Getting schooled, p.23
Getting Schooled, p.23Emma Chase
Then he sobers, adjusting his glasses, signaling that the sad portion of our program will now begin.
"It will be thirteen years this May since the tragic plane crash that took the lives of the Prince and Princess of Pembrook."
I nod silently.
"Do you think of them often?"
The carved teak bracelet weighs heavily on my wrist. "I have many happy memories of my parents. But what's most important to me is that they live on through the causes they championed, the charities they supported, the endowments that carry their name. That's their legacy. By building up the foundations they advocated for, I'll ensure they'll always be remembered."
Words, words, words, talk, talk, talk. I'm good at that. Saying a lot without really answering a thing.
I think of them every single day.
It's not our way to be overly emotional--stiff upper lip, onward and upward, the King is dead--long live the King. But while to the world they were a pair of HRHs, to me and Henry they were just plain old Mum and Dad. They were good and fun and real. They hugged us often, and smacked us about when we deserved it--which was pretty often too. They were wise and kind and loved us fiercely--and that's a rarity in my social circle.
I wonder what they'd have to say about everything and how different things would be if they'd lived.
Teddy's talking again. I'm not listening, but I don't have to--the last few words are all I need to hear. "...Lady Esmerelda last weekend?"
I've known Ezzy since our school days at Briar House. She's a good egg--loud and rowdy. "Lady Esmerelda and I are old friends."
She's also a committed lesbian. A fact her family wants to keep out of the press. I'm her favorite beard. Our mutually beneficial dates are organized through the Palace secretary.
I smile charmingly. "I make it a rule not to kiss and tell."
Teddy leans forward, catching a whiff of story. The story.
"So there is the possibility that something deeper could be developing between you? The country took so much joy in watching your parents' courtship. The people are on tenterhooks waiting for you, 'His Royal Hotness' as they call you on social media, to find your own ladylove and settle down."
I shrug. "Anything's possible."
Except for that. I won't be settling down anytime soon. He can bet his Littlecock on it.
As soon as the hot beam of front lighting is extinguished and the red recording signal on the camera blips off, I stand up from my chair, removing the microphone clipped to my collar.
Teddy stands as well. "Thank you for your time, Your Grace."
He bows slightly at the neck--the proper protocol.
I nod. "Always a pleasure, Littlecock."
That's not what she said. Ever.
Bridget, my personal secretary--a stout, middle-aged, well-ordered woman, appears at my side with a bottle of water.
"Thank you." I twist the cap. "Who's next?"
The Dark Suits thought it was a good time for a PR boost--which means days of interviews, tours, and photo shoots. My own personal fourth, fifth, and sixth circles of hell.
"He's the last for today."
She falls in step beside me as I walk down the long, carpeted hallway that will eventually lead to Guthrie House--my private apartments at the Palace of Wessco.
"Lord Ellington is arriving shortly, and arrangements for dinner at Bon Repas are confirmed."
Being friends with me is harder than you'd think. I mean, I'm a great friend; my life, on the other hand, is a pain in the arse. I can't just drop by a pub last minute or hit up a new club on a random Friday night. These things have to preplanned, organized. Spontaneity is the only luxury I don't get to enjoy.
With that, Bridget heads toward the palace offices and I enter my private quarters. Three floors, a full modernized kitchen, a morning room, a library, two guest rooms, servants' quarters, two master suites with balconies that open up to the most breathtaking views on the grounds. All fully restored and updated--the colors, tapestries, stonework, and moldings maintaining their historic integrity. Guthrie House is the official residence of the Prince or Princess of Pembrook--the heir apparent--whomever that may be. It was my father's before it was mine, my grandmother's before her coronation.
Royals are big on hand-me-downs.
I head up to the master bedroom, unbuttoning my shirt, looking forward to the hot, pounding feel of eight showerheads turned up to full blast. My shower is fucking fantastic.
But I don't make it that far.
Fergus meets me at the top of the stairs.
"She wants to see you," he croaks.
And she needs no further introduction.
I rub a hand down my face, scratching the dark five o'clock shadow on my chin. "When?"
"When do you think?" Fergus scoffs. "Yesterday, o' course."
Back in the old days, the throne was the symbol of a monarch's power. In illustrations it was depicted with the rising sun behind it, the clouds and stars beneath it--the seat for a descendent of God himself. If the throne was the emblem of power, the throne room was the place where that sovereignty was wielded. Where decrees were issued, punishments were pronounced, and the command of "bring me his head" echoed off the cold stone walls.
That was then.
Now, the royal office is where the work gets done--the throne room is used for public tours. And yesterday's throne is today's executive desk. I'm sitting across from it right now. It's shining, solid mahogany and ridiculously huge.
If my grandmother were a man, I'd suspect she was compensating for something.
Christopher, the Queen's personal secretary, offers me tea but I decline with a wave of my hand. He's young, about twenty-three, as tall as I am, and attractive, I guess--in an action-film star kind of way. He's not a terrible secretary, but he's not the sharpest tack in the box, either. I think the Queen keeps him around for kicks--because she likes looking at him, the dirty old girl. In my head, I call him Igor, because if my grandmother told him to eat nothing but flies for the rest of his life, he'd ask, "With the wings on or off?"
Finally, the adjoining door to the blue drawing room opens and Her Majesty Queen Lenora stands in the doorway.
There's a species of monkey indigenous to the Colombian rain forest that's one of the most adorable-looking animals you'll ever see--its cuteness puts fuzzy hamsters and small dogs on Pinterest to shame. Except for its hidden razor-sharp teeth and its appetite for human eyeballs. Those lured in by the beast's precious appearance are doomed to lose theirs.
My grandmother is a lot like those vicious little monkeys.
She looks like a granny--like anyone's granny. Short and petite, with soft poofy hair, small pretty hands, shiny pearls, thin lips that can laugh at a dirty joke, and a face lined with wisdom. But it's the eyes that give her away.
Gunmetal gray eyes.
The kind that back in the day would have sent opposing armies fleeing. Because they're the eyes of a conqueror...undefeatable.
I rise and bow. "Grandmother."
She breezes past Christopher without a look. "Leave us."
I sit after she does, resting my ankle on the opposite knee, my arm casually slung along the back of the chair.
"I saw your interview," she tells me. "You should smile more. You used to seem like such a happy boy."
"I'll try to remember to pretend to be happier."
She opens the center drawer of her desk, withdrawing a keyboard, then taps away on it with more skill than you'd expect from someone her age. "Have you seen the evening's headlines?"
She turns the screen toward me. Then she clicks rapidly on one news website after another.
PRINCE PARTIES AT THE PLAYBOY MANSION
HENRY THE HEARTBREAKER
The last one is paired with the unmistakable picture of my brother diving into a swimming pool--naked as the day he was born.
I lean forward, squinting. "Henry will be horrified. The lighting is terrible in this one--you can barely make out his tattoo."
My grandmother's lips tighten. "You find this amusing?"
Mostly I find it annoying. Henry is immature, unmotivated--a slacker. He floats through life like a feather in the wind, coasting in whatever direction the breeze takes him.
I shrug. "He's twenty-four, he was just discharged from service..."
Mandatory military service. Every citizen of Wessco--male, female, or prince--is required to give two years.
"He was discharged months ago." She cuts me off. "And he's been around the world with eighty whores ever since."
"Have you tried calling his mobile?"
"Of course I have." She clucks. "He answers, makes that ridiculous static noise, and tells me he can't hear me. Then he says he loves me and hangs up."
My lips pull into a grin. The brat's entertaining--I'll give him that.
The Queen's eyes darken like an approaching storm. "He's in the States--Las Vegas--with plans to go to Manhattan soon. I want you to go there and bring him home, Nicholas. I don't care if you have to bash him over the head and shove him into a burlap sack, the boy needs to be brought to heel."
I've visited almost every major city in the world--and out of all of them, I hate New York the most.
"Has been rearranged. While there, you'll attend several functions in my stead. I'm needed here."
"I assume you'll be working on the House of Commons? Persuading the arseholes to finally do their job?"
"I'm glad you brought that up." My grandmother crosses her arms. "Do you know what happens to a monarchy without a stable line of heirs, my boy?"
My eyes narrow. "I studied history at university--of course I do."
I lift my shoulders. "Without a clear succession of uncontested heirs, there could be a power grab. Discord. Possibly civil war between different houses that see an opportunity to take over."
The hairs on the back of my neck prickle. And my palms start to sweat. It's that feeling you get when you're almost to the top of that first hill on a roller coaster. Tick, tick, tick...
"Where are you going with this? We have heirs. If Henry and I are taken out by some catastrophe, there's always cousin Marcus."
"Cousin Marcus is an imbecile. He married an imbecile. His children are double-damned imbeciles. They will never rule this country." She straightens her pearls and lifts her nose. "There are murmurings in Parliament about changing us to a ceremonial sovereignty."
"There are always murmurings."
"Not like this," she says sharply. "This is different. They're holding up the trade legislation, unemployment is climbing, wages are down." She taps the screen. "These headlines aren't helping. People are worried about putting food on their tables, while their prince cavorts from one luxury hotel to another. We need to give the press something positive to report. We need to give the people something to celebrate. And we need to show Parliament we are firmly in control so they'd best play nicely or we'll run roughshod over them."
I'm nodding. Agreeing. Like a stupid moth flapping happily toward the flame.
"What about a day of pride? We could open the ballrooms to the public, have a parade?" I suggest. "People love that sort of thing."
She taps her chin. "I was thinking something...bigger. Something that will catch the world's attention. The event of the century." Her eyes glitter with anticipation--like an executioner right before he swings the ax.
And then the ax comes down.
"The wedding of the century."
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