"You're trying to set me up?"
"We're just giving you some options. Introducing you to young men who might be a good fit."
Beatrice flipped numbly through the pages. They were filled with information: family trees, photos, high school transcripts, even the guys' heights and weights.
"Did you use your security clearance to get all this?"
"What? No." The king looked shocked at the suggestion that he would abuse his privileges with the NSA. "The young men and their families all volunteered this information. They know what they're signing on for."
"So you've already talked to them," Beatrice said woodenly. "And tomorrow night at the Queen's Ball you want me to interview these—potential husbands?"
Her mother's brows shot up in protest. "Interview makes it sound so impersonal! All we're asking is that you have a conversation with them, get to know them a little. Who knows? One of them might surprise you."
"Maybe it 'is' like an interview," the king admitted. "Beatrice, when you do choose someone, he won't just be your husband. He will also be America's first king consort. And being married to the reigning monarch is a full-time job."
"A job that never stops," the queen chimed in.
Through the window, down in the Marble Courtyard, Beatrice heard a burst of laughter and gossip, and a single voice struggling valiantly to rise above the din. Probably a high school tour going past, on the last day before holiday break. These teenagers weren't that much younger than she was, yet Beatrice felt irrevocably distant from them.
She used her thumb to pull back the pages of the folder and let them fan back down. Only a dozen young men were included.
"This folder is pretty thin," she said softly.
Of course, Beatrice had always known that she would be fishing from a tiny pond, that her romantic options were incredibly narrow. It wasn't as bad as it had been a hundred years ago, when the marriage of the king was a matter of public policy rather than a matter of the heart. At least she wouldn't have to get married to seal a political treaty.
But it still seemed a lot to hope, that she might fall in love with someone on this very short list.
"Your father and I were very thorough. We combed through all the sons and grandsons of the nobility before we compiled these names," her mother said gently.
The king nodded. "There are some good options here, Beatrice. Everyone in this folder is smart, and thoughtful, and from a good family—the type of men who will support you, without letting their egos get in the way."
From a good family. Beatrice knew precisely what that meant. They were the sons and grandsons of high-ranking American noblemen, if only because the foreign princes around her age—Nikolaos, or Charles of Schleswig-Holstein, or the Grand Duke Pieter—had all already struck out.
Beatrice glanced back and forth between her parents. "What if my future husband isn't on this list? What if I don't want to marry any of them?"
"You haven't even met them yet," her father cut in. "Besides, your mother and I were set up by our parents, and look how that turned out." He met the queen's eyes with a fond smile.
Beatrice nodded, a bit reassured. She knew that her dad had picked her mom just like this, from a short list of preapproved options. They had met only a dozen times before their wedding day. And their arranged marriage had ended up blossoming into a genuine love match.
She tried to consider the possibility that her parents were right: that she could fall in love with one of the young men listed in this terrifyingly slim folder.
It didn't seem likely.