The Virgin's Royal Guard (The Royal Virgins Book 2)
“He’s so beautiful.” Alina, my baby sister sighs as she watches Kingston Masters, Lord Haverford walk toward the stables with our brother, the king of Corline.
“Beautiful, and far too old for you. Alina, you’re not even nineteen, and he’s nearing thirty.”
She lets out a frustrated growl. “Age is just a number. One day, Kingston is going to fall in love with me. I’m going to steal him away on a Roman holiday. I’ll be Audrey Hepburn, and he can be my Gregory Peck.”
I laugh and shake my head. “That’s not really how that movie goes.”
“Just because you don’t want to fall in love, that doesn’t mean I’m going to avoid it.”
I ignore her dig at my single status. It’s true, I’ve stayed out of reach when it comes to men, but that was because I knew my parents were going to arrange my marriage. That’s what they’d done with Ryder, my brother. He’s just lucky his marriage ended with him falling in love. Now six months after our father’s death, Ryder is king, and he and his wife Gemma are expecting their first child.
“I don’t need love. Look at Mum. She’s destroyed since dad died. I don’t want to be that woman. Weak and reliant on a man to make me happy.”
“So you’re telling me you’ll really be happy with…him?” She juts her chin toward the man standing in our periphery. The man my parents arranged for me to marry.
Happy is not part of the plan for me. I’m promised to Tyler Packham, Duke of Longmire. What no one else knows is, Tyler and I are more incompatible than an American plug in a European outlet. It’s not that he’s a bad guy. In fact, I quite like Tyler; he just so happens to have the same taste in guys as me.
“Happiness comes in many forms. It might not be the fairytale between us, but at least we respect each other.”
My gaze slides past Tyler and rests on the man standing on the outside of everything. Archer Locke. Royal guard. He’s gorgeous, brave, dangerous, and completely off limits. But it doesn’t hurt to look. And I’ve spent years looking.
“Well, I suddenly feel like going for a ride. Care to join me?” Alina says, a devilish grin turning up her lips.
“Alina,” I warn.
“What? I’m not going to do anything. I just want to accompany my brother and his friend on a ride. Is that so wrong?”
I roll my eyes. It’s amazing Kingston puts up with her. “You go on. I’m going to stay here and chat with Gemma and Mum. We need to plan her baby shower anyway.”
Alina gives me an air kiss before bounding down the stairs and toward the stables. Her long blonde tresses bounce with each step, and I can practically see the unrequited love rolling off her.
“She’s got so much energy.” Mum’s voice hits me along with the familiar scent of her rosewater perfume. She hands me a cocktail, and we clink glasses.
“And you? Where’s your spark gone, darling?” My mother knows me better than anyone.
“It’s here…I just…since dad died I can’t quite find it.”
Reaching up, she brushes the hair behind my ear. “You’ll find it again. I promise.”
My focus drifts to Tyler. “I don’t know.”
“I think you need a distraction…a cause.”
She takes a long breath and links our fingers. “It’s your father’s birthday in two weeks. Why don’t we put on a charity ball in honor of him? We can hold an auction and donate the proceeds to a charity of your choice.”
The thought of honoring him, remembering my dad, giving to a worthy cause lights a fire in me. “That sounds…well, it sounds perfect.”
“Lovely. You know I can’t resist a good party. I haven’t had one to plan since your brother married Gemma.”
“What kind of auction should we have?”
“Well, there’s an abundance of young noble women who haven’t made good matches yet. What if we auction off the men?”
My jaw drops. “Mother. You can’t.”
“I don’t mean we should sell them off as husbands.” She laughs. “I mean, we auction off their dances for the evening. Instead of having to share, the winners get to keep their men for the ball. It will give them a chance to get to know each other better as well. I’ve had enough of this stuffy rule-following nonsense.”
I can’t believe she’s suggesting this. But so much has changed for us since Ryder’s coronation. The royal family has become more approachable, more human to our people. I wonder if she’s right to try to buck tradition. “All right. Let’s do it. Who should we auction?”
She takes a sip of her cocktail and gestures across the grounds. “We’ve got our pick.”
“There aren’t enough. There are five unmarried men at court under the age of fifty.”
“We’ll get your brother to call in some of his friends. They don’t have to be nobility. They just have to be handsome.”
I don’t know how to handle this new facet of my mother. “No, Ryder has enough on his plate.” I sigh and stare at the stables. “I suppose I could talk to Kingston.”
Mum’s hand squeezes mine. “Fantastic, darling. I’ll get the plans in place. You just arrange the auction.”
I take a long drink and place my glass on the balcony rail. Time to go find some men to sell to the highest bidder.