A Royal Without Rules(2)

By: Caitlin Crews

Two months in this hell, she thought now, still holding Pato’s amused gaze. Two months knee-deep in interchangeable women, sexual innuendo and his callous disregard for anything but his own pleasure.

But Lenz wanted her to do this. Lenz, who had believed in her, overlooking her infamous surname when he’d hired her. Lenz, who she would have walked through fire for, had he wanted it. Lenz, who deserved better than his brother. Somehow, she would do this.

“I would sooner climb across a sea of broken glass on my hands and knees than into that circus carousel you call your bed,” Adriana said, then smiled politely. “I mean that with all due respect, of course, Your Royal Highness.”

Pato tilted back his head and laughed.

And Adriana was forced to admit—however grudgingly—that his laugh was impossibly compelling, like everything else about him. It wasn’t fair. It never had been. If interiors matched exteriors, Lenz would be the Kitzinian prince who looked like this, with all that thick sun-and-chocolate hair that fell about Pato’s lean face and hinted at his wildness, that sinful mouth, and the kind of bone structure that made artists and young girls weep. Lenz, not Pato, should have been the one who’d inherited their late mother’s celebrated beauty. Those cheekbones, the gorgeous eyes and easy grace, the smile that caused riots, and the delighted laughter that lit whole rooms.

It simply wasn’t fair.

Pato extricated himself from the pile of naked women on his bed and swung his long legs over the side, wrapping the sheet around his waist as he stood. As much to taunt her with the other women’s nakedness as to conceal his own, Adriana thought, her eyes narrowing as he raised his arms high above his head and stretched. Long and lazy, like an arrogant cat. He grinned at her when she glared at him, and as he moved toward her she stiffened instinctively—and his grin only deepened.

“What is my brother’s favorite lapdog doing in my bedroom this early in the day?” he asked, that low, husky voice of his no more than mildly curious. Still, his gaze raked over her and she felt a kind of clutching in her chest, a hitch in her breath. “Looking as pinch-faced and censorious as ever, I see.”

“First of all,” Adriana said, glancing pointedly at the delicate watch on her wrist and telling herself she wasn’t pinched and didn’t care that he thought so, “it’s past noon. It’s not early in the day by any definition.”

“That depends entirely on what you did last night,” he replied, unrepentant and amused, with a disconcerting lick of heat beneath. “I don’t mean what you did, of course. I mean what I did, which I imagine was far more energetic than however it is you prepare yourself for another day of pointless subservience.”

Adriana looked at him, then at the bed and its naked contents. Then back at him. She raised a disdainful eyebrow, and he laughed again, as if she delighted him. The last thing she wanted to do was delight him. If she had her way, she’d have nothing to do with him at all.

But this was not about her, she reminded herself. Fiercely.

“Second,” she said, staring back at him repressively, which had no discernible effect, “it’s past time for your companions to leave, no matter how energetic they may have been—and please, don’t feel you need to share the details. I’m sure we’ll read all about it in the papers, as usual.” She aimed a chilly smile at him. “Will you do the honors or should I call the royal guard to remove them from the palace?”

“Are you offering to take their place?” Pato asked lazily.

He shifted, and despite herself, Adriana’s gaze dropped to the expanse of his golden-brown chest, sun-kissed and finely honed, long and lean and—

For God’s sake, she snapped at herself. You’ve seen all this before, like everyone else with an internet connection.

She’d even seen the pictures that were deemed too risqué for publication, which the palace had gnashed its collective teeth over and which, according to Lenz, had only made his shameless brother laugh. Which meant she’d seen every part of him. But she had never been this close, in person, to Prince Pato in his preferred state of undress.

It was...different. Much different.

When she forced her gaze upward, his expression was far too knowing.

“I like things my way in my bed,” he said, his decadent mouth crooking into something too hot to be any kind of smile. “But don’t worry. I’ll make it worth your while if you follow my rules.”

That crackled in the air, like a shower of sparks.

“I have no interest in your sexual résumé, thank you,” Adriana snapped. She hadn’t expected he’d be so potent up close. She’d assumed he’d repulse her—and he did, of course. Intellectually. “And in any case it’s unnecessary, as it’s been splashed on the cover of every tabloid magazine for years.”