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Her lips spread into a dazzling smile. And her voice is soft and solemn. “I love you, Edward. And I promise to tell you every day. Every day.”

And then her hand moves to her stomach and she looks down. “The baby?”

“He’s a boy.” I grin, my whole body finally sinking into the elation of it.

“A boy?” She laughs with the joy of it. “We have a little boy?”

I nod. “Do you want me to have them bring him to you?”

“Oh, yes, please.”

I ring for the nurse and prop Lenny up with a dozen pillows behind her. And they bring him in, wrapped in a blue downy blanket, and place him in her arms.

And she gazes down at him with so much delight, so much pure, devoted love, it’s hard to breathe. Lenora pats the bed beside her and I slide on next to her, wrapping my arm around her back, tucking her close.

And together, we look at our boy—his precious nose and perfect tiny mouth and delicate eyebrows and his little cheek that’s too soft to be believed.

“He has your hands,” she says.

“He has your chin,” I notice.

Lenora’s eyes are shiny and wet. “Look at him, Edward. He’s so beautiful.”

And he is—I’ve been all over the world and he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

She tips her face up to me. “So . . . what will you name your son?”

“You want me to name him?”

“Yes. He will get his title from me, he will be a Pembrook, but the rest . . . should come from you.”

I look down at him, and then to Lenora, and my heart goes tight with all the devotion it holds for them. “I’ve been thinking . . . I would very much like to call him Thomas.”

Lenny’s eyes fill with tears, and I touch her cheek.

“But I don’t want to make you sad.”

She shakes her head, and the tears trickle even as she smiles.

“No, I’m not sad, I swear. It’s perfect. Our Thomas . . . it’s completely perfect.”

Three weeks later

THERE’S A CLOCK ON THE nursery wall decorated with carved images of Humpty Dumpty, and the cat and mouse from Hickory Dickory Dock, and the cow that jumps over the moon. The tick-tock of it is like a soothing metronome . . . but I don’t hear it. Not really.

Because when I’m nursing my baby, and gently rocking with him in the rocking chair, everything else just fades away. My advisors cautioned against breastfeeding Thomas myself. “You’ll have no time,” they said. “Too burdensome,” they warned. “Unseemly,” they criticized. “You’re a Queen not a dairy cow.”

But one of the perks of being Queen is every once in a while, you get to make your own damn rules—and this was one I was making and keeping.

I run my finger over the dark satin strands of Thomas’s hair, mesmerized. I relish in the feel of holding him skin to skin, and in the thump of his little heartbeat beneath my palm when I place my hand on his chest. His suckling slows and his eyes drag closed.

I can look at him for hours, basking in the wonder of his every sigh and breath.

I thought I understood how this would feel, I thought I knew, but motherhood is like how Edward once described war—surprising. Something that has to be experienced to be truly understood. The depth of my love for Thomas astounds me. It makes me feel invincible and . . . terrified.

Because there is nothing—nothing—I would not do for this boy.

Holding him is like holding my whole heart in my hand, but even more precious. And yet at the same time, there’s a peace in it. A calm, perfect assurance that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing precisely what I was always meant to do.

There are three certainties in my life, three things I know to the very bottom of my soul: I was born to be a Queen, I was born to be Edward’s wife, and now, I was born to be Thomas’s mum.

And for the rest of my days, if I never know anything more, those will be enough.

“It’s time to go, love.”

I look up at the sound of Edward’s voice and see the soft tenderness that’s always in his eyes when he watches us.

I slip my nipple from Thomas’s sleeping mouth, pat myself dry with a cloth and tuck my breast into my bra.

“Already? I lost track of the time.”

“You always do.” Edward smiles, lifting Thomas from my arms, so I can button up the top of my pleated periwinkle coat dress.

And then I do some watching of my own. Because seeing Edward hold our boy, watching him press a soft kiss to his little forehead—it pulls at a deep, primal part of me—and there’s nothing on earth that could ever be sexier.

He lays Thomas in his ivory bassinet, winds the mobile and the soft, twinkling sounds begin to play. Then Edward turns to me, adjusting my wide collar and white spinner hat before handing me my short gloves.

And he leans down and kisses me with his firm, warm lips. I brush my nose against his, breathing in the scent of sunshine and summer and love.

“You look perfect.” He tells me.

I straighten his burgundy striped tie, and reach up to brush the broad shoulders of his sharp, dark gray suit.

“You look perfect too.” I tell him back.

Edward offers me his arm and we pass the nurse on our way out of the nursery.

“We’ll return in about two hours,” Edward says.

She dips her head. “Yes, Your Highness, Your Majesty.”

We walk down the curved staircase through the grand marble foyer, outside to the waiting car that takes us to the ceremony for the yearly adjournment of Parliament. The MP’s follow their own work calendar with a one-month holiday between the final and first official session.

One of the Monarch’s duties is to begin and end the Parliamentary year with a blessing and a wine toast. Possibly several toasts if things go well.

It’s how we roll.

And so, with Edward just behind my right shoulder, I stand beneath that familiar mural-painted ceiling as the Houses of Parliament and the Lords of the Advising Council stand and face me. All the friends and foes I’ve made over the course of my reign so far—allies and enemies that I’m sure will swap places and then switch back again as time goes on—because that’s how royalty and politics and government work.

I hold my glass in my hand. “It has been a year of change and challenges and incredible, unexpected blessings.” I tell them, my voice ringing with clarity and confidence.

I glance quickly back at my Edward, meeting his eyes, then face front again.

“Wessco has a new Prince and a new heir and together we stand on solid, secure ground as we turn our eyes toward the future.”

I look at the faces of these ancient men, so set in their stubborn ways. My Parliament.

A mixture of pride and exhilaration surges in my chest as I recognize their expressions. The same countenances they wore when they looked at my father year after year. Some of them gaze at me with support and friendship, some with resentment or annoyance, but all of them—all of them—with respect.

For me. At last. Their Queen.

“We will do amazing things, my Lords . . . I can feel it in my bones. I look forward to working with you next year and all the years that will come after.”

I raise my wineglass. “For the good and glory of Wessco.”

A wave of arms raise their glasses in return.

“For the good and glory of Wessco.”

And we all drink.

My husband steps up beside me then and his glittering dark green gaze touches on me a moment before he turns toward our audience and lifts his glass.