Page 17

The story for today is, I’ve come back home.

And Christ, it hasn’t changed a bit.

Every tree, each stone is exactly like I remember it. The churning ocean is the same shade of blue-green and the waves crashing against the rocks beat in the exact same rhythm.

Like it’s been sitting, waiting for me to return all this time.

When I was young, it chafed at me. The sameness. The monotony. It seemed so pointless. The rigid expectations and traditions of an heir to an old dukedom wrapped themselves around me like an iron chain—weighing me down, making it impossible to breathe.

But that was then.

Today, standing back on Wessco’s shores, it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It feels like . . . coming home. The land may not have changed, but I have. A decade away will do that to you. There’s a comfort in the steadfastness of the landscape now—in knowing every path and trail the same way I know the look of my own hands. There’s a wistful nostalgia in the air that I couldn’t appreciate when I was wild and young and hungry for recklessness.

Speaking of recklessness . . .

It’s not every day you find a beautiful girl in the woods, riding free, arms stretched out, head tilted up to the sky like a submissive angel awaiting her master’s command.

It would only have been better if she were naked.

I think it’s a good omen—a welcome-home present from God.

I didn’t get her name before the torrential downpour began . . . but I plan to. I can tell from her demeanor that she’s a lady—some Parliament member’s daughter perhaps, or maybe a cousin of Thomas’s friend, Michael Fitzgibbons.

Even with water pouring down her face and her hair stuck like a drowned rat on her head, she’s lovely. With full, pouty, petal-pink lips that inspire all sorts of dirty thoughts and skin that smells like lilacs and rainwater. She’s almost nothing to carry—but pressed against me, she’s soft and full in all the right places.

The castle comes into view through the rain. The girl gives a little shiver from the cold and I hold her tighter and walk a bit faster. A few minutes later, my wet steps echo across the stone floor and gently, I place my pretty bundle in the foyer chair. I tug down a God-awful tapestry that’s hung ugly on the wall for a hundred years, wrapping it around her shoulders and rubbing heat into her arms. Then I stand up and push my dripping hair back off my face.

And the fun really starts.

When a maid I don’t know comes in from the great room, looks at the woman in the chair and gasps, “Oh, Your Majesty, are you all right?”

At the exact same time as Horatio, the butler, comes in from the other side and says, “Welcome home, Master Edward.”

And I stare down at her and she stares at me.


“Your Majesty?”

“You’re Thomas’s brother?”

“You’re the Queen?”

When Thomas first wrote me about his little friend, Princess Lenora—or Lenny as I’d christened her, because Lenora is an old woman’s name—it was stories of a laughing, lively girl who was game to tag along on his misadventures. And that’s the image that’s been frozen in my mind—a young girl with a taste for the wild.

But this creature—with enticing gray eyes, a pert nose and a lush, plump mouth, wearing saturated riding clothes that cling to every gorgeous curve like a second skin—she’s no girl.

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” she demands, her eyes glinting like two sharp blades.

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” I demand right back.

She scoffs at the question as if it’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard.

“The Queen does not tell people she’s the Queen.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re just supposed to know.”


She throws up her arms. “They just do!”

Fuck, but she’s an entertaining little thing. So much indignation and fire in such a tight, shapely package. It makes me want to grin—if only to infuriate her more.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous.” She pushes herself up from the chair, standing. “And rude.”

“I’m rude?” I hook my thumb over my shoulder. “I left my bag in the bloody woods for you. I carried you five miles through a monsoon. Does the Queen also not say ‘thank you’ when a man helps her?”

She crosses her arms and lifts her nose, somehow making it feel like she’s looking down at me even though I’m a foot taller.

“No, she doesn’t. It’s an honor to serve me, so . . . you’re welcome.”

Well, would you look at that—the Queen’s got balls. Good for her. It’s more than I can say for most of the aristocrats I know.

“Brilliant, you’re getting along already.”

The voice comes from behind me—a voice I know as well as my own. I turn around . . . and all thoughts of sparring with the haughty Queen rush from my head.

Because when Thomas’s telegram first reached me, I told myself it was a prank. A bit of fun. Just the kind of thing he would do—use dark humor to lure me home. But now, as I look at him, I know every word of it was true.

And it’s like the floor falls away beneath my feet.

Because my baby brother is here in front of me, but at the same time . . . it’s not him. Not the him I remember, not the him he’s supposed to be. He looks like an old man—a pale, young old man—in a wheelchair, with a blanket over his lap, being pushed by Michael.

Only his eyes are the same, behind the lenses of the thick, dark frames that he’s worn since he was six. They dance with green mischief. With life.

“Hello, Edward.”

It’s been three years since I’ve seen him, when he and Michael joined me on holiday sailing near Jamaica. Three years too long. Too late.

“Thomas.” I go down to my knees and hug him—embracing him tightly—wanting so much to pass him my strength, my health. To make this better, now that I’m here, now that I’m home.

He smacks my back and looks me in the eyes as I straighten up. Then he turns his attention over my shoulder.

“What happened, Lenora?”

There’s a staff member at each arm as she takes tender steps up the stairs.

“Just a little mishap with the horse. I’ll be fine.” She says, all dignity and controlled composure. “You two get reacquainted. Don’t wait for me for supper—I’ll dine in my room tonight.”

“Stay off your feet,” I say, the words naturally coming out like an order. “And get some ice on that ankle.”

She nods stiffly. Her eyes dart to me quickly, then away—like she’s trying not to look, but just can’t help herself.

I watch her go until she turns the corner at the top of the stairs and Thomas touches my arm. “Lenora has commandeered the library, so let’s go to the study. We have a lot to talk about.”

Horatio brings me towels and a change of clothes. In the study, Michael pours us three brandies, then takes the seat beside my brother’s wheelchair, close to the fire.

Thomas raises his glass. “It’s good to have you home, Edward.”

“It’s good to be home, little brother.”

“Liar. You hate this place with the heat of a thousand suns.”

I shrug. “Maybe only a few suns now. I’ve mellowed in my old age.”