A Royal Without Rules(2)

By: Caitlin Crews

And thanks to his inability to behave for one single day—even at his only brother’s engagement party!—Pato was now her problem to handle in the two months leading up to Kitzinia’s first royal wedding in a generation.

Adriana couldn’t believe this was happening. She’d been demoted from working at the right hand of the future king to taking out the royal family’s trash. After her years of loyalty, her hard work. Just when she’d started to kid herself that she really could begin to wash away the historic stain on the once proud Righetti name.

“Pato needs a keeper,” Prince Lenz had said earlier this morning, having called Adriana into his private study upon her arrival at the palace. Adriana had ached for him and the burdens he had to shoulder. She would do anything he asked, anything at all; she only wished he’d asked for something else. Pato was the one part of palace life she couldn’t abide. “There are only two months until the wedding and I can’t have the papers filled with his usual exploits. Not when there’s so much at stake.”

What was at stake, Adriana knew full well, was Lenz’s storybook marriage to the lovely Princess Lissette, which the world viewed as a fairy tale come to life—or would, if Pato could be contained for five minutes. Kitzinia was a tiny little country nestled high in the Alps, rich in world-renowned ski resorts and stunning mountain lakes bristling with castles and villas and all kinds of holiday-making splendor. Tourist economies like theirs thrived on fairy tales, not dissipated princes hell-bent on self-destruction in the glare of as many cameras as possible.

Two months in this hell, she thought now, still holding Pato’s amused gaze. Two months knee-deep in interchangeable women, sexual innuendo and his callous disregard for anything but his own pleasure.

But Lenz wanted her to do this. Lenz, who had believed in her, overlooking her infamous surname when he’d hired her. Lenz, who she would have walked through fire for, had he wanted it. Lenz, who deserved better than his brother. Somehow, she would do this.

“I would sooner climb across a sea of broken glass on my hands and knees than into that circus carousel you call your bed,” Adriana said, then smiled politely. “I mean that with all due respect, of course, Your Royal Highness.”

Pato tilted back his head and laughed.

And Adriana was forced to admit—however grudgingly—that his laugh was impossibly compelling, like everything else about him. It wasn’t fair. It never had been. If interiors matched exteriors, Lenz would be the Kitzinian prince who looked like this, with all that thick sun-and-chocolate hair that fell about Pato’s lean face and hinted at his wildness, that sinful mouth, and the kind of bone structure that made artists and young girls weep. Lenz, not Pato, should have been the one who’d inherited their late mother’s celebrated beauty. Those cheekbones, the gorgeous eyes and easy grace, the smile that caused riots, and the delighted laughter that lit whole rooms.

It simply wasn’t fair.

Pato extricated himself from the pile of naked women on his bed and swung his long legs over the side, wrapping the sheet around his waist as he stood. As much to taunt her with the other women’s nakedness as to conceal his own, Adriana thought, her eyes narrowing as he raised his arms high above his head and stretched. Long and lazy, like an arrogant cat. He grinned at her when she glared at him, and as he moved toward her she stiffened instinctively—and his grin only deepened.

“What is my brother’s favorite lapdog doing in my bedroom this early in the day?” he asked, that low, husky voice of his no more than mildly curious. Still, his gaze raked over her and she felt a kind of clutching in her chest, a hitch in her breath. “Looking as pinch-faced and censorious as ever, I see.”

“First of all,” Adriana said, glancing pointedly at the delicate watch on her wrist and telling herself she wasn’t pinched and didn’t care that he thought so, “it’s past noon. It’s not early in the day by any definition.”

“That depends entirely on what you did last night,” he replied, unrepentant and amused, with a disconcerting lick of heat beneath. “I don’t mean what you did, of course. I mean what I did, which I imagine was far more energetic than however it is you prepare yourself for another day of pointless subservience.”

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