“That is when I learned that hope is cruel. A pitiless gift. Honesty, finality, may seem brutal—but in the end, it’s mercy.” And then her voice turns to steel. “There is no hope for a future between you and my grandson. None. You need to accept that.”

“I can’t,” I whisper.

“You must. The law is clear.”

“But you could change the law. You could do that for us—for him.”

“No, I cannot.”

“You’re the Queen!”

“Yes, that’s right, and your country has a president. And what would happen if your president announced tomorrow that elections would be held every eight years instead of every four? What would your government do? What would your people do?”

I open my mouth…but nothing comes out.

“Change takes time and requires will, Olivia—there is no will in Wessco for this kind of change. And even if there were, now is not the time. Even monarchs are bound by the law. I am not God.”

“No,” I bite out, on the verge of totally losing it. “You’re a monster. How can you do this to him? How can you know how he feels about me and make him do this?”

She turns to the window, looking out. “A mother burying her child is the only thing that could make one truly long for death—if only for the sliver of hope that she might glimpse her child again. Thomas got me through it the first time. Because I knew he needed me. And when I had to bury him and Calista, it was Nicholas and Henry who pulled me through, because they needed me even more. So, if you wish to think of me as a monster, that is your right. Perhaps I am. But believe me when I tell you, there is nothing—nothing—I would not do for those boys.”

“Except let them live their lives. Let them marry who they want.”

She scoffs at me, shaking her head. “If I am a monster, then you are a naïve, selfish girl.”

“Because I love Nicholas? Because I want to be with him and make him happy—that makes me selfish?”

She lifts her chin like a professor in a lecture hall. “You are common—and I don’t say that as a criticism. Commoners look at the world through the lens of a single lifetime. In a hundred years, no one will remember your name. You are as indistinguishable as grains of sand on the beach.

“Monarchs see the world through the prism of legacy. Ask Nicholas; he’ll tell you the same. What will we leave behind? How will we be remembered? Because whether we are reviled or revered—we will be remembered. Nicholas is a leader. Men are dedicated to him, they follow him naturally, you must see it.”

I think of Logan and Tommy and James—the way they protected Nicholas. Not only because it was their job, but because they wanted to.

“When he is King he will better the lives of tens of millions of people. He will lead our country into a new age. He could literally change the world, Olivia. And you would deprive them of him—for what? A few decades of your own happiness? Yes, child—in my book, that makes you selfish.”

I try to keep it together, but frustration makes me tear my hands through my hair. Because how the hell do you argue with that?

“So that’s it?” I ask, crushed. “There’s no way…at all?”

She’s not angry when she says it, or mean. Just…final.

“No, there isn’t.”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. And then I lift my head—facing her, head-on. “Then I guess there’s nothing left to say. Thank you for speaking with me.”

I rise and turn to leave, but when my hand is on the door she calls my name.

“Yes?” I turn back.

“I have watched you these last months. I’ve seen how you are with the staff and the people, with Henry and Nicholas. I’ve seen you.” From this angle, in this light, the Queen’s eyes seem shiny. Almost glistening. “I was wrong the day we met when I said you wouldn’t do. If things were different, you, my dear, would do…beautifully.”

Tears rise in my eyes and emotion lodges in my throat. It’s funny—when people are stingy with their praise, it always seems to mean the most when it’s given.

I dip my head, and bend my knees and slowly lower into a full, perfect curtsy. I’ve been practicing. And for all she is—a queen, a mother, a grandmother—she deserves that honor and respect.

After the door closes behind me, I take a big breath. Because now I know what I have to do.

THE DAYS LEADING UP to the Summer Jubilee are always fraught with frantic activity and planning. There’s a tension in the air, a weight that has to be waded through, because all the things that have to get done cling like leeches.

Dignitaries and heads of state come from all over the world and are hosted at the palace. There are photo sessions with the royal family—immediate and extended—and meetings and interviews with the press. The organized chaos grows as the day of reckoning approaches, like the burps and grumbles of a volcano, building up to its apocalyptic eruption.

I’ve gotten through it the way I do every year—with a smile spackled to my face and unspoken words locked safely in my head. But the last twenty-four hours have been particularly difficult. I say all the right things, do all that’s expected, but it feels like a shroud lies across my shoulders, heavy and suffocating.

It feels like mourning…like the days surrounding my parents’ death. When, in spite of the crushing grief pressing down on every cell in my body, I had to go on, keep walking, head high, one foot in front of the other.

Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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