Princess - *Book One*

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Twenty-Two

A few weeks later, things have calmed down. We haven’t talked about what happened again after Aaron reassured us that he had taken care of things. So there’s no need to worry. If only Ben acted accordingly – he seems to be more protective than ever. When we go out, he immediately stops any contact with suspicious-looking guys. Nobody at the Avalon is allowed to dance too close to me, and when someone on the street smiles at me, they should be glad that looks can’t kill. I talked to Ben about that several times, and afterward, it gets better. But he still has to work on keeping his cool. I tell myself Ben acts like this because he loves me, and that’s why I’m patient with him.

And about one month after the incident, Ben seems to be his old relaxed self for the first time. We’re at the Avalon with our friends, trying to dance away the stress. Work has been busy, so we’re all looking forward to our weekend off. Tonight, Aaron joins us as well; something that hasn’t happened in a while. He still flirts with me openly, no matter how many times I tell him not to. Ben, of course, hates it.

But tonight, I have a different problem. Luke is here too, as is Jenna – the epitome of evil. She still eyes me suspiciously and criticizes me whenever she can. And by now, I know she’s after Luke. He, however, put someone else on his list of possible conquests – me. This has become increasingly obvious lately. At first, I didn’t want to believe what Ben had said. But Luke constantly calls me into his office alone, touches me as often as he can without being intrusive, and always praises my work. Ben and I haven’t made our relationship public yet, which of course shouldn’t justify Luke’s behavior. But with so much potential conflict in the air, it’s a little tricky today to enjoy the evening.

So I’m glad Lauren is here too. She does a pretty good job helping me get my mind off things. She didn’t take no for an answer and dragged me to the dancefloor. After a while though, I realize that I’ve lost her to Henry, who dances close to her – something I will tease her about later. I laugh when I see them, which she doesn’t notice, of course, because she only has eyes for the guy she claims not to have a crush on.

Still smiling, I shake my head and go back to our table, where Paul and Jack are talking to a couple of girls I don’t know. “Sorry to interrupt,” I say as I grab my glass of water. “Thanks for watching my drink, guys. Please, carry on.”

Paul nods and winks at me before he turns his attention back to the redhead he was talking to. It seems everyone is having a great time. I chuckle and turn around to watch the ongoings in the crowded pub. I wonder where Ben is; I lost sight of him a little while ago. But as I can’t see Aaron either, I suspect they needed to have another talk – or fight, that is – because I know Ben was pissed off earlier when Aaron dared to dance too close to me.

When I empty my water in one go and put down the glass, Luke approaches the table with two drinks in his hands, one of which he gives to me. “Here, you look like you could use one of these,” he says with a charming smile.

I accept the drink and grimace when I see that it’s my favorite. I crinkle my nose, unsure about my boss’s intentions. But I return his smile – more subtly though; I don’t want to encourage him. “Thank you, Luke.”

“You know I’d do anything to keep my employees happy – especially the hard working ones like you,” he says with a wink.

I frown, and with a deep breath, I put my drink on the table. I guess I need to get straight to the point. “Luke, are you flirting with me?”

His smile widens, which sends a tiny cold shiver down my spine. “Would that be so bad?” he asks seductively and leans closer to me.

With a small gasp, I back away from him. I didn’t think he was serious. “Luke! You are my boss! You can’t – uhm – you–” I draw in a sharp breath. “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Luke, tell me you’re kidding!”

His smile turns into a satisfied smirk. “When it comes to pretty women, I’m never kidding.”

I hold up my hand to keep him at a distance. “How drunk are you?”

He chuckles. “I just had a few drinks. Amy, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.”

I blow out a noisy breath. “I’ll repeat it, Luke: you’re my boss!”

“Not here.”

My mouth falls open, and I’m seriously lost for words. How am I supposed to respond to this? When he leans in yet again, I put my hand on his chest to stop him. “Luke, no.” But he shows no signs to back off. I’m desperately trying to think of something to say to him to make him back off; I don’t want to slap him. But suddenly, someone puts his arm around my shoulder.

Ben emerged out of nowhere, and I let out a sigh of relief when he draws me close. I’m not sure this is the best idea to let Luke know about our relationship status, but I couldn’t handle his flirting any longer either.

Ben glares at Luke. “Is there a problem here?”

Luke narrows his eyes at him. “No, no problem. Right, Amy?” He looks at me, but I glare at him as well.

“Right. Luke was about to leave,” I say through clenched teeth.

Ben pulls me into him a little tighter, and Luke rolls his eyes. “Ben, you don’t have to act like her big brother.”

Ben shakes his head. “Not her big brother, her boyfriend.”

Wow, I guess the cat is out of the bag.

Luke’s posture stiffens. “So the rumors are true? You two are having an affair?”

Ben snorts. “Not an affair – a relationship. If you’re familiar with that term.”

I gasp and stare at Ben wide-eyed. “Ben! You can’t talk to him like that!” I turn to Luke, who gives Ben a cold, hard look. “Sorry, Luke; he doesn’t mean it like that.”

Luke looks at me, and his features soften slightly. “It’s okay, Amy. I know what he means. You should only know that a relationship between colleagues is frowned upon. So don’t let that affect your work.”

Ben laughs spitefully. “A relationship is frowned upon, but fucking an employee is okay?”

Again, I gasp. Even if he’s right, he shouldn’t talk to our boss like that. I step away from Ben and hold up my hands. “You are unbelievable! Both of you! You two talk this out; I’ll go get some fresh air.” With an annoyed puff, I turn and rush towards the exit. On the way out, my eyes cross Jenna’s. She’s looking daggers at me, which means she saw everything. Great, as if she needed another reason to hate me.

I massage my temple and try to ignore the beginning headache, and once I’m outside, I breathe in the cool, fresh air. Ah, wonderful silence!

“Amy?”

Damn. Can’t they leave me alone for five minutes? I groan and turn around, and I roll my eyes when I see Aaron.

“Amy, are you all right?” he asks when he comes to a stop right in front of me.

I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Awful timing. I’m angry at the entire idiotic male race.”

Aaron chuckles. “If that includes my brother, I’m happy to prove that idiocy doesn’t run in the family and not all men are idiots. Smile! That frown doesn’t suit you.” He lifts the corners of my lips with his thumb and index finger and winks at me.

I swat his hand away, but I can’t hold back a small laugh. “I don’t know if you’re doing it on purpose, but you always cheer me up. But please tell me you’re not still flirting with me because you think something could happen between us.”

Aaron grins at me. “Hey, you’re a great woman. Why would I flirt with you just for fun?”

“Because you want to piss off your brother?”

Still grinning, Aaron rolls his eyes. “Oh, Amy. Why do you pretend you aren’t worthy of being wooed?”

I throw my head back and laugh. Despite all the trouble he caused, he really grew on me. I know he’s a good person – as much as he likes to convince people otherwise. I wrap my arms around him and hug him tight. “Thanks, Aaron. I’m sorry I have to say this, but you’re like the big brother I never had.”

Aaron buries his face in the nape of my neck, and I can feel his lips stretch into a smile. “You’re breaking my heart, Amy Franklin. First I was a nice guy, and now I’m like a brother.”

“Come on, don’t feel offended. There are enough women in there who would love to switch places with me right now.” With another chuckle, I release from the embrace, and immediately my gaze falls on the person standing a few feet away with his arms crossed in front of his chest, glaring at us – Ben. I roll my eyes and let out an annoyed sigh.

Aaron turns around and follows my gaze. “Wow, bro. You look like you’re having a really shit evening.”

Ben narrows his eyes at us and grumbles, “Yeah, weird. ’Cause it’s all going so well. My boss is hitting on my girlfriend, and my own brother is trying his luck too - for the umpteenth time.”

I take a step towards him. “Ben–”

He points his finger at me. “And you encourage him every time.”

I look at him wide-eyed. “Excuse me?”

Aaron also takes a step towards his brother. “Ben, you’re being unfair. What’s wrong with you?”

Ben flares his nostrils and presses his lips together. “Do I have to say it again? I just had a heated discussion with Luke, who is hitting on Amy more and more aggressively, and then I come out here and see her in your arms.”

I sigh. “Ben, you have no reason to be jealous. Luke doesn’t mean anything to me. And Aaron – well, he’s Aaron–” I take another step toward him, but stop when I see the cold look in his eyes. “What’s up with you today? I thought we’d finally gotten over this shit.”

Ben raises his eyebrows. “This shit?”

“Yes. You see, it does feel good to know that you’re protecting me, but you’re overreacting.”

Ben gasps. “Do you have any idea what dangerous situation my brother dragged you into? Everything is dangerous in his world, why can’t you understand that?”

I rub my chest, trying to get rid of the sudden stinging pain, and breathing is difficult too. For a brief moment, I really fear I’m close to having a cardiac arrest because Ben’s disappointed look goes straight to my heart. He makes me feel like a naive and stupid little girl.

Aaron puts a hand on my shoulder. “Amy, are you all right?’”

“Stay out of it!” Ben snaps at him.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. It’s no use; we can’t have a reasonable discussion now. “Okay,” I say with a deep sigh. “Before anyone says anything they’ll regret later, I better go. I’ll take a cab home. And you–” I point to Ben “–will not follow me! I don’t want to see you again tonight.” And without waiting for another reaction, I turn around and disappear around the next corner.

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