I walk with my arm linked through Alessandro's. He leads me slowly back through the garden. Seemingly taking his time. Allowing me a moment to steady the raging lava that seems to have found its way into my veins.
"You look like a goddess." Alessandro says looking down at me as he keeps his steady pace. My cheeks warm even in the cool evening.
"Thank you. You look very handsome in your suit."
He stopped moving and turned, placing both large hands onto my biceps. I look up at him as my eyes go wide once more. He doesn't step towards me but instead pulls me closer to him. My steps fumble as I follow.
"Have you always liked horses?" He asks his hands tight but not hurting me.
"I … I don't understand." I don't understand why he has pulled me to a sudden stop and dragged me close to him. In such a way that had my body humming in anticipation. To only ask a simple question of me.
"What is there not to understand?" He asks, sweeping a hand through the stray hairs at the side of my face. His hand is large and fingers rounded but soft and subtle. So intimate. So familiar, which we are neither. "Have you always liked horses Bella?" He leans forwards to whisper my name in his deep velvet voice so similar to his brothers.
"Yes." I barely whisper, totally fascinated now by my own reaction.
"Why?" His hazel eyes burn into me. Searching me as though to find something more.
"Because they can never be fully tamed. When they are given the chance and a large field they run, they play and yet are so graceful. They can be trained, they can even dance and perform tasks but they will never truly be tied down. Not by their owner nor land."
For a moment I feel like I have said too much. He doesn't seem to speak, just look at me, after my far to honest outburst. Then as I am about to look away his hand shifts to my jaw tilting my head back. He is smiling. Not a deep smile nor is it a false one still a devastatingly handsome one.
"Princess." I step away from Alessandro and his hands fall. I quickly turn to Finn. "You are going to be late for the queen and king." He eyes Alessandro and squares his large shoulders, with a hidden warning I know is not just bark more bite. Yet he wouldn't hurt the prince, not very much anyway. "Young prince have you forgotten your way to the ballroom? I could show you."
Alessandro clears his throat, almost nervous, I try to hide the chuckle but Finn knows me too well and gives me a discreet wink. Before the stern face that would scare anyone but me returns.
"Of course not. I was just showing Bella the way." He places his arm out to me again and I take it. Smiling at Finn as Alessandro hurries us forward. The echoing of Finn's large striding footsteps following behind us at some distance. "Your royal guard doesn't seem to like me much." He whispers, leaning down and I laugh.
"It isn't anything personal but Finn believed there would be no need for a man to be within six feet of me. So consider yourself lucky." We both are smiling as a young butler opens the door.
As I had expected, the room is stunning; one whole side is filled with coloured glass windows. Two large chandeliers larger than i have ever seen before hang either end. A few tables to one side with food and drink on them. Lavish yet elegant and not extravagant. Some finely dressed women and suited men stood looking at me and Alessandro. I would be nervous if i hadn't been doing this since i was a toddler. Yet everyone of the women is dressed in a bright colour. Only a few of the men are in a black tuxedo. Leaving me the only female wearing black. I tilt my chin up and remember Finn's words. Feeling them to my very core. Taking a deep breath as Alessandro leads me towards the king, queen and Matteo who already stands watching us, his eyes never missing a beat.
"I'm glad my son didn't lead you to astray." Caleb says taking my hand and placing a kiss on it.
"O shush Caleb. Come dear, I'll introduce you to a few people." Corrina says taking me from Alessandro and leading me towards a group of ladies. "Don't listen to him. The king is joking." Stopping a moment before starting again. "Actually my sons are good at leading but I have a feeling you'll match them on every front."
What does she mean? Match them on every front? I don't have time to ask as she begins introducing me to tens of cousins and close friends.
I stand with my father and brother watching her walk away. She was smiling brightly as the doors opened, it was a true smile. Then it had changed as she channelled the princess she should be. The smile became one that didn't meet her pale blue eyes. Like a tidal pool that you could try to swim to the bottom of but not make it. Not without running out of air. That is how her eyes impact me, like the air is sucked from my lungs.
"She is very beautiful isn't she?" Our father says placing a firm hand onto both mine and Alessandro's shoulder.
"Si. Did you and mother know that she was going to cause a stir?" I ask being completely upfront with him. I wonder if mother finally found something that would give me and Alessandro a push to want something more. Well more than a chase that doesn't last more than a few dates before it tumbles to my bed.
"Your mother had seen more recent photos and had joked that both of our sons were going to find themselves no longer the biggest catch in the room." He chuckles. "Or so I think that was her exact words. I'd say though you should be careful. Your mother rang rings around me until I showed her who was boss, of course." He slaps both of us whilst laughing and then moves on to talk with friends. Showed mum who's boss. I'm glad he laughed because that is the biggest load of shit I've ever heard from him.
"Do you get the distinct feeling that we are both invisible tonight?" Alessandro asks me. Not even keeping his voice down as no one seems to be aware of us standing here at all. A strange feeling. One I'd say feels actually quite nice.
Not even the twins I had assumed would be awkward to have here. They seem to be waiting in a patient line to speak with the princess. Looking at her dress and tumbling hair, almost itching and barely containing excitement. They've slept with princes but are excited to see the soon to be queen of Spain.
"Let's make the most of being able to hide in the shadows shall we?" I say moving across the room to a table of champagne grabbing two glasses and passing one to Alessandro. "You seemed to take a rather long time to get here."
"I may have. Though I wonder why you were out in the stables after already showering and getting dressed?"
I take a long sip on my champagne. "I was just looking out the window after getting dressed. Imagine my surprise when a dark haired goddess in a black dress walked by. I saw which way she was heading and decided to follow to be welcoming. Just as mother requested."
"To take an opportunity to catch her favour. As did I when I managed to sneak her away from you." Alessandro says with a smirk.
"Noted. Though I see your twin has noticed you this evening. Why not ask her to dance?" I say, smirking back at him as the flute rests just from my mouth.
"Convenient brother but I think I'll be busy dancing with another."
I lift a brow. "Or so you hope."
The people talk and smile. Everyone is lovely and friendly. Corrina is so very welcoming. The princes keep to the side and I see them drinking and talking between themselves. It isn't long until the music starts and Caleb takes Corrina onto the dancefloor. I smile as I watch them. Seeming so happy, so in love. Only focused on one another as though no one else existed.
"Would you honor me with a dance Bella?" Matteo. He stands close behind me and I jump as he speaks, startling me as I was so busy watching the king and queen.
"Of course." I respond properly. Turning towards him and taking his waiting hand.
He leads me onto the dancefloor and we place our hands together as we make a slow circle. Eyes staying together before spinning the opposite way and our opposite hands meeting. Our fingers entwine, my hand meets his shoulder as his goes low on my back. We move perfectly as one.
"You fit in so well with the Italian crowd." He says smiling warmly at me.
"Should I not?" I quirk a brow at him. "What is different here in Italy to Spain? The people are the same as is every royal evening."
English the main tongue for most of the royals. Making it easier for us to negotiate when necessary. Though I know some Italian as the princes will know Spanish I am sure.
"I hope not every evening is the same as this."
Matteo gently spins me out and then with two spins under his arm I am back in. This time an inch or so closer to him. Our bodies together now. His every muscle rippled against my dress as we moved.
"Again wanting me to inflate your ego. Would you believe it, I have danced with a prince before." I smile looking away and around the room. I see Alessandro talking to one of the musicians. "What is he up to?"
"I am sure we are about to find out." Matteo huffs. The song begins to draw to an end as he keeps my hand outstretched and then kisses my palm. "Thank you for the dance, beautiful Bella."
I am surprised that he doesn't ask for another dance. His warm soft lips and rough stubble against the inner side of my hand, so different to the gentle kisses I'd usually recieve on the outside of it. I am nearly sure he can feel my pulse racing beneath his lips that linger.
"Bella, i believe it is my turn." Alessandro says the moment Matteo releases my hand.
The music shifts. A much more upbeat tempo. If I had felt Matteo's dance was intimate I had no way of preparing myself for this one.
His hands taking mine stretching one out far. I don't even know the routine he is leading me into so I have no choice but to follow his every footstep. Shift of his knees between mine. His hands dragged mine into the next movement. So quick paced and so unfamiliar but exciting.
"What is this?" I say as he bends me backwards over his arm and just as quickly pulls me up. My face not even an inch from his. The green specks in his eyes seem to shine like glitter drawing me in.
"A dance princess. Have you never had one like this?" He smiles already knowing his answer. I assume from either the fact my mouth has been agape or because I have no idea what he is to do next. I cannot anticipate his next move only being led like a puppet.
Suddenly he spins me pulling my back to his chest, a hand holding mine at my stomach, the other still straight out even as his arm is still bent.
"All you have to do is move with me. Feel it. You will feel my muscles move in time with yours. Our hearts beat as one." He says into my ear as he takes steps forwards. He is right. I feel it as his thigh comes forwards urging mine to move with it. His breath against my ear. Sending a shiver down my scolding spine that sits against him.
"Is this not rather indecent for the first evening you are in my company?" I ask but not wanting to stop. Hoping he doesn't and that this song can last that bit longer. It isn't often if ever I am shocked. Unless it's a kidnapping of course but let's just say they are not shocks that bring moisture between my legs.
"But we have met so many times before this, have we not?"
I nod as he spins me once again turning me to face him.
"Many years ago and on all occasions i was barely a teenager." I say as he moves me once more, his thigh rubbing between mine with each purposeful step. Soon he begins to slow as the song winds down. "From what I remember you found it funny I thought I could behave like a stable boy."
"And yet your first evening you were hiding away in the stables again." He smiles. "Ride with me. Tomorrow?"
"And if I am busy?" I say as finally the song draws to an end but he continues to hold me to him.
"Then I will ask every day until you do."
I smile up at him. "Then good luck."
"You may say that. You may even believe I need luck but I know I don't. Not whilst you allow me to take your hand and dance with you. Even for a second song." He gives me a menacing smile.
The next song starts and he begins to move me to it. I know this one etleast.
"Luckily this is only a small gathering as we both know two dances with the same person in a row would be showing favour. Favour I haven't granted." I tilt my chin stubbornly but my body relaxes to his as our feet move in unison.
"A favour you say. I think I prefer the sarcastic princess to the proper one."
I glare at him. "You think I care which you prefer? There is a time and place for how one behaves."
"Spoken like a true queen." I cannot tell if his tone is sarcastic. Yet I stubbornly stop moving unwilling to accept him behaving as such to me.
"I am a queen. I have acted as one from the moment I could talk. I have not had the privilege of two parents giving me guidance. My father has ruled as I have been a queen in training. I have not lived my life in fear even though nearly every year some twice, a threat on my life or a kidnapping. Serious enough I have to be warned of them. Tell me prince have you ever walked with the people you rule?"
"I regularly drink …"
I laugh, stopping his words. "Drink?" Is he serious? "That isn't your people. Your people are those that work tiresomely. The children that work in the fields and local shops. Help their families because it might be the only time they spend with them in a day. Everyone, not just those that drink at a local bar or club when you're on a night out."
"Says the woman I imagine has never really had a night out. Seen the people celebrating." He sounds smug knowing I haven't seen a real nightlife, only what I am allowed to. Royal parties and gathering. "We will remedy that very soon."
His smug smile as he takes my hand to his lips rather than drawing himself over it as he should. His smile stays even as he places a gentle kiss but then a pinch.
"Did you just bite me?" I say withdrawing my hand in shock. He only smiles as he begins to walk away and another member of the family takes me into the next song.
The princes stand together, talking and watching me dance with their many cousins. Even the young girls which is more of a bobbing around than dancing. Before I am officially made queen I am going to have my fun. If those tall, dark and dishy princes think they have anything I cannot handle, they are very mistaken. The smut books I have read give me enough knowledge in the art of love and love making. I may have only read and dreamt of true flirting but I am more than capable. Time to put it to practice.