Royally Raised
Page 5

 Emma Chase

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See— he’s afraid of The Bitch too.
“I came every day. He wouldn’t open the door for me.”
I sense the couch dip as she sits beside me. “Drew?” she says softly. I feel her hand run gently through the back of my hair. “Honey?”
Her voice is so achingly worried, she reminds me of my mother. When I was a boy and sick at home, Mom would come into my room with hot chocolate and soup on a tray. She would kiss my forehead to see if it still burned with fever. She always made me feel better.
The memory and Alexandra’s similar actions bring moisture to my closed eyes.
Am I a mess or what?
“I’m fine, Alexandra,” I tell her, though I’m not sure if she hears me. My voice is lost in the sweet-scented pillow.
“I have the flu.”
I hear the opening of a pizza box and a groan as the stench of rotting cheese and sausage drifts from the container. “Not exactly the diet of someone with the flu, Little Brother.”
I hear further shuffling of beer bottles and garbage, and I know she’s starting to straighten the mess up. I’m not the only neat freak in my family.
“Oh, that’s just wrong!” She inhales sharply, and, judging by the stink that joins the putrid pizza aroma, I’m thinking she just opened a three-day-old ice cream container that wasn’t as empty as I’d thought.
“Drew.” She shakes my shoulders gently.
I give in and sit up, rubbing the exhaustion from my eyes as I do.
“Talk to me,” she begs. “What’s going on? What happened?”
As I look at the troubled expression of my big bitch of a sister, I’m thrown twenty-two years back in time. I’m six years old and my hamster, Mr. Wuzzles, has just died. And just like on that day, the painful truth is ripped from my lungs.
“It finally happened.”
“What happened?”
“What you’ve been wishing on me all these years,” I whisper. “I fell in love.”
I look up to see the smile form. It’s what she’s always wanted for me. She’s been married to Steven forever, has been in love with him for even longer. So she’s never agreed with the way I live my life and can’t wait for me to settle down. To find someone to take care of me, the way she takes care of Steven. The way our mother still takes care of our dad.
But I told her it would never happen— it wasn’t what I wanted. Why bring a book to the library? Why bring sand to the beach? Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?
Are you starting to see the picture here?
So I see her beginning to smile, when, in a small voice that I don’t even recognize, I say, “She’s marrying someone else. She didn’t . . . she didn’t want me, Lex.”
Sympathy spreads across my sister’s face like jam on bread. And then determination.
Because Alexandra is a fixer. She can unclog drains, patch dented walls, and remove stains from any rug. I already know what’s going through her head at this moment: If her baby brother is busted, she’ll just put him right back together again.
I wish it were that easy.
But I don’t think all the Krazy Glue in the world is going to piece my heart back together again.
Did I mention I’m a bit of a poet too?
“Okay. We can fix this, Drew.”
Do I know my sister or what?
“You go take a long, hot shower. I’ll clean up this disaster. Then, we’re going out. The three of us.”
“I can’t go out.”
Hasn’t she been listening?
“I have the flu.”
She smiles compassionately. “You need a good, hot meal. You need a shower. You’ll feel better then.”
Maybe she’s right. God knows what I’ve been doing for the last seven days hasn’t made me feel any better.
I shrug and get up to do as she says. Like a four-year-old with his wooby, I bring my prized pillow with me.
On my way to the bathroom, I can’t help but think of how it all happened. I had a good life once. A perfect life.
And then it all got shot to shit.
Oh— you want to know how? You want to hear my sob story?
Okay, then. It all started a few months ago, on a normal Saturday night.
Well, normal for me anyway…
When I pull up to Rory’s address, the wrought-iron gate opens automatically. The extensive driveway is flanked by lampposts and cherry trees and curves around into a horseshoe. The house is a majestic brick Georgian, completely restored with black shutters and detailed white moldings around its fourteen windows. There’s a three-car attached garage, a large front courtyard surrounded by a natural-stone wall, and bright green shrubbery.
I kill the engine and stare at the house, thinking he might be trying to pull one over on me.
“You live here?”
“Are you, like, the gardener’s kid?”
Rory frowns with confusion. “No. It’s my parents’ house.” Then, softer, under his breath, “Was . . .”
He doesn’t elaborate but instead hops out of the car, backpack in tow. I take long strides to catch up and we stand before the massive oak door. I put my hand on the back of his neck, just to be ready in case he makes a run for it. Then I ring the doorbell.
A protracted string of yappy barks ensues immediately after. There’s a shuffling from inside, then the door swings open. And the air rushes out of my lungs.
She’s five five, maybe five six, with long, toned legs in snug black leggings. The outline of a trim waist teases beneath the cotton blouse, with buttons at the top that strain to encase full, firm, perfect breasts. Her neck is elegant, creamy pale, and her face— Jesus— it puts the Victoria’s Secret Angels to shame. A stubborn chin; high cheekbones; plump, ripe, gloss-free lips; an impish nose; and two ice-blue eyes that sparkle like fucking diamonds on a sunny winter day. Multifaceted auburn hair is piled high on her head, with a few escaping strands around her face. Dark-rimmed, square glasses frame those striking eyes, giving a sexy-academic, sultry-librarian kind of impression. I try to swallow, but my mouth just went dry.
“Rory,” she breathes with relief, focusing on the boy beside me. And then she’s pissed. “Where have you been? You were supposed to be home hours ago! And why isn’t your phone on?”
The kid pulls out of my grasp, walks across the black-and-white-tiled foyer, and marches straight up the stairs, not even looking at her.
“Rory! Hey!” she calls after him.
Her knuckles turn white where they grip the door frame, then she turns to me. “Hello?” It’s more of a question than a greeting.
“Hi,” I respond, just staring. Enjoying the view.
Fuck, I’m horny.
Then I shake my head, snapping out of the idiot stupor of being denied sex for too long. I start again, extending my hand. “Hi. I’m Jake Becker. I’m an attorney.”
It’s always good to volunteer this fact because— as with police officers— there’s an instant trust that’s afforded to those of us in legal professions, even if it’s not always deserved. “Chelsea McQuaid.” My hand encapsulates her small one as she shakes it with a warm, firm grip.
“I drove Rory home.”
Her head tilts and her lips purse with suspicious curiosity. “Really?”
“I need to speak with you about your son, Mrs. McQuaid,” I tell her, going with the most logical connection between her and the would-be thief.
Her eyes examine me and I can see the judging wheels turning. Debating whether to, in this day and age, let an imposing, unknown man into her house. I have no doubt that my expensive suit and dark good looks help tip the scales in my favor.
“All right.” She steps back. “Please come in, Mr. Becker.”
I step over the threshold. “Jake, please.”
She closes the door behind me, reaching up to engage a child safety lock at the top. Then a tiny blur of long caramel-and-chocolate fur surges out from behind her and pounces on my shoes, sniffing and barking, sticking out its chest and snarling. A clear case of small-dog syndrome if I ever saw one.
“It, stop it!” Chelsea scolds.