Theirs Ever After: (A MMF Romance) (The Thalanian Dynasty Book 3)
“Not that way, Consort.”
Meg Sanders veered to the right instead of the left in response to the whispered words. She’d officially been Consort to the King of Thalania for six months, and she still couldn’t quite figure out the palace. It should be straightforward enough, but they never seemed to take the same path twice. Supposedly it had something to do with security and safety, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that the staff here just flat out didn’t like her.
“Consort.” Another whisper behind her.
She bit back a sigh and raised her gaze to find none other than Noemi Huxley bearing down on her. Oh, Noemi was too perfect to bear down on anyone. She practically floated across the cool stone floors, her classic dress kicking out gently around her heels.
Meg had no illusions about her appearance. She was attractive and knew how to maximize that as needed, but Noemi made her feel about two feet tall and stunted without even trying. She had model-sharp cheekbones, a generous mouth, and honey blond hair that never seemed out of place. “Consort,” she said with a smile and leaned in to press an air kiss to each of Meg’s cheeks.
Another Thalanian custom that Meg would never get used to. It didn’t matter that Thalania was far from the only European country that employed air kisses. She had a choice whether to accept them in other countries. As Consort, she was chained by a set of rules she still didn’t have down pat. No use thinking about that now. You made your choice.
Yeah, she had.
She chose Theo.
Noemi stepped back, oblivious to the turmoil of Meg’s thoughts and gave another warm smile. “I was hoping you had some time in your schedule in the next few days for tea. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.”
They had tea only last week, but Meg didn’t have the heart to say it. It wasn’t Noemi’s fault that her every breath highlighted how perfectly she fit into life in the palace—and how the same couldn’t be said for Meg. To her credit, Noemi never went out of her way to point that out. She was kind enough and seemed to genuinely want to spend time getting to know Meg. Which was more than Meg could say for most of the other noble Families.
Stop it. Focus. You can’t afford to be distracted, even with Noemi.
Meg forced a smile of her own. “I’d like that a lot.” She glanced over her shoulder at Alys, her own personal babysitter. The woman’s official title was secretary, but they both knew the truth. “Alys, how does my schedule look tomorrow?” She didn’t think there was anything, but she’d been wrong before.
Alys checked her ever-present tablet. “You’re clear from two to three.”
That’s it? It took everything she had not to wilt at the words. Meg turned back to Noemi. “How does that sound?”
“Wonderful. I look forward to it.” Noemi swooped down—at nearly six feet tall, she towered over Meg’s five feet, seven inches—and pressed two more air kisses to her cheeks. “Have a good evening, Consort.”
Meg resumed her course, careful to keep her chin up and her stride steady. God forbid she give into the urge to sprint through the halls to the relative safety of the private suite she shared with Galen and Theo. She followed Alys’s quiet directions until they turned down a hallway Meg actually recognized. Bright, happy paintings clustered the walls, the sight of them making her smile despite herself. They had been acquired by Theo’s mother years ago, right after she’d married his father and become Queen of Thalania. Theo had them moved to this hall the week after his coronation, a reminder of the woman who’d been so important to him.
Some days, Meg spent nearly an hour staring into the paintings, trying to reach back through time to the woman who’d picked them. They were such a random collection, their origins spanning multiple decades and many styles. The only real connection was the buoyancy in her chest when she allowed herself to spend time in this space. Did Theo’s mother pick them because she was happy and wanted pieces to reflect that? Or were they her only bright spot in the stress that came from being with the most powerful man in Thalania?
The latter, Meg could relate to all too well.
She bit back a sigh and kept her spine straight as she opened the door to the private suites. She paused and looked back at Alys. The woman had been a lifesaver for the last six months. Everything about her was just as understated as Noemi was glamorous. She tended to wear black with small pops of color—slacks and a blouse today—and the only jewelry Meg had ever seen on her person was a thin locket she wore around her neck. She never mentioned it and Meg didn’t feel like it was her place to ask simply to satisfy her curiosity.
She managed a real smile. “We made it through the day.”
“We did.” Alys swiped her index finger across her tablet and pushed a few buttons. “I’ve sent over your agenda for tomorrow, along with any wardrobe considerations.”
After a particularly brutal fashion mistake during her first solo social event, Alys had taken to giving her suggestions to help avoid it in the future. “Thanks. Have a good night, Alys.”
“And you as well, Consort.”
Meg shut the door and slumped against it. Once upon a time, she’d dreamed that a prince would ride into her small town and fall in love the moment he laid eyes on her. He’d rescue her from her shitty life, pull her astride his white horse, and they’d ride off into the sunset together.
That kind of thing only happened in fairy tales.
Meg had saved herself, had worked her ass off to get out of that hellhole of a town, had gotten into college, and was now one short year away from graduating with her Masters of Accounting.
Or she had been before she met that prince she’d given up waiting on to save her.
Turned out being a princess—or Consort—wasn’t all she’d dreamed of.
In fact, it kind of sucked.
She opened her eyes and turned to face the other man she loved—the one who occupied a second Consort position for the first time in Thalanian history. Galen Mikos. He hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights in the sitting room, and he sprawled in the furthest chair from the door like some kind of dark god. She couldn’t see his face clearly, but the exhaustion weighing her down was mirrored in the lines of his shoulders and thighs. “Hey.” She stepped out of her heels and walked to him. “Long day.”
“Yeah.” He took her hand and pulled her onto his lap. Galen was built for war in the same way she imagined the Spartans had been—a heavily muscled and barely contained violence. When she met him in New York, that violence had been buried deep, only visible in a hint of a look when he let the mask drop. Here, it rode much closer to the surface. The fact he couldn’t act on it in any real way just made the entire situation that much more complicated.
She pressed her face against his neck and inhaled his clove and tobacco scent. Meg had never seen Galen smoke, but he always smelled like he’d just got done rolling one of those clove cigarillos. “I spilled tea on Lady Nibley today. Right in her lap.”
Galen shifted her closer and sifted his fingers through her hair, freeing the pins that had spent all day torturing her. “I sat through an entire meeting where Isaac fucking Kozlov talked to me like I was an idiot kid. He conveniently forgot that I was the one who trained him before he took over as head of security.”
“I’m sorry.” She kissed his jaw. “I know it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“No, it really wasn’t.” He cursed and tossed her hair pins onto the table near his feet. “You see Theo today?”
“Not since we all went our separate ways this morning.” That was the other thing she hadn’t bargained on. In hindsight, it made sense that Theo would spend all his waking hours in long meetings about everything from national security to concern over the drought putting half the country’s crops in danger. Six months wasn’t quite enough time to undo the damage his exile had caused, and as happily as the people had welcomed him back, his decision to name both Meg and Galen as Consort had made waves that would drown all three of them if they weren’t careful.
It would help if Meg could stop fucking up.
Galen lifted his free hand and she knew without looking that he was checking his watch. “I’ve giving him an hour and then I’m going to track his ass down and haul him back here. He’s running on empty.”
“I know.” She just didn’t know how to fix it. The best Meg could do was try to ensure she wasn’t a burden, but ever since coming to Thalania, that’s exactly what she felt like. A bumbling idiot who didn’t know how to hold down a conversation without gravely insulting the very people Theo needed on his side to ensure things went smoothly. It would help if they gave her time to breathe, to find her feet, but that wasn’t in the agenda.
Everyone wanted a look at the foreign Consort, the woman Theo and Galen had brought back with them out of exile.
Everyone found her less than impressive.
She couldn’t even blame them for that. She was just a normal woman who’d been swept up in something magical. Now, the magic was wearing a little thin and reality intruded more often than not.
You made your choice. You love these men.
Meg slipped out of Galen’s arms and tugged him to his feet. “Come on. Let’s take a shower and order some food. You know he won’t have eaten.”
Galen cast a long look at the door, as if revising his timeline to haul Theo back to the room. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Sure.” She padded into the next room, her bare feet sinking into the thick carpet. The sitting room was for… well, she wasn’t really sure what it was for. They didn’t take guests in here, except in a rare emergency. It served more as an extra barrier between them and the rest of the palace than anything else.
The main room, though, was only for them. It housed a massive bed that accommodated all three of them—and would probably fit another three people easily—as well as a desk for private correspondence and a small table where they could take meals as they saw fit. It was double the size of the apartment she’d had back in New York, and that wasn’t even getting into the ridiculously luxurious bathroom.
“On second thought, maybe a bath would be a better option.” Her feet hurt, her back ached, and her entire body felt as if she’d run a marathon instead of sat through a dozen painfully polite conversations that only served to remind her just how out of her depth she was. Alys had set up private lessons to get her up to date on the gaps in her Thalanian education, but they felt like too little, too late.
Meg started the water. The tub was just as massive as everything else seemed to be in this room—bed, shower, the room itself. She knew from personal experience that all three of them could fit into the thing comfortably, but that wasn’t on the agenda tonight. Unfortunately. She tested the water one last time and turned to find Galen watching her.
His dark eyes saw too much. “How you holding up?”
“I’m good.” She almost sounded like she meant it. When Galen just stared, she sighed. “This is hard and I’m screwing up, okay? I hate feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing, and that is all I’ve felt since we came here.” He opened his mouth, but she held up a hand before he could respond. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you—either of you—but I’m struggling.”
“Did you manage to eat today in between spilling tea on Lady Nibley’s lap and doing the dozen other things on that agenda Alys put together for you?”
No point in lying. He’d just know, and then he’d give her one of those severe looks that she was too tired to do anything about. “I managed a finger sandwich at lunch.”
“Thought so.” He shook his head. “Take a bath, baby. I’ll go find Theo and order us some food.”
She wasn’t sure she’d manage to stay awake long enough to eat once she got into the bath, but that was a problem for later. “Sure. Okay.” It was only after the words slipped out that she realized a few months ago, she would have argued just to argue. Galen would have snarled back, and she would have gotten in his face a little, until their mutual contrariness transformed to pure sex. He would be fucking her against the bathroom sink right now.
Meg glanced at the sink in question, a sturdy marble creation that could stand a lot of abuse. Maybe she wasn’t that tired…
But it was too late.
Galen was gone.
* * *
After the last meeting on his agenda, Theo found himself in his personal gym. It wasn’t intentional, but the stress of duking it out with Lord Huxley over putting in a new dam on his territory had clicked Theo into autopilot after he’d finished up. And so here he was, dressed in shorts and doing rep after rep until his thoughts stopped racing in circles through his mind.
He needed to see Galen, to touch Meg, but his head wasn’t on straight. He’d forgotten, somehow, in his months of exile, just how fucking exhausting it was running a country. It didn’t matter that he had the council and plenty of people to delegate various tasks to. At this point in the game, there were only two people he knew he could trust beyond a shadow of a doubt—his Consorts.
Everyone else was suspect.
He moved from the squat rack to the bench press and threw weight onto the bar. His world narrowed down to the next rep, the straining of his muscles, and the sweat coating his skin. He was Theodore Fitzcharles III, King of Thalania, but that didn’t mean he stopped being Theo. The balance between the two had slid off-kilter the second they all crossed back onto Thalanian soil, and he didn’t know how to fix it.
Before his father died…
Grief rose, a wave he spent far too much time dodging. A year gone and it felt like yesterday. Sometimes, being back in the palace, he even forgot himself. He’d glance at the door, half expecting his father to walk through and offer a suggestions about a particularly tricky problem he was working through.
Except that was impossible.
Theo closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. It had been easier with his mother. At ten, he was allowed emotions without worrying about appearing weak and, more importantly, his father had been there to guide him through the storm. He didn’t have a map to move through the stages of grief for his father.
Footsteps sounded, as familiar as his own. “I’m almost done.”
Silence for a beat, then two. “I’ll spot you while you finish up,” Galen said.
Theo opened his eyes to see his best friend, his lover, his Consort, standing over him. He looked as tired and worn out as Theo felt, though where Theo had lost weight, Galen had gained muscle. No telling where he found the time to work out, but the evidence was in the way his T-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders and chest and the clear definition in his legs. He couldn’t even appreciate the new changes for fear of what they indicated. Are we going to war, Galen?
Some days it certainly felt like it.
He finished up his set slowly, drawing in the burning of his muscles as he strained against the weight of the bench press. In this moment, he was perfectly present. It wouldn’t last. It never lasted. But he had right now, and it would have to be able to shore him up for the coming conversation.
Theo wiped his face with his towel and stood. “Okay, I’m done. What’s wrong?”
“Would you like a list?”
Fuck, something was wrong. Theo glanced at the door to the gym, instinctively looking for the audience they had for most of their waking hours. The door remained closed, which didn’t mean no one was listening, but it lessened the likelihood. Even with the cameras blinking in the corners of the room, they were as close to alone as they were likely to get. “Galen, talk to me.”
“Not tonight. Not like this.” Galen started for the door. “Meg had a hard day, Theo. We all did.” Subtle comment, less subtle bite. If he concentrated, Theo could almost see things unraveling around him. He’d known life wouldn’t be simple once he retook the throne, but the freedom of exile had gone to his head and he’d forgotten just how easy it could be to drown in this world.
It sure as hell seemed like all three of them were a few short breaths from doing exactly that.
And he didn’t know how to fix it.
This wasn’t the time or place to get into it. Darkness had fallen while Theo was preoccupied, and most of the palace staff had gone home. It didn’t leave the halls empty—they were never empty—but there were fewer people to bow and murmur greetings as he and Galen stalked toward their private suite. Theo managed to nod in response, but he schooled his expression to discourage actual conversation. In his current mood, he couldn’t guarantee what he’d say if someone tried to stop him now.
They slammed into their suite and Theo grabbed Galen’s arm before he had a chance to leave the sitting room. “What’s going on?”
“No. Fuck that. You don’t get to play the concerned partner now.” Galen shot a look toward the main rooms and lowered his voice. “You got what you wanted, Theo. You got your cake and you’re eating it, too. The first King of Thalania in history to name two Consorts. Congratu-fucking-lations.”
Theo rocked back on his heels. This conversation had been a long time in coming, and even knowing it bore down on him with all the subtly of a runaway train, he still wasn’t prepared. “You knew—”
“No. I don’t need to hear that I went into this with eyes wide open. I know I fucking did.” Galen dragged a hand over his face. “Meg has three months before school starts up again. She’s fucking miserable, Theo. She puts on a brave face for you, but underneath she’s messed up.”
And what about you?
Theo didn’t voice the words lodged in his throat. He’d learned a long time ago not to ask questions he might not want answers to, and this numbered among them. He didn’t point out that he’d given both Galen and Meg a chance to leave six months ago, and he sure as hell didn’t point out that they could leave now if they were so inclined. He might be an ass sometimes, but not about this.
Not when they’d already sacrificed so much.
He couldn’t fix this. Not yet. Things would calm down once he got the Families in line and brought his siblings around. Camilla was happy to see him, of course. Even with their father’s death, his baby sister had been kept from the worst of the political bullshit. At sixteen, she was just starting to dip her toes into the water, and he’d do whatever it took to ensure she remained safe while she figured out her own path.
Their brother was another story altogether. For just under a year, Edward had thought he’d be king. Having that taken away, rightfully or no, created a divide between them that Theo didn’t know how to fix. Especially when Edward announced his intentions to attend Oxford for university, and left within weeks of Theo’s coronation. There were a handful of nobles who’d jump at the chance to use that separation for their own ambitions, and he needed to fix it before things got worse.
But not tonight.
Tonight, he had to fix this.
Theo snagged the back of Galen’s neck. His friend resisted for a second, but then he exhaled harshly and let Theo pull him closer until their foreheads pressed together. Tell me what you need. Theo closed his eyes. Galen didn’t have to tell him. He knew what Galen needed—what they all needed. “Where is she?”
Good. She’d be nice and relaxed. He tightened his grip on Galen’s neck. “The food?”
Good boy. Sex wouldn’t solve any of the undercurrents in the long term, but it would help release the tension that had been growing with every passing day. Trapping the two people he loved was never part of the plan, but Theo couldn’t shake the feeling that was exactly what he’d done. He released Galen and stepped back. “Strip.”
Theo turned and walked deeper into the room without bothering to make sure Galen obeyed, knowing it would piss his friend off, and knowing that anger was exactly what he needed to purge the festering feeling beneath. At least for tonight. Tomorrow, they would talk and further clear the air. Open communication was the only way this would work, and they hadn’t spent enough time alone together to get to the heart of things in the last couple weeks.
His fault. He knew that well enough.
He’d fix it. He’d find a way to fix all of it.
Theo pulled off his shirt and tossed it over the back of the desk chair. He kicked off his shoes and then walked into the bathroom. Steam fogged the mirrors and Meg had turned off all the lights, leaving only the trio of thick candles lit on the half wall between the tub and the sinks. It gave the room a dark, intimate feeling that he approved of. He stalked to the edge of the tub and took a seat near her head. She had her eyes closed and the water licked at her breasts as if determined to offer him teasing glimpses.
“Thought you weren’t working late tonight.”
“I wasn’t planning on it. Things didn’t go well with Lord Huxley, and I didn’t want to come back here with that frustration riding so close to the surface. I needed some time to cool off.” He smoothed a hand over her hair, tangling his fingers in the dark strands. She looked good. The decadent meals the staff insisted on putting together had filled out her curves, and he couldn’t count her ribs the way he’d been able to when they first met. Theo kept stroking her hair and used his free hand to urge her to sit up a little. The new position freed him up to work at the knots of tension lining her shoulders and upper back. Tension that was his fault. “Let me take care of you tonight, princess.” Galen walked naked into the bathroom and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. Theo met his gaze steadily. “Let me take care of both of you.”