Chapter Eighty-One

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Stepping out of the shower at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, Meredith dried off. Harry and her had shown up late last night, and this morning gave her time to clean up before meeting the family. Her nerves made her stomach twist as she did her hair and makeup, suddenly so concerned how she might be seen. Honestly, fears had clawed through her mind, wanting to ruin every happy thought.

"Good enough," Meredith sighed and left the room. A while earlier, Harry had texted the family's location in the castle. Taking a step into the hallway, the floor creaked underneath her weight. Immediately Meredith pushed herself onto her toes, yet the floor creaked under her again.

Rounding a corner, panic seized Meredith. Walking toward her, she didn't know who it was, staff member or royal member, and either way, Meredith stumbled back, hiding behind the wall. "Shit," she muttered as she almost knocked over an expensive vase. Putting it upright, Meredith just decided to hide behind the wooden chest.

The footsteps came closer and closer, and Meredith hoped the footsteps went right past. Yet, the footsteps stopped beside her.

"What are you doing?" the Duke of Edinburgh asked in amusement.

"Inspecting the floor," Meredith said, immediately regretting that choice. It was easier to say she lost an earring, but no, Meredith panicked. "Yep," she knocked on the floor, "all good." Standing up, Meredith horrifically curtsied at the Duke. "Your highness." She didn't meet his gaze.

"Philip," he said. "We have met each other twice now, both times hiding and on your knees. You look rather comfortable there."

Meredith laughed nervously.

"Where were you off?" Philip asked.

"The drawing room," Meredith said. "Harry said that was where he was." And everyone else, but she didn't add that.

"You've missed him, and the others. They have gone for a hike." Philip's cool blue gaze rested on Meredith, and she looked at the ground. "You're scared?"

"Yes."

"Of them?" He chuckled. "My wife can't behead you; it's a lie we tell people." Philip measured her. Meredith tired not to squirm. With a cluck of his tongue, Philip continued, "There's no reason to be scared."

"There is."

"Why?"

"You're Harry's family. You're royalty."

"I forget that you guys think of us aliens." Philip's hands rested behind his back. "Come. Let's get a drink." Walking away, Meredith followed the elderly man. "We're not on duty. You don't have to walk two steps behind me," he called, and she stepped up beside him. "Now, that's better."

Entering a room that Meredith hadn't been in before, and he poured a glass of alcohol for her. It was barely ten in the morning. He took one for himself before he settled down on a plaid sofa. Meredith still stood.

"Sit," he said, and Meredith almost dropped to the floor. Sitting across from him, the old grandfather clock ticked. Philip put the glass to his lips and took a sip. He let out a sigh, his glass coming to his side. "They're scared of you."

"Me, sir?"

"Yes. It doesn't always happen, but with you, you're quite the talk, Ms. Rogue. There are always stories for us to know," Philip said.

"That's a bad thing."

"Yes; we don't particularly like individuality." He took another sip of his drink. "But you're a wild card that Harry wants around, and you amuse me."

"Thank you, sir." It was more of a question, but Meredith tried to avoid sassing the duke. "Sir, I'm sorry; how am I scary? You say I'm wild."

"Yes. Those articles, the way you handle the paparazzi, the fucks you do not give." Philip waved it off. Apparently she wasn't that scary, but suddenly it made her heart thunder. It was just another reason for them to not like her, and Meredith knew she walked on thin ice. "Drink."

Meredith did, almost swallowing the whole thing full. It wasn't proper, but she panicked. Suddenly her whole throat burned, and Meredith coughed, slightly convulsing. Her mind started to turn numb.

Philip lost his mind, chuckling on the couch. His laughter came out with gasps of breath, and his face turned red. Meredith couldn't help herself and laughed too. It wasn't as hard as him, but his happiness was just addicting. "Oh, my wife is going to like you. You'll fit in nicely here."

"What?" Meredith shook her head. "Pardon, your highness?"

He tipped his glass to her, pointing a finger.

"Sorry. Pardon, Philip?"

"You take orders," he said. "You ask no questions."

Really, because authority problems was her thing; Harry commented on it repeatedly. Meredith took the compliment. 

"It was smooth, wasn't it?"

Politely, Meredith nodded. "And burning," she muttered, staring into the bottom of the crystal glass.

Philip laughed. "More?"

"No, thank you." Meredith put down the glass and rubbed her sweaty hands against her nice pants. While she wanted to impress his family, she wasn't willing to go into skirt territory. Harry said nice jeans were just fine, so Meredith went with that and a nice shirt. "How's retirement?"

"Boring," he answered.

They collapsed back into silence.

This time, Philip pushed for conversation. "Harry tells me you're quite the talker. Why aren't you talking?"

"Am I only here for entertainment?" The words left Meredith's mouth before she could stop them. Her cheeks turned red. Meredith swallowed harshly, staring at the ground.

"There it is." Bringing the glass up, he toasted to her, and then he brought the glass to his lips. "Entertain me."

"I'm not very good on queue."

"Are you a jester?"

"I don't know many jokes, and I'm not a huge fan of clowns," Meredith admitted.

"Get used to clowns. You meet a lot of them." Philip finished his drink and slowly stood up. Meredith watched him, wondering if it was rude to help him, or maybe she was supposed to help him. But Philip was incredibly proud, and Meredith didn't know if he would take the help. "Come."

Meredith slid from the sofa and followed him.

"You're from the north, eh?"

"Yes." Meredith kept pace with him.

"Good."

It was another cloudy day in the Highlands, and it made it easier to see. Instinctively, Meredith looked to the sky, wondering if there might be rain. Philip had continued to walk, and Meredith sped up to stay at pace with him. Unsure where he was going, Meredith just came along, leaving the more well known parts of Balmoral behind.

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