There was a prince in Julia Costa’s bed.
An actual prince.
He was stretched out right there beside her, with his royal head resting on one of the pillowcases she’d bought at the Porta Portese street market in Trastevere. Julia wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a more beautiful sleeping man.
She sat cross-legged on her side of the bed and frowned down at his unconscious form. It was as if Michelangelo’s David had come to life, climbed down from his pedestal at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, and settled for a nap right there in her bedroom. And he had her tiny Yorkshire terrier, Valentina, curled in the curve of his very manly, very royal elbow.
There was a prince in her bed.
And he was tangled in her sheets, dressed in nothing but his regal birthday suit. She allowed her gaze to travel down his perfect bare torso to the place where the bedsheets rode scandalously low on his narrow hips. All that sculpted male beauty on such flagrant display—in her bed somehow—made her head spin a little.
In what universe was this remotely possible?
This one, apparently.
But how? She was a commoner, for crying out loud. Actually, commoner didn’t even begin to describe her social status. She was pretty much an outcast in American social circles. Here in Rome, she was just a nobody. And she loved being a nobody. Being a nobody was pure bliss after what she’d been through back home in America.
She glanced at the copy of Novella 2000 in her lap and winced. Over a year had passed since she’d last looked at any kind of tabloid. She’d even sworn off all social media platforms once her family’s turmoil had become a trending topic. Maybe Chiara was right. Maybe she should read up on celebrity gossip more often, because the man on the cover of the magazine, the one right above a caption that screamed His Royal Hotness, was definitely the same man who was in her bed. Same dark, tousled hair. Same straight nose. Same decadent, kissable mouth.
Not that Julia would be kissing it again anytime soon. Or ever again, for that matter. Although she was tempted to touch his hair one last time. He probably used the expensive sort of shampoo and conditioner with olive oil that she’d never be able to afford. Even his bedhead looked regal.
She sighed at the utter injustice of it all. At the hint of Julia’s restlessness, Valentina opened her eyes. The dog gave Julia a cursory glance before swiping her tiny pink tongue on the prince’s perfect cheek. Julia herself might be adamantly against kissing the prince, but her man-hating dog apparently had no qualms about it. So much for loyalty.
“Traitor,” she whispered, pretending that the thought of licking the prince didn’t occupy the top spot of her own imaginary to-do list.
God, she hated herself.
Why, oh why did she fall for the wrong men? Every. Single. Time. Granted, the general population would consider a prince somewhat of a catch. Especially this one.
He didn’t so much as budge, but rather kept on sleeping in all his royal hotness. He was a glorious combination of sun-kissed skin, bone structure that would make any Renaissance artist weep, and a lovely smudge of coal black eyelashes. Perfect, full lips that less than two days ago had been partially obscured by a beard were now fully visible. He was clean shaven, with only the barest hint of a morning shadow. His mouth was closed, of course. Were princes even allowed to drool in their sleep or, God forbid, snore? Julia wholeheartedly doubted it.
She supposed she should have known. Normal people—commoners, such as herself—never looked that good when they slept.
But how could she have had any idea he was a prince? As a private tour guide in Rome, she met new people every day. She’d lost track of how many vacationers she’d taken to the Colosseum. She sometimes went there as many as three or four times in a single afternoon. And not once had any of those wide-eyed tourists turned out to be royal. As far as she knew, anyway.
Of course, none of those tourists had ended up in her bed either.
This isn’t how it looks.
Chiara had laughed when Julia had uttered those clichéd words. She’d laughed hard.
“Shhh.” Julia had gestured to the closed door of her apartment, directly across the hall from Chiara’s. “You’re going to wake him.”
A sleeping prince she could deal with. An alert one? No. Not quite yet. Not when simply looking at him made her forget how to breathe. She needed more time. Time to absorb this bizarre turn of events. Time to figure out what to do with him.
She needed more time, and he needed more clothes. Lots of them.
“You’ve got the man who occupies the top spot of Europe’s most eligible bachelor list in your bed, and you’re telling me you didn’t sleep with him?” Chiara had stared pointedly at the closed door to Julia’s one-room flat.
“It’s not like that,” she’d protested, even though it had been like that . . . sort of.
Okay, it had been completely like that. But sex with the prince really wasn’t any of Chiara’s business.
But that hadn’t stopped Chiara from shooting a long, lingering glance at Julia’s door and sighing. “You didn’t sleep with him. Then you’re either crazy or stupid. I’m not sure which.”
Chiara was Julia’s closest friend, hence the lack of filter. That hadn’t made her assessment of the situation any more flattering, though. Less so, if that were even possible. “Crazy or stupid? Those are my only options?”
Chiara had shrugged. “I’m willing to throw hopelessly naïve into the mix.”
That had been Julia’s breaking point. The point at which the wheels in her head had begun to turn with a speed that rivaled the Fiats and Vespas that notoriously flew through Rome’s narrow cobblestone streets. She despised the idea of anyone thinking she was naïve. She’d already played the role of the trusting innocent. Once upon a time she’d been that wide-eyed girl. And her story couldn’t have ended further from the land of happily ever after. If there was one thing Julia most definitely wasn’t, it was naïve. Not anymore.
But that’s exactly what the entire world would think once this story broke, assuming it did, in fact, break. And it would. Julia was all too familiar with the bloodthirsty nature of the press. Stories like this were destined to end up splashed across the front page. No one with an HRH in front of his or her name could sneeze without photos ending up online and in the gossip magazines.
Prince Harry’s naked backside as he stood beside that infamous billiard table back in America was forever burned into her memory. If what happened in Vegas didn’t, in fact, stay in Vegas, what hope was there for Rome? None whatsoever.
And hadn’t there been another prince in the news as recently as yesterday? Yes, there had. Something about skinny-dipping with the entire French women’s swim team in Paris.
Julia narrowed her gaze at the prince in her bed. What if it had been him? She felt sick to her stomach all of a sudden and resisted the urge to sniff him for chlorine.
Possible headlines flashed before her eyes.
Crown Prince of Lazaretto Spends Night with Daughter of Wall Street Embezzler Lucas Costa.
Disgraced Wall Street Princess Falls into Bed with Lazaretto’s Prince Charming.
World’s Luckiest Girl Claims, “I Didn’t Know He Was a Prince.”
World’s luckiest girl. What a joke.
Just when things were finally turning around. Just when she’d thought fate might actually be on her side for once, she’d gone and met a prince. He’d lied to her. He’d gotten her fired from her job. He’d led her on a wild-goose chase through Rome. Then he’d made her want things. Dangerous things. And now all of that would be front-page news.
They would call her flat a hovel. She would be picked apart, from her messy ballerina bun—emphasis on messy—to the loafers that she’d always thought of as Audrey Hepburnesque but Chiara had declared a disgrace to Italian fashion. She’d be the laughing stock of Italy. Reduced to little more than a scandal. Again. Laughable. Even worse, unemployable. Novella 2000 would only be the beginning. Her face would be on every newsstand on every street corner in all of Europe, right alongside “His Royal Hotness.” God, it was nauseating.
They would dig up her family’s past. Bring up everything that had been front-page news in the States. They would accuse her of trying to extort him. Like father, like daughter.
Even worse, they would all say she’d thrown herself at him. If her best friend didn’t believe her when she said she hadn’t slept with him, then no one would.
She couldn’t allow it.
It wasn’t like that. This wasn’t about sex. Or romance. Or the fire he’d somehow lit inside her when he’d pushed her against a centuries-old wall of stone and taken her mouth with his. A fire that somehow still smoldered low in her belly, even now that she knew what a royally wicked man he was.
Okay so maybe this was a little bit about sex. Only a little. The smallest possible amount.
Right. Her pulse throbbed, warm and wanting—liar, liar, liar. She tore her gaze from his ridiculously lush torso.
This was about a more pressing need than sex. Even the best near-sex she’d ever had in her life. This was about self-respect . . .
. . . and money. He owed her. A lot. And she wasn’t about to let him out of her sight until he’d paid up. She’d made that mistake once. Lesson learned.
What was it that he’d said at the end of the day when she’d presented him with the bill for a full day’s guided tour?
I never carry money.
That’s a bad habit, she’d said, deadpan, certain he’d been joking.
Of course he didn’t carry money. He didn’t have to. He probably had a whole team of people to carry it around for him. Large steamer trunks full of crisp one-hundred-euro notes. She’d even gotten a glimpse of one of those people he had at his beck and call. If only she’d said something to the stranger he’d met at the café. Why had she just sat there, watching? The man owed her a thousand euros. And she intended to collect.
What had the past two days meant to him, anyway? Why was he even here? Was she just some royal joke?
She had the very sudden, very real urge to cover his arrogant, princely head with a pillow and smother him. The jerk.
He was a prince, and she’d dressed him in a glorified trash bag in the pouring rain.
He was a prince, and she’d fed him nothing but cheap Chianti, bread, and a handful of olives for dinner for two nights running.
He was a prince, and he’d given her the first orgasm she’d ever had.
He was a prince.
And he was the biggest liar she’d ever met.