Royally Matched (Royally Series)(9)

By: Emma Chase

There’s a moment of quiet and I imagine Nicholas leaning in closer to the Queen.

“The people would have followed me or Dad for the same reason they follow you—because we are dependable, solid. They trust our judgment; they know we would never let them down. But they will follow Henry because they love him. They’ll see in him their son, brother, best friend, and even if he mucks it up now, they will stick with him because they will want him to succeed. I would have been respected and admired, but Grandmother . . . he will be beloved. And if I have learned anything since the day Olivia came into my life, it’s that more than reasoning or duty, honor or tradition . . . love is stronger.”

For a time, there is no sound save for the occasional pop of the fire and tinkling of glasses, as the Queen considers. Contemplates before she acts wisely. It’s what she does.

What leaders do.

I’ve paid enough attention through the years to know that much. And I’m self-aware enough to admit that I never have.

The Queen inhales deeply. “Nothing I have attempted has improved the situation. What do you suggest, Nicholas?”

“He needs space to . . . acclimate. Time outside the spotlight to process the scope of his new situation and duties. To learn what he needs to, in his way. And make it his own.”

“Space.” The Queen taps her finger on the table. “Very well. If space is what the boy needs, then space he shall have.”

I’m not sure I like the sound of this.

Two weeks later, I know I don’t.

Anthorp Castle.

She sent me to fucking Anthorp Castle.

It’s not the middle of nowhere—it’s the end of nowhere. On the coast, with jagged cliffs and icy ocean on one side, forest on the other—the nearest thing resembling a town an hour’s drive away. This isn’t “space”; it’s banishment.

“Banishment! Be merciful, say ‘death.’ For exile hath more terror in his look.”

Romeo was a pussy, but at this moment, I feel him.

I sit in the middle of the massive four-post bed, strumming my guitar to the drumbeat of the moon-soaked waves crashing below my open window. The air is cool, but the fire burning bright in the fireplace makes up for it. My fingers pluck out the familiar notes of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It’s a comforting song. Depressing and sad, but comforting in its easy repetition.

Disgusted with myself, I set my guitar aside and punch my arms into my robe. Then I wander the castle a bit, saying hello to the creepy suits of armor that stand sentry at the end of each hallway. Though I could use the rest, I don’t want to even try going back to sleep.

Because the dreams have come back. Nightmares.

They were relentless when I was first discharged from military service—reminders of the attack that killed a group of soldiers at an outpost just after I visited. I got a reprieve after I confessed to Nicholas and Olivia what happened and they suggested I reach out to the families of the fallen men.

But the night I stepped foot in Anthorp Castle they returned with a vengeance—and a cruel new twist. Now, when I crawl to the bodies that litter the ground and turn them over to check for survivors, it’s not the soldiers’ lifeless faces that stare back at me. It’s Nicholas’s face, and Olivia’s . . . Granny’s. I wake up gasping and dripping with cold sweat.

Not fucking fun.

So tonight, I stroll.

Eventually I end up in the library on the first floor. I fall into the chair behind the desk, take a page from one stack of documents, and read over the laws governing the marriage of the Crown Prince, which is basically a list of requirements for the bride:

“Verifiable aristocracy in the lineage, within a recognized marital union    .”

Though, farther down, it states bastards are acceptable in a pinch. How open-minded.

“Certified documentation of Wessconian citizenship by natural birth.”

As opposed to hatchlings or clones, I suppose.

“Virginity as evidenced by the insertion of the trusted Royal Internist’s two fingers into the vagina, to confirm intact hymen tissue.”

Whoever thought this up was one sick son of a bitch. And definitely male. I doubt they’d be so exacting if the law required a prostate exam for members of Parliament.

“I’m makin’ tea. Do you want a cup?”

I look up to see Fergus standing in the doorway, in his robe and slippers, his face scrunched and crabby.

“I didn’t know you were awake, Fergus.”

“Who can sleep with you prowling around the halls like a randy cat?”


“Do you want a cup or not?”

I put the paper back in its pile.

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