“Well, I don’t. So that’s something you’ll have to deal with being married to me.”
“You’re a prude?” he asked.
“Practically a nun,” she answered.
“Touché.” He straightened and pushed the intercom button that fed into the front half of the limo. “Back to the palace, please.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened back there?”
“It’s not important.”
“You can just tell me that you aren’t going to tell me. It’s more honest than saying it’s not important. Don’t say things that affect you that deeply aren’t important.”
“Well, it’s unimportant in terms of you and I.”
“You can’t act like a miffed fiancée, Layna, not when you don’t act like a fiancée when I need you to.”
She frowned and looked at him, ignoring the kick in her heartbeat. “What do you mean by that?”
“If you were my real fiancée, and by that I mean, if you were with me for some reason that extended beyond the desire to heal the country and protect them from my wickedness,” he said, his tone dry, “then you would have lifted your dress for me and given me the thing I really needed.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked, her voice tight.
“That it wasn’t talking I needed, baby. It was f—”
“Stop it,” she said. “Stop turning into a horrible...beast every time you encounter territory that wounds you. Whatever happened between you and your father isn’t my fault. In fact, I’ve suffered enough due to all of those events, thank you.”
“Why don’t you take a little pleasure out of it?”
“Can we stop? Can we stop with this shallow, ridiculous nonsense. You aren’t telling me what’s really going on. And I’m not going to let you...not here.”
“Still sticking with your wedding night plan?” he asked.
“Yes.” Although it was more for self-protection now than anything else. To prove that she could wait. To prove she wasn’t helpless against this thing. This...this attraction.
“Then I suppose we won’t have much need of each other over the next few weeks. What I would like you to do is coordinate with Athena, my father’s personal assistant. She has all of the information regarding Kyonos, the budget, various charities and so on. Make that your project. And I’m going to be sending you a new wardrobe. You’re not allowed to turn it away. Burn those dresses you’ve been wearing.”
“I’m donating them,” she sniffed, irritated by his high-handedness. But she wasn’t about to argue because what he was proposing meant that she got to avoid him.
“Do as you like, but you aren’t wearing them anymore.”
“No, I have a better idea,” she said. “For every one outfit purchased for me, two new outfits—new—will be donated to a battered women’s shelter.”
“That is your affair, not mine.”
“If I’m going to get something out of this arrangement I intend to start now.”
He looked at her, dark eyes molten, and an answering heat started in her core. She knew challenging him was a bad idea. But she didn’t really care. Something about him made her feel free. Made her feel like she could say anything. Made her feel like she was no longer bound up by a bunch of safe parameters.
She wasn’t sure she liked it at all. Though, goading Xander had its merits.
“I will make sure you get something out of this marriage, agape mou,” he said, his voice rough. “Several times a night if you’re a very good girl.”
Her cheeks heated. The bastard. “Perhaps I will endeavor to be a bad girl then.”
A slow smile curved his lips. “Even better.”
* * *
True to his word, Xander avoided her over the course of the next two weeks. And she kept busy. Athena had a lot of useful information and between the two of them, they had endless ideas for more efficient and helpful social programs and ways to help fund various charities.
It was the big picture of all she’d done at the convent. There, she’d been on the ground, physically handing out clothing and food, and it had been wonderfully rewarding. But this was like flying over Kyonos in a helicopter, being able to see every bit of it at once.
And even better because she had the resources to help.
The sad thing was, though, that she was unhappy not seeing Xander. Darn him. She should be glad to get a reprieve. And yet she wasn’t.
She’d grown accustomed to his presence. To not feeling alone.
She missed riding. She would have to do something about that eventually, but she’d honestly been so busy. But then, she supposed that was the trade-off. Going from a life of service, reflection and meditation, to a life of high-octane service, balls and luncheons.