A Royal Without Rules(7)

By: Caitlin Crews

Pato laughed, though it was a darker sound than it should have been. He thought of all the moving parts of this game, all they’d done and all there was left to do before it was over. And then he thought of Adriana Righetti’s sharp smile on her courtesan’s mouth, then the dazed expression on her face when he’d told her to kneel. And the heat in him seemed to simmer, then become intent.

“It’s never worked before,” he told his brother. “But hope springs eternal, does it not?”

His certainly did.

He found Adriana waiting for him as promised in the relatively small reception room off the grandiose main foyer of his lavish palace apartment. It was filled with fussy antiques, commanding works of art and the gilt-edged glamor that was meant to proclaim his exalted status to all who entered. Pato much preferred the flat he kept in London, where he wasn’t required to impart a history lesson every time a guest glanced at a chair.

She was every bit as beautiful as her famously promiscuous ancestors, Pato thought, standing in the doorway and studying her. More so. She stood at the windows that looked out over the cold, blue waters of the alpine lake surrounding the palace, impatient hands on her hips and her stiff back to the door, and there was nothing in the least bit beige about her. Or even henlike, come to that. She’d refastened her jacket, and he appreciated the line of it almost as much as he’d enjoyed ruining that line when he’d unbuttoned it earlier. It skimmed over the elegant shape of her body before flaring slightly at her hips, over the narrow sheath of the skirt she wore and the high heels that made her legs look long and lean and as if they’d fit nicely wrapped around his back.

And she had in her genetic arsenal the most celebrated temptresses in the history of the kingdom. How could he possibly resist?

Anticipation moved in him, hard and bright. He needed her with him to play out this part of the game—but he hadn’t expected he’d enjoy himself. And now, he thought, he would. Oh, how he would.

There were so many ways to be nice, after all, and Pato knew every last one of them.


TEN DAYS LATER, Adriana stood in the middle of a glittering embassy ballroom, a serene smile pasted to her face, while inside, she itched to kill Pato. Preferably with her very own hands.

It was a feeling she was growing accustomed to the more time she spent in his presence—and the more he pulled his little stunts. Like tonight’s disappearing act in the middle of a reception where he was supposed to be calmly discharging his royal duties.

Please, she scoffed inside her head, her gaze moving around the room for the fifth time, holding out hope that she’d somehow missed him before, that he’d somehow blended into a crowd for the first time in his life. As if he has the slightest idea what the word duty means!

“The prince stepped out to take an important phone call,” she lied to the ambassador beside her, when she accepted, finally, what she already knew. Pato had vanished, which could only bode ill. She kept her smile in place. “Why don’t I see if I can help expedite things?”

“If you would be so kind,” the ambassador murmured in reply, but without the sly, knowing look that usually accompanied any discussion of Pato or his suspicious absences in polite company. Nor did he look around to see if any women were also missing. Adriana viewed that as a point in her favor.

She had kept the paparazzi’s favorite prince scandal-free for ten whole days. That was something of a record, if she did say so herself. Her intention was to continue her winning streak—but that meant finding him. And fast.

Because Adriana couldn’t kid herself. She hadn’t contained Pato over the past ten days. He’d laughed at her when she’d told him she planned to try. She’d simply babysat him, making sure he was never out of her sight unless he was asleep. That had involved frustrating days with Pato forever in her personal space, always teasing her and testing her, then doing as he pleased, with Adriana as his annoyed escort. It had meant long nights unable to sleep as she waited for the inevitable phone call from the guards she’d placed at his door to keep Pato in and the parade of trollops out. All she really had going for her was her fierce determination to bend him to her will—his brother’s will, she reminded herself sternly—whether he wanted to or not.

Naturally, he didn’t want to do anything of the kind.

Though he was always laughing, always shallow and reckless and the life of the party, if not the party itself, Adriana had come to realize that Pato had a fearsome will of his own. Iron and steel, wholly unbendable, beneath that impossibly pretty face and all his trademark languor.