A look of panic crosses Drink Guy's face. "The Maserati?"
"That's the one."
"Oh, shit. What happened?"
Max shrugs and shakes his head. "I don't know exactly. The valet said something about a scratch –"
"My dad will kill me," Drink Guy says, running his hand through his hair.
"Or a crash? It might have been a crash. I couldn't hear the valet really well. Now that I think about it, it was definitely a crash," Max goes on and I bite my lip to hide a smile.
"I – shit, I have to go," Drink Guy says frantically. I give him a little wave as he leaves.
Cocking my head to the side, I give Max a look. "His car?"
Max shrugs. "I didn't like the looks of him."
"You didn't like the looks of him?" I ask, standing up. The alcohol hits me all at once, and I grab onto Max's arm for support. When his hand covers mine, heat runs through me all the way to my core.
"You tell me you wanted to be in that conversation, and I'll bring him back here," Max says.
"Okay, then. I wanted to be in that conversation." I look at him defiantly.
"He's not coming back."
"You're inappropriately possessive."
"You're wearing that." He's turned toward me, standing far too close to me to be appropriate – and in front of everyone, too. Yet I don't want him to move. I could step back, but I don't.
"The schoolgirl outfit?" I ask, forcing an air of casualness into my voice. "Is that what does it for you?"
He gives me a long look. "I didn't like the way he was looking at you in that."
I laugh. "You're my bodyguard. You don't get to have an opinion about it."
"I didn't like it." He gives me a long look. "I'm your security. It's my job to protect you from creeps. That guy was a creep."
It's his job.
And you're thinking way too much about a guy whose job it is to make you follow the rules.
An arm slides around my shoulder, and I turn to see Finn Asher. "This looks like an awfully serious conversation to be having when you should be partying."
Max steps forward, reaching for Finn but I hold my hand up to stop him. "It's okay, Max," I tell him. "This is a friend."
Finn laughs, pulling me toward him, his hands immediately going to the small of my back. I'm totally aware of Max's eyes on me, and I feel suddenly self-conscious with Finn's hands on me right here. I push away from him, laughing it off like it's nothing.
I remind myself that it is nothing. There's nothing going on between Max and I, and I'm a hundred percent single. I can see whomever I want to see. Not that I'm even seeing Finn.
"Since when do you call your bodyguards by name?" Finn asks.
My face flushes hot, and I realized what I just did.
I called him Max.
That was a mistake that won't happen again.
"Get out of the car," I order, my voice hard. It's been two more weeks since the night at the club when the princess tripped up and actually called me by my name instead of James. I didn't say a word about it, and neither did she. In fact, she's barely said a word to me in general. She's gone out of her way to avoid eye contact, to address me curtly, and to generally be a royal snot. She hasn't even tried to escape from the palace. I'd say that's a positive thing, except somehow it doesn't quite feel like that at all.
Then this morning, Prince Albert decided to fly himself, Alexandra, and Isabella out to the royal summer home to show Isabella around – and Alexandra had a car waiting.
"No," she argues.
I hold the door open, contemplating dragging her out of the car with my hands. I half-expect her to do something stupid, like try to make a run for it again the way she did when the helicopter landed at the summer home earlier today.
This time, she doesn't have anywhere to go except right back into the waiting helicopter.
This time, there's no getaway vehicle like the one she had meet her earlier, the one driven by that spoiled asshole Finn Asher. I wasn't the least little bit sorry to chase them down and yank her out of the guy's convertible, if only for the way he looks at the princess – which makes me want to do grave bodily harm to him.
"This is kidnapping!" Princess Alexandra protests. She crosses her arms, giving me a look of pure hatred as she plants her feet firmly on the floor of the SUV. The girl is like an angry cat, with her dark eyes flashing and her chest rising and falling as she tries to catch her breath.
I do my best to ignore the way her breasts pour out of her low-cut crop top, and I try not to think about how her ass looked in her tight designer jeans when I put her in the back seat of the SUV a few minutes ago.
"It's not kidnapping, princess," I inform her. "Not when I'm under strict orders from your father to return you to the palace in one piece."
I'm lying, of course. I'm not under orders to return her. Technically, she's an adult, and as the princess' bodyguard, I go where she goes. Theoretically, though, the king would probably prefer that his daughter not run off gallivanting around Europe with the likes of Finn Asher.
I would very much prefer she not see the douchebag again at all.
"You're under no such orders," she hisses. "Your job is to follow me around and do what I do. Being my bodyguard does not mean you interfere with my social life."
Social life. The spoiled brat's idea of a social life is partying and carrying on all over Europe with a bunch of rich pricks who just want to be seen in public with the princess of Protrovia.
Of course, she's right. My role is to ensure her safety, not force her to make good choices. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let her get into a car with some entitled rich prick and drive off to wherever-the-hell she thought she was going.
The girl is my responsibility.
"Get out of the car now, princess," I order, "or I will pull your ass out of here, throw you over my shoulder, and carry you back to the helicopter with everyone watching." The chopper is waiting for us in front of the royal summer home, with Prince Albert and Isabella Kensington sitting inside.
Noah, the prince's personal bodyguard, is also with them – laughing his ass off at the scene we're creating right now, I'm sure. My first day on the job, Noah didn't introduce himself. He just walked up to me and declared, "A hundred euros says you don't last more than a week." "Make it a month," I'd replied. What he didn't know – and what the personnel department in the palace, who had a similar bet going against me, didn't know – was that I love a challenge. Princess Alexandra has turned out to be the biggest fucking challenge on the damn planet.
"You wouldn't dare," Alexandra proclaims as she climbs out of the car. She glares at me with the haughtiest of expressions. "I don't answer to you."
"You want to answer to me," I growl.
The words just fall out of my mouth before I even think about what I'm saying. Over the past two weeks, I've kept my professional demeanor, buttoned things down even farther, and pretended not to notice as she wore transparent shirts and leather pants and skirts that barely covered her ass.
I've clamped down on my very inconvenient thoughts about the princess, too. My duty is to protect her, not imagine how her lips would feel under mine. Or to imagine my name on her lips, her moaning it over and over as she comes.
That's what I've been telling myself since I started guarding her a month ago. That's the message I try to telegraph to my cock right now, the message that's clearly not getting through, not with the princess standing this close to me.
Alexandra's face is upturned, her lips parted, a slight flush on her cheeks. "Excuse me?" she asks.
"You heard me," I answer, not taking the words back, even though I've gone way over the line now. I must be losing my mind.
"You're delusional if you think I want anything with you," she whispers. But her movements don't match her words. Instead of backing away, she steps closer to me until her body is nearly pressed up against mine, her breasts almost touching my chest. The wa
y she's looking at me right now, stubborn and angry, makes me want to kiss her, but I don't. "You're my bodyguard. Know your place."
I'm not sure whether it's lust or irritation I'm feeling more of right now. It takes every ounce of self-control I possess not to reach up to the base of her neck and grab a handful of that jet-black hair streaked with a rainbow of colors. It takes all of my discipline not to bring my mouth crashing down on hers. It takes all of my restraint to keep from telling her that I know my place and I know her place.
Her place is in my bed.
Her place is on her knees, with those perfect, plush pink lips wrapped around my cock.
But I don't tell her any of that. Instead, I summon my sense of responsibility. I summon my damned sense of reason, think of the oath of loyalty I took to the king, Alexandra's father. I remind myself of the trust that Prince Albert has in me, putting me in the position to protect his sister. "My place is keeping you from doing stupid shit with stupid assholes like Finn Asher."
Her eyes narrow, her gaze searching mine. She points at me, her finger on my chest. I ignore the fact that her touch sends arousal surging through me like it's a damn electric current. "You're Mister Calm. You've been Mister Calm since the day you showed up here. Now, suddenly, you're pissed off about Finn. Why?"
"He's an asshole," I growl. I don't tell her about my borderline obsession with that prick, the way I've pored over the security dossiers on him and seen the number of women he's running around with.
He doesn't deserve her.
I don't know where that thought came from. I remind myself that the girl is a total brat, a spoiled socialite who spends her time partying at clubs and doing drugs and generally having a vapid, meaningless existence.
That's what I tell myself right now.
She pauses, her eyes going wide. "You're jealous, Bodyguard."
I wrap my fingers around the finger she's pointing at me with. I shouldn't be touching the princess, not the way I am right now, out of control and angry. I'm never out of control.
Touching her this way is an offense against the king. Being fired is in my immediate future. Hell, I'll probably wind up being interrogated by Protrovian intelligence and thrown into a dungeon somewhere. Yet I can't seem to stop myself. "Get in the fucking helicopter," I order.
"Oh, I don't think so. I'm not going anywhere with you until you admit you're behaving like a raging lunatic right now," she says. "In fact, I think maybe I'll spend the weekend with Finn."
The idea of her and Finn together all weekend pushes me over the edge. I am behaving like a lunatic, but I don't care. "I'm warning you," I tell her, my voice raised as I point at the helicopter. "Walk, or I'm going to pick up your entitled ass and carry you."
She smirks. "I'm the princess of Protovia. Lay a hand on me. I dare you."
If I'm going to be fired, I might as well go out with a bang.
He did it. I can't believe he really did it.
That arrogant bastard actually picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. I slap his back, kicking and yelling my protest, even as his large hands gripping the back of my thighs make my heart race.
His fingertips press tightly into my skin right underneath my ass cheek, and a thrill of arousal goes rushing through me at the filthy idea that pops into my head, the thought of him bypassing the helicopter and continuing on, straight toward the summer palace. He'd push open the door and take me to the nearest bedroom, depositing me on the floor. Then he'd slam me up against the nearest wall, his hand going straight for the button on my jeans, ripping them down over my hips, and …
Absolutely not. These are not thoughts I'm having. Not about him. My bodyguard is an arrogant, possessive, bossy-as-hell bastard and I'm in no way attracted to him.
"Put me down, you pig!" I yell loudly, as much for the benefit of myself as for him, hoping that screaming my protest of his thuggish behavior will send a clear message to my traitorous body that it has no business feeling anything other than disgust at his touch.
It certainly has no business being aroused.
"If you listened more and had less of an attitude, maybe I'd trust you enough to let you walk," Max says, his voice calm like he's explaining things to a child.
Anger surges through me now as I return to my senses, and it eclipses any lust I might have for him. No matter how hot my bodyguard might be, he's also an overbearing brute who thinks he knows what's best for me.
"I will have you fired," I threaten loudly as he deposits me perfunctorily into the helicopter beside Belle, my brand new almost-stepsister. My cheeks are red with embarrassment; I know that much without looking in the mirror. My face is hot, a mixture of humiliation and lust – and shame for feeling anything remotely within the realm of attraction for my bodyguard.
Belle looks back and forth between Max and I like we're an exhibit at the zoo, and my brother Albie and his bodyguard remain suspiciously quiet, avoiding making any eye contact whatsoever. "When I get back to the palace, I'm getting a new bodyguard. One who isn't a fucking caveman!"
"Be my guest, princess." Max slides into his seat behind us. I can feel the heat of his stare even without looking back at him.
I cross my arms and slump into my seat, cursing at him under my breath.
I definitely need a new bodyguard, I tell myself. One who doesn't feel the need to insert himself into my personal life.
Who does he think he is, anyway, telling me who I can and can't hang out with?
It's not that I even want to hang out with Finn Asher specifically – to be honest, Finn is kind of a pretentious dimwit. But it's the principle of the thing. My bodyguard can't just order me around. He certainly can't physically remove me from a situation where I'm not in any danger.
He's a brute who thinks it's his way or the highway. That's exactly the opposite of what I need – or want.
No matter how much the thought of him putting me in my place might secretly send a thrill of excitement through me.
Regardless of how much the idea of him turning me over his knee might make me wet.
He's the kind of man who demands everything. And I'm the kind of girl who would never give it to him.
I'm the kind of girl who would never submit.
* * *
"Oh," Belle exclaims. "I didn't expect to run into anyone in here."
I look up from my book. "You mean, you didn't expect to see me in the library?" I ask. "I do read occasionally, Isabella."
Her cheeks flush pink. The girl gets embarrassed so easily that I feel a pang of guilt for giving her shit just now. "I told you to call me Belle, Alexandra."
I stifle a smile. Maybe she's not such a pushover after all. I swing my legs down, making room for her on the window seat where I'd been sprawled out. It's one of my favorite places in the palace, overlooking the front yard and the formal entryway. There's always a million people coming and going down there, but never anyone up here in the library, which is perpetually quiet. "Where's