I hold up his drink and toast, “To Charlie.”
Henry smiles softly as I take a sip, before holding the glass to his lips.
“To Charlie,” he says, then drinks.
He takes the empty glass from my hand and sends it floating away. Then he strokes his arms through the water, pushing us gently forward.
And then, he just . . . looks at me. With warmth and enjoyment. My glasses fog and I slip them off.
“Fuck, but you’re pretty,” Henry murmurs.
Instinctually, my chin dips and I glance down at his chest.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that?”
I shrug. “Not really.”
“They should have,” he insists softly. “You should’ve been told every day how pretty you are—inside and out.”
And there’s a great swelling of tenderness in my chest, around my heart, that almost feels too large to contain. Not because of the compliment, but because of him. This beautiful, broken, pitiful prince. Was Henry ever told how brilliant he is? Kind and strong, generous, and good? I don’t think he was and they should’ve told him. Every single day.
Before I know it, we’re across the pool at the shallow end. Henry’s shoulder brushes the slick, tiled edge.
“There.” He stands upright and my feet touch the pool’s bottom. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
We’re close enough that I can taste his breath—smoky wood, whiskey, and man.
“No. Not so bad.”
And I feel like I’m in a daze, like I’m in a dream. Our gazes lock and Henry’s finger runs from my forehead, down my cheek to my chin, stroking back a damp lock of hair.
“Sarah . . .” he says, almost groaning.
He leans in closer, slowly . . .
And I blink and turn away.
Because maybe he’s right after all. Maybe I am afraid all the time.
I move to the edge of the pool, out of his embrace. A waterfall pours from my sopping clothes as I lift myself out, my voice quickly chirping with cheeriness.
“Come on now, out we go.”
I wrap one towel from the lounge chair around my chest and unfold the other, holding it open for him. Henry hesitates, looking ready to argue.
“You promised,” I remind him.
He sighs dramatically and lowers his lips into the water, blowing out a wet raspberry. But then he climbs up the steps, holding the railing, and takes the towel from me, rubbing it over his shoulders and down his arms.
I try not to look, but when he dries his stomach my eyes drop—and the clear, hard outline of his thick erection against his swim trunks is unmistakable. And magnificent.
I know he’s caught me looking when he teases, “Will you tuck me into bed, Titebottum? Give me a good-night kiss . . . somewhere?”
I tighten the towel at my chest, hating how prim the action must look, but still replying, “No. That honor goes to James.”
He scoffs. “Spoilsport.”
AFTER OUR NIGHT AT THE pool, things are different between Sarah and me. More. Closer. I still make her blush prettily—but it’s a soft pink that blooms on her cheeks now, not the intense deep scarlet that resulted from my first teasings. She still keeps to herself mostly, reading in a corner or under a tree, but she comes out to watch as we film, and more than once I’ve spotted her chatting and laughing with Laura Benningson and Princess Alpacca, with Guermo’s broody translating assistance.
I haven’t slept in my own room—or attempted to—since that first night. I thought the producers would give me shit for that, but Vanessa explained they’re not counting on the cameras catching anything interesting there—they’re there in case something good just happens to occur.
And while my days are spent ziplining and bungee jumping, shearing wool on a sheep farm and swimming in hot springs with a different lady every time, before bestowing a dwindling number of glass-slipper charms—like a randy male tooth fairy—my nights are spent in a blissful hell of unrequited lust.
Because I can’t forget the feel of Sarah pressed against me in the water, slick and soft and wet. She’s almost constantly in my thoughts.
She haunts my dreams.
And she’s caused me, more than once, to wake up painfully hard and snuggled up against the sweetest, tightest of Titebottums—using every ounce of self-restraint I have to keep from humping her in her sleep.
At night, when Sarah hums while reading her bland, classic novels in bed, I yearn to feel those lovely lips humming around my cock. When she sighs in her sleep, I think of how she would sound moaning for more. When she absentmindedly twirls her hair around her finger, I imagine fisting my hand in those dark, silky tresses and teaching her every filthy delight I know—and I know a lot.
The other evening when I walked into the room, Sarah was in the bath. I stood outside the locked bathroom door, listening to the drip and swish of the water as she moved, washing herself—touching herself—and I almost came in my pants like a sodding twelve-year-old boy.
It’s becoming a problem.
But I don’t consider, for even a moment, staying in my own room. Because the best part and the hardest part—pun intended—is that after we’re in bed, with Sarah in her plain cotton sleeping clothes, both of us bundled under the covers to keep out the drafty frigid air, and the lights are low . . . we chat. About everything and nothing and all the things in-between.
She talks about her mother with her greenhouses and flowers; Penny with her Hollywood dreams; her grouchy boss, who sounds like he could be a relation of old Fergus; her library and tidy little flat and simple, organized life. I tell her about Nicholas and all the misplaced faith he has in me, though Sarah insists it’s not misplaced at all. I talk about spunky, spirited Olive and how I wish they didn’t live so far away. And in soft, shamed tones, I tell her about Granny—and how thoroughly I’ve disappointed her time and again.