“I don’t understand what that means.”
He sits down beside me, his voice hushed. “I want to tell you about Lucy. I want to explain.”
I want to be the bigger woman—the kind who says he doesn’t owe me an explanation. We’re just temporary. But my heart…my heart pounds loudly that he does.
“Why were you with her? Why did you leave me alone? Did you kiss her, Nicholas—it looked like you could’ve been kissing her.”
His hand splays across my jaw. “I’m sorry you were on your own—I didn’t mean for that to happen. No, I wasn’t kissing her. I swear to you—on my parents—nothing like that happened.”
Relief loosens the pincers on my heart. Because I know he would never mention his parents—not unless it was true.
“Then what did happen?”
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, looking at the ground.
“I met Lucy at school—Briar House—when we were both in year ten. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. Fragile in a way that made me want to keep her safe. We started dating…The media went into a frenzy and I was worried it would scare her away. But it didn’t bother her, and I remember thinking she was stronger than I thought.”
He takes a breath, rubbing the back of his neck.
“She became pregnant when we were seventeen. I was stupid—careless.”
“Oh my God.”
He nods, looking at me. “Pregnancy at that age is difficult for anyone, but add in—”
“The whole future-leader-of-a-country thing…” I finish for him.
“And it was a horror show. Her family wanted to start planning the wedding immediately, wanted the Palace to announce our engagement. My grandmother demanded tests and retests to confirm that she was really pregnant and that it was really mine.”
And again I’m struck by the strangeness of Nicholas’s life—the archaic rules that box him in.
“What did you want?” I ask—because I have a strong feeling no one else did.
“I wanted…to do the right thing. I loved her.” He rubs his face. “In the end, it didn’t matter. Just a few weeks after she found out, she lost the baby, a miscarriage. She was heartbroken.”
He doesn’t answer right away. Then softly, he says, “I was…relieved. I didn’t want that responsibility. Not yet.”
I rub his shoulder. “That’s understandable.”
He swallows and nods. “When the year ended, my grandmother sent me to Japan for the summer—a humanitarian mission. Lucy and I talked at first, texted…but I was so busy. When I came back to school in the fall, things were different. I was different. I cared for her, but my feelings had changed. I broke it off, as gently as I could, but she still took it…badly.”
Sadness washes through me like a wave.
“She tried to kill herself a week later. Her family sent her away to a hospital. A good place, but she never came back to school. And I’ve always felt…guilty about it all. Responsible. It stayed out of the papers—I don’t know who the Palace had to pay off or kill to keep it that way, but there wasn’t a single line written about it.”
“Is that why you’re so careful? About the condoms?”
With a tug, he gathers me in his lap, hugging me close. And I know this wasn’t easy for him.
“Thank you for telling me. For explaining.”
We stay just like that, shrouded in shadows and earthy-scented air.
Then I ask, “Should we go back to the party?”
He thinks about it. And gives me a little squeeze. “I have a better idea.”
The Horny Goat.
It reminds me of a pub in New York—comfortable, familiar, and a little sticky. After Nicholas gathered Simon and Franny, Henry and a cute redhead that was clinging to his arm, the six of us ditched the casino house party and ended up at The Horny Goat for the rest of the night.
I did tequila shots with Franny. Henry sang karaoke. Simon and Nicholas insulted one another about their dart-throwing skills.
By the end of the night, in the early morning hours, Nicholas and I stumbled into his room, fell onto his bed—and fell asleep, fully clothed, wrapped around each other…and happy.
THE FOLLOWING WEEK is blissfully uneventful. I address Palace business during the day, and share my nights with Olivia—which are so much more than blissful.
During the day, she relaxes like I want her to. She walks the grounds and has found a friend in Franny. They’ve had lunch together several times, which doesn’t exactly thrill me, but at the very least, I know she’s safe with Simon’s wife. Franny, and her forked tongue, will protect Olivia from the Lucy types looking to wound her with their half-truths.
On the rare occasions my brother is sober, he becomes increasingly agitated—like he’s unable to sit still, to stand his own company, or any sound that resembles silence. Finally he decides to throw a welcome home party for himself.
I’m in my bathroom preparing for his royal yacht party, just showered with a towel around my hips, scraping the last of the shaving cream off my jaw, when Olivia appears in the doorway.
I thought she was lovely from the first moment I saw her. But here, now—her bare, soft skin wrapped in a pink silk robe, her face glowing with well-rested happiness…she’s magnificent.