Read American Royals Online

Authors: Katharine McGee

Tags: #antique

American Royals (10 page)

“I met Teddy last night, and was curious,” she offered, striving to sound casual.

“You’ve met Teddy before, actually. You don’t remember?” Her dad didn’t seem surprised when Sam shook her head. “Well, you were both quite young. Teddy served as a pageboy at my coronation.”

“Oh,” Sam breathed. She shouldn’t have been surprised. Royal pages—the children who served as attendants at ceremonial events like coronations and weddings—were always drawn from the aristocracy.

“We’ve known the Eatons a long time,” her father explained. It was clear that
a long time
meant
for several centuries.
“The Dowager Duchess—Teddy’s grandmother Ruth—was once a lady-in-waiting to your grandmother. And of course the current duke used to serve as one of my equerries, before his father passed away.”

“You were friends with Teddy’s dad?”

The king smiled wistfully at some memory. “We used to get into so much trouble, breaking into the wine cellar and hosting parties at Walthorpe. The Eatons’ ducal mansion,” he added, in answer to Sam’s questioning look. “It’s probably hosted more royal visits than any other private home in America.”

“I wonder why he doesn’t come to court,” Sam mused aloud. She would definitely have noticed a guy like Teddy if she’d seen him before last night. Most aristocratic families made a point of spending at least part of the year in the capital. No matter how vast or luxurious their estates at home, they all possessed some kind of pied-à-terre in Washington, for the occasions when they needed to be at court.

“Well, last night he came to meet Beatrice.”

Before Samantha could ask her dad what he meant, they had crossed into the warmth of the back hallway. A few doors down was the security control room; farther, the glow of the kitchens. Already the great beehive of the palace was buzzing to life around them.

Beatrice stood just inside the entrance, seeming flustered. She was dressed for running in a long-sleeved top and black athletic pants, her hair pulled into a sleek high ponytail. “Sorry, Dad, I didn’t mean to—oh,” she breathed, seeing Samantha, and registering their sweaty appearance. “
You’re
up early.”

“Jet lag.” Sam didn’t bother being offended by the implication, that Beatrice assumed Sam was too lazy to be awake at this hour.

“It’s okay, Beatrice. It was an eventful evening; you deserved to sleep in,” the king assured her.

Sam saw her sister visibly blanch at his words. “Eventful? Not really.”

Now it was the king’s turn to look puzzled. “You didn’t like anyone you met?”

“Oh. Right.” There were spots of color high on Beatrice’s cheeks. Samantha glanced back and forth from her sister to their father, wondering what on earth they were talking about. The newly minted knights?

“No, I mean yes, I did like some of them.” Beatrice swallowed. “Actually, I invited Theodore Eaton to the theater with us.”

“That’s wonderful,” the king exclaimed, just as Samantha blurted out, “You asked Teddy on a
date
?”

“How do
you
know Teddy?” Beatrice asked slowly.

The king beamed at Beatrice, oblivious. “Samantha was just telling me how she chatted with Teddy last night. That was smart of you, enlisting your sister’s help. It’s always good to get a second opinion from someone you trust.” With that, he started toward the staircase. “Don’t forget that we’re meeting later, Beatrice, to prepare for next week’s private audiences.”

Sam turned to her sister. “What’s he talking about?”

There was something unsettled about Beatrice this morning. Her eyes kept flicking down the hall as if she were looking for someone. “Private audiences are meetings we do twice a week, usually for twenty minutes each,” she said impatiently. “High commissioners, military personnel, judges, visiting dignitaries—”

“No, the part about you and Teddy.”

Beatrice seemed surprised by the question. But then, she and Sam hadn’t exactly talked about personal stuff for a long time now.

Sam wasn’t sure when the distance between her and Beatrice had begun. It had just …
grown,
each of them drawing back one slight inch at a time. Now it was so vast that Sam couldn’t begin to fathom how she might bridge it.

“I asked Teddy Eaton on a date, and he said yes,” Beatrice repeated.

“But …”

But I’m the one he kissed,
Sam wanted to cry out. Teddy had missed the knighthood ceremony to linger in the cloakroom with
her,
and now he was going out with her older sister?

“But you never date.”

“Well, I decided that now is a good time to start,” Beatrice said wearily.

“Why Teddy?” There had been so many young men swarming around the ball last night. Why couldn’t Beatrice have gone for any of them, instead of the one boy Samantha liked?

“He comes from a good family. And he’s very handsome,” was all Beatrice replied. Even here in private, her words sounded stilted and rehearsed, as if she were standing on a podium and delivering a speech.

“That’s it? You picked him out of a crowd for his face and his
title
?”

“Why do you care anyway? No one is asking
you
to find a husband!”

“What?” Sam blinked in confusion. “Who said anything about
marriage
?”

There was a momentary flash of something, vulnerability or confusion or maybe even hurt, behind the immutable expression on Beatrice’s face. It was enough to make Samantha take a single step forward.

But then that mask slid over her sister’s features again. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand. This is a Matter of State.” The way Beatrice pronounced it, Sam could practically hear the capitalization.

“Right,” Sam said evenly. “There’s no way I could comprehend the intricate socioeconomic and political implications of the boys you go on
dates
with.”

She tried not to reveal how much it stung, that Teddy had apparently chosen Beatrice over her. Though she shouldn’t have been surprised; this was what had happened their entire lives, with everything else—their parents’ attention, the throne, the entire
country.

Samantha never could keep hold of anything once Beatrice had decided that it should be hers.

DAPHNE

Daphne hated hospitals.

She hated how cold and antiseptic they felt, with that tangy metallic smell underlying everything. She hated the waiting rooms, with their depressing vending machines and outdated magazines, some so old that they dated from the previous king’s reign. Most of all, Daphne hated hospitals for how quiet they were, the silence broken only by those machines beeping their soulless refrains.

But Daphne was no fool; she knew that certain charity hours were worth more than others. She couldn’t just be a docent at the art museum and sponsor the ballet. If she wanted the American people to truly love her, she needed them to feel like they’d had a real, meaningful interaction with her.

Which was why Daphne had embarked upon a tireless self-directed PR campaign. She tutored underprivileged students in math and physics. She volunteered at a local homeless shelter. And every Sunday she came here to the children’s wing at St. Stephen’s Hospital, because Daphne knew that volunteering just once would get her nowhere. It had to be a habit to really count.

And count it she did. Last year Daphne had logged over four hundred hours of volunteer work, carefully recorded and time-stamped. Princess Samantha, meanwhile, had done fourteen. All year. Daphne didn’t hesitate to slip those numbers to Natasha, who gleefully ran them in the
Daily News.
The comments of support had, predictably, poured in for Daphne. Though she wasn’t sure anyone at the palace had even bothered to reprimand the princess.

Besides, what did it matter that she beat out Samantha, when saintly Princess Beatrice had completed even more hours than Daphne, all while she was a full-time student at Harvard?

For years, Daphne had tried to model her behavior on that of the older princess. Beatrice clearly managed her reputation with the same meticulous caution that Daphne did. As the first female heir to the throne, she had to. Far too many people were silently willing the princess to slip up.

There was no room for error in either of their lives.

If only they could commiserate about it, Daphne sometimes thought. How hard it was to be a woman in this world of monarchies, whose structures and traditions had all been built by men.

Maybe things would improve when Beatrice someday took the throne—when, after two hundred and fifty years, America would finally be ruled by a woman. Or maybe it would have been better if America had never been a monarchy at all, and had some other form of government.

Daphne doubted it.

“Daphne! It’s good to see you.” The aide at the front desk gave a shy smile, though he’d known her for years now. He was an acne-prone guy in his mid-twenties who always seemed on the verge of asking for her autograph.

“Thanks, Chris. How’s the new kitten doing? Daisy, right?” Daphne prided herself on remembering the small details. It was what made her a professional.

Chris brightened under her interest and pulled out his phone. Daphne made little “aww” noises as he scrolled through photos of his cat.

She heard footsteps on the linoleum floor and turned around to see Natasha. Right on schedule. “Chris,” Daphne said sweetly, “would it be all right if Natasha accompanied me today? Just to snap a few pictures, get some quotes.”

“We’re doing a special piece to prompt holiday donations, a spotlight on philanthropic young people. We were hoping to include Daphne,” Natasha chimed in.

“It would be a crime not to include Daphne. She’s here every week,” Chris proclaimed, and rocked forward on his toes. “Just make sure you get permission from the parents before you publish any photos of kids.”

Daphne had never understood why the royal family was so allergic to the press. In her experience, if you helped them out a time or two, they were perfectly willing to do the same for you. With Natasha, Daphne had long ago reached a silent understanding: she would pass along stories—some of them about her, some about other figures at court—and in exchange Natasha ensured that her coverage portrayed Daphne in the most dazzlingly favorable light.

Today, Daphne had reluctantly called Natasha to ask a favor. This whole article was her idea; the other charitable young people, if any, would scarcely be mentioned alongside the extensive coverage of Daphne. She hated resorting to this—planting deliberate, self-promotional stories—but she wasn’t sure what else to do. She still couldn’t get over the way Jefferson had left her at the ball, the fact that she hadn’t even heard from him since.

Of course, Daphne didn’t expect the prince to really care that she was volunteering. But he would care that
America
cared, because he liked being liked. Jefferson had always avoided discord or tears or harsh words of any kind, probably because, as the spoiled youngest child, he had so rarely encountered them.

If Daphne could convince America that she should be their princess, eventually Jefferson would end up agreeing with them.

She and Natasha walked down the hallway toward one of the younger wards. Past a sliding glass doorway was a long row of treatment rooms. Crayon sketches of fairies and snowflakes were tacked to the walls, alongside several red and green felt stockings. A gold tinsel tree squatted cheerfully in one corner.

Several parents glanced up at her arrival, and their eyes widened. Daphne smiled at them: the disarming, winning sunbeam of a smile that she’d practiced so many times in the mirror.

One of the little girls tumbled out of bed and ran toward Daphne, who crouched down to make her face level with the girl’s. “Hello there,” she said. Behind her, she could hear the steady series of clicks that meant Natasha was documenting all of this. “What’s your name?”

“Molly.” The girl reached up to pick her nose. Daphne wondered if she still had to shake her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Molly. I’m Daphne.”

“Are you a princess?” the girl asked, with a child’s tactlessness.

Daphne forced herself to keep on smiling.
Someday,
she thought.
And when I am, you’ll have to curtsy to me.
She held on to the girl’s hand until her mother came to collect her, assuring the woman that it was no problem at all.

“I knew it,” Daphne heard the mother say as she rejoined the rest of her family. “I knew she was even prettier in person. And so
sweet.

This
was why Daphne deserved to be princess someday—because she could play the part. If only Jefferson could see it as clearly as she did.

Natasha unobtrusively approached Molly’s mother with an electronic release form for the photos she had just snapped. The woman, still basking in the glow of having met the famous Daphne Deighton, didn’t hesitate to sign.

As she progressed down the hallway, Daphne made a point of pausing at each bedside: to pour a cup of water and lift it to a boy’s lips, to play with a little girl’s doll, to read a favorite story from a picture book with sticky pages. She never tired, never let her smile slip even a fraction of an inch, as all the while Natasha’s camera kept clicking away.

“Lovely evening,” Natasha said crisply as they stepped out into the parking lot. The light was slowly leaching from the sky, a few scattered stars beginning to dust the horizon. The air felt heavy and cold; Daphne shrugged deeper into her parka.

“I got some great shots,” Natasha went on, yanking open the door of her car to wedge her camera bag inside. Her angular dark hair swung forward with the movement. “Want me to send them to you for review before I run the article?”

“Please.”

The reporter paused, her car keys jingling in one hand. “Are you waiting for someone? I can give you a ride home.”

Daphne shook her head. “Actually, I’m heading back inside. I have one more visit to make. A personal one,” she added, in answer to Natasha’s questioning look.

“Your friend in the coma. I remember,” Natasha purred.

Of course she remembered, because Daphne had handed her that scoop, had practically composed the article herself. Underage drinking inside Washington Palace, and a girl who ended up in the ER? It was one of the most successful stories Natasha had ever run.

“Yes. Her condition hasn’t changed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Natasha replied, in the unconvincing way of someone claiming an emotion she didn’t feel. Her eyes drifted toward the camera in her backseat. “Want me to come with?”

The analytical part of Daphne knew that Natasha had a point. The future princess grieving at the bedside of her friend: it would make a great sidebar photo to complement all the coverage of her philanthropy.

But this grief was too real for Daphne to share with anyone.

“Thank you, but I think I’ll visit her alone.”

This time when Daphne walked into the hospital, she moved quickly, keeping her head down to deflect attention. She didn’t really want to advertise why she was here.

In the long-term care ward, Daphne headed down a series of hallways, then turned toward a familiar door. She reached her hand up to trace the nameplate—HIMARI MARIKO, it said, on a square of laminated paper. At the beginning, back when everyone kept expecting Himari to wake up at any minute, her name had been written in dry-erase marker on a square of whiteboard.

Daphne had known it was serious when they hung the laminated name card.

There was a chair pulled up next to the bed; Daphne sat in it and tucked her feet to one side, kicking off her ballet flats so that her toes in their black tights curled over the cushions.

Himari lay there before her, under a silver-and-blue quilt that her mom had brought from home. Tubes and wires connected her to various IVs and machines. Her face was hollow, deep purple shadows inscribed beneath her eyes. Her breathing was so slight that Daphne could hardly hear it.

“Hey. It’s me,” Daphne said quietly.

When Himari had first fallen into a coma, back when it seemed like a temporary condition, Daphne had filled her visits with chatter. She would tell Himari everything she was missing: the cute new spin instructor who was teaching at their favorite studio; the eighties-themed gala at the science museum; the fact that Olivia Langley was organizing a weekend at her family’s lake house and hadn’t included Daphne. But now it felt strange to pour all those meaningless words into the silence. It wasn’t as though Himari was listening anyway.

She reached out to take her friend’s hand, surprised as always at how limp it felt in her own. Himari’s nails had grown grotesquely long, and so uneven that they were starting to snag on the blanket. Of course the nurses had more important things to worry about than Himari’s cuticles, but still.

Biting back a sigh, Daphne reached into her purse for the nail file she kept with her at all times. She began to meticulously shape her friend’s nails, rounding them at the edges.

“Sorry I don’t have any polish with me. Though I wouldn’t have the right one for you anyway.” Daphne only ever wore pale, almost translucent pinks—she feared that shades of red might remind people of claws, or grasping talons. But Himari had no such hesitations. She’d always gravitated toward the loud, fiery colors, just like her mom did.

You can tell a true lady by her red nail polish and red lipstick,
Himari’s mom used to tell them as she swished along to some event in a chic black dress and towering heels. Himari’s parents were the Earl and Countess of Hana, a title that had been in their family for almost a century, ever since Himari’s great-grandparents came from Kyoto as ambassadors from the Japanese Imperial Court.

Daphne used to love going to the Marikos’ house. They lived in a sprawling estate in the center of Herald Oaks, with manicured gardens and an enormous swimming pool. Himari had three brothers, and their home always felt rowdy and full of laughter, no matter the priceless watercolor screens and terra-cotta bowls that decorated each room.

“I don’t approve of your friendship with that Mariko girl. She’s too smart,” Daphne’s mom announced one day when Daphne came home from a sleepover at Himari’s. “You need to surround yourself with girls who make you shine, not girls who compete with you.”

“She’s my
friend,
” Daphne said hotly.

Rebecca looked into her daughter’s eyes with eerie prescience. “A pair of girls as beautiful and clever as the two of you, it can only end in disaster.”

Daphne wished her mother hadn’t been right.

Throughout high school, she and Himari had shared almost everything: their hopes, their successes, their position as the two most popular girls in the class. What an entrance they had made, walking into some court function together, both of them young and stunning and aristocratic. It had seemed like no one could resist them, like nothing at all could come between them.

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