Authors: Sloane Taylor
acey stepped through the arched doorway into a DreamWorks production, and if not, the décor and architecture certainly took her back more than a few centuries. A throng of people, dressed as if royalty would make a grand entrance any moment, milled about the candlelit ornate ballroom while the soft strains of Mozart drifted across the long narrow room from a hidden string quartet. Young men in green-and-gold livery discreetly wove through the clustered elite. Their silver trays, balanced with precision on one hand, were relieved of champagne flutes by white-gloved gentlemen while the diamond encrusted ladies selected canapés from myriad silver platters that just as silently appeared from another contingent of waiters.
Dragan held her elbow and guided her away from the grinning dowagers who tried to converge on them. He maneuvered her through the crowd to a far corner as he whisked two flutes from a passing waiter and handed her one.
“I want you to know I am happy you are here with me.” He tapped his glass against hers. “You are an amazing woman who has saved me tonight.”
Words caught in her throat as chimes rang out, announcing dinner.
A silver-haired maitre d’ stepped forward and rattled off a barrage of Czech. Dragan took her arm and followed the older man to a round table in the center of the room. Their tablemates stood at attention while the server pulled out Dragan’s chair, then hers, which was a strange order under any conditions.
She took a moment to hike up her skirt a bit to avoid nasty creases and plunk her rear onto the brocade upholstered chair. But Dragan hadn’t waited for her. For a man who was so formal at his hotel, he certainly failed in public. After they were seated the other men assisted their companions while waiters scurried laying crisp linen napkins onto the ladies’ laps. The room quieted; even the staff turned to stone.
Dragan lifted his stemmed glass, the white wine reflecting the flames from the many candelabras strategically placed on the tables, and nodded to the other diners. They raised their glasses in a murmured toast and waited until he sipped the pale liquid.
Chilled dishes arrived, teetering on the arm of a rigid young server. His hand shook as he laid the golden plate, with a single large prawn and a sliver of pate on top a bed of watercress, before Dragan. The man clicked his heels, then made his way around the other guests at their table.
Posture perfect and a pasted smile on her face, she nodded to the beanpole man on her right and cut into the seafood as something cold crawled along her left thigh and edged under the slit. She wiggled just enough to knock the creature away as she hoped it wasn’t anything with claws or teeth. A set of strong fingers pressed into her and held her in place.
“Enjoying your starter?”
His hand glided higher as she swallowed prawn and a groan.
“I am,” Dragan said with a wry grin.
“Smartass,” Lacey hissed between clenched teeth. She raised her napkin with one hand and shoved at his with her other. Vic shot her a wry grin she could have cheerfully slapped off his face.
Waiters retrieved the almost empty plates while another wave marched in with bowls of aromatic mushroom soup. A few spoonfuls later, she blinked hard to fight off the drowsiness from her long flight and their torrid sex. Those warm fingers moved higher along her thigh and edged to the inside, arousing her mind and body.
Somewhere in the fog of excellent food and a raging libido, Lacey grasped that no one ever ate until Dragan lifted his fork or spoon. Conversations were stilted, but since the few words were in Czech, Lacey assumed this was their custom.
.” Her soft-spoken dinner neighbor bumped into her shoulder as he stooped to gather his dropped napkin and stared right into her lap. An attendant swooped in with a fresh cloth before the Frenchman commented and saved her from embarrassment. She was convinced the entire dining room now knew exactly what she and Vic were doing.
“Remember what I said about scientists away from their laboratories,” Vic crooned in her ear while his finger drew dizzying circles along her leg.
“Madam.” A waiter set a stemmed glass of sorbet at her place. More than anything, she wanted to cram that icy raspberry ball right between her legs.
The next course arrived. A beautiful aroma of thyme and rosemary wafted up as the plates laden with moist roast pork. Dragan had the courtesy to remove his hand to cut a portion. Lacey let go a relieved sigh, even though she missed the intimate contact, and prayed he’d finally behave. Yet there was something incredibly sexy about him fondling her in public. Jesus, she really had spent too much time with Brad.
She peeked at Vic as he chatted with the elderly lady on his left. No way could she compare this refined man to the scourge who had treated her worse than maggots on a dead body.
He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow and a smirk as his fingers returned to their old tricks. This time he upped the ante as they dipped inside her thigh-high and snapped the elastic band.
“Lovely evening, do you not agree?” A wicked grin appeared.
If only she had the willpower to stop his luscious torment and control her rigid nipples scraping against the silk bodice.
A soft ripping sound echoed in her ears. Her eyes widened and she was afraid to look down.
“Stop.” She smiled as if they were sharing a fun moment, all the while praying her imagination had played a trick. “The damn gown is falling apart.”
He shook his head and beamed in a way that made her want to reach over and whip his cock free.
“Do not be concerned.” He chomped on his roasted potatoes without a care. “It is only a few threads.”
“Says you.” She chugged her wine to cool her temper while his hand crept closer to her wet clit.
Need blossomed again under his talented manipulations. She forced herself to mentally list the various fabrics used to decorate the banquet room to no avail. Her throbbing vagina ached for his cock inside and pumping hard until she came.
Turnabout is fair play
She slid her hand to his thigh and caressed the fine wool trousers as she inched closer to the only dessert that would satisfy her.
A steel band trapped her wrist.
“This evening is difficult enough, Lacey, without you making it harder.” He had the grace to blush at the double entendre.
Course after delicious course made its way to them until she thought she would burst before dessert arrived. But the over-sized plates set with mini-éclairs and drizzled with a chocolate web were too tempting to pass up.
Whenever the waiters stepped away, Vic’s fingers worked their magic. He massaged closer to her nub and tickled against her damp hairs. She gripped her dessert spoon like a lifeline and stifled a groan. God, she wanted him. Her legs spread of their own volition to give him better access.
His talented fingers slid between her wet folds.
Up and down.
Down and up.
Rubbing against her clit as pressure built in her abdomen.
She shifted her hips.
Squirmed to shove his hand inside her.
Arched her hips—
“Are you comfortable?” he murmured as if he were discussing the weather.
She slammed her thighs closed and was elated when he winced. A sip of wine and a silent toast to her Thigh Master appeased her conscience.
“So you think you can best me.” A sly smile appeared as he rubbed his now free fingers along the side of his water glass.
She batted her eyelashes, then turned to the Frenchman who had his mouth stuffed with éclairs.
A jolt shot through Lacey when Vic’s fingers went for the gold. She gripped the edge of the chair. Her eyes rolled back in her head as he neared the magic G-spot and kneaded against her wall.
She had to stay still.
She couldn’t sit still.
Her legs flopped apart, and she bit the inside of her cheeks to stop the scream in her throat.
And then she was empty. Void. His fingers gone.
“To be continued later.” His breath, a cool mixture of wine and seasonings, tickled along her hot neck.
A tinkle of crystal quieted the subdued group, and Lacey glanced to the head table. A smiling aged man stood. Two robust tuxedoed attendants clasped the gentleman’s thin frame under the arms and held him steady.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Arnost Bedrich, your host for this illustrious event.” The clipped words proved English wasn’t his first language. He paused to sip from his glass. His eyes twinkled over the rim as he caught Lacey’s and he winked. A moment later, the helper to his left relieved him of the stemware, and the old man continued, “Thank you for attending our banquet to honor our generous benefactor.”
A smattering of applause collected volume as the elegant guests twisted on their fragile chairs toward the center table. Lacey glanced at Dragan who was welded to the rococo seat with his hand clamped to her thigh.
“It is with great pleasure I introduce to you Crown Prince Dragan Petrovič, first descendent from the Royal Karadjordjevic Dynasty of Serbia.”
What the fuck?
Lacey choked on her wine, convinced she was dreaming. Dragan patted her back with guilt stamped on his broad features. The deafening ovation finally abated when he pushed his chair back and stood.
“Please, Your Highness, will you come forward?” The gnome grinned as if he’d pulled off the greatest coup since Castro conned the Cubans.
“Arnost, I really…” He glanced at the majordomo type who stepped to his side to escort him.
Her jaw unhinged as he marched to the head table. What the hell had just happened?
kay, I want to know what took place in there.” Lacey hooked her thumb back at the castle rather than jab it in his eye. “Tell me about this royalty stuff. Are you
a prince? Why didn’t you tell me what the hell you were getting me into? Why would you take a complete stranger as your date on such an important night? You don’t know me. I could have made a fool of you.”
Dragan handed his gift plaque to the limo driver while rattling off a slew of Czech, then glanced at her over his shoulder, a shock of black hair dipping across his eye. “Do you mind if we walk back to the hotel? It is not far and I could use the exercise.”
A million stars twinkled in the inky sky, and a soft breeze drifted from the river, a perfect night for a romantic stroll. Maybe he did need some space after the big event, a sort of return to reality now that his crown was shoved back on the shelf. She linked her arm in his. “Yes, as long as you talk with me.”
“Are you upset because I teased you unmercifully?”
His sincere tone wouldn’t sway her from getting answers.
“Leave the sex out of it for once.” She jerked her arm away, but he held on. “I know that’s a game you love to play. How about right now you just be straight with me?”
“You deserve that.”
They started up the sloped cobblestone road toward the Charles Bridge or
as he had said earlier. A deafening silence filled the air as he searched for words. Below, a schooner clanged a bell as it passed under the massive structure where waves from the Vltava slapped against the stone pillars. They toppled over the rocks along the shore and stilled before Dragan spoke again.
“I am from nobility, but it means nothing in this day. Petrovič was a clan chief who founded the government and dynasty line almost three centuries ago. My family ceased to reign when illegal Communists backed a Constituent Assembly and abolished the monarchy just before the end of the war. Even though the people continued to recognize the royal family, it became unsafe for everyone.”
She squeezed his arm, but it was a meager show of compassion.
“My father left Serbia, escaped really, when the Communists placed Tito in power. He was but a young boy when he arrived in Prague. All his life he foolishly believed he would return to his homeland and rule. Of course that never happened.” His jaw worked hard as he scanned the small blocks beneath his feet.
“I’m sorry for overreacting.” She was embarrassed for intruding on his life. After all, this was a fuckfest for her, not a relationship. “Dragan, you don’t have to explain.”
“I want to tell you. The only other person who knows of my life is Arnost.”
Lovers passed by locked in each other’s arms. She envied their happiness.
“My mother came from a noble family here in Prague. They met and married. After many long years passed I appeared. By that time, tuberculosis had consumed my father. He died when I was young. That left Mother and me poor in an impoverished country.” He stopped and leaned onto the balustrade, the lantern lamps flickering against his tight jaw. “Father had studied science all his life, believed in it as if it were a religion. When I graduated university and earned more money than I needed, I decided to donate some in his name for a few specific environmental projects that appealed to me. The plaque is a kindness; a sign of gratitude for all my family has done to further scientific efforts in the past through today.”
Vic couldn’t have stunned her more if he had thrown her into the cold river racing below them. Lacey looked down the line of diverse sculptures that graced the ancient masonry, unsure of what to say, and for once had the smarts to keep her mouth shut.
“There is no subversive secret, Lacey. To parade around my heritage as if it were of importance is inappropriate.”
Pride mixed with sadness was etched on his face.
“You would have made a wonderful king.” And she meant every word. She didn’t know why except he had a quiet air about him that breathed fairness and justice.
“Now you know my past and my guarded secret.” He pushed off the railing, and they started their descent toward the city center. “It is your turn to share some of the private Lacey Blake.”
“Where to begin? The mind boggles. It’s been such a whirlwind of parties and single life fun.” She glanced at the King Charles statue at the base of the bridge as the lonely nights trailed through her mind. All those schools where she had struggled to fit in without success along with a home life she hated certainly wasn’t a story she wanted to share.
“It was not good.” He said the words as if he understood.
“That obvious, huh?”
A soft laugh sounded as he tugged her closer.
“Most women I have met do not extend themselves as you to please a man. I think you are searching for happiness, a place to belong that you have yet to find.”
Lacey glanced away so he couldn’t see the tears welling in her eyes. The only sound came from her spike heels as they tapped against the cobblestones. She cleared her throat. “It may not have been paradise, or even close, but at least I learned to rely on myself and move forward.” She shrugged. “Life gave me salt, so I made margaritas.”
Her words did not convince him.
“We have an old saying in my country. Translated to English it would be close to
hate destroys the hater.
The time has come to release those long held resentments.” He studied her under the moonlight. The way she had shrunk away from him in the bathroom flashed in his mind. Instant rage gushed through him. “Did your father—”
“Good God, no! He’d never have had the energy. Probably what was wrong with my mother. She needed a good screw.” They walked several blocks before she continued. “He was a mean drunk with a strong fist. As time went by, his booze addiction got worse. After they finally threw him out of the Marine Corps, life did a major flush.”
His anger soared. The desire to kill the bastard who had treated this remarkable woman cruelly whipped through him. He took several breaths to regain composure before he could hear more of the
who vented his shortcomings on a tender child. He walked on in silence and decided to move to a healthier subject.
“You are a strong person with a tasteful eye for decor. Those are good qualities to build upon.”
“About that, my new friend, I can brag. The eye, not the strength.” Maybe she should let go another piece of her soul for therapy sake. Plus, she wanted him to know she wasn’t an idiot without one functioning brain cell in her head. “I just finished school, and I start a brand new job when I return home.”
“How old are you?” His skin grayed under the yellow streetlamp.
“Not quite thirty.” And the light bulb clicked on. “What, you thought you were boinking some kid?”
He stood straighter and looked very much like his esteemed heritage.
“I assume you are referring to making love, and no, it is obvious you are not a child.”
She snorted. “Yeah, like I never guessed you were royalty.”
He waved his hand, and Lord, if it didn’t look like a scepter belonged there.
“What is this job?”
“Well, my Royal Gruffness, I busted my rear and earned a Masters of Fine Arts from a prestigious institute in Chicago, which gleaned me an interior designer position with Clemmons House, a privately owned international hotel chain.”
“I know of them and the owner. Exquisite hotels the elite flock to.”
“I’m really excited about this position. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
“After I considered all your earlier comments and advice on the décor of my hotel, I realized you have a natural gift. You will do well.”
His words meant more to her than she should have allowed. She never imagined someone would actually believe in her.
“You have never married?”
An unexpected change of subject. Marriage was out of her equation. Her parents had taught her well. She considered her words before answering.
“Nope, not for me. When I was a teenager, my grandmother gave me a book to read so I’d be a better wife when the time came. I don’t remember the name, but I do remember the ridiculous contents.”
They walked into the town square. Eclectic strains of music drifting from the opened doors of the cafes filled the night air.
“It was classed as a guide for new brides.” She laughed as the photos of women cleaning house in dresses and high heels popped in her mind. “The worst if you were a woman, but the best if you were a man. In order to send her dear husband off to work happy, the writer instructed the poor, ignorant wife to get up one hour earlier than her man. That would give her time to apply her full make-up and be coiffed.” She shook her head. “Can you believe they used that word?”
“A wise author. Obviously, a man.”
She whacked him on the bicep.
“My mom went nuts when she saw the book in my room. She and Gram never got along—too much like one another I guess. Anyhow, Mom finally realized she’d rolled over and played dead long enough. In a wise move, she divorced my father and got her own book, which I thought was hysterical. The new theory was to treat men like puppies. Scratch them behind their ears when they do good and be sure to pet them often. You understand?”
He nodded and pulled them up short when a motor scooter squealed around the corner.
“I don’t hold with either theory. Both are manipulative.”
“And so you have decided to never marry because of these books?” He stopped in the shadows under the arch at the age-old Powder Tower that loomed above the square. His craggy face was masked in disbelief. “Or that you do not deserve to be loved?”
Had she been that apparent?
“You are mistaken, Lacey Blake. You are a woman any man would want in his life forever. Your mind is witty and your heart pure. You are also not as hard as you would like people to believe, even if your mouth does need a fresh soap bar. Never again think you are unworthy of love.”
Her jaw dropped. She was afraid to say anything, let alone think what he might be implying. Was he right? Or was she hearing only what she wanted to hear? Her heart pounded as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. His lips gently touched hers. And she melted.
Dragan held her close, breathing in her scent, afraid he had spoken too much. Afraid he had revealed what he only now had begun to understand.
His childhood had long left him and took with it the dream that someday he would have a partner—a woman to love and honor. A woman who would stimulate his mind and body. Until today only the latter had happened. Arnost had once told him that when he stopped looking such a woman would arrive on his doorstep. And she had. Except she was young and just starting out in a new life thousands of miles from Prague. And opposed to marriage.
Too soon, Lacey tugged free. His arms fell to his sides.
. What an idiot he had become. No one met a woman and got this entangled after a matter of mere hours. Love at first sight was for romance novels. Such a thing did not happen to real people. He had turned into a fool who could not separate his cock from his emotions. What was that Arnost had said last year? Something about removing his brain from his pants and anchoring it in his skull. Excellent advice, if only he could learn how to apply it.
She shook his arm and jolted him from his thoughts.
“Sorry. What were you asking?”
“I said, is there something wrong?”
“No, nothing.” Now he had taken to lying. A new thought wove through his mind like an unwanted computer virus. “I do wonder about your Mr. Claymore. Why would he abandon you?”
She huffed and a wisp of vapor drifted in the cold air. “Who knows? He’s an unreliable ass who’s just another mistake in a long line.”
Although he did not like to think of her with other men, common sense reminded him she was young and entitled to a life.
“Why do you allow yourself to be treated with less value than you are worth?”
Her slender frame went rigid.
“Look, Vic, don’t go getting all psychology on me.” She glanced to him with her lips pressed tight. “Okay? We’re here for a few days of fun and that’s all.”
Resigned that his analytical mind would never provide the right things to say, he took her arm. “Come, we have but a few blocks to the hotel.”
They walked along in silence. He wanted to speak but could not trust himself to remain blasé. A short time later, he held open the glass door.
By all that was holy, how would he survive the next six days with the incomparable Lacey Blake and not reveal his heart?
How the hell did the evening turn around on her? One minute, unreal happiness, the next, fucking guilt. Men were a pain in her ass. Especially when they were right.