I hit the gas hard, swerving around a stump. “What? You’re the only one who gets to make dirty jokes?”
We have a sharp turn coming up ahead. I lay my arm across Sarah’s middle. “Hold on.”
And as quick as that, we emerge from the trees, up a steep slope, and onto the smooth asphalt of the highway. I check the rearview mirror, and the coast is clear.
Sarah blinks at me. Her glasses are crooked, so I fix them for her.
“I get the feeling you’ve done that before.”
I tilt my head up, enjoying the feel of the sun and breeze—like a dog on a joyride. “Ditching security is one of the thrills of my life.”
She shakes her head, flabbergasted. “Why?”
“Because I’m not supposed to.”
And then she smiles. Just like I wanted her to. Big and shamelessly. And my chest goes warm and my heart beats hard.
I flick the knob on the radio, and “Setting the World on Fire” by Pink and that country bloke comes from the speakers.
“This is a good song,” Sarah says.
“Then turn it up,” I tell her.
She does, then she holds her hands out, trying to catch the wind.
We both decide we’re hungry. And though Sarah’s hometown, Castlebrook, is the town nearest to the castle, there’s no Mega Burger in Castlebrook. So, we head in the opposite direction, because Mega Burger is worth the extra forty-five-minute driving time.
When I pull up to the order window, the lad in the pointy paper hat jumps.
I glance at Sarah. “I get that a lot.”
“Damn, man . . . you’re Prince Henry.”
I nod. “Good to meet you.”
“Hey, can I get a photo?”
He leans out the window and I lean out of the car, and he snaps a selfie.
“Do me a favor,” I ask, “don’t post it on social media. I’m supposed to be working and if the Queen finds out I’m slacking off, she’ll be angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.”
He laughs, nodding.
After the boy brings our order and I pay, I slip him an extra wad of cash. “Use this to treat as many cars as possible that come after me. If there’s any left over, it’s yours.”
His head bobs. “Awesome. I always thought you were cool.”
“I try.” We bump fists and then I pull out.
I feel Sarah watching warmly as I drive.
“That was very nice.”
“That was easy.” I shrug. “My mother used to say that kindness is contagious. It only takes one person to start the best kind of epidemic.”
I pull up to a deserted lot near the beach, kill the engine, and Sarah and I perch on the hood of the car to eat our flaming-hot heart-attack-waiting-to-happen with fries.
Hesitantly, I ask about her earlier episode. “Are you feeling all right now?”
Her smile is small and embarrassed. “Yes.”
“Does what happened . . . happen often?”
She tilts her head. “Not too frequently.”
I’m in unfamiliar territory here. I don’t want her to be uncomfortable, but at the same time I want to know more about those episodes. More about her, full stop.
“Look, Sarah, feel free to tell me to piss off, but is it . . . a medical condition?”
“Temporary fugues, brought on by loud noises. I’ve tried a few treatments, but it’s just something I live with. If there’s a crash, sometimes I just . . . blink out.”
“You looked so frightened. Where do you go when you blink out?” I ask very gently.
Sarah swallows, staring at the ground. “Nowhere. It’s just . . . gray. There’s no floor, no ceiling or walls, no sound. It’s just as if I’m . . . suffocating in gray.”
I cover her small, warm hand with mine. “I’m sorry. Do you know why? What caused them to start?”
Sarah’s smile is tight. “Everyone has their quirks.”
Then she breathes deep and deftly changes the subject. “Are you enjoying filming the show?” Sarah asks. “Narrowing down your choice for queen?”
I nod. “So far, Guermo’s my top pick.”
“What do you think of the show, so far?” I ask.
She grunts. “I think it’s a glorified beauty pageant.”
“You don’t approve?”
She shrugs. “I suppose it could be worse. At least they’re including a variety of women, not just those who check the boxes of those disgusting laws on who a crown prince can marry.”
“Are you a virgin?” I ask.
“Well . . . yes.”
“Then why are you complaining? You qualify.”
Sarah’s eyes flash with annoyance and she practically growls at me. “Because I’m more than my hymen, Henry! To base the value of an accomplished, intelligent, passionate woman on a flimsy piece of skin is degrading. How would you feel if your worth rested on your foreskin?”
I think it over. And then I grin. “I’d be all right with that, actually. I’ve heard it was an impressive foreskin—all the nurses were fawning over it. It’s probably being showcased in a museum right now.”
She stares at me for a beat, then she laughs out loud—a rich, throaty, sensual sound.
“You’re a terrible human being.”
“I know.” I shake my head at the calamity of it all.