Royally endowed, p.9
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       Royally Endowed, p.9

         Part #3 of Royally series by Emma Chase
 
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  "She'll be safe," I counter.

  "And utterly miserable."

  "She can put her feet up for a few months. Netflix and chill--you both can."

  Nicholas laughs. "Which would actually be wonderful, for a few days . . . and then we'd slowly lose our minds. Give me another option."

  I shrug. "Well . . . there's the obvious. I mean, the palace wasn't built just to look fancy; it's a fortress. It's your home--where royals are supposed to live and breed. Before you went and knocked that tradition on its arse. The guards are trained; the people in town are used to the royal family being about. They'll welcome you and Lady Olivia and your spawn, with open arms."

  "The palace isn't Olivia's favorite place. The ''spawn' has made her more emotional than usual. I don't want her to be upset."

  And I get that. The palace is filled with some of the nastiest, snobbiest fuckers on the planet and Olivia once called its gates a golden cage.

  "It doesn't have to be forever," I tell him, "but it needs to be for now."

  Nicholas nods slowly. "I'll take it under consideration. Thank you, Logan."

  I bow. "Night, Sir."

  It takes him two weeks to consider, two weeks for him to convince his pretty, pregnant wife of what's in her and their future children's best interest.

  And then we're packing our things . . . and heading home to Wessco.

  Being back in the capital of Wessco, at the palace with Prince Nicholas, is like slipping into an old, worn pair of boots. It feels good--familiar, comfortable--the same procedures, people and streets.

  "Do you want to build a snowman..."

  With one addition. There's a blond, singing pebble that gives me unattainable thoughts and filthy fantasies, in the boot--and its name is Ellie Hammond.

  When Nicholas decided to come home for the duration of Olivia's pregnancy, Mr. Hammond chose to stay behind, to continue running the Amelia's charity. I didn't know what Ellie would do. But the idea of leaving without her was . . . upsetting.

  I won't make a move on her--but I feel a hell of a lot better keeping her where I can see her. Keeping her close. For her own safety, of course.

  Olivia, brilliant woman that she is, suggested it would be the perfect time for a gap year for Ellie, before she begins her graduate school program in psychology. So, she came along and will be spending the next year here in Wessco.

  "Do you want to build a snowman . . ."

  And now, we're in the dining room of Prince Nicholas's private palace apartments, where he, Olivia and Prince Henry are having breakfast the day after we arrive. I stand by the door and the sound of Ellie's energetic singing voice floats into the room, making me suppress a persistent grin.

  "She watched Frozen last night," Olivia explains, nibbling on a slice of dry toast. "She's always identified with Anna, which I guess makes me Elsa." Her brow furrows. "I don't really know if that's a good thing or not."

  That's when "Anna" bursts through the door. My eyes scan the length of her--her blond hair pulled up into a ponytail, a shine to her lips, her tight, sweet body encased in a simple dark blue dress that wraps around her waist and ties at the side.

  It'll be in my dreams tonight. Because with just one firm tug on the knot, the whole thing will unravel and slip off her. Leaving her completely bare beneath. No knickers allowed in my Ellie dreams.

  "Good morning, everyone!" She kisses Olivia on the cheek, then sits at the table, and a server pours her tea. "How did we sleep last night? It was the best night of sleep I've ever had in my life!"

  I bet it was. She must've been exhausted, after walking miles around the palace halls and grounds last night. Ellie hasn't been back here since the wedding, and they were so busy with preparations, she didn't have time to explore. Now she wants to go everywhere, see everything all at once. "Suck the Wessco lemon" is how she described it.

  "These old mattresses are amazing," Ellie comments, while taking a bite out of her croissant. "They don't make them like that anymore."

  There's a reckless, immature twinkle in Henry's eyes. No good can come of it.

  "Do you want to try something really amazing?"

  "Henry . . ." Nicholas warns.

  "Sure!" Ellie agrees.

  This is bad. I have a bad feeling about this.

  The feeling grows when Nicholas seems to know what his brother is suggesting. "It wasn't safe when we were ten; it's probably more dangerous now. She could break her neck."

  Henry shrugs. "Only if she falls." He holds his hand out to Ellie. "Come on, this way!"

  They scramble from the room. And while every muscle in my body strains to follow, I have to wait for Nicholas.

  "What's going on?" Olivia asks.

  He puts his hand over his wife's. "It will be better if you don't watch."

  Ellie's sharp but happy scream--from the main hallway--blasts into the room.

  Fuck waiting. I sprint out of the room with Olivia and the Prince close behind.

  We stop, horrified, at the bottom of the long, tall, curving double staircase. Ellie straddles the thick, dark wood railing at the top, facing forward, ready to launch.

  "Oh my God!" Olivia yells.

  Nicholas shakes his head. "I told you not to watch."

  Ellie gives herself a push and faster than I can get to her--like she's coursing down a hill of ice--she's sliding. It's a fifteen-foot fall to the marble floor if she loses her balance. If her weight shifts just a tad to the right, she'll go over.

  This is what a heart attack feels like.

  Ellie flies off the bottom, landing solidly on her feet, like a feline. I put my hands on her arms and help her stand upright.

  She's laughing. "That was . . . awesome!"

  "I told you!" Henry grins proudly.

  "What was awesome?" Lady Sarah Von Titebottum, Prince Henry's fiancee, asks as she walks into the foyer, up to Henry's side.

  Henry puts his arm around her shoulders and kisses her quickly. "I was just showing Ellie the best ride in the palace."

  "You should try it, Sarah," Ellie says.

  "No." Henry frowns, petting Sarah's long, dark hair possessively. "No, she can't try it. Absolutely not."

  Sarah peers up at him through her black-rimmed, round glasses. "Why can't I?"

  "You could break your bloody n--"

  He stops mid-sentence, understanding blooming. He snaps his fingers and points at Nicholas, then to his own head. "Ohhh . . . I get it now. You were right."

  "I always am," Nicholas replies.

  With a lifted chin and a lecturer's voice, Henry looks at Ellie. "I shouldn't have shown you that. And you shouldn't ever, ever do it again."

  "But--" Ellie begins to argue.

  "No, no, once is enough. You tempted death and came out the other side . . . Only fools push their luck. Don't be a fool." He tugs Sarah by the hand. "We have the balcony appearance soon; let's get up there. If we're late, Granny will give us all hell."

  "I can't do it."

  We wait in the large red and cream ballroom, adjacent to the main balcony on the palace's north side. Since all the key members of the royal family--the Queen, Prince Henry, Prince Nicholas and Princess Olivia--are now in residence, the PR office thought a photo op was in order. They're all to appear on the balcony, together, and wave to the enormous crowd that's gathered outside.

  And it's the crowd that has Lady Sarah white as alabaster. Some might say she's a bit . . . shy.

  Henry sits in a cushioned antique chair, reading the paper. "All right." He turns the page and the subject. "Do you want to go to the new Vin Diesel film at the cinema? The premiere's this evening and I was invited. It doesn't look half bad."

  Lady Sarah folds her arms. "All right? That's all you have to say? This is one of your duties, Henry." Lady Sarah points to herself. "It will be one of my duties when we're married."

  Henry folds his paper and stands. "We won't be married for four long months. And, today, you're not ready, and that's all right."

  Lady Sarah wor
ries her lip. "What if I'm never ready?"

  "Let's just take each day as it comes." Henry places his hands on her shoulders. "You've done so well with the engagement announcement, the interviews . . ."

  "One interview at a time. Because I didn't know if I could face a group of journalists without hyperventilating or passing out."

  The more panicked Sarah becomes, the calmer Henry gets--she has that effect on him.

  "But you got through it. Every interview--and you were charming and perfect. So today, Granny, Nicholas, Olivia and I will be the ones paraded out like zoo animals. While you stay here . . . and keep Ellie company." When Henry glances at her, Ellie hops over.

  "I'd appreciate that, Sarah. I'd hate to be here all alone. It'd be awkward."

  Liar. She's comfortable in her lovely skin whether it's on her own or standing in front of a stadium's worth of people--it's just how she is. But it's good of her to try and help.

  Lady Sarah gazes at Henry's shiny shoes, her face heartbroken. "Do you ever think . . . that perhaps you should be with--"

  "Do not even think of finishing that fucking sentence," Henry warns.

  "Why not?" She lifts her chin. "It's the truth."

  "The truth?" Henry mocks. "The truth is I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for you. I don't know where I'd be or what I'd be doing, but I know it wouldn't be pretty."

  "He's right, you know, Sarah." Prince Nicholas steps over to them. "Before you, Henry was an unmitigated disaster. Reckless, spoiled, self-destructive--"

  "Thank you, Nicholas," Henry says. "I think she gets the picture."

  Nicholas smacks his brother on the back and grins cheekily.

  "Happy to help."

  Henry slips his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels, telling Sarah, "I could say the same thing, you know. You don't think I know you'd be better off with someone whose everyday life doesn't send you reeling into a panic attack?"

  Sarah shakes her head. "No, that's not true. I could never be better off with anyone else. I would never want to be. You're mine, Henry, and I'm keeping you."

  They'd be disgusting to watch if they weren't so damn sincere.

  Sarah fidgets with the diamond engagement ring on her finger. "I'm just afraid that I'll humiliate myself. That I'll embarrass all of you."

  And Prince Nicholas is back. "You still don't get it. There's nothing you could do--literally nothing--that Henry hasn't already done to embarrass us." He shrugs. "We're immortal; we're immune."

  Henry looks at his brother. "You're enjoying this too much."

  Nicholas's green eyes practically dance. "I am, I know. I should try and stop, but I just can't."

  "Okay, look," Ellie says, moving aside the heavy crimson curtain and pointing out the window towards the balcony. "Do you see that potted plant in the corner, there? If you have to hurl, Sarah, do it there. Then, Liv will block you with her amazing, ever-expanding stomach--and no one will notice."

  "Or, most likely," Olivia lifts the hem of her long, flowy polka-dotted skirt and moves closer to Ellie and Sarah, "I'll be throwing up right along with you. Whoever called it morning sickness didn't know their ass from their elbow because it ravages me all day long. They'll probably call us the Puking Princesses in the press . . . but it's got a catchy ring to it, so it could be worse."

  Sarah laughs along with them, looking less like the color of a dead oyster.

  The Queen breezes into the room, wearing a beige skirt and matching jacket with a large ruby broach on the lapel. Her tall, blond personal secretary, Christopher, is behind her, clipboard in hand. And everything stops. The men in the room, myself included, bow and the ladies curtsy, as is required on the first occasion of the day when one encounters Her Majesty.

  Ellie bends her knees and sinks down gracefully, lowering her head. Good girl. It upset her that she'd mucked up her first impression with Her Majesty at Nicholas and Olivia's wedding. Some of the staff still talk about it--the legend of the tiny blonde who tackled the Queen.

  "Are we ready?" the Queen asks no one in particular.

  Henry steps forward. "Your Majesty, Sarah is--"

  "Going to try her best," Sarah finishes for him.

  Henry gives her a questioning look, but Lady Sarah nods reassuringly. "I want to try. It will be all right."

  "Of course it will be all right," the Queen agrees, as if by declaring it, circumstances wouldn't dare to contradict her. "There's no need to worry--no one will be looking at you. It will be as if the rest of us aren't even there. They'll all be examining Olivia's bump."

  "The public interest is ferocious," Christopher explains. "There are office pools around the city, wagering how much weight Duchess Olivia has put on each week."

  Olivia looks down at her growing belly. "Great."

  "Pay no attention to that, my dear." The Queen moves in front of her, smiling with approval. "You look wonderful. Very healthy. I'm thrilled for you." She smiles at Nicholas too. "Both of you."

  "Thank you, Queen Lenora." Olivia takes her husband's hand. "We couldn't be happier."

  "Although," the Queen goes on, "your due date is terribly close to Henry and Sarah's wedding day. It's important to spread these events out, you know. To maximize the positive coverage."

  Olivia rubs her stomach. "I'll do my best."

  The Queen pats her forearm. "I know you will."

  "And in the future," Nicholas adds, "we'll be sure to keep the marital relations on a schedule more to Your Majesty's liking."

  He's being sarcastic. But either Queen Lenora doesn't pick up on it or she's giving it right back to him. Peas in a fucking pod, those two.

  "That would be appreciated." She nods. "Now, shall we?"

  The Queen takes a few steps towards the balcony, stops and turns around--noticing Ellie for the first time. One thin eyebrow rises as Her Majesty walks a circle around the lass, checking her out from all angles.

  Ellie lifts her head. "I'm Ellie Hammond, Your Majesty. It's an honor to meet you again."

  "Yes, I remember you. You're all grown up, aren't you? Very lovely."

  "Thank you. Yes, I just graduated college--with my BA in psychology."

  "How nice." Queen Lenora thinks for a moment before looking towards the balcony, then back to Ellie. "You may stand on the balcony beside your sister to greet the crowd with us. You are a relation by marriage, which endows you with certain privileges. We should remind everyone of that."

  Nicholas's brow furrows.

  And Ellie's eyes go wide. "Holy sh--"

  But she catches herself.

  "I mean . . . yes, Your Majesty." She curtsies again.

  Once the Queen turns her back, Ellie's eyes flare and her jaw drops. She looks at me, giving me an excited two-thumbs-up, bouncing in her shoes.

  I give her a smile and nod.

  And then, they walk out onto the balcony. While I stay inside--watching--as Ellie takes her place alongside the royal family. Where she belongs.

  The next day, Prince Nicholas and the Queen are in the drawing room, playing chess. I stand in the hallway, hands behind my back. The door is open just enough for me to hear their conversation, and while I don't tend to pay attention to chatter, the mention of one particular girl has me acting like a gossipy old biddy--hanging on every word.

  "What are your plans for Eleanor?" the Queen asks.

  "Eleanor who?" Prince Nicholas asks absently.

  "Olivia's sister, of course."

  There's a pause, and I picture him looking up from the board--with curious eyes.

  "Her name's not Eleanor."

  "No?" Her Majesty wonders. "Eloise? Elizabeth?"

  "No. And no. Ellie is her full name. Just Ellie."

  As far as I'm concerned it's perfect for her. A sweet, happy-sounding word. Made for whispering and worshiping.

  The Queen does not agree.

  "Hmm. How unfortunate."

  There's a click of marble against wood, as one of them moves a piece on the board.

  "In any cas
e," Queen Lenora says, "what are your plans for Ellie?"

  Nicholas sighs. "I don't have any. She's taking a gap year; she'll help Olivia when the babies arrive."

  "Two nurses have already been employed and the Palace is interviewing nannies as we speak. How much help does Olivia think she'll need?"

  It sounds like Nicholas takes a sip of something--the glass makes a chiming sound when it's set back on the table.

  "Olivia doesn't want to hire any nannies."

  There's a brief pause, and then one word comes from the Queen that says it all.

  "Nicholas."

  "I know."

  "The nanny is a child's first educator. The first level of instruction on who they are, their responsibilities, how they must conduct themselves."

  "I'm keenly aware of that fact."

  "Your children will be expected to attend public events at a young age. Running around like little heathens may be acceptable in America, but it certainly won't do here."

  Nicholas laughs. "Let's get them born first--and we can worry about their heathenism later."

  But the Queen is not amused. "You must speak with her, Nicholas."

  "Olivia and I will work it out," the Prince replies firmly. "In our own time. You should focus more on the game in front of you. Check."

  There's a weighted pause, accompanied by a quick sniff. "Back to . . . Ellie. There is a new mayor of Averdeen."

  Averdeen is in the south, the second-largest city in Wessco.

  "George Fulton. He's young, handsome, a mesmerizing speaker from what I'm told. He has a very bright future ahead of him. It would be helpful to have his support, to have him on our side in the years ahead. I was thinking of inviting him to the palace, for tea. And introducing him to Ellie."

  There's a burning clench in my gut--tight and uncomfortable.

  "It's not the sixteenth century, Grandmother," Nicholas replies dryly. "We don't form political alliances through marriage anymore. Check."

  "Yes, thank you, Nicholas--I am aware of what year it is. You and your brother haven't robbed me of all my wits. Yet.

  "However, he's a fine young man from what I understand," the Queen continues. "Good family. Respectful. Successful. It wouldn't hurt to introduce them."

  The mayor's mansion in Averdeen is practically a palace--beautiful and regal. The kind of place Ellie belongs, with servants to wait on her, a veritable army to protect her and a well-spoken man who would adore her. How could any man not?

 
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