“I don’t want to get married.”
She shrugs. “I don’t blame you. I didn’t want to wear your great-great grandmother, Queen Belvidere’s tiara on my twenty-first birthday—it was a gaudy, heavy thing. But we all must do our duty. You know this. Now it’s your turn, Prince Nicholas.”
There’s a reason duty is a homophone for shit.
And she’s not asking me as my grandmother—she’s telling me, as my Queen. A lifetime of upbringing centered around responsibility, legacy, birthright, and honor make it impossible for me to refuse.
I need alcohol. Right fucking now.
“Is that all, Your Majesty?”
She stares at me for several beats, then nods. “It is. Travel safely; we’ll speak again when you return.”
I stand, dip my head, and turn to leave. Just as the door is closing behind me, I hear a sigh. “Oh, Edward, where did we go wrong? Why must they be so difficult?”
An hour later, I’m back at Guthrie House, sitting in front of the fireplace in the morning room, handing my empty glass to Fergus for a refill. Another refill.
It’s not that I haven’t known what’s expected of me—the whole world knows. I have one job: pass my tiger blood on to the next generation. Beget an heir who’ll one day replace me, as I’ll replace my grandmother. And run a country.
Still, it all seemed so theoretical. Some day, one day. The Queen is healthier than a whole stable of horses—she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But now…a wedding…shit just got real.
“There he is!”
I can count on one hand the number of people I trust—and Simon Barrister, 4th Earl of Ellington, is one of them. He greets me with a back-smacking hug and a glowing smile. And when I say glowing, I mean literally—his face is bright tomato red, and crispy around the edges.
“What the hell happened to your face?”
“Damn Caribbean sun hates me. No matter how much sunscreen I used, it found a way to fry me like a chip!” He elbows me. “Made for a creative honeymoon, if you know what I mean. Burn ointment can be quite sensual.”
Simon married last month. I stood beside him at the altar—though I’d tried like hell to get him to make a run for it.
He’s got a big heart and a brilliant brain, but he’s never been good with women. The copper hair, milk-white skin, and pudge around the middle that no amount of tennis or biking will melt away didn’t help. And then Frances Alcott came along. Franny doesn’t like me and the feeling is entirely mutual. She’s breathtaking—I’ll give her that: dark hair and eyes, the face of an angel, skin like a porcelain doll’s.
The kind whose head will spin around on its neck, right before it drags you under the bed to strangle you.
Fergus brings Simon a drink and we sit down.
“So, I hear the Old Bird finally brought the hammer down on the whole marriage thing.”
The ice rattles in my glass as I gulp it down. “That was fast.”
“You know how it is around here. The walls have ears and big mouths. What’s your plan, Nick?”
I raise my glass. “A rapid descent into alcoholism.” Then I shrug. “Beyond that, I don’t have a plan.”
I toss the papers at him. “She made me a list of potentials. Helpful of her.”
Simon flips through the pages. “This could be fun. You could hold auditions—like The X Factor—‘Show me your double-D talents.’”
I arch my neck, trying to dislodge the knot that’s sprung up. “And on top of everything, we have to go to bloody fucking New York and chase Henry down.”
“I don’t know why you dislike New York so much—good shows, great food, leggy models.”
My parents were coming back from New York when their plane went down. It’s childish and stupid, I know—but what can I say, I hold a grudge.
Simon raises his palm. “Wait, what do you mean, ‘We have to go to bloody fucking New York’?”
“Misery loves company. That means road trip.”
Also, I value Simon’s opinion, his judgment. If we were the mob, he’d be my consigliere.
He gazes into his glass as if it holds the secrets of the world—and women. “Franny’s not going to be happy.”
“Give her something sparkly from the store.”
Simon’s family owns Barrister’s, the largest department store chain in the world.
“Besides, you just spent an entire month together. You must be sick of her by now.”
The secret to a long, successful relationship is frequent absences. It keeps things new, fun—there’s never time for the inevitable boredom and annoyance to set in.
“There aren’t any time-outs in marriage, Nick.” He chuckles. “As you’ll soon see for yourself.”
I give him the finger. “Appreciate the sympathy.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
I drain my glass empty. Again.
“I’ve canceled our dinner plans, by the way. Lost my appetite. I told the security team we’ll be heading to The Goat for the rest of the night.”
The Horny Goat is the oldest wooden structure in the city. It’s located in what used to be the palace proper—the village surrounding the palace where the servants and soldiers made their homes. In those days The Horny Goat was a whorehouse; today it’s a pub. The walls are crooked and the roof leaks, but it’s the best damn pub in the country as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know how Macalister—he’s the owner—does it, background checks or bribery, but not a single story has ever shown up in the press about me or my brother after a night at The Goat.