A Royal Temptation(3)

By: Charlene Sands



 She smiled. “I live in America, too. I’m on the west coast right now. My family was from a tiny country near Scandinavia.”

 “Well, then, we have a lot in common. As you can see, Alma is not a large country, either.”

 Maria and Alex exchanged looks and excused themselves. He’d forgotten they were there. It was rude of him. But now, he was alone with Portia.

 “You are a curiosity. You won’t call me Juan Carlos, but yet you wink at me just as I am crowned king.”

 * * *

 Portia froze. Surely the king didn’t believe she’d actually winked at him. It was that darn nervous twitch of hers. It would have to happen at the exact moment she’d first made eye contact with him. She should be immune to royalty—she’d met enough princes and princesses in her twenty-eight years—but Juan Carlos Salazar seemed different, strikingly handsome and down to earth. Before she could explain about the wink, the orchestra began playing a lovely Latin waltz.

 He bowed in old world fashion. “Princess Portia, I’d be honored if you danced with me.”

 “I’m afraid I don’t waltz.”

 “Neither do I,” he replied. “We can wing it and set a new trend.”

 She chuckled. He didn’t act like the stuffed-shirt royals she’d met in the past, and when he took her hand and led her to the unoccupied dance floor, she didn’t protest. He was a better dancer than he let on, and she glided across the floor with him, fully aware every set of eyes in the room were on them.

 “We’re the only ones out here,” she whispered.

 He grinned, flashing white teeth against golden-brown skin. He was tall and dashing and at the moment, charming her silly by staring into her eyes as if she was the only person who existed in the world. It was quite flattering.

 “Don’t worry. Other guests will join in after the king’s first dance. It’s tradition.”

 “Then I should be honored you picked me.”

 “After that wink, how could I not pick you?” He held her possessively and spoke with authority, as if he’d been king all of his life.

 “It was a twitch. I had something in my eye.”

 “I choose to believe it was a wink.”

 “Yes, Your Highness.”

 He smiled again and moved her across the dance floor as if she were light as air.

 When the dance ended, he didn’t release her hand. “Will you take a walk with me?”

 “You want to leave your own gala?”

 He shrugged and didn’t appear worried. “It’s been a long, monumental day. I could use a little break.”

 Portia couldn’t very well say no. And getting some fresh air did sound good. Because of her title, she’d been invited to the gala, and to refuse such a high honor would’ve been unheard of. Her mother and father’s greatest wish, as her grandmother told it, was for her to remain true to her royal bloodlines, even while having a career and life of her own. So she juggled her time accordingly, to honor her deceased parents’ wishes. She hadn’t had enough time with them, but she’d hoped to make them proud. “Well, then, yes. I’ll walk with you.”

 They strode off the dance floor in silence. His hand pressed to her back, he guided her toward a small back door and they ducked out to a deserted foyer. “There are private gardens just outside where we can sit.”

 He opened a door she was sure only royals were privy to, and a gust of cool autumn air hit her. Without a second’s hesitation, Juan Carlos removed his tuxedo jacket and placed it around her shoulders. “Better?”

 “Yes, thank you.” She tugged the lapels closed and kept her hands there, away from the king’s tempting grasp. His dark eyes were on her every move, and when he touched her, her pulse raced in a way it hadn’t in a very long time.

 He led her to grounds surrounded by lattices covered with vines. “Would you like to sit down?”

 “Okay.”

 She sat on a delicately woven rattan love seat and he lowered down beside her, his six-foot presence looming large next to her. Aware of the solid breadth of his shoulders and the scent of his skin, she found the new king of Alma a little too appealing. “It’s nice here. Quiet,” she said. “You must be exhausted.”

 “Yes, but invigorated, too. If that makes any sense to you.”

 “It does. When I’m researching a piece of art for a client, I might work sixteen-hour days, but I always get excited when I locate it.” His brows came together as if he were puzzled. “I’m an art advisor,” she explained. “I help collectors build their collections.”

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