Twisted Games (Twisted 2) - Page 109

Hours later,I was still in my office when my grandfather showed up.

“Bridget, I’d like to speak with you.”

I looked up from my pile of citizen letters, my eyes bleary. I’d been working since my meeting with Elin and Steffan, and I’d dismissed Booth long ago.

Work was the only thing keeping me going, but I hadn’t realized how late it’d gotten. The late afternoon sun slanted through the windows and cast long shadows on the floor, and my stomach rumbled with anger. I hadn’t eaten since my yogurt and apple—I checked the clock—seven hours ago.

Edvard stood in the doorway, his face tired but his color markedly better than it had been a few days ago.

“Grandfather!” I jumped out of my seat. “You shouldn’t be up so late.”

“It’s not even dinnertime yet,” he grumbled, walking in and sitting across from me.

“The doctors said you need rest.”

“Yes, and I’ve had enough the past two weeks to last me a lifetime.” His chin jutted out at a stubborn angle, and I sighed. There was no arguing with him when he was like this.

If there was one thing Edvard hated, it was idle hands. He’d cut back on work as the doctors had instructed, but since his duties as king had prevented him from picking up any hobbies over the years, he was going out of his mind with boredom—a fact he never failed to mention whenever he saw me or Nikolai.

“Citizen Letters program?” He examined the documents on my desk.

“Yes, I’m finishing up this week’s batch.” I didn’t mention the backlog of emails in the official inbox. Even with two assistants helping me, we were swamped. It turned out the citizens of Eldorra had a lot to say.

I was over the moon about the program’s success, but we needed to hire more staff soon. Professionalize it instead of treating it as a side project.

“There are a few items I’d like to bring up at the next Speaker’s meeting,” I said. “I imagine Erhall will be thrilled.”

“Erhall hasn’t been thrilled since he was first elected Speaker ten years ago.” Edvard steepled his fingers beneath his chin and studied me. “You’re doing well. Holding your ground, even when he tries to undermine you. You’ve really come into your own these past few months.”

I swallowed hard. “Thank you. But I’m no you.”

“Of course not, but you shouldn’t try to be. None of us should strive to be anyone except ourselves, and you are no less than me or anyone else.” Edvard’s expression gentled. “I know it’s overwhelming, the prospect of becoming queen. Did you know, I was a wreck for months before my coronation?”

“Really?” I couldn’t imagine my proud, regal grandfather being nervous about anything.

“Yes.” He chuckled. “The night before the ceremony, I threw up in the Dowager Queen’s favorite potted plant. You should’ve heard her scream when she discovered the, ah, gift I left.”

A small laugh bubbled in my throat at the mental image his words created. My great-grandmother had died before I was born, but I’d heard she’d been a force to be reckoned with.

“The point is, it’s normal to feel that way, but I have faith in you.” Edvard tapped the royal seal on my desk. “Your coronation is coming sooner than any of us expected, but you will be a good queen. I don’t doubt that for a second.”

“I haven’t even finished my training,” I said. “Nik trained all his life to take over, and I’ve only been at it for a few months. What if I mess things up?”

Cold inched down my spine, and I pressed my hand against my knee again to keep it from bouncing.

“No one expects you to be perfect, even if it may seem that way,” Edvard said. “I admit, there’s less leeway for a king or queen to make mistakes, but you can make them, as long as you learn from them. Being a leader is not about technical knowledge. It is about you, as a person. Your compassion, your strength, your empathy. You have all that in spades. Besides…” His eyes crinkled into a smile. “There’s no better way to learn than on the job.”

“With millions of people watching.”

“It’s a job for those who thrive under pressure,” he acknowledged.

My laugh sounded rusty after a week of non-use.

“Do you really think I can do it?” Uncertainty gnawed at me, and I tried not to think of what my mother would’ve done in my place. How much more gracefully she would’ve handled all this.

“I know it. You’re already taking charge in the Speaker’s meetings, going head-to-head with Erhall, and the people love you.” Edvard radiated such confidence it reminded me of Rhys, who had never once doubted my ability to do anything.

You don’t need a crown to be queen, princess.

God, I missed him. More than I thought I could ever miss someone.

“I’m always here if you want to talk about anything pertaining to the Crown, but that’s not why I came today.” Edvard examined me, his eyes incisive despite his recent hospitalization. “I want to talk about you, Bridget. Not the princess.”

Wariness crept into my veins. “What about me?”

“You are deeply unhappy, my dear. You have been since I left the hospital.” A wry smile quirked his lips. “For my own sake, I’ll assume it’s not because you’re devastated I made it out alive. But it just so happens the time frame coincides with a certain upcoming proposal and the departure of a certain bodyguard.”

The desk blurred before I blinked and my vision cleared. “I’m fine. You were right. It was time to end things, and Steffan would make a fine consort.”

“Don’t lie to me.” Edvard’s voice deepened with regal authority, and I flinched. “You are my granddaughter. I know when you are lying, and I know when you’re miserable. Right now, you’re both.”

I wisely chose not to reply.

“I was—and still am—quite upset about your relationship with Mr. Larsen. It was reckless, and the press is still having a field day over it. But…” He heaved a sigh, filled with sadness and sympathy. “You are, first and foremost, my granddaughter. I want you to be happy above all else. I thought what you had was a casual affair but judging by the way you’ve been walking around like a heartbroken zombie, I assume that wasn’t the case.”

I pinched myself beneath the desk to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The sharp sting confirmed the phrase “heartbroken zombie” really had left my grandfather’s mouth.

But as out of character as the phrase was, he wasn’t wrong.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, echoing Steffan’s sentiment earlier that day. “It’s too late. I was trying to repeal the Royal Marriages Law before it became an issue, but there’s not enough time.”

“Nine months, if I remember correctly.”

“Three weeks till the proposal,” I pointed out.

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