A Prince's Ransom: Kidnapped by the Billionaire (9 page)

A semi-malevolent smile took over Katherine’s face as she picked up the scissors and listened to the satisfying metallic
of the blades snapping against one another, before turning around and marching back to the dress. She was not Eric’s doll to dress up and control at his whim. And she was going to make damn sure he knew that.

Originally, the dress probably would have gone a little bit past her knees and seemed too large even though it was fitted. It would have been passable with her high-heeled sandals, but not really the best. Definitely shorter now, it showed off those legs Eric had so enjoyed the night before. And Katherine hated those ridiculous wispy sleeves that neither defined anything nor hid anything, especially in itchy chiffon. Those had had to go. The dress was much more appropriate now, and with a proud, confident smirk, she sashayed down the halls of the palace. Admittedly, she didn’t know where she was going, but since she hadn’t been given a tour of the living area, she would just work her way backwards to the way she’d come in.

Right now, she couldn’t wait for Eric’s expression when he caught an eyeful of her having completely subverted his orders. Screw him if he thought he could just order her around and she would

It wasn’t difficult to find her way back to the entrance hall. She hadn’t been paying much attention when Claire had shown her to her room, but everything seemed to be naturally funneling to that area. As she approached, her smirk broadened a little bit. Eri was waiting for her with a vague look that crossed between impatience and boredom as he tapped his foot idly on the marble tiles of the hall. He was staring off in another direction, and for a moment, Katherine grinned, then started to walk a bit louder toward him.

“Oh, Eric!” she called, forcing herself to repress her laughter. “What do you think of the dress, hm? It’s not too much?” The moment his eyes settled upon her, she spun flamboyantly and made the much shorter hemline of her skirt flare up wildly, nearly exposing her ass and a bit more.

As the garment settled back around her, she looked up at him, her smirk not dissipating. He stared at her with a look that was borderline murderous, his eyes skating up and down the length of her mangled dress until he took a deep breath and stalked toward her.

“That is not the dress I wanted you to wear,” he told her, his voice barely restrained from turning into a growl.

“Oh, but it is,” she corrected with a satisfied little laugh. “It was just… well, it didn’t fit me quite right, you know? Too much cloth, I looked like I was drowning in it. So I made a few adjustments here and there, made it more to my taste and preferences. After all, I’m the one wearing it, right? It should be something I like. And you took away my own clothes so I couldn’t wear those.”

“You didn’t even try it on, did you.” That wasn’t a question, but she fluttered her eyelashes at him flirtatiously.

“I did forgo the hat, I admit. You have to trust me on this, I don’t look good in hats. They make me look pudgy and they make my face shrink—this is much better.” She smiled and her voice turned hauntingly serious. “What’s the matter, Eric? I came down dressed in the outfit you sent me, just like you wanted.”

“You have not done a
thing I wanted,” he hissed at her, then grabbed her arm, hauling her away from the entrance hall and into the shadow of one of the walls. “When I give you instructions, I expect them to be
, Katherine, and not—”

“Don’t you dare give me that bullshit!” she nearly shouted at him, interrupting him without a second thought. “Respect is something earned, and a two-way street at that. You haven’t done a damn thing to earn mine. I’m not going to respect your orders just because you’re a prince—you are not
Prince, contrary to popular opinion, and you’ve got another think coming if you think you can make me dress up at your whim and pretend to be someone I’m not.”

“I think you might care a little bit more about being
in front of dignitaries and officials from another country, regardless of your feelings for
,” Eric spat in answer. “This lunch is not a private affair, it is with several of the prodigious landowners in the country who I am meant to be entertaining while my parents are away! We are in talk of trade agreements with them, and supply and demand embargoes, and I was hoping that you would make a good impression
at my side
in front of them to give you a taste of what it would be like to be Princess—what it would be like to be Queen! So forgive me, Katherine, for being so selfish as to believe you would not want to be seen as an American slut for one damn morning.”

She reeled back from him, pulling her arm loose and staring at him, uncertain what to say. His face was livid, eyes burning down at her, and she swallowed hard. But then she shook her head quickly, biting the inside of her cheek. “Even if that is true, you don’t have the right to just order things of me! I am not one of your subjects—and if we’re getting technical, not only am I your prisoner, last night I
your American slut.”

“Dear God, don’t be daft,” he growled at her, glaring as she backed away.

“No! If you didn’t see me that way, you wouldn’t have left in the middle of the night, regardless of what excuse you give for it! You wouldn’t have let me wake up alone, even if you woke me up yourself to tell me you had to shower and get dressed or something. I would have understood
. But you go on about my pathetic, sloppy manners while yours are way worse.”

Eric drummed his nails on a nearby table that housed a vase of flowers. “As it happens, I left because I found myself solely unable to sleep to begin with. Perhaps that is unusual, for you, after such an intense evening as we had with one another, but I was not able to pass out blindly into bed. I was awake for hours, laying there with naught to do but watch you sleep. I left because I meant to go find something to read until I was properly tired. Again,
my apologies
if this has somehow inconvenienced you, Katherine,” he explained to her, acid in his voice.

She faltered again, her heart pounding in her ears. What he was saying, everything he was saying, sounded so true, so genuine, maybe aided by the fact that he was completely angry with her.

“I can’t tell if you’re lying to me,” she whispered. “But I think you are. Because you have a few times already and I have no reason whatsoever to trust you. What I said before is still true, respect is
. And you haven’t earned mine.”

“What, precisely, have you done to earn mine?” he rebuked simply, and then sneered and turned away. “Regardless, you cannot attend brunch dressed in
, so you might as well return to your room until I call upon you later. If you so desire it, a maid can show you to a library, although I doubt there will be much to your unique tastes there.” Without letting her say anything else, Eric stalked away—but even as he walked, his composure seemed to return. His expression evened out and his blue eyes calmed down and his walk became nothing but perfectly relaxed and poised. Yes, he could be lying to her.

Katherine sagged against the wall as soon as he as out of sight, shutting her eyes tightly and whimpering slightly. Okay, she had two options here. Either he was the best goddamn actor on the whole damn planet, or she had just made the biggest ass of herself ever. And she wasn’t sure which was worse or which was better. Why the hell did he want anything to do with her? She was not Queen material, she had proven very thoroughly that she was not the type.

“Bonjour?” a soft voice from nearby caught her attention, and Katherine looked up quickly, down the hall where a girl a few years younger than she was stood. Immediately, she identified the other girl as Eric’s sister; she had the same black hair and icy blue eyes, although the ice in her eyes wasn’t as dreadfully real.

“Hi,” Kat greeted quietly after several moments, straightening and tugging at the hem of the skirt she’d hacked to pieces.

“Oh, you are American, that explains a few things.” The smile was kind, despite the fact that Kat had a feeling that the words weren’t quite as kind. “I am Élise, Eric’s younger sister. You are his… guest?” The young princess’s brow furrowed slightly, probably having overheard part of the argument just now.

“Something like that,” she murmured wearily, before shaking her head and making herself smile a little bit. “My name is Katherine. It’s nice to meet you, Élise.”

“It is nice to meet you as well, Katherine. I fear I must apologize on behalf of my brother, though. He has been very, ah… stressed lately. He has needed to meet with a great many dignitaries while our parents have been away, and as good at it as he is, I think he is very bored with all of it.” She giggled softly and shook her head. As soon as she stopped, she brushed back a loose strand of black hair. “I could hear how angry he was from down the hall, and as there is no one else here… whatever you did, it is probably not your fault at all.”

“No, it probably is,” Katherine answered guiltily, gesturing to the severed dress she wore. “Your brother isn’t very easy to read, though, I just… I didn’t think he would take it as seriously as he did. Not that he told me why he wanted me to wear this ridiculous dress in the first place.”

“My brother does not have very good taste in clothes, it may surprise you to know,” Élise giggled a bit more, stepping nearer as she examined the dress. “Most of his clothes are picked out for him, as he has neither the time nor inclination to be bothered with such things. If he wanted you to wear this, though, that is on him. Even had you left it in one piece, such a color never would have looked good on you. If you would like to get changed, and try again, I could let you borrow some of my things? You are just about the size I was a year or two ago.”

Katherine frowned at her slightly. “How old are you, Élise?”

“Fifteen. I will be sixteen in three and a half months.”

“Right. Well, I don’t think I can wear this anymore, so if you have anything a bit more appropriate that I could wear, I’d be really grateful.”

“I am certain I can find something. Come, come.” She gestured, and started to lead Katherine toward a flight of stairs. “May I ask you how you met my brother, Katherine? You do not seem like one who would normally frequent places my brother is wont to hang out.”

“Ah…” She flushed slightly, thinking of her first real meeting with Eric. “We sort of met during a tour with my college group. I’m here on a study abroad thing. But we met again a few nights ago, at a club near my hotel.”

“Ohh, I see. You must have made quite an impression for him to bring you back here.” This princess was completely unlike any fifteen-year-old Katherine had ever met before, but maybe that was a good thing.

“I guess,” she said with a slight laugh. “Although I’m starting to think it wasn’t a good impression that I made. Uhm, Élise? Would you actually believe me if I told you that Eric brought me here… intending to marry me?”

The girl froze, and turned back around to stare at the slightly shorter, but older girl. “Marry you? Why on earth would he marry you?” she asked, flabbergasted, and then she flushed. “Ah, forgive me, Katherine, I mean no offense. It is only, my brother is a
. He has certain obligations he must fulfill, which are not fulfilled by marrying an American college girl. You must have misunderstood him, I can think of no other explanation.”

Katherine’s throat tightened. “No, I’m pretty sure he meant it, actually. He mentioned being in an arranged marriage with a girl he didn’t want to be with, and fixing it himself so that he didn’t marry her.”

“By instead forcing an arranged marriage upon you?” Élise finished, obviously troubled by this development. But then she sighed and shook her head. “In truth, perhaps that is not as farfetched as I would have hoped, or our parents would have hoped. In recent years, Eric has gotten very particular about having what he desires at all hours of every day. If he does not want to marry Lady Brigitte, then he would do everything he possibly could to get out of it. Even marry someone like you instead.” The princess wasn’t trying to be mean, just very honest with Katherine about the situation she had found herself in; she looked away from those blue eyes. “Have you agreed to the marriage?”

“No. But he is working very hard to make me agree before your parents come back so that he can get out of the marriage to, uh, Brigitte.”

“Ah, I see. I am very sorry, Katherine, for my brother dragging you into such things. Of course, I have known him my entire life, and so I am used to such behavior, but that does not excuse any of it.”

She bit her lip, looking at Élise. “Is there some way you could get me out of here? It seems like a bad idea for me to stay here and let him convince me to marry him.”

The younger girl wince. “I am afraid there is very little I can do. While our parents are away, Eric is essentially ruler of Montavian. The servants and guards of the household must obey his orders. I imagine those orders now include not allowing you to leave, even at my request, and so…”


“I am sorry, Katherine.”

She shook her head. “It definitely isn’t your fault, and some part of me is hoping that he isn’t nearly as bad as he could be. If this were the worst case scenario.” A hollow smile stole across her features. “I think I do owe him making up for this getup, though, so I would really appreciate any advice on what to wear.”

Élise brightened a little. “Of course. My room is just over here.” She led the way to one side of the hall and opened the door; Katherine only got a cursory glance of an even larger room than her guest suite with even more luxury, but with a noticeable number of stuffed toys and dolls set up around the room. Ah, there was the evidence that the princess was still a fifteen-year-old. “Here is my closet. Most of it gets removed regularly as I grow out of it, but there are a few pieces from last year which should do. With your complexion and your hair, you would look very lovely in an emerald-teal sort of color. Something rich…”

The black-haired girl’s closet was absolutely humungous, and Katherine took a moment just to stare at it as she stepped inside, her eyes widening in awe. This was more clothes than she owned over her entire lifetime, let alone at once. And they were all absolutely impeccable.

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