Taming the Royal Beast – Jennifer Lewis

Bella Beauvoir needed a boyfriend, and she needed one now. She scanned the airport terminal, wondering which of these strangers would be least likely to knock her out cold if she flung her arms around him. She flinched as her phone pinged again. She braced herself to open another text from the last man in the world she wanted to hear from. I love you. She was tempted to type something caustic in reply, perhaps Is that what you tell your wife? But she knew not to engage. With any luck he’d think she was already on her flight and would give up chasing her. Her heart pounded and her nerves zinged with adrenaline. She was desperate to get on her plane before he found her and made a scene. She’d made it through security and to her gate, but that didn’t mean she was home free. Her worst Tinder mistake was determined—or psychotic—enough to buy a plane ticket just to make a point. I see you. Her gaze darted back toward the security area where she’d seen the man that just last week she’d thought was nearly irresistible, retrieving his phone and watch from a tray. She glanced around, and her eyes settled on a very tall, dark-haired man leaning against a broad column. He was engrossed in reading something on his phone and oblivious to his surroundings.

His two-day stubble and faded jeans suggested an easygoing approach to life—and perhaps to strange damsels in distress. From the corner of her eye she could already see Lucas Wall striding toward her, his pale eyes no doubt on fire with a mix of unspent desire and fury that she’d had the gall to reject him. I’m meeting my boyfriend at JFK. Bella had texted him earlier in the midst of a volley of his texts about how he hated his wife and wanted to leave her and how she had to stay and give him a chance. Ugh. She’d never have swiped right if she knew he was married. He’d taken her to Shakespeare in the Park and in a helicopter over Manhattan and charmed her with sushi and dry wit. He hadn’t told her about his wife until the fourth date. Now he was obsessed with her and she couldn’t stand the sight of him. Her hackles rose as she felt Lucas closing in on her.

She edged closer to the unknown man with the stubble. He—apparently riveted by whatever he was reading—didn’t seem to notice her approach. “Bella!” She cringed as Lucas’s voice rang out. It’s now or never. She took one more step forward—a leap of faith, really—and flung her arms around the tall stranger. Her face met his chest with a bump, smooshing her nose into the front of his pale blue shirt. He smelled of harsh deodorant soap—oddly reassuring. “Pretend you know me, please!” she hissed into his shirt front. She felt his arms close around her, one hand still holding his phone. She looked up and for a split second she saw the mix of curiosity and alarm in his coffee-brown eyes before she craned herself up and kissed him on the mouth.

Her eyes closed automatically—who kissed with their eyes open?—and she pressed herself against him as if she might be able to disappear into him and escape this whole awkward scene. His lips were firm and soft at the same time, and his mouth parted slightly as if he was going to actually kiss her, even though she only needed it to look convincing. She ignored an alarming surge of…something and strained for the sound of Lucas’s voice. Lucas wasn’t calling her name. She pulled back enough to look up at her victim and say, “I’ve missed you so much!” as loudly as she dared. He hesitated for a moment, expression blank, then blinked. “I don’t know how I’ve managed to get along without you.” His deep voice boomed impressively. Relief rushed through her. “I wasn’t sure you were going to make the flight.

” She attempted to think of what a normal couple might say. “You thought I’d miss my trip to Zurich with you?” He played along, a smile dancing at one corner of his broad mouth. “I can’t wait to get away. I wish they’d start boarding.” Bella glanced at the counter, arms still firm around his waist. Now that she dared to catch her breath she noticed how hard and athletic his body was beneath the casual clothing. In answer to her prayers, they called for first-class passengers on her flight. “That’s us.” She gulped. “I don’t have a first-class ticket.

” “Don’t worry. Come with me.” Neither of them had a big bag—she just had her purse and he had a battered leather briefcase— as they strode toward the desk together. In a rash moment she glanced back and saw Lucas, standing, feet apart and arms dangling, staring at her with a mix of shock and annoyance on his too-handsome face. She ignored him. The stranger counted out hundred dollar bills, upgrading her ticket before she could launch an effective protest. As they walked down the narrow corridor onto the plane she insisted that she’d pay him back as soon as they landed, silently wondering if she had enough in her account for that. Probably not. “Would you like the window?” He asked as if they’d known each other for ages. The wide first-class seats looked so comfortable after her frantic morning of packing and running to catch the first flight she could get out of New York.

“Oh, I don’t care. Whichever you want.” He ushered her in. “I like to stretch my legs in the aisle.” She couldn’t help glancing down at his legs, broad thighs encased in pale denim. “They are pretty long.” She grinned, then immediately wished she’d kept her mouth shut. She’d already kissed this poor man and spent his money. Now she was going to leer at him? They settled themselves into their seats. “I suppose I should ask what that was about.

” Bella kept one eye on the door, where passengers eased in and down the aisle. Had Lucas actually boarded the plane? If she’d managed to upgrade to first at the last minute, there must be open seats. What on earth would she do if he followed her all the way to Zurich? “I went on a couple of dates with him then he told me he’s married.” The words stuck in her throat. “I said I wouldn’t see him again, and he freaked out and started following me around.” She closed her eyes for a moment, letting the guilt wash over her. “I told my dad and he said I should come home.” “Where’s that?” “Altaleone. It’s a small country between—” “I know where it is.” His dark eyes regarded her with amusement.

“You’ve been there?” “Once or twice.” “I was born there but I haven’t actually lived there since I was eight. My mom died and I was sent away to boarding school and since then I’ve kind of been on the road ever since. I visit my dad for Christmas but this is the first time he’s asked me to come home.” She paused to catch her breath. “Sorry, I’m rambling.” “Indeed you are.” “Do you live in New York.” “I do.” Not the chatty sort, was he? She probably should just leave him in peace now that he’d rescued her.

Still… “What do you do?” “I’m a lawyer.” “Oh.” Yikes. Lawyers were trouble. “I worked for a law firm in the city.” Her friend Melissa was a paralegal there and had got her the interview. “I don’t think they’ll be sad to see the back of me. I really want to work with animals. For the last few months I volunteered in a shelter on weekends and that was way more satisfying than my real job. But my landlord wouldn’t even let me adopt a cat.

” “Hmmm.” “I’m going to get a cat once I get home. And a dog. And anything else that needs rescuing.” A smile spread across her face at the thought. Her dad had said she could stay with him and that he wouldn’t mind an animal or two. His house was huge, with bedrooms to spare. And she’d finally have time to get to know him. Sometimes it felt like they were barely more than strangers. Her chest filled with emotion at the thought of actually living with him, and sharing dinner with him every night.

Bella felt like her whole life was starting over. The usual announcements were made and the plane started to taxi. Phew. She’d made her escape. “Thanks again for rescuing me.” “You’re welcome.” Her other conversational gambits went no further. Not a people person, clearly. Shame, since he was a great kisser. Three weeks later “Romance is the last thing I need.

” Rigo growled at his brother Sandro. “And if you insist on trying to shove women down my throat I’ll get on the next plane back to New York.” Rigo sat at the desk in his father’s old study at the palace. Decades of piled paperwork obscured the polished walnut. And people kept bothering him with trivialities. “I’m just saying that love is in the air right now, and with my wedding coming up I want everyone to be as happy as I am.” “Well, take your happiness and stick it where the sun don’t shine because I have work to do.” The door to the study swung open, and his sister Beatriz poked her head in. “I just interviewed the latest candidate, and she seems perfect.” “Is she pretty?” asked Sandro, glancing at Rigo with mischief in his eyes.

“Shut up, Sandro,” said Beatriz. “She’s intelligent, seems reasonably capable and cloyingly sweet. A perfect lady-in-waiting.” Rigo snorted. “Do we have to use that stupid title when we’re really looking for an administrative assistant?” “It’s tradition,” said Beatriz wryly. Rigo cursed under his breath. Tradition and all its nonsense rituals were half the reason he’d decamped to New York at the earliest opportunity. “Let me guess, her blue blood and winning smile are her most important qualifications.” Beatriz shrugged. “She fits the bill, that’s all.

I couldn’t not interview her. Her father is a local bigwig.” “Great, hiring by nepotism.” Rigo sighed. “Just what we need.” “Give her the benefit of the doubt, Rigo,” said Beatriz. “She’s in the dining room. Shall I send her in?” “Sure. These piles of papers should scare her off.” She probably thought it would be all garden parties and charity balls.

Beatriz smiled. “Great. I’ll go get her.” Sandro followed Beatriz out, leaving Rigo alone and annoyed that yet another palace obligation was distracting him from the investigation into who killed his father and grandmother. A knock on the door drew his grudging, “Come in.” The door opened and a petite girl in a white, lacy dress came in. Recognition crashed through him like a thunderbolt. The girl from the airport. “Hello, I’m Bella Beauvoir.” Panic flashed in her eyes as she thrust out her hand.

“I know. I believe we’ve had the pleasure of kissing.” Her face flushed. “I’m sorry, your majesty. It was an emergency.” “For God’s sake don’t ever call me that again.” He sighed and glanced at her ruffled dress. “Are you on your way to your own wedding?” “What?” Confusion clouded her hazel eyes. He gestured to the garment, which almost reached the floor. “Oh!” A grin spread across her annoyingly pert features.

“It actually was my mom’s wedding dress. I found it in a chest and decided to upcycle it. The lace is handmade, and it seemed a shame for it to sit in a box. I cut out all the petticoats and shortened the hem.” “How riveting.” He felt his eyes narrow. Long, dark ringlets cascaded over her shoulders in a most unprofessional manner. She’d never have made it past the HR department in New York. “Do you realize I’m looking for a secretary to organize and catalog all this paperwork?” He gestured at the teetering piles of yellowed pages and dog-eared manila folders. “They did explain that to me just now.

” She smiled wanly. “I love organizing things.” He snorted. “Really.” Typical vapid, pretty aristocrat’s daughter. He hated the type. “And why do you want this job?” “I’m looking for a challenging and interesting position.” A bright smile. He lifted a brow. Her expression faltered.

“There aren’t a whole lot of jobs here in Altaleone. I’m planning to start a small animal sanctuary so I need to work locally so I can be there when the animals need me.” Rigo suppressed a deep groan. But if he didn’t hire her there might be an endless stream of unsuitable candidates wasting his time and the work was hardly challenging. He decided to trust his sister Beatriz who knew more about palace life than he did. “When can you start?” Her face brightened. “I could start right now.” “Tomorrow will be fine. Be here at eight.” She blinked.

“That’s very early.” “If you’re not interested I—” “I’ll be here,” she interrupted. Then she leaned over the desk and thrust out her hand. “Thank you for the opportunity.” “See you in here tomorrow at eight. I’ll tell security to expect you.” He stood and took her hand with reluctance. It was soft and small, but her handshake was reasonably firm. Bella Beauvoir had no doubt drifted through life by being rich and noble and pretty, and it irked him that she was going to sail right into a prestigious palace job the same way. Still, he’d only keep her as long as she was useful to the investigation.

.

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