“Invite them to the palace,” Logan suggests. “The guards can check their credentials, pat them down at the gates, and they can take their pictures of you bringing the babies out of the car, into their new home. It’ll be safer.”
Nicholas and Olivia look at each other, then Nicholas kisses her hand.
“Looks like we’ve got a new tradition.”
Queen Lenora is not a hugger. She’s not even an air kisser. She’s more of a head patter, a shoulder tapper.
But babies are . . . well, they’re fucking babies.
They’re beautiful. Adorable. So cute it’s almost painful to look at them. They’re like kittens . . . but human.
But Queen Lenora is really not a hugger. Olivia, however, thinks she’s a holder.
Which is why two weeks later, when the new prince and princess are first presented to Her Royal Great-Grandmama Queen Lenora, at the palace my sister places Lilliana right in her unsuspecting regal arms.
“Oh. Well . . . uh . . . all right.” The Queen handles Lily like she’s a bomb that could go off at any moment. Stiffly and distantly. Then Her Majesty smiles a little down at the baby. “It’s very nice to make your acquaintance, Princess Lilliana.”
And the baby cries.
Loud and heartbroken. And loud.
When Olivia moves to take her, Queen Lenora lifts her chin. “Leave her.”
And she looks down at the bundle of cute in her hands, talking to her . . . like she’s a dog. An upper-class dog.
“No. No-no, that won’t do at all.” She lays Lily on the couch beside her and claps her hands twice—quick and sharp. And miraculously, after one more little squawk, Lilliana stops crying and blinks up at the Queen.
“Thank you, much better.”
She’s like a scarier, meaner Mary Poppins.
“Now that you’ve composed yourself, you and your brother and I will take a stroll in the gardens together.”
She motions to the nurse, who swaddles the baby and puts her in the pram.
“It’s a bit cold for a walk, don’t you think?” Nicholas asks.
“Nonsense. Fresh air is good for babies. I walked with you and Henry every day and look how well you both turned out.”
“I didn’t know you did that,” Nicholas says softly.
“Yes, well, I’m full of surprises.” The Queen slides on a pair of light brown leather gloves. “We’ll make sure they’re bundled adequately. I’ll walk with them on the grounds every morning. Christopher—mark it in the schedule. This will be my time with them.”
Guards open the double French doors and Queen Lenora pushes the twins in their pram out into the cool, overcast day. She talks to them as they stroll, and her voice floats inside for all to hear.
“I was born in Landlow Castle, during a snowstorm. The midwife was unable to reach us because the roads were impassable. So my grandmother delivered me. And she was a horrid woman, very strict and rigid. Not warm and delightful as I am . . .”
Logan puts his arm around me and whispers.
“It’s official. I’ve now seen it fucking all.”
Five years later
I WAKE TO THE SOFT sounds of music playing from the kitchen.
And that’s how I know where Ellie is. It started about three years ago—her rising before me. Most times she’s in the kitchen, sometimes in the den, but almost always, she’s got one of her favorites playing low from the speakers. Today it’s “Say You Won’t Let Go.”
It was our wedding song.
I look up through our skylight ceiling—it’s dark, not yet dawn, and pouring cold rain. It’s Sunday, and while every day is a workday when you own your own business, I won’t be working for S&S Securities today. That stands for St. James and Sullivan—or Sullivan and St. James, depending on which one of us you ask. Tommy went in on the venture with me and we busted our arses to make it successful. It’s good work, honest work.
We have a technical team that installs home security systems, but the main business is training and contracting personal bodyguards, as well as security details to guard and monitor property. Even the palace has contracted our guys—because we have a reputation for being the best, and it’s well deserved.
We’re not a fight club—we don’t take just anyone. Our people have to have a natural skill for it, they have to want it, they have to earn it.
I roll out of bed, slip on a pair of black running pants and walk down the hall. I finished the house in the first year we lived there, and it turned out even better than I’d imagined. The brick makes it solid and sturdy, the gleaming wood touches and earthy colors make it beautiful . . . and having Ellie here makes it a home. She hung curtains in every room, framed pictures on the walls. I pass one of the bedrooms on my right—the room we painted blue together.
When I make it down to the kitchen, she’s at the counter, placing warm baked scones on a rack to cool. Stealthily, I move up close behind her and lay my hands across her cotton pajama-clad hips, pulling her against me, rubbing the length of my stiff cock between the cheeks of her perfect arse.
Her head tilts back on my shoulder and her hair tickles my chest. “Aren’t you tired from last night?”
I kiss her temple and smell her skin. “I’ll never get tired of fucking you, Ellie.”
My hands slide to her front, resting on the small, firm swell where our baby sleeps. Ellie’s so lovely when she’s carrying. Something about watching her grow with the baby I put inside her turns me into a bit of a savage. I can’t keep my hands off her when she’s like this.
Though I suppose that’s also true when she’s not like this.
And it turns out, when we decided to start a family and forgo birth control, lots of fucking . . . makes lots of babies. She’s four months gone with this latest one—our third.
“Come on, Declan! Jump. I’ll catch you.”
The little voice pipes up from the baby monitor on the counter.
“Like this, Declan, look!”
That would be three-year-old Finn urging one-and-a-half-year-old Declan to escape his crib.
I laugh into Ellie’s shoulder and she giggles.
A clap of thunder booms over us and I nuzzle Ellie’s neck. “It’s raining. Miss Princess Jane is going to be quite put out that she can’t ride her pony.”
We’re going to the palace today, for Henry and Sarah’s oldest daughter Jane’s fourth birthday. It’s not the public celebration; this one’s small and private—just family.
“Henry will just bring the pony inside for her,” Ellie says.
“The Queen will love that,” I say sarcastically, shaking my head. “Princess Jane has Henry wrapped around her little finger.”
“Like you wouldn’t do the same if it was Finn,” Ellie teases.
“Finn doesn’t want a pony. He wants a bazooka for Christmas—he told me so the other day. Haven’t figured out yet how Santa’s elves are going to manage that request.”
Ellie laughs, pointing at me. “He’s definitely your son.”
I rub my eyes. “Yeah, he’s mine all right. But I think the bazooka idea comes from your dad. He was playing army-man with him last week.”
Ellie’s father comes to Wessco every other month—he’s been doing it for years now. He’s still sober, still lives in New York, managing the charitable Amelia’s restaurants that bear his beloved wife’s name. I believe it’s part of how he was able to finally make peace with her passing—by honoring her, keeping a part of the quaint coffee shop that was her dream, alive and thriving.
There’s a scuffling sound from the monitor, a thud and then cheers of triumph.
“Mummy, Daddy—he did it! Declan jumped out of his crib. He jumped!”
I kiss my wife sweetly on her pretty mouth.
“And our fearless jumper Declan is all your son.”
I’m about to head up to get the boys, but the gate at the top of the stairs will keep them safely contained for a bit longer. I wait because Tommy Sullivan lumbers through our backdoor, taking a seat at the kitchen counter, looking like a sack of sad.
Like many students who take a gap year, Ellie never went back to finish her advanced psychology degree. If she ever wants to, I’ll support her 100 percent, but for now she seems content—happy—to take care of our boys and our home. And to let me take care of her.