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Prince Mychale of the royal house of Montenevada came fully awake, staring into the darkness. He'd been dreaming again. His body was tight as a fist. Even in sleep, he couldn't relax.
Groaning, he rolled out of bed and headed to the attached bathroom as thunder rumbled nearby. He reached automatically for the light switch, then swore softly when it didn't work and he remembered the electricity probably hadn't been on in this vacation chalet for months. As though in answer to his wishes, a flash of lightning lit the room and he saw himself in the mirror for two seconds.
He looked like hell. But what did he expect? He hadn't slept for days. He'd walked right off the yacht in Cannes where some film star whose name he couldn't remember had thrown him a party, jumped into his Lamborghini, peeled out of the marina parking lot and kept on going. He'd driven into the dawn, and then through the next day, crossing borders, ignoring speed limits, until he was home.
Home, the center of his supportthe focus of his discontent. His home was in the tiny country of Carnethia, where he was third in line for the throne. Instead of heading for the palace, he'd turned his car toward this remote mountain retreat, which was empty now, but had been his family's refuge during the recent war. He needed time to clear his mind and decide what he was going to do. Time alone.
He turned on the water and was grateful to get a gush out of the faucet. At least that was still on. He would have to ignite the pilot on the water heater as soon as it was light. Then he could wash away Stephanie's smell. Her perfume lingered like a bad dream. Stripping off his shirt, he dropped it to the floor, then reached to cup his hands under the water and wash his face.
He drew back quickly. The water was hot.
"What the hell?"
That wasn't right. No one would have closed up the house and left the pilot on. Strange.
But he was too tired to deal with that now. He adjusted the water, washed his face and slouched back to throw himself on the bed. Despite the thunderstorm approaching, he was instantly asleep.
Abby Donair crept silently to the door of the prince's bedroom and listened intently. She couldn't hear a thing. Was he still in there? She had to know. But more than that, she had to have the ring of keys he'd picked up in the butler's entry and taken into the bedroom with him. Without those keys, she couldn't get to the supplies, and there was something in the locked pantry that she needed badly.
What bad luck to have the prince show up like this. She'd known this château since she was a child and knew from experience how to get inside, even though the place had been empty since the restoration of the monarchy earlier that year. So when she was looking for somewhere to hide, the royal chalet had seemed a natural. She'd thought it would give her a sanctuary and a respite, a place to catch her breath and prepare for what she had to do next. And now this.
She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to think of any other way she could get into the pantry. She didn't want to open the bedroom door. She knew chances were good she wouldn't get away with what she was planning. But short of taking an ax to the pantry door, there really wasn't a viable alternative.
Thunder rolled, reminding her there was no escape. Not tonight. Probably not in the morning, either. Oh, why did he have to show up on this very night? After all her careful plotting, all the preparations she'd made. No one from the royal family had been here in months. She'd been so sure it would make the perfect safe haven for her. And then, out of the blue, Prince Mychale had shown up. Why now?
But moaning did no good. She had to act. Tucking back her long, straight blond hair, she held her breath and turned the knob on the solid oak door, peeking in.
There he was. She could make out his form lying crosswise on the wide bed. Lightning lit the room for a moment and she saw him better. Her heart began to pound. He looked half-naked. And maybe more. The way he was twisted in the sheets, she couldn't really tell.
But that didn't matter. Hopefully he wouldn't wake up. If he did, all bets were off and she was in big trouble.
In his eyes, she would just be some tramp who'd broken into his house. The man had been trained as a warrior, even though from what she'd heard, the war had ended before he'd had a chance to do much fighting. Who knew what he would do to her?
Another flash of lightning revealed the object of her quest. There on the nightstand she could see the master ring of château keys, right next to his wallet. Taking in a deep breath and gathering her light nightdress around her, she started toward them.
A floorboard creaked as her bare foot touched it. She winced and bit her lip, but she kept on moving. If she just kept going and grabbed the keys, she could be out of here in less than
He moved, groaning softly. She went very still, holding her breath. Morning was coming and despite the storm, the room was growing lighter. Now that she was near, she could see him pretty well. She'd seen him often enough in the past and she'd always thought he was the best looking of the three royal brothers. But looking at him now, she thought he was more beautiful than ever, his skin sleek, his body hard and shaped to tempt caresses. She'd never been this close to him before. Were her fingers trembling? Oh Lord! For just a second, she was afraid she was losing her nerve.
But no. Failure was not an option. Gritting her teeth, she leaned over him, stretching for the keys. Just an inch more, just a second more
Her fingertips had barely touched the metal when it all went wrong. He moved. She flinched. And suddenly he'd grabbed her and she was flat on her back, pinned to the mattress.
"Oh!" she cried, the breath knocked out of her for a moment.
"Looking for something?" he asked coldly, his face inches from hers.
She gasped. When she'd considered the dangers involved in what she was doing, she had never pictured the outcome quite this way. He was holding her down by her wrists and his long, hard body was on top of hers. She'd never been under a man's body before. How could it be so scary and so thrilling at the same time?
"Let me go!" she cried, struggling for only a moment. The more she tried to move beneath him, the worse things got.
"Can't do that," he said calmly. He was almost smiling now, as though the first shock of finding her leaning over his bed had passed and he was more amused than alarmed. "If I let you go, I'll have to wake up from this dream, and I rather like it so far."
She glared up at him. It was humiliating to realize he thought so little of her chances of doing anything to hurt him that he could take this so casually. And even joke about it! That made her furious. All her fears faded as she took in the indignity of it all.
"What is the matter with you?" she demanded. "Or do you always welcome strange women into your bed like this?"
"I don't know." His face came nearer and the next thing she knew he'd moved in closer and was nuzzling against the side of her neck, breathing in her scent as though he enjoyed it. "You don't actually seem all that strange to me," he murmured huskily.
She drew in a sharp breath and alarm shivered through her. What was he doing? She'd heard stories about this prince, lurid tales of sexual escapades and romantic adventures whispered by women who seemed to know what they were talking about. Maybe he was used to making love to any woman who happened to tumble into his bed. Maybe he thought this sort of thing was normal.
Well, despite the fact that his face against her skin was deliciously seductive, she wasn't used to it and she didn't think it was normal. In fact, she wouldn't put up with it at all.
"Get away from me!" she cried, trying to twist to the side.
He drew back, looking down at her, but still holding her prisoner with his body.
"You know, I was just lying here, sleeping peacefully," he noted, "and you were the one who invaded my space."
He was right and she had to admit it. She was still glaring at him, but her heart wasn't pounding in her throat any longer. Maybe she could think things over a bit more rationally now. Maybe it was time to try another angle.
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to sound sincere and only partially succeeding. "I I didn't mean to. I was just Well, I wasn't trying to wake you. I thought I could just get in and out without bothering you."
He was studying her face as though this whole thing was puzzling him. Despite everything, she couldn't help but notice how appealing he looked with his dark hair falling over his forehead. There was nothing between them but her light cotton nightgown and a thin, silky sheet and she was beginning to feel more of him than was safe.
"I I'll just go now," she added hopefully.
His brilliant eyes were heavy-lidded as he gazed down at her. "You promise?"
She blinked up at him. "Promise what?"
"That you'll go? Maybe go burglarize some other house and let me sleep?"
He meant it. She realized his voice sounded groggy. He really was tired and he really did just want her to leave him alone. At least, that was the way his words came across to her. That was a relief. The trouble was, she couldn't do what he was asking. Not really.
Reading her mind by the look on her face, he groaned, closing his eyes for a second. "You don't want to go, do you?"
"I well, it's raining." She was only pointing out the obvious.
"I see." He looked exhausted. "So you're not planning to go anywhere when you come right down to it."
She couldn't lie to the mannot about this anyway. "Well, no, not until the storm passes. You can't expect me to "
He was laughing. Softly laughing, but laughing nonetheless. She frowned up at him, offended.
"What's so funny?"
"You." He rolled off her and lay back against the pillows. "You haven't been at this burglarizing business long, have you? Maybe you ought to rethink this as a career path. You don't seem to have much of a knack for it."
Pulling herself up to a sitting position and pulling her nightdress decorously around her knees, she glared down at him. "I wasn't trying to burglarize you."
He frowned as though all this was just too much to deal with right now. His gaze flickered over her, lingering on where her breasts were easily visible beneath the flimsy fabric.
"Well, if this was an attempted seduction, you need a few pointers in that realm as well." He yawned. "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass for now. I can barely keep my eyes open and " Suddenly he frowned, staring at her in the morning gloom. "Wait a minute. Do I know you?"
"I " She thought fast. It was probably safer to let him know they did have a connection of sorts. He was going to find out eventually anyway. "My name is Abby Donair. You've probably seen me before. Maybe here in lake country in the old days. Or more recently, at the palace. I've been living with my uncle, Dr. Zaire."
His brow cleared with recognition. "Ah yes, the good doctor. The man who knows all our deepest secrets."
"I don't know about that." She looked at him sharply, wondering what he meant and pretty sure it wasn't good. Quickly she tried to make things clear. "I mean, he's never told me anything about you."
"Good." He squinted at her. "Yes, I remember you now.You were just at my sister's birthday luncheon last month, weren't you? I think I remember noticing you. You played a piece on the piano."
She nodded reluctantly, remembering with embarrassment that she hadn't exactly stunned the world with her musical talent that day. "Yes, that was me bumbling my way through ‘Moonlight Sonata'. I was horrible."
He grinned. "I guess I wasn't listening very well. I remember thinking you were cute as a button."
She gaped at him in astonishment, surprised that he would even have noticed her at all.
But he wasn't in the mood for conversation. He sighed heavily. "God, I'm just so tired. I'm treading water here. I've got to sleep. Can we continue this later?"
"Oh. You mean ?"
"I mean, I should be ushering you off the premises and generally acting like the property owner I'm supposed to be, but I can't seem to summon the energy. So I'm going to trust you not to slit my throat or rob me blind. Okay?"
"Okay." She gave him an exasperated look. "I don't really foresee getting the urge to do either, if you want to know the truth."
"Great. I'll just sleep on top of my wallet so as to remove all temptation." He reached out to take the wallet off the nightstand and put it under his pillow. Then he yawned again. "Okay. Then I'll see you in a few hours. Good night."
He closed his eyes, sank down into the pillows and seemed to drift off with no further ado. She stared at him. He really was the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen this close. The rounded muscles of his shoulders and upper arms made her bite her lip, and as she followed the hard planes of his chest down to where his flat stomach muscles tightened around his navel, then disappeared beneath the sheet, for a second or two, she forgot how to breathe. Greek statues had nothing on this man.
Very carefully, she regained her composure and then slipped off the bed and padded to the door. She looked back for a moment, then stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind her.