He tried using the walk-up door to our apartment. He could have just gone through the coffee shop—but he doesn’t know about the broken lock that I still haven’t gotten around to fixing.

His keys slip out of his grasp. “Damn.”

I scoop them off the cold sidewalk. “It’s okay, Dad. I’ll help you.”

With a spine-straightening breath, I stand up, turn around, and face Nicholas. And my voice goes straight to autopilot.

“You should go. I have to take care of this.”

His gaze darts to my father on the ground, then back to me. “Go? I can’t just leave you to—”

“It’s fine,” I grit out, teeth crunching and embarrassment creeping up my neck.

“He’s three times your size. How do you plan to get him upstairs?”

“I’ve done it before.”

In a nanosecond he goes from pitying to pissed. And he uses that voice again—the one that bent Bosco to his will, the one that says it’s his way or his way.

“You’re not doing it now.”

I know what he’s trying to do—and I hate it. He wants to be noble, helpful. Trying to be the hero. Isn’t that what princes do? But it just makes me feel shittier.

I’ve been my own hero for a long time—I know how it’s done.

“This is none of your business. This is my business. I told you yesterday—”

“If you fall down those steps you’ll snap your fucking neck,” Nicholas says harshly, leaning down. “I won’t risk that because you’ve got more pride than sense. I’m helping you, Olivia. Deal with it.”

Then he walks right past me. And crouches down.

His voice grows gentler. “Mr. Hammond?”

And my father slurs, “Who’re you?”

“Nicholas. My name is Nicholas. I’m a friend of Olivia’s. It looks like you’re having a bit of trouble, so I’m going to help get you upstairs. All right?”

“Yeah…damn keys aren’t working.”

Nicholas nods, then motions Logan forward. They heave my father up, one on either side, his arms flung over their shoulders.

“Olivia, get the door,” he tells me.

We go through the coffee shop because there’s more room that way. And as I watch them carry my father through the kitchen and up the stairs—his head dangling forward on his neck like a newborn, his legs useless—I realize that this is a really, really bad night. The best I would have been able to do was drag him inside, get a pillow and blanket, and spend the rest of the night on the floor with him.

But even knowing that, it doesn’t stop the humiliation that’s burning under my skin.

And it only flames hotter when they move through our threadbare living room, messy with strewn shoes and papers because I didn’t have time to straighten up. If things had gone the way I’d wanted, I would have made it look pretty—quaint—with fresh flowers and plumped throw pillows. Not like this.

In his bedroom, they put my father on the bed. I squeeze past Nicholas and get the dark blue blanket off the chair in the corner. I lay it over my father, tucking him in. His eyes are closed and his lips open, but he doesn’t snore. There’s more gray than black now in the thick stubble on his chin. Slowly, I lean over and kiss his forehead, because even though he’s not my hero anymore, he’s still my dad.

Silently, the three of us file back downstairs. My arms wrap around my middle, stiff and tight, and my skin feels prickly—too sensitive. In my head, I can already hear the words Nicholas will say:

I’ll call you.

This was…nice.

Thanks, but no thanks.

He must be relieved to dodge the bullet—probably wondering what the hell he was thinking in the first place. The only baggage a guy like him is used to a woman having is Louis Vuitton.

“I’ll, ah…I’ll be at the car, Sir,” Logan says when we reach the coffee shop’s dining area. He nods my way, then heads out the door.

The silence is awkward. Uncomfortable. I can feel his eyes on me, but I focus on the floor. And I cringe when he finally splits the quiet, in that smooth, perfect voice.

“Olivia.”

But I’m determined to rip the Band-Aid off first. Beat him to the blow-off punch. I’m a New Yorker and that’s how we roll—if someone’s getting kicked to the curb, you can bet your ass we’re going to be the motherfucking kicker.

“You should go.” I nod, lifting my face but still not meeting his eyes. “I want you to go.”

His warm hand touches my bare arm. “Don’t be angry.”

“I’m not angry,” I deny with quick, jerking shakes of my head. “I just want you to leave.” My throat clogs, salty and wet. Because I like him so much. My eyes squeeze closed—a last-ditch effort to contain the giant, ugly tears hovering on my lashes. “Please just leave.”

Nicholas’s hand drops from my arm. And I wait—I listen—for the sound of him walking out the door. Out of my life. Where he was never really supposed to be in the first place.

But about thirty seconds later, what I actually hear is something entirely different.

“My grandmother talks to paintings.”

My eyes spring open.

“What?”

“When I was younger I thought it was funny, in a freakish kind of way, but now I just think it’s sad.”

There’s a prodding desperation in his eyes. Earnest, but…vulnerable. Like this is all new to him. Like he’s taking a risk—going out on a limb—but he has to push himself to get there. Because he’s not sure if the limb will hold or snap.


Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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