Being the queen was like being a princess. Except way, way worse. Beatrice kicked the pinching, pointy-toed heels off her feet and gathered them into a loose hand. The marble tiles were cool under her feet as she walked from her office to the family suites in the capitol building.
Teddy greeted her at the door to their home. After her father died, Beatrice said to hell with the rules (well, some of them), and let Teddy move in even though they weren't married. Teddy's support was too important right now. She gave him a small smile, and said hello to her sister Sam, who was sitting at the kitchen table with an illicit mug of tea. Their family relations were…complicated…by the King's death and Beatrice's quick ascent to the throne.
"We have a walkabout scheduled after dinner, and the tailor is coming this evening to hem your dress for the Coronation Ball," Teddy organized Beatrice's life. He was less of a fiancé than a personal planner. She was so grateful for everything he provided to her, and to Sam. Here, in the very core of their home: away from prying eyes, even away from their security guards, was the only place they could be themselves. Sam snaked an arm around Teddy's waist, and he dropped a gentle kiss against her silky hair.
Beatrice massaged her feet. After spending all day arguing with advisors, meeting with a stubborn congresswoman, and reassuring her constituents that she was able to lead this country--yes, even as a woman-- Beatrice just wanted to soak her feet in a warm bath, eat a bowl of pasta, and fall asleep in Connor's arms. Instead, she plastered a demure smile on her face, and went to change from her tidy pencil skirt and blazer into an evening outfit suitable for meeting the crowds waiting outside.
Since the King's death and funeral nearly two weeks ago, the crowd in Washington had not diminished. Tourists, news broadcasters, lower dukes and duchesses, and royalty chasers would all stay in the city until Beatrice's coronation ball, scheduled for the full moon. The beginning of a new cycle.
A gentle knock on the door let them know it was time. Connor poked his head in the suite. Teddy didn't move away from Sam, he didn't need to, not when it was Connor.
"They're ready for you, Your Highness," he said while Beatrice pulled her shoes back on. Teddy offered her one arm, and Sam stood close on the other side of her. She was flanked by three people who cared about her so much. Beatrice's heart swelled with love and affection as they stepped into the Royal gardens.
Throngs of people shouted their names as soon as they came into view. Teddy gave Beatrice's hand a reassuring little squeeze and kissed her softly on the cheeks. The crowd screamed and camera bulb flashed in rapid succession. Teddy broke off and started working the left side of the crowd while the sisters moved together from the right. Beatrice noticed how much better Sam had gotten at these events. Before, she had always hung to the back, never wanting to shake hands or kiss babies. Beatrice was saddened that it took their father's passing for her to come into this responsibility. She knew--they both knew-- how proud he would be.
From her slightly uphill vantage point, Beatrice could see a movement in the crowd. She craned her neck to get a better view. Connor jogged up behind her,
"Time to go," he yanked sharply on her arm and dragged her away from the crowd. She continued to look behind her, watching as Sam and Teddy likewise got dragged away by Revere Guards, and several others were wrangling their way through the dense and overeager gathering of people.
"What's going on?" Beatrice asked as he pressed his large palm against my head, forcing me to stoop against him. I asked again when he didn't answer, "Connor what happened?" The muscles in his jaw clenched tight. Beatrice struggled to keep up with him as he continued to push me through the palace. Chambermaids stepped to the side as the royal family and their guards charged through. The frantic footsteps echoed through the marble halls until they reached the family suites. Connor seemed to let a little bit of the tightness in his chest fade away. His hands changed from rough and commanding to gentle as the rest of the world faded away. They were in the most secure building in the world, he reminded himself. Bee was safe here.
They collapsed together onto the couch. Teddy & Sam's Revere Guards left them at the door. Teddy pressed his shaky hands together and slumped into an ornately upholstered chair before Sam sank down onto his lap. Beatrice nestled closer into Connor's chest, her fingers running absently along the line of tattoo peeking out from under the collar of his rumpled shirt. The four of them sat in a long silence.
"Someone had a gun," Teddy said once his hands stopped shaking. His eyes were sharp and alert. Connor nodded and squeezed Beatrice a little bit closer. She gasped gently and turned to look at his face. Her hands fluttered lightly over his shoulders, trying to figure out how to comfort him. Her life had never felt dangerous before, even though she reflected that it must have been for her to be assigned a personal security detail. As far as Beatrice was aware, no one had ever tried to hurt her before. Anxiety clenched nauseatingly in her gut. She tried to ground herself in Connor’s touch. He would do anything for her, he would jump in front of a bullet for her. Both because it was his solemn oath to The Crown, and because she knew he loved her that much. I don’t want him to die for me. I wouldn’t be able to live without him, she thought as tears sprung to her eyes. Connor seemed to sense her distress and picked her up from the couch with very little effort. Sam and Teddy murmured quiet goodbyes as Connor brought her to her bedroom.
Beatrice woke up her favorite way: with her cheek on Connor’s chest and his arms wrapped around her body. She carefully extracted herself without waking him and stepped out onto the veranda. The sun was starting to glow deep orange on the eastern horizon, but to the west the moon still had not set. Over the past few days, it had transformed from a half moon to waning crescent, and tomorrow, it wouldn’t be there at all. Coronation. Beatrice inhaled a deep, shuddering breath of cool morning air. This time tomorrow she will have come into her full powers and full responsibilities.
She turned at a rustling sound coming from the bedroom. Connor had gotten out of bed, looking amazingly disheveled, and was hanging in the shadows in case any paparazzi with telephoto lenses we in sight. Connor gathered her into his arms, his mouth hot against her skin, his body hard on hers. She wanted to soak up every minute with him before stepping out into the world and having to spend the rest of the day pretending her eyes just glossed over him like a piece of furniture or an unremarkable painting on the wall. Connor was anything but unremarkable.
“I’ll see you at your coronation,” he promised with a kiss on the back of her hand,
“What are you doing today?” Bea asked as her fingers nimbly buttoned up his white dress shirt,
“Preparing for your coronation, of course. There’s several security matters that I would like to personally attend to,” he pulled her in tight for another lingering kiss before slipping out the door. He almost made it too, before the Queen Mother, Adelaide, swept around the corner on the way to get her daughter prepared for the day’s events.
“Were you alright last night dear?” Adelaide asked as Beatrice stood on the podium while the tailor and his assistance scurried around her, pinning and hemming her dress. After the fright of last night Teddy cancelled the appointment and requested that they come by today. He was slouching on a poof in the corner. Only Beatrice noticed his eyes were on Sam, who was having her hair and nails done, instead of on his fiancé.
“Of course, why do you ask?” Beatrice started to turn towards her mother, but one of the tailor’s assistance beckoned her to stay still, lest she poke the queen with a pin.
“I noticed your guard leaving this morning, and I couldn’t imagine why,” Adelaide’s voice was light, but Beatrice heard the suspicion in her tone. Teddy, thankfully, jumped in,
“I asked Mr. Markham to stay in our suite last night, Your Majesty,” he said, “after that… kerfuffle in the garden several nights ago, I knew I would feel safer if a member of the Revere Guard were nearby.” Adelaide sniffed in agreement but did not push the matter further. Beatrice mouthed thank you to Teddy, who nodded respectfully in silent reply. They just had to make it through this coronation, through the next few days. Then Beatrice would tell her mother everything.
“Are you ready?” Sam asked as they stood with their brother Jefferson to the side of the dais. Beatrice nodded; her throat too tight to form words. A representative from Congress and a judge stood in front of the crowd. A TV camera in the back of the room was broadcasting live to the nation, no, the world. Beatrice smoothed her dress while the opening remarks were made. At the proper moment, the Royal Family made their way onto the dais, Queen Beatrice in front, flanked by the Queen Mother and grandmother, siblings to the rear. Teddy and the Eaton family smiled at her from the first row. Beatrice took a deep breath, placed one hand on the Constitution and held the Royal Scepter in the other, and began reciting the words she knew by heart since the day her father took the same oath.
I do solemnly swear to uphold and protect the Constitution. To protect the people of this great nation….
Beatrice didn’t even remember saying the rest of the words, but then the crowd was on their feet applauding, and Beatrice was ushered into a sitting room to change out of the traditional fur-lined robes and into a gown for the Coronation Ball.
The ballroom was decorated with the American colors of red, blue, and gold hand painted flowers pouring off every surface. Beatrice and Teddy stood at the front of the room and accepting congratulations from every foreign representative, duke, and baron. Sam had run off with someone, and Jefferson was looking distinctly grumpy as he watched Daphne with cold eyes from across the room.
Once every guest had an opportunity to talk to the newly coronated Queen—and several had tried to steal her for longer conversations—Beatrice was ready to sneak back to her suite and curl up for the evening. Instead, Teddy pulled her onto the dancefloor as a slow waltz played. His arms supported her, held her close. To an onlooker they would appear like the young couple in love they were supposed to be. Inside their little bubble, Beatrice knew they felt nothing aside from a fond friendship for one another,
“May I step in?” Jefferson tapped Beatrice on the shoulder as the song wound down. She knew he did it to give Teddy an excuse to dance with Sam, and Beatrice suggested that instead they have a glass of water together. Jefferson and his two left feet were more than happy to oblige.
As a bartender poured them each a glass of wine, Beatrice’s eyes scanned the Revere Guard placed at even intervals along the perimeter of the large oval room. They each wore identical white shirts, black blazers, and black slacks. Tonight, no weapons were on visible display, but Beatrice knew they would each be well armed. Her eyes stopped on one particular guard positioned near the East Entrance,
“Go ask him to dance,” Jefferson prodded between sips of the sweet dessert red wine, “No one would expect him to deny the Queen,”
“No one would expect the Queen to ask her guard for a dance,” Beatrice replied hotly. Jefferson shrugged, but Beatrice’s gaze still lingered. Connor didn’t meet her eyes. He told her once that when he’s surveilling a large room he can’t focus on a single point, but instead must observe everything all at once.
Beatrice spent the rest of the evening on the cool patio, lit by sparkling candlelight. Several ladies fussed over her and made small talk, while the men tried to size her up. See if she could live up to her father’s legacy. Eventually the waiter’s started ushering people to the coat room and deftly swapped champagne to sparkling water for the more inebriated guests. Midnight had come and gone, and soon the ballroom was emptying out.
What the hell, Beatrice thought as she moved towards the east wall, I’m pretty sure my mother knows anyway. She came to a stop in front of Connor Markham,
“Will you have this dance?” she asked demurely. Connor’s lips parted slightly, as though he was seeing her for the first time tonight.
“Bee, we shouldn’t,” he leaned in close. Beatrice had consumed just enough champagne and wine to know that they definitely should. She tugged on his sleeve. He gave in easily under the spell of her touch, guiding them into the center of the dancefloor. The other guard’s glanced at each other before resuming their stoic posts.
When the music began again, Connor pulled Beatrice in close to his chest. He murmured how beautiful she was, then swept her elegantly around the mostly empty ballroom. The Baron of Iroquois was still drinking and dancing with the Duke of Miami, but they didn’t seem likely to notice or care. Beatrice clung to Connor. It was so easy to let him take over, take the lead. She enjoyed surrendering to his strong touch and the deep pools of his eyes. She saw Teddy and Sam mimicking their swirling dance on the other side of the room. The music climbed to a crescendo before fading out, leaving Connor and Beatrice chest to chest, breathing heavily. His fingers were heavy on her waist as he bent down over her. Beatrice pressed her toes into the ground, closing the distance between her. His lips met hers softly, and she heard the stunned gasp from several onlookers. She didn’t care. He didn’t care.
Connor pulled back gently, not relinquishing his hold. Beatrice looked over to see Teddy and Sam locked in a similar embrace. A knot of tension in her chest finally released. Maybe one day soon they would all get to be happy, publicly, with the person they loved.