“Well, I finally faced him, and you know what I realized?” I looked him straight in the eye. Not an iota of anything other than apathy passed through me. “He’s not a monster. He’s a sad, pathetic little man who was too much of a coward to own up to the consequences of his actions, and I wasted decades letting him have more power over my life than he deserved. So no, I don’t and will never want your money, your title, or any form of relationship with you. As far as I’m concerned, my father is dead. He died when he walked away thirty-four years ago.”
Erhall flinched as I, too, stood, my height throwing a shadow over his hunched form. I nodded. “Have a good day, Mr. Speaker.”
Bridget and I made it halfway to the door before he said, “Arranged marriages aren’t only for royals, Mr. Larsen. People have been forced into loveless marriages long before Her Highness was born.”
I paused and looked back, my eyes locking with Erhall’s. I glimpsed another flash of regret, but it wasn’t enough. Not for what he did to Deidre, and not for what he did to me. There was no excuse for how he’d handled the situation.
Instead of responding, I closed the remaining distance to the exit and left him there, sputtering and alone in his cold, oversized office.
Bridget waited until we entered the elevator, away from the prying ears and eyes of Erhall’s assistant, before she spoke. “We should make our rounds on the speech circuit,” she said. “We’d make a killing.”
A laugh rumbled in my throat. A heavy weight had lifted off my chest, allowing my laughter to flow more freely.
“Hard pass for me. I’m not typically a speech kinda guy.”
“You did good in there.” Bridget squeezed my arm, the movement conveying more than any words could, before a glint of mischief lit up her eyes. “I thought Erhall would rupture an artery. Imagine if we’d mentioned Andreas too.”
Andreas had been adamant about never letting Erhall know the truth about him. He had more to lose than any of us if the truth about his parentage came to light, and I had no problem keeping the secret—partly because I respected his choice, and partly because it kept him in line. Even if he didn’t want the crown, he was still on my watch list. Anyone who could possibly threaten Bridget was.
“So. Battle number one won,” I said as the elevator stopped on the ground floor of the Parliament building. “What’s next?”
Bridget’s mischief gave way to determination. “Next, we win the war.”
“Damn right we will.”
I held out my hand, and she took it, her small, soft palm nestling perfectly in my bigger, rougher one.
The doors whooshed open, and we stepped out to a frenzy of camera flashes and reporters shouting questions over each other.
Out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
I’d never expected global recognition, but I meant it when I said I would follow Bridget anywhere—including into the middle of a media firestorm.
You ready, Mr. Larsen?
Born ready, princess.
Bridget and I kept our hands clasped together as we walked through the storm.
One battle down, one war to win.
Good thing I was, and always will be, a soldier for one queen.