By Parker Swift
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Behind the posh British accent, Dylan Hale possesses a down-and-dirty sexiness. Off-the-charts gorgeous, a ruthless architect… and did I mention he’s a future duke? Every time we touch, it’s wildfire. All need and lust and heat. But Dylan has rules: just sex, no one can know, and in the bedroom he gets complete control. All I have to do is follow the rules, because falling in love with Dylan Hale is all it would take to screw everything up… royally.
Meeting Dylan Hale has turned my life upside down. I’m dating an actual duke who’s devastatingly handsome and deliciously naughty. On the surface, I’m living the high life. But this surreal world of royalty and paparazzi is getting out of control. Someone knows way too much about Dylan and me – about the moments when we’re alone, about how his hands leave a trail of fire over my skin… about the complete control he has over me between the sheets. And worse, it’s starting to become clear that Dylan’s keeping secrets from me, too…
For five blissful months I’ve been engaged to Dylan Hale, the most handsome, commanding, and wickedly sexy duke in England. For five months I’ve woken up next to the man I love, indulged in secret trysts, and submitted to every delicious desire. Even better? We’ve managed to keep it hidden from everyone. That means no paparazzi scandals, no snide comments from Dylan’s mother, and no harsh public scrutiny. It’s been heaven, but with Dylan’s royal responsibilities looming, our time alone is running out. And while I can’t wait to be Dylan’s wife, I’m terrified that becoming Dylan’s duchess might mean losing myself.
Lydia? Can you hear me?"
Barely, was the answer.
The voice of my best friend, Daphne, was coming in and out no matter where I seemed to stand in the palatial suite. The beautiful if not a little too-perfect bedroom was straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue, or more accurately what Pottery Barn was trying to imitate, and had been mine for the three weeks we'd been in northern Québec. It was lined in a delicate blue toile wallpaper and wainscoting, filled with floral accents, and located in the guesthouse on a large estate overlooking the Saint Laurence River. "The Cottage," and the enormous country property it sat on, belonged to old college friends of the Franklins, the family I was travelling with and nannying for over the summer.
I tried resting on a large white linen tufted couch, just so I could relax for a minute, but I couldn't hear a word Daphne was saying. I stood up and walked to the window, which had worked earlier. As I pressed my hand to the warm glass, the phone crackled back to life, and I squinted into the hot August sun.
"Well this is a first," she said, speaking up, hoping to overcome our reception difficulties. "Lydia Bell has finally lost patience with Maddy and Cole Franklin. It's no wonder you're exhausted. I mean, I know you love those kids, but you've been travelling with them for nearly three months!"
"Feels like three years," I said. "Remind me never to have six-year-old twins of my own."
I hadn't thought that there was a limit to the amount of energy I could put into Maddy and Cole, but now I could see that limit on the horizon, fast approaching. The money was good, and I really did love them, but I hadn't had a day off in two weeks, and that included a ten-hour car ride from Martha's Vineyard to northern Canada, during which we'd watched The Sound of Music on repeat on the in-car video system. I still had "Edelweiss" stuck in my head and thought I might scream if asked to reenact the puppet show scene one more time.
It was one thing when I was babysitting for the Franklins back in New York City, but now, three months in, I was getting edgy for the summer to end. I'd seen amazing places with them, we'd stayed in beautiful homes in exclusive summer enclaves, and I'd gotten a taste of the way the fabulously hip and well funded spent their summers. But the truth was that I couldn't wait to get back to gritty New York for a few days and start getting ready for my big move to London.
"Well," Daphne said, "you're not missing anything here. It's so hot the whole neighborhood smells like a sewer."
"I doubt that I'm not missing anything," I said. "That's ridiculous. You live in New York. I live in New York. Or, I used to, at least." I sighed and looked out the window. "I love these kids. And I appreciate that the Franklins hired me for the whole summer. I'm just tired."
"Yeah, I know you needed to get away for a while," replied Daphne. "How are you doing, by the way?" she asked hesitantly, the way people do when they're referring to someone having died. Not wanting to say or do the wrong thing. People had been talking to me like that a lot recently.
As of April, I was officially an orphan, and Daphne had been keeping an eye on me, almost waiting for the moment I would fall apart. My father had finally lost his battle with cancer, a battle he'd been slowly losing for almost eight years. I could hardly remember a time when taking care of him hadn't been my priority, when my days hadn't been marked by trips to the doctor or helping him with his medications.
When things had been particularly bad—during a new clinical trial or another round of chemo—I would stay home to be with him. It was especially hard for him during these times, knowing that he was pulling me out of the college life I was supposed to be living. So we'd joke about it, the only way to really cope with what was happening. He'd ask, at least once a day, with an effortful smile across his face, "Now, sweetheart, are you living life?" and I'd reply, with a cheerful cheerleader's pump of the fist, "To the fullest!" and we'd both crack up. Now I owed it to him, to myself, to actually go out and do that: live my life to the fullest. I'd promised him I would.
"I'm ok, Daphne, really," I replied, and I meant it. "I mean, being out of New York is good. I'm really ready for London, ready for a fresh chapter, and honestly, ready to get to work. I mean, non-babysitting work."
"Have you thought any more about looking for her?" she asked.
I knew she was referring to my mom, and I could almost hear her cowering behind the couch as she asked, not sure how I would react. I'd never known my mom. My parents had divorced when I was only a year old, and she'd set off for some European adventure. My father never told me about their marriage, anything about them as a couple, why she left, or even her name, and so now, more than ever, the love that brought me into this world was a total mystery. I had been floating for a long time, but now I was completely anchorless.
"Daphne, I adore you, but please stop with that—"
"Ok, ok, ok," she said defensively. "Sorry."
"I've gotta go, Daph," I said as I walked out onto the balcony. "I promised the twins I'd take them swimming before this cocktail party we're going to tonight. I also have to think about packing before we leave here in a couple of days, and the movie they've been watching is about to end."
"A cocktail party? Does that mean you'll finally be able to wear that adorable dress? And maybe flirt? Just a little?" she nudged in her classic Daphne way.
Daphne was constantly trying orchestrate blind dates. She was determined to get me into what she would call "a proper relationship," by which she meant one that lasted more than three dates and included physical contact beyond an awkward kiss at my front door. She respected that I had my reasons for not really dating, but she hadn't exactly tried to hide the fact that she thought I'd be happier if I did. She was the only one who knew how that night had unfolded when I was sixteen and found out my dad was sick, how I'd gone on my only real teenage bender. I emerged after a month of drinking, skipping school, and sneaking out, no longer a virgin by a long shot.
One night, at the end of that month, I'd come home in the early hours of the morning to see my father asleep in his recliner, facing the door. His skin was sallow, the worry etched into his eyebrows, even in his sleep. There was a thin trail of dried blood below his nose—a stark and harrowing reminder that he, my father, my only family in the world, was sick. Really sick. In that moment I realized that there would be no room in our small life for my teenage antics. No room for not facing what was happening. No room for the normal giddiness of proms or hours spent contemplating when or if a boy would call. My dad needed me, and I was going to be there.
The saving grace, and probably the only reason I didn't emerge from that month diseased or pregnant, was that I'd had a careful and sweet boyfriend. But while he may have been happy with his suddenly-eager girlfriend, he didn't exactly know what he was doing in bed, or with me. It wasn't his fault. What seventeen-year-old boy knows how to handle his girlfriend finding out her dad is sick? What seventeen-year-old boy wants to have the I'm-terrified-my-father-is-dying-and-my-world-is-falling-apart existential kind of sex?
I didn't give up on sex or guys right away. I tried six months later with a new, yet short-lived, relationship, and again in the form of a one-night stand with a friend's older brother on my nineteenth birthday. But never once did I feel that urgency that people describe. Never once did I feel safer in someone else's arms than I did in my own. Not once was it good enough to leave my dad at home alone or allow myself to be distracted from the life in front of me.
But Daphne was doggedly optimistic. And I did try. I would go on a date, sometimes even a few dates. I'd think, Maybe with this guy, I'll feel the "butterflies." But inevitably my pessimism was justified, and I'd gently extricate myself from the situation. With taking care of my dad, putting my all into school, and then work, I simply couldn't afford to devote the time it took to date anyway. Isn't that what they meant when they said you couldn't have it all?
The only problem was that twenty-five was right around the corner in September, and if I wasn't careful, I'd be looking at a full six years since the last time I'd had sex.
"Oh, lay off," I said, teasing. "Plus, this party is geared towards the forty-plus crowd—not exactly fertile ground for flirting." I started to hunt for my bathing suit and sunscreen as we wrapped up our phone call, and sighed heavily into the receiver. "I am so ready for a cocktail. But first," I said, trying to sound like the world's most earnest camp director, "to the pool with the most rambunctious, precocious twins on the planet."
"Oh, please, a pool sounds amazing. I am going to the movies just to bask in the free air conditioning."
"I can honestly say I wish I were with you. I would do anything to be having a drink with you on your roof." Daphne huffed back incredulously. "Same time tomorrow?" I asked.
"You know it," Daphne said, but then the call was dropped before I could even tell if there was a goodbye.
I missed my best friend, and on afternoons like this one I wondered if I should have spent the summer with her. But I'd had to get out of New York. I'd had to get out of the city where my dad had just died, and nannying gave me the perfect excuse to get away. I'd timed it perfectly so I'd only have to be back there for a day before leaving New York for good. In just two weeks, I'd be boarding a plan to London, to my fresh start. An internship at the Fashion Institute of Technology, four years working at two different couture boutiques, and a fashion merchandising minor had paid off—I'd landed a job as the second assistant to Hannah Rogan, an on-the-rise British fashion designer. And I had a one-way ticket to London to go with it.
I closed my eyes and let the idea calm me down. Just two more weeks.
* * *
The pool at La Belle Reve—the massive country estate had an actual name—was dark blue instead of the standard turquoise and separated from the large main house by an expansive lawn that smelled of chamomile and thyme. We'd spent nearly every afternoon out there splashing around, and I had deep tan lines that betrayed a summer chasing kids in my swimsuit.
Maddy and Cole were jumping off the high stone ledge bordering the pool, and I stood by the side judging their jumps like an Olympic coach. The well-honed routine included holding a fake clipboard, blowing a whistle, and shouting out scores as they giggled and swam for the edge.
My shoulder-length blondish brown hair, highlighted from the sun, had settled into a permanently wavy just-out-of the-pool mess. I'd completely given up putting any effort into grooming, and I was constantly sweeping my overly long bangs out of my eyes. The estate had been empty the three weeks we'd been there, except for the occasional delivery person or the many gardeners, so I was startled when I saw four adults approaching from the main house, where staff were busily preparing for the cocktail party.
As they got closer I could see an older couple leading the way, followed by a younger man and woman strolling behind them. All dressed and styled to a T, they looked the perfect wealthy vacationing family. The trim older woman wore a knee-length floral-print pleated skirt with a navy button-up blouse, pearls, and delicate leather sandals, her sandy hair blown dry to perfection. The gentleman, her husband judging by the way he gripped her hand, was her perfect preppy match right down to the loafers with no socks. The young woman, who appeared to be about my age, looked far more urban, with a grey V-neck maxi dress, a long dark braid over one shoulder, and Grecian sandals. I couldn't quite see the younger guy, his back now turned, head down, and tucked in behind the others.
"Your grandfather laid this pool in the forties, Emily—no one over here had swimming pools in those days," said the older gentleman, directing his comments to the young woman in an unmistakable posh English accent. "Isn't it marvelous?"
They were just far enough away that I didn't feel I had to say anything yet, but close enough for me to hear their conversation. I toned down my embarrassing Olympic-judge routine while I tried to eavesdrop. He sounded quite impressed by this grandfather's pool foresight. I surreptitiously squinted into the sun, trying to get a glimpse of the younger guy, who'd just stepped up with his parents. He wore slim dark-brown pants and a denim shirt tucked in around a trim waist, attached to what appeared to be an unbelievable body. He was looking down, eyes hidden behind aviator shades, buried in his smartphone.
Hah! I thought to myself. Good luck with the reception.
As if on cue he said, "I have to go back to the house. I need to sort this project out, and there's no goddamn mobile reception anywhere out here." He was curt, and he radiated annoyance. He turned stiffly and lifted his head, clearly getting ready to voice further disapproval of the whole no-reception fiasco, but he halted when he saw his family's pool inhabited by small splashing children and a raggedy babysitter. My jaw dropped a little. If I'd been in a Saturday morning cartoon, someone would have pushed it back up to meet my face.
This guy was off-the-charts gorgeous.
There was no other word for him but stunning. He was definitely older than I was. Late twenties, maybe? Early thirties? He was built but not bulky and exuded lean, guarded strength and power, like he could use it when he wanted but didn't have to show it off. I was getting that lightheaded feeling that happened when I glimpsed a celebrity on the subway, like I wasn't sure if I was still in my own life. Only this time it was way more intense, and definitely more unexpected.
"Darling, it's unseemly to be rushing off as though the office can't survive without you," replied the older woman.
"Quite right," chimed in the older gentleman.
"Yes, well, it can't be helped," Mr. Aviators replied under his breath, a world of irritation in each word.
His mother sighed heavily and waved a hand at him, clearly resigned. "Well, do be down by half six. Amelia will be there, remember," she added. But he was now looking my way and didn't budge.
They'd gotten closer, so I could finally appreciate him in his entirety, and I could feel my jaw sinking even lower. His dark brown hair was cut short on the sides—short enough that his barber probably knew more about him than his mother—but it was slightly longer and messy on top. It looked hip, but still refined, suggesting something roguish beneath all the restraint. Before I knew what was happening I was imagining running my hands through it, clamping it between my fingers. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, snugly hugging his biceps in a way that left no doubt to the hours he must have spent at the gym.
But it was his face that somehow upended me. He had a strong jaw peppered with a visible layer of stubble. I couldn't see his eyes behind his dark sunglasses, but he had the bone structure of a model—just the right combination of chin, cheekbones, and brow. He looked intellectual and sophisticated, but also a seemingly impossible combination of ruthlessly sexy and tender.
I was definitely staring. I noticed his hand gripping his phone, and my mind immediately shifted to imagining those strong hands on me, grabbing my own hair, holding me. I was mindlessly enjoying taking in every detail of this guy until I realized he was watching me back, and, Oh god. I slowly realized that I was still holding my pretend clipboard and had a whistle hanging off my suddenly dry lip.
I straightened, let the whistle fall from my mouth, and licked my lips just as Maddy splashed me from the pool. "Lydia! What was my score on that one?" she shouted.
I jumped up and shrieked in surprise like some kind of startled animal—this was just getting better and better. My skin, hot from the sun, was now dotted in cold water, bringing goose bumps to the surface and making me shiver wildly.
"Maddy! For antagonizing the coach you get a penalty! A six at best! Three extra cannon balls!" I sternly instructed her. I heard a subtle chuckle coming from my right. Maddy pretended to be affronted but quickly giggled, hoisted herself out of the pool, and ran back to the stone ledge.
I took a deep breath, trying to calm my heart, which was currently drumming violently in my chest, and turned to the older couple. I dried off my hand with a towel and reached out. "Hi, I'm Lydia Bell," I introduced myself. "I'm travelling with the Franklins this summer. Are we in your way?"
Mr. Aviators was hanging back. He was still smiling wolfishly—surely amused at my situation. Suddenly I wished my cover-up wasn't on the other side of the pool. I felt completely inappropriate and weirdly shy in my bikini, like I'd shown up in underwear to a swank dinner party.
"We're quite pleased to have you use the pool, my dear, delighted," the woman said. The word delighted dripped from her lips as though it was an often-repeated part of her how-to-be-cordial script. "Charlotte Hale, and this is my husband, Geoffrey." The older gentleman reached out his hand, which I shook as firmly as I could: two strong arm pumps while maintaining eye-contact, just like my father had taught me.
"How do you do?" Mr. Hale asked, clearly not really expecting an answer.
Mrs. Hale continued, "La Belle Reve belongs to Geoffrey and his sister, Eloise, and their parents before them, of course."
"Of course," I replied. "I've heard lovely things about your family." It must be Eloise that the Franklins were friends with, I thought. I certainly hadn't heard about any children, especially not any aviator-wearing gorgeous-but-most-definitely-trouble sons.
"Living in London, we don't get to Murray Bay often." Mrs. Hale gestured to the expansive property, talking more to herself than to me. She looked at her son, who still hadn't departed, despite his previous urgency.
His stance had shifted. He lifted his sunglasses from his eyes, and, sliding them onto his head, stepped forward. He reached out to shake my hand. "Dylan Hale," he stated, nothing more.
His eyes were an implausible shade of blue—warmer and brighter than the ocean, almost lapis—and framed by endless eyelashes. My breath, suddenly shallow, felt as though it was barely escaping my lungs. As I reached forward to shake his hand, I tripped on a foam pool toy and only barely regained my footing as he grabbed my hand in both of his.
My first thought was: At least I was wearing a sporty, secure bikini.
And my second thought was: I am touching the most gorgeous man I've ever seen.
In that moment, skin touching skin, all the energy that had gone to breathing was now focused, like laser beams, on our meeting palms. "Hi" was all I managed to squeak out, coughing on my words. "Nice to meet you." Since when was I unable to greet someone like a normal human being?
He grasped my hand firmly with both of his in response to my shakiness, essentially holding me up. "All set?" he said, looking directly into my eyes. I caught a hint of a smile, which just made the embarrassment worse. I withdrew my hand as soon as I could manage and brought my arms back to my waist. Then I went to smooth my skirt, remembering too late that I wasn't wearing a skirt. I turned it into a little thigh tap, which probably looked bizarre, like: Yup, I've got legs. At this point, I kind of wanted to disappear.
"You're quite the taskmaster," he said.
I looked at him, puzzled, and then I realized he was looking at the children. "Oh! Well, you know, kids these days. They just aren't willing to put in the hard work it takes to be an Olympian." I glared at Maddy lovingly. When I looked back at Dylan he was smiling. God, those eyes were captivating. The eyes alone could have seduced me.
"Did I hear that you'll be coming to London in the fall?" Mrs. Hale asked with a polite-at-all-costs energy that struck me as exhausting.
Dylan's eyebrows rose, and I swore I saw his jaw tighten.
"I am. I'll be working for Hannah Rogan, the fashion designer."
"Lovely," replied Charlotte, but she clearly wasn't paying attention. As soon as I had started talking her gaze had shifted behind me to the view and then to her son, who once again seemed determined to head back to the house.
He turned to me and made steady eye contact. "Pleasure to meet you, Lydia."
"You too," I replied, replaying the way the word "pleasure" sounded with his upper-crust English accent, melting away at the end almost as if he'd never meant to say it all. He started to turn to the house. "And try the east side of the house for cell reception," I added, smiling. He looked back and nodded quickly, eyes wide, clearly surprised that I'd caught his tirade earlier. And then, just like that he was gone, ascending the lawn up towards the house.
"Enjoy your swim, dear," Geoffrey said to me while looking at his watch and already turning away, his daughter and wife in tow.
Enjoy my swim? I'd just had the wind knocked out of me by the most gorgeous guy I'd ever laid eyes on, somehow managed to politely converse with his parents, and by some miracle not allowed two children to drown in the process. I didn't think I'd be able to walk, let alone swim, until I got Dylan Hale out of my mind. Part of me wanted to will him back down to the pool, to somehow prolong our interaction. But the other part of me was so grateful he was gone. I had no doubt that he was the precious boarding school type, aware of his carefully curated charms, the power contained in those eyes, and all the more deadly for it. I needed time to recover—the intensity of the encounter was going to have me reeling for a while. Maybe a swim was exactly what I needed.
* * *
A few hours later, refreshed, I descended the steps of the guest cottage with a child holding each hand. I had dressed both in their summer finest—garden party outfits that probably cost more than my ticket to London. And I finally had the chance to wear the little black V-neck dress I'd brought. It had capped sleeves and was short enough to make my legs look longer—I needed all the help I could get at five foot three—but not so short as to be inappropriate. With the Hannah Rogan silver heeled sandals I'd scored at a sample sale and some cobalt dangly earrings, I felt like I could hold my own at an upscale cocktail party.
"Oh, Lydia, you look lovely," Kate said as she saw me come down the stairs. She was standing by the waiting chauffeured SUV, and looked slightly chagrined. "I was hoping to catch you before you all dressed, but, well, I am just off the phone with Eloise, and the party is adults only." She had a look of apology on her face.
My disappointment must have showed, because Kate quickly added, "But we'd love for everyone to meet the children, so I suppose it's good that they're not in play clothes. You can spend the first part of the evening exploring the grounds around the main house, and then duck in for a quick drink before we leave?"
I nodded in reply, hoping my defeat didn't show. After so many days working, I'd been really looking forward to mingling with adults. And now, instead, I'd be playing tag in my only nice pair of heels and getting eaten alive by mosquitos as the sun went down.
On the upside I still felt slightly unhinged by my run-in with Dylan Hale, and perhaps it was better if I had a chance to come down from whatever that was before interacting with anyone. I'd been feeling the reverberations of our handshake all afternoon, and it was just a handshake! Meanwhile this guy was probably having actual sex in his actual life with his actual gorgeous girlfriend at that very moment and not fantasizing about an aunt's friend's gawky babysitter. Enough—I wasn't going to let being attracted to a guy completely derail me.
Must not think of Dylan. Must not think of Dylan. Must not think of Dylan. I continued to repeat the mantra to myself as we climbed into the SUV and headed across the estate.
* * *
The main house was a large stone manor—symmetrical, sandy brown with white trim, and simply mammoth. It looked like the kind of place people might rent for weddings. It was hard to believe a relatively small family owned the entire thing and didn't even live in it full-time. When we pulled into the wide circular drive, there were lines of cars already there, all black and silver, and many with drivers leaning against their hoods. I enviously watched Kate and Charles make their way to the front door and accept flutes of champagne from a server waiting by the entrance, and then I sighed and ushered the kids around the side of the house, and into the gardens below.
Finally, after an hour and a half of scampering with Maddy and Cole in the late afternoon sun, and dousing myself in bug repellant, I saw Kate come out onto the patio and motion for me to bring the children inside. I must have looked positively feral.
- "If you thought royals were prim and proper, think again. These royals are sexy and steam up the pages. A great debut!"—Penelope Ward, New York Times bestselling author on Royal Affair
- "Royal Affair is a smart, sexy, and addictive debut from an exciting new voice in romance. This is the next series everyone will be talking about."—Tyler King, author of The Debt
- "Addictive, sexy and beautifully written. I can't get enough of Dylan & Lydia. 5 erotic stars"—Vi Keeland, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author on Royal Disaster
- "Explosive sexual heat keeps these lovers burning for each other.... A Fifty Shades story that explores fame, passion, and tradition, all set in the glittery world of royal society in London."—Library Journal on Royal Disaster
- "Emotional, intense and beyond sexy. Dylan Hale will light your panties on fire, not that you'll be allowed to wear them anyway."—Helena Hunting, New York Times bestselling author
- On Sale
- Apr 20, 2018
- Page Count
- 1200 pages
- Forever Yours