Laura’s on her feet now, standing off to the side, and I watch as Willard turns to follow Sarah out the door.
“Willard!” I call. “Wait.”
Soft brown eyes swimming with pity look down on me. “I’m sorry, mate. She’s my best friend. Maybe . . . just let her catch her breath, you know?”
And then he leaves too.
I don’t know how long I stay there on my knees, with my head in my hands. I feel people moving around, hear their whispers, but then there’s a rush of cold air from the door, and one clear, furious voice that I know all too well slices through my haze.
“What in the name of all that is holy is going on here?”
I lift my head and watch her walk toward me, like a god of thunder and lightning and destruction. Halfway across the foyer, Vanessa Steele intercepts her.
“Queen Lenora, I was hoping we would cross paths. It’s an honor to meet you.”
And she holds out her hand.
Big, big, big mistake.
The Queen lifts her chin and looks down at Vanessa’s outstretched hand with eyes so sharp it’s a wonder it’s not sliced clean off her arm.
“Do you know who I am, girl?”
“Ah . . . yes . . . you’re the Queen of Wessco.”
Her words are crisply enunciated and dripping with venom.
“You do not offer us your hand. You bow.”
And like many a stronger person before her, the producer buckles . . . and bows. My grandmother steps passed her dismissively. Coming straight for me.
But the strange thing is . . . I don’t feel any guilt or shame or intimidation. It’s like there’s a small pellet of steel in my stomach, snowballing and spinning, growing thicker and larger. And even though I’ve screwed up massively, I have no compulsion to explain myself—not now. Not even to the Queen.
All I feel is the resolve to go somewhere alone and figure out how to fix this mess.
And that means Granny’s just going to have to wait.
“Henry, what in the—”
I get to my feet and lift my hand.
“I’ll speak with you shortly, Your Majesty.”
Her eyes widen and her chest puffs up as she inhales, like a dragon about to breathe fire.
“Shortly?! You will explain—”
I look into her eyes and say in a tone that brooks no argument—one that I’ve never used with her in my life, “Not. Now.”
It’s possible I’ve stunned her into muteness, or caused a stroke. Either way her mouth snaps shut. And I turn on my heel, walk to the library, and close the door behind me.
For the next hour, maybe two, I sit in the chair facing the fireplace, watching the flames dance and lick at the stone that holds it.
And I contemplate. Consider. For the first time in my life.
I see it all so clearly, like reading a map—every mistake and wrong turn. But I don’t get bogged down by the errors. I refuse to sink into self-pity and loathing, doubt and regret. Not this time—not ever again.
That was the old Henry. And I’m really not him anymore.
Rock bottom changes you. Glimpsing heaven changes you more.
I’ve touched perfection, I’ve felt its arms around me and though she’s slipped away, she’s out there, just beyond my reach. Waiting for me to get off my arse and get my shit together. To prove myself. To become the man . . . and the king . . . she deserves.
And staring at that fire, I swear to myself and my parents, to God and—fuck it—the devil too, that I will not let her down.
I didn’t hear my grandmother come in. She stands beside my chair, gazing at me, not with anger or disappointment in her stormy gray eyes—but something else. Concern, maybe. Curiosity?
“We must discuss what went on here. What have you done, my boy?”
I give her the truth. Without deflection or excuse.
“I’ve made a mess of things, Granny. But . . . I’m not going to do that anymore.”
She regards me for several moments and then softly says, “All right.”
“I’m marrying Lady Sarah Mirabelle Zinnia Von Titebottum.”
The words come out quiet and true. The earth is round. The sky is blue. I’m marrying Sarah.
She doesn’t know it yet, but . . . one step at a time.
“From what I know of her, she’s a bit shy, but we can work on that. She’s a lovely girl.”
“Yes, she is.” I look back toward the fire. “She was a virgin when she met me. She’s not anymore.”
My grandmother folds her hands at her waist. “I see. There are ways to get around that part of the law. A physician’s sworn statement should do it.”
My voice is soft but steady. “I don’t want to get around it. I want to change the law. We won’t marry until it’s done.”
“But why does it matter?”
“It matters to Sarah . . . so it matters to me. And when I put Mum’s ring on her finger, I want the world to know it’s because I’ve chosen her. Not because she fits the bill or checks the boxes, but because she’s magnificent. And I’m lucky enough that she’s willing to put up with me.”
My grandmother snorts. “Changing the law will take time. And it requires a vote in Parliament. That means . . . politicking.”
“I know. I was hoping you could show me how to be good at that. Will you help me, Granny?”