“You,” I say. I blink my eyes several times in quick succession, silently offering up a prayer that I’m not seeing what I’m seeing. Or, more accurately, who I’m seeing. Maybe I’m having a mental breakdown and this is actually just some type of stress-induced hallucination.
Losing my mind would be preferable to this. Hell, pretty much anything would be preferable to this.
“You,” he says. He stares at me, unblinking. I swear, time stops completely. The rotation of the earth comes to a grinding halt as he stands there, no more than ten feet away, looking at me. Then, the corners of his mouth turn up -- just a hair. The movement is most likely imperceptible to anyone else, but I definitely notice.
That asshole. It’s like he’s pleased with this development. It’s as if he expected this.
You’d have to be a fucking lunatic to be happy about this.
“I wasn’t aware that the two of you had met before.” My mother looks back and forth between us, her expression unwavering. If there’s one thing Sofia Kensington excels at, it’s revealing absolutely nothing when confronted with something potentially scandalous. She’s entirely unflappable, standing there motionless in her sage green silk shift and heels, her chestnut-colored hair pulled up in a chignon, perfectly-manicured hands folded neatly in front of her.
She’s always looked regal. Becoming the Queen of a small European country is a perfect fit. I know, without even asking, that it’s the culmination of her life’s ambitions. It's everything in the world she's hoped for.
And now, I'm standing here harboring a secret that could jeopardize all of that.
If my mother knew the whole truth about me and the boy standing not more than ten feet away from me…
Let’s just say the scandal would be one of epic proportions.
A scandal of royal proportions is probably more accurate, given the particular circumstances.
“I –“ I start, then stop. My mouth suddenly feels like I swallowed twenty cotton balls, and my heart is thumping so wildly I think it might actually beat right out of my chest.
“I recall bumping into Isabella in Las Vegas last week,” he says, his voice light, teasing, the hint of an accent on his lips. Everything he says, even the raunchiest of things, comes out sounding like it’s spoken by a person who’s well-bred, well-educated, pedigreed.
Of course, that’s because he is the ultimate in well-bred.
“I didn’t realize who she was," he says.
And I definitely remember the way he speaks the raunchiest of things.
"Yes," I murmur, the word barely audible. "I believe we bumped into each other."
That much is true.
"Oh my God. Why don’t you watch where you're going!" I don’t even bother to look up at the asshole who just ran into me. I’m too focused on the fact that there’s a wet spot spreading across the front of my dress, gin and tonic seeping through the fabric and causing my nipples to harden under the amped-up air conditioning in the casino.
"My apologies for your dress, although I'm not sorry I bumped into you," he says. And a handkerchief appears in front of my face. Who the hell carries a fabric handkerchief nowadays? "I'd be happy to pat that dry for you, if you’d like."
The accent is what throws me – European or something I can’t quite place, but definitely out of the ordinary here in a Vegas casino – and I look up at him, ready to give him a piece of my mind. The combination of alcohol and the fact that this is the worst day of my entire life has made me edgy and beyond irritable.
Even in my drunken haze, this guy is spectacular, gazing down at me with blue eyes filled with mischief. Literally, spectacular is the only word for it.
He’s the most beautiful man I've ever laid eyes on, with eyes a periwinkle color that’s nearly purple under the lights in the casino, and lips so lush that I can't think about anything except what it would be like to feel them against my skin…
Of course, that’s the image that immediately pops into my head, sending a shiver down my spine as I picture his head close to me, his lips trailing across my stomach, then down farther.
There’s something familiar about him, but my booze-addled brain can’t quite place it. For a second, I think I might have seen him before, but I tell myself that’s stupid. It’s just my brain playing tricks on me.
This is not the kind of man you’d ever forget seeing.
"Is that your shtick?” I ask, the waver in my voice betraying my sudden nervousness. “Spilling drinks on girls and then patting them down?"
He laughs. "I don't need a shtick, luv," he says, leaning close to me to whisper softly. "Unless you mean the one between my legs."
"You're crude," I say, wrinkling my nose. But I can’t help but glance down, exactly where he wanted me to look.
"You're…" His voice fades away for a moment as his gaze trails down the length of my body, making me flush. "Like a drunken disheveled Cinderella."
"So that would make you, what, the not-so-charming prince?" I ask, glancing down at my shoe on the ground. I lost my shoe. So what? I was running from her -- my best friend. My maid-of-honor.
The traitorous bitch.
The corners of his mouth turn up as he looks at me like he's pleased. His smile is superior, patronizing almost, as if I'm a child who's amused him. "Something like that."
Something like that.
The bastard. He had conveniently failed to mention that it was exactly like that.
"I apologize for the secrecy," my mother says. "Whisking you off to Protrovia on a private plane was designed to make things…efficient. Less messy.”
"Less messy," I repeat, the irony of the words apparent only to me. She hasn't spoken the words aloud yet, but if she's about to say what I think she is, this is going to be beyond messy.
It’s going to be positively nuclear.
"Isabella," she snaps, then clears her throat. "It's ill-mannered to simply repeat what I'm saying."
The man beside her