Honeymoon with a prince (royal scandals) (page 2)

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Since Massimo couldn’t call for Gaspare without drawing attention to himself, he turned from the dock and made his way along the shore in the direction opposite the bar, toward the parking lot. Gaspare was an intelligent dog. Perhaps he’d simply gone to the car, knowing it was time to head home.

Massimo swore to himself as he strode along the beach, his mood becoming blacker by the moment. It was his own fault, of course. He should’ve known Gaspare would leap overboard and doggie-paddle the last two hundred meters to shore. The beast itched to swim from the moment he’d realized Massimo was driving him to the boat dock for a spur-of-the-moment fishing excursion this morning. Unfortunately, Gaspare’s wild jump angered a group of nearby fishermen, who’d been compelled to yank their lines as the dog approached. Massimo had to spend several minutes soothing their tempers. He couldn’t have them telling their friends—or the media—that Prince Massimo and his dog ruined their afternoon catch. Unfortunately, during the time Massimo spent making nice with the fishermen, he’d lost track of Gaspare.

Next time, he’d come alone. Despite humoring his parents’ suggestion that he always have Gaspare along as security when he spent time outdoors by himself, no good came of bringing the dog fishing. Then again, he’d rather have Gaspare for company than anyone else.

A wave rushed up the beach and over Massimo’s feet as he made his way along the firm sand at the water’s edge. A few lounge chairs remained on this section of the beach, but only one appeared occupied. A pair of long, lean legs stretched up from the lounger’s footrest toward an extremely firm, round backside clad in a tiny pink bikini. The woman lay on her side, showing off a hip perfectly curved for a man’s hand, seemingly oblivious to the fact she was the last remaining person on the beach. Normally pink wasn’t his favorite color—he’d always had a strong preference for bright red or a sexy, not-so-innocent white when it came to bikinis—but given what this woman looked like from the waist down and the fact he had to pass her to reach the parking lot, he suspected he was about to discover the wonders of pink. 

As he moved closer, what he saw from the waist up wasn’t bad, either. A shoulder rounded with just enough muscle to be firm without being hard. A long, elegant neck. A tangle of shiny, reddish-brown hair exactly the color of the palace’s infernal afternoon tea twisted on top of the woman’s head.

Then he heard the moan. 

He paused, stunned. Only one creature on Earth made that sound, and then only in one instance. Gaspare. Getting his butt scratched. Something the dog never allowed any human to do other than Massimo and—on rare occasions—Massimo’s sister, Sophia.

Who in the world was this woman, and what had she done to his dog?

He covered the stretch of sand that separated them in quick steps. When he came to the base of the chair, he drank in the sight of Gaspare’s large body wedged alongside the woman’s. Sure enough, she had one arm stretched to rub his dog’s backside. Gaspare’s head was tipped back in ecstasy. And no wonder…even with her eyes covered by a pair of large sunglasses, the woman in the chair looked better from the front than from the back. She gave no indication she’d seen him approach; he got the impression her eyes were closed.

Gaspare, on the other hand, let out another moan and wiggled closer to the woman, deliberately ignoring Massimo.

“You are unbelievable, you nutty dog. Did your owner send you away for excessive cuddling?” she said just loud enough for Massimo to hear. So, an American. And the soft voice was every bit as sexy as the woman.

A slow smile spread across his face. Good dog.

Chapter Two

“Excuse me, but I believe that’s my dog,” a resonant, accented male voice cut into Kelly’s nap.

The dog let out a rumble of protest as Kelly used one elbow to push herself to a seated position and took in the sight of a tall, athletic-looking man standing at the foot of her chair. Despite being clad in nothing but a pair of olive green swim trunks and a thin white T-shirt, he held himself with the authority of a police officer or military commander. And no wonder…the man had a body that appeared honed by years of physical training, including rock-hard abs his T-shirt did nothing to hide. He was every bit as gorgeous and intimidating as his dog.

She doubted he’d respond to gentle coaxing and a scratch of the ears. Rubbing his butt was definitely out of the question.

That thought left her fumbling for words, all too aware of the fact she wore nothing more than a miniscule bikini. All she managed was a quiet, “Oh. Sorry.” Though what prompted her to say it to a man who let his dog stray—however good-looking the man might be—she had no clue.

The jet lag from yesterday’s long flight to Rome and the second, shorter flight to Sarcaccia must be taking its toll on her brain. Surely she’d learned her lesson the hard way when it came to kowtowing to good-looking men.

“I would ask your forgiveness for allowing him to bother you, but you both seem quite content,” the man continued. “Normally, he’s not so friendly.”

Kelly couldn’t help but grin at the consternation seeping into the man’s voice. “He seems quite friendly to me. He’s been here awhile.”

“My apologies for that. I was coming in on my boat and he decided to take a swim. I’m afraid he got ahead of me.” The man stepped to the side of her lounge chair and extended his hand. “I’m Massimo. Your friend here is Gaspare.”

The dog’s head lifted at the sound of his name. He looked to Kelly with what she’d swear was an expression of regret before turning to his owner. With exaggerated effort, the dog loped from the chair to the sand, then turned to sit by the man’s side, as if he knew this was his expected place.

“I’m Kelly. Kelly Chase,” she replied, accepting the man’s handshake. As his fingers wrapped around hers, she noticed the broad span of his palm. He seemed exactly the type of man to own a large dog. 

“Thanks for watching him. He tends to stay close to my side, but water is his weakness. He can’t resist.”

She eyed Gaspare, who appeared every inch the vigilant protector at the moment, sitting with his ears perked and his eyes scanning the beach. “So this is what he’s usually like? Is he trained as a guard dog?”

“He is.” 

She pushed her sunglasses atop her head and squinted, giving the man an obvious head-to-toe perusal. Obviouswasn’t her typical approach, but it was her vacation, after all, and it wasn’t as if she’d see the guy again. Besides, something in his demeanor made her want to rebel, to show him she couldn’t be cowed by a domineering man. 

Domineering. Yes, that definitely described the man looming over her.

His dark hair was cropped close, though not quite to military standards. Eyes somewhere between brown and green assessed her from a perfectly symmetrical face grounded by a firm jawline. Arms tanned from the sunshine rose to shoulders encased in a healthy amount of muscle and a chest that didn’t need puffing to attract female attention…or dissuade an attacker.

Even his name suggested as much. Massimostruck her as…well, massive. She wouldn’t describe him as massive, though. Authoritative and self-possessed, certainly. And yes, tall and broad-shouldered, but not to excess. He wasn’t out to win bodybuilding competitions. His physical power was more graceful and efficient than forceful and ground-shaking.

She wondered what he’d been like as an infant for his parents to choose such a strong name.

“You don’t seem the type to need a guard dog, Massimo.”

That drew a wry smile from him. “Good thing, since the boy has an Achilles heel where water is concerned and we’re surrounded by it.” 

Massimo’s gaze moved to the small table alongside her chair. The smile disappeared. “Is Gaspare responsible for that?”

She glanced toward her spilled drink and the glass that had fallen to the sand. She retrieved it and set it on the table so the bar owner would see it. “He is. No big deal, though.”

“The least I can do is buy you another.”

So he went for obvious, too. “If you haven’t noticed, the bar is closing.”

He didn’t spare it a look. His gaze remained locked with hers, almost in challenge. “I have a better place in mind. But if we go there, dinner’s included. The owner will insist.”

Adrenaline fueled by the unknown surged through her. It’d been ages since any man besides Ted flirted with her, and never had a guy—let alone a guy this stunning—been so direct. It was as if he assumed she’d go.

“You know the island, then? Do you live here?” From what she’d read about Sarcaccia when booking her honeymoon, most beachgoers in this area were either vacationers or day-trippers from Italy, since the ferry ride from the Italian coast to Sarcaccia’s capital city of Cateri only took forty-five minutes. Locals preferred private swimming pools or driving to beaches on the far side of the island.

A quizzical look passed over his face, vanishing as quickly as it appeared. “I do. I take it you’re a tourist?”

“I am. And I’m not exactly dressed for dinner.” She waved a hand to indicate her skimpy swimsuit, though from the appreciative glimmer in his eyes, he’d already noticed. That look alone made notching up the treadmill incline over the last few months worthwhile.

“So is that a no?”

“No.” 

She hesitated, dizziness grabbing her as if she stood at the edge of a cliff and had been dared to look over the side. Never before had she gone out with a complete stranger. Even her blind dates were with friends of friends, so she’d known something about the men beforehand. 

Yet that hadn’t prevented her from being hurt. At least this guy was loved by his dog. And frankly, she wanted to prove to herself she could hold her own with a man like Massimo.

“It’s a yes,” she finished, because why the hell not? She’d planned on spending her so-called honeymoon alone, deciding how best to piece her life back together, but perhaps this was the universe’s way of forcing her to face her fears. Massimo seemed the perfect challenge after her time with the suave, suited-up Ted. Or perhaps he was the antidote to Ted. “I’ll need to change first.”

He angled a thumb toward the parking lot. “I’m over there if you’d like a ride to your hotel. Or I could meet you if you tell me where you’re staying. Your preference.”

“I’m actually renting a place above the beach.” She turned and indicated the small whitewashed villa she’d reserved months ago, forking over a hefty deposit to secure the premiere location. The sea views and staircase to the beach pictured on the villa’s website had sold her. “If you give me ten minutes, I’ll meet you—and Gaspare—at the lot. Does that work?”

 “Take your time.” His grin was devastating, making her wonder just how adventurous her evening might become. “Gaspare and I will wait.”

 

* * *

 

A lowwooffrom Gaspare signaled Kelly’s approach. 

“Your favorite girl is back, you traitor,” Massimo said under his breath. He still couldn’t believe Gaspare acted so out of character. Nor could he believe he’d actually asked the woman out. In the two weeks since he’d returned home, he’d wanted nothing more than to escape the endless stream of people wanting to know how he was, grilling him about what he’d experienced, asking when he’d appear at this or that party. All he’d wanted was to be alone.

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