“Is he still in there?” I ask.
“He is, Lady Sarah.”
I try to sound nonchalant, but don’t think I pull it off.
“Is he alone?”
James’s blue eyes are soft with sympathy; I just can’t tell if it’s for Henry or for me.
“Aye. Filming wrapped hours ago but he hasn’t left. Hasn’t eaten, either.”
I nod. And against my better judgment, allow my feet to pull me inside.
He’s in the deep end, his upper body floating on an inner tube, a half-full glass of whiskey in his hand. And he’s singing. “Rubber ducky, you’re the one. You make bath time lots of fun.”
“You do realize it’s a swimming pool and not a bathtub, don’t you?”
His eyes are cloudy. Drunk.
“There she is. Where did you float off to, little duck? You missed the party. It was a good time.”
“I was in my room.”
He holds up his glass, sloshing the contents into the pool. “Don’t tell me—you were reading. What was on the menu this evening?”
A disgusted sound comes from his throat. “That’s depressing. Not even a good mummy porn or a nice, old-fashioned bodice ripper?”
I snort, because Prince Henry knowing those terms is funny.
“Well, let me know when you’ve got one of those—I want you to read it to me. Out loud.”
As expected, I blush, and Henry chuckles.
Then he lowers his face to the water, sucks up a mouthful, and spits it out in a high, arched stream. “Look, I’m a fountain.”
I shake my head. “You’re an arse.”
He pouts. “Is that any way to speak to the heir to the throne?”
“Right now? Yes.” I cross my arms. “You should get out—you’re all pruned.”
“Or you could join me? Come on, jump in—show me your best cannonball.”
“I’m not wearing a suit.”
“So swim naked. I’ll keep my eyes closed, I swear.”
He holds up his hand, fingers crossed, to show me he’s lying.
And I laugh. “I don’t think so.”
“What are you frightened of?”
“Dying. I don’t know how to swim.”
If he’s surprised by the admission he doesn’t show it.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of dying, Sarah—everyone does it. The only thing to be scared of is not living before you do.”
I move closer, my shoes stopping at the edge. “That’s very poetic, Henry. Now come out—it’s dangerous to drink and swim alone.”
“Then don’t let me swim alone! The water’s lovely. Come in, let me carry you to the other end of the pool—face your fear—and then I’ll get out like a good lad, I promise.”
This time his fingers are spread wide, uncrossed. He slips out of the inner tube, holding his drink above the water, and kicks over to me. Waiting.
He’s going to be stubborn about this, I can tell. And there’s a foreign, blooming bud inside me that wants to try. It’s a quiet but insistent voice, a gentle nudge. I’m starting to think of it as the Henry Effect, because he makes me feel so many . . . things. Safe and wild and maybe just a little bit mad all at once.
Henry makes me want to take a chance. On new experiences.
And on him.
So, I take a deep breath and slide out of my shoes. Trying to control my shaking limbs, I turn around and lower myself over the edge, into the water. My cotton sleeping pants and shirt mold to my body, but they’re light, so they don’t drag me down. Still, I hold onto the edge with white-knuckled hands.
And Henry is right there, his skin slick and warm, his arm like an iron band around my waist—strong and solid.
“That’s a brave girl,” he whispers against my ear.
I turn in his arms, squeezing mine around his neck. My legs kick, and the sensation of nothing beneath them sends me veering toward panic.
“Easy, I’ve got you.”
Henry shifts to his back, arranging me on his torso, like he’s my own personal royal floaty. Then he reaches for his drink on the pool’s edge. “Hold onto this for me?”
Smoothly, he pushes us off from the wall, and the water makes little currents against his shoulders and arms as we glide toward the middle. My trembling eases a bit.
“See?” Henry teases. “Water is your friend. Do you want to learn to swim? I could teach you.”
“I don’t know.” I eye the water suspiciously.
“Why are you afraid all the time?” he asks, not in a nasty way but with simple curiosity.
“I’m not. I just like . . . consistency.”
“Consistency is boring.”
“It’s safe. If you know what’s coming, you’re never caught off guard.”
Henry rolls his eyes.
“Why are you sad all the time?” I ask.
“I’m not sad—I’m pitiful. There’s a difference.”
He’s quiet for a moment, and the only sound between us is the gentle swish of water.
“Do you think Charlie Campbell lived?” Henry wonders. “Before he died?”
Droplets glitter on his lashes like diamonds. I try to focus on that and not the heartache wrapped in the question.
“I hope so. Sometimes, that’s all there is. Hope.”
Henry nods. “I suppose you’re right.”