Crown Jewels (Off-Limits Romance #1)

Crown Jewels (Off-Limits Romance #1)

Ella James




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ONE Lucy





Eyeliner.

The upper lid first? Maybe the lower lid…

“Well, who told her?”

So…not too thick. Just need to draw the line so that it’s there, but not obnoxious like a Halloween costume.

“It was Mr. Vernon, at the crab shack!”

Hmm. I lean in toward the mirror, widening both eyes so my eyelashes stand out. That looks right. Might need to wipe a little with a Q-tip.

“Mr. Vernon! Had he seen him?”

“I don’t know. Heidi didn’t say. Just texted me and said that ‘rumor was.’ I asked, and that’s when she said she heard from Mr. Vernon.”

Eyeliner game strong. Now double check the eye-shadow. Maybe a little more brown right here in the crease of my eyelid…

“Hmm, that might be true. Oh my God, and if it IS—”

“I KNOW!”

I twist a tube of mascara open and am pulling out the wand when Charley bumps her hip into my shoulder.

“Shit.”

I look down at the knuckles of my left hand—topped by a thick, black streak—then up at Charley.

“What?” I don’t mean to sound so sharp. Over the last two years, bitchy has become my default personality: defensive, with my teeth bared and my claws out.

Maggie and Amelia, seated at two of the other marble-topped vanities in my hexagonal, glass-walled powder room, peer over their bare shoulders at me.

“What? I say again. “Is it my eyes?” I bat my lashes. “Eyeliner bad?”

It’s been almost nine months since I put any on. I feel like my hands have forgotten what to do.

“Your eyes look badass,” Charley says, still standing over me with her hand on her hipbone. She hooks a cherry red nail around the side-strap of her thong and wiggles her ass a little, giving me a funny look the whole time. A look that says she’s watching me, just like they all are.

I look pleadingly toward Mags—she’s topless, working on honey brown hair extensions—and Amelia, wearing a lacy pink strapless bra and panty set and working on her lips.

Maggie wiggles her dark, thick eyebrows. “We’re talking about your honey bunny.”

Amelia beams, and Charley hands me a wad of tissue for my marked-up hand.

“Dear Lord.” I scrub at the mascara on my knuckles. “Who’s my honey? Dare I even ask?”

Charley leans down and wraps an arm around my neck, her huge boobs pressing against my back. She pushes a lock of my dark hair off of my ear and whispers, in her phonesex voice, “Crown Jewels.”

“Huh?” I wriggle away and frown up at her.

“Prince Liam,” Mags cries. “Were you even listening over there?”

“No, I was not.” I roll my eyes. I turn back to my mirror, adjusting the strap of my silky, mint green teddy.

Years ago, primping for a summer night in this gorgeous room was basically the meaning of life. In the Hamptons, everyone knows where everyone else’s place is. Over the last three years, I’ve seen dozens of e-guides with our white-washed, wood-shingled home blown up and circled, a little arrow pointing at it, with flashy text reading: The Rhodes of Concord!

The reality show about my family, pitched by Seacrest to E! as Kardashians in the Old South, started filming in September of my junior year of high school. I was a regular until two summers ago. Everyone else in my family—Mom, Dad, and my older siblings Belle, Celia, Tripp, and Bryant—is still involved.

Most of the time, I’m able to forget about TRoC, but mention of Prince Liam’s name takes me back to the time when I was eating egg whites, turkey, and broccoli for every meal and smirking on magazine covers.

Youngest Rhodes sister—and the hottest? You decide.

I glance down at my chest, covered by my thin teddy, then cast my gaze up at the room’s sleek window walls, as if maybe the prince is on the beach with all the other rubberneckers, watching us get dressed.

My mom designed my dressing room, on the rear corner of the home’s second floor, with gorgeous glass walls, thinking I could see my makeup better in high light. Charley, Maggie, Amelia, and I were seventeen the summer we started stripping down to our underthings while we dressed after dusk. We noticed a bunch of little lights out on the beach and realized they were cell phones. We’d drawn a crowd—an all-male one. Ever since then, guys gather on the beach behind the house with binoculars and cell phones every night we’re here in Southampton.

I picture Prince Liam’s posse lurking on our lawn and swallow past my dry throat.

“I was not listening,” I say again, drawing the mascara wand slowly back out. “What was said?”

“You should really let me glue some on you,” Amelia interrupts.

I sigh. “Okay. If you re-do all the other stuff.” I wave at my shadow and eyeliner.

“No prob,” she says.

I shift my gaze to Mags. “Prince Liam is not my man.”

I see his package wrapped in charcoal spandex, there then gone in my mind’s eye, before I wave at Amelia. “Miss Stalker over there has dibs, not me. And anyway, isn’t he in Africa or something?”

“He’s been in Africa, then Australia, then South America.” Mags’ pouty lips smirk as a long, straight hair extension falls over her shoulder. “I forget you don’t have Snapchat.”

“Nope.” I find no need for it out in Estes Park, Colorado, where I’ve been working at a horse ranch since this past November.

“But seriously,” Amelia tells me as she saunters over to the vanity beside mine, “we were saying that he’s here. And unlike some of us—” she sinks gently down into her chair, smoothing a thin hand over her flawless copper red updo— “you actually have a chance to get at that.”

Charley pulls a bra on, looking like Marilyn Monroe in the reflection of the window out in front of me. “What Am means there is, she screen-shot that bulge pic he posted from that yacht last week and lady-wanks all day to it—so if you could just play wing-man for her when we see him, that would fucking rock.”

Amelia’s fair skin reddens. “That’s not what I meant, Charley.” She opens her lash kit, letting her gaze linger on the rows of fake eyelashes and the little tubes of glue.

I actually manage a laugh, because my best friend is adorable when flustered. “You want me to try to flag him over if we see him, Am?”

I’ve been looking for a deeper reason to out tonight. Something beyond “getting back on the radar” and picking up guys I won’t have sex with. Maybe this can be it.

Amelia presses her lips together, looking briefly into my eyes before her gaze tips back down to her lap. “I’m sure he won’t be there.”

“Where else would he be?” Charley demands.

Mags pops her lips together, blotting at her lipstick as she nods. “It’s true,” she says. “Everyone will be at Carnegie’s.”

My stomach does a barrel roll. I shut my eyes and listen to my friends gossip as Amelia does my lashes. Declan Carnegie—a pro baseball player who’s a little older than us—is supposed to be a closet drug addict (“Out of control,” Charley says); Kendall Jenner and some model she’s cat-fighting will both be there tonight (gasp!); Taylor Swift’s house help told someone who works for us that she’ll be jetting in tomorrow.

Everyone. Will. Be. There.

I dig my nails into my palm and wonder why the hell I left seclusion. It’s been months since I’ve been photographed. I don’t need to draw attention now. And why the Hamptons?

Because you’re fucking brave, I try to tell myself.

Amelia notices my face and gives me a quick peck on the forehead. “Not everyone will be there tonight, Luce. Only the good guys.”

I bite my lip, thankful Mags and Charley are focused on the finer points of party slut evening-ware.

“So you don’t want Prince Liam for yourself?” Amelia teases me as she pastes a line of lashes above mine.

“Um, hell no. No offense,” I tell her with my eyes shut.

“You think he’s an asshole, don’t you?”

I peek one eye open. “Do you really want to know?”

“I already know. I know you, woman.”

My stomach tightens as I remember that searing hot picture of the prince’s package.

Prince Liam might be the first guy my vagina has taken a liking to in two years, but I do think he’s an asshole. My interest in him—my very secret interest—is purely as a slab of man meat and inspiration for my poor, neglected vag.

“He seems like the world’s biggest dick, but remember, I think all guys are dicks these days,” I tell Amelia.

Her fingers are gentle on my face as she pastes on more lashes. In the silence before she speaks, I can feel her sympathy. “I know. So someone’s going to have to prove you wrong.”

I let my breath out slowly as she rubs her fingertip along my eyelid. “Well, I can tell you now, it’s not going to be some royal prick draped with coked-up models, wearing spandex.”

Amelia’s body stills. “Spandex? What do you mean?”

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