Prince Ever After(7)

By: A.C. Arthur

Now they were once again coming to stand beneath the domed ceiling in the front entryway. It was about half an hour before closing, so there were other customers milling about this area, as well. When she overheard a member of the group asking if the tour was over, Val remembered she was actually supposed to be working and cleared her throat.

“Let’s give Prince Roland a hand for the wonderful tour he’s hosted for us this afternoon,” she said and began clapping so that the group members would follow suit.

Roland looked at her and then back to the crowd, but Val did not continue to stare at him. Instead, she moved through her closing soliloquy.

“The gift shop is open for one hour after the museum actually closes, so please feel free to head in that direction. As it’s nearing dinnertime, may I suggest taking the island trolley over to the northern side of the island where restaurants and other nightlife spots are open and waiting to serve and entertain you. If you’re staying on the island for a few days, there’s a candlelight dinner boat ride at the port tomorrow evening. And, for younger guests, there will be face painting and a magic show on Main Street beginning tomorrow at noon. We thank you and appreciate your visit to Grand Serenity Island.”

This was when the crowd usually departed. But there’d been nothing normal about this tour so far, so Val should have known better than to expect that.

The woman with the Southern drawl came up first, asking for an autograph and picture from Roland. He smiled and obliged. And then repeated that task for the next seven women who did the same. Val watched as he easily slipped his arm around each woman’s shoulders, leaning in so as to make each picture look personal, intimate, even. The women were glowing, their smiles big and bright—even the ones that were with their husbands—which amused Val, but probably annoyed their men. Roland also talked to each one of them, asking where they were from, how long they were staying on the island and what they liked most about Grand Serenity. The most intriguing part of that was that Val was certain he actually listened to each woman’s reply.

The great womanizer was being attentive and patient, and looking damn good in the process.

And she was being silly.

With a shake of her head she moved a little closer and announced that the picture Roland had just smiled for was the last one. Of course she received irritated stares, but she didn’t mind. Adults never liked being told what to do and when to do it. She knew that because she’d hated when her father had done the same. But this was different. This was work. It was her job to have this foyer clear within ten minutes of closing time. If they moved down toward the gift shop, that was fine, as it was a separate building and the exhibit halls could be locked off while the store stayed open.

“Thank you, everyone, for visiting Grand Serenity,” Roland said, backing up her statement that the museum was closing.

“We hope you enjoy your time here,” Val added.

She said this to every group after every tour, but this time she knew they’d enjoyed the tour. If nothing else on this island pleased them, this would have been enough.

When the last person was through the archway, Val walked to the circular desk closest to the door. It was white marble, and black letters on the wall behind it read Tour Information. That’s where she worked. It was where the tours were booked and started. In a safe behind that desk were her purse and jacket. She bent down to work the combination lock and retrieve them.

“Let’s get some dinner,” he said the moment she stood.

“What—excuse me?” she asked, and then cleared her throat. “I mean—”

“Dinner. You know, the last meal of the day. You sit down and eat and think of all the right and wrong things you may have said or done over the last twelve hours.”

He was leaning on the desk now, the darkness of his suit in contrast to the crisp white decor. He wasn’t giving her the full Reckless Royal smile, just a slight lift of his lips in the right corner. But that was enough. She reacted even as she wished she hadn’t. Her cheeks warmed, just as they had earlier, and she licked her lips nervously.

“I’m sure you have better things to do, Your Highness,” Val answered. Willing her fingers not to shake as she pushed her arms into her jacket, she cleared her throat and continued. “Or was there a reason you came to the museum today? I probably should have asked this before, but should I get the manager? I’m sure he’s still here. I can just—”

She came around the desk and attempted to walk across the foyer once more to head toward the staff offices on the other side, but he touched her elbow again to stop her. Maybe it was just this particular spot…she’d never have guessed her elbow would be an erogenous zone…but each time he touched her there—

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