Royally screwed, p.25
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       Royally Screwed, p.25
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         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  There's building chatter from a group off camera, a burst of camera flashes, and then he's there, stepping up to the podium. The breath rushes from my lungs in one scraping, painful swoop, and the lump that suddenly lodges in my throat makes it hard to inhale.

  God, he's beautiful.

  And he looks fucking terrible.

  His navy suit molds to his form perfectly--those wide shoulders, strong arms, warm, magnificent chest. But there's more hollowness to his cheeks and there are shadows beneath his eyes.

  He seems...sad.

  And that devastates me. Because despite how it all ended, he deserves to be happy--and I want that for him so much.

  Henry sits down in a chair on Nicholas's right, resting his head on his hand, elbows on the table, looking tired. Simon's there too, one more chair over, and I think of Franny.

  She's probably calling me Runaway Bitch right now.

  "People of Wessco," Nicholas begins, taking a stack of white note cards from his pocket. "We've been through a lot together, you and I. You celebrated with my family the day of my birth--" the corner of his mouth quirks up "--and I've been told some of the parties were quite rowdy. You watched as I took my first steps, attended my first day of school, rode my first horse--King, his name was."

  Nicholas clears his throat and looks down, his dark hair falling over his forehead. "You grieved with Henry and I when we lost our parents--our pain was yours. You nurtured us, consoled us, held us in your arms as if we were your own--and in a very real way, we are. You saw me graduate university, undergo the same military training each of you have also undertaken--and I've strived in action and word to make you proud. To become the kind of man, leader and prince you all deserve."

  He stares down at the cards in his hand for a moment, then swallows hard.

  "My mother had many dreams for us, as all mothers do for their children. She wanted us to have lives filled with purpose, accomplishments...and love. The love my parents had for each other was a wonder to behold--you all saw it. They were meant for each other, made each other better versions of themselves. And you, like my grandmother, Her Majesty the Queen, have waited--not so patiently--" Nicholas gives a small smirk and a chuckle echoes through the crowd "--for me to find a love like that of my own."

  He looks nauseated. And his jaw clenches, like he's trying to keep the words in. Then he looks into the camera, brows drawn together. "Today, your waiting comes to an end. And I will speak to you about the future of the monarchy--of my future with the woman I will marry."

  I bite the inside of my cheek. I don't think I can do this--God, why did I think I could watch this?

  "She would have liked to be here with me today, but...circumstances...made that impossible." He pushes a hand through his dark hair, rubbing the back of his neck, looking down again at the cards in his hand.

  "And so, I announce that I...that I..."

  He stumbles on the words and I lose the ability to breathe.

  He doesn't move, doesn't say a word for several seconds.

  And then...he laughs.

  A sharp, bitter sound, while pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking his head.

  "I am a horse's arse."

  Ellie jumps out of her chair. "I knew it! He's Jerry McGuiring you! He's Jerry McGuiring you, because you complete him!!"

  "Shhh!"

  "I had what my parents had," Nicholas says fiercely, gripping the sides of the podium. "I held it in my hands. The love of a woman who was not born into royalty but who is more noble of character than anyone I have ever known. Knowing her...changed everything. And loving her...brought me to life."

  There's a wave of whispers in the crowd as Nicholas's brow furrows.

  "And I betrayed her. I doubted her love and her honesty when I should've known better. And I'm sorry..." He stares into the camera--green eyes glowing--like he's looking right at me. "I'm so damn sorry."

  After a moment, his eyes return to the crowd and his voice grows stronger, more definitive with every word.

  "But I will not betray her again. I will not forsake the dreams my mother had for her sons, and I will not ignore what my own soul cries out for." His head shakes. "Not for country and not for crown."

  He pauses, wetting his lips. "I'm supposed to stand up here today and give you the name of the woman who will one day be your queen. But I can't do that. Because I have screwed up." He snorts. "Royally."

  Then he leans forward, his beautiful face sure and confident.

  "What I can tell you, what I swear to you today, is this: I will marry Olivia Hammond or I will never marry at all."

  And the crowd goes berserk.

  Holy shit.

  "Holy shit!" Ellie yells.

  And Marty gasps. "You're gonna be a queen, Liv! Like Beyonce!" He fans his eyes with his hand. "I might cry."

  Only...I won't be. I can't be.

  "He can't do that." I turn to Logan. "Can he do that?"

  Logan's mouth is set in a worried line. His eyes flash to me--and he shakes his head.

  One of the reporters stands up, and the back of his head comes into view in the corner of the screen, yelling his question above the din. "Prince Nicholas! The law is clear--the Crown Prince must marry a woman of noble lineage or, if he is to marry a commoner, she must be a natural-born citizen of Wessco. Olivia Hammond is neither of those."

  I stare at the television, paralyzed by a hundred emotions swirling through me.

  The crowd quiets, waiting for Nicholas's answer.

  "No, she is not," he answers softly, looking down.

  And then he straightens his shoulders and raises his head.

  "And so, today, I, Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward, abdicate my place in the line of succession and renounce all rights to the throne of Wessco. From this moment on, my brother, His Royal Highness Henry John Edgar Thomas, is the Prince of Pembrook."

  The crowd roars like Brazilian soccer fans right after a goal.

  And Henry wakes up, lifting his head. Blinking.

  "Wait. What?"

  Nicholas slaps his shoulder--smiling big and bright. "It's all yours, Henry. You'll do great--I know you will."

  Then Nicholas holds up his hands. "No more questions--I have a lot to do. Thank you for your time." He turns to go, but then has second thoughts and comes back to the podium. "One last thing." He looks directly into the camera, and I feel his eyes like a touch to my skin. "You asked for a warning, Olivia, so here it is. I'm coming for you, love."

  And the son of a bitch winks.

  He heads off screen with a rush of reporters following him.

  The coffee shop is silent--except for the stunned recap of the news anchor. As soon as Nicholas was off the screen, Marty walked outside, dialing on his phone, mumbling how the new guy he's dating better up his romantic-gesture game. Ellie's on the floor--I think she passed out somewhere between "Arthur" and "Edgar." Slowly, I turn to Logan.

  "Did that just happen?"

  Logan nods. "It did, lass."

  "I can't believe...What did he just do?"

  "He gave up a kingdom for you." There's a devilish shine in his dark eyes. "Always knew he was a smart one."

  It takes a minute for it all to sink in. Repeating to myself seems to help.

  "He's coming."

  "That's what he said," Logan agrees.

  "He's coming here...for me."

  "Heard that part, too."

  There's so much to do...but...priorities.

  "He's coming here for me and I haven't shaved my legs in three days!"

  I haul ass toward the stairs in the back, taking out one of the tables as I go.

  Behind me I hear Logan mutter, "American women are nutty." Then he tells Ellie, "Get up, possum."

  GETTING OUT OF THE STATE HOUSE is a shit show. Security has a hard time keeping the public and the press off of me. Literally--there's grabbing and handshaking, attempted hugs and blown kisses, everyone screaming congratulations or curses or questions or all three at the same time.


  The world's gone completely mad.

  And I can't remember ever feeling so happy.

  So fucking free.

  It feels like I could leap over the lot of them. Like I could fly if I had to. Because every step takes me closer to home. To Olivia. I can practically taste her on my tongue, and I swear every breath I take smells like roses and jasmine.

  On the sidewalk, just near the car, my driver grasps my shoulder and yells in my ear, "The Queen's ordered us to bring you to the palace!"

  I nod. Then I smack his hand upward, sending the keys in the air before I catch them.

  "I'd best drive, then. That way, you're not disobeying orders."

  He stutters. "Sir, please...The Queen--"

  "Will get over it. We're going to the airport--call ahead if needed, but I want the plane ready for takeoff the moment we arrive."

  I push my way into the car. The door's still open when a handful of security--and Simon--gather round.

  "The airport will be mobbed, Your Grace," another security man argues.

  "Then you lads should climb in--I may need your help getting to the runway."

  A different man tries, "Sir, you can't just--"

  "But I can." I laugh, feeling almost delirious. "Isn't it bloody fucking grand?"

  Once I start the car, they stop arguing and jump the hell in. Simon's beside me in front.

  "Where's Henry? Did we lose Henry?"

  "He'll be fine," Simon assures me. "He's getting pelted with questions, but the men have him covered."

  I roll the car through the human sea and floor it once I'm on the open road. Mixed in with the joy is an urgency. A determined need pushing at my back like a gust of wind--because I can't wait to see Olivia. To hold her and kiss her until she can't stand. To make it all right again.

  To begin this new, different life.

  A life with her.

  Nearer to the airport, I honk at the car in front of us who think they're out for a Sunday drive. And my mobile vibrates in my pocket for the twelfth time. I don't need to look to see who's calling. I give it to Simon.

  "Keep this safe for me until I come back, will you?"

  With a knowing smile, he asks, "When are you coming back?"

  I laugh again. "I don't know."

  And it's a beautiful thing.

  "You should take my plane," Simon offers. "Her Majesty's already going to be furious. If you hijack Royal I, she may sic the air force on you."

  It's good to have friends. Friends with their own planes is even better.

  As we pull up to the airport, Franny calls on Simon's mobile. After a moment, he puts her on speaker.

  "Nicholas."

  "Yes, Franny?"

  "I've never been so thrilled to be proven wrong. You're not an idiot after all."

  "Uh...thanks?"

  "Be sure to tell Olivia I said she's a Fleeing Bitch, but I forgive her. And you two must come for dinner when you return, yes?"

  "You can count on it."

  An hour later, I'm in the air--on my way to New York.

  The streets are empty in front of Amelia's when I walk up to the door--the air eerily, strangely silent, almost like at a surprise birthday party, those moments just before the guests jump up and scream, scaring a year off the guest of honor's life. The shade is drawn in front of the picture window, and the lights inside are dark.

  Maybe Olivia didn't see the press conference? My stomach roils--because maybe Olivia's not even here. Perhaps she went...out. A toxic mix shudders in my gut at the possibility that she went out with someone. A man who'd help her drown her sorrows and forget the heartache I've brought her.

  The thought has me pushing the coffee shop door open with more force than I intended--and stumbling over the threshold. The interior is dim, but not dark--it's illuminated by a single candle. At a table...where Olivia sits.

  And my entire being exhales with relief.

  I take several moments to just look at her. Soaking in the vision of her dark, swirling hair--shiny, even in the candlelight. The way the glow of the flame dances across her flawless pale skin, highlighting her heart-shaped face, her high cheekbones, the flush, pink lips that have possessed me from the start and the midnight-blue eyes that own my soul.

  She watches me too, unmoving and wordless, her cheeks flushing as she stares--enough to make me wonder what gloriously filthy thoughts are fluttering through her mind. The door swings slowly closed behind me as I step farther into the room.

  "It's a quiet night," I say. Because those words come easy--as opposed to the backlog of confessions and apologies that are fighting for prominence in my throat.

  Olivia blinks. Almost like she's just grasping that I'm real--here--and not a vision she's imagined.

  "Logan worked with the NYPD. He set up a three-block perimeter around the shop."

  I nod, not taking my eyes off her. There's an excellent chance I'll never close them again. Sleep is overrated.

  "Ah...that explains the barricade."

  "Yes."

  Slowly I draw closer to her. "I've missed you."

  The slight dip of her chin, a gentle nod, is the only response I get.

  I rub the back of my neck. "Did you...did you watch the press conference?"

  Olivia's face changes--softens at the corners of her mouth, heating her gaze.

  "Yes."

  I take another step, slowly, barely reining in the urge to take her into my arms and make love to her against the wall, the floor and on top of every table in the room.

  Because before we get to that, there are things that must be said. Things she deserves to hear.

  My voice is a raw whisper. "Olivia, about the things I said, the night you left. I'm--"

  "Forgiven." Tears well in her eyes. "You're completely forgiven. You had me at 'horse's ass.'"

  And she throws herself into my arms.

  I bury my face in the hollow of her neck, inhaling the sweet scent of her skin--honey and roses and her. My lips travel up across her jaw, finding her mouth, feeling the wetness of her tears against my cheek. And then our mouths are moving together, tasting and delving--wild and demanding. This is no sweet, storybook reunion. This is raw and desperate and unadulterated need. Being away from her, knowing how close I came to truly losing her, makes me rougher than I should be. My hands push through her hair, clench down her back holding her tight against me, feeling every breath that shudders through her.

  And I'm not alone. She moans into me--I taste it on my tongue--her hands tugging on my hair, her legs wrapping around my waist, squeezing like she can't get close enough. Like she'll never let go.

  And everything about it is perfect and right.

  After a time, the desperation ebbs and our kisses slow--our lips turn to savoring and sucking. I feel Olivia's soft hands stroking the planes of my face gently and her forehead comes to rest against mine. We gaze into each other's eyes, breathing the same air.

  "I love you," she whispers, her voice trembling. And more tears fall down her cheeks. "I love you so much. I can't...I can't believe you gave all of that up. How could you do that?"

  She's crying harder now--and I realize she's grieving for me. Because somehow she thinks I've lost something.

  I set her on her feet, brush back her hair and wipe the tears from her face.

  "It was the easiest thing I've ever done. When I stood up there, in front of all those cameras, it was like when they say your life flashes before your eyes when you're dying. I saw all the years ahead--and not one of them mattered worth a damn. Because I didn't have you there with me. I love you, Olivia. I don't need a kingdom--if you're beside me, I already have the whole world."

  "That's so beautiful." She cries. "And really cheesy, too."

  And there...there it is--that stunning smile that hits me right in my heart.

  And my cock.

  She rests her head against my chest, her arms around my waist, and we stand just like that for several minutes.

  Until Olivia asks, "Wh
at happens now?"

  I kiss the top of her head and lean back.

  "Well...I'm out of a job." I step backward, grabbing the HELP WANTED sign from the window. "So, I was hoping the dishwashing position is still available."

  Olivia's eyes sparkle--one of the most gorgeous fucking sights I've ever seen.

  "Have you ever actually washed a dish?"

  "Not one." I peck her lips. "But I'm a very eager learner."

  "And what about us? What happens with us?"

  "We can do anything we want. Every single day of the future is ours."

  I sit down in the chair, pulling her onto my lap. She toys with the back of my hair, thinking it over.

  "I want to go to the movies with you. And to the park. Even if security has to tag along. And I want us to lie around in bed all day and order takeout."

  "And walk around the apartment naked," I add helpfully.

  Olivia nods. "All the normal things couples do when they're dating."

  "It would be an interesting change of pace for us."

  Olivia's fingers massage and rub at my neck. Feels amazing.

  "So, we'll take things...slow?"

  I bring her head down closer, whispering just before I kiss her, "Sounds perfect. I like slow. And you are going to thoroughly enjoy how I do...slow."

  Eight months later

  SLOW DIDN'T EXACTLY WORK OUT...

  "I now pronounce, henceforth, that they be man and wife. You may kiss your bride."

  I don't have to be told twice.

  I lift the gauzy veil trimmed with lace, cup her beautiful face in both hands, and press my mouth to Olivia's. Reverently--at first.

  Then I kiss her deeper. Hungrier. Lost in the taste and feel of my sweet new wife.

  Olivia giggles against my searching mouth. Henry whistles inappropriately beside me, and Simon coughs to try to cover it. Then the church bells ring, rattling our bones, the congregation stands, and I escort Lady Olivia down the aisle. Her dress is a strapless, lace confection, cinched at her tiny waist, long in the back--the train taking up almost the entire length of the aisle, carried by half a dozen little flower girls.

  Outside, the crowds cheer, waving silk flags and white flowers and banners. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and doves are literally flying through the air. It doesn't get more perfect than this.

  I lead Olivia down the gray stone steps to the open, gold-trimmed horse-drawn carriage--we only take them out for really special occasions these days. Once she and her gigantic train are nestled in, we wave our way through the streets, celebrating with the entire country.

 
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