Authors: Ella Slade
“No, no, nothing like that. I was thinking dinner.”
“Yes.” Eric chuckled slightly.
Katherine tapped her finger against her coffee, and then looked down at herself. “I’m not exactly dressed for it. And my class will wonder where I am…” Or at least Tara and Dr. Walker would.
“I imagined you would come up with some sort of excuse,” he pointed out lightly. “And we can stop by your hotel, if you desire to change first.”
She pursed her lips again. She didn’t want to go on anymore tours. “Fine. Dinner. Just dinner.”
Katherine hadn’t really brought much by way of formal dinner wear—most of her clothes for the trip consisted of either painfully casual or a few party dresses—but the white lace dress she had with her would at least be appropriate. It was still a touch short, but it had a halter top so it didn’t seem terribly immodest from the front. Sure, it left her back bare, which her short hair only emphasized further, but it was the nicest outfit she had.
She put on a pair of heels and a bit more makeup and then went back downstairs toward where Eric’s chauffeured car was waiting for her. She’d texted Tara that she wasn’t feeling well and had gone back to the hotel, and her friend must have bought it judging by her reply text telling her to feel better. After what had happened with Eric already, Kat quietly admitted to herself that she was nervous.
She tapped her thumb on the side of her purse nervously as the elevator took her back downstairs. She wished for a moment that she had something a little bit classier to wear, at least until she stopped herself. Why should she be so concerned about what Eric thought of her clothes? She never gave a damn about what guys thought of her, and he deserved less consideration than a lot of them.
Outside the hotel, the sleek black car wasn’t hard to find, even though it was very pointedly inconspicuous. Kat noted a few cars behind Eric’s that were the same make and model—she didn’t know what kind—that likely belonged to the ever-present bodyguards. Katherine took a deep breath and head toward the car where he was waiting for her, the windows tinted darkly enough that no one could see inside and realize whose car it was.
As she approached, the driver jumped out and opened the door for her, and she climbed in carefully, not getting too close to Eric even as he straightened up.
“You seem nervous,” he began lightly.
“Have you realized that you’ve never asked my name?” she replied without addressing what he said. He had followed her into the restroom after finding out where her class was going to be, but he couldn’t have any idea what her name was.
He just chuckled at her, though. “Alright then, what is your name, ma chérie?”
“Katherine. Katherine Saunders.”
“A lovely name—a pleasure to meet you, Katherine Saunders.” Her heart dropped into her stomach at the way he said her name and she swallowed hard, flashing him a smirk and leaning back into the comfortable seat of the car, pretending she wasn’t as nervous as she was.
“And a pleasure to meet you,
,” she teased as the car pulled away from the curb and headed down the street. “So, uh, where are we going for dinner?”
“A restaurant not far from the palace—well, some say it’s the palace’s private restaurant, although that isn’t really accurate,” he explained, shrugging lightly. “It is called
, though. It is quite good, I assure you. I recommend the lobster.”
“I’m allergic to shellfish,” she told him with a shrug. “Although I’m sure it’d be excellent even so, but neither of us would really enjoy having my face swell up like a balloon.”
Eric’s brow furrowed slightly. “Fair enough, and no, neither of us would enjoy that. Ah, well. There are plenty of other selections available there, I thought only to suggest to you my favorite.”
Katherine smiled slightly. “I’ll make do, I’m sure, don’t worry about it,” she answered, looking out the window as they passed everyone else on the street. “I should probably be back by seven or so, though? I’d rather not get to the hotel after the rest of my class and get in trouble for sneaking out like this.”
“You didn’t have any qualms with sneaking out last night at a much more inappropriate hour.”
“There was much less chance of anyone being aware that I was sneaking out, except for my friend Tara who wouldn’t have told anyone anyway. But my teacher will probably check on me after that, so I shouldn’t still be out.”
“Very well, I’ll ensure you’re back by then. The restaurant is not normally terribly busy this night of the week.” Something about the way he said that made her curious as she looked back at him, but his gaze had turned away from her so that Eric was looking out the car window.
This is an intensely strange man
, she thought. Charming, and gorgeous, and aware of it, but… strange, at the same time, for reasons she couldn’t pinpoint but found herself desperately wanting to know. But for the moment, she said nothing; it probably had something to do with him coming to apologize to her in the first place, and hope that whatever he had planned would be enjoyable.
They headed along the city streets until they were out of the throng and on the semi-country road that she recognized from the trip to the palace for the tour. She could see the fence that steadfastly guarded the estate grounds, but there wasn’t really much else around. As they turned into a security checkpoint, she realized that it was because the restaurant was
Katherine looked over at him. “I think I understand now why people assume that
is the palace’s private restaurant,” she pointed out with a laugh, but he merely shrugged at her mildly.
“My great uncle always wanted to be a chef. However, as he was in line for the throne, it was inappropriate and unsafe for him to either work in a restaurant off the estate or build his own in the city, so this was the compromise that was reached. Anyone who wants to can enjoy the restaurant, even those who only come to tour the palace, but it tends to be booked solid for months,” he explained, preempting her question as to why her class hadn’t eaten there.
“I see. Well, at least he got to enjoy his dream a little bit, if he never really wanted to be king.”
The car pulled up to the front of the restaurant, and only then did Katherine notice the carefully disguised parking lot out front, covered in trees and fountains to keep the estate still beautiful despite the necessity of a parking lot. It was still very busy, though, despite it being a Tuesday night.
“So, uh,” she started to ask as she climbed out of the car, before her heels shifted around for firmer purchase on the gravel path. “If this place is booked for months and there’s like a hundred people here, how are
going to…” She stopped herself when Eric paused and looked amused. “Right, stupid question. Your family’s estate, your family’s restaurant, you’re the Crown Prince… they always have a table reserved for you.”
“Precisely,” he agreed with a laugh. “And any guests I may have, which includes you. Come.” He offered her his arm, and she took it after a moment’s hesitation. With him in his black shirt and khaki pants, and her in her white lace, she figured they actually made a pretty handsome couple. Someone inside the restaurant opened the door, then immediately bowed to the prince when they caught a glimpse of him.
“You Highness,” a pretty young woman in her twenties greeted reverently, her accent thick, but not quite as thick as the tour guide’s had been. “Right this way, I will show you and your guest to your usual table.” Katherine realized she must distinctly give off American vibes, if everyone, even those who had never heard her voice, spoke English before French.
“Merci, Nicolette, and please have a bottle of pinot noir brought up.”
“Of course.” She bowed again, and then led the two of them through the busy restaurant. More than a few people looked up when Eric passed, staring at him with absolutely unhidden awe before glancing at Katherine with disdain. Either she was too American for this crowd, or every woman was instantly attracted to him, which she supposed was a distinct possibility.
They reached the back of the restaurant and then to an elevator. It took a few moments, but then the doors opened and the three of them were moving inside. Without a doubt, it was the nicest elevator she had ever been on, and her hands tightened around Eric’s arm a little bit. She had to admit that she was really out of her element right now.
The elevator doors opened and Katherine gasped; she let go of Eric, moving forward onto a private balcony made of a roof walled in by glass to keep out any inclement weather. The balcony itself was tucked into a little wedge of the roof over the restaurant proper, with one wall cut away to offer a fantastic view of the vineyards on the palace estate.
The sun was just starting to dip lower in the sky. Vines grew around a spindled railing, and lace tablecloths covered four tables each with fresh bouquets and delicately flickering candles. The wind caught at her short hair, and she gulped down a breath.
“Holy shit,” she spoke aloud before she’d actually had a chance to consider what she was saying. Instantly, a flush flared on her cheeks and she looked over her shoulder. Eric seemed amused again as he made his way toward one of the tables nearest the balcony edge, while Nicolette looked almost distressed with her language. Quickly, Kat hurried over and sat down as well, rubbing her hands against the scalloped lace hem of her dress.
“I will have the wine brought up promptly, Your Highness, but is there anything else I can get your and your… guest?”
“We’ll start with the salad course, as is the custom in Miss Saunders’ country,” he instructed her simply. “Is there anything you desire yourself, Katherine?”
She looked up at the waitress nervously. “Um, coffee with cream, please?”
“Of course.” Nicolette dipped her head and returned to the elevator.
Eric looked at her curiously. “More coffee, hmm? You must not have gotten any sleep at all. Odd, I have stayed in your hotel, even the more common rooms are splendid. What kept you up, then?” Something in his words baited her, and she narrowed her gaze at him a little.
“Hmm, let me think… you?”
Eric paused and then shrugged a little, leaning back in his chair. “I would not have thought I made such an impression as to prevent you from sleeping, but perhaps I ought to be flattered that I did.”
“I wouldn’t be,” Katherine answered with a snort. “I didn’t particularly like staying awake because of you or the impression you made. I told you before, I’m not an idiot. I know what you intended with all of that. I was actually really pissed when I got back to my hotel room, I thought both of us could have enjoyed last night.”
His blue eyes narrowed at her with a growing hint of iciness. “You hardly know me well enough to determine whether I actually would have enjoyed something of that nature with you, Katherine.”
“But you certainly enjoyed embarrassing the crap out of me, didn’t you?”
“And you enjoyed being touched that way, since you could have stopped me at any time if I was going too far.”
She drummed her nails on the tabletop and looked away from him. “What do you want? Because you’re not telling me the truth about why you came to find me.”
Before he had a chance to answer, the elevator dinged again and a different waitress arrived with the wine and salads, as well as the coffee. She poured glasses for the two of them, and Katherine quickly reached for the creamer, pouring it into the dark liquid until it turned a lovely milky color. After ensuring they wanted nothing else for the time being, the waitress left, leaving them alone again and informing them that a different waitress would arrive to take their orders soon.
The prince sipped his wine idly. “Despite claiming to not be an idiot, you seem to have no interest whatsoever in actually learning anything from your trip here—either at the palace yesterday or the museum earlier, and it doesn’t bode well that you went out to a club without hesitation,” he pointed out softly, and she wrinkled her nose slightly, grabbing one of three or four forks and starting to eat her salad. It was almost annoyingly good. She opened the menu on the table beside her, staring down at it.
“I’m nineteen,” she told him after swallowing the remains of a crouton. “I wanted to get out of the country with the rest of my class when the opportunity presented itself—and my friend begged me to come with her. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in something that involves knowing about your country or anything like that.”
“What are you interested in then?”
“I don’t know.” She looked up at him, not hesitating as she stated this fact. He seemed mildly startled. “Seriously, I don’t know. I was never one of those kids who dreamed of being something, or who was grabbed by some school subject and wanted to expand on it. I was bored as hell in high school and I just wanted to get out of Arizona when I applied for college. So I’m trying things. One of those things happens to be clubs in different countries, so sue me.”
Eric rubbed his jaw and took another drink before reaching for his own salad. “Well, perhaps I might help with that aspect.”
She frowned at him and rolled her eyes. “And how exactly are you going to help? Which ‘aspect’ are you even talking about—the not having any idea what I want to do with my life, or the going to clubs in different countries part?”
“The former. You see, I feel as though I might have an offer which will pique your interest, something that will offer a girl like you a way out from deciding something more concrete. It will even allow you the opportunity to be as free as you like, far from home, without anything even resembling responsibility.” The longer he talked, the more it sounded like an insult, and she stared at him angrily.
“Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about?”
“We will have to work on the manners in public, I think. You see, Katherine, I have recently been informed that in order to strengthen certain bonds and smooth out issues which I will not bore you with, I must marry. The chosen victim is a girl I have met only a few times in my life, and do not particularly enjoy the company of.”