how we wanted to raise them. Now I'm thinking we were wrong in Jane's case--she's got too much of my petulant stubbornness. We probably should've beaten her, at least a little.
"It's fascinating. Look at her."
My brother, Nicholas, gestures towards my daughter, Jane, at the far end of the glittering, gold ballroom. At nineteen-years-old, Jane takes after Sarah in beauty and build--dark cascading hair, a lovely face, long, lithe limbs, sparkling brown eyes with speckles of my green. She smiles and mingles with the press, as she glides towards the podium to answer questions about the newly established scholarship fund in honor of my grandmother, Queen Lenora.
But her personality and demeanor are distinctly unlike Sarah. Or me.
"She's poised, self-assured, commanding even." Nicholas says as she takes to the podium--chin high, back straight, the very embodiment of royalty in action. "She's nothing like we were at her age."
"I know." I reply, bewildered. "Every responsibility I give her, every duty--she absorbs like a sponge. She thrives off of it."
"Mmm." Nicholas grunts. "All your years of recklessness, all Sarah's sweetness, and somehow you two managed to give birth to..."
"Granny." I finish for him.
It's the damnedest thing.
"She'll make one hell of a queen, though." Nicholas offers.
"She will." I nod, with pride. But then I frown. "It sucks that I'll be too dead to see it."
My brother grins. "You could retire when she's a bit older. Step down. Live out your golden years away from the headaches of the capital and politics in one of the country estates with your wife."
I shake my head. "Nah. There'd be too many comparisons. Too much second guessing of her choices and what I would've done. I won't do that to her. When Jane takes the throne it will be hers and hers alone."
As Jane begins to take questions, we turn our silent attention back to her. Until my sister-in-law slips into the room and up to my brother's side wearing a shimmery, knee-length red dress and strappy heels, her hair a mass of wild black curls. Even in her late forties, she couldn't be described as anything less than a full-on knockout.
"You're looking especially lovely, Olive."
She gives me a glowing smile. "Thank you, Henry. It's date night. Date weekend, actually." She moves her hand to my brother's arm affectionately. "We're going to Cannes and I can't wait." Olivia glances at Nicholas's face and her smile wobbles. "You didn't forget, did you? Tell me you didn't forget, Nicholas."
They lived the first half of their marriage in the states--New York--with frequent long visits to Wessco. That changed when Granny became ill. And the day I was crowned King, I asked--begged--my brother to move his family back home, to become my First Royal Advisor. I knew it was a lot to ask, but I needed him. After discussing it with Olivia, he agreed and although they have their own estate, they live most of the year in their apartments here in the Palace.
Nicholas grins wickedly and wraps his arm around his wife's waist, pulling her close. "Two glorious days alone with my stunning wife? Even if I was senile I couldn't forget that. I've been looking forward to it for weeks. My bags are already in the car."
Olivia's smile returns with full force. Then she glances towards my daughter. "Janey looks great up there." And then she snorts. "God, she reminds me of your Grandmother."
That seems to be the theme of the day.
Nicholas glances at his watch. "We should get moving." He nods, smacking my arm. "Henry."
Neither of them bow, nor would I want them to--that would just be too fucking weird, even for us.
"Have a good weekend, you two."
After they make a quiet exit, I fold my arms across my chest, lean back against the wall and watch Jane do what she does so well.
Until a reporter begins a question with, "Lady Jane--"
And my first-born cuts him off--right at the balls.
"I'm sorry?" the reporter asks.
Jane sighs, quick and impatient. "I am the Crown Princess of Wessco, the heir apparent--which means when you address me it will be as Princess Jane or Your Royal Highness. Perhaps, one day when you can get that right, I may stoop to answering your question."
She turns her head away to the rest of the crowd. "Next."
The same reporter lifts his hand tentatively. "Princess Jane--"
"Uh-uh," Jane raises her finger, like a sharp-voiced school teacher scolding a naughty pupil. "No interrupting. Shush." She dismisses him again. "Next."
A dozen memories from my adolescence come rushing back, and I shiver.
It's downright fucking spooky.
Later, I sit behind the desk in the Royal Office, the painting of my proud, elegant grandmother in her crown and robes hanging on the wall behind me. There's a comfort in its presence, like she's still here with me, having my back as she always did, in her own way. A full appreciation of her support and guidance, didn't really hit me until she was gone.
And I missed her so much--I still do.
There's a knock on the door.
My oldest daughter pops her head in. "You wanted to see me, Dad?"
I set the document I was reviewing aside. "Yes, sweets. Sit down."
Her black designer slacks make a swishing sound as she glides into the office. She takes the chair across from me, folding her legs, her face serene and smiling.
"I wanted to talk to you about the press conference earlier."
"It was fantastic, wasn't it?" Jane's eyes glance to the painting. "I think Great-Granny would be pleased that another worthy cause has been created in her honor."
I smile tightly. "Yes, she would be. For the most part, you did very well, Jane--I'm proud of you."
Her pretty head tilts. "For the most part?"
"Well...there was that one interaction, with the journalist who misaddressed you. I wanted to discuss that with you."
"What about it?"
"You could've just let it pass."
She shrugs. "But I was right. He was wrong. Now he knows for next time."
This is going to be harder than I thought.
"While that's technically true, your response to him came off as rather...," I swirl my hand, searching for the right word. "...entitled sounding."
Her brow furrows. "But I am...entitled. That's the point, isn't it? You succeeded Great-Grandmother and I will succeed you. I'm entitled to the position, by birth. That's what is means to be the heir."
I chuckle. Because she makes it sound so simple.
"You wouldn't be the heir if your uncle hadn't abdicated."
"But he did abdicate--as he should have. He didn't want it. My cousins are happy for that--they wouldn't have wanted it either. I do. Why shouldn't I act like it?"
"Just because you can say something, doesn't mean you should. You are the Crown Princess--your attitude reflects on all of us. You must behave," I choke out the next word, "...properly."
Then I glance at the ceiling and brace for the lightning bolt that's sure to come down from the sky and strike me right in the arse. Because...the irony.
When it doesn't come, I continue.
"You should be humble, Jane. Show gratitude."
My daughter scoffs. "Why does a journalist deserve my gratitude?"
"He deserves your respect. They all do--they're our subjects, our citizens."
She rolls her eyes. Cheeky - and not in a cute way.
"I used to think I didn't need the press either, and I was wrong. When your day comes, this will go much easier for you if the press and the people are on your side."
And now she huffs. And folds her arms unhappily.
When our children were young, Sarah and I decided against spankings, it wasn't
"You're making a big deal out of nothing, Dad."
I point at her. "The fact that you think so is exactly what concerns me."
"The people will have no other side to be on, but mine. When I'm Queen, they'll like it or as far as I'm concerned, they can piss the hell off."
Wow. Holy shit--wow.
I gape at her.
This is how Obi-Wan must've felt when Anakin turned to the fucking Dark Side.
"They could protest against you. Fight to overthrow you."
She waves her hand. "Revolutions are never successful anymore."
My voice rises. With frustration and also worry. For my darling daughter who thinks she knows everything, when in reality she knows so very little.
"Successful or not, why would you want to govern a populace who is openly revolting against you? Why would you think that you even could?"
She shrugs again. "I'll have the military with me. They'll follow my orders--and I'll be smart enough to stop any rebellion before it starts."
What a beautiful little monster she sounds like.
"And that, dear girl, is called a dictatorship. Those never end well. For anyone."
My hand rubs over my face and I take a deep breath.
"The fact that you are the people's only choice is the very reason you should view this position as an honor. A service. A sacred duty, Jane."
Her features soften, sliding from stubbornness to thoughtfulness. And I think maybe--just maybe--I'm getting through.
"There is a trust between government and its people. An agreement. We govern them because they allow us to. And that is dependent on the monarchy putting the people's well-being above all else--above ourselves. The good of the country must always come first. The day you forget that, is the day you don't deserve to wear the crown--entitlement be damned."
Sometimes, I can make myself sound like Granny too.
Jane slips her phone out of her pocket and begins typing rapidly.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm writing this down. It's excellent advice."
The tension in my shoulders begins to ebb. Until...
"I want to make sure my biographer includes it."
Oh for fuck's sake.
"No--I understand. You're right. I'll do better. I'll take this all to heart, Dad." She gives me a lovely, charming smile. "I'm very lucky you're so wise."
Now I roll my eyes. "Don't patronize me. I was patronizing the best of them, before you were anywhere close to being born."
She nods sweetly. "Of course, you were. There--got it." She puts her phone away. "Was there anything else? Sasha, Mellie and I are going to Monaco for the weekend. I don't want to be late meeting them."
"No." I sigh. "I suppose that's it for now. Do you want me to tell security to accompany you in plain clothes?"
Her little brow furrows. "Why?"
"Moving about in public will be easier if it's not obvious that you are who you are."
Jane looks genuinely confused. "But I like being me. Why would I want to pretend to be anyone else?"
I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Take a look in the history books--royals who enjoyed being who they were too much are not remembered kindly. And there's a reason for that."
Slowly she nods, playing at agreeing with me.
I invented that too.
"I'm so glad we had this chat, Dad."
Then she gets up, comes around the desk and hugs me, kissing my cheek. "I love you."
I hug her back, wishing she could be a little girl again--when it was all so much easier.
"I love you too, Janey. Be good, be safe."
"I will." She stands up and pats my shoulder. "We'll chat again soon."
And I want to slam my forehead into my desk.
Instead, after the apple of my eye breezes from the room and closes the door behind her, I spin in my chair to gaze at Granny's painting. One eyebrow seems raised higher than before, her smirk more self-satisfied.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" I ask.
And I can almost hear her answer.
Not so easy, is it, my boy?
"Go ahead, laugh it up." I raise my tea-cup, toasting her. "Chuckle away."
The next time I look up from the work at my desk, it's dark outside--almost nine o'clock. Most days I make a point of eating dinner with Sarah and our children who aren't away at boarding school. But when I can't, Sarah holds off eating, so we can dine together.
I close up shop, wish my personal secretary, old Christopher, a pleasant evening as I walk by his desk and go find my wife. At this time of night, I don't have to search hard--there's only one place she'll be.
I hear their voices before I reach the nursery door, and the corners of my mouth automatically tug up into the best kind of smile.
"...and then James climbed back into the sticky, giant peach ready to visit more amazing places and see the most extraordinary things!"
The snap of a closing book echoes, before a tiny voice objects.
"Wait! You can't stop there--I have to know what happens."
"That's the end of the chapter, Gilly." Sarah says in her soft tone. "You'll find out what happens next tomorrow."
Gilbert, our youngest, will be six in two weeks. If Jane was our honeymoon baby--well...slightly pre-honeymoon, if I'm being honest--Gil was our surprise. Sarah was forty-three when she gave birth to him, though the doctor said she had the uterus of a twenty-one-year old. Jane, who was fourteen then and Edward, our second oldest at a year younger than her, were mortified by the news that another sibling was on the way. They called us freaks of nature, the ingrates. While their little sisters, quiet Margaret and happy Isabel, who were ten and eight at the time, didn't know what all the fuss was about.
And yes, I was as proud as a studly peacock that I'd knocked my wife beautifully up so close to middle-age. It turned out, the last pregnancy was the easiest of the bunch for Sarah--she had no morning sickness, more energy instead of less, insatiable sex-drive...I was bloody ecstatic about that part too.
I peak around the door just in time to see my son fling himself back onto the white carpet dramatically, arms splayed, his blond hair wavy and wild.
"Tomorrow will take so long! I can't wait!"
That sounds familiar.
Gilbert takes more after me than any of the others--energetic, rambunctious--a handful. But he's a joy. They all are.
When they're not giving us migraines.
"Please, Mummy. One more chapter...pleeeeeeeeese."
When Sarah sighs, I know she's about to give in. And I'm not the only one who senses it.
"Prince Gilbert, don't pester your poor mother. Or beg, or whine. It is beneath you." Nanny Alice steps in from the adjoining room, her face stern and her brogue thick. "You have an early lesson in the morning." She claps her hands together, quick and sharp. "Into bed, now."
Gilbert's whole face scrunches into a frown--and it's really adorable.
"Nan-ny! She was going to say yes!" He waves his hand, his thumb and pointer finger pinched together. "She was this close and you ruined it."
Nanny Alice's lips pucker sourly. "Your Mummy has a soft spot for you--and that's why they keep me around--because I don't like you at'all."
Gilbert giggles like it's the silliest thing he's ever heard. Nanny Alice adores him and he knows it, but thankfully for us, she doesn't let the runt of the litter get away with anything.
As Gil climbs up onto his bed, I step into the room.
"Your Grace." Nanny curtsies quickly.
I nod. "Thank you, Alice."
She dims the lights before slipping outside the door while we say goodnight. I slide my hand along Sarah's back and we step up beside the bed.
Blinking up at us, Gilbert yawns. "Can we plant a peach tree?"
bsp; I hear the smile in Sarah's voice. "Yes, we can. I know just the spot."
"Daddy, can we play rugby tomorrow? I've been practicing and I want to show you."
I brush my fingers through his crazy hair. Our little heathen.
"I'll have Nanny Alice bring you to my office after your morning lesson and we'll go out to the courtyard to play for a bit then."
He yawns again, longer this time.
"I really like the giant peach story. Do you think I could write a story like that?"
Sarah leans down over our boy, her voice hushed. "You can do anything you want, anything you dream, as long as you are good and honest and work hard at it." She peppers his forehead and cheeks with kisses, brushing her nose against his. "Goodnight my little love."
And then it's my turn.
"Sleep well, sweet boy. We love you."
He rolls away from us, onto his side, crushing his pillow into a heap beneath his head.
And with my arm around Sarah's shoulders, I guide her out the door, down the long endless hallway to our rooms.
It's a mild evening so we dine out on the balcony, beneath the black sky spotted with twinkling stars, at a table set with china for two. This time with Sarah alone--it's the best part of my day, any day--full stop.
Candlelight dances across her face making pink and soft orange shadows, and I'm struck not just by how utterly beautiful she still is, but how unchanged--constant. How she's been able to retain the same quiet strength and hopeful innocence she's always had despite the backstabbing, unsavory political world she lives in.
After we eat, I fill her in on my conversation with Jane, rubbing my temples as I recount it.
"She talked circles around me, I swear. It's almost emasculating."
Sarah chuckles and gives me "the look"--the one I love. A small smile, a gentle shake of her head.
"She talks circles around you because you let her. Because deep down you're delighted by how clever she is--how stubborn and strong and quick-witted she can be. Like your grandmother. You adore that about her."
I snort at being called out. Then I stare at the rumpled napkin on the table.
"She's spoiled, Sarah." I confess in a whisper. "Not to the point of rotten, but..."
My wife nods and straightens her back.
"Jane was born blessed--beautiful, intelligent. She's been raised in luxury and privilege by a family who loves her completely. She's never known hardship or tragedy. She's been treated with deference by everyone around her--and she has more power than any nineteen-year-old ever should. I'd be shocked if she wasn't a bit spoiled."
"But we're not just raising a daughter! We're raising a queen. And it just all hit me today, that I don't think we're doing a very good job of it," I say miserably. "I didn't realize how...difficult...it is. A tightrope. And I have a whole new level of respect for Granny because God knows Nicholas and I did not make it easy for her."