‘Easy, Princess.’

He firmed his hold as she bumped into someone behind her. Now he held her closer, near enough that she felt his body heat radiating into her.

He moved with easy grace and she wondered what he did professionally. Sportsman? He had the power and athleticism, and she felt sure, enough single-minded determination. But his air of authority suggested something else. As did the calculation in his eyes, as if he assessed her just as thoroughly as she assessed him.

She was torn between wanting to know everything about him and knowing that when she did this fantasy of an elemental connection between them would shatter.

Was it crazy to hang onto the illusion a little longer?

‘Why did you ask me to dance?’ she asked finally.

He didn’t answer immediately and when he did she wasn’t prepared. ‘Because I couldn’t not.’

That jolted her right to the marrow of her bones.

There was no humour in his expression, just an intense focus that pierced several defensive layers. In other circumstances she’d expect some facile compliment about her looks. Instead his stare transfixed her. Just as well her body was working on autopilot, swaying to the seductive music in perfect time with his.

They were surrounded by people, hemmed in by dancers, yet everything beyond the pair of them was distant, as if they existed in a bubble, cut off from the world.

Ilsa blinked, realising her hand had crept from his shoulder to his hard chest, planted there as if staking a claim. Heat flushed her cheeks and she started to move her hand back when he shook his head. ‘Leave it.’

She didn’t take orders from any man, apart from her King, but the gravel note in those terse words made her pause.

‘Why?’ she asked again. ‘Why couldn’t you not ask me to dance?’

His mouth twisted up in a smile that she felt deep in some vital organ. ‘I planned not to. I saw you yesterday and didn’t approach you.’

Ilsa nodded. She’d told herself she was glad he hadn’t. That he clearly wasn’t as interested in her as she was in him. But he’d been on her mind ever since.

That was a first for her. Since her ill-fated teenage romance she hadn’t fretted over any man. Yet ever since yesterday’s lunch she’d wondered if she’d see him again. Monaco was tiny after all.

‘But I couldn’t ignore this.’ He captured her hand, lifted it from his chest and skimmed his lips across her fingers.

The instant jolt of sensation buckled her knees and he tightened his embrace to support her. Ilsa’s eyes felt like saucers as she met his knowing stare.

‘You feel it too.’ Yet he didn’t look triumphant. If anything his features looked stern. As if…

‘You don’t like me.’ The words shot out before she could think about them. But tonight, with him, her usual caution had been stripped away.

‘I don’t know you.’

Ilsa was used to people eager to meet her and spend time with her. It was strange to feel she had to earn his approval, that he might even be predisposed not to approve.

But she wanted him to.

She turned her hand in his and stroked a finger down his palm, feeling him shudder, and watching his eyelids droop in an expression of pure sexual desire.

Low in her pelvis she felt a new sensation. Something that made her shift her weight, trying to ease — not pain, but a sort of throbbing tenderness.

Ilsa snagged a deep breath, abruptly conscious that they’d stopped moving on the edge of the dance floor, while other couples passed them.

She should step back, put distance between them.

But this feeling, this man, were too extraordinary.

If she turned away she knew she’d regret it. This flash of connection was rare. Would she ever experience it again? Instinct said no. Especially not with some appropriate suitor arranged by her father.

‘I don’t know you either.’

‘That’s easily remedied…’

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