Page 45

“Not the man you are,” she says softly.

“No, not the man I am.”

Lenny picks up my hand and with the lips I still dream about, she places kisses at the tip of every finger and then in the very center of my palm.

“You are everything for me, Edward. Always. Never doubt that.”

BY THIS POINT, three days past my due date, all of me is uncomfortable, all the time—what with the small child literally sitting on my internal organs. So when the pain comes, slow and subtle twinges at first—a push of pressure—I don’t recognize it for what it is.

But it keeps coming, more consistently, more rhythmically, and stronger each time—becoming sharp, squeezing, cramps . . . like my uterus is an orange being juiced.

Edward and I are walking through the garden, enjoying the breeze on a sunny summer day, when the strongest pain yet presses hard all around my middle.


I bend at the waist, gripping Edward’s arm. He cradles me through it, his hand on my back, holding me up, not letting me fall.

When it passes and I straighten up, I’m soaked from the waist down—the hem of my plaid dress, my legs, my shoes.

“Well . . . I guess that’s it, then.” Edward raises his eyebrows at the clear fluid still trickling down. “It’s time.”

Anticipation boils in my stomach, and I squeeze his hand.

“It’s time.”

When we arrive outside the Capella Suite, everything’s in motion—people coming and going—excitement thick in the air. Oscar Pennygrove walks through the doors to the suite and Edward’s jaw goes rigid.

“Why does Pennygrove get to go in and I don’t?”

“Because this is how it’s done. The way it’s always been done.”

Royals are born in palaces and castles. That’s the way it works. Especially royals who are heirs to the throne. I’ll have a doctor and nurses and top-notch medical treatment, but I won’t have Edward. The men stay outside.

Love them or leave them, these are our traditions—a part of who we are, who my child will be.

And I may challenge Parliament and the Palace, and I will argue with my Advising Council—but what I won’t do is toy with traditions that affect how my child may be viewed by the public or the Crown. That’s a boat I will not rock.

This baby will be the leader of our country, an heir to my throne, and this birth will be by the book. The royal book.

“How it’s always been done is bloody fucking stupid,” Edward grumbles, nudging the rug with the toe of his boot.

“I know, but still . . .”

I finger his jaw, soothing the handsome, unhappy beast, bringing his eyes to mine.

“The next time I see you, I’ll have a present for you—a new prince or princess.”

His lips tug up in that handsome, boyish smile.


The head nurse, a husky dour-faced woman—because they always seem to be that way, don’t they—gestures to the double doors of the suite. “Come along now, Your Majesty. We’ve taken care of everything.”

A momentary jolt of fear hits me like a lightning bolt and I think Edward sees it. But the hall is full of people—assistants and guards and medical personnel—so he can’t hold me the way I know he wants to. The way I want him to.

Instead he places a firm, lingering kiss to my forehead and points to the leather bench in the hall. “I’ll be waiting, right there.”

“No, no—you’ll be bored. Go play squash or polo or . . . join a card game with Michael.”

He looks into my eyes. “I’ll be right there.”

I give him a smile and squeeze his hand one last time. And then I let go.

I DON’T WORRY AT ALL for the first four hours. Not at eight hours or even twelve. I know enough about childbirth to understand that some births—especially first births—can take time. The servants bring food and drinks for me. Miriam and Alfie and Michael and Cora check in often, hoping for news. The Prime Minister stops by, some members of Parliament, as well as Sheffield and the Tweedle brothers—looking for updates.

At sixteen hours, I get uneasy.

At twenty, I’m concerned.

At, twenty-four, I start to worry. But the nurses come in and out of those double doors—nodding their heads and smiling that the Queen is fine, the baby is fine, all is well and things are moving right along.

Then twenty-eight hours have crawled by.

And thirty-two.

Thirty-six. And the nurses stop coming out altogether.

Thirty-eight hours after my Lenny went into that room, one finally emerges. And I unleash the sickening fear that’s eating away at me like acid.

“What the fuck is happening in there?”

Her expression is tight, tart. “It’s a hard labor, Prince Edward.”

“What does that mean?”

“The doctor is doing all he can.”

My hands fist and I want to tear the walls down.

“But what does that mean?”

And then the whole world stops—as a piercing, painful scream comes through those closed double doors. The kind that reaches inside you and twists your stomach . . . digs into your gut and claws at your soul.


My feet fly toward the doors.

“Your Highness, you’re not supposed to—”

And burst through them.

“Holy Christ.”

It doesn’t look like a room in a palace—it’s all stark white and metal now. The walls are covered by sterile sheets; the nurses and the doctor are draped in white, their faces obscured behind masks and caps. There’s a harsh bright light, a heart monitor, machines, a steel cabinet and trays of sharp, stainless-steel instruments. Pennygrove stands in the corner, covered in white—waiting, watching, and silent as stone.

Lenora lies flat on a table in the center, her legs raised and locked into stirrups at the ankles. There’s a white sheet below and over her, and a curtain across her waist, hiding her view of the doctor and the lower half of her own body. The air is stifling—suffocating with the copper scent of blood and the heavy crush of fear.

“Edward,” Lenora sobs, reaching for me.

And I go to her, grabbing her hand, crouching down close. I touch her face and smooth her hair. “I’m here, I’m here, I’m right here. I’m right here with you.”

Her lip is crusted with dried blood, where she’s bitten it through. And that small, insignificant wound wrecks me. Her face is a mess of pain and tears—her eyes filled with them, her cheeks flowing, her breaths coming and going in shuddered, stuttering gasps.

“They want . . . they want to put me asleep . . . and I didn’t want to be alone.”

My vision burns, blurs because she’s hurting so much. And she’s so afraid.

“You’re not alone, Lenora. I’m right here, right here with you.” I can’t stop touching her. I want to shield her with my body, crawl onto that table and hold her until she’s calm. I want to pick her up and leave this place—take her far away where none of this can touch her or hurt her ever again.

“It’ll all be much easier once you’re asleep, Your Majesty. More pleasant.” The doctor’s formless voice comes from behind the curtain.

“The baby, Edward.” Lenora squeezes my hand tight. “Promise me you’ll love him.”

I stroke her face. “Of course I will. I promise. I already do.”