Brody passed his physical. The blood test came back clean. He’d filled out the form as much as he’d wanted to, listing his given name, that he preferred the color red, and his drink of choice. The other stuff—favorite positions, preferred attire, kinks—made him feel like he was ordering an entrée at a restaurant.
All he wanted to do was bury his dick in the kind of woman that could bring kings to their knees and bury the past with it, once and for all.
He was escorted through the familiar halls of the palace by two security guards. There was something eerie about it. In another life, he’d have been the one doing the escorting. They’d taken his gun and knife, too, which didn’t help his feeling of unease.
He’d gone back to the ship to put on clean clothes. He’d thought about shaving and cleaning his boots, too, but the woman was bought and paid for. Who was he trying to impress?
Alexander walked with him to recap the contract.
“Don’t use her name. Even if you recognize her, it isn’t allowed. Don’t leave marks.”
Don’t leave marks?
The last comment distracted him from Alexander’s implication that he might know the girl already. They reached the door.
“Any questions?” Alexander asked.
Brody shook his head, and the advisor took his leave. The guards knocked. Then they took up position on either side of the door and left him to it. Wariness, anticipation, and just a twinge of regret that he refused to dwell on flitted through his gut. He was looking down when the door opened, and he found himself mesmerized by a pair of long, smooth legs. He stepped inside, and the door closed behind him.
His eyes traveled north. A pair of satin underwear in rose red hid the flower he’d paid to pluck. There was a soft stomach and two round breasts made hazy by a fog of red lace.
The Prize turned, poised and graceful, to a bedside table. The way she walked was the way all of the ladies walked, a testament to the dance lessons and etiquette training in which they were all required to partake. She turned over two glasses and reached for a decanter.
“Can I offer you a drink?” she asked.
Brody swallowed. His throat was dry. It wasn’t like him to get like this over a woman, but she was perfect, designed to entrance. He could smell the whiskey, and it was good stuff, but desire throbbed in his veins. He glimpsed a flash of fair skin as she turned towards him, waiting patiently for an answer. Her dark brown curls tumbled over her shoulders, and all he could think about was touching them.
“No drink,” he said roughly.
She’d already poured one for herself and took a sip. Brody watched her mouth. Even those lips were perfect, in profile, and now when he kissed them they’d taste perfect, too.
She moved to the bed, sensing he wanted to get down to business. She lounged on the soft comforter and, for the first time, their eyes met. Hers were clear and bright, and they glinted green in the dim light of the chandelier.
But they were hazel. How did he know that?
Because he knew her.
So this was what Alexander had meant when he said she might still be useful to the king. Disgust warred with desire, even as his face remained impassive. If she recognized him, she didn’t show it. She just sat there, waiting for him, breasts pushed up, lips parted, every word of body language indicating that she wanted him.
His erection throbbed, reminding him that he wasn’t supposed to care about right and wrong anymore.
Brody pushed back any feelings of reservation, refused to analyze them. He pulled his shirt up over his head and advanced. His mouth captured hers, and it tasted every bit as good as he’d imagined. She kissed him back without hesitation, tracing the seam of his lips with an expert tongue to gain access to his mouth. She ran her hands over his chest, brushing his nipples with her palms, then reached down to cup him through his pants.
He grunted and jerked against her, but he had to be in control. He needed it. He pushed her down flat on the bed. She submitted beautifully, rising to his touch, molding her soft curves to his hard body. He pulled back for a moment to catch his breath—and that’s when he saw it: a small grimace, easy to miss, and a flash of pain that couldn’t be coming from him. Not yet.
It crushed him, but he didn’t let things crush him anymore. He reacted to the breach in his defenses the same way he always did—with anger. He crushed his lips against hers and dug his thick fingers into her hip.
But he couldn’t get the memory of the girl in the closet out of his mind. He’d been stupid, trying to escape from the past in such a familiar place. It would still haunt him here. He pushed away from her and stood.
Capri, unaware that her mask had slipped, sat up and looked at him uncertainly. She still left herself open to him, and, God, she was every bit as beautiful as he’d been promised. Especially now, when she was well-kissed, curls tousled by his powerful hands, flimsy robe falling off one shoulder.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. He knew his gaze was hard. He was angry at her, angry for her, and at himself. He could feel the heat of it burning in his chest, begging for release as insistently as his desire.
She looked warily at his massive hands, and her eyes slid to the nightstand as if there was some way to call for help there. Maybe there was. Don’t leave marks. What the hell had she gone through? Why the hell did he care?
“Do you know who I am?” he asked, his voice lower and rougher than he’d meant it to be.
Her body tensed. She was trying to decide if he wanted her to answer honestly, but that told him all he needed to know.
She’d probably known him from the moment he walked through the door. Her former guard. The one who had pulled a man off of her just to climb on top of her four years later. Guilt. Never-ending fucking guilt. Another image of her in that stained white nightgown flashed in his mind, and he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes as if he could make it disappear.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked.
“Where else would I be?”
“Somewhere you ain’t gettin’ fucked sideways by a ‘Victor’ every couple of weeks.” He struggled to keep his voice even, but he could tell he’d struck a nerve by the way her pretty nostrils flared.
All of Capri’s pretense fell away then, and he got to see the real girl. She was hurt and insecure, but she was proud. She pulled her robe back into place—for all the good it did—and sat up.
“You were about to be one of them,” she reminded him.
He snorted. “Don’t try to make me feel bad, little girl. Whatever I do, there’s always something worse I’ve done.”
“Is that so?” she asked. “At least you went about it the right way—saving your pennies so you could fuck a lady with permission. I guess that makes you a fraction better than him. It’ll save you from execution, at least.”
Brody’s cheeks grew hot, and he was sure beneath his razor stubble they must match hers. She’d hit him hard on levels she couldn’t even understand. His failure to protect her, to protect them. Belittling the money he’d worked so hard to save.
Anyone else, man or woman, and he’d be in their fucking face.
Why couldn’t he do that to her? Because he knew her history? Because she reminded him of when he’d been human? Whatever the reason, it meant some small part of him was still soft, and he couldn’t have that.
He should just fuck her. It was the only way to prove he was really gone. He needed to be gone.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than she spoke. Her pretty little chin was still tilted at that defiant angle, ready for a fight, but her venom was gone.
“It isn’t exactly what I expected, but most days I’m perfectly happy. People have put up with worse for less.”
It sounded like a line she’d repeated, probably to herself.
Brody clenched his jaw and grabbed his shirt off the floor. The mood was gone. She knew it, too. He doubted she’d ever felt the sting of rejection, and her next words were uncertain, too reminiscent of the girl inside the woman.
“I’m sure Ekon would give you a refund.”
His anger flared again, and he rounded on her. “I don’t want a goddamn refund.”
She stood, too vulnerable on the bed, as her perfect, proper control shattered. One hand still held her see-through robe closed, as if that could protect her from the pain and confusion she must be feeling.
Her words were desperate. “You can’t just leave with nothing! What do you want? What can I do?”
He paused to ask himself the same question. What did he want? Why was he still there? It couldn’t be because he cared. There was only one reason why he could be there. The only thing they were both good for in that moment.
He grabbed her by both arms and kissed her again, tearing at the red lace of her robe. This time, she wasn’t prepared. He didn’t care. He’d paid for her, and he was going to have her. It was a simple transaction. It had to stay simple.
But then she softened. Her lips parted tentatively, and she let him in, exploring his mouth in turn. This wasn’t the trained sex goddess he’d been promised. She hadn’t had the time to recover. This was the girl, the girl who had never been properly kissed. The girl who had never been able to choose a lover.
And it was the girl whose heart beat faster against his chest, whose breath came in quick gasps against his rough lips, who moaned when he tugged her hair in a vain effort to make her stop—stop liking it.
He loved it. He loved all of it. He wanted more, and that scared him the most. Where was his goddamn control?
He tore himself away, feeling wild and probably looking it, too. Her face was flushed, her eyes glassy—tears or desire or both. She had to be as mixed up as he was.
He turned, grabbed the whiskey, and left.