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Title: Third Time Lucky
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 15668
Summary Steven goes to a funeral and rekindles an old relationship.
Notes: The majority of this series was written over 20 years ago and I like to think that my style has improved since then. I've been told that I should probably edit them before I post like this but I can't edit myself. To me it looks fine. If you see a section that needs work, please tell me!

Part One.





************************************************************

Steven turned the idea over in his mind for several days, trying to see it from all angles. The more he thought about it, the more confused he became.

He was walking through St. James Park, still thinking, when he saw a pair of small boys trying to get a kite into the air. They were followed by a dog and several puppies. The boys didn't seem to be having much luck, so he decided to lend a hand. He held the string and told them to hold the kite. He ran, followed by boys and dogs, and the kite was airborne. He handed the string to the older of the two then sat on a bench to watch.

If his marriage had lasted, he probably would have children that age. Again his thoughts were on Victoria. He knew he had to stop dwelling on the past, but sometimes it was hard. Wait a minute. Alison's lost her husband. She had ties as well, probably stronger than mine. She'll understand. That decided him.

He walked back home, got into his car, and drove to Alison's. Dawson showed him into the drawing room where Alison was reading. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything."

"Oh, no. I was just relaxing. Would you care for anything?"

"No, thanks." She dismissed Dawson. "Alison, I--"

"Steven, I never really got the chance to properly thank you for what you've done. Now I don't have to worry about having a roof over my head."

"It was nothing, really. I--"

"Andrew absolutely loved it. He never stopped talking about the fun he had with you and Jamie. Is it true you knew Butler?"

"Yes, but under a different name. He's still out there somewhere. The police never caught him." He held up a hand to keep from being interrupted again. "I know what I'm about to ask may be somewhat inappropriate under the circumstances, but I'm going to ask anyway." He sat next to her. "I actually think I would have asked this twenty years ago if things hadn't happened the way they did." He took her hands in his, looked her in the eyes and said, "Will you marry me, Alison?"

She was at a loss for words. "This is so unexpected," she said after a few moments. "I don't know what to say."

"'Yes' would be nice."

"It wouldn't seem decent. Charles hasn't even been gone a month. People would think I was just after your title. I think I should observe the proper period of mourning. After that, you can ask me again."

"How long will that be?"

She turned away from his hurt and pleading eyes. It was hard to refuse him when he looked like that. "A year. That doesn't mean we can't see each other. I just don't want to cause any scandals."

"I understand." He kissed her hand and stood. "You won't hear any talk of marriage from me at all--for a year. I'll remember this date." He left.

"I won't let you forget," she said softly. "I'll not let you get away again."

That night Steven placed a call through to Jamie at school. "What's up?" he asked.

"You alone?"

"Sounds secretive. Yes, I'm alone."

"Good." Steven took a deep breath. "I followed your advice."

"What advice?"

"I asked Alison to marry me."

"That's great! What did she say?"

"She said 'no'. It was too soon after Charles' death. She wants to 'observe the proper period of mourning'. She said to ask again in a year."

"At least she didn't totally blow you off."

"Blow me off?"

"Say good-bye. She told you to ask again. So what are you going to do?"

"I'm still going to see her if that's what you mean. I'm just not going to mention marriage again. Just thought you should know."

"Thanks, Dad. You can trust me to keep it secret." When he replaced the receiver, he cheered.

Alison made a similar call to Andrew, "What is it, Mum?"

"Steven proposed to me this afternoon."

"That's wonderful! What did you say? You did give him an answer?"

"Yes, I said to wait."

"Whatever for?"

"Andrew, your father hasn't even been dead a month! It's much too soon to even think of accepting a proposal. I told him that didn't mean I wouldn't go out with him."

"I hope you didn't put him off, Mum."

"He told me he'd be back," she answered. "And I know he will be."

"I'm glad for you, Mum. I really am."

"I thought you'd like to know. Love you."

"I love you too, Mum." He hung up the phone. His first thought was how fab it would be to have Jamie as a brother.

**********************************************************

After being told to wait by Alison, Steven began to perform some of his dukely duties; making speeches, attending ceremonies, and going on international relation trips. He also did some decorating in his new home, giving rooms a less formal touch. In July, he took Jamie on a trip to the States so he could meet his American cousins.

When he returned in August, he received a phone call asking him to open the Edinburgh Festival. "I'd like that very much, Mr. MacDonald. When would you like me to be there?"

"It officially starts this Saturday, but if you could arrange to be here Friday afternoon, we could do a dry run."

Steven wrote it down on his calendar. "Friday it is, Mr. MacDonald."

"Thank you, your Grace. I shall pass on the news to the rest of the committee."

Steven then called Alison and asked if she wanted to go to the festival. "I've been asked to the opening ceremonies."

"What's so strange about that? You are the duke of Edinburgh."

"Will you come?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't. I've already promised to visit a friend in Capetown. Andrew, however, might want to go. Is Jamie going to join you?"

"I haven't mentioned it to him yet. How long will you be gone?"

"I'm not exactly sure. Probably until the end of September. I promise to let you know when I get back."

"Have a good trip. Tell Andrew I'm going up on Friday if he wants to come along."

"I'll tell him."

"Good-bye, then."

"Good-bye."

Steven stared at the phone after he hung up. So, she was going to South Africa. It seemed that everything was going full circle.

He began to look forward to Friday. He had never been to the Edinburgh Festival before. He preferred to visit the city in the off-season when he could just stroll along the streets and talk to people without all the hustle and bustle. This time he had to show some decorum since--for the majority of the time--he would be acting in an official capacity.

Thursday night he received a phone call from his sister. "How may I be of service, ma'am?"

"Stop being silly. I have a favor to ask of you."

"Okay, shoot."

"How would you like to head the Royal Command Performance Entertainment Committee?"

"Come again?"

"How would you--"

"I heard you the first time. How can you have a committee if it's by royal command?"

"You found me out," she laughed. "All I'm asking is if you could come up with some acts for the show."

"I guess."

"And contact them?"

"Why me?"

"You're being so cooperative and responsible lately, I thought I'd ask."

"Okay, when is it?"

"October 20. Thanks, Steven."

He put down the phone. His sister was taking advantage of him. At least she hadn't asked him to go to Parliment. He finished packing and made an early night of it considering he wanted to be in Edinburgh by mid-afternoon.

*******************************************************

He arrived in Edinburgh close to 4:00. He parked the car in the courtyard and took his weekend bag inside. He was greeted in the front hall by the butler and the rest of the staff. "It's good to see you again, your Grace." He motioned for one of the footmen to take his bag. "Would you care for some tea?"

"That would definitely hit the spot. Have you heard from the boys?"

"Master James said that he should be here by 5:00. He had talked with Mr. Moreland who said he should be in around the same time."

"Excellent. This could prove a fun weekend." he rubbed his hands together with pleasure. "I'll take tea in the study. Afterwards, I have to meet with the Festival Committee."

"Yes, sir. Mr. MacDonald called and said he would be at the Castle until 6:00."

"Thank you, Logan. That'll be all. Show the boys in if I'm still here."

"Yes, sir." Logan left.

Steven went into the study and sat back in an easy chair and glanced about the room. Sometimes he felt he could really get used to being waited on and, at other times, he liked fending for himself. A maid came in bearing the teea tray and withdrew after dropping a polite curtsey. The tea of the afternoon was Earl Grey--his favorite--with scones and watercress sandwiches. Maybe I should hire a housekeeper for the St. James house. He contemplated the idea as he sipped his tea and decided he liked it. Having a butler or a valet as well would be too much.

At 4:45 he decided to leave for the Castle despite the boys' not being there. "Logan, I'll be on my way. Tell the boys where I'll be if they want me."

"Very good, sir."

Steven strolled along the Royal Mile to the Castle. The few people who were out and about waved and smiled in his direction. He stopped in front of St. Giles' Cathedral. Such a beautiful building. He went inside to the Chapel of the Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The chapel wasn't as old as the Cathedral, but that didn't diminish its beauty. The ideal spot to be married. Man, I have to stop thinking that way! He left and continued on to the Castle.

He found MacDonald overseeing the placement of chairs on the main platform. Steven sat on one of the benches set up for the audience and waited. It seemed as if MacDonald was making a special effort to make this turn out right.

MacDonald saw him. "Your Grace," he said, coming down the steps, "I hope you haven't been waiting long."

"No. I walked from Holyrood so I was just resting my feet."

"Good. Good. When did you arrive in Edinburgh?"

"About an hour ago."

MacDonald led Steven onto the platform. "As you can see, there are nametags on the chairs. You'll be on the left side of the podium and will speak after the Lord Mayor's welcome. Do you have anything prepared?"

"Partially. I know mainly what I want to say, the rest I'll just ad lib." He sat in his prescribed chair. "How long should it run?"

MacDonald was usure how to handle this. How could he tell the duke of Edinburgh the length of his speech? "You shouldn't me asking me, your Grace."

"I shouldn't expect too much of them. They'll be exccited and want to move about. They won't sit still for a long, boring speech." He laughed at MacDonald's expression. "I'll make it a short, boring speech and I'll test it out first."

"And I know who'll be the guinea pigs!" called Jamie from the floor.

"When did you get in?" asked Steven. "Is Andrew with you?"

"Yes, your Grace," Andrew answered, using the title in front of MacDonald.

"We got in ten meninutes after you left. Logan told us where you'd gone, so we followed. Now we know what to look forward to tonight."

MacDonald took Andrew to be a friend of Jamie's. "Did you meet an Lord Jamie's school?"

Steven and Jamie answered simultaneously "Yes!" and "No!" confusing the poor Scot.

"Yes, they met at Jamie's school, a cricket match, I think," Steven lied.

Jamie realized that his father didn't want people to know about Andrew just yet. "I thought you meant did we meet at school for the trip."

"I go to a different school than Jamie, but we did meet at a match as his father said. I'm Andrew Moreland."

MacDonald shook his hand in welcome. "Ever been to Edinburgh before, lad?"

"No, this is my first time."

"During the Festival is one of the two best times to come."

"When's the other time?"

"When the Festival's not going on," replied Steven with a laugh.

Over dinner, Steven asked Andrew what he thought of Edinburgh. "It's magnificent. I don't know why we didn't come here earlier."

"Dad likes asking people their impressions. It gives his ego a boost."

"Why shouldn't I be proud? This is where I was born. It's steeped in history, and, it's supposedly mine." He took a sip of his wine. "I have a little chore you boys can help me with."

"Not your speech, please. I don't want to be carried to bed already asleep."

"Very funny. No, I had a phone call before I came up and a favor was asked of me. I thought you two would be the perfect people to help."

"Is it anything like what we did with Bannister?" asked Andrew, excited at the chance of possible action again.

"No, it's a bit more tame than that. We have to pick acts for the Royal Command Performance."

"We can choose? We get to pick anybody?"

Steven knew automatically Jamie's choice. "Don't raise your hopes. We're only to think of acts and recommend. Sarah has the last word."

"Okay. Just don't pick a lot of stuffy old guys."

"Good." He pulled out paper and pencils. "Let's start."

III


After a successful weekend, Monday found Steven back in St. James Square. He now had to deliver the list for the Royal Command to his sister. He took it out of his pocket and looked at it. There, as bold as brass at the top, was Jamie's first choice. He smiled as he pictured his sister's face when she saw it. He replaced the list and headed for the door.

He opened the door to find a man standing there, reaching for the bell. "Oh, hello, your Grace. I'm just returning my charge."

"Thank you, Mr. Cullen. I hope he wasn't any trouble."

"Not at all."

The "charge" they were talking about was a Scottie that Steven had named Macduff. In his excitement, he had wound himself--and the leash--about Steven's legs. Mr. Cullen handed over the leash and left Steven alone to untangle himself. Steven whistled and Macduff stopped and sat. "Good boy. I know you're happy to see me. I'm happy to see you, too, but I don't run around in circles." He untwisted the leash and knelt beside the dog. "Okay." Macduff rushed him.

After what Steven thought a sufficient length of time, he stood. "I have to go to the Palace, and, if you promise to behave yourself, you can come." Macduff barked. "I thought so." He shut and locked the door behind him.

On the Mall, he removed Macduff's leash and controlled him by whistles. He strolled along in a good mood. Everything was going great, no hitches. He looked down the road at the Palace. Crowds, lots of crowds. He checked his watch--11:20. The Changing of the Guard. He'd never make it past the crowd. Unless. . . He stood in the center of the Mall and waited for the Guards. When they reached him, he had a personal escort to the Palace gates. When they stopped in the courtyard, he saluted and went inside, Macduff at his heels.

He proceeded to the Royal Apartments, Macduff now running ahead. Secretaries and servants saw him and greeted him with a bow or bob. Steven smiled or waved. Some of the people working here had been on staff when the Palace was his home--for two short years. After Victoria died, he felt he couldn't continue as king. He abdicated in favor of his sister. That had been 13 years ago.

He stopped in front of the "Receiving Room" as he liked to call it. He could hear giggling coming from inside. He stepped in and saw Macduff playing with Prince Henry on the floor while his parents looked on. "This would make a lovely photo for the files," he remarked.

"We knew you couldn't be far behind," his brother-in-law Fitz said.

"I almost didn't make it to the building. I forgot about the Changing. I used it to my advantage, though."

"You would."

"I have your list for you." He handed it to her. "Jamie and a friend helped."

Sarah looked at the list and laughed. "They had to. I don't think you would have chosen the Beatles."

Henry looked at her. "Will we really have the Beatles, Mummy?"

Fitz answered for her. "Maybe. It depends if they can fit it in their schedule."

"Well, wjhat do you think? Is there anyone you want to add or take off?"

"No, this looks quite good." She looked it over. "You've completed Phase One."

" 'Phase One'?"

"Now you have to contact their managers or agents." Steven groaned. "You said on Thursday that you would."

Macduff began to whine because he was being left to himself. Sarah looked to Fitz who stood. "C'mon, Henry, let's take Macduff out to the gardens to play. Your mother wants to talk business with Uncle James."

"Okay. C'mon, Macduff." He clapped his hands. The Scottie hesitated until Steven motioned with his hand.

When they were alone, Steven flopped into a chair. "What's all the secrecy about?"

"You're one to talk about secrecy. Who's this mystery woman you're involved with?"

"I'm not involved with any mystery woman."

"Don't bluff me, Steven. Someone is making you act responsible and I don't think it's Jamie."

He broke down and told her the story of when he first met Alison to his rebuffed proposal. "So now you know."

"When do I get to meet her?"

"You sound like I should be bringing her home to meet my mother."

"I am your mother--now."

"God forbid. Sometimes I wonder if you really are my younger sister."

"I'm happy for you, I really am, but when can I meet her?"

"She's in Capetown at the moment, but I plan on asking her to the Royal Command."

"Something of a baptism by fire, isn't it?" Steven looked at her, questioning her choice of words. "You know the press will be out in droves, especially around you if you have a new lady-friend on your arm. It can be quite an experience if you're not used to it."

"Speaking from experience?"

"I'm only trying to help." She sounded a little hurt.

"I know. I'm sorry. When I ask her, I'll inform her of what goes on."

Sarah laughed. "You haven't asked her yet?"

"How could I? She's in South Africa."

"That's one of you're better excuses."

"Excuse? That's the truth."

"With your background in story-telling and excuse-giving, it's a wonder that anyone will believe anything you say." She stood. "Will you stay for lunch?"

"Don't mind if I do."

**************************************************

September passed quickly. Steven kept the promise he made to himself and hired a housekeeper. Since he was always off doing something, he needed someone to help keep the place clean and all the other responsibilities that went along with the job. There were quite a number of applicants, many just out of curiosity because of Steven's sudden need of a domestic. The field was narrowed down and he finally settled on a widow from Kent, now living in Chelsea, Mrs. Allen.

"Let me show you to your quarters. You were aware that you would be living on the premises?"

"Yes, your Grace. That was one of the attractions of this position, what, wwith my children being grown and married."

Steven smiled. "Then you'll be able to handle a teenage boy."

"If you meen Lord Jamie, he could not be any worse than my own were."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Mrs. Allen." She said that she could start the following day, Steven told her that he would have a set of house keys made. This was going to work, he could feel it.

****************************************************

By the time the phone ran the following week, Steven was used to Mrs. Allen answering it. "A Mrs. Moreland for you, sir."

"Thank you, Mrs. Allen. I'll take it in the study." He shut the door behind him and picked up the extension. "Hello, Alison. It's good to hear from you."

"Thanks, Steven. It's good to be back. Who answered the phone?"

"Mrs. Allen, my housekeeper."

"You hired a housekeeper? What brought on that decision?"

"I thought that since I was behaving like a duke, my house should look like it belongs to one."

"A duke's household would have more than just a housekeeper."

"Don't rush me. Besides, right now it's just me and Jamie when he's home for the hols. How was Capetown?"

"Boring." She anticipated his remark. "It was fun seeing old friends, but after about a week, it wasn't anymore. One thing you might find amusing. I saw John Sinclair and he asked about you."

"Really?" Sinclair was the man he had conned into buying a worthless diamond mine that had belonged to Alison's father. "He actually had to ask about me? Doesn't he read the papers?"

Alison laughed. "I don't think he wanted to believe it. I assured him that it was true and he forgave you, putting it down to 'impetuous youth'." Steven heard a buzz in the background. "I have to go. I'm at work trying to catch up on things."

"Sure. Before you do, however, what are you doing on October 20th?"

"Steven that's two weeks away. I don't know what I'll be doing."

"I do. You--and your son--will be joining me--and my son--at the Prince of Wales Theaatre for the Royal Command Performance."

"Oh, Steven, that's too good to be true! I've always wanted to go. Oh, my! I've just realized I've nothing to wear!" Steven laughed. "I really have to go now. Thank you for asking. I'll call you later."

Steven hung up and smiled. He couldn't believe how well things were progressing.

*******************************************************

The night of October 20th found Steven, Alison, Jamie, and Andrew in the back of a limosine on their way to the Prince of Wales Theatre. Steven was dressed in a tuxedo with his ducal sash. Jamie and Andrew also wore tuxedoes. Alsion was wearing a simply cut gown of royal blue and a diamod necklace with matching earrings. "I've never ridden in a limosine before," remarked Andrew in awe.

"I have only once before. It's not a thing that Dad does often."

"I was surprised when you entered the drive in this," said Alison. "What brought you to it?"

"Purely a whim. A form of entertainment for the peasants." He smiled. "An occassion like this calls for a limo." The car slowed. "Here we are."

The car pulled up to the front entrance of the theatre and the door was opened by a liveried footman. Steven stepped out and bulbs flashed. He turned and helped Alison. He held out his arm and she placed hers around it and they walked to the door. "Just smile and nod your head a bit," he advised.

"You seem to know what you're doing considering you haven't done it in awhile."

"Yeah, but when I did do it, I did a lot of it."

Inside, they were greeted by Sarah and Fitz. Steven introduced Alison. "You are certainly a great influence on him. I have to nag for months to get him to do the smallest thing, and here you are, not saying a word, and he's practically a new man."

Alison smiled. "Maybe he's finally grown up."

"I know," said Jamie. "He can be so juvenile sometimes."

"Sshh, it's time to meet the performers," Steven said as to change the subject.

They followed Sarah to where the acts had lined up to meet "the Royals". Jamie kept trying to look ahead, peering about his father. "What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to see where they are."

"Who are 'they'?"

"The Beatles, of course."

"I should have known."

"There they are. We'll be up to them soon."

"A little anxious, are we? Behave yourself. You're as much a celebrity to them as they are to you." Jamie nodded and tried hard to control himself when he was introduced to Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. They progressed through the line then went to the Royal box. Everyone stood when they entered and only sat down after Sarah had done so.

The show was wonderful, but for Jamie, Andrew, and the rest of the teenagers, there was only one act. The older, more conservative members of the audience were unsure of how to receive this "Northern rock and roll" band. The ice was broken, however, when John Lennon introduced the last number by saying "Those of you in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. The rest of you, if you'd just rattle your jewelry."

When the show was over, Steven tracked down the boys as they tried to go backstage. "Can't you leave them alone? I'm sure they have better things to do than entertain you in their dressing room. And don't go off without telling me. For a minute, I thought Bannister had gotten you." He hurried the boys to the front. "Get in the limo. I'll find Alison."

Alison proved to be with Sarah and Fitz. It seemed that Sarah was trying to persuade her into something. "Steven, there you are. I'm trying to talk Alison into coming back to the Palace with us."

"I can't," said Alison. "I have to be at work tomorrow. Besides, I'm very tired. This day has worn me out."

"Can't you take a rain-check? After all, this woman has a business to run. You only have to run a country," Steven said as he ushered Alison out to the limo.

"Are you sure that was wise?"

"She won't take 'no' for an answer, so we just gave her a definite maybe."

Alison laughed. "How should I arrange the date? I don't think my calls would go through."

"Let me know and I'll tell Sarah. She'll get word to you."

One week later, Alison was invited to Buckingham Palace for tea. Steven begged out of his invitation saying that it should just be for the women. Alison called him a coward. "I don't deny it. I would be the focal point of conversation and Sarah will tell you stories that will embarrass me. I'd rather not be there when she did." He did drive her over, and promised to pick her up in a few hours.

He drove home and prepared himself some tea. He found some scones, clotted cream, and took out his Earl Grey. Mrs. Allen had the day off; it was her grandson's birthday. He sat in his living room and looked through an album of old photos. He found one that someone had taken in 1940 of the two of them aboard ship. He stared at the phot and realized that he had loved her even then, which made him all the more determined not to let her go again.

****************************************************

On the evening of November 22, Steven was preparing to go out to dinner with Alison when the phone rang. "It's your sister, your Grace."

"Thank you, Mrs. Allen." He picked up the extension in his room. "Hello, Sarah. What's up?"

"Bad news. I've just received word from the States."

Steven could hear the anguish in her voice. "What is it?"

"President Kennedy is dead. He was shot in Dallas while parading through the city." She continued to tell him of what happened as it had been relayed to her.

When she was done, Steven very softly said, "I'm going there."

"What?"

"I said I'm going there."

"I'll get you a plane and a pilot."

"Thanks." He hung up and called Mrs. Allen. "I'll be going on a trip and need my bags packed in a hurry."

"I've already started, sir. I thought that was why she called. Will you be needing your sash?"

"Yes. I'll also need some sombre clothes. I'll be attending a funeral."

"What about Mrs. Moreland?"

"I'll call her now."

Alison answered. "This is very strange, Steven. Couldn't it wait until I see you?"

"That's just it. I have to postpone. I've just heard some tragic news and have to go to Washington. I'll take you out when I get back. Promise."

Steven arrived at Andrews Air Force base and was met by two men he guessed to be Secret Service. "What did I do to be so honored?"

"We were told to meet you." They escorted him into the waiting car.

The ride to the White House was quiet. The agents didn't say anything and Steven didn't want to strain their tongues. He was ushered to the front door where a porter took his hat and coat. "Mrs. Kennedy, President, and Mrs. Johnson are waiting for you in the front parlor, your Grace, if you will please follow me."

Steven noticed that his two acquaintances had left. "Where are they?" he asked the porter.

"They have done what they were assigned. It is my duty to help you while you are inside the house." The porter knocked on one of a set of double doors before opening it. "His Grace, the duke of Edinburgh," he announced.

Steven walked into the parlor and was greeted by Mr. Johnson--President Johnson, he corrected himself. "Welcome to Washington, your Grace."

"Thank you, Mr. President." Mrs. Kennedy rose from her seat and Steven went to meet her. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Kennedy. I can sincerely say I know what you're going through."

"Thank you, your Grace. It was so nice of you to come."

"How did you know when I would be arriving?"

"Your sister called with her condolences and said that you were on your way." She led him to a chair. "You must have had a tiring journey. Would you care for something to drink?"

"A cup of tea would be fine, thank you." He looked around the room. "Things have certainly changed since I was here last."

"When was that, your Grace?" asked Mrs. Johnson.

"1952, I think. Some friends and I visited Truman and talked about Korea. I knew Eisenhower but only as a general. Your late husband," he said, looking in Mrs. Kennedy's direction, "I met once in London. Quite an admirable man. When I heard the news, I knew I had to come."

Steven's tea arrived and the conversation turned from the subject on everyone's mind. They would have enough grieving at the funeral.

After dinner Steven was shown to his room--the Lincoln room. When the porter told him that the room was supposedly haunted, he replied, "I don't think he would do any harm, given his reputation."

"Especially to you, your Grace." Steven smiled and the porter left.

Lying in bed, Steven thought back to March 1949. He had had everything a man could want; a beautiful wife, his health, family, and being the head of a country didn't hurt. Then the blow came. An assassin's bullet hit the wrong target, killing his wife Victoria. Eve since then, he realized, he had been afraid of giving his heart to anyone for fear of loosing them. He knew that he couldn't constantly live with this fear or depend so strongly on his memories of her. He had devoted nearly fifteen years to her memory and now it was time to break away from that dependence. Come April, he would ask Alison again and wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

The next morning, Steven woke in a good mood. He was pleased with himself for making his mind up about Victoria and Alison. So please, as a matter of fact, that he whistled in the shower. It wasn't until he returned to his room to see his clothes laid out on the bed, that he realized the he had been whistling in a house of mourning.

After the funeral and procession, Steven took his leave.

**************************************************************

He arrived home and kicked off his shoes and put up his feet. He was sitting there for fifteen minutes when Mrs. Allen entered. "Your Grace, I didn't hear you come in. How was America?"

"What can one expect from a funeral? It was sobering and depressing. The man was quite popular and might have won a second term. Such a senseless waste." He sighed. "What happened while I was away?"

Mrs. Allen filled him in on some of the London happenings. "Things seemed quiet while you were away, sir."

"Is that a compliment?"

"You could say that, yes."

Steven stretched. "I'm going to try and catch up on some sleep. If I'm not up by half-past one, call me."

He went upstairs to his room, dropped his bag, then fell face-down on the bed. He lay there for a few moments then rolled onto his back. The first thing he saw was an old, well-loved teddy bear sitting on a shelf. He stood and took it down. It was well-preserved for its age. Steven remembered holding it when his mother died when he was two. He remembered squeezing it at the age of four when he learned of his father's death; hugging it when his uncle died when he was six. He may have even been comforted by it when his wife died when he was 28, he couldn't quite remember. This bear brought back memories of losses, but also of comfort and surviving. It was funny how it comforted him now after the death of a near-stranger. He lay back on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

There was a knock on the door. It repeated. "It's half-past one, sir. You asked me to wake you," came a voice from the other side.

"Thank you, Mrs. Allen. Could you fix me up some lunch? I'll be right out." He sat up and looked at his watch out of habit. Mrs. Allen was punctual as usual. He placed the bear back on the shelf and quickly ran a comb through his hair. He looked at his wrinkled clothes; he'd change after lunch.

Mrs. Allen had a plate of sandwiches and a pint of lager waiting. "You must be a mind reader, Mrs. Allen. This is exactly what I wanted."

She smiled. "What nonsense, sir. My boys would want the same thing. Would you like your mail in here or do you wish to read it in the study?"

"In here, I guess." She went to get it. "Did I have any phone calls?"

"Yesterday a Mr. Forbes called to say he was back in London. And while you were napping," she said with a smile, "Mrs. Moreland called and said that she would stop by at 2:00."

"Then I'd better change out of this before she arrives." The doorbell rang. "Too late." Mrs. Allen went to answer the door. "No, I'll get it." He went to the front door, checking his appearance in the mirror in the hall. Acceptable. He opened the door. "Hi. C'mon in."

She took in his wrinkled clothes as she entered. "Did you sleep well?" she asked with a smile.

Steven grinned. "Very well. I was just going to change. I was planning an excursion for this afternoon. Would you care to join me?"

"Certainly. Where are we going?"

"Windsor. I'm feeling especially contemplative and want to be with history." She nodded. "Good. Let me change and I'll be right down. Mrs. Allen'll fix up some tea if you want."

It wasn't until they were on the M4 just past Heathrow that Alison asked him about his trip. "How was it?"

"As well as could be expected for a funeral. The last time I was at a State funeral, I was one of the principle mourners."

"I'm sorry."

"Why should you be?" You've gone through the same thing and recently at that."

"Why Windsor?"

"I'm in a morbid frame of mind right now. What better place to combat it? I want to visit St. George's Chapel after hours. You can stay in the apartments if you'd rather."

"No, I'll join you. It's not very healthy to be there alone when you're in this frame of mind. Surely you can see that?"

"Guess you're right."

Steven drove through the town to the main castle gates. The guards on duty saluted and let them enter. Steven stopped the car at the front entrance. It was dusk which enhanced the castle's medieval atmosphere. "We might have to stay the night?"

"Have to?"

"I may not feel like driving back and I wouldn't want to make you. Sarah should have some clothes here that would fit you."

Alison smiled. "It's not every woman who can wear the clothes of a queen."

After speaking with the butler about dinner and accommodations, Steven led Alison through the halls so they would just have to cross the courtyard and miss most of the tours. Steven nodded to the woman in the ticket kiosk who could only stare in amazement as they walked by. Their footsteps echoed in the empty building.

"This place never fails to amaze me," said Alison. "The workmanship is spectacular." She turned to see Steven walking along the side aisle by the crypts. She was about to call after him, but changed her mind and followed instead.

He had stopped in front of a crypt with an iron gate to keep people from entering. He pulled a key out of his pocket and inserted it in the lock. Alison stayed outside and watched him. He ran his fingers across the marble bust of a beautiful woman. She couldn't tell, but she thought he was crying. Hanging on the back wall was a portrait of two men standing together, a Scottish terrier at their feet. There was also a photo of a blonde woman with laughing blue eyes. Alison knew this to be Victoria, Steven's wife.

Steven noticed she was there. "My family. This is my mother," he said as he looked at the bust. "She died when I was two. I still feel she's with me at times. This bust was commissioned by my father and sculpted from photos."

"She's lovely. I can see a resemblance, especially in Sarah. Is that your father in the portrait?"

"Yes. That's my uncle with him."

"The one that took you and Sarah to America?"

Steven nodded. "One of my first duties as King was to re-inter them here. I mean, it was the least I could do."

Alison could see he wanted to be alone. "I'll just go into the Garter Hall and wait for you. Don't be long."

"Thanks for understanding." He kissed her.

"Just don't become overwhelmingly morbid." She left.

Steven joined her twenty minutes later. She was looking at the grave of Jane Seymour. "I don't know whether to feel sorry for her or happy. If she had lived, Henry would have doted on her since she bore him a son, yet I don't know if I'd wish being the wife of Henry VIII on anybody."

"He was just obsessed with having a male heir. If he had only known what Elizabeth would do, he would have realized that one's sex didn't enter into it."

"Are you feeling better?"

"Yes, much. How about a stroll?"

***********************************************************

The New Year arrived and brought with it more responsibilities for Steven and some good news from Jamie. He had made the Cambridge crew team. "I hope it was on your merit."

"It was. We had a new coach at the try-outs and I used a false name."

"Congratulations. I'll try and make it up for a race, but I can't promise anything. Your aunt has me running everywhere. I didn't realize there were so many watering holes for elderly women organized for the excuse of helping others."

Jamie laughed. "It can't be all bad."

"No, just most of it." Steven told Jamie to take care and study hard. "I'll come visit when I can. Bye." He replaced the receiver and allowed himself a smile.

Steven only made it to one race and that was the all-important one against Oxford. He was lucky to have squeezed that in-between his speeches. He made sure, however, to leave a day open in April: the day. He called on Alison at home, but Dawson told him that she was at the publishing house. He drove there and went straight to her office ignoring the stares of the workers. Her private secretary barely had time to inform her over the intercom.

"Steven, what are you doing here?"

"I thought it was obvious. I'm taking you away from all this."

"I can't just leave. It's just not done."

"Traditions have to start somewhere." He took her jacket out of the closet and led her by the hand out of the office. As they passed her secretary, he said, "Cancel all Mrs. Moreland's appointments for today and reschedule them to everyone's convenience."

Steven continued to pull her along, ignoring her protests and questions. She stopped in the lobby, refusing to move. "What are you doing?"

"Taking you to lunch."

"It's not even 12:00."

"Who said lunch had to start at 12:00? Besides, we have a drive ahead of us."

"At least we don't have to walk."

"Good, now come along."

Alison followed him to the car and took a deep breath once she sat down. He had the top down and the spring sun had warmed the seats. "Well?"

Steven smiled. "Well, what?"

"Where are we going for lunch? Maxim's? The Connaught?"

"Regent's Park."

"Regent's Park? What's at Regent's Park?"

"Well, it's not there yet. Actually, it's in the boot."

"The boot?"

"Will you stop repeating everything I say?"

"Sorry. But the boot?"

"Where else would I put the picnic hamper?"

"Steven, how wonderful! I haven't been on a picnic in ages!"

"Now will you tell me I was right to take you away from work? You're relaxed already."

They entered the park from Marylebone Road and walked to the heart of the park where the sound of traffic was muffled. Steven pulled out a blanket and helped Alison sit. He then proceeded to pull out cold ham, cheese, salad, bread ("baked by Mrs. Allen yesterday"), and a chilled bottle of wine.

"This is just too much. What possessed you to do all this?"

"I'd say I was inspired, not possessed. I just thought you needed a day off and this was just a different way of doing it."

"It certainly is." She sipped her wine.

"Would you care for a sandwich, or just sliced ham?"

"Just slices, please."

"How's Andrew?"

"Fine. He'll be off to Cambridge in the fall. How does Jamie like it?"

"The boy is in heaven. It's like a whole other world." He handed Alison her plate. "He's just as excited to get back as he is to come home."

"What's he reading?"

"Every type of history he can. I think it might be because he doesn't know his own." He began to make his sandwich.

"How is your sister and her family?"

"They're fine. I actually contemplated having the picnic in the Palace Gardens but thought that this was more fun."

"What do you mean by that?"

"We're not walled out of sight, we're in public view."

"How is that fun?"

"The real fun hasn't started yet," he grinned. He stood and reached out his hand to help her up. "We'll just pack up the hamper and take it with us."

"I find it hard to trust you when you have that look in your eyes," Alison told him.

"I've never done anything to hurt you, have I?"

"No."

"So why don't you trust me?"

"Oh, I trust you, it's the look in your eyes that's untrustworthy."

Steven picked up the hamper in one hand and took Alison's hand in the other. He led her down to the lake and paid the attendant who had reserved a boat for them. Steven climbed aboard first with the hamper, then turned around to help Alison. She sat on the seat in the stern while Steven sat in the middle and rowed out to the Heronnry, an island in the center of the lake. Just offshore of the island, Steven brought in the oars and they drifted. Because it was the middle of the workday, the lake was practically free of boats.

"So, this is the fun you meant," Alison said as she trailed her fingers in the water. She tilted her head back and looked at the sky. "This day is so beautiful. I don't know when I've seen a bluer sky."

Steven had just sat there looking at her. "Alison, I asked you this once before and you said to wait a year. Well, the year is up and I'm asking you again. Will you marry me?"

"Yes."

"I know this is an important decision to make and you should take your time--did you say 'yes'?"

"Yes, Steven, I'll marry you. I've wanted to ever since I first saw you onboard the liner."

Steven leaned forward to kiss her, and, in his eagerness, almost tipped them over. He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a case from Cartier's. He opened it and showed her the simply cut gold band with a four-carat diamond. "Steven, it's beautiful!" He placed it on her finger and kissed her again.

"Now you know why I canceled your appointments for today."

"Why today, though? Was this spontaneous?"

"I kept my promise and didn't talk of marriage for a whole year. It was exactly one year ago today since my first proposal. This whole day was planned and it's nowhere near over."

Alison nodded dumbly; she was still in shock over the proposal. Steven rowed back to shore and packed the hamper into the car. Alison didn't realize how well Steven had planned the day until they pulled up in front of the Palace. "What are we doing here?"

"Tea, and to tell Sarah and Fitz the news."

"I hope I can last through it."

"To be perfectly honest, I think Sarah suspected we were going to do this--or rather, I was. I don't think it'll be much of a surprise. I told her last year about the first proposal, so she knew I was just biding my time."

"In that case, it shouldn't be too bad."

*****************************************************

Alison was partially right. Telling Sarah and Fitz was the easy part. Jamie and Andrew each knew it was going to happen and they rejoiced. The hard part began when the newsmen got their hands on it. Steven tried to play it down as much as he could, but the event was too much of a story to let go. After all, Steven was (a) a royal duke, (b) an international hero, (c) the richest man in Britain, and (d) because of these three qualifications, the most eligible bachelor in Europe. A few papers even printed the story that Steven had known Alison before Victoria.

Alison knew what to expect and handled the situation quite well. Being a publisher, she knew how to win people over and the Press was pleased with her. Steven handled the pre-nuptial hurrahs with his usual aplomb. He had become much better in handling the Press during the past year. He had always tried to avoid it before. Now he knew that was impossible.

The date was set for September and the ceremony would be held at St. Paul's.

At the end of August, as the day drew near, the Press had some story about the wedding in the papers everyday. Steven began to be annoyed by all of this and decided to return the favor. He mentioned his idea to Alison, who agreed. He then notified Sarah, Fitz, and few friends, telling them of the change of plans.

A week before the scheduled day for the wedding, they all drove--separately, of course--to Edinburgh. Steven thought that the citizens would think nothing of it because of the Festival. The plan was that they would get married early in St. Giles' and the Press would find out too late.

The morning of the wedding found Steven elated. This was a moment he had been avoiding for fifteen years, and now he had become reconciled with his feelings. What he was doing was right. He kept re-doing his silk cravat, never satisfied with how it looked. Finally, he knew he was just delaying the inevitable. He out on his dove-grey tuxedo and was checking himself in the mirror as Jamie walked in. "How do I look?"

"You look fine, Dad. What's the matter? Butterflies?"

"A few," he admitted.

"We'd better get going. It's only half-an-hour until the ceremony," said Jamie, looking at his own reflection.

"Have you seen Alison today?"

"No, but I saw Andrew. He said she's a bit nervous, too."

"What about Sarah and Fitz?"

"They're waiting downstairs to drive over with us."

"Okay, let's go."

They drove from Holyrood House to St. Giles' Cathedral in perfect peace; the public was actually aware of why they were attending a service, but some had suspicions. While standing, waiting, Steven kept nervously checking that everything was just right. Within five minutes, he had asked Jamie five times if he had the ring. Jamie in turn asked Fitz if he had been the same way the first time. A few minutes before the ceremony was to start, they entered the Thistle Chapel. Steven saw some of his friends sitting in the pews. Tristan Forbes, an ex-police constable who had joined Steven for excitement. John Dolittle, a friend from World War II, now a Superintendent at Scotland yard. Nicholas Adamson, his newest acquaintance, a con-man gone straight, sort of. Telegrams had been arriving from those he told that couldn't make it.

The ceremony started promptly at 10am. Alison wore a simple pale blue gown with a veiled hat. Andrew, wearing a dark blue suit, gave the bride away. All during the service, Steven's mind kept "floating away" with his memories; Alison and Victoria blending together. A good sign, he thought. The ring was a gold band with a diamond and two small sapphires.

Afterwards, they gathered at Holyrood for the reception. A few curious newshounds, following up on a rumor, got the scoop on the wedding and wired it down to London.

Logan, the butler, brought Steven a telegram on a salver. "For you, your Grace."

"Put it with the others, Logan."

"It was marked 'Urgent', sir."

Steven took the telegram and opened it. It simply read: "Enjoy your happiness. It won't last long." It wasn't signed, but it was obvious to Steven who sent it. He wasn't going to let Bannister ruin this marriage.

"Who was that from, Steven?" asked Alison.

"Just another well-wisher. Nothing important." He crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket.

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