Royally endowed, p.20
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       Royally Endowed, p.20

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
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  "What?" Nicholas shouts. His face goes rigid and a little pale.

  The whole church freezes--staring at the prince--like the greatest mannequin challenge ever.

  I hike up my dress and my heels click on the stone floor as I run up the side aisle, passing the dozens of marble columns that rise to the high arched ceiling. I scoot between Nicholas, Henry and Logan who are talking like a football team huddle planning the next play.

  "It's fine, guys. Everything's fine. All fine."

  Now I sound like I'm on drugs.

  Nicholas's green eyes are wide and wild. "No--none of this is fine."

  "Olivia knows what she's doing. She would never put the babies at risk," I insist. "Please follow her lead on this, Nicholas." I give him an encouraging smile. "Happy wife, happy life."

  He's unmoved--his face grumpy--his jaw like granite.

  "How's Sarah?" Henry asks.

  "She's okay. Calmer, now that there's a distraction to take some of the attention off of her."

  "Good." Henry sighs, rubbing his hands on his slacks nervously. "That's good."

  "And wait until you see her, Henry. You're going to lose it."

  He chuckles. "I always do."

  Henry rests his hand on his brother's arm. "The sooner we start, the sooner you can get on to the baby business. Yeah?"

  Nicholas hesitates, but finally, he stiffly nods.

  And everyone takes their places as Logan and I slide into our spots in the third pew. The music starts to play, and the wedding begins.

  The Queen is escorted first, by her nephew, stoic and oblivious to what's going on behind the scenes. The entire congregation bows and curtsies.

  After the bridesmaids and tiny adorable flower girls, Livvy walks alone. Waddling and smiling. But the aisle is so damn long she has to stop twice to breathe through her tightening stomach--while still smiling. Whispers roll through the crowd like a killer wave, and you can almost hear the news stations shifting into royal-baby-watch level: hysteria.

  Nicholas steps forward when she gets to the altar, taking her hand and helping her into a cushioned chair, which he ordered an usher to place on the right side of the alter. They speak quietly . . . argue quietly for a moment, then Olivia gently kisses his knuckles, soothingly placating her handsome prince. Nicholas rubs his jaw, but with a tight expression, takes his place to Henry's right.

  And then the bridal march begins.

  The crowd glances at Sarah, nodding at how lovely she is--but then they return to chattering about the crazy princess who's in labor. Sarah doesn't take her eyes off Henry as she walks to him--and she doesn't look even a little terrified.

  She looks like a bride in love.

  Henry steps close to Sarah as she approaches, gazing down at her tenderly.

  "Hello."

  Sarah grins up at him impishly. "Hello."

  "This is madness," he whispers.

  "It suits us though, doesn't it?"

  Henry offers her his arm and, elegantly, Sarah takes it.

  And then, they get married--and it's more wonderful than all the Disney Princess wedding ceremonies combined.

  After the Archbishop pronounces them man and wife, when they're supposed to turn and walk down the aisle together, Henry gestures to Olivia. "Women in labor and children soon-to-be born, first."

  Nicholas mutters under his breath, "About bloody time."

  Then he walks over to my sister, swoops her up into his arms and carries her down the aisle.

  The sight is one for the history books.

  Logan grabs my hand and we chase after them. Nicholas slides Livvy into the back of one of the Rolls-Royces and Logan tells the guard at the wheel, "Move over. I'm driving."

  On the way to the hospital, the hardest contraction, yet, hits. Olivia scrunches her eyes and breathes through it. After it passes, she collapses against the seat.

  "Oh my God...this suuuuucks," she says, like a true lady.

  Because that's my sister; the Royal Duchess.

  Queens don't wait in maternity waiting rooms. Neither do Crown Princes or their newly minted princesses or any royals. It would cause chaos. It's not tradition.

  The sister waits in the waiting rooms, with her boyfriend, and dad. I called my dad from the car, on the way to the hospital. There was a bunch of security--special badges, guards at every door. This hospital has delivered every royal since Nicholas's father, so they know what's up.

  For the next eleven hours, we drink bad coffee, eat cold sandwiches . . . and wait. At one point, I fall asleep against Logan's chest and I dream that he asks my dad's permission to marry me.

  I mean to tell Logan about it when I wake up. But before I can, Nicholas is there--walking through the hospital doors from the maternity ward, not looking like a prince at all. He looks young and exhausted, with disheveled hair and a ten-o'clock shadow on his chin.

  He looks like a new father--ecstatic and amazed--with unicorns and rainbows practically dancing in his eyes.

  "It's a boy!" he tells the three of us--we're the first to know. "And a girl!"

  Logan shakes his hand and pounds his back, and he gets hugs from me and my dad.

  The perk of actually being on the front lines of the maternity waiting room is that you get first crack at the babies. You see them, hold them, know their names before anyone else.

  I hold Lilliana Amelia Calista Ernstwhile Pembrook first. And she's perfect. Logan stands next to me and together we gaze down at her little round face, her patch of black hair, eyes shaped just like my sister's, though it's still too early to tell what color they'll be--gray green or dark blue.

  Then my dad and I switch.

  And I fall in love with Langdon Henry Eric Thomas Pembrook. He's just as perfect as his five-minutes-younger sister. His hair is just as black, but I think I see more of Nicholas in him around the eyes.

  Olivia is sleepy, but so happy. She can't stop looking at them, and I can't blame her.

  While my dad and I sit next to Olivia on one side of the bed, Logan and Nicholas move to the window and start talking about where the press will stand when they leave the hospital in a few days. The photographs that will be taken, the no-fly zone over the hospital. Because as perfect and beautiful and innocent as the twins are, these aren't just babies.

  They never will be.

  Already, everyone wants a piece of them.

  "I don't like it." Logan crosses his arms and shakes his head. "It's too difficult to tell who's there, who can get close."

  He was protective before, but Cain Gallagher's breach of security has made him even more ferocious about protecting us, even though it's technically not his job anymore.

  "This is how it always goes," Nicholas laments. "Leaving the hospital is a publicly viewed event. It's tradition."

  "Start a new tradition. You've got a knack for that."

  My brother-in-law sits down in the chair next to Olivia's bed, holding her hand.

  "Invite them to the palace," Logan suggests. "The guards can check their credentials, pat them down at the gates, and they can take their pictures of you bringing the babies out of the car, into their new home. It'll be safer."

  Nicholas and Olivia look at each other, then Nicholas kisses her hand.

  "Looks like we've got a new tradition."

  Queen Lenora is not a hugger. She's not even an air kisser. She's more of a head patter, a shoulder tapper.

  But babies are . . . well, they're fucking babies.

  They're beautiful. Adorable. So cute it's almost painful to look at them. They're like kittens . . . but human.

  But Queen Lenora is really not a hugger. Olivia, however, thinks she's a holder.

  Which is why two weeks later, when the new prince and princess are first presented to Her Royal Great-Grandmama Queen Lenora, at the palace my sister places Lilliana right in her unsuspecting regal arms.

  "Oh. Well . . . uh . . . all right." The Queen handles Lily like she's a bomb that could go off at any moment. Stiffly and distantly
. Then Her Majesty smiles a little down at the baby. "It's very nice to make your acquaintance, Princess Lilliana."

  And the baby cries.

  Loud and heartbroken. And loud.

  When Olivia moves to take her, Queen Lenora lifts her chin. "Leave her."

  And she looks down at the bundle of cute in her hands, talking to her . . . like she's a dog. An upper-class dog.

  "No. No-no, that won't do at all." She lays Lily on the couch beside her and claps her hands twice--quick and sharp. And miraculously, after one more little squawk, Lilliana stops crying and blinks up at the Queen.

  "Thank you, much better."

  She's like a scarier, meaner Mary Poppins.

  "Now that you've composed yourself, you and your brother and I will take a stroll in the gardens together."

  She motions to the nurse, who swaddles the baby and puts her in the pram.

  "It's a bit cold for a walk, don't you think?" Nicholas asks.

  "Nonsense. Fresh air is good for babies. I walked with you and Henry every day and look how well you both turned out."

  "I didn't know you did that," Nicholas says softly.

  "Yes, well, I'm full of surprises." The Queen slides on a pair of light brown leather gloves. "We'll make sure they're bundled adequately. I'll walk with them on the grounds every morning. Christopher--mark it in the schedule. This will be my time with them."

  Guards open the double French doors and Queen Lenora pushes the twins in their pram out into the cool, overcast day. She talks to them as they stroll, and her voice floats inside for all to hear.

  "I was born in Landlow Castle, during a snowstorm. The midwife was unable to reach us because the roads were impassable. So my grandmother delivered me. And she was a horrid woman, very strict and rigid. Not warm and delightful as I am . . ."

  Logan puts his arm around me and whispers.

  "It's official. I've now seen it fucking all."

  Five years later

  I WAKE TO THE SOFT sounds of music playing from the kitchen.

  And that's how I know where Ellie is. It started about three years ago--her rising before me. Most times she's in the kitchen, sometimes in the den, but almost always, she's got one of her favorites playing low from the speakers. Today it's "Say You Won't Let Go."

  It was our wedding song.

  I look up through our skylight ceiling--it's dark, not yet dawn, and pouring cold rain. It's Sunday, and while every day is a workday when you own your own business, I won't be working for S&S Securities today. That stands for St. James and Sullivan--or Sullivan and St. James, depending on which one of us you ask. Tommy went in on the venture with me and we busted our arses to make it successful. It's good work, honest work.

  We have a technical team that installs home security systems, but the main business is training and contracting personal bodyguards, as well as security details to guard and monitor property. Even the palace has contracted our guys--because we have a reputation for being the best, and it's well deserved.

  We're not a fight club--we don't take just anyone. Our people have to have a natural skill for it, they have to want it, they have to earn it.

  I roll out of bed, slip on a pair of black running pants and walk down the hall. I finished the house in the first year we lived there, and it turned out even better than I'd imagined. The brick makes it solid and sturdy, the gleaming wood touches and earthy colors make it beautiful . . . and having Ellie here makes it a home. She hung curtains in every room, framed pictures on the walls. I pass one of the bedrooms on my right--the room we painted blue together.

  When I make it down to the kitchen, she's at the counter, placing warm baked scones on a rack to cool. Stealthily, I move up close behind her and lay my hands across her cotton pajama-clad hips, pulling her against me, rubbing the length of my stiff cock between the cheeks of her perfect arse.

  Her head tilts back on my shoulder and her hair tickles my chest. "Aren't you tired from last night?"

  I kiss her temple and smell her skin. "I'll never get tired of fucking you, Ellie."

  My hands slide to her front, resting on the small, firm swell where our baby sleeps. Ellie's so lovely when she's carrying. Something about watching her grow with the baby I put inside her turns me into a bit of a savage. I can't keep my hands off her when she's like this.

  Though I suppose that's also true when she's not like this.

  And it turns out, when we decided to start a family and forgo birth control, lots of fucking . . . makes lots of babies. She's four months gone with this latest one--our third.

  "Come on, Declan! Jump. I'll catch you."

  The little voice pipes up from the baby monitor on the counter.

  "Like this, Declan, look!"

  That would be three-year-old Finn urging one-and-a-half-year-old Declan to escape his crib.

  I laugh into Ellie's shoulder and she giggles.

  A clap of thunder booms over us and I nuzzle Ellie's neck. "It's raining. Miss Princess Jane is going to be quite put out that she can't ride her pony."

  We're going to the palace today, for Henry and Sarah's oldest daughter Jane's fourth birthday. It's not the public celebration; this one's small and private--just family.

  "Henry will just bring the pony inside for her," Ellie says.

  "The Queen will love that," I say sarcastically, shaking my head. "Princess Jane has Henry wrapped around her little finger."

  "Like you wouldn't do the same if it was Finn," Ellie teases.

  "Finn doesn't want a pony. He wants a bazooka for Christmas--he told me so the other day. Haven't figured out yet how Santa's elves are going to manage that request."

  Ellie laughs, pointing at me. "He's definitely your son."

  I rub my eyes. "Yeah, he's mine all right. But I think the bazooka idea comes from your dad. He was playing army-man with him last week."

  Ellie's father comes to Wessco every other month--he's been doing it for years now. He's still sober, still lives in New York, managing the charitable Amelia's restaurants that bear his beloved wife's name. I believe it's part of how he was able to finally make peace with her passing--by honoring her, keeping a part of the quaint coffee shop that was her dream, alive and thriving.

  There's a scuffling sound from the monitor, a thud and then cheers of triumph.

  "Mummy, Daddy--he did it! Declan jumped out of his crib. He jumped!"

  I kiss my wife sweetly on her pretty mouth.

  "And our fearless jumper Declan is all your son."

  I'm about to head up to get the boys, but the gate at the top of the stairs will keep them safely contained for a bit longer. I wait because Tommy Sullivan lumbers through our backdoor, taking a seat at the kitchen counter, looking like a sack of sad.

  Like many students who take a gap year, Ellie never went back to finish her advanced psychology degree. If she ever wants to, I'll support her 100 percent, but for now she seems content--happy--to take care of our boys and our home. And to let me take care of her.

  But even without the degree, she's a listener, a helper and a counselor to our family and friends. Ellie slides a cup of tea in front of Tommy, and hands a steaming mug to me.

  "I think this might be it," Tommy says. "It might really be over."

  He's talking about Abigail Haddock. Doctor Abigail Haddock--the stunning, auburn-haired physician Tommy met in the hospital five years ago while he recovered from that gash on his head. The woman he stole a kiss from, while pretending to be delirious.

  And it's been a roller coaster ever since. A sordid tale of lust and love, hiding and seeking--both of them too fucking stubborn to admit they care for each other more than they're willing to let on.

  "Abby says she's going on a date with that doctor she works with." He looks at me. "We may have to take this guy out."

  I blow the steam from my mug and shrug.

  "Okay."

  Ellie frowns back and forth between us.

  "No. No, there will be no taking out of anyone."


  I flash Tommy the okay sign. Ellie spots it, then smacks my arm. And I smirk, because she's still really cute when she's pissy.

  When I hear the boys rattling the gate, I head for the stairs, leaving my wife with her elbows on the counter, prodding my best friend to tell her all about it, so she can save him.

  Like she saved me.

  Like we saved each other.

  Despite the rain, Princess Jane's birthday party was lively and fun. Ellie was right--Prince Henry brought the pony inside for his daughter, and they'll probably never get the stink out of the ballroom.

  The Queen sniffed and scowled, but I could tell she enjoys the antics of her offspring more than anything in the world. She's a wily one, hides it well--but I could still read it in the twinkle of her eye, the occasional quirk of her mouth and quick nod of her head, when she thought no one was looking.

  And while Princess Jane is not Her Majesty's twin, she is her little shadow. Even at just four years old, the girl idolizes her Great-Granny, follows her, imitates her, does her best to be as royal and regal as her. The Queen takes pride in that too.

  Just as Ellie chose not to go back to school, Prince Nicholas and Olivia chose not to go back to New York. Olivia's feelings about the palace softened, and she views it more as a safety net than a cage. And with the sweetness of his young family surrounding him, Nicholas doesn't think of his royal duties as the burden he once did. He enjoys them now, enjoys teaching his children about their lineage and gently preparing them for the royal roles they'll one day play, if they choose. Their decision to stay in Wessco was a joyous one for Ellie and for Tommy and me. Nicholas isn't my employer anymore--but he is my friend. Family. And that's even better.

  And Ellie and I aren't the only ones popping out babies like it's going out of style. In addition to five-year-olds Prince Langdon and Princess Lilliana, they added baby Theo to the mix six months ago. Along with Princess Jane, Henry and Sarah have three-year-old Prince Edward--he and my Finn are the best of friends, thick as little thieves--as well as their sweet newborn, Margaret.

  Life changes us, with its twists and turns, in ways we don't always see coming. It changes what we want, what we dream, lays blessings in our hands better than anything we could've imagined. These days, I no longer think about wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself. Because I already am. The home Ellie and I have, the family we've created--it's the most noble, lasting and precious thing I could ever imagine. I don't need anything more.

 
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