When Nik meets Petey on a rainy Manhattan night, she’s his first-ever taste of ordinary. As crown prince of his country, he’s accustomed to women chasing him for his title or his money.
This extraordinary red-haired sculptor seems to have no idea who he is. She takes him at face value, as simply a man and not an institution. A quality he finds immensely attractive.
Obviously, he needs to be honest with her. But he’s afraid to break the magic they share. What will happen when she finds out the truth?
Nik glanced around. “I take it you’ve been here before.”
“I have,” Petey grinned. “Jules and I practically lived here during art school. I place the blame for my ‘freshman fifteen’ squarely on the shoulders of Morelli’s.”
Nik smiled, too. Coffee and pie were delivered, and Petey watched carefully as Nik took his first bite.
“Oh, my God,” he moaned around the cinnamon-apple confection. “This is amazing.”
Pleased, Petey dug into her own dessert. “I know, right?”
Nik washed that bite down with a sip of coffee and regarded her curiously. “Now can you tell me a long story?”
She frowned. “A long story?”
“Your name. You said it was a long story.” His blue eyes sparkled and he suppressed a smile as he waited expectantly.
“Oh, that.” Petey rolled her eyes. “It was my grandfather, really. When I was born, my parents named me after my great-grandmother. But my grandfather hated the name. He ranted at them, ‘Call her anything. Call her Pete. Just don’t call her Cecilia.’” She gestured in imitation of her mother’s father.
She smiled at him ruefully. “Pete just kind of stuck. I’ve been Petey all my life.”
Nik brushed his fingers over his lips, obscuring his smile. “Cecilia’s not so bad. But you do seem like a Petey to me.”
He took another large bite of pie and Petey nibbled at hers. Then she cleared her throat. “So, you’re from England?”
Shaking his head, he finished chewing and swallowed. “No, I’m from Beruvia.”
“Oh,” she replied, eyes wide. “Just, well…your accent. I thought you sounded British.”
“I went to boarding school in England. That’s where I picked up the accent.”
“Boarding school?” She frowned deeply. “That’s horrible!”
Nik laughed out loud. “Why is that horrible? It was a very good education.”
Petey blushed furiously. “I don’t mean…I mean…well, I just felt so sad for a little boy being sent away from his family. It seems so lonely and cold. How old were you?”
In his eyes, there was a spark of something Petey couldn’t identify as he watched her for a moment. Then he smiled warmly. “Around eleven, I think. And I wasn’t all alone. My brother was there. Our parents came to visit us when they could, and of course, we went home for holidays. It’s a family tradition, actually. My father attended there, and his father before him. It wasn’t horrible, I promise.”
He took another bite of pie, and Petey smiled sheepishly. “Well, if you say so. God, I sound so judgmental! I didn’t mean it that way, really.”
“I didn’t take it that way,” he shook his head. “You have a kind heart.”
Petey blushed again and busied herself with another bite of pie. He watched for a moment, glancing down at his phone when it buzzed. Jorgen had sent a text message.
I’m taking a cab back to the hotel. Security detail is in place, and the car is across the street. Let Lars know when you’re ready to leave.
Nik keyed in a short reply and looked back to Petey. “I noticed drawings on the walls beside the sculptures,” he encouraged.
She nodded, chewing quickly. “That was Jules’ idea. She thought people would be interested in my sketches. I don’t know.” She nodded at his phone. “Do you need to go?”
He smiled reassuringly. “No, not at all. You sketch your designs first?”
“Yes, I get an idea and I have to put it down before I forget it. Sometimes they come quickly, and other times they take a while. And then I think about the materials I have on hand, and the things I might need to gather from other places.” She quirked her head. “Sometimes I use ‘found’ materials. It just depends on the soul of the piece.”
“’Found’ materials?” he wondered.
“Did you see the dinner forks I incorporated in the one I called Bear? I was at a flea market in Bozeman, and I came across this bunch of mismatched cutlery. I just loved the forks and figured I could use them sometime.”
Nik leaned forward on his forearms, smiling. “That’s fascinating. Where do you get your ideas?”
Petey launched into an explanation of her creative process, eyes alight with enthusiasm. As she did, Nik felt the tension of the day melting away.
Part of his fatigue was due, no doubt, to the fact that he felt immense pressure to perform his responsibilities in a dignified manner. After all, he represented not only himself, but his country, and indeed, the crown itself.
Somehow, sitting across from this gorgeous red-haired sculptor, he felt free to let down his guard, to simply enjoy her company. As she described working on her latest project, he felt his cheeks begin to ache from smiling.
She spoke without inhibition, without pretext. Perhaps the fact that he’d passed her little test had given her a sense of trust in his sincerity. The thought would have been encouraging but for one small detail.
She doesn’t know who I am. That reality was stunning to him. Not that he thought he was particularly someone of note. His heritage had often seemed more a curse than a blessing, in more ways than he could count. But he couldn’t recall ever having met someone who didn’t already know his name, his title, his obligation.
He’d need to come clean, obviously.
Why would I have to do that? We’re having conversation over coffee. It’s nothing more than that.
He smiled at her as she continued to describe her work. He knew exactly why. This was the first woman who’s sparked his interest in as long as he could remember. He couldn’t let it end with one conversation over coffee. He wanted more.