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CHAPTER 103

AS THE PALACE clocks struck noon, Mónica Martín gathered her notes and prepared to walk out to Plaza de la Almudena and address the assembled media.

Earlier that morning, from Hospital El Escorial, Prince Julián had gone on live television and announced the passing of his father. With heartfelt emotion and regal poise, the prince had spoken about the king’s legacy and his own aspirations for the country. Julián called for tolerance in a world divided. He promised to learn from history and open his heart to change. He hailed the culture and beauty of Spain, and proclaimed his deep, undying love for her people.

It was one of the finest speeches Martín had ever heard, and she could imagine no more powerful way for the future king to begin his reign.

At the end of his moving speech, Julián had taken a somber moment to honor the two Guardia agents who had lost their lives in the line of duty the previous night while protecting the future queen of Spain. Then, after a brief silence, he had shared news of another sad development. The king’s devoted lifelong friend, Bishop Antonio Valdespino, had also passed away this morning, only a few hours after the king. The aging bishop had succumbed to heart failure, apparently too weak to cope with the profound distress he felt over the loss of the king as well as the cruel barrage of allegations leveled against him last night.

News of Valdespino’s death, of course, had immediately quelled the public’s call for an investigation, and some had even gone so far as to suggest an apology was in order; after all, the evidence against the bishop was all circumstantial and could easily have been fabricated by his enemies.

As Martín neared the plaza door, Suresh Bhalla materialized beside her. “They’re calling you a hero,” he said, gushing. “All hail, monte@iglesia.org—purveyor of truth and disciple of Edmond Kirsch!”

“Suresh, I am not Monte,” she insisted, rolling her eyes. “I promise you.”

“Oh, I know you’re not Monte,” Suresh assured her. “Whoever it is, he’s way trickier than you are. I’ve been trying to track his communications—no way. It’s like he doesn’t even exist.”

“Well, stay on it,” she said. “I want to be sure there’s no leak in the palace. And please tell me the phones you stole last night—”

“Back in the prince’s safe,” he assured her. “As promised.”

Martín exhaled, knowing the prince had just returned to the palace.

“One more update,” Suresh continued. “We just pulled the palace phone logs from the provider. There is zero record of any call from the palace to the Guggenheim last night. Somebody must have spoofed our number to place that call and put Ávila on the guest list. We’re following up.”

Mónica was relieved to hear that the incriminating call had not originated from the palace. “Please keep me apprised,” she said, nearing the door.

Outside, the sound of the assembled media grew louder.

“Big crowd out there,” Suresh observed. “Did something exciting happen last night?”

“Oh, just a few newsworthy items.”

“Don’t tell me,” Suresh chimed. “Did Ambra Vidal wear a new designer dress?”

“Suresh!” she said, laughing. “You’re ridiculous. I’ve got to get out there now.”

“What’s on the docket?” he asked, motioning to the packet of notes in her hand.

“Endless details. First, we have media protocols to set up for the coronation, then I have to review the—”

“My God, you’re boring,” he blurted, and peeled off down a different corridor.

Martín laughed. Thanks, Suresh. Love you too.

As she reached the door, she gazed across the sun-drenched plaza at the largest crowd of reporters and cameramen she had ever seen assembled at the Royal Palace. Exhaling, Mónica Martín adjusted her glasses and gathered her thoughts. Then she stepped out into the Spanish sun.

 

Upstairs in the royal apartment, Prince Julián watched Mónica Martín’s televised press conference as he got undressed. He was exhausted, but he also felt a profound relief to know that Ambra was now safely back and sleeping soundly. Her final words during their phone conversation had filled him with happiness.

Julián, it means the world to me that you would consider starting over together—just you and me—out of the public eye. Love is a private thing; the world does not need to know every detail.

Ambra had filled him with optimism on a day that was heavy with the loss of his father.

As he went to hang up his suit jacket, he felt something in his pocket—the bottle of oral morphine solution from his father’s hospital room. Julián had been startled to find the bottle on the table beside Bishop Valdespino. Empty.

In the darkness of the hospital room, as the painful truth became clear, Julián had knelt down and said a quiet prayer for the two old friends. Then he had quietly slipped the morphine bottle into his pocket.

Before leaving the room, he gently lifted the bishop’s tear-streaked face off his father’s chest and repositioned him upright in his chair … hands folded in prayer.

Love is a private thing, Ambra had taught him. The world does not need to know every detail.

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