Princess Elena reached her eighteenth birthday still unbetrothed. She had been kept in the Palace’s private quarters, away from the public gaze, awaiting the opportunity for the perfect political match. A pampered Princess such as this was surrounded by servants, the tutors being the most respected and best paid. Then there was the lady in waiting, a distant cousin, the seamstresses, the handmaidens who dressed and undressed her and the lowly chambermaids who kept her quarters.

The bodyguards were outside this hierarchy; they followed the orders of the King and swore loyalty and obedience to him alone. One bodyguard in particular was highly regarded and had been protecting the Princess for five long years now. He had watched her turn from spoiled child to elegant woman. At least he had seen her change physically; emotionally she had far to go. Emotionally she was still a child in many ways, moody, often petulant, always an open book. Physically, she had already reached mature perfection. She had become a dangerous distraction.

The bodyguard was a proud professional. He had come from a long line of soldiers and secret agents. He had fought in battle himself and had been wounded seriously enough to require a less strenuous posting. But even though he was a professional he could not help watching her for reasons other than protection. He would watch her sitting in her chair sewing, and his eyes would be fixed on the outline of her luscious breasts under the silky bodice of her gown. Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of a slender ankle as she changed position. He would watch her glide down a corridor and be transfixed by the gentle sway of her bottom beneath the silvery folds of her skirts. He would gaze on her tiny waist and the milky nape of her neck when her hair was up. He would hear her lilting voice in another room and long to have her in his view. Before long his dreams were invaded with disloyal visions of naked royal flesh spread out for his guilty pleasure. He was in a constant agony of longing that he could never hope to satisfy, and did not want to satisfy because that would mean committing close to treason.

What he did not know was the Princess had recently noticed him too. For years, he had been a constant background presence that she took for granted. He had arrived when she was thirteen and too young to regard the servants as anything other than instruments for her comfort and safety. She had spent her time with her tutors, most humourless middle-aged men, the only young one being short and sickly with a weak chin. The bodyguards had been a constant but unobtrusive presence, no more interesting than the wallpaper or the curtains. But over the years her perspective had changed. She had always been thoroughly bored with the tutors and now refused to see them, insisting to her doting parents that she no longer needed their services. Instead she drew company from the gossiping handmaidens, all of whom found the bodyguards far more interesting than the curtains. They would sneak surreptitious looks at these silent untouchable young men and when away from the royal chambers would indulge in giggling and sighing over their handsome objects of affection. It was no atmosphere for a virginal Princess to be raised but her naive father had faith in his guards sworn loyalty.

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