A blind date. He’d actually proposed a blind date.
Princess Amelie of Kirtida had scoffed at the idea when her future husband had suggested it. Blind dates were for people who didn’t know each other. Or at the very least, for people who weren’t royal. Who weren’t getting married for the sake of their kingdoms. Blind dates were for normal people with normal lives.
Amelie and her future husband weren’t normal.
And yet there she was, at a game reserve in the landlocked kingdom of Bothmead in the middle of South Africa. It was her own fault, really. Not only because she’d agreed, but because she’d told her fiancé the royal family of Kirtida would be in South Africa for diplomatic matters. She couldn’t exactly say no.
She didn’t want to say no.
That didn’t mean she was thrilled about the blind date.
‘Are you still brooding about it?’
His deep voice travelled lazily through the air, and though she’d recognise it anywhere, it still had her heart galloping. And her throat tightening. She told herself to take a breath – and then another – before finally turning around to face the man who would become her husband.
And the air quite literally left her lungs.
He was hot.
It didn’t matter, she’d told herself in the months they’d been communicating. The moment she found out she’d have to marry Prince Miles of Bothmead, Amelie had refused to consider his appearance. She hadn’t known about him before the marriage had been arranged, and she’d studiously avoided anything that would have allowed her to see him before now.
What would it have helped her? she’d thought. She’d still have to marry him regardless of how he looked. So she’d resolved to get to know him first. To speak with him over the phone. Over email. And then, when that had gone well, she hadn’t had the courage to look him up. Had refused the video calls he’d wanted to arrange. It was probably shallow of her to think it, but she hadn’t wanted his appearance to affect the connection they’d come to share.
Except now she was beginning to think that was even shallower than she’d initially believed. Because she had no fear about their connection now that she’d seen him. Now that she’d seen his strong build – how was it possible that she could see muscles under his suit? – his height that forced her to look up even though she was wearing her highest heels, and his face.
That was the part that kicked her in the stomach. The sharp angles of it, sloping from high cheekbones down to full lips. The light stubble that shouldn’t have been appropriate for a prince, yet somehow was. The eyes that reflected the kindness, the steadiness she’d learnt were a part of his personality over their months of communication.
His face, she thought again, that was every bit as attractive as his voice.
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Of course you do,’ he said, a smile playing over his lips. ‘You’re still annoyed that I called this a blind date.’
‘Because it isn’t a blind date.’
‘We’ve never met, Princess.’ He tilted his head. ‘That’s the very definition of a blind date.’
‘We know each other. That contradicts the very definition of a blind date.’
They stood like that for a moment, each on opposite sides of the deck that had been decorated for the occasion, in what any spectator would have called a stand-off. As a participant, however, Amelie knew they were just sizing each other up. And enjoying it as they did.
‘Say I believe you,’ she said after a moment. ‘Is that why you’ve done this?’
She’d kept her tone light, so that when she gestured around them, he knew she was teasing him.
‘Too much?’ he asked with a slight wince. She nearly smiled.
He quirked an eyebrow, sending a strange sensation through her body, and then slowly turned to peruse their setting. Lights were draped around the tree at the edge of the deck, hovering over their table as if to chaperone their date. Small lanterns hung on the branches directly over where they’d be sitting, ironically illuminating the candles along with the elaborate flower arrangement that Amelie imagined had been placed there for ambience.
‘You’ve never lied to me before.’ His voice was amused. ‘Why have you changed your mind now that we’ve met?’
‘How do you know I’ve never lied to you before?’
‘Because I do.’
An electric current passed between them. Amelie was certain it had struck her heart; stopping it, and then causing it to race.
‘Well,’ she said, hoping he didn’t notice the edge in her voice, ‘you happen to be right. But I’m not lying about this either. It’s beautiful. Though not quite practical. Where are we going to eat?’
He chuckled, and for this first time since joining her on the deck, he walked toward her. She nearly stepped back, but stopped when she realised he’d pounce on it if she did. He wouldn’t have the decency to pretend he didn’t affect her.
Why did she like that?
And then he was at her side, and she stopped thinking about it, her senses too enthralled by his musky scent. It was exactly what she’d expect in their setting; outside in nature. It was exactly what she’d expect from him.
Strong and masculine; the epitome of a desirable prince.
‘We’ll remove the centrepieces,’ he said with a smile. His hand lifted, brushed at hair she hadn’t realised had been in her face. She could hardly breathe.
‘That…that would probably be for the best.’
The wind rustled in the trees around them, and in it, Amelie heard the words, Kiss him. She froze, unable to comprehend it. Was she going crazy? How else could she explain what had just happened? She wasn’t in a fairy-tale; there were no animals urging them to kiss.
Maybe you’re just projecting what you want to do to him instead.
Something had changed on her face, and though Miles couldn’t put his finger on what, he felt it echo inside of him. Which was probably why he began to speak without realising it.
‘I wanted tonight to be perfect,’ he said softly, carefully. ‘I thought that if I could make this evening as romantic as it possible–’ he cleared his throat ‘–you’d feel better about…our future.’
She blinked. ‘Why? This is a political merger. For the sake of our kingdoms. We’ve come to terms with that over these past months, haven’t we?’ She didn’t wait for him to answer. ‘Our feelings – my feelings – shouldn’t be relevant.’
‘Your feelings are relevant to me.’
Her eyes widened, giving him a better view of the blue-grey sea of them. Almost inviting him to dive in. But if he did, he wouldn’t be able to appreciate the rest of her. How striking those eyes were against the brown of her skin. Against the black afro-like curls around her face.
Her pictures had in no way prepared him for what it was like to see her in person. Or to experience her, since sight didn’t seem adequate. It wouldn’t be able to feel the fierceness she carried with her, or the amusement that came with it. It wouldn’t be able to explain how her blue cocktail dress with its bright African pattern seemed to reflect the light inside her.
A light that drew him in like a moth to a flame.
It took him a moment to realise his experience was attraction. And then, once he had, he didn’t know what to do about it.
‘I think that might have been the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.’
He waited a beat. ‘You need to get better people in your life.’
She laughed, a soft, husky sound that sent a wave of desire, of excitement into his body. ‘Good thing I’m marrying you then.’
The wave became a tsunami. ‘You are a lucky woman.’
‘I can’t deny that.’ Their gaze held – the air around them crackled – and then she smiled. ‘After all, you did put so much effort into tonight.’
His lips curved. ‘You’re not going to let me live this down, are you?’
‘You wanted to meet me. This is what it’s like to know me in person.’
‘And over the phone. And emails. You’re pretty consistent.’
She narrowed her eyes, and Miles thought she’d have liked to stick her tongue out at him. The thought made him grin.
‘Nothing.’ And then, when his hand nearly lifted to her face, this time to pull at a curl, he nodded his head toward the edge of the deck. ‘Come on. I want to show you something.’
He waited until she turned to face the land that stretched out ahead of them.
‘For almost two hundred years, the Bothmead heirs have had to work at this reserve. It’s a rite of passage, learning to care for the animals. Largely because my ancestors believed that if you can care for animals well, you’ll be able to do so for people, too.’
He smiled. ‘Thank you.’ Paused. ‘It’s quiet at night, but during the day you’ll be able to see the lions roaming, the tigers sleeping, or the bucks at the watering hole.’ When silence extended just a beat too long, Miles began to feel silly for showing her something she couldn’t even see in the darkness. ‘It’s simple,’ he said, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.
‘It’s special,’ she corrected softly, and he angled his head so that he could look at her. So that he could find some sign on her face of how she’d understood.
Instead, he was caught in the light in her eyes. In the softness there; the indulgence. His knees weakened, and in some dim part of his brain he knew he was in trouble. But then he thought that maybe it wasn’t trouble when it was with his future wife, and felt his body tremble in an anticipation at the thought.
‘Exactly. How did you know?’
‘Because I do.’ She smiled teasingly at him, and shook her head so that the mass of curls bounced behind her. ‘Which once again proves that this isn’t a blind date. It can’t be, since clearly we know each other–’
She stopped as he dipped his head – an inevitability from his side; a compulsion. He did so slowly, making his intention clear, and giving her the opportunity to move if she wanted to. But she stayed where she was, her head tilting up, her eyes on his. And just as he hadn’t been able to resist this, he couldn’t resist asking her,
‘Can I kiss–’
Her mouth was on his before he could finish.
He’d considered fireworks for their date. Had gone so far as to purchase them. But then he’d seen the deck after his staff had decorated it, and he’d dismissed it as overkill. Now, he knew it would have been. Because he was fairly certain the sparks from their kiss were lighting up the sky as their lips moved together.
It was more than just his physical reaction to the kiss. Yes, it felt as if every cell in his body had woken up from a sleep he hadn’t known they’d been in. And yes, his blood felt as if it were carrying more electricity than oxygen in his veins.
But it also the way his heart surged in his chest; the way his soul felt as if it had found something. Home, a voice whispered in his head. He wanted to dismiss it, but found that he couldn’t. He’d been drawn to Amelie when they’d spoken over the last months. He’d been drawn to her the moment she’d turned to face him that evening. And now, with this kiss, it felt as if that pull had been solidified somehow.
He drew back, his hand lifting, his thumb brushing over the slight swell of her lips. Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled at him.
Home, he thought again. And this time, he didn’t even try to dismiss it.
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