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Michael moves his knight and I take it with my queen.

“They’ll fight you on it,” Thomas says. “They’ll say I’m too young, too reckless, not nearly wise enough.”

“Highly likely,” I reply.

He sips from his brandy glass. “Though what I lack in age, I make up for in experience and a bombastic personality.”

Michael raises his glass. “Agreed.”

I pick up one of the chess pieces, gazing at it for a moment.

“The queen is the most powerful piece on the board—did you realize that? But without her bishops and knights around her, she never lasts long.” I place the piece back down. “I plan on lasting, Thomas. So I didn’t come here to ask you what the Council would think. I want to know what you think.”

A grin spreads across Thomas’s lips.

“I think their heads may actually explode. Won’t that be fun?” He lifts his glass. “Count me in.”

“Excellent.” I smile. And then I make my final move. “Checkmate.”

The King’s Advising Council is an institution as old as the monarchy. There’s a room in the east corner of the palace where they meet. Where they’ve always met since the royal palace was completed in 1388, fifty years after Wessco was founded by its very first king, a former British general and husband to the daughter of Robert the Bruce, my ancestor John William Pembrook.

That’s over five hundred years’ worth of meetings . . . in the same room.

Despite my belief that the Council could use a little shaking up, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit awed by the institution itself. I want to make a good impression. These are the men who’ll be working side-by-side with me, who will guide me through the political and legislative land mines to turn my dreams for my people into reality.

They’re here to help me do my job—and do it well.

At least, that’s the idea.

For the last few weeks, I’ve conferred with Alfie about tax revenue and researched the legalities of the jobs program with Thomas. I have reports that I dictated to Cora. I have colored charts, and they’re magnificent.

I have the cure for all of Wessco’s ills. I’m ready.

There are no windows in the Council Meeting Room—better to prevent assassination attempts—but the room is accented in calm, deep purple with pleasant landscapes in oil framed on the walls. There’s a sideboard for meals, tea and wine, and while the long, rectangular table and chairs in the center don’t exactly look comfy, they are majestic.

There are six lords on the Council—eight now, if you count Alfie and Thomas.

There’s my uncle, the Duke of Warwitch—a younger, lesser version of my father.

The Tweedle twins—Bartholomew and Bertram—the Marquis of Kooksbury and Fernshire, respectively. However, behind their backs they’re known as Tweedledum and Tweedledee because of their name . . . and because of the odd egg-like shape of their bodies.

Next there’s Christopher Alcott, the Duke of Sheffield, a distinguished former ambassador and highly respected scholar.

There’s also dear Montague Spencer, the oldest man in the government and the Earl of Radcliffe. He’s so old, no one can recall a single memory of him as a boy—not even himself.

Finally, there’s Elliot Blackburn, the pious and powerful Marquis of Norfolk, who is rumored to have never smiled a day in his life.

I walk in the door promptly for my first meeting with my Advising Council, my reports and trusty charts tucked beneath my arm.

And it all starts off so well.

They stand and bow and I greet them with a “Good morning, my Lords.” Then they sit and I sit and I begin with, “Let’s get started.”

And that’s it. That’s the good part.

It all goes straight to hell from there.

Because next I say, “There are several issues facing our country that the Crown and Parliament must work together to resolve. But I believe it’s very clear to all of us here which issue must take precedence before any other can be addressed.”

They all nod and I nod and we’re all nodding along . . .

Until we give voice to what each of us believes is the top priority.

Alfie, Thomas and I say, “Jobs.”

The rest of the tossers blurt out, “Marriage.”

That’s when the nodding comes to an end.

And the chaos descends.




“How, now?”

“Eh?” Lord Radcliffe cups his ear. “Did she say jobs? Jobs doesn’t sound like marriage.”

“Whose marriage?” I ask.

“Your marriage,” the Duke of Sheffield responds.

“I’m not getting married,” I choke out.

This gets Tweedledee in a tizzy. The first of many.

“But, but . . . of course you are!”

“You must!” Tweedledum concurs.

“The people are looking forward to a grand wedding,” my uncle says. “It’s all they’re talking about in the pubs and cafés and knitting circles—what handsome prince is going to ride off into the sunset with our lovely new Queen.”

“I have no desire to get married,” I try.

My uncle fancies himself a comedian. “I don’t blame you. I’ve been married twice and I’m still not keen on it. But you really must.”

“It’s imperative!” Old Man Radcliffe shakes his fist and shouts so he can hear himself.

“Why is it imperative?” Thomas asks.

Tweedledee’s tizzy worsens.

“Wh . . . wh . . . why? We’ve never had a queen, let alone an unmarried queen! What about tradition and propriety?”

Tweedledum makes the sign of the cross.

“Parliament must have assurances,” Sheffield explains. “With all due respect, Your Majesty, they are concerned that you are a woman. They worry your ideas may be somewhat radical or . . . hysterical. They believe a husband would curb you of such tendencies.”

“Curb me!” I gasp. “If marriage was such a priority, why didn’t my father arrange it years ago?”

Norfolk speaks for the first time.

“Because he wanted you to have a say in the final decision.”

I look to Alfie to confirm that statement, and with a nod, he does.

“Well, my say is, ‘No.’ Now, then—”

“But who will be your escort on state visits?” Tweedledee exclaims.

“Or when visitors come here to the palace!” Tweedledum adds. “The American president is set to visit next spring. You can’t stay in the palace with him. Alone!”

Thomas rolls his eyes all the way up to heaven.

“Yes, they’ll be right on top of each other in the fucking palace. And that Eisenhower looks like a wily one, all right.”

“Precisely!” Tweedledum has no concept of sarcasm.

“You are only nineteen, Your Majesty,” Sheffield explains calmly. “And you look even younger. You must mature your profile on the international stage if you hope to be taken seriously.”

“Elizabeth the Second of England was only a few years older than I am when—”

“Elizabeth was a married woman with two children when she became queen,” Uncle Warwitch interrupts. “To the world you are a young girl—a virgin princess.”

Norfolk leans forward. “You are a virgin, aren’t you?”