“Oh, I’m sure of it. We mums know these things. She would be as proud of you as I . . .” Her voice drifts off as she turns to gaze at the flag-draped casket. And her face crumples. “Oh my boy . . . my poor, sweet Charlie . . .”

She covers her face, sobbing into her hands, and the tears leak through her fingers.

Without hesitating, Henry pulls her into his arms and presses her head to his chest.

It’s a break in protocol—common citizens aren’t supposed to hug royalty—but Henry doesn’t seem to care.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, smoothing her hair down. “I’m so, so sorry.”

When little Louis’s face twists, I hug him to me, soothing him with soft, rambling words that I can only hope will bring him comfort.

And we stay just like that for a time, until the tears calm and deep breaths are taken. Henry leaves Mrs. Campbell with a squeeze of her hands and a reminder to call his office if she needs anything. Then together, we rejoin our waiting group.

“That was television gold!” Vanessa Steele practically bounces in her stilettoes. “When that footage airs—the dashing prince comforting the grieving mother—it’ll be the biggest cross-continental panty drop the world has ever seen.”

At first Henry looks ill, and then . . . angry.

“You filmed that?”

“Of course we filmed it. I told you, everything is copy—and that was fucking phenomenal. Real emotion; you can’t stage that kind of thing.”

Henry’s finger lashes out, pointing toward the exiting hearse. “That boy died for his country. For my country. He gave his life protecting the ground beneath your feet.”

Vanessa stands straight, meeting his discontent head on.

“And when I’m done with him, everyone will know his name. His story and sacrifice.”

Horseshit. I’m naïve, but not even I am that naïve. The producer’s motivations have nothing to do with honoring the dead.

Henry nods, tensely rubbing his lips together. He motions to the cameraman. “Can I see it?”

The cameraman hands over the silver device—small, as Penny had explained to me, to unobtrusively capture the shot in public, but powerful enough to film from long distances in the highest definition. Henry turns it over in his hands.

Then he drops it to the ground and stomps it to pieces beneath his boot—paying special care to pulverize the memory card.

“Henry!” Vanessa screeches. “God damn it!”

“This is one of the worst days of their lives, in a string of horrific days,” he bites back. “You don’t get to turn that into entertainment.”

The producer seethes. “Do you know how expensive that equipment is?”

Henry sneers. “Bill me.”

And then he strides away.

Out on the tarmac as we file up the steps onto the plane, Henry is last in line. I double back and slip behind him. He’s still furious—his face tight, shoulders tense, and fists clenched.

“That was amazing,” I tell him softly. “I think what you did was amazing.”

He shakes his head bitterly.

“No. It was just decent.” His eyes burn with a green, thrashing fire. “Your expectations shouldn’t be so low.”

“My expectations of you?”

“Of everyone.” His words are clipped and sharp. “Set your bar higher, Sarah.”

Then he turns around, dismissing me, and steps onto the plane.

We touch down in Hampton Hills, a posh destination for the rich and famous in the northernmost region of Wessco. A black window–tinted caravan whisks us to The Reginald Hotel, where Matched has reserved the indoor pool for a private party. Upon entering, Henry strips down to his swim trunks and heads straight for the bar. The camera follows him as he moves to a reclining lounge chair, a whiskey in each hand.

My chest pinches as I watch him watching the ladies frolic in the pool, in their colorful array of barely-there string bikinis. I push up the sleeves of my black shirt, feeling sticky and uncomfortable in the steamy, humid room. Until Vanessa Steele whips out her obnoxious bullhorn again, ordering all assistants and non-cast members to leave the area.

“Come play, Henry!” Lady Cordelia calls, holding a beach ball over her head and moving closer to the cameraman who stands at the edge of the pool.

He gulps his drink, grinning. “I’ll join you just as soon as I finish this, sweets.”

I look away and move toward Penelope, where she’s comparing manicures with Laura Benningson near the diving board.

“I’m going up to the room, Pen,” I tell her. “Behave yourself, yeah?”

My sister nods and waves.

And my head wants to swivel in Henry’s direction for one last look, to see if he’s gone to “play” with Cordelia. But I force myself to keep my eyes trained on the door.

And then I walk out.

Later, after a dinner of fish and chips in my room, I lie in bed trying to read Jane Eyre, but my heart’s just not in it. The words blend together and the only thing I see in my mind is Henry Pembrook, lying half-naked on a pool chair, giggling and laughing and drinking. I wonder—did he stay at the pool? Or did he move to one of the girls’ rooms—Cordelia or Elizabeth or, hell, Penelope’s—for a more private party?

My book closes with a clap.

I slip on my shoes and take the lift down to the pool. It’s late, and the hotel halls are quiet and empty. James, Henry’s personal security guard, stands outside the pool area door.

Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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