A Royal Without Rules(10)

By: Caitlin Crews

“You wouldn’t know how to obey if it was your job,” she snapped at him. “Not that I imagine you know what one of those is, either.”

“You make a good point,” he said, and that was when it occurred to Adriana that they hadn’t moved at all—that they were standing entirely too close in that doorway. His face shifted from pretty to predatory, and her head spun. “I’m better at giving the orders, it’s true. Rule number three, Adriana. The faster you obey me, the harder and the longer you’ll come. Consider it my personal guarantee.”

She couldn’t believe he’d said that. Her entire body seemed to ignite, then liquefy.

“Enough,” she muttered, but she didn’t fool him with her horrified tone, if that flash of amused satisfaction in his gaze meant anything. Desperation made her lash out. “You shouldn’t share these sad rules of yours, Your Royal Highness. It only makes you that much more pathetic—the dissipated, aging bachelor, growing more pitiable by the moment, on a fast track to complete irrelevance.”

“Yes,” he agreed. He leaned closer, surrounding her, mesmerizing her. “That’s exactly why you’re breathing so fast, why your cheeks are so flushed. You pity me.”

Adriana ducked around him and started down the hall, telling herself none of that had happened. None of it. No dancing girl, no strange awareness. No rules that made her belly feel tight and needy. And certainly not the look she’d just seen in his eyes, stamped hard on his face. But her heart clattered in her chest, it was as hard to breathe as he’d suggested, and she knew she was lying.

Worse, he was right beside her.

“You’re welcome,” Pato said after a moment, sounding smug and irritatingly male. It made her pulse race, but she refused to look at him. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from imagining what kind of orders he’d give...and she hated herself for wondering.

“I beg your pardon?” she asked icily, furious with herself.

“Someone needs to provide fodder for your fantasies, Adriana. I live to serve.”

She stopped walking, her hand on the door that led out of the residence. When she looked at him, she ignored the impact of that hot golden gaze of his and smiled instead. Poisonously.

“My fantasies involve killing you,” she told him. “I spend hours imagining burying you in the palace gardens beneath the thorniest rose bushes, so I’d never have to deal with you again.” She paused, then added with exaggerated politeness, “Your Royal Highness.”

Pato grinned widely, and leaned down close. Too close. Adriana was aware, suddenly and wildly, of all the skin she was showing, all of it right there, within his reach. All that bare flesh, so close to that satyr’s mouth of his. That wicked mouth with a slight smear of crimson on it, a sordid little memento that did nothing to detract from his devastating appeal. Or from her insane response to him.

“I knew you fantasized about me,” he murmured, his voice insinuating, delicious. Seductive. “I can see it on your face when you think it’s not showing.”

He ran his fingertip down the sparkling blue strap that rose from the bodice of her gown and fastened at the nape of her neck. That was all. That was enough. He touched nothing but the fabric, up and down and back again, lazy and slow and so very nearly innocuous.

And Adriana burned. And shivered. And hated herself.

“Someday,” he whispered, his eyes ablaze, “I’ll tell you what you do in my fantasies. They’re often...complicated.”

Adriana focused on that smear of lipstick on his perfect lips. She didn’t understand any of this. She should be horrified, disgusted. She should find him categorically repulsive. Why didn’t she? What was wrong with her?

But she was terrified that she already knew.

“That’s certainly something to look forward to,” she said, the deliberate insincerity in her voice like a slap, just as she’d intended, but he only grinned again. “In the meantime, you have lipstick all over your mouth.” She kept her expression smooth as she stepped back, away from him. She snapped open her clutch, reached inside with a hand that was not shaking, and produced a tissue. “I know you like to trumpet your conquests to all and sundry but not, I beg you, tonight. Not the ambassador’s daughter.”

“They wouldn’t think it was the ambassador’s daughter who put her mouth all over me, Adriana.” He held her with that golden stare for another ageless moment, so sure of himself. So sure of her. He took the tissue from her hand then, his fingers brushing over hers—leaving nothing behind but heat and confusion, neither of which she could afford. “Small minds prefer the simplest explanations. They’d assume it was you.”