Fallen Knight Chapter One
Fallen Knight Chapter One
WARNING - This will have spoilers from the first book in the series, Royal Creed. If you have not yet read Royal Creed, this chapter may spoil that reading experience.
NINE YEARS LATER
“Aren’t you going to come for a swim?”
I open my eyes and take in the sight of the man hoisting himself out of the pool. Every inch of his bare skin glimmers with water droplets, clinging like dew to the hard edges of his sculpted torso.
The rays of the sun high in the cloudless sky warm my bikini-clad body as I enjoy what will be one of the last summer-like days now that September’s nearly over.
“The water’s beautiful.” He sucks in his lower lip as he rakes his gaze down my frame, heat flaming in his chestnut eyes.
It doesn’t matter that we’ve been together for five years now. He still looks at me like I’m the only person who matters. The only person in his universe.
“And miss watching the show?” I raise my sunglasses to ogle Tristan’s physique. Wet and muscular. Tan and solid. “Not a chance in hell.”
His eyes darken, the desire in his appreciative stare lighting me on fire.
It’s not the same as when Creed looked at me this way, but I’ve stopped comparing every man to him. I had to. Otherwise, I don’t know how I would have survived. I needed to distance myself from the constant reminders of everything I lost that one summer.
And for the past nine years, I’ve done exactly that.
Upon moving to Paris, I focused all my attention on studying the culinary arts.
But in the quiet of night, my thoughts always returned to Creed.
To his touch.
To his love.
It was torture to lie awake craving him. I’d lost count of the number of times I dreamt he came to me, only to wake up to the reality that he could never be mine. If he ever was.
After months of restless nights, I knew I couldn’t keep living this way. Couldn’t continue loving a memory. Like my mother often said during her life… We can’t live in the present if we’re still held captive by the past. So I decided to leave the past behind me.
Even if that meant leaving Creed behind.
Enter Tristan Emerson Hughes.
It was as if the world knew he was exactly what I needed. And I like to think I’m what he needed, too.
The son of a former U.S. President, he knows how trying it can be to be part of a powerful family. The path that led him to Paris was similar to mine. His father hoped he’d follow in his footsteps and go into politics. But Tristan always hated everything about the American political machine, preferring to use the influence that came with his last name for good.
Much like me.
I think that’s why I was drawn to him. While what we share isn’t remotely as explosive or consuming as it was with Creed, I’m okay with that. Tristan was one of the first people to look at me and not see my title.
He sees a person. He sees me.
I can’t say with certainty Creed ever did.
It took me years to come to terms with the truth that it never would have worked between us, no matter how hard we fought for it. Not when we weren’t the only people in our relationship. From the beginning, the crown was there, too. If I’ve learned anything throughout my life, it’s that nothing is powerful enough to overcome the crown.
Not even love.
A deep chuckle rumbles from Tristan’s throat as he stalks toward me. Each step he takes causes my pulse to kick up, his eyes gleaming like a wolf on the hunt, dark with desire. Like the predator he is, he cages me against my lounge chair and settles between my legs. When I feel his hard length rub against my core, I don’t even care he’s dripping water all over me.
“Why watch when you can be part of the show, beautiful?” he croons in that subtle American drawl I find so incredibly sexy.
He presses his lips to mine, his kiss consuming me as I lose myself in him.
It’s been a while since we’ve been together like this without any distractions. Tristan’s spent the majority of the past several months on the set of his next big picture, hence why we agreed to get away to Saint-Tropez.
While he may come from a political powerhouse of a family, he chose a different path in life. After attending Yale, he headed out to California to try his hand at acting, something he’d grown interested in while earning the degree his father insisted he obtain. Now he’s one of the most popular actors in the world.
“And what part will I be playing?” I murmur against his mouth, running my fingers up and down his back, savoring in the ripples of his defined muscles.
“Maybe the dutiful student who’ll do anything to raise her grades.”
I laugh, succumbing to the infectious playfulness in his expression. But my laughter turns to moans when he moves from my lips, peppering kisses along my neck before slowly traveling down my body. His warm breath caresses my skin like a tender breeze, each touch of his lips sending a shiver down my spine.
“Or maybe you can be the nanny hired to take care of some brooding billionaire’s only child, who in turn ends up not being able to keep his hands off you once he sees you in a bikini.”
“Should I be worried you’re listing off popular tropes used in romance novels? Professor/student. Nanny/employee.”
“Just trying to keep things interesting, darling.”
He flashes me a sinful grin before he returns to me, brushing his mouth against mine in a sweet kiss. When our eyes meet again, his expression is more serene. Resolved. Thoughtful.
“Or how about you play the part of a beautiful princess who just so happened to attend the same charity gala as some no-name actor and they hit it off, both of them smiling for the first time in years?”
My heart swells with happiness as the memory of that night comes rushing back.
I’d given up hope of meeting someone who made me feel the things Creed had. Instead, I was content with the occasional passing fling. A date here and there, none of which ever went anywhere.
Then Tristan entered my life. He had no idea who I was. Sadly, I had no idea who he was, either. I had to Google him after that night. He did the same, and both of us shared a laugh. Still, the fact we were ignorant of who the other was is why we work so well together, even to this day. We liked each other before we knew the truth. We fell for who we were. Not what.
“I think that may be my favorite trope,” Tristan finishes.
I scrunch my nose. “I’m not sure that’s a trope. Sure, there are celebrity romances, but they usual involve some playboy actor who runs around town sticking his dick into anything with a pulse, so they bring in a glorified babysitter to make sure he stops sleeping around to improve his image, and they end up falling for each other.”
He pinches his lips together, a contemplative expression crossing his brow. “I like my version better.” He dips his head toward me, smoothing a few tendrils of hair behind my ear. “It may not have the elements of a blockbuster in the making, but it’s our story. And I love our story.” He touches his mouth to mine. “I love you, Esme.”
I sigh as I wrap my arms around his shoulders. “I love you, too.”
It took me quite a while to actually tell him that. Being the understanding man he is, he didn’t get upset when I didn’t immediately return the sentiment after he first shared his feelings with me. We both came into this relationship with baggage, most of which the world knew about.
But we also came into this relationship with secrets.
At least I did.
Despite the fact it had been years since I’d even spoken to Creed, it felt like a betrayal to say those three words to anyone other than him.
But after months of Tristan telling me how much he loved me, I relented, repeating his declaration to him.
I’m not sure what I feel for him is love. I’m not sure I’m capable of loving him the way he loves me, not when a huge part of my heart is missing. It has been for years.
But I do care deeply for Tristan. My feelings for him are strong. Stronger than they’ve been for anyone else I’ve dated since Creed.
He makes me smile. Makes me laugh. Makes me feel appreciated. Respected. Loved.
That should be enough for me.
I want it to be enough for me.
Most days, it is.
But there are still those days I can’t help but long for what once was, despite the impossibility of ever having that again. I learned the hard way that the heart doesn’t listen to reason.
Tristan deepens the exchange, rocking his hips against me in a slow, steady rotation, his need for me thick and heavy. I pull him closer, surrendering to the moment, until my mobile cuts through the silence with its shrill, abrasive ringtone.
“Don’t answer it,” Tristan pleads against my lips, sliding his thumb across my hipbone. “Whoever it is can wait until I’m done with you.” He flashes a wicked smile. “Although I don’t plan on being done for quite some time.”
He snakes down my body, trailing his tongue along every inch of exposed skin. The heat emanating from his lips ignites a fire in its wake, making me tune out everything except how talented his mouth is. Including my ringing phone.
He takes his time, slowly building my pleasure until I'm desperate for him.
“And what is it you plan on doing?”
“Everything, beautiful. I’m going to do everything you want me to.” He spreads my thighs, hunger flashing in his gaze as he pushes my bikini bottoms to the side. He brings his mouth to my center, my muscles growing taut with anticipation.
Then my bloody cell rings again.
“For fuck’s sake,” I exclaim, swiping it off the table to silence it so there are no more interruptions.
But the name on the screen sends my heart skyrocketing into my throat.
I bolt upright, staring at the phone as if it’s a ticking bomb.
It’s been nine years since I’ve seen his name appear on my mobile.
Nine years since I’ve heard his voice.
Nine years since I’ve peered into his eyes.
Since I left Belmont, Creed and I have successfully avoided each other, a feat, considering he’s my brother’s chief protection officer. Anytime Anderson paid me a visit, a different member of his team accompanied him. I’m not sure if it was a directive from the General of the Royal Guard because of our history, or simply Creed not wanting to interfere with my time with my brother. Not wanting to add any awkwardness to his visit.
Why is he reaching out now?
It would have to be serious for him to call after all this time.
Dread instantly settles low in my stomach, turning everything to acid.
“Is everything okay, Esme?”
At the sound of Tristan’s voice, I snap my eyes toward his, struggling to get my jumbled thoughts and emotions under control.
“It’s my brother’s CPO. He…” I shake my head. “He never calls.”
“Then you should answer it.” Tristan climbs off me, brushing a kiss to my temple. “To be continued later, beautiful.” Then he retreats, disappearing into the house to give me privacy.
I’m about to unlock my cell and ring Creed back when he calls once more. I do my best to push down the anxiety coursing through me as I hit the answer button. Holding my breath, I bring my phone up to my ear, unsure how I’ll react to hearing Creed’s voice again after so long.
“Esme…,” he exhales.
In an instant, every single memory and emotion I tried to lock up and pretend didn’t exist rushes forward, especially when he says my name in that soft, raspy way he always did when it was just us.
That’s when I know something must be wrong. Because there’s no formal greeting of Your Highness.
He’s not calling as part of his official duties as my brother’s chief protection officer.
He’s calling me as a friend.
Or at least as my brother’s friend.
“Creed,” I manage to say, my pulse racing faster than it has in years. “What—”
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