Royally endowed, p.13
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       Royally Endowed, p.13

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
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  "That's a lie too."

  After Ellie was safely inside the palace, I went back to my house--and found no peace.

  Because she was there--I could smell her, as if she'd infused the walls with her orange-blossom scent--I could see her in every room, as if she'd left her spirit behind. I heard her words in my head--the most perfect words she'd ever spoken to me.

  I want you so much . . .

  When I touch myself . . .

  And then I did the same. Fisted my cock and imagined it was her delicate hand on my hot flesh. I thrashed on that mattress, jerked myself off hard and fast, and when I came, my back arched and it was her name that tore from me, echoed off my empty walls.

  Still, I couldn't sleep. I jerked off again, slower the second time, drawing it out, picturing her lithe body skimming down my torso--all the things she'd do to me if I let her. All the things she'd let me do to her. Eagerly. Filthy, dark, offensive things--the places I'd fuck her, all the spots she'd let me come--in her mouth, on her tits, in her hair, on her arse, buried deep in her tight, hot pussy.

  It's as though the floodgates have opened and all the desire I've had for her, all the thoughts I've kept at bay, are now raging free and out of control. It would be so easy to give in. So bloody fantastic--I ache with how good it would be.

  But then I ache for a different reason.

  Because I would lose everything. All that I've built through the years--my duty, my noble calling. It's all I have. The lads on the team, the royals--they're the only family I've got. And if I cross that line with Ellie, set one toe over it, it's gone. Up in smoke. No going back, not after that.

  Fuck me.

  I thought about calling in sick for my shift, just to avoid the unholy temptation. But it seemed cowardly.

  So now I'm here, in the late afternoon, at The Horny Goat, watching Ellie sing and dance onstage--doing everything she can to break my resistance. To tempt me, tease me, bloody mesmerize me.

  And it's working.

  I should have been a fucking coward.

  "Ellie's really belting them out, huh?" Tommy says.

  That she is. She's been through a whole playlist of meaningful songs at the karaoke machine: "What About Love," "Angel of the Morning," "Silver Springs."

  I'm not an idiot. I know what she's saying. Saying to me.

  And now she starts a new song--"Piece of My Heart". I watch her--can't watch anything else. She really gets into it--closing her eyes and crooning like Janis fucking Joplin. Tugging her hair, shaking her arse.

  And I'm hard. As stone.

  All for Ellie.

  She circles her pelvis, and I imagine gripping those slim hips and holding on while she rides me. Grinds her pussy right on my cock.

  "Almost like she's singing to someone." Tommy nudges me.

  I grunt.

  And the tosser's eyes practically twinkle. "Something you want to share with the class, Lo?"


  "Take it . . ." Ellie sings, like a needy plea.

  And fuck me, the thought of her begging sweetly, on her back looking up at me with those big blue eyes, drives me straight to the edge. I actually take a step towards the bloody stage--I want to grab her, toss her over my shoulder and carry her cute arse out of there like a caveman. Like she belongs to me.

  Instead I turn my back on the stage, eyeing the shiny bottles behind the bar. I've never been much of a drinker--but I could use about a dozen shots right now.

  "I'm gonna take off. Check on things at that palace, then punch out early," I tell Tommy.

  And I don't even feel bad about doing it. Because self-preservations kicks cowardice right in the balls.

  Tommy nods, slow and knowing. "You do that. I'm on Ellie detail for the rest of the night. Run, Forrest, run."

  I flip him off.

  And walk out the door, Ellie's voice chasing after me as I go.

  I leave the car with Tommy at the pub and hoof it back to the palace. To take my mind off Ellie, I check on the progress of the investigation into Lady Olivia and Prince Nicholas's stalker. We still haven't caught the fucker. It's like he's a ghost, dropping his nasty notes here and there, then evaporating into the ether. And it's escalating. The last one came with photographs. Shots of Olivia in the palace gardens, picnicking with her friend, Simon Barrister's wife, Lady Francis, and their three-year-old boy, Jack.

  The photos weren't taken with a long-range lens--which means the bastard was on the palace grounds. And that's why he sent them: because he wanted us to know he'd slipped inside. That he's getting closer. We pumped up security around the perimeter, but it still eats at me. A niggling worry. As Winston said, obsessed nutters come with the territory. They're common for people as well known and powerful as the royal family--for every thousand subjects who adore them, there's one who wants to see them burn like witches.

  But this one's uncomfortably persistent. And bold. Gives me a bad vibe, and I make a note to follow up directly with Winston tomorrow.

  Around dinnertime, I drive away from the palace, but I don't go home. I can't--too many temptations there. The priests always said masturbation could turn us blind--and I like my eyesight the way it is.

  Instead, I go to Katy's Pub. I'm greeted when I enter, loosen my tie, grab a pint at the bar and head into the back room to shoot some pool. The room is windowless and dim. A top-notch place to block things from the outside, to pass the time so fast you don't realize it's passing. A space to forget . . . and hide.

  I play a few rounds with the regulars. Then shoot on my own, focusing on the simple act of knocking a billiard ball into the cup. It's relaxing, centering--sort of like my idea of yoga. A bit later, after I land the eight ball in the corner pocket, I straighten up and stretch my neck. I head back out to the bar for another pint.

  But when I step into the outer room, I see the other patrons and Kathleen holding her daughter in her arms, gathered around the bar. Silent and serious--they're all focusing on the small television screen mounted to the wall in the corner.

  The cue in my hand drops to the floor with a crack.

  For a moment I can't move, can't think--can't even fucking breathe.

  Because of the image on that screen.

  The image of black smoke pouring out the windows of The Horny Goat. Of red-hot flames licking the wind and climbing up the walls. Encompassing it--devouring it--obliterating it from the world. Like it had never been there at all.

  "Poor Macalister," someone whispers. "Hope he's all right."

  And it's as if my soul turns to dust, like I'm a statue of sand disintegrating in the breeze. Because I know--I know it in my bones--Ellie is in there.

  In a heartbeat, I'm out the door. Running, muscles stretching and screaming--sprinting faster than I ever have. It's like I'm running for my life . . . because I am.

  I pump my arms and turn the corner, my shoes slapping the pavement. But it feels like I'm moving through liquid. Through gelatin. Like that nightmare everyone has--I push and lean and strain and reach but I can't go fast enough.

  Move, move, fucking move!

  Her face flashes in my mind. Smiling. Laughing. Her dancing eyes and flittering gait.

  I promised her. I swore I would keep her safe. Be her guard, her wall, so she could fly free. And I will not fucking fail her.

  I can smell the smoke now. If I look up I'll see the gray mist and the ash in the air, but I won't look. My eyes are on the ground, one foot in front of the next. Bringing me closer. To her.

  I'm coming. Almost there.

  There's no space for sorrow or recriminations. Not yet.

  I see it in my mind--how it'll go. How I'll get to her, find her, wrap her in my arms--shield her from the heat. Carry her away from the flames. I'll be there for her.

  I'll save her.

  Because that's who I am. That's what I do. Why I'm here--the only reason I'm here.

  And she belongs to me.

  Ellie is mine to have and to hold. To save and keep. Forever and always.
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  At last, I see The Goat ahead of me. My eyes find the door, engulfed in flames. I push and leap and shove my way through the crowd. The heat is on my face, blistering against my skin--suffocating and scorching. My lungs strangle on the acrid smoke that coats the air. But it doesn't matter--she's in there, so that's where I need to be.

  I clear the crush of people and am just a few steps from the door . . . when I'm hit, tackled from behind and knocked to the ground.

  My heart roars, even if my throat can't. I push and fight, ready to destroy whatever's stopping me.

  But another weight piles on, and another, pinning me down.

  Later, I learn it's the firefighters, gripping me, holding on. They're shouting in my ear, but I don't hear them. I only see the door.

  And then I'm shouting. Screaming my lungs raw.

  For her. Calling her name.

  But I can't hear my own voice.

  It's drowned out, overwhelmed by the inferno and the deafening sound of cracking, splintering wood. As the roof of The Horny Goat caves in, sending an eruption of deep-red sparks into the air like a volcano.

  And anything or anyone--is consumed by flames.


  Olivia, the Duchess of Fairstone, my Lady and so much more, looks down at me with an ashen face, her eyes like two sapphires left out in the rain--hard and wet.

  I don't know if she means to sound accusatory but I hear the blame in her voice.

  Where were you? Why weren't you there? What were you doing, you worthless cunt?

  Or maybe . . . maybe it's just my own guilt, burning me alive.

  I open my mouth to answer, but the words are lodged behind the lump in my throat. I have to clear it to speak.

  "She was with Tommy. I left off early."

  We're in the front parlor of Guthrie House. Where we've gathered--me, Olivia, Nicholas, Henry and Sarah--to wait for news while the fire marshals investigate and Winston and his army of Dark Suits chase down leads. Evan Macalister, the owner of The Goat, is in the hospital being treated for smoke inhalation. Tommy's one floor below him, unconscious with a concussion from a falling beam. Both of them were dragged from the burning building; the other patrons all made it out on their own.

  Except Ellie.

  "Why?" Olivia asks.

  I rub my eyes. "I don't . . ." Hold it together. Don't you fucking break, now. "I can't remember . . ."

  When I was seventeen, in the military, I watched a man die next to me. Sniper shot came in, got him right in the heart. I remember seeing the hole in his jacket, the fabric singed around the edges. He didn't bleed, not right away. And he didn't fall at first; he stayed standing.

  A dead man standing--looking down at the wound in his chest. Waiting to bleed out.

  That's what I am now.

  The pain's there--an exquisite, intense agony, the likes of which I have never known. But I don't feel it. I can sense it, like it's shored up on the other side of a wall, a rising tide.

  And I have to hold it off, just a little while longer.

  I can't think of her. Can't picture her face in my mind. Those haunting blue eyes--the most beautiful I've ever seen. The sound of her voice . . . her laugh. One wrong word, one thought, and the anguish will surge over the wall. It'll send me to my knees and I don't think . . . I don't see how I'll ever get up again.

  Prince Nicholas walks into the room, his expression drawn and hesitant. Olivia sees it too.

  "What is it?" She glances past his shoulder, waiting to see if anyone follows behind him. "They told you something--I can see it in your face. What is it, Nicholas?" Olivia's voice sharpens, bordering on hysterical, and the sound echoes in my veins. "You have to tell me!"

  He clasps her arm, pets her hair, then rests his palm on her round stomach. "Easy, love. Be easy."

  Then Nicholas looks down at the ground. "They found something--a phone--that they think may be Ellie's. They want to see if you can identify it."

  Olivia nods, and her husband gestures to the man just outside the door. He steps in and presents a clear plastic bag. Inside is a charred, mangled heap. When he turns it over, I see traces of the pale pink phone case--and remnants of what used to be an E etched in rhinestones.

  She bought it on a Sunday, at one of the craft tables at the spring market, just a few days after we'd arrived in Wessco. It had seemed like a common, trinkety thing to me--but to Ellie it was a treasure. Handmade--not another exactly like it in the world, she'd said. And she'd smiled so brightly. So happy.

  Olivia stares at it for a few moments, and then her face just crumples. She covers her mouth with her hands and this sound comes from her throat--an awful, wheezing, keening sound, the kind a mother dog makes when her pups are taken away.

  Nicholas pulls her into his arms but she struggles, grasping and twisting at the front of his shirt with her fingers, tears streaming down her face. "I would know, Nicholas. Listen to me. I would feel it. I would know if she was . . ."

  Olivia squeezes her eyes closed and shakes her head.

  And my wall weakens and cracks.

  "I don't believe it." She whispers, like a prayer or a wish. "I don't believe it."

  "Shhh . . ." Nicholas holds her face, wipes her tears with his thumb and swears, "Then I won't believe it either."

  They stare into each other's eyes for a moment, then Olivia takes a deep sniffling breath and tries to pull herself together. She rubs at her damp cheeks with one hand and cradles her stomach with the other. "My dad . . . I have to call him. I don't want him to hear about it on the news . . ."

  Henry rises, but keeps hold of Lady Sarah's hand where she's seated near the fireplace. "Granny has already spoken to your father. The jet's on its way to New York. To bring him here."

  The reality of what that means presses down on me--that the Queen herself doesn't believe this will eventually end with a phone call from Ellie, explaining a silly misunderstanding or mishap.

  She thinks it will end some other way. A way that requires Eric Hammond be here with his one remaining daughter, because she'll need him. They'll need each other.

  And the tide inches higher.

  I stand up, quick and stiff, a good tin soldier.

  "I have to go."

  I have to get out of here.

  "I'll head to the hospital, see if Tommy's awake yet. I'll report in if he says anything."

  As soon as Prince Nicholas gives me the nod, I'm out the door. Almost running.

  But in the hall, a voice stops me.


  It's Lady Sarah. Slowly, I turn to face her, and her big brown eyes swim with compassion.

  "I just . . . I just want you to know, whatever happens, this isn't your fault. I know it can feel like it," she shakes her head, "but it isn't."

  She's a kind lass. Gentle. It radiates from her and wraps around anyone nearby like a comforting blanket. It's why Henry is so protective of her--why he guards her so carefully.

  But at this moment, that comfort could shatter me.

  So, without a word, I nod, my face tight, hard--probably angry. Then I bow quickly and leave as fast as I can.

  It's in the sterile, cold hospital, outside Tommy's room, that I realize I look like day-old dog shit. My cheek and hands are scraped bloody from the firefighters pressing me to the gravel. I'm covered in black soot and smell like a fire pit from hell. Strangers pass, raking their gazes over me with varying expressions of shock, concern and wariness.

  And I don't fucking care. I feel nothing.

  Somewhere a television's on--a news update on the fire, but I block it out.

  My eyes meet the kelly-green orbs of Janey Sullivan, Tommy's fiery redheaded older sister, through the window into his hospital room. Without hesitating, Janey comes out and hugs me with long, strong arms.

  "Hey, Lo."

  I lift my chin at the view of Tommy, closed-eyed and unnaturally still in the hospital bed.

  "How's he doin'?"

  Janey cocks her head. "My brother'
s always been hard-headed--this time it came in handy. The doctor says he'll be fine . . ."

  Beside Tommy's bed Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan chat away, having a whole conversation with their son without him saying a word.

  ". . . as long as my mum and da don't talk him to death."

  I snort, but just can't muster a smile. Then Janey's face sobers and her voice goes softer. "They're sayin' Duchess Olivia's sister is missin'."

  Heat rises in my throat, sealing it up.

  I nod.

  "Tommy said you two were close?"

  A thousand memories rush me at once and I shut my eyes to focus on pushing them back.

  "Oh, Logan. I'm so sorry."

  I shake my head, rub my stinging eyes. "They're still looking. Nothing's official."

  Janey puts her hand on my shoulder, squeezing. "If you need anything, we're here. You're family too. Most times we like you even better than Tommy."

  That gets a tug from my lips--not quite a grin, but a bit better than a frown. It's like Tommy said--Janey's badass.

  I point towards the door to his room. "Can I see him?"

  "Yeah, sure. Come on--I'll drag my parents downstairs to get something to eat so you can sit with him a bit. It'll give his ears a rest."

  After the Sullivans leave the room, I sit in the chair next to Tommy, taking note of his terrible coloring--he's almost as white as the sheets. There's a bandage on the back of his head, covering a couple dozen staples and stitches they said he needed to close the gash.

  I look at him hard, willing my best friend to open his eyes.

  "I'm losin' my fuckin' mind, here, Tommy. I need you to wake up, mate." I lean forward, bracing my elbows on my knees. "I need you to tell me you know where she is. You dropped her off somewhere . . . or she left with some bloke--I don't even care. As long as she's safe. As long as she's all right."

  There's a pressure on the back of my eyes that blurs my vision. And my voice cracks. "I really fuckin' need you to do that. You're the only hope I've got left."

  Regret is the sharpest blade. It stabs, slices off pieces of my insides as I drive home. It's dark now and raining. A cold, steady downpour that saturates your clothes and numbs your skin.

  But I'm not numb.

  Because my wall has crumbled. Collapsed in great, heaving chunks. I don't fight the pain when it rushes me, consumes me. Sitting in the car in the driveway outside my house, I sink down into it, letting it swallow me whole, a thousand blades cutting at once.

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