“Max Donnelly,” he repeats. “Not James. Max.”
“We’ll see how long you last.” I spin around and add over my shoulder: “James.”
Pushing through the mass of gyrating bodies, I clear a swath in the crowd with one hand, my other hand out and hovering in front of the princess as we make our way through the bar. Three of my security counterparts are with us, and we surround her on all sides forming a basic military squad. It's just like being a Marine, I think as I let out a laugh under my breath, except this job involves a spoiled rich girl and a bunch of drunk assholes in a bar.
I can't believe I let Prince Albert talk me into this protection gig of taking care of his sister. I hadn't seen the guy since Afghanistan, yet three weeks ago he showed up unannounced in my hometown. South Hollow, Kentucky hadn’t seen anything like it before. The prince tried to sneak into town under the radar — as if wearing jeans and a baseball cap was some kind of genius disguise. When you show up to a town of fifteen hundred people in Kentucky with two guys in suits, everyone assumes one of two things: either the Feds are coming to take their guns, or the tax man is coming to take their money. Either way, Prince Albert was lucky as hell his ass didn’t get shot.
He was there to offer me a job. Correction: he was there to guilt me into doing him another favor.
Because saving your life wasn’t enough of a favor? I’d asked him.
This one’s bigger, he’d told me.
I needed the job. I'd moved back to Kentucky after I got out of the Marines because I wanted to be closer to home to help out my parents. The only trouble was, I didn't count on the mine just outside of town getting shut down right after I returned. Losing the mine meant that South Hollow had lost its main source of jobs. That meant I was going to have to leave town to get work anyhow, and the nearest big town was two hours away.
Then Albie came knocking on my door, offering to pay me a crazy amount of money – more money than I could have ever dreamed of earning when I was a Marine – to move to his country and work for his family. I didn’t see how on God’s green earth going to Europe to babysit a princess was going to be a bigger favor than saving his damned life, especially when he was going to pay me handsomely for doing so. It seemed like a pretty sweet deal.
Three days into working for the princess, I understand it now.
Prince Albert is a solid guy. He's down to earth and has a good head on his shoulders. His sister, on the other hand … hell, she’s a walking disaster.
In the past three days since I’ve been here, I’ve done nothing except follow her ass into situation after un-princess-like situation. I’ve fended off a million paparazzi who have apparently gotten used to tailing the girl like a pack of wild dogs, hungry for any morsel of crazy fucking behavior she gives them.
And, trust me, there’s apparently no end to the drama that surrounds this woman. She's easy pickings for the tabloid reporters looking for front-page nonsense to satisfy their readers.
Princess Alexandra pauses in the middle of the crowd and reaches for my arm. “James,” she yells, and a surge of irritation rushes through me. James she calls me, like I’m her personal butler or her concierge. I don’t respond, instead looking ahead at the sea of bodies, people trying to touch the princess or yelling for autographs or even cursing at her.
Have I mentioned yet how much I fucking hate crowds? No? Well, I hate crowds.
“James, you can’t continue to ignore me!"
“That’s not my name, princess,” I growl, shoving a guy to the side who gets too close. This girl is insane, going out to clubs. It’s a potential security disaster, and she seems completely oblivious to any kind of danger.
You'd have to be stupid or just plain reckless, coming to places like this. And this girl isn't stupid, despite how much she pretends she is. I'm guessing that her bodyguards frequently underestimate her. Well, she doesn't have me fooled.
The princess flashes a grin at me as she abruptly turns to the side, deviating from the stated plan, which was to enter the club through the back and go straight to the roped-off VIP area. The very least she could do, since she's engaging in high-risk behavior, is adhere to the security plan.
I know right away that she’s heading toward the bar, a mammoth white monstrosity with colored LED lights that flash in time to the beat of the music pounding through the club.
Who the hell thinks this kind of thing is fun, anyway? Even when I was only eighteen, I was already too old for this bullshit. Of course, when I was eighteen, I was in boot camp. I wasn’t getting wasted and listening to ear-splitting, headache-inducing techno at a club.
“You’re not sticking to the plan, princess,” I yell, my hand automatically going to her arm.
She looks down at my hand, then back up at me with wide eyes. Those damn eyes — they’re unnaturally large, almost like she’s a doll, giving her a young, innocent appearance. In reality, she’s as far from innocent-looking as it gets, especially in the outfit she’s wearing tonight: a black bra that seems several sizes too small, barely able to keep her breasts from spilling out, topped with a shimmery transparent shirt that has the bizarre effect of making her seem even more naked than she is. She's paired them with black leather shorts that cling to her curves like they’re tailor-made for her (of course, since she’s a princess, they probably were made specifically for her), black fish-net stockings, and boots.
It's taking a lot of effort to keep my eyes focused on my surroundings and not on the way her ass looks in those leather shorts.
“No touching,” she says, but I don’t need to hear her to read her lips.
I don’t move my hand. “Excuse me?”
“Bodyguards don’t touch princesses,” she informs me.
I’m so taken aback by her snobbery (although I really don’t know why I’m surprised by it; after all, she's royalty, and I’m a guy from Kentucky), that for a second, I just stand there.
A large part of me considers picking her snobby little ass up and carrying her right out of the nightclub just to teach her a lesson about manners.
“Excuse me?” I ask the question again, but I don’t care if she repeats what she just said or not because it’s irrelevant. I’m definitely going to touch her. In fact, she’s lucky I don’t bend her over and put my hand across her ass right now.
The truth is, three days in and I can already tell that what this spoiled brat needs more than anything is a good, hard spanking.
“I don’t like being touched,” she says. “James.”
I don’t move my hand. “Well, it's a good thing I’m not James, then,” I reply. “And you're not headed to the bar."
She raises her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. You're going straight over there to the VIP section. That's the plan. If you'd like a drink, I'm sure a waiter can get it for you."
She gives me a long look, like she's deciding what to do. Then she moves, faster than I'd expect for a girl wearing boots with stiletto heels that have to be at least six inches high. She steps right around me and, with the assistance of two douchey-looking males who hoot their approval, climbs right on top of the bar.
I make a move toward the bar to pull her down, but one of the other bodyguards stops me. "No interference," he yells as he rolls his eyes and gives me a what-are-you-going-to-do shrug. "Haven't you ever protected someone before?"
I don't answer. The princess' bodyguards are shockingly blasé about their jobs, more like large thugs in suits than actual competent security personnel, or what a princess' security detail should be. So I just ignore them, pushing aside an asshole who steps too close to the edge of the bar where the princess is dancing.
The princess of this kingdom is dancing on top of a bar, wearing leather shorts and a transparent shirt and stiletto boots, as she chugs from a bottle of champagne. Her hips sway side to side, her movements seductive and synced with the throbbing of the music in the club.
I think that half of the blood in my body goes straight to my cock – probably just like every other guy in this room. For a second, I'm standing there motionless and transfixed. There's no question about who she's dancing for because her gaze doesn't go anywhere else except on me. She knows exactly what she's doing, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. She's winding me up, trying to get a rise out of me – literally – so she can distract me from my job.
Well, that's not going to happen, sweetheart. I might be a red-blooded American male, but stuck-up princesses aren't my thing – no matter how sexy they might be.
The new bodyguard watches me intently. He has a dark look in his eyes, but I don't know what that's about. I can guess, though. It's probably irritation because I've "deviated from the plan".
His precious plan.
The bartender offers me a shot, and I down it, hooting in response to the cheers of the crowd when I've finished.
The new bodyguard is so damn wound up. He has a serious case of control issues, I can already tell that much about him, and we've only just met.
Well, news flash for him: I don't need someone with major control issues on my security team, that's for sure. Protrovian security should be more relaxed than security for other royals; I'm not the freaking Queen of England.
After all, I've spent my entire life in the public eye. Men in suits wearing earpieces have been following me around since birth, yet nothing has ever happened to me — not a single stalker or credible security threat. Not even with all the crazy shit I’ve done, and I’ve done a lot of crazy shit, especially recently.
So I don’t need an uptight, rule-following, security guy with a stick up his ass to walk into my life and start trying to boss me around. If there's one thing a new bodyguard needs to understand, it's that I'm not going to follow some stupid plan – and that I'm definitely going to give him shit.
I take another swig from the bottle of champagne, feeling smug when I look down and see him still looking at me.
Make that glaring, actually. He seems rather pissed off.
Why do I care whether or not the new bodyguard is pissed off?
Other than generally giving my bodyguards hell by evading them and doing what I want, I don't typically give them a second thought. Except here I am jumping on the bar and dancing because the new guy – the bodyguard with the icy blue eyes who looks at me in a way that sends shivers down my spine – got under my skin.
The bartender hands me a second shot, and then another. The crowd cheers me on again. A few minutes later, I'm feeling tipsy and slightly unbalanced in my heels.
I should have anticipated the next part. Dancing in ridiculously high heels while taking shots on a bar is a move that never ends well.
One minute I’m dancing seductively on the bar, enjoying what I think might be lust in the new bodyguard’s eyes, and the next minute I’m catching my heel on the edge of the bar and falling …
Right into the arms of the new bodyguard.
He lets out an ‘oof’, yet still catches me like I’m practically weightless. For a split second, everything in the club goes quiet. The throbbing of the music seems to stop; the noise of the crowd dims; and it’s just the new guy holding me.
I feel tiny in his big arms, completely safe and protected. For a fraction of a second, I allow myself to relax. I have the sudden, almost irresistible, completely irrational impulse to just put my head down on his shoulder and close my eyes and let him carry me out of the club and away from all of this – away from everything.
Then I come to my senses.
What the hell just happened? I can't feel suddenly vulnerable, because that's crazy. I don't do vulnerable. I definitely don't feel vulnerable with this guy, the one I know nothing about – except his name.
I don't need to feel vulnerable, because I don't need to be protected from anything. In fact, I don't want to be protected from anything.
I shake off those feelings and swallow hard. Feelings are for suckers. “Quick reflexes,” I quip.
“Useful for a bodyguard,” he notes.
I clear my throat. “You can put me down now.”
He raises his eyebrows. “I don’t think so,” he says, and then he’s carrying me through the club. People part for us, moving out of his way without him needing to do anything, and I’m so preoccupied with the fact that he just defied me — again — that I don’t even notice when he turns away from the VIP area and heads toward the back.
“Wait, that's far enough!" I protest, squirming in his arms as he goes through the door. “You're going the wrong way! We're not leaving, because I'm not finished partying!"
“Oh, no. You’re definitely finished,” he says, his voice terse. One of the other bodyguards opens the back door to the SUV, and Max slides me into the seat.
“You do what I say, not the other way around,” I exclaim angrily. Then, just to be extra-bitchy, I add, “James.”
“What’s my name?” he growls, his eyes dark. He stands there with the door open, his hands resting on the top of the vehicle, blocking my exit. Notably, the other bodyguards have disappeared into the second car that followed us here, leaving just Max and I.
And the driver.
Even though the partition is up so I can’t see his face, I’m sure the driver thinks my new bodyguard’s mutiny is hilarious.
“Hmm. Your name, your name. I’m afraid I can’t quite recall it,” I lie, my voice haughty.
“Well, then, I’m afraid you’re not going back into the club.”
“Because I can’t remember your name?” I ask. I point a finger to his chest and begin to run it slowly down the front of his shirt. “Or because it was just too hot for you, seeing me up there dancing?”
His eyes narrow, and he quickly grabs my finger, pulling it away from him. “Relax, princess. You're not my type."
Then he closes the car door hard. Slumping back against the seat, I rummage through my clutch purse looking for my stash. I could tell the driver to stop; he's in my employ, after all. I could insist on going back into the club and really, I could fire Max on the spot. I could tell him to go back to whatever country he's come from.
Except I don't do any of that. I'm not sure why I don't, but I'm not one to dwell too long on thinking about things like that.
Instead, I take a drag on the vaporizer. I take a few more before the divider between myself and the front seat rolls down. Max turns around and glares at me.
"Can I help you?" I ask, exhaling in his direction.
“Really??” he exclaims, sounding aggravated.
“Would you like some?” I ask sarcastically, offering him the vaporizer. “A little pot might mellow you out.”
He doesn't respond. He just rolls up the divider between us.
When we return to the palace, I clear the princess' room without another word to her – even when she sashays past me, her hips swinging as she makes her way toward her bathroom.
Even when she pulls her shirt over her head right in front of me and drops it to the floor behind her.
I say nothing. I just turn around and walk out of her room, heading straight to my bunkroom in the employees' wing of the palace. All of the full-time bodyguards have bunkrooms. The word makes them sound like tiny closets or dorm rooms, but in reality they're actually full-sized (albeit small) apartments. Something