“Nicole!” he howled.

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“Please come in, Nicole. So nice to see you again, Nicole.”

“Nicole! Sneaking out to walk around the palace property is one thing. But you can’t leave the palace proper, for God’s sake!” He fought the urge to gouge out his own eyes in horror. “The detail is going to shit.”

“Only if you rat me out.” She was looking around his slightly messy apartment with interest. “So this is where you live when you’re not driving me crazy.”

“I drive you crazy?” He tried to drink more Scotch but realized anew that the glass was empty. “That’s funny, that’s hilarious, I would have bet large amounts of currency that it was the other way around.”

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“Nice place.”

“Thanks.” He tried to see it through her eyes: the living room comfortably furnished with an oversized chair and a sectional couch. The fireplace. The kitchen, with dinner dishes still stacked in the sink. A serviceable bathroom with an extra-large whirlpool tub; he got kinks in his back and neck from being alert every moment of every hour he was on the job, and the tub did wonders for his muscles.

And the—the—

“Nicole, what are you doing here?”

“Well.” She shrugged out of her jacket and tossed it over the back of the couch. “You’re off duty for the rest of the week. And I’m off the grounds. So I figured, what better time for us to have sex than now? You’re not a bodyguard. And I’m not a princess.”

Clearly, the stress of palace living had driven her insane, poor girl. “Of course you’re a princess, how could you ever not be a—”

“I’ll rephrase. I don’t feel it here.” She lightly touched her left breast and he clutched the glass so hard he thought it would break. “People can ‘Her Highness’ me until they pass out, but it doesn’t feel real. None of this feels real.”

“You have to give it time. More time than a week. Like it or not, you’re a princess born. You don’t have to feel it. You just are.”

“Nice speech.”

“Thank you.”

“No, seriously. I’m all tingly and stuff.”

Then, incredibly, she was stripping her T-shirt over her head. “Okay, that wasn’t quite true,” she went on conversationally. “You feel real. I think about you all the time. And we’ll never have a better chance than this one.” She was shucking out of her jeans.

“Please stop undressing!” he croaked.

“I was kind of hoping you would start undressing.”

“Nicole—I—your father would shoot me with my own gun. And then several of his.”

“Aren’t we a little old to worry about what Daddy thinks?”

“But I—you—we—I—”

“Oh.” She blushed to her eyebrows. “You don’t want to. Oh, boy.” She covered her eyes. “I don’t normally misread a situation this badly. I don’t suppose you’ve got a bottomless pit I can throw myself into.”

Silence.

“Jeffrey?”

Then she felt his hands on her wrists, pulling her fingers away from her face. He had moved with that silently, spooky speed.

And then, oh thank God, he was kissing her and yanking at the buttons on his shirt.

Chapter 36

S he tried to help him with his shirt, but he was in a hurry and it tore. She hadn’t realized a good quality men’s shirt could rip like a Kleenex. She fumbled at his belt and, oh boy, was there a sexier sound than a man’s belt coming undone?

He yanked at his pants and they staggered back and forth while he tried not to trip, and finally he kicked free of them. Then he was pushing her bra cups down and sucking greedily at her nipples.

She arched against him and groaned, “Feels like you’re doing that between my legs.”

“Wait,” he said, voice muffled against her flesh.

She did what she had wanted to do for days: plunged her fingers into his black, curly hair, stroking, touching. His hair was coarse and soft at the same time, crackling beneath her fingers like a cat’s fur.

He fumbled for the middle of her back, fumbled more, then muttered, “Fuck it,” and yanked. She grinned as he relieved her of her (now useless) bra.

“You know, those hook and eye things are a pain to get back into—”

“Nicole, hush.”

“House rules, huh?”

“Something like that.” He scooped her up in his arms and practically ran to what she hoped was a bedroom.

And…it was! He dropped her on the bed and pulled down his boxers. She wriggled out of her panties, trying not to stare at him. His chest was furred with dark hair, tapering down his stomach and into his pubic hair. His sex jutted out at her and she could see how the tip gleamed.

Now she was really trying not to stare. Although why she was surprised, she didn’t know. Why wouldn’t a guy with big hands and broad shoulders be big…in all ways?

She was so busy trying not to stare at him, she didn’t realize he was staring at her. “Oh my God,” he breathed. “You look—”

“Bloated?” she suggested. “My monthly visitor is due in four or five days.”

He considered for a moment. “Incredibly, that did not ruin the mood. And the word I had in mind was beautiful.”

“Come here.”

He obliged, which was very fine. She couldn’t get enough of his mouth, she felt like devouring him. Then he trailed kisses down her breasts, lingered on her nipples, then moved to her stomach. He put his hands on her knees and slowly spread her legs; then he was kissing her where she had longed to be kissed.

“Oh God!”

He was parting her lower lips with his tongue again and again, teasing and licking and kissing. She pumped her hips against his mouth in pure unconscious reaction, and then he was—oh he was—he was fucking her with his tongue.

“Please please get up here!”

He obliged and kissed her hard. He tasted like salt and fresh grass and her. She heard the bedside table drawer slide open and realized he was finding a condom by touch while kissing her so hard she was having trouble finding her breath.

She broke the kiss and said, “Let me.” She ripped the corner of the foil with her teeth, pulled out the condom, and grabbed his stiff dick. He shuddered like a horse and she eased her grip, then rolled the condom on.

He fell upon her like a starving animal, slid into her up to the hilt with no further formalities, and she wrapped her legs around his hips and pumped back at him stroke for stroke.

They surged together, kissing and scratching and writhing, and she was astonished to feel her orgasm closing in on her. It normally took quite a bit longer.

“Dry spell’s over,” she gasped, and in reply he pressed his face to her neck and thrust harder.

Then she was flying—or, at least, it always seemed like that to her. Flying and free and soaring and going wherever she wanted to go.

“Jeffrey,” she whispered, still feeling the internal quakes.

“Nicole.”

“Do it again.”

For reply he took a deep breath and she realized he was breathing in the scent of her hair, and the thought of such tenderness from a man who looked like a brute was all it took; she fell over the edge again, swooping and soaring.

Then he was stiffening in her arms, and then she slowly settled back to the planet.

Chapter 37

“N o. No! No damned way!”

“Aw. Don’t be like that, Big Al.”

“Out! I mean it! The detail has orders to shoot to kill.”

“It’s nice to feel wanted.”

He gave her the scowl that sent most people scurrying for cover, but that just made her grin widen. “Bad enough I have to put up with you during the course of my business day. But I refuse—refuse—to put up with you during my own time.”

“But you’re in your office.”

“News flash, Dragon: I can be in any of these rooms I want. It’s my fucking house. Plus, this is my time off.”

“Not so, Big Al. Kings don’t get time off. Neither do their biographers, and let me tall ya, that’s something they didn’t mention in grad school. What’re you doing, anyhow?”

“Looking up porn on the Internet.”

“Haw! Like you don’t have a battalion of underlings to fetch you all the porn you want. C’mon, you know I’ll drag it out of you after a while. Cough up, big guy. Watcha doing?”

“Reading Nicole’s scripts.”

“Really?” She came around the desk and peeked at his laptop. Today’s suit was navy blue; the shoes were red Keds. He got a whiff of—cookies?—when she bent over to look.

“Die Hard: Enough Is Enough,” she read aloud. “She wrote this?”

“Rewrote. It’s her—it was her other job. Punching up scripts for Hollywood.”

“How many d’you find so far?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“That’s nice work, if you can get it. Hollywood’s got the bucks t’spare.” Her hand was resting on his shoulder; he doubted she realized. Her soft, slim hand. The hand of a scholar. His hands were too big, too blocky, and riddled with calluses. “I still can’t believe she didn’t skedaddle for L.A. when the shitstorm began.”

“Because she’s a Baranov,” he said simply. “We don’t run.”

The Dragon was now drumming her fingers on his shoulder. “That’s of historical significance, doncha know.”

“Not running.”

“Well, yeah. But the other, too. We’ve had royal poets and royal songwriters, but never a royal script writer.”

“You’re a plague on me, not her.”

“Well now, that’s true enough, Big Al.” She was staring down at him. Her curls framed her face in a dark red cloud. “I guess I can wait until you kick it before being a plague on her.”

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