The Prince She Never Knew

By: Kate Hewitt

‘Why don’t you take a bath?’ he suggested. ‘Relax. It’s been a very long day.’ He turned away from her, yanking off his tie, and after a moment Alyse headed to the bathroom, telling herself she was grateful for the temporary reprieve. They could both, perhaps, use a little time apart.

We’ve basically had six years apart.

Swallowing hard, she turned on the taps.

There were no clothes in the bathroom, something she should have realised before she got in the tub. Two sumptuous terry-cloth robes hung on the door, and after soaking in the bath for a good half-hour Alyse slipped one on, the sleeves coming past her hands and the hem nearly skimming her ankles. She tied it securely, wondering what on earth would happen now. What she wanted to happen.

For Leo to gasp at the sight of me and sweep me into his arms, admit the feelings he’s been hiding all along...

Fantasies, pathetic fantasies, and she knew that. She wasn’t expecting a lightning bolt of love to strike Leo; she just wanted to start building something, something real. And that took time.

Tonight was a beginning.

Taking a deep breath, stealing herself for whatever lay ahead, she opened the door.

Leo had changed out of his tuxedo and now wore a pair of navy-blue silk draw-string pyjama bottoms and nothing else. He sat sprawled in a chair by the fire, a tumbler of whisky cradled in his hands, the amber liquid glinting in the firelight.

Alyse barely noticed any of that; her gaze was ensnared by the sight of his bare chest. She’d never seen it before, not in the flesh, although there had been several paparazzi photographs of him in swimming trunks while on holiday—though not with her. They’d never actually had a holiday together in six years’ engagement.

Seeing his chest now, up close and in the glorious flesh, was another thing entirely. His skin was bronzed, the fire casting long shadows on the taut flesh and sculpted muscle. She could see dark whorls of hair on his chest, veeing down to the loose waistband of his trousers slung low on his lean hips, and her heart felt as if it had flipped right over in her chest. He was just so beautiful.

He glanced up as she approached, and his lips twitched in sardonic amusement as he took in her huge robe. ‘I think that one’s mine.’

‘Oh.’ She blushed, and then as she imagined Leo attempting to wear the smaller, woman’s-sized robe, a sudden bubble of nervous laughter escaped her. He arched an eyebrow and she came forward to explain. ‘I was picturing you in the other robe. Mine, apparently.’

‘An interesting image.’ His lips twitched again in a tiny smile and her heart lightened ridiculously. All she needed was a smile. A single smile on which to build a world of dreams.

She sat in the chair opposite his and stretched her bare feet towards the fire. Neither of them spoke for several minutes, the only sound the comforting crackle and spit of the flames.

‘This is strange,’ Alyse finally said softly, her gaze still on the fire. She heard Leo shift in his seat.

‘It’s bound to be, I suppose.’

She glanced upwards and saw his face was half in darkness, the firelight casting flickering shadows over the other half. She could see the hard plane of one cheek, the dark glint of stubble on his jaw, the pouty fullness of his sculpted lips. He had the lips of a screen siren, yet he was unabashedly, arrogantly male.

She’d felt those lips on her own so many times, cool brushes of mouths when what she wanted, what she craved, was hot, mindless passion—tongues tangling, plunging, hands moving and groping...

She forced the images, and the resulting heat, away from her mind and body.

‘Do you realise,’ she said, trying to keep her tone light, and even teasing, although they’d never actually teased each other, ‘we haven’t actually been alone together in about a year?’

He shrugged one bare, powerful shoulder. ‘That’s not all that surprising, considering.’

She glanced back at the fire, tucking her now-warmed feet underneath the hem of her robe. ‘Considering what?’

‘Considering we’ve been living separate lives ever since we announced this sham of an engagement.’

Alyse swallowed. ‘I know that.’ Neither of them had been in a rush to get married. Leo certainly hadn’t, and Alyse had already accepted a place at Durham University. Her parents hadn’t wanted her to give it up for marriage at eighteen, and neither had she, although she suspected Queen Sophia could have bullied her into it.

She’d been so young then, so naïve and overwhelmed. She liked to think she’d changed, that she’d grown up, at least a bit. She hoped she had, but right now she felt as gauche as ever.

At any rate, a long engagement had fed the media frenzy, accomplishing the monarchy’s purposes of keeping them in positive press for over half a decade. For the last six years she’d been living in England, completing her BA and then her MA in European history—a subject the monarchy had considered acceptable for its future queen, since it could be relevant to her rule. Alyse just loved history.

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