Carrying the King's Pride

By: Jennifer Hayward

For what else could it be? Surely he was too young to be experiencing a midlife crisis?

He downed the last of his whiskey as their hostess slid off the stool beside Sofía, resisting the urge to delve too deeply into his head, because it never ended well, these ruminations of his. Thinking too much could make a man crazy.

“Maybe I need some inspiration,” he murmured, getting to his feet.

“Yesss!” Harry held up a hand in victory. “I knew it.”

Nik headed for Sofía, ignoring the group of women who had been sending unsubtle signals to their table for the past half hour. The closer he got, the more spectacular his lover became. Eschewing the rake-thin trend that always seemed de rigueur in Manhattan, Sofía had an hourglass figure that harkened back to the Hollywood starlets of the ’50s and ’60s. Curves that actually gave a man something to hold on to when he made love to her.

Her dark hair was up tonight, a fact that would have to change. It was the only accessory, he knew, she would need in his bed.

She was twirling a lock of her hair that had escaped her updo around a finger as he dropped down on the stool beside her, an uncharacteristically fidgety move for his ultracomposed lover. Her face was as spectacular as the rest of her as she turned to look at him: lush lips, a delicate nose and those startlingly beautiful long-lashed dark eyes.

“Your Highness,” she greeted him huskily.

His mouth twisted at the game they played. “You know,” he said, leaning toward her and lowering his voice, “you get punished when you call me that.”

Anticipation would usually have sparked in her beautiful eyes at the exchange. Instead they darkened with an emotion he couldn’t identify.

He frowned. “What’s wrong? Bad sales day?”

She shook her head. “It was great. I—” She pushed her martini glass away. “Can we get out of here?”

He’d been on his way to suggesting the same thing, but there was something about her demeanor he didn’t like. Those walls he’d broken down were back up.

He took out his wallet, threw some bills on the bar to cover the tab and stood up. “Meet me at the Eightieth Street entrance. Carlos will be waiting.”

* * *

Sofía made a discreet exit while Nik bade good-night to his friends. A chill, at odds with the sultry heat, slid through her as she exited the building and walked toward the Bentley Carlos was pulling to a halt at the curb. He got out, greeted her by name and held the door open.

She slid into the car, its sleek leather interior filling her head with the scent of privilege and luxury. Her head swirled in a million directions as she waited for Nik. Should she tell him it was over here in the car? Short and sweet, no big scenes, which Nik would hate, then he could take her home? Or should she wait until they were at his place?

Nik joined her in the car minutes later. Instructing Carlos to take them to his penthouse on Central Park West, he lowered the privacy screen between them and the driver and sat back in his seat, his gaze scouring her face.

“What’s wrong, Sofía?”

She swallowed hard. Decided the car was not where she wanted this discussion to take place. “Can it wait until we’re at the penthouse?”

He inclined his head. “Kala.” Fine.

She breathed an inward sigh of relief and sat back against the seat. Nik sank his hands into her waist, dragged her onto his lap and captured her jaw in his fingers. “You haven’t properly said hello.”

A wave of heat blanketed her. “We’re in the car...”

“It’s never bothered you before. “ He lowered his head, his firm beautiful mouth brushing against hers. “And it’s only a kiss.”

And yet a kiss from Nik could be disastrous. Her lashes lowered as he captured her mouth in the most persuasive of caresses. Gentle, insistent, he claimed her again and again until her traitorous body responded, lighting up for him as it always did. Her lips clung to his, seeking closer contact.

Gathering her to him, Nik deepened the kiss, his fingers at her jaw holding her captive as he explored the softness of her lips, the recesses of her mouth. All of her.

A soft sound left her throat, her fingers curling in the thick hair at the base of his neck. Nik lifted his mouth from hers, a satisfied glitter in his eyes. “Now you don’t look like a cardboard cutout. You look insanely beautiful tonight, Sofía.”

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