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Authors: Christina Hollis

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BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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There was a twinkle in his eyes that was downright wicked and it helped defuse the tension she was feeling, Alyssa smiled back at him in spite of herself and slid demurely into the car.

‘Now
that’s
more like it.’ He slid into the seat beside her and slammed the door. Pressing a button, he raised a partition that closed the passenger compartment off from where Ra’id was busy distracting their chauffeur.

The second they had complete privacy, Lysander lost his smile. Turning in his seat, he levelled a penetrating stare at her.

‘Joking apart, what
is
the matter, Alyssa? Are you ill? You’re as white as a sheet, and you look terrible.’

She managed to rally, but it was an effort. ‘Well, thank you very much! I thought you said you were a gentleman?’

Twisting her hands nervously in her lap, she steeled herself to tell him the worst. It had been preying on her mind, and now it felt like the most awful, enormous problem in the whole world.

‘You’re right. I am worried about something.’

‘Well?’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts? Watching you with Ra’id, it’s obvious you’re made for each other.’

She felt a wonderful rush of pleasure that made up for all her nervousness about travelling with him.

‘Thank you! Looking after him doesn’t feel like work to me. I love it so much, and everyone here is so friendly. I can’t believe I nearly missed the chance to work for you, Lysander. It’s turning out to be a dream job for me,’ she said, but he wasn’t taken in.

‘So what has stolen the roses from your cheeks?’ He raised one finger and started to trail it down the side of her face. Alyssa started. Her eyes flicked to where Ra’id and the chauffeur were deep in conversation, just the other side of the soundproof screen. Lysander raised an eyebrow, but dropped his hand. ‘Not me, that’s for sure. I can see by that blush.’

‘I keep telling you, Lysander, it’s nothing you need to worry about,’ she said in a dangerous voice.

He raised a sardonic eyebrow. ‘Well, have it your own way—but remember, if there’s ever anything I can do to help, just ask.’

‘Thank you. That’s very kind,’ she said as he offered her a drink from the car’s chiller. Pouring some freshly squeezed passion-fruit juice into a glass filled with ice, he handed it to her with a shrug.

‘One of the perks of “working for a prince”, that’s all,’ he said with a devastating smile.

When he looked at her like that, Alyssa saw why hordes of beautiful women flocked around him despite his easy-come-easy-go reputation. She also realised her body wasn’t as determined as her mind. It melted under the warmth of his gaze, despite what he said next.

‘And as Ra’id’s nanny, that means you’ll be travelling with him and me in the private quarters of the plane, apart from the rest of the staff. You should be quite comfortable as there is a lounge area aside from
my office. While there are some matters I must attend to I want to reassure you that I intend to look after my nephew properly.’

‘Of course. That means we’ll all be able to get some work done,’ she said, trying to sound firm.

Lysander’s smile became more of a rueful grimace as he nodded towards Ra’id’s small, excitable figure in the front seat. ‘I wouldn’t be so sure about that!’

As usual, Lysander and his team were fast tracked onto the plane so he could start work straight away. He was glad of the excuse to bury himself in paperwork, because he needed time to think. Alyssa was starting to affect him far more than he’d expected. She was stealthily stripping away all his certainties about women. He loved women in all their forms and, so far, wanting a woman and sleeping with her had been one and the same thing to him. He had never met one who didn’t want to gratify her desire for his body within minutes of meeting him. Alyssa was no exception, but for some reason she was determined to fight it. Despite her reticence, nothing could hide the signs. He loved watching the pupils of her breathtakingly blue eyes grow large and dark when she looked at him. When the tip of her tongue danced sensuously over her lips it betrayed her thoughts until he wanted to kiss her senseless.

He moved irritably in his seat. Trying to settle himself was impossible, especially as she passed by just then with Ra’id and gave him the briefest of smiles. It wasn’t enough. He was hungry for Alyssa’s laughter. No other woman looked at him like that, or stood up to him the way she did. It was the effect she had on him
that concerned Lysander. Women who wanted money or status were easily dealt with, but Alyssa wasn’t like that. She was an unknown quantity. Simply bedding her would pose no problem for him at all. He knew she would come to him, sooner or later. He saw it every day in her eyes, felt it in her touch and, for a few spellbinding seconds, he had tasted it on her lips. Yet each time he tried to get closer, she backed off. It seemed as though life leant too heavily on her mind to let the real Alyssa inside the starchy nanny out to play. That thought ran through his chest like a rapier blade. Lysander knew all about secrets, and the way they could lead to disaster.

He pulled a hand down over his face, blocking out the memories. He didn’t want to think about the past in any more detail than that.

And that was why he found Alyssa so disturbing.

Alyssa was not happy. Ra’id’s excitement made her feel ten times worse about being so nervous. She made herself join in with him, while fighting to hide her fear. She wished she could be like the rest of the staff, laughing and joking while they stood on the tarmac as they waited to board the plane. When Lysander had jokingly told her,
Cheer up, it might never happen!
she’d snapped at him without meaning to. That made her feel even worse.

Ra’id couldn’t wait to be shown to his seat in Lysander’s private quarters. Alyssa followed him, glad to be well away from the rest of their party. While a stewardess strapped Ra’id into his seat for the flight, Alyssa sat and shivered. She hardly noticed when
Lysander asked for a blanket, but she was soon very glad he had. Taking the seat beside her, he threw the blanket over her lap and arranged it round her. As the engines rumbled into life he slipped his hand under its folds and caught hold of her hand.

‘I was right. You looked cold, and your hand is freezing. Are you sure you’re all right, Alyssa?’

He sounded so concerned she shook her head, but couldn’t open her eyes. Only the smallest shiver of apprehension betrayed her.

‘Oh, is
that
it?’

She heard a mixture of relief and triumph in his voice. Then he gave her hand a quick squeeze and announced loudly, ‘Ra’id, Alyssa has a headache, so you must be very quiet.’

Leaning close to her, he whispered very softly in her ear, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you’re afraid of flying?’

‘It seemed silly to bother you with something I have to deal with myself.’

‘That’s a typical Alyssa answer!’ He laughed quietly. ‘Good. It means you’re still there underneath the nerves.’

‘Thank you for understanding, Lysander,’ she muttered under her breath.

‘Don’t mention it. Thank
you
for being so brave.’

The royal jet began to thunder down the runway. Lysander held her hand tight until they were airborne.

‘There. That’s all there is to it,’ he reassured her, withdrawing his hand from beneath the blanket. ‘Although you still look pretty frail. Why don’t you go and have a lie down? I have a bedroom for long haul flights.’ He indicated a
door behind them. Alyssa was on her guard instantly, and saw him realise why.

‘You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be far too busy out here, what with paperwork, and Ra’id … you know,’ he said casually.

‘As kind as your offer is I really shouldn’t, Lysander. It’s my job to be here to keep an eye on Ra’id, and if you’re busy with work—’

‘Nonsense,’ he interrupted her. ‘I will need you to be on top form once we land and return to the palace. Ra’id is bound to be bursting with excitement then and will need some calming down. I’ll get another staff member to play some games with him until I am free to entertain him myself. I’m giving you an order to rest.’

Alyssa nodded. After her restless night, the chance to catch up on her sleep and ignore her fears for a while—even if it was in the surroundings of Lysander’s own room—was too tempting to miss.

He showed her into a compact cabin. It was perfectly equipped and totally unthreatening, she was glad to find. The carpet was so thick, it felt quite natural to kick off her shoes and dig her toes into its softness as she looked around. The bed was large and uncluttered with the duvet and pillows covered in a plain tan slip. The masculine theme continued through to the room’s brown upholstery and the air seemed tinged with the faint suggestion of his signature aftershave.

‘Stay in here for as long as you like, Alyssa.’

His guiding hand gave her a light pat.

‘Thank you.’

There was nothing forced about her smile now. As she went towards the bed Lysander reached out and
pulled back the duvet for her. She hesitated, eyeing him with suspicion. Taking the hint, he dropped the coverlet and took a step back from the bed. With that reassurance, she got in. Before she could stop him Lysander covered her over. It was like being enveloped in a cloud. She closed her eyes. There was a slight pressure from his hands as he settled the cover around her. It eased, returned again for a fraction of a second, and then was gone.

‘Try and get some rest.’

His words came from somewhere safely over by the door. Alyssa smiled without opening her eyes. After her long, sleepless night, she really couldn’t stay awake any longer.

Lysander didn’t leave the room straight away. He paused, then on impulse returned to her bedside the moment she was asleep. After a second’s hesitation, he kissed her lightly on her cheek.

‘Sweet dreams,’ he murmured, and then quickly left the room.

Why in the world did I do that?
he wondered, making his escape. He closed the door behind him, but that was the last sensible thing he did. He didn’t stride away, putting a good distance between him and temptation. Instead, he stood with one hand on the door handle, thinking.

There was only one problem with Miss Alyssa Dene—and that was the fact that there
was
no problem. She had the body of an angel, and a mind to match.

That was the highest praise Lysander could give. He’d known a lot of women, but they were all too easily
distracted by his money and influence. None of them had shown a fraction of Alyssa’s nerve and determination. There was no doubting her courage. She didn’t think twice about standing up to him, and the way she hid her fear of flying from Ra’id was so brave. When he’d held her in his arms the other night, it had aroused an urgency within his body that was completely foreign to him. And as for kissing her … well, that was something else … Lysander forced himself to push thoughts like that to the back of his mind. He liked to retain control of his body and emotions at all times. He only had to think about his brother’s disastrous love affair to see what happened when a man let his heart rule his head. But Lysander had started leaving his common sense behind whenever he thought of Alyssa. She stirred primitive feelings in him, and they couldn’t be ignored. Seeing her looking so vulnerable in his bed, he had been overcome in a shocking way by the urge to possess her fragile beauty.

He was still for so long, Ra’id stopped chewing the end of his crayon and looked up from his colouring book.

‘Is Alyssa all right, Uncle Ly?’

‘Oh, yes.’ He nodded, although his face was grave. ‘She’s perfect.’

And that’s dangerous,
he thought.

CHAPTER FOUR

A
LYSSA
stretched out luxuriantly, still hazy from the dream she’d just had. Opening her eyes, she lurched back to reality. This was Lysander’s bed, and she was still in his cabin on-board his private plane. Only the touch of his lips had been a dream. The wonderful, guilty feeling of being held in his arms slipped away as she woke fully, leaving her alone again. It wasn’t his pulse she could feel purring through the length of her body, but the soft vibration of aircraft engines.

That was enough to get her moving. She wished she could enjoy Lysander’s own private space, but the sensation of being in a plane played on her nerves. She needed distraction, and was about to get up when sounds of soft movement came from outside the bedroom. She froze. Without knowing why, she shut her eyes again and rolled onto her side with her back to the door. There was something about being found awake in this room that felt all wrong, and her only defence was to play possum. Whoever was coming to investigate was bound to let her sleep on. That would be less embarrassing all round.

She heard the cabin door brush over the thick carpet as it was pushed open. She expected her visitor,
whoever it was, to retreat after a quick peek. Forcing herself to breathe slowly despite her pounding heartbeat, she waited to hear it close again. It didn’t happen. Instead, muffled footsteps crossed the room to her bedside. Despite straining her ears she hardly heard a sound, but there was a definite presence very near to her. She felt it grow closer as someone leaned over her—and she inhaled the clean fresh scent of Lysander’s aftershave. It gave her such a lift she let her eyelashes part a fraction. When she saw the pale shape of his hand drifting towards her cheek she drew in a long lingering breath, waiting for his touch.

It never came. His hand hovered beside her face, then moved down to linger over her shoulder. He was almost touching her—but his fingertips never quite connected with her body. The suspense stroked an exquisite glow over her skin. Then she saw his fingers clench. Abruptly, he pulled his hand out of her restricted field of view. Her heart sinking, she waited for him to vanish and quietly close the door on her fantasy.

When he slammed it with enough force to demolish the place, Alyssa didn’t have to pretend to jump—she did it naturally. She sat up sharply in the bed, then remembered she should be half asleep. Rubbing her eyes, she pretended to be confused. Lysander was standing in the doorway, looking carefully at everything else in the cabin, but not her. Alyssa was glad she wasn’t the focus of his attention. It meant she didn’t have to meet his eyes.

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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