Prince albert, p.7
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       Prince Albert, p.7

         Part #4 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  "This is so bizarre, and yet so exactly a Kensington kind of story," Raine says, her voice partially muffled on the phone as she turns to tell someone in the room to "hold on a minute." Raine did a stint in Africa, volunteering with another aid organization for six months while I was there. She's a free spirit, a hippie chick traveling across Europe with her boyfriend – and exactly the kind of outside perspective I need on all of this.

  "Wait, why is this a Kensington kind of story?"

  "Seriously, isn't this right up your family's alley?"

  "We're not royalty," I say, dropping my tone to a whisper. "It's insane."

  "But you're like, a real fucking princess," she says. "Soon to be, anyway."

  "Yeah, right," I say. "That's the last thing I want to be. And you can’t tell anyone, Raine. They haven’t made an announcement yet.”

  "Phoenix," she says, laughing as she calls for her boyfriend. "Belle is living in a castle. Like, for real. With a king and shit."

  "Shh," I say, cutting her off. "Seriously. That's not public knowledge. They're probably listening to my phone calls or something. I don't even have my passport."

  "They're keeping you prisoner?" she squeaks. "That's fucked up, Belle. You're an American citizen."

  "Relax," I say. "I think it just got misplaced or something when they unpacked my bags, maybe. I have to go to the embassy and get a new one.”

  "Do you want Phoenix and I to come pick you up?" she asks. "We're in Amsterdam for a few days. Protrovia wasn't exactly on our tour, but we're flexible."

  "It's okay," I say. I can't even imagine the shitshow it would be if Raine and her boyfriend showed up at the palace. I adore Raine, but the thought of her walking inside the palace, reeking of patchouli and weed and admonishing the royal household for their gratuitous wealth, is enough to make me giggle. "Maybe it's good that I'm here for a little while. Derek has texted me about a million times."

  "What?" she asks. "Screw that. Your ex-fiancé cheated on you with your maid of honor. You didn't respond, did you?"

  "Of course not," I say. "I'm just saying that maybe it's good I'm not in the States right now. Maybe I should be here for a little while."

  As I speak the words, I start to realize I might actually be considering staying for the summer.

  "Protrovia," she says. "Isn't that the place – Phoenix, who's that prince, the one who's always in the news? Albert. Prince Albert. I remember his name because of the whole dick-piercing thing. Is he gorgeous? Are they all ridiculous?"

  I groan. I haven't breathed a word about Albie to anyone. Not a single soul knows what happened in Vegas except Albie and I, and it's staying that way. "Yeah, I mean, I haven't really seen him much. I just got here. And, yeah. It's all pretty ridiculous."

  "He's the prince with the pierced cock, you know," she says. "Have you ever screwed a guy with a piercing? It's pretty fantastic." She pauses, then laughs and whispers to her boyfriend. "Yes, Phoenix, I'm talking about you."

  "No, I haven't done it with a guy with a pierced you-know-what." I sigh. I called the one person I thought would have never heard of Prince Albert, and she knows all about him and his pierced cock.

  "Well, you should," she says. "In fact, he’s what you should do while you're there. Shake off the cobwebs. You need a fling. Rebound sex."

  "I do not need rebound sex," I protest.

  Raine's voice comes back muffled. "No, Phoenix, remember, I told you her fiancé cheated on her." She pauses, then returns to the phone. "You know how Phoenix feels about marriage. And lawyers. He says good riddance to Derek."

  "I can't believe you're telling me to hook up with a prince," I say.

  "It's not like I'm telling you to marry him," she says. "Just have a good ol' fashioned fling. Hasn't he slept with half the women in Europe, anyway?"

  "He's my new stepbrother," I say. I fail to mention the part where I've already married him.

  "That makes it even more appropriate," she says, laughing. "Don't all the royals marry their cousins and siblings? Hey, I have to go. We're having lunch with some other people from the hostel. Are you going to be okay?"

  "Yes, go," I reassure her. "I'm totally fine.”

  "Fling," she says, laughing as the background in her room is suddenly filled with conversation. "Go have a fling. It'll be good for you. When is the last time you had casual sex?"

  The phone cuts off before I can answer. Never, I think. I've never ever had a fling.

  But that doesn't mean I'm going to start by screwing the biggest manwhore in Europe.

  "Knock knock."

  I whirl around to see Albie pushing open the wall panel in my room. "Are you kidding me with this popping-out-of-secret-passageways bullshit?" I ask. "You have no right to push your way into my room like this. I should scream for security."

  Albie raises his hands in mock surrender. "Relax, luv," he says. "I come in peace. And I knocked on the wall. Twice. You didn't hear me?"

  "Barging into my room through the passageway? Yeah, that's totally peaceful. And not at all completely creepy."

  "I came in this way for a reason," he says, giving me an impish grin that immediately grates on my nerves. He flashes that grin around like it gets him out of everything. And the truth is, it probably does.

  But not with me. Not even if the way he looks at me makes me want to drop my panties right this second.

  “And you’re going to head right back out the way you came in,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest and giving him my best glare.

  “I come bearing a gift,” he says. “Ben – my valet – found your passport. The footman never unpacked it from your bag.” He hands it to me, and I turn it over, feeling simultaneously grateful and skeptical.

  “Why didn’t he bring it to me?” I ask.

  “Because I asked him to find it, and he mentioned he did,” Albie says. “Besides, I know that last night you said no tours, but I came to change your mind. I’m offering you a private tour of Protrovia.”

  “Yeah, right,” I say. “A private tour of your bedroom, you mean.”

  He raises his hands in mock surrender. “I have no ulterior motive,” he says. “I swear.”

  I raise an eyebrow at him. “Somehow I doubt that.”

  “Suit yourself, then, luv,” he says. “If you’d rather have tea with my grandmother and a bunch of her stuffy old friends this afternoon, then have at it. I’m sure they’ll have lots of opinions about your charity work in Africa.”

  The thought of enduring tea with Albie’s grandmother makes my stomach queasy. “You’re ditching out on the afternoon agenda?”

  “Obviously,” he says. “But if you’d rather spend the afternoon with the old ladies, be my guest.” He turns to push the panel on the wall again. “Have fun, luv.”

  “Hang on,” I say. “Let me get my bag.”

  “I knew you’d see reason.”

  “It’s not reason,” I say, stuffing my wallet into one of the designer purses from my well-appointed closet. “You’re just the lesser of two evils.”

  “I’ll take that as a compliment,” Albie says, grinning. “I’m clearly growing on you.”

  I stifle my laugh as I follow him into the passageway. “Yeah,” I say. “Just like a fungus.”

  Outside, Alexandra and two men in suits are waiting on a launch pad beside a helicopter. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or relieved that Albie and I have chaperones.

  Relieved is probably the appropriate response, I tell myself. I should definitely be relieved.

  “A helicopter,” I yell over the roar of the rotors, unsuccessfully trying to restrain my hair as it whips around my face in the wind. At least I’m wearing my old jeans and not one of the new dresses from my closet. Thank goodness for small mercies, because that would be unfortunate. I’m sure Albie would be delighted to witness me having a Marilyn Monroe moment.

  “Nothing gets by you, Princess,” Albie says. “I told you I’d give you a tour of Protrovia.”

/>   Alexandra elbows Albie. “None of your combat landing bullshit this time, either, Alb,” she yells.

  “It’s not my fault you have a sensitive stomach,” he says, laughing.

  “Sensitive, my ass,” Alexandra yells. “You’re such a prick. I don’t know why I even agreed to get in a helicopter with you again.”

  “Because you’d rather puke into a bag than spend an afternoon listening to your grandmother lecture you about how inappropriate you hair color is?”

  “Wait. You’re the one flying this thing?” I ask.

  “What did you think I did in the army, luv?” Albie yells. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

  “Never,” I say.

  “That’s good to hear,” he yells. “If you’re good, I might even refrain from doing any tactical flight maneuvers.”

  I’ve never actually been in a helicopter, but I don’t tell Albie that. A few of my high school friends had parents with private planes, so I’ve been on those – but a helicopter is different. We’re strapped in, our headsets on, while Albie runs a dozen checks, fiddling with buttons and dials on the dashboard in the front. Beside me, Alexandra flips through her phone nonchalantly, like she does this kind of thing every day. Of course, she probably does.

  The two suits with us are their personal bodyguards – one each, for Albie and Alexandra. Apparently, I’ll get assigned a security detail soon enough if I stick around, but since I only just arrived at the palace, I’m in some kind of transitional phase.

  I wonder why the hell we needed to sneak around inside the palace, when the bodyguards already knew where we were going. But I don’t have time to think about that before we’re up in the air and I’m distracted by everything else.

  Alexandra texts on her phone, hardly paying attention to the scenery below us, but I’m transfixed. Albie speaks into the microphone, giving me a history of Protrovia as he flies over the city, pointing out particular buildings as he flies over the capitol city.

  “Protrovia dates back to fifteen thirty-two,” he says, as we veer left out of the capitol. He gives us a brief history of the country, but I'm too distracted to listen, transfixed with the view I have of the buildings below.

  “Albie is such a nerd,” Alexandra says into her microphone. “He’s like, obsessed with our family history and shit.”

  “I guess if the whole future-king thing doesn’t work out, you can always get a job as a tour guide,” I say.

  “It’s good to have options in life,” Albie says.

  We fly out over the countryside, and Albie still points out important places, but I find it hard to pay attention to what he’s saying, simply because the scenery is breathtaking -- rolling fields the color of emeralds, dotted with cottages and farmhouses. At some point in the flight, even Alexandra puts down her cell phone and looks outside.

  I’m not sure how long we’re in the air, before Albie tells us we’re going to land. “This is the summer house,” he says, as an estate, spread across acres of land, comes into view.

  “Isn’t it summer now?” I ask.

  “We’ll be there in a few weeks,” Alexandra says. “Once the royal couple makes their engagement announcement. The engagement party will be at the palace, and then we’ll retreat to the countryside. Fewer public appearances and all that. Way more boring, too.” I can’t see her expression, but if I had to guess, she’d be rolling her eyes.

  No sooner does the helicopter touch down on the pad then a red convertible speeds up, driven by a guy in sunglasses I can tell is gorgeous even from where I’m sitting. Beside me, Alex scrambles out of her seatbelt. “Tell dad I’ll be back in a few days,” she yells at Albie.

  “I’m not covering for you, shithead,” he says.

  One of the bodyguards mutters under his breath, “Your sister,” and curses into his microphone before ripping it off his head. He follows Alex out of the helicopter, and I see her arguing with him outside, flipping him the bird as she hops into a convertible that pulls away.

  So much for the summerhouse being boring, I guess.



  My sister’s bodyguard, Max, darts down the drive. I know he’s smart enough to have a vehicle here on standby, one of the dark-tinted black SUVs the security detail drives that are supposed to be inconspicuous but stick out anymore like a sore thumb.

  My bodyguard, Noah, shakes his head. “Do you know where she’s going, sir?” he asks.

  He insists on calling me “sir,” despite the fact that he’s been my security detail forever. And despite the fact that I’ve asked him a hundred times to call me by my name. Noah knows more about me than anyone, and he also knows I’m not about to rat out my sister, even if she’s off running around with a spoiled asshole like Finn Asher.

  Belle stands beside me, her hair tousled from the wind, looking sexy and disheveled and basically confused as hell. “Is everything okay?” she asks.

  “I have no idea where she’s headed, Noah,” I lie, shrugging. “Besides, I’m sure Max is on it.”

  As if on cue, the bodyguard peels past us in an SUV, kicking dust up behind his wheels as he flies down the driveway after Alex and Finn.

  Noah narrows his eyes as he looks at me. “Yes, I’m sure he’s on it, sir.”

  “We’re going to tour the grounds, Noah,” I say. “I’m sure we don’t need an escort.”

  He gives me a stern look before issuing a “yes, sir” in response, walking ahead of us. The estate is fully staffed, with its own security detail.

  “You should go have a beer or something, Noah,” I call to his retreating figure, and he flips me off behind his head.

  Beside me, Belle laughs. “Do your bodyguards usually give you the finger?” she asks.

  “Only Noah,” I tell her. “He’s been with me for along time. He’s probably the closest thing I have to a best friend.”

  “A best friend that calls you sir?” she asks.

  “He does it because he knows it pisses me off,” I say. “He only does it when he’s annoyed with me.”

  “So he calls you ‘sir’ pretty much all the time, then?”

  “You're so quick-witted," I say, rolling my eyes. "Do people tell you that all the time?"

  “Constantly,” she says, sticking her tongue out at me. It’s a childish response, but it makes me laugh. We walk in silence across the expanse of lawn from the helicopter pad toward the summerhouse, and from the corner of my eye, I can see Belle breathing in deeply, visibly relaxing as we walk.

  I don't know quite why, but it makes me satisfied to see her happy here.

  "So, do you always fly your wives out to your estates?" she asks.

  "You're the first, actually," I say.

  "So I'm special, then," she says. "I feel flattered."

  "Well, we were married by Fake Elvis, so that automatically puts you leaps and bounds ahead of my other marriages," I joke.

  "I'm overjoyed," she says sarcastically, then falls silent as we walk across the lawn. I point out various places on the estate – the stables, gardens, and the lake to the south, just barely visible on the horizon.

  "When Alex and I were kids, my father used to take us out there to fish on Sunday mornings in the summer, early," I say. "No matter how busy he was. We'd get up at six in the morning, and return a few hours later and wake up my mother."

  "Your father seems like a good man," she says. "Like...a normal guy, almost."

  "He's the people's king," I say. "It's what they call him.”

  "Was it weird, growing up like this?" she asks.

  I shrug. "I don't know," I say. "Was it weird growing up the way you did?"

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