A Royal Without Rules(3)

By: Caitlin Crews

He shocked her completely by reaching over and tugging gently on the chic jacket she wore over her favorite pencil skirt. Once, twice, three times—and Adriana simply stood there, stunned. And let him.

By the time she recovered her wits, he’d dropped his hand, and she glanced down to see that he’d unbuttoned her jacket, so that the sides fell away and the silk of her thin pink camisole was the only thing standing between his heated gaze and her skin.

Adriana swallowed. Pato smiled.

“Rule number one,” he said, his husky voice a low rumble that made her wildly beating heart pump even faster. Even harder. “You’re overdressed. I prefer to see skin.”

For a moment, there was nothing but blank noise in her head, and a dangerous heat thick and bright everywhere else.

But then she made herself breathe, forcing one breath and then the next, and cold, sweet reason returned with the flow of oxygen. This was Pato’s game, wasn’t it? This was what he did. And she wasn’t here to play along.

“That won’t work,” she told him coolly, ignoring the urge to cover herself. That was undoubtedly what he thought she’d do, what he wanted her to do before she ran away, screaming, like all the previous staff members Lenz had assigned him over the years. She wasn’t going to be one of them.

His golden eyes danced. “Won’t it? Are you sure?”

“I’m not your brother’s lapdog any longer.” Adriana squared her shoulders and held his gaze, tilting her chin up. “Thanks to your appalling behavior last night, which managed to deeply offend your soon-to-be sister-in-law and her entire family—to say nothing of the entire diplomatic corps—I’m yours until your brother’s wedding.”

If anything, Pato’s eyes were even more like gold then, liquid and scalding. As wicked as he was, and her whole body seemed to tighten from the inside out.

“Really.” He looked at her as if he could eat her in one bite, and would. Possibly right then and there. “All mine?”

Adriana thought her heart might catapult from her chest, and she ignored the curl of heat low in her belly, as golden and liquid as his intent gaze. This is what he does, she reminded herself sternly. He’s trying to unnerve you.

“Please calm yourself,” she said with a dry amusement she wished she felt. “I’m your new assistant, secretary, aide. Babysitter. Keeper. I don’t care what you call me. The job remains the same.”

“I’m not in the market for a lapdog,” Pato said in his lazy way, though Adriana thought something far more alert moved over his face for a scant second before it disappeared into the usual carelessness. “And if by some coincidence I was, I certainly wouldn’t choose a little beige hen who’s made a career out of scowling at me in prudish horror and ruffling her feathers in unspeakable outrage every time I breathe.”

“Not when you breathe. Only when you act. Or open your mouth. Or—” Adriana inclined her head toward his naked torso, which took up far too much of her view, and shouldn’t have affected her at all “—when you fling off your clothes at the slightest provocation, the way other people shake hands.”

“Off you go.” He made a dismissive, shooing sort of gesture with one hand, though his lips twitched. “Run back to my drearily good and noble brother and tell him I eat hens like you for breakfast.”

“Then it’s a pity you slept through breakfast, as usual,” Adriana retorted. “I’m not going anywhere, Your Royal Highness. Call me whatever you like. You can’t insult me.”

“I insulted the easily offended Lissette and all of her family without even trying, or so you claim.” His dark brows arched, invoking all manner of sins. Inviting her to commit them. “Imagine how offensive I could be if I put my mind to it and chose a target.”

“I don’t have to imagine that,” Adriana assured him. “I’m the one who sorted out your last five scandals. This year.”

“Various doctors I’ve never met have made extensive claims in any number of sleazy publications that I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Pato continued, studying her, as if he knew perfectly well that the thing that curled low and tight inside her was brighter now, hotter. More dangerous. “I think that means I like a challenge. Shall we test that theory?”

“I’m not challenging you, Your Royal Highness.” Adriana kept her expression perfectly smooth, and it was much harder than it should have been. “You can’t insult me because, quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what you think of me.”