“It’s understandable.” I could appreciate a man putting his wife first. Where my own safety was concerned, I rarely cared, but I’d surround Clara with an army if she’d allow me. “If it were up to me, Clara wouldn’t have come either.”
Williams tugged at his necktie, and I realized he was holding something back. After a few seconds, he continued. “Our reports suggest that there might have been a larger plot in the works.”
“Ours as well.” So it wasn’t just the British Secret Service concerned over the assassination. Our troubles had caught the attention of the CIA, too.
“I’m happy to pass along the intelligence we have. I’m sorry to say that most of the information hasn’t panned out.”
“Please,” I accepted tersely. Then it wasn’t just their trails that had gone cold, but ours as well. It was tempting to believe that the threat to my family had ended with the murder of Jack Hammond. The problem with accepting it was that someone had seen fit to murder the man who by all accounts was responsible for my father’s death. If Smith Price, my personal source of information within Hammond’s network, hadn’t been the one to take Hammond’s life—as he claimed—then someone else had been.
“Unless you already have him…” Williams left the thought hanging in the air. It seemed whatever information he had was unlikely to provide new insight.
“That’s the thing about monsters,” I told him as we stopped outside the briefing gallery. “You cut off one head, only to discover there’s another one.”
“That I understand.”
Both our countries had faced dark times of late. I could imagine the threats to his family were as significant and omni-present as my own. Without thinking, I clapped a hand on his shoulder in a show of solidarity—and perhaps, comfort. Williams’s face showed he understood.
“They’re ready for you, sir,” an aide advised.
I couldn’t quite prevent the grimace that flashed over my face, but I replaced it with a smile as I stepped in front of the rows of reporters. May stayed by my side to direct the chaos as they began to call out to me.
“Miss Bernstein,” May said and a woman shot up from her chair. She didn’t bother adjusting her skirt or flipping her hair, instead her eyes zeroed in on me.
This is going to sting.
“Your Highness, will the crown sanction the marriage of your brother?”
I had been warned, so I kept my face passive. It was no surprise that they were going after Edward. I couldn’t expect one of the most ruthless free presses in the world to ask what type of biscuit I preferred. My father would have taken the woman’s head off, but I’d already decided to take a different approach. I’d kill them with charm. Ignoring the rage coursing through me, I smiled. “I already have.”
This incited a barrage of follow-ups from the crowd, but I held up a hand before May could step in. “I’d like to limit topics to policy and my country.”
Not my family. They were off-limits—all of them. I’d lost too many of the people close to me to share the ones I had left. If I had to give every part of me away to protect my family, I would.
There was a moment of squirming silence while the journalists regrouped.
“There’s a vocal minority in Parliament who would like to see the monarchy abolished. How will you respond if support for the initiative gains momentum?” an intrepid man called out.
“God save the King,” I replied, earning a wave of laughter. The dry response shifted the line of questioning to topics sure to produce amusing sound bites. I did my best to stay clever and steer things away from the people in my life. When I finally took my leave, Williams met me at the door.
“All charm and no concrete answers—you were born for politics.”
I supposed it was meant as a compliment. “I was born into politics.”
“I guess you never have had much of a choice,” he mused as we made our way to the residential rooms. “Your destiny was decided for you.”
I thought of Clara and my life before I met her. Every moment of my life propelled me to her, and yet I’d tried to push her away. In the end, we’d decided to fight for one another. That had been a choice—as had my decision to take the throne. It had been a personal decision rather than a forced one. Becoming king allowed me to search for those responsible for the attacks on my wife. In the end, there had always been choices—hard ones. “I’ve chosen my destiny.”
“As have I.” Williams paused to say goodbye before returning to his office.
He still had a day of work ahead of him, and I had my whole world ahead of me. I entered the small living suite our hosts had offered us quietly, afraid to wake a sleeping toddler. Instead, a babbling ball of joy toppled toward me as Elizabeth misstepped. In one swift move, I scooped my daughter into my arms.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty!” Penny, the ever-fussing nursemaid we’d brought along, rushed over to save me, but I held my little girl. The poor woman couldn’t fathom that a man would want to care for his child. If it killed me, I would show her that I wasn’t simply any man.
Clara looked up from her book and rolled her eyes at the scene developing before her, but she didn’t step in. Later I’d be more than happy to spank her for being mischievous. Her lips curled into a knowing smirk as if she had read my mind again.
“Penny, why don’t you take a few minutes for yourself,” I advised her.
“Sir?” She stared at me as if this was a test.
“I’d like to be alone with my family,” I clarified.
She continued to look distraught, but she curtsied and took her leave.
“Is it so hard to believe that I want to hold my daughter?” I grumbled when we were alone.
“I suppose most kings are interested in furthering their bloodline, not building blocks.” Clara’s eyes lingered on the two of us as I settled onto the carpet with Elizabeth, who immediately pulled herself up and began practicing her latest trick: walking.
“Clever girl,” I praised her. “Already walking.”
“She’s nearly fifteen months old,” Clara pointed out, even as she dropped onto the floor beside me. Soon she was as captivated by Elizabeth’s antics as I was. My hand found hers on the carpet. We stayed like that until a familiar form appeared in the doorway. Norris looked as proud as any grandfather as he surveyed my family, but when I lifted my gaze to his, I immediately knew something was wrong.