Page 9

I will always be first and on my own—for the rest of my life.

I reach the altar, where the Archbishop waits. I step up to the throne, turn to face the congregation, and the ceremony begins. The Archbishop anoints me with oil and says all the magic Latin words. I recite my oath, my solemn vow. The Lord Chamberlain invests me with the golden scepter and jeweled orb, and the Lord Chancellor slides the ring on my right hand.

And then I take my place upon the throne.

Saint Michael’s Crown—the jeweled and velvet glory of the Crown Jewels of Wessco—is brought forward by the Dean of Ansaline. The Archbishop prays, then slowly, reverently, he places the crown on my head.

And I wait for the transformation from Princess to Queen. The surging inner shifting that I’m sure must occur as one rises to the level of most royal sovereign.

I wait and wait some more.

Then, after a few moments, I blink.

Because it doesn’t happen. Nothing happens.

I don’t feel different. I still feel like me, only . . . me with a big crown on my head.

How anticlimactic.

Stealthily, I glance at the bishops and the crowd filling the cathedral pews. No one else seems to notice.

So, I carry on.

Regally, I walk back down the aisle, and every head bows before me. Outside the cathedral there are more flashes and cheers as I wave, then descend the steps and return to the carriage that carries me back through the palace gates. For the next hour, I’m greeted and congratulated by all government officiants and visiting dignitaries. I smile and nod and say the right things—but still it feels all so disappointingly make-believe.

Like pageantry. Like I’m a little girl, wearing her daddy’s crown, which is too big for her head.

And then it’s time to step out onto the balcony—the press loves this bit.

As I proceed alone, a frigid breeze wafts over me, tickling my skin with icy fingers. I rest my hands on the stone balustrade . . . and look down.

There’s an ocean of faces, men and woman and children—and they’re all smiling, cheering, waving and clapping. Tens of thousands of them—maybe millions. Some have tears running down their faces, but all have a look of complete adoration.

For me.

They’re here for me.

I’ve seen crowds before, my whole life. I’ve met the public—but not like this, never like this.

These are my people. And for the first time, I understand what that means.

Because I don’t just see them—I feel them. Their energy envelops me in its warm embrace. Their joy, their trust, their love . . . their acceptance. I feel it from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. My soul sings with it.

This is what it must be like to fall in love for the first time—this flying, breathless sensation. Or, how it must be to hold your own child and know instantly you will love him or her forever. You’ll do anything to keep your children safe, to do right by them, to give them the best life they can possibly have.

Slowly, glittering fluffy snowflakes drift down from the sky. Everywhere and all around.

It’s magical. Like a blessing.

I wave to the people. “Thank you! Yes, hello! Thank you!”

They can’t hear me, but I want them to know that I hear them. I see them. I care for them as they care for me . . . and I will never, ever let them down.

It’s only when my vision goes blurry that I realize I’m crying. Crying with joy and relief, overwhelmed by so much feeling. And still I wave. I wave until my arm aches—but it’s not enough.

With my heart galloping, I walk back inside.

“I want to go down. I want to speak to them, shake their hands, be among them.”

A dozen ancient disapproving faces look back at me.

The Lord Chamberlain steps forward, clearing his throat.

“Your Majesty . . . it’s not done.”

A government is a machine with many moving parts. The Crown is the key—but Parliament, the Advising Council, the Lords and Secretaries of State, they’re the gears. It’s a balancing act, a constant grinding tug-of-war—because the one who controls the key controls everything.

“You mean, it hasn’t been done before, not that it can’t be.”

“It’s not safe,” he insists.

I scan the room, and I spot my very own dark-haired guardian angel.

“Winston,” I call, using my commanding voice. “I wish to go down to see the people. Can you help me do that?”

He dips his chin and gives the Lord Chamberlain a piss-off sort of look.

“If that is what Your Majesty wishes, then that is what will be done. My men and I will keep you safe.”

I turn to the Lord Chamberlain and smile sweetly.

“See now, it’s no problem at’all.”

I walk through them, and Winston and his men close in around me, as I go down the stairs and out of the palace gates to let the people meet their new Queen.

And this crown feels like it fits just right after all.

THE AVERAGE PERSON WASTES a third of her life sleeping. My great-aunt Matilda told me that—she was a bouncy, wiry woman who drank too much black tea and rushed about like she was perpetually late for some important event that didn’t exist. I’ve never been much of a sleeper—three or four hours a night is more than enough.

Insomnia is a mark of genius. And insanity.

I tend to ignore that latter part.

On the third day after my coronation, I rise especially early—before sunrise. I dress in a kelly-green sweater and matching pencil skirt—with white gloves, my grandmama’s pearl broach and my hair twisted high into its usual bun. It’s a stylish look, but professional, and today, I’m all business.

A bit later, after a light breakfast and reading all three of the major newspapers, I pull up in the Rolls-Royce to the curb of Barrister’s department store. Nearly half of my face is covered by big, round sunglasses despite the drizzling rain, and I tip my head back and gaze at the mammoth stone building. Over the years, Alfie Barrister has built quite an empire. He has five stores now in cities across the world—with a sixth opening soon in Hong Kong.

My security team precedes me through the gleaming glass doors, across the shiny black-and-white-tiled floor, to the elevator up to the top, where I’ll find a jolly, redheaded man—who’s just the bloke I need to see.

“Hello, Chicken.” Alfie stands and bows from behind his giant mahogany desk. It’s a desk fit for a queen, and I make a mental note to commission a new one for myself straight away.


“Tea, Your Majesty?” Jones, Alfie’s secretary, asks.

“No, I’m fine.” I wave my hand. “You may leave us.”

“This is a pleasant surprise.” After I take one of the cushioned chairs across his desk, Alfie sits in the large leather one behind it. “Have you come by before we open to shop?” He winks. “I can get you a discount.”

“No shopping today. But I do have a request—a big one.”

“Request away. You know I could never tell you no.” He brings his china teacup to his lips.

And I drop the proverbial bomb. “I want you on the Advising Council.”

Alfie chokes on his tea.

“The Advising Council?” He dabs his mouth with a napkin. “That’s . . . unexpected.”

It’s unheard of, actually, but that’s just semantics.

“It’s a full-time commitment, Lenora. I don’t have room in my schedule.”