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Oh for the love of Christ.

“I don’t see how that’s—

“And she’s pretty!” Radcliffe shakes his head like it’s a catastrophe. And all my fault. “Terribly pretty!”

Norfolk narrows his eyes. “Yes, pity, that.”

“If you were ugly or more masculine in countenance, then maybe . . .” Tweedledum says.

“But no, you must be married,” my uncle agrees.

“It’s the only solution,” someone—I don’t know which one—says.

“As soon as possible.”


“No other option.”




The word echoes in my mind like a death knell. And all my amazing plans waft away in a puff of smoke. Before I can stop myself, I’m standing up and crying out.

“But . . . but I have charts!”

And the room goes silent.

I was ready for the Council to disagree with me on some points, to have to fight for Alfie and Thomas’s seats. I was prepared for them to be stodgy, stubborn—they’re old men and I’ve been dealing with their old-men attitudes my entire life. But I wasn’t expecting this. The utter disregard. The dismissal.

That they would reduce me to nothing more than pretty mortar, to be used to shore up the bricks of alliances. Only this time it’s the alliance with our own Parliament.

The disappointment is fucking crushing.

Alfie looks at me with pity, and I can tell Thomas is raring to cut them all down on my behalf. And somehow that makes it even more humiliating.

“Excuse me, I . . . need a moment.”

I walk out the door and down the hall to the washroom. I rinse my hands with ice-cold water and press a wet cloth to my face. And then I stare at my own eyes in the mirror.

And I will myself to become steel. Coated inside and out. Even if just for a little while. Cold, hard, undentable—nothing can hurt steel; you can pound your fist against it a thousand times and all you’ll have to show is a wounded hand.

There’s a knock on the door. When I open it, Thomas is in the hall. He adjusts his glasses worriedly. “Are you all right?”

My knees tremble beneath my skirt, but it’s not from upset.

“They think I’m weak. All of them.”

He nods somberly. “Yes.”

“They think I’m just a girl.”

Thomas looks ashamed of the entire male species.

“They do.”

I look up into his eyes.

“Then it’s time to show them that they are very, very wrong,” I say.

He stares at me, and slowly a gleam rises in his eyes and a smile slides onto his face.

“All right. Let’s do that.”

He gestures for me to lead the way and follows behind me as I walk back through the door.

They all stand when I enter. But now I know it’s just for show. The pageantry of respect.

“Please, my Lords . . . sit.”

Once they’re seated, I walk around the room with my hands folded behind my back. Slowly, like a shark that doesn’t want to worry its prey.

Or that American Al Capone chap—with his baseball bat.

“I have taken your advisement under consideration. I believe we should speak plainly in this room—all of us. There is much to be done and I have no patience for polite words for protocol’s sake.”

Everyone agrees—there’s more nodding of heads and tapping of canes and the rapping of knuckles on the table.

“In the spirit of frankness, I need you to understand . . . times are changing. Those who refuse to roll with change get run over by it. Buried beneath the weight of their own outdated views.”

I pause at one end of the table, turning toward them.

“I may be a new queen, a young queen, even a pretty queen—but the fact remains, I am the queen. Your queen. I’m all you’ve got, gents. I’m all Parliament’s got. There is no prince coming to curb me. The next man on this council who brings up the topic of my marriage to anyone . . . will no long be on this council. Is that perfectly clear?”

No one has ever been kicked off the Advising Council—but there’s nothing in the law that prevents it. It would be an embarrassment, a public shaming, career ending . . . and absolutely, perfectly legal.

They look at me—some in surprise, maybe shock or fear, others with barely concealed anger and resentment simmering on their faces.

And I look right back at them. Daring them to contradict me. Feeling the power of my name, my position, the history of my nation and the generations of kings that came before me, who sat and ruled and made decisions in this very room.

I will not be cowed by small men with oversized opinions of themselves. I will not be cowed by anyone.

When the final member of the Council, my Uncle Warwitch, lowers his eyes, I move back to the head of the table.


I sit down gracefully and fold my hands.

“Then let’s begin.”

And I thought it was done. I thought that settled it.

It turns out I was also very, very wrong.

FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS, the gears of government in Wessco grind to a halt.

“Parliament will not bring this legislation to the floor. They refuse to consider it.”

“But they must.”

“No, they don’t. And they won’t.”

Worse than a halt. If we were a racehorse, we wouldn’t just not be out of the gate, we’d be trotting arse-backwards around the track.

“Do you have any idea what you’re asking, Your Majesty?”

And it’s all my fault.

“Mandatory military service will be a drastic change to our system. Change requires time and will . . .”

For having ideas that will actually bloody work.

“It’s a jobs program! An education program. The people will have money in their pockets and come out of the service with skills for employment in the private sector. The national defense will be strengthened and tax revenue will go up. This is not difficult to understand.”

“It’s a never-ending draft. You are asking the people to send their sons to war for you, without any choice in the matter. Yet you have no son or brother . . . or husband to sacrifice.”

“I wanted to include the women too,” I shoot back. “To give the ladies of Wessco more occupational opportunities.”

Tweedledee makes the sign of the cross again.

I believe he thinks I’m a demon. Sent from hell to distress him. I won’t be surprised if one day he pours holy water in my tea, just to see if I’ll melt.

“You didn’t even carve out an exemption for your noblemen. No wonder the House of Lords refuses to consider it.”

I rub at the throbbing between my eyes.

“We rise together or we don’t rise at’all. I will not put the burden of defense on the lower class alone. That is how revolutions are seeded.”

I tap the table with my fingernails, all frustration and nervous energy.

“Get Bumblewood on the phone—I want to speak with him. No—I want a meeting, face to face.”

“You can meet with him all you like—it won’t do any good. Only one thing will change Parliament’s mind.” Sheffield raises a meaningful eyebrow. “And that is the act that dare not speak its name in the Council Room.”

And then two weeks later, as it always seems to work, things go from bad . . .

“Princess Miriam has eloped.”