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I point at her. “The fact that you think so is exactly what concerns me.”
“The people will have no other side to be on, but mine. When I’m Queen, they’ll like it or as far as I’m concerned, they can piss the hell off.”
Wow. Holy shit—wow.
I gape at her.
This is how Obi-Wan must’ve felt when Anakin turned to the fucking Dark Side.
“They could protest against you. Fight to overthrow you.”
She waves her hand. “Revolutions are never successful anymore.”
My voice rises. With frustration and also worry. For my darling daughter who thinks she knows everything, when in reality she knows so very little.
“Successful or not, why would you want to govern a populace who is openly revolting against you? Why would you think that you even could?”
She shrugs again. “I’ll have the military with me. They’ll follow my orders—and I’ll be smart enough to stop any rebellion before it starts.”
What a beautiful little monster she sounds like.
“And that, dear girl, is called a dictatorship. Those never end well. For anyone.”
My hand rubs over my face and I take a deep breath.
“The fact that you are the people’s only choice is the very reason you should view this position as an honor. A service. A sacred duty, Jane.”
Her features soften, sliding from stubbornness to thoughtfulness. And I think maybe—just maybe—I’m getting through.
“There is a trust between government and its people. An agreement. We govern them because they allow us to. And that is dependent on the monarchy putting the people’s well-being above all else—above ourselves. The good of the country must always come first. The day you forget that, is the day you don’t deserve to wear the crown—entitlement be damned.”
Sometimes, I can make myself sound like Granny too.
Jane slips her phone out of her pocket and begins typing rapidly.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m writing this down. It’s excellent advice.”
The tension in my shoulders begins to ebb. Until…
“I want to make sure my biographer includes it.”
Oh for fuck’s sake.
“No—I understand. You’re right. I’ll do better. I’ll take this all to heart, Dad.” She gives me a lovely, charming smile. “I’m very lucky you’re so wise.”
Now I roll my eyes. “Don’t patronize me. I was patronizing the best of them, before you were anywhere close to being born.”
She nods sweetly. “Of course, you were. There—got it.” She puts her phone away. “Was there anything else? Sasha, Mellie and I are going to Monaco for the weekend. I don’t want to be late meeting them.”
“No.” I sigh. “I suppose that’s it for now. Do you want me to tell security to accompany you in plain clothes?”
Her little brow furrows. “Why?”
“Moving about in public will be easier if it’s not obvious that you are who you are.”
Jane looks genuinely confused. “But I like being me. Why would I want to pretend to be anyone else?”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Take a look in the history books—royals who enjoyed being who they were too much are not remembered kindly. And there’s a reason for that.”
Slowly she nods, playing at agreeing with me.
I invented that too.
“I’m so glad we had this chat, Dad.”
Then she gets up, comes around the desk and hugs me, kissing my cheek. “I love you.”
I hug her back, wishing she could be a little girl again—when it was all so much easier.
“I love you too, Janey. Be good, be safe.”
“I will.” She stands up and pats my shoulder. “We’ll chat again soon.”
And I want to slam my forehead into my desk.
Instead, after the apple of my eye breezes from the room and closes the door behind her, I spin in my chair to gaze at Granny’s painting. One eyebrow seems raised higher than before, her smirk more self-satisfied.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” I ask.
And I can almost hear her answer.
Not so easy, is it, my boy?
“Go ahead, laugh it up.” I raise my tea-cup, toasting her. “Chuckle away.”
The next time I look up from the work at my desk, it’s dark outside—almost nine o’clock. Most days I make a point of eating dinner with Sarah and our children who aren’t away at boarding school. But when I can’t, Sarah holds off eating, so we can dine together.
I close up shop, wish my personal secretary, old Christopher, a pleasant evening as I walk by his desk and go find my wife. At this time of night, I don’t have to search hard—there’s only one place she’ll be.
I hear their voices before I reach the nursery door, and the corners of my mouth automatically tug up into the best kind of smile.
“…and then James climbed back into the sticky, giant peach ready to visit more amazing places and see the most extraordinary things!”
The snap of a closing book echoes, before a tiny voice objects.
“Wait! You can’t stop there—I have to know what happens.”
“That’s the end of the chapter, Gilly.” Sarah says in her soft tone. “You’ll find out what happens next tomorrow.”
Gilbert, our youngest, will be six in two weeks. If Jane was our honeymoon baby—well…slightly pre-honeymoon, if I’m being honest—Gil was our surprise. Sarah was forty-three when she gave birth to him, though the doctor said she had the uterus of a twenty-one-year old. Jane, who was fourteen then and Edward, our second oldest at a year younger than her, were mortified by the news that another sibling was on the way. They called us freaks of nature, the ingrates. While their little sisters, quiet Margaret and happy Isabel, who were ten and eight at the time, didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
And yes, I was as proud as a studly peacock that I’d knocked my wife beautifully up so close to middle-age. It turned out, the last pregnancy was the easiest of the bunch for Sarah—she had no morning sickness, more energy instead of less, insatiable sex-drive…I was bloody ecstatic about that part too.
I peak around the door just in time to see my son fling himself back onto the white carpet dramatically, arms splayed, his blond hair wavy and wild.
“Tomorrow will take so long! I can’t wait!”
That sounds familiar.
Gilbert takes more after me than any of the others—energetic, rambunctious—a handful. But he’s a joy. They all are.
When they’re not giving us migraines.
“Please, Mummy. One more chapter…pleeeeeeeeese.”
When Sarah sighs, I know she’s about to give in. And I’m not the only one who senses it.
“Prince Gilbert, don’t pester your poor mother. Or beg, or whine. It is beneath you.” Nanny Alice steps in from the adjoining room, her face stern and her brogue thick. “You have an early lesson in the morning.” She claps her hands together, quick and sharp. “Into bed, now.”
Gilbert’s whole face scrunches into a frown—and it’s really adorable.
“Nan-ny! She was going to say yes!” He waves his hand, his thumb and pointer finger pinched together. “She was this close and you ruined it.”
Nanny Alice’s lips pucker sourly. “Your Mummy has a soft spot for you—and that’s why they keep me around—because I don’t like you at’all.”
Gilbert giggles like it’s the silliest thing he’s ever heard. Nanny Alice adores him and he knows it, but thankfully for us, she doesn’t let the runt of the litter get away with anything.
As Gil climbs up onto his bed, I step into the room.
“Your Grace.” Nanny curtsies quickly.
I nod. “Thank you, Alice.”
She dims the lights before slipping outside the door while we say goodnight. I slide my hand along Sarah’s back and we step up beside the bed.
Blinking up at us, Gilbert yawns. “Can we plant a peach tree?”