For a little change of pace, I thought we'd take a chapter out of the middle! Enjoy!
Two days later, Dom strode down the marble-floored hall to the double doors of his apartment. Since Rose had arrived, his home had become like a beehive. Where Ginny might be shy about creating a wardrobe, Rose had taken to the task as if she was born to it. Designers had been called in. Dresses and pants arrived for fittings. Two styles of wedding dresses had been chosen and Alfredo Larenzo, an Italian designer, had been hired to create them.
With a wince, he partially opened one of the two double doors, sticking his head in far enough to see into the living room. Which was, mercifully, empty. For a second, he hoped that Ginny and her mom had gone out for lunch, but his chest pinched. Since Rose had arrived, he’d also barely seen Ginny.
Not that he missed her. He didn’t really know her. They were in a fake situation. There was nothing to miss. The thing was, he liked seeing her. Usually, she was funny. After four-hour sessions in parliament, funny was welcome. So he didn’t miss her. He missed her silliness.
Comfortable with that assessment, he walked past the double sofas, over to the bar. When he turned to pour his Scotch, he saw the door to Ginny’s suite was open. And there she stood, in little pink panties and a pink lace bra. A short man wearing spectacles and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows had a tape measure around her hips. Her mom stood with her back to the door, obviously supervising.
Dom stared. He’d forgotten how perfect she was. With full breasts, a sweet dip for a waist and hips that flared just enough for a man to run his hand along, she had what most men would consider a perfect figure.
The short dark-haired guy raised the tape measure to her waist and Dom followed every movement of the man’s hands, remembering the smoothness of her shape, the silkiness of her skin. The tailor whipped the tape around and snapped the two ends together in the middle, right above her belly button and Dominic’s head tilted.
Right below that perfect belly button…
Was his child.
His hand went limp and the glass he was holding fell to the bar with a thump.
Ginny’s head snapped up and she turned to see him standing there, staring. Their eyes met. And it hit him for the very first time, not that she was pregnant, but that the baby she carried was .
He’d created a life.
Rose turned, saw him and walked to the door. “Sorry, Dom. Didn’t realize you were home.”
And she closed the door.
Dominic stared at it. The whole thing about the baby didn’t floor him as much as the realization that the baby was in Ginny’s stomach. In a few weeks that flat tummy of hers would be round. She’d gain weight. Be miserable. Probably grouchy. Her feet would swell. She’d be clumsy—in front of millions. And then she’d spend God knew how long in labor.
Because of his baby.
Ginny’s suite door opened and she walked out, tying the belt of a pink satin robe around her.
“Was there something you wanted?”
He stared at her, his chest tight, his mind numb. Up until that very moment he hadn’t really considered how much Ginny was doing for him. Oh, he understood the loss of her job, but he suddenly saw the other things—losing her friends, living away from her mom, stretching her tummy to unknown limits, changing everything.
For his baby.
He shook his head to clear it. “Sorry. I’m taking a break and thought I’d come up and see if you’re ready for the formal dinner tonight with the ambassador.”
She angled her thumb behind her, pointing at her suite door. “That’s what the little guy with the moustache is doing. Final fitting for a dress Sally tells me your dad is going to have a fit over.”
A laugh bubbled up, but he squelched it. “You can’t always push my dad’s buttons.”
She shrugged. “I’m bored.”
His laughter died. “Really?”
“No! Absolutely not. I’m getting fitted for a billion dresses and three-point-five-million pair of jeans. I never realized how many clothes a princess was expected to have.”
“So you’re not bored?”
“No. I just have a style.” She shrugged and the pretty, shiny pink robe shifted over her sun-kissed shoulders.
He remembered biting those shoulders, nibbling her neck, rubbing his entire body over the length of her entire body.
“And, I swear, I’m not going overboard with sexy clothes. I’m just not going to dress like a grandma.”
He cleared his throat. “I get it about not wanting to dress like a grandma. But be careful.”
“You don’t think it’s time for someone to bring your dad into the twenty-first century?”
“If you can bring him in without the press having a field day, then give it your best shot.”
She smiled, turned and walked back to her room. He watched every swish of the satin over her round bottom.
“Dinner’s at eight, right?”
She called the question over her shoulder, her shiny yellow hair flowing to the middle of her back, accenting that curved waist that led to her perfect butt.
Dominic licked his suddenly dry lips. “Yes, eight. But we need to be in my dad’s quarters at seven, so that we all arrive in the dining room together, long before the ambassador so we can greet him.”
“Piece of cake.”
She opened the door to her suite and walked inside, leaving him alone in the living room again.
He tugged his tie away from his throat. A year of celibacy with her was not going to be easy.
He threw back the shot of Scotch and returned to his office for a few hours of admin work. When he entered the apartment again, Ginny’s door was closed. He suspected she was getting ready for the dinner, so he went to his quarters, showered and put on the trousers and white shirt of his tux.
He managed the bow tie the way he could since he was eight, but the onyx-and-diamond cuff links, heirlooms with tricky catches, wouldn’t lock.
He looked at his door and smiled. For the first time in his life he had a woman. In his quarters. About to marry him. Why shouldn’t he take advantage?
Walking past the white sofas in the sitting room, he reminded himself that another man engaged to a gorgeous woman would find much better ways to take advantage of the situation, but he sought only help with cuff links. He was insane.
He knocked on her door.
“It’s me, Dom.” He sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling like a teenager trying to ask a girl to a dance. Idiocy. He cleared his throat and strengthened his voice. “The cuff links I’m wearing were gifts from the ambassador we’re dining with tonight. They’d been in his family for a century. The clasps stick.”
Before he could finish, her door opened. She stood before him in a pale blue satin dress. Sleeveless—strapless—it should have given him a delightful view, but she wore a little lace thing over it—sort of a jacket, but not quite long enough.
Her hair had been put up, but not in the grandma hairdo. It was more like a long, silky, braided ponytail with flowers woven through it.
She lifted her pretty face and smiled at him. “Heirlooms, huh?”
He said, “Yes,” but his voice came out rusty again. Except this time he knew why he was dumbstruck. She wore almost no makeup, yet she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.
“Let me see.”
He held out his arm and she examined the cuff links that he’d slid through the buttonholes, but hadn’t locked. She took the first in her nimble fingers, her face pinching in concentration, and something warm and wonderful swished through him.
He told himself it was nothing but attraction, but when she finished closing and locking the cuff links, she glanced up and smiled at him, and he realized how nice she was. It was no wonder she was so good with the children of her high school. She was just plain sweet.
And he was a pampered ruler. Somebody so accustomed to getting his own way that he’d persuaded her to marry him. It was for the best, of course, but that was his pathology. Even if it hadn’t been the best for Ginny, if it had been the best for his country, he would have tossed her feelings aside and worked things to his benefit anyway.
The warm, fuzzy feeling she inspired shifted into cold, hard steel. Because that’s who he really was, and even as much of a bastard as he could be, he didn’t want to hurt her.
Not after she was doing so much for him.
Dom and Ginny left their apartment at ten to seven. He was the picture of kingly gorgeousness in his black tux.
When she told him that, he cast a sideways glance at her. “Thank you. You look lovely, too.”
Not twenty minutes before they had shared a happy moment over his cuff links. Now he was cool and distant? It didn’t make any sense.
They walked to the elevator, which opened as soon as they arrived. Neither spoke as they stepped inside and Dom pushed the button for the second floor.
A guest of the palace, Ginny’s mom was invited to join them for dinner, and she waited for them in the second-floor lobby, beside the elevator.
When they stepped out, she hugged Ginny. “Very pretty.”
Ginny displayed her newfound curtsy skills. “Thanks. Your outfit is gorgeous, too.”
Rose smoothed her hand along the soft beige satin. The king had offered the services of their clothier, and her pragmatic mom hadn’t had a qualm about using them. She had the tailor whip up a simple satin skirt and sequined top that sort of looked like a tank top. She’d swept her yellow and pink hair into a neat French twist. She looked simple, but elegant. More elegant than Ginny had ever seen her.
As Dom guided them in the direction of the king’s quarters, Rose whispered, “I could get used to this.”
Ginny’s eyes widened in horror. She had no idea why Dom had suddenly become distant, but hearing her mom say she could get used to luxury wouldn’t help things.
“Do not say that!”
“I was kidding! It’s stuffy here.” She glanced around at the paintings on the elegant walls. “Almost like a really fancy prison.”
Though Dominic hadn’t appeared to have been listening, he turned and said, “Protocols and security are necessary.”
“For protection and respect,” Ginny quickly told her mom, wanting Dom to see her mom hadn’t meant any harm. She simply wasn’t up to speed on the lives of royalty. “If somebody’s going to rule a country in a part of the world that isn’t always stable, they need to command respect.”
Dominic gave her a look of approval that helped alleviate the sense that she’d somehow caused his bad mood.
But her mom waved a hand. “Give me the good old-fashioned life of a commoner any day of the week.”
Ginny smiled nervously, as Dom shook his head. He’d been so cute when he’d come to her suite, asking for help with his cuff links. Now a world of distance seemed to be lodged between them. She wouldn’t tell him, but it had been nice to have a chance to touch him. And there was nothing more intimate than fixing a guy’s cuff links or his bow tie—as a wife would.
She told herself not to go overboard with those thoughts and knew she wouldn’t. She didn’t want to get hurt by spinning fantasies. Still, though she might be a fake fiancée about to be a fake wife/princess, she and Dom were in this together. She didn’t like the fact that he was unhappy. Especially if it might be because of something she’d done.
Security guards opened the gold doors to the king’s quarters and Dom invited Ginny and her mom to enter before him. The foyer ceilings had to be three stories high. Everything from lamps to picture frames was trimmed in gold.
Her mother immediately recognized a Monet. She gasped. “Oh, this is delightful! One of my favorites.”
“I’d be happy to give it to you as my wedding gift to you.”
All heads turned as the king entered the foyer.
He kissed Ginny’s hand, then Rose’s.
Rose frowned. “First, I do not have the kind of security I’d need to put that in my home. Second, I’m not the bride. I don’t get gifts.”
“It’s our custom to give parents of people who marry into our family a gift…something like a welcome to the family.”
Her mom’s eyebrows rose as she glanced over at Ginny, who shrugged slightly.
She leaned toward the king and whispered, “We’re really not going to be in your family long.”
He bowed. “A custom is a custom.”
Rose nodded. “Point taken. Do I have to get you a gift?”
King Ronaldo unexpectedly smiled. “Do you wish to welcome me to your family?”
Rose laughed noisily. “Well, honey, I guess I do. Except you have to come to my house to get the gift.”
The king directed everyone to the door again. “Maybe I will. But right now we’re going to the formal reception room to meet the ambassador.”
The king took Rose’s arm as Dominic tucked Ginny’s hand in the crook of his elbow.
She’d never seen her mom flirt. Not even after her dad had died. Not with anyone. Ever. The sight of her mom and the grouchy king—well, flirting—made her want to say, “Aw,” and shiver with revulsion simultaneously.
King Ronaldo peeked over his shoulder at Ginny. “By the way, Ginny, I approve of the dress.”
“This old thing?”
He smiled patiently. “I know you’re coming to understand our customs and our etiquette, so you can’t tease me anymore by pretending you don’t understand. Were I you, I would have said thank you.”
Dominic gave her a look and, suddenly, desperately wanting to please him, she took a quick breath and said, “Thank you.”
“I’m hoping your entire wardrobe and wedding apparel will follow a similar pattern.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I appreciate that you’re allowing me so much say in the wedding plans.”
“Thank your future husband,” the king said as the reached the door of the reception room. “He pleaded your case. Something about pink roses and your friends as bridesmaids lending authenticity to the whole thing.”
Two guards opened the doors. The king walked into the room and led her mother to a discreet bar.
Ginny turned to Dom. “So, you pleaded my case?”
He glanced back at his father. “Saving an argument.”
She reached up and tightened his bow tie. “Well, I appreciate it.”
He caught her hand. “That’s fine. My tie is fine.”
She nodded quickly, annoyed with herself for the intimate gesture and for upsetting him again. “I guess I’m just getting a little too comfortable with you.”
He caught her gaze. “You shouldn’t.”
Ginny stared into his dark, dark eyes, suddenly realizing he wasn’t angry with her. But if he wasn’t angry with her, that left only himself. Was he angry with himself? For asking her for help with cuff links? Or because asking for help with his cuff links proved they were getting close? Becoming friends?
She saw that as a good thing. Within the cocoon of their conspiracy, for the first time in her life, she was taking the initial steps of trusting a man. She didn’t have to worry about consequences. There were none. She knew they were getting divorced. There was no way he could hurt her. And the little bit of intimacy with the cuff links had been warm and wonderful.
But obviously, he didn’t feel the same way.
The ambassador arrived and Ginny played her role exactly as Dom wanted her to play it. They had a toast with the ambassador and his wife, Amelia, who then toasted the newly engaged couple and wished them happiness.
The ambassador then handed them a small box. Dominic opened it, smiled and handed it to her.
She glanced inside and her gaze jerked to the ambassador. “Emerald earrings.”
Amelia said, “Our country’s gift to you on your engagement.”
She said, “Thanks,” but her stomach tightened. She hadn’t considered that kings and ambassadors and entire countries would give her gifts. But really? What wedding didn’t attract gifts?
At the end of the evening, when the ambassador and his wife retreated to their suite, she and Dom also took their leave. Rose had decided to stay and have one more drink with the king and Ginny’s head spun.
When they got into the elevator and the door closed, affording them their first privacy of the evening, she turned to Dominic. “I don’t know if I should apologize for my mom flirting with your dad or groan over the fact that we’re going to get expensive wedding gifts that we have no right to.”
“We’re getting married. We have every right to get gifts and well-wishers have every right to send us gifts.” He frowned slightly. “Haven’t you seen the stack of presents that have already arrived?”
Her mouth fell open. “We’ve already gotten gifts?”
“Many. The protocol is that they stay with Sally until she has an appropriate thank-you card printed up on the royal family’s stationery.”
“We don’t write our own thank-you cards?”
He smiled briefly.
Ginny held back a groan. No wonder he didn’t want to be friendly with her. She was more than a commoner. She was a bumpkin.
She swallowed. “What are we going to do with the presents?”
“What do you mean, what are we going to do with the presents? The same thing other newlyweds do.”
The elevator door opened and he walked outside. She stood frozen, feeling odd—feeling horrible, actually. While she was learning to trust him, he was walking away from her. She might be a bumpkin, but he was the one who had his protocols out of order if he wanted to keep gifts they didn’t deserve. Technically, they were at the center of perpetuating a fraud. They would benefit from a lie.
She scrambled after him. “So we’re going to keep these things?”
He stopped, spun to face her. “What would you suggest? That we tell our guests no gifts? That we all but let them know we plan on divorcing. Get your head in the game, Ginny!”
His tone was like a slap in the face. She took a step back, then another. “I’m sorry.”
He cursed. “Why are you saying you’re sorry! I’m the one who just yelled at you! Do you have to be so nice? So honest?”
“You’d rather I be dishonest?”
“I’d rather that your sanctimonious attitude not make me feel like I’m doing something wrong all the time.”
He turned to the white double doors, marched over, opened them and walked directly to the bar.
She scampered after him. “Wait! What?”
“You’re so nice. You spar with my dad, then say something so respectful he knows you’re coming around. You didn’t want a new wardrobe until we insisted. You’re nice with Sally. You’re happy your mom is here and it’s clear she loves you.” He stopped, sucking in a breath.
“You’re mad at me because the situation is working out?”
“I’m mad at you because every day it becomes clearer and clearer that I’m going to hurt you.”
She tilted her head, not quite understanding what he was getting at.
“You say you don’t want to get drawn into this life and I believe you. But you and I…” He downed the shot of Scotch and poured another. “We sort of fit. You feel it as much as I do. It’s not something we plan or intend to do. It’s that thing that happens at odd moments. The times we’re on the same page or thinking the same thought and we know it with just a glance.” He walked from behind the bar to stand directly in front of her. “And pretty soon we’re going to start remembering how good we are together in other ways, and then we’re going to be sleeping together.”
Her heart thumped. He feeling the same things she was. That unexpected trust. That sense that everything was going to be okay. “You thought we were good together?”
“You we were good together.”
“And you think we fit?”
“I see those little things happen every day. You liked fastening my cuff links. I like fighting your simple battles over things like jeans versus white suits.”
She searched his gaze. Ridiculous hope filled her chest to capacity. They really were getting to know each other and in knowing each other, they were beginning to genuinely like each other.
For once, having more than a surface relationship didn’t scare her. Maybe because she knew it had a time limit. She could get close, make love, get married, have a baby with Dom, knowing it was going to end. Secure in the fact that they would part amicably, she wouldn’t suffer the pains of rejection. She would simply move on. And she would have had a chance she never thought she’d get: a chance to really be in love. To know what it felt like to share. To be part of something wonderful. All under the protection of the knowledge that it wouldn’t last forever. She didn’t have to be perfect forever. She didn’t even have to be good forever. Or to suit Dom forever. She only had to make this work for a little over two years.
“And you don’t think it’s a good thing that we get along?”
“I have a job to do. I’ve told you that if you get in the way of that job, I will always pick the kingdom over you.”
She swallowed and nodded, knowing exactly what he was saying, but her stomach fluttered. When they first decided to marry he had been sure he’d always take the kingdom’s side over hers. But this very argument proved that he was changing. And he clearly wasn’t happy about that.
“Is this the part where I say I’m sorry?”
He sniffed and looked away. “Sorry again? Why this time?”
“Because I think I tempt you. I think that’s why you’re really mad. I think knowing me has made you feel that you’d like to be a real boy, Pinocchio.”
“So I’m a puppet?”
“No. I think you’d like the freedom to make up your own mind, to make your own choices, but you’re afraid of what will happen to your kingdom.”
He caught her gaze. “You make it sound like an idiotic dilemma. But it isn’t. We might be a small kingdom but we’re an important one.” He slid his hand across her shoulder and to her long ponytail. He ran the fat braid through his fingers as if it were spun gold. “One woman should not change that.”
Even as he said the words, he stepped closer. He wrapped the braid around his knuckles and tugged her forward until they almost touched, but not quite. The air between them crackled, not with memories of how good they’d been together but with anticipation. If they kissed now, changed the terms of their deal now, the next two years would be very different.
And she wanted it. Not just for the sex. For the intimacy and the chance to be genuinely close to someone, even as she had the magical out of a two-year time limit.
He lowered his head slowly, giving her time, it seemed, to pull away if she wanted. But mesmerized by the desperation in his black eyes, she stood perfectly still, barely breathing. He wanted this too, and even though she knew he was going to kiss her, she also knew he fought a demon. He might want to be king, but he also wanted to be a man.
When his lips touched hers she didn’t think of that night two months ago, she thought of this moment, of how he needed her, even if he didn’t see it.
She slid her arms around his neck as he released her braid, letting it swing across her back. With his hand now free, he brought her closer still. The press of her breasts to his chest knocked the air out of her lungs, as his lips moved across hers roughly.
He was angry, she knew, because she was upsetting his well-laid plans. The irony of it was he’d been upsetting her plans, her life, from the second she’d met him. It only seemed fitting that finally she was doing the same to him.
Standing on tiptoe, she returned his kiss, as sure as he was. If he wanted to talk about unfair, she would show him unfair. The only way she could be intimate with someone was knowing she had an out. The inability to trust that her dad had instilled in her had crippled her for anything but a relationship that couldn’t last. She wouldn’t share the joy of raising children. She was lucky to get a child. She wouldn’t grow old with someone. The best she would get would be memories of whatever love, intimacy, happiness they could cobble together in the next two years. And even as it gave her at least slight hope, it also angered her mightily.
They dueled for a few seconds, each fighting for supremacy, until suddenly his mouth softened over hers. His hands slid down her back to her bottom, while his mouth lured her away from her anger and to that place where the softness of their kisses spoke of their real feelings.
Like it or not, they were falling in love.
And it wasn’t going to last.
But it was all Ginny Jones, high school guidance counselor from Texas with the alcoholic dad, was going to get in her lifetime.
So she wanted it. She wanted the intimacy, the friendship, the secrets and dreams.
The only problem was she had no idea how to go about getting any of it.