But now, in my fourth month, the sickness is gone and when I press my hand to the firm bump of my abdomen . . . it’s miraculous. I have food cravings—an insatiable hunger that drags me into the kitchen at midnight, to Edward’s great amusement—in search of Cook’s homemade custard cream biscuits and Marmite spread, straight from the jar.
But there are other cravings as well. My desire to make Wessco prosperous and peaceful thrums through me with a whole new intensity. Because I’m not just doing it for my people; I’m doing it for this child and any that will come after. They will inherit from me whatever we make of this country—and I’m determined to pass on only the best.
Although we’ve announced the news to the public, I don’t look terribly pregnant. At my advisor’s insistence, the palace has hired stylists to dress me—who know just how to hide the growing bulge with the right pattern, jacket, belt. So that I don’t appear awkward or vulnerable. Or weak.
Today it’s a navy and white gingham shirtwaist dress and matching cardigan sweater, for my meeting with the Advising Council.
“Who wants to go into the casino business?” I ask them.
And, except for Alfie, by the looks on their faces, the answer is none of them. Bloody downers.
I stand, clapping my hands. “I have it on good authority that illicit gambling halls are all the rage amongst the aristocracy. You must have heard whispers about them.”
Edward is my good authority—and he heard about it from his friend Donald Macalister. Apparently, the lords and ladies of Wessco get all dressed up in their finest gowns and jewels and masquerade ball masks to hide their identities—and attend parties where they drink Champagne and gamble thousands and thousands of dollars away at the tables.
Edward snuck out of the palace and attended one of the events himself, just a few evenings ago. He wouldn’t let me come along that time—too dangerous, he’d said.
Because gambling is illegal.
But I’m going to change that.
“The next legislation I want to present to Parliament is to legalize gambling.”
And there Tweedledum goes with the sign of the cross.
“Just think of it, my Lords. We could become the next hottest tourist destination.”
“Like Monaco?” my uncle says.
“Exactly! And there will be licensing fees, regulatory fees, service jobs, tax revenue . . . the possibilities are endless.”
Sheffield, Radcliffe and the Tweedles seem to start to warm to the idea. But Lord Norfolk is as cold as ice.
“Absolutely not. It’s a sin. It’s immoral.”
“There are many activities that are considered immoral; we don’t outlaw them all,” I counter.
“You will be contributing to the degradation of our country,” he argues.
“Rubbish!” I shoot back, rubbing my stomach absentmindedly. “It’s going on anyway—right under our noses. By regulating it, we will prevent exploitation, and the government will get their piece of the pie.”
He points his finger at me. “I do not support this!”
Edward stands, his voice hard and heavy as a sledgehammer.
“The Queen doesn’t need your support, Norfolk. She will have your obedience. If you can’t give it, you’ll step aside and we’ll find a man who can.”
“We, Prince Edward?” Norfolk taunts. “Do you now speak for the Queen?”
I don’t hesitate, I don’t balk . . . it’s the easiest thing in the world to say. Because it’s true. “He does speak for me. We are of one mind in all things. His word is as good as mine.”
Edward’s eyes dart to me—surprised.
Because this is . . . a big deal. It’s meaningful. Powerful. It matters. Edward knows it, and the council knows it, as well as I do. By giving Edward the power to speak for me, I’m surrendering a piece of myself to him. Sharing my authority as freely as I share my thoughts and my body with him.
But it’s not difficult, letting go of these reins. Because Edward will never let me fall.
A few days later, we sit on the sofa in my office—together, but both of us are working. I turn to him, and tell him what’s been on my mind.
“I want to make a new position on the advising council, for you. I want you to be my First Advisor. How do you feel about that?”
His eyes narrow, as he considers it. “Why do you want to do it?”
“Because it’s true. You’re the first person I go to for advice, whose opinion I trust the most . . . if the title fits, you should wear it.”
A frown pulls at his lips.
“What is it?” I ask.
“They’re going to say I hold sway over you.”
“Yes, but . . . you are the Queen. And I’m perfectly content to be the husband of the Queen. I don’t want to be the reason you are diminished in anyone’s eyes.”
And this is why I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Why I want him to have the position, the title . . . because I want everyone to give him the respect he deserves, the respect he’s earned . . . by being all he is.
I take Edward’s hand. “We won’t let that happen. We’ll show them that we share this life, and I am a stronger Queen because of that. Because of you, because of us. And . . . if they still think what they will, I don’t give a damn. As long as it can’t hurt us, Edward, I don’t care.”
He mulls this over. And then he smirks.
“Are you sure it’s not just because of my magnificent cock? I am outstanding at sticking it in you.”
Laughter bubbles up my throat, but I hold it in. And look him right in the face. “Hmm . . . yes, you’re right. It probably is just that, after all.”
Edward tickles me—mercilessly. And I attack him back; he’s ticklish under his arms. We roll around and our papers fall off the sofa and eventually we fall off the sofa too. And Edward settles me on top of him, so my knees straddle his waist and we end the day making sweet, laughing love right there on my office floor.
Seven months along in my pregnancy, it’s safe to say that I’ve stopped walking. After all, no rational person can describe what I’m doing as walking.
It’s a waddle. Just like a penguin. A queen penguin.
Edward thinks it’s adorable. Crazy man. He asks me to walk around our room at night—the way some men ask their wives to do a “striptease”—just so he can watch me, with warmth in his eyes and that arousing smirk on his lips.
I’m waddling down the palace hall right now, with my darling husband walking beside me, on our way to Parliament. So I can sign the law that passed last week in both Houses, which legalizes gambling in Wessco.
Until the Archbishop of Dingleberry intercepts us.
“Good afternoon, Queen Lenora, Prince Edward.” He bows his head.
“Archbishop.” Edward nods for us both.
“Your Majesty, I’ve been wanting to speak with you about Princess Miriam. The Holy Father is very concerned about her behavior. He was hoping you could speak with her, bring her to heel.”
Miri is in love. Again. With a butcher . . . or is it a baker?
Whatever went on between her and Winston all those months ago was brief and meaningless—as is her pattern, apparently. This is the fourth . . . no, fifth time she’s been in love—I almost forgot about the young duke from Spain who still sends her flowers every single day.