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“Daddy, can we play rugby tomorrow? I’ve been practicing and I want to show you.”
I brush my fingers through his crazy hair. Our little heathen.
“I’ll have Nanny Alice bring you to my office after your morning lesson and we’ll go out to the courtyard to play for a bit then.”
He yawns again, longer this time.
“I really like the giant peach story. Do you think I could write a story like that?”
Sarah leans down over our boy, her voice hushed. “You can do anything you want, anything you dream, as long as you are good and honest and work hard at it.” She peppers his forehead and cheeks with kisses, brushing her nose against his. “Goodnight my little love.”
And then it’s my turn.
“Sleep well, sweet boy. We love you.”
He rolls away from us, onto his side, crushing his pillow into a heap beneath his head.
And with my arm around Sarah’s shoulders, I guide her out the door, down the long endless hallway to our rooms.
It’s a mild evening so we dine out on the balcony, beneath the black sky spotted with twinkling stars, at a table set with china for two. This time with Sarah alone—it’s the best part of my day, any day—full stop.
Candlelight dances across her face making pink and soft orange shadows, and I’m struck not just by how utterly beautiful she still is, but how unchanged—constant. How she’s been able to retain the same quiet strength and hopeful innocence she’s always had despite the backstabbing, unsavory political world she lives in.
After we eat, I fill her in on my conversation with Jane, rubbing my temples as I recount it.
“She talked circles around me, I swear. It’s almost emasculating.”
Sarah chuckles and gives me “the look”—the one I love. A small smile, a gentle shake of her head.
“She talks circles around you because you let her. Because deep down you’re delighted by how clever she is—how stubborn and strong and quick-witted she can be. Like your grandmother. You adore that about her.”
I snort at being called out. Then I stare at the rumpled napkin on the table.
“She’s spoiled, Sarah.” I confess in a whisper. “Not to the point of rotten, but…”
My wife nods and straightens her back.
“Jane was born blessed—beautiful, intelligent. She’s been raised in luxury and privilege by a family who loves her completely. She’s never known hardship or tragedy. She’s been treated with deference by everyone around her—and she has more power than any nineteen-year-old ever should. I’d be shocked if she wasn’t a bit spoiled.”
“But we’re not just raising a daughter! We’re raising a queen. And it just all hit me today, that I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of it,” I say miserably. “I didn’t realize how…difficult…it is. A tightrope. And I have a whole new level of respect for Granny because God knows Nicholas and I did not make it easy for her.”
Sarah toys with the rim of her wine glass thoughtfully. “I don’t think it’s the sort of task that’s supposed to be easy. We’ve always tried to protect them from the harsher realities of life. Jane knows logically that she is more fortunate that almost anyone else in the world. But there’s a difference between knowing that, and seeing it with her own eyes. Truly understanding the suffering others experience in the world and even her own country. Maybe, we’ve sheltered her too much. Sam and Elizabeth send their children on charitable missions every summer. They’ve done work in all sorts of places…perhaps it’s time we do the same for Jane.”
I shake my head. “Our children are different. They’re targets—we all are—we learned that the hard way, years ago.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“I don’t like putting them out there, in danger. Needlessly.”
Sarah tilts her head, regarding me. “But you’re just fine with putting yourself there.”
“It’s not the same.”
“But, now, it is the same. One day Jane will be you—she will sit where you sit, be faced with the same trials and choices you face. It would be cruel and dangerous not to prepare her for that. We’re lucky that she still lives here with us—that she’s just in her first year in Uni. But the time is quickly coming when she will be out of our reach, Henry. Her opinions will be set and we won’t be able to influence her. If we have any hope of shaking her views, I’m afraid it has to be now…or never.”
I rub the back of my neck and stare at my wife for a few moments.
“You’re right.” I chuckle, shaking my head. “Of course, you’re right. You were always the brave one.”
She smiles gently. Remembering. “Not always.”
Sarah reaches across the table for my hand, and I give it to her without hesitation. “But you kept your promise. You kept me safe, so I could be brave. And I have no doubt that you will do the same for our daughter.” She squeezes my hand. “I have no doubts about you, Henry.”
Not for the first time, I gaze at Sarah’s lovely face, at the absolute, unconditional trust in her dark eyes…and I know deep inside that I would be fucking lost without her. I would be nothing. Less than nothing.
Leaning forward, I bring her small hand to my lips. Then I cradle it in both of mine. “I’ll call Sam in the morning.”
“But why did we have so many?”
Henry’s voice reaches me from the bath where he’s just finished his shower—a lighter extension of the conversation we began at dinner. I sit at the vanity table, my glasses off, rubbing moisturizer into my cheeks, tapping it below my eyes, wearing a rose and ivory silk nightgown.
My husband steps into the bedroom with a cloud of steam wafting behind him, rubbing a towel across his broad shoulders and damp head, wearing nothing. There’s no concern that the staff will enter our rooms unannounced. That was nipped in the bud during the first weeks of our marriage—when Henry’s valet walked in on one of our…friskier…moments.
Henry thought the whole thing was hilarious—but I couldn’t look the poor man in the face for a month. So, my husband gave the staff strict instructions not to come into our rooms without knocking, at any time of day, unless the palace was burning to the ground.
There are Queen’s quarters near to these rooms, but we’ve never used them. As if Henry would ever let me sleep anywhere but beside him. As if I’d ever want to. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that it’s real—that this is a life I get to have. The most miraculous happily ever after.
“I mean, why did we think having five would somehow be a good idea? I don’t remember having that conversation. Do you?”
I glance over my shoulder, my eyes dragging up from his toes to his wild-green eyes. Henry was crowned at forty—a young King by any standard. He’ll turn fifty this summer, and the grandest parties are already planned to celebrate the occasion. But besides the sexy dusting of light gray that joins the blond hairs on his chest, he’s still taught and rippled in all the places a man should be.
I am a lucky, lucky girl.
“I don’t think conversing had anything to do with it.” My voice drops to a sultry level as I look him over. “It was more…you…always corrupting me with your wicked ways.”
He catches my appraisal and his eyes darken. He tosses the towel aside and stalks over to me, a filthy smile taking possession of his mouth.
“That’s not how I recall it.” Henry leans down, behind my chair, tugging the strap of my nightgown off my shoulder and kissing the now bared spot. Then he punctuates each word with another hot peck, climbing towards my neck. “I think you have always been too damn delectable for your own good, love.”
He drags his nose, up over my ear, giving me goosebumps with his breath, to my temple. “Mmm, you smell amazing.”
Then his simmering eyes meet mine in the mirror. “Christ, look at you.”
I groan and cover my face. “Uh, please don’t.” I drop my hands and turn towards him in the chair. “Do you know those crinkles I get around my eyes when I laugh? I realized the other day, they’re there all the time now. I’m so old.”