- Chapter One -
For the sixth time I checked the directions my roommate had sent me. The address on my phone definitely matched the one in front of me. And that was what concerned me the most.
I'd lived in Los Angeles for several years, and even so, standing in front of a mansion up in the Hollywood Hills would never be something I'd take lightly. This house was big enough to be a castle! They probably hired it out for film studios to use!
Seriously, Gigi? I thought, eyeballing my phone again. I know I need the cash, but I thought I'd be walking dogs for some busy house mom. Not... not whatever THIS is! Inhaling until my lungs ached, I squared off with the tall steps that led up to the open gates.
I could do this.
I mean... I had to do this.
Carefully I climbed the stairs. I was a little tired from walking up the sloping street, so by the time I reached the front door of the mansion, I was breathing quicker. Jeez, I'm out of shape. I could thank my ex for that. He'd made it way too easy to stay inside all the time, eating terrible takeout because he could never bother to help me cook.
That was the past, and my future was going to be good, and bright, and everything that my cheating ex was not. One more deep breath, then I knocked on the huge door. There was no answer—through the glass, I spotted movement. “Hello?” I called, tapping. “I'm here about the dog walker job?”
Something scrabbled at the inside of the door. When I bent closer, my shoe crunched on a piece of paper I'd first missed. I lifted the pink sticky note into the air—it must have fallen off the door. It read: Deliveries come inside.
Hm. I wasn't a delivery, but... Gigi would tell me to take initiative! My roommate had way less shame than me. She was born without the part of her brain that warned This is a bad idea.
When I opened the door, two orange puffballs slammed into me. I hurriedly closed the door so they wouldn't get outside. “Hey there,” I said, grinning.
The Pomeranians yipped while bouncing at my heels. They were pretty identical, but one had a tail that pointed up higher than the other. Petting their heads, I scanned the wide room with wonder. A curling white staircase reached upwards on my right, large couches in red and gold were placed strategically around the room.
Off to one side there was a hallway—down it I could hear water running. Giving the dogs another quick pat, I rose and dusted myself off. “Anyone home?” I called, walking carefully into the gigantic kitchen. One of the Pomeranians circled my legs, slowing me down and distracting me with its adorable energy. “Ah!” I laughed. “You're way too cute!”
“Thanks,” a very rich, VERY male voice said. “That's kind of you.”
Freezing in place, I lifted my eyes. The room was all marble—entirely luxurious—but that wasn't where my focus went. Right in front of me was my speaker.
And he was half naked.
The guy was leaning on the side of the gigantic kitchen island. In one hand he held a glass of water, freshly poured—the condensation dripping off the sides and down onto his chiseled, tattoo-covered torso.
His thick hair had a wind-blown, slightly shiny look, as if he'd been sweating. I noted his running shoes, his grey and black shorts, then the FitBit on his wrist. Definitely a jogger.
He set the glass on the counter and the noise made me jump. “You know,” he said, ruffling his hair. “You should be careful breaking into people's homes. Though, I've never met a burglar as attractive and polite as you.”
My brain fizzled; I stepped closer, laughing nervously. Hot guys don't flirt with me. I didn't know how to handle his charming grin. “I'm here for the dog walker job. My name's Nellie.”
I'd extended my hand to him like we were business partners. He stared at it, then me. That long pause made me feel tiny as a snail. Just as I started to withdraw, he circled the counter, grabbing my palm and squeezing it tight. “Bishop Callehurst.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
He squinted at me, clearly waiting for something. His eyes were a soft gray—like smoke on the horizon. “I didn't know my mother had gone and hired someone to walk Jaws and Cujo.”
Jaws and Cujo? I peeked down at the Pomeranians where they were stretched out on the tile. Did he pick their names? I had a thing for classic horror movies.
Bishop cleared his throat, looking pointedly at my hand where it was still clasped on his. Could I be anymore awkward? Blushing, I tried to pull it away, but he held on before releasing me. His chuckle rolled through me like a wave made from honey. “Thought you were stuck for a second there.”
It wouldn't be so bad to be stuck inside a big, testosterone filled sandwich like Bishop. I saw it in my mind's eye—his arms circling me, his breath warm as he rumbled against my spine. Focus! I reprimanded myself. I was here for a job, not to flirt with Mister Sexy No Shirt.
“Is your mom around?” I asked, flexing my fingers by my side and trying to forget how firm his hand had been.
“She'll be here soon.” Leaning forward, he brought his face close to mine. “Are you really a dog walker?”
I dug my heels in so I wouldn't back up. “What kind of a question is that?”
“A pretty straight forward one.”
His teeth were glinting in the sunlight that streamed through the huge windows beside us. I bet he thinks he's incredibly charming. And okay, he sort of is. But I was done with “charming” men in my life. “I'm not a dog walker until I get hired as one. You're really sure your mom is coming? Maybe I should go look for her.”
“Trust me,” he said, and it came out clipped—the first hint of him being anything less than flirty. Bishop grabbed the edge of the counter. He squeezed it like he wanted to snap it in two, his voice low and tired. “She's not the sort to wander far from me.”
“Alright. Sounds like all I need to do is stay near you.” Bishop's smile soaked up all the wickedness in the world. He swayed forward, smooth as the way a fishing line would whip through the air. His hook landed in me. “Hold up,” I said, sliding my heel backwards. “What are you doing?”
“Getting closer to you.” The knob on his throat flexed. “That's what you wanted, right?”
“No—I mean, I wanted...” Fuck. It was way too warm—I was way too warm. Bishop was all encompassing, his shoulders so broad they blocked the sunlight, and his lips looked soft. Would they be sweet or cruel?
If I kissed him, I'd know the answer.
Get a grip! My brain came to life, warning me that I was about to make a mistake I could never take back. My foot had bumped something furry. One of the dogs yipped, a noise high and sharp. A noise that cut my heart in two.
In a whirl of motion I spun around, crouching to check on the Pomeranian. “I'm so sorry!” I gasped, cupping its cheek while it licked my palm. “Did I hurt you?”
The dog danced in place, unharmed. I breathed out a great gasp of relief.
Bishop was staring down at me. All of his sexual energy had vanished, but in its place was a quiet curiosity that burned in his gray eyes. “You were really worried about him, huh?”
“Of course I was.” Giving the dog a quick hug, I let him down to prance with his friend. “The poor guy could have been injured. I should have paid more attention.”
“That's Jaws,” he said. “You can tell him from Cujo by the way his tail is pointed up higher—like a fin.”
I crouched there, petting the dogs with a smile that was starting to hurt my face. “So I'm guessing you named them, and not your mom.”
“You'd be right.”
“I appreciate your taste in scary movies.”
“Movies?” His chuckle was brief. “The books are where my heart lies. But yes, I have an appreciation for the classics... among other things.”
Lifting my eyes, I caught him gazing down the front of my shirt. His eyelids were heavy, shadowing his pupils. A massive erection tented his shorts. He wasn't trying to hide it; Bishop wasn't ashamed of his obvious lust. And with the huge cock he was smuggling under there... why would he ever be ashamed?
In a flustered haze I jumped to my feet. “Whoa! Hey, you can't just ogle me like that! I... I don't even know you!”
His laugh made the tattoos on his bare chest dance, distracting me further. “Ah. So once we become more familiar, I'm free to stare down your shirt all I want. I get it.”
“That's not what I meant!”
“If you don't want me 'ogling' you, you'll have to get less gorgeous breasts.” His smirk could cut glass.
Jaws and Cujo were running around, barking as I approached Bishop with my hands in fists. I didn't know what I was going to do, I was just furious. Furious that he was so blunt... furious that he was making my body heat up.
A pounding rattle moved down the hall, ending when an older woman swung into the kitchen on sharp Prada heels with a box in her hands. “Bishop! There you are! Haven't you changed yet? Everyone will be here soon, and you know I need you to make a good impression.” She dropped the box on the counter and I saw it was full of fancy cake balls and other tiny pastries. “Heaven knows you've spent the last years doing your best to prove to the world that you're some sort of ruffian. Then again, how could anyone say no to marrying my perfect little prince?”
Bishop's eyes flew to me. He was no longer smiling.
Did she say marry? Wait, more pressing, did she say... prince? Surely she just meant a prince to her. She was his mom, after all—I didn't need an introduction to figure that out. Miss Callehurst had the same dark hair and wolf-gray eyes as her son.
She clapped her hands, striding forward to pinch her son's cheek. “I can't wait to meet my royal grand-baby!”
There was no misinterpreting her that time. Royal baby? In disbelief I stared at Bishop. His shrug said volumes. This guy... this half-naked guy who'd been staring down my shirt... was a genuine prince?
Rapidly I ran through what I knew about royal families, because I was sure Los Angeles wasn't a damn monarchy. Picturing rolling fields, horses, dragons and swords called to mind the middle ages. Which would work, if time travel wasn't a fictional thing. Don't be silly, there are definitely real royal families out there... like in England! But he didn't sound British. No detectable accent at all—and thank god for that. He was dangerous enough already.
“Oh!” His mother blinked at me. “And who's this?”
Determined to not let this new information sway me, I stepped forward and offered my hand the same way I'd done to Bishop. “Nellie Pinewood, ma'am! I'm here for the dog walker position.”
Watching me through her thickly-applied mascara, she pursed her lips. “You have much experience with Poms?”
Cujo and Jaws had jumped up at the sight of Miss Callehurst. When I crouched, they ran to me excitedly. It was a better reaction than I could have hoped for—it gave me a rush of confidence. “Only a little bit. But I worked at a dog rescue for a year when I was eighteen, and I've always loved animals.”
I was readying myself to give her a more detailed rundown of my skills. But she just turned away and said, “Their leashes are hanging in the mudroom back here. Go on, take my babies out for some air before everyone arrives. Oh, and be careful—they love to chew on everything. So if you have anything expensive...” Pausing, she looked me up and down. “Well. Never mind.”
Wow, rude. I bit back a response and just said, “Okay.” Skirting around Bishop to head to where the leashes apparently were, I did my best to give him a wide berth. It didn't stop him; he bent close, breathing on my neck. All the tiny hairs on my body stood tall—then taller, when he casually bumped his hip into mine.
“Oops,” he chuckled. “Guess I should go strip upstairs and get ready. Nice meeting you, Nellie. I hope you get the job. I'd love to see more of you.”