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“I hear the calamari is spectacular.”
The low, textured voice came from her right, delivered by the male who slid on to the stool beside hers. She froze, breath jamming in her throat. The hairs on the back of her neck rose to attention, a sense of unreality washing over her. It couldn’t be. Except that voice carrying an Akathinian accent, infused with a western inflection, that richly-flavoured, deeply-masculine tone, could belong to only one man.
Noooo. Every muscle in her body tensed in rejection, her heart shutting down in coordination with her breathing as the earthy, sensual scent of him slammed into her senses. Her toes curled in her shoes, ordering, begging her to run. But she had never been, nor would she ever be a coward, so she looked up at the king of Carnelia instead.
Tall and muscular, he dwarfed the stool he sat on, as if he went on forever, the sheer brawn of him riveting; intimidating. But what was perhaps more hazardous to a woman’s health was how all that sheer masculine power was cloaked with a civilized veneer that had always set him apart from his savage of a father. That had once made her believe he was different.
Kostas lifted a hand to capture the bartender’s attention, an unnecessary action when everyone in the bar was staring at him. The women because his hawkish, striking face, set off by his short-cropped black hair, was just that arresting, the men because anyone that dangerous was to be inspected and sized up immediately.
“The oldest Mount Gay you have,” the king requested.
Diavole. Her stomach retracted in a visceral reaction only this man had ever been able to elicit. Stunning in ceremonial uniform as he had been the last time she’d seen him at the Independence Day ball in Akathinia, tonight in jeans and a shirt rolled up at the elbows, he was compelling in a way the sunset staining the sky outside was—an utterly unavoidable, spectacularly beautiful product of nature.
His long, powerful fingers claimed her attention as he lowered them to his side. Lethal hands—ones that could snap a man’s neck as easily as they had crushed her eighteen-year-old heart. Hands that purportedly seduced a woman so skillfully they lined up for him to do it, but that she wouldn’t know because he had saved his cruelest rejection for her.
Her teeth sank into her lower lip, the effects of him reverberating through her. He had kissed her with that beautiful, sensual mouth of his, the only soft part of Kostas that existed, to comfort her after her dreams had come crashing down around her. He had stripped her of her innocent defences, shown her what true fire could look like, then walked away, making a mockery of her teenage idolization.
She hated him.
He was watching her, analyzing her every reaction to him in that deadly way of his. She forced herself to speak past the blood pounding in her ears. “Shouldn’t you be home ruling over that band of ruffians you inherited or did your jet run out of fuel?”
A corner of his mouth lifted. “You know why I’m here.”
She set her glass down with a jerky movement, liquid sloshing precariously close to the sides. “Well you can refuel and be on your way. I gave Nik my answer. I wouldn’t marry you if you came with a dowry of a hundred-billion Euros.”
“I think you have that the wrong way around.”
“I think I don’t. I’m the prize in this scenario, am I not? Or you wouldn’t have flown half-way around the world to harass me.”
“I wouldn’t have had to if you’d given me the time I’d requested.”
“I refused what was on offer.”
His whisky-soaked gaze glittered. “How can you know what you don’t want when you don’t even know what’s on offer?”
She pressed her fingers against her mouth. “Let’s see… Hmm. A barbarian for a husband…living in the enemy’s lair… a union with a man who didn’t even have the guts to try and stop his father when he tried to take Akathinia? No thank you.”
His jaw tightened. “Watch yourself, Stella. You don’t have all the facts.”
“It’s a year-and-a-half too late. I no longer care.” She pushed away from the bar and slid off the stool. “Go home, Kostas.”
“Sit down.” The words left his mouth with the fine edge of a scythe. “Do me the courtesy of hearing me out. The time for tantrums is long past.”
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