Authors: Carole Mortimer
This evening had not gone at all as Alexandre had wished it to. He had imagined meeting Anastazia, inviting her to have dinner with him, the two of them getting to know each other as they ate together, followed by a seduction. His attraction to Anastazia in her photograph had been immediate, so strong and all-consuming, it hadn’t occurred to him to question whether or not she would, or was free, to return that attraction. Except, he reminded himself again, an imminent engagement was not marriage.
And either he was sadly out of practice in the seduction of a woman he desired, or he really had become the arrogant bastard she was accusing him of being for simply having assumed the attraction would be mutual.
Except it is.
He hadn’t imagined Anastazia’s response to him just now, or her arousal.
A response and arousal she obviously regretted.
Because she was going to marry another man.
She has no right to even think of marrying another man when she responds so heatedly to me.
Maybe not, but that wasn’t for Alexandre to decide, when he had nothing but here and now to offer her.
His ministers on Androcco had recently begun to make serious noises about it being time for him to marry and produce his future heir. They had even put together a list of foreign princesses and other suitable female members of royal families around the world, and presented it to him at their last meeting, with notations as to which of them was the most suitable.
Anastazia Carmichael’s name would never appear on such a list.
Alexandre may have had his wild years, the parties, the women in his bed, but underneath all that, he had always known what his duty was as heir to his father, to Androcco. His future wife would be chosen carefully, the marriage for political reasons, or otherwise beneficial to Androcco in some way, as had been his parents’ marriage, and his grandparents before them. Love was for a mistress, not a wife.
He doubted someone as fiercely independent and outspoken as Anastazia would ever agree to take such a subservient role to his official wife.
Nor would he ever insult her by suggesting she did.
He straightened. “You’re right, my behavior this evening has been unacceptable. I apologize.”
She blinked. “You do?”
He gave the ghost of a smile. “I do.”
She stared up at him uncertainly for several long seconds, obviously unsure as to whether or not he was mocking her. “Good, then.” She finally nodded acceptance of his apology, her gaze no longer meeting his. “Adrian will be on duty tonight. If you need anything, just ring extension one on the hotel telephone. Grant will take over at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“I will be back on duty at eight thirty in the morning.”
Alexandre’s mouth tightened. “An engaged woman.”
Her chin rose defensively. “Yes.”
“Your fiancé is a lucky man.”
She gave him another suspicious glance before answering. “I think so, yes. I wish you a good night, Your Highness.”
“Anastazia,” he returned gruffly.
Stazzi turned sharply on her heel and marched across the room, anxious to get away now. Desperate to try to get her thoughts in order. To rationalize her response to His Highness Prince Alexandre Sylvain Claude St Sebastien.
But something drew on her, pulled inside her, daring her to glance back at him when she reached the doorway. Half of her expected him to be watching her departure; the other half hoped he wasn’t.
The lighting in the room was such that she couldn’t read the emotion in those glittering green eyes, but she saw something else. Something unexpected.
A man alone.
Not just alone, but lonely?
For the first time, it occurred to her that being the absolute ruler of his own island couldn’t be all champagne and roses. Alexandre’s parents were both dead, and he had no siblings. Gerard St Sebastien was the only close family he had left. And wasn’t he just a barrel of laughs!
There was no one, at the end of a long day, for Alexandre to just sit down and talk with, eat a companionable dinner with, go to bed with.
Oh, come on, Prince Alexandre of Androcco isn’t alone or lonely. No doubt once I’ve gone, he’ll get out his little black book and give one of the women in it a call and invite her to come and spend the night with him.
Whereas Stazzi desperately needed to leave here, to get some perspective back into her life.
And forget all about princes from sun-warmed Mediterranean islands who said they wanted her…
“I never liked him anyway.”
“What?” Stazzi stared bleary-eyed at Lissa as the two of them sat opposite each other at the breakfast bar in their apartment the following morning.
Lissa was eating her toast with obvious enjoyment, while Stazzi nursed a cup of black coffee. The thought of eating anything made her feel nauseated.
“Will,” Lissa dismissed airily. “I never liked him, or the way he sometimes looked at the two of us as if we’re from another planet, just because we share the same sense of humor and laugh at ridiculous things. Judgmental prick,” she added with feeling.
Stazzi slowly put down her coffee mug. “I never noticed that…”
Her friend grimaced. “Well, you wouldn’t, because you were too busy hoping that he was ‘the one.’ Oh, I’ll grant you that on the surface, Will had it all. Handsome. Charming. A lawyer. Owns his own house. Understated but expensive car. No scary mother-in-law to cope with, only an elderly father.”
“I like his father.”
Lissa snorted. “I’m sure he liked your father too.”
Stazzi frowned. “Are you saying Daddy, who he is, was the reason Will went out with me?”
“Not the only reason, no.” Lissa smiled ruefully. “You’re gorgeous, let’s face it.”
“Your parents don’t like him, you know.”
Stazzi’s eyes widened. “Did they tell you that?”
“Maybe,” Lissa admitted with reluctance.
“Why didn’t they tell me?”
“Because you’re their only child, and they would never deliberately hurt you.” Lissa shook her head. “But the fact your father is an impoverished duke rather than a rich one, and that even the title will eventually go to some obscure male relative, will have been deciding factors for someone like Will. He wants money to go with the prestige.”
“I can’t believe I missed all this about him.”
Lissa sighed. “Believe me, Stazzi, you may not think so now, but you’re better off without him. He has such an inflated opinion of himself. You would have had to take a subservient role all the time if you’d married him. In Will Granger’s opinion, only Will Granger matters.”
“Why have you never said any of this before?” She felt slightly punch-drunk, completely dazed by Lissa’s blunt insights into the man Stazzi had thought she was going to marry.
Because that was no longer going to happen.
She’d called Will as soon as she left the hotel the night before, needing to be with him after that encounter with Prince Alexandre. Will had suggested the two of them meet for a late-night coffee.
Turned out that the conversation Will wanted to have with her wasn’t a marriage proposal at all, but the ending of their six-month relationship.
Because she was, to quote Will “too caught up in your job to give me and our relationship the time it deserves.” And “after careful consideration, you aren’t a suitable wife for a man who is being made junior partner of the firm.” Last, but certainly not least, he had told her there was someone else. When Stazzi asked who, Will had admitted he had been dating the daughter of the senior partner for several weeks now. The daughter of the very wealthy senior partner. Which would seem to confirm Lissa’s opinion of Will requiring a wealthy father-in-law and not just a titled one.
It had been that last admission, the knowing that Will had been seeing someone else while still stringing her along, that had been the blow that killed every last vestige of feeling Stazzi had ever believed she felt for him.
As well as making me regret turning down Prince Alexandre.
“You seemed so set on him.” Lissa reached across the table and squeezed Stazzi’s hand. “I didn’t want to burst your bubble with my niggling doubts.” She straightened. “Besides, I could have been wrong about him. With my record for choosing the wrong man, I’m not the best person in the world to give an opinion on any of them.” She always wore her heart on her sleeve, and inevitably had it broken. “The fact we now know the bastard was deceiving you with the daughter of the senior partner of Barrett, Barrett, and Palmer just confirms every bad thing I ever thought about him.”
Lissa had already been in bed and asleep in her room when Stazzi came home the night before, still in shock from that conversation with Will. But Stazzi hadn’t cried when he told her those things. She had more pride than that. The tears had come later, once she was alone in her bedroom.
Which was the reason she felt heavy eyed and lethargic this morning.
“I’m so sorry I was actually right this time. Will isn’t worth another minute of your time, love.” Lissa smiled at her sympathetically.
No. No, he really wasn’t.
It was her dreams for the future she mourned the most, Stazzi realized sadly. The husband, house in the suburbs, children playing on the swing set in the neatly trimmed and pruned garden. All things she had imagined with Will. All gone now.
“Now tell me what happened last night with your gorgeous Mediterranean prince?” Lissa sat forward in anticipation.
Stazzi felt the blush warm her cheeks from merely thinking about Alexandre St Sebastien, and the way he had kissed her the night before. And her response to those kisses.
Realizing if it had happened just one day later, and feeling as empty and uncertain as she did now, she might not have said no to him…
“How are you today, Anastazia?”
Stazzi almost knocked over the vase of fresh flowers she was arranging in the sitting room of the penthouse suite—as per Gerard St Sebastien’s instruction—at hearing the sound of Alexandre’s voice just behind her.
She turned, eyes accusing. “I really wish you wouldn’t creep up on me like that.”
He raised one dark eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware of doing so.”
She was overreacting, Stazzi acknowledged. Being rude again to one of the hotel’s VIP guests.
VIP guest. And it wasn’t Alexandre’s fault she was so tired and jumpy this morning.
She gave a heavy sigh. “I apologize. I was concentrating on what I was doing and didn’t hear you.”
She had been thinking about Will and trying to stop the tears from falling. But she knew Lissa was right and Will simply wasn’t worth the tears she had shed. He was ruthless and calculating, was dating the daughter of the senior partner at the firm where he worked, Stazzi now believed, in order to advance his career as much as anything else. None of which prevented Stazzi’s feelings of humiliation.
She winced as she recalled shopping for a new dress for her special date, her excitement yesterday, and her expectations. All dashed to hell by a man she now realized was a calculating and pompous prick, who had used her and then dropped her when a better prospect came along. The rich and prestigious Stephen Barrett would make a much better father-in-law than her own father, an impoverished duke whose estate was falling down about his ears.
“We seem to feel the need to apologize to each other quite often,” Alexandre observed.
She grimaced. “I know. But please believe my own apology just now was sincere. It’s no excuse that I was distracted and didn’t hear you come in.”
Alexandre studied the pallor of Anastazia’s cheeks. The dark shadows under those beautiful blue eyes that remained fixed on his clean-shaven chin, rather than met his searching gaze. He glanced down at her left hand. Still no ring.
Dare he hope…?
Hope what? That Anastazia wasn’t engaged to another man after all? What difference would it make if that were true?
Alexandre had taken a long hard look at himself and his life after she left him the previous night. He was a ruling prince, and the expectation politically was that he would take an equally royal wife and produce doubly royal children. Desire, even love, were not luxuries a ruling prince could afford.
No, much as Alexandre desired Anastazia, his circumstances said he would never be able to offer her any more than an affair. Short- or long-term.
Much as he desired her…
And he did still desire her. More than ever. Had spent the rest of the previous evening thinking about her. How she smelled of lemons and flowers, how soft her skin was to the touch, how delicious her lips and mouth tasted beneath his. He had dreamt about her too, once he was in bed and finally fell asleep. Those dreams, sensual and unchecked, had taken him much further than just those explorations of the sweet temptation of her mouth.
His hands had roamed freely over each curve of her body, cupping her breasts, lifting them each in turn so that her nipples could receive the rasping attentions of his tongue before his mouth closed over one and suckled hard, while his other hand stroked and pulled on its twin. Before that hand moved lower, to the undulations of her hips, her whimpering sighs becoming a plea.
His fingers had stroked along the dampness of her curls before moving lower, and then deeper, two of his fingers entering her as she parted her legs wider for him, her sighs becoming groans of ecstasy as the soft pad of his thumb found and pleasured her clit and she climaxed, coming apart beneath him as she rode that climax, and then another, until her breath was no more than gasping sobs.
Alexandre closed his eyes now as he remembered the pleasure as he slowly pushed his cock inside her slick, tight, hot pussy, inch by inch, until he was seated firmly inside her. Her legs—those gloriously long legs—curved about his back as she lifted up and into each thrust, until Alexandre couldn’t hold back any longer and he thrust into her wildly, deeper, harder, before his seed erupted inside her.
He opened his eyes again as he remembered the ignominy of waking alone in his darkened hotel bedroom, the evidence of his spent seed all over him. Something that hadn’t happened to him since he was a teenager.