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Authors: Christina Hollis

Weight of the Crown (9 page)

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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Slowly, regretfully, she detached herself from his embrace. If a dull, respectable man like her ex-fiancé could talk of love yet still leave her high and dry, what chance would she have with a rogue like Lysander? His casual approach to women was a warning she couldn’t afford to ignore—but his touch was like a drug, making her hungry for more.

Catching at her hands, he drew them up to his mouth. Pressing his lips hard against her knuckles, he kissed them and she felt dizzy with longing.

‘Lysander!’ she whispered but he had already let her go. His easy stride quickly took him out of her reach. She was rooted to the spot, and could only watch him head off downstairs to rejoin his reception.

When he reached the open doors of the state banqueting room, he turned. Alyssa held her breath, waiting to see if he would look up to see if she was still watching. He did. There was obvious enjoyment in his knowing gaze as he glanced back at her, over his shoulder. Then he blew her a kiss and was gone.

She was left staring after him, her body alive with arousal and her mind full of regrets. Why had she let things go so far?
Because it felt unbelievably good,
a treacherous inner voice told her from its hiding place, deep within her body.

She tried to see sense. Letting Lysander get to her like that left her wide open to more pain. She knew she should have stayed strong, given him the message, then turned her back on him and walked away. Instead she had let herself taste the luxury of being desired by Lysander. Now she knew one kiss from him would never be enough. He inspired a heat within her body that needed to be fed constantly. Reliving the sensation of Lysander’s broad back beneath her wandering hands, she wanted to make it reality again. Her mind was so full of him, she had forgotten she was standing in full view of the footman standing at the banqueting hall door. When she accidentally caught the man’s eye, fear jolted her back to life. What had she done? Kissing her boss in full view of a witness was bad enough, but when that boss was also a man with no conscience and a country to run, it could mean nothing but trouble. Hot with embarrassment, she turned tail and dashed back to the safety of the nursery wing.

Diving inside her suite, she slammed the door and leaned back heavily against it. Her heart was beating hard and fast, but as it slowed she remembered something. The foootman hadn’t looked at all shocked by Lysander’s antics. She might as well not have bothered to run. Common sense should have told her that the palace staff must see that same scene, or one very like it, acted out all the time. With Lysander, it would be a new girl every night.

The thought that an escapade that meant so much to her was nothing unusual for Lysander should have made Alyssa feel better.

Instead, it made her feel a whole lot worse. She had
made a fool of herself over Lysander, and she wasn’t the only girl to have done that.

But I’m going to be the only one who learns from her mistake,
she vowed grimly.

Lysander strode through the huge banqueting hall towards his seat of honour at the top table. The place was packed, and for the first time since he had been forced into the role of Regent of Rosara his smile was genuine. When it came to women, he had always bedded the ones he wanted, whenever he wanted them. He might hate the loss of his free time as his carefree life was replaced by timetables and obligations, but there were advantages. Just when he’d thought he would go insane with frustration, Alyssa had arrived. Right now he didn’t miss being out trawling nightclubs or film premieres. He could avoid the noisy press of nightclubs, and the tail of paparazzi that followed his comet of celebrity. His next conquest was close enough to enjoy at his leisure, because she was working right here in the palace. He felt his body kick with anticipation. Perhaps there was something to be said for his new lifestyle after all. In his experience, women only stayed in his life for as long as it took him to get them into bed. For him, the thrill was all in the chase. He needed Alyssa to go on working for him afterwards, so he would have to be careful and very discreet—but that only added to her allure. Breaking down the barriers she had erected around herself would take time, but he would have her sooner or later. There was no doubt about that in his mind. Until then, he would enjoy pushing the boundaries a little more each time they met. It would delay
that glorious moment when at last he seduced her, and make it all the sweeter.

His smile widened. He was glad now that he had resisted every instinct to ravish Miss Alyssa Dene at the top of the grand staircase. When he finally satisfied his body and his curiosity about the delights of that delicious, tantalising woman it would be a treat worth waiting for—and he would make sure that everything about the moment was absolutely perfect. Sacrificing his old life of idleness for this new one of routine and duty didn’t feel quite such a wrench when he thought about Alyssa. She was not only a delicious prospect, she liked the way he wanted to carry on the improvements to the country started by his father and brother. The idea of making her smile—and not only in the bedroom—appealed to him. It might even turn out to be more rewarding than his old shallow lifestyle on the champagne circuit. Any fool could make a girl go weak at the knees by spending money on her. It took something more to captivate a woman like Alyssa.

Lysander’s feeling of satisfaction grew as he saw the way people looked at him tonight. Instead of knowing grins, most of his guests were smiling at him appreciatively. One or two looked as though they would rather be anywhere other than sitting at a formal dinner with a load of stuffed shirts. Lysander knew exactly how they felt. He saved his particularly gracious smiles for them. When they responded with warmth, it gave him a real boost. It was almost as good as the pleasurable feeling he got when he thought about Alyssa.

He had had to walk away from her tonight in favour of this banquet, but his mind wasn’t going to let her
go so easily. He needed satisfaction, and he couldn’t get it from this formal dinner. The only way he could keep smiling at his guests was to think about her. That was ironic. Any of Lysander’s entanglements that had threatened to last longer than simple physical pleasure, he had ended. Ruthlessly. It was safer that way. However, while he was still waiting for the right moment to take Alyssa, she was carving herself a place in his thoughts no other woman had managed to secure. Other conquests faded from his mind once he had satisfied his curiosity about them. With Alyssa he got the feeling that the more he found out about her, the less he knew. For instance, that all-covering robe she was wearing. The belt had been cinched in so tightly around her neat little waist it had screamed ‘keep away’, but he knew that wouldn’t have stopped him for long. He let his mind wander in the direction his hands would take at a better time and place … Their stolen kisses just now had almost taken his breath away. How Alyssa did it he’d never know, but her eager responses to his touch had unleashed his desire in a way that almost had him making his excuses and sidling upstairs to finish what he had started with her, a few minutes earlier. The idea of resisting that temptation was something else that made him smile. In the past he’d have had no hesitation in ditching the formal banquet.

It was exactly the sort of stunt this assembly would expect him to pull. These people were diplomats and politicians who were terrified he would make mistakes. They were all watching and waiting for his first false move. That was why he had been so keen to show off
what a good job was being made with Ra’id. He had chosen the best woman for the task, and bringing up the heir to Rosara would be a joint effort. The great and good of his country needed to know its royal family was worthy of their support.
I’m definitely not going to disappoint them on that score,
Lysander thought with determination.

Alyssa barely slept that night. Thoughts of Lysander filled her mind and tormented her body. Her feelings tumbled together in chaos. She had accepted this job convinced that no man was to be trusted, least of all Lysander. That conviction was supposed to make sure she could shrug off his charms. She of all people should have been able to resist! After all the trauma in her life over the past months, she had felt immune to every human emotion. Now she knew that ‘numb’ was a better word to describe the way she had felt—until she met Lysander. Getting dumped by Jerry only a few weeks before their wedding had wrung out her emotions and she had vowed no man would ever be allowed to disappoint her again. And yet here she was, setting herself up for more heartbreak. Lysander had set her body free to feel again, and he was addictive. She should have walked away every single time he moved in close. Trusting her instincts and keeping him at arm’s length might have kept her safe. Instead, she had let him get inside her guard. From that moment, she was as good as lost. She wanted Lysander with a fierce hunger she had never experienced before. It was infuriating and scary and she wanted to turn back time to stop herself being drawn into his web of arousal.

But this torment was so sweet, she wouldn’t want to avoid it, even if she could. The only way to protect her heart was to leave this job, and that was something she could never do. The thought that Ra’id would be allowed to run wild again if she weren’t there to protect him sent shivers down her spine. Whatever the personal cost to her, it would be easier to shield him from his uncle’s lifestyle than to expect Lysander to change … She sighed. A one-woman Lysander was the ideal, but it was never going to happen. She knew that, but it couldn’t stop her dreaming.

Next morning, Alyssa found it hard to concentrate on anything. What she needed was something to take her mind off Lysander. Every thought she had turned to him, and how she could get to see him again. It was the worst thing she could do, but in some mad way she hoped it might frighten some sense into her confusion of feelings. If Lysander guessed how she felt, he would enjoy it so much he might try to seduce her again. If he laughed off the whole incident, she would be crushed. Either way, the idea of being a hostage to his reactions made her feel restless and insecure.

Assuming Lysander would be sleeping late after the banquet, she thought it would be safe to go for a walk. The day was already hot so she got Ra’id to take her on another guided tour of the whole palace while it was still early. It was quite a distraction. Walking through room after room of cool marble floors, silken cushions and gilding was heavenly. The whole palace was magical, but Alyssa couldn’t help feeling it lacked something. There was beauty, but no life around. The
place was trying too hard to be restrained and tasteful. Ra’id picked up on the lack of atmosphere, too. He was strangely quiet and well behaved.

‘That’s where all the offices are,’ he told her as they ended their tour back on the ground floor. He was pointing along a colonnade that ran down the far side of the main quadrangle. Alyssa wondered if that was where Lysander would spend his days, when he was working. She remembered what he had said about being a caged tiger. This was a sumptuous palace, but for a man like him an office must feel like a prison cell. She looked along the airy corridor for any signs of life, but it was all peaceful.

‘Aren’t you going to show me inside all those rooms?’ she asked Ra’id.

He gasped as though she had suggested putting his head into a lion’s mouth. ‘Oh, no, I’m not allowed down
there
! But I’ll show you how I get the people inside to come out and play with me, if you like,’ the little boy went on innocently.

Grabbing her hand, he pulled her out into the courtyard. It was a shock. The heat hit her with as much force as her embarrassment. It was only hours since Lysander had kissed her, and trespassing so close to the place where he lived his other life made her feel strangely shy.

Ra’id led her towards a pool of shade beneath a spreading fig tree. That was when she heard Lysander’s voice. He was speaking in a stern, clipped way she had never heard him use before. She stopped, but Ra’id couldn’t have cared less about her feelings. All he wanted to do was check out the tree for ripe figs.

As they drew level with an open office door Alyssa saw why Lysander’s voice sounded so unusual. Lounging back in an executive chair, he had his feet on his desk and was talking into a small dictating machine. With a smile he raised one hand at them in greeting.

Feeling really self-concious, Alyssa stepped back. Ra’id gave a cheerful wave to his uncle and then turned his attention back to searching for figs. Skulking in the shade, Alyssa tried to become invisible. Lysander had other ideas. He stood up and strolled out of his office to lean on the low wall of the colonnade.

‘Alyssa? Don’t hide away in the shadows.’

Through the long, sleepless hours of night she had wondered if her memory was playing tricks. Her fantasy Lysander was so handsome and irresistible, she was half afraid the real thing might be a let-down. He wasn’t. He looked every bit as good as she remembered. When he looked at her she felt her knees go weak, but that was only the start. His smile seduced her straight into saying too much.

‘I have to hide. It’s this horrible navy-blue uniform.’ She flicked at the stiff skirt. ‘I’m not accustomed to wearing a uniform but your staff seemed to think it is the done thing. I look like a relic from the fifties, and feel like I’m wearing a tent. And I’m sorry about last night,’ she finished in a rush.

He leaned forward, over the low wall between them. ‘I’m not …’ he said as he gave her a whimsical grin ‘ … but as for your clothes—if you don’t like them, then that’s easily fixed. It would be my pleasure to get something done about them.’ He smiled at her in a way that explained exactly what his ideas would involve. If that
wasn’t temptation enough, he was looking spectacular today, despite his late night. Beautifully dressed in a lightweight linen suit, he had slung its jacket over the back of his chair. His usual gold cufflinks were missing and he had turned back the cuffs of his white shirt. They made a dazzling contrast to his bronzed skin.

‘So, Alyssa—how are you getting on in your new home, apart from that?’

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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