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Greyson Charles Rudolf Leopold Montgomery climbed nimbly from the Mansard roof, careful not to disturb the cedar shingles. When his boot-clad feet were back on solid ground, he wiped his hands on the towel he pulled from his back pocket. He glanced up at the roof he’d spent the afternoon repairing and smiled. It would definitely hold up for the winter, but it would need to be properly reinforced before it started raining in spring. Though Greyson didn’t intend to be around that long. He made a note in his phone to ensure someone came by around March to see everything right.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” the homeowner said, bowing before Greyson, one hand on his cane. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. My back just isn’t what it used to be.”
“No,” Greyson insisted, reaching out to shake the man’s hand. “It is my honor. You have been a resident of my kingdom for many years, and we are grateful for your loyalty to us and Aldora. If anything happens to the roof before February, give this number a call.” Greyson released the man’s hand to pull out his wallet. Finding what he was searching for, he extended a business card with his valet’s phone number. “I trust you won’t pass this around?”
The old man gazed at the embossed gold seal—the royal seal—with obvious adoration. “O-of course not, Your Highness. I will take this number to the grave.”
“Perfect. Please, don’t hesitate to ring if anything comes up, and have a good day.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” the man said once again, pocketing the card.
Greyson crossed the yard to the narrow drive, then swung a leg over his motorcycle. Taking one last look at the roof, he slipped his helmet on before pulling the clutch lever and flipping the kill switch. When he turned the key in the ignition, the Brough Superior roared to life.
He took the long way home, surveying the countryside he grew up riding in. Of course, he grew up riding horses, not motorcycles. The hills he sped past now were covered in the last of the fall wildflowers. The vibrant oranges and deep purples created an amazing backdrop when the sun set. He always loved stopping and watching the magic touch the land, but it would be several hours until evening, and he didn’t have that kind of time.
Soon, the turrets came into view, the red and gold flags on the peaks whipping with the wind. But instead of approaching the main gates, the one normally crowded with tourists, he rounded the high stone walls until he reached the private family entrance. The guards who flanked the gates bowed as Greyson approached, and the wrought iron swung open to allow him inside the castle grounds.
After he pulled into the open garage, he climbed off his motorcycle, giving it a pat on its sculpted leather seat. He loved the bike and hated to leave it behind to sit unused and unappreciated in one of the garages. He’d bought it in the marketplace when he snuck out of the castle to avoid another boring Parliament meeting one afternoon. Greyson had worn a disguise—and had definitely been overcharged—but that almost made it better. It was the first purchase he’d made while pretending to be an average man, and it felt good. If he wanted to, Greyson could’ve just commandeered it and taken it for his own or ordered a top-of-the-line bike be delivered right to him, but that was his family’s style, not his.
“Goodbye, old friend.” He slid his fingers wistfully over the seat of the bike before heading inside with his head held high. The motorcycle was only the first on his list of farewells.
“Greyson!” His mother’s call was high pitched with annoyance, making him cringe as he walked through the foyer. “Where have you been? You were due at the Parliament luncheon three hours ago, and your lack of attendance was duly noted.”
When he rounded the corner, the toe of her nude Louboutin tapped loudly on the marble floor as she awaited his response. People always remarked on their similarity—tan skin, sculpted cheekbones, and gray eyes—but while he was quick to smile, she always had a perfectly sculpted expression of polite aloofness, which only cracked when she was particularly pleased or angry. At the moment, it was the latter.
“I told you, Mother, I needed to fix the roof I spoke to you about. Remember the man who came before the throne yesterday to submit a complaint about the state a builder left his roof in? Temperatures are dropping, and I couldn’t leave his family in that sort of predicament.”
“A noble pursuit, but it’s not your responsibility,” she said, straightening the hem of her purple velvet jacket. “If you felt that strongly, you could have sent someone over there to handle it. I don’t understand your obsession with working with your hands and building things. Your palms are going to get blistered and rough, then you’ll be forced to wear gloves at all the holiday events.”
Greyson rolled his eyes at his mother’s dramatics, as he doubted anyone would care what his palms felt like. But he still stuck his hands in his pockets almost automatically. He wasn’t ashamed, but he also didn’t need his mother to be proven right.
“Mother, I have something I would like to discuss with you and Father. Do you mind accompanying me to his study? He should be done with the luncheon by now, correct?”
“Are you referring to the luncheon you decided to brush off?”
“Yes, that one. Please, the study?” Placing his hand on the middle of his mother’s back, Greyson gently pushed her forward.
“Greyson, remove your hand. I am perfectly capable of walking. More so, I do not appreciate your nonchalance about missing such an important event and then demanding an audience.”
He tried to brush off the irritation that crept over his skin, making him itch. The feeling was always the same—the hot annoyance building in his chest, overflowing to make him clench his teeth. That was just how it was with his parents. They lived in this enclosed bubble, which left them distant from the world, from people with real problems and feelings. Everything was just protocol, parties, pointless meetings with no resolutions, and the same parade of upper-class patrons. Their life was just…fake.
He dropped his hand, leading the way up the stairs to a set of mahogany doors. Greyson knocked loudly. Howard, his father’s butler, opened the door wide enough to slip out before closing it behind himself. “Prince Greyson, Queen Philipa, how may I assist you?”
“Howard, I need to speak with my father immediately.”
The butler’s gaze slid toward the queen, who remained stonily silent. “Master Greyson, you are aware of how busy your father is at this time. It would have been prudent for you to make an appointment. Unless there is a dire situation, I would be pleased to relay a message to him, if you would like?”
“Yes, actually,” Greyson said, taking a deep breath. He’d practiced his words carefully for weeks, repeating them before a mirror until all trace of unease had been washed away. “I’m going to officially abdicate the throne and move to the United States. I have already purchased a plane ticket, and I intend to leave in a matter of hours.”
Squawking, his mother crumpled to the floor in a pile of designer clothes. Howard went to her aid, then began fanning her madly with one gloved hand. He then spoke into the microphone on his headset, “We need medical assistance in the East Wing, outside His Majesty’s office. Her Majesty has fainted.”
Greyson had to avert his gaze. His mother tended to air on the side of the dramatic. The last time she “fainted” had been when the prime minister’s wife suggested they have the summer garden party in an actual garden instead of the summer palace in the ballroom. Screaming and falling over was his mother’s go-to move when she didn’t want to handle something or wanted additional time to think.
“What’s going on here?” Greyson’s father asked loudly, emerging from his office. “Oh, Philipa…” He crouched beside her, then gave Greyson a hard glare. His father’s steel eyes lost their warmth. It was as if he knew exactly whom to blame for the queen’s outburst. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I was trying to have a discussion with you and Mother. Howard stated you were busy, so I decided to relay a message with him in your stead. Mother, as you can tell, did not handle it well.”
“Please explain to me what horrible thing you said to upset her.”
“I informed her I would be abdicating my throne and leaving for America in a few hours.”
The king laughed, a dry sound that certainly didn’t have any humor behind it. “You’re having a go at us, surely? You cannot mean it?”
“No, this is not the life I imagined for myself. It’s not something I ever wanted. Now with you considering stepping down, my timeline is quickly dwindling. I need to make a move before I’m trapped here.”
His father’s lips formed a tight line, his brow lowering. “Yes, I can see what a horrid life you have here, what with an unending bank account, all your wishes granted with a snap of your entitled fingers, and your perfectly planned life wrapped in a pretty bow. And let’s not discuss the pain something like this would cause your family, leaving in such a manner. Look at your mother.” His voice rose. The volume jarred the queen, who began to stir.
“You have another son. The family name won’t be ending with me.”
“You are correct. It will not be…because you will not be leaving. What would you do? It’s not as if you can put princely duties on a resume. And if you think I’m going to allow you to continue to use funds that rightfully belong in this kingdom, then you are mistaken. You will be penniless and alone on your little adventure,” his mother snapped.
Greyson straightened his shoulders, trying to hide the sadness flitting through his chest at her words. She thought him incapable of anything more than being a pampered prince. While he wanted to go to America for himself, he also longed to prove to everyone he wasn’t a useless figurehead or a soft-handed boy. Even if his parents fought him on it, Greyson needed to prove, at least to himself, there was more to him than the silver spoon in his mouth and the crown on his head. If he didn’t, and he just accepted the crown he’d done nothing to earn besides grace the world with his presence, then he’d be another portrait in the throne room as opposed to someone who actually lived. And he wanted nothing more than to feel alive.
“And I will find my way. I’ve plans, Mother.”
It was then the castle medical team arrived, consisting of an emergency medic flanked by two nurses pushing a gurney. But as soon as they appeared beside her, his mother waved them off and allowed Howard to help her up. Gaze flitting from her husband to her son, she leaned heavily against the footman.
“But Greyson, darling,” she began, her voice timid and wet. “You cannot leave us. What will…I mean, will you not miss us?”
“I’m not leaving forever. I just am eager to find my own life. The family business is not for me.”
“The family business, as you call it,” his father spat, “has been in this family for seven generations. You have a duty to your ancestors to—”
“No, that is the point, Father. I do not have this duty. You placed it upon my shoulders, and I’m now placing it upon Harrison’s very capable ones. I am leaving.” Before Greyson could lose the rest of his carefully curated courage, he turned and began striding toward his chambers.
He heard the hurried sound of heels before his mother grabbed his arm and pulled him to face her. Then she stared pleadingly into his eyes. “Greyson, I cannot allow you to do this. To abandon your country, your duties…your family. No, you shan’t.”
Her voice cracked, and the unfamiliar sound made his heart lurch. He’d expected some resistance, but not raw emotion. He loved his parents. True, they weren’t going to be featured on a magazine for parenting advice, but they’d given him the absolute best of everything. He never thought of it in that way—like he was abandoning them. But seeing how hurt she appeared now, he couldn’t help but reconsider. Even is only for a few seconds. He’d be leaving his family for the first time since returning from boarding school. And his mother begging him—it wasn’t a queen commanding her subject. Instead, it was a mother imploring her son. Greyson took a ragged breath. Yes, he did love them… and he knew they loved him, so they’d understand eventually.
“If you love me like I know you do, you will want me to be happy. You have to let me leave. I love Aldora, but I want to do well in the world, learn a proper trade, and meet a woman who isn’t just after the crown. I need that, Mother.”
She opened her mouth and closed it again multiple times, then dropped her arms to her side. “Greyson, such a decision should never be made lightly. What if you…what if you merely leave for now without the finality of abdication? Go on this trip, then we can talk again at Christmas when we’ve all had time to think. You will be home for the holidays, yes?”
“Yes, Mother, but this is not an instant decision. I have wanted to do this for—”
She lifted her hand, stopping him mid-speech like she often did to courtiers. “Greyson, if you love me like I think you do, you will do this for me. If you are ready to make this decision now, waiting one month should not make a difference. I assure you that your father is not going to step down within that time, so there is no need to worry. Who knows, perhaps you’ll find America is not the fabled land of milk and honey you dreamed.”
Greyson slowly nodded. He had wanted to make his leaving as easy on his family as possible, but he couldn’t ignore the obvious pain marring her face. She was right. One month’s time wouldn’t sway him, but it might give his family time to adjust to reality. “All right, I will do it for you. But over Christmas, when I don’t change my mind, I need you to accept my decision. Is that the deal?”
Her tense shoulders softened slightly. “I appreciate it. But I can’t talk to your father about your accounts. He means it when he says he will block your funds.”
“I don’t need the money. That’s the point. I want to live like a normal person.”
“Because I want to make my own way, and I need to experience a normal life to make that happen. In the United States, people don’t know our family or who I am. I can be invisible.”
“Does this have to do with Arielle?” she asked carefully. “Really, I think she would have made a lovely bride. I still cannot believe you ended it. Although, she would certainly take you back if you asked.”
Hearing Arielle’s name pained him a little, but only because he grieved the time he’d wasted, not her as a person. “I did love her. But she wanted the title of princess more than wife. If I am to find love, I cannot have the title attached. It weighs me down.”
“Will you keep in touch?”
“Of course, Mother.”
After he hugged her, he turned and went to his room before he lost his nerve entirely.
End of Excerpt