I placed my hand on the wall, having slipped away in the aftermath of my grandmother’s announcement. This spare room was quiet for the moment, tucked away in a side hallway in the palace. No one had reason to come down this way anymore. Several other wings of the palace were similarly abandoned, lacking occupants as people died or moved on without a next generation to replace them.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to steady myself so I could head back out and face the paparazzi with all the other contenders. With all the others who were just as hopeful, and thought themselves just as well equipped as I was.
Idiots. I’d been dreaming of taking the throne for my entire life. No one was better prepared than me. The public loved me, and I was always in the news, always catching the eye of the citizens. If I were to be crowned king, the media would devour it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as that.
My heart gave a soft pang at the thought of my great grandmother, Charlotte Cobb, the Queen of Denmark. Intermarriage and the subsequent, eventual death of the king had put her on the throne, where she had ruled until she was 100 years old to the day. Her birthday, and the day of her death, were only last week.
That put my grandmother, Delia Cobb, on the throne. Today was her coronation, an explosive and grand affair broadcast all over the world. The entire day had been nothing but one ceremony after another, broken up by transfers from one location to the next.
Prancing horses had pulled an endless number of carriages through the streets of Copenhagen, the enormous animals effortlessly toting along dignitaries, ministers, guests, important news figures, and family. Behind the carriages were grand marching bands, performers, and parade floats.
A man riding an elephant had cast candy into the hands of the waiting crowd, round, crumbling lollipops in the colors of royalty. The clamor had been deafening, prayers and praise mingling and mixing until individual words were the roar of the ocean. I could still hear it now, echoing in my ears, in the back of my mind.
That praise and adoration could be mine, because my grandmother’s first decree as the coronated queen was to announce her abdication.
Have you ever heard a crowd go silent? Thousands upon thousands of people, crushed into the ceremonial space in the garden, stretching on and on across the grounds, on either side of the gates, the road, and still further on, making their chaotic roar, and then they had gone quiet in a spreading ripple from front to back. All that had remained was the sound of breathing, and one of the ministers dropping his pen.
After an entire day of this pompous affair, my grandmother had looked every one of her 82 years. Microphones and cameras and cell phones all strained in her direction as she gave her reasons for her announcement.
They were simple reasons, easy enough to understand.
She was old, and she had no desire to spend her every last second at the head of a country which needed younger leadership and a firmer hand.
I agreed about that. Let the young do as the young will. Let us have our chance to rule the world.
My grandmother stated she would abdicate the throne in honor of the first of her grandchildren to have an heir. “The world needs more fertile rulers in countries like ours,” she had said. “Our footing is questionable and has been for some time. It is time for this to change.”
Suddenly, I heard footsteps echoing down the hallway where I was hiding. I snatched another breath and held it, but it was no good. The footsteps paused outside the door of this very room, and the golden knob turned.
Knowing the knob stuck because of disuse, I threw myself sideways and lodged myself between the frame of a grand, dusty bed and a bookshelf. The shelf wobbled as I bumped it. I grabbed it, trying to get it to steady.
The door to the room opened and a broad, yet bookish man stepped inside. His calculating gaze slid around, scanning as efficiently as a machine. Shaking his head, he started to step back through the doorway when a book dropped off the front of the shelf. A plume of dust rose up from the book and I shrank back, hoping against hope the cloud could protect me from sight.
No luck; the man approached me, still shaking his head. He folded his arms across his chest, staring at me where I was wedged in awkwardly against the bed. “Sir,” he said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is the correct place for you to be right now.”
“How did you know I was here?” I grumbled. I slid past Dickon, my personal assistant, and stood in the middle of the room, where I felt less stupid.
“I followed you,” Dickon said.
“Clearly, but I wasn’t aware anyone was following me. The entire point of me coming here was to avoid being seen.”
Dickon knelt and picked up the dusty book, swiping the dirt off the cover. He placed it back on the shelf. “Sir, it’s my job to know where you are when no one else does.”
I supposed that was true. Dickon was the one who took care of most of the responsibilities I should have been doing myself. Whenever I was off and about, I told him where I was going so he could redirect people away from me.
That was what I told him to do, and it was what he did, because that was his job. It was what I paid him for. What he thought of his duties, I didn’t care, and he didn’t tell me.
“What’s going on out there, Dickon?”
“Well, everyone has begun moving in the direction of the entrance hall. I imagine the guards will be weeding out those with invitations, sending them on their way to the celebration banquet.”
“The press has invitations, don’t they?”
“Of course.” Dickon adjusted his glasses on the brim of his nose. “You will be of particular interest to them. As will Lesandra, I imagine.”
“We’ll all be of interest,” I snorted. “The throne is on the line, Dickon. You understood that part, didn’t you? We are the grandchildren. We are the ones who will take Denmark into a new generation.”
“You want the throne for yourself, of course.”
I glanced over at Dickon, frustrated with him. He never drew conclusions on his own. He always waited for me to confirm for him what he was thinking, and it was annoying as hell sometimes. It was hard to have a real conversation with someone who wouldn’t actually talk to you. “Of course I want the throne!”
“But you have a distinct disadvantage, compared to some of your brothers and sisters. Even your cousins.”
I grunted, turning away from him again to step out into the hallway. I didn’t have a lover right now. I couldn’t see myself going through all the work of finding someone to form a long term relationship with, to try and have a child, only to fail and be stuck with them. I needed to come up with a different sort of plan if I wanted the throne to be mine.
The real problem was, wealth brought out all sorts of clingy freaks who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. A member of royalty couldn’t just go on a blind date, or join a dating website, or pursue any of the other common avenues without everyone and their father coming out of the woodwork for a piece of the prize.
“I can’t have an heir when I’m dead,” I muttered to myself.
Dickon was right behind me, his walk matching mine. I heard chatter in the distance and started to brace myself to face the crowds again. “You’ll need to find a lover,” he said. “It would be best if you found someone you already knew.”
I looked over at Dickon. His eyes glittered from behind his glasses, like he had an idea forming.
I was forming an idea, too.
I hadn’t had a long term lover, someone I trusted, since…
Reid, who had a little girl these days. He did, didn’t he? I could have sworn I’d heard Allison talking about her. Hannah? Hope? Haley? Something like that. Reid was clearly fertile, one of a few who were becoming even fewer and farther between as the years went on.
If he had had one child, he might be willing to make another. If I could reach out to him, he might be willing to agree to … something. I hadn’t quite gotten to that part yet.
But I was getting excited about the idea. It wasn’t uncommon in this day and age for couples to hire a fertile surrogate to make a kid for them. Why couldn’t I do the same?
If Reid’s spouse had a problem with it, I had the money to change their mind.
I realized I’d stopped walking. Dickon stood a few feet in front of me, looking back at me over his shoulder. His eyes were glowing with concern. “Are you okay?”
“I’m more than okay.” I stood up straight. “Dickon, I need you to do something for me immediately.”
“Certainly.” He reached into the pocket of his slacks and pulled out a notebook, produced a pen. He held the pen at the ready, his gaze trained on me.
“I am going to get in contact with Reid Harrison.”
Dickon paused before his pen could touch the paper. “Reid?”
“Don’t you remember Reid?” Dickon had been my assistant for over a decade now. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even old enough to buy alcohol at a bar when he first started working for me.
Dickon turned his head and grunted out an affirmative. I didn’t have time to ask about what was bothering him. My mind was racing, my thoughts racing ahead of me, and I had to keep up with them before they got too far out there.
“I need you to find our lawyers. Speak with our legal counsel. Whoever is available, I don’t care. Have them draw up a surrogate contract. And … and, I will need there to be a clause about carrying out a pretend relationship. Have them write that so it sounds good and legal. And convincing.”
“Let them figure out what the overall cost should be, because of course I will be paying him. And he gets a deposit simply for signing up. That should be more than enough.”
Dickon wrote everything down and shut his notebook, but he didn’t run off as he normally did whenever I gave him a command. I stared at him, raising my eyebrows. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?” Dickon asked, his voice very quiet. “Isn’t he married? Is there no one else you can think of?”
“If this falls through, I’m going to just try again.” I shrugged. No one else was really coming to mind. And besides, this was a race of sorts. I might only get one chance, and this was the best I could do on such short notice. “I’m going to call him right now, in fact. If you pass a servant on your way, have them send around a message that I will be late to the banquet.”
Dickon gave me another odd look before hurrying away, his strides long and purposeful.
I sought out another spare room and slipped inside, and locked the door behind me this time so I wouldn’t be interrupted again. I pulled out my phone, took a deep breath, and dialed his number. It didn’t really occur to me what I would do if he had a new number. I would find him somehow, someway, because I needed him for this.
There was no way he could say no to this offer, not when there was so much money at stake.