Royally Matched (Royally Series)(8)

By: Emma Chase



“Do you remember the holiday production Henry was in at school? It was the last Christmas with Mum and Dad—he had the starring role. Scrooge.” Nicholas chuckles.

“Vaguely. I didn’t attend the performance.”

“No, neither did I. Dad spoke with me about it. They were concerned that if I went, the press and his teachers and classmates would be so busy fawning over me that Henry would be lost in the shuffle. And they were right.” The chair creaks as my brother shifts. “He’s spent his entire life in my shadow. And now he’s front and center, in the hot glare of the spotlight. It’s only natural he’ll squint for a bit. You have to give him time to adjust.”

“He doesn’t have time.”

“Plan on dying any day soon?” Nicholas teases.

“Of course not. But we both know the unexpected happens. He must be ready. You don’t understand, Nicholas.”

“I understand perfectly. I’m the only person in the world who does.”

“No, you do not. Before you could walk, you were trained to take the throne. A thousand small things happened around you daily that you wouldn’t have even perceived. It was in the way others spoke to you, the conversations you had, the topics you were taught, and the manner in which they were conveyed. Henry has a lifetime of catching up to do.”

“Which he’ll never be able to do if you break him,” Nicholas says harshly. “If you convince him in a thousand small daily ways that he’ll never be enough. That he’ll never get it right.”

Silence falls for several beats. Until my grandmother quietly asks, “Do you know the worst part about growing old?”

“Erectile dysfunction?” my brother replies dryly.

“Oh, you needn’t worry about that,” the Queen responds, her tone every bit as dry. “It’s in the genes, and your grandfather was a stallion until the day he died.”

I smother a grin. Because, like the Americans say, when you mess with the bull . . .

“Right.” My brother quips. “No more sherry for you.”

“The worst part about growing old,” Granny continues, “is knowing that soon you will leave the ones you cherish most to carry on without you. And if they are unprepared . . . vulnerable . . . it is a terrifying prospect.”

Only the crackle of the fire breaks the stillness.

Then the Queen declares unequivocally, “They will eat him alive. On his current course, Henry will fail spectacularly.”

My chest constricts so tight it feels like my bones may crack.

Because she’s right.

“He won’t.”

“You don’t know that,” she swipes back.

“I damn well do! I never would have abdicated otherwise.”

“What?”

“Don’t mistake me—I wouldn’t have married anyone but Olivia, and I would’ve waited a lifetime if I had to, until the laws were changed. But I didn’t because I knew in my heart and soul that Henry will not just be a good king, he will be better than I ever could’ve been.”

For a moment I don’t breathe. I can’t. The shock of my brother’s words has knocked the air right out of my lungs.

Granny’s too, if her whisper is any indication.

“You truly believe that?”

“Absolutely. And, frankly, I’m disheartened that you don’t.”

“Henry has never been one to rise to the occasion,” she states plainly.

“He’s never needed to,” my brother insists. “He’s never been asked—not once in his whole life. Until now. And he will not only rise to the occasion . . . he will soar beyond it.”

The Queen’s voice is hushed, like she’s in prayer.

“I want to believe that. More than I can say. Lend me a bit of your faith, Nicholas. Why are you so certain?”

Nicholas’s voice is rough, tight with emotion.

“Because . . . he’s just like Mum.”

My eyes close when the words reach my ears. Burning and wet. There’s no greater compliment—not to me—not ever.

But, Christ, look at me . . . it’s not even close to true.

“He’s exactly like her. That way she had of knowing just what a person needed—whether it was strength or guidance, kindness or comfort or joy—and effortlessly giving it to them. The way people used to gravitate to her . . . at parties, the whole room would shift when she walked in . . . because everyone wanted to be nearer to her. She had a light, a talent, a gift—it doesn’t matter what it’s called—all that matters is that Henry has it too. He doesn’t see it in himself, but I do. I always have.”

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