I shake my head, mute. The fact that he knows my name is fucking creepy. But of course he knows my name. I’m sure they know everything about me.
Oh God. What if they know about what happened in Vegas?
The thought brings a fresh wave of nausea to the surface, and I barely choke out the word “bathroom.” The bodyguard points me in the direction of a room ten feet down the hall, attempting to escort me, but I shake his hand off my arm and shut myself inside, barely making it to a velvet-covered bench that must be several hundred years old before my legs give way.
My breath comes in short gasps, and I feel lightheaded, on the verge of hyperventilating. I try to slow my breath, reminding myself that I can't freak out.
Not here. Not now.
Closing my eyes, I think of other things -- things that don't involve being the center of what's potentially the biggest scandal in the entire world.
Or, if not the entire world, at least the Western one. Or Europe.
Any way I think about it, it's a scandal involving several countries. It's the worst possible scenario for someone whose idea of a nightmare is being in the public eye at all.
I've successfully avoided any public attention for the last two years. That’s not easy to do when your mother craves the public eye the way mine does, a whirlwind of charity functions and testifying before Congress and trips as a United Nations ambassador. In fact, escaping all of that meant I had to flee to another continent entirely.
I've been so disconnected from the outside world that I had no idea who he was.
And now, I feel like a complete and total idiot for not recognizing Prince Albert. He’s only one of the most famous princes on earth. Notorious would probably be a better word for it, known more for his antics in the bedroom than any kind of political activity.
The door swings open and there he is, as if simply thinking about him was enough to conjure him up out of nothing, summoned here by the universe. I silently curse my luck. "Get out of here," I hiss, the words barely coming out, my breath still short.
"Are you having a panic attack or a total mental breakdown?" he asks.
"Neither," I lie. In fact, I might very well be having a breakdown. Maybe I’m hallucinating this entire scenario.
"Good," he says. "I'd hate to think I over-estimated you."
“I just needed a second," I say, my voice defensive. I don't know where this guy gets off talking about over-estimating me. "Leave me alone."
"Not a chance," he says, still standing by the doorway. "Count to ten after I walk out this door before you follow me. When you leave here, turn right and go down the hallway. There's a Monet -- it's the third painting on the right side of the wall. Push on the panel beside it. It's a secret passageway."
A secret passageway? Of course there's a secret passageway. It's a palace. I’ve practically walked right onto the set of a James Bond film. "You’re nuts if you think I'm about to follow you into a secret passageway," I say, my panic turning into disbelief.
He gives me a cocky grin and shrugs. "Don't pretend you have anything better to do, luv," he says. "Unless you're planning to get on a plane and head back to Africa?"
"How do you know I was in -- " Africa, I start to say, but he's already turned around. Damn it.
I sit there in the bathroom, my heart no longer racing the way it was, no longer panicked and anxious. Instead, my heart pounds wildly in my chest for different reasons as I look at the closed door, where he just left. The thought of the way he looks at me, his gaze traveling the length of my body, sends warmth radiating through my body.