Reluctantly Royal(2)

By: Nichole Chase

“I do—”

“I’ll have to stop by and see it.” I bit my lip and berated myself for cutting him off. I had a bad habit of doing that when I was excited.

“I didn’t know you liked art.” His eyes lit up for a moment and his serious expression brightened. I hoped that meant he wouldn’t hold my rudeness against me.

“I appreciate art in all its forms.” I smiled. I also appreciated the way his jacket and shirt stretched across his broad shoulders.

The director cleared his throat. “I believe His Highness had something to tell you.”

“Uh, yes.” Max frowned. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”

I blanched. Why would he need to talk to me alone? “Is something wrong with Marty?” Adrenaline filled my veins and I fought the impulse to run from the room looking for my son.

“No, no. I’m sure he is fine.” Max touched my shoulder and I was shocked by the warmth in his expression.

“God, for a minute I thought you came to tell me he was dead . . .” My heart froze and I looked up into his green eyes. “Grandfather?”

Max’s fingers on my shoulder tightened. “I’m sorry, Meredith.”

“No. Oh no, no, no.” Tears filled my eyes and my legs grew weak. “Was he alone?”

My grandfather had been the one person I could always count on. Always, I knew that he would be there for me no matter what. When I had found out I was pregnant at seventeen he hadn’t freaked out or been angry—unlike my dad. Instead he had held me while I cried and told me how beautiful and smart any child of mine would be. To think he had died without someone by his side broke my heart. Or worse, with only my drunkard father to ease his passing.

“He passed away in his sleep.” Max moved me with a gentle tug so that I was sitting in one of the audience chairs. “The doctors believe it was his heart.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and took a ragged breath. Where I had felt whole and centered merely a moment ago, my entire world had been taken and turned upside down. The very floor on which my life was planted had been torn away. My grandfather was gone.

“I need to see Marty.” I scrubbed at my eyes, not caring that the mascara I had worn that day was smeared across my cheeks. “I have to be the one to tell him.”

“I have a car out front.” Max stood and held his hand out to me.

I took it, barely registering the way his fingers curled protectively around mine and didn’t let go.

“Can I do anything to help?” My director placed a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“No, no. Thank you.” I shook my head. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Take your time,” the director offered, but I knew better. My understudy would be on that stage in a matter of moments, warming up.

“Right, thanks.” I let Max urge me out of the room.

“How is your son going to take the news?” Max asked quietly.

“He’s going to be devastated.” I whispered the words, my heart aching for the pain I was about to bring to my son. That almost hurt worse than the actual loss—knowing how many times my son had lost people in his life; knowing how much my grandfather had meant to Marty. “Devastated.”

“I’ll help in any way that I can,” Max said. “Let’s get you out of here.”

I let him guide me out of the auditorium and down the hallway. I pulled my sweater closed and couldn’t help my shiver. An arm wrapped around my shoulders and I leaned into the warmth. His long, strong fingers squeezed my arm gently. It made me feel safe and not so alone.

“Thank you.” I sniffed and tried to hide it when I wiped my nose on my sleeve.

“You’re welcome.”

I looked up into his eyes and gave him a watery smile. “I know this must be torturous. Dealing with a stranger who just lost a loved one can be a nightmare. You must have drawn the short straw.”

“I was in the neighborhood.” He wiped a tear from my cheek with his thumb and lingered for half a heartbeat. “Plus we didn’t want you to hear it from strangers. Take it from me, I know what it’s like to have the media tell you that someone you love has died.”

I bit my lip as he opened the door for me. I knew that his father had died in an accident, but I wasn’t sure if that was who he was referring to. A shudder racked my body. The thought of the media telling me that my grandfather had passed away was something out of a nightmare. And the media wasn’t exactly known for being gentle.

The limousine idled just outside and Max chivalrously helped me into my seat. I chewed the lipstick off my bottom lip while I swiped at my eyes with my sleeve. I couldn’t believe that my grandfather was gone. What would I say to Marty? He was only six years old. Would he understand?

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