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. . . to fucking disastrous.

“With a footman.”

I’m going to kill her.

Not literally—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a whole new understanding of my ancestor’s penchant for fratricide.

That damned footman—the one from Father’s deathbed room. I should have sicced Winston on him.

Since my coronation . . . no, since Father’s death, actually, I haven’t seen much of Miriam. I should’ve kept a closer eye on her, made her more of a priority. But she has her own duties and I’ve been so very busy.

I fold my hands, resting my lips against them.

“Where are they?”


“Have them brought back immediately. I can declare the marriage invalid. She’s seventeen and did not have my permission.”

“The people are overjoyed for Miriam.” Alfie gestures to the newspapers on the table and the celebratory headlines across every front page. “They think it’s all very romantic.”

“Invalidating the marriage will not be a good look for you politically,” Thomas advises.

“Why not?”

He opens his mouth to reply . . . and hesitates.

Norfolk jumps in to fill the silence.

“You’re gaining a reputation as cold . . . bitter. An ice queen, Your Majesty.”

“I’m not bitter!” I argue. “I’m bloody delightful, considering all I have to deal with around here.”

Norfolk continues. “If you dissolve the Princess’s marriage, you’ll become a destroyer of true love as well.”


“There is another, more grave matter we must discuss,” Christopher Alcott, the Duke of Sheffield, says.

“Of course there is.” I sigh. “What is it?”

“According to my sources, there are murmurings in Parliament and other dark corners of the government about replacing you on the throne, Queen Lenora.”

“Replacing me with whom?” I bite out.

“Your sister.”

And I laugh. Out loud.

“Miriam? On the throne? Miriam is . . .”

“Malleable,” Norfolk supplies, his face grim and hard like a rock. “She would be easy to control. Those are not characteristics you are known for, Queen Lenora.”

“The fact that she is married will strengthen the case for her,” Uncle Warwitch adds.

“The fact that she is married to a commoner disqualifies her from the line of succession,” I counter.

“Actually,” Sheffield lifts his finger, “that’s not accurate. The laws regarding the requirements of virginity and royal lineage or a natural-born citizenship refer only to the future wife of the king. There is no such language in the law regarding the husband of the queen.”

This cinches it. The men who wrote those requirements were the absolute worst.

Norfolk picks up the thread. “Theoretically, a case could be made that Princess Miriam is perfectly within her rights to sit on the throne with a footman for a husband.”

I rub my temples. “You have got to be joking.”

Norfolk stares me dead in the face.

“I never joke, Your Majesty. About anything.”

Frustration pounds through my veins like lava. I stand up and pace, wanting to explode. “This is treason.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Old Radcliffe nods.

I thought things like this only happened in books.

Or . . . England.

Even Tweedledee and Tweedledum look grim.

“Is my life in danger?” I ask.

“You are a monarch,” Radcliffe answers in his shaky, ancient voice. “Your life is always in danger. At the moment, your position is solid but not secure.”

“If Princess Miriam has a child before you are married, it could lead to a full-blown constitutional crisis,” Norfolk says.

And that just caps it all off.

I turn on them, smacking my hand on the table. “This is absurd! There must be something we can do to quash this immediately.”

“There is something.” My uncle stands, looking as agitated as I feel. “But you’ve forbidden us from discussing it.”

“Not that! You don’t get to use this situation to back me into the corner you wanted me in all along. I will not be a pawn in these ridiculous games men play.”

I stamp my foot—like a child refusing her bedtime.

“I am the Queen of Wessco!”

A lion doesn’t need to tell anyone it’s a lion . . . so if it does, you can bet it’s really in trouble.

“Then act like it!” my uncle shouts.

For a moment we stare each other down, eyes sparking like the clash of swords.

“What did you say to me?”

He shakes his head and adjusts his tone. “You are my Queen, you are my brother’s daughter . . . but this is not how he raised you.”

“I do not want—”

“Your wants are immaterial! The only thing that matters is your duty—your responsibility to Crown and country.”

The room is silent, frozen with icy tension . . . and the cold truth of his words.

“Your people want a wedding. Parliament demands a marriage. You are not the first monarch who has been nudged down the aisle and I swear you will not be the last. If getting the government functioning again means you must be the royal sacrificial lamb, then that is what it means. You don’t wear the crown to do what you want—you wear it to do what must be done. Because you are the only one who can.”

He’s right. Totally and completely. God damn him straight to hell. I have nothing to say, no clever retort that would make it any less true. I’ve avoided doing what needs to be done for as long as I could.

And there is no avoiding it anymore.

“Fine! Bloody fucking fine!”

In a huff of swinging skirts, I turn and walk down to my chair at the head of the table. There, I take a deep, long breath and sit.

As they all just stare at me. Like idiots. Like I’m speaking another language.

“Well?” my voice whips. “I said fine. If marriage is the ransom, then I’ll pay up.” I straighten my back and fold my hands. “So, who’ve you got for me? Let’s hear it.”

It turns out my father had anticipated this day after all. He made a list of potential suitable husbands. An actual list. Who would ever do such a thing?

“Figglescunt. The Viscount of Redmere.”

I stare at Sheffield with dead eyes.

“I’m not marrying anyone named Figglescunt.”

“He’s well respected. Reputed to be highly intelligent.”

“Then he should’ve been smart enough to change his name. Next.”

Tweedledee brings up the royals of Greece. But I strike them from the list with a wave of my hand.

“If one of the goals of this exercise is to raise my status on the national stage, then the future Prince of Wessco and Royal Consort to the Queen must be a man of Wessco. We must be . . . what’s the term?” I snap my fingers. “A power couple. Next.”

And so it goes. For three days. Names are batted around like a tennis balls over a net and then ultimately . . . discarded.

“Lord Lancaster.”

Too stupid.

“The Duke of Portchester.”

Too ugly.

“Rupert Haddock, The Duke of Cavanaugh.”

Too stuffy.

“Sir Dunspotty.”

Too low in rank.

“Baron Ivan Von Titebottum.”

Alfie frowns. “I’ve heard stories about the man. He’s violent. A sadist.”