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“It’s fascinating. Look at her.”
My brother, Nicholas, gestures towards my daughter, Jane, at the far end of the glittering, gold ballroom. At nineteen-years-old, Jane takes after Sarah in beauty and build—dark cascading hair, a lovely face, long, lithe limbs, sparkling brown eyes with speckles of my green. She smiles and mingles with the press, as she glides towards the podium to answer questions about the newly established scholarship fund in honor of my grandmother, Queen Lenora.
But her personality and demeanor are distinctly unlike Sarah. Or me.
“She’s poised, self-assured, commanding even.” Nicholas says as she takes to the podium—chin high, back straight, the very embodiment of royalty in action. “She’s nothing like we were at her age.”
“I know.” I reply, bewildered. “Every responsibility I give her, every duty—she absorbs like a sponge. She thrives off of it.”
“Mmm.” Nicholas grunts. “All your years of recklessness, all Sarah’s sweetness, and somehow you two managed to give birth to…”
“Granny.” I finish for him.
It’s the damnedest thing.
“She’ll make one hell of a queen, though.” Nicholas offers.
“She will.” I nod, with pride. But then I frown. “It sucks that I’ll be too dead to see it.”
My brother grins. “You could retire when she’s a bit older. Step down. Live out your golden years away from the headaches of the capital and politics in one of the country estates with your wife.”
I shake my head. “Nah. There’d be too many comparisons. Too much second guessing of her choices and what I would’ve done. I won’t do that to her. When Jane takes the throne it will be hers and hers alone.”
As Jane begins to take questions, we turn our silent attention back to her. Until my sister-in-law slips into the room and up to my brother’s side wearing a shimmery, knee-length red dress and strappy heels, her hair a mass of wild black curls. Even in her late forties, she couldn’t be described as anything less than a full-on knockout.
“You’re looking especially lovely, Olive.”
She gives me a glowing smile. “Thank you, Henry. It’s date night. Date weekend, actually.” She moves her hand to my brother’s arm affectionately. “We’re going to Cannes and I can’t wait.” Olivia glances at Nicholas’s face and her smile wobbles. “You didn’t forget, did you? Tell me you didn’t forget, Nicholas.”
They lived the first half of their marriage in the states—New York—with frequent long visits to Wessco. That changed when Granny became ill. And the day I was crowned King, I asked—begged—my brother to move his family back home, to become my First Royal Advisor. I knew it was a lot to ask, but I needed him. After discussing it with Olivia, he agreed and although they have their own estate, they live most of the year in their apartments here in the Palace.
Nicholas grins wickedly and wraps his arm around his wife’s waist, pulling her close. “Two glorious days alone with my stunning wife? Even if I was senile I couldn’t forget that. I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. My bags are already in the car.”
Olivia’s smile returns with full force. Then she glances towards my daughter. “Janey looks great up there.” And then she snorts. “God, she reminds me of your Grandmother.”
That seems to be the theme of the day.
Nicholas glances at his watch. “We should get moving.” He nods, smacking my arm. “Henry.”
Neither of them bow, nor would I want them to—that would just be too fucking weird, even for us.
“Have a good weekend, you two.”
After they make a quiet exit, I fold my arms across my chest, lean back against the wall and watch Jane do what she does so well.
Until a reporter begins a question with, “Lady Jane—”
And my first-born cuts him off—right at the balls.
“I’m sorry?” the reporter asks.
Jane sighs, quick and impatient. “I am the Crown Princess of Wessco, the heir apparent—which means when you address me it will be as Princess Jane or Your Royal Highness. Perhaps, one day when you can get that right, I may stoop to answering your question.”
She turns her head away to the rest of the crowd. “Next.”
The same reporter lifts his hand tentatively. “Princess Jane—”
“Uh-uh,” Jane raises her finger, like a sharp-voiced school teacher scolding a naughty pupil. “No interrupting. Shush.” She dismisses him again. “Next.”
A dozen memories from my adolescence come rushing back, and I shiver.
It’s downright fucking spooky.
Later, I sit behind the desk in the Royal Office, the painting of my proud, elegant grandmother in her crown and robes hanging on the wall behind me. There’s a comfort in its presence, like she’s still here with me, having my back as she always did, in her own way. A full appreciation of her support and guidance, didn’t really hit me until she was gone.
And I missed her so much—I still do.
There’s a knock on the door.
My oldest daughter pops her head in. “You wanted to see me, Dad?”
I set the document I was reviewing aside. “Yes, sweets. Sit down.”
Her black designer slacks make a swishing sound as she glides into the office. She takes the chair across from me, folding her legs, her face serene and smiling.
“I wanted to talk to you about the press conference earlier.”
“It was fantastic, wasn’t it?” Jane’s eyes glance to the painting. “I think Great-Granny would be pleased that another worthy cause has been created in her honor.”
I smile tightly. “Yes, she would be. For the most part, you did very well, Jane—I’m proud of you.”
Her pretty head tilts. “For the most part?”
“Well…there was that one interaction, with the journalist who misaddressed you. I wanted to discuss that with you.”
“What about it?”
“You could’ve just let it pass.”
She shrugs. “But I was right. He was wrong. Now he knows for next time.”
This is going to be harder than I thought.
“While that’s technically true, your response to him came off as rather…,” I swirl my hand, searching for the right word. “…entitled sounding.”
Her brow furrows. “But I am…entitled. That’s the point, isn’t it? You succeeded Great-Grandmother and I will succeed you. I’m entitled to the position, by birth. That’s what is means to be the heir.”
I chuckle. Because she makes it sound so simple.
“You wouldn’t be the heir if your uncle hadn’t abdicated.”
“But he did abdicate—as he should have. He didn’t want it. My cousins are happy for that—they wouldn’t have wanted it either. I do. Why shouldn’t I act like it?”
“Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. You are the Crown Princess—your attitude reflects on all of us. You must behave,” I choke out the next word, “…properly.”
Then I glance at the ceiling and brace for the lightning bolt that’s sure to come down from the sky and strike me right in the arse. Because…the irony.
When it doesn’t come, I continue.
“You should be humble, Jane. Show gratitude.”
My daughter scoffs. “Why does a journalist deserve my gratitude?”
“He deserves your respect. They all do—they’re our subjects, our citizens.”
She rolls her eyes. Cheeky – and not in a cute way.
“I used to think I didn’t need the press either, and I was wrong. When your day comes, this will go much easier for you if the press and the people are on your side.”
And now she huffs. And folds her arms unhappily.
When our children were young, Sarah and I decided against spankings, it wasn’t how we wanted to raise them. Now I’m thinking we were wrong in Jane’s case—she’s got too much of my petulant stubbornness. We probably should’ve beaten her, at least a little.