She had chocolate on her upper lip.
It took every ounce of willpower Alex had not to reach across the little table and remove it for her. To take the tip of one finger and smooth it away—oh, God, to lick it off…
Alex shifted in his chair, thankful that Brynn was oblivious to the effect she had on him. She chattered away, cupping the stoneware mug in both hands, closing her eyes in delight as she sipped the hot drink.
He shouldn’t even be there. He should be in his office, reading over applications for the Laurivenia Trust. The annual ball was coming up in just a few weeks and he still hadn’t decided which projects were the most deserving of funding.
But he’d heard Brynn out in the hall, stomping and muttering, and he was up from his desk before he even realized what he was doing.
Alex picked up his own mug and took a sip. It was smooth and rich, the perfect comfort drink. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had hot chocolate. He was more likely to be served fancy espresso drinks. But as soon as they reached the empty kitchen, Brynn had insisted on preparing enough for both of them. She had puttered around the kitchen, plucking ingredients from the huge walk-in pantry, even sending Alex to fetch a container of cream from the industrial-sized refrigerator.
She was at ease in the kitchen, keeping up a running monologue while she whipped and stirred and blended. Her earlier embarrassment seemed to have faded, and Alex was glad. He enjoyed listening to her talk. They could have been any couple, hanging out in the kitchen after a night out.
Except he was the crown prince of Laurivenia and she was his daughter’s nanny.
He could stand it no longer.
“Chocolate.” He pointed to her upper lip. Her tongue darted out, pink and inviting, to lick the creamy spot away. Alex ground his teeth together and fixed his gaze over her shoulder.
“All gone?” She laughed self-consciously. “Way to make a good impression, right?”
“You have no need to worry about the impression you make.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I think.”
Against his better judgment, he looked back at her. A tiny smile played across her lips. Her face, clean of makeup, was fresh and bright despite the late hour. An air of innocence and enthusiasm wrapped around her like a cloak.
But that was the question—was it real, a part of her, or something she only donned for special occasions?
He no longer trusted his instincts in such matters.
Alex sighed, pushing his half-empty mug away. This wasn’t something he wanted to deal with tonight.
“I’m sorry.” Brynn jumped up to clear their mugs away. “I’m sure you have far more important things to do than sit here keeping me company. You can go ahead and leave. I’ll find my own way back.” She grabbed a cloth from the sink and began swabbing the table, her nervous energy keeping her in perpetual motion.
Alex stood, too, and covered her hand with his own. Her hand stilled, as did the rest of her body. “Leave it.” He pulled the cloth from her unresisting fingers and tossed it into the huge stainless steel sink. Then he tugged her around the table until they were standing face to face.
Brynn sucked in a quick breath, too shocked to act blasé about the whole thing. A more sophisticated person would just roll with it, she was sure, but Brynn knew she was about as far from sophisticated as it was possible to be.
No, she was more suited for the wide-eyed, slack-jawed idiot role.
He looked down at her, his gaze calm and steady. Brynn felt pinned in place, like a deer in headlights. Nothing short of an earthquake could have moved her from that spot.
“It is late. Allow me to escort you to your rooms.”
Brynn nodded, her eyes wide and unblinking. He squeezed her hand once, then let go. Before she had time to miss his touch, his hand came to rest in the small of her back, and he steered her toward the door.
A tiny part of her realized that she should be taking the opportunity to pay attention to the path back to her suite, but the other ninety-nine percent of her conscious mind was focused on the feel of his hand on her back. Heat seemed to radiate from him, warming her skin and sending a tingling sensation throughout her body. She found herself wishing that they could take the scenic route back to her rooms. Say, through Belgium.
But all too soon she found herself in front of her door, and Alex had dropped his hand, leaving her oddly unsettled. She shook the sensation away.
“Allow me.” He opened the door with practiced ease. It swung inward, revealing the dim light of the fire that had burned low in the grate while she was out on her cocoa run.
“Thank you.” She glanced up at him. “For everything.”
He nodded, his face impassive. Then, with an abruptness that startled her, he leaned over and kissed the edge of her mouth where he’d pointed out the chocolate before. Feather-light, his lips barely touched hers, but an instant, aching tug of desire curled through her. He pulled back, eyes fixed on her mouth. Was his breathing as unsteady as hers?
“You missed a spot,” he said, a rough edge to his voice, before turning and striding away.
She stared after him in stunned disbelief long after he had disappeared down the hall.
(c) 2008 Samhain Publishing