Home > Majesty (American Royals #2)

Majesty (American Royals #2)
Author: Katharine McGee

PROLOGUE


   The morning had dawned dreary and gray, with a mist that hung over the streets of the capital. It was, the media correspondents all agreed, appropriate weather for a funeral.

   They stood behind a velvet rope to one side of the palace doors, swapping cigarettes and breath mints, hurriedly checking their lipstick in their phone screens. Then the palace’s main gates swung open to admit the first guests.

   So many of them had come, from every last corner of the world. Emperors and sultans, archdukes and dowager queens, even a cardinal sent by the pope himself. There were members of Congress and aristocrats, from the highest-ranking dukes through the simple life peers—all of them here to honor His Majesty George IV, the late King of America.

   Clad in somber black dresses and dark suits, they filed through the doors and into the massive throne room. There was no other space in the capital that could accommodate three thousand guests.

   A series of rifles fired a military salute over the river, and the funeral procession turned onto the final avenue toward the palace. Silence fell, as dense as the lingering mists. Media crews stood up a bit straighter, cameramen fumbling to adjust their lenses.

   No one spoke as a cluster of figures appeared through the haze: eight young men of the Revere Guard, the elite corps of officers who protected the Crown, providing the Sovereign’s Final Escort. Between them they bore a coffin draped in the red, blue, and gold of the American flag.

       Most of the Guards stared resolutely forward. But one young man—tall, with light brown hair and shadowed blue-gray eyes—kept glancing back over his shoulder. Perhaps he was getting tired. The funeral procession had crisscrossed the streets of the capital all morning. As the crow flies, the distance measured less than two miles, yet the winding route had taken several hours to complete. It had been designed that way on purpose, so that as many citizens as possible might get one last moment with their former king.

   It was still hard to believe that King George was really gone. He had only been fifty when he died, after a sudden and tragic battle with lung cancer.

   A few paces behind the coffin walked twenty-two-year-old Princess Beatrice—no, the people reminded themselves, she was a princess no longer. Upon the death of her father she had become Her Majesty Beatrice Georgina Fredericka Louise, Queen of America. The title would take some getting used to. America had never been ruled by a queen, until now.

   When the procession reached the palace gates, Beatrice dropped into a curtsy before her father’s casket. A chorus of insect-like clicks rose up from the cameras as the photographers hurried to capture the iconic image: of the new, young queen, curtsying for the very last time.

 

 

   Six weeks later

   Beatrice had never heard the palace so silent.

   Normally its halls echoed with noise: butlers giving orders to footmen; tour guides lecturing groups of students; ambassadors or ministers chasing after the Lord Chamberlain, begging for an audience with the king.

   Today everything was still. Dust sheets hung over the furniture, emitting a ghostly glow in the half-light. Even the crowds that usually thronged the main gates had melted away, leaving the palace stranded, an island in a sea of empty sidewalks and trampled grass.

   Behind her, Beatrice heard her mom getting out of the car. Sam and Jeff had elected to stay at the country house another night. When they were younger, the three siblings used to go there together—in a dark SUV, watching movies on its drop-down TV—but Beatrice could no longer ride in the same car as her sister. The monarch and the first in line for the throne weren’t permitted to travel together, for security reasons.

   She’d only made it halfway across the entrance hall when her heel snagged on an antique carpet. She stumbled—and a firm hand reached out to steady her.

   Beatrice looked up into the cool gray eyes of her Revere Guard, Connor Markham.

   “You okay, Bee?”

       She knew she should reprimand him for using her nickname instead of her title, especially in public, where anyone might overhear. But Beatrice couldn’t think properly with Connor’s hand on hers. After all these weeks of distance, the feel of his touch sparked wildly through her veins.

   Voices echoed down the hallway. Connor frowned but took a swift step back, just as two footmen turned the corner, accompanied by a man with grim features and salt-and-pepper hair: Robert Standish, who’d worked as Lord Chamberlain for Beatrice’s father, and now for her.

   He swept a formal bow. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

   Beatrice tried not to flinch at the title. She still wasn’t used to Your Majesty being directed at her.

   The footmen began moving from room to room, whipping away dust sheets and tossing them in a pile. The palace sprang to life as ornate side tables and delicate brass lamps were hurriedly uncovered.

   “I decided to come back early. I just…” Beatrice trailed off before saying I just needed to get away. This past month at Sulgrave, the Washingtons’ country estate, was supposed to have been a getaway. But even surrounded by family, she’d felt alone. And exhausted.

   Each night Beatrice tried to stay awake as long as she could, because once she fell asleep the dreams would come. Horrible, twisted dreams where she had to watch her father die, over and over again, and know that it was her fault.

   She had caused her dad’s death. If she hadn’t shouted at him that night—hadn’t threatened to marry her Revere Guard and renounce her position as queen—then King George might still be alive.

   Beatrice bit back a sigh. She knew better than to let herself think like this. If she did, her mind would sink like a stone, deeper and deeper into a well of grief without ever touching bottom.

       “Your Majesty.” Robert glanced down at the tablet he carried with him at all times. “There are a few things I’d like to discuss. Should we head up to your office?”

   It took a moment for Beatrice to realize that he meant her father’s office. Which belonged to her now.

   “No,” she replied, a little forcefully. She wasn’t ready to face that room—and all the memories trapped inside it. “Why don’t we talk in here?” she added, gesturing to one of the sitting rooms.

   “Very well.” Robert followed her inside and pulled the double doors shut behind them, leaving Connor in the hall.

   As she perched on a striped green sofa, Beatrice darted a glance at the three bay windows that overlooked the front drive. It was a nervous habit she’d picked up after her father’s death: to study the windows of each room she walked into. As if the natural lighting might help her feel slightly less suffocated.

   Or as if she was looking for an escape route.

   “Your Majesty, your schedule for the upcoming week.” Robert held out a sheet of paper, embossed with the royal crest.

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