Royally screwed, p.4
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       Royally Screwed, p.4
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  Either he's got a lust talisman for a voice box or I'm in serious need of a hookup. Oh, who am I kidding--of course I need a hookup. I punched my V-card when I was seventeen, with my high school boyfriend. Since Jack, there's been no one--it's distinctly possible my hymen has grown back. I'm not into one-night stands, and who has the time for a relationship? Not this girl.

  The redhead's phone rings and when he answers the call on speaker, the conversation follows me into the kitchen while I get their order.

  "Hello, darling! It feels like I've been waiting ages and I was frightened I'd be asleep when you finally called, so I called you instead."

  The woman on the phone also has an accent--she speaks very fast and sounds very awake.

  "How many energy drinks have you had, Franny?"

  "Three, and I feel amazing! I'm going to have a bubble bath soon and I know how you love me in bubbles, so now we can FaceTime while I do!"

  "Please don't," that sensual voice says sarcastically.

  "Is that Nicholas, Simon?"

  "Yes, he's here with me. We're grabbing a bite."

  "Poo, I thought you were alone. The bubbles will have to wait, then. Oh, and I've made you two new shirts--they turned out marvelous. I can't wait for you to see them!"

  There's a shrug in Simon's voice when he explains to his friend, "She's taken up sewing for a hobby. She likes to make me clothes."

  And he replies, "Can she make herself a gag?"

  Which Franny, apparently, overhears.

  "Piss off, Nicky!"

  After Simon gets off the phone, with a promise to bubble-bath together back at the hotel room, the two men continue to talk in a hum of lowered voices. I catch the tail end of the conversation when I back out of the kitchen door, teacup in hand and pie plates on my arms.

  "...learned the hard way. Everything is for sale and everyone has a price."

  "My, but you're a delightful ball of sunshine when you're pissed--it's a shame you don't drink more often."

  The sarcasm game is strong with Simon.

  I feel those gray-green eyes watching me as I place the plates on the table. It's possible he's hotter now that I know his name. Nicholas--it's a nice name.

  "What do you think, dove?" he asks me.

  I slide his slice of pie in front of him and Simon digs into his blueberry.

  "What do I think about what?"

  "We were just having a debate. I happen to think that everything and everyone can be bought, for the right price. What do you think?"

  There was a time when I was younger, stupider, and so much more innocent about life--like Ellie--when I would've said no way. But out in the real world, idealism is the first thing to go.

  "I agree with you. Money talks, bullshit walks."

  "Bloody hell, now you're both depressing me," Simon says. "I may need another slice of pie."

  Nicholas smiles, slowly--gorgeously. It makes my head feel light and my knees feel weak. And he has dimples--how did I not notice them before? They're the perfect foil to his fuck-hotness, adding a playful, boyish handsomeness to his already devastating impact.

  "I'm glad you said that, sweets."

  And I'm a nanosecond away from giggling like a fool, so I start to beat it out of there. Until that voice--that I'd enjoy hear reading the phone book, if anyone still used a phone book--stops me.

  "Ten thousand dollars."

  I turn around, head tilting.

  He clarifies. "Spend the night with me and I'll pay you ten thousand dollars."

  "To do what?" I laugh, because he's joking, right?

  "The bed is empty and large. Let's start there and see what happens."

  I glance from him to Simon--to the two guys by the door. "Is this a joke?"

  He takes another swig from his flask. "I never joke about money or sex."

  "You want to pay me ten thousand dollars to have sex with you?"

  "More than once and in a dozen different positions. I could" --he makes air quotes-- "'woo' you, but that takes time." He taps his watch. A Rolex, diamonds and platinum--easily $130,000. "And I'm pathetically short on time these days."

  I snort, getting over the shock. "I'm not sleeping with you for money."

  "Why not?"

  "Because I'm not a prostitute."

  "Of course you're not. But you're young and beautiful, I'm handsome and rich. The more applicable question is why aren't we fucking already?"

  That is a strong argument.

  Wait--no--no, it's not. It's a bad argument. A bad, dirty, wild--crap!

  Nicholas seems to enjoy watching me think it over.

  And, God, do I think about it. I'll be thinking about it on repeat down to the smallest--and most well-hung--detail after they're gone. But fantasies aside, I'm just not the kind of girl to go for something like this in real life.

  "No."

  "No?" He looks genuinely shocked. And disappointed.

  "No," I repeat. "It would be wrong."

  He rubs his finger along his bottom lip, sizing me up. Speaking of sizing, he has great fingers. Long, with just the right amount of girth, and with clean, trimmed nails. And freakily, Dr. Seuss pops into my head--Oh the places those fingers will go.

  There's something very wrong with me.

  "Do you have a boyfriend?"

  "No."

  "Lesbian?"

  "No."

  "Then it's the rightest thing you'll ever do."

  My chin rises and my arms cross.

  "My dignity isn't for sale."

  Nicholas leans forward, eating me up with his eyes. "I don't want to put my cock anywhere near your dignity, love. I want to put it everywhere else."

  "Do you have an answer for everything?"

  "Here's an answer--twenty thousand dollars."

  Holy shit! My jaw creaks open and if there were flies, I'd catch them all.

  Those gorgeous eyes look deep into mine, pulling me right in. "You won't regret it, I swear."

  And now thoughts of the money--all that cash--eclipse thoughts of all the sex. The things I could do with that much money...replace the water heater, make a dent in the mortgage payments, put some toward Ellie's second-semester tuition. Jesus, it's tempting.

  But after the money was gone--and it'd be gone fast--my reflection in the mirror would still be there.

  I'd have to look at it every day.

  "I guess we were both wrong." I shrug. "Some things aren't for sale, for any price."

  Simon claps. "Good for you, sweetheart. Optimism wins the day. This pie is fantastic, by the way--you make these yourself, you said? You should write a cookbook."

  I don't answer him. Nicholas still holds my gaze--I can't look away.

  "Or maybe I'm just trying to buy the wrong thing. Sometimes the cow's not for sale but the milk doesn't always have to be free."

  Okay, now his drunk is showing, because that made no frigging sense.

  "You want to explain what that means?"

  He laughs. "What about a kiss?"

  The breath leaves my lungs in one big swoosh. And what he says next makes it a struggle to replace it.

  "If I don't get a taste soon, I'll go mad."

  I've never thought much about my lips. They're nice, I guess, naturally plump and pink--and I use lip balm, raspberry flavored, sometimes shea butter--a couple of times a day.

  "Five thousand dollars."

  I would've kissed him for free. But there's something exciting--flattering almost, in a sick, twisted way--about him making the offer. Because he wants this bad enough to pay for it.

  "Five thousand dollars? For a kiss?"

  "That's what I said."

  "With tongue?"

  "It's not really a kiss without it."

  I hesitate just a moment longer. Long enough for Nicholas to...ruin everything.

  "Just say yes, pet. You obviously need the money."

  I gasp before I can stop myself. I didn't think five words from a stranger could hurt so much. What a dick.

  It'
s a thousand different things--the humiliation of having my circumstances thrown in my face, the disappointment that this man--this gorgeous, seductive man--thinks I'm some kind of charity case, the shame that comes along with struggling. In a flash, I get a bird's-eye view of the coffee shop: the chipping paint, the broken lock, the worn chairs and shabby curtains that stopped being chic years ago.

  "For fuck's sake, Nicholas," Simon says.

  But he just looks at me, waiting, those arrogant green eyes alight with anticipation. So I give him what he's waiting for.

  "Hands under the table," I order.

  He smiles wider, puts his flask in his pocket, and does what he's told.

  "Close your eyes."

  "I like a woman who's not afraid to take charge."

  "No more talking." He's said more than enough.

  I lean in, keeping my eyes open the whole time, memorizing every angle of that face, feeling his warm breath against my cheek. This close, I can see the shadow of stubble on his chin and for just a second, I let myself wonder what it would feel like scratching against my stomach, my thighs--everywhere.

  Then in one move, I pick up his plate--and smash the apple pie in his stupid, handsome face.

  "Kiss this, asshole."

  I straighten up and slap the check down.

  "Here's your bill; leave the money on the table. There's the door--use it before I come back with my baseball bat and show you why they used to call me Babe Ruthette."

  I don't look back as I stalk toward the kitchen, but I hear a mumble.

  "Good pie."

  And as if I didn't know already, I'm sure of it now: men suck.

  THERE'S A WALL IN ANTHORP CASTLE that displays weapons of war used by the royal family through the centuries. Swords, sabers, daggers--some still have blood on the blades. One of those weapons is a flail, commonly known as a ball and chain--a two-foot baton attached with a chain to a heavy, spiked ball. It's an unwieldy mace that was actually rarely used in battle because of the danger to the wielder, and the long recovery time before one could strike again. However, when it was used, the damage it inflicted was deadly--the spikes pierced armor and embedded themselves in chests and skulls.

  That flail is the first thing I think of when I pry open my eyes--because I feel like one has been planted in my brain. The bright sliver of white light seeping through the shades, in the otherwise dark room, makes agony explode behind my eyes. I moan, and a moment later the door opens, Simon's shadowed silhouette spilling in from the hall.

  "You're alive then? For a time I wasn't sure."

  "Thanks for your concern," I grate out.

  Too loudly. Even the hushed words bounce around my skull like shrapnel. I try again, even softer this time. "What the hell did you let me drink last night?"

  Simon laughs without sympathy. "Let you? You guzzled what you've been drinking since The Goat. Vodka--straight up. Barbarian."

  Never again. I swear to my liver that if he just pulls through for me this one last time, I'll be kinder, smarter, from now on.

  With sickening realization, I remember the black-tie fundraiser we attended last night to support a royal charity. "Did I make an idiot of myself at the gala?"

  "No, you were very restrained. Quiet and aloof. I was the only one who could tell that you were lucky to still be standing."

  Good. At least I don't have to worry about that.

  I rub my temples. "I had the oddest dream last night."

  "Was it flying pink elephants and Fergus in a ballerina tutu? That one always disturbs me."

  I laugh--not the smartest thing, as pain reverberates through my bones.

  "No," I tell him quietly. "I dreamed about my mother."

  "Oh?"

  "She was...scolding me. All sorts of riled up. She even yanked on the short hairs at the back of my neck. Remember how she used to do that when we'd misbehave in public?"

  "I remember." Simon's voice is laced with nostalgia. "Until Henry ruined it for her in front of the press when he yelled, 'Ow, what'd you pull my hair for, Mum?'"

  I chuckle again, despite the discomfort.

  "What was she railing at you for? Did you know?"

  "She said...she said I made the angel cry." I move my arm over my face to block out the light.

  "Well, she did look like an angel and her pie was heavenly. I didn't see any tears, but you definitely hurt her feelings."

  I drag my arm away and struggle to sit up.

  "What are you going on about?"

  "The waitress," Simon explains. "At the coffee shop we stopped in after you dragged me through the city because you could walk around without being mobbed by cameras and fangirls. Don't you recall?"

  Images flicker through my head. I stop on one--the sound of a wounded gasp, and navy-blue eyes, the color of the sky at dusk, fighting back tears.

  "That...that was real?"

  "Yes, you bloody arse, it was real. You offered her twenty thousand for some rumpy-pumpy. She turned you down. Smart girl."

  I run my palm along my jaw, feeling dry crumbs and leftover granules of sugar. The sweet taste of apples lingers on my tongue. And it all comes rushing back--every word.

  "Fucking Christ--is the story online yet?"

  I can see the headline now:

  PIMPING PRINCE HITS NEW YORK

  "No. Not a word." Simon checks his watch. "It's half past two in the afternoon, so you're probably safe. If the little bird was going to sing, I think it would've leaked by now."

  "That's a relief, I guess."

  But still...whether it's because of the dream or my own behavior, regret rises around me like steam. It seeps inside with every breath, clinging to my lungs.

  "It's still coming down outside. Hell of a storm. You may as well finish sleeping it off; we won't be traveling today."

  "Good idea," I murmur, already drifting off, with visions of delicious ripe lips and swirling dark hair dancing in my head.

  Early the next morning I'm feeling almost human again--though still achy and fog-headed. I have a meeting upstate with the heads of a military charity organization, and we're scheduled to leave just before sunrise. The earlier we arrive at our destination, the less likely a crowd will be there to greet us. Thankfully, the damnable snow has finally stopped and if there's one thing I appreciate about this city, it's its ability to get up and running through any catastrophe. Although the roads appear passable, Logan trades out the limousine for an SUV. In the backseat, I straighten my tie and adjust my cuff links, while Simon mentions a craving for breakfast tea and a slice--or two--of pie to go with it.

  I've been looking for a reason to return, not that I need an excuse. Because I haven't been able to stop thinking about the pretty waitress--and the way I treated her. After I nod, Simon gives Logan the directions, and we pull up in front of Amelia's a few minutes later. The streetlamps are still on and the sidewalk is empty, but the door is unlocked, so we walk inside, an annoying bell chiming above our heads.

  It's quiet. I don't take a seat, but stand in the middle of the room amongst the tables.

  "We're closed," she says, coming through the swinging door. And then her head jerks up as she comes to a halt. "Oh, it's you."

  She's even lovelier than I remembered, than I dreamed. Delicate midnight tendrils frame a face that belongs in a museum--with stunning dark sapphire eyes that should be commemorated in vibrant oils and soft watercolors. If Helen launched a thousand ships, this girl could raise a thousand hard-ons.

  She's prettily made, the top of her head coming only to my chin, but fantastically curvy. Great full tits that strain the buttons of a wrinkled white blouse, shapely hips in a black skirt tapering to a tiny waist I could wrap my hands around and toned legs encased in sheer black tights finish off the whole package very nicely.

  An unfamiliar anxiousness fizzes like soda in my gut.

  "The door was open," I explain.

  "It's broken."

  Logan flicks at the lock. Security is his life, so a broken lock w
ould annoy him like a puzzle with the final piece missing.

  "What do you want?"

  She has no idea who I am. It's in the defensive way she holds herself and the accusatory note in her voice. Some women try to pretend they don't recognize me, but I can always tell. Her ignorance is rather...thrilling. There are no expectations, no hidden agendas, no reasons to pretend--what she sees is what she gets. And all she sees is me.

  My throat is suddenly a barren wasteland. I swallow, but it's difficult.

  "Well, he's desperate for some pie." I hook my thumb at Simon. "And I...wanted to apologize for the other evening. I don't normally act that way. I was on a bit of bender..."

  "In my experience, people don't do things when they're drunk that they wouldn't do normally."

  "No, you're right. I would've thought all those things, but I never would've said them out loud." I move closer, slowly. "And if I'd been sober...my opening bid would've been much higher."

  She crosses her arms. "Are you trying to be cute?"

  "No. I don't have to try...it just sort of happens."

  Her brow furrows just slightly, like she can't decide if she should be angry or amused. I feel myself smiling. "What's your name? I don't know if I asked before."

  "You didn't. And it's Liv."

  "That's an odd name. Were you ill as a baby? I mean, is live what your parents were hoping you'd do or did they just not like you?"

  Her lips fold like she's fighting a grin. Amused is in the lead.

  "Liv, Livvy--short for Olivia. Olivia Hammond."

  "Ah." I nod slowly. "That's a beautiful name. Much more fitting." I can't take my eyes off her. Don't want to in the slightest. "Well, Olivia, I regret my behavior when we first met and I hope you'll accept my apology."

  There's the tiniest flinch of her features--a split second--but I see it. Then she moves to a table and fidgets with a clear-wrapped pie. "Whatever. I'm over it. It's not like you said anything that wasn't true. It is pretty obvious that I do need the money."

  The self-deprecation in her voice--and knowing it's there because of me--makes my voice sharp. "Olivia."

  She looks up, into my face. And my tone gentles. "I'm sorry. Truly."

  That dark blue gaze holds onto mine for a few seconds before she says softly, "Okay."

  "Okay," I return, just as soft.

  Then she blinks and hands the pie to Simon. "You can have this--it's two days old, so I won't sell it. It might be a little dry, but it's on the house."

 
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