only warning. He might have cause to hit me, but I'm also not going to stand here and take it, either.
"My sister fucking hates you," he growls, but he lets go of me. "She won't tell me what the hell you said to her."
"That's between your sister and I," I spit.
"I just came back with Belle and found out that my sister doesn't want to talk to you or about you!" he bursts out, then stops, his eyes going to the board on my wall. "Wait. What the fuck is all of this …?"
"You need to leave," I tell him, but he's already near the wall, taking it all in –the photographs and the map of Protrovia stuck with pins detailing dates and locations of the movement of the cult threatening Alexandra.
"This is fucking crazy," he says softly. "It's like an obsession…"
"It's a security thing," I say, shrugging dismissively. "It's not important."
"Oh, piss off, Max," he mutters. "This is that shit my father told me about, that religious cult."
I exhale heavily. "Yeah. I'm just … monitoring things."
He looks away from the wall, directing his gaze back at me. "Alex doesn't know about any of this," he says.
"And it stays that way," I tell him. "Your father was clear that she's not to know. He expressly forbade any deviation from her normal routine. He doesn't want to worry her."
"A bunch of crackpots think my sister is having the devil's baby, and my father doesn't want to alter her routine?"
I shrug as nonchalantly as possible, pretending I have no personal investment in this. "King's orders."
He's silent, his eyes searching mine, and then a look of understanding crosses his face. "You broke up with her. That's why she hates you."
"There was nothing to break up," I lie. That's the truth, though, isn't it? There wasn't anything between us, nothing that was ever defined anyway. For all I know, to her it was just sex and that's it, nothing more.
That's what I tell myself.
"It has something to do with this," he continues slowly as he puts everything together. "Let me guess. The only reason you're here is because my father said he'd deport you unless you broke things off with Alex, and you're staying as her bodyguard so you can protect her."
"Leave it alone, Al," I warn him again, angrier this time. While the princess was infuriating enough early on that I thought about arranging my own deportation, I'd never even consider it now that I know about a threat to her safety.
I won't do anything that gets in the way of my ability to protect that girl. That means nothing crosses the line – no more unprofessional behavior. The only thing I'm focused on is keeping her safe.
He shakes his head and exhales, running his hand through his hair before he sits down on my bed. "You know that Alex has had a thing for you since you got here," he goes on. "And I've never seen her really interested in anyone. I mean, not like this."
I stand there, my arms crossed over my chest as I give him a "so what?" look.
Prince Albert sighs. "Fine. I get it. You don't want to talk about my sister just as much as she doesn't want to talk about you. But you don't think this group is really a threat, do you?"
"This isn't the first time your sister has gotten death threats," I tell him. It's just the first time I've been kept completely in of the dark by the head of security when it comes to a credible threat to her safety. It's the first time I've been briefed by the king instead of by my direct supervisor. "There's someone in royal security whose job it is to screen the royal family's mail. All day long, they open letters that detail how much people want you and your entire family murdered."
"That's comforting," Albert says drolly.
"They're mostly from lunatics who don't have anything better to do with their time and want to send old-fashioned mail instead of posting comments on hate websites the way normal crazy people do."
Albert isn't amused by my attempt at levity. "If my father is concerned enough about it to talk to you directly – and to keep Alex out of it – then it's a serious threat."
I give Prince Albert a hard look. "You know me. I won't let anything happen to your sister."
"I know you won't let anything happen to her," Albert notes, grinning. "Because you know my father would turn the royal interrogators loose on you."
He's half-joking, but we both know if anything happened to that girl, I'd never be able to live with myself.
"I'm so glad you decided to still do the opening!" Charlotte screams, her voice nearly carried away entirely by the din of the music in the club. The bass thumps so loudly that I can feel it in my chest. "Finn is around here somewhere, too! I think he went out for a smoke break – or to hook up with a girl or something. You know him."
When she thrusts champagne into my hand, I down the glass immediately. Then I chase it with a shot of vodka, because what the hell else am I going to do when the guy I was in like with – the only guy I've ever been in like with – said he was embarrassed to be outed as screwing Princess Train Wreck?
I'm going to go out to the club with my friends and be the biggest damned train wreck that Protrovia has ever seen.
"Of course I'd still come to the opening!" I yell brightly, forcing the hugest grin on my face, despite the knot in the middle of my stomach that developed when I walked out of my bedroom door and saw Max in the hallway earlier tonight.
It's no good if the princess who's supposed to be the biggest party girl in the kingdom looks like she's not having a fabulous time. So I take another shot, and then another, prompting Charlotte to put her hand on my arm and tell me to slow down.
"Weren't you just on some kind of super big health kick? You probably have zero alcohol tolerance now, and you need to have a tolerance tonight because you have to party with me until dawn, baby!"
I laugh off her concern. "I think I can handle myself, Char."
She doesn’t have a clue why I'm pounding shots like this is my eighteenth birthday and the first time I've tasted alcohol. The past few days have been completely fucked. Not only was Max a complete dick, but I've also been forced to stay under his watchful eye, even after I insisted on him being reassigned.
Even though Max has backed way the hell off (he seemed to know better than to protest when I decided to come out to Charlotte's nightclub opening), I'm still forced to see him anytime I leave the room. It's like a special kind of torture I've had to endure for my mistake in blurting out that I was screwing him.
The thing that sucks the most is that I very nearly used the other word – the like word – in reference to him. At least I only confessed to fucking him, because if I'd have confessed to liking him, I'd have been a thousand times more mortified when he said what he said later.
As it is, I'm mortified enough already.
But not heartbroken, because Princess Train Wreck doesn't do heartbroken. She shakes that shit off and puts on her hottest dress and her highest heels and goes out with her friends and parties all damned night. And she definitely doesn't think about the way her bodyguard looks right now, tense and angry and brooding and sexy where he stands on the other side of the VIP area.
Not that she keeps sneaking glances at him, because that would be pathetic after what happened, and she does not do pathetic.
"Okay, then, more champagne!" Charlotte declares, pouring me another glass.
"Keep it coming," I say, already half-tipsy. "I have a reputation to maintain!"
Charlotte grins. "Your brother was the one making all the headlines," she agrees. "You've been too quiet! Oh, we need more champagne!" She waves her fingers, gesturing at one of the attendants waiting on us here in the uber-VIP section of her club. We're sitting on a white sofa in the middle of a glassed-in platform set ten feet off the ground for maximum visibility. At this point in my consumption of booze, sitting is good. Sitting is perfect. I can sit here all night.
Two hot shirtless men with glistening chests and abs materialize, making their way through the space, each carrying trays w
ith open bottles of champagne. Then they stand quietly beside us, not moving, on display with their champagne.
I raise my eyebrows and look at Charlotte. "These are your waiters?"
She shrugs. "It was my idea."
"You're a genius."
Charlotte leans toward me and whispers. "You know that your bodyguard keeps staring at you."
I don't look over at Max. "He's a bodyguard," I tell her curtly. "That's his job."
"He's so hot," Charlotte notes. "I bet he's huge, too."
Do not think about how well-endowed he is, I tell myself, pulling my phone out of my purse and pretending to be super busy. I take a duck-faced selfie, then post it on social media: #club opening, #hotmeneverywhere, #fuckyouMax.
I don't post the last hash tag.
I look up at her and wrinkle my nose. "He's most likely tiny and shriveled," I lie. "Steroids."
Charlotte laughs. "I don't believe you. You just don't want me to fuck your bodyguard."
"Why wouldn't I?" I ask, increasingly annoyed with this conversation. I pretend to be mega-interested in my phone.
"Because you want him all to yourself," she declares like she's a fucking scientist and this is her Eureka! moment.
I force a laugh. "Trust me, there is not a man on Earth I want all to myself," I tell her, waving my hand in his direction. "Please. Fuck away."
Charlotte laughs and stands. For a second my heart stops because I think she's actually headed in Max's direction, but she's not. Instead, she picks one of the champagne bottles up by the neck and walks the waiter with her toward the edge of the balcony. There, she looks down on all of the club-goers before running her palm seductively across his chest. Below, the crowd hoots and cheers.
I glance over at Max, standing near the entrance of the VIP area, and he gives me a cold glare. I silently curse the way heat rushes through my body when I meet his gaze, despite everything he said to me.
You didn't think this was going to be anything except screwing, did you? Did you think you were going to confess to Daddy that you were sleeping with me and that I would decide I wanted to be your boyfriend?
Charlotte dramatically pours champagne down the bare chest of the half-naked man beside her and the crowd goes wild as she licks the liquid off his abs. When the second shirtless guy reaches for my hand, I take it, letting him lead me over to the edge of the balcony beside Charlotte. Even without turning around, I can feel Max's eyes on me.
A pang of guilt rips through me at the fact that I'm even in this scenario right now, especially because I know that none of this is who I am anymore.
But fuck Max. And fuck my stupid heart.
And fuck the L word.
"Let's give the crowd what they came for, shall we?" I ask Charlotte, grabbing the bottle of champagne and gulping from it as she works them up into a frenzy. I point to the bottle and then to the man beside me, pantomiming that I'm about to pour hundreds of dollars' worth of champagne down his chest and lick it off of him.
I drizzle the champagne right over the top of his pecs, watching the liquid run down his abs as the crowd cheers for Princess Train Wreck, the royal who normally would get on her knees in her short skirt, flashing a myriad of reporters, and put her lips on the bare chest of a random man.
They're all waiting for me to lick champagne off of his abs so they can publish the photos. They're all waiting to write the article on what a total disaster I am.
Princess Alexandra Out of Control Again: Rehab On the Horizon?
Princess Alexandra: Sex Addict?
Princess Alexandra: Royal Hookup with Stripper!
Princess Pours Out Champagne While Countrymen Can't Find Jobs
I just stand there half-drunk for what seems like an eternity with all of this stuff running through my head. Across the room, Max stares at me.
He looks like he's about to murder Half-Naked Guy with his bare hands and probably throttle me, too.
That should make me happy. It should make me feel satisfied that Max is angry. I should want to hurt him just as much as he hurt me. I should want to stick in the knife and twist it.
Except I don't.
Everyone is cheering and chanting: "Lick it!" and Charlotte is asking me what's wrong, but it all fades away. It's just me standing here as all of the noise fades away.
I can't fucking do this.
Dazed by that realization, I shove the bottle at Charlotte and mumble an apology to the half-naked guy whose abs will just have to go un-licked. My eyes on the exit, I stumble toward it.
I don't look at Max. I just want to get the hell out of this place.
But when I reach the exit, Max puts his hand on my arm. "Where do you think you're going?"
I recoil like I've been burned, heat still lingering on my skin from his touch. I don't want to talk to him. I don't want him anywhere near me. "Back away," I threaten, "or I will take off my heel and stab you with it."
Another bodyguard is almost immediately at my side, his hand up to prevent Max from touching me, and I'm taking the stairs in my heels two at a time.
The crowd at the end of the stairs surges and I immediately take my chance, ducking away from my bodyguard in a wave of people. I dodge guys who leer at me and a couple of girls who try to get selfies as I pass, heading toward what looks like the back of the club. While I don't know the layout of this place, I've been in enough clubs that I can find the back exit without much effort, and I've had enough practice ditching my security that it's easy enough to lose the new guy.
I don't look behind me. If Max isn't there, it means Charlotte likely has her claws in him, which makes ditching my security and heading out the back of the club the best fucking idea in the world right now.
I let out an oomph as I run into a guy who's about as wide as a brick wall, dancing in the crowd. His eyes go big. "Princess!" he yells drunkenly.
"In the flesh," I slur. I gesture for him to lean in closer. "Can I ask a royal favor?"
I giggle at my own pun. Hilarious.
Yep, I'm totally wasted.
"Anything," he says.
"The guys in suits behind me," I tell him. "I need to lose them."
His brow furrows. "You got it," he replies. "Hey, can I get a selfie?"
"No time," I yell, slapping him on the arm before squeezing through the crowd.
All I want is some quiet. I want to get out of here, catch a cab back to the palace, and go to sleep. Alone.
I push through people until I see a hallway with a small neon sign lighting up the end. Bingo.
As soon as I turn into the hallway, a hand grips my arm and fingertips dig into my skin. In my champagne-induced haze, I think it's so strange because the hand is skeletal – long, thin fingers and wrinkled skin, which is totally wrong.
This doesn't make any sense at all, I think slowly.
Then my eyes go to his face, and for a second, I breathe a sigh of relief. It's just an old man, his face wrinkled and skeletal, like his hands, his cheeks hollow and his skin sallow.
He kind of looks like the Grim Reaper, Drunk Me notes. I think I'm stifling my giggle at the thought, but I hear myself laugh and realize I'm not at all. "Are you Death?" I ask.
Shit, I'm way too drunk. That was so rude.
I realize he's still holding tightly onto my forearm and I try to shake him off. Okay, weirdo, you can let go of me now.