“Yeah, well, the way this month is going, that’s gonna happen sooner rather than later.”
“Now that,” she said, taking off her glasses, “would be a pure d-shame.”
And then she leaned down and kissed him softly on the mouth.
T he Dragon, well used to being tossed out of the king’s office, took the whole thing with her usual equanimity. The important thing was, she had finally done what she’d fantasized about for the past three years.
Al was gonna be a tough nut to crack. Scuttlebutt had it he was still in love with the late, treacherous Queen Dara. But she was a historian, and took the long view. He’d come around eventually.
Besides, who’d be able to refuse a chance at her? She was smart, she was sexy, she had the ass of a twenty-five-year-old.
Hmm. Perhaps she was getting a little obsessed with her own ass. Something for her shrink to work on; they could forget about her traumatizing freshmen year of college for a while.
“No, no, no,” Al had said, escorting her out of his office with a firm hand in the middle of her back. “We’re not doing this.”
She tried to drag her feet, but the sucker was as strong as he was big. “Why the hell not, Big Al?”
“Because it’d be like the Road Runner doing the Coyote. A crime against all the laws of nature. Also, you’re fired again.”
Then the detail drove her back to her hotel.
“You’re mine, Big Al,” she said aloud, chowing down on fairly awful barbecued ribs. Why she bought BBQ North of Missouri she didn’t know. The Daily Show was on—fake history! Hurrah!—and she was sitting cross-legged in her lonely bed.
Did the big oaf think she kept coming back to write his memoirs, for the luvva Pete? She’d been gone the day she met him. Big, gruff, great-looking, with the energy of a man half his age and the vocabulary of a sailor. She’d been gone at that moment; her love only deepened with each firing.
Because the Dragon was tired of being alone.
And Big Al was, too. Poor sucker just didn’t know it.
“It’s only a matter of time.”
Then she ordered another platter from room service. Scheming always made her hungry.
“You have to go.”
She stretched, then curled back against him like a sleepy kitten. “Too tired.”
He stroked her hair, running his fingers through the silky strands. He was still having trouble digesting the events of the past forty minutes.
Nicole—the Princess—had snuck out. Again. Had come to him. Tried to persuade him to the absurd notion that this week she wasn’t royalty and he wasn’t a bodyguard. And then she’d—and then he’d—
But she was still here. And that was a problem.
No, it wasn’t.
Yes, it was.
“Nicole.” He shook her gently. “You have to get dressed. I have to take you back. If they notice you’re gone, everyone will go right out of their minds.”
She yawned, rolled over, and stroked his penis, which went from sleepy to extremely interested in about two seconds. “So? Oh, hey, is this for me?”
He gritted his teeth and pulled away from her. “You’d frighten your family just to get laid again?”
She jerked away from him and sat up. “They don’t feel like my family,” she said sullenly. “My mother was my family. My father was just a two-week party for her.”
“Even so.” He rose, strapped on his wristwatch, then walked around the room gathering the clothes that hadn’t been ruined. “Get dressed.”
“That’s it? You fuck me—”
“I think you fucked me.”
“—and then kick me out? Jeffrey, your pillow talk sucks.” “Sucks” was punctuated as she hurled a pillow at his chest.
“You have to go back,” he said stonily, ignoring the inner voice that begged to differ. Ignoring the urge to take her back to bed and never, ever let her go. “Right now. We’re done talking about it.”
“Damn right we are,” she hissed, and climbed out of his bed.
He tried to help her with her clothes, but she slapped his hands away and nearly burned his eyes out of his skull with the force of her glare.
He drove her back, his heart growing heavier the closer they got to the palace. She was fuming in the passenger seat, arms folded over her chest, scowling at the road.
He got her as close as he could to her suite without actually driving across the lawn. As she got out, he leaned over and said, “Don’t do this again, Nicole.”
“Don’t…worry!” “Worry” was punctuated with the door slamming.
He rested his head on the steering wheel, and it was a good five minutes before he could turn the car around.
N icole found her way into the palace via a little-used servants’ entrance. Oh, Nicky’s digital map had been a godsend. She was able to slip inside and make it back to her suite in fifteen minutes.
Where an astonished Natalia watched her approach her own closed door. “Your Highness! I didn’t—what are you—how did you—?”
“Some things,” she said, her body still tingling from Jeffrey’s urgent touch, “will never be told.”
“But how did you—”
“Good night, Natalia.”
The blonde bowed. “Highness.”
Nicole shut the door behind her, taking in the three-room suite at a glance. Private bathroom, sitting room decorated in shades of gold and red, deluxe bedroom decorated in gold and blue. Stuffed with furniture so old and expensive she was afraid to use any of it.
Except the bed. The bed might be an antique four poster, too, but it was sturdy enough. And a good thing, too, because she had every intention of throwing herself on it and crying for an hour or so.
E xhausted from a sleepless night and too tired for breakfast, Nicole staggered into the hall outside her room.
Natalia bowed. “Good morning, Your Highness.”
“Oh, God. Cof—” Natalia was already handing her a cup. “Natalia, whoever programmed you did a helluva job.”
Natalia didn’t twitch. “Yes, Highness. The king would like to see you, Highness.”
“I gotta see the king? Now? Great. I have no friggin’ idea how to get there from here.”
“You don’t, Highness?”
Nicole stared at her bodyguard suspiciously. Natalia didn’t blink. In fact, Nicole’s eyes were watering with sympathy as the seconds ticked by and Natalia still didn’t blink. “You got something on your mind, Natalia?”
“Certainly not, Highness.”
“Well, super. You mind walking me over there?”
“Not at all, Highness.” The blonde tapped her earpiece. “Hunter to see Warrior.”
“How too fucking G.I. Joe,” she muttered.
“Thank you, Highness.”
A few minutes later, they were in the hallway outside the king’s office. She was pretty sure. All the damn hallways looked the same to her.
A man she’d never seen was leaning on the wall, arms crossed, but he stood straight and tall when she approached, then bowed.
“I’m supposed to talk to the king.”
“Yes, Princess Nicole, he’s expecting you.”
“Handing off Hunter,” Natalia said with cool formality.
“Acknowledged. Go get an early lunch, Natty.”
“Handing off?” she asked the man. He sure didn’t look like a bodyguard: slim, shorter than she was, soberly dressed, small hands. He looked like he was Edmund’s assistant or something. “What am I, a relay baton?”
He smiled. “Hardly, Princess.” He touched his index finger to the corner of his left eyebrow. “Have a nice day.”
She rapped on the door with her knuckles and at the harried, “Come in, quick!” opened the door and walked in.
The king was on his feet, staring anxiously over her shoulder. “Are you alone? Is she out there?”
“The Dragon! I know she’s lurking around here somewhere, just waiting to—never mind.”
“Well, she isn’t lurking in the corridor. Are you okay? You look a little stressed.”
“Stressed,” he mumbled, “is not the word. You’re sure nobody’s out there?”
“Just some guy I never saw before. What can I do for you, Al?”
“Aw, come on, kiddo.” He slumped back into his chair. “Is ‘Dad’ so hard? Pop? Papa?”
She yawned and sat across from him. “Is that why you called me up here?”
“No, you look like shit.”
“Is that why—”
“Naw, naw.” He waved away her irritation. “Just an early morning observation.”
“Well, thanks so much. You’re not exactly looking your best, either.”
“I’m in the best shape of any one of you guys,” the king bragged.
“You’d have to be,” she admitted, “to run this funny farm.”
“If you’re having trouble sleeping, maybe you should see Doc Hedman. Alexandria was having terrible insomnia a couple years ago and he was able to help her out. This was before she got married to Sheldon.”
“That’s it!” she cried, and was surprised when the king flinched. She didn’t think he could flinch. “Sheldon Rivers. That’s the American who married Alexandria. She’s with him now, right? At some aquarium or whatever?”
“Yeah, and he didn’t marry her, she married him.”
“You say tomato, I say toe-maw-toe. Anyway, it was driving me nuts, trying to remember another relative’s name. You’re a big bunch to keep track of.”
“What can I say, I’m a fertile son of a bitch.”