They say I’ll get used to this.
After all, what’s there to get used to, really?
Lounging around, doing whatever I want whenever I want, living a life of absolute luxury with absolutely no responsibility . . .
It’s a dream come true.
Or at least, that’s what everybody tells me. That this new life of mine—as the spare instead of the heir—is the best thing to ever happen to me.
Too bad it feels more like a nightmare than a dream.
Then again, almost everything about the last nine months has felt like a nightmare.
Months of torture followed by months of rehabilitation.
Being ousted from my role in both my family and my country.
Definitely the stuff nightmares are made of, even if the playboy lifestyle I’ve had foisted on me isn’t.
And no one can say I haven’t given this lifestyle the old royal try, either . . . because I have. For more than a month now.
I’ve slept with half a dozen women in as many weeks.
Have drunk my weight in Bourbon and Champagne more times than I care to count.
Have raced the world’s fastest cars on the world’s fastest race tracks and frittered away copious amounts of money on absolutely nothing of value . . .
I’ve even hopped from one hot spot to the next—from Rio to the Azores to Patagonia, for God’s sake, which is pretty much at the end of the world. I’ve been to more parties in the six weeks since I’ve gotten a clean bill of health than in the first twenty-eight years of my life. And that’s saying something, considering major galas have been a part of my existence since I learned how to walk. Maybe even longer.
And now I’m here, sunning myself on a rock near a secluded watering hole in the small village of Tournemire and whining to myself about how much I hate my new life. Could I be any more of a spoiled prick if I tried?
It’s obnoxious and I’m pathetic. Not to mention completely useless.
The man once trusted to rule the country now can’t even be trusted to be in control of himself—or so the anxiety medicine the King’s therapists keep insisting I take seems to imply. Well, that and the fact that I can’t even be in the royal palace—at least not when serious business is afoot.
Oh, that’s not what he or my brother, Kian, say to my face. But I am very aware of how often they’ve been showing me the door lately. Just like I’m aware of what meetings are going on at the palace when they do. I may have had a couple concussions too many in the three months I was missing, but my brain still functions better than most. Certainly well enough to know what my family is up to . . . even if they never say it.
I’ve become a liability, someone who can’t even be trusted with palace gossip, let alone state secrets.
Death has to be better than this. Then again, anything does. Because the distrust from my family, the forced idleness—and uselessness—that is now my life in some ways is just as torturous as those months I endured in that compound filled with anti-royal whack jobs.
Maybe even more so, because I didn’t give a crap about them and they felt the same way about me.
My family, though . . . My family, my country, thinks I’m a traitor. They think they can’t trust me, and there’s nothing I can do to prove otherwise.
The alarm on my phone goes off, interrupting my self-pity. I set it before I stretched out, in case I fell asleep and got caught in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. But I’m too busy drowning in what-ifs to sleep, too busy making sure I flip over so my legs don’t burn to let myself drift off. Because that’s what my life has been reduced to. No meetings, no public appearances, no charity work. Just me, a bottle of sunscreen, and this very, very uncomfortable rock.
Maybe it didn’t interrupt the self-pity as much as I thought.
Because I’m boring myself with all the whining going on in my head, I shove off of the rock instead of merely flipping over. And dive headfirst into the small lake.
I swim back and forth, over and over again, determined to exhaust the demons inside of me since I can’t seem to vanquish them. Somewhere around lap thirty-four, I become aware of a commotion at the other end of the lake. And since the commotion involves a tiny redhead with a very big attitude going toe-to-toe with one-third of my security detail, I can’t help but settle back to watch the show.
And what a show it is.
She’s a total spitfire—I may be a hundred yards away, but the “screw off” body language is hard to miss. As are the obscene hand gestures. Not to mention the killer body and long, red corkscrew curls. I don’t have a great view of her face, but I’m pretty sure it will match the rest of her and that intrigues me more than I want to admit.
She intrigues me more than I want to admit.
And since nothing has in far too long, I swim over to the edge of the lake and wade out. Just in time to hear her tell Samuel to “buzz right off! You can’t own a public park.”
He keeps his cool as he reiterates that the lake is off-limits for the next few hours, but she’s having none of it. She hurls a few more choice insults at him as he stands there looking pained, then repeats her refrain about public parks being for the public and therefore incapable of being owned by anyone.
Technically, that’s not exactly true, since all parks in Wildemar belong to the state and my family is the state. But since I’m pretty sure that won’t win me any points with this hot little number with the American accent, I keep that small bit of info to myself even as I approach the two of them.
The rest of my detail gets nervous at the move—I can see Bryce shifting uncomfortably from his spot near the trees. I can’t see Bastian, but then, I don’t have to. In the six weeks he’s been with me, he’s rarely taken his hand off his gun. I’m pretty sure this interaction only has his finger creeping closer to the trigger . . .
“It’s okay, Samuel,” I say as I get closer, holding my hands up to signal the other two to stay back. Bryce glares at me, but he does as I order.
Samuel doesn’t. In fact, he doesn’t so much as look my way, though he does shift a little to the right so that he can cover me. From what, I’m not exactly sure, since the redhead is wearing a purple bikini and flip-flops, neither of which leave her room to hide a weapon. Or anything else . . . thank God.
Because she is hot. Seriously hot, with a capital H.O.T. She might be small—standing maybe five foot three on a good day—but she’s got major curves in all the right places. So many curves, in fact, that as she huffs indignantly at Samuel, I can’t help wondering if she’s going to huff herself right out of her bikini top.
Just the idea is a bright spot in an otherwise messed-up day, because I’m dying to find out if her nipples are the same delicate pink as her full, plump lips.
Behind me, I hear Bastian’s shoes crunch over the rocky ground as he moves closer, and a quick glance at Bryce tells me he’s doing the same thing. So much for following orders. I hold up a hand to once again tell them to stand down, but they ignore me. I may be a prince, but in matters of my personal safety, my security detail does whatever they deem necessary, even if it puts them at odds with my wishes.
Especially if it puts them at odds . . . the three of them are a contrary bunch. Then again, I’m pretty sure that’s why they were assigned to me.
“It’s okay,” I say again, louder this time since it’s for the benefit of all three of my guards. For the first time, the fiery little redhead looks at me.
“No, it’s not!” she argues, tipping her sunglasses down so that I can see the heat in her bright blue eyes. “I want to swim.”
“You can swim,” I say, gesturing expansively toward the lake. “Let the lady through, Samuel.”
He hesitates, but finally gives in when she slaps a hand against his chest and pushes him back a little. “You heard the man. ‘Let the lady through.’” She says the last in a snide little voice that gets my back up. Or maybe it’s the fact that she doesn’t even glance my way as she passes that annoys me.
Either way, I can’t resist saying, “No ‘thank you’?”
She stops and turns back to stare at me, this time taking her glasses all the way off to signify she means business. “Excuse me?”