The Controversial Princess(5)

By: Jodi Ellen Malpas

“You are a rogue, Uncle Stephan.”

“Pot, kettle, dear niece. Pot, kettle.”

I smile, this one natural. I love Uncle Stephan. He understands me.

I watch as Father makes a big fuss of Eddie, but I can’t be anything less than happy for him. John’s always been the favorite, the faithful, reliable, conscientious one of the King’s children, and the perfect heir to his precious throne. John married who he was told to marry, the wonderfully compliant Helen. Eddie is a backup heir, and I’m a backup for the backup, and one our father has openly expressed he’s relived he’ll never have to depend on.

But whereas Eddie has been kept out of trouble since he joined the Marines, I have had no such distraction from trouble.

“And the birthday girl.” The King moves in on me, his suited body decorated with a sash displaying his many medals of honor.

“Father,” I breathe, ignoring his less-than discreet disapproving look at my attire. I bow a little before he embraces me in a hug. “You are late,” he says quietly in my ear. “And what of this nonsense walkabout?”

I peek across the room, seeing Sir Don, the King’s chief advisor and Lord Chamberlain. He takes his job very seriously, informing the King of … everything. “News sure does travel fast around here,” I say under my breath, noticing Sir Don watching me with predictable disapproval in his eyes. “Maybe, Your Majesty, an impromptu walkabout from yourself every now and then might go down well with the public.”

“Do not test me today, Adeline.”

I brush off the King’s scorn and paint on my smile, ready to face the guests invited to celebrate my thirtieth. It’s all rather marvelous, but I’ve been here for twenty minutes and still haven’t had even a whiff of champagne.

We’re all assembled around my father and mother, in the usual, neat fashion, just inside the opposing French doors that lead to the topiary-filled gardens, where fountains trickle peaceful water at every turn, and the lawns look artfully painted, not a blade of grass out of place. The whole palace is perfect, just like the Royal Family.

Breathing in, I widen my smile and straighten my shoulders as the doors are opened and the crowds, many of whom I will not know, all clap and smile in greeting. Father and Mother both roll their wrists, slowly waving, as we stand at the entrance, a united front, letting everyone here receive the honor of marveling at us for a few minutes.

At the first sign of movement from my father, I break away and swipe a glass of champagne from the closest tray. “Fed up already?” Eddie asks, pulling his green beret off and smoothing down his dark blond hair. I’m the only one of the three of us who inherited our mother’s Spanish looks. John took Father’s fair hair and blue eyes, and Eddie fell somewhere between the King and Queen Consort, his hair dark blond, his eyes hazel.

“It is a farce, really, is it not?” I sip my champagne as I watch our family break off in various directions, being accosted by guests, who are all simply dying to shower the royals with compliments and praise. I laugh to myself. They’re all monarchists, the best of the best when it comes to licking royal arse. There won’t be any anti-royalists here. Oh no. We keep those bastards well away. Though I’m secretly smug that they are not so anti-royal when it comes to me.

I point my champagne across the lawn, where my gay uncle is showing a united front with his wife while chatting to guests. “The King’s brother is as gay as the day is long,” I muse to Eddie. “His marriage is fake and loveless.” Moving my pointed glass to Aunt Victoria and Uncle Phillip, who are laughing and smiling, I rest my weight on my hip. “Aunt Victoria and Uncle Phillip, the wonderful Duke and Duchess of Sussex, can hardly bear to even look at each other, let alone talk. And then there is our wonderful brother, the perfect Prince John and his perfect wife, Princess Helen, who have all the ingredients of being the perfect successors to Father and Mother, except for one thing.”

“What’s that?” Eddie asks, truly interested.

“They have been married for eight years and still no heir.”

Eddie laughs. “Do you think our perfect brother is shooting blanks?”

“Not so perfect,” I muse, motioning a footman over and swapping my empty glass for a full one.

“Impossible. Like every other royal couple, they had fertility tests before they married. Maybe they’re just not compatible.”

“What’s not compatible?” Matilda joins us, and the three of us, the most normal three of the entire family, stand and sip champagne.