A Royal Without Rules(5)

By: Caitlin Crews

Once again, that flash of something more, like a shadow across his gorgeous face, making those lush eyes seem clever. Aware. And once again, it was gone almost the moment Adriana saw it.

“I don’t want or need a lapdog,” he said, the steel in his tone not matching the easy way he stood, the tilt of his head, that hot gold gleam in his eyes.

“I don’t work for you, Your Royal Highness,” Adriana replied simply, and let her profound pleasure in that fact color her voice. “You are simply another task I must complete to Prince Lenz’s satisfaction. And I will.”

That strange undercurrent tugged at her again. She wished she could puzzle it out, but he only gazed at her, all his shockingly intense magnetism bright in the air between them. She had the stray thought that if he used his power for good, he could do anything. Anything at all.

But that was silly. Pato was a monument to wastefulness, nothing more. A royal pain in the ass. Her ass, now, and for the next two months.

“I don’t recall any other martyrs in the Righetti family line,” he drawled after a moment. “Your people run more to murderous traitors and conniving royal mistresses, yes?” A quirk of his dark brow. “I’m happy to discuss the latter, in case you wondered. I do so hate an empty bed.”

“Evidently,” Adriana agreed acidly, nodding toward the overflowing one behind him.

“Rule number two,” he said, sinful and dark. “I’m a royal prince. It’s always appropriate to kneel in my presence. You could start right now.” He nodded at his feet, though his gaze burned. “Right here.”

And for a helpless moment, she imagined doing exactly that, as if he’d conjured the image inside her head. Of her simply dropping to her knees before him, then pulling that sheet away and doing what he was clearly suggesting she do.... Adriana felt herself heat, then tremble deep inside, and he smiled. He knew.

God help her, but he knew.

When she heard one of his bedmates call his name from behind him, Adriana jumped on it as if it was a lifeline—and told herself she didn’t care that he knew exactly how much he’d got to her. Or that the curve in his wicked mouth mocked her.

“It looks like you’re needed,” Adriana said, pure adrenaline keeping her voice as calm and unbothered as it should have been. She knew she couldn’t show him any fear, or any hint that she might waver. He was like some kind of wild animal who would pounce at the slightest hint of either—she knew that with a deep certainty she had no interest at all in testing.

“I often am,” he said, a world of sensual promise in his voice, and that calm light of too much experience in his gaze. “Shall I demonstrate why?”

She eyed the pouty redhead, who was finally sitting up in the bed, apparently as unconcerned with her nudity as Pato was.

Adriana hated him. She hated this. She didn’t know or want to know why he’d succeeded in getting to her—she wanted to do her job and then return to happily loathing him from afar.

“I suggest you get rid of them, put some clothes on and meet me in your private parlor,” she said in a clipped voice. “We need to discuss how this is going to go.”

“Oh, we will,” Pato agreed huskily, a dark gleam in his gaze and a certain cast to his mouth that made something deep inside her quiver. “We can start with how little I like being told what to do.”

“You can talk all you want,” Adriana replied, that same kick of adrenaline making her bold. Or maybe it was something else—something more to do with that odd hunger that made her feel edgy and needy, and pulsed in her as he looked at her that way. “I’ll listen. I might even nod supportively. But then, one way or another, you’ll behave.”

* * *

Pato rid himself of his companions with as little fuss as possible, showered, and then called his brother.

“All these years I thought it was true love,” he said sardonically when Lenz answered. “The descendant of the kingdom’s most famous traitor and the besotted future king in a doomed romance. Isn’t that what they whisper in the corners of the palace? The gossip blogs?”

There was a brief silence, which he knew was Lenz clearing whatever room he was in. Pato was happy to wait. He didn’t know why he felt so raw inside, as if he was angry. When he was never angry. When he had often been accused of being incapable of achieving the state of anger, so offensively blasé was he.

And yet. He thought of Adriana Righetti and her dark brown eyes, the way she’d spoken to him. He pressed one hand against the center of his chest. Hard.