Royally screwed, p.6
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       Royally Screwed, p.6
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  He squeals like a teenage girl who just got her driver's license. "How could you keep this from me?!"

  I invoke Pulp Fiction--it's his favorite movie of all time--and hope it's powerful enough to keep Marty from freaking out.

  "Bitch, be cool. Don't make a big deal out of it."

  "Bitch, be cool? You don't know what you're asking! That boy's picture hung on my wall for years. I always hoped he secretly played for my team."

  I sneak a quick peek over my shoulder to see if Nicholas is watching.

  He is. He waves.

  Then I turn back to Marty. "I think I can say for sure that he doesn't."

  He sighs. "That explains why his eyes are on your ass like a cat chasing a laser beam." He shakes his head. "Story of my life--all the good ones are straight or married."

  THERE'S A PERVERSE SORT OF PLEASURE in watching Olivia Hammond move. Peep shows have never really been my bag, but at the moment I have a whole new appreciation for the concept.

  On the one hand, it's torturous--the teasing sway of her fine hips as she glides from table to table, the delectable offering of her arse when she bends over to pick up a dish, just waiting to be nipped and kneaded and worshipped. But there's a simmering enjoyment in it, too--in how her rosebud mouth slides into a welcoming smile, the sweet harmony of her voice, the feel of those exotic dark blue eyes as they drift back to me again and again.

  I make a show of opening the newspaper--to at least try to be polite--but for the majority of the time, I stare. Openly. Hell, rudely. My etiquette tutor is rolling in her grave.

  And yet, I just can't be bothered to give a damn.

  I want Olivia. In my bed, on my cock, over my face. And I want her to know it.

  You can also learn quite a bit about people by watching them. Olivia Hammond is hardworking. It's there in the way she rubs her neck and arches her back: she's tired, but pushes on.

  Olivia is friendly, a characteristic that's clear when she approaches my security team and introduces herself. I chuckle when the lads give their names awkwardly--Logan, Tommy, and James--because they're not accustomed to being the focus of attention; it runs contrary to their job description. But then Tommy gives her a wink, and my chuckle cuts off.

  Cheeky bastard--I'll have to keep an eye on him.

  Olivia is kind. That's obvious when she hands over the prescriptions she picked up for her neighbor, Mrs. McGillacutty, then quibbles when the elderly woman insists on reimbursing her.

  And Olivia is trusting--too trusting. I note this when she has a disagreement with an unpleasant, well-dressed customer who seems to have placed an order for fifty pies for a party she's canceling because of the weather. Though Olivia argues she's already put out the money for the ingredients--already made thirty of the fifty pies--the woman sneers that without a contract, that's Olivia's problem, not hers.

  Just after two o'clock, a customer walks in who has a thick neck and HGH-infused arms that make his head look tiny. A pinhead, you could say.

  He's wearing black bike shorts, so ball-strangling-ly tight I adjust my own set in commiseration, and a ripped sleeveless shirt. He comes through the door like he's familiar with the place--with his arm over the shoulder of a bleached blond, Oompa-Loompa-colored girl, smacking bubble gum with engorged lips.

  "Jack," Olivia greets him. "Hey."

  "Liv! How's it going?"

  "Uh, great." She leans against the counter.

  He looks her up and down in a way that makes me want to jab his eyeballs out. "Man, it's been, like--five years? I didn't think you'd still be here."

  Olivia's head bobs in a nod. "Yep, still here. What's up with you?"

  "Things are awesome. I graduated from Illinois State last year and came back home to open up a gym in the neighborhood. With my fiance--Jade." He turns to the woman clinging to his arm. "Jade, this is Liv."

  "Hey!"

  "Hi," Olivia returns. "Wow. Good for you, Jack."

  He holds out a stack of business cards to Olivia. "Yeah, I'm just passing these out to all the local businesses. Could you could put them on the counter? Get the word out about the gym--we open in a few weeks."

  Olivia takes the cards. "Sure. No problem."

  "Thanks--you're the best, Liv." He starts to go, but then adds, "It's good to see you. I really thought you would've gotten out of here by now. But, hey--guess some things never change, right?"

  What an obnoxious arsehole.

  Olivia smiles tightly. "Guess not. Take it easy."

  And he strolls back out the door.

  Olivia shakes her head, almost to herself. Then she comes up to my table holding the coffee carafe. "Refill?"

  I slide my mug over. "Thank you, yes."

  I lean back in my chair, tilting my head as she pours.

  "So...Jack. Ex-boyfriend?"

  Her cheeks go slightly pink. I think it's an adorable reaction--my cock also goes rigid with approval.

  "Yeah. Jack and I dated in high school."

  "Well, if Jack's your only experience with dating, I understand now why you avoid it. He seems like a prat." I look up into her lovely face. "You can do better."

  "Like you?"

  "Absolutely." I point to the chair across from me. "Let's talk more about that--the you-doing-me part."

  She laughs. "Okay, really--how do you get away with saying stuff like that?"

  "I don't say things like that--ever."

  "But you say them to me?"

  She moves closer, leaning toward me, and my heart pounds so loud I wonder if she hears it. "Yes. I rather like saying...all kinds of things to you."

  It's relaxed and easy, this newfound freedom I've allowed myself with her. The way I figure it, she's already seen me act like a tool--in for a penny, in for a pound. A dozen inappropriate, wonderfully dirty comments come to mind--but before I can whisper one, Olivia clears her throat and straightens back up.

  She glances at the empty chair across from me. "Where's Simon?"

  "He had to head home on an urgent business matter. The jet took off early this morning."

  "What's his business?"

  I bring the mug to my lips, blowing softly, and I catch her staring at my mouth as I do.

  "He owns Barrister's."

  "Which location--the one in Wessco?" Olivia asks.

  "All thirty-seven of them."

  "Of course." She laughs. "Silly me."

  A bit later I get up to take a piss--four cups of coffee in half a day will do that to you. On my way, I pass the waiter--Marty, I think Olivia called him--a bag of trash over his shoulder, walking toward the back door. He nods his head in a friendly way and I smile back.

  Then, when the rear door closes behind him, a deafening shriek--like a thousand hogs squealing in unison--resonates from the other side.

  It's a typical reaction...and yet odd, every time.

  When I walk out of the lavatory, the first thing that registers is the charged demeanor of my security team. Logan's jaw is tight, Tommy's fists are clenched on the table, and James is already half on his feet, ready to spring.

  And it takes only a moment to understand why.

  The dining area is empty except for one man--a small, bug-eyed man wearing a cheap suit and heavy cologne--standing too close to Olivia in the rear corner, practically boxing her in.

  "That's not good enough, Ms. Hammond. You can't just ignore our notices."

  "I understand that, but my father's the one you need to talk to. And he's not here right now."

  He leans farther forward and her back touches the wall. "I'm tired of being jerked around. You owe us a lot of money, and one way or another you're going to pay."

  Olivia tries to slip past him, but he grabs her arm.

  Squeezing hard.

  My composure snaps like a twig. "Get your hands off of her."

  My voice isn't loud; it doesn't need to be. There's a brutal authority to it, a side effect of being obeyed my entire life.

  He looks up--they both do--and he drops his hand
from Olivia's arm as I approach. He opens his mouth to argue, but recognition makes the words pile up in his throat.

  "You...you're--"

  "It doesn't matter who I am," I bite out. "Who the hell are you?"

  "I'm...I'm Stan Marksum of Willford Collections."

  "I've got this under--" Olivia starts, but I push on.

  "Well, Marksum, as the lady said, her father's not here, so I suggest you be on your way. Now."

  He puffs his chest out, like some nasty little fish in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off shark. "My business is with the Hammonds. This isn't your concern."

  He turns back to Olivia, but I move in front of her, cutting off his access.

  "I've just made it my concern."

  As I said before, most people are fucking idiots--and this prick is a prime specimen.

  "Nicholas, you don't--"

  It's the first time she's said my name. And I can't even enjoy it--don't get to savor the sound on her lips or see the expression on her face. And all because of this pissant in front of me. It's infuriating.

  I snap my fingers. "Card."

  "What?"

  I shift forward, making him step back--see how he likes it.

  "Business card."

  He fishes one from his pocket; it's bent at the corner.

  "I'll pass this along to Mr. Hammond. You're done here. There's the door--use it or I'll show you how."

  When he's gone, I turn around to ask Olivia if she's all right, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't expecting a little show of gratitude. Perhaps with her mouth, hopefully with her hands--and just maybe if she's really grateful, she'll bring some hip-grinding action into the equation.

  She gives me some mouth, all right.

  "Who the hell do you think you are?"

  Her hands are on her hips, her cheeks are flushed and she's livid. Cock-stirringly stunning--but absolutely furious.

  "Do you want me to list my titles?"

  "That was none of your business! You can't just walk in here and...take over like that."

  "I was helping you."

  "I didn't ask for your help!" she rails. "I was handling it!"

  "Handling it? Was that before or after he shoved you in the corner and grabbed your arm?"

  My eyes are drawn to her forearm--and the angry, scarlet dots that now mar it. Finger marks. They'll likely bruise.

  "Son of a bitch." Gentle but insistent, I take her wrist and elbow, looking closer. "I should've punched the bastard when I had the chance."

  Olivia pulls her arm away.

  "If he needed to be punched, I would've done it myself. I don't know what you think this is, but I don't need you riding in here on your white horse. I take care of my business--I take care of myself--just fine." She pushes her hair back from her face and puffs out a breath. "Your good deed is done for the day, so why don't you just go?"

  And I choke. "Are you...kicking me out?"

  There are women would give an ovary to keep me--half of them have actually tried--and this one's tossing me to the curb. Over nothing. What in the actual fuck?

  "Yeah, I guess I am."

  I hold up my hands. "Fine. I'm gone."

  But I'm not--not just yet.

  "You're crazy." My finger jams against my skull. "You've got a screw loose, love. You might want to have someone take a look at that."

  She flips me off.

  "And you're a royal dick. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."

  It doesn't.

  Bloody fucking hell, talk about schizophrenic--the woman is a complete nutter. She's gorgeous, sure, but she's got issues. And I make it a rule not to stick my dick into a girl who might want to chop it off right after.

  I sit in the center row of the SUV, fuming on the way back to the hotel.

  "Can I offer you a bit of advice, Prince Nicholas?" Tommy asks.

  I may have been mumbling out loud.

  "Shut up, Tommy," Logan says from the driver's seat.

  Proximity breeds familiarity, and the lads in my personal security team have been with me for a few years. They're young, in their twenties, but their youthful looks belie lethal skills. Like a pack of German shepherd pups, their bark may not seem so dangerous, but their bite is vicious.

  "It's all right." I meet Tommy's light brown eyes in the rearview mirror, where he sits behind me. "Offer away."

  He scratches his head. "I think the lass was embarrassed."

  "Embarrassed?"

  "Aye. It's like my younger sister, Janey. She's a good-looking girl, but one day she had a zit on her forehead that was so big it made her look like a dickicorn. And she was walking--"

  James, in the front passenger seat, reads my mind.

  "What the fuck is a dickicorn?"

  "It's an expression," Tommy explains.

  James angles around to look at Tommy, his blue eyes crinkled.

  "An expression for what?"

  "For...someone with something big coming out o' their forehead that looks like a cock."

  "Wouldn't it be a unicock, then?" James wonders.

  "For Christ's sake," Logan cuts in. "Would you forget about the fuckin' unicorn or dickicock or whatever the hell it is--"

  "It doesn't make any sense!" James argues.

  "--and let Tommy finish his story? We're never gonna hear the end at this rate."

  James throws up his hands, grumbling. "Fine. But it still doesn't make any sense."

  For the record, my semantic vote goes to unidick.

  Tommy continues. "Right. So, Janey's walking home from school with Brandon, a lad from up the street, who she'd been crushing on for weeks. And my da's home early from work, sittin' out on the stoop. So he says, 'Hey, Janey, you want me to grab some cream from the pharmacy to kill that monster on your forehead?' And Janey goes crazy--screechin' like a banshee at my da, sayin' she'd never talk to him again, making him feel two cents worth o' shit. And my poor da--I mean, he was just tryin' to be helpful. But what I figured was, no girl wants her troubles rubbed in her face--Janey knew she was a dickicorn, she didn't need it said out loud. But she especially didn't want it said in front of a lad she likes."

  He meets my eyes in the mirror. "It's a pride thing, ya know? It wasn't that Miss Hammond didn't want your help; maybe she was embarrassed that she needed it."

  I don't go back to Amelia's the next morning. Not because I'm not thinking about Olivia, but because I have a prior commitment--a visit to The Boys' Home in the Bronx, one of many institutions funded by The Prince and Princess of Pembrook Charity. It's a private facility that takes in children who've been orphaned--an alternative to the overrun foster care system.

  I meet with the director, an enthusiastic middle-aged man with tired eyes. He gives me a tour of the dorm room, the gymnasium, and the cafeteria. They do their best to cheer the place up with brightly colored paint and artwork on the walls, but it still resembles a prison for kindergarteners. The hollow-faced, curious glances of the children who live here follow my every move.

  We venture out into the play yard, which consists of a fenced-in concrete paved square with a single basketball net. I tell the director to contact my personal secretary--because every child deserves to have a swing set.

  My father used to say when it came to charities, helping people was the easy part--it was choosing whom to help first, allocating resources, that kept him up at night.

  A few youngsters color with chalk on one side, while a group plays basketball on the other--but my eyes are drawn to one small boy in a red T-shirt who looks about seven years old, sitting on the sidelines. It's a view I'm familiar with. When I was a teen I had more "friends" than I'd ever need--everyone wanted a piece of me. But earlier, I was an oddity.

  And children, like Mother Nature, can be breathtakingly cruel.

  As I walk toward the boy, Logan reminds the group of staff members behind me, "No pictures today."

  Big brown eyes that say they've seen more than they ever should regard me with interest as I sit
down beside him.

  "Hey."

  "Hi." I hold out my hand. "I'm Nicholas."

  He shakes it. "Freddie."

  "That's a good name. My middle name is Freddie. It means 'peaceful ruler.'"

  He kicks at the concrete with the tip of his worn sneaker. "Are you really a prince?"

  "I really am."

  "You don't look like a prince."

  I pat the lapels of my gray suit jacket. "Must've left my crown in another suit. I'm always losing the darn thing."

  I'm rewarded with a flash of white teeth and a giggle.

  "Don't feel like playing today, Freddie?"

  He shrugs.

  "Do you like living here?"

  I've seen the reports--mental health stats, graduation rates--but if you want the real story behind what goes on in a place like this, it's always best to go straight to the source.

  "It's okay." He bobs his little head. "I used to live with my auntie--she was nice. But she died."

  The sadness in those few words pierces like the prick of a steel nail.

  "I'm sorry."

  He nods, because he's heard the condolences before, but they don't change anything.

  "The teachers here are nice; they smile a lot. But my auntie used to bake cookies. They don't give us cookies here."

  "Smiles are good, but cookies are always better."

  A spark of life flashes across his face. A connection.

  "I know, right? Do you know what they make us eat for dessert?"

  "What?" I ask, riveted.

  "Fruit salad!"

  I make a disgusted face. "Oh, no--not fruit."

  "Yes!" he insists. "And not even with whipped cream! Fruit's not dessert." He wags his finger at me. "You should talk to someone about that. Set 'em straight."

  "It'll be at the top of my list."

  And then a thought comes to me. An impressive thought.

  "Freddie--do you like pie?"

  He looks shocked that I even asked.

  "Well, yeah--everybody likes pie. There's fruit in it, but it's pie."

  The director walks up to us. "How are we doing? Can I get you anything, Prince Nicholas?"

  "Yes," I tell him, scanning the playground--counting. "You can get me a bus."

  An hour later, I walk into Amelia's like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, trailing fifty children behind me. Behind the counter, Olivia's eyes flare round--surprised to see me--and to see the gaggle of little ones swarming her coffee shop like adorable locusts.

  "Hey, what's going on?"

  I gesture to the young man beside me. "Olivia, this is Freddie--Freddie, meet Olivia."

 
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