Royally screwed, p.16
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       Royally Screwed, p.16
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  "Yes. I will."

  Then he takes my hand and leads me out the door.

  The tears are still flowing as I climb in the limo--where Henry is waiting.

  "Oh no, she's crying. I hate it when girls cry. What did you do, Nicholas?" Then he raises his glass--filled with amber-colored liquid and ice. "Don't cry, Olive. Drink!"

  In the seat beside me, Nicholas tugs me closer. "Are you all right, sweets?"

  "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm just really emotional." I wipe under my eyes. "And I'm scared about the plane."

  Nicholas smiles, flashing his dimples. "You can hold onto my stick the whole time."

  I giggle, and Henry makes a grossed-out sound.

  "Is that a sexual reference? Bloody hell, it's going to be a disgusting summer."

  On the runway, outside the big, scary plane, Bridget, Nicholas's personal secretary, greets us. She reminds me of a favorite aunt--in a cheery violet suit and with an attitude that's both playful and efficient.

  "Oh my," she stutters when Nicholas first introduces me. "I didn't know you were bringing guests, Your Grace." Then she recovers--or at least tries to. "The Queen will be quite...surprised."

  She gives my hand a firm, friendly shake. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hammond. If there's anything you need during your visit, please don't hesitate to ask."

  I have a feeling taking my first flight on a private plane is going to ruin me for "normal" air travel forever. It reminds me of Old Rose in Titanic when she said, "The china had never been used. The sheets had never been slept in..."

  The interior of Royal I is all royal crests, creamy leather, and shining, polished wood. There are two fully appointed bedrooms in the back, and not just any bedrooms--these are beds fit for a queen. Literally. There are also two marble bathrooms with showers. The main fuselage has a dark wood desk and a computer and phones, a long leather couch and groups of four reclining seats that swivel around with gleaming wood tables in between.

  Two uniformed stewardesses are there to cater to our every whim--and they look like supermodels, both blond and tall, with little navy caps perched on their heads. The pilot bows to Nicholas before he enters the cockpit and I notice a change in Nicholas's demeanor--or maybe it's just a reaction to how the staff treat him--with supreme leader deference. Respect bordering on worship. He leads the way...and everyone else gladly follows.

  Takeoff is...absolutely terrifying.

  I keep my eyes closed the entire time and choke down the urge to puke. It's a good thing I hold Nicholas's hand instead of his "stick," because my grip is so strong I would've crushed it.

  And it's one of my favorite parts.

  In the air, after hot towels and cocktails, Nicholas asks Bridget about things at home. Political things. Her eyes skirt briefly to me and then Henry, and I wonder if this is classified information.

  But then she tells Nicholas, "The Queen has doubled her efforts to persuade Parliament to pass the trade and jobs packages, but talks remain...acrimonious. They want concessions."

  Henry sits up from the couch where he's lounged, plucking chords on a guitar--Nicholas told me once that Henry "fancied himself" the "rock star royal."

  "What kind of concessions?" the younger prince asks.

  "Concessions from the Queen," Bridget says uncomfortably. "And the royal family."

  "Two years is a long time to be gone, Henry," Nicholas explains. "Things have changed since you were last home."

  "Parliament has always been filled with a bunch of useless wankers." He scoffs.

  Nicholas tilts his head. "Now they're worse."

  A little later, Bridget instructs me on protocol. How to greet and behave around the Queen...and the heir apparent.

  "You'll have to be mindful of your interactions when you're in public. Everyone knows the princes; you'll be observed constantly. And we are a conservative country. No 'PDAs' as you young people call them."

  Huh. Sounds fun.

  "We're not that conservative," Henry objects. "You and Nicholas will just have to find a nice shadowy nook to get your public freak on. Or, if you really need to stick your tongue down someone's throat, I'm always available."

  Nicholas glares heatedly at his brother, who shrugs innocently. "Just putting it out there." Then his voice drops to whisper to me, "No one cares what I do."

  "Of course they care," Bridget consoles him.

  "You just don't care that they care," Nicholas says dryly.

  And Henry plays the intro of "Stairway to Heaven" on his guitar. "One of the perks of being second born."

  It's just before sunset when the plane lands in Wessco. A warm breeze, with a hint of ocean, fills the cabin when the plane doors are opened. There's a carpet on the steps leading down to the tarmac--purple, the color of royalty. Soldiers in full dress of red coats and shiny gold buttons and black boots gleaming in the fading sunlight line the path from the plane to the airport.

  Nicholas steps out first--I hear a deep bellowing call to attention from an officer on the ground and the snaps of hard heels against the stone pavement as the soldiers salute. I take a minute when I step out behind him to look, take it all in, so I'll remember.

  But then, as we get closer to the airport door, there's another sound, this one much more ominous. It's jeers and shouts--and it's coming from a crowd of people on the side of the building, cordoned off behind a fence. Some of them hold signs, and all of them look angry. And they're yelling and cursing--at us.

  What starts as a roar of indecipherable disdain becomes more individualized as we get closer.

  "I don't have a job and you're flying about in a fucking private plane! Bastards!"

  "Fuck you! Fuck the monarchy!"

  I stay close to Nicholas's back. He reaches behind, holding out his hand without turning, searching for me. I take it and he squeezes.

  "Stick it up your arses boys, and your grandmother's too!"

  Nicholas's back stiffens, but he keeps walking forward.

  Henry has an altogether different reaction.

  Though the security men try to keep him away from the fence, he swaggers right up to it and calls one of the men forward with a flick of his hand.

  Then Henry rears back...and spits on him.

  And the world explodes.

  People scream, the fence rattles, soldiers close in around us--jostling and pushing us toward the door. Nicholas pulls me forward by my hand, tucking me safely under his arm as we're practically carried into the building.

  Inside, after the shouts are drowned out behind the closed door, Nicholas turns on his brother.

  "What the hell were you thinking?"

  "I'm not going to let them talk to us that way! You didn't do anything, Nicholas!"

  "No, I didn't!" Nicholas shouts. "Because what I do matters. My words, my actions, have consequence. Spitting on people isn't going to win them over to our side!"

  Henry's green eyes flare and his cheeks are red with anger. "Fuck them! I don't need them on our side."

  Nicholas rubs his eyes. "They're our people, Henry. Our subjects. They're angry because there aren't any jobs. They're terrified."

  Henry glares at his brother, stubborn and unyielding. "Well, at least I did something."

  Nicholas snorts. "Yes. You made it worse. Congratulations."

  Taking my hand, he turns on his heel, telling James, "Olivia and I will ride alone in the first car. He can follow behind in the car with Bridget."

  No one hesitates to follow the command.

  And that is our welcome to Wessco.

  In the limo, Nicholas pours himself a drink from the cool blue-lit minibar in the center console. He's all tense muscles and scowly jaw. I rub his shoulders.

  "Are you okay?"

  He scrapes out a sigh. "I will be. Sorry about that, love." He plays with my hair. "This isn't how I wanted to bring you home."

  "Pfft." I wave my hand. "I grew up in New York, Nicholas. Protestors and crazy people on every corner. That was nothing--don't worry about me."<
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  I want to bring the playfulness back into those eyes, that delicious, devious smirk to his beautiful lips. I think about sliding down to the floor between his knees and giving him a blow job. But, to be honest, with the driver in front and his brother and so many staff members following behind us, I just don't have the guts to follow through.

  Instead, I squeeze up close to him, letting my boobs press against his arm. He kisses my forehead, breathing me in. And that seems to make him feel better.

  About an hour later, we pull onto the road that leads to the palace. Nicholas tells me to look out the window to see--and I'm gob-smacked.

  I've never used that word before: gob. Gob-smacked.

  There was never a reason--but, holy shit, there's a reason now. I've seen pictures of the castle but seeing now is...unreal. The massive stone building is lit from the bottom up--practically a hundred beams of light illuminate the facade. More windows than I can count dot the front, framed by a giant black-and-gold-trimmed iron gate. I can't see clearly from here, but there seem to be intricate etchings, statues and carvings built into the stone. There's a lighted fountain in the center, shooting half as high as the castle itself. A tall, stately flagpole holds the waving burgundy and white Wessco flag. And flowers! Thousands, maybe millions, of flowers surround the front and the sides, bursting with color even in the night.

  "It's a castle!"

  Yeah, not the most astute thing I've ever said.

  Nicholas just chuckles. So I grab his arm, shaking. "I don't think you understand--you live in a freaking castle!"

  "Technically, it's a palace. Castles were built for defense, palaces more for the monarch to hold court in appropriate grandeur."

  And Jesus, I want to stick my tongue down his throat.

  "Have I told you how hot it is when you roll out the royal facts?"

  His eyes light up. "No, but it's good to know. I know things that will keep you perpetually wet and quivering."

  As sexy as that response is, I just have to look back at the palace as we get closer. "It has a moat, Nicholas!"

  "Yes. Generally palaces don't--but my great-great-great-great-grandfather had it dug because he 'liked the look of it.' I went swimming in it once when I was eleven. Got strep throat--lesson learned. But there is a lake in the back, so skinny-dipping is definitely on the agenda."

  "How many rooms does it have?"

  "Five hundred eighty-seven, not including the staff bedrooms." He leans up and licks the shell of my ear, making the wet and quivering plan come to fruition. His next words almost make me come on the spot. "And I want to fuck you in every one of them by the end of the summer."

  "That's ambitious," I tease, nuzzling him. "Do you plan on stopping to feed me?"

  His hand skims down my back, cradling my ass. "You'll be well taken care of, I promise."

  I promise. You know what that is? Yep--Famous. Last. Words.

  MY GRANDMOTHER IS A NIGHT OWL. She requires only three to four hours of sleep. It's a common trait in leaders, captains of industry, top-notch executives--and psychopaths.

  So, although it's past the dinner hour, I know she'll want to receive us the moment we step through the palace door. And I'm not wrong. Her personal butler, Alastair, ushers us into the gold receiving room in her private quarters. We gather there--me, Olivia, Henry, Fergus, and Bridget--and we wait.

  No matter how long I'm away, a month or a year, the Queen never changes. She looks exactly the same. It's a comforting and frightening thought that strikes me when she appears in the doorway--gray hair perfectly coifed, demure pink lipstick, a light green skirt and jacket with a diamond and emerald broach pinned to the lapel.

  And though she looks the same, she appears particularly unhappy at the moment. Her gray eyes are solid as they scan us--the color of a concrete wall. She settles on Henry first, calling him forward.

  He bows. "Your Majesty."

  She stares at him, taking him in--and for a moment, her cold stare cracks. "Welcome home, my boy. You've been gone too long."

  "Yes ma'am," he says softly, giving her a weary smile.

  She doesn't embrace him as some would expect--it's not her way. But she touches his shoulder, reaches up and pats his cheek, covers his hands with her own and squeezes. For a queen, that's a hug.

  She moves Henry to the side and steps closer to us, eyes landing on me expectantly. I bow and bring Olivia forward, holding her hand.

  "Your Majesty, may I introduce my guest, Olivia Hammond."

  There's not a shred of doubt that she's already been informed of Olivia's presence. The Queen's eyes drag over her, from head to toe, the way someone would look at a shaggy, wet stray dog that showed up on their doorstep.

  I bristle--but hold back. If I react too strongly it will only make things worse.

  Bridget and I explained the proper protocol to Olivia on the plane. She's nervous, I can tell, stiff and frozen--but she tries.

  "It's an honor to meet you, Queen Lenora." Olivia bows her head, bends her knees, and dips--then pops back up quickly.

  And my grandmother glares.

  "What was that?"

  Olivia glances back at me, unsure, then returns her attention to the Queen.

  "It was a curtsy."

  One sharp, gray brow rises. "Was it? I thought perhaps you had gas."

  That's the trouble with monarchs--people rarely have the balls to tell them when they're being fucking rude. And even if they do--the monarch doesn't have to give a shit.

  "She will not do," my grandmother says, her gaze slithering to me.

  For Olivia's sake, I try to play off the comment. "Don't worry--I'll show Olivia around, introduce her to everyone...she'll do just fine."

  And then I put an end to the shit-show, taking Olivia's hand and putting myself between her and the Queen. Relief washes through me when Olivia smiles up at me, unscathed by the disapproving claws.

  "It's been a long flight, Olivia. Go upstairs to your room and get settled."

  I already explained that decorum required Olivia to have her own bedroom, but I'm not concerned. I have my ways.

  "I'd like a private word with you, Prince Nicholas," my grandmother says.

  I give her a scathing smirk. "Just one? I thought for sure there'd be dozens."

  "Fergus," I call, "take Olivia to Guthrie House, please. Put her in the white bedroom."

  And it's like the air freezes in place--crystalizing with tension.

  "Oh yes," my grandmother says softly. "There will be many more than one."

  I ignore her, and pet Olivia's hair reassuringly. "Go on now, I'll be along shortly."

  She nods, and then, because she is naturally polite, Olivia peeks around me and says to the Queen, "Thank you for having me here. You have a lovely home."

  Henry lowers his chin to his chest, muffling a chuckle. And Fergus leads Olivia away.

  After Henry goes off to his own quarters, Bridget exits with a bow to my grandmother and me--and then we're left alone.

  In a staring contest.

  Surprisingly, she blinks first.

  "What are you playing at, Nicholas?"

  "I'm not playing at all, Your Majesty."

  Her voice slices the air, bordering on shrill. "You have a duty. We agreed--"

  "I'm well aware of my duty and our agreement." My tone is no less sharp, but respectful. "You gave me five months--I have three left."

  "You should be spending that time reviewing the list I gave you. Vetting the women who may one day take their place at your side. Becoming familiar with--"

  "I will spend the time I have left as I see fit. And I see fit to spend it with Olivia."

  Even when my parents died, I've never seen my grandmother lose her composure. And she doesn't entirely lose it now--but she's close.

  "I will not entertain one of your whores!"

  I take two steps closer to her, dropping my voice.

  "Be very careful, Grandmother."

  "Careful?" she says the word like it's foreign.
A foreign, dirty word. "Are you...are you warning me?"

  "I won't have her insulted--not by anyone. Even you." Our eyes clash like swords, throwing sparks. "I can make life very difficult for you. I don't want to do that, but understand--I will if you do not treat her with the respect I'm telling you she deserves."

  With that, I release a breath and turn to leave the room.

  Behind me, the Queen asks softly, "What in the world has gotten into you, Nicholas?"

  It's a decent question. I'm not feeling at all like myself lately. My arms rise at my sides, a helpless shrug. "The beginning of the end has gotten into me."

  With a curt bow, I excuse myself and walk away.

  I find Olivia in the white bedroom, standing in the middle of the room, turning slowly--gazing at the walls and curtains and furniture. I try to imagine how it looks to her. The drapes are a gauzy opal, light enough to lift on a breeze from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The dresser, vanity and four-poster bed shine in the light of the crystal chandelier with an almost silvery sheen, the wallpaper is soft white with a ribbon of satin overlay and the antique artwork on the walls is framed in bleached wood.

  She startles a bit when she catches me watching her. "Jesus, you're like a ninja--give a girl some warning, will you?"

  I knew she'd look beautiful in this room, that the color palette would accentuate all her exquisite features. But she's even more stunning than I imagined--stealing my breath. Her wavy hair is an even deeper shimmery black, her eyes a darker blue, shining at me like two sapphires on a bed of velvet.

  "Do you like it?" I finally manage to ask. "The room?"

  Her gaze climbs up and all around. "I love it. It's...magical."

  I walk in closer.

  "So, did you get reprimanded?" she asks, only half joking. "Your grandmother sounded just like my mom used to when she was waiting for our friends to leave so she could yell at us."

  I shrug. "I survived."

  "What's the deal with the white bedroom? When you said it, her face turned so hard I thought it'd crack."

  I wander over toward the window, leaning on the sill. "It was my mother's. No one's stayed in here since her."

  "Oh."

  And I hear the way my words must sound.

  "But don't take that in a creepy Norman Bates, mummy-issues kind of way--it's just...it's the prettiest room in the palace. It suits you."

 
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