CHAPTER SIX

Yourstone stared through the car’s tinted windows and admired St. James. The quarter was once the haunt of London’s bachelors, and there still remained an air of quality to its regal surroundings. The plush private clubs that currently filled the brick buildings, descendants of 18th-century coffeehouses, were famous. Boodles. Brooks’. White’s. The Carlton. The Oxford and Cambridge Club. Membership commanded high price tags and deep lineages.

Eleanor sat beside him.

The call had come to his town house just after Cotton Malone left. The Prince of Wales wanted to speak with both his sister and Yourstone. Richard had sounded his usual distraught self. Eleanor told her brother that they would come immediately.

Yourstone knew what the buffoon wanted.

A sympathetic ear.

But he also knew what he wanted. And time was running out.

So this opportunity had to be maximized.

The car stopped at a gated entrance. The red-brick edifice of St. James’ Palace had been a wedding present from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. In the centuries since it had served as the perennial home of the heir to the throne.

They were allowed inside, and the limousine parked in a courtyard beneath a brick porte cochere. They stepped out into a balmy afternoon and entered the palace, making their way to a closed door on the third floor.

Richard was waiting alone.

Where Eleanor was blond and fair-skinned, her brother was dark-haired and olive-hued. They looked little alike, which had sparked speculation that he was the product of some illicit affair early in Victoria’s marriage. But anyone who even remotely knew Victoria Saxe-Coburg realized that would have been impossible. The queen was absolutely devoted to her husband. Richard had simply been bestowed with far more of his father’s Scottish blood than his mother’s German lineage. Photographs of a paternal grandfather bore a striking resemblance. His handsome face was blessed with features that had become easy to caricature. The Roman nose was the cartoonist’s favorite victim, though his wavy hair and deep-set brown eyes were inevitably overplayed in what seemed a nearly daily ritual of ridicule.

Richard wore one of the snug-fitting, double-breasted suits he’d long popularized. His shirt was a soft shade of pink, the tie red-and-black-striped. A colorful handkerchief puffed from his jacket pocket. He stood in a bay window staring into the room. Eleanor closed the door behind them and stepped toward her brother.

“What is the rush about?” she asked.

“Have you seen the afternoon Globe?”

“I don’t read that titillator.”

“There, on the table. Have a glance.”

Eleanor grabbed the newspaper.

The front page blared a bold headline: IS SHE THE NEXT LADY OF THE PALACE? The color photograph was of Lady Bryce open-mouth kissing the Prince of Wales, while a car waited with its door open. The lens was apparently long-range as the photo was blurry. Lady Bryce was wearing an obscenely short skirt, and Richard’s hand was firmly planted on her shapely ass.

Yourstone had already read the story. Yesterday. After it had been written. He was always provided a preview.

“I’m about at the end of my tether,” Richard said.

“You’re just now coming to that conclusion?” Eleanor said. “Dickie, you stay in the papers. One woman after another. One mistake after another.”

“I want my own life.”

“To do what?”

“What I please.”

There was the defiance Yourstone knew so well. So he twisted the knife. “So you can convert to Catholicism?”

Richard faced him. “Actually, I have a great fondness for that religion. There is no reason for our alienation from Rome.” The prince sighed, his usual signal of resignation. “Why must I be tormented? What purpose is served from that?”

Yourstone seized the moment. “You are a married man and heir to the throne. What you do contrary to both is relevant to the nation.”

“My wife is batty. She sits under pyramids all day and studies the stars. The people cannot expect me to be happy with her.”

From the monotone he wondered if Richard had taken more antidepressants. The royal doctors had told him to stop.

“She is still your wife,” Yourstone said. “The Princess of Wales. The one you chose to marry, to be the mother of your son.”

“Good God, man. You of all people know that Mother and Father had more to do with that choice than I.”

“I don’t recall you publicly voicing any reservations. Your wife is an extremely beautiful woman. You were quite taken with her.”

“I had no idea she was a nutter.”

Eleanor tossed the newspaper on the table. “Richard, why do you continue to think you can do as you please? At a minimum, why can’t you at least be discreet?”

“I do not invite the press to know my business. But I also don’t intend to lurk about.”

The declaration carried a firm resolution.

“Then you’ll continue to sail close to the wind, and you mustn’t grumble when the boom slaps you into the water.”

Richard stepped away from Eleanor, toward the windows, walking with the same perfect posture all royals were taught. His jacket was buttoned, his hands intertwined behind his back. He thrust his chest forward and shook his head as he paced. It was moments like these that reminded Yourstone of their hapless grandfather, who’d similarly stalked about.

“Why not you, Ellie? It should have been you, not me.”

“Unfortunately, dear brother, the law says a male inherits the throne, as long as there is one. We have two, so I’ll not be meeting the archbishop for a crown anytime soon.”

“It should have been you, not me. I have no desire to be king. I do it simply because it is expected of me.”

“No one is forcing you to the throne,” Yourstone said. “Your grandfather almost chose abdication.”

Richard smiled. “But duty came first, as they say.”

This was the moment. So he pressed. “Your grandfather was inept. The people hated him. He did not want to be king, and ultimately proved how unqualified he truly was. History has not been kind to him. Do you want the same legacy?”

“I want simply to lead my life as I see fit.”

“Then abdicate, in favor of Albert, and live your life as you see fit.”

But he knew what that decision would mean. Gone were the days when obscure royals were funded off the civil list with outrageous yearly stipends. Once Richard gave up his claim to the throne, Victoria would have no choice but to slash the prince’s yearly payment, if not wholly eliminate it. And there was simply no way Richard Saxe-Coburg could earn a living on his own. He was so disliked that no one would step forward to help.

Except one.

“I have told you before,” Yourstone said. “I will personally ensure that you are financially cared for. Do not allow money to govern your decision.”

Richard stared at them with eyes that conveyed confusion in the clearest of terms. He wondered what it was like to be so dependent on others for emotional support. Eleanor was the opposite. Her strength seemed to come from within.

“I shall not allow money ever to govern me,” Richard said, his voice nearly a whisper. “But, Lord Yourstone, I appreciate your assurances.”

The prince looked away, and he caught Eleanor glancing down at her tight belly. Was there now a child there? The male Yourstone heir who would galvanize the nation and restore the credibility of the monarchy? After, of course, her own reign was completed.

Eleanor motioned to the newspaper. “Richard, don’t you see the harm that is being done to the monarchy? Do you enjoy being ridiculed?”

Richard shrugged. “I will always be the Prince of Wales, no matter what I say or do.”

Sadly, the fool actually believed what he’d just said. Spineless, selfish, stubborn, and stupid were just a few of the adjectives routinely applied, along with the label Prince of Wails because of his constant whining.

“What if Albert had never been born?” Yourstone asked. “What if your wife had been barren? Would you still want to be king?”

Richard seemed to consider the inquiry with earnest. “I would not. But that is not the case. And I cannot allow the press to drive me from my birthright. That much I do owe our family.”

“Your son is nearing twenty-two. He’s capable of inheriting the throne. Why not allow him?”

“You make it sound like that prospect would please you.”

Yourstone shook his head. “You’re the one talking about being so unhappy. I’m merely offering you a logical, legal way to resolve your conflict.”

“I know. I didn’t mean to offend. It’s just that I really do not care to be known as a king who abdicated his throne.”

Eleanor stepped close to her brother. “Richard, you are a desperate soul. Lost and unhappy. I worry about you. Let your son take the throne and concern yourself no more with this nonsense. Deny the press the opportunity to hurt you any more. Go live your life, as you see fit.”

Richard considered her again through weary eyes. She was the only person on earth he might listen to. He’d made no secret of the fact that he despised their mother and was afraid of their father.

The prince hung his head low and spoke to the carpet. “It should have been you, Ellie.”

“I don’t want to be queen. But I would do my duty, if that was thrust upon me.”

Richard looked up at her. “That is the remarkable thing about you. You always do your duty. Regarding Mother, Father, and country. In that way you are a far better person than I.”

“I only want my brother to be happy.”

She said it with such conviction Yourstone nearly believed the declaration himself.

“My son is a robust young man who will one day be Albert I. But God forbid, if anything ever happened to him, I would, without a doubt, leave this position forever. Then, dear Ellie, this prison would indeed be yours.”

Yourstone nearly smiled.

That was precisely what he’d come to hear.

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