Royally matched, p.1
Also by Emma Chase
THE ROYALLY SERIES
THE LEGAL BRIEFS SERIES
THE TANGLED SERIES
It's a Wonderful Tangled Christmas Carol
Holy Frigging Matrimony
Royally Matched, Copyright (c) 2017 by Emma Chase All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
I sliced it.
At least I think that's the correct term. Spliced? Diced? Minced? I'm not sure. I was never a fan of golf. It's too slow. Too quiet. Too bloody boring. I like my sports the way I like to fuck--wild, loud and dirty.
Football is more my game. Or rugby. Full body contact. Polo is all right too.
Hell, at this point, I'd settle for an energetic Quidditch match.
"What was that, Your Highness?" Sir Aloysius inquires.
I pass the club to Miles, my caddie, and turn briskly to face the men responsible for my afternoon of torture.
"I said, balls."
Lord Bellicksbub, pronounced fittingly similarly to Beelzebub, Earl of Pennington, covers his gray beard with his aged hand and coughs, his eyes darting away uncomfortably. Because I'm not supposed to say things like that anymore. It's inappropriate. Crass. Beneath the station of the Crown Prince, heir to the throne of Wessco. Which is the title I'm now saddled with, thanks to my older brother falling in love--the bastard--abdicating the throne, and marrying his wonderful American girl.
In the last year, if I've been told once, I've been told a thousand times--the heir apparent must act properly.
But I've never been very good at doing what I'm told.
It's a problem.
Or a reflex. If they say left, I go right. If they say sit, I jump. If they say behave, I get drunk and spend the weekend screwing all three of the Archbishop's triplet nieces.
They were nice girls. I wonder what they're doing this Friday?
No--I take that back. I'm not wondering that. Because that was the old Henry. The fun, carefree Henry that everyone wanted to be around.
Now I have to be the Henry no one wants to hang around with. Serious. Scholarly. Upstanding, even if it kills me--and it definitely might. Decorum is what my grandmother, the Queen, demands. It's what Parliament--members like Aloysius and Beelzebub--expect. It's what my people need. They're all counting on me. Depending on me. To lead them into the future. To be good.
To be . . . King.
Christ, my stomach rolls every time I think the word. When someone says it aloud I gag. If I'm supposed to be the Great Royal Hope for my country, we're all well and truly fucked.
"Point well made, Prince Henry," Sir Aloysius says. "The brand of balls makes all the difference."
He's full of it. He knows exactly what I meant. But this is how politics is played. With fakery and false smiles and butcher knives to the back.
I hate politicking even more than I hate golf.
But this is my life now.
Aloysius narrows his eyes at his caddie. "We'd best have decent balls on the next outing or I'll personally ensure you never work the links again. Apologize to the Prince for your incompetence."
The young, now pale-faced boy bows low. "I'm terribly sorry, Your Highness."
And my stomach rolls again.
How did Nicholas put up with this for all those years? I used to think he was a drama king. A downer and a whiner.
Now I understand. I've walked a mile in his shoes--and they're filled with shit.
You would think having your arse constantly kissed would be enjoyable, even just a little. But when it's a nest of snakes trying to latch on--offering a rim job with their flicking, forked tongues--it's revolting.
"No worries," I tell the lad, because I have a feeling if I make an issue out of it, Aloysius will take it out on him.
The caddies fall behind as we walk toward the green.
"What are your thoughts on the repatriation legislation, Your Highness?" Beelzebub asks casually.
"Reparti-what?" I reply without thinking.
"Repatriation," Aloysius says. "Allowing corporations that have been sanctioned for frivolous labor violations to bring back overseas funds to Wessco, without penalty. It will allow them to create thousands of working-class jobs. The legislation has been stalled in Parliament for weeks. I'm surprised Her Majesty hasn't mentioned it to you."
She probably did. Along with ten thousand other facts and figures and bits and pieces of legislation, information, and legalities that I need to know yesterday. I'm not an idiot--I can actually be rather brilliant when I feel like it. I always did well in school.
It's just difficult to be interested in things I have no interest in.
At first my grandmother sent me information via emails--memos. But after we crashed the Palace's server, she began having them printed out for me. Probably a whole forest worth of paper is sitting in my room right now, waiting for me.
I may be shit at politicking, but putting on a happy face and covering up my shortcomings is something I'm a master at. Playing the part. Pretending.
I've been doing it my whole life.
"Yes, of course, repatriation. I thought you said repetrification, which I'm just familiarizing myself with, but I believe will be a cause very close to my heart."
At their baffled expressions, I cross my arms, lower my head, and explain solemnly, "Repetrification is the distribution of abandoned pets to the elderly. I'll send you a memo on it."
Lord Bellicksbub nods. "Interesting."
Sir Aloysius agrees. "Indeed."
And that, ladies and gents, is my idea of a hole in one.
Aloysius takes the putter from his caddie and gives it a test swing before approaching his ball. As he sets up he asks me, "And as for repatriation? Does that also sound like a worthy cause to you?"
This time I try to think before I speak. Granny would be so proud.
After a moment, I nod. "More opportunity for the working class is always a positive t
Beelzebub smiles slowly, his yellow teeth glinting in the cool afternoon sun.
"What were you thinking?"
Turns out Granny isn't so proud after all.
She slaps the Sunday Times on her desk, letting the headline do the yelling for her.
CROWN REVERSES STANCE - SUPPORTS CONTROVERSIAL REPATRIATION
From my chair, across from the Queen's mighty desk, I point at the paper. "That's not what I said."
I should have known when I was summoned here that something was wrong. Being called to the Queen's office is not so different from being ordered to see the headmaster--no good ever comes from it.
She scowls down at me, the lines around her mouth sharper and deeper than they were a year ago. I have that effect on people.
"We have lobbied for months to derail this legislation. The only thing preventing a passing vote has been our strenuous disapproval. And now you, in one stroke, have undone all of that work."
My skin feels tight and itchy beneath my suit. I push a hand through my hair, which I've been told is in need of a trim. Which is exactly why it's almost touching my shoulders.
"I didn't undo anything! It was an offhand remark. A conversation."
The Queen braces her hands on the desk, leaning forward. "You are the Crown Prince--you don't have the luxury of 'offhand' remarks. You speak for the House of Pembrook and your every word, action, and breath has the potential to be twisted and regurgitated by whichever side finds it useful. We have discussed this, Henry."
I used to be Granny's favorite. We had a special relationship. She was always amused by my stories and adventures. That went up in smoke the day I was named her successor. She's never amused by me anymore--hell, I don't think she even likes me.
"Did you even bother to read our stance on the subject? I had Christopher send it to you weeks ago."
Christopher is the Queen's private secretary--her lackey. In his off time I suspect he walks around with a gimp ball in his mouth with her photo on it.
"I haven't had the time."
"You haven't made the time."
When excuses fall flat, deflection is always the way to go. "You were the one who insisted I attend that stupid golf outing with Arseholes One and Two."
Her words are clipped and quick--like the rapid fire of a machine gun. "Because I foolishly thought you were familiar with the phrase 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' Silly me."
My nostrils flare. "I didn't ask for any of this!"
To be put in this position. To be weighed down with this crushing responsibility. I never wanted the keys to the kingdom--I was happy with just coming and going through the damn door.
My grandmother straightens and lifts her chin. Unmoved and unwavering.
"No, you weren't my first choice either."
A gut-punch from a seventy-eight-year-old lady shouldn't do much damage. But coming from a woman I actually admire, who's the closest I've had to a mother since I was ten years old? It hurts.
So I react the way I always have. I lean back in my chair, resting my ankle on my opposite knee, a smirk on my lips as far as the eye can see.
"Well, it looks like we're in the same boat, Granny. We should rename the Palace of Wessco--do you prefer the Titanic or the Hindenburg?"
She doesn't flinch or blink and she sure as hell doesn't smile. Her gray eyes are as sharp and glinting as the blade of a guillotine.
And just as lethal.
"You make jokes. If this legislation passes, it will roll back protections for low-wage workers. Exposing them to unfair and possibly dangerous labor practices. Do you think they'll laugh at your jokes then, Henry?"
Damn, she's good. Mother-guilt is effective--but queen-guilt is a whole other level.
My smirk is slapped from my face.
"I'll put out a statement explaining that I was misled by Sir Aloysius and my words were taken out of context."
She shakes her head. "Which will only serve to tell the world that you're a fool who can be easily misled."
"Then I'll put out a statement saying I've reflected on the issue and changed my mind."
"Which will demonstrate that your word cannot be trusted--that your opinions are fluid and you do not mean what you say."
Christ, it's like a Chinese finger trap--the harder you struggle, the stronger it holds. I don't smoke, but I could sure use a cigarette right about now. Or a shot of whiskey.
A pistol might also be the way to go.
"Then what the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Nothing," she hisses. "I will fix this. You will go to Guthrie House and stay there. Do not speak to anyone; do not entertain guests. Just . . . read, Henry. Educate yourself--for all our sakes."
And that is how a queen sends a prince to his room.
She turns around, gazing out the window, her small, wrinkly hands folded tightly behind her back.
I stand and lift my hand toward her, meaning to say . . . something. An apology or a promise to do better. But after a moment it drops back to my side. Because it won't matter--I've already been dismissed.
I walk purposefully through the door of Guthrie House--the historical home of the Heir Apparent and my residence for the last year. Home Prison Home. I take the stairs two at a time to my bedroom. It feels good to have a purpose, a direction, a plan.
And my plan is to drink until I forget my fucking name. All of them.
The pages that cover the walls flutter like birds' wings as I breeze into the room. I wasn't joking when I said my grandmother had sent me a forest's worth of documents. I taped them all around the room so I can read while I dress, fall asleep, first wake up. I have to keep my eyes closed when I rub one out--governmental doctrines are a boner-killer. I'm also secretly hoping to absorb the information through sheer proximity. Hasn't worked so far; osmosis is bullshit.
I shrug out of my navy suit--a constricting, uncomfortable thing. Though I've been told I wear it like a boss, it's not my style. Every time I put it on it feels like I'm sliding into someone else's skin.
I remember when I was five or six, I tried on one of Dad's suits. Mum took a dozen photos, laughing at my adorableness. I wonder if they're in the attic somewhere or, more likely, in the possession of the royal historian who'll publish them after I'm dead. To prove that Prince Henry was a real boy, once upon a time.
I idolized my father. He always seemed so tall to me . . . larger than life. He was wise and sure, there wasn't a job he couldn't do--but he had a playful streak as well. A bit of a rule-breaker. He'd take Nicholas and me to concerts and amusement parks even though it turned the security team's hair gray. He didn't mind if we played rough or dirty. Once he walked out of a meeting with the Prime Minister to join in a snowball fight we were having in the courtyard.
Some days, it feels like I'm still wearing my dad's suit. And no matter how hard I try . . . it'll never fit.
"What do you think you're doing?" my crusty butler Fergus asks, glaring down at the ball of suit on the floor.
I shrug a faded T-shirt over my head and button my favorite jeans. "I'm going to The Goat."
He harrumphs predictably. "The Queen tol' you to stay put."
I have two theories on how Fergus always seems to know the things he does: either he has the whole palace wired for sound and video, which he observes from some secret control room or it's the all-knowing, all-seeing "lazy" eye. One day I may ask him--though he'll probably just call me a cretin for asking.
I step into a worn pair of combat boots. "Exactly. And we both know I'm rubbish at doing what I'm told. Have the car brought around."
IF THE CAPITAL WERE A uni campus, The Horny Goat would be my safe space. My cocoon. My Snuggie--if those came with bottles of alcohol in their pockets.
It's an historical landmark, one of the oldest buildings in the city--with a leaky roof, crooked walls, and perpetually sticky floorboards. Rumor has it, way back in the
What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas--but what happens at The Goat never sees the light of day.
The man responsible for the hush-hush environment is the owner, Evan Macalister--The Goat's been in his family for generations. When I slide onto the bar stool, he's the stout, flannel-shirt-wearing bloke who puts a frothy pint in front of me.
I hold up my palm. "Step aside, Guinness--this is a job for whiskey."
He grabs a bottle from behind the bar, pouring me a shot. "Rough day at the Palace, Your Highness?"
"They're all I seem to have lately." I bring the shot to my lips, tilt my head back, and swallow it down.
Most people drink to dull the senses, to forget. But the burn that singes my throat is a welcome pain. It makes me feel awake. Alive. It gives me focus.
I motion for another.
"Where's Meg tonight?" I ask.
She's Macalister's daughter, and a former late-night rendezvous of my brother's before he met little Olive. I'm not picky when it comes to women, I don't mind seconds and there's nothing sloppy about Meg--but I wouldn't fuck her even if the world were ending. My one rule when it comes to the opposite sex is to not dip my wick anywhere remotely near where my brother's has been.
That's just disgusting.
Still, I'd rather be looking at her pretty face--and arse.
"She's out with the lad she's been seeing. Tristan or Preston or some other girl's blouse name like that." He pours a shot for himself, muttering, "He's a useless bastard."
"Aren't we all?"
He chuckles. "That's what the wife likes to remind me of. Accordin' to her I was hopeless before she got her hands on me."
I raise my glass. "To good women--may they never stop seeing us as we could be, and not what we are."
"Amen." He taps his shot glass to mine and we both drain our glasses.
"I'll drink to that."
This quip comes from a petite brunette who slips onto the stool beside me.
I can practically feel James, my light-haired, stalwart security shadow, watching us from his spot near the door. I'm used to security detail, it's not new, but in the last year it's gotten heavier, tighter--like a noose.
by Emma Chase / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes