Princess - *Book One*

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Ben and I sit next to each other in a somewhat heavy silence for a while after he told me his story. I’m sure he doesn’t want to hear pity or some empty words from me now, so I only give him a subtle smile. “Thank you for telling me all this and helping me understand.”

He nods without returning my smile. “I know this might be hard to digest, and I’m not entirely sure what made me share my story with you already. But I wanted you to know these things about me before you decide whether you like me or not.”

I laugh. “I’ve decided that already. What you’ve just told me doesn’t change anything.”

And finally, his lips lift in a small smile. “Oh, really? So?”

“You want to know if I like you? Well, I’m sitting here with you, right?”

“Yes, you are.”

Suddenly, an awkward tension fills the air between us; it’s like we both finally realize that we like each other and neither of us knows how to handle it.

After what feels like half an eternity, Ben is the first to speak. “So – uhm, I was wondering – I know that’s none of my business, but what happened with my brother on Friday after you left?”

I’m a little surprised he asks about that now, and I think about what to tell him. “We had some food, talked, and he accompanied me home and gave me his number. I told him that I had a nice evening, but that’s all.”

“Hm.” Ben lets out a slightly annoyed breath. “You’ve certainly awakened his hunting instinct then.”

I look at him, frowning. “His hunting instinct?” I take a deep breath. “Well, so far he’s done nothing to harass me.”

Before we can talk more about it, Ben’s phone rings. He pulls it out of his pocket and sighs when he sees who’s calling. “Sorry, I have to answer that,” he tells me with an apologetic smile.

I nod to him as he gets up and goes outside to take the call. While I wait for him, I get my phone from my purse and see a message from Lauren: "Hey, sweetie, are you free tonight?"

I answer: "Sorry, just saw your message. I’m out for drinks with Ben. Is there anything special you wanted to talk about?"

"With Ben? Don’t you see each other enough at work? ;-) "

"He wanted to tell me some things about him that we can’t discuss during working hours."

“Ah ... well, then I wish you a nice evening! Wanna go to the Avalon with me on Saturday? I’m desperate for some dancing!"

"I’m in! We’ll discuss the details tomorrow!"

Before I get Lauren’s answer, Ben is back, and I don’t like the look on his face. “I’m sorry, Princess,” he says with a deep sigh, “but I have to go. But I’ll accompany you home if you want.”

I nod and frown, not being able to hide my disappointment. “Okay, sure.”

So we make our way to my place, and on the way, it becomes more and more obvious how Ben’s mood has worsened.

“Was it your brother who called?” I ask him.

He gives me a quick look before he focuses his gaze on something in the distance. “Yes. I’m really sorry.”

“Ben, it’s okay. We can talk some more tomorrow at work.” I playfully bump into his side, which he obviously didn’t expect because he stumbles slightly. Instinctively, I grab his arm, even though I could have never prevented him from falling.

Ben looks at me with wide eyes and starts laughing heartily. “Wow. This is what it has come to, that a girl pushes me over.”

“Well, I am staggering.” I laugh too, but then Ben and I look at each other while I’m still holding onto his arm, and it turns into one of those stares that makes the butterflies in my stomach do somersaults and other crazy things. It’s one of those stares that wants me to lean in – to taste Ben’s lips with mine.

But before I can finally act on my craving, Ben clears his throat and continues to walk, which makes me let go of his arm at the same time.

For a while, we walk silently side by side. Millions of thoughts buzz around in my head again – thoughts I can’t categorize. What is this between us? Does he feel the same? Or am I the only crazy one here?

I need to break this silence somehow before my thoughts drive me insane. “Lauren asked me to go to the Avalon with her on Saturday. Do you want to come along?” I ask him. “You could ask Isaac, too.”

Ben thinks for a moment. “Saturday? Sure. I’ll ask Isaac. Even if that’s not his favorite venue.”

“Great! I’m so excited to finally see this place that Lauren has told me so much about.”

Luckily, that’s the start of a reasonably easy conversation that we manage to have for the rest of the way. Soon we arrive in front of my building, where Ben takes a look around. “That’s a nice neighborhood you live in,” he says.

I nod. “Yes, I like it a lot too. Especially because it’s not too far from Central Park. I was really lucky when I got here. Great apartment, great job, nice colleagues – what more could I want?”

Of course, I immediately know what else I want. Him. Spending time with him tonight was really nice, and suddenly I frown when I think about the great evening we had because it’s about to come to an end.

Ben tilts his head and looks at me. “Everything okay? What’s that sad look on your face?”

I shake my head and smile at him. “I’m good. I had a great time tonight.”

Ben smiles too. “Yes, me too. I’m glad you ended up in my department at the desk next to mine.”

“Me too,” I answer in a whisper because that’s all I’m capable of. The way he looks at me now makes me draw in a deep breath. The sudden change in mood makes me feel a little dizzy, and a nervous tension takes hold of me. We stand there, facing each other, our gazes locked. He leans in a little; then I lean in a little too until his lips are only a few inches from mine.

Ben is so close to me now that his masculine scent fills my nose, and that alone makes my heart beat faster, and when his gaze falls on my lips, I can hardly hold back a deep sigh. A hot shiver runs up and down my spine, and I’m holding my breath. I would love to do something with my hands – put them around his neck and close that last inch between our lips, for example. But instead, I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.

When Ben takes in a deep breath through his nose, I wonder if his heart is racing just as fast as mine or if he is as nervous as I am.

When I feel Ben’s breath on my lips, I have to close my eyes; I can hardly stand the tension anymore. And then the moment I have been dreaming of since I first laid eyes on him has finally come.

I feel Ben’s lips on mine. Only a little, very gently.

A small moan of relief forms in the back of my throat when Ben puts his hands on my waist and my hands can finally do something. I put them around his neck and pull myself closer to him. Ben increases the pressure on my lips, which I automatically open, making way for his tongue. This kiss is already so much better than I could have ever imagined. I finally know that it was not just me imagining things between us.

But suddenly, Ben’s ringing phone tears us apart, and before the kiss even started properly, it’s over.

When Ben steps away from me, an uncomfortable feeling of disappointment spreads within me.

Without looking at me, he turns around and answers his phone. “Yes – I’m on my way – yes, dammit!” With an angry snort, he hangs up and turns to me.

I haven’t moved a single inch, hoping we could continue where we left off, but his expression crushes this hope.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” Ben says with an agitated sigh.

I want to take a step towards him, but he retreats. “Ben–”

He raises his hand to hold me back. “I have to go. See you tomorrow, Amy.”

And before I can say or do anything else, he’s gone.

The next morning, I arrive at my desk in total frustration. I slept poorly, pondering all night what went wrong. Did Ben regret the kiss? I was hoping he would get in touch somehow, maybe text or even call; but nothing.

I sit down, boot my computer, and get an overview of today’s to-do-list. The next few days will probably be hectic. Will Ben and I even find an opportunity to talk about last night?

After half an hour, Ben still hasn’t arrived, and I’m starting to worry. He didn’t text or call to tell me he’d be late. Just when I’m about to send him a text, he comes rushing to his desk. He sits down quickly and looks around. “Has anyone asked for me yet?”

“Good Morning. And no, no one else has noticed you’re late.”

“Phew!” He looks pretty exhausted. He doesn’t even look right at me.

“Was it a late night yesterday?” I ask him.

Ben nods. “Yes, it was – complicated. I need some coffee first.” He jumps up again. “You want one?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

When he comes back with a cup of coffee shortly afterward, he sits down, takes a deep breath, and massages his forehead.

“Ben, is everything all right?”

Then he finally looks at me. He looks shockingly tired. And sad.

He nods. “Yes, I’m okay. I’m just a little exhausted.”

He keeps staring at me, and the longer he looks at me the closer I feel to tears. I’m scared of what he’ll say next.

“Amy – what happened yesterday–”

There it is!

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kissed you.”

I gasp, and it feels like he’s crushing my sad little heart. “Ben, don’t say that! What was so bad about it?”

Ben sighs and nervously runs his fingers through his hair. “Amy, I–”

Suddenly, we are interrupted by Luke, who turns up next to my desk. “Good morning you two. Ben, would you come to my office, please?”

Ben gets up and looks at me apologetically. “Of course, Luke.”

And then they disappear, leaving me frustrated and confused. Before I go completely crazy, I start with my work, but my concentration is out the window.

An hour later, Ben still hasn’t returned. I can barely keep up with my work. All I can think about is Ben and what he was trying to tell me. But do I really want to hear it? I already feel heartbroken.

I decide to have a coffee in the break room; maybe that will clear my head. While sipping my coffee, I look out of the big window down on the street.

Shortly after, I hear someone else entering the room, and then Ben stands next to me. I look at him; his gaze is fixed on something far away.

“Amy, listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to raise any hopes in you. Nothing can happen between us. At least not yet.”

I turn to him and cross my arms. “And why not?”

He turns to me, too, and looks at me with sad eyes. “I – let’s not talk about this here, okay?”

And before I can say anything, he turns around and leaves. I roll my eyes. Slowly, this also annoys me. I would like to know what his problem is. I finish my coffee and go back to my desk, where Ben is already engrossed in work.

Okay, so we pretend nothing happened.

It’s a busy day for both of us; we don’t talk at all, and there is an unpleasant tension in the air. Everything is suddenly very cool and distant between us. No more little moments. No random touches. No meaningful looks.

And that’s exactly how the rest of the week goes.

By Friday night, I’m completely frustrated and so glad that Lauren came over for a girls’ night. She drops down on the sofa next to me and grabs the bowl of popcorn that I put between us.

“We’ve hardly seen each other this week. Was it a busy one for your department?” Lauren asks.

I nod. “Yes, I had so much to do that I barely had time for lunch.”

Lauren looks at me sympathetically. “Ah, shit! Well, at least you had Ben. That probably made it bearable.” She gives me a smile, but it falters immediately when I grimace. “Didn’t it?”

I sigh. “It’s complicated.”

She looks at me questioningly. “What is complicated?”

I take a deep breath. “Something happened between Ben and me.”

Her eyes widen in surprise. “Something?” She grabs a handful of popcorn and turns to me. “Tell me everything!”

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