“It’s a castle!”
Yeah, not the most astute thing I’ve ever said.
Nicholas just chuckles. So I grab his arm, shaking. “I don’t think you understand—you live in a freaking castle!”
“Technically, it’s a palace. Castles were built for defense, palaces more for the monarch to hold court in appropriate grandeur.”
And Jesus, I want to stick my tongue down his throat.
“Have I told you how hot it is when you roll out the royal facts?”
His eyes light up. “No, but it’s good to know. I know things that will keep you perpetually wet and quivering.”
As sexy as that response is, I just have to look back at the palace as we get closer. “It has a moat, Nicholas!”
“Yes. Generally palaces don’t—but my great-great-great-great-grandfather had it dug because he ‘liked the look of it.’ I went swimming in it once when I was eleven. Got strep throat—lesson learned. But there is a lake in the back, so skinny-dipping is definitely on the agenda.”
“How many rooms does it have?”
“Five hundred eighty-seven, not including the staff bedrooms.” He leans up and licks the shell of my ear, making the wet and quivering plan come to fruition. His next words almost make me come on the spot. “And I want to fuck you in every one of them by the end of the summer.”
“That’s ambitious,” I tease, nuzzling him. “Do you plan on stopping to feed me?”
His hand skims down my back, cradling my ass. “You’ll be well taken care of, I promise.”
I promise. You know what that is? Yep—Famous. Last. Words.
MY GRANDMOTHER IS A NIGHT OWL. She requires only three to four hours of sleep. It’s a common trait in leaders, captains of industry, top-notch executives—and psychopaths.
So, although it’s past the dinner hour, I know she’ll want to receive us the moment we step through the palace door. And I’m not wrong. Her personal butler, Alastair, ushers us into the gold receiving room in her private quarters. We gather there—me, Olivia, Henry, Fergus, and Bridget—and we wait.
No matter how long I’m away, a month or a year, the Queen never changes. She looks exactly the same. It’s a comforting and frightening thought that strikes me when she appears in the doorway—gray hair perfectly coifed, demure pink lipstick, a light green skirt and jacket with a diamond and emerald broach pinned to the lapel.
And though she looks the same, she appears particularly unhappy at the moment. Her gray eyes are solid as they scan us—the color of a concrete wall. She settles on Henry first, calling him forward.
He bows. “Your Majesty.”
She stares at him, taking him in—and for a moment, her cold stare cracks. “Welcome home, my boy. You’ve been gone too long.”
“Yes ma’am,” he says softly, giving her a weary smile.
She doesn’t embrace him as some would expect—it’s not her way. But she touches his shoulder, reaches up and pats his cheek, covers his hands with her own and squeezes. For a queen, that’s a hug.
She moves Henry to the side and steps closer to us, eyes landing on me expectantly. I bow and bring Olivia forward, holding her hand.
“Your Majesty, may I introduce my guest, Olivia Hammond.”
There’s not a shred of doubt that she’s already been informed of Olivia’s presence. The Queen’s eyes drag over her, from head to toe, the way someone would look at a shaggy, wet stray dog that showed up on their doorstep.
I bristle—but hold back. If I react too strongly it will only make things worse.
Bridget and I explained the proper protocol to Olivia on the plane. She’s nervous, I can tell, stiff and frozen—but she tries.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Queen Lenora.” Olivia bows her head, bends her knees, and dips—then pops back up quickly.
And my grandmother glares.
“What was that?”
Olivia glances back at me, unsure, then returns her attention to the Queen.
“It was a curtsy.”
One sharp, gray brow rises. “Was it? I thought perhaps you had gas.”
That’s the trouble with monarchs—people rarely have the balls to tell them when they’re being fucking rude. And even if they do—the monarch doesn’t have to give a shit.
“She will not do,” my grandmother says, her gaze slithering to me.
For Olivia’s sake, I try to play off the comment. “Don’t worry—I’ll show Olivia around, introduce her to everyone…she’ll do just fine.”
And then I put an end to the shit-show, taking Olivia’s hand and putting myself between her and the Queen. Relief washes through me when Olivia smiles up at me, unscathed by the disapproving claws.
“It’s been a long flight, Olivia. Go upstairs to your room and get settled.”
I already explained that decorum required Olivia to have her own bedroom, but I’m not concerned. I have my ways.
“I’d like a private word with you, Prince Nicholas,” my grandmother says.
I give her a scathing smirk. “Just one? I thought for sure there’d be dozens.”
“Fergus,” I call, “take Olivia to Guthrie House, please. Put her in the white bedroom.”
And it’s like the air freezes in place—crystalizing with tension.
“Oh yes,” my grandmother says softly. “There will be many more than one.”