A Princess by Christmas (A Royal Wedding #3) - Julia London


London, England


Three ships flying the colorful green-and-blue flag of Alucia arrived at London Dock last week. On board was the official delegation that will participate in the Wesloria-Alucia peace summit, held in the name of Her Majesty, the Queen Victoria. Anticipation is high and hopes abound that some agreement can be struck between the two neighboring countries that will, at long last, foster peace between them.

Her Majesty will welcome the visiting foreign dignitaries at St. James Palace, and the summit officially begun.

Peace between the two rival nations is an admirable goal. But can peace be achieved between two countries that have been warring over the same land for generations? Is it possible that the family rift that divides the two nations runs so deep that it cannot be repaired? At the time of this writing, rumors abound that nefarious plots are underfoot. We will, of course, endeavor to keep our dear readers informed of developments.

Ladies, with the Christmas season upon us, now is the time to commission new suits of clothing for husbands and sons to be ready by the New Year. Taylor and Sons of Savile Row is accepting appointments.

—Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies

THE WIDOW HOLLIS HONEYCUTT was in a prickly mood as she waited admittance at the gates of St. James Palace. For one thing, she was standing in the middle of a throng of gentlemen, all of them chatting quite loudly in various languages, without any regard for other conversations occurring nearby. A warm-blooded woman of a certain age missing her late husband could have been intoxicated by the scents of citrus and tobacco that seemed to follow so many men about, but Hollis didn’t care for all that privileged masculinity pressing up against all her femininity. It was as if they didn’t sense how their bodies fit into crowded spaces—they kept bumping into her, tossing their casual pardons at her.

She was vexed that she had to wait in this line or anywhere else to take tea with her very own sister. It wasn’t her fault that Eliza Tricklebank, formerly of the modest Bedford Square in London, was now the Duchess of Tannymeade and queen-in-waiting of Alucia, and the guest of Queen Victoria. She was still Hollis’s sister, and being made to wait like a pauper at the gates of the palace to see her wasn’t fair.

And Hollis was still vexed by an encounter earlier today with the odious, condescending Mr. Shoreham, who’d dismissed her out of hand. And not for the first time—she’d endured a weeks-long philosophical dispute with the gentleman from the London Library.

Donovan, her manservant, stood beside her in the queue, his hooded gaze following the movements of gentlemen as the group slowly advanced toward the guardhouse. He was the one man in her life who didn’t care how long she nattered on...well, besides her father, of course. And Lord Beckett Hawke, her friend. Beck didn’t care, but he didn’t listen, either. Donovan always listened very patiently and then offered a fair opinion if asked. Sometimes, he offered one if not asked. Which he did at present. He said, “One of the problems here, if you don’t mind me saying, is that you’re quite stubborn. We’ve noted the inclination in you before, have we not?”

She clucked her tongue at him. “I grant you that at times I may suffer from pigheadedness, but in this, I am right.”

Donovan laughed. The queue moved; he put his hand on her back and nudged her forward into the crush.

Hollis couldn’t see over the heads of those before them, so she glanced around. Her gaze happened to land on a gentleman standing off to one side by himself. He was tall, and beneath the brim of his hat, she could see that his dark hair was longer than was fashionable. He wore a great coat that made his shoulders look impossibly broad, and she idly wondered if they were truly that broad beneath it. His head was cocked at an odd angle and he looked a bit confused, as if he’d found himself wandering a strange land. Little wonder—the line to enter the palace for the royal tea was ridiculously long and the guards didn’t seem to know what they were doing. Why were so many people invited to tea? The purpose, as Hollis understood it, was to set a conciliatory tone for the peace negotiations between Alucia and Wesloria that would begin on Monday. Representatives of the two kingdoms had been invited to this make-nice