By the time I was fifteen I knew if I stayed in that shit-hole, I’d start to stink. And then I’d have only two options: prison or the cemetery.

Neither one of those worked for me.

“What’s this really about? All the questions?”

It’s always better to cut to the chase, deep and quick.

His gray-green eyes focus on me, his face probing, his shoulders slightly hunched, like an elephant’s sitting on them.

“Now that I have Henry in hand, the Queen wants us back in Wessco, in two days. You know this.”

I nod.

“I want to bring Olivia home with me, for the summer.”

For a time, I was on the fence about the pretty New York baker. She put ideas in Nicholas’s head, made him reckless. But she’s a good lass—hardworking, honest—and she cares about him. Not about his title or his bank account. She couldn’t give a shit about those and probably would prefer him without them. She makes him happy.

And in the two-odd years I’ve worked with the Crown Prince, truly happy is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen him be.

“Is that wise?” I ask.

Olivia Hammond is a sweet girl. And the Palace . . . has a knack for turning sweet to sour.

“No. But I want to do it anyway.”

And the look on his face—it’s raw and exposed. It’s yearning. From the outside looking in, you’d think there’s nothing a royal could want that he can’t have. Nicholas has private planes, servants, castles and more money than he can spend in a lifetime—but I can’t think of a single instance when he did what he wanted, just for the hell of it. Or when he let himself do something he knew he shouldn’t.

I admire him, but I don’t envy him.

“Olivia wants to come, but she’s worried about leaving her sister alone for the summer. Ellie’s young, still in school and . . . naïve.”

She’s got a wild streak in her too. As bright as the pink in her blond hair, which has been joined by blue, then green, during the two months we’ve been in New York.

“I could see her attracting trouble,” I comment.

“Exactly. Also, Ellie will have to run the coffee shop on her own, with just Marty for help. Olivia’s father is—”

“He’s a drunk.”

I’m good at spotting them too—can smell them from a mile away.

“Yes.” Nicholas sighs. “Look, Logan, you’ve been around long enough to know that I don’t trust easily, or often. But I trust you.” He pushes a hand through his black hair and meets my eyes. “Which is why I’m asking you. Will you stay in New York? Will you help Ellie, watch over her . . . make sure she’s safe?”

She seems like a decent girl, but I already said I wasn’t a servant—and I’m also not a nanny. Protecting the royal family is a duty I’ve chosen; keeping tabs on an American teenage girl is a fucking headache waiting to happen.

Nicholas glances out the window. “I know it’s a lot to ask. It’s not your job; you can say no. But there’s no one else I would choose . . . no one else I can depend on. So, I’d consider it a personal favor if you say yes.”

Ah . . . hell.

I have a brother. To say I wish I didn’t would be an understatement. And not in the same way Nicholas wishes his royal snot of a brother would grow the hell up, or how Miss Olivia seems put out by her younger sister at times. The world would be a better place if my brother weren’t in it—and that’s a stance shared by others.

But if I had a choice, if I could assemble a brother from the ground up, I would build the man sitting across from me right now.

Which is why, even though I’m going to bloody regret it, it takes only a moment before I give him my answer.

“James has a boy back home—about a year old, so he’ll want to go home with you. Tommy’ll be happy to stay—the Bronx is like his own personal harem. Between the two of us, and two more men, Cory and Liam maybe, we’ll keep the girl out of trouble and the business afloat for the summer.”

Nicholas’s face splits into the biggest smile and relief lights up his eyes. He stands, holding out his hand to shake mine, pounding my shoulder with gratitude.

“Thank you, Logan. Truly. I won’t forget this.”

If nothing else, this summer will be . . . different.

I’M AN OLD SOUL WHEN it comes to music. I blame my mother. One of my earliest memories is of her singing me to sleep with a Led Zeppelin lullaby—“All of My Love.” When she baked in the kitchen of my family’s coffee shop that’s named after her, Amelia’s, her boom-box would be bumping. Sometimes she’d mix it up, but more often than not, it was the throaty, soul-stirring, high-octane tunes of female artists that spilled from the speakers into my and my big sister’s ears. It left an impression.

I mean, once you hear Janis Joplin go full-out Bobby McGee, you don’t go back.

This morning, just after four a.m., I’ve chosen “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. It pounds against my eardrums—upbeat and peppy. And today, I could use some pep.

Olivia left for Wessco yesterday and I’m so happy for her—really, genuinely, screechingly happy. She deserves this—to be waited on hand and foot, to be pampered and adored by a gorgeous, filthy-souled, golden-hearted prince. Liv deserves the whole world, even if it’s only for three months.

But, I’m going to miss the hell out of her.

There’s also the small detail that . . . I haven’t slept in twenty-four hours. Not a blink. And if past is prologue, there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights in my future. I’m a high school senior—I have exams to study for, projects to complete, extracurricular activities to activitize, lifelong memories to make—and now I have a business to run.

Who the fuck has time for sleep?

I jack up the volume on my phone and scoop a tablespoon of instant coffee grounds into my mouth—washing the bitter, spiky granules down with a gulp of black, cold coffee. We don’t serve instant for the coffee shop. Instant coffee is disgusting.

But it serves a purpose. It’s effective—efficient. I love caffeine. Love it. The high, the rush, the feeling that I’m Wonder Woman’s long-lost cousin and there ain’t shit I can’t do.

I would mainline it, if that were actually a thing.

I would probably become a meth-head if it weren’t for the rotting-teeth, ruined-life, most-likely-dying-by-overdose elements of it all. I’m a high school senior, not an asshole.

After swallowing my nasty liquid-of-life, I get back into the song—shaking my hips and shoulders, flipping my mermaid multicolor-streaked blond hair back and forth. I spin on my toes, I twerk and shimmy, I may even leap like a ballerina—though I’ll deny it—all while filling the pie dishes on the counter with ooey-gooey, yummy, freshly sliced fruit and rolling out the balls of floured dough for the top layer of the two dozen pies I need to make before we open.

My mother’s pies—her recipes—they’re what Amelia’s is known for and the only reason we didn’t go under years ago. We used to need only a dozen, but when news of my sister’s romance with the Crown Prince of Wessco hit, the fangirls, royal-watchers, mildly interested passersby and psycho-stalkers came out of the woodwork . . . and right to our door.

Business is booming, which is a double-edged sword. Money’s a little less tight, but the workload has doubled, and with my sister gone, the workforce just got cut in half. More than half, actually—more like a third, because Olivia really ran the show. Up until recently, I was a total slacker. That’s why I was adamant she go to Wessco—why I swore I could rise to the occasion and handle things while she was gone.

I owed her and I knew it.

And if I’m going to actually keep up my end of the deal, I really need to move my ass with these pies.

I sprinkle some flour on the dough and roll it out with the heavy, wooden rolling pin. Once it’s the perfect size and thickness, I flip the rolling pin around and sing into the handle—American Idol style.

“Calling Gloriaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa . . .”

And then I turn around.

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