He looked gorgeous.
Her muscles liquefied. So not what she wanted when she was trying to shift a desk heavier than Stonehenge’s largest rock.
‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked when she failed to respond to his first question.
‘What does it look like I’m trying to do?’ she answered heatedly. ‘I’m moving this desk.’
His eyebrows shot up. ‘It looks heavy.’
‘Clearly.’ She straightened and glared at him. ‘And you’re in the way.’
She didn’t want him here at all—not looking like that. And looking at her like that.
It wasn’t fair.
‘How do you think you’re going to get it through the door?’ He didn’t budge as she fruitlessly tried to move the behemoth another few inches. ‘Ask me for help.’
For a split second she gaped. Then she snapped her jaw shut and stood upright to glare at him. ‘No.’
He stepped into the room and kicked the door shut behind him. Folding his arms across his chest, he mirrored her defiance.
‘Ask me,’ he dared, glaring back at her.
Something shifted deep within her when she saw that flickering expression in his eyes. Something she really didn’t want to shift. He couldn’t break down her resistance with just that look.
‘I don’t need to move it tonight,’ she murmured weakly.
He leaned forward, planting both hands on the desk that stood between them. ‘I need to know I can help you,’ he said huskily, still pinning her in place with that unwavering, intense gaze. ‘That you feel you can count on me. That I’ll be there for you.’
Bella breathed gently, trying to stave off the emotion swirling too close to her surface. He still didn’t get it, did he?
‘I don’t want to have to count on you,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to use you in that way.’
She didn’t want him to ‘rescue’ her. She didn’t want to be any kind of ‘duty’ to him. She tore her gaze away, frowning down at the desk.
‘It’s not using me.’ His spread hands snapped into fists, his knuckles whitening. ‘I ache for you to need me. Because I need you.’
Stunned, she glanced back up to his face.
‘It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to want to be loved,’ he argued roughly. ‘That desire doesn’t weaken you in any way.’
‘Have you been reading self-help memes on the Internet?’ she croaked.
‘Stop trying to push me away. I’m not going anywhere.’ An expression crossed his face—one she hadn’t seen in him before. ‘I’ve spent the last two days racking my brains trying to come up with some elaborate way in which I can convince you. Considering what happened at the ball I figured a grand public gesture wasn’t it. In the end I decided it comes down to just you and me. No audience. No performance. Just truth.’
At that vulnerable intensity in his eyes, her grip on her emotions slipped. Anguished, she broke. ‘What do you want from me?’
‘Everything,’ he whispered. ‘I want everything from you. Everything with you.’
‘No, you don’t.’ She shook her head, haunted by all the constraints on them. ‘Kings have flings with dancers. They date them. They don’t—’ She broke off, embarrassed at where she’d been heading. At her presumption.
‘Don’t what—’ he smiled a little crookedly ‘—marry them?’ He waggled his eyebrows. ‘Isn’t it a good thing I’m not a king?’
‘You know what I mean,’ she mumbled, mortified and unable to think further than her next breath. ‘And you’re a king in every other way.’
‘You think I wouldn’t marry you?’
‘I think you can’t.’ She burned. He couldn’t possibly be serious.
‘Have you been reading the papers?’ His gaze narrowed. ‘You know what they say isn’t true.’
‘I haven’t been reading them,’ she answered his lecturing tone scornfully. ‘I’m not stupid. I never read them. I don’t need to read them to know what they say.’
And from his one comment she was glad she hadn’t. It had taken sheer willpower and strategic unplugging of the Internet to resist the temptation. But she’d done it. She’d made herself focus on nothing but the club these last two days. She’d caught up on her accounts, her business studies and she’d paced for hours, alone and inconsolable. ‘I’m not suitable for you.’