All eyes were upon the Prince, wondering what he would do next. Even Hank had emerged from the kitchen, his expression tense. Evelyn crept over to Lisa and whispered to her, her breath hot in her ear. “This is just like what happened between me and Tyler last night. Everyone breaks up. Everyone falls out of love!”
But Lisa wasn’t really listening. A realization had washed over her: the knowledge that her career had just opened up, that she held the key to her future with the photographs she’d just snapped. She couldn’t believe her luck.
She began to tug off her apron, sensing that it was time for her to sneak out, wanting to deliver the edited photographs to Rocco before midnight. She could have the funds in her account before the weekend.
Jesus. The world was her oyster.
Lisa and Evelyn walked back toward the kitchen as the Prince finished off the bottle of wine. Evelyn muttered that she needed to speak with the chef, and Lisa began to plot tossing her uniform in the closet and rushing from the premises. But as they turned from the table, Lisa heard her name behind her.
The deep, brooding voice of the Prince carried her name so well, it made her shiver. “Lisa.”
Lisa spun around, her back cracking. Her eyes were wide, like a doe’s. Did he know she was paparazzi? What had given her away?
She eased toward him, nervous. “Can I get something for you, Your Highness? Perhaps your next course?”
The Prince’s eyes were far away. “The meal is off,” he said, gesturing. “For obvious reasons. I’ll pay the bill now, and there’s no reason to bring the rest of the food to the table. I apologize for wasting your time. All of your coworkers’ time, as well.”
Lisa bowed her head, unable to find words. She felt the weight of the camera in her apron, a reminder that this man’s private life was about to be plastered across the Daily Sneak, with her name on the photographs. He’d remember her face. He’d remember this conversation. He’d remember apologizing to her, moments before she ruined him.
“That’s quite all right,” Lisa murmured, turning back toward the kitchen door. She pressed her palm against Evelyn’s back, leading her to the kitchen, where they found the chef having a tantrum. He smashed pots and pans against the countertop, muttering in French.
Evelyn stepped back, frightened. The chef turned his eyes toward Lisa, the messenger. “He’s decided he doesn’t want to eat the rest of the meal,” she announced. “But he’s still going to pay for it. And he gives all compliments to the staff, and, of course, to the chef.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s saying,” the chef said haughtily. “He’s missing out on the best dining experience in Manhattan. And you know it.” He stabbed his finger toward Lisa, almost declaring her the problem.
“I do,” Lisa lied. She hadn’t taken a single bite of the food; hadn’t even breathed the name “Matador” before the previous evening. “No one knows more than us. But isn’t this the best-case scenario? We all get to go home early. We all get to relax, for once. And I bet he’ll even drop a hefty tip on the way out.”
Perhaps sensing that Lisa had taken over his role as manager, Hank moved in front of her, smacking his palms together. “Yes. Precisely. Let’s all take the rest of the night off, shall we? And everyone, take the food to go. For your families or your friends. This should be read as a gift.”
Evelyn printed off the Prince’s bill, blinking back tears, clearly thinking about her breakup once more. She handed the book, with the bill, to Lisa, winking at her, her face still tight with sadness. “He seems to have taken a liking to you. Win us that tip, girl.”
Lisa grinned sheepishly, knowing she had no right to the tip. She accepted the bill and walked slowly toward the Prince’s table, where he held his cheeks in his hands. His shoulders were heavy, slumped forward, but the moment he saw Lisa once more, he seemed to brighten. He opened his palm and accepted the bill, offering her a bright, open smile. A single black curl coiled from the top of his head and down his forehead, bouncing lightly.
“Lisa,” he said, eyeing the bill in his hands. “I have one final request for you, if you don’t mind.”
“What is it?” she asked. Her voice was quiet in her ears.
“I wondered if you might want to join me for dinner,” the Prince said. “I’ve been reading good things about Matador for years, and have always wanted to visit.” He paused, his mouth forming a single line across his face. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but tonight, I am alone. And I see no ring on your finger. I’d love to spend a night, here, with you—getting to know a stranger. What do you say?”
Lisa felt his honesty, so stark, in his words. She hesitated for a second, sensing Evelyn’s gaze upon her. She lifted her finger, asking for a single moment. “I’m just not sure if it’s appropriate. I’ve been serving you all night, you see. And you obviously have a fiancée that you love very much.”
As she spoke the words, she feared she’d be caught. Perhaps he was only asking her to sit with him to interrogate her. She could imagine it. “Why are you here? What do you want? Give me the camera.”
But the Prince said nothing to that effect. “Listen, feel free to leave if you want. But I’d like to offer you some remarkable food. And of course, another bottle of wine. What do you say?” he blinked rapidly, his dark eyelashes brushing against his cheeks.
Lisa sighed, realizing that the thought of sitting with the Prince, speaking with him, filled her with pleasure. Her cheeks were hot; her shoulders relaxed, without tension.
Finally, she spoke. “I just have to check with the kitchen.”
Lisa rushed back, her heart so loud in her chest she felt like everyone could hear it. She popped back in to the kitchen, noting that Hank had already begun to eat a plate of olives, sucking them down with gusto.
He blinked at her curiously. “What is it?” he scoffed.