Royal's Arranged Love

By: Sophia Lynn, Ana Adams

She laughed, intending to play it off, then realized he might actually be someone she could have heard about. “Hasn’t the entire free world heard about your waffle skills? I’m just kidding. I was trying to be coy. Which, obviously, I am not.”

He relaxed, a smile overtaking his face. “I find you quite coy. In an unassuming way. Which is perhaps even more coy than you’d intended.”

Her cheeks lit up. Being near this man was like inhaling drugs. “Then my game plan is successful.” What are you saying?

“What a man would give to divine the game plans of women like you.” His eyes sparkled as he brought his flute up to his lips.

“Trust me. They’re quite simple. Maybe even more simple than men’s game plans.”

“There couldn’t be anything simpler than that.”

They shared a private smile; electricity crackled between them. For a split second, Clara felt like they’d been together for years. Like instead of two strangers, they were husband and wife finding each other after a long day apart.

Across the room, Ging moved. Clara snapped to attention. “It was lovely talking to you. You must excuse me—”

“Leaving already?” His eyes flashed with something unknown. “Give me your card, at least. So I can follow you on TV. Send fan mail. Things like that.”

She tried to laugh daintily, but it came out more like a hiccup. “I didn’t even bring them with me.”

“Clara.” He held out his hand, his gaze darting to the deep neckline of her dress. Desire swarmed her, made her thighs clench. “Such a pretty name, for such a pretty lady.”

She placed her hand in his, awestruck as he brought the back of her hand to his lips. His breath came out hot against her skin. His mere touch begged her to stay. She brought her hand back, jittery from the unexpected contact.

“It was very nice to meet you, Adrien.” Her attempt at his name sounded a bit strangled. “Maybe we’ll run into each other some other time.”

“I can only hope.” His jaw flexed and his look left a doorway open. The exact type of doorway she’d like to run through if her entire career weren’t dependent on the man across the room. She tossed him a smile and slunk away. Each step away from him felt like a mistake, but the bigger mistake would be letting Ging slip away before she completed her mission.

Breezing up to Ging, she shoved the conversation with Adrien from her mind, no matter how much she wanted to replay it in her head. She tossed a cheeky, confident smile. The tall, lanky man appraised her quietly, nodding to her. She offered her hand.

“Professor Ging, my name is Clara Gables. You don’t know me, but I know you. Can I steal a few moments of your time?”

Over the rim of his glasses, he watched her curiously. They shook hands. “You have my attention.”

“I’ve been following your career for quite some time.” Her voice was strong, but her heart raced. Don’t fuck this up, don’t fuck this up. “Your work at the Manchester School for Advancement is commendable. I must admit, the ways in which you’ve revamped and revitalized the science programs are simply amazing.”

He nodded appreciatively. “We have an excellent team and dedicated servants of education.”

“And that’s a team I’d love to be a part of.” Her vision went blurry once she said it. Steady here…you can do this.

His eyebrows shot up. “In what capacity?”

“Sir, I’m an eager and motivated teacher of biology, and I have dreamt of the chance to join a faculty like yours. I received my master’s degree last year, and have been—”

He held up a hand. “Let me stop you right there.”

Her stomach knotted. “Oh?”

“Let’s just save us both time and energy with the bottom line. The department is not hiring.”

Her face fell from the cheery smile she’d plastered on. “What?”

“Our department has been drastically shortchanged since the last fiscal year. We aren’t taking on any new faculty. The school is in a state of financial emergency.”

Clara’s face fell further. “What? I’ve been researching this job for weeks. STEM programs are booming for recent high school grads, and the demand for educated and knowledgeable teachers is higher than ever. I’ve been practically stalking the science department, and—”

“And you couldn’t have known about what hasn’t gone public yet.” Ging peered over the rim of his glasses. “Believe me, I admire your motivation. This is an admirable place for a pitch. You’ve done your homework. But it has nothing to do with demand at this point. They’re in crisis mode. The scandal will break soon; money has been mismanaged for years. It’s a real shame. Maybe in two years, or three, when the school recovers—if it does—you can try again.”

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