'I need to get back to Boston,' she breathed.
'It's barely light.'
He wasn't interested. He'd made no move at all and she was so inexperienced she was probably reading everything that wasn't real into his searing scrutiny.
'Some of us actually have to attend classes and labs and do dissertations to get our degrees, you know,' she added.
'Or do you want to get back early in the hope no one will see you do the walk of shame?'
'Shame about what?' she murmured, not really for him to hear. What she felt was regret and longing and a wish for something so much more. Instead she picked up her bag from where it had fallen on the floor, fished out her phone and inwardly freaked out when she saw all the messages.
'Did you just send someone a selfie?' Jaxon asked incredulously, a moment later.
'My security.' She nodded. 'I need to reassure them I'm alive and well.'
'Are they angry with you for leaving town?'
'They're surprised.' She paused as she read the incoming message. 'And they're at my apartment already. I should have messaged them so much sooner.' She felt guilty but then chuckled as she saw the picture her guard then sent through.
She turned her phone so he could see it.
His eyebrows lifted. 'What is that?'
'The cat Hester rescued. She's allergic, but feeds him anyway. He likes to sleep on my bed.'
'Color me amazed.' Jaxon glanced at her slyly. 'So you let feral boys sneak into your room? You have a hidden wild streak.'
Fiorella's phone beeped again but her heart sank as she read the message. 'Apparently Hester's arranged for someone to come and feed him.'
'And that's a problem because…?'
'She didn't think I could handle it. Or that I might actually want to help look after him.'
'Maybe she's been listening to Alek and didn't want to burden you.'
'Not even to take care of a cat?' She drew in a breath. 'They didn't want me to go to Triscari either.'
'Feeling unnecessary, Princess?'
'You might not want or need people, Jaxon, but I do,' she said bravely. 'And I want to be needed in return.'
'Needed or wanted?'
'You know you could get anyone you want,' he said softly.
'No,' she half laughed sadly. 'I don't think people see past the crown. I'm a caricature. Or a challenge. Or something not…real.'
'Are you saying you've never been on a date? No hookups at end-of-term parties or anything?'
'Not a thing. I have protection officers, remember?'
'Who back off the second you ask them to. You've just had a night off and it wasn't hard at all. So maybe it's not the protection officers. Maybe it's the vibe you give off.'
'Too much naivete and sprinkles of romance?'
He coughed and laughed at the same time. 'You're a bit out of everyone's league.'
'You're out of everyone's league and that doesn't stop you from scoring dozens of lovers.'
He shook his head. 'We're very different people, Fiorella.'
'I don't see why that means I should miss out on—' She broke off and glared at him. 'Do you think I scare them?'
He cleared his throat. 'Possibly.'
'Do I scare you?'
She gaped and, even though she didn't believe him, a hot lick of pleasure flickered. 'Is it the princess thing?'
He cocked his head and gazed at her. 'No.'
Jaxon didn't answer, but his gaze didn't leave hers. Fiorella froze as the intensity in the room built.
'Do you know I've never missed a lecture?' she confessed, suddenly unable to handle the silence.
'Never skipped school?'
'Most of my childhood I had a governess and then private tutors. Wynyard is the first place I've been where there have been other people in my class.'
Something flickered in his eyes.
'Hence the socially awkward thing, right?' she half joked.
'The last thing you are is socially awkward.'
'Oh, I am. I was hidden away for so long. I had to seriously brush up my skills when I finally was allowed to come here. It took forever to master walking in those high heels…but I had to because I didn't want to be Princess Disappointment. So now I can meet, greet, smile, chat…but anything intimate? Get a guy to touch me?' She shook her head.
He didn't move. 'What did you just say?'
'I know you heard me.'
'Fiorella,' she corrected.
'Princess helps me remember what you are.'
'Because I'm a what, not a who?' she asked sadly. 'Do you think it makes me more precious? Because it doesn't. It shouldn't. And I really don't want it to.'
'You're too precious for me.'
'Maybe we should both forget who I am.'
'That would be unwise,' he muttered. But he took another step nearer.
Her pulse pounded as he leaned closer still to whisper.
'If you've never gotten a guy to touch you, will this be your first kiss?'
Fiorella was burning to a crisp. 'Actually no, a boy at a show jumping competition kissed me once.'
'At a show jumping competition?' Amusement danced in his eyes.
'I'm a very good rider.' Her skin flushed as she saw his expression ignite and she realized her stupid double entendre. 'I had to be,' she added hurriedly. 'Or else my father would have made me stop if he thought it was unsafe.'
Something else flickered in his eyes—sympathy—but he forced a smile. 'So the kiss?'
She shook her head. 'Wasn't one really. I was thirteen and it was a dare so I don't think it counts. And as I basically just dared you, I guess this won't count either.'
She was mortified, she'd all but thrown herself at him. He hadn't made a move all night when he had the chance, and this closeness now was only because she'd provoked him.
His smile twitched. 'I think I can make it count.'
'You don't have—'
His lips pressed against hers.
Fiorella froze as she felt his smile brush against her mouth. It was a gentle kiss and somehow, it wasn't the sort she wanted. But he knew. A second later his hands were heavy on her waist and he tugged her a notch closer and the press of his mouth deepened.
Everything melted inside. This was what she wanted—Jaxon Greene, fully engaged.
Her eyes drifted shut at the alternating delight of passionate and playful and the drag and suck of his lips and teeth and tongue. She opened, letting him explore as he skillfully stirred an increasingly fiery response from her, and suddenly she wasn't entirely a pliant puddle of willingness, a coil of need was tightening inside—pushing her into action. She reached her arms around his neck and pressed closer as shivers began coursing down her spine, as her skin became incredibly sensitized, as nerves strained and some part of her, some secret, silken part heated and softened and ached. This was so much better than anything she'd imagined.
'Fiorella,' he growled.
'Yes?' she whispered shyly.
'You want me to show you?'
She trembled. 'Show me what?'
'How to dance.' His hand was heavy and possessive on her hip.
He kissed her again and in moments she was soaring back on that river of heat and need. She shifted, aching in his arms, both soothed and frustrated by the slow way he slipped his hands beneath the hem of her dress and stroked her soft skin.
At her impatient moan he unzipped her crumpled dress and carefully helped her wriggle free of it. She'd worn no bra beneath it, only a pair of white silk panties.
'Fiorella…' He actually groaned.
Confidence surged within her. She stepped forward and fumbled with the buttons of his white shirt. His chest was broad and muscular and a joy to explore.
'I was being so good.' He shook his head but helped her shrug him free of his clothing regardless.
'I didn't mess with you all night.'
'But you wanted to?' She smiled up at him.
'Of course,' he growled. 'But you're…'
'Just a girl. Who fancies you too.'
'Are you sure?' He rolled his shoulders. 'I want this. But I'm not sure it's best for you.'
'I don't need you to decide what's best for me,' she whispered. 'I want what I want. And right now, I want you.'
'You don't have to save yourself for some…' He trailed off, an expression of pure frustration on his face.
'Marriage of convenience?' She shook her head. 'I told you, I'm free to live as I like, marry whom I choose, or not marry.'
'Stop worrying or I'll start to think you actually care,' she tried to joke.
His eyes widened. 'You haven't had much sleep.'
Actually, she'd slept astonishingly deeply in his arms. 'I don't need you to protect me, Jaxon. That's the last thing I want from you. I can make my own choices.'
The seriousness of his expression didn't ease but the banked heat in the backs of his brilliant eyes burned hotter still. 'Okay, then.'
'Okay.' She smiled back.
Because she could choose. And from those few kisses already? She chose him.
'Just for now, Fiorella.'
He swept his hands over her body, his touch reverent and hot, and suddenly bent and scooped her up, carrying her away to his bedroom.
The sheets were luxuriously cool and soft against her skin, a gorgeous contrast against the hard heat of Jaxon Greene. He braced himself above her, pressing kisses from her mouth, down her neck, igniting a blaze of desire along that slow path to her breasts. To farther below.
She arched, then writhed against him as he stroked and sucked, and the sensations were so intense that in the end she could only scream as she shook with unparalleled, unfettered ecstasy. Yet as a surfeit of one pleasure ebbed, the hunger for another built.
She wanted it all. And he knew. Because he started all over again, only this time it was even more intense. And this time she matched him. Instinctively she moved—mirroring touch, kisses, her satisfaction increasing as she heard his guttural groans of approval. Hotter, faster they moved and desperation twisted until it took total control. She met that last question in his eyes at the final moment and screamed her answer.
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