Beside the cards there was a small wooden toy—with a tag proudly declaring it had been ‘Handcrafted in Aristo’. It sat on top of an envelope. He nudged the toy. The envelope was addressed to Sandy, care of Atlanta House. The gesture bit into him. It was a sweet thing to do, and he didn’t want to think of her as sweet right now.
He stared at the little rattle for a while, awash with conflicting feelings. Then it dawned on him that he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing. Was he supposed to be greeting guests already? Gritting his teeth, he supposed he’d better go to the ballroom and find out what she’d come up with.
And even though he told himself he didn’t care, with every step towards the room his muscles tightened further.
In the doorway he stopped.
It wasn’t anything like he’d imagined. No one could ever have imagined this—except Liss. Bitter pride twisted through him tornado style.
She’d done it.
One side of the room was walled with people—the media, all in attendance this time, just as he’d wanted.
And their focus was on one thing and one thing only.
She stood in the centre of the ballroom, speaking—he had no idea what she was saying. Only one of his senses was working—sight. She was wearing one hell of a dress. The straps rested almost on the very edge of her shoulders, emphasising her collarbones. His thumb itched to rest below the ridge of the bone, fingers wanted to slide above and along the slim length. He already knew how it felt—smooth and fine but strong too.
The neckline dropped low, a wide vee down her cleavage. In turn this emphasised the way her body curved in so tight at the waist. Her hips were slimmer—not as broad as her shoulders but still a beautiful, graceful curve. From there the material tumbled to the floor in a golden cascade.
He didn’t know what the fabric was. But it was as if it were alive. With a gentle shimmer, it clung to and floated from her slender figure.
He frowned—her slightly too slender figure.
She looked so incredibly regal—and suddenly way out of his league. She spoke again and he heard her that time.
‘Pack away your cameras, people. And prepare to party.’
Not a single camera was lowered. Rather the shutters kept opening and closing quickly—capturing the country’s favourite young princess in full royal mode.
She nodded her head at a waiter standing near the service doors and he swung them open.
Incredible-looking wait staff filed in—one line of men, one of women. James recognised some of them from the other night but most he didn’t. And they were gorgeous. The women’s hair had been tied up at the front with the length trailing down their backs. With figure-hugging white tops, white skirts that were slim over the waist and hips but then flared out, ending just at the knee. Then it was all legs and arched feet in barely there, flimsy-heeled sandals of the kind Liss would adore. The simple look of golden tanned skin was shown to advantage by the crisp, clean white and highlighted by lengths of gold ribbon which had been wound round their figures—emphasising sensual curves and slender waists.
Every single one was gorgeous and each made that simple look sexy. They might be wearing white, but not one of them looked as if their thoughts were completely pure. Glittering makeup added to the glamour factor.
It took him a minute to really notice the men, but they, like the women, carried trays of glasses filled with some concoction. Only instead of white they wore black. Close-fitting tops and immaculate trousers. All clean-shaven, short-haired and a smouldering look in their eyes. Looking like the servants of night, they too seemed to be offering something more than a simple drink.
They were all covered, there was nothing blatant—no bare boobs or hairy chests—yet there was something so sensual, so sexual about the group of beautiful young men and women lined up to serve. Nymphs and Satyrs.
And in the centre of them all stood Liss, resplendent in the golden dress. Unlike the others all of her hair was swept up high, curls on her head were like a crown showing off her height, the luscious length of her neck.
From the walls hung huge tapestries with the scenes of what appeared to be Greek myths—rich and fascinating and, from what he could see, slightly naughty.
With the tapestries behind her, and the burnished gold glow that seemed to come from nowhere but that shrouded the place with a warm intimate hue, she was the golden rose.
Like a tableau they stood—Aphrodite with her attendants. A scene from Greek mythology lifted into the modern-day world.
The photographers kept popping their heads up from behind the lenses as if to check what they were seeing was real. James could hardly believe it himself.