He turns to face me, his gaze traveling up the length of my body, taking me in. I bite down on my lower lip as I flush warm under the intensity of his stare. I feel suddenly guilty for avoiding him the past few days, burning with the need to explain myself, even though I don't quite understand my behavior either.
I want to tell him that the fact that I wanted to see him after we hooked up in the stable – that I've wanted to see him after hooking up with him several times now, really – is freaking me out.
But I don't get a chance because he speaks first. "You're wearing that?"
I bristle at his tone of voice – possessive, authoritarian, paternal. "Excuse me?"
"That. You're wearing that and you're going out in public?" He's standing close to me, so close that I can smell his aftershave, and it makes me flush even warmer, if that's at all possible.
"Who said I was going out in public?" I argue, even though that's exactly what I came out here to tell him.
"You're not? You just came out here to show me that dress?"
"I'm going out," I tell him, my jaw set hard. "We're going out – Charlotte and I. I came out here to tell you that."
"Why?" He looks at me darkly.
"Why am I going out?" I ask, suddenly defensive. I don't know why I feel like I have to explain anything to him. "Because I'm young and carefree and single and –"
I don't know why I add the part about being single. As soon as I say the word, I want to take it back because it doesn't feel right. But I am, aren't I? I definitely don't want to be tied down.
Well, not in that way.
My mind flashes to all the other ways I'd be perfectly happy being tied down – tied up – by Max.
"Really," he says, a low rumble in his throat as he backs me up against the wall. He puts his palm above me and looks down at me with heat and lust in his eyes. My heart races. "You're young and carefree and single."
"That's right." I can't breathe. "Which part of that are you objecting to?"
He narrows his eyes. "Well, first of all, that dress is pretty goddamn objectionable."
My eyes flicker down to the obvious bulge in his pants. "Obviously not too objectionable."
He grunts. "That dress leaves nothing to the imagination."
I try to focus on what he's saying – and how he's being a complete caveman right now – instead of the way he's looking at me right now, angry and possessive, because that look in his eyes sends heat coursing through me to my core, which is totally fucked up. "Well, then, I'm glad I don't worry about what other people might imagine when it comes to my clothes."
"It's what's underneath your clothes they don't need to be thinking about," he growls.
"Maybe you're confused about your role, Bodyguard," I huff. Seriously, who does he think he is, trying to tell me what to wear? That's definitely over-the-top possessive. Totally a red flag. "Did you suddenly become my stylist?"
"I don't think I've ever given you the impression that I wanted to put clothes on you," he quips. "Only take them off."
"Except now," I snip back. "Now you'd like me to wear a nun's habit, right?"
He smirks. "I'd prefer a schoolgirl skirt."
"Just not out in public," I finish for him.
"That's fucking right," he growls. His hand goes to the small of my back, pulling me against his hardness. "I don't like the idea of other men looking at you."
I swallow hard, dizzy from his touch. It's been days since he's touched me, days since I pulled away and put some distance between us and my body reminds me of just what his touch does to me.
The doorknob next to us jostles, and I put my palm on Max's chest, pushing away from him like I've just been shocked by electricity. The door opens, and Charlotte pokes her face out. "There you are! I thought you'd left without me!"
I clear my throat. "Nope. I was just telling James here where we're going tonight."
Max glowers at me, trying to look professional but failing. "Got it, princess."
"Perfect," Charlotte says. "You look totally hot, by the way. Boys will be all over you."
Max mumbles something under his breath, something about murdering some boys. "I'll go let the head of security know and we'll vet the club. Your car will be around momentarily, Your Highness."
I'm pretty sure that the Your Highness part of that was sarcastic.
"Your bodyguard has kind of an attitude. He seems like a bit of a dick," Charlotte notes. She pauses for a beat. "I do like bad boys, though. Do you think he's single?"
"I think he's married."
"Hmm. I didn't see a wedding ring," she replies, her hand going to her lips as she makes no effort to hide the fact that she's ogling him as he walks down the hallway. "Well, I need more champagne. Are you ready?"
I look down at my outfit, the one that leaves nothing to the imagination. "Actually, I just need to change something. It'll only take a minute."
"We should have someone put in a call to the paparazzi to meet us at the club." The princess' annoying friend is loud. I roll my eyes.
That's a great fucking idea, genius.
I don't say that out loud, though, because I'm so goddamned polite.
I'm seething while I stand here waiting to escort Princess Alexandra and her friend to a nightclub, because what I really want to do is throw the princess over my shoulder and lock her in her room and handcuff her to the fucking bed.
If Alexandra's friend wasn't here, that's exactly what I'd do. It's what I should have done days ago, but I was trying to be reasonable, to give her some space after what happened between us in the stable. I thought that's what she needed.
I was trying to be a reasonable man. I was trying to be calm and controlled.
I still am.
"No paparazzi," Princess Alexandra says.
"You're such a party pooper now," the friend whines.
"I'm going out with you, aren't I?" The princess' voice has an unmistakable edge, despite the smile plastered on her face.
I can't take my eyes off of Alexandra as she walks down the hallway, her hips swaying. She's wearing a nude-colored coat-dress, cinched at the waist, with matching heels. I try to contain a smug little smile at the fact that she went back and changed after I gave her shit about the red dress.
I mean, sure, she went a little over-the-top by trading the dress for something that goes all the way up to her neck and even covers her arms. But, still.
The princess' friend, clearly tipsy, walks past me. Her hand goes to my arm as she passes. "Hey there, Bodyguard," she says in a sing-song voice.
I think Alexandra looks annoyed that her friend touched me, which makes me even more satisfied. "You changed out of the dress," I note, my voice low.
"Are you happy about that?" she asks.
"I'm glad you saw reason," I tell her. Seeing her in that red dress, breasts on display and the skirt barely covering her ass, made me crazy. That dress was enough to make any man crazy.
I didn't actually expect her to change outfits. Actually, I expected a little bit more of a fight out of her.
Why the hell does that make me disappointed?
She smiles demurely. "What can I say? You made me see the light."
There's a glint in her eyes that makes me uneasy. When she walks ahead to join her friend, I call on my earpiece to add another car to the princess' entourage, just in case the princess gets any wild ideas about ditching her security tonight.
Or ditching me.
But she doesn't. She complies with the security protocol as written. A team has gone ahead to set up a roped-off area for the princess and her entourage at the nightclub. When we get there, she allows us to escort her through the crowd and straight to the VIP area where a large group of her friends are already waiting. She doesn't even give me grief or try to make a faux bathroom run or push through the crowd to dance on the top of the bar.
She's totally compliant.
In other words, something's up. Once I realize that, I'm antsy. Nightclubs make me antsy in general. They're impossible to secure, and given the number of crazy dickheads in the world, the odds of one being in a crowded club are pretty high. That, plus every guy in this place is staring at the princess.
They'd have been staring at her a hell of a lot more if she had worn that red dress.
Inside the VIP area, Princess Alexandra turns to me. "Could you take my coat, James?" I can hardly hear her over the thumping of the music before she turns her back toward me, gesturing at the shoulders of her jacket.
The jacket that I thought was an actual dress.
It's not a dress.
She shrugs off the coat, and I'm left standing there holding the garment and staring at her ass.
Her very bare, hardly-covered ass.
The "dress" – if you can even call it that – is a completely transparent shell made of an iridescent fabric with silver sequins arranged in a pattern that only covers part of her ass. When she spins around to face me, I realize that it hardly covers anything in front, either. The shimmery effect of the material highlights everything, somehow making her look more indecent than if she was standing here completely naked.
She steps forward until she's almost touching me. "Is something wrong, James?"
I can't speak because every bit of the blood in my body seems to have gone straight to my cock.
I think I grunt something instead. I don't know whether to wrap the coat back around her and tell her there's no way in hell she's actually wearing this dress, or to pick her ass up and carry her out of here and straight to the nearest bedroom.
Or hell, the alleyway outside.
A million flashes of light go off, cameras and phones being held out everywhere to capture the princess' outfit. She turns, her back toward me, and her hand goes to her hip as she poses. She pushes back against me, the movement subtle and barely visible to anyone else but as her ass grazes my cock, I know it's on purpose.
A guy standing nearby wolf-whistles loud enough for me to hear it over the din of the crowd, and it makes me insane to think of everyone ogling her, especially these pretentious rich dicks she considers friends.
I storm over and grab him by the arm, pulling him to the exit of the VIP area, even as he protests.
"What the hell, man?!" he yells. A couple of his friends laugh and point as I toss him out of the roped-off area and tell the other security guards not to let him back inside.
Princess Alexandra looks amused. "That guy you just tossed out was one of Charlotte's best friends."
"Charlotte who?" I ask, distracted by the fact that people are still taking photos of the princess and it pisses me off.
"My friend Charlotte? The one who came here with me?"
"She should get new friends," I growl. "Ones who don't whistle at you like pigs."
"Do pigs whistle?" Alexandra wonders. She's way too fucking calm right now, and she's having way too much fun with this.
I should be having just as much fun. She one-upped me and I should be giving shit right back to her, acting like I couldn't care less if she wants to stand here practically naked while the whole world photographs her.
Except I really fucking care.
I don't think I've ever cared about anything so damn much.
I hold out her coat. "Put your coat on," I order.
"I'm not cold," she insists.
"Put it on or I'm taking you back home right now."
"But you gave me so much grief about the red dress," she teases. "Don't you remember how you said that it left nothing to the imagination?"
"The red dress was a thousand times better than this dress."
"You mean that it had a thousand times more material," she corrects.
"Any material is more material than this dress," I growl, trying to shield her body from the people who won't stop photographing her. She's going to be in every fucking tabloid all over the country, practically naked.
"You shouldn't have complained about the other dress."
This girl is infuriating. "Goddamn it, Alexandra," I growl. "Stop being a brat and put the fucking coat on. Everyone can see your ass."
"You just called me a brat."
"You're acting like a brat," I say, my voice low.
"Just because I had your cock in my mouth doesn't make me your property," she hisses.
"Is that what this is about?" I'm standing dangerously close to her and her face is upturned, her lips near mine.
God, I want to fucking kiss her. Not a tender kiss, either.
A shut-the-hell-up kiss.
"This has nothing to do with your cock, James," she huffs. But she doesn't move. We're right here in the middle of everything, a million flashes going off around us, and neither of us move an inch. The only thing I can think about is how goddamned stubborn the girl is, and how much I want to throw her down on the ground right now and fuck the hell out of her.
"Bullshit," I argue. "This has everything to do with my cock. We hooked up and you got scared."
She rolls her eyes. "I don't get scared," she says angrily as she steps around me.
Her friend Charlotte saunters over. "Get the bodyguard out of your photos!" she exclaims, pulling Alexandra to her side. "You're going to be all over the internet in this dress. Oh, and there's totally a guy you have to meet –"
Princess Alexandra pushes her away. "I'm going to the bathroom."
I take her by the arm, my grip harder than it needs to be, pulling her in front of me. God fucking help me, I'm hard as a rock as she tries to shrug me off. "You're not going anywhere without me."
I wrap the coat over her shoulders forcefully, shielding her from photographs as she storms out of the VIP area. Two bodyguards clear the way ahead of us, and I put my hand up, pushing people back as the crowd swells around us. My other hand stays firmly on her arm because there's no way I'm letting this brat out of my grasp.
We pass the bathroom and she pauses. "What? Are you going to follow me in here, too?"
"Damn straight I am. You think I've forgotten you can climb out bathroom windows?"
Her pretty little nostrils flare. I've never seen her do that before. I can't decide if I find it cute or the most aggravating thing in the world.
The other bodyguard comes up behind me. "Do we need the car?"
"Yes," I reply.
"No," she insists.
"Yes." I turn to respond over my shoulder, and he disappears toward the back exit of the club, clearing the way for us to leave.
"You don't get to decide when I leave," she huffs. "Or what I wear. Or where I go."