“I’m telling you it doesn’t matter if they’re virgins, as long as the audience believes they are.” She glances out the window, tapping her finger on the desk. “I mean, you’re just looking for a good time, right? You weren’t actually planning on settling down with one of these girls, were you?”
“I don’t plan on settling down for a very long time, sweets. My brother has the positive publicity covered and while one of my duties is to beget an heir, men can have children well into their fifties, so I have plenty of time for practice shots.” I lift my glass of scotch, toasting the Almighty. “Praise the Lord.”
Vanessa nods. “Perfect. Then I think we’ll both get exactly what we’re looking for, Henry.”
I skim the rest of the contract.
“You should have your attorney look it over too,” she says.
“No need.” I glance up, pen poised. “There’s no ban on blow jobs, is there?”
Vanessa laughs. “No. Just be discreet.”
I wink. “Discreet should have been one of my middle names.”
Right after “Ironic.”
I sign the final page with an eager flourish that John Hancock would envy. Vanessa picks up the contract and slides it into a leather folder. “Congratulations, you just bought yourself a month’s worth of good times.”
I lean back in my chair, folding my arms behind my head, content with the world.
“Oh, one more thing,” Vanessa adds. “It’s about your staff.”
Ten minutes later, they’re all gathered in the library. Cook, Fergus, James, and his security team, stand in a circle an I’m in the center, like I’m about to lead them onto the football field to victory.
“I’ve explained to Ms. Steele that there is no need for my private staff to sign nondisclosure agreements. Because the House of Pembrook, of which you are all members, is better and more honorable than that.” I meet eyes of each person, peering particularly hard at Fergus. “Aren’t we?”
Granny isn’t the only one who knows how to manipulate.
“That means we have only one rule: no one tells the Queen. I can’t stress this enough.”
I continue to slowly turn to each of them. Fergus glares, Cook smiles, James and his lads look like they’re going to puke.
I hold out my hand, palm down, and motion for them add their hands on top. “What do you say?”
“Your parents are rolling in their graves, God rest their souls,” Fergus grinds out, making the sign of the cross.
And inside, I flinch. Hard.
On the outside, I shrug. “Won’t be the first time, old man.”
Then it’s Fergus’s turn to flinch. He glances down, sheepishly.
“Come on,” I rally, “don’t get depressing on me. This is the way it’s done now. The Pope tweets, politicians troll, and the heir to the throne finds his match on reality television.”
“It’s tasteless and tawdry,” he argues.
“Where have you been? The whole damn world is tasteless and tawdry.”
My voice changes then, softening, and I almost believe my own words. “But she could be out there, Fergus, just waiting for me to find her. The woman I’m supposed to love, the future mother of my children, the lady who is destined to be Wessco’s queen—she could be one of them. And wouldn’t that be a tale to tell?”
He looks at my face for a moment, and his expression doesn’t soften at all. But then he nods. And steps forward, putting his hand over mine. “Your father would’ve had a good laugh about this. Always enjoyed a dip on the wild side, that one.”
I smile and smack his back. Then I look to Cook. She grins broadly, her cheeks round and full and her brogue thick as molasses.
“I don’t tweeter like the Pope, but . . .” And she adds her hand to mine and Fergus’s.
James whispers with the other boys, then turns to me, speaking for the group.
“This could be considered treason, Sir.”
I scoff. “No. No one’s talking about betraying government secrets or overthrowing the monarchy. It’s just a case of . . . what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
Poor James rubs the back of his neck, looking like he’s going to shit himself.
“I can’t lie to the Queen, Prince Henry.”
I shake my head. “And I would never ask you to. But . . . if she’s not asking you directly, then it’s not really lying.”
“I email daily reports to Winston. He’ll have my arse if he finds out I didn’t tell him about this.”
Yeah, that’s a tricky one. Winston is the head dark suit at the Palace.
“Then we’d best make sure he doesn’t find out. Continue your reports . . . just keep them . . . vague. General. ‘We’re all good here at Anthorp Castle, how the hell are you?’”
He still looks like the weak link.
So I put all my cards on the table.
“Look, James, I am Prince of Pembrook now. And I realize I’m not Nicholas; I never will be. But if this goes south I won’t let you or your boys take the fall, I swear it. So, it comes down to trust. Either you believe in me or you don’t.”
And I really need someone to fucking believe in me. Even for just a little while.
James’s blue eyes read mine, like he’s delving into my brain. After a long moment, he scrubs his hands down his face. “Fuck it—we’re with you, Prince Henry.”