Royally screwed, p.7
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       Royally Screwed, p.7
 

         Part #1 of Royally series by Emma Chase

  "'S'up?"

  She smiles so sweetly. "Good to meet you, Freddie."

  Out of the side of his mouth he says in a hushed tone, "You were right--she's really pretty."

  "I told you so," I hush back.

  Then I address her directly. "Olivia, we have a problem that needs immediate rectification."

  "Sounds serious," she teases.

  "Oh it is," Freddie pipes up.

  "My friend Freddie here hasn't had a decent dessert in months."

  "Months!" Freddie stresses.

  My eyes meet Olivia's. "You wouldn't happen to have thirty extra pies around, would you?"

  Warmth spreads across her face. And gratitude.

  "As a matter of fact, I do."

  A few hours later, after Olivia's stock has been completely demolished--and every pie paid for courtesy of the royal charity--Olivia and I stand side-by-side as the delighted, pastry-stuffed children waddle out the door.

  Freddie high-fives me as he goes. "Catch ya later, Nick."

  "Not if I catch you first." I wink.

  When the last one is loaded on and the bus pulls away, it's just Olivia and I, alone.

  "Did you do this just to impress me?"

  I slide my hands into my pockets, rocking on my heels. "Depends. Are you impressed?"

  "I am."

  I can't hold back my grin.

  "Good. But, in all honesty, I didn't just do it for you. The one perk of this job is getting the chance to make kids like Freddie happy. Even if it's just for the day."

  She turns to me. "You're good with them. With kids."

  "I like children. They haven't developed ulterior motives yet."

  The air shifts between us, becomes thick with want and words not yet said.

  "I'm sorry about flipping out on you yesterday," Olivia tells me quietly.

  "It's all right."

  "No." She shakes her head and a lock of hair falls from her topknot, drifting across her smooth cheek. "I overreacted. I'm sorry."

  I catch the curl, rubbing it between my fingers. "I'll try to keep my nose out of your business."

  And I just can't resist.

  "I'll focus on getting it into your pants instead."

  Olivia rolls her eyes, but she's laughing. Because exasperation is part of my charm.

  After a moment, her smile stills and she takes a deep breath--the way a first-time bungee jumper would the moment before leaping.

  "Ask me again, Nicholas."

  It's a bit frightening how much I like the sound of my name on her lips. It could easily become my favorite word. Which is damn arrogant, even for me.

  "I want to take you out, Olivia. Tonight. What do you say?"

  Then she gives me a word I like hearing from her even more.

  "Yes."

  I HAVE A DATE. Holy shit.

  "How does this look?"

  A date with a gorgeous, green-eyed, walks-around-like-a-sex-god man who's capable of making me orgasm with the sound of his voice alone.

  "Little House on the Prairie called--Nellie Oleson wants her dress back."

  Oh, and he's a prince. A real, live, actual prince--who kisses a lady's hand and makes orphans smile...and who wants in my pants. Holy shit!

  He doesn't give off the white-horse-riding, one-hundred-percent-"nice guy" vibe, though. He definitely has some asshole tendencies. But that's okay. I like a little jerky in my men. Sue me. It keeps things interesting. Exciting.

  There's only one problem.

  "What about this one?" I hold up a hanger with a black pantsuit clinging to it.

  "Great, if you plan on going to a Halloween party as Hillary Clinton from 2008."

  I have nothing to wear.

  Usually when women say we having nothing to wear, we mean we have nothing new to wear. Nothing that makes us feel beautiful or hides the few extra pounds we've put on because we've been hitting the salted caramel ice cream a little too hard lately. And is it just me, or do they freaking make everything in salted caramel flavor these days? It's my Kryptonite.

  But anyway, that's not the case here, as my darling sister helpfully points out while rummaging through my closet.

  "Jesus Christ, Liv, have you even bought any new clothes since 2005?"

  "I bought new underwear last week."

  Bikini style, cotton, in hot pink and electric blue. They were on sale, but I would've bought them even if they weren't. Because if I happen to get struck by an Uber driver or hit on the head in some freak scaffolding accident, there's no way I'm showing up in the emergency room in worn, holey panties. That's one rock bottom I refuse to reach.

  "Maybe you should just wear the underwear and a trench coat." Ellie throws me a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. "I have a feeling His Hotness would like that."

  I have a feeling she's right.

  "Interesting idea...but I don't own a trench coat."

  I wear a black skirt and white blouse to work--and I work all the time. Otherwise, I have a few pairs of jeans, old sweats, older T-shirts, a Confirmation dress I wore when I was thirteen and a pantsuit I graduated high school in.

  I fall straight back on my bed, dramatically. The way someone would drop into a pool...or off a building ledge. Fitting.

  "You could borrow something of mine," Ellie starts, "but..."

  But I'm five foot six. I have boobs--nice ones, actually--and while I'm not Kim Kardashian, I also have an ass. Ellie is five foot nothing and can still buy her jeans at GAPKids.

  I scroll through the contacts on my phone, looking for the hotel number Nicholas saved there this afternoon. I noticed that he didn't put his cell number in, but he probably has to keep that a secret for national security or something.

  "I'm just going to call him and be honest. Tell him, 'I don't know what you had in mind for tonight but we need to keep it jeans and T-shirt casual.'"

  Ellie dives on me like I'm a grenade that's about to explode.

  "Are you nuts?" She wrestles the phone from my hand and bounds off the bed. "If you want jeans and T-shirt you could go out with Donnie Domico from down the street--he'd give up a testicle to date you. Prince Nicholas doesn't do casual."

  I'm the embodiment of informality. I have neither the time nor energy for fuss or muss. Nothing about me is Uptown Girl--but Nicholas is definitely interested in doing me.

  Oh God, now I'm starting to sound like him.

  I lift my head. "You don't know that."

  Ellie opens the laptop on my dresser and a few key taps later, scrolls through image after image of Nicholas--wearing suits and tuxedos and more suits. In some of the pictures he's alone, but every time there's a woman beside him, she's wearing a gown--stunning, shimmery and divine.

  "His casual is at least a cocktail dress."

  She's right. And I have two hours before Nicholas picks me up--not nearly enough time to run out and buy something. Plus, that would require using the emergency somebody-better-be-bleeding-from-an-artery credit card. It's like I'm living an episode of reality TV--a full-fledged fashion fucking emergency. Except no camera crew and makeover-expert fairy godmother is going to pop out of my bathroom.

  Although...I may have something better. I roll off the bed and sprint down the hall, through the living room, to the door that leads to the downstairs kitchen.

  "Marty! Come up here!"

  Five minutes later, Marty's standing in my bedroom, staring at the pile of clothes I just dropped in his arms. "What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Salvation Army?"

  I gesture to the clothes. "I need you to help me figure out how to turn this--" I swing around and point at the picture of Nicholas on the laptop with the tall blond wearing a bold fuchsia halter-dress "--into that."

  I'm not stereotyping--I've seen Marty outside of work and he's an amazing dresser. Sophisticated, sleek, with a hint of flash.

  He looks at the clothes, then dumps them on the bed.

  "Let me explain something, baby doll. You are beautiful, inside and out...but I've known I like dick s
ince I was twelve years old. Give me a tall, dark lumbersexual and I'll dress him so fine you wouldn't want to unwrap him even if it was the first night of Hanukkah." He traces the air around me. "But your squishy bits, I don't know what to do with."

  I cover my eyes with one hand. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I agree to go out with Nicholas? It's going to be a total shit-show.

  The last date I went on was at a Laundromat. Not even kidding.

  Our washing machine broke and I spent four nights making flirty eye contact and small talk across the folding table with a super-cute guy. On the fifth night, he bought me a slice of pizza, then we made out on top of the heavy loaders during the spin cycle. It was only after, when I noticed the floral comforter, bras and panties in his colors wash, that he admitted to having a live-in girlfriend. Bastard. Six months later and I still can't look at a bottle of Clorox without feeling dirty.

  Marty gently pulls my hand down from my eyes. He taps my nose--and smiles.

  "But I know somebody who does."

  Turns out, Bibbidy, Marty's oldest younger sister, has a new job as a receptionist at City Couture--a high-end fashion magazine. Which means she has the keys to the kingdom, also known as the Sample Closet: a mythical, magical, warehouse-sized room filled with dresses and gowns of every shade, size, and style, as well as shoes to match and every accessory known to man. All of which Bibbidy can use when she's on the clock--and after--as long as her "dragon-lady boss who makes Cruella De Vil look stable" doesn't find out.

  She agrees to take the risk for me--and I'm not sure I'm okay with that.

  But Marty assures me she owes him big time--something about making up for crashing his beloved-but-piece-of-shit Chevy Nova in high school.

  And that's why Bibbidy Ginsberg shows up at our apartment forty minutes later, her arms laden with dresses and bags. And that's how, an hour after that, I end up wearing an Alexander McQueen light blue, sleeveless dress with a cut-out back that falls a few inches above my knee. It makes me feel pretty. Still me--comfortable--but an elegant, polished version of me.

  Ellie flatirons my hair into a long, black shiny curtain, while I do my makeup--a bit of powder, a hint of blush, three coats of mascara, and a muted red lipstick that highlights the shape of my mouth Nicholas seems to like so much.

  "These will be perfect!" Bibbidy exclaims, waving a pair of obsidian high-heeled ankle boots around like a magic wand.

  "Mmm-hmm." Marty approves. "Fuck-me boots if I ever saw 'em."

  "I can't wear those," I try to protest. "I'll break my neck. There's still snow on the ground."

  "You're going from the coffee shop to the car," my sister counters. "You're not walking the Appalachian Trail, Liv."

  Bibbidy points to my laptop--still open to Nicholas's delicious picture. "My brother wasn't messing with me--that's who you're going out with?"

  I have to fight to not sigh like a dreamy schoolgirl.

  "That's him."

  She enjoys another look.

  "Oh honey, you are definitely wearing the fuck-me boots."

  And that settles that.

  Twenty minutes later, I wait alone in the coffee shop--standing, so the dress doesn't wrinkle. The room is dim, illuminated only by the muted overhead lamp above the counter and a few twinkling battery-operated candles on the tables near the window.

  I close my eyes. And swear to myself that I'll remember how this feels. This moment. This night.

  Because I'm right on the edge--standing on that thrilling, wonderful precipice where everything is perfect. Where the dreams flickering through my head of how tonight will go are flawless--my witty, irresistible banter, Nicholas's sexy chivalry, our funny flirtations. We'll laugh, we'll dance--we'll share a good-night kiss. Maybe more.

  I'm Dorothy gazing down at the Emerald City.

  I'm Wendy rising in the air after my first pinch of pixie dust.

  I'm...I laugh to myself...I'm Cinderella, stepping into her coach to go to the ball.

  And even if this night is all there is, I won't forget it; I'll hold this memory close. Savor it, cherish it. It will make the hard times just a little easier, the lonely moments just a little less cold. When Ellie leaves for school, when I'm making pies before dawn in the kitchen day after day, I'll remember this feeling and I'll smile. This will get me through.

  I open my eyes.

  Nicholas is on the other side of the coffee shop door, watching me through the glass. His eyes are warm and wild, a heated jungle green. And then, slowly, he smiles, broad and big, dimples coming out to play. My chest constricts with unexpected emotion. And my own smile comes unbidden, easy--because it all just feels so good.

  He walks through the door, stopping a few feet in front of me, both our gazes consuming each other. His black dress shoes are shiny--and I wonder if someone polished them before he came. I've never dated someone who gets his shoes shined. His slacks are charcoal and perfectly fitted--the shape of strong, lean thighs visible as he moves--with the hint of outline of what must be a magnificent cock teasing through the fabric.

  I try to hide that I'm looking. But I am.

  His tapered shirt is silver-gray--no tie--the top two buttons open at the neck, and my fingers rub together, itching to touch him there. A black sports jacket covers the shirt, sharp and expensive looking. There's a dusting of dark stubble across his jaw, and I want to touch him there too. The combination of five o'clock shadow and rebel strands of brown hair that fall over his forehead give him a roguish, wicked look that makes my bones feel liquid and my breasts suddenly heavy and tingling.

  Our eyes finally meet--he's still staring at me, lips parted. And I can't get a read on his expression. As the moments stretch on, a bud of nervousness blooms in my stomach, its vine wrapping around my vocal chords.

  "I...I wasn't sure what you had planned for tonight. You didn't tell me."

  Those long lashes blink, but he doesn't say anything. I raise my hand toward the kitchen.

  "I can go change if this isn't--"

  "No." Nicholas steps forward, his hand up. "No, don't change a thing. You're...absolutely perfect."

  And he's looking at me like he never wants to stop.

  "I didn't expect...I mean, you're lovely...b-but..."

  "Wasn't there a movie about a king who stuttered?" I tease him. "Was he a relative of yours?"

  He chuckles. And call me crazy, but I swear Nicholas's cheeks go slightly pink.

  "No, stuttering doesn't run in my family." He shakes his head. "You just knocked me on my arse."

  And now I'm beaming.

  "Thank you. You look pretty great too, Prince Charming."

  "I actually know a Prince Charming. He's first-class prick."

  "Well. Now that you've tarnished a precious piece of my childhood, this better be some date," I tease.

  "It will be."

  He holds out his hand to me.

  "Shall we?"

  My hand slides into his. Easily. Like it's the most natural thing in the world.

  Like it belongs there.

  OLIVIA'S NERVOUS. Her hand trembles slightly in mine as I lead her toward the limousine, and I can see the rapid throb of her pulse at the base of her delicate neck. It stirs a twisted, predatory instinct in me--if she feels like running, I'll certainly chase.

  Especially in that dress. And those fucking boots. For several moments all I could picture in my head was peeling the pale blue fabric from her body--slowly. The way her hands would dig into my shoulder blades and her nails would rake my back. The sounds she'd make--little whimpers and pants that I'd lick from her lips. And I'd lift her onto one of the tables in the coffee shop, then have her in every way I could think of--and probably a few that I haven't.

  And I'd leave those boots on the whole time.

  But her anxiousness draws out my protectiveness as well. The urge to wrap my arms around her and promise that everything will be all right.

  I don't think she has anyone in her life who does that for her.

&n
bsp; My thumb rubs small, soothing circles against her hand as James opens the car door for us.

  Olivia waves to him.

  "Good evening, Miss."

  Inside the car she greets Logan and Tommy in the front seat.

  Logan nods, and gives her a smile in the rearview mirror.

  "Hello, Miss Olivia," Tommy replies--with another damn wink. Tosser.

  I raise the privacy glass so it's just she and I alone. It's also mostly soundproof--she'd have to moan my name very, very loudly for anyone to hear, but I bet I could make it happen.

  "You don't have to do that, you know." My chin lifts toward the front of the car.

  "What, be polite?"

  "They wouldn't think you were rude if you didn't say hello. They're good lads, Olivia, but they're also employees, and employees don't expect to be addressed. They're like...furniture, not really noticed until they're needed."

  "Wow." Olivia leans back against the leather seat, regarding me. "Somebody's pompous tank is pretty full."

  I shrug. "Occupational hazard. And as prickish as it may sound, it's still true."

  She pushes her hair behind her ear, fidgeting, as if she doesn't wear it down often. Which is a shame.

  "Are they always with you?"

  "Yes."

  "What about when you're home?"

  "Security's there too. Or maids. My butler."

  "So you're never just...alone? Can't walk around naked if you feel like it?"

  I imagine Fergus's reaction to my bare balls resting on the sixteenth-century Queen Anne sofa--or even better, my grandmother's reaction. And I laugh.

  "No, I can't. But the more important question is--do you walk around naked?"

  She lifts one alluring shoulder. "Sometimes."

  "Let's hang out at your apartment tomorrow," I tell her with an urgent, straight face. "All day. I'll clear my schedule."

  Olivia squeezes my hand like she's telling me to behave, but the gentle flush on her cheeks says she's enjoying the conversation.

  "So, the first night we met, if I'd gone back to your hotel room with you, they would've been there while we were..."

  "Fucking? Yes. But not in the same room--I'm not into audiences."

  "That's so weird. It's like the ultimate walk of shame."

  She lost me.

  "How do you mean?"

  Olivia's voice lowers shyly, even though the boys can't possibly hear her. "They would've known what we were doing, maybe even heard us. It's like you live in a perpetual frat house."

 
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