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Royal Creed
Author: T.K. Leigh

Part One
Duty is what one expects from others,
it is not what one does oneself.
~ Oscar Wilde
Chapter One
It’s a word that usually conjures fond memories of love. Laughter. Belonging.
Coming home after a long time away is often an occasion to celebrate. Moms hug their daughters, telling them how much they missed them. Fathers embrace their sons, asking how they’re getting on in the world. Siblings make jabs, sometimes teasing each other about a new love interest. But through it all, one thing is constant.
Their love for each other.
Unfortunately, that’s not what it’s like for me.
There are no warm greetings.
No hugs from family members.
No love.
There hasn’t been for years now.
After all, there’s no room for love in a monarchy.
Or so I’ve been told my whole life.
Instead, the second I step out of the SUV driven by my chief protection officer and stare up at the imposing brick walls of Lamberside Palace in the Nation of Belmont, I’m met with formality. Custom. Tradition.
“Your Highness,” a man in a dark suit greets me with a bow, as is expected.
I offer one of the palace butlers a cordial smile. “Good afternoon, Oliver.”
“How were your travels?”
“Uneventful. It’s a short flight from Paris.”
“Lovely to hear. The Queen Mother has requested to see you upon your arrival.” He does a once-over of my attire. “Would you like a moment to…freshen up?”
I’ve been around this life long enough to know this is his polite way of suggesting I change into something more in line with the unspoken dress code.
The jeans, white, off-the-shoulder top, and wedge sandals revealing my bright pink toenail polish certainly aren’t appropriate attire.
Especially the wedge sandals.
I give him a knowing smile. “That’s not necessary. My grandmother’s time is valuable. We can go there directly. It’s why Adam drove me here instead of my apartment at Gladwell.”
Oliver arches a brow, silently questioning if I’m certain. When I don’t respond, only holding my head higher, he nods, extending his arm toward the entrance.
As I cross the threshold into the lobby of the residential wing, a weight settles on my chest.
Or perhaps a noose wraps around my neck.
To the outside world, I live a fairytale. I have the best clothes. Designer handbags. Expensive shoes. A vault containing priceless jewels.
But it’s all a façade. A show we put on to keep the public entertained. To stay relevant in a world that finds the concept of royalty less and less relevant with each passing day.
Nothing about this is real.
It makes me long to feel something that is real, even if it’s fleeting.
“Is my father in residence?” I ask as Oliver leads me through the familiar corridors, everything maintained with the precision and care of a museum. Crystal chandeliers float overhead. Portraits of past members of the royal family hang on the walls, reminding me of my place in a life I’d give anything to escape.
“He’s in London through the end of the week. If you’d like, I can reach out to his private secretary to schedule a meeting upon his return.”
I force a smile, acting as if going through my father’s private secretary in order to see him isn’t a big deal. Considering he’s been king for over fifteen years, I should be used to it.
But I miss when he was simply my dad with no ambition of ever ascending to the throne.
It’s amazing how quickly your life can change.
One minute, we were living a relatively normal life, my father’s only claim to fame being that his father happened to be king.
The next, his older brother, the heir apparent, perished along with his wife and all their children in an avalanche during a skiing holiday. My uncle, aunt, and cousins may have died on that mountain. But a part of me died there, too.
My childhood.
My freedom.
My independence.
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll see him at some point.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Nearing my grandmother’s study, Oliver slows to a stop and gently knocks, the door immediately swinging open. My grandmother’s private secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Williams, receives me with the same stoicism I’ve come to expect from all members of the palace staff.
Particularly from our private secretaries, who are all former military.
“Your Highness,” he says, bowing. “This way, please.” Spinning, he leads me across the sitting room, pausing outside a pair of ornate double doors.
I smooth a hand down my hair, taming my long, blonde waves as best I can. At least I didn’t put on too much makeup this morning. I’ve never been one to wear an inordinate amount, preferring a touch of liner around my green eyes and gloss on my lips.
After knocking, Lieutenant Colonel Williams opens the doors and steps into my grandmother’s study.
“Her Highness Princess Esme,” he announces, then moves to the side.
As he does, my grandmother turns her cold stare on me from behind an oversized desk, no hint of technology to be found. Her silver hair is styled in a pixie cut, petite body clad in a navy blue dress, lips downturned in obvious displeasure of my appearance.
“Your Majesty,” I greet with a curtsey, even though it’s not required. The obligation to do so ended when my grandfather passed away. Now it’s merely a gesture of respect for her years of service to the monarchy. Service she continues to this day as one of my father’s top advisors.