I hover over her.
“But you’re not, are you?”
She lifts her chin to look up at me.
“My Majesty,” I say softly. I drop my eyes, dragging them over every inch of her, all her delectable swells and valleys. And she is glorious to look at.
“At least . . . not yet.”
After the balcony, we have tea on the back terrace with the Palace’s head press secretary—a middle-aged man with milk-white skin, orange hair, a nasally voice and a habit of sniffing after each sentence he speaks.
I take my tea with a heaping helping of whiskey.
“Now, as I was saying, I’d like to schedule a photo shoot for you, Your Grace.” Sniff sniff. “At your family estate.” Sniff.
“No.” I shake my head. “I’m not going to have another photograph taken of me gazing off into the horizon, like an utter arse.”
The secretary glances down at his notes. “But we need to give the establishment press something to counter the stories circulating in the tabloids.” Sniff.
He passes me a folder. “Several are reporting that the Rourke fortune has been squandered and you’re only marrying the Queen for money and title.” Sniff, sniff, sniff.
“That’s ridiculous. Lying bastards.”
“You can’t let it bother you, Edward,” Lenora says.
“It doesn’t bother me; it pisses me off. There’s a difference.”
The butler, Jonathan, announces that the press secretary has a call—the man sniffs his apologizes for the interruption—and heads inside.
When it’s just the two of us, Lenny runs her finger along the handle of her teacup thoughtfully. “My very first front-page headline was the announcement that I’d begun menstruating.”
I freeze and my eyes dart to hers.
Lenora holds up her hands like a banner. “‘Palace staff confirms: Crown Princess Is Fertile.’”
“Christ, you’re not joking.”
And I’m furious. For her. For the innocent, trusting girl she must’ve been, once upon a time.
“Your father should’ve burned the paper’s offices to the ground.”
She looks up, surprised by my answer. But after a moment, she shrugs. “You have to learn which headlines to pay attention to—which ones can do you damage and which ones you should pretend aren’t even there. If you take them all to heart you’ll go mad. Believe me, I know—I had an uncle who went out that way. My mother’s brother—batty as a loon.”
I laugh because Lenny can be very funny . . . when she’s not trying so hard to be a pill.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, where did you get that?” I gesture to the egg-sized diamond surrounded by a dozen blood-red rubies sparkling on Lenora’s right ring finger.
“The Palace requested it from the conservator of the Rourke family jewels. It was your mother’s.”
“I’m aware. You should toss it in the river or bury it on consecrated ground. My parents couldn’t stand each other.”
Especially not after my father caught my mother boffing the chauffeur and tossed her out. He was never a pleasant fellow, but after that he worked very hard at making everyone around him every bit as miserable as he was.
Lenora stretches out her hand, tilting her head and examining the jewel.
“It’s tradition for the bride to wear the groom’s mother’s jewelry.”
“It’s bad luck, is what it is. I’ll get you a new ring.”
Whether she’s going to argue or agree, I don’t know—because suddenly, the double doors to the terrace open like a whirlwind is coming through.
A whirlwind named Princess Miriam.
“The Prodigal Princess has returned!” she announces. Then throws herself at the mercy of the Queen—literally. She falls to her knees and hugs Lenora around the middle, almost climbing on top of her. “Don’t hate me!”
I watch Lenora’s face. She lets her sister accost her for a moment, then she sighs and hugs her back, before finally rolling her eyes.
“Oh, get up. I don’t hate you. Stop being dramatic.”
I don’t think Miriam knows how to be anything else.
They stand and Lenora holds out Miriam’s hands, examining her little sister’s wild, curly light brown hair, her bright beaded pink dress, her sparkling wrists and ears and neck that are laden with jewels, her hopeful, robin’s-egg-blue eyes.
“Where have you been, Miri?”
The young Princess shrugs and plucks a tart from the plate, popping it in her mouth and answering around it.
“Rome, Venice, you know . . . around.”
“And your husband?” Lenora says it lethally, with a smile to match. “The footman. Is he with you? I’ve so been looking forward to meeting him.”
That meeting will not go well for Miriam’s husband.
“Dmitri? Oh, I left him.”
Lenny is confused.
“Left him where?”
Miriam reaches for another tart. “I was sure Dmitri was the one—that I would love him to bits forever and ever. It was so fun at first. But once we got to Italy he became so boring! All he wanted to talk about was ‘the future’ and ‘children.’ I don’t know what I was thinking marrying him. But, it’s all right now—I’ve had the whole thing annulled. Well . . . almost annulled. I was hoping you could speed things up a bit and put in a good word with the Pope?” Miriam wags her finger. “He always liked you.”
Lenora sits back in her chair. “Annulled? Just like that? Is it really that easy for you?”
A servant hands Miriam a glass of Champagne—she sips it, nodding.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done, Miriam? The chaos you’ve wrought?”
Her sister hugs her again—like an apologetic chimpanzee.
“I am sorry about that.” She straightens and gestures to me and then her sister with her glass. “But look how it’s all turned out! You’ve found your gorgeous prince . . . and you’ve found your queen of hearts, and it’s just like a storybook ending!”
She offers me her hand then. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, by the way, Edward. Lenora and I heard stories all about you when we were girls. She thought you were dreamy!”
I like this Princess.
“Dreamy?” I give my fiancée a self-satisfied smirk. “Really, Lenny?”
Lenora scowls. “No. She’s exaggerating. It’s what she does. And don’t call me that.”
“Lenny!” Miriam throws her head back, cackling and clapping her hands. “Oh, that’s fabulous!”
Lenora glares at me with deadly, dagger eyes. And I grin arrogantly back.
When Miriam notices our expressions, she sobers. “Hmm . . . yes, I see we’re not quite there just yet. But don’t worry. I have faith in you two—you’ll find your happily ever after, I know you will.”
Lenora shakes her head with embarrassment.
“You’ve read too many fairy tales, Miriam.”
Miriam pops a kiss on the top of her head.
“And you, dear sister, haven’t read nearly enough.”
RULE BREAKING RUNS IN the Rourke family—if I didn’t know that already, it becomes abundantly clear the next day when Edward walks right through the Council Room door without knocking.