But the giant who’d grabbed her had reached even more quickly, catching hold of her upper arm and twisting it behind her, pulling her harder, more tightly into his steely body.
‘Stop fighting. I’m not going to hurt you,’ he’d said, in a deep, loud voice right in her ear.
She knew her best plan was to go limp, then move and take him by surprise. But when she let her muscles relax and fell against him he pulled her closer still, locking her into a hold she knew she mightn’t be able to escape.
It seemed he’d been trained too.
‘You have a powerful punch,’ he said.
Her throat clogged, but not with fear. She recognised that voice.
At three in the afternoon Prince Eduardo De Santis was wearing a tuxedo that was now wet to the waist. As the waves ebbed and flowed, the water moulded his trousers to his long, muscled legs and he was moulding her to him. Her wrists were bound in his broad hands and twisted tight behind her back, thrusting her forward so she was pressed flat against his torso. His legs were parted only enough to lock hers together between his.
Because of the motion of the waves battering them she remained standing only because he held her trapped against him. Because of his strength.
Her anger morphed into something far more dangerous. Far more tantalising. Far more foreign.
Stella didn’t move. Didn’t breathe. Didn’t believe it. But that melting sensation deep inside her was undeniable. She’d had many hand-to-hand training sessions with men. All kinds of scenarios. She’d never become aroused by any.
‘You’re Prince Eduardo,’ she said stupidly.
And while he might not want to hurt her, she’d certainly hurt him. Already the skin around his eye was reddened. It was going to result in a mega bruise. She wanted to curl into a ball and die of shame.
He inclined his head in acknowledgement, but didn’t loosen his grip. ‘You have the advantage. I do not know your name.’
And he wasn’t going to. Her father would kill her. She’d be demoted in seconds. And she’d be a laughing stock.
‘Why are you here?’ he asked. ‘This cove is not safe. Soon enough the tide will sweep back in and the sand will almost vanish. You’ll be stuck here for the next twelve hours.’
A hitherto mute part of her figured that wasn’t that bad an option if he was going to be here too...
‘I’m sorry I hit you,’ she said roughly, embarrassed at that rogue thought. ‘It might sting for a while. Then it will discolour. You’re going to be marked for a few days.’
His low laugh reverberated within her.
‘You think I haven’t been bruised before?’
Well, she’d never seen a picture of either prince with a black eye.
He smiled, and suddenly looked exactly as if he had a suave, dangerous pirate ancestor. ‘If you feel that bad about it, you could always kiss it better.’
‘I’m better at hitting than kissing,’ she answered bluntly. Honestly.
She wished he’d release her. The waves washing against her were doing nothing to cool the embers igniting within her. So inappropriate. So reckless.
His wickedly blue eyes sharpened. ‘If you kiss half as well as you hit, then I’ll be feeling fantastic in a heartbeat.’
She shook her head. But tendrils of temptation unfurled low in her belly.
This was the playful pirate Prince Eduardo, who charmed and made women smile and sigh. And Stella was as susceptible as any of them. Truthfully, he’d always been her favourite of the two. A stupid crush held since her teens. It was the fire in his eyes and his daredevil nature that appealed to something within her own soul.
‘Perhaps I should show you how it’s done.’ The smile on his sensual lips deepened. ‘Or are you going to say no to me?’
‘Does anyone ever say no to you?’ she asked, sounding more scornful than she’d intended.
She felt the tiniest flinch as his muscles tightened that impossible notch more.
‘Maybe I ought to be the first,’ she added.
‘You’re telling yourself that I need a lesson?’ he asked, the edginess returning. ‘You don’t strike me as a woman who’d hide behind something so obvious. I did not think you would be so afraid.’
His words heated her blood to simmering point. ‘You think challenging me will make me say yes?’
‘I don’t need to challenge you.’ He twisted to hold her wrists with just one hand, so that with his other he could trace the side of her face with a lazy, teasing finger. ‘I don’t need to do anything but be this close.’