An hour later,I sat in my grandfather’s office with Elin, Markus, and Nikolai, who’d insisted on joining the emergency meeting. Mikaela had been politely but firmly dismissed. I wasn’t sure where Rhys was, but it would only be a matter of time before he was roped into the conversation.
“Your Highness, you must tell us the truth. It’s the only way we can help you fix this.” Whenever Elin was pissed, her left eye would twitch, and right now, it was twitching hard enough to pop a blood vessel. “Is there any truth to the allegations?”
I’d reached a fork in the road.
I could either lie and drag out the charade, or I could tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
If I did the latter, Rhys would be fired, but he was probably already on the chopping block whether or not the allegations were true. He was too high profile now, and people would gossip regardless. The palace couldn’t afford that kind of distraction.
But if I lied, I could at least buy us some time. Not a lot, but some, and that was better than nothing.
“Bridge, you can trust us,” Nikolai said gently. “We’re here to help you.”
Not really, I wanted to say. You’re here to help the crown and its reputation.
Perhaps that was unfair, but it was true to varying extents. They didn’t care about me, Bridget. They cared about the princess, the crown, and our image.
My grandfather and brother loved me, but when it came down to it, they would choose what was good for the royal family as an institution over what was good for me.
I didn’t fault them for it. It was what they had to do, but it meant I couldn’t trust them with my best interests.
The only person who had ever seen me and put me first was Rhys.
I looked around the room. There was my grandfather, whose expression remained neutral even as anger and worry flickered in his eyes. Markus, tight-faced and tight-lipped, who was no doubt fantasizing about wringing my neck. Elin, who for once wasn’t looking at her phone but was instead staring at me with bated breath. And finally, Nikolai, by far the most sympathetic of the bunch, though wariness creased his brow.
Then I thought about Rhys. His rough hands and rough voice, and the way he held me. Kissed me. Looked at me, like he never wanted to blink.
Baby, we’re way beyond like.
I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and took a fork in the road.
“The allegations are true,” I said. “All of them.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath all around. Markus pinched his temple while Elin flew into action, her fingers moving over her phone fast enough to start a Category Four hurricane.
Disappointment carved deep grooves into Edvard’s face. “Mr. Larsen’s employment is terminated, effective immediately,” he said, his tone sharper than I’d ever heard it. “You will end the relationship and never see or speak to him again.”
He spoke not as my grandfather, but as my king.
My nails dug into my thighs. “No.”
Another sharp intake of breath from everyone present.
Edvard straightened, the remaining neutrality in his face giving way to anger. I’d never disobeyed him, not when it came to the big things. I loved and respected him, and I hated disappointing him.
But I was sick and tired of other people dictating how I should live and who I should be with. While I would never have the freedom of a normal person, one who hadn’t been born into this life, I had to draw the line somewhere. How was I supposed to rule a country if I couldn’t even rule my own life?
“I can’t stop you from firing Rhys,” I said. “But I’m not ending my relationship with him.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” It was the first time I’d ever heard Markus curse. “Your Highness, he is—was—your bodyguard. He is a commoner. You are first in line to the throne, and the law dictates—”
“I know what the law dictates. I have a plan.”
Well, half a plan, but if I rounded up, it was a full plan. I knew what I needed to do, I just needed to figure out how to do it. There were a handful of ministers I was certain would support a repeal of the Royal Marriages Law, but the others needed overwhelming public support for political cover.
However, if I brought up the issue now, with the allegations floating around, I might as well wave a sign screaming It’s true! I’m in a relationship with my bodyguard!
Edvard’s face reddened while Markus glared at me.
“How?” My grandfather’s adviser looked like he wanted to chuck one of the thousand-page law tomes lining the walls at me. “If you think Parliament will overturn the law, trust me, they won’t. We went over this with Prince Nikolai. For them to even consider it, the Speaker has to introduce the motion, and Lord Erhall has made it very clear he would never do so.”
“Elections are coming up,” I said. “If I could—”
A loud thud interrupted me.
For a second, I thought Markus had finally cracked and thrown something in his anger. Then I heard Nikolai’s alarmed shout and realized, with ice-cold horror, that the sound wasn’t of something hitting the ground.
It was of someone—my grandfather, who had collapsed out of his chair and onto the floor.