Even in my drunken haze, this guy is spectacular, gazing down at me with blue eyes filled with mischief. Literally, spectacular is the only word for it.
He’s the most beautiful man I've ever laid eyes on, with eyes a periwinkle color that’s nearly purple under the lights in the casino, and lips so lush that I can't think about anything except what it would be like to feel them against my skin…
Of course, that’s the image that immediately pops into my head, sending a shiver down my spine as I picture his head close to me, his lips trailing across my stomach, then down farther.
There’s something familiar about him, but my booze-addled brain can’t quite place it. For a second, I think I might have seen him before, but I tell myself that’s stupid. It’s just my brain playing tricks on me.
This is not the kind of man you’d ever forget seeing.
"Is that your shtick?” I ask, the waver in my voice betraying my sudden nervousness. “Spilling drinks on girls and then patting them down?"
He laughs. "I don't need a shtick, luv," he says, leaning close to me to whisper softly. "Unless you mean the one between my legs."
"You're crude," I say, wrinkling my nose. But I can’t help but glance down, exactly where he wanted me to look.
"You're…" His voice fades away for a moment as his gaze trails down the length of my body, making me flush. "Like a drunken disheveled Cinderella."
"So that would make you, what, the not-so-charming prince?" I ask, glancing down at my shoe on the ground. I lost my shoe. So what? I was running from her -- my best friend. My maid-of-honor.
The traitorous bitch.
The corners of his mouth turn up as he looks at me like he's pleased. His smile is superior, patronizing almost, as if I'm a child who's amused him. "Something like that."
Something like that.
The bastard. He had conveniently failed to mention that it was exactly like that.
"I apologize for the secrecy," my mother says. "Whisking you off to Protrovia on a private plane was designed to make things…efficient. Less messy.”
"Less messy," I repeat, the irony of the words apparent only to me. She hasn't spoken the words aloud yet, but if she's about to say what I think she is, this is going to be beyond messy.
It’s going to be positively nuclear.
"Isabella," she snaps, then clears her throat. "It's ill-mannered to simply repeat what I'm saying."
The man beside her – King Leopold IV of Protrovia, who’s already introduced himself in the most bizarrely casual way (“Call me Leo”, like he’s a regular guy and not royalty – as if we’re not standing here in the middle of a palace) places his hand on her arm. "Sofia, please," he says quietly.
My mother takes a deep breath, as if my very presence here is trying her patience. "The secrecy was all for your benefit," she says. "I didn't want this to overshadow your bachelorette party, or your wedding plans.”
My wedding, I realize, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. My engagement.
In the midst all of this ridiculousness – being flown on a private jet without being told where I was going (I'd like to say the intrigue was unusual but I'm used to my mother's antics), taken straight to a palace -- I'd forgotten to tell her.
"I'm not getting married," I say, my voice soft. I swear the air goes out of the room, and everything becomes perfectly still.
"Excuse me?" My mother's normal reserve cracks again. Usually that would give me some small sense of delight, except that this time it doesn't. This time, it just makes me feel worse.