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Excerpt for Being Margaret by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Being Margaret




By Q. Kelly

© Smashwords 2019








Table of Contents


Author’s Note and Blurb

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Have you read the earlier three books in the series?

List of Q. Kelly’s Works









Author’s Note


Being Margaret is the fourth book in a four-book series (future series additions are possible). It stands alone okay, but reading the earlier books may enhance your enjoyment.


This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental. Being Margaret © 2019. Q. Kelly


Blurb


The future for Britain’s Princess Margaret represents a marked change from her past. For example, Margaret will not be heir to the throne much longer due to the impending birth of her nephew, and her memory, while sometimes still resembling Swiss cheese, is better than ever. However, there is one memory in particular she wants to erase. It haunts her, sometimes crowding out her other thoughts and rendering her breathless.


Tessa Donovan, a detective in New York City, is the one person Margaret thinks can help, but Tessa doesn’t want to get involved. Margaret refuses to take no for an answer. She travels to Manhattan, seeks out Tessa and ushers in a future that neither of them could have envisioned.


Can Margaret get a happy ending like her sisters did?










Chapter One




It took Margaret one hour and one week to prepare the notes. One hour to cover the ten index cards in large handwriting as neat as possible. One week to wait—to see if her memory turned up new kernels, new truths before she called Tessa.

It didn’t.

One of her doctors, Dennis Milville, used to liken Margaret’s memory to Swiss cheese, only her wedge held more hole than cheese. Now her memory was improving, but she still had to do things at half the speed a normal person would. Nay, a quarter of the speed, especially this task that required the notecards. A wrong step meant disastrous consequences.

Two p.m. now in London, meaning it would be ten a.m. in New York City. No putting it off. Margaret opened Safari on her iPhone. She’d asked Adam to buy the phone and sneak it to her. No one in her family knew she had it, and the fact filled her with pride.

She navigated to the page that she’d studied intently for the past month—the NYPD Cold Case Squad—and to the picture of the smiling woman she was about to call. Margaret inputted the number and kept the phone flat on her desk. Her motor skills were okay most of the time, not where they’d been before the shootings, but okay. Still, this could be a difficult, lengthy conversation, so why worry about having to hold the phone?

Ring. Ring. Ring.

“Hello, Detective Tessa Donovan speaking. How may I help you?” Slightly harried voice. What had Margaret interrupted? An intense discussion among the detectives on the best way to nail a suspected murderer? Something lower-key, perhaps grumblings about certain detectives who came in late and left early? No matter. Margaret glanced toward the first notecard she had painstakingly prepared.

“Hello, Tessa,” she said. “I’m glad I caught you in the office.” Her voice felt strong, steady and crisp. She experienced occasional days when she spoke haltingly, but they had become far fewer.

“Emma?” Tessa whispered. Margaret imagined the detective’s face going pale, blood rushing out of her cheeks.

“Margaret,” she clarified, looking at the first notecard again. “We met two times during Katharine’s wedding week.”

“Yes, of course.”

The second notecard: “At the breakfast with my mother and sister, there was a discussion on how one would commit the perfect murder.”

Tessa didn’t answer, so Margaret continued. “My father’s death—”

“I don’t recall that conversation.”

Margaret blinked. She moved her gaze to the third notecard, but it offered no clues on dealing with this wrinkle. “It happened,” she said hesitantly. “I remember.” At least, I remember it most days.

“No, I’m afraid it didn’t.”

“It did.”

“Okay, maybe it did,” Tessa conceded. “That week…it’s a blur for me.”

Margaret bit her lip. She’d thought Tessa would be a good person to talk to, to confide in. A police detective who must suspect the truth! Why else would her gaze have been so uncomfortable during that breakfast?

Margaret heard a mouse approaching, a mouse drawn by her panic and stress. He readied his sharp teeth to nibble a fresh hole in her cheese. Gnaw. Bite. Meaty bite. Not one of these tiny holes she could work around, but a huge, significant black hole. She fought against it, her gaze frantic on the rows and columns of notecards set around her phone. The card marked #3: “My father’s death was not an accident,” Margaret cried, beating the mouse to that area of the cheese.

“Whatever concerns you have, I work for the city of New York,” Tessa said neutrally. “Your father died in England.”

“I do realize that, but—”

“Your Royal Highness, I have to go. Sorry I couldn’t be of help,” Tessa said, her voice as cold as ice.

Margaret’s mouse started shivering as it opened its mouth for a giant bite of cheese.

“Wait. Wait!” Margaret said.

Tessa hung up.


**


Margaret awoke the next morning needing a desperate wee. While she washed her hands, her gaze flickered to the ornate mirror above her sink.

An old face looked back at her. Well, not old old, but older. Definitely older. She blinked, but the aged face remained.

Calm down. It’s okay. You are dreaming, Margaret. She moved her gaze to the right of the mirror, where a neon-yellow poster taped to the wall read, “You are 35 years old.” A picture of younger Margaret jostled for space next to a larger picture of older Margaret.

Margaret remembered now—enough, anyway. She reached her fingers out and traced the lines of her fourteen-year-old face, the photo paper curling up at the corners. Another memory came to her, from when she was nineteen. Her parents had gone to ride their horses after dinner, leaving Margaret and Emma home alone at Buckingham. “Alone” meaning that numerous servants and staffers surrounded them.

Emma suggested that they do the flashcards. Margaret didn’t want to. It seemed like her family only cared about her ability to take up normal duties.

“Come on,” Emma urged. “You have one week left, and Mum’s really excited.”

Margaret forced a smile. “Sure.” In one week, she and her mother were scheduled to open a mobile support unit for a cancer care center. It would be Margaret’s first official appearance. She would not give a speech, but there was still much to remember.

Margaret and Emma settled into one of the couches in Margaret’s study, and Emma, then seventeen years old, proffered the first card. “Who’s he?”

Margaret scrunched her face at the mean-looking, ratlike visage that greeted her. “Ew,” she said.

Emma sighed. “Margaret, he leads the principal funding organization.”

“Principal…funding? What do…you mean?”

Emma’s eyelids fluttered shut for a second. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you.”

“I can…do it.”

“Okay.” Emma pointed again to the card. “Who is he?”

“Simon,” Margaret volunteered. The name somehow sounded right.

“No,” Emma said. She gathered up the deck of flashcards. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

After Emma left, Margaret curled up on the couch. She needed to rest her eyes and relieve her growing headache. “Anthony,” she whispered. “Anthony Jakes.” The ratlike man.

She awoke some time later to her mother sitting on the couch across. Amalia wore her riding clothes, and the knees were stained brown and green. She sat with a sort of coiled energy even as she stared out into space.

Alarm ran through Margaret, and she forgot the word for “Mum.” It tantalized the tip of her tongue, but there was nothing to be done about it but to wait. She’d remember soon enough. She closed her eyes, struggled for the word, and finally it clicked.

“Mum!” Margaret said, sitting up. “What…time is it?”

Amalia crossed to her and hugged her. “Darling, Margaret, darling.” Amalia broke their embrace and peered into Margaret’s eyes. “I have bad news.” Her chin quivered. “I’m so sorry, but your father had an accident on our ride.”

“Accident?”

A tear broke free from Amalia’s right eye, and she let it shudder in all of its wet glory. “His horse…” Amalia wiped the tear away. “She must have reared up because of a noise or animal or…I’m not sure, but he was thrown off.”

Margaret saw in Amalia’s eyes that he had died. Her chest clenched and her heart wheezed, but her brain remained sufficiently calm because his death was too awful to contemplate. “Where’s Emma?”

“In bed. Asleep.”

It confused Margaret, why her mother would’ve told her but not Emma. Well, Emma could have been told but then fallen back asleep. Would that really happen, though? A lot of things confused Margaret in that moment, but she could voice nothing through the muddle of thoughts.

“Katharine has been informed,” Amalia said. “She is on her way from Maine. She will give a speech in the morning.”

No! No! Margaret would pretend that her limited mental faculties prevented her from understanding.

“I’m going…to sleep,” Margaret said.

Amalia narrowed her eyes. “Margaret, darling, you are the heir to the throne. There’s much we need to do before Katharine arrives. You need to get dressed and tell Emma and your grandmother. Then the staffers must be told.”

Simon Anthony Jakes! “You do it. I need to sleep.”

“You are the heir to the throne,” Amalia repeated. “And you are capable. You know your duty. I will help you, of course, but—”

“I want to sleep!” Margaret screamed.

“Margaret Vivian Alexandra Rose! Your father would be ashamed to see you shirk your duty like this.”

“I have…a headache, Mum,” Margaret mewled, but she didn’t. For once, her brain remained free and open.

“I’ve laid out your clothes,” Amalia said. “Shall we get you dressed? I will brush your hair.”

“I will dress myself.”

“Good. You have five minutes, then I’m coming in,” Amalia warned.


**


They headed into Emma’s suite together, Amalia in her soiled riding clothes and Margaret in her black mourning dress.

“You change too,” Margaret told her mother.

“I will while Emma gets ready.”

“No,” Margaret said, squaring her shoulders. “Change. Now. I will wait.” The brown and green on Amalia’s knees was the same earth as that upon which Emma and Margaret’s father died. It was too real.

Amalia left. Rather than wait, Margaret entered Emma’s bedroom and tapped the lamp on the nightstand. Dim light illuminated her sister curled up in bed, blond hair spread across her sheets.

Margaret rubbed Emma’s back. “Emma,” she whispered.

Emma stirred awake and sat up. “Margaret?”

“Simon Anthony Jakes,” she said proudly.

Emma smiled. “Anthony Jakes. Yes. You got it.”

“Dad is dead,” Margaret said. Out like that. Because of her condition, she lacked some of the filters other people had. Finesse and nuance could elude her.

“What?”

“He and Mum…had an accident riding.”

Emma gasped. “Mum too?”

“No. Just Dad.”

“Where is Mum?”

“Changing. Clothes dirty. I have…to go to tell Grandmum and the staffers…but you take your time. Mourn.” Margaret patted her sister on the shoulder.

Emma stared. Licked her lips. “I don’t even know what happened,” she whispered. “Like…did he suffer?”

“Horse threw him off.”

Emma winced. “I need to see Mum.” She took off, flying out of the room.

Margaret knew that she had erred, been too callous, perhaps, but could not explain exactly how. She’d known instinctively that whatever way Emma reacted, be it confusion, tears or anger, Amalia would try to hurry it along in the name of duty. This way, with Amalia elsewhere, Emma could get in a few minutes of proper mourning.

Except Emma headed straight for their mother.



**


The family and the staffers lined up for Katharine’s arrival. Amalia stood at the head of the queue. This time yesterday, she had still been queen of England. She would always be referred to as “Her Majesty,” but now she was the queen mother, not the queen consort.

As for Margaret, she outranked everyone in Britain except for her elder sister. She heard her father’s voice: You are the heir to the throne. You must be smart and strong, Margaret. It’s as your mum said—you have your duty.

Katharine came in wearing a black dress similar to what Margaret and the other women wore. She was the queen, no longer a mere princess, but the fact seemed to have diminished rather than emboldened her.

Her gaze found Amalia’s. They exchanged a terrible look, one filled with confusion, hate, anger. Amalia did not curtsy, nor did protocol require her to. She stood, almost as if frozen, and looked at her daughter, the new queen.

Then Katharine found Margaret, and Margaret knew in that instant what to do. It was important that she show her sister serious respect. It set an example for the rest of the family and the staffers. Because Katharine was gay, not everyone respected her or treated her properly.

Margaret gave Katharine a deep, grand curtsy, an once-in-a-lifetime curtsy. In fact, she’d never given her father the king this type of curtsy. “Your Majesty,” Margaret said, and when she looked up, she saw embarrassment on her sister’s face.

Amalia curtsied next, then Emma, then their grandmother Alexandra who, like Amalia, wasn’t required to curtsy, all three curtsies intricate like the patterns in spider silk, strong and delicate. The staffers curtsied too, beautiful, imposing dances to honor the young queen.

It had been too much, way too much, judging from the mortification that continued to color Katharine’s cheeks. Katharine went to her suite without saying a word to anyone.

Tis all right, Henry’s voice said. You tried. That’s what matters.

No, Daddy. I messed up.

It’s okay. It’s fine. Go rest.


**


Margaret possessed few solid memories of the years in between the recovery that began when she was eighteen and her “awakening” after Alec Castle came into her life. It happened about the same time she started a new medication regimen, so who was to say that the man with the magic tongue was responsible?

In any case, Margaret awoke one night and remembered having arranged her father’s death. In some areas, Margaret recalled the tiniest details. In other areas, much eluded her. For example, she remembered the light in Alicia Hastings’s kitchen, but she couldn’t recall why she chose Alicia. The light illuminated Alicia like an angel in front of the dark window, but Alicia was no angel, oh no. For whatever reason, Margaret hated her with a terrible passion. Margaret had smelled Alicia’s perfume, the Baccarat Les Larmes Sacrees de Thebes with its top notes of Egyptian cassie, pepper flower and pink pepper.

“I like perfume that makes me sparkle,” Alicia had told Margaret once.

The memories amounted to a mass of worm-words, a nest of dirty pink wriggly things seeking purchase in Margaret’s body, wriggling through her brain pores, saying, You have to hear us, you hear us, there’s nothing you can do about it and nothing you can ever do about it.

Margaret felt the heat of Alicia’s angry, fearful breath on her neck and Alicia’s perfume wafting up Margaret’s nostrils. Margaret said words like, He is a bad man. He gets this look in his eyes whenever—

Mercifully, Margaret’s memory could never complete that sentence.

That night, Margaret dreamed dark and vicious dreams. The memory of her misdeed sometimes disappeared, but it always returned. It would stay with her in some form or the other until she gasped her last breath, her respites fleetingly brief.

She, Margaret Vivian Alexandra Rose, princess of England, killed her father the king and became heir to the throne.


**


“Adam,” Margaret said the next time he visited. “Take me to Broadway to see a show. New York City.”

He was a nice man, a boy really, at twenty-two years old. Steady and reliable. Fun, too. He made Margaret laugh. He didn’t mind that she sometimes spoke slowly and that she needed to think a lot and rest a lot. He didn’t mind the notecards and reminders she posted for herself.

He wasn’t terrific in bed like Alec, but Alec was special. He’d been paid to court her, to ravish her lovingly, pleasure her, to give her orgasm after orgasm while putting his needs aside.

Adam, he pulled his penis out of his pants and thrust it inside her. He’d shudder and then be done. Not once did he enquire, “Was it good for you?”

She asked her sister Emma once if Adam was “slow.”

Emma frowned. “How do you mean?”

“Like me,” Margaret explained.

“You’re not slow,” Emma protested.

“You know what I mean. Is he all there mentally?” Margaret hated that she couldn’t tell, that she had to ask her sister this question.

“He’s normal,” Emma said thoughtfully. “Maybe on the low end of normal IQ-wise, but…” She shrugged.

“He operates rides at a funfair, and he does laundromat work.”

“Someone has to,” Emma pointed out. “It’s respectable work. Even ambitious people have to do it at some point.” She patted Margaret on the leg. “I like him.”

Easy for Emma to say. She’d come home engaged after a whirlwind weekend and was planning her wedding. Margaret would be in it as maid of honor.

In any case, the wedding remained a few months off, and Margaret needed to get to New York City to speak with Tessa in person.

“Broadway?” Adam said, his brown eyes quizzical. “What’s wrong with the plays in London?”

“Nothing, but it would be nice to travel, to go somewhere, the two of us.”

“I like England,” he said.

“You’ll like New York too.”

“I’d have to save up.”

“I will pay for everything. The hotel, airfare, new clothes, show tickets.”

Adam shook his head. “No. It’s my job to pay.”

It irritated her that he insisted on being so old-fashioned. It wouldn’t be a big deal if he worked as, say, a lawyer, but what could he afford on a funfair ride operator’s salary?

Margaret mustered up patience. “I would like to do it, Adam. Please let me do it for us.”

“Would, like, people photograph us and stuff? You know I’m shy.”

“We could do it on the down low.”

“I don’t see how,” he said.

“Fine. Then I’ll go alone.”

“C’mon,” he whined.

“I don’t mind going alone,” she pressed. In fact, now that she’d said it, going solo held a certain appeal. She wouldn’t tell her mother or sisters of her plans. She’d simply let her security detail know she was going to a Broadway show next Wednesday, and it would be done.

“I’ll go,” he said.

Okay, good. Really, it was better that he go. She smiled at him, taking in his strong jawlines and soft eyes.

“We should wait until after your sister has the baby,” Adam said.

Oh. Yes. Katharine, eight-plus months pregnant, could give birth any day now. It would look like a snub if the heir to the throne was in another country for the birth of her replacement.

“Soon, then,” Margaret said.








Chapter Two

Adriena




Some year ago, former Queen of England, my friend Amalia, give me cheque. She tell me travel. Go Paris. Barcelona.

I try. I say to Mama, “You want go on vacation? I pay. We stay nice hotel.”

Mama scoff. “Don’t be ridiculous. How would you be able to pay?”

“I play lotto ticket. Every week.” It not true, but how else explain the money? If I tell Mama that queen give me funds, she get greedy and want more.

Mama eyes squint.

“I win 500,000 pounds!”

Mama face get red. “Adriena Agata, stop lying! Tell me where you got the money.”

“From…from palace.”

“You stole it?”

“No! I friends with someone important.”

Mama shake her head. “Give me the money.” She hold her hand out and waggle her fingers.

“Why?” But I see two whys in her eyes. Because she don’t believe me or because Mama think I no know what to do with money. But I do. I already went bank. Opened account.

Maybe we compromise. “I give you 30,000 pounds,” I say.

“No one gave you nothing,” Mama snicker. “Why the bloody hell would someone from the palace give you 500,000 pounds?” She walk to TV and turn it on with her pointer finger because we never can find remote. She sit and watch old WestEnders show.

I look her. I feel mean inside, like I want hit her. Happens sometimes when people think I slow and stupid—but never this deep. Never this bad. I trembling.

I walk to door.

“Where you going?” Mama ask.

I no reply.


**


That afternoon, I sign lease on flat. It near-ish to palace. By palace, I mean Buckingham, where I work before. Where before I work hard cleaning for king and queen and where I meet little girl who became not-so-little girl and got me fired.

Flat very nice. Huge windows. Much sunshine. View of park and trees. But space empty. Floors bare and wood.

Lots to do. Decorate. Furniture. This my place. I do with it what I want, only what I want. No Mama in next room to say I can’t do things.

Next few days I go shops. I not go home. Let Mama worry. She deserve it. I buy red couch like in 1960s American movie I saw few year ago. It have many buttonlike things on back, and it elegant.

Also buy bed. Have hard time deciding. Is one bed with tent canopy I much like. But I want nothing to block sunshine. In the end, I buy normal, boring-looking bed but at least it let sunshine in. And I get shimmery purple sheets for bed.

It take one week to finish shopping, but finally, my flat finished. It furnished. It have bed, dressers, couch, two chairs that go with couch, kitchen table, chairs, towels, washcloths, toilet paper, food, lots other stuff.

I living alone and I doing fine. I not buy TV because Mama watch it too much and it turn her in zombie. Instead of TV, I plan walk. I plan sew. I plan do things.

Because flat all finished, I go see Mama to say goodbye.

“Adriena!” Mama scream when she see me. She hug me so hard I pop. “Where have you been?” She cry and cry. “Don’t do that again!”

“I have my own flat. I not live here with you.”

Mama eyes go wide. “But…no, Adriena.”

“I come back Sunday, 6 p.m. We go restaurant, okay? Every Sunday.”

“Where’s this new flat of yours?”

One thing I know: I quite enjoy live alone, and I no want Mama know where flat is.


**


Soon, I do go vacation to United States of America. Many cities I interested to see. New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia. Others. But where I go is place called Savannah in state of Georgia. It not tall and glittery like other cities, but I pick Savannah because it maybe Amalia favourite. Neil said so. He my former boss at palace, and sometime he like pretend he much closer with king and queen than he is.

“Their Majesties really enjoyed Savannah,” Neil say one day. He go with them on some overseas trips to make sure places and hotels clean for them.

“What’s there?” ask Yvonna, my friend. She also cleaner.

“Lots of Southern charm. Flowers. Humidity.” Neil laugh. “The queen liked it more than the king did. She told me she read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and fell in love with Savannah.”

“Never heard of it,” Yvonna say.

“Pretty good book. You should check it out.”

I no know if Yvonna ever check it out, but I buy book. Reading hard for me sometime so I also buy audiobook at high volume. Audiobook much better. One of my favourite line: “She was a marvel. She did exactly as she pleased all her life, God bless her.”

Like Queen, I fall in love with Savannah through book. I go. If we meet again, she be pleased I pick her city to visit with cheque money.

Vacation turn out not too much fun. Too much hot. People rude. I get lost easily. I ask for help and directions. They laugh me. They laugh my clothes. At night in hotel room, I cry.

I go home early.


**


Most my money still left when shootings happen on Easter. King’s sister dead. King, his mum, Princess, one of her sisters, they shot too. Queen okay. She got nothing on her. Her skin as white and pretty as ever.

Still a hard time for me. I no like Princess anymore, not after she lie about what I done. What I DIDN’T do. That not mean I want her shot. When she come home from hospital few month after Easter, I smile. Maybe even cry little bit. She young girl. Confused girl. Queen many things, but she is like my mama—not good mum to her daughter. Not accept daughter for who she is. I made mistake too, telling Princess she must marry man and have babies. I did wrong thing because I like Queen too much.

So, I happy Princess okay. I hope Princess sister Margaret turn out okay too. I miss seeing Queen on laptop movies. I want see her smile and be happy. Sometimes, when I sleepy in bed, I remember her smells. Some days, she smelled like money. Like jewels made from flowers. She such beautiful woman who sometimes treated me like I smart.

Point is, I never expect see her again. She done give me cheque, and I take few years to relax. I clean houses only occasionally. I look at her in magazines and on TV. She get older. She become Queen Mother, and Princess is new queen.

I get older too. Lines around Queen Mother’s eyes delicate and fine. Lines around my eyes more rough.

I touch her pictures in magazines. Sweep my finger up curve of her hip or leg. Stroke her lip. Remember way she brush my shoulder accidentally. Remember way she cross her ankles.

I decide what to do with rest of cheque money. I talk with lawyer. I talk with smart businesswoman. Never with Mama. Never. Lawyer and businesswoman help me set up company. It called, “Adriena Agata Cleaning Service.”

By time Queen show up at my door, “Adriena Agata Cleaning Service” doing very well. Have 40 full-time employees. I go office most days to sign papers and talk with lawyer and smart businesswoman.

Lots going on. My business booming. I kind of rich. Then one day, doorbell ring.

Always, my first thought when I hear doorbell is that Mama done come found where I live. It make my belly clench.

I squint through peephole. It not Mama—woman too tall and thin. She all covered up. Headscarf and whatnot, I can’t see her face. But it like that time Queen came to give me cheque. She standing same way. She covering herself same way.

It Queen Amalia. I think so at first.

My heart leap. My stomach swirl. My friend back. My friend come see me.

I open door. “Your Majesty,” I whisper, bowing my head. “Come in.” She smell good. So good, like life and friendship. Whatever she need, I do it.

It not Amalia. I realise after I see cane and she take her headscarf and glasses off. It not the mother—it the second daughter, the crown princess Margaret.

I so confused.

We stare at each other, then she try on hesitant smile. She touch her hand to my arm. Feels warm. Nice. Bright wedding diamond shine on her elder sister’s finger, but Margaret’s is bare.

“Adriena,” she say, her voice sad and throaty. “I miss you.”

“I…miss you too.”

“You’ve made a name for yourself,” she murmur. “Adriena Agata Cleaning Service.”

I think of cheque Queen give me but stay silent about how her mother help me.

Margaret look around my flat. “Hmm,” she say. “Hmm. It’s a pretty place.” Then Margaret chew on her lower lip. She no know what to think or say. Finally, she say again, “I miss you, my friend. I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch. I’ve been unwell.”

I thinking, We was never friends. You no remember me. I saw you only a few times when you little girl. But I look into her deep blue eyes. They pained.

“I understand,” I say.

She let out huge breath. She throw her arms around me, and we hug long time.

Later, when Margaret leave, we hug again and she say, “I’m glad you were able to put my cheque to good use.”

Cheque? I get feeling that this woman very confused.









Chapter Three




The puzzle pieces of Margaret’s New York City trip came together slowly. First, Katharine’s baby arrived late. A week after his due date, doctors induced labor, and at last, the nine-pound, seven-ounce heir to the throne entered the world.

Margaret met him the day after his birth. “Come on,” Amalia said, urging her on. “Let’s go meet my grandson and your nephew.”

You mean my replacement. It was funny, really, this heir business. In most ways, Margaret had never been treated as heir. She simply wasn’t mentally capable of leading the United Kingdom, or so people thought. If it happened that the crown fell to her, well, they’d figure out a way to whisk it on to Emma. Above all, Margaret hated the burning knowledge that for the past sixteen years, the world must have held its breath and hoped for nothing bad to happen to Katharine, else the crown would fall onto the head of a mental deficient.

“Katharine is sleeping,” Veronica whispered with a grin when Amalia and Margaret entered the suite. “But the baby is awake.”

Amalia held and held and held the baby and cooed over him. She kissed his face all over. Veronica seemed equally besotted with her son, but Margaret hung back and migrated to a chair in the corner. Maybe if she sat and was quiet, they would forget about her until they had to leave. Before the shootings, she’d known she wanted lots of children. She wanted a strapping, handsome man to be her husband, the children’s father. Their daughters would look like him except one, who would be the perfect mix of them both. Their sons would resemble Margaret, except one, who would be the perfect mix of them both.

At last, Amalia, tears in her eyes, approached Margaret. She held the baby out, and Margaret found herself saying, “No.”

That damn bluntness. Still there.

Amalia flinched. “Darling—”

“Sorry.” Margaret held her arms out and accepted the child. She tried to see him as a doll, not as a living, breathing creature, else she might cry. Would she have children one day? If she wasn’t fit to be heir to the throne, how could she be fit to mother?

The bundle yawned adorably. Dolls yawn, Margaret told herself, but of course they didn’t.

“Have you named him?” Amalia asked in the background.

“We think so. I’ll let Katharine share the name,” Veronica answered.

“How are Lucas and Jo?”

“Wonderful. They love him to bits.”

They continued talking, and rather than keep looking at the doll-child, Margaret moved her gaze to a painting on the wall. Katharine had done it in a frantic flurry of brushstrokes, and it showed a full mouth with glistening red lipstick.

Aunt Josephine, her father’s sister. She took Margaret to the beach once. Margaret was maybe ten. They’d gone, just the two of them—well, and the security gaggle too. Aunt Josephine had only sons, so she liked to borrow Margaret or her sisters every once in a while. At the beach, they ate candyfloss and went on rides, and it had been one of the happiest days of Margaret’s life.

Amalia’s scolding voice broke into Margaret’s thoughts: “You’re not looking at the baby!”

“It’s okay,” Veronica said.

“Isn’t he lovely?” Amalia said, her eyes pleading with Margaret to divert her attention back to the child. To coo over him, to act with him like Amalia had. To act normal.

“Will you take him?” Margaret asked Veronica.

“Of course.” She scooped up the child and kissed his forehead.

Amalia bent down to kiss Margaret’s forehead as well. “We’re getting there,” Amalia said cheerily. “Soon, we’ll have the old Margaret back.”

“Those types of comments are hurtful,” Margaret mustered through clenched teeth.

“What?” Amalia said, and Veronica held her son closer to her and looked like she wanted to disappear.

“Don’t kiss me on the forehead like I’m a baby, and don’t make comments like I’m not here!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Go,” Margaret cried. “Leave, Mum!”

“I’m sorry,” Amalia said again. She sounded like she meant it.

“Leave, Mum.”

“I really am sorry, love.” Amalia kissed the baby once more and left.

Veronica placed her son in his crib and gave Margaret a tentative smile.

Margaret must have risen from the chair and stood looking at the painting of her aunt for a very long time because the next thing she remembered, a new smell entered the room, Katharine’s smell because of the lotion she wore, and Margaret turned to look at her elder sister.

Katharine smiled with her beautiful deep dimples. “Hi, Margaret.”

“I’m going to New York to see a Broadway show.”

“Oh, that will be nice,” Katharine said. “When?”

“Next week.”

Katharine frowned. “But—”

“Adam wanted to surprise me.”

Katharine’s features softened. “That’s sweet, but remember your speech. Your first official appearance.”

Panic tickled Margaret’s stomach, but she forced a wide smile to her lips. “I do.”

Katharine shot Veronica a glance conveying: See what you made me do? “You forgot,” Katharine accused.

“No. It slipped my mind,” Margaret protested.

Katharine patted Margaret’s arm and got the same expression Amalia got sometimes. The I know what’s best for you expression. “Margaret—”

“I’m ready for the speech,” Margaret said defiantly.

“You begged me,” her sister said softly. “Last month, you came here and begged to make your first official appearance.”

“I know.” She didn’t. Time to change the subject. Margaret pictured the doll baby’s adorable yawn. Everything else about him—the cheeks, his chin, his eyes, she’d tried hard not to pay attention to, and her scheme had worked too well. She couldn’t conjure his details in her mind, but the yawn proved enough. “Your son is beautiful,” she said.

Katharine smiled. “Thank you.”

“Katharine?”

“Yes?”

“I’m tired of Mum,” Margaret said. “She smothers me. She treats me like a baby. Can you get her to back off?”

Katharine studied Margaret’s face for a few beats. “If you can make an official appearance, you can tell her yourself to back off. Hmm?”

“Yes. I suppose.”


**


One week later, Margaret awoke and brushed her teeth. A new piece of paper, this one purple, festooned the space above the neon poster in her bathroom. It read:

YOUR FIRST OFFICIAL APPEARANCE TODAY!

Butterflies filled her stomach. She didn’t recall begging Katharine to make the appearance nor being granted it, but here she was, and she’d rehearsed her speech with Emma all week. They would present an award at an “Everyday Heroes” ceremony. Emma and Margaret’s recipient, a man named Joe Walsh, was a convenience store owner who insisted on installing a defibrillator machine in his store. It saved the life of a fifteen-year-old customer who went into cardiac arrest.


**


Eager, curious faces peered at Emma and Margaret as they strode into the backstage area of the hall. At least, Emma would have stridden if she were alone. Alas, Margaret had been in a wheelchair for a good portion of her years and still walked often with a cane.

Not today.

Today, she put one foot in front of the other and walked inside in a straight line, even if she couldn’t stride. Emma stayed at her side but slightly ahead to bear the brunt of the socializing.

A jolly-cheeked, white-haired man approached first. “Mr. Brenner!” Emma said. “How nice to see you.”

“Your Royal Highnesses,” he said, grinning and bowing his head. His gaze lingered intensely on Margaret’s face, revealing each and every question he wondered about her mental and physical fitness. Perhaps also her ability to have sex, for he was a randy old goat. Five times, Margaret and Emma went over the list of their fellow presenters, and Sir Edmund Brenner served as prime minister about a decade ago. He would present the award before Emma and Margaret’s.

Margaret flicked her shiny brown hair back to reveal her neck. She realized what she’d done only after he gulped.


**


Edmund Brenner went on fifteen minutes later. Margaret and Emma watched him from the wings as they’d watched the other presenters. He launched into his speech, and Margaret mentally rehearsed hers.

The master of ceremonies announced them: “Our next presenters are two of the most well-known women in the world. Princess Emma is the patron of the British Heart Foundation, and Princess Margaret is leading a drive to get more defib machines installed throughout the royal residences.”

Margaret frowned. I am? Well, what else would they say? ‘Princess Margaret has been an invalid for years and years and has absolutely nothing to do with this award!’

Emma started forward, taking the tiny steps she was accustomed to with Margaret. However, Margaret took a large step and then another. She walked as quickly as she could and beat Emma to the podium. She looked down at the microphone and then up at the heads and torsos filling the auditorium. She smiled the smile she’d rehearsed countless times.

Goodness, the place was full! It was like all of Britain turned out to see Margaret. On her right, the words on the teleprompter started to move, but Margaret ignored them. They’d only confuse her. She would rely on her Swiss cheese memory, and it would come through this time. She knew it would.

“On a sunny day last year,” Margaret began, “a man named Joe Walsh encountered a pile-up on the road. Later, after he got home, he found out that it occurred because a driver had a heart attack. Now, Joe knew about heart attacks. His mother…”


**


That evening, the TV news showed clips from Margaret’s speech. An elegant Margaret stood at the podium in her fitted white pantsuit. She spoke earnestly and passionately, and when Joe stepped on the stage to receive his award, she shook his hand and accepted the hug he offered.

“Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret earned high marks in her speech and wowed the audience,” the news anchor said with a smile.

Margaret gave a giddy laugh, her umpteenth of the night, and rewound the clip to play again. She kissed Adam’s face all over like Amalia had kissed the doll baby’s face. “I did it! I did it!”

When he entered her an hour later, she harbored the illogical hope that it would be different this time. Maybe after his orgasm, he’d go down on her like Alec had.

He didn’t, and Margaret put in a request. “Go down on me, Adam.”

“Oh,” he said, a dumb look floating into his eyes but disappearing quickly. “Yeah, okay, sure.” He kissed and licked her down there, but his tongue hit all the wrong places.

Well, it was a start, anyway.


**


The next morning, Margaret awoke barely able to think and move. The past week of intense preparation for her appearance exerted its toll, and now Margaret’s body let go.

She stared at the ceiling and willed her legs to move out of the bed. She could wiggle her toes and shift her legs a bit, but they felt like dead weights. So did her arms, her brain, her everything. A trip to New York in the next few weeks seemed impossible, especially since Margaret needed to be sharp when rehearsals for Emma’s wedding began.

Margaret sighed. New York would have to wait a few months, but she’d make good use of that time.









Chapter Four




Tessa caved and watched the wedding. Correction: The damn fucking wedding, Emma and Cheryl.

When Britain’s queen mother threatened your life because you knew she killed her husband, leaving her youngest daughter alone seemed like the wisest course of action.

But damn. That call from Margaret. She sounded so like her sister, Tessa wondered sometimes if it had actually been Emma calling, Emma getting cold feet after becoming engaged so quickly.

My father’s death was not an accident, Margaret had said. Yeah, no shit, princess.

On the TV, Margaret wore a gorgeous lavender Alexander McQueen dress. She smiled and swept down the aisle with a confidence Tessa had to marvel at. At Katharine’s wedding and reception, the queen’s middle sister had been in a wheelchair. She spoke in halting, short sentences. Less than two years later, she stood transformed at the altar as her younger sister vowed to love another woman from Chicago forever and ever.

Tessa squeezed her stress ball.

Amalia Van den Berg is a killer. At Purcell, you were willing to give your life for Katharine if it came to that. Why did you give in so easily when Amalia threatened you both times? Why actively work to let a killer go free?

Tessa scoffed. “Come on,” she said out loud. Like she’d had any choice. This was the queen mother, for chrissakes. Britain would collapse if Amalia were arrested on charges of murdering the king. It would devastate Katharine and Emma, and Tessa cared about both women very much. Plus, Tessa had seen a different, kinder side to Amalia at Katharine’s wedding reception. Amalia would not kill her husband unless she had a good reason. Who knew what Henry had done to his wife? Was it anyone’s business?

Ahhh, you and your justifications. Your excuses.

The camera rested on Margaret’s face, uncannily like a younger Amalia’s in that few seconds. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Katharine and Emma took after their father, but Margaret was a mix of her parents with somewhat more resemblance to her brunette mother. A beautiful woman like her sisters.

A few minutes later, the camera found Veronica, who listened intently to the Archbishop of Canterbury. At least, she looked like she listened intently. Maybe she thought about her older two kids adjusting to Britain, the dreary weather or the lesbian bed death she was experiencing with Katharine.

Tsk. Petty Tessa.

She took a deep breath. It wasn’t like her life was anything to write home about. At age forty-two, she loved what she did, but it took a toll. Her personal life was nonexistent, and she always teetered on burnout. Her choice. Cold cases afforded a predictable 9-to-5 schedule, and many of her colleagues went home to their spouses and children after work while Tessa kept toiling. She lived in a cramped apartment she could barely afford. She threw herself into cold case after cold case in the same way that actors become their characters, and she emerged wrung out and exhausted. For what? Most of the time, no one was brought to justice. Real life worked that way. It wasn’t TV with its quick DNA testing, accurate eyewitnesses and neat, clean timeline progressions.

The confessions too! If only people confessed in real life like they did on TV.

You’re free, Tessa. Remember that. Veronica and Katharine, and Emma and Cheryl, they’re not free. The eyes of the world are always on them. Their prison may be golden and expansive, but it is still a prison. Embrace your freedom and the ability to choose your own path in life.

After Emma’s wedding ended, Tessa brushed her teeth and took a shower as if to cleanse herself of jealousy and regret.

It didn’t work. Bloody Brits. Bloody welfare royals. Bloody prancing princesses!


**


In early November several months after Emma’s wedding, Margaret finally landed in New York. Private trip, nothing official. She and Adam flew via a British Airways “First Flight” where their every need was catered to. Adam seemed vaguely embarrassed by it all. To be honest, Margaret was too. She’d started asking to see where he lived and to meet his roommates. He kept saying no, explaining that his place and his roommates weren’t fit for her.

Margaret’s security detail, only two guards for this trip, drove them to The Mark hotel on the Upper East Side. They checked in about three p.m., and Margaret called Tessa. Why waste time? Tessa would come tonight.


**


Tessa had started to forget about Margaret’s call when the princess got in touch again.

“Tessa,” Margaret said. “This is Princess Margaret. I am in New York. You either come to my hotel, or I show up at your workplace in the next hour. Your choice.”

Oh Lord, no. Tessa glanced around at her surroundings, buying time. Across from her, Jacobsen leaned back in his chair and munched on a carrot stick, his wife’s attempt to curb his doughnut cravings. Across from him, Perrault squawked on the phone about something or the other. A pale Wilkins came toddling in and clenching her stomach. Food poisoning, she mouthed to Tessa. Sorry.

Margaret absolutely could not show up here. The last thing Tessa needed was the other detectives picking up on the fact that the queen killed the king.

“I will come to you,” Tessa said stiffly.

“Excellent. Ten o’clock tonight, The Mark hotel, suite 406.”


**


The Mark was one of New York City’s finer hotels, but Tessa barely took in her surroundings as she rode the elevator up and knocked on the door of suite 406. A grim-faced security officer opened the door, and Tessa decided to forego pleasantries. “Detective Tessa Donovan to see Her Royal Highness,” she said.

“I was not informed.”

“It’s all right.” Margaret’s voice wafted behind him. “I asked her to come.”

He let Tessa in and asked if she carried a gun. She said no, she left it at home. He raised a skeptical eyebrow and said that he would have to frisk her.

“No,” Margaret said irritably. “Let her be.”

Tessa followed the princess to her bedroom.

“My friend Adam,” Margaret said, indicating a baby-cheeked young man, handsome in his own way. He had to be at least ten years younger than Margaret.

“Hi, Adam.”

“This is Tessa,” Margaret said.

Adam nodded in greeting. “Nice to meet you.” He pecked Margaret on the cheek and said, “I’ll go for that walk.”

Margaret closed the door after he left, and Tessa selected a vase to focus on. A blue vase, next to the bed and yawningly empty. It needed flowers.

Margaret stood at the window and looked out. She was pale, her face pinched.

“Do you really not remember that conversation?” Margaret asked at last. “About the perfect murder.”

“Like I said, that week is a blur.”

Margaret sighed. “Well, I did it. I killed my father. I did a murder so perfect, I don’t remember parts of it.”


**


At first, Tessa’s brain refused to accept what it heard, although she’d known for years that Henry must have been killed.

But by Amalia! Not by Margaret.

Later, after Margaret gave Tessa time to process the story and the details such as Alicia Hastings’s heated breath and the Les Larmes Sacrees de Thebes perfume, Tessa asked, “Why tell me?”

“You understand the person I can be. I saw it in your eyes that morning at breakfast, and I can’t carry this secret alone.”

Whatever you saw in my eyes, it was meant for your mother, not you!

“What do you hope to accomplish?” Tessa asked.

“I don’t know.”

Margaret must have nursed the hope that once she told Tessa, Tessa would take charge of what to do. Pieces would fall into place.

“Maybe…” Margaret ventured. “Can you tell me…”

“What?”

“Why would I want to kill him? I’ve tried and tried to remember, but I mostly recall good things. He was my daddy. He threw me up in the air. He made me laugh. There was that stuff with Katharine, but would I have killed him over that?” Her expression clouded. “I do love my sister, and he and Mum could be horrible to her.”

“You were dreaming,” Tessa said. The easiest, most logical solution. “I don’t pretend to know you well, but you would not have killed your father.”

“I wasn’t dreaming! I remember smelling Alicia’s perfume. I felt her breath on my neck.”

“Dreams can be vivid.”

“Like I said, I was not dreaming.”

Tessa persisted: “I’ve worked on a few cases that involved dementia. In one case, a witness was positive he’d seen his neighbor carry out a killing. Everything flowed logically. It was perfect. It made sense, but forensic testing showed his account had to be wrong.”

“I do not have dementia!”

“Not as such,” Tessa agreed. “But I understand that you do have memory issues.”

Anger flushed Margaret’s cheeks. “Explain Alicia Hastings, then. She exists, and she conspired with me! Look Alicia up. Talk to her.”

“Did you?”

Aghast, horrified expression. “No. I hate her. I never want to see the woman again.”

“Look, Margaret, go home,” Tessa advised. “Go home, and forget that your dream happened. No good can come from pursuing this line of thought.”

“He was my father,” Margaret whispered. “He was my daddy. I miss him. He used to throw me up in the air, and he…he…no matter what he may have done to Katharine, he was still the king. It was not my place to interfere. Tessa, you need to do something. Punish me somehow. Call Alicia Hastings if you must. Do whatever it takes so you believe me.”

Tessa groaned. Why, oh why did she accept the invitation to attend Katharine’s wedding?

“Please,” Margaret said. “Call Alicia. You can ask her for me—ask why I wanted to kill my father.”

Tessa shook her head. “You had a crazily vivid dream, and that’s final.”


**


An ugly feeling sprouted inside Margaret as Tessa thrust her chin forth defiantly. Tessa was determined to not believe Margaret. She wouldn’t even investigate! It wasn’t fair.

Margaret looked the detective over. She was dressed in black, her red hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, dark circles under her eyes, her jaw tense and insolent.

“What is wrong with you?” Margaret said through clenched teeth. “I need punishing, but you don’t care.”

Tessa’s mouth tightened. “Your Royal Highness—”

“I ought to squash you,” Margaret snarled. “Like a bloody spider!” She bounded over to the maddening woman and pushed her. Tessa stumbled back but caught herself. She shoved Margaret, sending her flying onto the bed. Veins bulged in Tessa’s neck as she straddled Margaret and clamped her into place with strong muscles.

Margaret struggled to sit up. “Let me go!” she hollered.

“Margaret!” Tessa said, her face red as she struggled to keep Margaret pinned.

“Let me go!”

Tessa relented, climbing off Margaret.

However, once they stood again, Tessa said in a condescending way, “I am on your side. I promise.”

She wasn’t! Her expression made that clear. Rage overtook Margaret again—all this time planning her trip to New York only for Tessa to ignore her in person—and Margaret pushed Tessa a second time. Fury spread on Tessa’s face. She grabbed Margaret by the wrists and pressed her against the wall.

Tessa was strong!

She tightened her hold, and her grip became painful. Margaret stayed still, not saying anything yet, seeing how long she could tolerate the pain. She’d wanted punishment, after all. Plus, this was nice. People treated her as if her body could break at any moment. Not Tessa.

Margaret’s cheeks smushed into the cool surface of the wall, and at last, Tessa did loosen her grip a bit. The pain turned into more of a pleasant ache.

“Margaret,” Tessa said in a growl, her crotch pressing into Margaret’s arse.

“Let me go.”

Tessa snorted. “I’m supposed to fall for that again?” But her hands did slacken even more.

Margaret took advantage of the lapse. She whirled around, stood face to face with Tessa, and bit into her neck. It was a lover’s bite, a shade on the rough side, but definitely a lover’s bite, nothing that should’ve elicited the loudness of the, “Fuck!” that came from Tessa.

In fact, it may have surprised Margaret more than it did Tessa. Sure, Margaret had the desire to hurt Tessa, but the press of Tessa’s body into hers had awakened other primal impulses that Adam did nothing to alleviate.

Surprise, pain and pleasure erupted on the detective’s face. A flash of desire, too. Red-hot desire.

“Fuck,” Margaret said, her echo quieter and more urgent than Tessa’s exclamation. She became aware of Tessa’s hips pressing into hers, the wall behind Margaret offering no give.

“Shut your mouth,” Tessa hissed.

“No. Fuck you.”

“I said, shut your mouth.” Tessa clamped her hand over Margaret’s lips.

The door opened. Margaret’s gaze swerved toward the doorway—Adam.

“Hey,” he was saying. “I forgot my…oh.” He stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening.

Tessa gulped in a quick breath. She dropped her hand and backtracked.

“We’re playing,” Margaret said. She straightened her shoulders and patted down her hair, keenly aware of the hum between her legs. She hadn’t been this turned on in months, perhaps ever.

Adam had a hurt look in his eyes like he knew there was more to it than playing but wanted to believe her. “Okay,” he said. He grabbed his wallet and stuck it into his jacket pocket. “Bye,” he mumbled.

After he left, Margaret spoke before Tessa could. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m very sorry. I have issues with impulse control and etiquette and…many things. Many, many things.” She held up her hands in what she hoped was an appeasing gesture. “I just wanted you to listen and to not shut me down immediately.”

Tessa looked at her for a horrible, lengthy moment. Finally, the detective nodded. “Fine. Tell me again what happened.”


**


Darkness lived inside many police officers and detectives, same as it dwelled inside many a criminal. Sometimes, the detective and the criminal were the same person.

Tessa’s own darkness was part of what drew her to police work. She had been a good child, the type of girl to help elderly neighbors cross the street and to shovel their sidewalks after snowfalls.

Meanwhile, she watched the bad boys and girls with their swagger, the danger in their eyes, their easy, sexy grins. The way they talked, the way they moved.

Part of her hated them. Part of her loved them and wanted to be them.

Her mother had been horrified when Tessa joined the police force, and in Manhattan, no less. She’d had to call her mother after every shift and say she was still okay, still alive.

Of all the killers Tessa had encountered, Amalia Van den Berg was the only one she was willing to turn a blind eye to—because of the political situation. Sensible, really. At the same time, Amalia sent chills up Tessa’s spine with her threats.

Now her middle daughter stood in front of Tessa with her hair all kinds of askew, worry under her eyes and deepening lines on her face. Could it have been the daughter, not the mother, behind Henry’s death? Margaret’s semi-attacks on Tessa could indicate a propensity toward violence. Had Amalia been protecting Margaret that morning at breakfast?

Deep in her core, Tessa knew the only person Amalia was protecting was herself. Besides, Margaret had been in no shape mentally and physically to execute such a plot back then.

“Who else have you told?” Tessa asked Margaret after the princess went through her account a second time.

“No one,” Margaret whispered.

Thank goodness for small miracles. “The night you woke up remembering,” Tessa said. “What happened before you went to bed?”

Margaret lowered her gaze. “I think I didn’t take my pills,” she said guiltily. “The sleep pills. They’re big and thick like they’re made for horses. I hate them.”


**


Tessa and Margaret talked for the next half-hour about Margaret’s feelings of confusion and guilt. She had many good memories of her father but a decent share of bad memories, mostly to do with how he and her mother treated Katharine. They made Margaret and Emma point out boys and young men they deemed attractive. They made the sisters keep a journal noting any misdeeds on Katharine’s part—a gaze lingering at a female staffer, for example. They were to note good deeds as well. Margaret hated having to write anything down and made up scores of good deeds, both big and trifling.

Amalia had changed since then, Margaret claimed. In fact, Margaret seemed very much in love with her mother and sisters even if her mother did tend toward being too clingy and patronizing. “Mum means well,” Margaret said with a sigh.

Yeah, Tessa wasn’t about to propose her theory of what may really have happened. For the most part, she stayed quiet, nodded and asked the occasional question.

“Google her,” Margaret said at one point. “Alicia Hastings. She’s a therapist practicing in London.”

So Tessa did, using the keywords, “Alicia Hastings, therapist, London.” Tessa alit upon a sleek, professional-looking woman, maybe in her fifties or sixties.

“I’ve gone over her CV a few times,” Margaret said glumly. “She used to work with teenagers. Maybe I had therapy with her?”

“Did you ask Katharine or your mother if they know her?”

Margaret shook her head. “I’m afraid to because what if it tips them off that I’m involved?”

“Hmm.”

“I feel sorry for Alicia even though I hate her,” Margaret admitted.

“How so?”

“She didn’t want to do it. Like I explained, she kept crying and saying I was crazy and that she didn’t know anyone who could help.” Margaret squeezed her eyes shut. “I kept yelling at her and ridiculing her and telling her that it would be easy. How did she expect me to believe she didn’t know any shady characters when she worked as a bloody therapist? Come on.”

“I believe you,” Tessa said carefully. She could see the skepticism on Margaret’s face but also an appreciation for Tessa trying. “Bear with me a minute, though. This would have been back when you were eighteen or nineteen and making a miraculous breakthrough. You were weak physically and mentally. How would you have gotten to her house alone and been able to order her around like you did?”

Margaret shrugged. “I had it in me, I guess. Or she was my therapist, and I’ve blanked out our sessions.” She sighed. “There’s a lot I’ve blanked out.”


**


Margaret knew Tessa didn’t believe her when the detective covered Margaret’s hand with her own hand. It must’ve been reflexive, instinctive, a reaction to Margaret’s grief. A detective who truly believed she killed her father would not have done any such thing. Earlier, Tessa’s disbelief infuriated Margaret. Now Tessa’s touch and her hazel eyes, warm and sympathetic, nearly undid Margaret.

“Don’t touch me,” Margaret snapped, flinging Tessa’s hand off. “Don’t be nice.”

“You want punishment,” Tessa hazarded.

“Yes. I’d go to prison if I could.” Margaret let out an anguished wail. “But I can’t. It would destroy the monarchy.”


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