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‘Ah, duty... I know about duty, my dear.’ She touched Kate’s face, her expression wistful, or was Kate just imagining that because she felt sympathy for the woman’s position? She wasn’t sure. ‘I admit I cannot get excited about babies, but Freya is just becominginteresting, don’t you think? Marco, of course, was always interesting but so very...self-sufficient, even as a child.’

Kate, who didn’t have a clue how to respond to the information, just nodded.

‘Now we will take afternoon tea, unless you share Nanny Maeve’s disapproval of such indulgences...?’

‘I don’t.’

‘It’s fine,’ piped up Freya. ‘Kate has lovely teeth and it’s a celebration, we can have chocolate.’

‘Well, that is settled, then,’ her grandmother said, looking amused.

It was just left to Kate to follow meekly behind. The parcels were piled into a waiting car and the Queen announced they were going to walk to the tea shop.

The information that they were walking had created a flurry of activity as the security detail adapted, clearly not thrown by the Queen’s mercurial change of timetable.

The Queen watched with a benevolent smile as her security team swung into action. ‘This...they are Marco’s doing. I used to cycle around the city with no issues, but he is so overprotective, especially where Freya is concerned.’ Her glance went to the little girl, who was skipping along happily. ‘Understandable, but he means well. I was so happy, we all were, when he had someone to share his life with, and Belle always adored him. Such a tragedy and he never talks about it. But that is Marco’s way, strong and silent. Here we are.’

One of the security guards emerged from the café, his nod presumably conformation that it was safe for them to enter.

There was a perimeter of empty tables around the table they were led to.

‘I want a chocolate milkshake.’

‘It is always good to know what you want and go for it,’ the Queen said, requesting iced tea for herself. When asked Kate said iced tea would be nice.

‘Freya is the image of her mother. Belle was always a pretty child. It was such a wicked loss.’ She sighed. ‘For a long time after her death I feared for Marco. He shut himself off and...’ She shook her head. ‘He was in a dark place.’

‘I can’t begin to imagine what it would feel like,’ Kate reflected, watching Freya, who was slurping a milkshake noisily through a straw. ‘To make a new life with someone you love and then at the perfect moment everything falls apart...’

Did you ever recover from something like that? Or did you just go through the motions...functioning compared to living?

Recalling his comments about his future wife, she didn’t think that Marco had; his scars might be the invisible variety but the past was still impacting his life.

‘Everyone was distraught. Belle’s family—’ The Queen cleared her throat. ‘It was understandable, I suppose, people in pain hit out.’

‘Yes, Marco... Prince Marco,’ Kate corrected with a self-conscious blush, ‘did mention what happened.’

The Queen’s feathery brows lifted in surprise.‘Did he?’she said, an alert look sliding into her eyes. ‘My son is not known for sharing...and alotfalls on his shoulders. It has done from an early age. His marriage may have ended but I think that Marco is married to this land, this country... It makes me sad that he has no one to share the burden with now.’

Before Kate could think of how to respond to this flow of confidences, the Queen rose to her feet displaying an energy a woman half her age would envy as she announced it was time to leave.

As the security detail rose from the tables they occupied she pitched her voice loudly. ‘Actually, the cycling is good for these men. I have actually improved their stamina.’

Kate laughed, more confused than ever that a man who had a wife like this would choose to keep a mistress who, by any conventional standard, was far less attractive. And how did the Queen cope with the humiliation of everyone knowing about his mistress? The arrangement seemed crazier than ever to Kate.

She thought her own family was odd, but by comparison...

His mother had reported in her own inimitable way that she liked the new nanny. ‘So easy to talk to...don’t you think so, Marco?’

It was a given his mother would love Kate. His mother would have seen the good side in a serial killer, it was just the way she was, but her insistence was particularly vehement when she spoke of the English nanny.

‘Do not hurt her though, Marco. I think she is very empathic. It makes her vulnerable.’

Marco had no intention of hurting her, and he was here to see his daughter, not her disapproving nanny, who, when he’d entered, had been standing in the middle of the room, dancing with his daughter in something that was vaguely recognisable as a waltz.

‘Papa, I have a beautiful dress and I had chocolate milkshake with cream on top. I had a moustache! And I am learning to dance, see?’ Freya gave a wobbly twirl to illustrate the fact.

Watching, Kate found there was something endearing about the awkward way he ruffled the child’s hair. The fact he was making the effort made her throat ache with emotion.

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