‘I didn’t ever imagine you in the role of delivery boy,’ she said.
‘How did you imagine me?’ He smothered his smile of pleasure at her weak attempt to put him in his place.
Her eyes flashed.
‘You can strike better than that,’ he added, in a deliberately provocative whisper.
‘We both know I can. But are you sure you want me to?’ she asked, her voice huskier.
Oh, yes—he wanted. ‘If you’re going to mark me, don’t make it my face. There were too many awkward questions last time.’
She drew in a sharp breath. Good. He’d got to her.
But she stepped up to the mark again. ‘If I hit you now, your soldiers would be here in a second.’
He smiled at her naïveté. ‘They’re under orders not to disturb me. I don’t need anyone’s help to handle you.’
Another flash lit her eyes. Another surge of adrenalin hit him.
‘Handle me?’ she snapped back. ‘Like I’m some dog that needs obedience training?’
She did need training. And it would be her choice of carrot or stick. He smiled at the possible interplay, given her unpredictability.
Having the fine-boned creature of so many dreams finally in front of him, he realised how much he’d thought of her over the last few weeks. How much she intrigued him.
‘Why did you do it?’ Not the question he’d been going to ask. He didn’t want her to know he’d spent so long wondering.
Her lashes lowered, veiling the blue, but she wouldn’t lower her guard. She wouldn’t tell him the truth.
Why the stab of disappointment? Why would he expect otherwise? No one opened up and confided in him. Not even those he cared most about. Especially not them.
In turn, Eduardo knew he couldn’t count on other people unless he paid them very well. That unpalatable truth came with being a prince. Loyalty to royalty was a thing of the past. Most people now were out for what they could get—fame and fortune. Both could be attained via a connection with him. And that was all he really had to offer—palace life, wealth, but no real power. No real purpose.
But riches and recognition were enough reward for some. He’d underestimated that particular hunger before and he wouldn’t make that mistake again. Instead he’d ensure that Stella was satisfied. She might not have told anyone about their tryst on the beach that day, but she’d not come to him when she’d realised the consequences either. Who knew what she’d been planning to do?
It no longer mattered. He’d buy both her silence and her obedience.
She’d be happy with the deal—he just needed to get it done before Antonio found out and tried to interfere. As it was, his brother would be highly suspicious of Eduardo’s sudden ‘illness’, which had forced him to cancel all his public engagements for the next few days and withdraw to Secreto Real to recuperate. Eduardo had cancelled only one engagement in his life. The afternoon he’d met Stella.
He’d not gotten a woman pregnant before her either.
‘Why did you do it?’ He wasn’t moving until she answered.
For a long moment there was only silence and steam.
‘Why wouldn’t I want to experience the best that San Felipe has to offer?’
She still didn’t look at him—at least not higher than his chest. Was it just the fantasy she’d wanted? Unrestrained sex in the surf with the playboy Prince?
Disappointment bit harder.
He’d never wanted to be the daredevil spare heir boring cliché. He’d striven to shake it off, initially indulging in the idealistic, ultimately unrealistic ambition of studying law. Then he’d tried the military, only to be thwarted there too.
The lovely Stella’s father had ruled out any possibility of Eduardo actively serving. He’d argued that it would cost too much to protect Eduardo, and any ‘value’ Eduardo might bring to the battalion would be outweighed by the risk to other soldiers’ lives. Securing Eduardo’s presence would take up too much resource.
In short, he wasn’t worth it because his princely title was too precious.
Antonio had sided with the General. In a five-minute, one-sided conversation they’d resigned him to a life of ‘leisure’, reduced to playing tourist in his own country. But, as so many citizens depended on the tourist industry for their economic survival, Eduardo did his very best—as he did in everything. But he did not particularly like General Carlos Zambrano.
As for his daughter...