Oliver and I sit next to each other on the park bench. Our shoulders brush, and my heart races.
Someone as handsome as him shouldn’t be allowed to mix with mere mortals. It’s not fair.
Oliver stares out across the dimly lit soccer pitch.
“I used to trudge across these fields, this skinny kid with big ears, a kid without a mum or dad, struggling with my sexual identity.”
“Imagine what that kid would say if he could see you now,” I say.
Oliver gives a low chuckle. “If someone had told me that one day, I’d be prime minister and sitting on this bench talking to the Prince of Wales, I don’t think I would have believed them.”
“And yet here we are,” I say.
“Here we are,” Oliver echoes.
His eyes meet mine, and we just stare at each other.
My heart thuds under the weight of Oliver’s unwavering gaze.
I tilt my head back to look at the night sky. But because we’re in London, where light pollution reigns supreme, there are no real stars to be seen.
Instead, I focus on one of the nearby streetlamps and the haze around it. It’s beautiful in its own way, another reminder of the hidden beauty in this world.
“I never imagined when I saw the coverage of your election that you’d one day become my best friend,” I say.
It’s true. Me at twenty-two, sitting in my small apartment, watching on TV the handsome, confident man on the steps of 10 Downing Street with his gorgeous husband. Could I have ever imagined our lives would overlap in this way?
It’s only after the words are out of my mouth that I realize how intense they are. Shit. Oliver’s probably worried I’m going to ask him to be my BFF. Maybe seal our friendship by becoming blood brothers. Heat floods my face.
“I mean, you’re definitely the person I’m the most real with,” I add quickly, flicking a glance at him.
The light of the streetlamp reflects in Oliver’s eyes as he stares at me.
“You’re the person I’m the most real with too,” he says quietly.
My heart thuds recklessly.
Oliver’s tie is loosened, and he’s staring at me with those intense dark eyes.
There might be a time and place where I can resist Oliver when he looks at me the way he’s looking at me now.
But it is not this moment.
I lean toward him and press my lips to his.
It’s just a light touch of our mouths, yet all the nerve endings in my lips tingle like they’ve been electrified. Oliver’s breath leaves him in a silent exhale, a gentle ghosting over my face.
His lips are soft and warm under mine.
It’s a gentle kiss, fragile as a feather.
When I pull back, Oliver is staring at me, his eyes wide. His chest rises and falls rapidly.
“Bloody hell, Callum.” His voice is rougher than normal, and he looks flustered, and I’ve never seen him look flustered before. He’s usually so in control.
And I think I like flustered Oliver even more than in-control Oliver, which is why I close the distance between us again.
“The rules don’t apply tonight, remember?” I whisper against his lips.
I hover there, close to him. But I don’t want to kiss him again if he doesn’t want this.
Oliver’s eyes scan my face, and suddenly, he makes a noise in his throat and one of his hands palms the side of my face.
And we’re kissing for real.
I’m kissing Oliver Hartwell.
The fact causes my mind to melt, leaving me incapable of coherent thought, so instead, I just catalog the sensations.
The heat of Oliver. His taste. The feel of his tongue moving in sure strokes against mine, the rasp of his stubble against my skin. I am definitely, definitely kissing a man.
I’ve never felt this way kissing someone before.
My hands go to the back of his head, grabbing strands of his soft hair like I’m trying to secure him, tether him, keep him exactly where he is, where I get to breathe in Oliver, continue kissing him.
Oliver’s lips move fervently against mine, his hands sliding down my back. I let out a soft moan, lost in the sensation of kissing him.
I’m not prepared to let this kiss end. Because it turns out Oliver’s lips contain the answer to every question I’ve ever had about myself.
And that overrides the fact that of all the people in this world I shouldn’t be kissing, Oliver is top of the list.
Our kiss smooths out, slowing from hot and heavy to tender and sweet.
It’s a lingering kiss, as if Oliver feels exactly like I do, like he wants to extend this perfect moment for as long as possible before the real world intrudes.
But we can’t block out the rest of the world forever.
Eventually, Oliver withdraws from me. In the dim light, his pupils seem enormous, swallowing his irises so the black pools are all I can see.
“Callum,” he says. Somehow, he says my name like it’s both a question and the answer.
How had I not realized this would happen?
Callum is the future king. An important part of his job, of all kings’ jobs throughout history, is to produce an heir.
To produce an heir, he needs a wife, and it appears Calista Podmore is a candidate for the job.
Callum and Calista. They’re a perfect alliteration, even. Even the alphabet is conspiring in their favor.
And I’m so bloody jealous.
I’m a seething, frothing mess of jealousy.
I can’t drag my eyes away from where they’re dancing together. Where she’s touching him. She’s getting to do what I want to do—put her hands on Callum. Not a single person in the room thinks anything is wrong when a woman lightly grazes her hands across a man’s waist to draw him closer to her.
Callum raises his eyes to mine, and our gazes lock.
I can’t break free. It’s an invisible thread, tugging, pulling, binding us in this silent torment. Staring at him while he’s got someone else’s arms wrapped around him.
I can’t breathe. I’m suffocating under the weight of my want for Callum, how much I crave the thing I can’t have.
I tear my gaze away and turn towards the door, desperate for fresh air.
The balcony I find myself on is thankfully empty.
The cool night air wraps around me like a blanket, and I shiver involuntarily. My heart is still thudding, but here in the dark, my emotions feel slightly more contained. The chill is a soothing balm against the fever within me. I lean against the stone railing of the terrace, the coldness seeping into my bones, grounding me.
The door opening behind me shatters my reverie. I turn, my heart leaping into my throat.
Right here. As he comes towards me in his kilt and suit jacket, the memory of him on the riverbank yesterday fills my mind. How he soaked up the sun, water drops on his skin, almost glowing with light.
Callum stops next to me at the stone railing, and his eyes are hesitant, watching.
“Having a good night?” I ask inanely when I can bear the silence no longer.
“Not really,” he replies.
I fold my arms across my chest, my jaw tightening as I force myself to speak again. “You and Calista seem to be getting on well.”
“She’s a lovely person,” he says. He stares out at the perfectly manicured castle grounds, the wildness beyond, before glancing back at me. “There’s only one problem.”
“She’s not the person I want.”
There’s longing in his gaze, so much longing.
It’s the hope that defeats me. It lassos my heart out of my chest.
I can’t resist anymore.
One step. That’s all it takes. One step closer, and as if compelled by some unseen force, he moves towards me too. It’s as though we’re two magnets, pulled together by some impossible, irresistible force.
And finally, finally, I’m kissing Callum again.
Actually, I’m not sure if it can be classified as just kissing.
We’re kissing with an intensity that leaves me breathless, our tongues sliding against each other in a wild, passionate dance.
I bury my hands in his hair, tugging him closer. Like I can meld our bodies together, fuse his soul with mine, if I kiss him hard enough.
All these feelings I have for Callum now have an outlet in this kiss. Every bottled emotion, every unspoken word.
I find both meaning and redemption in Callum’s lips.
Callum gives a small moan, and I chase the sound as we kiss fiercely.
The hard planes of his body press against me. He stumbles back against the stone balustrade of the balcony, parting his legs slightly, and I take the opportunity to move even closer, sliding my thigh between his, desperate for more contact.
My hands move from his hair to his waist under his shirt, feeling the heat and texture of his bare skin. He groans again as I slide my hand up his skin, tracing the contours of his back.
His own hands, strong and secure, clutch my hips tightly against him.
Heat radiates from his body and the scent of his cologne, and something else, something primal, makes my head spin.
A door opening somewhere close by brings me to my senses.
I release Callum, staggering back.
We’re both panting, our shirts untucked. Callum looks totally debauched, lips bee-stung, pupils wide, face flushed.
Oh, holy fuck.
I do the only thing I can.
I walk away.
Back through the ballroom full of swirling bodies and laughter.
Along the hallway and up the stairs to the sanctuary of my room.
Once there, I try to run my hands through my hair and find myself clutching at the end of the strands like I’m trying to yank my hair from its roots. As if that will wrench these thoughts from my head.
Oh, holy fuck. Holy fuck. What the fuck am I going to do?
I can’t settle. I pace around. It feels like my skin is too tight. Or maybe it’s just that the feelings inside me are too big.
There’s a knock on the door.
My heart is in my throat.
Hope and panic wrestle for control of my body.
My legs tremble as I walk over and open the door.
I lean on the heavy oak door of Balmoral Castle for support as I drink in the sight of the Prince of Wales standing in the hallway.
I need…” His voice chokes off. His eyes are wide, pleading. “I need…this.” His voice is raw like his words are being ripped from somewhere deep inside him.
“I know.” My own voice is equally hoarse.
I open the door to let him in.