"I've never met anyone like you." The man pursed his lips, as if unsure he should go on.
The lock of hair curling down over his forehead was so sexy. The way it almost covered those dark eyes. So dark they made her think of how badly she needed coffee.
"Of course, you haven't." She sat up, lifting the sheet to cover her nakedness as she raised a comlet-adorned hand to awaken the sensors along the wall beside her bed.
“Coffee please,” she announced.
Her command would be registered with the servants downstairs, and a fresh pot would be delivered in a matter of minutes.
To her companion, she said, "If I were you I'd climb down the trellis."
She then pointed to a large window on the other side of the cavernous room.
"You want me to leave?" His eyes widened.
"Unless you want to be thrown in the dungeon. My breakfast will be here soon, and if they catch you in here you'll be in worlds of trouble."
"But I thought..."
Atalanta rolled her eyes then placed her index finger against his lips. "Maybe someone who looks like you do shouldn't spend so much time thinking."
His shoulders tensed as he got out of bed and jerked his pants on. As he reached down to retrieve his shirt, she couldn't help but admire his round, muscular ass cheeks.
She reached over to the bedside table and retrieved her diamond glasses and put them on. The glasses were a gift from Jupiter himself on her most recent birthday. They functioned as a personal multimedia device, so once she turned on the screen, he was dismissed.
"Percy, I'm ready for my tray. Two eggs over medium to go with the coffee."
"You're calling them now?"
She raised her glasses to see panic spread over the man’s chiseled face, and he rushed to fasten his pants and throw his shirt on over his head.
She shrugged. "I'm hungry."
Seeing that he was about to be gone, she lay back against the luxurious sheets to enjoy the show.
The race was on.
It entertained her to see if he was fast enough to get away before he was discovered in her bedchamber.
As athletic as he was, he wasn't moving as quickly as she'd anticipated.
Then just as she was expecting him to bolt out the window, he rushed to her side. Planting himself next to her on the bed, he took her in his arms.
"I must see you again, Atalanta," he exclaimed before covering her mouth with his.
And even though she knew better, she let him.
Falling under his spell felt nice, for a minute, and for an instant she wondered if this was how it felt to be loved.
But before she could indulge herself in such foolish thoughts, the door flew open and in rolled a cart carrying a dome of silver and a shiny pitcher.
The scent of java wafted across the room, and she was about to offer her lover a cup, but before she could, a group of hulking robotic guards entered the room and made a beeline for him.
An alarm sounded, and Atalanta held her hands over her ears. Not again.
The poor guy should have moved faster.
"Is it your intention to marry the princess?" one of the robots asked.
The man looked to Atalanta, his eyes pleading for her help.
"What say you?" the robot pressed.
"I don't want to marry her..." he began, but they didn't give him a chance to finish before they started dragging him away.
"Don't worry," Atalanta said. "I don't want to marry you anyway."
"Why not?" He sounded offended.
Atalanta rolled her eyes.
Her pet kitty, Desdemona, snarled from the corner, less than pleased at the interruption to her nap.
Her lover put up quite a fight, kicking and protesting all the way down the hall. She could hear him screaming all the way to the elevator.
Finally, her door closed behind them and the alarm stopped, leaving her in peace.
She sighed. Just another Thursday morning at the palace.
Clicking through endless choices on her glasses, she finally settled on her favorite channel, and enjoyed a show while eating her breakfast.
Desdemona crept out of the corner and lapped at her morning bowl of cream. As she drank, she shot a disapproving look at her mistress.
"What? I told him to leave." Crossing her arms over her chest, Atalanta sniffed. "It's not my fault he didn't listen."
Desdemona growled and turned her backside to Atalanta then lifted her tail in the air in protest.
"Fine. Be that way then. I guess I'll just go for my run by myself today."
That got no response from Desdemona, so Atalanta shifted her attention back to her show.
She was almost finished with her meal when a knock at the door interrupted her.
The door slid open and Percy slipped inside, closing the door behind him.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Your Highness, but it seems your parents want to see you at your earliest convenience."
Unpleasantness rumbled in her stomach. This had to be about the man who'd been ejected from her room earlier.
Ugh. Why couldn't she be a peasant and roll around in the hayloft with whomever she damn well pleased?
"Meaning now?" She grimaced.
He took a deep breath. "As soon as you're dressed, Princess. Would you like me to call your maids?"
She made a face. "No, I can do it myself. Tell them I'll be there in an hour."
It wasn't much, but making them wait even a short time created the illusion that she had some power in this situation.
Even though she knew it was a lie.
* * *
Atalanta fidgeted under the imperious scrutiny of the king and queen.
They sat high above her in their platinum, emerald-encrusted thrones, while she stood ten yards away wringing her hands nervously.
"It is our understanding that you were caught entertaining yet another suitor in your room again this morning, Atalanta." The corners of her father's mouth dove downward.
Her mother raised an elegantly shaped eyebrow. "Do you plan to marry this one, dear?"
Atalanta shook her head.
Her mother sighed, and her father groaned.
"Then off to the dungeon he shall go." This was her father's answer to all of her indiscretions. She could choose to marry the man, or he would be imprisoned.
It wasn't that Atalanta wanted the men she bedded to go to jail—she knew that was terrible.
But getting married? That would be worse.
Her parents sighed simultaneously, and she wondered if they had always been so similar. Gazing at their matching dimpled chins, blond hair, and scrutinizing blue eyes she pictured them as teenagers. Had they looked the same, perhaps with fewer of the worry lines she brought to their faces? Or had they grown to resemble one another more over time, the way some people did with their pets?
She was contemplating whether she and Desdemona looked alike when she was jolted back to the present by her father clearing his throat.
"Atalanta, your mother and I have decided that you must marry this year."
"What?" Panic grabbed tightly at her heart. No. No. No.
"There will be no 'but Fathering' me this time. Your mother and I have discussed it, and you will wed before the year is out."
Atalanta started to speak, but her mother cut her off.
"No, dear. Your father and I believe this is what's best for you. We are not getting any younger, and once you become queen you will need a partner to help you rule."
Her father reached across their thrones and took her mother's hand. "I don't know how I could have done it without your mother."
A pang deep in Atalanta's heart told her there was something in what he said, but she quickly snapped out of it. Getting married would be like handing over her kingdom to someone else, and she couldn't imagine finding a person trustworthy enough to do that.
She'd never agree to it. Her independence meant everything to her, and she refused to give it up.
"I won't do it." She widened her stance and crossed her arms.
She had no intention of budging.
"You will, and if you don't cooperate, we will find someone suitable within the month." Her father's jaw was set. "I will command it as your king, and you will have no choice."
Atalanta's eyes rounded. She had been successfully dodging matrimony for almost a decade and never imagined it would come to this.
"Ugh!" She stomped her foot like a child, then turned her back to them and strode down the long hall, dying to get away.
Any moment she expected her mother to call for her. She could hear it in her head, "Stop, Atalanta. Come back. We're sorry."
But instead, all she heard was the sound of the servants cleaning in the hallway.
They were really serious this time. They'd tried threatening her with marriage before, but she'd always been able to weasel her way out of it.
This time might be different.
As she approached the door, it occurred to her that she was playing this all wrong. An idea sparked in her head, and she whirled around.
"Fine," she said, marching back down the long hall to stand before her parents.
They glanced up, intrigued.
"I know how I want to choose my husband," she said.