"I didn't figure you for a chick flick kind of girl."
"What kind of girl do you think I am?"
"I don't know. You throw knives and rappel down walls."
She tosses a handful of popcorn at me before pushing the button to recline her leather seat. "Am I forcing you to have a movie night with me?"
"What the hell else am I going to do while I'm on shift? I'm attached to you at the hip," I complain, but I'm not really complaining at all.
She gives me a playful grin. "More like attached at the dick," she says, pressing play on the remote. The movie projects onto the giant screen, but I'm hardly paying attention to the stupid movie, not when Alexandra is sitting here looking the way she does right now. Her cheeks are flushed light pink, the way they seem to be perpetually lately, and she's wearing flannel plaid pajama bottoms and a white tank top and pink bunny rabbit slippers.
She has a way of making the outfit insanely sexy. I think it's a million times sexier even than the sheer dress she wore that night, despite the very special place that dress now has in my heart.
"What is this, anyway?" I ask.
"Ten Things I Hate About You," she replies. "Are you going to sit down or what, James?"
"Is this a Protrovian movie?"
"Are you kidding? This is an American movie. It's basically The Taming of the Shrew."
Now, I snort loudly. "Are you trying to send me a not-so-subtle message that I've tamed you?"
"You wish, Bodyguard." She laughs, and I can't help but grin like a fucking lunatic, which seems to be what I do lately: grin like an idiot.
I slide into the recliner beside her, settling into the ultra-comfortable leather seat. I've been in the palace's theatre, but not the one in the summer house, which is much less ornate. Still, holy shit. "Is this what being a royal is like?"
"Movies at home? Don't you do that in Kentucky?"
I laugh, reaching into her bowl for some popcorn. "We don't watch movies in our private movie theaters on our summer estates."
"Okay, what do you do in Kentucky, then?"
I shrug. "There's never really been much to do in my town. Outdoor stuff: fishing, mudding, tubing down the river, drinking moonshine."
"Oh, good Lord, of course you've never been mudding."
"It's fun. You go tear up a muddy field in a truck."
"Yeah, sounds real fun," she says, giving me a skeptical look.
"Out here in the country, you should be tubing. You'd like that. You have the perfect river for it back behind the house. I bet you have good fishing out there too."
"Rafting, you mean?"
"Tubing ain't the same thing as rafting," I say, laughing. "Tubing is floating down the river with a case of beers and some music."
"My childhood involved music lessons and etiquette lessons and frilly white dresses at polo matches."
I throw popcorn at her. "Wah, wah, wah," I tease. "Was your diamond tiara too heavy? Don't try to impress me with your tragic upbringing, Poor Little Rich Girl."
She laughs as she fends off my popcorn assault. "Stop, stop! I'm saying your childhood was probably more fun than mine."
"Yeah," I admit as a sudden wave of nostalgia for my hometown hits me. "My parents are good people. My town is full of good people. It's shrinking, though, now."
I shrug. "People moving to cities."
"Moving to different countries," she adds.
"Yeah, that too. The mine shut down, which made it hard for most of the people in town who worked there."
"That's sad," she says. "You miss Kentucky, don't you?"
I try to shake off the feeling of nostalgia. "Of course. You'd miss Protrovia if you left."
"Sometimes I think I would," she admits. "But lots of times, I don't know. When I was a kid, I used to pretend I wasn't a princess."
"Don't most little girls pretend to be princesses?"
"Don't judge. I know it sounds ungrateful, the girl who has everything wanting to be a regular person."
"It's okay, I already know you're a spoiled brat," I joke.
She pelts me with popcorn. "Asshole."
Then we're both quiet and settling back, neither of us saying anything as we watch the movie. The silence is comfortable. Hell, just being with her is so damned comfortable now. Logically, I know that getting comfortable with her like this is too fucking dangerous for so many reasons. The problem is that I find myself wanting to be like this with her, hanging out in pajamas and bunny slippers, a regular girl without a tiara or duties or a rich family or any of the expectations that come with privilege. Every part of me screams that she's not a regular girl and she's never going to be one. To think of her as anything other than a princess is delusional.
So I focus on the movie.
At the end when the girl lists everything she hates about the boy (i.e., everything she loves about him), Alexandra sniffles. I whip my head over to look at her. "Did you just sniffle?"
"Don't look at me like that," she orders. "It's allergies."
"Your eyes," I say. "Did they just manufacture actual tears? I didn't think that was possible. You don't believe in love or happy endings."
"Oh, shut up," she hisses. "I told you, it's dusty in here."
"Yeah, super dusty," I say, laughing, swatting her hand away as she palms the front of my pants. "Are you trying to distract me from the fact that you just showed a human emotion other than anger?"
"I did not," she argues. She's also fucking persistent, her palm going down my cock. She knows I'm easily manipulated by her touch, my cock immediately hard.
"You're such a liar," I whisper as her fingers go to my zipper. She takes out my dick and strokes it. "I'm not going to be distracted by your hand."
She laughs. "Yeah, you're real focused," she says. Her thumb catches the pre-cum that already leaks from the tip of my cock. "Besides, I do believe in happy endings."
"Really?" I ask as she strokes me.
She gives me a mischievous grin. "Well, I believe in these kinds of happy endings."
Then she jerks me off, right here in the private movie theater in the summer house.
The rest of the summer flies by. I should hate it here in the summer house, holed up and removed from all semblance of civilization and culture. I should despise being cooped up here with my father and his future bride and my brother and my new stepsister, except I don't.
Of course, I hardly ever see any of them. Albie and Belle are busy making eyes at each other most of the time, and the other part of the time they're hidden away somewhere hooking up. Albie still won't admit he's with her, so I pretend I don't see the way they look at each other. Thankfully, my father and Sofia are the same way (as totally repulsive as the thought of that is) – but at least they're keeping to themselves and not giving me grief.
Sofia and I are in a tenuous state of détente. We're polite in public, even if I don't like the way she's blown in here and tried to take my mother's place. But she has taken my father's attention off of me, which isn't the worst thing in the entire world, either.
All of this means that no one has seemed to notice what's been going on between me and Max. My father has taken the position that as long as I'm here at the summer house and out of the headlines, he's fine ignoring everything else. Not that anyone has seen anything – despite how careless Max and I were to hook up during the fitting session for my bridesmaid dress – and we haven't nearly been close to getting caught any other time.
For the first time in my life, I've been content. Happy, even. I've been happy holed up here with Max. I've never wanted to spend time with just one person before, but things are different with him.
Except that the summer is drawing to a close and that everything will change once we return to the palace. My father will get married, and with that comes increased scrutiny. Insane levels of scr
utiny – by the press, by the public, by government officials, and by my friends and by family.
I keep telling myself that it's just the sex making me this way. Good sex has turned me into someone happy, and that might not be a good thing.
I'm not sure I like it. Being happy means waiting for the other shoe to drop and for things to be torn to pieces – the way they always are. Being happy means being connected to other people, and people always disappoint you. They always leave when you least expect it, just the way my mother did when she died.
This time, though, I know it's coming and I can protect my heart. Whatever is going on with Max cannot last beyond the summer. It can't withstand public scrutiny. It can't withstand evaluation. It can't withstand external pressure.
Neither can I.
So it's only sex. That's all it can be. Amazing, toe-curling, life-altering sex.
It can't be anything more. I don't know what to do with anything more.
Max's voice makes me jump. I whirl around to see him dressed in a t-shirt, swim trunks, and sandals with a backpack on his shoulder and sunglasses on his head. "You scared me," I tell him, narrowing my eyes. "What are you doing? You look like a tourist."
"And you looked deep in thought there by the window," he says softly. He waves me over. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" I ask. "You know the charity event is tonight." He tells me he knows and that if he tells me where we're going, it will ruin the surprise. So I follow him, evading the places where there are security cameras around the exits from the house. We make our way to the backyard and through the garden and away from the summer house. When we pass the pool, he tells me to go into the pool house and change.
"Put on whatever you have in the pool house that's the least designer-y thing possible."
"Are you going to tear up my swimsuit?" I tease.
"Not if you're good."
"Are you encouraging me to be bad?"
"Just go change. Move your ass, little girl."
I throw on a bikini and sundress and top it with a large floppy hat, sunglasses, and a pair of wedge sandals. When I come out of the pool house, Max rolls his eyes. "Go put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and some normal sandals. Not heels."
I sigh exaggeratedly. "Whatever this surprise is, it doesn't sound fun."
"Oh, it's going to be fun, and you're going to like it."
"Your promises always sound like threats." But I change into flip flops and a pair of cutoff shorts and a white t-shirt.
Max looks approvingly at me when I come out of the door. "Much better."
"Well, I'm pleased you're pleased," I tell him sarcastically.
He glances in either direction before swatting my ass hard. "Don't sass me."
"Sass you?" I ask, laughing.
"That's right, mouthy," he says, swinging his backpack over his shoulder. "Let's go."
"Did you tell anyone we were leaving?" I ask. "You're on duty right now, aren't you?"
"Your parents are out right now," he tells me, then corrects himself as soon as I give him a glare at his use of the word "parents". "Your father and Sofia, I meant. Albie and Belle are somewhere."
"Somewhere." I laugh. Somewhere meaning the bedroom.
"At least we're not the only ones having an illicit relationship," Max points out as we make our way to the back edge of the property, near the small lake that feeds into the river that winds for miles through the countryside out here.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not just throw around that word," I say, my heart racing. Relationship is a more than loaded term. Max is not my boyfriend because I don't do boyfriends.
"Illicit?" Max asks.
"The R word," I tell him, giving him a dirty look.
Max just laughs. We're far out of sight of the summer house now – just Max and I and nothing else for miles but the river and trees and acres of rolling pasture and hunting land. "I've got news for you, sugar tits."
"Whatever you're going to say, don't say it."
He grabs me, his hand wrapping around my wrist, and pulls me against him. His cock presses against me, and my body responds automatically. He whispers against my ear: "Relationship, relationship, relationship."
"You can't make that word sound sexy just by whispering it."
"No?" he asks. "I bet if I reached between your legs, I'd find that you're wet."
"You'd be wrong," I lie. "A million percent wrong."
"I'm never wrong," he says, chuckling as he lets me go. Turning away from me, he waves me to follow him. "Come on. Move it or lose it."
I catch up with him, the heat between my legs distracting me as I walk. He's totally wrong. Being in a relationship doesn't turn me on. It's the last thing in the world that would turn me on.
No relationships and most definitely not the L word. The only happy endings I want are the ones that involve an orgasm.
A few minutes later, Max stops. "Here we go," he says, pointing to two inner tubes securely attached to the trunk of a tree beside the river bank.
"This is me showing you a good time," he explains as he squats down to untie the rope looped around the tree trunk. He looks up and flashes me a smile. My heart does that beat-skipping thing that only seems to happen – annoyingly so – around him. "One that doesn't involve my dick."
"This is a good time?"
"Tubing," he tells me. He hands me one of the inner tubes. "You wanted to know what we do in Kentucky in the summer time. We float down the river and drink beer. I'm going to show you what fun is for us commoners."
I laugh. "You're not a commoner. You're American."
Max snorts, opening his backpack and pulling out a beer. In a can. "Same difference."
"Wow. Beer comes in cans?" I muse.
"Holy shit, woman, you are the most sheltered girl I've ever met," he says, shaking his head, and I hate that he might still think I'm a sheltered over-privileged snob.
I grab the can from his hand and pop the top, taking a swig and grimacing. "I'm not sheltered," I manage to choke out. "But even you have to admit this beer is swill."
"You're lucky you're so damned hot," he comments, rummaging around in his bag and producing something he slides onto my beer can.