Authors: Ella Slade
“An arranged marriage? Ewwwww…”
“Precisely. Now, seeing as I neither desire nor require anyone to rule by my side, her background seems utterly superfluous and I will not enjoy the eventual necessity of forming a family with her. My parents, much to my chagrin, have refused my appeals to change their position, leaving me with only one option I can think of which will force their hand to my favor,” Eric recited all of this like he’d been practicing it for hours, and more like he was addressing Parliament than speaking to a nineteen-year-old girl from Arizona.
Katherine’s throat tightened as she stared at him. “You mean, marriage to someone else before they can force you to go through with it?”
“But you don’t have anyone. You don’t have a girlfriend or anything?”
“No, I do not. Or at least, I did not. You will require some sprucing up, and it is lucky that my parents are currently out of the country on business so that I have time to arrange things to my liking.”
She was pale. Her throat was tight. He couldn’t be serious. “You want me to marry you?”
“No Katherine, ma chérie, you
The elevator dinged, and a waiter approached the table. “May I take your orders, Your Highness? Miss? Miss?”
Katherine banged into the back of the elevator with a gasp, sliding her fingers through her platinum blond hair and pushing it back from her eyes, then quickly shoving her way to the buttons to close the doors. Her breath was quick, and she stared at Eric where he was nonchalantly getting up from his seat. He set down his glass of wine and starting toward her. The waiter who’d been trying to take her order stared after her, absolutely flabbergasted. The elevator doors slid shut before he’d gotten closer.
She sagged backward, her breath trembling and her eyes still looking around her in disbelief. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard—there was no way he could be serious about wanting to marry her.
It wasn’t even that he wanted to marry her, but more like he found her convenient to marry for his own personal devices. There was no way in hell, prince or not, that she would ever actually even
doing this. Katherine was going to go back to her hotel room and curl up and hide the rest of the time she was in the country. Screw going out clubbing, screw hating the boring tours… Katherine would stay glued to Tara’s side and her unending fun facts about Montavian history until they went back to the States. And that would be the end of it.
Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Katherine managed to calm down. There were people downstairs in the main part of the restaurant, a lot of people. Nothing else could happen in front of them, she was sure of it—that would be far too much of a scene for Eric, who had valued his flawless public image even though he was a complete jackass in private.
Crap. She had forgotten her purse. In her shock, she had left I on the table upstairs, along with her cellphone, her ID, her money, and her goddamn passport.
, shiitake mushrooms.
The elevator pinged softly on the main floor, too quiet to disturb anyone’s meals. No one was waiting on the other side as the doors slid open, and Katherine just stood there, clutching the rail on the wall. No one was aware of her panic attack. The doors slid back closed, and she held tighter onto the rail to keep her knees from giving out. This couldn’t be happening. Seriously, this couldn’t be happening—this was like some really awful daytime soap opera, not her life. But no, she was awake. Even in her nightmares, she had never dreamed about a prince screwing her publicly in a club and then trying to force her to marry him. That was way outside her realm of remotely possible.
A soft moan of dismay rumbled low in her throat as she punched the button to go back to the roof. Her purse, her phone, her hotel keys…all of it was still upstairs. The elevator made a sound then shifted to go back up.
Stupid prince. He thought he was
damn clever, just waiting upstairs, knowing she was running away without her purse.
Okay, this take cleverness
, Katherine chided herself frantically. Something clever to say, something that wouldn’t diminish how thoroughly she’d just refused his “offer” by bolting.
Was it her imagination, or was the elevator going up so much faster than it had gone down? She needed a second to get her thoughts in order before she saw that smug look of triumph on Eric’s damn face. The doors dinged again as they opened, but Katherine was still in the corner of the elevator looking like a petrified mouse in the face of a tiger—no, a panther, Eric was definitely a panther. He was leaning against the wall next to the elevator, holding her purse and looking at her with an amused expression. The waiter was nowhere in sight.
She took a deep breath and pushed herself away from the wall, stepping back out onto the rooftop. Without saying a word, he offered her purse to her, then immediately reached around to send the elevator back to the ground floor. As though the damn machine was somehow programmed to obey his touch, the doors closed before she’d even had a chance to turn around.
“Hey!” she yelped, all cleverness abandoned in the face of her dismay and outrage. At the same time, she realized that her purse was noticeably lighter than it was supposed to be, and stared down into its contents. “Where the hell is my phone?”
“I had a feeling that you being in possession if it right at this moment will only impede things,” he replied simply, then pushed off of the wall. “Come, sit back down. We can talk in a more civilized manner, ma chérie.”
“I’m not talking about anything with you!” she cried, staring at him and hating how her voice came out in an embarrassing squeak. “If you’re serious about what you just said, you are out of your flipping mind! There’s no way I’m going to marry you!”
“Because you have so many better things to be doing,” he mused. “Clubbing and having sex with strangers, ignoring interesting tours, touching priceless museum pieces…” Katherine flushed, the color a combination of rage and embarrassment.
“I’m nineteen! It is not a crime to not know what you’re doing at nineteen!”
Eric’s eyes narrowed at her slightly. “Ah, but you do know what you’re doing, don’t you? You know exactly what you’re doing, you just lack the will to admit it to yourself. That’s fine—I do not particularly care.” He eased himself back into his chair, leaving her to stare at him. She had no idea where he’d hidden her phone. To a certain extent, it didn’t matter, because she was not going to be feeling him up to get it back.
She also didn’t answer him at first. Finally, she said, seething, “What you’re suggesting is pretty much kidnapping. You realize that, right? You’re trying to force me to stay here against my will and
, and… and for what?! What the hell do I have to gain from agreeing to any of this?”
“There are those who would say—”
“Marriage to a prince is
not a good enough reason
,” she interrupted acidly, and he chuckled.
“Fair enough. But consider the fact that you have chosen to attend school in Pennsylvania simply to get away from your family in Arizona. Would it not make sense to go a step further and reside in a place they could not possibly reach you with any sort of ease? In addition, you have no idea what you wish to be doing with your life, as you have well admitted, and so you are wasting your time in college doing what amounts to nothing. Particularly, as I understand it, when it comes to applying yourself in the American university system.”
He made a face and shrugged a little, but he watched her carefully. Katherine fought hard to control her expressions, not wanting to give him anything he could use against her in this. He was
. This was not a better option than going back to school and maybe figuring out her life.
“Agreeing to marry someone I just met just to get away from my parents would be a really shitty move,” she retorted. “And it’s unfair to them because it’s not like… never mind, that doesn’t matter right now. But wouldn’t it be a better use of my time to go figure out what I want to do with my life instead of sitting around being a princess or a queen
“That is just it, Katherine,” he answered softly. “Under this arrangement, you would have no need to decide what you want to do. Nearly every door you could ever desire would be open for you with very little persuasion. In return for sparing me from a marriage I do not care for, I would be indebted to you. I could give you everything you have ever wanted, and anything you might someday want.”
“For the price of giving up my freedom and independence and probably the ability to ever be with anyone else, right?”
He sniffed a little. “I suppose if it were truly necessary for your happiness, something could be arranged for you to enjoy the company of other men, provided you were discreet about the matter—and
traipsing about like a prostitute in an exceedingly popular club.” Eric reached for his glass of wine and sipped at it, watching her pointedly over the rim as he drank. “Although I would point out that you have not begun to truly taste of my own desires. What passed between us last night can hardly be qualified as an
“This isn’t a courtship, it’s coercion,” Katherine pointed out stubbornly—hating the fact that he was way too damn good at persuading people. Even though she knew how absolutely insane his proposal was, she was still tempted. “What exactly am I supposed to tell anyone? Or how, considering the fact that you’ve stolen my phone?”
“You needn’t worry about that too much. Your class will undoubtedly panic a bit when they discover you missing, but this is Europe, ma chérie. It is a dangerous place, with dangerous people only too eager to prey upon naïve American girls such as yourself. In fact, you are lucky you were not more severely targeted last night at the club.”
There was a smile hiding behind the rim of his wine glass. She stared at him with an utterly unamused expression. “Now you’re just screwing with me. This is not a freaking
“No, it isn’t, you needn’t worry about that. But your class will undoubtedly fill in the story itself considering such influences, and will be relieved when they learn that you are not only safe and sound, but engaged to a prince,” he agreed with a laugh that made her roll her eyes. “Of course, such news will only be given to them after you have agreed to such things.”
Katherine clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. “You’re kind of a psychopath, aren’t you?”
His icy blue eyes flashed up at her. “Ma chérie, I am a man accustomed to getting what I want. Nothing of what you have offered in counterargument convinces me that you shouldn’t take my offer—nor does it suggest that you are truly opposed to it yourself. Therefore, you can make this easy on yourself, or much more difficult.”
Eric rose to his feet all at once with a precision that made her
softly and drop her purse, hurrying to move away from him. She thought about bolting for the stairs, but it felt like a bad idea to turn her back on him. Instead, she stumbled away until there was a wall against her back. She gasped, then sucked in a harsh breath when he pinned her against that wall, expertly grabbing her wrists and positioning them on either side of her head.
“More difficult?” she squeaked. She pulled her lips between her teeth as his knee pressed invasively between her thighs. She cursed her shortness, his leg rubbing back and forth against her barely protected loins. Katherine arched slightly, squirming against him and only managing to make the sensation even worse. Heat pulsed wantonly inside her slit, and she cursed her stupid, youthful libido.
,” he repeated softly in her ear, his words spiced with wine. “But I understand it is an important decision, ma chérie, I will give you time to consider it. Do not keep me waiting too long, however.” Eric released her, and her knees finally gave out.
“As the prince’s personal guest, you will be allowed to come and go as you please, although His Highness has requested that you do not leave the premises of the estate without an escort. Only the lower levels of the palace are open to tours, so you need not worry about being intruded upon in that regard,” an older woman explained in a droning voice. Eric had introduced her as Claire, and she seemed to be a housekeeper or something. From what little Katherine knew of foreign upper class households, the gold-and-silver haired woman didn’t really seem like a maid, but something in a higher order of servants. It was a poor assumption, probably, but her head was still reeling.
After she’d recovered a shred of composure, Eric had convinced her to resume eating and enjoy her meal, although she’d lost most of her appetite and had really just picked at it. It had tasted good, she supposed, but ultimately she just wanted to go hide in a corner somewhere. She was basically being held hostage, and no one was going to try and rescue her because no one knew where she was; Eric had made sure of that, encouraging her to make up a story to Tara and her teacher.
Once he had determined that she was done with him for the night, the two of them were driven up to the palace, going in through a different door than she had for the tour, and led to the upper levels. He had departed after introducing her to Claire, with orders to give her one of the guest suites.
The housekeeper was going on about house routines and asking about her preferences. She didn’t seem particularly perturbed when Katherine managed only mumbled responses, if she said anything at all. Her legs were still shaky, but she brightened when a plan formed in her mind.
All at once, she looked up toward Claire. “Uhm, one thing, all of my clothes are still in my hotel room, and my personal items. Would it be possible for me to get them?”
Claire turned her head to look at her and arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps, mademoiselle, but we have more than enough available within the palace to make up for anything you require.”
“Right… it’s just that… the Prince didn’t tell me that dinner was going to be turning into a stay here, you know? I’d kinda like my own things, it’d make me feel a bit more comfortable,” she tried again, hoping the woman would take the bait. If she could get to the hotel, Eric would have to let her go so she could get into her room and get her things. Then she could warn someone, tell someone what was going on.