Reluctantly Royal(6)

By: Nichole Chase



“He got to sit in the pilot seat. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to top that.” She smiled up at me, and her smile was so radiant that for just a moment I felt my breath catch in my throat.

“It was the least I could do.” I bowed my head to her and then to her father before turning and leaving. My steps echoed in the hallway, but thankfully there was no more shouting from the sitting room.

“Psst.”

I paused at the door, my fingers gripping the handle, and looked up at the small balcony near the stairs.

“What are you doing?” I cocked my head to the side as I regarded the little boy.

“Are they still fighting?” He looked at me from between the railing of the staircase with narrowed eyes.

“I don’t hear them.” I shook my head.

“That just means they’re being quieter.” He sighed and slumped down on his butt. “They’re probably still arguing.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in your room?” I let my hand fall from the door and I turned to give Marty my full attention. If his mother was still arguing with his grandfather, I was sure she wouldn’t want him to know.

“It’s not fair.”

“What’s not fair?” I moved so that I could see his little face better, and the tear stains on his cheeks made me wince.

“I don’t want to be alone up here.” He wrapped his arms around his stomach and bowed his head.

I teetered on the bottom step. This was one of those moments when a normal adult would have something reassuring to say, some soft words that would make this little boy feel better. But I was drawing a blank, and, worse, Marty had started to sniffle.

“Hey.” Giving up on my escape plan I took the stairs two at a time and sat down next to the little boy. Okay. I was here, now what? “Hey. Um, I’m sure your mum will be up here to see you soon.”

He just shrugged.

That was no good. I needed him to calm down, and to do that I needed him to tell me what was really bothering him—though I was fairly certain I knew. How to get a little boy to open up to a stranger? I seemed to remember my sister, Cathy, going on and on about using open-ended questions for her school program. Something about asking questions that couldn’t be answered with a yes or no.

“Where is your room?”

“There.” He pointed at a door that was cracked open.

“Um, do you have any video games?” Damn it. That was not an open-ended question.

“Yeah.” He shrugged like that was the stupidest question in the world.

“What kind of games do you like?”

“All kinds.” He peeked up at me through damp eyelashes.

“Racing ones?” I was forming a plan. At least I think that was what was happening.

“Yeah, those are cool. I’m really good at Race Indy Two Thousand.” He wiped his nose on the back of his arm. “You wanna play?”

“You wanna lose?” I bumped him with my shoulder.

“You wish.” He stood up, lightning-quick, and ran toward his room. “C’mon.”

I shook my head as I followed him into his room. The little guy chucked me a controller and took a seat on his bed. I pulled the desk chair out and turned it backward to sit in before looking at the controller in my hands.

“This is going to be a bloodbath.” The little boy chuckled.

I loosened my tie. “We’ll see about that.”

Marty didn’t hesitate to start. We picked our cars and it was go time. The little pooper was good, but so was I. If there was one thing I had never outgrown, it was video games.

“Hey!” Marty cried in outrage. “How’d you know about that?”

I used the hidden power strip to zip around his avatar. “You thought just because I’m old I didn’t know about the speed strips?”

“Uh, yeah.” He shrugged while I laughed.

“Get used to it, little man. I’m going to leave you eating my dust.”

I had no idea how much time passed while I played with Marty. After I lost to him twice, he talked me into playing another game. It wasn’t until someone cleared their throat at the bedroom door that I realized we were being rowdy.

“Max?” Meredith leaned against the door frame, her red hair half obscuring her face as she watched us with an amused expression. She might have been smiling, but I could see the red that rimmed her gorgeous eyes. “I thought you left.”

She crossed her arms, and I had to pull my attention away from the way it highlighted her breasts. Sure, I liked breasts as much as the next guy, but the woman was grieving, for Christ’s sake.

“I was challenged.” I flicked my eyes back to the screen, more in an attempt to get them away from her chest than to be involved in the game. “A man can’t turn down a challenge.”

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