Reluctantly Royal(8)

By: Nichole Chase


HOLY HOTNESS, THAT man was trouble. Tall, lean, but with broad shoulders, and a face that made me want to do naughty things. He was the walking personification of a fallen angel; handsome beyond measure, with the promise of hot, sweaty nights in his eyes. I leaned against the door and blew my hair out of my face. Every fiber of my being was exhausted from grief and anger, but one look from Max had yanked me back to the land of the living. There was something in his eyes that made me nervous but excited.

I was no stranger to flirting. Hell, I’d had a baby at the age of seventeen. I knew my way around men, which was basically easy; use them for what you want, expect nothing else, and discard them as fast as possible. I had learned that from watching men do the same thing to women. Though they were usually just after sex, and that wasn’t something I was willing to give to anyone again. So I strung them along with the promise of someday and then dropped them like a bad habit as soon as I got what I needed; whether it was a ride to work or a new job. Hell, I’d even flirted down the rent payment on my apartment a couple of years ago.

Once Grandfather had been granted his title and lands back, I had dropped men altogether. The only good one I knew was now gone.

Tears gathered in my eyes and I rubbed at them with the heels of my hands. Crying wasn’t going to get this family through everything. I might have to quit school so I could make sure that Dad didn’t ruin our new chance on life. If things hadn’t changed I’d still be working at the same restaurant waiting tables in Southampton. I leaned my head back against the door and closed my eyes. I could still finish a degree, just not in performing arts. Any degree would be better than no degree, and I’d never thought I’d have the chance to even think about going to university.

“My lady, dinner is ready.” The butler stepped into the hallway and motioned toward the dining room.

“Thank you.” I stood up from the door and wished that we were having dinner in the kitchen around the island with Granddad instead. He hated eating in the formal dining room. We used to eat around the television in the living room. The formal furniture, place settings, and silverware were all foreign to us.

“Mom! What are we having for dinner? Nothing gross, right?” Marty bounded down the stairs and I straightened my shoulders and smiled. “I’d really like pizza.”

“No pizza.” I shook my head and smiled. “I think we’re having roast chicken.”

“Ah, man.”

“Wah.” I pulled him against my side as we walked to the dining room. “How are you holding up?”

“I dunno.” He shrugged. “I’m sad, but Max made it a little better. I liked playing video games with him.”

“I saw that. It looked like you were both having fun.” Guy time was hard to come by for Marty. His father had ditched me as soon as I saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test, and my father had little to do with Marty from the day I announced I was pregnant. It had been my grandfather who had stepped up and taken us under his wing. I had been scared and lost, but Granddad had always steered me in the right direction. He’d been our rock.

“He’s pretty cool for an old guy.”

I laughed. “He’s not old, and you’re just saying that because he let you fly his plane.”

“Oh man. That was so awesome!” He skipped a step. “I should have made a loop.”

“I don’t think those kind of planes are meant to make loops.” Though there had been a couple of moments when Max had made my stomach make loops.

I put my hands on his shoulders and ushered him into the dining room. To my utter relief my father wasn’t to be seen. Considering how much he had been drinking today, he was probably passed out in his wing of the manor. Dinner was quiet but peaceful, and considering the day we had, I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Marty was yawning by the time we finished the chicken and his little eyes were rimmed in red. After I tucked him into bed, I walked down the long hallway of our wing and hesitated by my grandfather’s bedroom door. Taking a deep breath, I pushed it open and leaned against the door frame. Everything looked normal, like he would be back any minute. Someone must have changed the sheets and made the bed after he was taken away.

Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined no one here to mourn his passing, no one to care as he was loaded into a hearse. I had to remind myself that it was impossible to not love the old man. The staff went out of their way to make sure he was happy. In fact, I had noticed more than one pair of red and watery eyes since I had gotten back. He hadn’t been alone. He hadn’t been in pain. It had been quick.

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