“I’m in charge.” Charlie stared out at the kingdom, admiring the park leading to the hall of government. Snow lay soft on the ground and the land looked crisp but clean. The trees were dusted in bright white and kids played on the grounds of the park, tossing snowballs at one another.
He’d used to toss snowballs—before his father had handed him the keys to the monarchy. He’d become the king. The entirety of Lysianna was now under his protection. He should feel invincible, but he didn’t. To be honest, he didn’t feel like a king.
He was just a man with a fancy crown…and an entire country expecting him to keep order.
“Sire? You have a problem?” Newt, one of the pages, held a document out. “Lord Spencer gave this to me. He’s just finishing up in the other room. According to this, you must be married by end of this year. It’s already December fifth.”
“You’re kidding me.” He wanted to see Spencer right away. Why would his right-hand man send the page in to alert him to this notice? “I thought I had a while.” He’d known about the time limit, but could’ve sworn the deadline was more than thirty days away.
Spencer swept into the room and flicked his fingers to dismiss Newt. “Go.” He waited until Newt left the room, then continued. “You have to be married by the new year. That’s how that rotten woman had the decree worded. You’ve had all year to pick, and now if you don’t choose, the kingdom goes to the next in line.”
“That’s Zara’s little boy, Alistair.” He’d never know why she’d named her child that, but whatever. “Well, shit.”
“What’s worse? You’re supposed to marry a girl. According to this, you need to procreate.” Spencer shook his head. “You’d really think your former stepmother hated your guts.”
“She did.” He leaned back in his office chair. “She wanted nothing more than to ruin my life.” His former stepmother had sworn that he and his sister Zara weren’t right for the crown. She’d wanted to be queen, and when the king had stepped down, she’d lost her connection to the line. She hated her stepchildren and even more that Charlie was gay. Unfortunately, she’d managed to get a decree into the records which stated that Charlie, the current king, needed to not only be married, but to have children.
“What are you going to do?” Spencer asked.
“Nothing yet.” He had no prospects or ideas—just a kingdom to himself. He wasn’t good at being alone. Ever since he’d come out, he’d had a boyfriend. Being with someone made him feel more secure. Except now… He didn’t know what to do.
“We should throw a ball.” Spencer clasped his hands behind his back. “That’s it. A ball to find you a…husband. Would he be the prince? We don’t have co-kings. Duke? That doesn’t feel right.”
“It doesn’t matter, since I don’t have anyone in mind,” Charlie said. “Plan out the ball. I don’t care. I’ve got roughly thirty days to find a husband. It’s only almost impossible.”
“I’m on it.” Spencer picked up his tablet. “We’ll have to fast-track the details, but it’s been done before.”
“A king should be self-assured, not wallowing in self-pity. So I’m alone and being forced to wed?” He stared at Spencer. “I’m the king, right? So I can add an addendum to the decree, correct? Saying that I’m entitled to marry the man I choose, not a woman, since I’m gay?”
“You can. I’ll get the decree written up.” Spencer took his place at his desk. “Won’t be more than a minute to get the words on the parchment.”
Charlie paced the length of the office. He had no business being king. Sure, he could handle passing judgments and thought himself fair, but he wanted to be happy—not just there to mete out justice.
He wanted to be loved in the way Zara had found love with Luke. They were meant for each other and the stuff of fairy tales.
What about him? It’d taken most of the year for the people of the empire to warm up to him being gay and the king. Would they accept him being married to another man? For all he knew, they’d revolt.
Spencer finished writing up the document. “Here. Look this over and sign it if the wording is correct. This addendum should at least give you the right to marry a man. But I should mention, you’ve always been roguish in the way you handle things. This isn’t that far out of normalcy for you. Don’t sweat it.”
“Thanks.” He settled behind his desk and read through the document. If he needed something done fast and correctly, then Spencer was his man.
“So, we’ll have the ball on the twenty-fourth.” Spencer held his tablet again. “You’ll find someone among the attendees, but this gives us a small pad in case you can’t.”
“I suppose.” He signed the document. He should take the reins on the ball and his search for a husband. “For the ball, I want the colors blue and silver. Not Christmas colors. Everyone should attend wearing blue or silver. Advertise it as a Christmas event, not my misadventures in finding a possible husband.”
Spencer nodded. “Understood, but I would brace yourself. Once the pages find out there will be a ball, the speculation will run rampant. Everyone knows you need to find a husband and they’ll try to figure out who it will be.”
“Of course.” He knew the staff liked to gossip. “I don’t like the idea of this forced marriage. It’s unfair.”
“Not if you find a good husband—and you could.” Spencer continued, tapping on his tablet. “It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.”
“How? I don’t have time to meet anyone. I’m busy with affairs of state.” Charlie stared out the window. “How will I know that the man I’ve met at the ball will be the right one? After one night? It’s ludicrous. For all I know, the guy is just trying to get money from the family.”
“I know,” Spencer said. “I’m glad your father divorced your former stepmother, because all she wanted was to see you fail. She was determined to have the Earl of Lender take over as king. Now, because of her, he believes he’s owed the position.”
“I know.” He wasn’t a fan of Lender. People who wanted something for nothing drove him berserk. Lender had married to get his title, bought his position in government, paid off individuals to keep from getting sued after he left office disgraced and had still managed to con the former queen into helping him attempt to gain a position in the line of succession. Lender didn’t belong there. Charlie sighed again. “Here’s to hoping that I find someone before we get to the point where Lender thinks he’s got a chance.”
“Agreed.” Spencer stopped tapping. “You need to go to the solarium now. It’s almost time for the interview with Media Magazine. They want to take your photo first, but they wanted something informal.”
“They don’t want me walking around in the snow? I assumed they’d want me to be strolling through the park or something.” The magazine had a certain look for their photos and most included formality.
“No, they want you to look relaxed.” Spencer tucked the tablet to his chest. “They want to discuss you being on the throne.”
“It’s boring.” He snorted. “What else do I say? It’s thrilling?” He left his seat and gestured to the door. “Let’s go.” He made his way through the castle to the solarium at the west end of the building. The camera crew had already set up the shot and the brunette interviewer stood next to the oversized carved chair. Her pantsuit swathing her body in crimson, she drummed her fingers on the back of the chair.
Charlie sighed. He didn’t mind the publicity aspect of his role, but he hated answering the same questions over and over. Besides that, everyone wanted to know about his sister. So why not ask her to sit for the interview? She was quite approachable and happy now that she’d married Luke, had Alistair and settled into life as a mother.
Spencer directed Charlie to the main chair. “They insisted you sit here. Not the throne.”
“It looks royal,” Spencer replied.
He rolled his eyes, then pasted a smile on his lips. “Very well.”
“King Charles.” The interviewer gasped, then bowed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lady Teresa Bushe and I’m humbled to be in your presence.”
“I’m honored you’ve chosen me for the interview. You didn’t need to set up such a posh space. I’m a simple man.” He nodded to her. “Shall we?”
“Yes.” She gestured to the fancy chair. “First, let’s get the photos, then we can chat.”
“Of course.” He’d done a dozen of these interviews. Every magazine and paper wanted a report on his ‘hot bachelor king status’. He didn’t see the big deal. He didn’t have a significant other because the right one hadn’t come along. That didn’t mean he couldn’t rule. It just meant he wasn’t getting any.
He suffered through the interview and expected the woman to bring up his string of ex-boyfriends. Until his father had stepped down as king, Charlie hadn’t expected to become the leader so soon. He’d thought he had time to play the field and find a husband properly.
He listened to the woman chatter, but the view out of the windows caught his attention. A man and a little boy were walking along the brick path leading past the solarium. Charlie wondered who the man was and why they hadn’t met before. He knew the little boy—Heather Dawn’s son, Emmett. The child wasn’t the best at reading and Charlie recalled being told the boy needed tutoring to get up to his grade level. Was this man the tutor? Or Heather Dawn’s new boyfriend? She had two young boys and Charlie couldn’t imagine being a parent.
The man, though, caught Charlie’s attention. The coat covered his frame, but he appeared trim and Charlie liked the way the slight winter breeze caught in his dark hair. He had a thing for dark, brooding and handsome men. Was this one brooding?
“Do you believe you’ll find a husband before the deadline?” Lady Teresa asked. “Are you aware Lender believes he’s next in line to the throne?”
Shit. He needed to pay attention and not watch the guy outside. “I’m confident I’ll find someone, although I believe this decree to be out of date. A ruler should be permitted to choose a worthy partner on his or her own timeframe.”
“And Lender?” she asked.
“Has no connections to the crown. He’s not in line.” Not if he had anything to say about it.
Spencer nodded behind her. “Is that your last question? The king is very busy and needs to attend to the planning of the Christmas Ball.”
“One more,” she said. “What would you like to tell our readers and your loyal subjects? Any words of wisdom?”
“Yes, I appreciate every one of my subjects and I’m endeavoring to do what’s best for all of them. We are a proud nation and should be proud to be of the kingdom of Lysianna. I am both humble and proud to be your leader and hope to be for many years to come.” God, he needed to work on his speaking skills.
“Thank you.” She stood and shook hands with him. “It’s a pleasure to have interviewed you. So easy.”
“You’re welcome here any time. Thank you for interviewing me.” He stood and watched the team pick up the gear. At least she hadn’t begged him to pose in his crown.
He waited until the crew and interviewer had left, then settled on the chair again. “Spence? Anything else? I need a break.”
Spencer checked the tablet. “You have a meeting with the planning commission for the Christmas festivities. They wish to show you the itinerary for the royal celebrations and will want to incorporate the ball into their plans. They’ve got in mind a rather large bash for the New Year portion of the celebrations.”
“Of course.” He folded his arms and looked out of the window again. “Who is the guy with Emmett? Is he new?”
“Him?” Spencer rubbed his chin. “That’s Nathan Pratt. He works as a tutor and with archives. Seems bright and fair. I’m not sure if he’s gay, but I was told he’d used a surrogate to have his son. The surrogate is one of your subjects, so since the child is half-Lysiannan, Nathan was permitted to live here as he raised the boy.” He eyed Charlie. “Do you wish to meet him?”
“Maybe.” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to make a move. Still, Nathan was handsome in a faraway manner. He must be decent enough with kids if he had one. But would he be dazzled by Charlie’s role as the king and not genuine?
One of the stewards brought in coffee and snacks.
“Thank you,” Charlie said and smiled. “How are you, Cort?”
The steward blushed before he blushed. “I’m well, your highness.”
Charlie clasped his hands together. Cort couldn’t be more than eighteen and looked every bit the young man he had to be. “I have a question. Are you happy here?” He knew Cort’s name, but not much else about him. “To be working for the crown?”
“Will I get sent to the gallows if I answer wrong?” The color drained from Cort’s face. “I’m not supposed to talk to you, am I? And this is a test?”
“You may speak to me,” Charlie said. “I enjoy your company. Feel free to talk to me whenever you like.”
“Wow.” Cort stood tall and clasped his hands together. “You’re nicer than I was told.”
“Who told you I’m mean? No one will die if you’re honest.” Charlie picked up the cup of coffee. “Tell me.”
“Cook. She said you’re grumpy.”
“Only at five in the morning.” He laughed. “Thank you for your honesty and the coffee. I’ll return the cups later. You’re dismissed.”
“Yes, my king.” Cort tripped over his feet as he left the room.
“Nice kid.” Charlie leaned on the chair. “So young and impressionable.”
“They get younger every day,” Spencer said. “He’s a bit young for you.”
“Spence? Seriously?” He crinkled his nose. “I’d like someone closer to my age. Are there any men, late-twenties or early thirties, single and looking to be with a man who wants love, tenderness and a partner? Find that for me and we’ll talk.”
“It gives me a better idea as to what to look for.” Spencer abandoned the tablet on the tray. “Do you want to meet Nathan?”
“He’s got a kid?” Charlie asked. “I wouldn’t turn down someone who happened to be a father.”
“You’re kidding.” Spencer snorted. “What about who will inherit the throne?”
“It’ll be Alistair. That’s already been arranged.” He didn’t see the big deal. “Look, I haven’t found anyone yet and we still have to plan the gala or ball—that the interviewer already knew about. I thought we’d just decided on it.”
“I let her know while you were getting your picture taken.” Spencer shrugged. “It’s going to come out sooner than later.”
“True,” Charlie said. “Focus on the ball.”
“Very good,” Spencer replied. “I’ll be right back.”
Charlie sank onto the carved chair and sighed. What Spencer didn’t understand was that he wanted to find someone. He didn’t want to be lonely, but he needed to find the right person.
He gazed out of the window at Nathan. He had no idea if they’d be compatible or if Nathan would even want to date a king. He might not even be gay. The unknowns didn’t mean Charlie couldn’t gawk at him and consider what could be.
He was a king and deserved a fairy-tale ending, right?