Part Eight

Just a week later, most of the royal entourage went back in Pyrus. Mia and Nicholas had gone for a month-long honeymoon, meaning to stop in San Francisco on their way home for another quick visit with Mia's mother and friends there. Clarisse was presiding over Mia's royal duties for the duration, with Charlotte's help. As Parliament had recessed until Mia's return, Adrian had not been seen around the palace, although he had called by once to speak to Joseph. When Clarisse questioned her husband later, he admitted that Adrian had been asking about Charlotte again.

"What did you tell him?" demanded Clarisse.

"Only what anyone in the palace could have told him. That she was a very private person, very likeable and extremely dedicated and had worked for you for years. He wanted to know if she was married ..."

"And?"

"I said that that was her personal matter and that I didn't feel that I had the right to invade her privacy. He then wanted to know if Shades was REALLY Charlotte's husband ..."

"SHADES?" Clarisse was startled. "SHADES her husband? Why on earth would he think that?"

"He has the idea that she is married quite firmly fixed in his head, and he has been trying to find out WHO she married! I suppose the fact that Charlotte and Shades have been spending a great deal of time together has made him think they are married."

"I see. I suppose that means he really ISN'T her husband then," Clarisse sighed. "Yes, Joseph, I KNOW you said it was a far-fetched idea, and I KNOW Charlotte denied it, but still, I had hoped ..."

"I just shrugged then got called away," Joseph said. "Charlotte hasn't said anything more to you?"

"Nothing. Well, maybe we should concentrate on finding her baby instead of worrying about her husband!"

"Her 'baby' must be fairly big now," observed Joseph. "I wonder if he knows he's adopted? If he DOES, he might start to look for her some day -- that would make things much easier!"

When Mia came back to work, she stared in shock at Charlotte for a few moments, then looked at Clarisse askance. Clarisse studied Charlotte herself and realized what she hadn't noticed before ... that Charlotte had lost weight and was not looking well at all. Thinking back, Clarisse realized that Charlotte hadn't been eating well, either, and was always tired-looking.

"I think you need a vacation, Charlotte!" Mia said bluntly.

"Oh, no! No, Mia, really, I'm fine. I ... I need to keep busy. Please don't make me leave the palace right now," Charlotte's eyes pleaded for understanding.

"I can have the doctor here shortly, and we can find out what's wrong," Clarisse offered.

"No, Clarisse, please don't bother her. I'll be all right," Charlotte insisted, her face going a little whiter.

"Well, if you're SURE," Mia said, slowly and reluctantly. "But, well, sorry, but you don't look too hot."

"Mia!" Clarisse remonstrated.

Charlotte smiled faintly. "Thank you," she said dryly. "That WILL make me feel better, hearing that!"

Mia eyed her for a moment longer, and Charlotte bent her head to avoid the piercing gaze. Then Mia shrugged. "Okay. Anyway, I brought you both something. We had some really delicious raw fish in Denmark ..." As she was speaking, Mia pulled a squishy-looking package out of the bag she had brought in to the office that morning.

Charlotte's face went chalk-white, and an instant later she was running for the bathroom. Mia and Clarisse could hear her vomiting, and looked at each other blankly. Then both ran after Charlotte. Clarisse put her arms around Charlotte who was trembling violently.

"I'm ... I'm sorry," Charlotte whispered, not looking at either one.

The other two guided her to a chair and sat her down, then looked at her. "Shall we get the doctor, or have you already been?"

"No ... but I know the reason for ..." She took a deep breath, let it out, then said in a tiny voice. "I'm ... I'm pregnant."

"WHAT?" Mia cried.

Charlotte cringed. "Please, please don't fire me. I know it was wrong, but ..."

"FIRE you? Are you out of your mind?" asked Mia.

Clarisse held up her hand, calming her grand-daughter down. "Yes, I believe she is, at the moment. Charlotte, you must be beside yourself! That is NOT good for your condition! You will not be fired ... not now, not ever."

"Yeah, the job's yours as long as you want it, Charlotte," Mia said, still looking shocked. "I mean, Marissa wants it, but she has a long time to go yet!"

"Charlotte, does the father know?" Clarisse asked.

"No," was the timid answer.

"I'm gonna KILL Shades!" Mia suddenly exploded. "He's the one you've been spending all your time with for the last three or four months! How DARE he get you pregnant and not marry you! I don't care if he DOESN'T know! He knew the possibilities!"

"NO, Mia!" Charlotte cried. "No ... it ... it's not Shades."

Mia stared at her, then sat down abruptly. "It's not? But Charlotte ... who else? You weren't ... you weren't RAPED or something, were you?"

"No," Charlotte said for the third time. Then she seemed to make a decision, took a deep breath and told Mia her story. "Right after my sixteenth birthday, I was sent to school in England. I met a boy ... we fell in love, and we eloped. We were together a couple of weeks, then our families found out and dissolved the marriage. I never heard from him again until ... until he came to Genovia. In November."

Clarisse now sat down. "Adrian! It WAS Adrian!"

"Yes," Charlotte said, twisting her hands together. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before. But I wasn't telling a lie when I said he had changed. He's not the same person. Neither am I."

"You were married to ADRIAN?" Mia's mouth hung open at this revelation. "But ... but you two ... I never saw you talk to him or ANYTHING!"

"I think he thinks I'm married ..." Charlotte said slowly. "That's what I gathered. And ... and he doesn't like me very much now."

"Charlotte, are you saying that your baby is Adrian's?" Clarisse asked. "From that night at the Winter Palace?"

"What night?" Mia asked. "I HATE it when you two keep secrets from me!"

"The night of your wedding," Charlotte said dully. "I had too much to drink. Adrian took me back to my room, told me my husband should take better care of me ... and, well ... we obviously still have SOME feelings left from twenty years ago! But he thinks I'm married ... and I haven't spoken to him since he left about five minutes after ... and he fought Shades ..."

"WHAT?"

"Never mind, Mia," Clarisse said. "That part is irrelevant. It's obvious he thinks you are married to Shades, Charlotte. That's why he asked Joseph if it was true that you were. Joseph didn't answer him, by the way. You'll have to talk with him yourself."

Mia was thinking. Then she looked up, puzzled. "But Adrian said he lost his wife two months after they went to America! Did he marry again?"

"No. Well, not that I am aware of! As I said, our families split us up. I was brought back to Genovia. He was taken, I assume, to America."

"Perhaps he learned something after a couple of months that made him say he had lost you?" Clarisse asked.

They all looked at each other. "I really think you need to talk with him, Charlotte," Clarisse said gently. "And tell him everything. Everything."

"But ..."

"Everything." Clarisse said, significantly. "May I ask NOW how you feel about him? Do you still love him?"

"I ... I don't ..." Charlotte struggled with herself for a moment, then the tension left her body. "Yes," she admitted softly. "Yes, I think I do. I don't want to, because I was hurt so much last time I loved him ... but I guess I never stopped."

"What about Shades?" Mia had to ask.

"We're tremendous friends. I ... told him everything, Clarisse." Charlotte looked at the former queen.

Clarisse smiled. "Now you have to tell Adrian."

Charlotte nodded. "I know you're right. It's just ..."

"My father told me that courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear." Mia said softly. "Maybe you need to think about THAT, Charlotte."

"Mia, that's beautiful ... and TRUE. I, yes. I'll think about that."

"But before you go and see Adrian, here's your present, Charlotte," Mia quickly changed the subject, jumped up and picked up the package that had originally sent Charlotte to the restroom.

"Mia, really!" Clarisse was exasperated. "Your talk of that fish is what made her sick earlier!"

"The present's not FISH, Grandma!" Mia rolled her eyes. "I was just TALKING about the fish! Here, Charlotte," and she passed the package to Charlotte, who gingerly opened it, then smiled as she drew out a gorgeous blue scarf. "It's an Hermes ..." and she grinned at Clarisse as she used the proper pronunciation. "Here's yours, Grandma." Mia handed a similar package to Clarisse, kissing her on the cheek. "Now, Charlotte, off you go this instant to get ready for your meeting with Adrian! I'll have a car waiting at the front doors, and I'll call Adrian to say he has to hang around because he's having an important visitor. He'll think it's Nick," she giggled, "but he'll stick close to home and you can tell him all you need to tell him."

"Thank you, Mia, Clarisse. I appreciate this so much ..." Charlotte stood poised in the doorway. "How will I ever repay you?"

"By telling us everything when you get back, of course!" Mia said cheerfully. "I'm nosy! I wanna hear all the little details! From the first moment you met until the moment you get back here tonight. Or tomorrow," and she winked.

"Mia!" Clarisse remonstrated yet again.

Charlotte, however, merely chuckled, and said, "You certainly shall hear all you wish, Mia. THANK YOU, ever so much!" and she was gone.

"If you don't want to hear all the nitty-gritty details about Charlotte's love life, Grandma, you don't have to listen when she's telling me," Mia said cheekily.

Clarisse made a face at her grand-daughter. "You may be sure that I will be listening, since I have been trying to restrain my curiosity about this matter for over five years now!"

"You knew Charlotte had been married to Adrian for FIVE YEARS? And NEVER TOLD US?"

"I didn't know she had been married to ADRIAN, only that she had been married. And of course I didn't tell you. I didn't tell anyone unless Charlotte gave me permission to do so."

"Oh. Okay. I guess. So that means I can't even tell Nick, doesn't it?"

"Well, I wouldn't," Clarisse said, "but that decision is yours to make. Charlotte asked me not to tell anyone. She didn't get that promise from you."

"No, but it's still HER story, and you're right. No one should be told unless she agrees. I wonder if they'll come here tonight, or if we have to wait until tomorrow ... after they've made up and out all night!"

"AMELIA!" Clarisse couldn't believe the words that came out of her grand-daughter's mouth. She quickly left the room in case she said something she might regret later, hearing the peals of laughter behind her as she hastened away to find Joseph.

O o O o O o

When a delighted Charlotte and Adrian finally appeared back at the palace, hand in hand, it was obvious before either said a word that they were going to be together again. They were ushered into the library where they told the entire story to Nicholas, who had never heard it before, and Mia, Joseph and Clarisse who knew some of it. Adrian's parents HAD told him that Charlotte had married again a few years after they left England. When he had come to Genovia in November, Adrian had seen her and Shades together often and assumed that the Head of Security was her husband. Charlotte's parents had told her that because she had been underage, the marriage would have to be dissolved ... and her baby given up for adoption when it came.

"BABY?" Mia cried. "You have a baby?"

Charlotte tried to smile. "WE have a baby, who is now twenty years old ... but we've never seen him."

"We'll find him, Charlotte!" Clarisse assured her. "We'll all concentrate on that now!"

"Have you searched the Manor for any clues?" asked Joseph quietly.

"They couldn't have had time ..." Clarisse began, but she was interrupted by Adrian.

"Charlotte, with her usual efficiency," Adrian kissed her hand, "managed to discover several papers ... one of which was our original marriage certificate, which HAD NOT been destroyed!"

"You HAVE that?" Joseph sat up.

"Yes. Why? It's worthless now ..." Adrian said.

"Not at all! Remember when I said the marriage age for not needing parental consent in England was sixteen, and you disagreed? I checked. It WAS sixteen. Your marriage is legal." Joseph smiled broadly.

Looking stunned, both Charlotte and Adrian stammered, "But, it was dissolved ..."

Clarisse shook her head. "They couldn't do anything from here. I spoke with the Archbishop about such a case, and he said it could not be done. So, as far as anyone knows, you ARE still married!"

"Except it would be GREAT if you would renew your vows or something ... just as an announcement to the country!" Mia grinned.

"We'll do it immediately ... since Charlotte will be moving into the manor with me today!" Adrian announced proudly.

"I still can't figure out why the marriage certificate was kept, though!" Charlotte said, after a flurry of hugs and best wishes.

"Perhaps it was the viscountess at the time who hid it among the other papers?" Joseph suggested.

"Hey, Charlotte, that means you're a Viscountess now!" Mia suddenly realized.

Charlotte blanched. "Oh, no, I ... it can't!"

"Darling, it can and does," Adrian assured her. "But we'll rename the manor so as to have no more bad associations with the name Mabrey! Oh, and Nick, guess what else we found in that cubby hole? Your birth certificate!"

"Hey, great!" Nicholas beamed.

"Why the mystery around that?" asked Mia. "Was there anything else with it?"

"Actually, yes ... It seems the Viscountess, that's our step-grandmother, remember, died in childbirth herself that day, and her baby died with her. There was a handwritten letter, by the maid who hid these papers, saying that old Viscount Mabrey had debated taking Nicholas and bringing him up as his son, but Uncle Edmund and his wife had naturally refused and disappeared with their baby, missing the storm and fury that followed. Not until they died when Nicholas was six did the old Viscount meet his grandson, when Arthur and his wife took the young boy in. Grandfather Nicholas died a year after that, and Nicholas knows the rest of his story." Adrian said.

"Now ..." Clarisse suddenly spoke up. "If you two are serious about renewing your marriage vows, have you made any arrangements yet?"

"No," Charlotte admitted.

"Well, I will personally phone up the Archbishop and ask him if he will do it!" Clarisse said.

"Today?" Adrian asked.

"TODAY?" Clarisse looked a little staggered.

"Why not? I mean, we ARE already married! An announcement to the press will take care of letting the general public know that. This little ceremony is just for US ... and those closest to us ... and you're all here! And that will also take care of the fact that in about seven months, a new Whidden will join the family." Adrian pulled Charlotte close and kissed her cheek.

Mia and Clarisse nodded ... but Joseph and Nicholas almost fell off their chairs at that announcement. "WHAT?" they said together.

O o O o O o

Four months later, they were still no closer to finding the son Charlotte had been forced to give up for adoption. But as Clarisse had said, they kept looking and turning up new clues almost daily. Mia and Nicholas went on a state visit to England, promising to do some searching through records there, although that was not a feasible place to find out about something that had happened in Genovia twenty-one years previously.

The day Lionel arrived at the palace to resume his summer job as a security intern, his parents came to drop him off. Adrian happened to be coming in to give a message to Charlotte, so he showed the three into the office where Charlotte and Clarisse were working. While they were waiting for Shades and Joseph to arrive, and after asking how the retirement vacation had been, Clarisse remembered that she had meant to ask Eloise about other babies born the same day as Lionel.

Casually, she said, "Eloise, do you happen to remember how many other babies were born the same day as Lionel?"

Charlotte's head shot up and she tensed. Adrian put his hand over hers, and squeezed it slightly.

Eloise shrugged. "I really can't say, your Majesty. He was the only one in the nursery when we went to pick him up."

"Went to pick him up?"

"I was adopted, your Majesty. My birth mother was a young girl, not even seventeen, who couldn't keep me, so Mom and Dad here adopted me." Lionel spoke up. "They've just agreed to help me look for her, but it's hard when we don't even have a name. The records were all destroyed ..."

Charlotte was still, eerily still, but she was clutching Adrian's hand tightly enough that he winced.

"Perhaps you could aid us, your Majesty?" Eloise said.

"That would be WONDERFUL if you could, your Majesty!" Lionel leaned forward eagerly. "I understand you have the power to overturn court orders and things, and make the adoption agencies open their books!"

"I ..." Clarisse swallowed, disbelief still warring with the joy in her expression as she looked from an eager Lionel to a stunned Charlotte. Then she found her voice. "I have the feeling that ... Charlotte might have all the answers you need, Lionel."

THE END!