Quickly she stepped forward and got into the passenger seat. He pulled away in seconds. She couldn’t help but glance along the street, nervous that someone would have seen them. But the road was empty.
Silently he steered towards the very heart of San Felipe.
‘You can actually drive?’ She tried to make conversation with a tease, but her throat was dry and her voice tight.
‘I am allowed, occasionally,’ he replied in his formal way, but then he smiled. ‘Ready?’
The giant gate before them opened without him hitting a button. She didn’t see any guards or any officials as she stepped out in the internal garage that was bigger than the average-sized house and was filled with eye-wateringly expensive cars.
‘This is the palace.’ She whispered the obvious as he led her into the wide hallway. Even with the dim night lighting she could see the gilt-edged paintings lining the walls, the pedestals with priceless sculptures and the glass cabinets filled with antiquities and artefacts.
Her heart hammered. She’d never expected him to bring her to the palace. Wasn’t it too risky?
The imposing building was incredibly silent and huge and she was paranoid there were security cameras everywhere snapping her with him.
‘I know,’ he whispered back. ‘I want the comfort of my own bed.’
‘Be quiet.’ He turned and quickly kissed her for emphasis. ‘Someone might hear,’ he whispered, then took her hand and led her through the maze.
Surprised, she glanced at him and saw the mischievous grin on his face.
He was Antonio, the ultra-serious Crown Prince, wasn’t he? He owned this oversized, unbelievably opulent place and yet here he was sneaking around like a teenager.
He led her up some stairs, then more stairs and long corridors and finally came to a set of doors on the third or fourth floor—she’d lost count. He opened them and hung back to let her walk in first.
‘This is your private apartment?’ she asked, knowing the answer anyway, but feeling as if she needed to say something.
When he’d closed the doors she turned to face him. But that gorgeous, elusive smile had faded and his expression was even more closed off than usual. Did he feel as awkward as she?
‘When did you last have a...guest up here?’ she asked.
That brought his smile back but he remained silent.
‘You’re just trying to make me feel special,’ she joked lightly.
‘You are special.’
She walked around the large room, mainly to hide the blush she could feel heating her cheeks. He didn’t mean anything by it, but the gentle flirt was nice.
His apartment was a masterpiece of elegant understatement, the decor minimalist compared to the multitude of treasures in the cabinets lining the corridors. But it was so impersonal it made her heart ache for him again. Even she, with few truly personal possessions, had put her own stamp on her room. She had the flowers she loved to get from the early morning market, she had a small print from Paris to remind her of happier times with her mother, she had the ballerina jewellery box she’d won in her first ballet competition when she was barely five and had treasured ever since. But Antonio had a beautifully styled masculine lounge with nothing obviously personal that she could note. There were no paintings on the walls and no photos at all—not of him and his family and none of Alessia—which relieved her in one way, yet saddened her in another.
She turned to face him again and found he’d been slowly following her. Now he was only a pace away.
‘You want to see all my rooms?’ he asked, something veiled in his expression.
‘I want to see everything,’ she replied before thinking. She was so much more curious than she ought to be.
‘There’s not really that much to see.’
Well, there was beauty and incredible design and craftsmanship, but she wasn’t here to admire an art gallery and she didn’t want to treat him or his home as a museum exhibit. That was what his life must be like all the time and she wanted to understand more about him.
That was when she realised his place didn’t matter; it was the person before her who held all the clues. If she wanted to understand him at all, she needed only to spend time with him. But they had only now. She gazed into his unfathomable eyes and wished she knew how to make him smile.