Then she turns around. And screams loud enough to wake the dead.
“Jesus Christ!” She yanks her earbuds out. “Don’t do that to me—you took like ten years off my life!”
Olivia looks around the room, blinking. “What are you doing, Ellie?”
The little blond smiles proudly and lifts her chin. “I’m helping. I mean, I know I’ve been doing the afternoon shifts but I figured, all this time you’ve been doing all the morning prep by yourself. So I got Mom’s recipes out and figured I’d help with that too. There’s only a few months left until I leave for school.”
Olivia’s face goes soft and grateful. “Thank you, Ellie.” Then she looks around the disaster area again. “I think.”
She engulfs the sugarcoated blond in her arms. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Ellie says into her shoulder.
When she lifts her head, she spots my brother, leaning against the wall. With wide eyes, she shakes the flour from her hair like a dog shuddering off water.
“Oh my God, you’re Prince Henry.”
“I am, pet. But the more important question is, who are you?”
My brother smiles salaciously. “Hel-lo, Ellie.”
“She’s a minor,” I tell him.
And the smile drops. He pats her head.
Henry turns around. “I’ll go wait in the car, after all.” He yawns. “I could use a nap.”
The moment we walk into the suite, Tommy descends on us. “The Queen’s on the line. On Skype, Your Grace.” Anxiety rings in his voice like the ping of a tapped crystal glass. “She’s been waiting. She does’na like to be kept waiting.”
I nod briskly. “Have David bring me a scotch.”
“Oh, me too!” Henry pipes up.
“He’ll have coffee,” I tell Tommy.
And I think Henry sticks his tongue out at me behind my back.
I head into the library and he follows, seeming marginally closer to sober—at least he’s walking straight and unassisted now. I sit behind the desk and open the laptop. On the screen, my grandmother looks back at me, wearing a pale pink robe, hair in rollers and a hairnet, gray eyes piercing, her expression as friendly as the grim reaper’s.
This should be fun.
“Nicholas.” She greets me without emotion.
“Grandmother,” I return, just as flat.
“Granny!” Henry calls, like a child, coming around the desk into view. Then he proceeds to hug the computer and kiss the screen.
“Henry, oh, Hen—” My grandmother swats the air with her hands, like he’s actually there kissing her.
And I do my damnedest not to laugh at them.
“Henry! Remember yourself! My gracious!”
“Mmmmmwah!” He perches, grinning like a fool, on the arm of my chair, forcing me to shift over. “I’m sorry, Grandmother—it’s just so good to see you.”
She doesn’t say anything at first, but peers closer at the screen—and I know she’s seeing all the same things I see about him. Something close to worry pinches her lips.
“You look tired, my boy.”
“I am, Your Majesty,” he says softly. “Very tired.”
“Then you’ll come home, so you can rest. Yes?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he agrees.
Then her voice goes sharp. “And I never want to hear a whisper about you and narcotics again. Do I make myself clear? I am very disappointed in you, Henry.”
And he actually looks contrite. “It was a friend’s, Granny, not mine. But…it won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t.” She turns her attention to me. “I’m sending the plane for you. I want you back at the palace in twenty-four hours.”
My stomach plummets and it feels like my throat is closing in on itself.
“I have commitments here that—”
“Break them,” she orders.
“No, I won’t do that!” I snap back, in a way I’ve never spoken to her in my life. In a way I would knock another man on his arse for speaking to my Queen.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty, it’s been a long night.” I scrub my hand over my face. “I have commitments here that need to be handled delicately. I’ve…made promises. I’ll need a bit more time to tie things up.”
She glares back like she can see right through me—and I have no doubt that she can. She’s definitely heard all about Olivia by now, if not from the Dark Suits then in the papers and online.
“Forty-eight hours and not a minute more,” she says—her tone similar to the sound of a handler snapping the leash on his errant charge.
My hands fist on the desk, out of view. “Very well.”
After we say our pleasantries, we disconnect and I close the screen. I boil in silence, until Henry speaks.
And I smack him.
Open-palmed and so hard the sound bounces off the walls.
He reaches for the spot I’d struck. “Fuck! What the hell you’d do that for?”
He jabs me with his elbow. I punch him in the ear. And the next thing I know we’re rolling on the floor, cursing and pummeling each other.
“Spoiled little fucker!”