- Royally Yours
Our time all together.
“I think I understand my father more now,” Lenny says, picking Thomas up and cradling him in her delicate arms. “Why he was how he was with me.”
I sit next to her on the bed, massaging the back of her neck gently.
“How do you mean?”
“He was older when I was born. He knew he only had ten, maybe twenty years with me—to teach me all the things I would need to know. I think that’s why he treated me more like a protégé than a daughter.” She runs the tip of her finger down Thomas’s round cheek. “If I knew my time with him would be so short, I might be hard on him too. Because I would want him to be strong, like steel, so no one could ever hurt him. So they couldn’t bend him or break him. This life, Edward—it’s so easy to be broken by it.”
Thomas’s little mouth stretches into a yawn. Lenny kisses his cheek, then leans her head on my shoulder, gazing at him, her voice wistful.
“But we’re young. We’ll have years and years and years with Thomas. We’ll be strong for him and protect him. And he will go to school and have friends. And he will run and play and laugh . . .”
“And he will swing,” I finish for her.
When she looks at me, I stroke her cheek with my thumb. “I’ll have swings hung in every corner of the gardens so you and our boy can swing anytime you like.”
She smiles softly. “I think my swinging days are past, Edward.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” I press a kiss to her pretty lips and wrap my arm around her. “They’re only just beginning, Lenny.”
Two years later
WE SIT ON A YELLOW checkered blanket, a full picnic basket and a bottle of chilled Champagne, courtesy of Cook, waiting nearby. I’m in my swim trunks and Lenora’s in an outstanding red polka-dot swimsuit number that teases glimpses of all the best parts. Security is here, but far enough away that it doesn’t feel like they’re really here.
It feels like it’s just us.
Thomas runs along the shoreline, chasing the waves, with Nanny never far behind. The air is warm, but the water is brisk—though he doesn’t care. Our little Prince plays hard, swings high, laughs loud and swims like a fish.
I hear Nanny squawk out a gasp and turn just in time to see Thomas wizzing into the ocean. I chuckle, and Lenora does too.
“He is utterly and completely a boy,” she says, with adoring amusement.
Then she closes her eyes, tilts her face up to the sun and breathes deeply, a contented smile on her lips. She looks peaceful. Happy. Thoroughly loved, and it’s a fantastic look on her. My chest tightens with my own soul-deep happiness—and pride—because I like to think I had something to do with that.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Lenny turns her smile toward me and it’s blinding. Then she gazes up the ridge toward Anthorp Castle, out to the forest, then back down across the beach and rocks and crashing waves.
“This is my favorite place in the whole wide world.”
She says it with a sigh, almost reverently.
I rest down on my elbow next to her. Close enough to feel the heat on her sun-warmed skin and smell the lilacs in her hair.
“This old place? Why?”
“Close your eyes.”
When I don’t immediately comply, she puts her hands over my eyes—and I nip at her thumb with my teeth.
“Go on,” she laughs throatily.
And right up there with Thomas’s laughter . . . it’s my very favorite sound.
“Close your eyes.”
When I do, she tells me, “Now listen.”
I do as I’m told for a few seconds, then I peek one eye open, meeting her soft gaze.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. Nothing but waves and birds and the swaying trees. No people or duties, no cameras or press. Nothing for miles . . . but space. I can think here, I can breathe here, I can be myself here.”
She lifts her hand and presses it tenderly to my jaw. “The me who wants to do nothing more than to be with you and Thomas every moment, of every day, for always.”
I take her hand and kiss her palm.
“I love that you. But, then again, I love all the you’s. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to pick a favorite.”
“All the me’s?”
I kiss her nose.
Lenora is doubtful.
“What about the me that’s stubborn?”
“And the me when I’m angry?”
“Even sexier. Makes me want to put that chastising mouth of yours to better use and find the nearest sofa or wall to work off all that passionate fury.”
She laughs again—and I pull her closer, so we’re both on our sides facing each other, just inches apart. My voice is rough and warm, like the sand beneath us.
“And when you’re happy . . . fucking hell . . . I can’t take my eyes off you.”
She tilts her head, gazing up at me.
“I love all your you’s too, Edward. My adventurer, my protector, my wonderful, wicked handsome prince.”
“Good to hear it.”
My hand travels over her outer thigh, across her hip, sliding up to the skin of her rib cage. My thumb strokes back and forth, slowly, just below her breast. And I’m about to kiss her—when a wet, two-year-old sand monster pounces onto the blanket between us.
He holds up a small coral shell in his chubby hand—and Lenora and I react like he’s struck gold.
“Good find, lad!”
“That’s wonderful, darling!”
Thomas’s thick, long-lashed gray-green eyes bounce between us.
“Swim? Come swim!”
I nod and scoop him up with one hand and pull Lenny up from the blanket with the other. And the three of us splash and swim and find a treasure trove of seashells until the sun goes down.
Late that night, a shifting in the bed wakes me. I open my eyes to see my Lenora slipping out from beneath the covers and drifting over to the window. For a moment I just look at her—her hair flows loose down her back in dark, shiny spirals. She’s bathed in a halo of silver moonlight—it shimmers on her nightgown and kisses her pale, perfect skin with an iridescent glow. She’s ethereal—a heavenly creature and a sin-tempting spirit all in one—and she takes my breath away.
I get out of bed and press up behind her at the window, wrapping my arms around her waist and pressing a soft kiss to her shoulder.
“Are you all right, love?”
She leans back against my bare chest.
“I had a dream.”
“Mmm . . . was it the kind where we’re naked?”
The vibration of her laughter passes between us.
“No, not that kind of dream.”
“Pity.” I rest my lips against her temple. “Tell me about it anyway.”
Lenora’s voice goes airy, faraway, like she’s still dreaming.
“I was in a garden having tea, and all around me there was laughter and love and happiness. I could feel it in the air, like the warmth of the sun. And there were children . . . so many of them. There was a sweet girl with beautiful dark blue eyes and they called her Anna, for Mother. And there was a handsome little boy named Langdon and another named Edward . . . and he had your hair.”