The Royal We

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan



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To Brettne, a queen among women





Prologue



I don’t know what to do.

The calls and texts are starting to pile up, relentless and suffocating. I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t give him what he wants, and I’m afraid of what will happen if I do. The TV isn’t soothing my nerves, given that global hysteria over my impending wedding is the lead story on every channel. I can’t lose myself in a book, because the only ones in my hotel room are dusty old historical tomes, and there are few things less reassuring right now than reading up on the spotty fidelity (and sobriety) of Nick’s ancestors. And my sister is of no comfort to me. Not anymore. I’m officially in this alone. With every jolt of my cell phone, I feel more and more like the proverbial chaos theory butterfly from high school science—the one that flutters its wings in one place and causes a tsunami somewhere else. I always felt bad for that butterfly, being blamed for a meteorological mess just for doing what nature ingrains in it to do. Now I want to step on the damn thing for flapping around like a fool. Because I am that butterfly. That is, assuming I’m not the tsunami.

If only I were home, so I could freak out on familiar territory. But instead I’m stuck at The Goring in ritzy Belgravia, or Bexingham Palace, as the press calls it. Her Majesty has never met a space nor a situation on which she didn’t impose her will, so Queen Eleanor’s army of decorators dropped six figures to renovate the penthouse into bridal headquarters, evicting all The Goring’s furnishings—although they thoughtfully left the life-size portrait of Queen Victoria I that sits, unnervingly, right inside the shower behind thick safety glass—and replacing them with priceless accent tables and figurines, ornate and uncomfortable sofas, landscape portraits pretending to be out for cleaning from the National Gallery, and a grand piano littered with portraits of the Lyons ancestors who will become my family tomorrow. It is a parade of mustache wax and sadness, only mildly mitigated by the official photo of Nick and me. I love that picture, which is lucky, because it’s for sale the world over on thimbles, wastebaskets, tea towels, paper dolls, condom boxes, and—my favorite—actual condoms. If she were cheekier, Her Majesty would have put those items on the piano. As it stands, I’ve never heard any of the senior royals even say the word condom, although I suspect Eleanor would pronounce it like my own grandmother did: as if it’s the nickname of the local cad who scandalizes all the gossips in the retirement village. (“Did you see Con Dom at the grocery store? He was buying six boxes of wine and a frozen burrito. What does it mean?”)

Suddenly, from across the room, a red beaded frame in the collection catches my eye. I could swear it wasn’t there yesterday, and when I move closer, the sight of the photo inside gives me the chills. The press would salivate over it, which is precisely why I thought it was locked away in Mom’s wall safe, behind a yard-sale portrait of a rich-looking lady whom she pretends is a distant moneyed aunt from the continent. In the picture, which Dad took on a family trip to Disney World, Lacey and I are eight. She is clutching Cinderella’s hand with the same urgent glee you see in people waiting to hear if they’re about to come on down on The Price Is Right, and wears a poufy pink gown and a tiara on her golden ringlets. I am a careful half step away, in shorts and Tevas, attempting a smile that fails to conceal my boredom. My dreams back then were to swim the individual medley at the Olympics, or play Major League Baseball; the Disney version of happily ever after didn’t impress me, and you can see that all over my face, as clear as the adoration in Lacey’s eyes. It is the perfect photo of mismatched twins, but beyond that, it’s deeply ironic given who Lacey and I have become, which is exactly why I asked Mom to hide it. I look like I hate Cinderella, yet now, to the world, I am Cinderella. The headline writes itself, and so does the karmic warning: Be careful what you pointedly don’t wish for, because one day you might find yourself getting armpit Botox to avoid headlines like THE DUCHESS OF SWEATSHIRE. Dragging this photo out reeks of Lacey, and ordinarily, I’d have assumed she did it for a laugh. But today it feels like a threat. When my phone vibrates again, I half expect it to be her.

It’s not.

YOU CAN’T PRETEND NOTHING HAPPENED.



That much is abundantly clear. I just wish I had more time to think. Tomorrow morning, I am supposed to walk Westminster Abbey’s three-hundred-foot aisle, wearing the biggest skirt of my life—the gown has its own room at The Goring—and pledge myself for eternity to Prince Nicholas of Wales, a king-in-waiting. I cannot tremble. I cannot twitch, even if Gaz weeps that high-pitched wail of his. I cannot disappoint, I cannot bend, I cannot break, because two billion people will be watching (one of whom might even be that tired, retired Cinderella, who hopefully won’t recognize the kid who once regarded her with so much skepticism). So, no, I can’t pretend nothing happened. But if I acknowledge it out loud…

My phone lights up and I jump so violently that I almost drop it.

“Morning, love,” my mother says, in the England-via-Iowa accent she’s adopted. The press has nicknamed her Fancy Nancy. “I’m actually looking for Lacey. Is she there?”

I snort.

“Bex, no swining,” Mom says, parroting a pun of Dad’s.

“The Daily Mail says she got a spray tan for three hours yesterday. Wherever she is, I’m sure she’s happy. And orange.”

“Cut it out, Rebecca.” That was a hundred percent American. My mother’s faux accent always disappears when she’s irritated. “You’re getting married tomorrow. Do your twin thing and apologize and fix it.”

Irritation strains my voice. “I can’t apologize if I wasn’t wrong.”

And I wasn’t, not about that. I’m squarely in the wrong now—Mom has no idea—but then again, so is Lacey, and I can’t always be the one to lay down my sword to keep the peace. Especially not when I’m under attack.

I hear a fumbling at the suite’s front door. “Mom, I have to go. The Bex Brigade is here.”

Within seconds the room is swarmed by stylists, seamstresses, security officers, and all manner of other Lyons operatives. I shove the blackmail-worthy photo deep behind a seat cushion. Out of sight, out of mind.

“Cheers, Bex, you look like microwaved shite,” chirps my personal secretary, Cilla.

“I’m just overtired.” It’s technically not a lie. “Actually, is it okay if I take a few more minutes?”

Cilla cocks an eyebrow, then nods briskly and hands me my usual stack of newspapers and tabloids. I excuse myself to my bedroom and fan them out on the paisley comforter. I’m everywhere. The Guardian’s front-page piece, GREAT BEXPECTATIONS, is about international wedding fever. WE’RE SO BEXCITED!, screeches The Sun, before handicapping what I’ll wear down the aisle. HALF HUMAN HALF CHEESE WHEEL BORN TO LEICESTER COUPLE: Mother Weeps, “I Always Knew We’d Brie Blessed,” claims the Daily Star, dwarfing a blurb about whether I’d forced Nick to get hair plugs. The goofy photo they picked to illustrate this makes me smile. I haven’t slept beside Nick all week, and I miss him—his bedhead, the snores that could dwarf a thunderstorm, the way he can’t fall asleep unless we are touching. I even miss that he always burns the first waffle he toasts. I fell in love with a person, not a prince; the rest is just circumstance.

The problem is, it can be hard to remember that. Which is how I got myself into trouble.

A text comes through: TIME IS RUNNING OUT.

With a thump Lacey bursts into my room, atypically ashen considering how much money she spends never to be that color. I am so startled to see her that I can only blink as she slams the door and leans breathlessly against it. She feels so far away from me even though she’s standing right here.

“I did something,” Lacey begins, not quite making eye contact.

So did I, but of course she already knows that. Once upon a time, I would ask for her help, us against the world. Now, it’s her against me, and the world probably will pick her side.

I might be Cinderella today, but I dread who they’ll think I am tomorrow. I guess it depends on what I do next.





    Part One





Autumn 2007



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