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.
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.”
“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.