"Hey, Mom," she said in a slightly puzzled tone. The queen wasn't usually part of their political discussions.
"Beatrice, your mother and I were hoping to discuss your future," the king began.
The princess blinked, disconcerted. She was always thinking about the future.
"On a more personal level," her mom clarified. "We were wondering if there was anyone...special in your life right now."
Beatrice startled. She'd expected this talk sooner or later, had done her best to mentally prepare herself for it. She just hadn't assumed it would be quite so soon.
"No, there isn't," she assured them. Her parents nodded distractedly; they both knew she wasn't dating anyone. The entire country knew it.
The king cleared his throat. "Your mother and I were hoping that you might start searching for a partner. For that person you'll spend your life with."
His words seemed to echo, amplified, around the Star Chamber.
Beatrice had almost no romantic experience to speak of—not that the various foreign princes near her age hadn't tried. The only one to make it to a second date had been Prince Nikolaos of Greece. His parents had urged him to do an exchange program at Harvard one semester, clearly hoping that he and the American princess would fall madly in love. Beatrice went out with him for a while to please their families, but nothing had come of it—even though, as a younger son of a royal family, Nikolaos was one of the few men actually eligible to go out with Beatrice. The future monarch could only marry someone of noble or aristocratic blood.
Beatrice had always known that she couldn't date the wrong person—couldn't even kiss the wrong person, the way everyone else at college seemed to. After all, no one wanted to see their future monarch walk-of-shaming home from a college party.
No, it was much safer if the heir to the throne had no sexual past for the press to rake through: no baggage from past boyfriends, no exes who might sell intimate secrets in a tell-all memoir. There could be no ups and downs in Beatrice's relationships. Once she publicly dated someone, that was it: they would have to be happy, and stable, and committed.
It had been enough to make her steer clear of dating almost entirely.
For years the press had applauded Beatrice for being careful with her reputation. But ever since she'd turned twenty-one, she'd noticed a shift in the way they discussed her love life. Instead of dedicated and virtuous, the reporters had begun to call her lonely and pitiable—or worse, frigid. If she never dated anyone, they complained, how was she supposed to get married, and start the all-important business of providing the next heir to the throne?
"Don't you think I'm a little young to worry about this?" Beatrice asked, relieved at how calm she sounded. But then, she had long ago been trained to keep her emotions hidden from public display.
"I was your age when your father and I got married. And I was pregnant with you the following year," the queen reminded her. A truly terrifying thought.
"That was twenty years ago!" Beatrice protested. "No one expects me to—I mean—things are different now."
"We're not saying you should run to the altar tomorrow. All we're asking is that you start to think about it. This won't be an easy decision, and we want to help."
"There are several young men whom we'd love for you to meet. We've invited them all to the ball tomorrow night." The queen unclasped her pebbled-leather handbag and pulled out a folder, colored plastic tabs peeking from its edge. She handed it to her daughter.
Each tab was labeled with a name. Lord José Ramirez, future Duke of Texas. Lord Marshall Davis, future Duke of Orange. Lord Theodore Eaton, future Duke of Boston.