Royally endowed, p.21
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       Royally Endowed, p.21

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
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  By the time we make it back home from the party at the palace, it's after dark and still raining. Ellie and I give the boys a bath, then we all snuggle together on the sofa in the den, me shirtless in sleeping pants, the three of them in sweet cotton pajamas. We lie under the soft blanket, with a fire glowing in the fireplace and the wind and rain howling outside.

  While Declan pounds and climbs on me like I'm his personal jungle gym, Ellie reads Finn a bedtime story--about evil dragons and a hero who rescues the damsel . . . and a damsel who rescues him back.

  "And they lived happily ever after." Ellie and Finn chime the last words together, closing the storybook.

  Our oldest son gazes at his lovely mummy, like she's the all-knowing and all-beautiful Queen of the Universe. "Is it because they're a prince and a princess? Like Auntie Liv and Uncle Nick? Is that why they beat the dragon and get to live happily?"

  Ellie rubs her nose against our son's button one and strokes his dark hair.

  "No, baby. Happily ever after isn't just for royalty." My darling girl looks at me with all the love and adoration a woman can have for a man.

  "Happy endings are for all of us."

  The End

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  A man born to protect

  After a major loss, Brody Carter found a home with the London office of McKay-Taggart. A former soldier, he believes his job is to take the bullets and follow orders. He's happy to take on the job of protecting Dr. Stephanie Gibson while the team uses her clinic in Sierra Leone to bring down an international criminal. What he never expected was that the young doctor would prove to be the woman of his dreams. She's beautiful, smart, and reckless. Over and over he watches her risk her life to save others. One night of pure passion leads him to realize that he can't risk his heart again. When the mission ends, Brody walks away, unwilling to lose another person he loves.

  A woman driven to heal

  Stephanie's tragic past taught her to live for today. Everything she's done in the last fifteen years has been to make up for her mistakes. Offering medical care in war-torn regions gives her the purpose she needs to carry on. When she meets her gorgeous Aussie protector, she knows she's in too deep, but nothing can stop her from falling head over heels in love. But after one amazing night together, Brody walks away and never looks back. Stephanie is left behind...but not alone.

  A secret that will change both their lives

  A year later, Stephanie runs afoul of an evil mercenary who vows to kill her for failing to save his son. She runs to the only people she trusts, Liam and Avery O'Donnell. She hasn't come alone and her secret will bring her former lover across the world to protect her. From Liberia to Dallas, Brody will do whatever it takes to protect Stephanie from the man who wants to kill her, but it might be her own personal demons that could destroy them both.

  Sierra Leone, Africa

  Stephanie Gibson stared at herself in the mirror, trying to decide if this was the worst idea she'd ever had or the best.

  It was probably the worst, but then she was trying to be optimistic.

  The good news was her boobs looked pretty damn good. The white silky gown she'd bought for the occasion skimmed her curves and the ivory tone made her skin look warm. Thank god it fit. She'd bought it off the Internet a month before but she'd been too afraid to use it. Now her time was up and she needed to look her best. She'd managed to borrow conditioner from Charlotte Taggart. For once her hair was soft and relatively tame. It was weird not to have it in a ponytail or a practical bun. When had it gotten so long?

  The bad news? She was fairly certain Brody Carter would still take one look at her and laugh. Oh, he wouldn't do it in a mean way. He would be kind about it. He would chuckle, that deep voice of his sending a shiver of desire through her right before he explained that despite the roles they'd played for the last few months, he thought of her as a kid sister.

  Come on, Steph. Go chuck on some proper clothes, and we'll grab a beer before I stroll out of your life forever.

  She could hear him saying the words in his sexy Aussie accent.

  Steph took a deep breath and thought about running herself. If she was careful, she could get back to her cabin without anyone seeing her. Maybe Brody wouldn't even come back to the cabin he'd been staying in for the last six months. He'd been attending something called a debrief with Ian Taggart for hours. He would likely take a room at the hotel in the city where the McKay-Taggart team was set up and she might not see him again.

  Well, except he'd left his big duffel bag behind. He might come back for that.

  She sank down to the bed he'd been sleeping on and remembered the first day he'd shown up at her clinic here outside of Freetown. She hadn't been sure what to expect when she'd agreed to help McKay-Taggart on a long-term mission. They'd explained that their own operative would run most of the mission and her clinic would give him cover. She hadn't expected for her long dormant sex drive to come alive the minute said operative walked off the plane.

  Steph lay down briefly, touching the quilt she'd had made especially for him. At first she'd given him a regular cot, but after she'd realized what that had to be doing to his massive frame, she'd paid a local worker to build this beautiful monstrosity. Brody had argued that he didn't need it, but she'd held firm.

  When he was gone, she would move it into her cabin. It would be ridiculous and far too much bed for her, but she wanted some kind of memory of him.

  It was over. The mission was over and in a couple of days Brody Carter would be gone. There was no more need for him to stick around because they'd done their duty. That very afternoon the op they'd been prepping for six months had played out. Guns had been fired, men had died, and Theo Taggart was going home.

  For six months she'd had a gorgeous, brawny, sexy Australian bodyguard who pretended to be her right-hand man. Together they had navigated the underworld of criminal activity on the continent, all in a crazy attempt to draw out the woman who had kidnapped Theo Taggart. Dr. Hope McDonald hadn't stopped with Theo. She'd kidnapped several other men and ruined their lives, health, and destroyed their memories.

  She was going to hold on to the memory of her glorious Aussie never-quite-a-lover.

  The door opened suddenly and a shadow filled the space. Six foot seven. Two hundred seventy pounds of pure muscle. Brody Carter. He stopped as though allowing for his eyes to adjust. It was inky midnight outside, and her camp was far from town. He would have walked in the darkness from his Jeep to the cabin.

  "Steph? Luv, what are you doing here?" He stepped inside. "Is something wrong? Something happen at the clinic?"

  Oh, god, he was here. What the hell was she doing? He was stunningly gorgeous and she was the shy girl who always sat at the back of the room and hoped no one noticed her.

  Except she hadn't always been that girl. Once she'd been the girl who answered all the questions, the girl most likely to succeed.

  And then she'd taken her eyes off the road, and in a flash of blinding light and crushed metal, that girl had died.

  She stood up. There was a reason she didn't get dressed in lace and silk and try to seduce men. She wasn't that girl and she never would be again. Now she was the girl who repented, the girl who tried to save the world because once she'd destroyed it utterly.

  Did she have to stop the rest of her damn life forever because she'd made a mistake? Could she not have one night of respite? One night where she got the guy?

  Deep down she knew she wasn't thinking about just one night. Deep down she knew she was cra
zy about Brody Carter and this was her play.

  "Steph, why the hell are you dressed like that?" The question came out of his mouth on a breathless huff, as though he'd just figured out she was half naked in his bedroom. "You shouldn't be here."

  But the words were said softly, not with any force of will and not with the abject horror she'd been worried about. He hadn't moved away. He'd walked into the room, his big body taking up so much space she could practically feel the heat rolling off him. He'd closed the door and now it was just the two of them.

  "I want to be here." There was no place on earth she would rather be. She'd dreamed about being right here since the moment Liam O'Donnell had introduced her to him. He'd brought Brody with him and they'd sat in a cafe in Freetown, discussing the mission ahead. She'd known it would be dangerous, but all she'd been able to think about was how amazing the man across the table was.

  Over the months he'd become her friend, her protector, her pretend lover, but every single time she thought he would take their ruse into reality, he would turn away.

  She couldn't let him turn away tonight. It was her last chance. She could let it slip away or she could reach out for it and have at least one sweet memory.

  A shuddering sigh left his chest and she saw the way his hand fisted at his side, as though he didn't trust himself not to reach out and touch her. His jaw tightened and she watched him win the war. "No. I'm not good enough for you, luv. I've known it for a long time. Why do you think I haven't tried to climb into your bed?"

  "Because you don't want me." She didn't think so, but she needed to hear it from him. If he told her he didn't, she would be able to walk away. She would be humiliated, but she would have tried.

  He was worth trying for. Somewhere along the way he'd decided he was a grunt soldier, pure cannon fodder, but she'd seen another side of the man.

  The side she'd fallen in love with. The side that might make all the pain she'd been through worth it. The side that might bring her back to life.

  "It ain't that, and you know it." He couldn't seem to look at her. His eyes went to the floor. "I'm not the man for you. You need someone better. Someone more on your level."

  She wasn't sure what level he was talking about. She ran a rough-and-tumble clinic in a place that mostly made the news for its outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever. If she had more than a hundred dollars in her bank account, she counted it as a win. "Shouldn't I be the one to make that decision?"

  "Not if you're not smart enough to make the right decision," he replied. "Someone's got to look out for you. You won't listen to your nurses and your head of security is a washed-up drunk. I'm going to hire someone else before I leave."

  She couldn't argue with anything he'd said. "If you're leaving then it doesn't matter if we spend the night together."

  "It does because you're not doing this for sex. You're doing it because you think it might change my mind about staying here or about taking you with me when I leave, but I won't. I won't do that to you. Stephanie, you're brilliant. You need to be back in the States, learning new techniques and charging a fortune for your expertise. You're going to die out here."

  She might, but it would be okay. She'd always known that. Now that her mother was gone, she didn't have any reason to go back to the States. It was better that she stay here where she was needed, where she could do the good work she'd promised to do.

  Where she could eternally punish herself.

  He took a step back and she thought he would leave. He would pick up his pack and she wouldn't see him again.

  One last desperate plea. That was all she had left. She happened to know that he spoke another language, a private one that eased him and softened his soul.

  Stephanie dropped to her knees, hoping that weeks of practice had perfected her form. Knees wide, spine straight, head down, and palms up on her thighs. The offering of a submissive to her chosen Dom.

  Or at least that was how the books of Serena Dean-Miles explained it. Avery had sent them to her along with a few books by Serena's friends. She'd looked at the salacious covers and rolled her eyes. She'd wanted fiction, not porn.

  But then Brody had joined her and one night she'd found herself picking up The Mercenary I Loved and falling into the story of Shane and Gabriella, and she'd found a whole new world.

  Brody cursed under his breath, but his boots came back into view. She could feel him looming over her. "You don't know what you're offering."

  "I know exactly what I'm offering." She didn't lift her head. "I've never had a Dom. I won't have another one. Not out here. I want the experience, Sir. Or do you have a submissive at home in London?"

  His hand touched her head, fingers sinking into her hair. They slid along her scalp, lighting up the skin he touched. "You know I don't."

  "Then I don't see the problem, Sir." She had to hope the word Sir worked the same kind of magic on Brody that it did on Serena's heroes.

  The hand on her head lifted. "The problem is that you're going to want more from me than one night in the sack, Stephanie, and I can't give you more than that. I'm not the kind of guy who settles down. I'm not the one for you."

  Yes, she'd heard a whole lot of that. What he really meant was she wasn't the one for him. It wasn't his fault he wasn't attracted to her. She'd misread the situation and it was time to retreat.

  She stood up, swearing she wasn't going to cry. Nope. She'd been through way worse shit and one guy rejecting her advances wasn't going to break her. Her inner tough chick made an appearance and she found herself straightening her shoulders and lifting her chin. She rose to her feet. When she thought about it, she was horny. That was all this was about. He was gorgeous and close to her and the adrenaline of the day had affected her.

  Yeah, inner tough chick was good at deflection.

  "Sorry about that. I didn't understand. I get it now." She held out a hand. "It was nice to meet you, Brody Carter. Have a good life."

  He looked down at her hand and sighed. "Steph, let's sit down and talk. I don't think you do understand what I'm saying to you. I'm not trying to hurt you, luv."

  He didn't even want to shake her hand? She eased around him. Inner tough chick had started biting at the bit Steph kept in her mouth. Irrational anger poured through her, but she had to keep a lid on it. It wasn't Brody's fault that she'd gotten her hopes up. "Not necessary, man. It's all cool. I'll see you sometime."

  She started for the door.

  "Please, Steph, I don't want to say good-bye like this. I don't want you angry with me."

  But she was. It wasn't fair, but he was one more disappointment in a lifetime of them. She might deserve it, but it hurt. This one particular snub cut deep. She'd known deep down that she would be alone, but she'd thought there might be moments of respite. These weeks with Brody had refined her need.

  Never let them see you hurt. It was far better to look like she didn't care than to sit down like an obedient little girl and let him explain all the ways she wasn't good enough for him. She was certain he would tell her it was the other way around, but what she would hear was that she wasn't sexy enough, her boobs weren't big enough, she was on the thin side and he was a man who needed curves on his lovers.

  "I'm not angry," she said as flippantly as she could. "I'm trying to catch the CIA dude before he turns in. He's bunking down in the clinic. I thought he might want an upgrade."

  She wasn't going to look for Ezra Fain. The last thing she needed was a casual hookup. God knew she'd had more than enough of those in her life. Except those hadn't been casual. Those nights hadn't even been about sex. They'd been about obliterating herself.

  No, she would go to her cabin and cry and sleep, and in the morning, she would work and begin to forget him.

  She started out the door but then felt a hand at her wrist, dragging her back.

  Brody's eyes had narrowed, his face turning hard when it was always soft around her. It didn't make him any less beautiful. If anything, that hard edge sent a thrill through her. "Wh
at did you say?"

  Her first instinct was to drop to her knees and beg his forgiveness, but he didn't want that. He'd rejected that part of her. So he got the inner tough chick, the part of her that kept on surviving. "I said, I'm going to check and see if Ezra needs some company since you don't want any."

  The door slammed and she suddenly found herself with her back against it. Brody crowded in, taking up all the space and staring down at her. His body brushed hers and she found both her wrists captured in one of his. He dragged them over her head, forcing her chest to come out, breasts skimming along his body. "I shouldn't do this."

  Tough chick was winning. Steph let her take over. It was surely better than the desperate girl who lived inside her. She kept asking for love and affection and getting swatted away. This was the next best thing, possibly the only thing she would ever get. "Then don't. Let me go and I won't bother you again."

  "No, you'll go find Ezra Fain and bother him," Brody said on a growl.

  "Somehow, I don't think he'll find me a bother." She'd barely spoken two words to the man, but she wasn't going to admit it. It was better to let Brody think she wasn't a love-starved girl.

  "He won't fucking find you anything at all. If you're determined to not sleep alone tonight, you can damn well do it with me." His mouth came down on hers and every inch of her skin came alive. His kiss was overwhelming, hungry. There was no slow meshing of mouths. He took her, his tongue surging inside and dominating her own. He let go of her hands and started to explore her body. His hands were on her hips when he came up for air. "I'm leaving in the morning. I'm going back to London and I can't come back."

  She'd known that would probably be his answer. She'd known he wouldn't want to stay and she couldn't leave.

  "One night. That's all I want." It was all she could have. It had been foolish to think it could be any different.

  His mouth came down on hers again and she let herself get swept away. One night and her life would go back to normal. One night and then she would be alone again. His hands started to roam over her and she tried to forget all the reasons why this was a bad idea.

 
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