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Alejandro had to be here. Had to be.
Because if he wasn't at Mynt Lounge, South Beach's trendiest nightclub, he wasn't in South Beach any longer. She'd checked the other clubs first and she knew Alejandro. He only did cool. He only did chic. It was Mynt Lounge or nothing. And it had to be here because she had to see him.
Ignoring the dozens of young American women queuing outside in stiletto heels and skirts so short they barely covered their assets, Princess Emmeline d'Arcy of Brabant stepped from her cab onto the curb and tucked a long gleaming strand of hair behind her ear. She would make Alejandro listen to reason. She'd make him see her position and surely he'd change his mind once he understood what was at stake.
And even more importantly, the future and security of their child.
Her stomach rose in protest and she willed the nausea to pass. She wouldn't get sick here, not when everything was riding on the next five minutes.
Air bottled in her lungs, shoulders squared, Princess Emmeline d'Arcy of the European commonwealth Brabant headed straight for the entrance, bypassing the line that snaked around the building and down the side street.
Alejandro would honor the promise he'd made her. He'd be a man and keep his word. He had to.
As Emmeline approached the front door, the club bouncer dropped the red velvet rope for her, giving her instant admission into the exclusive club. He didn't know Emmeline personally. He had no idea she was a European royal. But it was clear to everyone present that she was someone important. A VIP. And Mynt Lounge was all about celebrities, models and VIPs. It had, reputedly, the tightest door policy in all of South Beach.
Inside the darkened club, giant stars and metallic balls hung from the ceiling as futuristic go-go girls danced on the bar in nonexistent costumes and white thigh-high boots. A wall of purple lights flashed behind the DJ and other lights shifted, painting the writhing crowd on the dance floor purple, white and gold, leaving corners shadowy.
The princess paused, her long black lashes dropping as she scanned the interior looking for Alejandro, praying he'd be here. Praying he hadn't left South Beach yet for tomorrow's polo tournament in Greenwich. His horses had already gone, but he usually followed later.
A cocktail waitress approached and Emmeline shook her head. She wasn't here to party. She was here to make sure Alejandro did the right thing. He'd made love to her. She'd gotten pregnant. He'd vowed to take care of her. And now he'd better do it.
She wanted a ring, a wedding date and legitimacy for their unborn child.
He owed that much to her.
It had never been her plan to leave Europe, but she'd learned to love Alejandro's Argentina. They could live outside Buenos Aires on his estancia and have babies and raise horses.
It was a different future than the one her family had planned for her. She was to have been Queen of Raguva, married to King Zale Patek, and her family would be upset. For one thing, Alejandro wasn't a member of the aristocracy, and for another, he had a bit of a reputation, but once they were married, surely her mother and father would accept him. Alejandro was wealthy. He could provide for them. And she believed in her heart that he would provide, once he understood she had nowhere to go, no other options. European princesses didn't become single mothers.
While she'd never wanted to marry King Zale Patek, she did respect him. She couldn't say the same for Alejandro, and she'd slept with him.
Stupid. Stupid to sleep with someone you didn't love, hoping that maybe he did love you, and would want you and protect you
as if you were Rapunzel locked high in the ivory tower.
Emmeline shuddered, horrified. But what was done was done and now she had to be smart. Keep it together.
Swallowing convulsively, Emmeline smoothed the peacock-blue satin fabric of her cocktail dress over her hips. She could feel the jut of her hipbones beneath her trembling hands. She'd never been this thin before, but she couldn't keep anything down. She was sick morning, noon and night, but she prayed that once she hit the second trimester the nausea would subside.
From the VIP section in the back she heard a roar of masculine laughter. Alejandro. So he was here.
Her stomach fell, a wild tumble, even as her limbs stiffened, body tight, humming with anxiety.
He'd been ignoring her, avoiding her calls, but surely once he saw her, he'd remember how much he'd said he adored her. For five years he'd chased her, pursuing her relentlessly, pledging eternal love. She'd resisted his advances for years, too, but then in a weak moment earlier in the spring, she'd succumbed, giving him her virginity.
It hadn't been the passionate experience she'd hoped for. Alejandro had been impatient, even irritated. She'd been surprised by the emptiness and roughness of the lovemaking but told herself that it'd be better the next time, that as she grew to love him, she'd learn how to relax. She'd learn how to respond. She'd heard that sex was so different when you were emotionally close and she hoped that it was true.
But there hadn't been a next time. And now she was pregnant.
Ridiculous. Horrifying. Especially as she was engaged to another man. It was an arranged marriage, one that had been planned years ago for her when she was still in her teens, and the wedding was scheduled for just ten days from now. Obviously she couldn't marry King Patek pregnant with Alejandro's baby. So Alejandro needed to man up. Do the right thing, and accept his responsibility in this catastrophe.
Shoulders thrown back, head high, Emmeline entered the darkened VIP room, her narrowed gaze scanning the low plush couches filled with lounging guests. She spotted Alejandro right away. He was hard to miss in his billowy white shirt that showed off his dark hair, tan skin and handsome Latin profile to perfection. He wasn't alone. He had a stunning young brunette in a shocking red mini-dress on his lap.
Penelope Luca, Emmeline thought, recognizing the young model who had recently become the new It girl. But Penelope wasn't merely sitting on Alejandro's lap. Alejandro's hand was up underneath the young model's short red skirt, his lips were nuzzling her neck.
For a moment Emmeline couldn't move or breathe. For a moment she stood transfixed by the sight of Alejandro pleasuring Penelope.
And then humiliation screamed through her.
This was the man who'd promised to love her forever? This was the man who wanted her, Emmeline d'Arcy, above all others? This was the man she'd sacrificed her future for?
"Alejandro." Her voice was low, clear and sharp. It cut through the pounding music, hum of voices and shrill laughter. Heads turned toward Emmeline. She was dimly aware that everyone was looking at her but she only had eyes for Alejandro.
He looked up at her from beneath his lashes, his lips still affixed to the girl's neck, his expression mocking.
He didn't care.
Emmeline's legs shook. The room seemed to spin.
He didn't care, she thought again, horror mounting. He didn't care if she saw him with Penelope. He didn't care how Emmeline felt. Because he didn't care for her. He'd never cared, either.
It hit her that it had all been a game for him
to bed a princess. The challenge. The chase. The conquest. She'd merely been a beautiful royal scalp to decorate his belt. And now that he'd possessed her, taken her innocence, he'd discarded her. As if she were nothing. No one.
Fury and pain blinded her. Fury with herself, pain for her child. She'd been stupid, so stupid, and she had no one to blame but herself. But wasn't that her problem? Hadn't that been her Achilles' heel her entire life? Needing love? Craving validation?
Her weakness sickened her, shamed her. Nausea hit her in waves.
"Alejandro," she repeated his name, her voice dropping, breaking, fire licking her limbs, daggers slicing her heart. "I will not be ignored!"
But he did ignore her. He didn't even bother to look at her again.
Her legs shook. Her eyes burned. How dare he mock her this way. She marched closer, temper blazing. "You're a liar and a cheat. A pathetic excuse for a man"
"Stop." A deep, hard male voice spoke from behind her, interrupting her, even as a hand settled on her shoulder.
She struggled to shake the hand off, not finished with Alejandro yet. "You will take responsibility," she insisted, trembling with rage.
"I said, enough," Sheikh Makin Al-Koury repeated tersely, head dropped, mouth close to Hannah's ear. He was angry, very angry, and he told himself it was because his assistant had gone missing in action, and that he resented having to chase her down like a recalcitrant puppy, but it was more than that.
It was her, Hannah, dressed like
sex. Sex in high heels.
Impossible. Hannah wasn't sexy. Hannah wasn't hot, but here she was in a cocktail dress so snug that it looked painted on her slim body, the turquoise satin fabric clinging to her small, firm breasts and outlining her high, round ass.
The fact that he noticed her ass blew his mind. He'd never even looked at her body before, didn't even know she had a body, and yet here she was in a tight shimmering dress with kohl-rimmed eyes, her long dark hair tumbling free over her shoulders.
The thick tousled hair cascading down her back drew his eye again to her ass, and desire flared, his body hardening instantly.
Makin gritted his teeth, disgusted that he was responding to his assistant like an immature schoolboy. For God's sake. She'd worked for him for nearly five years. What was wrong with him?
She tried to jerk away from him, and his palm slid across the warm satin of her bare shoulder. She felt as hot and erotic as she looked, and he hardened all over again, her smooth soft skin heating his.
Stunned that she was being manhandled, Emmeline d'Arcy turned her head sharply to get a look behind her but all she could see was shouldersendless shouldersabove a very broad chest covered in an elegant charcoal dress shirt.
"Unhand me," she choked, angling her head back to get a better look at him, but she couldn't see his face, not without turning all the way around. Her vision was limited to his chin and jaw. And it wasn't an easy jaw. He was all hard linesstrong, angular jaw, square chin, the fierce set of firm lips. The only hint of softness she could see was the glimpse of dark bronze skin at his throat where his collar was open.
"You're making a fool of yourself," he said harshly, his English lightly accented, his voice strangely familiar.
But why was his voice familiar? Did she know him? More importantly, did he know her? Was he one of her father's men? Had her father, King William, sent someone from his security, or King Patek?
She craned her head to get a better look, but he was so tall, and the club so very dark. "Let me go," she repeated, unwilling to be managed by even her father's men.
"once we're outside," he answered, applying pressure to her shoulder.
She shuddered at the warmth of his skin against hers. "I'm not going anywhere. Not until I've spoken with Mr. Ibanez"
"This is neither the time or place," he said, cutting her short. His hand moved from her shoulder to her wrist, his fingers clamping vise-like around her fragile bones.
He had a tight grip, and she shivered as heat spread through her. "Release me," she demanded, tugging at her wrist. "Immediately. "
"Not a chance, Hannah," he answered calmly, and yet his tone was so hard and determined that it rumbled through her, penetrating deep to rattle her bones.
He thought she was Hannah.
Her heart faltered. A cold shivery sensation slid down her spine as she put the pieces together. His deep, familiar voice. His extraordinary height. His ridiculous strength.
Sheikh Makin Al-Koury, Hannah's boss. Emmeline stiffened, realizing she was in troubleshe'd spent the past four days impersonating his personal assistant.
And then he was dragging her from the club, through the crowded dance floor and out the front door.
Emmeline's head spun as they stepped outside, away from the blinding lights and gyrating bodies on the bar and dance floor. The heavy nightclub door swung closed behind them, silencing the thumping music.
It was only then that he released her and turning, she looked straight up into Sheikh Al-Koury's face. He wasn't happy. No, make that he was livid.
"Hello," she said, voice cracking.
One of his strong black eyebrows lifted. "Hello?" he repeated incredulously. "Is that all you have to say?"
She licked her lips but her mouth remained too dry and her lips caught on her teeth.
Five days ago it had seemed like a brilliant idea to beg Hannah, the American who looked so much like her, to change places with her for a few hours so Emmeline could escape her security detail at the hotel and confront Alejandro. Hannah had become a blonde and Emmeline a brunette. They'd changed hairstyles, wardrobes and lifestyles. It was to have been for a few hours, but that had been days ago and since then everything had become so very complicated as Hannah was now in Raguva, on the Dalmatian Coast, masquerading as Princess Emmeline, while Emmeline was still here in Florida, pretending to be Hannah.
"Wh-what are you doing here?" she stuttered now, staring up into Sheikh Makin Al-Koury's face, trapped in his light eyes. His eyes were gray, the lightest gray, almost silver, and his expression so fierce her legs went weak.
"Saving you from making a complete ass of yourself," he answered grimly. He had a face that was too hard to be considered classically handsomesquare jaw, strong chin, high slash of cheekbones, with a long straight nose. "Have you completely lost your mind?"
Desperation sharpened her voice. "I have to go back in. I must speak with him"
"He didn't seem interested," Sheikh Al-Koury interrupted as if bored.