as far from not that bad as you can get.
It was insane.
I know my romantic life has been pretty sheltered – okay, I haven't exactly had mind-blowing sex in the past. I’ve certainly never done anything remotely like what I did with Albie.
And I'm not even sure I like Albie. He's irritating. He's rich and domineering and entitled, and he's convinced that he's God's gift to women.
And he probably lied about the girlfriend being an ex, just so he could get in my pants.
That's reason enough to not like him.
"Are there any cute guys there, at least?" Raine asks. "A hot, well-built bodyguard, perhaps?"
The image of Noah, Albie's bodyguard, flashes in my head. He’s attractive, objectively-speaking. The problem is, when I think of him, I get nothing -- no heart racing, no nervousness like I'm on the brink of fainting. No sensation of heat coursing through my body, the way I do at the mere thought of Albie.
"Ok, I'll take your silence as a no, then," Raine says, laughing. "Apparently the palace doesn't employ hot bodyguards. I don't suppose they employ shirtless pool boys?"
I choke back a laugh. "No. No shirtless pool boys."
"But there’s a sexy prince in the palace."
"Sexy prince?" I ask. My voice seems to go up an octave, or maybe I'm just imagining things. "No. No. No sexy prince."
"Are you sure you're not into women?" Raine teases. "Because you're sharing a house with one of the sexiest men in the world, and you apparently just don't think he's all that."
"I hardly think he's one of the sexiest men in the world," I protest.
I'm lying through my teeth.
"No, literally," she says. "I'm pretty sure People magazine put him on their list of sexiest men in the world."
My laugh sounds more like a snort. "I'm sure that only made his ego even bigger than it already was. And since when do you read People magazine?"
"We’re backpacking – sometimes there are long train rides and I need to catch up on what’s going on in the world,” Raine says. "Besides, we’re not talking about my enjoyment of perusing gossip magazines. We’re talking about the fact that you're obviously very familiar with the prince."
"Because I know he has a big ego?" I ask.
I know what else the prince has that's big, too. Huge, in fact.
Huge and pierced.
The throbbing between my legs reminds me that my body definitely remembers what happened with him, even if I keep trying to file the memory away in some dark recess in the corners of my brain.
"There's something in your voice when you talk about him."
I clear my throat. "There's nothing in my voice," I say. "It's a non-issue. The prince is a non-entity."
"Non-entity," she says. "Yeah, right. You totally think he's hot."
"I do not."
"You think he's hot and you want to kiss him and hug him and let him put his penis in you," Raine says in a sing-song voice, laughing.
"Are you twelve?"
"My sense of humor is more like thirteen," she says. "I'm quite mature."
"There's nothing going on between me and Albie," I say.
That even sounds like a lie to me.
"Albie, huh?" she says. "You have a nickname for him?"
"Other than asshole, no," I say. "Albie is not a nickname. Everyone calls him that. No one calls him Albert. Except his parents."
"Uh-huh, sure. So it's not your little pet name for him?"
"Oh my God, Raine. No. He's going to be my stepbrother." I force an extra level of disgust into my voice, even though I shouldn't have to force it. I should feel disgust at the very thought, right?
Raine laughs. "Whatever," she says. "All of the royal families marry each other, anyway, don’t they? Cousins or siblings and all that stuff."
"Maybe a hundred years ago. And marriage?" I squeak. "No one is talking marriage. Are you high?"
"Definitely," she says, laughing. "But it also sounds like I'm hitting a nerve."
"Nerve?" I ask, my voice unnaturally bright. "Nope. No nerve. Definitely not a nerve."
"Sure," Raine says. "Well, if I were in your shoes, I would do him."
"There's no doing happening here, Raine."
"Well, if there's no doing happening, then ditch the stuffy palace and come see Prague with us," Raine says. "What's keeping you there?"
That's a good question.
"I promised my mother I'd stay for the summer," I say. "Until the wedding. It's a show of support. Besides, I'm going to get involved with some charities. It's not all galas and tea parties."
"Fine. I'll let you off the hook. But only for the charities."
"That's very generous of you."
"I am generous. It's one of my favorite qualities about myself."
I laugh. "That and your modesty, obviously."
"That too," she says. "Oh. Phoenix is out of the shower. I have to run. But the offer stands, by the way. Budapest, Paris, Venice, Marrakech. Wherever you want to join us."
"You know, if you come through Protrovia, I could get you into the estate, I'm sure."
Raine makes a strangled sound. "Palaces freak me out," she says. "Too uptight, man. Too many rules."
Rules like not fucking your stepbrother on his father's throne.
Those kinds of rules.
"It's not so bad," I hear myself say.
"You're acclimating already," she says, laughing. "Princess Isabella."
"Say the word, doll," she says. "You know I swing both ways."
"Shut up, Raine."
"Later, Belle," she says. "Oh, and one more thing. If you just so happen to get a look at the prince's dick, I want to know if it's as big as it looks in those photos online, or if the camera really does add ten pounds."
It's bigger and more impressive in person.
"Never going to happen, Raine."
"Can't fault a girl for asking," she says. "I mean, even if he is part of the establishment, he's a hot part of the establishment."
"You're doing everything in your power to ignore me," I observe.
I should be amused by that.
I mean, what kind of girl ignores a European Prince? Something's obviously wrong with her.
Instead, I'm irritated by it. It's starting to get under my skin.
She's starting to get under my skin, actually. And not in the way I thought she would, the way that girls in the past have gotten under my skin. The women I sleep with usually begin to annoy me the moment after the sex is over. Everything about them becomes instantaneously grating – a tone of voice, exhale of breath, the way they look at me.
But Belle is getting under my skin in a different way. The fact that she's blowing me off – or maybe the fact that she's not blowing me at all – is irritating.
I want her.
That fact alone should be terrifying.
"I'm not ignoring anything," she says, her tone clipped. "We literally just got to the summer house two days ago. I've been busy. You've been busy."
"Yes, we've all been busy," I say. "And you're full of shit, Belle."
"I am not," she says. "Maybe I'm just enjoying my book here in the library. And silence. I was enjoying my silence, anyway. Now, if you don't mind?"
"I do mind, actually," I say. "Because right now, all I want to do is put my mouth between your legs. And you're keeping me from doing that. And I don't like when people keep me from what I want."
She looks up at me, her expression chilly. "I think your girlfriend might be a better person to help you out with that, don't you?"
"The one my mother thinks you were hooking up with in the pool house," she says.
"She thinks you're my girlfriend?"
Belle sighs. "No," she says. "She thinks you and Erika were hooking up in the pool house. Using the vibrator."
"I see," I say. Except I don't see at all. "T
his is upsetting because…"
"Because she doesn't seem like an ex," Belle says. "Am I helping you cheat on her?"
"You're asking because you don't remember being the one to hook up with me in the pool house?"
This girl is kind of crazy.
Why the hell do I find her jealousy cute? I should find it irritating, and the implication that we’re in a relationship claustrophobia-inducing.
But I don’t.
Erika was never jealous of other women, not in this way. Even during the couple of months we were officially together, she only had a problem with the idea of me being linked publicly to someone else. She expected me to have “little dalliances,” as she called them – which, in retrospect, makes sense, since she was having her own.
Belle sighs. "Of course I remember that," she says.
"You're so jealous."
"I'm not so jealous," she says, rolling her eyes. "I'm saying that I don’t want to be aiding and abetting a cheater."
"You're so annoying," she says. "This is why I'm in the library, by the way."
"So you can avoid me holding up a mirror to your jealousy?"
"Not telling the truth." I sit down beside her on the sofa, too close for comfort – hers or mine. Shoulder to shoulder with her, I catch the faintest whiff of her perfume. I haven’t smelled it in days, and I inhale deeply. The scent is already burned into my brain, and it reminds me of the last time I was close enough to smell it.
When I had my arms wrapped tightly around her.
When I had my cock buried deeply inside her.
"You're avoiding giving me a straight answer," she says. She's looking at her book – some kind of thriller – but I know she's not reading it. She just stares at the pages, pretending to read, all the while sitting perfectly still. But her chest rises and falls more quickly than before, as her body betrays how she obviously feels about me.
"If I give you a straight answer, will you tell me exactly how wet you are right now?"
"No," she says. But she licks her lip. Her tongue lingers on her lower lip the way it does when she’s aroused.
"Okay,” I say. “Then I won’t tell you how hard I am just sitting here next to you. Or how I want to reach over there and lift up the side of that little skirt you're wearing, slide my hand between your legs, and find out for myself exactly how wet you are."
She crosses one leg over the other, causing her skirt to ride up high on her thigh. "Nope. I’m not wet at all," she says. "And you should go sit on the other side of the room before someone sees us."
"Look around, luv," I say. "This library is completely deserted. Our parents have retired to their residence, so they're otherwise occupied."
Belle puts her hand on my thigh, pushing me away with a sigh. If my cock weren't rock-hard before, her touch would certainly remedy that. "Eew, gross, Albie," she says. "Talking about our parents doing it means I'm definitely not wet now."
“So you admit you were wet, then?”
“I didn’t say that.”
But she uncrosses and crosses her legs again.
"No one is going to walk in on us."
"There are still a million people in this place."
"At least now you're considering letting me slide my fingers under your panties," I say. "Wait. Panties or no panties?"
"I did not say I was considering it."
"Erika is not my girlfriend, Belle," I say. "She's very firmly in the ex category. Your mother and whoever else assumed that it was Erika and I who used the pool house, but I can correct her, if you like. I'd be happy to let her know what really happened."
"No!" she blurts out before clearing her throat. "I mean, no. That won't be necessary. And I'm not jealous. I'm not insane enough to think that just because we screwed around that I have any kind of claim over you. I just don't want to be the other woman."
"What if I want you to have a claim over me?" I ask.
I don't know where the fuck that just came from.
"Erika hinted that you guys will be engaged soon," she says.
"She did what?"
Belle exhales heavily. "What Derek did to me was shitty. I would never do that to anyone else. So if there's supposed to be an engagement between you two – even if it's a political arrangement…"
"Whatever Erika told you, she's crazy," I say. "There's no engagement, real or political. This isn't the eighteenth century, Belle. There are no arranged marriages in Protrovia. And I'm not engaged to Erika."
"It's not really any of my business – "
I don't want to hear what else she has to say. I interrupt her, taking her hand and placing it on my hardness. "This is yours," I say. "I'm not fucking around with anyone else. And this…"
I slide my hand across her thigh, my fingertips touching the crease at the edge of her bikini line, but not going any farther. She breathes in sharply.
"This is mine," I say.
"My thigh is yours?" she asks, her tone lighter now. But she doesn't move her hand away from my cock.
"Your thigh," I whisper, then slide my hand further between her legs. "Your wet pussy."
She inhales sharply, squeezing reflexively around my cock as I roll my fingers over her clit. "Yours," she whispers.
Then I withdraw my hand from between her legs. She looks at me, eyes already pleading, and I think I hear her whimper, but I might be imagining it.
I’m not going to give it to her that easily.
Even when she turns toward me, fumbling with the zipper on my pants.