Of course, life isn’t a novel, so I’m probably just imagining the slipping, sliding feeling inside me, like things are shifting around before finally snapping into their rightful place. And I think my mind is playing tricks on me—fancying that it’s interest alighting in Prince Henry’s eyes.
My breath catches and I cough, breaking the moment.
Then I gesture to his jacket. “Do you really think you’re qualified to give fashion advice?”
He laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. “I thought I looked like an absolute tool—now I’m sure of it.”
“Did the producers pick that out for you?”
“Yes. I’m supposed to ride down to the castle on horseback. Make my grand entrance.” Briskly, his long fingers unbutton the jacket. He shrugs it off, dropping it on the ground, revealing a snug white T-shirt and gloriously sculpted arms.
“Yes,” I squeak.
The teasing smirk comes back, then he grips the back of his T-shirt, pulling it off. And my mouth falls open at the sight of warm skin, perfect brown nipples, and the ridges and swells of muscles up and down his torso.
“What do you think of this?” he asks.
I think this is worse than I thought.
Henry Pembrook isn’t a Fiyero—he’s a Willoughby. A John Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility—thrilling, charming, unpredictable, and seductive. Marianne Dashwood learned the hard way that if you play with a heartbreaker, you can’t be surprised when your heart gets shattered into a thousand pieces.
I shrug, trying to seem cool and unaffected. “Might look a bit too ‘Putin’ on the horse.”
He nods, then puts his shirt back on, and my stomach swirls with a strange mix of relief and disappointment.
“Why aren’t you down with the other girls?”
“Me? Oh, I’m not part of the show. I couldn’t imagine . . .”
“Then why are you here?”
“Penelope. Mother wouldn’t let her participate unless I tagged along to keep an eye on her.”
“Every family has a wild child. Penny’s yours?”
Takes one to know one.
He tilts his head, the sunlight making his eyes a deeper green, almost simmering. “And what about you? Is there any wild in you, Teet-bottom?”
My cheeks go up in flames. “Not even a little. I’m the boring one. The good one.”
His teeth scrape his lower lip and it looks . . . naughty.
“Corrupting the good ones is my favorite pastime.”
Oh yes, definitely a Willoughby.
I hug my book to my chest. “I’m not corruptible.”
His smile broadens. “Good. I like a challenge.”
A crew member suddenly appears, trailing a large white horse behind him. “They’re ready for you, Prince Henry.”
Keeping his eyes on me, he places one foot in the stirrup and smoothly swings up onto the saddle. With his hands on the leather reins, he winks.
“See you around, Titty-bottom.”
I cover my face and groan.
“I never should have told you that.”
“Can’t blame me. It makes you turn so many lovely shades. Is it just your cheeks that blush?” His gaze drags down my body, as if he can see beneath my clothes. “Or does it happen everywhere?”
I fold my arms, ignoring the question.
“I think you might be a bully, Prince Henry.”
“Well, in grade school I did enjoy pulling on the girls’ braids. But these days I only tug on a woman’s hair in a very specific situation.” His voice drops lower. “Let me know if you’d like a demonstration.”
His words cause images of slick, entwined limbs and gasping moans to flare in my mind. And as if on cue, the blush blooms hot under my skin.
Henry laughs, the sound deep and manly. Then he spurs his horse and rides away, leaving me glowing like a damn Christmas tree. I open Wuthering Heights and press the pages against my face, cringing.
It’s going to be a long month.
HERE’S SOMETHING I DIDN’T KNOW before: reality television isn’t actually real. I mean, it is in the sense that there are actual people speaking and moving, as opposed to artificially intelligent human-like robots that will eventually become self-aware and kill us all.
Instead of castle-walking in the middle of the night, I’ve been watching the Terminator series. The first one is still the best.
But my point is, Matched and its ilk aren’t genuine. The scenes are staged, the shots planned, and “takes” are done multiple times. A few minutes on film could take a few hours of real-life time to shoot.
This is the fourth time we’ve gone through my “riding up to the castle on horseback” scene, and we haven’t even gotten to the front of the castle yet. Something to do with lighting and shadows or whatever the hell. The horse is now cranky and I’m bored.
While the director and Vanessa and the cameraman go over the next shot, I glance toward the hill, thinking about the funny little blusher at the top of it. The way she peeked out from behind the tree, then tried to hide as if I’d caught her doing something dirty.
I could show her what dirty really looks like.
The thought makes me chuckle, imagining the pretty pink her cheeks would turn if she heard what was running through my head. I wonder if her arse would turn the same sweet shade after a good, warm spanking?
I bet it would.