is probably the appropriate response, I tell myself. I should definitely be relieved.
“A helicopter,” I yell over the roar of the rotors, unsuccessfully trying to restrain my hair as it whips around my face in the wind. At least I’m wearing my old jeans and not one of the new dresses from my closet. Thank goodness for small mercies, because that would be unfortunate. I’m sure Albie would be delighted to witness me having a Marilyn Monroe moment.
“Nothing gets by you, Princess,” Albie says. “I told you I’d give you a tour of Protrovia.”
Alexandra elbows Albie. “None of your combat landing bullshit this time, either, Alb,” she yells.
“It’s not my fault you have a sensitive stomach,” he says, laughing.
“Sensitive, my ass,” Alexandra yells. “You’re such a prick. I don’t know why I even agreed to get in a helicopter with you again.”
“Because you’d rather puke into a bag than spend an afternoon listening to your grandmother lecture you about how inappropriate you hair color is?”
“Wait. You’re the one flying this thing?” I ask.
“What did you think I did in the army, luv?” Albie yells. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”
“Never,” I say.
“That’s good to hear,” he yells. “If you’re good, I might even refrain from doing any tactical flight maneuvers.”
I’ve never actually been in a helicopter, but I don’t tell Albie that. A few of my high school friends had parents with private planes, so I’ve been on those – but a helicopter is different. We’re strapped in, our headsets on, while Albie runs a dozen checks, fiddling with buttons and dials on the dashboard in the front. Beside me, Alexandra flips through her phone nonchalantly, like she does this kind of thing every day. Of course, she probably does.
The two suits with us are their personal bodyguards – one each, for Albie and Alexandra. Apparently, I’ll get assigned a security detail soon enough if I stick around, but since I only just arrived at the palace, I’m in some kind of transitional phase.
I wonder why the hell we needed to sneak around inside the palace, when the bodyguards already knew where we were going. But I don’t have time to think about that before we’re up in the air and I’m distracted by everything else.
Alexandra texts on her phone, hardly paying attention to the scenery below us, but I’m transfixed. Albie speaks into the microphone, giving me a history of Protrovia as he flies over the city, pointing out particular buildings as he flies over the capitol city.
“Protrovia dates back to fifteen thirty-two,” he says, as we veer left out of the capitol. He gives us a brief history of the country, but I'm too distracted to listen, transfixed with the view I have of the buildings below.
“Albie is such a nerd,” Alexandra says into her microphone. “He’s like, obsessed with our family history and shit.”
“I guess if the whole future-king thing doesn’t work out, you can always get a job as a tour guide,” I say.
“It’s good to have options in life,” Albie says.
We fly out over the countryside, and Albie still points out important places, but I find it hard to pay attention to what he’s saying, simply because the scenery is breathtaking -- rolling fields the color of emeralds, dotted with cottages and farmhouses.