“That dinner was fucking painful.” He pulls his tie loose and opens the top buttons of his shirt. “So many sticks up so many arses . . . the awkwardness and boredom is going to haunt me for days.”
I cross my arms.
“Is that why you’ve snuck into my room? To complain about the bane of dinner etiquette?”
Smoothly, he rises from the longue and stalks over to me. “Actually, I’ve snuck into your room for another reason.”
“Love lessons?” I suggest with a raised brow.
His eyes go to my lips. And I run my tongue along the bottom, because I’ve learned that it drives Edward mad. His throat ripples as he swallows hard.
“I have a very particular lesson in mind for tonight—but that’s for later. For now, I was wondering if you wanted to see what a real good time is all about? I could show you. I want to show you.”
Something about the way he says it makes me think I’m not going to like this one bit . . . and I’m going to love it all at the same time.
“What do you say, Lenny?”
I say his favorite word. “Yes.”
“Why do I have to take my hair down, again?” I ask Edward from my vanity table.
“You’ll see,” he calls back from my dressing room.
I pull out the pins from my hair and shake out the bun. Dark waves cascade down my back. I leave my bangs swept to the right and tie back just the sides of my hair, leaving the rest long and full almost to my waist. It’s styled neatly, but still down as Edward requested.
When he catches sight of me in the dressing room door, he freezes. And then he whistles. “Outstanding.”
And pleasing electric tingles dance over every inch of my skin.
Edward goes back to strolling around the dressing room, sliding the hangers aside, looking for an appropriate outfit for whatever this “good time” entails. He pauses at a peach silk nightgown and fingers the lace trim.
“This is a surprise. I had you figured for a flannel pajamas type of girl. Or . . . burlap, to match your personality.” He winks.
And I give Edward “the finger”—just like his brother taught me.
It amuses him immensely.
“Ah—that’s the one.” He holds up a pleated skirt and a royal blue short-sleeved blouse with buttons up the front and a draped-bow neckline. It’s a casual ensemble, something I would wear around the palace if the day ever came that I had nothing to do. “Put these on.”
“This is a terrible idea,” I remind Edward.
“So you’ve said.”
I grasp the tight web of ivy that covers the shadowed south corner of the wall that surrounds the palace property and climb.
“Ridiculous. And stupid.”
“You’ve mentioned that as well,” he says from below me, where he’s positioned to catch me if I slip. “Almost there.”
“I don’t understand why we have to sneak out.”
“Have you ever done it before?” Edward asks.
“That’s why. Everyone should do everything once. Even you—especially you.”
When we reach the top of the wall, I sit, waiting, while Edward lifts himself over, landing easily on the pavement on the other side.
He lifts his arms up toward me. “Jump.”
I cross my arms instead. “Why can’t security come with us?”
“Because then everyone will know who you are—I want you to blend.”
“I’ve never blended a day in my life.”
“You will tonight. Jump, Lenora.”
With a huff, I push off the wall . . . right into Edward’s arms. He sets me down and scoops my pumps up from where he tossed them over earlier, slipping one on each foot.
“Although,” he grins, “you look bloody fantastic in that skirt. Did I mention that? Almost changed all my plans when I saw you in it.”
I look up and down the dim, deserted street. Not even the moon is out tonight and the air is cool on my bare arms.
“How do you feel?”
I’ve never been outside the palace walls without security. Not once.
Edward’s mouth quirks. “That would be a whole different kind of good time.” His hands slide up and down my arms, warming me. “You’re not naked—I’ll be your armor tonight.”
He guides me to the open-topped teal Cadillac convertible waiting at the curb, but I stop short before I slide in.
Because suddenly the full ramifications of what we’re doing settle in. Panic’s icy fingers grip my lungs and it’s like I can’t breathe and I’m breathing too much at the same time.
“Edward . . . I can’t . . .”
“Lenny, look at me.”
“So much could go wrong. No one will know where I am. What if there’s an emergency? An international incident? What if—”
Warm, worshiping lips swallow my words. They move against mine with steady, sultry strokes, stoking a calm pleasure in the very center of me. Safe arms engulf me—capture me—holding me dear and close, and I’m surrounded by the scent of summer, the scent of Edward.
He looks into my eyes, brushing my cheek. “I’ve thought of all that. I’ve taken care of it. Trust me, Lenora.”
It’s difficult. More difficult than I imagined. Letting go, putting my faith in another person. It goes against all my instincts, everything I’ve been taught.
But for Edward, I’ll try. For him, I will.
He closes the car door, trots around the other side and slides in behind the wheel.
And we’re off.
LENORA STANDS ON THE PAVEMENT, tilts her head and reads the sign above the door.
“The Horny Goat.”
I stand beside her. “It was a whorehouse back in the day.”
“You’ve brought me to a whorehouse?”
“‘Back in the day’ being the key words.”
She frowns. “It’s a terrible name for a whorehouse. Did they specialize in bestiality?”
I peer down at her. “I’m surprised you know that term.”
She shrugs a pretty shoulder. “I read things.”
And I laugh. “It may have been a terrible name for a whorehouse, but it’s a fantastic name for a pub.”
I take her hand and open the door and we walk into the best damn pub in all of Wessco—with sticky floors, crooked walls, a rickety roof and a one-of-a-kind character of an owner named Donald Macalister behind the bar.
“Donald and I served together in the war,” I tell Lenora.
He spots me as we step up to the bar, grinning around the toothpick between his lips.
“There he is! Edward!” He ruffles my hair and engulfs me in a bear hug.
“It’s good to see you, Donald, damn good.” I smack his back.
I didn’t long for many things while I was away, but when I did, it was for moments like this. A laugh, a drink, taking the piss with an old friend who knows me inside and out. It’s always the simplest moments we miss the most.
“How are you, mate?” He straightens up, gripping my shoulders. “As if I have to ask. It wasn’t enough you were born with a silver spoon up your arse, now that pretty face has moved you into the palace? It’s no wonder the Qu—”
And then he sees Lenora. And goes stock-still with shock.
Behind the bar, Donald’s wife notices her too. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”