“Ellie!” she yells over her shoulder. “Bosco can’t be down here!”
“What is that?” I ask.
“It’s my dog.”
“No. No, I have dogs. Dogs are descended from wolves. That’s descended from a rat.” I look again. “An ugly rat.”
She lifts the little monster into her arms. “Don’t insult my dog.”
“Not trying to—just telling the truth.”
For once. And it feels fucking grand.
But the barking has to go. I make contact with its beady little eyes and snap my fingers, ordering, “Shh!”
And blessed silence fills the air.
Olivia looks from me to the animal. “How—how did you do that?”
“Dogs are pack animals; they defer to the leader. This one is smart enough to recognize that that’s me.” I step closer to her, detecting a clean, lovely scent—like fresh honey. “Let’s see if it works with you.” I snap my fingers. “Dinner.”
She cocks her hip, annoyed and yet entertained against her will.
“I’m not a dog.”
My eyes—filthy, deviant things that they are—slide over every beautiful inch of her. “No…you definitely aren’t.”
Her cheeks go pink, making her eyes appear almost violet. It’s lovely.
But then another ball comes bouncing into the room—a small blond one, wrapped in a fuzzy teal robe with SpongeBob SquarePants slippers on its feet.
“Awwww, yeah…school’s closed again.” She does The Whip. “Ooh-ooh…”
Until she sees us—then she freezes.
And she definitely knows who I am.
“Hiiii. Wow.” She points to Logan and says in a thin, mortified voice. “I like your tie.”
He glances down at the tie in question, then nods his thanks.
And she seems to want to dissolve into the floor. But she takes the “dog” from Olivia instead, and confesses in a hushed voice, “I’m gonna go hang myself in my closet now.”
After she’s gone, I ask, “Is she joking?”
“She’s seventeen. It depends on the day.” Then she wipes her small hands down the front of her skirt. “Well, this has been fun. Thanks for stopping by.” She waves to Simon. “Enjoy the pie.”
He already is. He smiles, mouth full of peach crumble.
“See you around…I guess,” she says to me.
I step forward and take her warm hand in mine, before brushing a kiss across her knuckles. “Count on it, love.”
“COUNT ON IT, LOVE.”
Wow. What the hell just happened? Walking up to the apartment, I feel like a James Bond martini—shaken—but also stirred.
Most of the guys I’ve known, Jack included, were laid-back and easygoing. Passive. What do you want to do tonight? I dunno, what do you want to do? I dunno.
But Nicholas is…different. Decisive. A man. A man who’s used to being listened to. Seeing him sober, I can tell the difference. It was in the way he carried himself—wide shoulders back, long spine straight, his presence almost like gravity, pulling at everything in his orbit, making us all want to let him take us where he will.
Jeez—even Bosco listened to him, which definitely makes the little beast a traitor, but I get it.
It was fucking hot. I can still feel the press of his lips on the back of my hand. Who does that—kisses a woman’s hand? No one I’ve ever met, that’s for damn sure. The spot he kissed feels warm and tingly. Branded—but not in a skin-sizzling, gross, torturing way that happens on cable television shows. The good kind of branded. Marked.
“Do you know who that was?” Ellie shrieks, practically tackling me in the living room.
“Shh! Dad’s sleeping.”
She asks again, this time in a whisper-yell.
“Uh, a rich asshole with a friend who really likes pie?”
Her big blue eyes roll to the sky. “How are we even related?” She drags me into her bedroom and smacks me in the face with a six-month-old issue of People magazine. “That was Prince Nicholas!”
And there he is, on the cover—perfect mouth grinning, perfect arms folded across that broad chest, wearing a dark blue cashmere sweater over a white collared shirt. Looking like an Oxford University wet dream.
“Get out!” I deny it, even while ripping the magazine out of her hands.
That explains the accent I couldn’t place—not British or Scottish, but Wessconian. And his attitude—he’s not a leader of the pack, he’s heir to a freaking throne! There are a dozen more pictures inside. A baby photo, his first day of school wearing a lacy collared shirt, a close-up of him as a teenager glaring at the camera, looking broody as hell. And more recent ones—one with his arm draped around a stunning, tall blond in a red dress at a dinner party, another with him sitting in a high-backed wooden chair during a session of Parliament.
And, holy shit, this one’s gotta be a paparazzi shot—it’s got a grainy, zoomed-in look to it but it’s definitely him, walking out of the turquoise ocean off the Maldives Islands, skin glistening, dark hair slicked back…naked. The full monty parts are blacked out, but a dark, happy trail and the defined V of his pelvis are so very visible.
My tongue tingles with the raw desire to trace that groove. Fuck, I want to lick the picture.
A sidebar provides quick facts about his country and ancestry. He’s a direct descendent of John William Pembrook, a northern British general who joined forces with the southern Scots in the Wars for Scottish Independence. He married the daughter of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots. After Scotland’s defeat, Pembrook’s coalition broke off from both mother countries and after years of battles, formed their own independent nation: Wessco.