And I have no response. Because I didn’t think that far. The future didn’t matter—all that mattered was having Olivia, keeping her, being able to kiss her every morning and tell her, show her, how precious she was to me every night.

My grandmother’s brows draw together, as if she’s aggrieved.

“Are you really so selfish, my boy? Is that the life you want for her?”

The life I want for her?

I want the world for Olivia.

I want to show her every corner of it, explore it while holding her hand. I want the stars for her—and the moon and the heavens—and everything in between.

And for a moment, I truly thought I could give them to her. I believed there was a way.

Stupid.

Franny called me a fool. A double-damned idiot. For once, I agree with her.

When I answer, my voice is hollow—a ravaged, empty imitation of my own.

“No.”

“Then let her go. If you truly love her, let her hate you. It will be easier for her that way.” She puts her hand on my arm, squeezing with a strength that still surprises me. “And for you.”

I rub my eyes, suddenly so…tired.

“Christopher has the list. I’ve narrowed it down to five. Look it over. They’re wonderful women, Nicholas. Any one of them will make you happy, if you just allow it.”

I move out of her office without another word, feeling dazed. I pause in front of Christopher’s desk and he hands me The List. One page, five names, five pretty, smiling thumb-size faces. All the same. All meaningless.

Swallowing hard, I pass it back to the Queen’s secretary.

“Pick one.”

His eyes jolt from me to the page and back again.

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“Uh…which one should I pick, Your Grace?”

And I say the truest words I’ve ever spoken in my life.

“It doesn’t matter.”

THE MONTHS I SPENT in Wessco flew by in a blink, in a snap of fingers—the way time always seems to move when you’re happiest. But the last two days have limped, crawled by in endless, teeth-gnashingly painful seconds. I thought leaving Wessco was the hardest thing I’d ever do.

But I was wrong. Living without Nicholas is so much harder.

I called Ellie from the airport—told her I was coming home, asked her to meet me when I landed. But when I walked out of the gate it wasn’t her that was there.

It was my dad.

His eyes were clear—sober and strong. And knowing.

I was already crying by the time he got to me. I didn’t even try to hold back. He told me it would be okay; he promised that I would be all right. He said I was strong—like my mother—and that I would get through this. He rocked me in his arms and held me so tight.

My hero.

But it’s been a struggle. I have to fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry because everything hurts. My chest is heavy with the weight of my heart, my head throbs with doubts—all the things I could’ve done differently. My arms and legs ache with the urge to run back to him, to fix it, to hug him and never, ever let him go. My stomach is twisted and nauseated. So sick that for a split second, yesterday, I considered the possibility that maybe I was pregnant—and that fleeting thought brought relief and joy. It’s the worst reason to want a baby, but it would mean we’d still have a connection. And I’d have a reason to go back, to see him again.

I know I sound like a desperate, pathetic woman, but I just don’t care. Having your heart ripped out of your chest will do that to you.

It’s too early for morning sickness, but even if it weren’t, I know I’m not pregnant. Those magical fixes happen only in romance novels and on soap operas. In real life, birth control is reliably, sometimes heartbreakingly effective.

“It’s really you! Oh my God, can I get a picture?” the statuesque, twenty-something woman vibrating beside me asks.

“No. Sorry, no pictures,” I mumble, staring at the dirty plates in my hands.

Business is booming. The line at Amelia’s is out the door and down the block. They’re not here for the pies—my father filled me in on his covert business deal with Simon Barrister the night I came home. The contract is exclusive, which means we’re out of the pie business for good. And I’m happy about that, I am. Happy that my father is sober and healthy. Happy that Ellie will be able to go to college without the weight of money troubles on her back. Happy even for me—that I have choices now, that my life won’t be spent doing something I hate for the family I love.

But Nicholas was right. Everyone has a price and everything is for sale.

The crowd that fills the coffee shop every day is looking for a piece of Nicholas. They all want to see the table he sat at—Ellie screwed a plaque into the back of one of the chairs: “His Royal Ass Was Here.” Beside it, Marty scratched into the wood: “And it was fiiine.”

I don’t do autographs or pictures, but that doesn’t stop people from asking. I’ve been working every day—trying to stay busy, but I mostly stay in the back. Away from all the greedy eyes and prying questions.

I dump the dishes into the sink in the kitchen, while the DISHWASHER WANTED sign still hangs, unclaimed, in the front window. The chatter of the crowd out front is so loud that I don’t hear the person behind me come in. Not until I turn around and run smack into his chest.

Logan steadies me with a hand on my elbow.

“Pardon me, Miss Olivia.”


Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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