Catching Zayn’s arm in her bony talon as they passed, Roz hissed, “The unmasking will happen at the end of your dance! You’ll have to take the mask off for her—there’s a clasp in the back.”
Then she let them go.
Zayn led Mina to the dance floor, a pathway clearing before them. Other dancers left the floor as they approached the center, a warm spotlight finding them as they came to a stop, facing each other.
He wasn’t sure whether it was due to the rush of success in dodging Roz, or simply the primal effect of Mina’s radiant glow in the spotlight, but although they were surrounded, the rest of the room slowly disappeared as he looked at her.
Reaching out his arms, he took her by the waist and pulled her body flush against his. As tall as she was in the heels and the mask, her head still came only to his shoulder, allowing him to rest his cheek on the smooth front of her mask, his own expression shielded by the emanating rays.
Her dress was a warm second skin beneath his palm and her lush curves pressed against the hard planes of his own body. Heat and blood rushed to his core as if this were the first time he’d ever drawn a woman close on a dance floor.
Her palm came to rest softly at his shoulder while he stretched their arms out, hands gently clasped. She sucked in a breath, her breasts brushing against his chest in the process, the sensation stealing his own breath.
The orchestra struck up his favorite waltz.
He had no idea who the performers were, but they knew his favorite waltz.
It was good to be King.
Zayn drew her into the dance, and for first time since he’d met her she gracefully followed his lead.
The floor had cleared completely by this point, and he took advantage of the space to set them a double-time pace, leaving her breathless and clinging to him. Smile wide, she seemed too focused on holding him to be nervous. Scientist that she was, she gave in to the momentum of their bodies, allowing her hips to press into his naturally, reminding him exactly why this dance had been banned during his country’s more conservative historical eras.
So focused was his mind on the press and heat of her that it took him some time to realize that the joyful notes weaving their way into the music were the sound of her laughter. Bubbling around them, it wove its way into his blood like the finest champagne, silky and reserved for an exchange of goods that cost far more than money.
He slowed down as the familiar chords came to their conclusion until they stood together in the large warm spotlight, chests pressed close and lifting in unison, eyes locked on each other.
Conversation in the room fell silent.
As if compelled, she lifted her hands to the sides of his face. Zayn closed his eyes as her fingertips trailed through his hair, seeking and finding the thin leather straps that held his domino mask in place. He felt a small surge of power as her eyes widened when she removed the mask. She would never be able to hide her reaction to him. Somehow he knew that.
He pulled the mask from her hand and dropped it to the ground without a glance, then drew the pads of her fingertips to his mouth, to place small kisses on each one. Then he drew her closer to reach his hands around her neck and find the clasp at the back of her mask.
He pressed the release and the mask unlocked.
With two hands, he lifted it from her head slowly. Two servers appeared at his side to carefully carry the solid gold creation away.
Bright curls exploded around Mina’s head, replacing the mask to bathe and halo her face in light.
Her face was even more of a masterpiece than the mask. Gold flakes sparkled in the emerald of her irises, and the creamy golden brown of her skin glowed in the light. She was all sparkling eyes and slightly parted plush lips, and there was nothing for him to do but thrust his fingers into her hair, cup the back of her skull where it met her neck, and possess her.
Her breath caught as their lips met, etching the moment into memory through all of his senses—taste, touch, sight, scent, and sound. Her lips were velvet-soft and plump as she leaned into him, returning the kiss, as lost as he was to the current sweeping over them.
The crowd erupted into cheers, abruptly grinding the madness to a halt—he was the King and this display was unseemly—and yet he still broke the kiss gently, unable to rip himself away from her despite his horror at what he had just done.
Her eyes fluttered open, clouded still with the haze of their kiss, and, fighting the urge to pull her back to him, he acknowledged that forgetting decorum seemed to be one of the results of proximity to Mina.
Slowly, but with a flourish, he spun her out to his side and raised her arm, the smooth flow of his movements smoothing over his breach of etiquette and giving him some distance from its cause at the same time.
Another cheer rang out from the crowd. Cyrano loved its new Queen. Now Zayn just had to figure out what to do about it.
(C) Marcella Bell, Harlequin Special Edition, 2020. Used with permission from the publisher.
The Queen’s Guard Book 1
From unworldly scientist. . .
. . . to his fearless queen!
Mina has finally achieved her dream of becoming chief scientific advisor of Cyrano, when she’s stolen from the interview room! She’s taken directly to the palace chapel, where the terms of a secret betrothal mean she must marry the king–immediately.
Powerful King Zayn knows all too well monarchs can’t afford dangerous distractions like love. Yet still, he’s appalled to be wed to a complete stranger! Mina is altogether too sensitive, too scholarly, too unpolished to be queen. But that can’t stop the desire that flares each time she looks his way…
From Harlequin Presents: Escape to exotic locations where passion knows no bounds.
The Queen’s Guard
Book 1: Stolen to Wear His Crown
About Marcella Bell
Marcella Bell lives in the mostly-sunny wilds of Southern Oregon with her husband, children, father, and three mismatched mutts. The dry hot summers and four distinct annual seasons of the region are a far cry from the weird rainy streets of Portland, OR, where she grew up, but she wouldn’t trade her quirky mountain valley home for anyplace else on the earth. As a late bloomer and a yogini, Marcella is drawn to romance that showcases love’s incredible power to transform.