Honeymoon with a prince (royal scandals) (page 7)

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Then, of course, his parents had admonished Sophia for complaining. 

It’d bothered him enough that once, back when he and his sister were still teenagers, he’d gone to her room after a state dinner where she’d dined in a “ladylike” fashion and handed her a sandwich he’d filched from the palace kitchen. She’d inhaled it, thanking him profusely all the while. Every time he’d taken a woman to dinner after that and watched her take only the daintiest bites of her meal, he’d secretly suspected she’d raided the fridge afterward.

He found it strangely appealing that Kelly wasn’t concerned about eating in front of him. He wondered if that’d change if she knew his background. Then again, he didn’t know that much about her background, either.

“So tell me, Kelly Chase from Dallas, Texas, in the United States, what do you do when you’re not relaxing on the beaches of Sarcaccia?”

She smiled at his teasing, but it didn’t quite make its way to her eyes, making him wonder if the question bothered her or merely caught her by surprise. “Well, until two weeks ago, I ran my own business.”

Impressive. “What type of business?”

“Closet design and organization.” She gave her wine a swirl. “I imagine that sounds frivolous compared to what you’ve done with the military, but it was a great way to make a living. I made a lot of people’s lives easier. I’d help them get rid of belongings they couldn’t use and focus on those that improved their productivity. Then I’d install a new system to keep everything organized for the long term. It improved their efficiency and made them happier. Like a weight had been lifted.”

“Sounds like hard work,” he mused. “Not sure I’d want to spend days on end slogging through other people’s closets and cleaning them out.”

“See, that’s exactly why people put it off. They worry it’ll be a huge undertaking. But in most cases, the entire job can be done in a few days. It’s only the huge, walk-in closets that are the size of a bedroom and stuffed to the gills that take longer. Even then, the payoff is worth it. My clients are always stunned at the transformation and tell me they wish they’d done it sooner.”

Sounded like it made her as happy as her clients. “And you decided to toss it all away for a wild Sarcaccian vacation?”

“You could say that. I sold out to a competitor.”

“I hope he—or she—paid you a fortune.” It would certainly explain the villa she’d rented. He knew enough about the price of vacationing on Sarcaccia to know her chosen location wasn’t cheap. Particularly at this time of year, with balmy weather and the country’s Independence Day celebration about to begin.

That brought a droll smile to her face. “Not nearly enough, I’m afraid. I’m using this vacation to plan what I’ll do next. My last venture was successful, so I hope to take that experience and use it to launch a new business. An even better one.”

“Closet organization again?”

“Can’t, at least not in Texas. I signed a noncompete as part of the sale. But I’m sure I’ll come up with something I enjoy.” She set down her glass and leaned forward. “Why don’t you tell me more about you? What do you do when you’re not visiting exotic countries as part of your military duties?”

He considered his answer carefully. He refused to lie, but he wasn’t ready to reveal his true vocation, either. “Well, for the last few days, I’ve spent most of my time on my boat. I finished my tour of duty only a few weeks ago. So, like you, I’m considering what I’ll do next.”

“No plans to re-enlist?”

He shook his head. Much as he’d like to sign up for a three-year extension, his parents expected him to attend to his royal duties sooner rather than later. As they’d told him over and over, there were thousands of Sarcaccians who could serve in the military, but only a few who could enrich the country by wielding the power and resources accorded to those bearing the Barrali name. 

“I loved my time in the army—it was fulfilling in a way that few other jobs are—but it’s time for me to come home. Explore new options.” He forced a grin to his face. “Besides, Gaspare missed me. He’s tired of staying with my sister.”

“Nice sister. Any ideas about what you’ll do?” 

“A government job.” When she waved her hand for further explanation, he added, “I guess you could say it’s in my blood. My parents and siblings are all in public service.”

Oh, he was on fire tonight. 

“So it’s family tradition driving you there?”

“It’s a factor.” Understatement of the year. “But my ultimate reason isn’t so different from yours. I want a job where I can improve people’s lives. Working for the government—depending on what I do, of course—means I can finish each day satisfied that I’ve made the world a better place. It sounds trite to say it aloud, but I don’t think I could spend my life pursuing a career that didn’t make a difference.”

He’d never told anyone his feelings on the subject before, probably because they’d have had preconceived ideas about what he should and shouldn’t do. But talking it over with Kelly gave him a sense of relief, like a man who’d been handed a cool drink on a hot day before he’d even realized how much he needed it. 

Her face glowed in the reflected light of the sunset as she regarded him. “It’s not trite if it’s true.”

“No, I suppose not.”

At that moment, Giulia appeared with Gaspare at her heels. Two dessert bowls and cups of espresso were expertly balanced in her right hand while in her left, she held a foil box with a plastic lid. “Dessert for you, and a serving of ravioli to take to Princess Sophia.”

Kelly raised an eyebrow. “Princess Sophia? What, do you have a cat, too?”

“No, never,” Massimo gave Giulia a look of mock irritation. “It’s her nickname for my sister. That’s all.”

“Yes, since she was a little girl. She liked to wear pink dresses,” Giulia covered as she set the bowls of ice cream and tiny espresso cups before each of them. “Not so much now. But she does love my ravioli, so be sure she gets it.”

“I will,” he promised. 

Kelly closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “This smells absolutely divine.”

“I make the bestcaffeyou’ll have on the island,” she bragged. “But don’t tell anyone. I want them to come for the food first.”

Giulia disappeared through the patio door as quickly as she arrived, clicking on the indoor lights to illuminate the main dining room. A young couple stood near the front door, their expressions lifting when Giulia approached to show them to a table.

“We’re losing our exclusive service,” Massimo said. Soon Giulia would have to turn on the patio lights. 

“It’d be selfish to keep her to ourselves anyway.” Kelly glanced down to greet Gaspare, who promptly curled up beside her chair, rather than by Massimo’s. 

“Speaking of selfish, you’ve enchanted my dog.”

“I’m a novelty. He’ll be all yours shortly,” she assured him, reminding Massimo that his time with Kelly was coming to an end. 

Perhaps she was a novelty for him, too. He hadn’t felt so at ease in a woman’s presence in…well, ever. Given that he hardly knew her, it didn’t seem possible. 

Kelly turned to face the last vestiges of the setting sun. “Look at the reds to the north and that stripe of orange just over the purple. Is it always like this here?”

“We have colorful sunsets more often than not, but no,” he admitted, “this is one of a kind.”

“I think I’m in heaven.” 

He glanced her way to see her licking the back of her spoon in languid strokes. In other women, he’d think it deliberately erotic, but he doubted Kelly realized what she was doing to him. As she popped the spoon into her mouth then slowly withdrew it, ensuring she’d devoured the entire bite of ice cream, he felt himself growing hard with desire. She let out a low moan of satisfaction that set his body ablaze.

Heaven, indeed.

He ripped his gaze from her before she caught him staring, then took a bite of his own ice cream and nearly moaned in pleasure himself. 

“See what I mean? Heaven.” 

He nodded as he took another bite and tried to focus on the dessert rather than on what Kelly was doing to her spoon. And what it would feel like if she did that to him.

“So tell me,” she said as she scraped toffee from the side of her bowl, “what made you think to bring me here? There are dozens if not hundreds of restaurants on the island, and my guess is that you know the owners of several, yet you seemed to know exactly where you wanted to go from the moment we left the beach.”

He shrugged. Hehadknown where he’d wanted to go the instant the invitation left his mouth. Perhaps it was the food, perhaps it was the romantic atmosphere—if one wanted to put a woman into a passionate frame of mind, Giulia's was certainly the place—or perhaps it was something else entirely. “I suppose I missed it while I was away and assumed you’d enjoy the food as much as I do.”

“Good assumption.”

Now that he thought about it, he realized Kelly was right. There were dozens of other restaurants in Sarcaccia that served spectacular meals using local ingredients. Restaurants that would’ve been closer to her villa. Restaurants that wouldn’t have felt so personal, given that this was a first—and perhaps only—date, since Kelly was a tourist. But Giulia’s felt safe. Secure. Comfortable.

That he craved comfort was a thought that left him decidedlyuncomfortable.

Soon, the uppermost rim of the sun’s fiery outline met the horizon, replacing the sky’s orange hues with purples and grays. They watched the darkening sky in silence as they finished their desserts and sipped their espresso. Much as he wanted to linger over the finished meal, he knew they had to go. 

“Ready for the ride down the mountain?” he asked.

“Not really. But it’ll get cool soon, so I suppose we should go.” 

He walked around the table to pull out her chair for her, but she frowned as she stood. “Shouldn’t we wait for Giulia to settle the bill?”

“Already settled.” Surprise registered on her face, but he explained, “I have an account with her.”

Kelly’s gratitude for the dinner was evident in her voice as she thanked him. She turned to head through the patio door, but he hooked her elbow first. “There are steps over here, to the side. We can go directly to the parking lot.”

“You don’t want to say goodbye?”

Typically he would, but doing so wouldn’t be simple now that there were diners in the restaurant. Giulia would understand. “She and Guillermo have other customers. I’ll give them a call later.”

Kelly’s expression made it plain she wanted to thank them herself, but she said, “Please let them know how much I enjoyed meeting them,” then waited while he corked the leftover wine to bring home. Gaspare, true to form, kept to her heel as she climbed the stairs, though the dog did spare Massimo a brief look. At the end of the day, he knew who filled his bowl.

The ride back to town was quiet as they took in the sights and sounds of the evening: roadside fruit stands closing for the day, lights flickering to life in the town below, church bells ringing to signal the evening service. Even the birds circling the hillsides gave the impression they were on their final patrols before nesting for the night.

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