“Well done, Henry. You sounded like an actual politician.”
“No,” the Queen interjects. “He sounded like a king.”
It’s the truest compliment she could give, and Henry . . . blushes.
A wicked sense of vindication tickles my stomach, because I’ve definitely rubbed off on him. Loving Henry has made me wild and brave, and his love for me has made him humble and calm. What a funny pair we are—better than any storybook couple I’ve read about, and for me that’s the truest compliment I could ever give.
Henry turns to Olivia and hugs her warmly. “Look at you, Olive.” He gazes at her midsection, where a round burgeoning baby bump strains against her blouse. “I’m going to have to start calling you Pimento—you’re all stuffed.”
Olivia laughs. And then we file out to the waiting cars and drive to the palace.
AFTER MY SPEECH, Sarah, Nicholas, Olivia, Granny, and I retire to the yellow drawing room for tea. And I broach the subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately.
“I want Sarah to move into Guthrie House after New Year’s.”
My grandmother practically chokes on her tea.
“Why not? She practically lives there now anyway; we may as well make it official.”
The Queen raises one sharp eyebrow. “Your definition of official and mine are very different.”
I shrug. “The law’s on the verge of being been changed—and then there’ll be no reason to pretend we don’t ‘get busy’ every chance we get, in every room of the Palace.”
After intense lobbying by the Queen and me, we almost have the number of votes in Parliament needed to revise the law. We’re hopeful it’ll be done within the next year, two at the most, and then I and all future heirs will finally be free to marry whomever we choose. And the first child Sarah and I have—whether it’s a boy or a girl—will be next in line to the throne.
“TMI, Henry,” Olivia quips.
“Thank you, Olivia,” my grandmother says. “My thoughts exactly.”
The Queen sets down her teacup. “Small steps, my boy. Tradition still demands propriety. The fact that Sarah accompanies you to functions of state and family affairs would’ve been scandalous just ten years ago. You’re not even engaged.”
I wave my hand. “A technicality.”
Nicholas chuckles. “You sound awfully cocky for a man who hasn’t popped the question yet.”
“Just realistic.” I wink at Sarah. “I’m irresistible.”
My little duck rolls her pretty eyes.
“Be that as it may,” the Queen says dryly, “we must set a good example for the young ladies of Wessco.” She pats Sarah’s hand. “Explain it to him, dear.”
My grandmother and Sarah have grown very close in the last year. Granny’s taken Sarah safely under her wing and become a wonderful, strong mentor to my lovely girl.
Not unlike Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.
“Oh, I don’t know, Queen Lenora,” Sarah replies. “I’m a modern, independent woman. Living with Henry before marriage could be a very good example for the women of Wessco. What’s the phrase? ‘Try it before you buy it’?”
“‘Try it . . .’” the Queen sputters.
And then she looks at Sarah’s face.
“Are you teasing me, Sarah Von Titebottum?” she asks sternly.
Sarah’s expression sobers, but the sparkle in her eyes remains.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Sorry. Your grandson is a terrible influence.”
In more ways than one.
I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively and Sarah throws me a mock frown before reassuring the Queen.
“But I agree with you: I won’t be moving into Guthrie House until after the wedding. We’ve enjoyed so much support from the people, we shouldn’t risk offending the more conservative citizens . . . no matter how tempting the idea may be.”
My grandmother nods. “Well said, child.”
And I pout. “But that will take so long. I don’t want to wait.”
The Queen has no pity. “Then I suggest you get the ball rolling, Henry. If you like it, you should put a ring on it.” Then she adds proudly, “I told Beyoncé that once.”
We all laugh. Because apparently the Queen has a sense of humor.
But still . . . it’s good advice.
Sarah tells me the best happily ever afters end with a wedding. But if you’ve seen one royal wedding, you’ve basically seen them all—glossy commemorative magazine cover–worthy photos of the stunning white dress with lace sleeves, the dashing groom in his military uniform, the gold, horse-drawn carriages, the crowds, the adorable flower girls.
The real story is the one that comes before. The one that only a handful of people get to know and even fewer get to see.
For us, it happens at The Horny Goat. Sarah looks stunning in a dark plum dress. She still doesn’t like to stand out, still is not a fan of loud colors, but these days her fashion choices are more vibrant and fearless—just like her.
I like to think I had something to do with that.
Nicholas and Olive are with us, Penelope and my brother’s bouncy sister-in-law Ellie Hammond too, as well as our friends—Simon and Franny, Willard and Laura, Annie, Sam and Elizabeth. Macalister and Meg are behind the bar, and James and big Mick are at the door, joined by two members of my brother’s security, Tommy Sullivan and Logan St. James.