Carrying the King's Pride

By: Jennifer Hayward

“Mmm.” Natalia gave her a speculative look. “Martini?”

“Please.” A healthy shot of potent alcohol might go a long way toward the liquid courage she needed at the moment.

She and Natalia caught up, working their way around to the joint endeavor they had been planning, a fashion show in support of one of Natalia’s charities. They were discussing the details when the philanthropist’s gaze sharpened on the crowd behind them.

“Speaking of the prince,” she drawled, “he just sat down behind you.”

Her pulse picked up, thrumming a steady beat in her throat. A prickly sensation slid up her back. She didn’t need to turn around to know Nik had spotted her. She could feel the heat of his gaze, eating her up as it always did.

“Well, I guess that answers my question,” Natalia murmured.

Sofía took a sip of her martini. She and Nik had managed to keep their relationship out of the tabloids after they’d met at a hospital fund-raiser, but rumors had been circulating of late. Since their relationship would be dead after tonight, she saw no reason to confirm it to Natalia.

“It’s nothing.” She shrugged. “You know what he’s like.”

Natalia lifted a brow. “If that’s his it’s nothing look, I’d like to see the something one.”

She dug her teeth into her lip. Unable to resist, she swiveled on the stool, directing her gaze toward the group of men populating the lounge area behind them. It didn’t take her long to locate Nik. Tall, dark and swarthy-skinned in a nod to his Mediterranean heritage, he looked...breathtaking.

The jacket of his silver-gray suit lay discarded on the back of his seat as per the jackets of the other men at the table, his white shirt open at the throat, his every physical cue as he lounged, long legs spread out in front of him, that of supreme confidence.

Her stomach twisted, her agitation intensifying. He looked like sex poured into an exquisitely made suit. Lethally powerful. Dangerous.

She lifted her gaze to his light, magnetic one that contrasted so vividly with his olive skin. Blue, an icy blue, it was focused on her in a not-so-discreet perusal, full of a sensual promise that took her breath away.

A wave of heat consumed her. He was just that virile.

Turning around, she reached for her glass and took a long sip with a hand that trembled ever so slightly. Remember how discarded, how vulnerable you felt waiting for him to call this week. That had to be her armor tonight.

You are going to do this, Sofía. You are not going to back out again. Muster your willpower.

* * *

“Bar bill says she will.”

“You’re on.”

Nik pulled his attention away from Sofía and frowned at his two closest friends. “What’s the wager for?”

“You.” Harry, his best friend since college, flicked him an amused smile. “I bet the bar bill the eye candy over there breaks your self-imposed slump. Jake says she doesn’t.”

Nik could have told him she already had. That he and Sofía had been seeing each other for a couple of months. But he liked things the way they were. Private. Uncomplicated. Sizzling hot.

He took a sip of his whiskey, savoring the smoky flavor of the spirit before pointing his glass at Harry. “I’ve spent the past six months negotiating a free trade deal. A landmark free trade deal, I might add. It’s not a slump. It’s a lack of bandwidth.”

Harry gave him a speculative look. “Still, you’ve been off. Your head isn’t here. What gives?”

He wished he knew. Hadn’t been sure what had been eating at him for a long time. All he was conscious of was that he wasn’t himself, had been consumed by a restless craving for something he couldn’t put his finger on.

What should have been the peak of his career, negotiating a free trade deal between his country and Mexico, a deal the critics had said couldn’t be done, hadn’t brought with it its usual adrenaline rush. Instead it had left him flat. Empty. Uninspired. A bit dead inside if he were to be honest.

But to try to explain that to his high-flying friends, still deeply immersed in the highs of their ultrasuccessful legal and banking careers, seemed pointless. That he, manager of a multibillion-dollar portfolio for his nation, a prince with unquestionable influence who could flick his fingers and have his heart’s desire at a moment’s notice, was having an identity crisis.

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