Home > American Royals IV

American Royals IV
Author: Katharine McGee





    The sound of a door swinging open, and a sharp intake of breath. “I’m sorry, Your Lordship. I didn’t realize you’d slept in here again.”

    Who was that? Beatrice tried to open her eyes, but her body felt impossibly heavy. She blamed the champagne from last night. She’d only had a couple of glasses, but that was more than she usually drank.

    “Please, call me Teddy.” A steady voice, warm and soothing as honey.

    “Would you like me to call building services and request a cot? Surely you don’t want to keep sleeping on that couch.”

    “I don’t mind, really.” A sigh. “Yesterday I saw her eyebrows twitch. I didn’t want to leave, because what if she woke up and I wasn’t here?”

    “Perhaps Her Majesty was dreaming, sir,” the other voice said gently. “Would you mind if I checked her vitals?”

    There were shuffling sounds, and the cool sensation of fingers on Beatrice’s forearm. “I love you so much, Bee,” someone was telling her. “Please, wake up….”

    “Bee, wake up.” Connor knocked softly at her door. “Your father is looking for you downstairs.”

    Beatrice blinked. Dawn crept at the edges of the heavy curtains, illuminating the cedar bed frame, the stone fireplace in one corner. They were at her family’s mountain house in Telluride.

    She sat up abruptly, hair tumbling around her shoulders, as the past few days crashed over her in vivid detail. She and Connor had been caught in a snowstorm, stranded in a cabin in Montrose—where everything had changed.

    Beatrice creaked open the door, her heart leaping when she saw Connor. “My dad is already up?”

    “He asked if you wanted to go for a walk.” Connor glanced toward the staircase, then leaned over to brush a quick kiss on her lips.

    She forced herself to slip back into her room and dress in warm layers of snow gear. When she emerged, her eyes met Connor’s again, and they exchanged a secret smile.

    The house felt heavy with the drowsy, contented silence that always follows a late night. While the New Year’s Eve party had been at Smuggler’s, a members-only club in town, Beatrice saw the aftermath of the celebrations everywhere—Sam’s platinum bangles scattered on a side table, where she’d drunkenly slid them off her wrist; a row of half-empty champagne flutes, their rims marked with lipstick.

    King George IV was seated at the kitchen table, his hands curled around a mug of coffee. He looked up sheepishly at her arrival.

    “Sorry if this is too early, Bee. I just thought…you’re usually the only person who wakes up when I do.”

    “I was already up,” Beatrice fibbed.

    “Want to go for a walk?” her dad asked, as if they were heading out on their usual morning jog through the capital, rather than facing several feet of fresh snow. But then, he’d never been held up by something as prosaic as weather conditions.

    Outside, Beatrice took a bracing breath, relishing how the cold air felt inside her lungs. Their snowshoes traced soft whispers over the snow.

    “Thanks for coming.” Her dad turned onto one of the on-mountain trails that wound between the trees. “I always love starting the new year outdoors, where I have space to think about everything I’ve accomplished in the previous year, all my victories as well as my mistakes.”

    “You hardly ever make mistakes!” Beatrice protested, immediately defensive on her father’s behalf.

    He smiled at her outrage. “I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong. And as a leader, it’s important to listen to your critics—especially the ones you disagree with the most.”

    “You make it sound so easy.” Beatrice’s heart sank at the thought of all the criticism constantly directed at her—because she wasn’t fashionable like Princess Louise of France, because she held back her emotions, which made her seem aloof and unreadable. Be more like Jeff, those people exclaimed on message boards and late-night talk shows. As if Beatrice could just flip a switch and become her brother, who won everyone over with easygoing charm.

    Sometimes, at her weakest moments, Beatrice wondered whether things would be easier if those people’s wishes had come true. If Jeff had been born first, giving America yet another king instead of its very first queen.

    “Beatrice, look!” Her dad pointed a few yards to the right, where a trail of small footprints disappeared into the trees. “She might still be close by. Let’s keep an eye out.”

    “It could be a he,” Beatrice noted.

    “It could,” George conceded, “but I think it’s a female. Male foxes don’t venture into the cold as much. They aren’t as fierce.” He glanced over, smiling softly. “That’s one of the many reasons you will be a great queen, Beatrice.”

    She shook her head slowly. “I am many things”—intellectual, serious, dedicated—“but fierce isn’t one of them.”

    “Your convictions are fierce, and you will need that. This job isn’t an easy one. You have to be the stabilizing force beneath a rotating carousel of senators and judges, a constant amid the changing times.”

    Beatrice shivered, and not from the cold. “You’re being very philosophical this morning, Dad.”

    Something like regret flitted over her dad’s expression, but it was gone before Beatrice could parse it out. He chuckled. “You’re right, this is too serious a conversation for the morning after a New Year’s party. Speaking of which,” he added, “you and Teddy were enjoying yourselves last night.”

    “Um, right,” Beatrice fumbled to say. “But we haven’t been dating very long.”

    She and Teddy had been going on dates to appease the media—or more accurately, to appease their parents. Beatrice had to admit that she felt relaxed with Teddy. She had come to consider him a friend, and she didn’t exactly have those in spades.

    “I’m not saying you should rush into anything,” her dad agreed. “But I worry about you, Bee. I don’t want you to be lonely in this role.”

    “I’m not lonely! I have you.”

    Her father drew in a breath to reply—but then, behind a distant veil of trees limned in frost, Beatrice saw the flash of a red foxtail.

    “Dad, look!”

    She grabbed instinctively for his forearm. He stilled, his smile echoing her own, as they both watched the fox peer at them with suspicious eyes.

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