Royally screwed, p.15
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       Royally Screwed, p.15
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  "Putz?" Olivia suggests.

  Henry snaps his fingers. "That's the one. Damian's a putz."

  "You're a putz." I lean over him. "You're being deported."

  "Oh well...thank God for diplomatic immunity, then." He shrugs. "I was thinking of visiting Amsterdam anyway."

  "Oh no, little brother," I warn him. "You're going home. If I have to tie you like a hog and box you up in a crate to get you there, it's the only place you're going."

  He inhales deeply, like he's about to announce something profound, but all he comes out with is, "You're very cranky, Nicholas."

  I rub my eyes and shake my head. "Shut up, Henry."

  And then we head out the way we came in.

  Because of the time, I take Olivia home before I deal with Henry. We park around the back just in case--although, since the NYPD has been assisting us, the crowds outside Amelia's have been smaller. I walk her in, and Henry insists on tagging along.

  I suggest locking him in the trunk, but Olivia--sweethearted as she is--overrules me.

  And it looks like tonight is the night for little brothers and sisters, because when we walk into the kitchen from the alley, we find Ellie Hammond covered head to toe in flour and sugar. Her hair looks like a powdered wig from the Revolutionary period and "Pressure" by Billy Joel plays so loud in her earbuds, we can hear it across the room.

  She bounces and sings to the music, tossing white powder on the counter...and everywhere else.

  Then she turns around. And screams loud enough to wake the dead.

  "Jesus Christ!" She yanks her earbuds out. "Don't do that to me--you took like ten years off my life!"

  Olivia looks around the room, blinking. "What are you doing, Ellie?"

  The little blond smiles proudly and lifts her chin. "I'm helping. I mean, I know I've been doing the afternoon shifts but I figured, all this time you've been doing all the morning prep by yourself. So I got Mom's recipes out and figured I'd help with that too. There's only a few months left until I leave for school."

  Olivia's face goes soft and grateful. "Thank you, Ellie." Then she looks around the disaster area again. "I think."

  She engulfs the sugarcoated blond in her arms. "I love you."

  "I love you too," Ellie says into her shoulder.

  When she lifts her head, she spots my brother, leaning against the wall. With wide eyes, she shakes the flour from her hair like a dog shuddering off water.

  "Oh my God, you're Prince Henry."

  "I am, pet. But the more important question is, who are you?"

  "I'm Ellie."

  My brother smiles salaciously. "Hel-lo, Ellie."

  "She's a minor," I tell him.

  And the smile drops. He pats her head.

  "Good-bye, Ellie."

  Henry turns around. "I'll go wait in the car, after all." He yawns. "I could use a nap."

  The moment we walk into the suite, Tommy descends on us. "The Queen's on the line. On Skype, Your Grace." Anxiety rings in his voice like the ping of a tapped crystal glass. "She's been waiting. She does'na like to be kept waiting."

  I nod briskly. "Have David bring me a scotch."

  "Oh, me too!" Henry pipes up.

  "He'll have coffee," I tell Tommy.

  And I think Henry sticks his tongue out at me behind my back.

  I head into the library and he follows, seeming marginally closer to sober--at least he's walking straight and unassisted now. I sit behind the desk and open the laptop. On the screen, my grandmother looks back at me, wearing a pale pink robe, hair in rollers and a hairnet, gray eyes piercing, her expression as friendly as the grim reaper's.

  This should be fun.

  "Nicholas." She greets me without emotion.

  "Grandmother," I return, just as flat.

  "Granny!" Henry calls, like a child, coming around the desk into view. Then he proceeds to hug the computer and kiss the screen.

  "Mwah! Mwah!"

  "Henry, oh, Hen--" My grandmother swats the air with her hands, like he's actually there kissing her.

  And I do my damnedest not to laugh at them.

  "Mwah!"

  "Henry! Remember yourself! My gracious!"

  "Mmmmmwah!" He perches, grinning like a fool, on the arm of my chair, forcing me to shift over. "I'm sorry, Grandmother--it's just so good to see you."

  She doesn't say anything at first, but peers closer at the screen--and I know she's seeing all the same things I see about him. Something close to worry pinches her lips.

  "You look tired, my boy."

  "I am, Your Majesty," he says softly. "Very tired."

  "Then you'll come home, so you can rest. Yes?"

  "Yes, ma'am," he agrees.

  Then her voice goes sharp. "And I never want to hear a whisper about you and narcotics again. Do I make myself clear? I am very disappointed in you, Henry."

  And he actually looks contrite. "It was a friend's, Granny, not mine. But...it won't happen again."

  "See that it doesn't." She turns her attention to me. "I'm sending the plane for you. I want you back at the palace in twenty-four hours."

  My stomach plummets and it feels like my throat is closing in on itself.

  "I have commitments here that--"

  "Break them," she orders.

  "No, I won't do that!" I snap back, in a way I've never spoken to her in my life. In a way I would knock another man on his arse for speaking to my Queen.

  "Forgive me, Your Majesty, it's been a long night." I scrub my hand over my face. "I have commitments here that need to be handled delicately. I've...made promises. I'll need a bit more time to tie things up."

  She glares back like she can see right through me--and I have no doubt that she can. She's definitely heard all about Olivia by now, if not from the Dark Suits then in the papers and online.

  "Forty-eight hours and not a minute more," she says--her tone similar to the sound of a handler snapping the leash on his errant charge.

  My hands fist on the desk, out of view. "Very well."

  After we say our pleasantries, we disconnect and I close the screen. I boil in silence, until Henry speaks.

  "So...what's new?"

  And I smack him.

  Open-palmed and so hard the sound bounces off the walls.

  He reaches for the spot I'd struck. "Fuck! What the hell you'd do that for?"

  He jabs me with his elbow. I punch him in the ear. And the next thing I know we're rolling on the floor, cursing and pummeling each other.

  "Spoiled little fucker!"

  "Miserable bastard!"

  At some point during the scuffle, Logan pops his head in. "Never mind." Then he backs out and closes the door.

  Eventually, we call a draw, both too bloody worn out to continue. We sit on the floor, breathing hard, leaning back against the wall.

  Henry tests his lip where a trickle of blood drips. "You're really angry?"

  "Yes, Henry, I really am. I was planning on staying the summer here, in New York. With Olivia. Thanks to your little stunt, I can't do that now."

  He looks confused. "I thought you said she was underage."

  And I pray for patience. "That was Ellie. Olivia is the dark-haired one."

  "Oh." I feel him staring at me. "You really like her, then."

  "Yes," I agree, my voice rough and raw. "I do. And when we leave, I'll never see her again."

  "But, why not?"

  And it's only then that I remember how long he's been away. There's so much he doesn't know.

  I look my little brother in the face...and he does seem frighteningly tired.

  "A lot's been happening. I'll explain tomorrow, after you've gotten a good night's sleep."

  I stand up, brush my trousers off and straighten my collar. "I'm going to see Olivia. I'll be back in a bit."

  Just as I reach the door, Henry calls my name. I turn around.

  "I'm sorry, Nicholas. I'm sorry that I ruined all your plans."

  And the bracelets on my wrist seem to hug tight
er.

  I walk back to him and crouch down. Then I roll up my sleeve, unclip the silver bracelet and pool it in his upturned palm. Henry's eyes mist over as he looks at it.

  "You kept it safe for me."

  "Of course I did." I rest my forehead against his, squeezing the back of his head with my hand. "It's good to have you back, Henry. Everything's going to be all right now, yeah?"

  "Yeah."

  It's just after sunrise when I pull up to the back alley behind Amelia's. Again. The sky is still pink and gray and I know the sign in the front window still reads CLOSED. I walk through the now spotless kitchen and follow the sound of soft music to the dining area.

  Then I cross my arms, lean against the propped open doorway, and enjoy the show.

  Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing on the television--a song about islands in streams--and Olivia sweeps the floor with a broom, unaware of my presence.

  But she's not just sweeping--she's dancing.

  Arse-shaking, hip-swiveling, knee-bending, gorgeous dancing--occasionally sliding down and up the broomstick like it's a pole or a microphone.

  Christ, she's lovely.

  My lips stretch into a smile and my cock goes so hard it's painful.

  Silently, I slip up behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist, making her squeak and the broomstick crack when it hits the floor. She turns in my arms, her hands locked around my neck--pressing against me, all warmth and goodness.

  "I'm a much better partner than a broomstick."

  She arches her pelvis, pressing and rubbing against my erection.

  "And better endowed." Olivia reaches up and kisses my mouth so sweetly. "How's Henry?"

  I stroke her hair and gaze at her face, feeling like a hole's opening up inside me. A barren, painful emptiness that's an echo of how it felt when they told me my mother was gone.

  "I have to leave, Olivia. We have to go home."

  She stops dancing. Her delicate hands grasp me tighter, and her mouth narrows into a sad little bud.

  "When?" she asks in a soft voice.

  "Two days."

  Her gaze touches my eyes, my lips, my jaw, as if she's committing them all to memory. Then she lowers her head, resting her cheek against my chest, right over my heartbeat.

  Dolly and Kenny sing about sailing away together...to another world.

  "That soon?"

  I press her closer. "Yes."

  We start to rock together in time to the music--and suddenly the words just come out.

  "Come with me."

  Olivia's head pops up. "What?"

  The more I talk, the more brilliant the idea becomes. "Spend the summer in Wessco with me. You can stay in the palace."

  "The palace?"

  "I'll take care of everything. I'll show you the city--it's beautiful, especially at night. It'll take your breath away. And I'll take you to the seaside--we'll swim naked in the waves and freeze our arses off."

  She laughs, and I'm laughing with her.

  "It'll be an adventure, Olivia." I run my thumb across her cheek. "I'm not ready for this to be over yet. Are you?"

  She leans into my touch. "No."

  "Then say yes. Come with me."

  Consequences be damned.

  Her eyes are shiny with hope, her cheeks flushed with excitement.

  She holds me close and tells me, "Nicholas...I...I can't."

  IT's NOT THE ANSWER he's expecting. It's not the one I want to give. But it's the only option. His holds me roughly, almost desperately.

  "I want to, Nicholas--God, I want to. But I just can't leave."

  There's a crash from the kitchen--the harsh gong of metal pans hitting the floor. And then my little sister literally falls into the room.

  "Oh yes, you can!"

  "Ellie, what are you doing?"

  She picks herself up. "Eavesdropping. But that's beside the point--there's no way you're not going to freaking Wessco, Liv! For the summer! In a palace!" She spins around like she's in an imaginary ball gown. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you're not missing it. Not for me or for Dad or for this place. No way."

  I love my sister. No matter how much of a pain in the ass she can be, when it counts, her heart is golden all the way. But, that doesn't change the fact that in this case, she's wrong.

  "You still have weeks of school left. You can't run this place by yourself."

  She crosses her arms. "Marty can be here when I'm not. Business is frigging rocking. Thanks to all the illicit publicity of your torrid royal affair, we can afford to pay Marty for the extra time. And we can finally hire a dishwasher!"

  "It's not just about running the coffee shop, Ellie. There's the books to keep."

  "I can do that."

  "Ordering supplies and stock."

  "Pfft--I can totally do that."

  "Dealing with the vendors and delivery guys." I turn to Nicholas. "Some of them are total assholes." I look back and forth between them. "And a thousand other little things that you're too young and inexperienced to handle on your own."

  Ellie has no comeback for that, but she looks like she's about to cry.

  Until Nicholas raises his finger. "I have someone who can handle it with her."

  The next afternoon, I'm in my room--packing--because I'm going to Wessco. Forget butterflies, there's a flock of sparrows flapping and swirling in my stomach--a strange brew of excitement and nervousness. I've never flown on a plane. I don't even have a passport, but Nicholas made some phone calls and got me an emergency one this morning. I've never been on vacation, not counting the occasional weekend trips to the shore with my parents. And this isn't just any summer vacation--I'm going to another country, with its prince! To stay in a palace!

  Talk about "holy fuck" moments. This one's surreal.

  And still, it would all be perfect--except for one thing.

  My father. Sitting on my bed, following my every move with a worried, disapproving, guilt-heavy expression.

  "I can't believe you're really doing this, Liv. It's insane. You don't even know this guy."

  Defensiveness makes me jam my hairbrush into my duffel bag. "I do know him. You met him once too, though you probably don't remember."

  "I'd expect this kind of thing from your sister--she's always been flighty. But not you."

  In goes my favorite nail polish, bras and underwear, the rose and jasmine perfume Nicholas likes. "Exactly. I've always been the responsible one--carrying the water, holding down the fort. And now I have the opportunity to do something amazing." I can't stave off the hurt that seeps into my voice. "Why can't you be happy for me?"

  His eyes, the same color as mine, cloud over. "We need you here. Your sister needs you--you can't push your responsibilities off on her."

  "Ellie will be fine. I've made arrangements--she'll have all the help she needs."

  Logan St. James and Tommy Sullivan, Nicholas's security men, are staying for the summer. Staying to watch over Ellie and the business, to make sure she's not taken advantage of and help her in any way they can. Nicholas asked them to do it for him--as a personal favor--and they both agreed. Tommy seems particularly eager to stay. The Brooklyn girls, he says, really like his accent. I've seen for myself that they're good guys--and Nicholas trusts them, so I do too.

  "It's selfish," my father bites out, standing up.

  And I almost fall over. "Selfish? That's rich, coming from you."

  "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

  My voice rises and nine years of resentment comes screaming out.

  "We loved her too! You're not the only one who lost her! The day Mom died, Ellie and I lost both of you. You...you just checked out, Dad. Mom didn't have a choice, but you did!"

  He dips his head, not meeting my eyes. "This guy, Prince whatever-he-is...he's going to hurt you, Liv. When he leaves--and mark my words, he'll leave--it'll break you. I don't want to see that happen to my little girl."

  I zip up my bag and throw it over my shoulder. "I know exactly what I'm getti
ng into with Nicholas. We're going to have something wonderful for as long as we can. And when it's over, I'll look back and I'll remember that there was something special and amazing in my life...even if only for a little while. And then I'll come back and life will go on."

  I turn at the door, looking in the eyes of the man who was my hero.

  "I won't break, Dad. I'm not you."

  Down in the coffee shop, Nicholas waits by the door, while Ellie, Marty, Logan, and Tommy stand shoulder to shoulder along the wall.

  I approach Tommy and Logan first, touching both their arms. "Thank you for doing this. I know it's not your job, but I appreciate it so much."

  Logan nods, his gaze steady. "Don't worry, we'll look after things here. We'll take care of her."

  "And have fun in Wessco," Tommy says, smiling brightly. "Maybe you'll like it enough to stay."

  Logan shakes his head, exasperated, making me think he knows more than he lets on. "Shut up, Tommy."

  I move to Ellie and Marty. Ellie flings her vibrating self at me. "I'm going to miss you! But I want you to do everything--go everywhere!"

  I squeeze her as tight as I can, and my heart breaks just a little bit.

  "I'm going to miss you too. I know you can handle this, Ellie--you're going to do great. But be careful and listen to Marty and Logan and Tommy, okay?"

  "I will."

  Then Marty scoops me up, hugging me right off my feet. "Have the time of your life, girlfriend. And remember--pics or it didn't happen." He gives me a dirty wink and tilts his head toward Nicholas. "Take all the pics."

  I laugh and move toward the door. But a voice behind me freezes me in place.

  "Livvy."

  My father appears in the doorway. He walks up to me slowly and then wraps his arms around me in a strong, solid hug.

  Just the way he used to...before.

  He kisses my temple and whispers in my ear, "I love you, honey."

  And I feel the tears come and overflow. "I love you too, Daddy."

  A moment later, I pull away. I hiccup and give him a smile. Then I walk to Nicholas's side.

  As we turn to leave, my father calls out, "Nicholas. You take care of her."

  There's a distinct edge to his voice when he answers.

 
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