Royally endowed, p.8
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       Royally Endowed, p.8

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
 
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  "Dad . . ." Olivia questions with a hint of worry in her tone that tells me she didn't know about this present. And she worries about me. Always.

  My dad kisses my cheek and sets me back down. "The royalties from my deal with Simon have been good. She's twenty years old now, Liv. She's doing great in school--she deserves it." Then he looks back to me, his dark blue eyes--just like my sister's--sparkling.

  "The car's from me, but the private parking is courtesy of Nicholas."

  I skip over to my brother-in-law and hug him too. Hugs for everyone!

  "Is your license still valid, Ellie?" Olivia asks.

  "Bet your sweet bippy it is, Liv." And I dance like I have to pee. "So, can I, like, drive it? Now?"

  "Of course you can," my dad says, smiling, holding out the shiny key. "It's yours, sweetheart." He kisses my cheek. "I love you, Ellie."

  I hug him again. "I love you too, Dad."

  When I walk around to climb in, my brother-in-law suggests, "Ah, maybe take one of the lads with you? Just in case there's trouble. Logan--would you mind?"

  Logan nods. "Sure."

  And I bounce in front of him. "This is going to be so awesome!"

  He looks sort of ill.

  "Yeah. Great." He holds up his fist and gives a pathetic "Woo."

  I roll my eyes and slide into the driver's seat. It fits like a glove.

  Then Tommy makes the sign of the cross in front of Logan. Blessing him.

  In Latin.

  Logan shoves him playfully. "Tosser."

  He gets into the passenger seat and with a honk and a thumbs-up, we're off.

  I pull out of the garage and onto the tight, one-way street. And I make my way across Midtown.

  Slowly.

  Because traffic doesn't give a crap if it's your birthday.

  Once we're through the tunnel and onto the highway, traffic opens up. I dig through my purse for a quarter and hand it to Logan.

  "What's this?" he asks.

  The wind blows my hair wild and I tilt my chin up, enjoying the feel of the breeze and warmth on my face, smelling the sund-drenched air while "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman drifts up through the speakers. Without active memorization techniques, human beings forget about 70 percent of their lives. It's a brain capacity thing--only so much can make it into the storage banks of long-term memory.

  But this day--this moment, right here--I want to remember it.

  "That's our GPS. Flip it. Heads we go left, tails right."

  He shakes his head. "You're such an odd bird."

  "No, I'm a free bird. You were there when I got my tattoo--I'm gonna suck the lemon of life, seeds and all. Now flip--quick."

  He rolls his eyes and then flips the coin. It's tails.

  I screech across three lanes of highway--with the sounds of angry horns blaring behind me--to make the exit ramp coming up quick on the right.

  We end up at an outdoor paintball course in Jersey. A woodsy, rural kind of place that's probably brimming with mosquitos and Lyme disease. When I find out Logan has never played paintball before, I sign us both up.

  There's really no other option.

  And our timing is perfect--they're just about to start a new battle. The worker gathers all the players in a field and divides us into two teams, handing out thin blue and yellow vests to distinguish friend from foe.

  Since Logan and I are the oldest players, we both become the team captains. The wide-eyed little faces of Logan's squad follow him as he marches back and forth in front of them, lecturing like a hot, modern-day Winston Churchill.

  "We'll fight them from the hills, we'll fight them in the trees. We'll hunker down in the river and take them out, sniper-style. Save your ammo--fire only when you see the whites of their eyes. Use your heads."

  I turn to my own ragtag crew.

  "Use your hearts. We'll give them everything we've got--leave it all on the field. You know what wins battles? Desire! Guts! Today, we'll all be frigging Rudy!"

  A blond boy whispers to his friend, "Who's Rudy?"

  The kid shrugs.

  And another raises his hand. "Can we start now? It's my birthday and I really want to have cake."

  "It's my birthday too." I give him a high-five. "Twinning!"

  I raise my gun. "And yes, birthday cake will be our spoils of war! Here's how it's gonna go." I point to the giant on the other side of the field. "You see him, the big guy? We converge on him first. Work together to take him down. Cut off the head," I slice my finger across my neck like I'm beheading myself, "and the old dog dies."

  A skinny kid in glasses makes a grossed-out face. "Why would you kill a dog? Why would you cut its head off?"

  And a little girl in braids squeaks, "Mommy! Mommy, I don't want to play anymore."

  "No," I try, "that's not what I--"

  But she's already running into her mom's arms. The woman picks her up--glaring at me like I'm a demon--and carries her away.

  "Darn."

  Then a soft voice whispers right against my ear.

  "They're already going AWOL on you, lass? You're fucked."

  I turn to face the bold, tough Wessconian . . . and he's so close, I can feel the heat from his hard body, see the small sprigs of stubble on that perfect, gorgeous jaw. My brain stutters, but I find the resolve to tease him.

  "Dear God, Logan, are you smiling? Careful--you might pull a muscle in your face."

  And then Logan does something that melts my insides and turns my knees to quivery goo.

  He laughs.

  And it's beautiful.

  It's a crime he doesn't do it more often. Or maybe a blessing. Because Logan St. James is a sexy, stunning man on any given day. But when he laughs?

  He's heart-stopping.

  He swaggers confidently back to his side and I sneer at his retreating form. The uniformed paintball worker blows a whistle and explains the rules. We get seven minutes to hide first. I cock my paintball shotgun with one hand--like Charlize Theron in Fury fucking Road--and lead my team into the wilderness.

  "Come on, children. Let's go be heroes."

  It was a massacre.

  We never stood a chance.

  In the end, we tried to rush them--overpower them--but we just ended up running into a hail of balls, getting our hearts and guts splattered with blue paint.

  But we tried--I think Rudy and Charlize would be proud.

  One of the birthday moms gave me and Logan a leftover pizza, so we sat at a picnic table to eat together.

  "I think you cheated," I tell him, chewing grumpily.

  "Didn't have to." He smiles again, looking younger, boyish, and I wouldn't be surprised if cartoon hearts are floating above my head. "Though I'm not above playing dirty if it's needed."

  Hearing Logan say "dirty" in his accent, with that full, strong mouth, makes my stomach flip-flop like a fish. I put the rest of my pizza down on the paper plate, pushing it away.

  "You like to win."

  He nods. "I do. But you surprised me, Ellie. You did well. You're a fighter--that's a good thing to be."

  I pick at the chipping green paint on the picnic table, feeling weirdly shy.

  "Thank you."

  And Logan's voice turns quiet, husky. Almost . . . intimate.

  "Did you have fun, Ellie-girl? Was it a good birthday?"

  I look up, meeting his gaze. "It was perfect. I'll never forget it."

  And I sense his dark eyes on me, reading me.

  "I'm glad."

  After a moment, he points to his cheek. "You've got mud on your face."

  I brush my hand over my cheek. "Did I get it?"

  "No."

  I try a second time but must still miss, because Logan reaches out slowly and runs his fingers over the apple of my cheek, up to my temple and gently down to my jaw. My eyes slide closed at the sensation. It feels like a caress.

  And I could totally be imagining it, but--screw it, it's my birthday, so I'm allowed to dream--it feels like his touch lingers just a little longer
than needed.

  When I open my eyes he's looking at me with a kind of thoughtfulness, an intensity--a heat--in his dark brown eyes that I know I'm not imagining.

  Best. Birthday. Ever.

  Two years later

  I AM FUCKED. SO FUCKED.

  I've suspected as much for a while . . . but now I'm certain of it.

  "Five inches! Stupid impulse decision--what was I thinking?"

  Ellie isn't Ellie anymore. Not the girl I knew--with a spark in her eye and a ring to her laugh. The one I had to watch closely so she didn't walk into traffic, because she was so distracted telling a story.

  "What do you think, Liv?"

  Or maybe she was never really that girl at all. Maybe that's what I told myself, focused on, so I'd keep away.

  Olivia smiles. "I think you look beautiful."

  These days, I can't help focusing on other things: like the lovely curve to her hips, the sweet swell of her breasts, that beautiful bubble-arse that I can almost feel against me and a scent that drives me mad with distraction.

  Ellie scoffs. "You said I looked beautiful when I was twelve with a mouthful of braces that had bread stuck in them every day after lunch."

  "You were beautiful then too--the bread notwithstanding."

  Ellie rolls her eyes. "You have no street cred."

  I see her in my dreams now. Sometimes we're in my room, on my bed with me above her, moving deep inside her. Other times we're at the seashore, in the waves, with her wrapped all around me. And once we were in the fucking throne room at the palace. But most often, I dream of that picnic table, on her twentieth birthday. And in the dream, I kiss her like I wanted to. Like I know she wanted me to. And then I pick her up, plant her on top of that picnic table, slowly rid her of every piece of clothing she has and do a hell of a lot more than kiss her.

  "Nicholas, what do you think?"

  But that can't happen. It would change everything. Everything I've built for myself. My mates, my job, my whole life. I've always wanted to be a part of something bigger--something noble and lasting--and now I am. Messing with Ellie would obliterate that.

  And the lass is fickle. Still young. She flits from boy to boy, interest to interest, like a frog hopping from one lily pad to the next.

  "You look smashing. Very cute."

  If something ever did happen between us, it wouldn't last--but the chaos it would bring, that would be forever.

  "Cute? Oh God!" Ellie covers her face with her hands.

  My gut tells me it's not worth the risk.

  Nicholas whispers to his wife, "Cute is bad?"

  So I determined I would shut down this mounting attraction to a woman who's out of my league. One I've got no fucking business looking at twice--let alone a dozen times a day.

  "Of course cute is bad!" Ellie yells. "Mice are cute." She gestures to the small dog sitting on Olivia's lap. "Bosco is cute!"

  Because I always go with my gut--and it's never wrong.

  Nicholas glances at the temperamental pooch. "No. No, he isn't."

  Olivia covers the dog's ears and gives her husband a harsh look. He winks back.

  And that plan had gone smoothly--until today. This moment. When Ellie came charging through the door, muttering to herself like a madwoman yelling at pigeons in the park.

  Olivia mentions giving Bosco a bath, and she and her husband both leave the room.

  Ellie looks at Tommy. "Well? What do you think?"

  She's talking about her hair. She went to get it done for her big day--a college graduation makeover, she'd said.

  Tommy winks. "I'd do ya."

  I may have to smother him in his sleep tonight.

  The bright colors that used to streak Ellie's blond hair are gone now. Leaving behind shades of deep honey and shiny gold--thick and soft. The kind of hair that begs to be touched and twirled . . . fisted and tugged on.

  Ellie clicks her tongue. "That's not saying much--you'd do a corpse."

  It falls just below her shoulders--exposing her face, making it look more angular, womanly--stunning. Her skin seems tanner, her shoulders more delicate, her tits fuller, her eyes a sweeter blue.

  Tommy wags his finger. "Only if she were a pretty corpse. I have standards."

  And then, at last, she settles on me, her delicate features hopeful but hesitant. Her pink tongue peeks out and rubs the fullness of her bottom lip. And I feel it in my cock, the rub of that tongue--the nip and pull of her wet lips--ghosting up and down on my aching, hard flesh.

  In my dreams we do that on the picnic table too--often.

  "Logan?"

  I'm so distracted by my musings, I miss her speaking my name, and for a bit, I don't say anything at all.

  "Oh well, it'll grow back," she says, embarrassment flushing beneath her cheeks. "Wearing a hat for the next six months won't be so bad."

  I force the gravel from my throat.

  "Beautiful."

  Ellie's eyes flick back to mine.

  "What?"

  I hold her gaze, my tone deliberate and sure.

  "You look beautiful, Ellie."

  Her smile is small and seeking. "Really?"

  I don't take my eyes off her. I wouldn't--even if I could.

  "Prettiest lass I've ever seen."

  So, so, so fucked.

  They hold the graduation party on the garden rooftop of the penthouse--with waiters and Champagne and a trio of string musicians playing in the corner. I stand straight along a far wall, sunglasses on, watching, taking in the whole group. It's fairly small--good friends, Ellie's fellow students, her father and a couple family friends, as well as a few business associates from Nicholas and Olivia's charity whom Ellie has gotten to know over the years.

  Marlow, her still-wild friend from high school, walks up to me, a straw held tight in her cherry lips as she drinks an orange cocktail. Her eyes slide across the way to Ellie, then back to me.

  She wags her finger. "You're good, Costner. Very good. But I see you."

  The back of my neck gets hot, but my face remains impassive.

  "Go away, Marlow."

  She's not a bad lot, but she's a shit-stirrer--she and Prince Henry would get on well if he were still single.

  She smiles slowly, like a cat with a juicy mouse under its paw, and slinks up close to me. "It must drive you crazy."

  And, as if I'm hypnotized or cursed, my gaze follows hers . . . straight to Ellie.

  Her head's tipped back in a laugh at something someone just said, her eyes as bright as the sky above. The sunlight kisses her hair, giving it a golden glow. A halo.

  "Not that you can't have her," Marlow whispers softly, right in my ear.

  Ellie's wearing a tiny white skirt over those smooth legs--with a teasing hint of arse peeking out if she moves just the right away and someone, such as myself, is looking hard enough. Her lovely tits tease from beneath a flowy black top--the ones I dream of wrapping my lips around, running my tongue up and over, sucking on until her nipples are two tight, aching little buds and she loses her voice from moaning my name.

  "But that after all this time, all these years," Marlow says, "finally, you can."

  My throat feels coated with sand, making my voice scratchy.

  "Don't tell her."

  It's an order, not a request.

  The girl laughs, low and sultry. "Tell her? Oh, Costner, she wouldn't believe me if I tried."

  It's towards the end of the party, when the sun is dipping below the New York skyline, that Olivia lets the big news slip. When her father hands her a glass of Champagne for a toast and she says, "I can't, Dad."

  They've known for two months. Because it's part of the job to know these things and because I'm the one who drove them to their first doctor's appointment, I've known too. Ellie doesn't yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing her reaction. I'm sure it'll be something.

  They'd planned to keep it as quiet as they could, for as long as they could. Because once it wasn't, it would be heard around the world. Loudly.

/>   "Of course you can." Ellie smiles. "It's a Champagne kind of day--celebrate good times, come on!"

  Olivia's shining eyes meets Nicholas's and she's smiling so brightly she's almost bursting. If revenge is a dish best served cold, happy news is a meal best shared. The Prince nods gently.

  Olivia looks at her little sister, then up into her dad's dark blue eyes and rests her hand on her stomach. "No . . . I mean I can't."

  Realization dawns. And then joy. Tears of it well in the older man's eyes as he embraces his daughter. And Ellie doesn't let me down--she squeaks and bounces and whoops so much I can't not chuckle. Then she's stretching her arms and trying to hug her sister and brother-in-law at the same time.

  It's a beautiful scene. A family scene.

  Three months later, it's a fucking mess.

  Chaos all around. Outside the penthouse building, surrounding every Amelia's location--anywhere Nicholas and Olivia have been or might go--journalists, paparazzi and rabid fans follow. Americans don't have royalty, but they're more than happy to play foster family to ours. They've been bitten by the royal baby bug--and it's driving them all bloody mad.

  We double security.

  After the news gets out that Olivia is carrying twins, we triple it. And still, it feels unmanageable. Out of control. Fucking dangerous.

  Because when one or two people want to shake your hand, it's a nice gesture. When tens of thousands want to shake your hand--it's a mob. And right now, the whole damn world is determined to shake Olivia and Nicholas's hands--even if they end up crushed in the process.

  Which is why, late one night, I knock on the library door when I know Nicholas is there.

  "Come in."

  I sit down across from him and for a moment, we just sort of look at each other. Because he knows what I'm going to say--he doesn't want to hear it, but he knows.

  "I can't keep her safe here. Not the way I want to. Not the way she needs. It's too public, too open. I can stop people from riding the lift with her, but I can't keep them out of the lobby. There's no perimeter; they won't let us block off the street. And the bigger her midsection gets, the worse it'll be."

  The Prince leans back in his chair and sighs. "What do you suggest?"

  "Relocate to an estate outside the city. A property we can secure. Lady Olivia stays put--no one goes in or out unless we know. The journalists, photographers and crazies won't be able to get within a mile of her."

  Nicholas taps a pen on his desk, thinking out loud. "She'll be isolated."

 
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