Royally screwed, p.20
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       Royally Screwed, p.20
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  Once she's settled, I snap on my helmet. And then I slip my father's teak bracelet off my wrist, handing it her. "Keep this safe for me, will you?"

  She's surprised at first, then her cheeks pinken beautifully. "I'll guard it with my life." And she slips it on her own wrist.

  "Have a good game," Olivia says. Then, quieter, "I really want to kiss you right now, for luck. But I know I can't, so I'll just tell you instead."

  I wink. "I got my good-luck kiss in your room. If it had been any better, I would've gone blind."

  I walk away toward the stables with the sound of her laughter ringing behind me.

  Though black clouds gather and the air is heavy with the threat of rain, we're able to make it through two games. My team wins both, which puts me in a good mood. Sweaty and smudged with dirt, I lead my pony to the stables. I brush her down myself, in her stall, cooing about what a pretty girl she is--because human or beast, every female enjoys a compliment.

  Once that's done, I step out of the stall onto the main walk and come face-to-face with Hannibal Lancaster. Inside, I groan. We went to school together--he's not a cannibalistic killer like his namesake, but he is a sleazy, disgusting prick. His parents, on the other hand--his family--are good people. And powerful allies to the Crown.

  Just goes to show that even a bushel of good apples can produce a bad seed.

  They're completely unaware of Hannibal's dickishness, which forces the rest of us--me--to put up with him from time to time and not punch his face in.

  He bows, then asks, "How are you, Pembrook?"

  "I'm well, Lancaster. Good match."

  He snorts. "Our number four was a useless fucker. I'm going to make sure he never plays at our club again."

  And I'm ready to get the hell away from him. But it's not that easy.

  "I wanted to ask you about the souvenir you brought home from the States."

  "Souvenir?" I ask.

  "The girl. She's exquisite."

  Twats like Lancaster can have anything they want. Anything. Which is why, when they find something that's hard to get--or that belongs to someone else--it makes them want it even more. They go after it relentlessly.

  I learned a very long time ago that the world is full of fuckers who want what I have, just because it's mine. And that the most effective way to keep their dirty hands off of it is to pretend I don't care, that I don't really want it that badly--that maybe it doesn't even belong to me at all.

  It's twisted, I know, but it's the way of the world. This world.

  "She is." I smirk. "But that shouldn't surprise you. I've always had exquisite taste."

  "But I am surprised. You don't typically bring your slags home to meet Grandmother."

  I eye the polo mallet in the corner--and picture crushing his balls with it.

  "Don't think too deeply about it, Lancaster; you'll hurt yourself. I've just discovered the convenience of having ready-to-go pussy in-house. And she's American--they gush all over themselves about the royal thing." I shrug, and my stomach clenches tight and sick. If I don't get away from him soon, I'm going to vomit.

  Lancaster laughs. "I want to try American pussy. Let me have a go at her. You don't mind, do you?"

  Or fucking kill him.

  My fists clench hard at my sides and I swing around. What comes out of my mouth isn't at all what I'm thinking.

  "'Course I don't, but not until after I'm finished. Do you understand, Hannibal? If I catch you within sniffing distance of her before then, I'll nail you to the wall by your cock."

  Maybe I say a little of what I'm thinking.

  "Christ, you don't have to get medieval about it." He holds up his hands. "I know you don't like to share. Let me know when you're sick of the cunt. I'll keep hands-off until then."

  I'm already walking away. "Give my regards to your parents."

  "I always do, Nicholas," he calls after me.

  And just a moment later, the clouds open, the thunder wails, and the rain pours down like every angel in heaven is crying.

  "What do you mean, you don't know where she is?"

  I'm in the morning room of Guthrie House and a young security guard stands before me, his eyes downcast.

  "She went to the loo, sir. She seemed to be taking a long time, so I went in to check on her...and she was gone."

  I had interviews after the polo match. Olivia was supposed to be driven back here, to meet me. But she never arrived.

  While I was wasting time answering stupid fucking questions, talking to people I abhor, Olivia was...getting lost? Getting taken? A thousand gut-wrenching thoughts barrel through my head, making it pound.

  My hand tears through my hair. "Get out."

  Winston is on it. He'll find her--that's what he does; he's good at it. But I pace the room, because I want to be the one out there looking for her.

  "It'll be all right, Nick," Simon tries, sitting on the couch beside Franny. "She'll turn up. She probably just lost her way."

  Thunder roars outside, rattling the window, mockingly.

  And then the phone rings. Fergus answers and turns to me with the closest thing I've ever seen on his face to a smile. "Miss Hammond just walked up to the South Gate, Your Grace. They're bringing her around now."

  And it's like my whole body deflates with relief.

  Until I see her--dripping wet, with big, wounded eyes. I cross the room and pull her against me. "Are you hurt? Christ, what happened?"

  "I needed to think," Olivia says flatly. "I think better when I walk around."

  My hands tighten on her arms as I lean back, wanting to shake her. "You can't walk around the city without security, Olivia."

  She just looks at me with that same blank expression. "No, I can. You can't, but I can."

  "I've been going out of my mind!"

  Her voice is colorless. Drained. "Why?"

  "Why?"

  "Yes, why? I'm just in-house American pussy that you're not tired of yet."

  Horror slams into me like a sledgehammer, punching the air from my lungs, choking off my response.

  "Just a cunt your friend is welcome to have at, but not until you're finished because you don't share."

  "Olivia, I didn't mean--"

  "You didn't mean for me to hear? Yeah, I got that." She shakes out of my arms and backs away, her eyes hard and distrustful. "How could you say those things?"

  "I didn't mean them."

  "I don't care if you meant them, you said them! Is that how you talk about me with your friends, Nicholas?" She points at Simon.

  And I don't give a fuck that we have an audience.

  I approach her and hiss, "Lancaster is not my friend."

  "He sounded like your friend."

  "He's not! It's just...it's just the way things are here."

  Olivia shakes her head and her voice becomes clogged, strained with the effort of holding back tears. "If that's how it is, then I'm going home. I thought I could do this, but...I don't want to anymore."

  When she turns, I yell, "Stop!"

  She doesn't bother to turn around. "Fuck off!"

  I grab her arm. And then she does swing around. Slapping me so hard my head snaps to the side and my cheek throbs.

  "Don't fucking touch me!" Olivia faces me, her feet shoulder-width apart, hands curved into claws, eyes darting--like a beautiful, wild, cornered animal--that's been wounded.

  "Let me explain."

  "I'm leaving!" she screeches.

  My face goes hard, tight, and anger sharpens my words--because she won't goddamn listen.

  "Clue in, love--the car's mine, the house is mine, the whole fucking country is mine! You're not going anywhere because I'll tell them not to take you anywhere."

  She lifts her chin, shoulders back. "Then I'll walk to the airport."

  "It's too far--you can't walk."

  "Watch me!"

  Franny's voice, musical and calm, like a preschool teacher's, comes between us.

  "Children, children...that's enough of that.
"

  She takes both of Olivia's hands in hers, turning her back to me. "Olivia, Nicholas is right--it's dreadful outside; you can't walk anywhere. And you look terrible--you can't go out like this!"

  She turns to Fergus. "Fergus, have a bath drawn and bring a bottle of Courvoisier to Olivia's room."

  Franny pushes Olivia's hair back, the way you would for a sad little child. "A nice hot bath, a good drink, and if you still want to leave in the morning, I'll drive you myself." Her dark eyes glare at me pointedly. "I have my own car."

  Olivia shudders when she inhales, like she's on the verge of tears--and the sound is tearing at me.

  "Go on now," Franny tells her. "I'll be up in a moment."

  When Olivia leaves the room, I move to follow, but Franny steps into my path.

  "Oh no, you stay here."

  "Simon," I say with a scowl, "collect your wife before I say something I'll regret."

  But Franny just tilts her head, appraising me. "I used to think you were a selfish bastard, but I'm starting to believe you're just a fool. A double-damned idiot. I'm not sure which is worse."

  "Then I guess it's good that I don't give a turtle's arse-crack about your opinion of me."

  The only indication that she heard me is the sharp lift of one side of her pink mouth.

  "I think you like her clueless--it makes her dependent on you. And it keeps her innocent. Untainted by this cesspool the rest of us swim around in every day. But you've left her vulnerable. She doesn't understand the rules. She doesn't even know the name of the game."

  "So, you'll what?" I growl. "Teach her to play?"

  Franny's dark eyes blaze.

  "Oh no, silly boy--I'll teach her to win."

  I've never tasted brandy before. When Franny handed me my first glass, she warned me to sip, not gulp. The first taste felt hot in my mouth and burned its way down my throat. But now--three glasses later--it's like drinking a melted peach in a glass, thick and sweet.

  The combination of liquor and a hot bath has made me feel calmer. No, that's not right--I feel numb. I'm not sure if that's better or worse for me and Nicholas, but I'm not thinking about him right now. Because Franny has kept me busy.

  I'm tucked into the snow-white couch, engulfed in an oversized cashmere robe, my hair down and wet--curling around me as it dries. I have Franny's iPhone in my hand, looking through the pictures on her Instagram account. It's a veritable who's who of Wessco's rich and famous, and Franny's been filling me in on their dirty not-so-secret secrets and sins.

  "Meth-head Bitch." Franny paces behind the couch like a drill instructor. "She tried cooking up her own batch and almost burned her family's castle to the ground."

  She's referring to a blond with her tongue hanging out and her right hand giving the finger to the camera. Classy.

  I move to the next picture.

  "Bulimic Bitch. Everyone thinks she's cured, but there's not a meal that passes through those lips that doesn't come back up. Rotted her teeth out. Those dentures are as fake as her tits."

  They're all bitches, according to Franny. Illegitimate Bitch ("the butler's child, don't you know"), Bald Bitch ("anxiety disorder, compulsively pulls her hair out"), Itchy-twat Bitch ("I'm going to do her a favor and send her a crate of Vagisil for Christmas"). Apparently, even the guys are Bitches: Rancid Bitch ("flatulence--spend too much time in close proximity and your nose hairs will be singed"), Microscopic Bitch ("But he's a big guy," I say. Franny wiggles her pinky finger. "Not all of him").

  I toss the phone on the cushion beside me and drop my head to the arm of the couch. "Why are we doing this, again?"

  "Because this is how it's done. They hate you--even the ones you haven't met yet. If there's a chance you're going to stay, you need ammunition."

  "But it's not like I'm going to walk up to Illegitimate Bitch and tell her I know who her father is, Darth Vader style."

  Franny's rosy lips slide into a smile. "And that's why Nicholas adores you. Because you're not like any other woman he's known." She pats my knee. "You're nice.

  "But," she goes on, "using this information isn't the point. It's enough that they know you know--their bitchy-senses will tell them the moment they see you. It'll be in how you carry yourself, how you look them in the eyes. Perception is reality. If you can control perception, you control the world. That's how things are here. That's what Nicholas was trying to do today."

  I take a drink of the warm liquor as her words sink in.

  Then, just for shits and giggles, I wonder, "What kind of bitch would I be? Poor Bitch?"

  "Definitely."

  "And my sister would be Tiny Bitch--" I pinch my fingers "--because she's this big."

  "Now you've got it."

  I look at Franny's profile--her perfect skin, adorable nose, shining, exotic eyes with thick lashes that go on for days. She really is breathtaking.

  "What would you be?"

  Franny laughs--it's a throaty, boisterous sound. "I'd be Ugly Bitch."

  "Uh...you mean Opposite Bitch?"

  It takes her half a minute before she answers me. She lifts the sleeve of her silk blouse, checking the diamond-encrusted watch around her delicate wrist. "All right, dearie, settle in and Franny will tell you a bedtime story. Once upon a time there was a girl--the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. Everyone told her so. Her mother, her father, strangers on the street...her uncle. He told her each time he came to visit, which was horrifically often. His 'pretty princess,' he would say."

  My stomach drops and the brandy feels too sickly sweet in my gut, nauseating.

  "I've always loved animals," Franny says, smiling suddenly. "They have a sixth sense about people, don't you think?"

  "Yeah, I think so. I don't trust anyone my dog doesn't like."

  "Yes, exactly." Then she turns her eyes back to the fireplace. "The girl's uncle was killed in a riding accident. Thrown from his horse and trampled--his head was crushed like a melon beneath the hoof."

  Good.

  "By then, the girl was dreaming about carving her face up, so it would match how ugly she felt inside. But she couldn't bring herself to do it." Franny goes silent for a moment, lost to the memories playing out behind her pretty, dark eyes. "So instead, she acted ugly. Cruel. A venomous little thing. She was very good at it. And she became the ugliest beautiful girl in the whole wide world."

  Franny drinks her brandy.

  "Until, one day, she met a boy. And he was silly and awkward and the kindest, sweetest man she'd ever known. The girl was sure she could never be with him--because once he knew how ugly she was inside, he would leave and she would fall apart. So she was heartless to him. Tried to chase him off every way she knew how. She even tried to seduce his friend, but nothing worked. The boy...waited. Not in a weak way, but with patience. How a parent lets a tantrumming child scream and cry and beat the ground, until the child is spent. And one night, that's what happened. The girl wailed and kicked and sobbed...and told him everything. All the ugliness."

  "And he didn't just love her anyway...he loved her even more. He told her it wasn't her face that made him love her--he said he would love her even if he was blind, because it was the spark inside her that had captured him the moment they met. And she finally started to believe him. With him she felt safe...and good...and maybe just a little bit beautiful."

  I reach up and hug Franny tightly, stroking her soft, dark hair.

  Then I sit back and look up at her. "Why did you tell me that?"

  "Because this place, Olivia, it's a pretty little shitheap--with a thousand bloodthirsty flies. But there is goodness here. I've felt it. I've found it." She covers my hand, squeezing. "And my Simon loves Nicholas like a brother. So if he loves him, I know he is one of the good ones."

  There's a knock at the door. With a pat to my knee, Franny rises and opens it. And Simon Barrister gazes at her, not like she's the prettiest girl in the world--but like she's the center of his universe.

  "Time to go, darling." He grins.
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  Franny waves. "Goodnight, Olivia."

  "Thank you, Franny, for everything."

  As they walk through the door and down the hall, I hear Franny say, "I'm very drunk, Simon--you're going to have to do all the work tonight."

  "Good by me, love. That's one of my favorite ways to do it--along with all the others."

  I set my brandy glass on the table and close the door. Then I turn the lights down, slip off my robe, and get into bed.

  The room is dark and still. Quiet enough to hear the scrape of the wall as it opens, and the footsteps that move steadily across the room. Nicholas appears beside my bed, kneeling like the stained-glass saints in the windows of his cathedral--gazing at me through the darkness with ravaged eyes.

  "Forgive me."

  It's hard not to feel bad for him, when his remorse is so raw and real.

  "The night we met," I tell him softly, "I heard your voice before I saw you, did you know that? It's beautiful. Strong and deep and calming." I swallow, tasting tears. "But now I keep hearing you say those awful things, in your lovely voice."

  "Forgive me," he whispers, harsh and sad. "I was trying to protect you, I swear. Keep you...safe."

  I do forgive him. It's just that easy. Because I understand now.

  And because I love him.

  My eyes have adjusted to the darkness and I see him clearly. The dim moonlight from the window highlights the angles of his face, the incline of his cheekbones, the arch of his stubborn chin, the sharp strength of his jaw, the swell of those full lips.

  It's the face of an angel. A fallen angel with secrets in his eyes.

  "I don't like it here, Nicholas."

  His brows pinch, like he's in pain. "I know. I never should have brought you here. It's the most selfish thing I've ever done. But...I can't be sorry for it. Because you have come to mean everything to me."

  I lift the sheet, beckoning him, and he slides beneath it, our arms searching for each other in the darkness. Nicholas's mouth covers mine, gentle but with an urgent press of desperation. I give him my tongue and he moans. The sound turns my limbs liquid and the sadness that lingered between us turns to need.

  We need this.

  With my heels, I push his pants off his hips, then I slide down his body, leaving kisses in my wake. His cock is already hard and beautiful. I didn't think a penis could be...beautiful...but Nicholas's is. It's perfectly shaped, thick and hot in my hand, so smooth and glistening at the tip.

 
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