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Authors: Lilah Pace

His Royal Secret

BOOK: His Royal Secret
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Titles by Lilah Pace

His Royal Secret

 

Asking For It

Begging For It

Asking For More

(novella)

His Royal Secret

Lilah Pace

INTERMIX

NEW YORK

INTERMIX

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Blue Moon Publications, LLC.

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

ISBN: 9781101989128

First Edition: July 2016

Cover design by Annette Defex.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

 

Contents

Chapter 1

A Pawn’s Secret

May 2012

ROYAL RUCKUS

Randy Sandy Trades the Purple . . . for a Ginger?

Shocking new photos have surfaced of Lady Cassandra Roxburgh in the arms of a man who is decidedly not the Prince of Wales. Unconfirmed reports say it is none other than Irish telecommunications mogul Spencer Kennedy, but the paps focused on something other than the man’s face! Can Sandy persuade Prince James to forgive her for yet another transgression? Will the people of Great Britain ever be able to accept her as queen after this? TEXT your vote to . . .

James’s private landline rang. The butler would have answered any other call, even here in the private suite of Clarence House. However, this line was reserved for the most intimate of friends and family, so James answered it himself, reaching across the silver and china on his tea tray. Without waiting for the caller to speak a word, he said, “At least you look smashing.”

“Ha ha ha ha ha.” Cass sounded less wounded, more angry. She wasn’t one to worry about the entire world seeing her topless, he knew. This wasn’t the first time she’d appeared seminaked in the tabs. Still, this was a bigger mess than usual. “The resort owners claimed the entire enclosure was
completely
private.”

“I know. They try. But the paparazzi get trickier all the time.”

Cass groaned. “How long do we do this?”

“Six weeks? No, two months or so. I’ve got to come across as really angry this time. Maybe you could hide out in Paris, get photographed without makeup like you’re distraught, something like that?”

“James, no.” Her voice was quieter. “How much longer are we keeping up this whole charade?”

At this point, Lady Cassandra Roxburgh was one of only four people in the world who knew the heir to the English throne was gay. James had no intention of ever letting that number rise into the double digits. (Five sounded about right. If he could meet one man—the correct man, appropriate and discreet—everyone else could live in ignorance.)

Once, when he was younger and more idealistic, James had hoped to be more open. He’d confided the truth to his father during his gap year, and Dad—known to the world as Edmund, Prince of Wales—had accepted it with better grace than James would have dreamed possible.

•   •   •

“You’re not the first, you know.”

“I know.”

“I always thought you and Cassandra—”

“We’re only friends. I haven’t ever, you know, done anything with her.”

“You haven’t been careless?”

“No. There will be nothing in the press. I promise you that.”

“You might find a girl who doesn’t mind it, you know. Not as if she wouldn’t have enough to console her. And that way at least you’d have children.”

“People don’t live that way any longer.”

“We don’t live like most people, James. You’re not free to do whatever you like, no more than I am.”

“I know that. I want to do my duty. But—I can’t see marrying someone under false pretenses. It would come out someday. Surely that would be even worse.”

“Perhaps so.”

How he remembered his father’s heavy sigh, and the slight crinkling at the sides of his eyes that hinted at a smile, and gentled the moment.

“The royal line can pass through your sister’s children—but we’ve time to discuss all that. After I succeed to the throne, you’re likely to spend several decades as Prince of Wales. That gives us opportunities to make such arrangements as are necessary.”

James had not trusted himself to speak. He’d simply nodded, so grateful he had to swallow a lump in his throat.

“You must continue to be discreet for some time to come. More than discreet. If this becomes public before I take the throne, it will be harder for me to protect you. As for your grandparents—well. They’re not modern, are they?”

Of all the adjectives in the English language, perhaps the one least likely to be applied to King George IX and Queen Louisa was
modern
. “No, sir.”

“But times change. Slowly, but they do change. If the public has long enough to get accustomed to the news, you might weather the squall. Come on, then. Shall we speak to your mother together?”

•   •   •

Even then, James had thought his father was being optimistic about public opinion. But neither of them could possibly have known of the tragedy that would crush them all only seven months later: a goodwill trip to Australia and New Zealand. A storm over the Coral Sea. A tabloid frenzy over every shard of wreckage that washed up. The horrible photos all over the Internet of a bloated corpse that had once been not only the Prince of Wales but also a loving father and a good man—and how even that was better than the horror of knowing his mother’s body would never be found. Headlines screaming about Princess Rose’s survival on undiscovered islands, her capture by pirates, or any other marine misadventure the tabloids could concoct, so long as they could milk a few more pennies’ profit from her legend. James’s investiture as Prince of Wales before he even left university. Indigo’s ups and downs shifting from normal teenage moods to something far more difficult for her to bear. With Grandfather’s increasingly ill health, more and more responsibility for James.

The lie he and Cass had lived for nearly a decade now seemed like the only option. The very hypocrisy he’d once tried to escape, he now had to perpetuate.

He said, “Don’t suppose you’d change your mind about wanting to be queen.”

“Oh,
James
.” She’d never budged on this, not for one hour of one day.

“Have you taken a look at the jewelry you’d get to wear? We are talking about some serious bling. . . . Do people still say bling?”

“No.” And if I did marry you, we’d both be trapped in this lie forever. I don’t think I can stand it. Can you?”

James rubbed wearily at his temple. “I think I have to.”

“You don’t. I swear you don’t.”

“I have to become Supreme Governor of a church that’s leaning more strongly away from supporting gay clergy and gay marriage. I have to lead a country that’s inching toward being progressive but is absolutely not ready for a gay king. My father—he was savvier about politics than I am and more beloved than I’ll ever be. Maybe he could have smoothed the way.
Maybe.
When he and Mum died, any chance I had of making this work died with them.”

“Then abdicate. Leave the throne to your uncle.”

“You know as well as I do that I can’t leave it to Richard. If I step down, the throne goes to my sister instead.” Princess Amelia Caroline Georgiana had been dubbed
Mellie
by the press; she resisted the label by insisting, since age twelve, that her friends and brother call her
Indigo
. Queen Indigo. Not bloody likely. “That’s the cruelest thing I could do to anyone.”

“No, James,” Cass said gently. “The cruelest thing you could do is shut yourself up in a lie forever.”

As always, this subject made him acutely uncomfortable. “Well, I can’t do it now. They’ll say you
turned
me gay through your—where is it—ah. Your ‘roving eyes and round heels.’”

“God, I wish I could just take them and slap—oh, I don’t even know what.” The paparazzi were lucky Cass’s station in life prevented her from acting on her anger, James thought. Even by the standards of Scotswomen, she was both exceptionally hardy and hot-tempered, and possessed of physical strength that belied her petite frame. A fair fight against Cass would probably end poorly for her opponent. “I might not marry you for the crown jewels, James, but I think I deserve a tiara for this. At minimum.”

“A tiara you shall have. And my undying thanks.” He set aside his copy of the
Sun
, resting it on the edge of the silver tea tray. Glover had ironed the paper and placed it there without comment this morning. “For now, let’s simply stick with the classic estrangement mode, all right? I’ve got the Africa tour coming up, so that buys us a while. We can ‘reunite’ at Balmoral for the Highland Games, and after that, I promise, we’ll talk about how to, you know, tie things up.”

“Really?” She sounded far happier than he would have thought. It wasn’t as though James hadn’t known this was a burden for Cass, but actually hearing the relief in her voice reminded him of how much she’d done for his sake.

“Really and truly.”

“I know this makes things harder for you, going ahead.”

He sighed. “It wasn’t as though they were going to be easy in any case.”

After he hung up the phone, he went into his sitting room and curled up in his favorite high-backed chair. Glover had built a fire in the fireplace before he even rose for breakfast; his late mother’s elderly corgis dozed in front of it. Most people would have been surprised at the simplicity and comfort of the room. Everything it in was the best of its kind, but unlike any other room in Clarence House, this one had been designed not as part of a palace, but as part of a home. A television stood on the shelves, shamelessly visible; alongside fine oil paintings, informal family photographs from his childhood hung on the walls. While other bookshelves in royal residences were stocked with leather-bound classics, this room housed what the family enjoyed reading—his father’s historical novels, his mother’s spy thrillers, Indigo’s
Chronicles of Narnia
, and James’s own popular science books. Some of the novels were even dog-eared paperbacks. It hardly mattered how the room looked, as no one ever saw this but family, very close friends, and the most dedicated servants. Despite the twenty-foot ceilings and the antique Persian rug on the floor, this was one of the precious few rooms in Clarence House that felt cozy. Comfortable. Not a place to show off things, but to shelter people.

That was the whole problem, James thought. He’d been born into a role that demanded he take his place in the museum, and would forever deny him a real home.

•   •   •

Two Months Later

The Heir Airs His Broken Heart On Safari

AND YOU’RE FOOTING THE BILL!

Benjamin Dahan frowned at the website headline. He wasn’t thrilled at this latest assignment, but at least he could write something better than that tabloid rubbish. His editor back in Cape Town would be on the alert for any sign of phoning it in, and had said as much when he sent Ben north to Kenya.

“You’ve got to be kidding. I cover economic policy, Roger. Not inbred aristocrats playing cricket on the veldt.”

“You’ve wanted this London transfer for nearly a year now, right? Well, show me you’re a team player, and we can finally put it through. Because that’s what a team does when their Nairobi correspondent falls pregnant and has to go on bed rest. A team pulls together to supply the inbred aristocrat news the world so craves. Besides, three days at a luxury safari resort? You’ve pulled worse duty than that.”

Two days in, Ben was inclined to agree, but mostly because the autumn rainy season had hung on a few weeks longer than usual. Instead of watching the Prince of Wales blab inanities at various distinguished visitors, he’d been more or less confined to his suite.

Yes, here, even a lowly reporter got a suite. The resort offered nothing less than this: two rooms furnished with enormous leather sofas, a broad palm-leafed bronze ceiling fan, an antique desk, a king-sized four-poster bed carved of mahogany, and any number of accouterments that made Ben feel vaguely like Hemingway. Which was the whole racket, and more fool him for buying into it on any level, but after two days of unceasing rain, his resistance was wearing down.

Thus far, his entire exposure to his subject had been a faraway glimpse at the initial press conference at Jomo Kenyatta. All Ben had been able to tell at that distance was that Prince James wasn’t actually as short as political cartoonists made him out to be. Hardly story material—and circumstances had offered Ben nothing better. With all the planned outdoor activities canceled, apparently the prince was meeting with local dignitaries at private dinners instead. Ben had been peeved until he realized this was an opportunity. Rather than churning out the usual cut-and-paste text about royal appearances, he’d been writing bios of the people who had come to see the prince, summarizing what they thought British royalty could do for them that their own governments couldn’t, and rather neatly (in his opinion) pointing out just how many aspects of society had to be broken for Prince bloody James to be someone’s best hope.

With that mostly done, he could enjoy the luxurious suite. The sound of the rain.

Oh, what the hell, it was midafternoon, and he had nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. Ben could go full Hemingway and enjoy a glass of rum.

He poured a couple fingers’ worth from the lavishly furnished bar and stepped out onto the covered porch, heavy glass tumbler in his hand. From there he ought to have been able to see a few of the other huts in the resort, but silvery sheets of rain made it seem as though the rest of the world were veiled, as if it were there and not there at once. The solitude was both beautiful and lonely.

A breeze blew a shimmer of fine raindrops across his right arm, the side of his face. Ben closed his eyes and relished the coolness against his skin.

There but not there. Alone but not alone.

Then Ben heard splashing—someone dashing through the water in the courtyard, which was apparently deeper than he’d realized. When Ben opened his eyes, he saw a distant, drenched figure holding a broken black umbrella, in water up to his knees. Ben had to laugh, and he shouted, “Get in here before you drown yourself!” The unknown man hesitated one moment before sloshing his way up the steps. Ben called, “I think you need a drink. Hang on, I’ll get you a glass.”

He went inside, wondering if his new guest was one of the other reporters on the royal tour or simply a resort visitor. In either case, he was half mad for some distraction, and any conversation would do. A quick pour—slightly heavier-handed than Ben had been with his own drink, for hospitality’s sake—and then he walked out onto the porch to see the sopping wet Prince of Wales.

“Oh.
Oh
.” Ben straightened. “My apologies, Your, um, Royal Highness.” Was that the right protocol? Ben had been given a comprehensive briefing on this when he took on the assignment, but still couldn’t recall. He’d never given a damn about that stuff.

BOOK: His Royal Secret
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