A Prince's Ransom: Kidnapped by the Billionaire (11 page)

“Oh, I dunno. It was a bit early to be meeting dignitaries who would be absolutely disgusted if they knew who I really was, but I went through with that anyway. Meeting your
, however, is what really makes this super necessary.” Katherine started to lift the bottle to her lips again.

“Katherine,” he chastised softly, reaching out and taking it from her with a sour look.

“Hey!” she protested, trying to grab for it only to scowl when he lifted it over his head, effectively out of her reach.

“Brigitte is not my fiancé. Not yet, at any rate, and not ever if I’ve any say about it.”

?” she demanded with a scoff, frowning at him intensely and debating if there was a way to get her rum back. “What is so wrong about marrying someone beautiful and classy and actually qualified to run a country? I am definitely
not that

“Beyond the fact that I care not to marry someone who is not of my choosing?”

“Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that happens a lot more than you’d think to normal people, people who don’t need someone qualified to sit on a throne.”

“I hardly think that matters when there is very little you are qualified to do, Katherine,” he answered, obviously teasing her, but her eyes flashed up at him in frustration.

“No, you know what, I deserve a real answer here. I want a real answer as to why I felt so bad earlier for not letting you control everything I do, a real answer about why marrying me is a good solution to your problems,” she snapped at him with a scowl. “Regardless of the fact that you can keep me here forever, you can’t make me say yes at the end of the aisle. So convince me why I should give a damn about your political problems and your love life!”

Eric gazed down at her in silence for a long moment, his blue eyes narrowing as she crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for an answer. The rum was still out of her reach, and she still wanted it back—but this? This she wasn’t going to let go.

“I have no need for a partner with whom to run a country,” he answered at last, setting the rum on a counter and then immediately stepping in front of it to keep her from snatching it away. “I already have my fill of those who imagine they can run my country. My parents once they ever step down, the dignitaries, the lords, other diplomats from other countries who imagine I am too young and inexperienced to do anything properly. I do not need, on top of such things, the intrusive input of a social climbing woman whom I neither desire nor care for in any way, who only became my wife because of my obligation and her desire to be called ‘Your Majesty’.”

She pursed her lips, then shook her head slightly. “Maybe it’s just because I’m from America, but my idea of marriage is two people helping one another. Not one dominating and the other intruding, but the two of them doing things together to make it easier for
of them. That’s not how it works here, or something?”

“Not how it works in this situation,” he responded too calmly. “Consider, ma chérie, the fact that while what you see is a beautiful, wealthy, and educated young woman who has been trained practically since the moment of her birth to be a queen—and thus, what could possibly be wrong with her—I instead see a woman who ought be content with everything she already has.
But she isn’t
. I see a woman who couldn’t care less about my character or appeal or anything of importance about me, and would have been just as likely to agree to marry me had I been an abominable troll. Why? Because it would afford her
. Granted, this is not like it was some three or four hundred years ago when power unequivocally allowed one to do anything they wanted with little fear of repercussion. There are other fallbacks in place which would prevent any ruler, I or Brigitte or Élise, were it to come to that, from so easily abusing their power. And yet it still boils down to the simple fact that Brigitte wishes to marry me for what she will gain from the position, something she has been dreaming of her entire life and believes she is owed.” Eric sighed slightly, and looked away from her. “Meanwhile, Katherine, you have never had the slightest belief that you would be in a position to marry a prince and
have given no thought at all to what the position would grant you. Your only thought is whether or not you would want to marry
. And that intrigues me in a way I haven’t felt in a long time, if ever.”

Katherine was startled into silence, and she took a step back from him. Not that it hadn’t occurred to her what it would mean to be a royal, but she hadn’t actually thought about it in those terms.

“Okay, fair enough,” she finally decided, shaking her head. “But doesn’t that kinda… I don’t know, prove my own point? I am not equipped to deal with a court or political maneuverings. If I hadn’t been in complete shock about Brigitte being like she is, and that you’re supposed to marry her, then there’s nothing about her that would’ve made me dislike her. Meanwhile I’m this midget little American brat who isn’t likeable in the least—”

“Have you so little self-worth as that, Katherine?” he interrupted immediately. “You constantly describe yourself in the most deplorable terms, and you never even flinch at thinking of yourself that way. No, as of this moment you do not have any experience or knowledge of a court life nor how to behave, but regardless of Brigitte, I could have my pick of girls who
, had I desired them. Those are skills as much as any other, not something you are inherently born into, and I believe this morning has proven that you have as much potential as anyone. You were charming, and you were lovely, and perhaps it is strange to
but often Americans are just as fascinating to us as Europeans are to you.”

Katherine had still been in the process of forming words which immediately died on her tongue. She forced herself to swallow as she looked up at him. He seemed genuine. Right now, in this moment, he seemed absolutely genuine about his belief that she could become royal material. That scared her more than anything else, because she wasn’t sure if it was

“That’s still not…” she stopped, staring up at him for a long moment, and then glancing toward the bottle of rum.

Immediately, she bolted toward it, ducking under Eric’s arm and snatching it off the counter. “Okay, okay,” she started again, spinning back around to face him with a grin and lifting the bottle to her lips. He turned around to face her with a slight scowl, taking a step toward her. “Not that that’s necessarily even kinda answering my questions and all that, but you’ve made some good points. I still want to know how you’re going to make me
to learn to behave, but I guess that can wait for another day. First and foremost, though—how are you going to make me learn to behave?” She brought the bottle back to her lips and took a long swig of it.

“I have a few ideas, ma chérie…” Eric murmured with a slight growl in his voice, taking another step toward her. She eyed him over the rim of the bottle, her gums burning slightly from the long drink, before she pulled it away breathlessly.

“Nope,” she told him with a smirk. “This is mine now, I drank from it. I can’t really imagine your staff wanting—hey!” It took him almost no effort at all, much to her chagrin, to snatch the bottle out of her hands while his other arm wrapped around her waist and tugged her fiercely against his chest. She stumbled, startled, her hands catching herself against his shirt.

“You are quite right, this bottle has been irreversibly contaminated,” he agreed with a sniff—and then promptly dropped the bottle on the floor. Katherine cried out as it shattered, staring at it with wide eyes.

“You—that was really good rum!” she complained, glowering up at him.

“And you’d had more than your fair share,” he answered, pushing her back so that she was pressed against the doors to the refrigerator, sparing her back from digging into any of the drawer handles. “How am I going to make you learn to behave, Katherine? Well, there are those within this building who have spent their entire lives teaching young princes and princesses to behave—and luckily they have remained present for so long because of Élise’s need to learn those same skills. I am quite certain they will be more than willing to teach you the same things.”

She gulped, squirming against him a bit and glancing furtively toward one of the servants who had taken up a broom and had started sweeping up the broken rum bottle—without once glancing at the scene unfolding between the crown prince and some random girl. Eric was obliviously unaware of the servant as he caught Katherine’s chin and tilted it up, making her look back at him. He bent down over her, a leer playing on his lips as he softly breathed against her ear. “As for making you
to learn such things, my sweet, I imagine you will find me more persuasive than you realize.”

His lips grazed along the edge of her jaw, and she felt her heart beating wildly where she was caught against him. He shifted against her, and she felt her arousal begin to build, remembering what he had done to her last night.

“So, uh…” she stammered, shutting her eyes. “You usually make a move in embarrassingly public places?”

“You don’t seem to mind it that much, Katherine,” he whispered to her. “Considering our past forays into the exercise…” Eric let go of her chin, and his fingers graze over her throat and then across her shoulder, before catching the side of her ribcage. His thumb rubbed at her delicately, and her toes curled in her heels. “And there is something extremely attractive about the idea of having you anywhere that might strike my fancy. There are a few places I can imagine that would be extremely well-suited to the purpose. My private booth at the opera house, my office upstairs. But, for the moment…”

All at once, he let her go, stepping away from her and straightening himself up with a slight smirk in her direction. Katherine’s breath was ragged as she caught herself on the edge of the counter beside the fridge, her mind still racing to catch up. “You’re kind of a prick, you know that?” she gasped at last, trying to calm down her raging desire.

“I must have the ability to get your attention, I think—it is so easily divided,” he mused, and she glowered at him. “Regardless, considering you do look spectacular in the dress my sister loaned you, I think perhaps it would benefit both you and her to go look for some appropriate clothes for you, hmm?”

“You mean go shopping?”

“Is that acceptable? There are a few events and projects I would like you to be able to have appropriate attire for—attire that you won’t hack to pieces.” He looked at her in warning, and she smiled sheepishly.

“Okay yeah, I can see where that came from. Um, wouldn’t it just be a bit quicker for me to get my own clothes? You know, out of my hotel room?”

“I doubt you have anything appropriate to wear to a formal event.”

“You mean a ball? Like, a real ball with ridiculously fluffy dresses and lots of dancing?”

Eric chuckled. “There will be some dancing, although not nearly as much as you must be picturing, but you will require a… ah…
dress, yes.”

“Isn’t it a little early to be taking me out to a ball? I mean, I’m sure I’m not ready for that.”

“You would be amazed at how much instruction one can have in two days. First shopping, and then we will commence with a riding lesson tomorrow.”

“Alright, riding lesson,” Katherine let out a breath, and Eric started to leave. She sighed, then bolted after him. “Wait, riding



Chapter Eight

She and Élise spent all the rest of the following afternoon clothes shopping at some ridiculously expensive places. These shops catered to the young princess’s every whim or need, which included seeing to her odd, petite American friend. And with her own personal bodyguard following her, Katherine hadn’t had the slightest chance to get away. At first that had been fine, because she had been getting prettier clothes than she had ever seen before. She hadn’t complained while trying on a seven hundred dollar pair of shoes. To top it off, an amazingly beautiful, if slightly insane, ball gown would be ready for her by tomorrow night.

It was supposed to be delivered to the palace early the next afternoon. Just thinking about it made her nervous, never having ever worn anything like that before. Big fluffy dresses weren’t exactly her style. Élise had insisted that she would look amazing in it, and she just had to trust her new friend.

Sitting in her room and eating dinner by herself, though, her thoughts strayed to Tara and her class a lot. If she did manage to convince Eric to let her go, they would be furious with her, unlikely to believe that she’d been held captive by the Crown Prince.

The thought made her pout a little; this wasn’t how she had expected her trip to go, even if she’d never had the intention of paying attention during boring museum tours. Katherine sighed and set her fork down, the fingers of her other hand playing with the lacy hem of her new sea-green nightgown. She stood up from the table and moved to the window. She knew where Élise’s bedroom was now, and she knew that it was in the royal wing of the palace, so by that logic…

Katherine’s throat tightened as she looked to the light in the princess’s window and then looked to the suite of rooms next to it. Those rooms had to be Eric’s, as no one else should be occupying the royal quarters. There was a curtain or a shade drawn against the growing darkness of the sunset, but a light on in his room. Katherine stood at her own window for a long moment, searching for any sign of movement within or his shadow cast against the drape.

She almost jumped out of her skin when there was a knock at her door, and she quickly turned around to look toward it. “Ah… who is it?” she called as she quickly pulled the drape back into place across her window, hoping it wasn’t obvious that she had been staring out.

“Eric,” he spoke through the door, and she let out a harsh breath; of course he wasn’t even in his room when she had been trying to see him. Why would he be there? Katherine glanced down at herself, biting her lip slightly with how little she was wearing, only to sigh. She headed across the room and opened the door with a mild smile on her lips.

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