The rain bounced off the tarmac of the Royal Marines command parade ground. The clouds were dark grey, almost black, and matched the ache in Captain Quincy’s heart and soul.
The parade sergeant barked out orders to the assembled marines and navy personnel, to salute the parade commander who was at a covered podium in front of them.
“Today we are here to honour a Royal Marine who exemplifies all that we hold dear. Ingenuity, determination, loyalty, and courage.”
The rain dripped off Quincy’s peaked cap, down her face, and felt like the tears she could not shed herself. She rigidly kept to attention, the commander’s words not even penetrating her mind. She shot a quick look to her mother, Vice Admiral Ophelia Quincy, seated beside the podium. Ophelia sat as rigidly as Quincy stood, her eyes staring impassively forward.
Quincy prayed that this would be over quickly so she could get back to her quarters. She never liked the limelight, and this ceremony for her was the last thing she wanted.
The commander was awarding her the Victoria Cross, the country’s highest award for bravery in combat. Normally it would be given to the recipient by the Queen in a lavish ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but due to the secret nature of her unit’s operation, it was to be kept in-house.
A roll of thunder clapped and Quincy gasped in fear. She could hear the screams of her men, the smell of smoke and burning flesh, and then an intense burning heat all over her body.
Only the shouts of the parade sergeant broke Quincy from her memories. She tried to get ahold of her breathing. Now was not the time to feel. It was never the time to feel.
She was called forward, and her mother, the admiral, was given the honour of presenting her medal.
As Ophelia reached forward and pinned the medal to her uniform, she looked into her mother’s eyes and saw no warmth there. The admiral, as she and other family members called her, was not the motherly type but had brought her up to the best of her abilities, as if she’d been training a new recruit on deck.
Quincy suspected the admiral was proud of her winning the Victoria Cross, though, because it somehow vindicated the training she had given Quincy growing up.
“Well done, Captain,” the admiral said.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Quincy saluted and returned to her position on the parade ground.
The ceremony over, all of her men and fellow officers came up to her, patted her on the back, and gave their congratulations—all except one man, Lieutenant Rodwell. He met her eyes and scowled at her with bitterness and anger.
Rodwell had been on the very mission for which she was being honoured, and the only one to get back home with not a scratch. When she looked at him, she saw the faces of the men that died, and the screaming pain of her friend and second in command, Jacob.
She watched him spit on the ground and walk back to the barracks. How she would handle seeing him every day, knowing what he did, she had no idea.
The officers and special guests retreated to a reception in the officers’ mess. Everyone was in groups chatting, drinking tea, laughing, and joking, none of them knowing of the darkness that tormented Quincy. She took her tea and walked over to the window alone.
“Congratulations, Captain,” said a voice from behind her. It was the admiral. “The family are very proud of you.” She shook her hand.
“Thank you, ma’am. It’s a great honour,” Quincy replied flatly.
“And how are you recovering from your injuries?”
Quincy gulped hard and closed her eyes briefly. “Very well, ma’am.”
The admiral leaned in to give her the barest of kisses on the cheek and whispered, “Never show them any hurt, any emotion. Keep control, Addie.”
The admiral rarely used her first name, Adelaide. Her words only added to the crushing weight Quincy felt. The weight of her pain, her fear, her terror, her shame and guilt were screaming to get out.
Her mother had taught her from an early age that if she wanted men not to see her gender, then she must show no emotion. Emotions would define her and keep her from the sort of advancement her mother had achieved. Never show your feelings. Feelings label you as weak, Addie.
“Of course, ma’am. If you’ll excuse me.”
Quincy walked out of the reception and pulled off her new medal, then stuffed it in her pocket.
She headed to her room. All of the corridors and offices were quiet as everyone was at the reception, but as she walked down the corridor, she heard scuffling and shouts from one of the marines’ rooms.
Quincy started to run when she heard a woman shouting. Her heart began to pound, and panic flooded her body. She could hear the screams of her men in her head, but she wasn’t in a burning warehouse, taking out a munitions store. She was in Britain at her base.
She found the room where the shouts were coming from, burst in, and found Rodwell holding one of the younger female officers down on the bed. Her shirt was ripped open and her trousers pushed down around her hips. Quincy acted on pure instinct. She pulled Rodwell from the officer and restrained him, with his hands behind his back.
The young woman was crying and shaking, her clothes ripped. Quincy shouted to the young marine, “Go and get help. I’ve got him.”
“Get off me, you fucking arsehole!” Rodwell shouted.
Quincy slammed him up against the wall, her bottled up anger and fear so near the surface. “You’re going nowhere but a prison cell, Rodwell. You might have managed to talk your way out of your court martial when we got back from our mission, but not this. You wanted to feel powerful, did you? Attacking an innocent young recruit? You’re a coward, Rodwell.”
“And you’re such a fucking hero, aren’t you, Quincy? You’re nothing. You’ve had your career handed to you on a plate, because you’re a fucking Quincy.”
Quincy turned him around and placed an arm across his throat. “I have worked for everything I’ve achieved in the marines.”
She and Rodwell had graduated from officer school at the same time, but Quincy had risen up the ladder more quickly and Rodwell had gotten bitter as the years had gone on.
“I hate you, Quincy, and can’t wait for the day someone smashes that fucking silver spoon out of your mouth.”
Quincy said nothing. Her hands were starting to tremble. All she could hear were the screams of her men when she looked in Rodwell’s eyes.
Rodwell must have seen the anger in her usually stoic expression because he said, “How’s Jacob? I heard he was burned so bad that he should have been put down.”
“Don’t you ever speak about Jacob, you coward.”
Rodwell grinned. “Must be hard for his wife, without a proper man in her life. When you go and visit her, tell her if she gets lonely, I’ll gladly come around and fuck her.”
Quincy saw red and felt a mist of rage descend. She pulled back and punched him repeatedly until he fell. Every ounce of fear, pain, and anger was released from her unrestrained.
She punched until she felt herself being pulled and restrained by the Royal Marine Police. Her breathing was heavy, and the mist started to clear. She had left Rodwell beaten and bloody, but as she was being dragged away, he grinned at her.
Captain Quincy looked at her dress uniform, hanging pressed in her suit carrier. When she zipped up the bag, her life in the marines would be over. She walked over to her wardrobe mirror and checked that her grey tie was still sitting smartly. She would have to get used to this new look of grey suit and tie.
The television on the wall caught her eye. She had left the news on as she got ready. Her friend Queen Georgina’s new baby girl was to be christened today at the Royal Chapel in St. James’s Palace. Quincy was so happy that George had found such love with Queen Beatrice and was now enjoying a family.
Quincy couldn’t imagine living with such happiness or feeling that much love. I don’t feel.
She walked over to her bed and sat to watch for a few minutes. Since Princess Edwina, the new heir to the throne, was born, the world and the media had gone wild. Quincy thought it was quite comforting to know a woman would be head of state for the next few generations.
“Computer, volume up four.”
The cameras were trained on the front door of the chapel.
The Queen’s car has now arrived, and we await the first look at six-month-old Princess Edwina Abigail Georgina. She will be wearing a christening gown that dates back to Queen Victoria,the commentator said.
The protection officers got out and opened the car door. Queen Georgina walked around to the other side, helped Queen Beatrice out, and then lifted Princess Edwina out of her car seat. There were cheers and shouts and the flash of cameras going off.
Quincy took note of all the protection officers and their positions. There were a lot more than usual as Queen Rozala of Denbourg and her consort were attending the family christening too.
Beatrice took Edwina from George, which allowed her to shake hands with the religious leaders gathered there.
The commentator continued: As you can see there is a representative of every major religion here today, to take part in this solemn ceremony. This tradition was first introduced by Queen Georgina’s great-grandfather, as a way to bring together all parts of the British community. The royal family are very keen to promote togetherness and discourage division.
In the next cars are the Dowager Queen Adrianna, Queen Sophia, and Prince Theodore.
Quincy smiled as she watched Prince Theo help his mother and grandmother. He was a great personality, and so different from his sister, George. She always enjoyed his company when they played polo together.
Queen Adrianna and Queen Sophia cooed and fussed over Edwina while Theo embraced his sister.
In the next three cars are Princess Edwina’s godparents—the Queen’s cousin Queen Rozala of Denbourg and Crown Consort Lennox, followed by her cousins Lady Victoria and Lord Maximilian Buckingham, and Queen Beatrice’s friends—
Quincy tuned out the television commentary. Her eyes were glued to Queen Rozala, as she exuberantly embraced George. Then George and Bea greeted her partner, Crown Consort Lennox, who came behind her.
The attack that had made Rozala queen of Denbourg had changed Quincy’s life as well. She could still hear her commanding officer’s voice saying, Denbourg has been attacked. The King and Crown Prince have been assassinated by the criminal Thea Brandt’s people. We are joining with Denbourg special forces and neutralizing her organization. You will be taking your unit to take out one of their weapons stores. Prepare your team.
Quincy’s heart began to thud, and she flinched as she heard the explosions, the shouts and screams.
She tried to take deep breaths, as she had taught herself, to try and regain control. If she was truthful with herself, it wasn’t that she didn’t feel, but that she couldn’t allow herself to feel. If she did allow herself for one second, she would be lost.
The noises started to quieten, but she looked down at her hands and saw a tremor there. She stood quickly and went back to her bags.
Her phone rang and she said to the computer, “Answer call.”
It was the admiral. She stood straighter and more stiffly. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Are you packed and ready to go?”
Quincy looked over at the bags on her bed. It wasn’t much to have accrued from a life in the marines.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m reporting to the close protection unit at Royal Military Police headquarters for training this afternoon,” Quincy said.
“Good. How long will you be there?”
“Six months, ma’am. Queen Beatrice’s protection officer is leaving for a new post then.”
There was a short silence, then Admiral Quincy said, “I want you to listen to me carefully, Quincy. You have been given a lifeline after you besmirched your previously unblemished record. Do not let emotion rule you again—that is, if you wish to live up to the family name.”
Despite having rescued a young woman, her attack on Lieutenant Rodwell had been excessive, to say the least. She should have been court-martialled and possibly discharged from the marines, but because she’d stopped a sexual assault and had recently won a medal for gallantry, and because of who her mother was, the command hierarchy were reluctant to discipline her out of the service.
But Quincy’s operational effectiveness was questioned, despite managing to pass a psychological assessment. The solution came when, at George’s request, her commanding officer asked if she would consider retraining as a close protection officer for Queen Beatrice.
Quincy’s court martial was quietly shelved, and a new life awaited her, while Rodwell was given a prison sentence for his attack on the young woman and discharged from the marines.
“Yes, ma’am. I will never let this happen again.” Quincy’s walls were up and she wasn’t letting anything through again.
“It’s such a great honour to serve Her Majesty. Make me proud, Captain.”
Quincy walked over to her uniform bag and zipped it up. “I will, Admiral.”
Six months later
“If only I was Bea’s size…” Holly Weaver picked up a box of shoes from the rows and rows in Queen Beatrice’s walk-in wardrobe. If you loved fashion, then Bea’s dressing room in Windsor Castle was like a designer shop that held all the major fashion brands. Bea was always happy to share clothes and jewellery with her friends, but Holly wished more than anything they shared a shoe size—she’d be in shoe heaven in this dressing room.
After a successful career as a hair and make-up person in the TV and movie industry, Holly had been delighted to be asked by Bea to join her staff as her Royal Dresser. In her new role, she got to travel the world with Queen Georgina and Queen Beatrice, shop for the most beautiful designer clothes, and take care of her close friend personally. Another member of their close circle of friends, Lali Ramesh, was Bea’s private secretary and travelled everywhere with her. Greta, the final member, was a wife and full-time mum to her three kids, but Bea always made the effort to include her in as many of their social occasions as possible—like tonight.
Holly heard a car door and walked over to the window holding the shoes in her hand. She saw Greta and her partner Riley getting out of their car. Their group of friends had been close since university but had become even tighter since Bea married Queen Georgina.
When Bea’s life changed overnight, the group pulled together to help and made sure she was supported, and her privacy protected, which made nights like tonight important. George and Bea were hosting a Friday night dinner and drinks evening. It kept Bea’s friendships strong as they spent so much time travelling all over the world.
Since Bea had given birth to the new heir to the throne, Princess Edwina, the world had gone royal baby crazy. Bea’s mum and dad now lived in a beautiful cottage on the Windsor estate, which meant Bea could see her parents whenever she wanted, and her mother could help her with the new princess. Between her friends and her parents, Bea had a bubble of support around her, a royal court, to make things just a bit easier. And Holly was proud to be part of that bubble.
Holly sighed. She wouldn’t be going to tonight’s get together. Of course she was invited, and not that she had anywhere else to go, but she was sick of feeling awkward as the only single one in the group.
She walked over to the dress hanging on the clothes rail and placed the shoes below. Not that any of her friends ever made her feel uncomfortable, in fact they badgered her to join them all the time, and she had, but sometimes it was just too much. She was the last single one. Bea had George, and Lali had been chased and finally caught by Captain Cameron, Queen Georgina’s personal dresser and close protection officer.
Lali had been dating Cammy for a while, but at Christmas, Cammy proposed. Lali said yes and they were planning a late summer wedding. It was strange—Holly never felt any need or want to have a partner when Greta or Bea got married, but since Lali had gotten engaged, she had sensed something was missing in her life, and felt loneliness for the first time. Even when she was in a club full of people, she was alone.
Holly shook off her melancholy thoughts. All of Bea’s clothes were laid out for church on Sunday, and it was time to get out of here.
Holly locked the door to the dressing room and hurried along the corridors of the ancient castle. She skipped downstairs and approached the drawing room. She’d promised she’d have a drink with her friends before she went.
Sam, one of the footmen on the door, smiled warmly at her.
“Evening Sam, how are you?”
Sam blushed, as he often did around her. He was sweet and had a little bit of a crush on her, she was sure.
“Great, thanks, Ms. Holly.” He opened the door wide and she found her friends enjoying a pre-dinner drink.
“Here she is,” Lali said.
George took a glass of champagne from one of the footmen holding a tray of drinks and brought it over to her. Holly curtseyed, then took the drink and George’s offered arm as she escorted her over to the rest of the group.
“Are you sure you can’t stay for dinner, Holls?” Bea said.
“Sorry, I already promised to meet someone at that new club I told you about.” Holly felt terrible lying.
Greta moved a few paces to her and said, “Just be careful and get a taxi home. I always worry about you. There’s lots of bad people out there.”
“Listen to Mother,” Lali joked.
Holly smiled. They each had their role in their group of friends. Greta was the mother of the group, Lali the organizer, Bea the single-minded, determined one, the glue that kept the group together, despite their very different lives and personalities, and lastly herself, the fun one. Holly, the life and soul of the party, who kept them young and stopped them taking themselves too seriously.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay.” Holly sipped her drink.
Greta put her hand on Holly’s shoulder. “If you’re ever stuck, just call me and I’ll send Riley to get you.”
Riley pulled Greta to her and smiled. “Anytime, Holls.”
It was always nice to see how much in love and passionate Greta and Riley still were. Greta had met Riley at university, and all these years later, they still adored each other.
As she looked around the room, Holly felt a twinge of jealousy that she didn’t have someone to look at her the way her friends and their partners looked at each other. She gazed over at George and Bea, and just seeing them together, their connection, the way George looked at Bea, was unquestionable devotion. It was only Holly who hadn’t been that lucky, not that she hadn’t searched. She had searched a lot, but no one made her feel what her friends had.
Holly could only remember one experience approaching what she saw in her friends’ smiles, and it was something that was constantly in her thoughts these days, after years of trying to forget it.
Bea and Lali came over to join Holly and Greta, leaving George, Cammy, and Riley talking amongst themselves.
“So, Holls,” Bea said. “Who’s the man of the moment?”
Holly looked down at her glass. “There isn’t one.”
“There hasn’t been anyone for months,” Greta said. “You’re the last single one. You have to let us live vicariously through your exciting life.”
“I don’t have time for dating now,” Holly said.
Lali stage-whispered, “Maybe her crush on Story St. John has ruined her for all the nice guys out there.”
Holly rolled her eyes. “Stop with the crush thing.”
Greta joined in, suggesting, “Or maybe dashing polo players fill her head and make her heart pitter-patter.”
Holly had a little-, well, maybe a big-girl crush on action hero film star Story St. John, and her films were usually a part of the girls’ night they held every month. Her crush wasn’t a shock to her, as she had always been attracted to women, as well as men, but her friends didn’t know that about her. It was something that she didn’t want to talk about or think about again. But for the past year, her attraction to women was so hard not to think about. She couldn’t help thinking that maybe it was a woman she was meant to love.
After all, how could she explain the feeling in her heart, the excitement in her soul when she looked at women like Story St. John, or the feeling she’d experienced at the polo match last year. Holly had mistaken one of the tall strapping polo players for a man, until Cammy informed her that hewas a she. Their former military friend, Captain Quincy.
She’d tried to forget the way she’d felt when Captain Quincy had pulled off her polo helmet. She’d revealed an utterly gorgeous butch woman, with the most beautiful eyes and chiselled cheekbones, that made Holly’s stomach flip and other parts ache.
Holly had avoided Quincy that day. She’d excused herself, and went to chat up one of the eager men there. For so long, she’d sought out men who simply wanted sex. Because while she could enjoy sex, she didn’t want to give away her heart. Not again. She’d given away her heart a long time ago to a woman, and had her heart broken to pieces. Never again.
“Holls?” she heard Lali say and forced a smile on her face.
“Do you think maybe—”
“No. Don’t even say it,” Holly said with a tinge of sharpness in her voice.
Lali, Greta, and Bea looked at each other.
“Sorry, girls. I’m just a bit tired,” Holly said.
She was rescued from the awkwardness when Sam came into the room and bowed. “Your Majesties. Nanny Baker is asking if you could come up to the nursery. Princess Edwina is a little distressed, and Nanny thinks she might have a fever.”
Bea looked at George and said, “I knew something was wrong this afternoon.”
George put her glass down. “Would you excuse us?”
As George and Bea left the room, Holly said to her friends. “I better get going too.”
Little did her friends know that she was going home to watch a Story St. John film and eat her way through a tub of ice cream.
Quincy sat beside the hospital bed of her friend, Lieutenant Jacob Goldman. She had been here for the last hour, sitting quietly by his bed while he slept. The volume in the room might have been quiet, apart from the occasional beep of a machine, but her head was anything but.
Jacob was covered head to foot in white dressings, with only a portion of his face untouched by the explosion and flames that had ravaged his body. Jacob and his wife Helen had been good friends since officer training school—well, as good friends as Quincy could ever have. They understood her limitations and never pushed her into social situations she couldn’t cope with.
The guilt and anger that she hadn’t been able to get to her friend in time to save him ravaged Quincy even more when she visited him here. She asked herself the same question she did every time she
saw and heard the pain he was in. Why could it not have been me instead?
Jacob had a wife, children, a life, while Quincy had nothing to lose. Life was just not fair.
She looked at her watch and thought she’d better be leaving soon. Just as she was about to stand, Jacob’s raspy voice said, “I know what you’re thinking.”
Quincy didn’t even realize he was awake. “What was I thinking?”
“What you always do, what I would think if I was in your shoes, torturing myself for what I could have done differently,” Jacob said.
Quincy cleared her throat nervously. He could always tell what she was thinking.
“I have to report to Buckingham Palace shortly. I just wanted to say goodbye,” Quincy said.
“The big American tour, eh?”
She knew Jacob didn’t mean it this way, but Quincy hated that she would be off living and experiencing the world while he was stuck here in agony.
“Yes, I’ll call Helen and make sure you’re behaving for the nurses,” Quincy said.
Jacob started to laugh, then began to cough instead. Quincy jumped up and gave him a sip of water.
“It’s a great honour to be serving the Queen,” Jacob said.
“It is,” Quincy replied.
Jacob looked straight into her eyes and said, “Promise me one thing, Quin. Live a life, have some fun. I know you hide yourself away, but you’ve only got one life, and you never know when it will be taken away.”
Quincy nodded, but she didn’t know if she really meant it. How could she live a life when Jacob couldn’t?
“Promise me, Quin,” Jacob repeated.
She smiled and said, “I promise.”
Quincy said her goodbyes and walked out of the hospital room. She found Helen waiting there. Quincy couldn’t imagine a better wife than Helen. No matter what they’d been through, she always remained positive and kept Jacob going.
“You said your goodbyes, then?” Helen said.
“Yes, I’ll call you when I get to the States,” Quincy said.
Helen leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I know what Jacob asked of you. I also know how hard it is for you to socialize at the best of times—the admiral has left her mark on you, now even more so. But I want you to promise me too, Quin. You have to grab for life, and love, and hold on. Promise me?”
Quincy gave her a forced smile. “Promise.”
She reached into her suit jacket pocket and brought out her Victoria Cross. “Give this to Jacob, will you. He is braver than I could ever be.”
Quincy was led along the corridor of Buckingham Palace by a footman. She followed him downstairs, and as she did the walls and decor became less ornate. She guessed this was the staff area of the palace.
The downstairs corridors and rooms were busy with people coming and going, the noise of chatter, and shouts of instructions. This was truly the palace engine room, the place that made everything run smoothly.
The footman stopped. “It’s just in here, Captain.”
“Thank you.” Quincy knocked and heard someone tell her to come in.
She opened the door and found herself in a state of the art operations room, nothing like the historic, antique palace outside this room. There was a huge conference table surrounded by desks, with what appeared to be the latest in security equipment and computer interfaces.
Around the conference table sat a team of plain-clothes men and women and, at the head, Inspector Lang, whom she had already met.
“Quincy, come in and take a seat,” Inspector Lang said.
“Thank you, sir.”
Quincy joined the five protection officers at the table, all but one of whom had their eyes glued to her. One woman at the end of the table didn’t even look her way. She was dressed smartly in a blouse and tailored slacks and had her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.
Inspector Lang stood and said, “Everyone, this is Captain Quincy. She joins us after a distinguished career in the Royal Marines and has trained for the past six months with the Royal Military Police before joining us.” He turned to Quincy. “Quincy, these are the more senior officers in the squad, except Captain Cameron—she is assisting the Queen at the moment, but I believe you already know her?”
She heard the woman at the end mutter under her breath, “Yeah, you’re very well protected.”
“Sorry, Garrett?” Inspector Lang said.
The woman she now knew as Garrett gave him a smile. “Nothing, sir.”
Lang narrowed his eyes and continued, “This is Boothby, and Jones.” He pointed to two sharp-suited men who politely nodded their heads. “And this is a recent recruit, Veronica Clayton.” He pointed to a young woman sitting a few chairs away. “She will be working under your command for the Queen Consort and the princess. The Queen and I felt you needed another pair of eyes with a toddler running around.”
The Queen had asked Quincy to help train a younger member of the team, with an eye to the future when Princess Edwina would need her own guard.
Clayton gave her the warmest welcome in the room, smiling and walking around the table to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you, ma’am. It’s an honour to work with a VC,” Clayton said.
Garrett sighed audibly, but Quincy froze at the mention of her Victoria Cross. She wished no one knew about it. It symbolized her failure as a leader, and shame slithered around her gut.
“Good to meet you, Clayton.”
Lang said, “Clayton, why don’t you take Captain Quincy along to the Queen’s private apartments? We leave for the airport in an hour. We can go over the itinerary on the plane.”
“Yes, sir,” Clayton said.
Quincy stood to attention before nodding to Lang and walking out the door. As soon as they were out of earshot, Clayton said, “I’m really excited to work with you, ma’am.”
Clayton was so much younger than the rest of the team. A good thing if she was to fit in with the princess in years to come. Clay had warm black skin, short shaved hair at the back and sides, and tight brown-tinged curls on top. Unlike the other members of the team who could be mistaken for bankers in their suits and tailored clothes, Clayton wore a much more fashionable blue suit, with an open-necked white shirt and studs in her earlobes.
“Not everyone on the team seems to be,” Quincy said.
Clayton glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. “You mean Garrett? Don’t worry about her. She’s hardly said two words to me since I started my assignment here.”
“So what’s her problem?” Quincy asked.
Clayton smiled. “Your job. She thought it was hers since your predecessor handed in her notice.”
Great. Jealousy and disappointment. From Quincy’s experience, that was exactly what a good team didn’t need.
Just then the sound of a child’s laughter came from behind them. They both stopped and turned to see what was going on, and Quincy saw a woman with Princess Edwina in her arms, and a honey-coloured dog walking beside them. Princess Edwina had a Rupert Bear in her arms and was hugging it tightly.
The woman’s thick reddish-brown hair was obscuring her face, until she looked up, smiling at them both.
It was her. The woman from the polo match, whom her security files had identified as Holly Weaver. She got the same strange sensation looking into her eyes as she had that day when she pulled off her polo helmet. An excitement in her chest and a shortness of breath.
Holly held her gaze silently for a few seconds before giving Clayton a smile. “Morning, Clay.”
“Morning, Holly, and good morning Princess Edwina, and Rex.” Clayton waved.
Holly moved Princess Edwina around to hold her in her arms. “Say hi to Clay, Teddy.”
The one year-old smiled, and waved vigorously. “Hi.”
It was the first time Quincy had seen Princess Edwina up close, but she was so like George with that dark brown hair and blue eyes.
“Who’s your friend, Clay?” Holly asked.
“This is Captain Quincy, Queen Beatrice’s new protection officer.”
Quincy was sure Holly was giving her a forced smile. “Another captain? We are well stocked up with captains, then. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get Teddy back to her mummy.”
“Walk, Holl,” Princess Edwina said.
Holly put her down and took her Rupert Bear from her. Princess Edwina toddled back along the corridor, one hand in Holly’s and the other on the back of Rex.
“See you, Holly,” Clayton said.
Holly picked up her pace and soon she disappeared the way she’d come.
Clayton let out a long breath. “Gorgeous, isn’t she? She’s exactly the kind of woman I’ll be looking for someday. And that hair…don’t you just want to run your hands through—”
Clayton stopped midsentence when Quincy gave her a pointed look. “I don’t think that’s appropriate while we are working, Clayton.” Obviously things were very lax here.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Clayton said quickly.
“I know that Queen Beatrice has probably fostered this easy-going attitude, with good intentions, but we must be professional.”
“Got it, Captain. Yes, she does. Her Majesty is so nice, and everyone on staff is a little bit in love with Queen Beatrice.”
“I can imagine. Just remember she and her personal staff deserve respect,” Quincy said.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take you to her now.”
George sat at her desk, going through her paperwork as quickly as possible, so she could spend a quiet evening with Bea and Teddy before the madness of their royal tour ensued. Her dogs, Shadow and Baxter, lay on the rug beside her.
She gazed at the moving picture of Bea and Teddy in a silver photo frame. She wondered for the millionth time how she could have been so lucky. In those dark days after her father died, George never could have imagined such happiness was around the corner.
Bea had fallen into her life and become not only the perfect wife, but also the perfect consort. The country adored her as she did, and Bea was making the role of consort her own, bringing her skills as a former charity director to organize and design targeted campaigns, in conjunction with the other members of the family, to put important social issues on the national and world agendas. She worked so hard, George found it difficult to keep up.
Only last week Bea and Theo were campaigning together for a child bereavement charity. Her brother Theo had really knuckled down to his role as prince, and they were a powerful threesome in support of lots of causes.
Then there was her little princess, Edwina. They had started to call her Teddy, not long after she came home from hospital. Although Edwina was a fine strong name for a future Queen, it was quite serious for a little girl. Not only was Teddy short for Edwina, but seeing how close she was to her teddy, Rupert Bear, George started to call her that and it stuck.
George prayed that Teddy’s namesake, her father Edward, was proud of the family she had made. Nothing made her happier, and every day she felt so blessed.
George signed one of the documents from Number Ten and placed it in the last red box of the morning. She lifted the final file out and saw it was some amendments to her speech for the first stop in their North American tour, Toronto.
This tour was going to be so exhausting for Bea and Teddy—that was the only thing that worried her. When Prime Minister Bo Dixon and her team were putting together this tour, they seemed to forget that they were a family and not robots, although George had managed to negotiate a number of solo engagements for herself, while Bea and Teddy would stay behind and rest.
George felt like Bo Dixon used her and Bea as Britain’s own diplomatic corps. Anywhere Bo needed support in the world, or to mend fences with unfriendly countries or their leaders, she would deploy them like an army. It was their role to be Britain’s goodwill ambassadors, but to her mind, Bo was cynical about it. The moment after the United States elected their first African American woman commander-in-chief, Bo began organizing this tour. She wanted Britain to be the first to visit President Virginia Watson.
New trade and manufacturing deals were up for grabs, and it was George’s job to make sure the US felt a strong bond of friendship with the UK.
George was interrupted by a knocking at her office door. A footman walked in and said, “Captain Quincy to see you, ma’am.”
George smiled and stood. “Yes, of course. Bring her in.”
Quincy came in, bowed her head at the door, then walked forward when George extended her hand. Quincy bowed again when she arrived in front of her, then shook her hand.
“Good to see you, Quincy.”
“Good to see you, Your Majesty. You asked to see me?” Quincy said.
“Yes, let’s sit down.” George indicated the couch at the window.
The dogs jumped up and wagged their tails excitedly. Quincy patted them as she passed.
“Calm down, you two,” George said.
“They are still very excitable then, ma’am,” Quincy said. She had met the Queen’s dogs many times at polo and horse events. They were always bouncing and following close behind her.
“You could say that,” George said as she sat.
Quincy followed suit and patted Baxter the boxer’s head. Shadow had already gone to lie down.
“What about Rex, ma’am? I know he was very close to King Edward,” Quincy asked.
George crossed her legs and smiled. “He’s Queen Beatrice’s dog now. He adores her, although Teddy runs her pretty close. Rex has been stuck to her like glue from the start. Never lets her wander too far and guards her from all foes,” George joked.
Quincy smiled, but she felt a tightness in her chest. How was she going to cope in this close kind of family environment? She just wasn’t equipped for it.
“So how are you doing, Quincy? Are you well recovered?” George asked.
“Quite recovered, ma’am.” What a liar she was. She had a scarred body and a scarred heart and soul. She would never recover.
George narrowed her eyes. “Really? You know you can speak to me or Cammy anytime, in the strictest of confidence.”
“I know that, and I am quite well and ready to serve, ma’am.” She didn’t even talk to her mother. She would never talk—it was her burden to carry this pain inside of her.
George patted her on the shoulder. “It’s George in private, remember? And the admiral? Is she well?”
“Yes, she is.” Quincy would never know what her mother was feeling. Feeling was weakness to her.
“Well that’s the ticket then, isn’t it? I hope you will enjoy working with us, Quincy.”
“It’s an honour, George. I promise, Queen Beatrice will always be safe with me.”
“I know that, Quincy. That’s why I asked for you. I trust you implicitly. Bea is my life, and her safety and Teddy’s safety are my top priority.”
“I promise you, I would die to protect her, ma’am.”
Never again would she let her friends down. Never again.
Beatrice smiled broadly when she saw George walking through the plane with their daughter hanging by her ankles, giggling, but still managing to hold on to her Rupert Bear.
They had been in the air for only twenty minutes, and Teddy was restless already. Luckily, their private plane was big enough for her to toddle around and use up energy under the supervision of her other mum.
Bea was sitting in the lounge area of the plane that had comfortable upholstered seats, a coffee table, and a drinks fridge. The back of the plane featured an office and private bedroom, while the front of the plane had seats and tables where the staff generally did their work and planning.
“George, you’ll make her sick,” Bea said.
George turned Teddy the right way around. “Not at all. You’re quite all right, aren’t you, Teddy?”
“Uh-huh,” Teddy said, “’orsey, please?”
George gave her a big kiss and said, “In a little while, Teddy bear. Mum has to go and practise her speech.”
Bea held out her arms. “Come to Mummy.” George handed her over and gave Bea a lingering kiss. “Don’t kiss me like that when you have a speech to practise, and I have your daughter in my arms.”
George grinned, apparently pleased she still had the capacity to excite her wife with the merest kiss.
George leaned over and whispered, “Do you remember how we used to spend our time on these long-haul flights before?”
Bea remembered. Despite the speeches to be rehearsing, and the red boxes to be done, they’d always found time for each other and some fun in the plane’s private bedroom.
“I remember only too well, Bully. That was before we became responsible and had a baby. Now we have neither the time nor the energy.”
“Oh, I’ve always got energy for you, Mrs. Buckingham.”
Right on cue Teddy said, “Juice, Mummy.”
“You see?” Bea said.
George smiled and reached into the fridge for a bottle of Teddy’s favourite juice. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Bea sighed contentedly. “Me either. Now go and play with your papers. The people of Canada are waiting to be stunned by your speech,” Bea joked.
George raised her eyebrow and said, “They might be out of luck since our beloved prime minister wrote it.”
Bea chuckled. George had said that with huge dose of sarcasm. Bo Dixon’s popularity had plummeted with the public ever since she’d invited President Loka of Vospya to the UK, despite his appalling civil rights record. The only thing in Bo’s favour was a really weak and unelectable opposition.
“Well, do your best,” Bea said.
“I’ll try.” George kissed both Teddy and her on their foreheads and made her way to her office.
As soon as George walked away, Holly slipped in to sit beside them.
“Hi. Your outfit is steam pressed, and good to go,” Holly said.
“The blue dress?” Bea said.
“Yes, and Teddy’s to match,” Holly said.
“Thanks, Holls. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I never pictured myself being a clothes horse, and yet here I am.”
Holly sat back and smiled. “It’s easy to pick things out when you’re dressing someone with your figure.”
“Hardly, Holls. It’s taken hard work to shift the baby weight after this little one right here.”
Holly laughed. She absolutely loved her job, having worked as a make-up artist in the TV and film industry, where generally she didn’t get much of a chance to be creative, because she was always working to someone else’s vision. Now she was working for her best friend, and she had the complete control of Bea’s wardrobe, and the responsibility to cater exactly for each public event she attended.
Holly knew Bea’s likes and dislikes, and without any budget concerns, she could really go to town and express herself. It wasn’t always easy. This North American tour had taken six months to plan. Once the destinations and activities were decided upon, it was her job to plan, source, and buy an entire wardrobe. It had been stressful at times, but they got everything done.
Bea went to settle Teddy down for a nap, and Holly flagged down one of the airplane staff and ordered coffee for them both. While she waited, Holly looked over to the other seats where Lali and Captain Cameron were supposedly going over the plans for the visit, but Holly smiled when she saw their hands clasped together.
They were so perfect for each other. Bea had told her that Cammy had been a bit of a lady’s woman in her past, but that had all ended when she clapped eyes on Lali Ramesh.
Would she ever be that lucky?
Holly then shifted her gaze to the seats behind Lali, and to her surprise found Captain Quincy’s eyes already on her, the captain’s face set in what she thought was a scowl. When Holly had found out the dishy polo player was joining the staff as Bea’s protection officer, she had been both excited and scared. Excited because she couldn’t wait to find out if Quincy lived up to her good looks, and scared because—just like with Story St. John—Quincy reminded her how much she was attracted to women, and that she was denying a whole part of herself that was screaming to get out. Because she didn’t ever want to have her heart broken again.
Since her first love broke her heart, she had sought out flings with men who didn’t want an emotional connection. That suited her and had given her the reputation as a man-eater.
But Holly needn’t have worried and shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover. So far Captain Quincy had been as dull as dishwater. She stood guarding Bea like a statue, never breaking into a smile, and only speaking to bark orders to those staff around her.
Even though Quincy screamed butch lesbian, everything else about her was straight and boring. Plain grey suit, slightly darker grey tie, white shirt. Her short dark hair, simply combed to the side. There was nothing about Quincy that showed any sort of individuality.
Holly longed to go over there and ruffle up her hair and maybe give her a red tie, something to liven up the ordered grey appearance.
Quincy had ignored Holly, and she supposed that suited her, but the cold stares and scowls were annoying.
She looked right at Quincy and said pointedly, “Can I help you?”
Quincy looked back down to her computer pad quickly and never replied.
“What am I? Invisible?” Holly said.
“Who’s invisible?” Bea said sitting back down.
“Nothing. Teddy go down okay?” Holly asked.
Their coffee was delivered, and Bea took a sip and sighed. “Yes, all the excitement has gotten to her. I left Nanny Baker with her.”
“I think Nanny Baker will want to join Teddy in a nap. It’s all too much excitement for her too.”
Bea laughed. “I know. I promised her that as soon as we come back from this trip I’ll hire a new nanny.” When she was a young woman, Nanny Baker had looked after George and Theo, and when Bea was reluctant to choose from the candidates offered for Teddy, George had persuaded her own nanny to come out of retirement. However, the pace of royal life and Teddy’s energy were a little too much for the older lady. “I hate having to have a nanny in the first place, but I know we can’t take Teddy everywhere.”
Holly saw the guilt in Bea’s face every time she had to leave her daughter, and it made her more determined to keep things fun for them both.
“This trip is going to be such hard work,” Bea said. “I don’t want Teddy to feel the stress of manically going from one venue to another, and I don’t want her to be pushed aside.”
“Don’t worry, Your Maj. I promised I’d organize some fun stuff for the personal days you had scheduled into the trip, and if you and George want some space, I’ll take Teddy out.”
“Thanks, Holls. I don’t know what I’d do without you and Lali. I need my own support system inside this royal bubble. Do you know, some of the older royal courtiers wanted Teddy and me to travel separately from George?”
“Why?” Holly asked.
Bea scowled. “Some outdated nonsense about the monarch and the heir to the throne travelling together. If the plane goes down, so does the heir.”
“That’s bloody morbid, and hardly likely these days,” Holly replied.
“I know,” Bea said. “George and I soon shot that idea in flames. We’re a family and we travel together.”
“I doubt you were that polite,” Holly said. She was well aware Bea had little tolerance from the stiff older courtiers who still populated the palace staff.
“You know me too well. George was diplomatic, but I said, not bloody likely!”
Captain Quincy cursed herself for being caught looking over. She was reviewing the files on all the royal court staff that she would be working with. She lingered on Ms. Holly Weaver’s file, and she just had to compare the picture to the real thing.
She was interested by the woman, who was obviously intelligent, who had studied psychology at university, then after graduation went on to study hair and make-up. It was a strange career move, and one that interested Quincy.
While she gazed at the photo in the security file on the computer pad, Quincy found herself tracing the contours of Holly’s face with her pen. Holly had delicate, almost elfin features, yet had plump, full lips. She was beautiful, and as Clayton had pointed out, her thick, layered shoulder-length reddish-brown hair made you want to run your fingers through it.
Despite her delicate features, there was something very wild about Ms. Weaver. She was bohemian in appearance, and she didn’t fit in with the very proper royal staff. Today she was dressed in tight, ripped designer jeans, a black and white striped top, and black heels.
Ms. Weaver’s jewellery said as much about her as her clothes. She wore a cluster of beaded bracelets on her wrists, large black triangle earrings, and many rings—mostly small silver ones, and one with a large aquamarine stone.
Nothing in Ms. Weaver followed a pattern, and to someone whose life and whole being was ordered and governed by rules, that was in equal measures terrifying, aggravating, and intriguing.
In Quincy’s very short time at Buckingham Palace, Ms. Weaver’s voice and laughter had been the loudest. She obviously lived life to the fullest. It was funny—women never usually left such a lasting impression on her, but she had never forgotten Holly from the polo match, more than a year ago, or the man she had left with. Quincy remembered the sense of disappointment she’d felt—not that she would have ever done anything about her initial attraction. That wasn’t something she could do.
Quincy looked up when Holly squealed with excitement at something Queen Beatrice had said.
“You’re kidding? Story St. John is going to be there?” Holly said.
Quincy couldn’t help but eavesdrop.
“Uh-huh,” Queen Beatrice said. “I’ve made sure you got an invite.”
Holly jumped up and hugged the Queen. “Thank you so much.”
Story St. John? Quincy had no idea about popular culture and quickly typed the name into her computer pad. Hundreds of links and pictures appeared.
She clicked on one that said, Who is action hero film star Story St. John dating now?
Quincy was surprised when a whole host of women’s pictures popped up.
Ms. Weaver was excited about meeting a lesbian film star. Was she just excited to meet a film star, or had she misread Ms. Weaver’s choice of partners? Was she interested in women?
A part of Quincy felt a thrill at that thought, but she immediately chastised herself. Getting excited meant running the risk of losing control, and that could never, ever happen again. She remembered the shame on her mother’s face when she’d called her after the incident with Lieutenant Rodwell.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Clayton. “Ma’am, Inspector Lang would like to see us in the meeting room in ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” Quincy said.
As Clayton walked away, Captain Cameron sat down beside her. “Quincy? How are you finding things?”
Quincy chose her words carefully. “It’s quite different from regimental life, but I’m sure I’ll adjust.”
Cammy laughed. “Aye, I know what you mean. Everyone knows their place in a regiment and follows instructions and rules to the letter. In this job you have to be more flexible, and remember it’s a family, with all the problems of family life.”
Quincy smiled at her friend. “I can see it takes patience.”
Cammy crossed her legs and chuckled. “I don’t have as many problems. Queen Georgina is like you and me. Military, follows rules, sticks to the schedule like clockwork, but Queen Beatrice is a little less…conventional, shall we say. She doesn’t like to do things the way they have always been done, and schedules can change at the drop of a hat. So be prepared to think on your feet, improvise, and go with the flow.”
“Go with the flow?” Quincy said.
There couldn’t be a concept that was more alien to Quincy than that. She liked to know what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and plan for it a month in advance.
Cammy laughed. “Don’t worry. You’ll adjust.”
Quincy nodded in agreement, even though she didn’t think she could. She looked up to where Queen Beatrice and Holly were sitting, and saw that Lali Ramesh had joined them, and was equally as excited about this meeting with the film star. How strange.
She turned back to Cammy and said, “Congratulations on your engagement, by the way. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Captain Cameron was engaged, but seeing your beautiful fiancée, I can see why.”
Cammy looked over at Lali and got a silly grin on her face. “She is beautiful, isn’t she? I never thought I’d ever want just one woman forever, but when I saw Lali, I didn’t want anyone else.”
“Good for you, Cammy. You deserve to be happy,” Quincy said.
“It wasn’t easy, believe me. Lali is very careful. She doesn’t jump into things, and it took a lot of persuasion on my part just to get one date with her, but it was so worth it. Your turn next, eh?”
Quincy said nothing. That was something she would never have. Never mind marriage—who’d want to date someone who couldn’t dare express emotion?
Cammy smacked her on the shoulder, and said, “We’d better get to Lang’s meeting.”
All the members of the protection squad filled the meeting room aboard the plane. The higher ranking officers—Captain Cameron, Quincy, Garrett, Boothby, and Jones—sat around the table, while Clayton and the rest of the protection team stood behind them.
Inspector Lang stood in front of a large computer screen, detailing their arrival in Toronto.
“The principals will be met by Canadian officials, then escorted to a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister, where Her Majesty will make a speech. We then make our way to the hotel…”
Quincy didn’t need to listen to her commanding officer. She already knew every part of the plans, every inch of the route, and every potential area of security risk. As long as Queen Beatrice kept to the schedule, and the plan, there shouldn’t be any problems. That was what worried her.
Inspector Lang finished the meeting and the officers started to file out. Sergeant Garrett passed behind her and stopped.
“A huge responsibility isn’t it, Captain,” Garrett said.
Quincy noticed that Garrett always used her rank instead of calling her ma’am. Her rank obviously bothered Garrett’s ego.
“Of course. It’s a responsibility I relish,” Quincy said firmly.
Garrett leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Let’s hope you don’t crack up under the weight of the responsibility.”
Garrett walked away with a smug look on her face, and Quincy felt a sense of panic. What did Garrett know about her?
“Ma’am?” Clayton stood beside her.
Quincy shook away those feelings of disquiet and stood. “Yes, Clayton?”
“Any last instructions before we land, ma’am?”
Clayton looked uptight. She was forgetting this was Clayton’s first big tour, and it was Quincy’s job to keep those under her command calm and focused.
She put a comforting hand on Clayton’s shoulder. “Just keep focused on your principal, Princess Edwina. I don’t envisage that she will be away from either of her mothers’ arms, but you never know. Remember it’s my job to keep eyes on Queen Beatrice, so don’t be distracted.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Clayton said nervously.
Quincy smiled at her and said, “You’ll do exceptionally well. I have faith in you Clay.” Clayton stood a little straighter then and smiled.
“I won’t let you down, ma’am.”
After the royal family landed, Holly went straight to the hotel with the luggage, while Lali and Cammy accompanied the two Queens on their first engagement.
Holly rushed about frantically, trying to organize the royal luggage. Before they’d left, Holly had designated certain trunks to hold clothes for certain times during the trip, and this overnight in Toronto was meant to be the easiest—one day’s worth of clothes, then off to the United States. But now that she was invited to the film event with Story St. John, she had her own outfit to work out too.
She directed the hotel staff with the bags, unpacked Teddy’s overnight bag and some toys, then set out Bea’s ballgown.
At each hotel on the tour, a whole floor of rooms had been booked out to give the royal party privacy, and so security could be maintained. The close personal staff and heads of security all had rooms on the floor, plus a lounge area to socialize. Holly and Captain Cameron each had a room to house, clean, and prepare the clothes the royal couple would need. Holly stood in Bea’s dressing room using her hand steamer to get rid of all the creases the dress had picked up during its travels. The TV on the wall was playing the twenty-four-hour news, and George, Bea, and Princess Edwina’s visit was the main story.
It occurred to Holly that the public would never know how much preparation went into these visits. They saw George and Bea, but behind them was a little private community, the royal court making everything work.
She looked up to the screen and watched the royal family making their way through the crowds. The reception they were getting was bigger and louder than any film star’s. There was screaming and shouting, and she could see it was a little overwhelming for Teddy, who clung to her mummy tightly.
Her gaze was drawn to the tall figures of Quincy and Clay following discreetly behind.
Quincy had the same impassive look upon her face when she was working as she’d had on the plane. Did she ever smile?
She jumped when someone got a little too close and made a grab for Teddy. As quick as a flash Quincy was in front of Bea, pushing back the overeager person.
Bea appeared rattled for a few seconds, then handed Teddy to George who’d come striding over. From that point on, George walked with her arm around her wife and held Teddy protectively in her other arm, until they went into the government building.
Holly was impressed with the speed of Quincy’s reactions. She might not be the friendliest, but at least Quincy was good at her job.
Holly finished steaming the dress and everything was set. All she had to worry about now was her own dress, and the fact that she didn’t bring anything approaching the glamour of what Bea would be wearing.
Oh well, as long as she made Her Maj look good. Holly chuckled to herself.
Sometime later, she heard voices and lots of pairs of feet outside in the hallway. Holly peeped out and only caught the backs of George and Bea going into their room. She saw Inspector Lang say something to Quincy and pat her on the back. Once he walked away, and Quincy was all alone in the corridor, Holly saw Quincy’s hand tremor.
Quincy took a deep breath, squeezed her hand into a fist, and walked off.
That was strange. What made the unshakable Captain Quincy shake?
Quincy was glad of the two hours’ break she had before evening duty. This afternoon’s walkabout had disturbed her. Dinner was served in the lounge for the personal staff but she couldn’t stomach it, so she headed back to her room to get showered and changed before the evening engagement.
She let the intense heat of the shower beat down on the back of her neck as she braced herself against the shower wall. Today’s events played on repeat in her mind, over and over again. Queen Beatrice walked along the line of the crowd, Princess Edwina in her arms. The crowd was enchanted by the little girl who had mastered the important royal skill of smiling and waving already.
Quincy had been constantly scanning the crowd, looking for anyone unusual, anyone who didn’t fit, but everything looked normal. The crowd began to lean further and further over the barriers making Quincy more and more nervous. She had just told Clayton to stay alert when out of the corner of her eye she saw a young man rummage around in his backpack. She’d moved just as he launched forward to grab for Princess Edwina, with something in his other hand.
She’d shouted, “Weapon!” then restrained him, while the other officers moved Queen Beatrice away. That was when she and the others saw there was no weapon, only a soft toy the young man had brought to give to the princess.
As the police took him to the side, Garrett walked past and said, “Jumped the gun a little there, didn’t we? I heard you had a hair trigger, Quincy.”
Had she overreacted? Inspector Lang and Queen Georgina had congratulated her for acting quickly, but when she’d arrived back at the hotel and passed the lounge area, she heard Garrett and a group of officers laughing about the dangerous soft toy.
When Quincy shut her eyes, the memory of the officers’ laughter changed to the roar and explosion of bombs, and the heat of the shower turned to flames, burning all over her body.
She opened her eyes quickly and shut off the water. She leaned her head against the shower wall, gasping for air. She heard her mother’s words echo around in her mind.
Never show your fear or emotions if you wish to be taken seriously, Quincy.
One gulp and her emotions were swallowed deep down, stored in some dark space inside of her, never to be let out. She walked over to the dinner suit she had laid out for tonight and began to dress.
This evening was a formal black-tie affair, so the guards had to be dressed accordingly. Quincy pulled on her black suit trousers, then walked over to the mirror to put on her white shirt and bow tie. She slipped on the shirt and, as she was buttoning it up, stared at the scars that ran from below her waist, up her torso to just below her neck.
Quincy hated these scars. They were a symbol of her failure, how she hadn’t saved the men under her command. Deep down she believed she deserved every one of those scars.
She heard a knock at her door, so she quickly buttoned up her shirt but left her bow tie hanging. When she opened the door, she found Clayton standing there, similarly dressed.
“I need help.” Clayton held up the tie.
Quincy smiled and ushered her in. “You’re having problems?”
“When the inspector said we’d be handed out evening wear, I thought there would at least be a ready-made bow tie. A police constable from Brixton isn’t trained on wearing black tie.”
Quincy held her by the shoulders. “Stand still.” She began to make up the bow tie. She had a couple of inches on Clayton, but Clayton was a lot broader and more muscular, as if she worked out. Quincy was glad to have some muscle on her side.
“What gives you the impression I’m well trained in black tie?” Quincy asked.
“You’re posh, ma’am. Your accent, you went to the same boarding school as Queen Georgina, and your mum’s some big deal in the navy.”
“How did you know that?” Quincy asked.
Clayton’s smile faded as if she regretted saying that, and she looked everywhere but at Quincy’s eyes. “I just overheard Garrett talking.”
Quincy’s stomach dropped. Garrett had been checking up on her. Quincy sighed while looping the tie together.
“I suppose I’m all the gossip after today’s events,” Quincy said.
“Garrett might be my superior, ma’am, but she’s a bloody arsehole. I didn’t listen to her stupid gossip. Inspector Lang, Her Majesty—they all think you did the exact right thing, ma’am. That guy could have had anything on him.”
“But he didn’t,” Quincy said. She was really doubting her judgment.
“Ishould have been more alert. I should have seen the guy rummaging in his backpack. Princess Edwina is my principal, ma’am,” Clayton said.
“You did fine. The man was no threat, and everything else will come with experience. Don’t worry. How did you find yourself in the royal protection squad?”
“I just joined the police, ma’am, and applied to join the firearms division. My superiors were more than happy with my test results, and my commanding officer put me forward for the role.”
Quincy smiled. “Good shot, are you, Clay?”
The biggest grin appeared on Clayton’s face. “I can shoot the wings off a fly.”
Quincy finished with her tie and patted her on the shoulder. “Well, I’m glad to have you by my side. Go and look in the mirror.”
Clayton walked over to the mirror and checked her tie, and then her hair, before smiling broadly. “I think it suits me. What do you think, ma’am?”
She thought the young protection officer looked handsome, with her warm black skin set against the snow-white shirt and classic dinner suit. “You look fantastic. Very dashing.”
“If only the girls thought so,” Clayton said.
Quincy smiled. She was sure Clayton wouldn’t have any problem attracting women, just maybe not the confidence to realize what she had to offer.
Clayton turned around and said, “I heard Story St. John is going to be at the event tonight. Everyone’s been talking about how Story is Holly’s big crush.”
“But Ms. Weaver is straight, though, isn’t she?” Quincy said.
“Labels don’t matter when you find someone who sets your heart on fire,” Clayton said with a wink.
She’d forgotten that Clayton was a generation younger than her, a generation to whom strict categories did not matter. “I suppose you’re right. What’s this Story like, Clay?”
Clayton grinned. “She’s got everything. Money, good looks, charm, can get any woman she wants—she’s the envy of every lesbian I know. She even tried to flirt with Queen Beatrice the last time the Queen came to the environmental summit in New York.”
Quincy felt a strange sensation in her stomach. Like it had been tied in a knot. “Let’s hope that Story St. John is everything Ms. Weaver wants her to be,” Quincy lied.
George leaned over into Princess Edwina’s cot and gave her a kiss. “Have sweet dreams, little Teddy bear.”
Teddy was sound asleep, her arms wrapped around Bea’s Rupert Bear. It had belonged to Bea’s deceased sister and never left Teddy’s side.
The nursery room door opened and Bea came in with her ballgown on. “Is she asleep?” Bea whispered.
“Sound asleep, and as adorable as ever,” George said.
Bea leaned in and stroked Teddy’s forehead. “I hate to leave her, Georgie. She’ll be all grown up before we know it.”
“She’s happy, safe, and warm here, my darling. Tomorrow we’re travelling to Washington, but then we have a family day. Tonight she won’t even realize we’re away.” George took her wife’s hand and kissed it. “You’re ready awfully early, Mrs. Buckingham. I usually have to hurry you along.”
“Holls got me ready early, so she could get ready for tonight. She’s so excited.”
George sighed. “I can’t imagine what is so exciting about that annoyingly smarmy actor.”
Bea play hit George’s shoulder. “Stop pouting. It’s all about Holly tonight. It’s a dream come true for her to meet Story.”
“I thought Holly went for men,” George said.
Bea leaned her head on George, who put her arms around Bea in turn. “Not quite. She’s always had crushes on women. She thinks that we haven’t noticed, but I know she’s never been in love with any of the men she meets. I think one day the right woman might make her fall in love.”
“You don’t mean Story St. John,” George said with disdain.
“Oh no. I don’t think Story is the one-woman kind of girl,” Bea said. Teddy kicked her covers off and turned onto her side. “She’s definitely your daughter, George. You always wake up with no covers.”
Bea pulled the blankets back over Teddy.
“Only because you steal them away from me,” George joked.
Bea sighed contentedly as she gazed at her daughter. “It’s amazing to think our little girl will be Queen one day. A little girl that can’t sleep without her bear—a Queen.”
“She’ll grow up to be good and kind just like you, Bea. She’ll be a perfect Queen,” George said.
“I hope she gets your height, Georgie. I wouldn’t wish my small stature on anyone,” Bea joked.
“I love your height, my little smout.”