Princess - *Book One*

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Over the next few weeks, Ben’s worries about our relationship being based on mere carnal cravings dissipated. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive as well because with the speed things evolved between us, we really couldn’t know if we were a good match mentally and emotionally as well as physically. But now, one month into our relationship, I know there is much more to our connection. With him, everything feels as natural as if we’ve known each other for much longer, and I’ve never been as comfortable around anyone as I’ve been around him.

If only I could silence my guilty conscience and tell Ben about my past. He keeps reassuring me to tell him my story when I’m ready, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready. I have tried many times to pluck up my courage, but I couldn’t go through with it. The more time passes, the harder it seems to get, but now that we’ve been together for a month, I told myself to finally come clean this weekend.

But first, we have to make it through our workday. It’s Friday, and Ben and I have loads to do. He just returned from a meeting that lasted all morning, and when we’re about to set off for our lunch break, he receives a text. “Hm, it’s Aaron. He wants to see us tonight.”

He looks at me with a frown that makes my stomach churn. “Us? As in you and me?” I ask.

The relationship between Ben and Aaron is a little tense at the moment. Aaron keeps flirting with me as if he still had every chance. I tell him every time his attempts are futile, and I’m not even too kind to him anymore, but he’s as stubborn as a mule and doesn’t give up.

Ben sighs heavily. “Yes, you and me. Tonight at our dad’s house; he has to talk to us.”

“About what?”

He rolls back his shoulders with a tight expression on his face. “No idea; he didn’t say.”

I sigh and take his hand. “Come on; let’s go grab a sandwich. Don’t let this ruin your day.”

That night, we drive over to Ben’s childhood home. I’ve been there once when I met his dad. It’s a beautiful small house in the suburbs with a nice backyard and an even nicer pool. Growing up here must have been great.

Aaron told us to meet him at 7pm, but when we arrive, there’s no sign of him. Ben gets his phone out of his pocket, but just as he wants to make a call, he receives a message. “Aaron says he’ll be here soon,” he sighs.

I nod and take a look around. “Why did he want to meet here?”

Ben shrugs. “I don’t know. Especially since our Dad isn’t home tonight. He obviously wanted privacy. And that makes me nervous.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Why?”

Ben bites his lips and slightly shakes his head. “Just a vague premonition. But we’ll see soon enough. Come on.” He takes my hand and leads me behind the house. “It’s still nice outside; let’s wait by the pool.”

“Ah, yes; good idea.” Once I stand by the edge of the pool, I take off my shoes and sit down. “This is great,” I say as I dip my feet in the water.

Ben follows suit and sits down next to me, and as soon as his feet submerge into the pool, he rolls his shoulders as he has continuously been doing the whole day. Again, I feel the tension coming from him.

“What is bothering you?” I ask with a frown.

He turns his head to give me a smile that looks so forced that it makes me roll my eyes and groan. Ben chuckles. “Okay, I admit – I have an unnerving sense of foreboding. I think Aaron is in trouble again.”

“Oh?” I’m surprised because I expected his worry to be about Aaron and his advances towards me, but what Ben says makes me feel edgy.

“It makes me nervous that he wants to see us both tonight,” Ben adds. “I don’t want you to get involved in anything that has to do with our past.”

I take his hand and intertwine our fingers. “Hey, stop worrying,” I tell him with as much confidence as I can muster, but the look he gives me says he’s not buying it.

“Oh, Princess,” he murmurs as he brushes his mouth over the exposed skin on my shoulder. “I do worry about you getting in the middle of something dangerous. I want you to be safe.”

“I always feel safe with you,” I whisper, and I tremble slightly as he continues to leave tender kisses along my shoulder, and an intense shiver runs down my spine when he slides the spaghetti strap of my dress down my upper arm with a featherlike touch. I close my eyes and turn my head, and he finds my lips for a reassuring kiss that lets me know his words are sincere; he’s concerned about my safety – about me. I press myself closer to him and return his kiss with a little more force than usual to let him know I trust him and to put his mind at ease and stop his worrying.

He holds onto my hand and squeezes it gently while his free hand slowly runs up my leg underneath my dress. He digs his fingers into my thigh, slowly inching closer to that one part of my body that is suddenly screaming for attention. I can’t hold back a moan any longer because I’m pretty much ready to pounce on him, but out of nowhere, someone turns up behind us and clears their throat.

“Oh, please! No making out by the pool.”

Ben and I flinch and turn to Aaron, who shakes his head at us with an eye roll and an exaggerated sigh. “I’ll wait for you inside.” With another annoyed puff, he turns and disappears through the French doors.

Ben chuckles and stands up. He holds out his hand to help me get up as well, and once I stand in front of him, he wraps his arms around me and presses me as close to him as possible. He buries his nose in my hair and inhales deeply. “Okay, let’s find out what my brother wants,” he murmurs. After another lingering kiss, he grabs my hand and pulls me after him inside the house, where we find Aaron in the living room.

“Do you want a drink?” He holds a glass in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

I shake my head, and Ben scowls at his brother. “Just tell us why you wanted to see us and why here.”

Aaron takes a deep breath. “I wanted to talk to you here because I think my place might be under surveillance.”

Ben narrows his eyes at him. “By who?” he asks through gritted teeth.

“Jackson. He’s acting up. He still has a problem with the fact that I quit.”

Ben sighs heavily. “How did I know this would eventually be a problem? That guy is a moron. But you haven’t answered my question. What do we have to do with this? Especially Amy?” He pulls me closer to him, still holding onto my hand.

Aaron takes a sip from his glass and sighs. “This, as you call him, moron has eyes and ears everywhere. He heard my dear brother has a pretty new girlfriend, and he thinks that would be a nice leverage to get information from me about some huge deal he thinks I owe them.”

Ben takes in a long, slow breath through his nose. His jaw is so tight that I think he might crush his teeth any second. “I could kill you right now,” he snarls.

I feel a flutter in my stomach, and my palms start to sweat. “What does that mean – leverage? And who is Jackson?”

Aaron looks at me with dark eyes. “Jackson is the drug dealer I used to work for. But don’t worry; his words are mostly empty threats. I just wanted to let you know I have everything under control if he’s trying to scare you.”

Ben squeezes my hand so tight it almost hurts. “Everything under control? Aaron, I swear to you if anyone gets too close to Amy, I’ll kill you.”

Aaron raises his hands in defense. “That won’t happen. I also have friends who will take care of her safety.”

I rub my forehead and close my eyes for a moment. I feel a little nauseous, and I try to swallow the lump in my throat. It’s like I’m thrown into the middle of an awful mafia movie. I look at Ben, who still glares at his brother.

Aaron paces back and forth before he empties his glass in one gulp and places it on the coffee table. Then he looks at us. “I’m going to disappear for a while and solve the problem.”

While Ben and Aaron stare at each other intently, my phone rings in my purse. I let go of Ben’s hand. “I’ll answer this outside.”

Once I’m out of earshot, I look at my phone. It’s a call from an unknown caller ID. I hesitate a moment before I answer. “Hello?”

“Hey, Amy; it’s me.”

Dread rushes through me when I recognize his voice. I clutch my chest and draw in a sharp breath. “How did you get my number?”

He sighs but doesn’t answer, and for a second, I’m tempted to hang up and keep ignoring him and what happened between us.

“Noah! Why are you calling me?” I ask through clenched teeth.

“Amy, I know things didn’t end well between us – I would like to talk to you about everything – and apologize.”

“But I don’t want to talk to you. Everything has already been said.”

“Please, Amy! I’m sorry about what happened. I regret I hurt you so much.”

“I don’t care about what you have to say. I never want to see you again.”

Again, he pauses. He takes a deep breath before he says, “I’m in the city.”

I gasp. “In New York?” A sudden coldness hits me and spreads through my body. No, this can’t be true.

“Amy, please; just one meeting where we can talk about everything in peace.”

I shake my head in an attempt to regain my ability to think straight. I sigh deeply. “I have nothing to say to you, and there is absolutely nothing you could say that could change anything.”

“Amy,” he says in a low voice. “You can’t avoid me forever; we both know that.”

I tilt my head back and close my eyes. I rub the back of my neck to get rid of the tension, but the realization that he’s right makes it impossible for me to relax. We need to meet. “Okay,” is all I say with a deep and heavy sigh.

“Great,” he answers a little too enthusiastically for my liking.

I groan. “But that doesn’t mean all is forgiven just like that. I will ask a friend to be present at our meeting as well so that I don’t tear your head off. I’ll text you later to let you know when and where to meet me.”

With a long, low sigh, he agrees. “Fine. I’ll wait for you to get in touch then.”

“Bye, Noah.” And without giving him a chance to say any more, I end the call. I let out a frustrated groan and pace up and down. Damn, this is not how I wanted this to happen. Now I have no choice but to tell Ben about my past. But maybe this is the impetus I need because I might have chickened out again.

I rub my still sweaty palms on my dress and hope my racing heart calms down soon. With a deep breath, I turn around to walk back inside, but after I’ve taken the first step, I freeze. Ben stands in the doorway, arms crossed in front of his chest, looking at me with furrowed brows.

“Who called?” he says in a tone that sends a cold shiver down my spine. He doesn’t sound happy.

I frown and walk up to him. “That – that was my ex.”

Ben’s eyes widen. “Your ex? The one who hurt you so much and you still haven’t told me anything about?”

The sudden rise in his voice makes me cringe. I give him a pleading look. “It’s complicated. You know he’s the reason why I left. I know I should have told you everything, but I never felt ready.”

“Ready to tell me everything about you?”

I lower my gaze and shake my head. “Ready to relive the pain. Please, don’t be mad at me.”

Ben lifts my chin, and relief washes through me when I see that his features softened a little. “And what did he want?” he asks.

I frown. “He’s in New York and wants to meet.”

Ben draws in a sharp breath. “And you agreed?” And just like that, the anger is written all over his face again.

I bite my lips and lean away from him a little. “We have to straighten things out. I’ll tell him to come over to my place, and I’ll ask Lauren to come.”

Ben narrows his eyes at me. “Lauren? She knows what happened?”

When I look at him, I feel that stinging pain in my chest again; the reproach in his voice hurts. “She’s my best friend, but she doesn’t know everything.”

Ben watches me silently with an unreadable expression, and suddenly, tears fill my eyes. “Ben, don’t look at me like that. It’s already hard enough for me as it is. Please, trust me. I’ll tell you everything soon.” I bury my face in my hands and sob.

After a few moments, I flinch when Ben’s arms envelop me in a tight hug. “I’m sorry, Princess,” he murmurs into my hair. “It’s okay; I can wait.”

I wrap my arms around his waist and rest my head on his chest. I sigh in relief because he took a step toward me, and despite the impending confrontation with my past, I slowly calm down.

Ben loosens our embrace and grabs my hand. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

“What about Aaron?”

“I’ll tell you everything on the way, okay?”

With one last look at the house, I follow Ben and wonder how we’re going to straighten out this mess.

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