Royal's Arranged LoveBy: Sophia Lynn, Ana Adams
Clara stared out the window, jaw dropped. Mr. Pike parked the car in front of the main doors and exited the car to let her out. Adrien hurried out to greet her on the other side.
“Welcome to my home.” He clasped her hand and led her through the front doors, which whooshed open as they approached. Inside, potted palms and exotic foliage waited, dotting the sleek and modern interior of the reception area. White tiles reflected bright lighting and Clara’s mounting awe. Adrien gestured toward a hallway. Every person they passed nodded his way in quiet deference.
“There’s a bar down here,” Adrien said, pulling her to keep up with him. He didn’t want to linger too long in the foyer. Though everyone in the building was forbidden to speak to outside news sources, that didn’t mean gossip wasn’t a plague inside the confines of the building. A member of his security detail nodded at him as they breezed toward the bar. Adrien lifted a brow in his direction as they passed him. Clara was none the wiser.
“Do you own this?”
He creased an eyebrow. “The building? God, no. Just the penthouse.”
“Is Mr. Pike going to join us?”
He laughed, holding open the glass door to the bar and lounge. “Definitely not.”
Inside the bar area, the air was quiet and relaxed. Jazz music pulsed from hidden speakers. Spotlights highlighted strange art and sculptures along the walls. The decoration scheme was in muted grays and moody teak—the cutting edge of modern. Two other men sat at the bar; both stood to greet him as they walked by.
Adrien gestured toward a booth wrapped around a small circular table. Clara slid into the seat, looking down her pretty, angular nose at the carved tabletop.
“What shall I order you?”
Her green eyes snapped up to meet his. His stomach gave a strange twist; it felt like he could watch her for days, if she’d let him. This woman is dangerous.
The corner of his mouth lifted and he strode to the bar, ass round beneath dark gray slacks. It was hard to peg him—it was like Adrien existed outside of the boundaries of everything she thought she knew. He didn’t look 30, or even 40. He wasn’t American, but somehow he didn’t seem Belgian, either.
One thing was certain. If she hadn’t felt out of place in Adrien’s private car, she certainly did here. She pulled her duffel bag closer to her—the only link to reality.
Adrien returned with two drinks—a cosmo and a tumbler.
“For all the money I presume you have, I sure didn’t think you’d end up being our server.”
“Can’t a man try his hand at wooing a lady?”
She slurped the cosmo. “Wooing?”
“So I should try harder.” His arm draped along the back of the booth. “Should we return to that conversation from earlier?”
She pretended to concentrate, though she knew exactly what he was alluding to. “The one about Mr. Pike?”
He let out a small laugh, his eyes sizzling down her body as he gave her a once-over. “The one about me being a gentleman.”
“Ah, yes.” She sipped again at her drink, loving the lick of alcohol through her veins. It gave her a boost of confidence in the foreign surroundings, still dressed as a pauper. “Let’s talk about that again. I think my question was…should I change clothes here?”
“There’s no need to here,” he said. “Though you can do whatever you like upstairs in my penthouse.” His dark eyes turned darker, like the dilating of a pupil. Game on.
“That doesn’t sound like a very gentlemanly offer.”
“It sounds like you’re doubting me.”
She hadn’t flirted like this in ages—if ever. Not with someone like Adrien, whose eyes could cut through her if he watched much longer. “You’re right. I am. We should go upstairs and see how much of a gentleman you really are.”
Her words hung foreign in the air, like exclamation points. This was very much not like her, but Adrien inspired something in her she could barely control.
“I think I’m obliged, since you’re my guest here. Besides, we should check on how that waterfall construction is coming along.” A smile hinted at his lips. “Let’s go.”
He stood and offered his arm to her, which she took with a giggle. They strode out of the bar and down a hallway, Adrien’s arm firm beneath her grasp. What might the rest of him look like?
Clara’s head spun—a combination of the vodka, luxury surroundings, and Adrien’s unyielding presence at her side. Maybe this was all a dream. She might have passed out in the server’s pantry at the mansion, and this was the three-second fantasy before she came to.