The sheikh sighed at her stubbornness. “I appreciate you telling me so, but again, please refrain from saying such things in front of your family.”
“Relax, akh. They’re off to another party,” she told him gleefully.
He had never seen her so relaxed or more vibrantly beautiful, and he suspected it had much to do with the fact that her whole family was out of the palace. “I know better than to ask whether they invited you or not,” he said, “but if they did, would you have liked to go?”
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Duh, akh. I like it better this way, and you know why that is?”
The mischievous smile that curved over her lips hit him hard, and he had to turn sideways to casually hide the bulging evidence behind his pants before answering. “Why?”
“Because I’m freeeeee!”
The way she shrieked the last word out had him wincing, but it also had the sheikh’s gaze gleaming with amusement, and Aurora beamed back at him.
“They won’t be back until tomorrow, too,” she added cheerfully. “I heard them say so.”
“Let us hope then,” he murmured, “that you will not find yourself bored.”
“Why should I be bored?” Aurora glanced at him oddly. “I have you, don’t I?”
Mik’hail’s face became impassive. How simple those words were, and yet how true they were, too, in an ironic sense. He was hers. But…she could never be his. The realization was enough to blacken his mood, but not wanting Aurora to notice, he abruptly changed the subject, saying, “You called me by my name earlier.”
Aurora suddenly looked innocent. “So?”
Too innocent, Mik’hail thought, and he knew right away it hadn’t been an accidental mistake on her part. “Because it is not proper,” he said, exasperated.
“Even if it’s just the two of us? And besides…” Her nose wrinkled. “I know Aretha insists on calling you by your English name, but I don’t think it suits you. It’s such an ordinary name, and you’re…well…extraordinary. You’re a warrior, and a name like Mik’hail better suits you.”
The sweetness in her words was beguiling. It tempted his heart to crack open, but it also had his cock throbbing even more painfully. Aurora thought him extraordinary. A warrior even, and although he knew she had spoken with the utmost sincerity, all he could think about was showing her just how much a warrior he was, with the way his cock could conquer her a thousand times in a single night.
He wanted to fuck her so goddamn bad he almost found himself cursing the day she had been born. She should’ve been born sooner dammit, so that it would be her he was betrothed to and not her sister.
“You’re frowning,” Aurora blurted out. “Do you really not like me calling you by your name?”
“It’s not that,” he said curtly. “I only think it’s unwise for you to be too…fanciful.”
Aurora rolled her eyes. “You just sound like my whole family right there. Being fanciful is not a crime, Your Highness.”
The sheikh didn’t bother responding to this, knowing a rabbithole of endless arguments when he saw one. Instead, he strode to the set of velvet settees arranged at the center of the conservatory, needing to put more distance between them.
When the sheikh took his seat, which faced the small, cultivated forest in the left, he realized with unease that the distance he had sought was nonexistent, with Aurora promptly plopping next to him on the couch.
She was closer than ever now, so damn close that when she kicked off her slippers and pulled her legs up, her bare toes grazed against the side of his thighs.
“If Mik’hail is to be what I call you when we’re alone,” Aurora murmured, “what then shall you call me?”
This, he didn’t have to think about.
“Brat,” the sheikh said right away, and smirked at the way Aurora’s jaw dropped open.
“I am not a brat!”
The sheikh laughed at the outright lie. “Yes, you are. And you know it.” Actually, they both knew it. Hell, even the entire palace knew it, but even so everyone loved her because she was, ultimately, a lovable brat. She was the kind of brat who badgered the cook until the old lady allowed her to help in the kitchen. She was the kind of brat who berated the butler for not sitting down when he was tired rather than stand on foot all day. She was a brat, but she meant well, and the feelings he strove to bury were harder to keep a secret because of it.
Aurora was laughing. “Fine. I can be a brat, but not all the time. You know it’s so.” Jumping to her feet, she gave the sheikh a wave. “I need to get back to my roses.”
“You mean my roses,” he reminded her.
“We can share them then,” she answered magnanimously as she slid her feet back into her slippers.