“That’s a lie too.”
After Ellie was safely inside the palace, I went back to my house—and found no peace.
Because she was there—I could smell her, as if she’d infused the walls with her orange-blossom scent—I could see her in every room, as if she’d left her spirit behind. I heard her words in my head—the most perfect words she’d ever spoken to me.
I want you so much . . .
When I touch myself . . .
And then I did the same. Fisted my cock and imagined it was her delicate hand on my hot flesh. I thrashed on that mattress, jerked myself off hard and fast, and when I came, my back arched and it was her name that tore from me, echoed off my empty walls.
Still, I couldn’t sleep. I jerked off again, slower the second time, drawing it out, picturing her lithe body skimming down my torso—all the things she’d do to me if I let her. All the things she’d let me do to her. Eagerly. Filthy, dark, offensive things—the places I’d fuck her, all the spots she’d let me come—in her mouth, on her tits, in her hair, on her arse, buried deep in her tight, hot pussy.
It’s as though the floodgates have opened and all the desire I’ve had for her, all the thoughts I’ve kept at bay, are now raging free and out of control. It would be so easy to give in. So bloody fantastic—I ache with how good it would be.
But then I ache for a different reason.
Because I would lose everything. All that I’ve built through the years—my duty, my noble calling. It’s all I have. The lads on the team, the royals—they’re the only family I’ve got. And if I cross that line with Ellie, set one toe over it, it’s gone. Up in smoke. No going back, not after that.
I thought about calling in sick for my shift, just to avoid the unholy temptation. But it seemed cowardly.
So now I’m here, in the late afternoon, at The Horny Goat, watching Ellie sing and dance onstage—doing everything she can to break my resistance. To tempt me, tease me, bloody mesmerize me.
And it’s working.
I should have been a fucking coward.
“Ellie’s really belting them out, huh?” Tommy says.
That she is. She’s been through a whole playlist of meaningful songs at the karaoke machine: “What About Love,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Silver Springs.”
I’m not an idiot. I know what she’s saying. Saying to me.
And now she starts a new song—“Piece of My Heart”. I watch her—can’t watch anything else. She really gets into it—closing her eyes and crooning like Janis fucking Joplin. Tugging her hair, shaking her arse.
And I’m hard. As stone.
All for Ellie.
She circles her pelvis, and I imagine gripping those slim hips and holding on while she rides me. Grinds her pussy right on my cock.
“Almost like she’s singing to someone.” Tommy nudges me.
And the tosser’s eyes practically twinkle. “Something you want to share with the class, Lo?”
“Take it . . .” Ellie sings, like a needy plea.
And fuck me, the thought of her begging sweetly, on her back looking up at me with those big blue eyes, drives me straight to the edge. I actually take a step towards the bloody stage—I want to grab her, toss her over my shoulder and carry her cute arse out of there like a caveman. Like she belongs to me.
Instead I turn my back on the stage, eyeing the shiny bottles behind the bar. I’ve never been much of a drinker—but I could use about a dozen shots right now.
“I’m gonna take off. Check on things at that palace, then punch out early,” I tell Tommy.
And I don’t even feel bad about doing it. Because self-preservations kicks cowardice right in the balls.
Tommy nods, slow and knowing. “You do that. I’m on Ellie detail for the rest of the night. Run, Forrest, run.”
I flip him off.
And walk out the door, Ellie’s voice chasing after me as I go.
I leave the car with Tommy at the pub and hoof it back to the palace. To take my mind off Ellie, I check on the progress of the investigation into Lady Olivia and Prince Nicholas’s stalker. We still haven’t caught the fucker. It’s like he’s a ghost, dropping his nasty notes here and there, then evaporating into the ether. And it’s escalating. The last one came with photographs. Shots of Olivia in the palace gardens, picnicking with her friend, Simon Barrister’s wife, Lady Francis, and their three-year-old boy, Jack.
The photos weren’t taken with a long-range lens—which means the bastard was on the palace grounds. And that’s why he sent them: because he wanted us to know he’d slipped inside. That he’s getting closer. We pumped up security around the perimeter, but it still eats at me. A niggling worry. As Winston said, obsessed nutters come with the territory. They’re common for people as well known and powerful as the royal family—for every thousand subjects who adore them, there’s one who wants to see them burn like witches.
But this one’s uncomfortably persistent. And bold. Gives me a bad vibe, and I make a note to follow up directly with Winston tomorrow.
Around dinnertime, I drive away from the palace, but I don’t go home. I can’t—too many temptations there. The priests always said masturbation could turn us blind—and I like my eyesight the way it is.
Instead, I go to Katy’s Pub. I’m greeted when I enter, loosen my tie, grab a pint at the bar and head into the back room to shoot some pool. The room is windowless and dim. A top-notch place to block things from the outside, to pass the time so fast you don’t realize it’s passing. A space to forget . . . and hide.
I play a few rounds with the regulars. Then shoot on my own, focusing on the simple act of knocking a billiard ball into the cup. It’s relaxing, centering—sort of like my idea of yoga. A bit later, after I land the eight ball in the corner pocket, I straighten up and stretch my neck. I head back out to the bar for another pint.
But when I step into the outer room, I see the other patrons and Kathleen holding her daughter in her arms, gathered around the bar. Silent and serious—they’re all focusing on the small television screen mounted to the wall in the corner.
The cue in my hand drops to the floor with a crack.
For a moment I can’t move, can’t think—can’t even fucking breathe.
Because of the image on that screen.
The image of black smoke pouring out the windows of The Horny Goat. Of red-hot flames licking the wind and climbing up the walls. Encompassing it—devouring it—obliterating it from the world. Like it had never been there at all.
“Poor Macalister,” someone whispers. “Hope he’s all right.”
And it’s as if my soul turns to dust, like I’m a statue of sand disintegrating in the breeze. Because I know—I know it in my bones—Ellie is in there.
In a heartbeat, I’m out the door. Running, muscles stretching and screaming—sprinting faster than I ever have. It’s like I’m running for my life . . . because I am.
I pump my arms and turn the corner, my shoes slapping the pavement. But it feels like I’m moving through liquid. Through gelatin. Like that nightmare everyone has—I push and lean and strain and reach but I can’t go fast enough.
Move, move, fucking move!
Her face flashes in my mind. Smiling. Laughing. Her dancing eyes and flittering gait.
I promised her. I swore I would keep her safe. Be her guard, her wall, so she could fly free. And I will not fucking fail her.
I can smell the smoke now. If I look up I’ll see the gray mist and the ash in the air, but I won’t look. My eyes are on the ground, one foot in front of the next. Bringing me closer. To her.
I’m coming. Almost there.
There’s no space for sorrow or recriminations. Not yet.
I see it in my mind—how it’ll go. How I’ll get to her, find her, wrap her in my arms—shield her from the heat. Carry her away from the flames. I’ll be there for her.
I’ll save her.
Because that’s who I am. That’s what I do. Why I’m here—the only reason I’m here.
And she belongs to me.