She blinks down at me. Like she’s never seen me before, as if she’s relieved and grateful for what her eyes behold. “Yes. Yes, I can do that, Henry.”
I put my hand over hers and give it a little squeeze. It’s not a hug, but it’s a start.
Not long after that, after I’ve explained the entire situation to the Queen, it’s time to clean house. I find Vanessa in the library, for the first time looking frazzled, shuffling papers.
My voice is soft but with a hint of lethal.
“What did you say to her?”
She lifts her pointy chin. “Nothing that wasn’t true.”
I straighten my shoulders and look down at her, demanding, “What did you say?”
“Come on, Henry. You know how this goes. Drama sells. And your tryst with the sister? That’s some high-flying drama right there.”
“Do you think this is a game? Just a show? This is my life.”
She folds her arms and tightens her stance. “You’re a prince. Your whole life is a show.”
“Not anymore.” I shake my head. “I’m done. We’re done. This is all finished. You take your footage and do whatever you like. You want to eviscerate me on television? Have at me.” Then I lean over her. “But I’m warning you now, and it’ll be the only warning you get—if you go after Sarah, if you disparage her in any way, I will ruin you. I will use every resource at my disposal—and I have a fucking country behind me—to destroy you and everything you touch. Are we clear, Ms. Steele?”
Her eyes dart across my face, gauging my resolve and my sincerity. Vanessa may not be particularly pleasant, but she’s not stupid.
“I want an exclusive.”
“If things pan out between you and the bookworm, it’ll be the story of the century, and I want it. I’ll sit on the footage and when you announce your engagement, I’ll put together a documentary.” Her eyes rise, seeing the headlines. “It’ll be like a goddamn fairy tale. How the prince was tamed by the quiet girl. How, after going through a dozen mattresses, he found his perfect pea. I want an interview to go with that story—with you and Sarah.”
I turn the offer over in my head, weighing the options.
“I’ll give you an interview, but I won’t speak for Sarah. If she wants to participate, fine—if not, you settle for me.”
“And I want final approval.” I point my finger at her. “You don’t air a second of footage until I see it in its entirety and approve.”
She thinks it over and then she holds out her hand.
We shake on it.
And it looks like I’m not so shit at politicking after all.
An hour later, she brings me the new contracts. I sign on the dotted line and hand them back. “Now, get your equipment and get the fuck out of my castle.”
Later, after Fergus closes the castle door firmly behind him, my grandmother stands beside me in the foyer, brushing her palms like she’s scuffing off dust.
“Well . . . I’m glad that’s over. Will you join me in the library for a glass of sherry?”
“Yes. There’s more we need to discuss.” I look her in the eye. “You’re not going to like it.”
She just nods, stalwart and unshakable as she’s always been. “I’ll tell Fergus to bring the extra-large glasses.”
It doesn’t seem so long. Only two more than one. Three weeks. It doesn’t sound so long to say it out loud. Only two syllables. But in some ways, the last three weeks have felt endless. Filled with self-doubt and questioning of what I should have done differently—what I should do now and next. The exhausting inner debate. Do I call him? Do I wait for him to contact me? Is he still filming? Should I go back to Anthorp Castle? Is he still there or is he behind the palace gates? There hasn’t been a word about him on the news or in the headlines. Why hasn’t he called? Does he ever think of me? When I told him I needed time and space, I didn’t think it was over. I didn’t believe that was really the end. Should I have stayed longer? Did I judge too quickly, did I leave too soon?
But it hasn’t all been regret and self-pity.
I stopped crying after four days.
I stopped checking my mobile for a text or missed call after ten.
After sixteen, I stopped looking up and down the street when I stepped out of the library, searching for a black SUV and wild green eyes.
After eighteen, I accepted that Henry wasn’t coming for me.
I still dream of him, though. Every night, in bed, I hear his voice and imagine his long fingers plucking at the strings of that old guitar. I see his smile in my mind and can swear I smell him on the bedsheets. And then the dreams come, but there’s not much I can do about that.
Because sometimes, life is very much like a book—we don’t get to write our own ending; we have to accept the one that’s already on the page.
Slipping back into my life was easy, because it was ready-made, like a child’s bin of LEGOs—the pieces designed to seamlessly interlock. Organized and scheduled.
But at the end of the first week, day seven, something strange happened. Something that turned out to be not so bad.
I began to look for ways to deviate from my routine. To move away from the consistency I’d once craved. I went into work early and left after sunset—not just to keep busy, although that played a part, but more because I was yearning for something . . . different. Something new. I satisfied the itch with small things at first: rearranging the furniture, hanging new drapes, walking a different route home each day, offering to sit with baby Barnaby from upstairs so my neighbors could grab a bite, popping over to Mother’s for dinner randomly instead of the staid Wednesdays and Sundays.