“You can’t go in there.”
Henry looked up at the brick of a man guarding the door. With his hand still halfway toward the knob, he said, “I need the bride. We have an appointment with the jeweler. Mrs. Whittaker took Queen Victoria’s blue sapphire tiara out of the vault, and I need to make sure it fits.”
“I have strict instructions not to let anyone male into the room.” The brick crossed his arms over his broad leather-clad chest. “They’re doing . . . lady stuff in there.”
Henry sighed and dropped his arms. “‘Lady stuff.’”
“Meredith and Katrina are trying on clothes or something.”
Henry narrowed his eyes at the man. His name was . . . Mike. They’d met a few days before when pop star Katrina LeDoux showed up for maid-of-honor duty with her entourage, which included her bodyguard, a six-foot-something Italian bloke with an uncouth American accent, several visible tattoos, close-cropped black hair, and a scar over his right eyebrow. He was currently wearing black jeans, a white T-shirt, and a well-worn leather jacket that looked soft to the touch, although Henry wouldn’t dare, and also it was entirely inappropriate attire for Buckingham Palace.
Henry’s boss had tasked him with making sure the various visiting Americans behaved themselves in front of the Queen. He had tried to squeeze as much education as he could into the ten minutes Mike had allowed the day before, but he doubted much had sunk in.
Henry could not have this big brute of a man disrespect the sovereign. He could not. He had to stay on task no matter how distracting the bodyguard’s bulging muscles were. . . .
The part of Henry that was employed by the royal family wanted to shove this man out the palace doors as fast as possible, but part of him also wanted to climb this guy like a tree.
Henry cleared his throat. “She’ll be late for the appointment if she doesn’t come out in the next five minutes.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “For a tiara fitting? How hard can it be to fit a tiara? She puts it on her head.”
Henry let out an exasperated breath. “As for you, I’ve been meaning to speak with you about your behavior.”
“I don’t need etiquette lessons.”
“The Queen’s corgis have better manners than you, and I just saw one of them eating flowers in the hallway. This isn’t some nightclub in New York. You will be in the presence of the Queen tomorrow. There’s a certain standard of behavior that must be adhered to.”
Mike made a duck’s bill with his hand and opened and closed it a couple of times.
Henry bristled. He’d had a hell of a day, and this giant man was trying his patience. “I don’t have time. I’m going in.”
“Knock first, buddy.”
Henry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Yes, right. Just because he was frustrated, he couldn’t abandon his manners. He made a show of knocking politely on the door.
There was a peal of girlish laughter, then Meredith said, “Yes?”
“It’s Henry Stockbridge, Miss Bast. I’m here to take you to your next appointment.”
“Be right out.”
Henry stood staring at the door for a long moment, aware of the watchful gaze of Mike the Bodyguard. They were outside a drawing room that Miss Bast had commandeered as a place to see guests, and there had been a long string of American visitors who clearly had no idea how to behave in the Queen’s house. It was like they’d all been pulled off a tour, polo shirts and fanny packs and all. Henry shuddered at the thought.
As the moment stretched on, Henry grew concerned. Was she coming out or not? He pressed close to the door to try to hear what was happening inside. There was an odd metallic squeal, then a thump.
“What’s going on in there?” Henry shouted.
When there was no response, he glanced at Mike. He raised his eyebrows and gestured toward the door. “Something happened. I’m going in.”
“Yeah. Fine. But let me.” Mike grasped the doorknob, then said loudly, “Katrina, we’re coming in.”
He pulled open the door and walked inside. Henry followed on his heels, anxiety turning his veins icy.
The room was empty.
Mike glanced at the sharply dressed man who was wringing his hands in the middle of the room. Henry was cute in a fussy, type A way. He wore a purple tie with his conservative gray suit, perhaps a subtle nod at rebellion. Yeah, for all his polite polish, Mike imagined there was a rebel in Henry trying to escape.
But Mike couldn’t think about that now, because Katrina and Meredith had apparently flown the coop. A blue curtain, perfectly matched to the room’s upholstery, billowed out from a wide-open...