Royally endowed, p.6
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       Royally Endowed, p.6

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
 
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  I gather the strands of her hair and hold them back, rubbing gentle circles between her shoulder blades and murmuring reassuring words. Though I don't make a habit of it, I've been where she is--more than once--and it's god-awful.

  After another few rounds, it seems her stomach is finally empty. I pass Ellie a ball of tissues and she coughs, wiping her mouth and resting back against the wall.

  I reach over to flush the toilet and Ellie groans.

  "Don't--it's so gross. I'm so gross."

  "Stop," I chide--because she's ridiculous.

  After a time, she leans her head my way, still covering her mouth with the tissues. "Can you hand me my toothbrush and toothpaste, please? And a glass of water."

  I nod, doing as she asks. Ellie's toothbrush is light pink--the same color as the paint on her toes and fingernails. After she brushes and rinses her mouth, I put the items next to the sink.

  "Can you manage the walk to the bed or do you want me to carry you?"

  She closes her eyes with a grimace.

  "I can do it."

  I help her off the floor, holding her steady as she teeters across the room. "It's hot." She moans. "I'm so hot."

  Then she steps back and wiggles out of the snug silk gown, letting it pool around her feet, standing in nothing but tiny cream knickers and a matching lace bra. I avert my eyes, but not before the image of smooth legs, flat stomach, a snug heart-shaped arse and perky perfect breasts are branded permanently onto my brain.

  Ellie's nipples are dusky pink--an exquisite deep mauve--and part of me feels like a filthy bastard for knowing that.

  Another part . . . feels something different entirely.

  My throat convulses in a swallow because for the first time, Ellie Hammond doesn't seem like a girl to me at all.

  She crawls onto the large bed, her fine arse in the air, and collapses in the center. I grasp the edge of the blanket sitting at the foot of the bed and fold it over, covering her--for both our sakes.

  "Hey Logan?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Will you lie down with me?"

  Lie down with a half-naked woman who's looked at me more than once like I'm an ice-cream cone she can't wait to lick up and down? What could go wrong?

  Henry's damning eyes glare at me from inside my mind. "I don't think . . ."

  "Please--just hold my hand," she begs, and her voice is so small. "If you're holding onto me, you'll stop the spinning."

  And it's like I'm being wrenched in two--pulled in two different directions. The numb, hardened, calloused side tells me to say no, that this is a dangerous, fucking pointless move. But the other, more youthful side--that's tender and impractical--wants to give this girl anything she wants.

  Ellie moans softly and she looks so pretty and miserable, I can't deny her.

  I slide onto the bed and lie on my back, staring at the golden swirls in the fabric canopy above us, counting sheep and reciting the steps to assembling a rifle--anything to distract me from the tempting forbidden fruit beside me.

  Ellie tugs her arm out from under the cover, reaching for me, and I don't hesitate to engulf her small, soft hand with my rough one.

  "Thank you." She sighs, her closed eyelids relaxing just a bit.

  She shifts closer, resting our joined hands on my stomach, pressing her soft, supple little body against mine. My cock stiffens, stirs.

  Down, boy, I tell the savage beast.

  "Go to sleep now," I say quietly. "I'm right here."

  "And you'd never let anything bad happen to me, would you?"

  I close my own eyes and swallow again--feeling something unfamiliar and unnamed tighten in my chest.

  "Never."

  But a minute later, when I glance over at Ellie, her eyes are open, watching me--the blue of her irises is darker, deeper in this light.

  "You're always doing this," she whispers.

  "Doing what?"

  "Saving me."

  I smile, just a bit. "I don't mind."

  "Because it's your job?" she asks.

  "Yes."

  "And because maybe, sort of, you kind of like me too? Just a little?"

  A chuckle scratches my throat. "Just a little."

  She wets her lips, those eyes still holding me close.

  "And maybe because, when you save me it feels like . . . I belong to you? Even just a tiny bit?"

  I know what I should say, but I can't bring myself to do it. She'll never remember this anyway. So instead, I let my fingers trace her lovely face slowly, from her temple down her soft cheek to her jaw. Like I have the right to touch her. Like she belongs to me.

  "That's right, Ellie."

  She closes her eyes on a sigh. And they stay closed so long I think she's fallen asleep. Right up until her sweet voice comes again.

  "Hey Logan?"

  "Yeah?"

  "One of these days . . . I'm going to save you back."

  Seven months later

  I SHIFT THE SUV INTO park outside the address Ellie gave me--where her new flat is. New semester, new apartment, she'd said.

  After the wedding, Prince Nicholas and Olivia's fame rubbed off on Ellie Hammond, in a big way. She's got a devoted group of fanboys all her own now and her breasts have gained their own Twitter handle: @Elliesweettits--not particularly creative. The bottom-feeding paparazzi have gone out of their way to zoom in on that particular asset whenever possible. It pisses me off--a lot. More than once I've had to restrain myself from shoving a long-range lens up a photographer's arse.

  She's been living with her sister and her husband since the wedding--in the penthouse of an exclusive high-rise, which has made security simpler. Why Ellie wants to move is beyond me, and why she wants to move in November--when it's colder than Jack Frost's balls--is a complete fucking mystery.

  It's as if Tommy reads my mind. "Prince Nicholas and your sister's place is as posh as it gets--tell me again why you want to leave?"

  Ellie sighs. "Believe it or not, Nicholas and Olivia aren't that easy to live with. They're newlyweds--deeply, disgustingly in love. Their romance is like a fairytale, right up there with Snow White and the Prince. And I'm gonna die alone. It's depressing."

  "Does that make us the dwarfs?" Tommy asks.

  I raise my hand. "I got dibs on Cocky."

  Ellie chuckles and opens her door without waiting for me to come around and do it for her. Hate it when she does that. I meet her on the pavement while Tommy climbs out and stands on her other side. The three of us look at the big, square building that will be Ellie's new home sweet home.

  It's fucking grotesque. Hideous. A dump. If it hasn't been condemned yet, it damn well should be.

  "You sure this is the place?" I ask.

  Ellie squeals. "This is it! The perfect place to find myself."

  "Looks more like the perfect place to hang yourself."

  She waves a hand at me. "Oh, stop kidding around. Come on, get the boxes."

  We grab the boxes from the SUV and walk inside. It's even worse there. The hallway smells like wet dog and the flat is a drab room with concrete walls and patches of missing paint. The floors are rotting in some spots, and most of the cabinets in the kitchen area are missing doors. The appliances are ancient and caked with grease, a flash fire just waiting to happen.

  And Ellie's not exactly responsible with her candles.

  I set my box down and say quietly to Tommy, "I'm gonna go speak to the prince."

  He nods. "Took the words out of my mouth."

  I point to Ellie. "Don't leave her alone."

  Tommy chuckles. "In this neighborhood? Brother, I'm not even gonna blink."

  A while later, I'm at the penthouse, sitting across from Nicholas in the library. "It's about Ellie's new flat. Have you seen it?"

  He grins. "She was going on and on about it at dinner last night. She seems very excited about having some independence, standing on her own feet."

  "But you haven't actually seen the place yourself?" I push.

  And his hand
s stop shuffling papers. "No. But judging from your tone, I'm guessing I should."

  "The sooner the better."

  He rises from his chair and I follow him out to the living room, where Olivia is reviewing paperwork for their new charitable venture. Since Lord Ellington acquired Ellie's mother's pie recipes and is selling them as fast as they can ship them, the diners are no longer serving them. Instead, they serve hot, nutritious meals instead, cold sandwiches and hot coffee--to anyone who enters. They're only asked to pay what they can.

  Nicholas holds out his hand. "Road trip."

  She stands, pecking his lips. "Where are we going?"

  "Ellie moves into her new flat today--let's visit."

  "She said she wanted us to wait until she got everything set up."

  Nicholas meets my eyes over his wife's pretty, dark head.

  "Let's surprise her. Your sister likes surprises."

  When Olivia steps through the doorway of the flat, with her eyes as big as quarters, it's clear that Ellie isn't the only one surprised.

  A booming sound comes from outside, a few blocks away.

  "Hey guys!" Ellie greets her sister and brother-in-law. "I didn't want you to come by until I got everything ready. What do you think? Isn't it great?"

  Nicholas, a man known for having a way with words, has trouble finding them. "It's . . . something."

  And all Olivia can manage is, "Wow."

  The boom sound comes again. Before I can comment, Nicholas asks, "Is that . . .?"

  "Gunshots?" Tommy finishes. "Aye. They go off about every twenty minutes. Like a poor man's Big Ben."

  A scraggly bearded vagrant, naked except for a dirty, worn trench coat, peeks into the window and waves.

  I motion towards him. "The neighbors seem friendly."

  Olivia marches to the window and pulls down the shade--and the whole bloody curtain rod falls down.

  Did I say the place should be condemned? It should be bombed.

  "Why is it so cold?" Nicholas asks.

  Ellie's face scrunches a bit. "Yeah--there's a minor issue with the heat."

  "What's the issue?"

  "There isn't any."

  She raises her finger. "But it's okay--I have a plan."

  Nicholas scratches his brow. "Can't wait to hear it."

  "I thought I'd get one of those outdoor fire pits and I'd put it by the window, of course, so the smoke can blow out."

  "A fire pit?" Nicholas repeats.

  "Yeah," Ellie goes on. "You know, the Native Americans used to have fires inside their tepees and the smoke would escape out the top," she explains.

  "Tepees?" Tommy parrots.

  "Right." Nicholas nods. "Okay. Ah, Tommy, can you take those boxes, please? Logan--get those on that side, and I'll carry these," he says, hoisting two large boxes near his feet.

  "What are you doing?" Ellie asks.

  "You're not staying here," Nicholas tells her.

  "I know it's not perfect . . . but I love it," Ellie wails.

  "We'll find you a new place to love. I'll even ask the owner to loosen the pipes so they leak if that'll make you happy, but you can't stay here. Absolutely not."

  "But--"

  "Holy shit!" Olivia screeches. And jumps. "There's a rat! A huge rat!"

  "Don't hurt him!" Ellie yells. "I saw him before. I was going to try feeding him. I already named him Remy--from Ratatouille--he's cute."

  "Remy's not gonna be so cute when he's eating your toes while you sleep," I tell her.

  She points her finger at me, all cute and pissy. "You're not helping."

  Olivia starts repacking boxes.

  Ellie leaps towards her. "Wait, Liv! Back me up--sister code."

  "You can't stay here, Ellie. There's no way."

  "But it's got character written all over it," Ellie whines.

  "I think you're mistaking character for the message the serial killer wrote on the wall in blood, after he dumped the bodies here."

  Ellie scowls at her big sister, shaking her head, "Marrying a prince has made you soft, Liv."

  Olivia laughs. "I was never hard enough for Remy. Ever." The new princess snaps her fingers. "Let's go."

  She then follows her husband and Tommy straight out the door.

  While I close up a box at my feet and lift it, Ellie stands in the middle of the room, turning in a half circle. She's quiet and seems . . . tiny in the empty flat. Dejected.

  I step up behind her. "There'll be other places, Elle."

  Her purple tipped blond hair sways across her back as she shakes her head. "Not like this."

  "No, they'll be better. Nicer, safer places. You deserve better."

  She spins around then, with a burst of righteous energy. The tips of her small ears go pink and her cheeks are rosy with anger.

  "You ratted me out to Nicholas," she hisses.

  And there's a devil inside me that wants to tease her, toy with her--like a lad tugging on a girl's braids--just to see how she'll react when I do.

  "Yeah, I did."

  Ellie folds her arms, all adorable simmering fury--a pretty pussycat who just discovered her claws. "I didn't take you for a narc, Logan."

  I shrug. "Now you know."

  She jams her finger towards my chest. "You are on my permanent shit list, buddy. I'll never forgive you for this. Never."

  I lean in close, dropping my voice. "Since now you'll actually be alive for all those years that you're busy not forgiving me, I'm gonna put this one down as a win."

  She sticks her tongue out, then twirls around and stomps away.

  And, Christ, even her tongue is cute.

  Somebody fuckin' punch me.

  Six months later

  FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS, Ellie stays put--at the well-secured penthouse with Prince Nicholas and Olivia. Their lives go on--there are social events and announcements and the occasional royal duty. The rest of their time is spent working on expanding the Amelia's charitable diners. Eric Hammond, almost two years sober now, has thrown himself into the venture and works every day at one of the three locations--cooking, washing dishes, interacting with employees and patrons--doing whatever needs to be done to keep the places running smoothly.

  The press still swarms the royal couple like a nest of annoying nits, publishing articles that have no truth to them. But Nicholas settles in happily to married life and his mostly civilian American existence. While Lady Olivia, her father and Ellie adjust fully to their celebrity-by-association status.

  And Ellie occasionally . . . dates.

  It's a sore subject. Mostly because it irks the fuck out of me.

  Her preference seems to be scrawny, self-important, worthless little twats. Ellie Hammond is a delicate prize, with so much to offer, and she's selling herself too bloody short.

  My mood is black whenever a new one arrives on the scene, and blacker during the few weeks they tend to hang around. Tommy always asks me if it's my time of the month--and I tell him to piss off.

  He enjoys playing the jokester, but he's sharp; he notices things.

  Then, one night, Ellie she comes home from an evening with her current tool, and I go from irked to furious in a red-hot minute.

  "Motherfucker!"

  And I'm not alone.

  Nicholas, Tommy and I rush into the living room, where Olivia is calling for the butler, her voice electrified with rage.

  "Where's my bat?" she yells before yanking open the closet door, and yelling into it, "Where is my goddamn baseball bat?"

  "Olivia?" Nicholas steps towards her. "What in the--"

  "Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Tommy hisses.

  Because he's looking at Ellie's face. At the burgeoning bruise just starting to form on the smooth apple of her right cheek. I've been in enough fights to know what I'm looking at.

  Someone fucking slapped her.

  Ellie.

  Someone put his hands on her, and now he's going to fucking lose them. I swear immediately and silently--to every saint I know.

  "Oli
via, please calm down," Ellie implores.

  "David," Nicholas tells the butler, "bring a cold compress, please."

  My eyes swing to Liam, standing just behind Ellie--he was her security for the night. "What happened?"

  "I was in the hall, outside the flat--she came running out," Liam explains. "The guy was following her and I shoved him back, got her to the car and brought her here. I didn't see the mark until we were on the road."

  Nicholas moves to Ellie, raising his hands slowly. "May I?"

  Ellie nods and Nicholas gently inspects her injury, pressing with his thumbs along her cheek, feeling for broken bones.

  "I'm okay," Ellie declares calmly. "Mitchell had a few beers, we were watching the game--he had money on the Mets. And I hate the Mets. When the Cardinals hit a grand slam, I laughed--I was just joking. And he . . . pshhh . . ." She swings her arm into a backhand, and my gut tightens.

  "He slapped me."

  Tears leak into her throat, choking her voice. "I was just . . . stunned, you know? But I only waited a second, then I grabbed my phone and got the hell out of there. I'm done with him. I think I'm done with all of them."

  And then Olivia is there--pulling her baby sister into her arms, holding her close, smoothing down the back of her rainbow-tipped hair.

  "Nothing seems broken," Nicholas says, anger making his tone like the sound of a tight guitar string. "But you should still see a doctor, Ellie."

  She shakes her head in Olivia's arms. "No, I'm fine."

  "I'll have a doctor come here," Nicholas offers.

  "No. I just . . . I want to take a bath and forget this happened." She sniffles. "I'm fine, really."

  "What about the police?" Olivia asks, hard and harsh. "This is assault, and that asshole should be in jail."

  Ellie holds up her hands. "Please, Liv. If we file a police report, it'll be in the papers. All over the internet . . ."

  "Screw the internet!" Olivia hisses.

  But Ellie looks her in the eyes. "I want to let it go. And I'm asking you to let it go too. Please."

  Olivia deflates a bit. She shakes her head, unhappy but resigned. "If that's what you want . . ."

  "It is." She sighs deeply, pushing back her hair. "And now I'm going to bed, okay?"

  Her sister's eyes crease with concern. "Okay. Do you want me to bring you a cup of tea?"

  Ellie smiles ruefully. Because Olivia sounds more like her husband every day. "No. I don't want tea. I just want to sleep."

  And then she walks out of the room and down the hall.

  While Liam talks with Tommy, and Nicholas and Olivia speak with bent heads in soft tones, I slip down the hall behind Ellie. I catch up to her just outside her door.

 
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