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Photos are a royal’s full-time job.

Finally, Edward and I are permitted to go to the party. We dance and drink wine and feed each other cake. And still the cameras capture each moment.

And then I’m whisked away from him—one final time—to get a few shots on the balcony, in my dress with the setting sun behind me. I step back into the magnificent ballroom and a voice comes from my right.

“You look very happy, Chicken.”

I walk to him, where he leans against the large, round marble column.

“I am, Alfie. If all arranged marriages ended up like this, every royal should have one.”

He chuckles and the wonderful, jolly man who has been such a kind constant in my life shines his sparkling blue gaze down on me.

“He would be so proud of you . . . for so many reasons.”

My throat tightens and my eyes grow warm with emotion.

“You have already surpassed all he hoped for you.”

I put my hand on his arm, his shoulder, squeezing.

“Thank you, dear Alfie.”

I wander around the ballroom, nodding to guests and returning their well wishes—looking for my new husband.

My husband.

How in the world did that happen? Just the words in my head make my arms and legs go giddy and my stomach tumble with simmering desire.

Edward is much different at large functions than I am. My father would’ve said he’s good at “working a room.” He’s confident, jovial—an entertaining host and easy conversationalist. The type who’s never had an awkward moment.

Which is why I think nothing of it when I spot him chatting it up with an attractive, tall blond woman across the way. I’ve never seen her before, but as I get closer I see she seems to be just a bit older than me . . . except there’s an air of worldliness about her. Of experience.

And then I hear their voices.

“We can sneak off right now—I’m quick but talented; you won’t regret it.”

“You’re embarrassing yourself. And you’re barking up a very wrong tree.”

“Perhaps not for long. They say the Queen is as cold as—”

Edward’s harsh voice chokes off her reply. “Not another fucking word.”

A fire rages, right near my heart. Maybe it’s because I’ve never known this kind of happiness, so I’ve never thought about what I would do to protect it. To keep it. Turns out, I would do a hell of a lot.

They notice me—she notices me, and bows.

“Your Majesty. It’s—”

“Don’t ‘Your Majesty’ me—who the hell do you think you are? Or more importantly, who the hell do you think I am?”

Her eyes dart around the room, filling with mortification.

“You think you can walk in here—into my palace, my wedding—and proposition my husband right under my nose? That I’m the type of woman who will let that go unanswered?”

I don’t hiss, because I’m not a snake or a cat—my words are careful, calculated and completely committed, because I’m a queen.

I snatch her wrist in my grip. “Try to take what’s mine again and I will burn everything you love to the ground. And then . . . I will burn you to the ground. Now go.”

I turn away, dismissing her as she scurries off. And that’s when I see that I may have been louder than I realized. Because they’re all there—dignitaries, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop, the Advising Council—looking at me, and judging by their expressions, they all heard me.

I cross my arms and lift my nose.

“I’m not sorry. Not even a little.”

Edward laughs . . . and it warms me right down to my toes. Then he takes me in his arms and kisses me—deep and lusty—bending me back into a full dip. And that gets the attention of the whole ballroom. There are gasps, several murmurs of approval and more than one camera flash.

It’s just like a movie.

Or a fairy tale.

Toward the end of the reception, I change into an ivory traveling outfit with gold filigree with matching gloves and cap, and Edward swaps his uniform for a blue button-down shirt and navy jacket, without a tie. We say our goodbyes to the crowd at the palace gates and climb into a Rolls-Royce, in a burst of flashing camera bulbs. We arrive at the airport hangar where the royal private jet awaits to take us to our island honeymoon.

Once we’re seated in the soft leather seats, it’s as if my limbs are weighed down by a hundred pounds and my eyelids have completely thrown in the towel.

I yawn big and wide.

“It was a long day,” Edward says, toying with the netting on my cap.

“It was,” I agree, even though it’s technically only eight in the evening. “A long, lovely day.”

He kisses my forehead and gently pushes my head to his shoulder. “Sleep now. I have plans for you—for an even longer, lovelier night, and I want you well rested.”

Everything warms—my cheeks, my stomach, my heart. And that’s the last thought I have, before dreamless sleep swallows me whole.

“Wake up, Lenora,” a melodic voice calls, pulling me to consciousness. Then it goes dirty with suggestion. “Open your eyes, Lenny, and I’ll give you a kiss.”

My eyes pop open straight away.

Smirking like the devil he is, Edward pecks my lips and wiggles his eyebrows. “I’ll give you a proper kiss later. We’ve landed—the car’s waiting.”

“Oh. What time is it?”

“Just after one in the morning.”

I stretch my arms, and check my hair and makeup in the mirror. Then I stand and bump into the long, fluffy coat Edward is holding open for me.

“Put this on,” he says. He’s wearing one too.

“What in the world?”

That’s when the cabin door opens and a whirl of frigid air bursts through it. I blink as I look out the door—at the dark sky and giant white mounds of snow that surround us.

Maybe I’m still asleep.

“This . . . doesn’t look like Saint Augustine’s Island.”

Edward nods. “There’s been a change of plans.”

“Where are we?”

“It’s a surprise. You’ll see.”

And something in the way he says it makes my stomach flip with excitement. I slide into the coat and Edward gestures toward the plane door.

“After you, Your Majesty.”

The car is heated when we climb in, with a thermos of rich hot chocolate waiting for us. We slip our coats off and drive for about an hour, on winding roads flanked by big, tall, snowy evergreen trees.

Edward pulls a black silk scarf from his pocket and holds it up.

“We’re almost there. I want you to put this on.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Kinky.”

Edward told me all about “kinky” a few nights ago. Very intriguing.

His strong lips slide into a chuckle, then he wraps the scarf around my eyes, blocking out my vision completely. Moments later the car rolls to a stop. I feel the brisk wind on my legs when the door is opened, and Edward’s large, warm hand envelops mine as he guides me out of the car.

“Don’t let me fall,” I tell him.

“Never,” he says, against my ear, before sweeping me right off my feet, into his arms. I rest my hands around Edward’s neck as he carries me.

It’s only later that I realize that through all of Edward’s surprises and changing of plans, the kinky silk scarves, and the carrying me around . . . I never hesitated. I never questioned or worried that he would allow me to be hurt or embarrassed.