Royally Matched (Royally Series)(5)

By: Emma Chase

She laughs, eyes gleaming. “You’re even better than I imagined.” She taps a red fingernail on the wood bar. “I have a proposition for you.”

“And I do so enjoy being propositioned. Your place or mine?” Then I snap my fingers, remembering. “We will have to stop by the Palace. There’s an NDA you’re supposed to sign—a technicality. Then we can get right to the good part.”

Vanessa braces her elbow on the bar. “Not that kind of proposition. I don’t want to sleep with you, Henry.”

“Who said anything about sleeping? I’m talking about sex. Good sex. Lots of it.”

That puts a flush on her pretty cheeks and she laughs. “I don’t want to have sex with you.”

I pat her hand. “Now you’re just being silly. The cat-and-mouse game can be tantalizing, but it’s not necessary.” My voice drops to a whisper. “I’m a sure thing.”

Her smile is sly and confident. “So I hear. But this is a business opportunity, and I never mix business with pleasure.”

And as quick as that, my interest drops. These days, “business” is the most effective cold shower. “Pity.”

“It doesn’t have to be. I’m a television producer. Matched—have you heard of it?”

I squint, recalling. “One of those reality dating shows, isn’t it? Survivor, but with cat fights and string bikinis?”

“That’s right.”

Out of the corner of my eye I notice Macalister motion to one of his bouncers—a strapping, thick-necked bloke. Vanessa must notice as well, because she speaks more quickly.

“I’m putting together a special edition—a royal edition—and I want you to be the star. We’ll take care of everything, make all the arrangements—twenty beautiful blue bloods in one castle and all you have to do is let them fall all over themselves for you. It’ll be a month-long, nonstop party. And in the end, you can check off your most important royal duty: choosing your queen.”

As far as pitches go, hers isn’t half bad. The slumbering, neglected part of me that remembers easy, simple, laid-back days stirs and stretches. It’s that feeling you get in the coldest nights of winter—a yearning for sweet, summer sun.

The bouncer stands behind her. “Time to go, Miss.”

Vanessa rises from her stool. “Think of me as the female Billy the Kid.” She winks. “I’ll make you famous.”

“I’m already famous.”

“But you’re not enjoying it anymore, are you, Henry? I can do something for you that no one else can—I will make famous fun again.” She slides her card across the bar. “Think about it, then call me.”

I watch her back as she struts across the bar and out the door. And though I have no intention of taking her up on the interesting offer, I slip her card into my wallet. Just in case.

The eighties are a sorely underrated decade in terms of musical composition. They don’t get nearly the respect they deserve. I try to use my platform in the world to bring attention to this travesty by singing eighties ballads whenever I get the chance. Like right now, as I sing “What About Me” by Moving Pictures on the karaoke stage. It was their one-hit wonder and a soul-stirring exercise in self-pity. My eyes are closed as I belt out the lyrics and sway behind he microphone.

Not in time to the music—I’m so pissed, I’m lucky to still be standing at all.

Usually I play the guitar too, but my fine-motor functions fell by the wayside hours ago. I’m a fantastic musician—not that anyone really notices. That talent gets lost in the shadow of the titles, the same way the talented offspring of two accomplished stars get discounted by the weight of their household name.

My mother gave me my love of music—she played several instruments. I had tutors, first for the piano, then the violin—but it was the guitar that really stuck with me. The karaoke stage at The Goat used to be my second home and in the last few hours, I’ve given serious consideration to moving in beneath it.

If Harry Potter was the Boy Under the Stairs, I could be the Prince Under the Stage. Why the fuck not?

As I delve into the chorus for the second time, voices whisper on the periphery of my consciousness. I hear them, but don’t really listen.

“Christ, how long’s he been like this?”

I like that voice. It’s soothing. Deep and comforting. It reminds me of my brother’s, but it’s not him. Because Nicholas is in a land far, far away.

“He’s had a rough go of it.”

And that sounds like Simon—my brother’s best mate. He checks up on me from time to time, because he’s a good man.

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