Royally endowed, p.12
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       Royally Endowed, p.12

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
 
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  "And it led me here. It was for sale as-is, not even half finished when I first came across it--just the foundation and the ground floor. But it was a good foundation--solid. Something I could build on. Something that would last."

  He gazes up at the house, and I examine his profile. That strong, straight jaw, the full, lush curve of his mouth as he speaks in that accent I adore.

  "I hired a builder to finish the job, put a roof on her, used the original plans--they came with the house. And I had a groundskeeper maintaining the property while we were in New York, making sure the squatters stayed out and the vermin didn't move in. But since we've been home, I've been working on the inside. Finishing it--making it livable."

  I look up at the house--it's sturdy, secure, and the land around it is quiet and serene. When it's done, it'll be a warm place . . . a safe, happy, wonderful place to come back to at the end of every day.

  A home.

  And it's like a sinkhole opens beneath my feet and I'm falling.

  "Are you staying in Wessco? When we all go home to New York, after the babies are born, are you . . . not coming with us?"

  He squints for a moment, like he doesn't understand the question. Then shakes his head, "Of course I'm coming back with you. You're . . . I mean, my job with the prince," he looks into my eyes, "it means everything to me."

  Logan lifts his hand toward his home. "This'll be for later, a place to eventually settle. Or maybe it'll be an investment."

  And my feet are back on solid ground again.

  "Do you want to see the inside?"

  I nod so hard I bounce. "Yes, I'd love to."

  We walk up the path together, side by side. Logan puts his large hand on my lower back, and my skin tingles, burns. "Careful, there's some debris--don't want you to fall."

  But he'd catch me if I did.

  The inside of Logan's house looks Victorian in style--a large staircase with a thick square railing in the foyer, an open layout with big rooms, high ceilings, wood floors that have been sanded but not yet lacquered. Logan reaches up and tugs on a cord, lighting the bare bulb that hangs from a long wire where, one day, a chandelier will be. The walls are unfinished, open, exposing the solid wood beams, brick, and electrical wires.

  With hushed footsteps, because it feels strangely like walking somewhere sacred, I follow Logan from room to room. In what will be the living room, there's only a mattress on the floor, covered by a clean sheet and folded blanket. That's where Logan sleeps--where he lays his head and body every night. Maybe his bare body.

  It calls to me--makes me want to lie down on it, press my naked skin against the same fabric his has touched and roll around, bathing my body in his scent.

  And I don't care how crazy it sounds.

  Despite the lack of appliances--there are just empty spaces and protruding wires where the stove and refrigerator will be--the kitchen is inviting. Muted, gray marble countertops, cherry cabinets, a tiled backsplash of one-inch white and clear glass squares. There's a window above the stainless-steel sink, with a view of the backyard that would make even doing the dishes something to look forward to.

  "You need curtains," I say.

  "I don't have walls."

  I laugh. "Curtains make a house a home, Logan. They're the eyebrows of a house. Have you ever seen how freaky someone looks with no eyebrows? You don't want to do that to this place--all the other houses will make fun of it."

  And he laughs--a deep, rich rumble in his chest that I want to feel against my cheek.

  His fingertips slide up my arm. "Come on, the best part's upstairs. I want to show you."

  Logan takes a flashlight from the counter to light our way up the stairs, down the hall into the rounded tower room. It's what will one day be the master bedroom. It's enormous, as big as our whole apartment above the coffee shop in New York.

  But that's not the best part.

  That honor goes to the ceiling. It's a skylight--all of it--displaying the dark expanse of night and hundreds of twinkling stars, like the heavens are the ceiling.

  "There are shades built into the glass," Logan explains. "They'll close with the push of a button, so I don't end up sunburned in my sleep."

  "Logan . . ." I gasp. "It's magical."

  He's standing close to me, his arm just a breath's away from mine. His grin is easy and relaxed. "I'm glad you like it, Ellie."

  My voice becomes breathless, words slipping from my lips without a worry or thought. "Just when I think you can't amaze me more, you show me this."

  He turns to face me, his chin dipping. "I amaze you?"

  "All the time. You always have."

  And here in this dim room, with the light aimed downward, it feels secret and safe. Charming and perfect. Another world--another dimension, where nothing and no one else exists. Just Logan and me, together, in this moment, beneath the stars.

  "Logan?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Do you . . . do you ever think of me?"

  He doesn't blink or turn away. His dark eyes shine in the shadows, holding my gaze.

  "Do I . . .?"

  The shrill sound of his phone ringing stops his words. Logan slips the phone from his pocket and puts it to his ear.

  "Yeah?" His forehead creases and he covers his other ear with his hand, trying to hear. "What? Where are you? All right, all right--I'm coming now."

  He punches the disconnect button.

  "We have to go."

  We drive in silence, Logan's whole demeanor changed with that call. He looks at the road with a do-not-fuck-with-me expression and a death grip on the steering wheel. His shoulders are tense and his forearms are corded. As we drive, I notice that the scenery around us changes. The suburban homes fade into run-down buildings with graffiti, barbed-wire gated lots, abandoned houses and storefronts with black iron bars on every window.

  We pull down a dark street and park at the curb in front of a ramshackle house. Logan reaches under his seat and takes out a small, black handgun. It's mini, kind of cute, as far as guns go--if you can look past the whole capable-of-blowing-brains-out thing. He lifts my hand and wraps it around the butt of the gun.

  "Tell me the rules," he says.

  Immediately, I know what he's referring to. A few weeks after Logan showed me how to throw a punch and strapped a knife to my ankle, he took me to a gun range. So I'd know how to use a weapon if I ever needed to, without shooting myself in the process. There were rules he made me repeat back to him more than once: "Don't put my finger on the trigger unless I'm going to pull it. Don't point at anyone unless I plan to shoot them. Don't shoot anyone unless I want to kill them."

  "Good." He nods.

  "You stay in the car with the doors locked. If someone tries to break the window to get in, don't wait, don't warn, you point and you pull the trigger--and you keep pulling until it stops firing. Do you hear me, Ellie?"

  I nod, looking across the street and out the window. Then I whisper, "Logan, are we in the taint?"

  The corners of his mouth quirk. "Yeah we are. If I'd had a choice I wouldn't have brought you here, but I couldn't leave you alone at the house."

  A crash and yells come from inside the house.

  "I have to go in." He looks me in the eyes. "Stay in the fucking car, Ellie. Yeah?"

  "Okay, I will."

  And he's gone. Charging up the steps, through the front door.

  Silence closes in tight around me. It's eerie--no cars are honking, no one out walking and talking, there's not even a dog barking. Those are the sounds of a city, the sounds of life. The absence of those sounds means life has moved away or is too afraid to come out. In either case, it's not a place you want to be.

  The screen door of the house bursts open--snapping back with a bang and falling off its hinges. Logan stands on the front steps and literally throws a guy down onto the pavement. He lands hard but gets to his feet quickly, gripping a long butcher knife in his hand. Logan shakes his head and goes after him. My heart crawls into my throat when th
e guy swings the knife at Logan's stomach, but he jumps back, grabs the guy's arm and twists his hand back at an unnatural angle. The guy drops the knife and falls to his knees, screaming.

  Logan drags him up and slams him face first on the hood of the car.

  "That's enough, Logan. That's enough." A woman comes out of the house--older, short, with more gray than black in her long, dark hair. Behind her a few more people spill out, but there's one girl in particular who catches my attention.

  She's thin, maybe in her thirties, with the same dark hair, but her face . . . she looks strikingly like Logan.

  And that's when I know--these people are his family. The one he almost never talks about. The guy still pinned to the hood of the car looks like Logan too--probably a cousin, maybe a brother.

  Logan kicks away the knife on the ground, then takes his phone out of his back pocket.

  "What are you doing?" the younger woman asks. They all stand around him, just outside the car.

  "I'm callin' the cops to come get him."

  "You can't do that," the older woman says. "He's already out on bail--they'll lock him up for good."

  "Good."

  The woman jabs her finger at her chest. "He's my son."

  Logan points at the house. "He went after his cousin with a knife--"

  The younger woman moves in then. "You've been gone too long, Logan. Ian's the best earner we have."

  There are rumbles of agreement from the crowd.

  "What the hell are me and Mum supposed to do if he's locked up?"

  "Get a job, for Christ's sake! An honest one. Go to school, make a life for yourself!"

  "This is our life!"

  Logan shakes his head, looking disgusted.

  And his sister sneers.

  "You think you're so high and mighty? Saint fucking Logan, rubbing arses with the royals. Well fuck you--you're no better than the rest of us."

  "Oh yeah, I am," Logan swears.

  And she slaps him, hard and loud and right across the face. I see his head snap to the side. My mind goes blank. White, with righteous fucking rage.

  When the bitch goes to slap Logan again, I climb out of the car, point the gun to the sky and pull the motherfucking trigger.

  BOOM!

  For a little gun, it's got one hell of a blast.

  I have their attention now. And the rules go right out the window.

  I wave the gun at Logan's sister. "You call him for help, he drops everything and comes here, then you fucking slap him? I. Don't. Think. So."

  They don't get to treat him like this. Not while I'm here.

  "Ellie . . ." Logan says sharply.

  "You will not hit him again. Ever again! Got that?"

  "Ellie," Logan says, softer--because I'm screaming now. And my hand is shaking just a little.

  "I want you to apologize to him--right fucking now."

  She clenches her jaw shut and murders me with her eyes.

  I lower my arm, aiming at her foot. And I'll do it, I swear--it won't kill her but I bet it'll hurt like a bitch.

  "And make me believe you mean it or you lose a motherfucking toe."

  "Ellie!" Logan barks.

  But I ignore him.

  The douchebag brother laughs and the mother seems interested in personally ripping my head off just as soon as she possibly can. But my gaze stays pinned to the sister.

  Slowly, she turns to Logan, her voice just a little less hateful. "I'm sorry, Logan."

  With that, my anger dissipates. Leaving me drained . . . and sad. Because it shouldn't have been like this for him--he should've been loved and supported and admired. Not this--not these awful people.

  I shake my head at them.

  "You don't deserve him. Not any of you."

  And I lower the gun.

  "Can we please go home now, Logan?"

  He backs off from where he still has his brother pinned to the car, and his brother slinks into the house, cradling his hand. Then Logan turns toward his mother, quiet and firm. "Don't call me again, Mum. I won't come."

  When we're both in the car, I hand him the gun, barrel down. He takes it without comment, clicks the safety and puts it back under the seat.

  "Are you okay?" I ask.

  "I'm good."

  Logan pulls away from the curb, down the street and onto the highway. Away from this sad place.

  I breathe out a long breath. "So that's your family."

  "That's them."

  I watch him as he drives. Because I can; because I like being this close to him. "You should be so proud."

  "Proud?" he scoffs, disbelieving.

  "Proud that you are who you are. Of what you've made of yourself . . . if that's where you started out."

  "Thanks," he says a minute later. "And, I'm grateful for what you said back there. You, sticking up for me like that . . . it was cute."

  "Cute?" I say it like it's a dirty word.

  "Very cute?" Logan tries.

  "I was hardcore. I was scary--threatening. Grrrr."

  And the bastard laughs at me. If he didn't look so gorgeous doing it, I'd be pissed. Except not really.

  "You promised you'd stay in the car," he reminds me.

  "Yeah, well since me getting out of the car prevented you from getting slapped again," I put an accent on my words, imitating Logan. "I'm gonna put this one down as a win."

  He laughs again.

  After flashing his ID at the security checkpoint, Logan drives through the rear gate of the palace. He pulls around to the west-side courtyard, to the exterior entrance of Nicholas and Olivia's apartments. There's a uniformed guard outside the door, but we're parked far enough away, under a tree, that it feels private. Intimate. The air in the car is close and I inhale his scent--wood, and crisp air and man. I watch the pulse in his neck thrum, slow and steady, and I want to lean over and kiss him softly right in that spot.

  And this is it. It's go-time. Do or die. Now . . . or never.

  "I have to tell you something, Logan."

  "It's late, Elle. You should--"

  "But--"

  "You should go in, now."

  The words come easier than I thought they would. Simpler. Because they're just the truth.

  "I like you, Logan."

  His eyes slide closed, but he's not shocked. "Ellie--"

  "I always have. It's always been you. Always."

  "You don't want to--"

  "And more than that . . ."

  "Don't--"

  "I want you. I want you so much, some nights it feels like my skin is on fire. My bones burn with it."

  "Fucking hell--"

  "I can't think, I can't eat . . . When I sleep, you're all I see." I rub my neck, and everything inside is needy and tight. "When I touch myself . . ."

  "Christ, Ellie--" He sounds like he's drowning.

  ". . . you're all I feel. You, Logan."

  And then he stops talking. But I know he hears me.

  "Do you want me, Logan? Do you feel it too?"

  His throat ripples when he swallows and I want to lick him there. Suck on him with my lips--right in the center of his throat, that thick, manly Adam's apple.

  When he speaks, his teeth are gritted.

  "No, I don't want that. That's . . . not what this is for me."

  His words are crushing. My ribs squeeze and my chest tightens too hard to take a breath. And it hurts . . . it hurts so damn much. I'd hoped and I wanted . . . and I thought I sensed something from Logan tonight, something I felt, that he felt for me . . .

  But then, I don't just draw a breath--I gasp.

  Because I'm looking at him--really looking at him--maybe for the very first time. With new, open eyes. I'm looking into the face of the man who showed me how to spot a liar.

  His expression is blank and rigid. His brown eyes are flat. Dull.

  "Their look will seem unnatural . . . off," he'd said. "Any time someone has to put effort into their words, you can bet what they're saying is a steaming crock of shit," he'd
told me.

  And slowly, I smile.

  "You're lying."

  SHE'S TRYING TO KILL ME.

  With her words, her looks, her innocent touches--brushes of her arm and hip as she passes me--and with the tiny, tempting outfit she's wearing today. Bloody Christ--my head's a mess. Has been a mess since she smiled at me in the car last night, a smile that was confident and sure, as she called me a liar. Even when I denied it, Ellie wasn't having it.

  "You are so lying right now--holy shit!"

  My voice is cold, harsh--for both our sakes.

  "Ellie, I don't feel--"

  "Do you like me, Logan?"

  I swallow hard. "Not like that, no."

  "That's a lie too!" she squeaks, completely delighted. "It's like a superpower! Is this how it feels to be you?"

  Ellie lifts her hand towards my chest and I jump back in the small confines of the vehicle as if her hand is on fire. Bad move.

  "Are you scared, Logan?"

  Fucking terrified. Of a girl. A small, seductive, beautiful girl who could wreck me.

  "I don't get scared."

  "I scare you. With the family you grew up in, it's understandable. This thing between us--"

  "There's nothing between us, Ellie."

  She waves her hand dismissively. "Of course there's something between us." Then she leans closer and lowers her voice. Changing tactics. "Do you want to kiss me, Logan?"

  And just the words, the mere suggestion, brings such scorching images to my brain--of the magnificence of what kissing sweet Ellie could be--sucking lips, nipping teeth and wet, searching tongues.

  I sound like a man being tortured, because I am--in the truest sense of the word.

  "No."

  Ellie wets her lips and her chest heaves, bringing her breasts nearer--I would just have to lower my head just an inch to taste her.

  "Liar," she whispers.

  And I growl. "Ellie . . . fuck."

  "Yeah, we'll get to that." She smiles, so damn cute I want to kiss the hell out of her, then turn her over my knee, lift her dress, spank her then kiss her there too.

  I press my fists into my eyes, trying to force the thoughts out. Trying to regain control of the situation.

  "Ellie . . .," I point towards the palace. "Go to your room."

  Pathetic.

  Her eyes sparkle. "Do you want to come with me?"

  Hell, yes.

  "I don't."

  Her blue gaze gentles, gliding over my face, before turning to stare out the front window with a sigh. Then, by some miracle, Ellie steps out of the car.

  But before closing the door she leaves me with one giddy parting reply.

 
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