My sister is in love with the idea of love. The rush and swirl of it.
But it’s not real. Her feelings for these men dissipate like mist in the morning.
It’s not the same emotion that throbs through me when I look at my Edward. If he lost his looks or his charm or his dirty, teasing voice, my devotion for him wouldn’t waver. I’d still want to be near him, with him, caring for him, all the time. And I know deep inside, where knowledge is automatic and instinctual, that he feels the same for me.
But Miriam’s adventures of the heart are harmless. They hurt no one. And the people adore her antics—they follow her love life like some dramatic real-life afternoon soap opera. All they need is someone to get amnesia and the comparison will be spot-on.
And maybe, if she keeps at it . . . one day she’ll find a genuine love. I do truly wish that for her.
“Princess Miriam is a grown woman now,” I tell the Archbishop. “She makes her own choices, and frankly, I have more important matters to address.”
Edward and I try to walk away, but his voice stops us.
“She is behaving like a wayward, wanton woman. The Pope is considering excommunicating her.”
That stops me. And slowly, I turn toward him, lowering my voice.
“I see.” I tap my fingers together. “Princess Miriam is independent and compassionate; those are good qualities for a princess to have. I don’t always agree with her choices or views—but to be frank, I couldn’t bloody stand your views through the years, and yet you’re still here.”
My words become clipped and cold and very, very final.
“So, if the Pope moves to excommunicate my sister or publicly shame her in any way, be sure to tell him I’m perfectly willing to follow old cousin Henry’s example and start our own damn church.”
The Archbishop gasps, and if the man had pearls he’d be clutching them.
“And I’ll make Miriam the head of it.”
Edward’s mouth twists into a grin. “The Wessco Church for Wayward Wanton Women. It’s got a ring to it.”
“Indeed.” I nod.
I address the Archbishop. “If the Holy Father wants to lose an entire country of Catholics, that’s his prerogative, but from one head of state to another, I wouldn’t recommend it. Be sure he understands. Now are we quite finished, Archbishop?”
I love the look of chastisement on a powerful man’s face in the morning.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
My husband offers me his arm, and his approving chuckle, and together we walk . . . and waddle . . . away.
IT’S AFTER TEN IN THE evening when I return to the palace, after a dinner in honor of the visiting Canadian Prime Minister. I attended alone, as I’ve attended every function for the last month—the final month of Lenny’s pregnancy. She’s felt too ungainly and uneasy to get all decked out in her formal-wear and go out to major events. It’s miserable work without her, but it’s my job as the Prince of Wessco . . . and my job as the husband of Lenora.
I walk in the door of our bedroom, tugging at my tie—eager to get out of these clothes and have my wife give me a good, long welcome home.
“Evening, love,” I tell her. “How was your night?”
“Uneventful.” She sits at her vanity, brushing her hair. “Don’t get undressed. I’d prefer for you to sleep in your own room tonight.”
I stop unbuttoning my shirt and stare at her. Because never mind the ridiculous statement—her voice, the set of her mouth, the way she won’t even glance at me . . . it’s all wrong.
“This is my room.”
“No, it’s not. Your rooms are across the sitting area; you’ve just never used them until now.”
I walk toward her, looking at her face closer. “Fucking you from two rooms over would be difficult—even for me.”
“What’s wrong with you, Lenny?” She was fine—better than fine—when I left. Happy. “What happened?”
She stands, rubbing the massive swell of her stomach over her powder blue nightgown. “I’m uncomfortable and not sleeping well and I just want to be left alone. Can’t you do that for me?”
Her eyes are flat. As lifeless as her voice.
“I can’t, actually.”
“You mean, you won’t.”
“Correct, sweetheart—I absolutely won’t. Not until you tell me what the hell is going on in that head of yours to bring this on.”
I dip my chin, trying to catch her eyes. “What is it?”
Her eyes slide closed and her breath catches. But then her features harden, go blank . . . and out it comes.
“Winston came by to warn me . . . to show me some photos that will be published in the papers later this week.”
“What sort of photos?”
“Photos of you.”
She moves to the writing desk, picking up a stack of half a dozen black-and-white pictures. She holds them out, away from her body . . . like they’re toxic.
I flip through them—one by one. And a cold ball of rage gathers in my stomach, growing thicker, larger, with each image.
They’re grainy photos of me in a dim corner of a restaurant, holding the hand of a young blond woman. From the long angle, it appears we’re gazing into each other’s eyes. I toss them on the desk, where they scatter and flutter to the floor.
And I regard my wife. “Would you like an explanation?”
“I think I deserve one,” she bites out.
“Her name is Daniella. She’s the fiancée of Colin Penderson, the man I’m working with to locate facilities for the boys’ club I’m creating in Thomas’s honor.” I point at the photograph. “The three of us met for a working dinner. I was shaking her hand—that’s why I’m touching her. And if you look here,” I jab my finger at the corner of one photo, “you’ll see the buttons on Colin’s coat, because he’s not in the frame, but he’s standing right there.”
Lenny’s expression barely changes at all. “That’s a very . . . thorough story, Edward. A perfectly logical explanation.”
“And you don’t believe a word of it.”
She shrugs. “I didn’t say that.”
“What exactly are you saying, Lenora? Do you think I’m fucking her—is that it?”
Those sharp silver eyes cut me right down to the bone.
“It’s not like you would be the first. Every king of Wesco has had mistresses, and every prince his whores. There were even whispers about my father, though I don’t believe they ever reached Mother’s ears.”
“I don’t give a shit about princes or kings. If there’s something you want to know, stop dancing around it and ask.”
She raises her chin and straightens her spine. “Were you with her?”
“Was I with her?” I repeat, scathingly. Mockingly. “What a reserved way of phrasing it. So dignified, so sanitary. Is that where we are again? Back to the polite, proper words for things?”
I slam my fist on the desk and the lamp falls off, smashing on the floor.
“I’ll take anything from you, Lenny. I’ll take your frustration, your anger, your suspicion—hell, I’ll even take your bloody hatred—but what I will not accept, ever, is your indifference. So don’t put that goddamn mask on with me.”