It’s less of a suggestion than it is an order. That much is clear.
“Hey, Cinderella.” I whisper the words, even though we’re the only two people in the hallway. A housekeeper at the end of the hall runs a feather duster along the window, and a member of the security team walks with purpose. When she sees us, the housekeeper quickly darts around the corner and out of the way.
It’s silly, really, all of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with living in this place. It always made me uncomfortable, even when I was a kid.
Belle whirls around and glares at me. “Are you following me?”
“Whoa, whoa, luv.” I put my hands up in mock surrender. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch. You do wear panties, don’t you? I picture a thong. Unless you go commando. That would be more fun, as well as convenient.”
She looks at me with wide eyes. “My panties are none of your business.”
“I’m right about the thongs, though, aren’t I?”
She ignores me, which is probably for the best, because that means I can use my imagination when it comes to what she’s wearing under those jeans. “Seriously,” she says. “Are you following me? How do I keep running into you? Isn’t this a giant palace?”
“It’s three hundred rooms,” I say. “Three hundred and twelve. Give or take, really. Some rooms are under renovation, and some are considered public areas for tours and things. I’ll give you a tour, if you like. The very private, very special tour.”
“That was a rhetorical question,” she says. “Stop stalking me.”
“You’re full of yourself,” I say, standing close to her. She doesn’t move, doesn’t step back an inch, and I’m so close that I can smell the faintest hint of fragrance on her skin – something soft, lightly floral – lotion, not perfume. “I’d rather you be full of me.”
She wrinkles her nose, an expression of distaste that should be annoying, but just makes me hard instead. Apparently, I find her distaste attractive.
“You’re crude for a prince,” she says.
“You’ve said that already.”
“Obviously, nothing’s changed.”
“I hope not," I say. "Persistence is one of my strongest qualities.”
A small smile breaks through her face, and she shakes her head. “So, what, you just wear women down?” she asks. “I’d think someone royal like yourself wouldn’t need to resort to doing that.”
“Not normally,” I say. “But you’re a special case.”
This time, she laughs. “Because I find you irritating?”
I put my hand over my chest. “I’m hurt, Belle,” I say. “Truly. But I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t believe that I find you obnoxious?” she asks. “Because I can assure you, I really do. Even more so now.”
“Just because our parents are getting married?” I ask. “You didn’t find me irritating in Las Vegas.”
“Tequila has a way of making anyone entertaining,” she says. “And anyway, I hardly remember it. It’s all a blur.”
“Is it?” I ask. The way she says it, her voice hesitating slightly, makes me doubtful. Even through the haze of the alcohol, it’s hardly a blur in my head.
“Truth or dare,” she says, sinking back against the leather of the limo seat. Her hair spills down over her shoulders, a cascade of brown that’s so silky I want to reach out and touch it. “Or… never have I ever. Yes. That’s it. I know nothing about you, and I’m sitting in your limo driving around Vegas. It’s insane.”
“Never have I ever,” I say. “You’re going to lose this one, luv. There’s a lot of things you’ve never done. I can tell.”
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, right. Because you’re so worldly,” she says sarcastically. “Never have I ever driven around Vegas with a total stranger.”
“That’s not how you play,” I say, my eyes lingering on her expression, her lips parted just slightly. The thin strap of her dress is hanging halfway off her shoulder, and I want to pull it the rest of the way down, but I don’t. She’s drunk. No matter how fucking hot she is, that makes her off-limits. Even so, I can’t help teasing her a little bit. “Never have I ever been so wet in the back of a limo, driving around Vegas with a total stranger.”
She looks at me for a long time, and her lips fall open farther. She raises her eyebrows like she’s appalled, but flicks her tongue over her lower lip, and I know without a doubt that if I were to reach between her legs, I’d find she’s just as wet as I think she is. But I don’t. “That’s not how you play, either,” she says. “And, besides, it’s not true.”
“The entire thing is completely a blur,” she says. But her voice wavers.
“Liar.” I whisper the word, close to her ear, watching as goose bumps dot her skin on her arms in response to warmth of my breath. “You remember everything.”
I pull away from her, just far enough to see a flush rise to her cheeks, pink coloring along her cheekbones that makes me wonder how she looks after orgasm, whether that flush deepens and she gets a dewy glow like she has right now.
I can’t help but feel smugly satisfied at the way I bring that flush to her cheeks.
Then she steels her jaw and looks at me. “Barely,” she says.
Barely. That means definitely.
“I could help you remember,” I say.
“Thanks for the offer,” she says. “But I’m busy. And besides, you’re a prince, after all. Don’t you have better things to do? I’m sure there’s a damsel in distress somewhere who needs rescuing.”
“You’re wandering these halls like you’re the one who needs rescuing.”
She chokes back a laugh, but there’s no joy in it. “Unless you have the ability to produce my passport, you can’t help me.”
“Your passport? Are you leaving?” I can’t help but be annoyed at the possibility of her leaving when she’s gotten here. Can I help it if I’m intrigued by the thought of spending the summer getting under this girl’s skin?
Belle shrugs. “Maybe,” she says. “I don’t know. But I can’t find it. And at the very least, I want to make sure I have it.”
“You have someplace better to be for the summer?”
“Something that’s better than being paraded around like some kind of trophy in media interviews and whatever else I’m supposed to do as the child of the new Queen of Protrovia?” she asks.
“How about getting to know your new family?” I ask. “Getting to know my father? Or Protrovia. It’s not such a bad place. You might find there’s a lot to like about our country.”
Her face softens. “I’m not trying to be ungrateful,” she says. “It’s just that everything has happened so fast. And you already knew about the engagement. I was the only one in that room that had the news sprung on her.”
“Well, it was a surprise to me when I got back from Afghanistan,” I say. “I haven’t been back here that long, you know. The Vegas trip was to blow off steam with my friends, American-style.”
“You were in Afghanistan?” she asks.
“In the military,” I say. “The Royal Protrovian Army.”
She studies my face for a moment. “I didn’t know they sent people like you to Afghanistan,” she says.
“People like me?” I ask, laughing.
“That is not the way I meant it,” she says, and her face colors, the flush on her cheeks deepening to an entirely different shade of red.
“Oh?” I ask. “So you meant it in a non-condescending, non-pejorative way, then.”
“I meant royal,” she says. “You know that’s what I meant. You just like giving me grief.”
That’s not all I’d like to give her. The words are on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t speak them. Not getting laid for over two weeks since I was in Vegas has me so horny I can hardly focus. That’s the problem. That’s why I’m standing here with a rock-hard cock, in front of this girl who looks at me, her face upturned,
eyes telegraphing her irritation with me.
“I’ll admit that giving you grief, as you so elegantly put it, does hold a certain appeal,” I say, being deliberately patronizing.
“Sorry that I’m not as elegant as you are,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“There’s an American embassy in Protrovia,” I say. “You can get a new passport, if you need to.”
“Attempting to get rid of me now?” she asks. “You’re not going to try to convince me to stay?”
“You’re a grown woman,” I say. “If you don’t want to stick around for the fireworks this summer, I’m sure you have better things to do with your time.”
“The fireworks?” she asks, as I turn to leave. “You mean, all the drama with the wedding?”
I wasn’t referring to the wedding.
“Sure,” I say. “That, too.”
I watch as that same flush rises to her cheeks again.
I turn, leaving her standing in the hallway, whistling as I walk away.
If Belle stays for the summer, fireworks are definitely on the agenda.
I’m hiding out in my room. Room is an incredible understatement. I'm staying in one of the family residences in the palace – a huge suite the size of an apartment, with a ridiculous walk-in closet, filled with designer clothes and shoes that are all my size. It's everything you'd expect from a palace – opulent beyond belief, antique furniture and wine-colored fabrics and gold-gilded accessories.
I slept like the dead last night, longer than I’ve slept in years. And I’ve spent all day holed up in my room, doing my best to pretend none of this is actually happening.
I’ve avoided everything on the agenda today.
There is literally an agenda – an actual program, like you’d get at a wedding or a graduation. It’s printed on delicate cream-colored paper and embossed with the royal crest in the background.
I wonder if they do this every day, whether if they pass out an itinerary, a schedule of events to be adhered to, expectations to be met.
It’s completely and utterly ridiculous.
This entire thing is ludicrous.
I’m not a princess, not even close. Sure, I’m a Kensington – my family's name is recognizable in certain circles – but I'm nowhere near being royalty.
My father was the child of Polish immigrants who changed their family name from Kedzierski to Kensington when they arrived in America. Oliver Kensington started working when he was eight, a shoeshine business on a New York sidewalk before going to school in the mornings. He made his first million dollars before he was twenty. By then, it was real estate, not shoe shining.
My mother was his high school sweetheart. When I was a kid, I remember them having late night candlelit dinners every Friday night in our living room. Sometimes it would be after an event – charity or business something-or-other -- and sometimes there was no event at all. I'd sneak out of my room and hide around the corner, watching them as they held hands and my mother giggled like a schoolgirl, talking to him.
"You get one great love in life, kiddo," he told me once. "If you're lucky. So you have to make it count. Remember that."
Everything changed after my father died. My mother threw herself into charities, social functions, her status. She dived into advancing the Kensington name. I thought it was her way of remembering him, but at some point all of that stuff became an end in and of itself.
Of course, becoming a queen is the ultimate position of status.
I can’t imagine growing up in a place like this. It’s a million times more rigid and fraught with expectations than my life ever was. I’d almost feel badly for Albie -- if he didn’t seem to enjoy all of it so much.
I spent all morning surfing the internet and getting the scoop on Albie. There’s a lot of scoop to be had on Albie, too -- hundreds of magazine articles, photos taken with telescope lenses of he and whatever girl-of-the-minute he was with, the gossip about his bedroom exploits.
I don’t know how in the world I didn’t recognize him in Vegas. He’s as famous as the British princes, maybe even more so – a bad boy whose ridiculous antics make headlines around the world.
After he got a Prince Albert – yeah, that kind of piercing – he showed the press. Literally. The crown prince of Protrovia dropped his pants and let the press take a thousand photos of it. A photo of him, shit-eating grin on his face, proudly displaying his new piercing – black bar censoring the royal dick – was plastered on all the major gossip magazines around the world.
PRINCE ALBERT SHOWS OFF HIS PRINCE ALBERT!
ROYAL DICK EXPOSED! GET THE UNCENSORED PHOTOS THE ROYAL FAMILY DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE!
It only made him more popular with the press. But not with his father, apparently. The next major magazine articles, two months later, announced that Albie would be doing his “royal duty” and serving in the army.
The royal dick…
I refrained from searching for the uncensored versions of the photos, even though even now the thought sends a surge of heat flowing through my body that’s so intense it nearly takes my breath away.
I blame my stupid, traitorous body for thinking Albie is hot. Because more importantly, he's a pretentious, arrogant dickhead.
If you don’t want to stick around for the fireworks this summer…
I can’t stick around here for the summer, pretending to be a princess.
I don’t want to stick around here for the summer. Not under the same roof as Albie.
That night in Vegas, when we were driving around in the limo, Albie didn’t touch me. Not once.
He didn’t have to. The things that came out of his mouth – just like the things he said to me in the hallway yesterday – were enough to leave me practically writhing.
I told myself it was because I hadn’t been with anyone but Derek twice in the past two years, during visits at Christmas. Not even when I saw Derek when I came home from Africa, right before the Vegas trip.
I should have known things were over when I saw him. A reasonable person would have realized it -- in retrospect, it seems obvious. He said he was too stressed out because of a big case at the firm.
So it’s been a while.
It’s been forever.
I told myself that was why I was practically crawling out of my skin when I was sitting in the back of that limo with Albie. And when he kissed me…
“You may kiss this hunk-a…,” Fake Elvis’ voice seems to fade into the background as I look at Albie, trying to stifle my giggle.
Albie steps close to me, and I breathe in sharply at his proximity. Even through my tequila haze, I’ve never seen any man more beautiful than this one. “It was just a dare,” I say, my voice soft. “We don’t have to –“