The Dark Suits thought it was a good time for a PR boost—which means days of interviews, tours, and photo shoots. My own personal fourth, fifth, and sixth circles of hell.
“He’s the last for today.”
She falls in step beside me as I walk down the long, carpeted hallway that will eventually lead to Guthrie House—my private apartments at the Palace of Wessco.
“Lord Ellington is arriving shortly, and arrangements for dinner at Bon Repas are confirmed.”
Being friends with me is harder than you’d think. I mean, I’m a great friend; my life, on the other hand, is a pain in the arse. I can’t just drop by a pub last minute or hit up a new club on a random Friday night. These things have to preplanned, organized. Spontaneity is the only luxury I don’t get to enjoy.
With that, Bridget heads toward the palace offices and I enter my private quarters. Three floors, a full modernized kitchen, a morning room, a library, two guest rooms, servants’ quarters, two master suites with balconies that open up to the most breathtaking views on the grounds. All fully restored and updated—the colors, tapestries, stonework, and moldings maintaining their historic integrity. Guthrie House is the official residence of the Prince or Princess of Pembrook—the heir apparent—whomever that may be. It was my father’s before it was mine, my grandmother’s before her coronation.
Royals are big on hand-me-downs.
I head up to the master bedroom, unbuttoning my shirt, looking forward to the hot, pounding feel of eight showerheads turned up to full blast. My shower is fucking fantastic.
But I don’t make it that far.
Fergus meets me at the top of the stairs.
“She wants to see you,” he croaks.
And she needs no further introduction.
I rub a hand down my face, scratching the dark five o’clock shadow on my chin. “When?”
“When do you think?” Fergus scoffs. “Yesterday, o’ course.”
Back in the old days, the throne was the symbol of a monarch’s power. In illustrations it was depicted with the rising sun behind it, the clouds and stars beneath it—the seat for a descendent of God himself. If the throne was the emblem of power, the throne room was the place where that sovereignty was wielded. Where decrees were issued, punishments were pronounced, and the command of “bring me his head” echoed off the cold stone walls.
That was then.
Now, the royal office is where the work gets done—the throne room is used for public tours. And yesterday’s throne is today’s executive desk. I’m sitting across from it right now. It’s shining, solid mahogany and ridiculously huge.
If my grandmother were a man, I’d suspect she was compensating for something.
Christopher, the Queen’s personal secretary, offers me tea but I decline with a wave of my hand. He’s young, about twenty-three, as tall as I am, and attractive, I guess—in an action-film star kind of way. He’s not a terrible secretary, but he’s not the sharpest tack in the box, either. I think the Queen keeps him around for kicks—because she likes looking at him, the dirty old girl. In my head, I call him Igor, because if my grandmother told him to eat nothing but flies for the rest of his life, he’d ask, “With the wings on or off?”
Finally, the adjoining door to the blue drawing room opens and Her Majesty Queen Lenora stands in the doorway.
There’s a species of monkey indigenous to the Colombian rain forest that’s one of the most adorable-looking animals you’ll ever see—its cuteness puts fuzzy hamsters and small dogs on Pinterest to shame. Except for its hidden razor-sharp teeth and its appetite for human eyeballs. Those lured in by the beast’s precious appearance are doomed to lose theirs.
My grandmother is a lot like those vicious little monkeys.
She looks like a granny—like anyone’s granny. Short and petite, with soft poofy hair, small pretty hands, shiny pearls, thin lips that can laugh at a dirty joke, and a face lined with wisdom. But it’s the eyes that give her away.
Gunmetal gray eyes.
The kind that back in the day would have sent opposing armies fleeing. Because they’re the eyes of a conqueror…undefeatable.
I rise and bow. “Grandmother.”
She breezes past Christopher without a look. “Leave us.”
I sit after she does, resting my ankle on the opposite knee, my arm casually slung along the back of the chair.
“I saw your interview,” she tells me. “You should smile more. You used to seem like such a happy boy.”
“I’ll try to remember to pretend to be happier.”
She opens the center drawer of her desk, withdrawing a keyboard, then taps away on it with more skill than you’d expect from someone her age. “Have you seen the evening’s headlines?”
She turns the screen toward me. Then she clicks rapidly on one news website after another.
PRINCE PARTIES AT THE PLAYBOY MANSION
HENRY THE HEARTBREAKER
WILD, WEALTHY—AND WET
The last one is paired with the unmistakable picture of my brother diving into a swimming pool—naked as the day he was born.
I lean forward, squinting. “Henry will be horrified. The lighting is terrible in this one—you can barely make out his tattoo.”
My grandmother’s lips tighten. “You find this amusing?”