“Do you want us to catch a cab or stop for a minute?” Xavier looked at me in concern and I could feel my insides flip-flopping. Why did he have to have those gorgeous green eyes?
“No, I’m fine,” I sputtered, though my calves were begging me to answer differently.
“Let’s grab a coffee.” He gave me a smile. “I could do with some caffeine.”
“Well, if you need it.” I shrugged and said a silent prayer as we walked into the small coffee shop.
“Would you like one?” he questioned me and then frowned.
“I didn’t realize that would upset you ...” I questioned his frown. “Don’t stop on my account.”
“No, it’s not you.” He looked out the window and sighed. “I just saw someone.”
“Oh, an ex?” I ignored the jab of jealousy that hit me.
“No.” He laughed then. “Not an ex.”
“Max?” I questioned again. “Where is Max, by the way? I haven’t seen him.”
“He’s gone back to my country.”
“That’s quite literally your country isn’t, it?
“Please tell me you’re not impressed by the fact that I’m a prince.”
“Okay, I’m not impressed.” I grinned and he laughed. “I guess they’re making anyone a prince these days.”
“I guess they are.” He stared at me with amusement in his eyes. “See, you’re not having such a bad time, are you?”
“I can’t say there’s no place I’d rather be than here.”
“Don’t spoil the afternoon by being petulant.”
“Fancy word for a fancy man.” I rolled my eyes and he grabbed my hands.
“Don’t make me kiss you and teach you a lesson.”
“How can you teach me a lesson by kissing me?” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“I’ll show you.” He leaned down and pressed his lips against mine tenderly. I was surprised by the lightness of his touch and then by the warmth of his tongue as it entered my mouth. He took my tongue in his lips and sucked on it gently before deepening the kiss. I felt my head growing light as his fingers played with my hair. I reached out to grab his shoulders, but he slowly withdrew from me. I sat there panting slightly and feeling dazed.
“Now you understand.” He grinned and pulled out his wallet. “What do you want to drink?”
“You can choose.” I blushed and looked away, not wanting him to see how right he was. I really didn’t want to like him. Everything about this situation screamed heartbreak waiting to happen.
“I guess I’ll get two lattes, then.”
“I wouldn’t say no to some shortbread cookies as well.” I grinned and he laughed. “What’s so funny?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“I don’t meet many girls that ask for cookies.”
“Oh, what, they ask for cupcakes? Are cookies too expensive?”
“They ask for salads normally.” He winked and me and walked away as I blushed. I wanted to call out to him, What sort of dumbasses are you dating that ask for salads at a coffee shop? but decided to keep my mouth shut. No point getting into a sparring match with him. I was pretty sure I’d lose.
“Thanks for the coffee.” I smiled at Xavier as we left the coffee shop. “It was good.”
“Do you feel like you have more energy now?”
“Oh, yes.” I lied, then yawned.
“Oh, Lola.” He grinned. “I guess the caffeine content wasn’t high enough for you.”
“Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Why not?” His eyes narrowed.
“You know.” I shrugged, not wanting him to know I’d been thinking of him all night.
“Did you have a date?” His voice grew hostile. “Were you in—”
“I didn’t have a date.” I cut him off. “Not that I couldn’t have if I wanted.”
“I told you my brother is not—”
“Oh, shut up, Xavier.” I sighed. “If I hang out with Sebastian, that’s between us. I’m fed up of hearing you try and warn me off every other day. It’s annoying.”
“I’m just trying to help ...” he began, and I could see from his expression that he was disgruntled.
“Don’t try to help me outside of class, Professor. It’s not wanted or needed. And it’s definitely not appreciated.”
“You’re not so timid anymore.” His lips twitched as he stared at my heated face.
“I was never timid.” I glared at him.
“That’s true.” He paused and licked his lips slowly. “You do like to give as good as you get, don’t you?”
“It’s not hard when it’s not very good.” I smiled at him sweetly and his eyes narrowed.
“Are you trying to rile me up, Lola? Do you want me to prove to you how good I am?”
“I don’t have all year.” I replied tartly and he laughed.
“Come, let’s go to the museum.” He grabbed my hand. “I want to see your face when you look at the art.”
“It will remind me of the look you make when you come.” He whispered in my ear. “The look of exquisite pleasure and raw emotion.”
I gasped at his words and pulled away from him. There was something so desperately inappropriate about Xavier, and while a part of me hated that about him, the other part of me absolutely loved it.
“Welcome to the National Gallery.” Xavier extended his arms as he pointed at the grand white building in front of us.
“It’s huge.” I looked up at the white building in awe and then ran up the steps and stood on the balcony overlooking the city.
“That’s Trafalgar Square.” Xavier ran up behind me and pointed to the enormous black lions in the center surrounding a tall statue of a man.
“It’s amazing. I’ve seen the photos before, but never imagined I’d see them in person.”
“Do you know who Trafalgar was?”
“Not really. I know he had something to do with Napoleon right?”
“Napoleon Bonaparte?” He looked at me with a straight face.
“I think so.” I bit my lower lip. “But Napoleon is French and we’re in London, so I don’t know.” I shrugged. “Tell me.”
“Well, my question was slightly tricky.” He laughed and grabbed my hand. “See the statue of the man? His name is Nelson. Lord Nelson. And the column was built for him for his success against the French during the Napoleonic wars at the battle of Trafalgar.”
“I knew it had something to do with Napoleon.” I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed.
“Indeed you did.” He leaned towards me and kissed my cheek. “Let’s go inside now so I can impress you with my knowledge of art.”
“You don’t need to impress me,” I said quietly, and he stopped and stared at me for a moment before smiling widely.
“And that’s why I want to impress you more than anything.” We stood there for a few minutes, my heart beating rapidly at his soft gaze. Part of me wondered if he was going to be sweet to me from now on. Maybe he’d stop with the barbs. Maybe he’d show me a sweeter and softer side. I knew that if he called me a whore or insinuated that I was a prostitute again, that I’d be likely to slap him so hard his cheek would be stinging for days.
“We shall go directly to the Impressionist room.” He grinned at me as we entered the museum. “We go up the steps and make our first right.” He strode ahead of me and then stopped. “We can go in the gift shop afterwards if you want.” He pointed to a store a little further up on the left.
“That would be nice.”
“I’m excited to hear your thoughts about each painting.” His eyes lit up and I realized just how into art he was. Part of me was impressed and the other part was scared. I didn’t want to sound like an idiot on front of him. I didn’t know how to speak very intellectually about art.
“Hopefully, I don’t sound like an idiot.” I grinned and he laughed.
“I don’t think you could ever sound like an idiot, Lola.”
“Really?” I raised an eyebrow at him and laughed. “You don’t think that at all?”
“Not at all. I think you’d be surprised to know what I think of you.”
“What do you think of me?” I stood there waiting on pins and needles for his response.
“You already know I’m attracted to you. You know that I want to teach you.” His fingers wrapped around my ear as he brushed some strands of hair away from my face.
“What do you want to teach me?” I watched as he moved his mouth closer to mine and closed my eyes.
“Excuse me, please,” a lady shouted at us. “That’s not a very smart place to stop.” She pushed past us with a big bag and five bored-looking kids.
“Sorry,” I made a face at her as she walked by. I was pissed that she had ruined the moment for me, but I knew the middle of the museum wasn’t the place to be getting down and dirty.
“Shall we go and join the philistines?” Xavier moved away from me and started walking towards the entryway.
“Let’s do it.” I nodded and he grinned.
“I was hoping you would say that.” He grinned mischievously and I ignored him. Xavier confused me with his hot and cold emotions.
“I want to show you one if my favorite Renoir paintings first.” He walked through the gallery as if he owned it, and I followed behind him quickly. He stopped in front of a painting and I read the name card. The painting was called At the Theatre and showed a young girl and her companion sitting down facing the stage. However, all the other people in the theater were staring at her.
“What do you think of it?” Xavier asked me after a few minutes.
“It’s a wonderful painting. It’s so ornate and rich.” I spoke timidly, not knowing what he wanted me to say.
“What does it make you think?”
“I don’t know.” I mumbled and stared at the painting again. It was weird to me that everyone was staring at the girl. “I guess it makes me wonder who she is.” I spoke again. “Why is everyone staring at her? Why is she the focal point of the painting? Why is she so important?”
“Exactement.” Xavier grinned. “And past that, I want to know how she feels about being the center of attention. I want to know if she can handle it. From all appearances, she seems as if she were made for the role, but then we don’t know what’s on the inside, do we?”
“She looks uncomfortable.” I stared at her face and then her blue outfit. “But that could be her outfit. It looks so stuffy.”
“That was the appropriate outfit.” He looked me in the eyes. “When I am in Romerius, I have to wear my royal garb. It is heavy and itchy, but it is tradition.”
“I suppose you do what you have to do.”
“My wife, if I ever take one, will be faced with a lot of scrutiny. She will also have to wear the traditional garb and she will be subjected to a lot of talk.”
“Most women would love to become princess of Romerius.”
“Good for you and good for them.” I looked away from him. Was he deliberately trying to irritate me and make me jealous?
“I don’t see myself getting married anytime soon.” He gave me a sharp look.
“I didn’t propose, so no skin off my back.” I snapped at him, and he laughed. His green eyes seemed to jump with humor and joy and his classically handsome face looked boyish and young. For a moment he looked like Sebastian.
“You remind me of Sebastian when you laugh.” I smiled at him, and he frowned.
“You love to bring up my brother.”
“He’s my friend.”
“Just make sure of that.” His lips curled up and I felt my stomach sink.
“I’m sorry you don’t think I’m good enough for your brother.”
“You’re only good enough for me.” His eyes flashed at me and my eyes widened. Was he jealous? “Let us look at the Monets now.”
“I love Monet.” I nodded, happy to change the subject.
“Claude Monet was an artist’s artist.” He grabbed my hand and we walked to the other side of the room. I gasped as I saw the selection of paintings, each one more beautiful than the next. I rushed over and stood in front of the painting that attracted me the most. It depicted a bridge over a water lily pond. I laughed when I saw the name of the painting was The Water Lily Pond. Such an accurate name.
“You like this one?”
“Yes, it’s so calm and colorful and full of nature. It makes me want to close eyes and find myself in that setting.”
“It is beautiful.” He nodded. “Monet has many paintings of lilies. He seemed to find something in them that was beautiful. Something that made him want to tell their story over and over again.”
“He was so talented.”
“This was painted in his own water garden in 1899. The bridge is Japanese.”
“It’s awesome.” I stared at the painting, but all I could think about was how close he was to me. My fingers were still tingling from where he had grabbed them. Part of me longed to grab his hand and stand there as if we were a couple. I stared at his profile for a couple of seconds and swallowed hard. He had such a perfect Roman nose. And his hair was so soft and silky. I wanted to reach over and run my fingers through his hair and down his face. I wanted to touch him. I shivered as I remembered the first time we’d met and the night we’d spent together. It had seemed surreal. Magical almost. This whole situation was like a movie. I was standing here with a handsome prince. I froze for a moment as I remembered he was also my professor and my boss. And he was also older than me. Not that I cared.