It’ll be in my dreams tonight. Because with just one firm tug on the knot, the whole thing will unravel and slip off her. Leaving her completely bare beneath. No knickers allowed in my Ellie dreams.
“Good morning, everyone!” She kisses Olivia on the cheek, then sits at the table, and a server pours her tea. “How did we sleep last night? It was the best night of sleep I’ve ever had in my life!”
I bet it was. She must’ve been exhausted, after walking miles around the palace halls and grounds last night. Ellie hasn’t been back here since the wedding, and they were so busy with preparations, she didn’t have time to explore. Now she wants to go everywhere, see everything all at once. “Suck the Wessco lemon” is how she described it.
“These old mattresses are amazing,” Ellie comments, while taking a bite out of her croissant. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
There’s a reckless, immature twinkle in Henry’s eyes. No good can come of it.
“Do you want to try something really amazing?”
“Henry . . .” Nicholas warns.
“Sure!” Ellie agrees.
This is bad. I have a bad feeling about this.
The feeling grows when Nicholas seems to know what his brother is suggesting. “It wasn’t safe when we were ten; it’s probably more dangerous now. She could break her neck.”
Henry shrugs. “Only if she falls.” He holds his hand out to Ellie. “Come on, this way!”
They scramble from the room. And while every muscle in my body strains to follow, I have to wait for Nicholas.
“What’s going on?” Olivia asks.
He puts his hand over his wife’s. “It will be better if you don’t watch.”
Ellie’s sharp but happy scream—from the main hallway—blasts into the room.
Fuck waiting. I sprint out of the room with Olivia and the Prince close behind.
We stop, horrified, at the bottom of the long, tall, curving double staircase. Ellie straddles the thick, dark wood railing at the top, facing forward, ready to launch.
“Oh my God!” Olivia yells.
Nicholas shakes his head. “I told you not to watch.”
Ellie gives herself a push and faster than I can get to her—like she’s coursing down a hill of ice—she’s sliding. It’s a fifteen-foot fall to the marble floor if she loses her balance. If her weight shifts just a tad to the right, she’ll go over.
This is what a heart attack feels like.
Ellie flies off the bottom, landing solidly on her feet, like a feline. I put my hands on her arms and help her stand upright.
She’s laughing. “That was . . . awesome!”
“I told you!” Henry grins proudly.
“What was awesome?” Lady Sarah Von Titebottum, Prince Henry’s fiancée, asks as she walks into the foyer, up to Henry’s side.
Henry puts his arm around her shoulders and kisses her quickly. “I was just showing Ellie the best ride in the palace.”
“You should try it, Sarah,” Ellie says.
“No.” Henry frowns, petting Sarah’s long, dark hair possessively. “No, she can’t try it. Absolutely not.”
Sarah peers up at him through her black-rimmed, round glasses. “Why can’t I?”
“You could break your bloody n—”
He stops mid-sentence, understanding blooming. He snaps his fingers and points at Nicholas, then to his own head. “Ohhh . . . I get it now. You were right.”
“I always am,” Nicholas replies.
With a lifted chin and a lecturer’s voice, Henry looks at Ellie. “I shouldn’t have shown you that. And you shouldn’t ever, ever do it again.”
“But—” Ellie begins to argue.
“No, no, once is enough. You tempted death and came out the other side . . . Only fools push their luck. Don’t be a fool.” He tugs Sarah by the hand. “We have the balcony appearance soon; let’s get up there. If we’re late, Granny will give us all hell.”
“I can’t do it.”
We wait in the large red and cream ballroom, adjacent to the main balcony on the palace’s north side. Since all the key members of the royal family—the Queen, Prince Henry, Prince Nicholas and Princess Olivia—are now in residence, the PR office thought a photo op was in order. They’re all to appear on the balcony, together, and wave to the enormous crowd that’s gathered outside.
And it’s the crowd that has Lady Sarah white as alabaster. Some might say she’s a bit . . . shy.
Henry sits in a cushioned antique chair, reading the paper. “All right.” He turns the page and the subject. “Do you want to go to the new Vin Diesel film at the cinema? The premiere’s this evening and I was invited. It doesn’t look half bad.”
Lady Sarah folds her arms. “All right? That’s all you have to say? This is one of your duties, Henry.” Lady Sarah points to herself. “It will be one of my duties when we’re married.”
Henry folds his paper and stands. “We won’t be married for four long months. And, today, you’re not ready, and that’s all right.”
Lady Sarah worries her lip. “What if I’m never ready?”
“Let’s just take each day as it comes.” Henry places his hands on her shoulders. “You’ve done so well with the engagement announcement, the interviews . . .”
“One interview at a time. Because I didn’t know if I could face a group of journalists without hyperventilating or passing out.”
The more panicked Sarah becomes, the calmer Henry gets—she has that effect on him.
“But you got through it. Every interview—and you were charming and perfect. So today, Granny, Nicholas, Olivia and I will be the ones paraded out like zoo animals. While you stay here . . . and keep Ellie company.” When Henry glances at her, Ellie hops over.
“I’d appreciate that, Sarah. I’d hate to be here all alone. It’d be awkward.”
Liar. She’s comfortable in her lovely skin whether it’s on her own or standing in front of a stadium’s worth of people—it’s just how she is. But it’s good of her to try and help.
Lady Sarah gazes at Henry’s shiny shoes, her face heartbroken. “Do you ever think . . . that perhaps you should be with—”
“Do not even think of finishing that fucking sentence,” Henry warns.
“Why not?” She lifts her chin. “It’s the truth.”
“The truth?” Henry mocks. “The truth is I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you. I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing, but I know it wouldn’t be pretty.”
“He’s right, you know, Sarah.” Prince Nicholas steps over to them. “Before you, Henry was an unmitigated disaster. Reckless, spoiled, self-destructive—”
“Thank you, Nicholas,” Henry says. “I think she gets the picture.”
Nicholas smacks his brother on the back and grins cheekily.
“Happy to help.”
Henry slips his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels, telling Sarah, “I could say the same thing, you know. You don’t think I know you’d be better off with someone whose everyday life doesn’t send you reeling into a panic attack?”
Sarah shakes her head. “No, that’s not true. I could never be better off with anyone else. I would never want to be. You’re mine, Henry, and I’m keeping you.”
They’d be disgusting to watch if they weren’t so damn sincere.
Sarah fidgets with the diamond engagement ring on her finger. “I’m just afraid that I’ll humiliate myself. That I’ll embarrass all of you.”
And Prince Nicholas is back. “You still don’t get it. There’s nothing you could do—literally nothing—that Henry hasn’t already done to embarrass us.” He shrugs. “We’re immortal; we’re immune.”
Henry looks at his brother. “You’re enjoying this too much.”
Nicholas’s green eyes practically dance. “I am, I know. I should try and stop, but I just can’t.”