Royally screwed, p.17
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       Royally Screwed, p.17
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  Olivia nibbles at her bottom lip. "But your grandmother's not happy about that, is she? Is that why I'm here, Nicholas? Am I a big fuck-you to the Queen?"

  "No." I wrap one arm around her waist, melding our bodies together. My other hand delves into her hair, holding it with my fingers, tilting her face up to look at me. "No. I want you here because I want you. And I'd still want you here even if my grandmother was thrilled about it."

  "She doesn't like me."

  "She doesn't like anyone. Most days, she doesn't even like me."

  That gets a smile out of her.

  I step backward, leading Olivia by her hands. "This room is magical in other ways, you know." I turn around to the bookshelf along the wall behind me. I give the corner a tug, and swing it open to reveal the passageway. "Look."

  Olivia's eyes go round and excited, like a child on Christmas morning first glimpsing the presents under the tree.

  "It's a secret passage!"

  She ducks her head inside, flicking the light switch there, illuminating the thirty-foot corridor leading to the closed door on the other end.

  "That's so awesome! I didn't know palaces really had these!"

  Her joy makes me laugh, makes my chest feel light.

  "They do. And this one leads to an even more magical place." I wink. "My bedroom."

  She laughs and bites her lip. "Did you install it? Your parents?"

  "Oh no, it's been here long before us. Most likely so visiting dignitaries or princes could have their wicked way with a mistress without giving the staff something to gossip about."

  "So cool." Olivia sighs, glancing at the passage again.

  "There's one more thing I want to show you." I lead her by the hand to the curtained balcony doors. "Besides the obvious benefits of the passage, I wanted you in this room--" I open the doors and Olivia gasps "--because it has the best fucking view ever."

  Her mouth goes slack as she stares out over the rear of the property, which resembles the utopian landscape of a fairy wonderland. The stone paths lit every few feet by thousands of hanging lanterns. The fountains, the mazes of greenery, the abundance of flowers of every shape and size--cherry blossoms and roses and tulips so large they hang over like colorful bells. In the distance is the pond, shining in the moonlight like a bath of liquid silver.

  I stare at her stunned expression. "Not too shabby, huh?"

  "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

  I don't take my eyes off Olivia's face. "Me too."

  She turns toward me, reaches up slowly, and we kiss. The touch of Olivia's mouth is soft and supple and tastes like homecoming. I lean down to deepen the kiss, until...

  "Christ, you two are like piranhas constantly eating each other's faces. Can you detach for a moment?"

  My brother walks in and helps himself to a full glass of brandy on the tray by the fireplace.

  I give Olivia an apologetic smile. "What do you need, Henry?"

  "My rooms are being renovated, so Grandmother said I'm to stay in one of your guest rooms."

  Five hundred eight-seven rooms, and she puts him in Guthrie House. With us. Subtlety was never the Queen's style.

  "And I'm bored," he whines. "Let's give Olive a tour. That'll be something to do, at least. And we can go see Cook--ask her to make the biscuits I like so much. I've missed them."

  He means cookies, for you Americans out there.

  It's not a bad idea. If Olivia's going to be here for the summer, I want her to feel comfortable, introduce her to the staff.

  "Are you too tired for a walkabout?" I ask Olivia.

  "No, not even a little. But I should unpack."

  I wave my hand. "The maids will take care of that."

  She taps the side of her head playfully. "That's right, the maids--how could I forget." She picks up my hand. "Then let's go. Show me your palace."

  We start in the kitchen and work our way up. Cook, a large, sweet, boisterous woman who's worked at Guthrie House since my father was a lad, tackles my brother on sight. She admonishes him for being gone too long--and then gives him a whole tray of his favorite biscuits.

  Then Cook greets Olivia with another engulfing hug. Her name's not really Cook, but Henry and I don't know her by anything else. She has the thickest brogue I've ever heard, and Olivia smiles politely and nods while Cook jabbers on--though I can tell she has no idea what she's saying.

  Olivia's already met Fergus, but on the way to show her the ballrooms, we pass Mrs. Everston, the upstairs maid, and make introductions. We also run into Winston, the head Dark Suit--who's in charge, in control and in-the-know of every nook and cranny of the royal family inside and outside the palace. Henry once heard that he was an assassin in his early years, and based on his calculating, cold attitude, I believe it. We see Jane Stiltonhouse, the Palace travel secretary--a woman who reminds me of a human butter knife. She's thin, sharp, and has a shrill voice like the sound made when two pieces of silverware are rubbed together.

  Olivia's eyes glow and her mouth is perpetually open in awe as we go from one gilded historic room to another. Our last stop is the portrait hall, a long corridor with framed oil paintings of past monarchs, their families and ancestors. Olivia gazes timidly down the shadowy hall, so long and dark, the end can't be seen--it just trails off into total blackness.

  "You grew up here, in the palace?" she asks.

  "I was sent to boarding school at seven--lived most of the year there. But vacations and summers were spent here."

  She shivers. "Weren't you ever afraid that it was haunted?"

  "The portraits are on the creepy side. But it's not scary once you get used to it--Henry and I used to scooter down this hallway all the time."

  "How cute," Olivia says quietly. "Just like the kid from The Shining."

  I laugh. "Minus the elevator filled with blood, but yeah, just like that."

  Her eyes slide over my face, gleaming with naughty intentions. She whispers, so Henry can't hear, "When you laugh like that, those dimples show up--it makes me want to climb up your body and lick them."

  I immediately grow thick and hard at the idea. "Feel free to lick anything you want, anytime."

  Later that evening, Cook makes us a giant bowl of salted-caramel popcorn. I take particular joy in watching Olivia suck on her sticky fingers between bites.

  I remind myself to kiss Cook tomorrow.

  The popcorn is for the movie Olivia wanted to watch. Although we have a media room, Olivia preferred my sitting room, in our pajamas, in an oasis of pillows and blankets on the floor. Henry joins us.

  "I can't believe you guys have never seen Beauty and the Beast. This place is just like the castle--Cook could be Mrs. Potts, Fergus could be grumpy Cogsworth," Olivia says, twisting her black locks into a messy bun on top of her head.

  "The thing is, pet, we have cocks." I smirk. "Those of us so endowed really weren't interested in Disney cartoons."

  "You've seen The Lion King," she argues.

  "Well, yeah...there's lions in it. And murder."

  "And kings," Henry adds. "The title says it all."

  We watch the film, or more to the point, Olivia watches the film, smiling gently the whole way through. I mostly just watch her. Because I'm happy that she's here. I almost can't believe it. Every time I let myself, a warm, gushy feeling surges in my chest--like my heart is melting. And I feel...content.

  When the music soars and the credits start to roll, Olivia presses her pretty hands to her chest and sighs. "Never gets old--that will always be my favorite Disney movie."

  Henry finishes his fifth brandy. "It was all right, but I prefer The Little Mermaid."

  Olivia raises a black brow. "I thought 'cocks' didn't like princess cartoons?"

  "Have you seen Ariel?" Henry asks. "My cock likes her a whole bunch."

  Olivia wrinkles her nose. "Gross. Although I did read a book once that said most guys like Ariel."

  "I should read that book," Henry declares.

  "Fantastic ide
a, Henry. Why don't you run along and find the book in the library?" I slip my finger under the strap of Olivia's flimsy little pajama top, rubbing the soft, smooth skin. I lower my voice. "I'm feeling...beastly at the moment."

  Olivia meets my eyes and smiles. She likes the idea.

  Unfortunately, Henry heard me, and he makes a disgusted face.

  "Is that supposed to imply doggie-style?"

  Since he already heard me loud and clear...

  "Yes."

  He throws off the blankets and stumbles for the door. "That position is ruined for me now--and I really liked it. Thanks a lot."

  I lock the door behind him, and Olivia and I act out our own interpretation of Beauty and the Beast for the rest of the night.

  IN THE MORNING, Nicholas has Fergus bring us breakfast in bed. I hide in the bathroom when he actually brings it in. Nicholas says I'm being silly, that I have to get used to the fact that Fergus doesn't give a shit that I'm in his bed or that we had crazy, fantastic, would-make-the-Beast-blush sex last night.

  But I can't help it--I don't know if I'll ever get used to servants and the...intimacy...of having them around all the time. Besides, come September, there won't be anyone bringing me breakfast in bed or hanging my clothes. Maybe it's best that I don't get used to it.

  After breakfast, Nicholas showers, and I perch myself on a cushioned bench in his huge bathroom to watch him shave--with a straight razor, of course. And there is something so deliciously manly--raw and sexy--about watching him shave that perfect jaw. Shirtless. With nothing but a fluffy towel around his hips.

  It makes me want to lick him--over his chest, up his neck--again.

  Then he gets dressed, in a navy suit and a burgundy tie, and goes to work--at the offices on the other end of the palace. He said his schedule was "mad" because of his extended stay in New York, but he'd be back to have dinner with me in the Guthrie House dining room. And after, he was taking me to a party.

  Speaking of which, Nicholas said I would have a "schedule" of my own today: a stylist and personal dresser would arrive at ten to take care of everything I'll need.

  And that's where I am now.

  In a chair, in the white bedroom, getting facialed and trimmed, polished and buffed, waxed and massaged. I glance in the mirror and realize I look just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz--getting worked over and beautified--by a gaggle of Emerald City beauticians.

  Afterward, my skin feels smoother and softer than I ever thought possible. My muscles are amazingly relaxed; aches and pains that I didn't even recognize have completely disappeared.

  When the last of the beauty brigade zips up her enchanted bag and leaves, I look in the mirror again.

  And--wow.

  I still look like me--but a shinier, more elegant version of me. My eyebrows are clean and arched, my fingernails are gracefully painted, my skin glows even without a trace of makeup, my hair is gleaming and bouncy without a single speck of split ends.

  I look cultured. Sophisticated. Rich.

  Yep, that last one's the bull's-eye. This is why rich people always look put-together--because they can afford to hire a team that specializes in putting them together.

  Just as I caress my cheek one last time, there's a knock at the door. I open it to find Fergus.

  "The personal shopper is here, Miss Hammond." He kind of snarls, in a way that reminds me of Bosco. "Shall I send her up?"

  I automatically look around the room, checking for strewn clothes--out of habit. But the maids who flit by every hour or so would never let that happen.

  "Uh...sure, Fergus. Thank you."

  He dips his head and walks down the hall.

  A few minutes later, a tiny, chirping, beautiful French woman walks through my bedroom door. She looks young, maybe twenty, and reminds me of Ellie--if my sister had brown hair and spoke French. Her name is Sabine, but in my head I call her French Ellie.

  Half a dozen male assistants carry in racks of clothes: dresses and pants and blouses and skirts. Then they go back downstairs and bring up bags of lacy undergarments--bras, panties, garters and stockings. Finally, a tailor's platform is carried in, I assume for me to stand on. By the time the last assistant leaves, the white bedroom isn't so white anymore, it's covered in fabrics of every color.

  It's like the entire Women's department at Barrister's exploded in here.

  Sabine holds up a piece of paper. "Bridget."

  It's a list, from Nicholas's secretary, Bridget. A list of events that I'll need clothes for: the party tonight, a polo match, another party, brunch, afternoon tea with the Queen.

  Oh Jesus. Not for the first time, I wonder what the hell I was thinking.

  But then I stop--because I'm here. And while I am, I'm going to be here. Be unafraid. Do everything, see everything--with Nicholas.

  Trying on clothes is exhausting. I never realized it--until I'd done it for two hours straight. Just as I'm ready to ask for a break, the bedroom door opens--without a knock--and Prince Henry glides in. Carrying long-stemmed glasses and two bottles of Dom Perignon. He's wearing a black cashmere sweater with a white collared shirt underneath and tan slacks. It's a neat, preppy look that stands in contrast to his wild, wavy blond hair and the tattoo on his forearm peeking out beneath his rolled-up sleeve.

  Henry Pembrook is a walking, living contradiction.

  "Everyone's working," he says, holding up the bottles and glasses. "I'm bored. Let's get day-drunk, Olive."

  I look down at Sabine as she fixes the hem on a pair of trim black pants, smiling around the pins in her mouth.

  When in Rome...or Wessco...

  "Okay."

  After the corks are sprung and the glasses full, Henry looks through the intimate apparel laid out on the bed. "This would look fantastic on you. And that one, there." He plays with the pink ribbons that tie the front of a daring black lace bustier. "Do these open? Oh, they do--definitely this one--my brother will jizz in his pants when he sees you in it."

  He snatches a peach silk baby-doll nightie, shoving it in his pocket. "This color's all wrong for you."

  "I don't think it's your size, Henry," I tease. "Have you always liked women's clothes?"

  He smirks, reminding me of his brother. "I like women. I know women. I know one woman who would like this bit very much, and I would enjoy seeing her wearing it."

  Then he moves to the rack of cocktail dresses, going through them one by one. "Crap, crap, crap..."

  Sabine is offended. "This is a Louis La Cher original."

  "Oh." Henry wiggles his eyebrows at me. "Expensive crap."

  Then he stops at a sexy black satin number with lace trim. "This one. Definitely." He holds it up in front of me. "In silver. It was made for you. Are you're staying until the end of the summer?"

  "That's the plan."

  He glances to Sabine. "She'll need a ball gown, too. Preferably something in pale blue." Then he explains, "For the Summer Jubilee. It's a party held every year here at the palace--a true ball--all top hats and tails and heaving bosoms. Everyone attends."

  "Then I guess I'll need a ball gown."

  Henry approaches Sabine slowly, speaking in a string of rapid French. I have no idea what he's saying, but I understand the blush that comes to her cheeks and the enamored glaze in her pretty eyes when she smiles and says, "Oui, Henry."

  While Sabine sorts the keepers from the rejects and sets up another round in the dressing area, Henry and I sit on the snow-white couch in the sitting room.

  "So it's just that easy for you, huh?" I ask him--referring to whatever proposition Sabine just agreed to with the naughty prince.

  "Yes, just that easy."

  Then he downs his Champagne like a shot. And immediately refills his glass. In the sunlight, the planes of his cheeks cast shadows and his eyes, for a moment, take on a distant sheen. What were the words Nicholas used? Haunted. Hunted.

  And the big sister in me opens her mouth.

  "Are you okay, Henry? I know we just met, but...your brother...
he's worried about you."

  He forces a laugh. "Of course I'm okay. That's my job--my one job--to be okay all the time."

  My hand finds his shoulder. "But it's all right not to be. I mean, everyone loses it once in a while--no one's okay all the time." I sip my Champagne and add, "Except, probably, serial killers. And nobody wants to be around them."

  Henry laughs easier this time, and his soft green eyes drift over my face.

  "I like you, Olivia. Truly. You're sweet and...naturally honest. That's rare around here." He guzzles half his glass, then takes a big breath and says, "So because I like you, I'm going to give you some advice."

  "Okay."

  "Don't get attached to my brother."

  Everything inside me goes cold, as though my bones turn to hollow icicles. But my palms are sweating.

  "He doesn't belong to you. He doesn't even belong to himself."

  I swallow. "I understand that."

  "See--" he wags his finger "--you say that, but it doesn't seem like you understand it--not when you're looking at him."

  When I don't reply, Henry goes on.

  "I took a theology course in university--a discussion of the concept of heaven and hell. One theory is that heaven is being in the presence of God, having the light of his face shine down upon you. And hell is when he turns away and leaves you--and you know you'll never feel the perfection of that warmth and love again." His voice lowers. "That is what Nicholas is like. When he shines on you, the whole world is shining. But when he's disappointed--and because his standards are higher than God's, he will always, eventually, be disappointed...that is a fresh, cold hell."

  It's hard to swallow. Nerves, I guess. Fear of the unknown.

  So I cling to my truth.

  "That's not the Nicholas I know."

  "Yes, he is different with you. Happier. More...free." Henry rests his hand on my knee. "But you must remember--whether you know it or not--that's the man he is."

  After dinner, another stylist shows up to get me ready for the party. She blows my hair out into long, silky tresses and coils the ends into big, bouncy curls. But I do my makeup myself--I don't like feeling too gooped up.

  Nicholas doesn't seem excited about going--"required to make an appearance," he says. But he's very excited about my dress--a shimmery, gray slip-dress that swoops in front, offering a peek of cleavage.

 
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