Royal's Arranged LoveBy: Sophia Lynn, Ana Adams
She leaned against the kitchen counter, chin in palm, transfixed. “I don’t know if I should try them. I might need more of them. And then what will I do?”
He cast a playful look at her, fire in his eyes. “You might just have to move in.”
The comment was innocent enough, but it reminded her of the dismal reality awaiting her beyond the luxury of the penthouse. Like how her rent was due and there was no money to pay it. Her face fell. “I might need to.”
Shit—she hadn’t meant to say that. She cleared her throat, looking away.
“Is everything okay?”
She sighed, tears pricking at her eyes. What was she even doing with someone like him? Like he’d really be interested in a broke girl with a shitty job. He jetted around the world, had a passport, put bronze busts on display in his house. If Clara was lucky, she could afford salmon once a year from the grocery store. This was a great one-night stand and all, but it felt more like a strange breed of self-torture.
“It’s fine.” Her throat tightened.
He poured in a serving of vanilla. “You never told me why you were talking to that headmaster last night.”
She sighed. “I was trying to get a job.”
“Yeah. You do have one, right? Or is all of this money inherited?” The words flew out of her mouth before she could think better. She creased her brows, the snark hanging strangely in the air. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
He set down his spoon, leveling her with his gaze. “I do have a job. But I did also inherit a lot of money. I can’t control that.”
She sighed again, massaging her forehead. “I know. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I just…I got my master’s degree last year. My goal is to teach biology at a private school. I want to run labs and help young students appreciate and understand science. Have a little office in the building, attend graduation ceremonies every year. But the school of my dreams isn’t hiring. In fact, it seems nowhere is hiring right now.”
Adrien snagged her hand as she turned away. “I’m sorry to hear that. So that’s why you snuck into the party last night?”
“Yes. I organized the catering gig so that I could run into the headmaster of Manchester Private School. I’m desperate for work. If I don’t find something soon, I’ll…” She bit her tongue. This was the least sexy confession of all time; she’d do well to shut up.
Adrien was quiet for a long time as he poured the batter into a waiting waffle iron. She stared at the far wall of windows, wondering if she’d botched this thing, whatever it was, between them. Just as the silence was too great to bear, she turned to face him. He was plating a waffle, sliding it her way on the kitchen counter.
“It’s time for breakfast,” he said, his smile not betraying any awkwardness. “And this is a big deal. A lot is riding on your reaction.”
She cracked a grin. “Oh yeah? What happens if I don’t like it?”
“I don’t want to say. You should just eat it.”
Clara picked up the fork waiting for her, cutting off a small piece. Locking eyes with him, she ate it. Flavors burst in her mouth, the pleasant golden crunch immediately giving way to the most delightful waffle she’d ever had.
“Holy fuck.” She covered her mouth with her hands, swallowing, unable to break his gaze.
“I take it this is another win for my legendary waffles?”
She nodded, eagerly eating the rest. “Number one, hands down. Holy shit.”
He picked at a second waffle as she ate, a pleasant silence settling between them. After a bit, he asked, “Do you need money?”
His question sliced through the air. She winced. “Always. I’ve needed money my whole life. And I’ve never had it.”
“What if I said I could help you?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. This was embarrassing, and probably the final nail in the coffin for whatever sort of love affair they might have. Worse yet, if he started giving her money, it walked the fine line of prostitution. And that would never be cool. “I don’t want your money. Seriously.”
“Hang on.” He pushed his plate away from him. “I have an idea. There’s something that I need out of this, too.”
Her stomach knotted. This was already such a bad idea. “If this is going where I think it is…”
“Hear me out.” He lifted a hand. “I’m in a little predicament myself. My family is…pressuring me. Quite intensely. They want an heir from me.”
“An heir?” She scoffed. “What are you…a king?”
A strange look crossed his face. “The thing is, they want me to marry inside the community, to protect assets and secure a greater fortune for themselves. But I want out. I can’t keep going on with their life, their rules, and their requirements.”