Royally endowed, p.11
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       Royally Endowed, p.11

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
 
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  The Queen shakes her head. "If you had wanted to name your children Bob or Tina, you should have married a plumber. You married a prince. The grandson of a queen. That comes with obligations."

  My sister is usually spirited, lively--the spunk is strong in our family. But the pregnancy, the move, the pressure of carrying the new generation of Pembrooks, the relentlessly dickish press who still haven't gotten over her bagging Wessco's favorite son--it's been hard on her. Sapped some of her toughness. So now, Olivia . . . wilts, before my eyes.

  "I think I'm going to lie down for a little while."

  "Do you want me to come with you?" I ask.

  "No." Her voice is quivery. "I'm fine on my own."

  Without another word, she waddles up the path to the palace.

  And it takes only about ten minutes before my brother-in-law comes charging back down, his eyes bright green and shooting sparks.

  George bows. "Your Highness."

  "Fulton." Nicholas nods, while looking hard at his grandmother. "Ellie, George, would you excuse us, please?"

  We start to get up, but the Queen lifts her hand.

  "No. We're in the middle of tea. I'm sure anything you need to say can be said in front of them."

  "All right, then--stop it."

  The Queen looks taken aback.

  "Stop what?"

  "You know what. We're not chess pieces; stop trying to control the board."

  Queen Lenora folds her hands. "Is this about Olivia?"

  Nicholas raises his arm toward the palace. "She's in our room, crying her eyes out right now."

  The Queen huffs. "Well, that's ridiculous. She's being entirely too sensitive."

  Nicholas throws up his hands. "Of course she's sensitive--she's seven and a half months pregnant with twins! She's uncomfortable all the time. She can't sleep--she can barely breathe! The paparazzi are climbing the palace walls, the press is tearing her to pieces and there's not a damn thing I can do to stop it, and a psychopath is leaving sadistic notes addressed to her on our doorstep. And now you--"

  The Queen's words crack the air like a whip. "Watch. Your. Tone."

  My brother-in-law stops and takes a deep breath. He rubs his hand down his face and looks off toward the horizon. When his gaze turns back toward his grandmother he's calmer, but cold.

  "I brought her here so she could rest in safety. So she could relax. If you make that impossible, I will take her someplace else. And if you wish to have a relationship with your great-grandchildren, then I'm telling you now, Grandmother--stop it." He pauses to let the words sink in, then adds, "We won't be having this conversation again. I hope that's clear to you."

  The Queen doesn't respond with words, she just sort of breathes--like a dragon who wants to smoke a prince's ass. Nicholas waits for her to nod, and when she does, he bows to her and walks away.

  "Never have children, Eleanor," she tells me stiffly. "Ungrateful to the core, the whole lot of them. Write that down."

  Dutifully, I tap on my phone.

  Then, George, Queen Lenora and I sit silently. And it's so awkward.

  I try to fix it. "I think Ernstwhile's kind of cute. Maybe we can call her . . . Ernie."

  Her Majesty doesn't crack a smile.

  Then George makes a sound. "Ballsack."

  My face scrunches and I turn to him. "Uh...gesundheit?"

  He grins, gesturing to the Queen. "I was just agreeing with you, Your Majesty, names should be carefully considered. I have family on my father's side--the Ballsacks--who made the unfortunate decision to name their oldest Harry. They didn't think that one through at'all." He shakes his head. "Or say it out aloud."

  I hear the name in my head and snort.

  Then I add my two cents. "I went to school with a girl named Alotta. Alotta Bush. She was captain of the cheerleading squad. Strange but true."

  George chuckles and while the Queen doesn't join our discussion, I see her lips twitch.

  "The first girl my brother loved was named Constance Uma Natasha Theresa," George says. "Turned out to be a fitting acronym."

  And I full-out laugh, "Oh my God."

  The Queen sips her tea and resumes our regularly scheduled "non-cheeky" conversation.

  "The National Museum has a new Monet exhibit opening this evening, George. Will you be attending while you're in the city?"

  George grins. "I had planned on it, Your Majesty, yes."

  "You should bring Eleanor with you." She looks at me. "You haven't been to the museum, have you?"

  "No, not yet."

  Queen Lenora nods. "Then it's settled. You'll go together and have a wonderful evening."

  George meets my eyes over his teacup and his cheeks turn pink.

  Because he senses the same thing I do--we've just been royally set up.

  Not cool, Lenora . . . not cool at all.

  A little while later, I'm walking down the hall to Nicholas and Olivia's room, to check on my sister. And I see Logan at the opposite end of the hall. I didn't think he was working; I hadn't seen him yet today--and my body reacts the way it always does when he's close. My pulse picks up, my breath quickens, hope and attraction swirl in my stomach, making me feel slightly nauseous, but not in a bad way.

  His strides seem purposeful, and they're aimed directly at me. We meet up outside Olivia's bedroom door. His eyes are dark, almost black with intensity, and I wonder what he's going to say.

  "Are you going out with that guy tonight?"

  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

  But he's leaning down so close, my brain still short-circuits. "'That guy'?"

  "George Fulton. The mayor."

  "Uh . . . yeah. I met him today at tea. The Queen suggested we go . . . you know . . . as friends."

  I don't know why I added the last part. It's not as if Logan cares. Only when he clenches his jaw and drags his gaze off to the side, it kind of feels like he might.

  "There's no reason I shouldn't go, is there?" The hope in my voice is pathetically loud.

  "No," he says softly. "No good reason at all."

  For a moment, neither of us moves or blinks.

  "Hey, Lo!" another security guard calls from down the hall. "Katy's tonight, yeah?"

  Logan nods to him and my stomach withers.

  "Katy's?" I ask.

  "It's a pub. The upper-class tend to hang around at The Goat; me and the lads hang around Katy's."

  "Oh. Well, I guess we both have plans tonight, then."

  "So it seems." He touches my arm, squeezing just slightly, and that familiar, exhilarating zing races through me. He moves closer as he passes, almost whispering in my ear, "Have fun, Ellie."

  Then I'm watching him walk away, his strides long, his back straight--and his ass . . . mouthwatering.

  And just like that, the appeal of going to the museum tonight, of going anywhere where Logan isn't, fizzles like an Alka-Seltzer tablet.

  The opening of the Monet exhibit at the Wessco National Museum is a big deal--think Met Gala, minus the space-age outfits. The stylist dressed me in a gorgeous royal-blue strapless cocktail dress, with silver platform heels. The short, snug cut hugs my small frame sexily, while the flare of the skirt makes it flirty, not trashy. With my blond hair down and wavy, I feel confident, beautiful--grown-up. A woman going to a sophisticated social event, not a girl going to a prom. That's new for me.

  There's press at the entrance, photographers--they shout questions and jostle for prime positions, all of them wanting the scoop on the promising politician and the princess's sister. It'll make quite a headline. Ever since the wedding they've been interested in me--and my boobs--even though neither is really very substantial. It's been fun, a trip, a wild ride--sharing a little slice of Nicholas and Olivia's spotlight.

  But in the bright, snapping flash of the cameras, I have an epiphany: this could be my life too.

  I have connections now, to wealthy, known people--the kind who run cities, and make laws, and rule countries. That's what the Queen meant all
this time about my potential--I have the potential to have my sister's life.

  If I want it.

  And that's always the question, isn't it? Where do you see yourself in five years? Who will you be? What do you want?

  George Fulton is a dream date--he's fun, charming, smart and attentive. We discuss the artwork and Monet's life as we slowly wander from one painting to the next. I like George. He's easy to like. I like him the way I like Tommy Sullivan or Marty or Henry.

  A friend-like.

  But the intensity in his eyes doesn't make my insides melt. The sound of his voice doesn't make my knees go shaky. The smell of his skin doesn't make me think filthy, dirty, secret things.

  There's only one guy who does that.

  Only one who ever has.

  So like every other date I've been on since that early morning over five years ago, when I hopped down the steps into the coffee shop and came face to face with a breath-stealingly handsome bodyguard, wearing a killer tie--my thoughts drift away from my date . . . and straight back to Logan.

  The painting in front of me is of a woman embroidering, with a little girl at her feet. On the wall beside it, there's a quote--I think it's from the Bible: "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things . . ."

  I glance down at my ankle, where my little lemon tattoo is etched. And I feel the hug of the knife holster that's wrapped around my thigh--that I wear like an engagement ring, religiously, every day.

  It's almost fucking poetic.

  I'm a fraud. I haven't been sucking the lemon of life--I've been hiding behind the rind. Playing it safe. Refusing to take the biggest chance of all.

  I need to put away childish things. Like high school crushes and bodyguard dreams. I have to put them behind me.

  But the only way I'll ever do that is by confronting them--him. By laying it on the line, putting my bare, beating heart on the table for him to see. And if he smashes it with a sledgehammer, well . . . this analogy took a dark turn...but the point is: Logan either wants me like I want him or he doesn't.

  And it's time to find out. To hear it straight from the hung-like-a-horse's mouth. Then I can move forward. Move on, with or without him. But I really, really hope it's with him. That I'm not the only one feeling this.

  George and I have wandered over to a small alcove in the corner, and I put my hand on his arm. "I have something to tell you."

  He smiles. "I was just thinking the same thing."

  And then we speak at the same time.

  "I can't wait to see you again."

  "I have to go."

  When my words penetrate, he slides his hands into his pockets and his forehead crinkles. "Well . . . this is uncomfortable."

  "I'm sorry. You're a great guy--an amazing guy . . . but . . . there's someone else. There's been someone else for a long time and I have no idea how he feels about me, but I need to find out. I have to give it a chance."

  George looks at me for a few moments. Then he leans over and kisses my cheek.

  "Whoever he is, he's a lucky man."

  I smile a thank-you.

  "I'll have the car drop you wherever you want to go."

  "No, that's okay. I've got it covered." I put my hand over his. "Good night, George."

  George's two bodyguards, who shadowed us here tonight, stay with him while I walk out of the back door of the museum and hail a taxi. It's time to seize my destiny, take the bull by the horns, grab the lemon with both hands and suck until my cheeks hollow out . . . and maybe, if things go well, I'll get to swallow.

  I'VE SEEN ENOUGH EIGHTIES MOVIES--Pretty in Pink, An Officer and a Gentleman, Sixteen Candles--to know how this should go. I'm supposed to step out of the cab, walk through the double doors of the bar with the breeze blowing my hair back, search the room until our eyes meet, then--boom--the romantic background music surges. I raise my hand and beckon him close, then Logan kisses the hell out of me and/or swings me up and carries me away. Roll the credits.

  Reality is . . . not an eighties movie.

  So, when I get out of the cab, my dress snags on the door, tearing a little. I step in a puddle on my way across the street, soaking my foot and creating my very own squishy, farty background music.

  Jesus Christ on a candy cane.

  I keep my head down and avoid eye contact with a loud group of guys smoking outside the tavern next door--and then I cup my hands around my face and peek in the window of Katy's Pub.

  There's a small front room with a wooden bar and a few round tables and chairs. I see a hallway in the back that a man in a flannel shirt walks in from, carrying a pool stick. Logan sits at the bar, his brown hair falling over his forehead, a tall glass of dark beer in front of him. A pretty bartender with shoulder-length auburn hair leans his way on her elbow. And then Logan chuckles at something she says--flashing straight, white teeth, his eyes crinkling with laughter.

  Jealousy--green and ugly--steams from my ears. And though I recoil at the sight, it's as if my feet are cemented to the ground and my hands are super-glued to the glass.

  And then it gets worse.

  A little girl, with swinging blond pigtails and a pacifier in her mouth, comes rushing out from behind the bar. The female bartender chases after her, but Logan beats her to it, scooping the toddler up into his strong arms. He tilts his head, talking to the child and wagging his finger playfully, making her smile around her pacifier. And the woman comes around the bar and stands close to Logan, gazing up at them both.

  They look like they're very well acquainted--wholesome and happy. They look like a family, and it feels like I'm bleeding inside.

  Someone walks past me and into the bar, turning Logan's attention to the door.

  To me.

  His eyes widen when he spots me, then narrow. He mouths my name like he can't believe what he's seeing.

  Shit.

  I flee. Bolt. Haul ass.

  Cowardly? Yes, but also instinctual. I scurry down the street like I'm seven-fucking-teen all over again. And thirty seconds later, his voice booms behind me.

  "Ellie! Hey--hold up!"

  I stop, 'cause there's no point in running. I take a breath and prepare to lie. Because I'm not ready to tell him yet. Not like this, out on the street, next to a Dumpster that smells like it's got a dead body rotting away inside. I spin around and plaster a big smile on my face.

  "Logan! Hey! Fancy meeting you here--it's a small world after all."

  He's staring at my dress, looking . . . flustered. Logan is never flustered. "What are you wearing?"

  "A dress."

  "You look . . . bloody fantastic."

  Just as I'm about to smile, he snaps out of it. And Special Agent Pissed-Off is back in charge. "What the hell are you doing here, Ellie? You're supposed to be out with Fulton."

  "My night with George ended early. I wasn't feeling it. So, I decided to go . . . sightseeing." I lift my hands to the . . . row of crumbling small houses with overgrown gardens and sinking roofs. I should've thought that one out better. "And I got lost. You know me . . . silly, flighty Ellie."

  He braces his hands on his hips, frowning down at me in that sexy way of his. "You can't wander around--especially not here. Come on, I've got my car--I'll take you home."

  A drunk on the corner slurs, "I'll take ye home, luv. Grab my cock tight and I'll show ye the way."

  Logan and I yell at the same time.

  "Piss off!"

  "Screw you!"

  Then we walk silently for a few moments, side by side, him gazing forward, me gazing at him, trying to work up the nerve to say all that I'd planned to a few minutes ago.

  Instead, other words tear out of me. "Is she yours?"

  Logan's brows draw together.

  "The little girl," I clarify, feeling an ownership over him I know I have no right to. "Is she yours?"

  "No."

  And everything inside me loosens with relief.

  "No, she's Kathleen's g
irl--the bartender. It's her husband's family's pub. Connor--I went through training with him--he's still enlisted; he's deployed right now. I check in on them when I'm around."

  Oh. A friend's wife and little girl. That's better. It's great.

  "That's nice of you."

  We reach the parking lot behind the bar and Logan guides me to a clean gray Nissan Altima. He opens the door for me. Then he walks around, starts the car and pulls out of the parking lot.

  "Do you live near here?" I ask, because I only just realized I don't know the answer.

  "No. My place is outside the city--about twenty minutes away."

  "Oh."

  We're quiet for a few moments.

  Until Logan asks, "Do you want to see where I live?"

  For a second, I have no words. He may as well have asked me if I wanted to see heaven. Or Disneyland, or a really sexy Mars.

  "Yeah! I'd love to. Let's do it."

  We pull up to the curb of a large fenced lot at the end of a quiet street. The moonlight shines down on a two-story brick house, with a wide wraparound porch and a white, three-person porch swing. A single light is on above it. And on one side there's a round room with a pointed roof, like a tower on a castle. There's a short driveway, just dirt, with construction materials, ladder and buckets stacked neatly beside it.

  I stand outside the car, staring. Amazed.

  "Whoa."

  And Logan's watching me. Watching my face, my every reaction.

  "When did you buy this?" I ask.

  "A few years back. My dad left me some money when he passed--turned out to be legally earned, which was surprising."

  "Your father died in prison?" Logan had told me some things about his father when we chatted during my study breaks, while I was pulling an all-nighter at the NYU library and he was on duty. "I'm sorry."

  "Don't be. Wasn't much of a loss. Most helpful thing the bastard ever did for me was die." He shrugs. "Anyway, remember when I went to Wessco for that one week?"

  I do. I remember it felt like a month.

  "Took care of the paperwork then, his burial. And one afternoon it was sunny and I was just driving around, clearing my head, nowhere to go . . . so I took out a coin and started flipping it for directions."

  I laugh. "My GPS! You got that from me."

  His eyes drift over my face. "Yeah, I did."

  Hot little bursts go off inside me--excitement, pride--a thrilling sense that Logan was thinking about me even when he was so far away.

 
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