I look out the window at the countryside passing in a blur as we drive, the greens and blues of the landscape and the greys and browns of the stone cottages whizzing by, and try to forget the growing tightness in my chest.
“My family has ruled this kingdom for five hundred years,” Albie says. “Do you know what that’s like?”
The question jerks me out of the melancholy triggered by thinking about my father. “Of course I don’t know what it’s like to be royal,” I say. My voice comes out harsher than I intend it to be.
“No,” he says. “But your father – I read the articles about him in the business journals. He started from nothing. That’s something, Belle.”
“I don’t have a pedigree,” I say stupidly. I don’t understand where this conversation is going, but it makes me feel anxious. My father has been gone for a long time, and I can’t remember the last time my mother and I talked about him.
“Exactly,” he says. “Do you know what it’s like to do nothing? To have everything passed down to you, simply because you were born who you are?”
“I haven’t exactly had to earn my way in life,” I point out. “I’m not a plucky girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s had to fight her way through life to get what she has. My father left me millions of dollars.”
“No, I don’t suppose so,” Albie says. “Except what did you do with the money?”
I roll my eyes and look out the window, breaking away from his gaze. I’m irritated by the thought that Albie seems to have looked up everything there is to know about me just to satisfy his damn curiosity. “I’m not some kind of Mother Theresa."
“No,” he says. “You took the money and set up a foundation, then went and spent two years in Africa working for a charity.”
“Yes.” I don’t elaborate. I’m starting to feel overheated, claustrophobic in this car with him. I don’t like talking about myself, don’t like being the center of attention, and Albie is putting me on the spot. I don’t need to explain to this man – this stranger, whom I barely know – why I left when I graduated college, why I didn’t take the trust fund and blow it on some fabulous lifestyle, the way my mother encouraged me to do.
“You should have some fun, Belle,” she said, looking at me with sadness in her eyes. “You’re too serious. Life shouldn’t be so serious.”
She’d definitely never taken life seriously. Wealth, power, parties, socializing…that was what kept my mother going.
She couldn’t understand.
I didn’t want my father’s money. It was just a reminder of his death. And that’s the last thing I wanted to be reminded of.
Albie doesn’t say anything else, and neither do I during the rest of the car ride. Instead, I watch out the window as we pass houses that are closer together as we come to a small village. I don’t know what to make of Albie’s questions, except to think that maybe he’s not as flippant about life as I thought he was. I’m not sure if that makes me like him more or less.
I feel like I fucked up somehow with Belle, as if a cloud, a sense of heaviness, has descended over the car ever since I mentioned her father. Belle has me on edge since I met her in the casino. With her, I feel like I’m perpetually making missteps.
That’s not something I do when it comes to women.
I’m a master at bedding women, leveraging my status and privilege and wealth and looks to get into their panties. Belle should be no exception.
But I’ve somehow managed to turn things melancholy instead of light.
I’m the fuck-up prince, the irresponsible one, the man who doesn’t want to be king. I don’t do serious, so I have no idea why I’m having a remotely serious conversation with Belle about our dead parents.
That’s fucking depressing.
It’s like, the exact opposite of what I should be doing to get in her panties.
Noah taps the brakes as we head into the small village, traffic slowing the vehicle to a near crawl. A banner with colored flags stretches across the archway at the beginning of the main road through town, a cobblestone path that is routinely closed to traffic. Today, that stretch of road is crowded with pedestrians, throngs of families who are here for a summer festival.
I tap on the divider, and it goes down. “Turn right down here, Noah.”
“I’ll go down and around town,” Noah disagrees, shaking his head. This isn’t the first time we’ve gone into the village, and Noah knows the back roads and ways to bypass traffic far better than I do.
“Do you come down here a lot?” Belle asks, finally breaking the silence between us. I don’t know why, but I feel myself exhale with relief.
“Alex and I used to sneak out here all the time in the summer,” I say. “It used to piss off my father.”
“He didn’t want you running around with the commoners?” she asks.
“No,” I say, laughing. “It was more of an issue with security risk than anything else. He’s perpetually convinced I’m going to be assassinated.”
Belle raises her eyebrows. “Given who you are, that’s probably a legitimate concern.”
I shrug. “He’s too protective,” I say.
She glances at me from the corner of her eye. “Says the guy who went to Afghanistan?”
“I flew helicopters,” I say. “And, thanks to my father, I wasn’t able to get close to any real action.”
“There’s something to be said for staying alive – playing it safe,” Belle says, turning to look at me finally. The corners of her mouth turn up on the edges, just slightly, but the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. Even so, the way she looks at me, her chestnut-colored eyes wide, taking the corner of her lower lip between her teeth uncertainly, sends an almost irresistible desire to kiss her ricocheting through me.
Fuck. I want to do a hell of a lot more than just kiss this girl.
“Playing it safe is boring,” I say, not wanting to take my eyes away from hers. I watch transfixed, as she takes a deep breath, her breasts rising under the thin fabric of her t-shirt, and I swear to God, that single breath makes my cock rigid.
Hell if a girl has ever been able to make my cock hard as a rock with one look, with a single inhale of breath.
Then Noah clears his throat noisily, reminding me that Belle and I aren’t the only ones in the car. “We’re here, sir,” he says. “Miss Kensington.”
Beside me, Belle laughs, the sound light. I think it might be the best sound I’ve ever heard. “I’m not Miss Kensington,” she says. “That’s my mother. Everyone calls me Belle.”
Noah nods. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Okay, ma’am is totally worse. Please never ever call me that again. I'm not that old,” she says, before turning to me. “Where are we going?”
“It's the start of the summer festival,” I say. “This is the real Protrovia.”
Noah tails us from a respectable distance as we meander through the festival, among the throngs of families and tourists playing carnival games, listening to music, and eating traditional Protrovian food.
Belle is mostly silent, contemplative, but I watch her take everything in as she walks, pausing occasionally to talk to a vendor or run her fingers along a handmade craft being sold on one of the tables. “This version of Protrovia is a ton better than the palace one,” she says, turning toward me.
Behind her, someone squeezes past, pushing her into me. Her body presses up against mine, and she doesn't jump away, not immediately. Instead, she lingers a fraction of a moment too long, and when I reach for her elbows to steady her, my hands land on her waist instead. It’s completely inappropriate, touching her like this out here, in the middle of everything, even for a moment.
She looks up at me, eyes framed by dark lashes, and I know she can feel how hard I am, my body’s immediate response to her pressed against me. Rock hard seems to be my default response to anything this girl does. But in that moment, I know she wants me just as much as I want h
Then Belle steps away, looking down at the ground and tucking her hair behind her ear self-consciously. Her cheeks are flushed, pink lightly dusting her cheekbones, and she tries to put distance between us, but the thickness of the crowd causes her to slow down. Then I'm behind her, my lips close to her ear. “I know you could feel how hard I am for you,” I say, my voice low.
The flush she gets when she’s embarrassed, the one that is usually relegated to her face, spreads all the way to her ears. I can see it from where I stand behind her, and the sight makes me inexplicably harder.
I’ve slept with models, actresses, socialites. Women throw themselves at me. They offer threesomes and foursomes. They offer me anything I want.
And some American girl wearing jeans and sneakers and a t-shirt makes me harder than I’ve been in my damn life, with a mere blush.
Belle doesn’t respond. She clears her throat and makes the same self-conscious move again, tucking her hair behind her ear as she walks forward through the crowd. When I catch up to her, I put my hand on the small of her back.
“What are you doing?” she asks, glancing behind her. “There are a million people here watching us.”
I let my fingers slide just underneath the bottom of her t-shirt, grazing her skin, hot to my touch, just for a moment, before I draw back my hand.
Propriety, I remind myself.
I should give a shit about propriety. I should give a shit about the fact that Belle Kensington is my soon-to-be stepsister. She’s part of the royal family. I should keep my dick in my pants and my hands to myself.
The problem is that I’ve never been very good at doing the things I “should” do, anyway.
When the crowd surges ahead, I take Belle’s arm and pull her to the right sharply, ducking between a group of large men drinking beer before disappearing into another group of tourists. We veer to the side and down a narrow passageway between two brick-sided buildings. The alley is empty, and Belle pauses, backing up against the wall and looking at me with a mixture of apprehension and lust.
“We lost Noah,” she says, her voice soft.
“Are you worried about Noah?” I ask.
“Shouldn’t you not be ditching your bodyguard?” Belle asks the question, her voice breathier than it was before, and I’m not sure that’s entirely the result of darting through the crowd.
“There are a lot of things I shouldn’t do,” I say. I trail a finger down her chest, toward her cleavage, and she doesn’t stop me. Instead, she sucks in a deep breath, her chest rising under my touch.
It’s the breath that undoes me. It’s the sound she makes when she inhales the way she does -- sharp, between her teeth -- that is going to be my unraveling, and I know it. It holds the promise of everything that’s inevitable between us – my tongue on her skin, the taste salty-sweet, the tangle of limbs, her slickness as I slip inside her.
I can picture all of it – hell, I can practically taste her on my lips now, without even touching her – just by listening to that inhale. It’s the sound I imagine she’ll make when I’m plunging my cock into her, my lips near hers, as I watch the expression on her face.
“This is definitely one of those ‘shouldn’ts’,” she says. But she doesn’t move. She stays where she is, paused with her back against the brick wall, her breasts arched up.
Everything about her screams yes.
“Prince fucks his royal stepsister,” I whisper, reaching down to flick open the button on her jeans. "It's a definite shouldn't."
Belle’s lips fall open in a slight “O”. But she doesn’t protest. I almost expect her to slap me. I’m waiting for her to call me a pervert, a manwhore. I'm waiting for her to tell me to go screw myself, to get the hell away from her.
“I’m not your stepsister,” she whispers. “Yet.”
I unzip her jeans, pulling them down slightly around her hips, angling my back toward the entrance of the alley to shield her from any wandering eyes. “So you’re okay with the fucking part, then,” I say, as I slip my fingers inside the front of her panties, my eyes never leaving hers, even though I have the almost irrepressible impulse to see what her panties look like.
This is high up there on the list of ‘shouldn’ts.’
I’ve done a lot of bullshit – flashing the press, hooking up with random girls – but I’ve never screwed one in public. Always in private. I might drop my pants for the press, but I’ve never been caught with my pants around my ankles because of a woman. That’s because whatever kind of whoring around I do, I’ve always been able to contain myself.
Belle has me going crazy. Pulling her into an alley, sliding my fingers down the front of her pants.
This is not what I do.
“My mistake,” I say. “Prince fucks his almost-stepsister. His wife.”
“No fucking,” she whispers.
“No fucking,” I repeat, not a statement but a question, rolling my fingers over her clit and watching her lids fall to half-mast, then widen. She catches that lower lip of hers between her teeth again, and I swear that all I can think about is kissing the fuck out of that mouth of hers.
I can think of a hell of a lot of things I’d like to do to that mouth.
“There’s not going to be any fucking,” she says. But the last word – fucking – comes out of her mouth in a moan, and the sound is so wanton, so desperate, that I almost lose my shit right here.
I want to tear her fucking clothes off, right here in this alley. I want to rip her shirt off. I want to fuck her hard against the wall, with her legs wrapped around me, her tits in my face.
I want Little Miss Do-Gooder, Miss Does Everything Right, to be mine in the filthiest way possible.
“There might not be any fucking right now, luv,” he says. “But there will be. I can promise you that much.”
I watch his mouth move – those lips of his that are so lush it's criminal – but for the life of me, I can’t hear what he’s saying. He touches me, lightly, his fingers rolling over my clit, sending waves of heat pulsing through my body, billowing over me so quickly I can’t think of anything except that I want him to touch me more.
I want his hands all over my body.
I want him inside me.
I hear myself moan – a sound that's very nearly feral, embarrassing in its intensity – and I think he groans.
Growls is more like it.
Then he brings his mouth down on mine. It’s so hard, so fierce, that I nearly lose my breath, as his tongue seeks out and finds mine immediately. Without a second’s hesitation, he thrusts his fingers inside me.
Pleasure washes over me, the feeling so intense it’s agonizing. It’s been so long since I was touched.
And never like this, not the way Albie does, his fingers inside me, finding the most sensitive spot, pressing against it like he knows exactly what I want.
What I need.
Everything about this is wrong. In my head, I know that. Nothing good can come of this. Nothing good can come of my jeans hitched over my hips, of being pressed against the side of a building in a filthy alley, with my soon-to-be stepbrother’s fingers inside me.
My manwhore stepbrother.
The Crown Prince of Protrovia.
Nothing about this is right. All it would take is one person to walk by, to glance down the alley and recognize him. All it would take is one photograph, and he would be ruined. I would be ruined. My mother would be destroyed.