Read American Royals Online

Authors: Katharine McGee

Tags: #antique

American Royals (5 page)

“And I’m pretty glad my sister had a teddy bear instead of a blanket,” he went on, with another flash of those damned dimples. “Otherwise what would people call me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Blankie Eaton has quite the ring to it. At the very least it’s memorable.” Sam tried to fight back a smile, but the smile seemed to be winning. “So, Teddy-like-a-teddy-bear, are you dreading tonight’s ceremony as much as I am?”

“Should I be?”

“You’ve clearly never attended the Queen’s Ball. My dad and Beatrice have to knight each of the candidates for nobility, individually,
in alphabetical order.
It’s like the world’s worst high school graduation, except each graduate gets a patent of nobility instead of a diploma.”

“Sounds like I was wrong about it being too early in the night for double-fisting.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Sam clinked her bottle to his, not caring that it was bad luck to cheers with beer—or was that only in France?—and took a sip. It felt like the rest of the room had retreated behind a hazy curved glass, like there was no one at this party but the two of them.

“I have to ask.” Teddy’s voice was warm, and a little husky. “Why are you hiding here at the bar, instead of working the room like the rest of your family?”

“Trust me, the rest of my family is doing just fine on their own. Right now my sister is talking with the German ambassador,
in German,
” Sam told him, and rolled her eyes.

“Wow,” Teddy said slowly. “That’s so …”

“Obnoxious?”

“I was going to say impressive,” he replied, and Sam flushed at being caught out. But it often felt as if Beatrice went out of her way to make everyone else look like slackers.

When she was little—it felt very long ago, now—Sam used to think of herself as smart. She loved to read, spent hours listening to stories about the former kings and queens, and had a sharp memory for details. But then she started at St. Ursula’s, and that innate cheerful confidence was systematically whittled away from her.

She didn’t have her older sister’s patience, or her head for numbers, or her desire to chair clubs and committees. On more than one occasion Sam overheard the teachers talking about her in low voices:
She’s no Beatrice,
they would say, with evident frustration. Gradually Sam was galvanized into believing it. Beatrice was the smart, beautiful future queen, while Sam was just the Other Washington Sister.

She glanced over at Teddy, who was shifting his weight as if he might walk away. But Sam didn’t want him to go, not yet.

“We can head over to the throne room if you want. The ceremony is starting soon,” she offered.

Teddy held out his arm in a show of careless chivalry. “Lead the way, Your Highness.”

“My friends call me Sam.” She looped her arm through his, still holding the half-empty beer in the other hand.

The sounds of the party chased after them, laughter and music echoing through the old, high-ceilinged rooms. A constant flow of traffic—footmen dressed in tails, PR people and camera crews—buzzed back and forth along the hall.

Teddy paused in the doorway to the throne room, to stare up at the domed ceiling that soared above them. It was painted with the famous mural of King George I crossing the sky in a flying chariot.

“Charles Wilson Peale did that one,” Sam murmured, ignoring the confused glances from the support staff who were stationed inside. Caleb was already in there—Sam tried not to make eye contact with him—standing next to Beatrice’s security detail, a tall, fierce-looking young man in the uniform of the Revere Guard.

“As in the Peale family from Pennsylvania?” Teddy asked.

Sam shrugged. She much preferred Charles Wilson to his modern descendants. She was pretty sure the Peale girls had started that rumor that she was sent to rehab in tenth grade—and that was just because she’d danced with one of their ex-boyfriends at a party.

“He was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. He painted the pillars, too.” Sam nodded at the corners of the room, where four columns soared upward. “They’re supposed to represent the four pillars of American virtue: truth, justice, honor, and family. The weird one with all the bales of hay and piglets is family, in case you didn’t get it.”

Teddy’s eyes twinkled. “How do you know so much history?”

“I used to sneak away from my nanny and hide in the middle of palace tours,” Sam confessed. “Sometimes people didn’t even see me there. Or if they did, I would whisper that I was playing hide-and-seek against my brother, and could they please help me hide? They usually did. My nanny searched all over the palace, but she never thought to look for me in the middle of a crowd.”

Teddy shook his head wonderingly. “I think you’re too clever for your own good.”

Trumpets sounded from the other end of the hall, indicating that the ceremony would begin in fifteen minutes. The noise was followed by an answering thunder of footsteps as hundreds of people began the slow procession toward the throne room.

Sam’s heart skipped. Etiquette, as well as common sense, dictated that she should lead Teddy to his seat—but she didn’t want to. She wasn’t done with him. She wanted his warm golden energy to be focused on
her
for just a moment longer.

She grabbed Teddy’s hand and dragged him down the hall, then threw open a nondescript door and pulled it closed behind them.

The cloakroom smelled of fur and cedarwood and Samantha’s Vol de Nuit perfume. A thin light crept in through the doorframe.

Sam was still clutching her beer bottle. She lifted it to her lips, well aware of the juxtaposition she posed: wearing a couture gown and priceless Crown Jewels, chugging a beer. Teddy raised one eyebrow, evidently amused, but he didn’t try to leave.

She set the empty bottle on the floor and turned to face him, the sequined fabric of her dress contorting around her.

“You might be aware that I outrank you,” she whispered, teasing.

“It’s been mentioned once or twice.”

She reached her hands up to his shoulders to pull at the stray end of his bow tie, which fell uselessly to the floor. “I outrank you,” Sam repeated, “and as your princess, I command that you kiss me.”

Teddy hesitated, and for a moment Sam worried that she had misread him. But then his face relaxed into a smile.

“I don’t think monarchs get to make autocratic demands like that anymore,” he said softly.

“I’m not a monarch,” she reminded him. “So, do you refuse?”

“In this instance, I’m happy to oblige. But don’t assume this means I’m going to obey all your commands.”

“Fine with me.” Sam grabbed a fistful of his shirt and yanked him forward.

Teddy’s mouth was warm on hers. He kissed her back eagerly, almost hungrily. Samantha closed her eyes and leaned back into the darkness, falling onto someone’s mink. Her blood bubbled, as light and fizzy as champagne.

On the other side of the door, she heard the bleating pack of courtiers marching toward the throne room. As if by unspoken agreement, she and Teddy held themselves absolutely still, falling ever deeper into the kiss.

It didn’t matter whether Samantha showed up to the ceremony. No one would notice if she wasn’t there. She was only the Sparrow, after all.

BEATRICE

Beatrice kept her eyes shut, reminding herself to breathe.

Once, during the fitting for the flower-girl dress she’d worn at her uncle’s wedding, she had fidgeted so much that her mom had snapped at her not to move a single muscle. So she hadn’t—not even her lungs. Seven-year-old Beatrice had held her breath with such determination that she actually passed out.

“Would you look up, Your Royal Highness?” the makeup artist murmured. Beatrice reluctantly lifted her gaze, trying to ignore the eyeliner pencil prodding at her lower lid. It had been easier to keep her anxiety at bay when her eyes were closed.

She stood at the center of the Brides’ Room, a downstairs sitting room across the hall from the ballroom, named for the generations of royal brides who had used it to change into their wedding gowns. Beatrice had gotten ready here on countless occasions; she often needed to do this sort of quick costume change in the middle of an event. But the room’s name had never before caused her such disquiet.

If everything went according to her parents’ plan, she would be getting ready here again all too soon.

The Brides’ Room was the epitome of girliness, its peach wallpaper hand-painted with delicate white flowers. There was very little furniture: just a small love seat and a side table with a bowl of potpourri made from old bridal bouquets. The space was purposefully empty, to leave room for gowns with thirty-foot ceremonial trains.

A massive trifold mirror stood before her, though Beatrice was doing her best not to look. She remembered how she and Samantha used to sneak in here when they were little, mesmerized by the sight of themselves reflected into infinity. “Look, there are a thousand Beatrices,” Sam would whisper, and Beatrice always wondered with a touch of longing what it might be like—to walk right through the glass and into one of their lives, these other Beatrices in their strange mirror worlds.

There were times when Beatrice wished she were more like her sister. She’d seen the way Sam flounced into the ballroom earlier, patently unconcerned that she was forty minutes late. But then, Sam had always been one for dramatic entrances and even more dramatic exits. Whereas Beatrice lived in fear of what her mother called
causing a scene.

She stood now on a temporary seamstress’s platform, surrounded by attendants who had helped her out of her first dress of the night and into her new one, a deep blue gown with off-the-shoulder sleeves. They were rapidly transitioning her from cocktail attire into her more formal head-of-state look. Beatrice felt oddly absent from the scene, as if she were Royal Barbie, about to be covered in accessories.

She remained still as the makeup artist pressed a blotting paper to her nose before dusting it with powder, then reapplied her lipstick. “Finished,” she murmured. Still Beatrice didn’t look at the mirror.

One of the other attendants looped the sash of the Edwardian Order, America’s highest chivalric honor, over Beatrice’s gown. Then she draped the ermine-trimmed robe of state over the princess’s shoulders. Its weight seemed to press down on Beatrice, heavy and insistent, almost as if it wanted to choke her. Her hands clenched and unclenched at her sides.

The attendant reached for a gold brooch. But before she could fasten the cloak around Beatrice’s throat, the princess jerked violently back. The attendant’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I’m sorry, I just … I need a moment alone.” Beatrice felt a bit flustered; she’d never done anything like that before.

But then, the ceremonial trappings of her position had never before felt so stifling.

The various attendants and stylists bobbed quick curtsies before filing out. When they were gone, Beatrice forced herself to look up at her reflection.

The ivory sash was a crisp line against the blue of her gown, catching the cool undertones of her smooth, tanned skin. Various medals and awards glittered in the light, along with her massive pear-shaped earrings and tiered diamond necklace. Her dark hair had been swept into a twist so tight that bobby pins dug angrily into her head. She looked very regal, and slightly older than her twenty-one years.

Well, she probably needed to look mature at tonight’s reception, since she was presumably meeting the man she was going to marry. Whoever he was.

I am Beatrice Georgina Fredericka Louise of the House of Washington, future Queen of America, and I have a duty to uphold.
It was the same thing Beatrice always recited to herself, every time she started to feel this sense of panic—as if her life were slipping through her fingers like sand, and no matter how hard she tried to clutch at it, she couldn’t regain control.

A knock sounded on the door to the Brides’ Room. “Ten minutes. You almost ready?”

Relief bloomed in Beatrice’s chest. Here was one person she
did
want to see. “You can come in, Connor,” she called out.

It would have been inadequate to think of Connor as Beatrice’s bodyguard.
Bodyguard
failed to encapsulate the honor it was to be a member of the Revere Guard: the years of discipline and brutal training it required, the incredible self-sacrifice. The Guard was far more elite than any group of the armed forces. There were thousands of Marines, and hundreds of Navy SEALs, but the Revere Guard comprised only a few dozen men.

Founded after the assassination of King George II during the War of 1812, the Revere Guard—named for the Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—answered directly to the Crown. Its men often served the monarch on covert missions abroad, protecting American allies, or rescuing Americans who had been captured. But members of the Guard always rotated home eventually, to serve their original purpose: ensuring the safety of the royal family. It was such a demanding and high-stakes job, with so much travel and uncertainty, that many members of the Revere Guard didn’t settle down or get married until they retired.

“You look nice, Bee,” Connor said, forgoing formality since they were alone. He’d been using that nickname ever since she admitted that it was what Samantha used to call her.

Of course, it had been a long time since Beatrice and her sister were on nickname terms.

She smiled, warmed by his compliment. “You don’t look bad yourself.”

He was wearing the Guards’ dress uniform, a double-breasted navy blazer. It was devoid of any braid or insignia save the traditional gold lantern pin: in memory of the two lanterns of Paul Revere, the warning signal against the British invasion. At Connor’s waist hung a gold ceremonial sword. It might have looked ridiculous and outdated if Beatrice didn’t suspect that he knew precisely how to use it.

Connor had been assigned to her last autumn, at the start of her final year at Harvard. Beatrice would never forget that morning: when Ari, her protection officer for the previous two years, showed up to walk Beatrice to her lecture, accompanied by a tall stranger in a charcoal-colored hoodie. He looked a year or two older than Beatrice.

“Your Royal Highness, this is Connor Markham. He’ll be taking over your security upon my departure tomorrow,” Ari had explained.

Beatrice nodded. She tried not to stare at the young man, but he was hard to look away from, with arresting blue-gray eyes and fair skin. His light brown hair was cut short, emphasizing the strong, clean lines of his face.

Connor inclined his head in a bow so shallow that it bordered on impertinence. The neck of his sweatshirt dipped lower, revealing a line of black ink. A tattoo.

Beatrice found herself wondering about that tattoo, how far it snaked over Connor’s chest, his broad shoulders, his torso. Her face grew hot, and she looked up. Connor met her gaze—and didn’t look away.

His expression was blank, yet Beatrice couldn’t help thinking that Connor had suspected the wayward direction of her thoughts.

She and her new Guard said little to each other, those first couple of months. Not that Beatrice was in the habit of constantly chatting with her security detail. But Connor was especially taciturn, almost … brooding. He never volunteered any information about himself, never made small talk. He was just a tall, silent figure at Beatrice’s side, accompanying her to lectures or to the dining hall, wearing a backpack and a crimson sweater. Unlike most of her security officers, who’d been in their thirties at least, Connor could have passed for a student. Except that by now, everyone on campus was aware of Beatrice’s “incognito” Guards.

Beatrice knew from the beginning that Connor was frustrated with his assignment. Maybe he’d assumed he would be on her father’s detail, in the palace and at the center of the action, instead of babysitting her on a college campus. He was too much of a professional to say anything, but sometimes—when Beatrice was in a study group or grabbing a late-night pizza with friends—she saw the bored amusement tugging at his features. He clearly felt that Guarding her was beneath his capabilities. Well, Beatrice reminded herself, this wasn’t her fault. She certainly hadn’t
requested
that Connor be here.

One night in November, Beatrice headed to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, accompanied, as always, by Connor. She was taking an art history class, a requirement for her American Studies major, and the professor had assigned an essay on one of the paintings in this collection. The other students had all come this afternoon, but Beatrice hadn’t wanted to join them. It would have caused such a scene—all those people gawking at her, snapping covert pictures on their phones, whispering and elbowing each other. She felt much more comfortable asking the curator if she could stop by after hours.

Her steps echoed through the empty museum as she searched for the painting. She’d been certain all the Whistler portraits were downstairs, but she didn’t see it. She kept rechecking the room numbers, wishing she hadn’t been in too much of a hurry to pick up a map.

“We need to go upstairs. This hallway only holds art through 1875, and the portrait you’re looking for was done in 1882.”

Beatrice blinked. “You remember that?”

“I was in all the same lectures as you, Princess,” Connor said laconically. That was another annoying habit of his: to call her
Princess
instead of
Your Royal Highness.
Beatrice would have corrected him, except that she suspected he wasn’t doing it out of confusion. He was perfectly aware of the protocol, and was trying, subtly, to goad her.

“I thought …” She cut herself off before saying she’d assumed he hadn’t been listening to any of those lectures. But she had been taking notes, and she
still
didn’t remember the year of that painting off the top of her head.

Connor began to lead her up the stairs. “Eidetic memory is something we worked on in training,” he offered by way of explanation.

Sure enough, he led her straight to the painting she needed: Sir James Whistler’s portrait of Lady Charlotte Eaton, Duchess of Boston.

Beatrice perched on the bench and pulled out her laptop. She jotted down a quick series of thoughts about the painting, biting her lower lip in concentration. The room felt very quiet and still.

Finally she shut her laptop with a satisfied click and glanced up. Connor said nothing, just nodded in the direction of the exit.

Beatrice picked up her pace when they reached the room full of Picasso and other postmodernists. “I never really liked these. Especially the ones with two eyes on the same side of the face,” she said, if only to break the silence. “They always make me feel a little drunk.”

“That’s the point,” Connor said drily. “Well, really it’s to make you feel like you’re high on acid. But drunk is close enough.”

Beatrice was startled into laughing. Connor glanced over at her with something akin to surprise.

Perhaps it was because of that laugh that he slowed his steps and paused to examine a series of graphic art prints: the ones from the fifties that looked like pages ripped straight from a comic book.

Beatrice came to stand next to him. “You’re a comics guy?”

She saw Connor debate how much of himself to reveal. “My mom is,” he said at last. “When I was growing up, she worked as a graphic artist. She did sketches for some of the major superhero comics: Poison Rose, the Ranger, Captain Storm.”

“I bet you loved getting free comics,” Beatrice ventured.

He glanced back at one of the prints, lined in electric-blue ink. “She used to sketch me a comic strip of my own whenever she had the time.
The Adventures of Connor.
I had a different superpower each week—flying, invisibility, high-tech battle suits. She’s the reason I wanted to apply for the Guard. I thought it was as close as I could get to being a real-life superhero. Not just the physical stuff, but also the sense of … honor, I guess.” He shrugged, as if unsure why he’d admitted all of that.

“That makes sense,” Beatrice said quietly. Even if she hadn’t seen all the comic-book movies, she knew that superheroes operated according to a code of morality that felt almost archaic in the modern world. They protected the weak, served something much greater than themselves. No wonder Connor had felt called to the Revere Guard.

“Your mom sounds really special,” she went on.

Connor nodded. “She would like you.” It was a casual enough statement, but there was something else folded into it: a promise, or at least a possibility.

Things between them shifted after that—slowly, but they shifted all the same. Connor began sitting next to Beatrice during her lectures, instead of in the row behind her, then debated the course material with her on the walk back to her dorm. They traded books. He had a wicked sense of humor, and did impressions of her professors or classmates that made her laugh so hard she cried. Sometimes, in unguarded moments—when they were running along the Charles River and he challenged her to a race, or when Beatrice insisted that they go to the frozen-yogurt shop and he dared her to try every flavor—he seemed almost
playful.

Other books

Little Green by Walter Mosley
The Liddy Scenario by Jerry D. Young
His Surprise Son by Wendy Warren
Honeymoon With Murder by Carolyn G. Hart
Pay-Off in Blood by Brett Halliday
Emperor Mage by Pierce, Tamora