AFTER MY NIGHT WITH RHYS, I KICKED MY PLAN INTO HIGH gear and prayed it worked. I didn’t feel too bad about pressuring Erhall, but it wasn’t smart to alienate all of Parliament. I didn’t believe in ruling through fear. That was how I found myself standing in front of three dozen journalists on Sunday, three days after my rendezvous with Rhys. We were gathered on the palace’s north lawn, and behind the press gaggle, spectators pressed against metal barricades, eager for an in-person glimpse of a royal. My friends had left that morning. I’d filled them in on my plans, but I’d waited until they were on the plane back to the U.S. before holding the press conference. I didn’t want them to have to deal with the craziness that was about to ensue. They hadn’t been happy—they’d wanted to be here for moral support, but this was something I had to do on my own. “Good afternoon.” My voice echoed across the grounds, and the noise quieted. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. I realize it’s a Sunday, and there are likely other places you’d rather be right now, like brunch or your bed”—a small ripple of startled laughter. They weren’t used to members of the royal family speaking so informally—“so I appreciate your attendance. But before I take questions, I would like to say a few words about why I brought you here.” I looked around at the expectant faces staring back at me. Thump. Thump. Thump. Despite my pounding heart, I was strangely calm. It was like I’d expended so much energy
worrying about it beforehand I had none left for the moment itself. Rhys was right. This was a huge risk, and Elin nearly had a coronary when she found out about the last-minute press conference, but I was done playing it safe. If I wanted something, I had to fight for it, even if meant the possibility of crashing and burning in front of the entire world. If I wasn’t brave enough to stand up for what I wanted, I had no hope of standing up for what the people needed. “I am a proud citizen of Eldorra. I love this country and the people in it, and I’m honored to serve as your princess. I also hope that when the time comes, I will be a queen you can be proud of.” Breathe. You can do this. “However, I’m aware there have been concerns about my desire and suitability to serve since I became crown princess. Those concerns haven’t been entirely unfounded.” A wave of murmurs greeted my statement, but I pushed forward. “I think I can speak for everyone here when I say none of us could have predicted the events that have led me to where I am today—nine months out from my coronation as the queen of this great country.” I took a deep breath. “When I first found out about my brother Prince Nikolai’s plans for abdication, I was scared. Scared of taking on a role I’d never expected to have, scared I wouldn’t live up to the title and fail my family, my country. But fear is no reason to stay still, and thankfully, I have a wonderful team to guide me through the intricacies required of such an important role. Earlier this year, I spent three weeks earlier traveling around the country, meeting and getting to know citizens just like you. How they lived, what concerns kept them up at night…” I continued my speech, talking about not only the tour but the Citizen Letters program and the agenda items I brought before Parliament before I hit the most important part of my speech. “I’ve come to realize being queen is not just about representing the country as it is. It’s about moving the nation
forward and keeping the traditions that make Eldorra such a unique, wonderful place while shedding the ones that hold it back. That is true of the reforms I’ve helped push through Parliament. It is also true of traditions binding the Crown to outdated norms and expectations…such as the Royal Marriages Law. Which brings me to my next point.” More murmurs, louder this time. I took another, deeper breath. Here we go. “As you may know, information came to light last month about an alleged relationship between myself and my former bodyguard, Rhys Larsen. Those allegations were officially denied. But I am here today to tell you they are true.” The murmurs exploded into a roar. The reporters jumped from their seats, shouting and thrusting their microphones at me. Behind them, the crowd went wild. Camera flashes. Shouts. A million phones raised in the air, aimed at me. My heart rate slowed and roared in my ears. I tried not to picture Elin’s or my family’s reactions. They must be freaking out. I’d refused to tell them what I would say beforehand, and I’d insisted they stay in the palace for the event. Today was all on me. I raised my voice to speak above the din. “I am also here today to tell you I am still in a relationship with Mr. Larsen.” Pandemonium. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think, but my speech was over. It was time to turn it over to the reporters—one in particular. “Yes.” I gestured at Jas, the reporter from The Daily Tea. “Your Highness.” The crowd quieted to hear her question. “What about the Royal Marriages Law? You will be crowned as queen in less than nine months, and the law requires you to
marry someone of noble birth before the ceremony,” Jas said, just as we’d agreed upon. It was amazing what the promise of the first exclusive interview with the Queen of Eldorra could accomplish. I smiled. “Thank you, Jas. You bring up a good point. But while the Royal Marriages Law requires the monarch to marry a noble, it does not require them to be married before the coronation. That being said, I believe it is time we rethink the law. It was created in the eighteenth century, when Eldorra needed the alliances secured through royal marriage to survive as a nation, but it is no longer the eighteenth century. Europe is no longer at war. And I believe it is long past time to repeal the Royal Marriages Law.” “You would need the Speaker to bring the motion to the floor and at least three-fourths of Parliament to pass a repeal,” Jas said, right on cue. “This issue came up during the abdication of former Crown Prince Nikolai. There weren’t enough votes.” “That is true.” I paused, forcing the crowd to wait for what I had to say next. Keep them in suspense. Elin’s voice echoed in my head. We didn’t agree on everything, but she knew what she was doing when it came to the press. “What happened with my brother was a tragedy. He would’ve made a wonderful king, but he had to choose between love and country, and he chose love. I think that’s something all of us can relate to. While we, as a royal family, strive to represent the country and serve the citizens of Eldorra the best we can, we are also human. We love, and we grieve…” My voice caught as my parents’ faces flashed through my mind. “And sometimes, we have to make impossible decisions. But neither my brother nor anyone standing here should have to make that choice. Whether or not the monarch marries a noble has no bearing on their ability to serve. The Royal Marriages Law is a relic from a time that no longer exists, and I appeal to Parliament to reconsider their stance on the issue.” That was what my words said, but my real appeal—the whole point of my speech—was directed to the public. Address their concerns about me from the start, connect with
them emotionally via my confession about being scared to take on my role, remind them of the good I’d done and my experience with Parliament, and explain the logic of why the law needed to be repealed. Ethos and logos. I’d meant every word, but I’d also spent hours strategically crafting the speech. If I wanted to succeed as queen, I needed not only to play the game but dominate it, and public opinion meant everything when I had no real political power. Of course, there was one important part of the press conference left. Pathos. “You keep mentioning the choice between love and country,” Jas said. “Does that mean you are in love with Mr. Larsen?” The crowd held its breath. The entire country, it seemed, held its breath. In the distance, a car honked, and a bird swooped overhead, its wings flapping against the clear blue sky. Neither disturbed the heavy hush blanketing the lawn. I waited for one beat. Two. Then, with a small smile, I said, “Yes. I am. That is all. Thank you to everyone for coming today.” I left the podium to a frenzy of shouts and cheers. My legs shook, and my heart thundered as I walked to the back of the palace. I did it. I couldn’t believe it. But I couldn’t celebrate just yet. I had one thing left on my to-do list. I stepped into the marble-floored breezeway by the palace’s side entrance. Rhys waited in the shadows of the columns, his gray eyes burning with a molten flame. “You did good, princess.” I stepped into his embrace, my pulse hammering in my throat. “It’s not over yet.” I wrapped my arms around his neck
and whispered, “Kiss me like the world’s watching.” His slow smile dripped through me like rich, smooth honey. “Gladly, Your Highness.” Rhys’s mouth descended on mine, and I heard the soft, telltale click of a camera shutter from the nearby bushes. “Think they got it?” His lips brushed against mine as he spoke. “Definitely.” He grinned and kissed me again. Deeper this time, more insistent, and I pressed against him, letting his touch and taste sweep me away. The first kiss was for the world. This one was for us.

Leave a Reply