For the next two weeks Matteo and I find it difficult to keep our hands off of one another. Alessandro and Sofia still bicker as though they hate one another but then, the sly way they excuse themselves. Making excuses as though to give me and Matteo time alone, we are not fooled though. The pair love to bicker and obviously love to make up just as much. Matteo has shown me things I never could have dreamed of. Raised me up so high that I shatter apart under his touch. We've made love beneath the stars. In his room. My room. The barn. At the lake. Against the palace wall. Lord the list goes on. I should be ashamed or minimally embarrassed but i cannot bring myself to feel either. Each night we fall asleep together and every morning he sneaks out after Finn knocks but doesn't enter.
I wish i could say my heart hasn't entered into these encounters with Matteo but it has. It has been his from nearly the moment i saw him.
"Your mind is ticking over far too quickly." Matteo says against my ear. We are sitting on the bay window seat. Matteo leaning against the pillows me between his legs, head resting against his chest. His arms wrapped around me and mine holding his. Both spent from orgasms. "I can feel your body tensing. What is wrong my Bella?"
My Bella. He always calls me his Bella. The clutching pain in my chest feels like a sharp blade slicing through my heart. Opening a wound I know I will never be able to heal. I will be able to act. To hold my head proud and rule, but inside I will be broken. I will be missing this. His arms. His manly scent. His free spirit and sweet words.
"Nothing is wrong. How could it be?" I turn my cheek to his chest. Feeling the warmth of his skin, the roughness of his soft chest hair against my cheek.
"Are you sure?"
I nod but don't answer. My throat forms a lump the size of my country. Holding the tears that want to spill from my eyes at the idea in just under a month I will lose this. I will lose him and part of myself. At some point my eyes become heavy. Being lulled to sleep by the steady heartbeat of Matteo and his chest gently rising and falling with each breath. His strong arms protectively around me.
I wake in those arms in the morning but in my bed. My silk nightgown has risen high on my thigh and a tiny strap low on one shoulder.
"Good morning." Matteo says in his husky morning voice. His warm gentle lips press down against my shoulder and again against my neck. Before his head rests into the crook of it.
"I must go. I am riding with Alessandro this morning. He wants to discuss something and I can only assume it has something to do with Sofia."
"It wouldn't surprise me. She told me why she was so horrid to him before. The first ball. The one when Seb …." I stop myself short. Hating to mention his name whilst in Matteo's arms. We are teetering on the edge of danger. Hearts entwined whilst responsibility and obligations are elsewhere. "That evening. A very drunk Alessandro kissed her. Well more than kissed her but in the morning he was sick. Admitting that he had been drowning his sorrows. She had felt used and like he hadn't truly wanted her."
"I can understand that. He had been hoping for you for the few weeks before that. Though he had already declared you were both better as friends."
"To her that had made no difference. Now though I can see they like bickering with one another. Name calling. They seem to both thrive off of it."
"Smitten. They are smitten with one another that is for sure."
"Do you think he will propose to her?" I turn in his arms tracing my nails against his back. He practically purrs like a kitten. Loving as it sends tingles along his spine. I love bringing him pleasure and not just sexually.
"No. My father does not plan on stepping down for some years. Sofia has a brother who will become king. Neither of them need to rush anything. But they will have to come to an agreement about courting. Once she leaves here it will not be as simple as meeting up and having sex. They will be exposed. Our staff here will never break confidentiality but outside of these walls they will have the world knowing."
Is he just talking about them? Is he speaking about us as well? The counter on our time is closing down. I hadn't expected things to be so intense. So strong and so, so right. How could I have ever imagined that? I feel like he is my salvation before tragedy. Rather than the other way round. He is what will keep me going. The memories of him. The time we have spent together.
It is not as though i have not tried to think of some way i could have the choice. Have time to consider whether this is the making of a long standing marriage. There is no way around it. Spain is indebted to France. The French have been smart when they did this. Offering us help my father would not refuse. He wouldn't refuse because he wants me to marry Sebastian anyway. I so wish I could think of anything but war. A war between Spain and France would bring nothing but pain to my people. The people that have already had so much pain, because of my father.
"You should go. I am going shopping with Sofia anyway for an outfit for tonight."
"Yes. Are you looking forward to another night out? Franco isn't coming this time. Much to his disappointment he is busy with some cousin duties."
I look up to see Matteo smirking like the cat who got the cream.
"You didn't?" I say. He looks down and his eyes meet mine with a glint.
"You didn't expect me to allow my cousin to try and dance with you again did you?" He smirks.
"You are terrible." Yet I giggle. Holding him close for a moment more. Then he kisses me. Leaving me breathless, turned on and wishing to forget anything about any activities.
"Till later my Bella." Then he leaves. Climbing through my window as he does every night and morning. Not that we've been very discreet somehow it's more exciting though.
A few hours later Sofia and I are wandering the beautiful streets in a small Italian town. Finn is close to my side. Another three of my guards around us. Sofia has only brought two guards with her. I feel jealous that she is able to leave with half the amount of guards to me. Her country is not in turmoil, her father has a peaceful kingdom. Her brother has been delegated responsibilities over the years readying him to rule.
"So you and Alessandro?" I lift my brows at her. She looks at the guards but then smiles. They will never speak of anything we discuss. It wouldn't be worth their life if they did.
"He's a wise guy."
"And you like it."
"I'm going home next week and you just three weeks after that. Here, it is fun and easy but neither of us are ready to commit to anything." She shrugs. Carefree but i know she likes him. Maybe she has been able to hold her heart away more so than i have but she likes him.
"But you aren't ready to let go either?"
"Maybe. So you and Matteo? Don't act like the pair of you aren't besotted. You left dinner yesterday evening holding hands."
I blush. I had. He had taken my hand and it had felt so natural. It is natural. When we are alone. Out of habit I walked away, his large hand holding mine so warm and comforting. He had smiled down at me and everything and everyone had melted away. None of his family or family friends had seemed to matter. The excuse of a stroll in the garden. Which really meant a shag by the lake. Matteo makes me a wanton wild woman and I love everything about it. I love the two types of myself. The soon to be queen who will never be selfish and the once young wild woman. Trying to be just Bella. Now I am both. Matteo was right, they are one and the same person but as most people do. I have times I have to be respectful and others I am able to just let my hair loose and be free.
"It's complicated and as i know you are aware. My father accepted proposals for my hand in marriage. He turned most down. All actually. Except Sebestian. Since then he has accepted help from the French and they have been assisting him whilst I have been away."
"That changes things." Her lips form a thin line. Sympathetic eyes meeting mine. "I am sorry i didn't realise the extent of it all."
"It's ok. It isn't something I want made public unlike my coronation. I accept everything that is coming." I look down and her arm wraps through mine. She gives me a warm smile.
"Sometimes in life it is worth taking risks. Having fun and living. Whilst we can anyway."
Our intimidating guards keep the crowds of people away as we walk the narrow cobbled stone streets. Stopping and waving. Taking photos with people. I enjoy doing these things. I enjoy making people happy. But as the day goes on I feel my smile fading. Even as we try out outfits at a small boutique.
I realize I miss Matteo. Having not seen him since this morning in my bed. The long drawn out kiss he had given me. If this is what it feels like now. How is it going to feel flying away from here? Leaving him behind and knowing that it is over. That i have no way of keeping us together or fighting for us. I am queen to be, who cannot be happy. A queen who will have a debt she never agreed to pay but will have to anyway. I would give it all up to be normal and just me and him. I will not make people suffer for my happiness though that is something I cannot abide by.
"You trying to kill Alessandro in that outfit?" I say eyeing Sofia. A shimmering red mini dress on. An exact pair of red heels on her feet elongating her already long legs.
"Father will hate me in this outfit. But when in Italy." She smiles. Giving me a spin and checking herself out in the floor to ceiling mirror. Of the changing room. "You look amazing."
"I'm not sure." I turn looking at the black sheer dress. It is so revealing. Black underwear beneath covering my breasts and the v between my legs. The rest of my body revealed beneath the sheer black lace. A large V at my neckline down to my wrists and low thigh.
"Why not? That's all in at the moment."
"It is so revealing. Nothing is left to the imagination."
"Does it need to be? Won't he already know exactly what is beneath it?" She winks and I laugh.
"You are so naughty."
"No, I am fun." We both go back into the small changing rooms and get back into our original outfits. Coming out with selections of outfits. I buy them all knowing i may not wear them all. But it's a small business and they were wonderful.
After thanking the sales assistant and a guard taking each of our bags. Sofia hooks an arm through mine and declares we are going for dinner. I hadn't realised dinner would mean cocktails. Cocktails would mean. Drunk. Day drinking is not something I am used to. By the time we finish another round of cocktails it is well past the time for our evening meal at the palace. I reach to check my phone but Sofia taps my hand with hers in a light slap.
"OH no you don't. We have our clothes. Lets get changed in the toilet."
"What?" My eyes bug out. Even drunk I question getting changed in the toilet of a five star restaurant.
Sofia obviously isn't interested and jumps up grabbing the bags from the table where our guards are seated. I follow and watch Finn smile and decline his head. The restaurant is mostly empty and the crowd has formed outside. The owner has kept most from entering to give us privacy. Our guards have enjoyed a lovely meal and so have we. Though they haven't drank anything but water. The cocktails went down like water for me. If that makes any difference.