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Messages - Josh Stuart

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1
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:31:03 PM »
"I did not think you would," Humphrey admitted gently. "The title of king suggests that the power lies with the man, somewhat diminishing the influence of the queen. In your case, the queen is the rightful heir. In this situation, queen and prince consort is the wise choice."

"I think so, too," Josh said, in agreement with Humphrey, glad the old man agreed with him on this. He knew there might be people who thought he married Dru for the power, but that wasn't the case. His father might have hoped for a political match to end this way, but he and Dru had married for love.

The old man smiled at the pair of them. "You are both doing remarkably well," he pointed out. "And it is lovely to see you both. I hope you have enough opportunity to relax while you are here."

"I hope so, too. We don't get much opportunity to relax back home," Josh pointed out, relaxing a little bit in the old man's company. "What about you? How are you doing? How are things in Rhy'Din?" he asked, shifting the focus of the conversation away from them.

"Ah, my favourite topic of conversation!" Humphrey was only too happy to fill them in on what was going on with the Grangers, with Rhy'Din, with the theater, anything they expressed an interest in, filling the afternoon with warm conversation to keep them entertained. He really was just a soft grandpa these days, once you got to know him.

After a few hours, it was Jon who finally interrupted their visit to let them all know that dinner was ready. Dinner at Maple Grove Manor was not always a fancy affair, but it was a time for those who lived in the house to gather together and share conversation and companionship with each other, including the children. Tonight, Josh and Dru were part of that gathering, witness to the organized chaos that was dinnertime at the manor.

With five children, it was never going to be a peaceful affair, but somehow Humphrey sat through it all with a happy smile on his face, eventually ending up with Chris on his lap, sharing his dinner with the youngest boy of the group. Dru was saved from having Maddie on her lap by means of the bump, but that meant that Josh got to be the throne for the youngest girl. Thankfully, Bea had Emily pretty much under control, so it was just the toddlers and Ben demanding the adults' attention.

Despite the chaos, most of the food ended up in their mouths and not on the floor, and there wasn't any food flying through the air either. Though Jon and Vicki were pretty lenient with their children, they had raised them with a decent sense of manners, at least where dinnertime was concerned. Josh observed how Humphrey seemed in his glory, and wondered if the family surrounding him wasn't what kept the man alive and vital, despite his age.

It made Dru wonder if this was what her uncle would be like in a few years, or Josh's father, Oliver. Surrounded by grandchildren and happy to be so. It didn't seem like a bad way to spend twilight years.

And if Josh and Dru could give them that, why not? It was the least they could do, when they'd done so much for them. The royal family had taken too many hits in the last few years. It was time to make it rock-solid again.

2
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:30:46 PM »
Humphrey chuckled, glad the younger man had worked out his joke had been turned around on him. "Naturally I do," he said, as though this was self-evident. "How long are you staying here with us? I'm going to insist on at least one dinner here with me while you are visiting."

And that quickly, the matter of his brother - incompetent or otherwise - was dropped. "A few weeks, at least," Josh replied, though a lot of his answer depended on the baby. "We need to be back in Tirisano for the, er, main event," he informed the old man.

"Understandably." Humphrey nodded in agreement. "But rest and relaxation before the main event is never unwelcome, I suspect."

Dru smiled as she nodded. "You're not wrong," she admitted, glancing at Josh. "I don't think either of us realized just how much Uncle Julius does in the running of the country, but we've taken over most of it now. Things shouldn't change too much over the coming months."

"And we'll have help," Josh pointed out, both in the way of child care and advisors to help them run the country. It was too much for just two people to do everything all by themselves.

"That is good," Humphrey agreed. "Any more troubles with your corporations or Parliament recently?" It seemed as though Humphrey stayed abreast of the developments in Tirisano, likely out of his protective instinct over those he was fond of.

"Not lately," Josh remarked, though he wasn't sure if things would always go as smoothly as they had recently. How would the people react to a true kingdom - or more accurately, queendom -  in place of a principality?

"That is good to note." Humphrey leaned back with a smile. "And popular opinion seems very excited about the idea of being a formalized kingdom. The few native Tirisans here in Rhy'Din are remarkably proud of you, you know."

"They are?" Josh asked, brows arching upwards. He wasn't even aware of any Tirisans living in Rhy'Din, though he supposed there must be a few. "How do you know all this?" he asked, curiously.

"I read your newspapers, Joshua," the old man pointed out, gesturing to his desk, where a small pile of news-sheets betrayed how he stayed up to date with everything that might affect his family. "And we employ those few Tirisans."

But not even the newspapers told everything. "And you know my father," Joshua pointed out. And presumably Dru's uncle, as well. But he wasn't too sure whether Humphrey kept informed about current events in Tirisano because of Dru or just because he liked to be know what was going on in the world.

"I do," Humphrey agreed. "We are both old men in a world where our children, and our children's children, will be taking a significant role. We like to compare notes from time to time."

"That sounds vaguely ominous," Dru murmured.

"Not necessarily," Josh remarked, overhearing Dru. "I mean, we should learn from our elders, so we don't make the same mistakes that have been made in the past," he said. He didn't want it to sound like he was blaming older generations for problems, but like the old saying went: If you didn't learn from the mistakes of the past, you were at risk of repeating them.

"So ... we should develop an international spy network?" Dru suggested with a smile. "That sounds like fun. We could be the hub of all expert espionage on Rhy'Din."

"Uh, that's not what I meant either," Josh said, as Dru turned his words around on him, just like Humphrey had. They really were too much alike, at times. "I mean, why do you think it's ominous?" he asked.

"The whole ... significant role in the world, and having these two keeping a close eye on us," she said, gesturing to Humphrey. "You don't find that ominous? Maybe it's a hormones thing."

"Well, it's not like they're telling us what to do," Josh said, though he did expect her uncle to advise them, at least, from time to time.

"I know," she said quietly. "But we have to stand on our own feet some time."

"But not just yet," Humphrey told them gently. "Independence is a fine thing, but it can be very isolating. You are not alone, either of you."

Josh opened his mouth to speak, but Humphrey beat him to it. In the end, the decision-making might be up to them, but he saw nothing wrong in seeking the advice of those who were more experienced than they were.

"Thank you," he told Humphrey, giving Dru a look that said, Be nice.

She rolled her eyes, muttering an apology to Humphrey because of that look. The old man bit down on a chuckle, showing only a grin to Josh at the surprisingly sulky response of a young woman who was going to be crowned a queen before the year was out.

Josh and Dru rarely disagreed, but it seemed they had slightly different expectations for their elders' roles in their lives. Maybe it was just the fact that Josh had never expected to fill this role, while Dru had been raised to it. He wasn't sure, but he assumed they might be discussing this again later.

Humphrey chuckled at their expressions. "You'll get used to this as parents," he warned them cheerfully. "The young rarely enjoy listening to the old, but the wise will take advice when it is offered."

Dru's sulky expression melted into a soft smile. "Point taken."

Josh thought telling their son or daughter to put away their toys was a little different than telling someone how to run a country, but he, too, got the point. "It's certainly going to be different than how things have been run in the past," Josh remarked. "And, no, I've decided not to take on the title of king."


3
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:30:19 PM »
"I'm not going anywhere," he promised her, though she knew that already. As far as "Old Man Granger was concerned, Josh had only met the old man a few times, but as Prince Consort of Tirisano, he was accustomed to meeting with elderly statesmen, which, in a way, was what Humphrey Granger was. "Shall we?" he asked, looking Dru's arm through his.

"Oh, let's," she agreed, turning toward the study with a smile. "Maybe this time you'll manage to actually call him by name without letting him fluster you."

"To be honest, I'm not sure what to call him," Josh whispered back, in hopes the old man wouldn't overhear him. Mr. Granger? Humphrey? Uncle Humphrey? Hey, you?

"I recommend Mr Granger until he tells you otherwise," Dru suggested. "He's really not that scary, sweetheart, you know that. He's just an old man."

From inside the study, a familiarly grumpy voice said, "With sharp ears, young lady."

Nothing wrong with the old man's hearing it seemed. Josh winced, hoping to avoid a lecture. She might be the heir to the principality of Tirisano, but in this house, she was just another Granger. An intimidating old man, Josh thought to himself, but left that unsaid, lest the old man overhear him.

Dru, on the other hand, just laughed. "It's rude to eavesdrop, Humphrey," she called back through the door, greeted by the sound of the old man chuckling.

"Oh, I do beg your pardon, your majesty."

Dru rolled her eyes, looking up at Josh. "Come on, then."

Josh lifted his brows, a little surprised at the banter between them. Maybe he wasn't so intimidating, after all. Or maybe he just preferred sassy young women. He nodded his assent, taking a deep breath to prepare himself for the old man's scrutiny. "Ready when you are."

Smiling, Dru lead her husband into the warm, book-lined study, where Old Man Granger sat in his large, padded armchair by the fire, Jon's dog by his feet and a twinkly-eyed smile on his face. "You've put on weight, Drusilla," he said by way of greeting, tilting his head for her to kiss his cheek.

"I intend to lose most of it in a hurry in a few weeks, Humph," she assured him with a laugh.

Humphrey chuckled, nodding as he looked to Josh. "Am I still scaring you, your highness?"

Josh assumed Humphrey's eyesight wasn't so bad that he couldn't tell Dru was pregnant, and this was just more banter between the two. Josh actually flushed a little as the old man addressed him formally. "I'm just Josh in Rhy'Din, sir," he assured the man.

"Then why do you insist on calling me sir, hmm?" Humphrey seemed to be in a determinedly good mood today, offering his hand to greet Josh as Dru turned to tug a chair closer. "If you are just Josh, then I am Humphrey. Or Humph, as your cheeky wife insists on calling me."

"Humphrey," Josh repeated. Duly chastened, he leaned forward to take the man's hand and give it a brief but firm handshake. "Thank you for inviting us," he added, though he assumed the invitation had actually come from Jon and Vicki.

"You are always welcome here, Josh," Humphrey assured him. "It's wonderful to see you. And so soon to be a father, too - how is that weighing on you?" He smiled, gesturing for Josh to take a seat.

"I am twenty-six, sir ... er, Humphrey," Josh pointed out. Though he knew he looked younger, he felt a lot older than his twenty-six years. But that didn't answer the man's question. He took a seat near Dru and reached for her hand, a soft smile on his face at the man's question. "I am nervous, but excited."

"Speaking from experience, the nervousness never truly goes away," Humphrey said cheerfully. "But it is worth it, in its own way. There is something very fulfilling in raising a child and seeing it thrive. I assume you don't know the gender yet?"

"No, sir," Josh said, forgetting again that he was supposed to address the old man as Humphrey. It was a difficult thing to do when such a man held a position deserving of his respect. "We will be equally happy with a boy or a girl, so long as the baby is healthy," he replied, as most any new parent would.

To his credit, Humphrey let the "sir" go, acknowledging that this was a product of Josh's upbringing in its way. "And I understand that you are both expected to take full power by the end of the year as well?"

Dru looked surprised; that wasn't supposed to be general knowledge yet, but Humphrey did keep in touch with Josh's father.

"Uh," Josh mumbled, looking to Dru for a reaction. He wasn't sure whether he should confirm or deny that bit of news, as it wasn't public knowledge just yet.

Humphrey's expression gentled. "The information is safe with me," he promised them both. "I believe Oliver informed me so that I would not be surprised when it is made public in a few months' time."

Dru nodded, squeezing Josh's hand. "That makes sense," she agreed. "The Stuart men are incredibly thoughtful like that."

"Well, two of them are anyway," Josh remarked, with a smirk. He was purposely leaving his brother out of that equation, but his teasing was all in good fun, even if it was at his older brother's expense. Too bad the older Stuart brother wasn't there to defend himself.

Dru snorted with laughter, but Humphrey got there first with the comment. "Don't look at me, Drusilla, you married him."

This made Dru burst out laughing, leaning back in her seat as Humphrey grinned innocently at Josh.

"That is not what I ..." Josh started, a little defensively before heaving an exasperated sigh. "Never mind," he murmured. Dru, at least, had to know he'd meant his brother. He looked back at Humphrey to find the man grinning and realized he was teasing. "You know what I mean!" he said, relaxing enough to smile back. Though Jamie was the elder of the two and had been groomed to take over the duchy someday, it had been Josh who had unexpectedly been elevated to prince consort.

4
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:30:00 PM »
Jon frowned at the mention of their father once again. It was a subject that was something of a black hole in his memory, but one that he knew would not be a pleasant memory anyway. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't," he confessed.

"I'm not ashamed to be a Granger," she said firmly. "To be your little sister, and to be a part of this amazing family. But I won't release any information without talking it over with the family first."

"I appreciate that, Dru," Jon replied, trying not to get choked up. He, too, was proud to be a Granger, but he wasn't terribly proud of his father's reputation. Then again, he didn't think the sins of the father should reflect in any way on his children. "Anywho, we really should go say hullo to Humphrey, you know. He'll never forgive us if we keep hogging you all to ourselves."

"Yes, he will be absolutely desperate to feel up your bump," Vicki agreed with a low chuckle. Humphrey's adoration of babies and children started with them in the womb, but she had yet to meet the woman who objected to all that twinkly-eyed charm of his.

Josh laughed. "So long as it's just the bump he's feeling up," he said, looking amused. "Maybe we should start charging a fee for each grope," he suggested, with a wink at Dru.

"Well, we'd get rich quick, but I think I might also be arrested for attempted murder," Dru answered, with the air of someone who had seriously considered all this a while ago.

Jon laughed. "We're already rich," he pointed out, speaking for all four of them. Not only were they Grangers - by marriage and by blood - but Dru and Josh were also royalty. None of them were in need of extra cash.

"And you can't be arrested, you have diplomatic immunity," Vicki added in amusement. "Come on, love birds. Let's go and wake up the guardian at the grate."

"Not to mention Cosmo," Jon remarked. The dog was getting older, but he was still pretty spry and would be as excited to see their guests as the old man.

"All right." Dru raised her hands expectantly. "Someone pull me up, I've sunk into the couch."

Vicki chuckled at this, remembering that feeling only too well. Jon had a lot of practise pulling her up from various sitting and lying positions while she was heavily pregnant.

Though Jon might have had a lot of experience at it, it was Josh who helped Dru to her feet, one arm wrapped around her waist. It wasn't more than a month or so before the baby was due, and Josh knew Dru was starting to get uncomfortable. Though he wished there was something he could do to help, he wasn't too keen on the idea of swapping bodies with her to give her a break. He wasn't even convinced Jon and Vicki weren't just pulling his leg about it. As for Jon, he only smiled as he looked on and went about gathering up cups and spoons and taking them to the kitchen for washing.

"Why don't you two go on ahead and we'll meet you there in a few?" he suggested.

"If you are sure," Dru said, leaning briefly on Josh as her head swam. The change from sitting to standing was a little woozy-making these days.

"Of course we are," Vicki said confidently. "Go on, he should be awake by now. He'll be so pleased to see you."

"He won't bite!" Jon assured them, though whether he was referring to Humphrey or Cosmo wasn't clear.

"But give him two minutes to find his teeth, and he might," Vicki called from the kitchen.

"Well, that's encouraging," Josh said, chuckling as he waited for Dru to let him know she was ready to move on.

Dru dissolved into giggles as she straightened up, sliding her hand into Josh's. "I think we should go before she gets even bawdier."

They might have heard Vicki squeal from the kitchen as Jon goosed her, as Josh led Dru into the hallway outside Jon and Vick's rooms. "I'm incorrigible?" Josh said, chuckling. "I do not want to know what's going on in there."

"Never let it be said that their relationship isn't healthy," Dru giggled, taking her time as they walked toward the stairs. "Have to admit, it's nice to just sit and talk without the children insisting on having attention every ten minutes."

"They seem pretty happy," Josh admitted, kids or no. "Five kids is a bit much though. I think I'd be happy with two," he remarked, though he thought it admirable that their fifth child had been adopted.

"Jon was fairly sure he wanted an even half dozen for a while there," Dru pointed out in amusement. "I'd like two or three, but I wouldn't object if we had more."

"Really?" Josh asked, brows arching upwards in surprise at her claim. "What's your magic number, then?" he asked curiously, as they started to slowly navigate the stairs.

"Four?" she suggested. She wasn't quite as set on a huge family as some of her siblings, but four seemed to be a magic number. And it offered a reasonable chance of not ending the monarchy one generation after it began for real.

"Hmm," Josh murmured thoughtfully. "Do twins run in Jon's family or Vicki's?" he asked curiously. If there was a chance they'd have twins, they might be able to hit her magic number with fewer pregnancies, but there was no predicting it ... unless they looked into the future somehow.

"Um ... Jon's, I think," she said, though she wasn't too sure. There were a few pairs of twins in the Granger family, but Gabi was an outlier there, having been adopted herself. "We might be due some, but on the other hand, we might not."

"There's no predicting the future, I guess," Josh admitted. As far as Josh was concerned, the future wasn't set in stone. Even if they could look into the future, they'd only see possibilities, not certainties.

"So long as my future has you in it, I really don't mind." Dru smiled at him as they reached the ground floor, gently nudging her shoulder against his arm. From the study came the sound of a quiet bark, and the murmur of Humphrey's voice indulgently disciplining Cosmo for his noisiness.

5
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:29:43 PM »
Jon chuckled at his brother-in-law's quick response. "Wise man," he muttered.

"Coward," was Vicki's comment, though it was offered with a grin and a wink.

Dru just giggled again, cuddling into his side. "I don't mind being the pregnant one," she admitted. "It's surprisingly comforting having a bump to cuddle when Josh isn't around."

"Even more comforting when the baby is born," Josh pointed out helpfully.

"More exhausting, too," Jon remarked, that knowing smirk still on his face. "But it's worth it," he added, looking to Vicki with a soft smile.

"Definitely," Vicki agreed, her own smile mirroring Jon's. "And you two did it in the right order, as well!" She grinned, sipping her tea, glad to be able to enjoy a quiet moment with family again.

"Well, we wouldn't want to create a scandal," Josh admitted, smiling knowingly. That wasn't really the reason they'd waited to have a child though; it was simply a matter of waiting until they were ready.

Dru rolled her eyes. "My mere existence is scandalous enough," she agreed. "And, you know ... I wasn't exactly a fully grown adult when we got married." Vicki smirked. "Grown up enough for a wedding night."

"I never thought I'd say this, but maybe it's a good thing my father met your mother. Otherwise, Tirisano wouldn't have an heir and we wouldn't have you," Jon pointed out.

"Maybe?" Vicki turned an incredulous look onto her husband, laughing at his turn of phrase. "Nice work downplaying how much you adore having a baby sister there."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it!" Jon argued, poking his wife in the shoulder. "Dru and I were just talking about that in the kitchen. I don't condone what my father did, but he did give me a couple of siblings I wouldn't have had if he'd kept it in his pants."

Vicki laughed, batting at his hand. "You're so easy to tease, honey-buns," she told her husband. "I love you."

Dru tilted her head toward Josh. "Are we that mushy?"

Jon smiled, so relieved Vicki was only teasing that he leaned in to brush a kiss against her lips in reward.

Josh laughed. "Yeah, I think we are," he told Dru, without apology.

"D'aww," Dru teased, grinning at her husband. "You're adorable."

Across the way, Vicki nudged Jon, nodding toward the younger pair. "Cutest parents ever."

"Cuter than us?" Jon asked, grinning in amusement. Younger, anyway.

"You are cute," Josh admitted, nudging Dru. "Can't argue with that."

Dru made a face at Josh before laughing a little helplessly. "You're impossible to argue with anyway," she pointed out. "You're always relentlessly logical in the face of my emotional outbursts."

Jon chuckled. "That's the exact opposite of us," he remarked, with a knowing look at Vicki. Maybe it was a Granger trait, but he didn't think so.

"I don't think I'm impossible to argue with," Vicki said thoughtfully. "I think arguing can be fun. Especially when you know the making up will be ... energetic."

"Oh gods, I do not need to know this about my brother's relationship!" Dru protested laughingly.

"Energetic is an interesting word for it," Jon muttered, snickering to himself. "You did not need to know that I spent twenty-hours as a woman either, but now you know."

"A pregnant woman," Josh interjected helpfully with a smirk of his own. "And no, thanks. I am perfectly happy as a man."

"Jon was pretty happy with the massage he got from me that evening," Vicki offered innocently. She knew perfectly well she was winding Jon up ridiculously at this point, but she wasn't worried. He always forgave her. Eventually.

Josh smirked. "Are you trying to bribe me, Vicki?" he asked, unable to hide the sparkle of mischief from his eyes. "Besides, wouldn't you feel a little awkward giving me a massage?"

Jon's jaw dropped open momentarily at Josh's remark before he broke into a fit of laughter.

"Not if you were in Dru's body," Vicki answered, sweetly deadpan with her own spark of mischief. "After all, there wouldn't be anything I haven't seen before." Dru snorted, rolling her eyes. "You are both incorrigible."

"I wouldn't trust her if I were you," Jon murmured a warning to Josh, loud enough for Vicki to overhear. The smirk on his face was enough to tell them both he was kidding. After all, it hadn't been Vicki's fault he'd ended up in her body; the person to blame there had been Juno.

"You're both awful, and I have no idea why I love you so much," Dru declared, tossing her head with a wicked little smile on her face.

Vicki's grin deepened in response. "Aww, look at that," she teased. "The little actress is all growed up!"

"Because we're family," Jon was quick to reply, though in truth that was hardly the reason. He'd learned that family didn't always automatically mean you cared about each other, even if it was an unbreakable bond. "I'm proud of you, Dru," he said, following Vicki's teasing praise. "Like I said before, you and Josh will always have a place here, whenever you want it."

"Our kids are going to know they're Grangers as well as Stuarts," Dru said confidently. "I don't want it to be a deep dark secret for the rest of my life. Once we're well and truly settled, with an heir and a spare, I have every intention of telling our people who my father was." She paused briefly before adding, "I will tell you in advance when I'm going to do it, though."

6
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:29:25 PM »
"Endearing or annoying?" Jon said, not really expecting an answer to that. He was getting better at it anyway, worrying less as time went on. He mostly worried about his family's safety these days, than that of himself, and that included Dru.

"Definitely endearing." She twisted to hug him, ignoring the enthusiastic wriggling in her bump that he had to have felt as well. "I like knowing you're worrying about me, and not just the whole princess thing."

"Of course, I worry about you!" Jon said, smiling a little as he felt the baby shift inside her belly. "Looks like Junior wants to add his two cents," he said, though they didn't yet know whether the baby was a boy or a girl.

"I wouldn't mind having a performer on our hands here," Dru admitted, giggling as she eased back. "Shall we take all this into the living room and rescue my husband from your wife?"

Jon chuckled. "I doubt he needs rescuing, but sure. Allow me," he said, moving over to take up a tray with the tea fixings. It was heavier than it looked, and he didn't want her to have to carry it when he was perfectly capable.

Perhaps Jon had spoken too soon, because as they walked back into the living room, Vicki was saying, "... a few good orgasms a day will do wonders for her tension, trust me."

Thankfully, Jon was so accustomed to Vicki's blunt honesty that he didn't drop the tray. He did chuckled a little to himself though as he set the tray on the coffee table.

"Thank you, Doctor Ruth. I'm sure Josh needed that bit of advice," Jon said, with obvious sarcasm.

"We've done this three times, we have great advice to give," Vicki said, without even a hint of shame. She grinned up at her husband. "Mind you, you could probably give Dru some advice," she added, knowing perfectly well that this was one story he had not shared with his baby sister.

Jon frowned, not terribly fond of that particular incident, though it did give him a better understanding and appreciation for pregnancy and childbirth. "If I recall correctly, there weren't any orgasms involved in that incident," he said, as he poured a cup of tea for Dru and then Vicki.

"What incident?" Josh asked, looking from Vicki to Jon and back again.

Vicki's grin did not fade; this was one of her favorite stories to share. "Oh, we spent a day a few weeks before Emily was born in each other's bodies," she said off-handedly. "He was adorably grumpy."

Dru snorted with laughter, looking between them incredulously. "Wait ... are you serious?"

Jon narrowed his eyes at Vicki. "Adorable, my ass," he muttered. "I will forever appreciate how hard it is to walk in high heels," he said, hinting that the story was true. One of the first things he'd done after the body switch was change shoes.

"I did warn you," Vicki countered with a low laugh, claiming her tea cup and leaning back comfortably.

Dru was staring at them both. "Jon ... you've been pregnant," she said, beginning to giggle. "That's amazing."

"Actually, no ..." Jon contradicted as he handed Josh the afore-promised cup of coffee. "I haven't been. I just spent 24 hours or so in Vicki's body. She's the one who was pregnant." As if there was a difference.

"And?" Josh prodded, still not sure he believed whether the story was true or they were putting him on.

"It was a baby shower present," Vicki explained. "Mataya's daughter, Juno, thought it was a good idea, but she didn't tell us about it. It just happened as far as we were concerned."

"It was a learning experience, for sure. And one I will never forget, but honestly? I have no desire to be a woman!" Jon said, laughing again as he poured a cup of tea for himself, fixed it the way he liked it and settled himself on the couch beside Vicki. "And you don't make a very good man either," he remarked with a grin.

"No, I was far too emotional," she agreed cheerfully, not half as annoyed by the memory as Jon seemed to be. "I honestly have no idea how you men walk with those things swinging in between your legs."

Dru choked, spluttering on her tea as she inhaled the drink trying not to laugh out load.

"Yeah, well, I have no idea how you manage to stay in that contraption from hell you call a bra all day," Jon countered, not even bothering to hide the smirk on his face. He wasn't really annoyed by the memory of what had happened so much as he was by the perceived humiliation of it.

Wiping her mouth, Dru settled back beside Josh, still giggling at the silly banter between the other couple. Whether it was the truth or not, it was entertaining. "Does Emily know she was carried by both her parents?"

Josh patted Dru on the back so she wouldn't choke while she wiped her mouth, still unsure if he believed their story. "Are you sure you didn't just imagine it?" he asked the pair doubtfully.

"Believe me, Josh," Jon replied. "I had the blisters to prove it."

"You can ask Humphrey, too," Vicki said. "He tricked Jon into giving the game away pretty early on in the day. He found it very funny."

"It wasn't a game, Vicki. I came close to giving birth!" Jon said, though that was a bit of an exaggeration. He'd felt some contractions, but he'd never been in danger of giving birth.

She snorted with laughter. "No, you really didn't, stud muffin," she assured him.

Dru rolled her eyes, glancing at Josh. "Should we find out if we could give that a go?" she asked her husband sweetly.

"Uh, no thanks!" Josh was quick to reply, apparently in no hurry to switch places with Dru. "I'm perfectly happy as I am, thanks very much!"

7
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:28:58 PM »
She giggled softly. "I still have days when I want to kill him, you know," she admitted, "but I wouldn't change anything for all the world. You're my family, and I am very proud to be your little sister, Jon."

"I guess it's a good thing he's gone then," Jon remarked. Not only gone, but deceased. Though he knew it was just a figure of speech, Dru couldn't do their father any harm, even if she wanted to. "They say everything happens for a reason. I don't know about that, but I do know I'm proud to be your big brother, and you will always be welcome here."
He slung an arm around her shoulders to pull her into a gentle hug and pressed a kiss to the top of her head, since he towered over her. Then again, just about everyone towered over her.

She leaned into him, some small bit of tension easing away. Dru loved her visits back to Rhy'Din, when she could just be Dru, and not Princess Claudia with the weight of an entire realm on her shoulders, but nothing could compare to knowing that her siblings were proud of her.

"You're going to have to visit when the baby's born," she warned him. "To hell with protocol, you're family."

Jon chuckled at her statement. "Yeah, but no one else knows that. I won't have to wear a disguise, will I?" The last thing Jon wanted was his face plastered all over Tirisano newspapers publicizing a visit. Then again, he'd kept a pretty low profile the last few years, and it was likely no one would recognize him.

"No," she laughed. "We've got a circle set up in the palace now; no one sees us leaving for Rhy'Din, but that also means that no one will see you arrive in Itana."

"Perfect!" Jon replied, a grin on his face. They wouldn't see much of Tirisano that way, but that wasn't really the point of the visit. "What about the rest of the family? I'm sure you don't want us all there at the same time." He moved over to check on the kettle, which was hissing its readiness.

"You, Des, Lena, and Jack," Dru said promptly. "And families, obviously. I actually get maternity leave once I pop for real, too. We were hoping to come back to Rhy'Din about a week after the birth for another couple of weeks, so we'll be around for the rest of them, too."

"That's quite a group," Jon remarked, but agreed that no one should be left out. "Des and Piper are in Hawaii right now, but they should be back in a week or so."

"Well, I'm not due for at least three weeks, so I'm sure we'll see them before we have to go back to officially produce the next "heir" in the right country." Dru flashed him a grin. "You haven't given me anything to do yet."

"What happens if you go into labor here?" Jon asked. Not that that would happen, but he was just curious. "Um, would you like to make the tea?" he asked, now that the water was ready.

"We'd have to rush back to Tirisano," she admitted, reaching to load up the teapot now she had a job to do. She might not be the world's greatest cook, but she could manage tea. "It's one of those traditions that we can't really skate around - royals have to be born in the country."

"And if they aren't?" he asked curiously. How would anyone know anyway? Would there be a crowd of people at her bedside to witness the birth, or was it just a matter of a few people bearing witness?

"It's a tradition, Jon," she said gently. "There probably wouldn't be any problem, but it's not something anyone really wants to risk."

"Just curious," he said, reaching into the cupboard to gather coffee and tea fixings. "I suppose if anyone knew your father was my father, there'd be a scandal."

"Yeah, there would be," she sighed reluctantly. "There was enough trouble over the fact that I was born out of wedlock. They're very ... conservative ... some of the influential people back there."

"So, how do you explain our visit?" he asked. There were probably a few trusted people in Tirisano who knew the truth of Dru's bloodline, but not many.

"The palace knows," she said gently. "And when I say "the palace", I mean everyone who works there. They all sign non-disclosures before they're hired on anyway, but I have no reason to think any of them would give away the truth. If you **** over the royal family in Tirisano, even if the information is sensational, you're not welcome there anymore. Leaking the truth would be the same as forcing yourself out of house and home."

"And no one would be tempted to do that?" he asked, assuming the people who worked there were very well screened and trusted. And no one outside of the palace would even know they'd been there.

"Would you?" she asked in turn. "Would you give up a prestigious, well-paid job, and any chance of being welcome in your home country, just for a bit of ready money?"

"Well, no, not when you put it that way," Jon said, with a light shrug of his shoulders. He couldn't help but be a little overly cautious, but that was his nature.

"It must seem very trusting of us, but we've never had any reason not to trust them," Dru told him with a smile. "They could have leaked the information when we got married, but they didn't. Why would they do it now?"

"I'm just being a worry-wart," Jon said, waving a hand at her to dismiss his own worries. "That's what happens when you work in the entertainment business." Or maybe that's just what happens when you're a Granger.

"Xoren makes sure of everyone who works with us," she told him. If anyone could be trusted with the safety and secrets of the Iarocci royal house, it was her life-long bodyguard, who had risen to Head of Security in recent years. "And besides, we have ways to get all of you to Jamie and Keira's townhouse without being seen if you would rather not risk being around in the palace."

"You've made your point. I'll try to stop worrying," Jon said, smiling. It was hard sometimes, considering everything the Grangers had been through in the last decade or so, but he'd managed to travel to Edinburgh with Vicki for the holidays without having a panic attack, so there was no reason to think a visit to Tirisano would be any different.

"You'll never stop worrying," Dru predicted with an impish smile, nudging him with one elbow as she secured the lid on the teapot. "It's one of your endearing traits."

8
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:28:43 PM »
"What's the difference?" Jon asked, as Vicki led the way to their set of rooms, where they had all the privacy they needed right there inside the main house.

"None, really," Dru admitted with a shrug. "Not in the practicalities. But it might make the other countries give us a little more consideration. It's a definite declaration of independence that we haven't made before."

"Independence from whom?" Jon pressed further. He could hardly keep track of Rhy'Din politics, much less the rest of the continent. Once they entered their apartment, Jon make his way to the kitchen to put the kettle on. "Coffee or tea anyone?"

"Tirisano was once just a principality of a bigger empire," Dru told him. "When it fell, all the regions declared their independence in different ways. This is centuries ago. It's part of the reason Tirisano is so insular."

Vicki frowned thoughtfully. "That does make sense," she mused. "So does that mean you're going to be a king, Josh?"

"I could, but I've decided I'd rather remain Prince Consort. The crown belongs to Dru, not me. I'll help her as much as I can, but I won't be king," Josh explained. "Coffee's fine," he belatedly replied to Jon.

"Why don't you make yourselves comfortable, while I get the tea and coffee going?" Jon suggested.

"Can I help?" Dru asked hopefully. "No one lets me do anything in a kitchen at home."

Vicki snorted with laughter at the mental image of Dru in full ceremonial regalia baking a cake, and looped her arm through Josh's. "Let's go and warm up the sofa," she suggested with a grin. "You can tell me all about your ceremonial tight pants."

"My what?" Josh said, laughing as Vicki drew him toward the living room, leaving Dru alone in the kitchen with her big brother.

Jon chuckled, knowing Vicki had probably done that on purpose in order to give him a little time alone with his baby sister. "You hungry?" he asked, debating whether to put together a plate of cookies or make little tea sandwiches.

"I am always hungry," Dru answered, her smile returning as she looked up at Jon. "It's only got worse since I started training as a monkey mom." She patted her bump happily.

"A monkey mom?" Jon echoed, brows furrowing in confusion. "Not sure what you mean by that." His gaze darted toward her bump, but only briefly, as if just looking at her bump might be considered rude.

"You know, like you and Vicki," she said with a teasing quirk to her smile. "Wandering around with your babies attached to you in various places. Pretty sure it's not dignified for a queen to have a toddler on her head while she's on the throne, but they can suck it."

"Oh," Jon murmured with a sigh of relief. "Well, there's only one in there, right?" he asked, not wanting to assume. "I mean, the first two were single births, so it's not like it happened overnight." He moved over to the coffee pot to get a fresh pot brewing before he went about filling the kettle.

"Yeah, just the one," she assured him. "Want to feel it? It's doing somersaults in there right now." She gestured to her bump, happy to invite her brother to feel his niece or nephew in utero.

"May I?" Jon asked uncertainly. It was no secret that he adored his sister and was eager to be an uncle, but he didn't want to make any assumptions.

"Of course you can." Dru smiled, opening her hands to underline the invitation. This was her brother, not someone random on the street who just wanted to touch the royal bump.

"Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" he asked curiously, as he moved closer, holding out a tentative hand, as if silently asking for permission again.

Taking hold of his hand, she directed his palm to the most active place on the curve of her bump, where he could feel the movement inside. "I haven't really thought about it?" she admitted curiously. "I mean, everyone would assume that a boy will be king after me, but no matter which we have, they'll expect another one as a spare."

"I can feel him," Jon said, smiling brightly. "Or her," he corrected himself, his fingers gently splayed against his sister's bump, feeling the child moving inside. "Do you want more than one?"

"At least two," she told him merrily. "I want them to have as much of a choice as I can give them. So more than one child, so that there's no certainty of who will have to take the throne."

"Will they have a choice?" Jon asked, his hand lingering against her bump for a moment longer, laughing again as he felt the baby kick. "You've got a lively one there, Dru."

"It bodes well, doesn't it?" she agreed laughingly. "I'm determined that they will have a choice. I didn't, and I really struggled with it. I won't put my children in the same position."

"But one of them will have to inherit the throne," Jon pointed out. What if neither of them wanted it, or what if they only had one child? Who, then, would inherit the throne?

"I won't force that on my children," Dru said firmly. "If one of them wants it, then great. If not, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Monarchy is a little out-dated, after all, even a working monarchy like ours."

Jon furrowed his brows, looking thoughtful. "You're not thinking of abdicating, are you?" he asked, unsure how he felt about that. While he'd love to keep Dru here at Maple Grove, it wasn't his decision to make.

"Not me, no." She smiled at her brother fondly. "I'll be the first Queen of Tirisano. Whether I'll be the last isn't my decision to make. And I am absolutely fine with that."

"We'll just have to make the most of your visits here, then," Jon said, returning her smile. He missed her - they all did - but he wasn't going to make her feel bad about it. "You know ..." he said, pulling his hand back at last, "I don't approve of my father's philandering, but I'm glad you're my sister."

9
Of Gall And Grangers / A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:28:20 PM »
It seemed like an age since Dru and Josh had set foot in Rhy'Din, their public lives in Tirisano having grown more hectic in the past year. With the prince still ailing but holding onto power to give them time to come to grips with being parents, they had been granted leave to come back to Rhy'Din for a few weeks, with the proviso that they return before Dru gave birth. That gave them three weeks, at the very least, time they were looking forward to spending just as themselves and not as the heirs to power in a small principality to the south. Having checked in with Lena and the others at the Cove, they had spent a comfortable night in their own house on the beach before making their way to Maple Grove together, braving the cold, wintry weather to knock on the door of the big house and say hello for the first time in months.

The door to Maple Grove Manor opened as soon as Dru and Josh knocked on the door, as if those inside were eagerly awaiting their arrival. Jon greeted the pair with a wide grin and stepped forward to wrap his arms around his baby sister in a warm hug.

"Welcome home, Dru. We've missed you!"

Startled by the quick response, Dru couldn't help but laugh as her older brother pulled her into a warm hug, unsurprised to see Vicki lurking behind him, waiting to pounce on Josh the moment she could.

And pounce she did, 5'6" of cheerful redhead throwing her arms around Josh and planting a big kiss on his cheek. "Good grief, you're frozen! Come inside, both of you!"

"We only just got out of the car!" Josh pointed out with a chuckle as Jon and Vicki pulled him and Dru inside. It was cold out, but they hadn't really had much time to freeze just yet. He waited for the inevitable stampede of children that never came and looked a little puzzled. "Where are the troops?"

"Three at school, twins with Dani," Vicki told him in amusement. "We didn't think you would particularly want to be overwhelmed with children right from the get-go. They'll have plenty of time to crawl all over you in the next couple of weeks."

Smiling, Dru pulled back from Jon, undoing her coat as she did so. "Where's Humphrey?"

"In the study," Jon replied, moving to help Dru with her coat, beating Josh to it. "He's, uh ..." Jon frowned. "He isn't getting around so well these days."

"Is he okay?" Josh asked as he shrugged off his own coat, a concerned frown on his face.

"Winter always slows him down," Vicki said with a gentle smile, helping Josh with his coat. "Arthritis and cold do not get on. And he would never admit it, but he needs his afternoon nap in the study."

"So we should wait a while before we go and say hello to him?" Dru asked, smiling gratefully at Jon as he took her coat, wrapping her cardigan warm about her by-now quite prominent bump.

"That's probably a good idea," Jon replied, smiling as he got a look at Dru's bump. "Well, look at you. That baby looks like it's ready to pop any day now," he teased. "Boy or girl, or aren't we telling?"

"According to the doctor, we still have a month to go," Dru managed with a rueful smile, glancing over at Josh fondly. "We decided to be surprised. And that way, Jamie won't slip up and let it out of the bag before time."

"Is he liable to do that?" Jon asked, only having met Josh's older brother a few times and not knowing him very well. He took Josh's coat from Vicki and turned to hang them both in the closet.

"Let's just say, my brother has a hard time keeping a secret," Josh replied. "Hey, Vicki, how are you?" he asked, finally getting a chance to give his sister-in-law a proper greeting.

"Genuinely excited to see you two!" was Vicki's exuberant response. "Come on upstairs, I'll put the kettle on and we can have a comfy chat." She gestured for them to follow her, claiming Josh's hand to pull him up at her side.

Cosmo was nowhere to be seen or heard, apparently busy keeping Humphrey company in the study. It was a good time to visit, as the house was pretty quiet this time of day.

"After you," Jon said, ushering the pair on ahead of him.

"We were going to visit Des and Piper as well, but Lena said something about them going on vacation tomorrow?" Dru said as they walked up the stairs. "It didn't seem fair to just show up the day before they're gone for a week."

"How long are you planning on staying in Rhy'Din?" Jon asked, taking up the rear as the foursome made their way up the stairs.

"A few weeks," Josh replied. "We're supposed to be back before the baby is due to be born," he explained.

"Well, so long as the baby doesn't make a surprise appearance, you should have time to see them when they get back."

"We've got about thirty-three days until the due date, so I'd say we'll be here at least three weeks," Dru predicted. "We need this break before everything gets so much more hectic with a baby around."

"But you'll have help, right?" Jon asked, taking his time going up the stairs so as not to rush his very-pregnant baby sister.

"To a degree," Josh replied. After all, they didn't want someone else raising their child for them.

"I'm not giving our son or daughter to a wet-nurse and then not see them until they turn five," Dru pointed out. Just from her tone, it seemed she and Josh had already won this battle back in Tirisano. "They're just going to have to handle having a ... a queen who actually likes her family." That queen did not come out easily.

"Wait ... queen?" Jon echoed, coming to a halt near the top of the stairs. "Is your uncle really going to step down?" he asked. Or whatever the proper term was for a regent stepping down once a monarch was of age to take over the throne.

Dru sighed, nodding. "He hasn't really recovered from his stroke, although we've been keeping it quiet," she explained. "He'll abdicate, probably by the end of the year, and Parliament has voted to make Tirisano a kingdom, rather than a principality. So instead of the Princess, I'll be ... Queen."


10
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:28:21 PM »

"And for the better," Keira agreed. "This isn't something that will come up for a few years, anyway. They'll name this child the nominal heir, no matter what."

Dru sighed. "That is true. But this family still holds the power, and we will exercise it if we have to."

"Enough talk about politics," Jamie said, hoping to change the subject to more pleasant topics of conversation. "How long are you staying in Rhy'Din?"

"Just a few days at most," Josh replied, though he didn't think it would even be that long.

"Two days?" Dru ventured, looking as Josh as though wanting to confirm that. "We won't be away for long. And you are due at the palace for dinner at some point, you know. Uncle Julius' guest lists have been getting stranger."

"Why's that?" Jamie asked, licking his fingers as he finished off a piece of cake. He knew Dru's uncle was getting older, but he wasn't sure about his health.

Dru laughed as she leaned. "We had ... who was it last night?" She looked as Josh as she racked her memory. "A beekeeper, and a trapeze artist who moonlights as burlesque dancer?"

"Something like that," Josh said, not too sure himself.

"Why's he inviting beekeepers to dinner?" Jamie asked, as surprised as he was curious. "Are bees in danger?" That didn't really explain the trapeze artist though.

Chuckling, Dru shook her head. "The public/private dinners are about meeting people who are foremost or notable in their fields," she explained to Jamie in amusement. "But my uncle doesn't usually stretch much beyond politicians, teachers, and musicians usually."

"Maybe it's for your benefit," Jamie suggested. Now that Dru was going to be queen, maybe Julius was hoping to introduce her to more than just the usual round of politicians and affluent citizens.

"Possibly, but the impromptu demonstration of how to make nipple tassels twirl over dessert was a little much." Keira stared at Dru for a moment, and abruptly burst out laughing, hastily setting her tea cup down as she tried to imagine that.

Josh frowned, looking more worried than amused by Dru's admission. "It's a bit strange," he admitted, which was a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Jamie's jaw had dropped open, clearly shocked. "A bit?" he asked, sarcastically.

Giggling faintly, Dru shook her head again. "There are other people we would have chosen to invite, but if he is trying to broaden our horizons, it's rather sweet."

"Why else do you think he'd be doing that?" Jamie asked curiously, hoping it wasn't because the man was starting to lose a grip on his sanity.

Dru's smile faded. "He's not well," she said quietly. "Honestly, I don't think he ever really recovered from that stroke. There's a good chance he'll abdicate within the next few years. These new people at the dinners might be his way of trying to keep himself interested in his position until we're more established as parents."

"You don't think he'd step down before that?" Jamie inquired. He didn't want to see it come to Parliament having to force the issue, but he wasn't sure how unwell her uncle was.

"Well, with the whole queen thing decided, I'm a little concerned he might announce his abdication at New Year," Dru admitted. She did not want to go through a coronation while heavily pregnant.

"How bad is he?" Jamie inquired uncertainly. From the little they'd told him, he wasn't too sure, and it didn't seem like a good time to leave Josh and Dru to deal with the responsibility of running a government when she was pregnant with their first child.

"He's not confused or anything like that," Dru tried to reassure him. "I think he's just tired. A lot has happened in the last few years, after all."

Keira nodded. "I doubt your uncle would simply abandon you to rule alone, even after abdicating," she pointed out. "He loves you both too much to do that."

"I'm sure he will continue to advise us even after he steps down," Josh remarked. For some reason, he didn't really like the word abdicate. It seemed to have a negative connotation to it, for some reason. "What about Father?" he asked, changing the subject slightly. "He hasn't mentioned retirement yet, has he?"

"I don't think anything has been said about that," Keira mused, looking to Jamie. "He's just as vital and involved as ever he was. Case in point, driving out to Roslae today to take tea with four different farmers."

"That sounds like him," Josh replied, chuckling a little to himself. He used to think his father kept himself busy because he missed their mother so, but as he got older, he realized it was just the way he was.

"He did promise to be home for dinner," Jamie said, glancing at his watch. It wasn't that late yet, but it was nearing time to wake the boys from their nap.

"There is no way he is going to miss having the pair of you here for dinner," Keira added in amusement, She caught Jamie glancing at his watch, just as the soft sound of someone scrabbling at the door made itself known. "I swear those boys have internal alarm clocks."

"Did they get out of bed by themselves?" Josh asked, arching his brows in astonishment. He'd assumed at least one of those boys was still sleeping in a crib. Then again, he didn't know much about raising children ... yet.

"Freddie has worked out how to break Nate out of his crib," Keira told him with a resigned smile, rising to her feet to open the door. Two little boys, blonde hair disheveled from their nap, came tumbling into the room, bright-eyed and smiling.

Anything Josh might have said about that was put on hold as they were joined by the two boys in question.

"There they are," Jamie said, opening his arms to give them each a hug - if they wanted one. "All bright eyed and bushy tailed, I see," he remarked, grinning from ear to ear.

Freddie lurched over to hug Jamie, but Nate was already toddling toward Josh and Dru, climbing up into Josh's lap with a wide grin. "'Lo," the youngest Stuart said happily, eyes focusing on the leftovers of lunch. "Sammich."

"I wonder which one takes more after his father," Josh teased, reaching for a finger sandwich while the little boy made himself comfortable on his lap.

"I don't know, they're both pretty food oriented," Dru said, nodding to Jamie's lap, where Freddie was reaching for a piece of cake. Keira chuckled as she sat down. "Just you wait - give it a year, and you'll have half of this problem, too."

"Not if we have a girl," Josh said, though he knew what she meant. He hadn't told Dru, but he was secretly hoping for a daughter - a little girl just like her.

"You'd be surprised," Keira drawled, switching out the cake for a sandwich before Freddie got hold of it.

The little boy pouted at her, but munched away happily nonetheless. "We gon' play Pirates, Unca Jos'?"

"Sure, we can play pirates, but you have to go easy on your Aunt Dru," Josh warned. "You remember when Nate was still growing inside your mum?" he asked the little boy. "Aunt Dru is gonna have a baby, too, so we have to be careful not to hurt the baby growing inside her."

Freddie stared at him. "Mummy got one too," he said, looking suspiciously at Dru. "Did you give Mummy a baby, Arnie Dru?"

Dru opened her mouth to reply, and abruptly squeaked as Nate prodded her bump through the sweater. "Well, excuse me, little man!" she laughed instead.

Josh chuckled. "It's not catchy like a cold, Freddie," he told the boy, glancing at Dru to find Nate poking her bump. "See that bump? That's the baby," he explained to both boys, though he wasn't sure whether little Nate would understand.

Nate looked up at Josh for a moment before a wide grin split his cheerful face.

"No," he giggled, denying the miracle of pregnancy with all the confidence of a small child.

"Arnie Dru gon' play wiv us?" Freddie asked, dismissing the whole conversation as boring.

"I can play little games, sweet cheeks, but not big moving ones," Dru told the toddler with a smile. "Making a baby is tiring."

Freddie rolled his eyes, apparently already fed up of babies, and slithered off Jamie's lap. "C'mon, Unca Jos'," he declared. "Me an' Natty got a tree house."

Jamie couldn't help but chuckle a little at his boys' reaction to the news that they were going to have a cousin. "Sorry, Dru. I guess they're not that easily impressed," he told her.

Meanwhile, Josh let Nate slid off his lap before taking the little boy's hand. "Lead the way!" he told Freddie, though this was the first he was hearing of a tree house.

Claimed by the two little boys, Josh was in for an entertaining afternoon at the very least. It had been a long time since the two brothers had been able to bring their families together without ulterior motive, and once Oliver arrived, the evening became even more comfortable for everyone involved. With so many high political players at the table, it was nice to remember every once in a while that they were, first and foremost, a family.

Given all their duties and responsibilities, it was an important point to remember. While the rest of the nation might only think of them as royalty, here among family they could just be themselves. Just Josh and Dru, Jamie and Keira, Oliver, and the boys. Whether they lived in a palace or a mansion or a cottage, home wasn't about the place where they lived, but the people they called family. And tomorrow, Josh and Dru would be traveling to another place to see another family - back to Rhy'Din, another place they called home.

That was what would get them, all of them, through the struggles that were bound to come - family.

11
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:27:21 PM »

"Or both," he said, which was more likely. He brushed a kiss against her lips again, lowering his voice for her ears only. "Should we tell them they can come back in now?" he asked with a smirk.

"Oh, I daresay they'll reappear when lunch gets here," Dru predicted. Jamie had a tendency to be ruled by his stomach on occasion. But she appreciated that they had chosen to give up space so that this conversation could be had.

"Will you go with me to talk to Mataya?" he asked, sounding just a little nervous about that conversation, as much as he knew the woman would understand. His only regret was the fact that he didn't want to let Mataya down.

"Of course I will." Dru's smile warmed at the thought of seeing old friends in Rhy'Din again. Mataya had once employed both of them, and she was Jon's best friend. Even if she was deeply disappointed, there was no way Mataya De Luca would take it out on Josh.

And there was nothing that said they couldn't perform again someday, if the circumstances were right. "I love you, Dru. More than anything," he told her, resting his brow against hers. More than politics, power, and money, and even more than a career in the theater.

"I love you back," she murmured, leaning into him with a warm sigh. "No one will ever make me feel the way you do. When I'm with you, I feel safe. I'm home."

"I'll always do my best to keep you safe, to love you, and to take care of you," he assured her, though she had to know that already. "Both of you," he said, settling one hand against the bump she'd been trying so hard to hide.

Her hand covered his, a soft blush touching her cheeks at the knowledge that they had made a baby together. "This time next week, no more hiding," she said in amusement. "I finally get to wear those maternity clothes Lucia has been fitting me for."

"It has to happen sometime," he told her, chuckling. Thankfully, she had made it past the first trimester, but she wouldn't be able to hide the pregnancy much longer.

Dru grinned, genuinely looking forward to not having to wear less-than flattering fashions or hold things in front of herself in public. A soft knock at the door announced the arrival of a pair of maids, bearing trays of tea and fruit juice, sandwiches and cake, and immediately behind them, the other Stuart couple, not even trying to make it look as though they hadn't been waiting for the perfect moment to return.

The male half of the other Stuart couple beamed a grin as he rejoined them. "Did you miss us?" he asked, his excuse about Natty crying completely forgotten.

"Oh, were you gone?" Dru countered, her mood beautifully restored with just a few minutes of vulnerable honesty with her husband. "I had no idea."

"Funny girl," Jamie grumbled, but with a smile on his face. "Hungry?" he asked, eying the tea and sandwiches. He could easily devour it all himself, but thankfully, he did have some manners.

"You're the one that has an appetite like a horse," Josh pointed out.

Jamie looked insulted. "Have you ever seen what a horse eats? No thank you."

"And here I thought you liked sugar lumps," Keira teased her own husband fondly, already pouring the tea for the four of them.

Dru eased forward to the edge of her seat, reaching out to snag a plate and fill it. "Goodness, how long is it since we've had a simple lunch like this?"

"I was referring to the hay," Jamie replied, resisting the urge to stick out his tongue. Instead he helped Keira pass the cups of tea around as she poured them. "How long is it since we've spent any real time together?" he added.

"Too long," was Dru's immediate response, handing her full plate to Josh and picking up another to fill it for herself. "I can't help thinking it would be so much more fun if we all lived in the same building."

Keira raised a brow. "No, we are not moving into the palace," she said with comical dismay.

"Why not?" Jamie said, glancing at Keira as he popped a finger sandwich into his mouth whole. Was it because she didn't want to live under that kind of scrutiny or did she think she'd feel out of place living there? Or was it something else?

"Because it will cause concern among some of the nobility, which will, in turn, cause comment among the population at large," Keira explained with a gentle smile. "You don't want the tide of public opinion to turn against the Stuart family as a whole, do you?"

Dru sighed. "She's right," she admitted. "If you lived in the palace with us, it would be taken as a sign that the Stuarts are making a play for the crown."

Jamie shrugged, unconcerned, and scarfed up another sandwich. "We don't live too far away anyway," he said, though that depended on which house they were staying in at any given time.

"We will simply have to make an effort to set regular time aside to spend with you," Dru said, and it was obvious that she was making a very large mental note in big red letters to make sure that happened.

"Especially now that we're both starting families," Josh pointed out. He understood why Keira and Jamie wouldn't want to live at the palace, but he wanted to make sure they stayed close enough that they could spend time together, especially now that both families were having children.

"Oliver will enjoy spending regular time with you as well," Keira added with a smile. "He's visiting Roslae today, but he'll be back for dinner."

There would come a time when Jamie took over his father's position as duke and they'd have to spend more time in Roslae, but that time wasn't quite yet. "He's going to have two more grandchildren to spoil," Jamie pointed out.

"And he'll love every second of it," Keira predicted. Sitting back with her teacup in hand, she smiled across at the other couple. "So do we know if this is a prince or a princess yet?"

Josh glanced briefly at Dru before answering. "Not yet. There's enough pressure on us to produce an heir, without the pressure of knowing if it's a boy or a girl." It hardly mattered anyway, at least as far as ascendency was concerned. "What about you? Are you hoping for a girl this time around?" he asked the other couple.

"I definitely would like a little girl this time," Keira nodded in agreement. "I'm surrounded by testosterone in this house."

Dru snorted with laughter, rolling her eyes. "Tell me about it."

"What's wrong with testosterone?" Jamie asked, looking just a little defensive. He thought Keira liked being surrounded by men. "At least, we aren't as catty as your sisters," he pointed out, making a clawing motion with his fingers curled and feigning a hiss.

"There's nothing wrong with it," Keira promised laughingly, batting his curled fingers away. "Is it so very wrong to want a little girl to be girly with on occasion? She's going to turn out to be a tomboy with those two leading her down the path, anyway. If this is a girl."

Jamie smirked and bumped her shoulder lightly. "Truth is, I'm secretly hoping for a girl, too," he told the trio, lowering his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. 

"If she's the only girl, she's going to be spoiled rotten," Josh pointed out, knowing his brother.

"As little girls should be," Keira countered with a smile. Dru chuckled, swallowing her mouthful. They all knew that Keira was not about to let any spoiling get out of hand - that war had been won when Freddie was tiny.

"What about you?" Jamie countered, with a nod of his head at the other couple. "Any preferences?"

Josh frowned thoughtfully and looked over at Dru's ever-growing bump. "I know it sounds cliché, but it doesn't matter to me, so long as the baby is healthy."

"Pretty much," Dru agreed with her husband. "And this won't be the only child we have. I want our children to have at least some choice about their future, even if that means naming a younger one heir."

Keira looked surprised, but impressed, glancing between the other couple with a half-smile at her lips.

"Really?" Jamie said, looking equally surprised. "What do you think Parliament will have to say about that?" he wondered aloud, though it was a long way away.

"I think they'll take what they're given," was Dru's answer. She and Josh had, just a few years ago, wrested power back from the old Parliament and enforced the fair election of the new, and were active in the ruling of the country in a way her uncle had not been for much of his tenure as monarch. "This is an archaic form of government, anyway, and we have a young Parliament. I don't think there will be too much objection."

"Things are changing," Josh confirmed, though Jamie must know this already. Even if that change was slow, he hoped it was change for the better. The most important thing to him, though, was Dru's safety, now more than ever.

12
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:27:02 PM »
"No, you look about four months to me," she said with a grin. "Maybe closer to the end of four months than the beginning. It's only going to get bigger from here on out."

"What about you?" Josh asked, as Keira examined Dru's bump. He couldn't yet tell whether his sister-in-law was pregnant just by looking at her, but from what she'd said, it seemed it was true.

"A little under two months, I think," she told him, settling herself on one of the couches comfortably. "I think we are probably due in April."

Covering herself over again, Dru smiled as she sat down on the other couch, toeing off her shoes to get properly comfortable. Josh took a seat beside his wife, fingers still tangled with hers.

"Congratulations," he told Keira, a soft smile on his face that indicated genuine joy for her and for his brother.

"Well, Freddie put up a little fight," Jamie interrupted as he joined them, dropping onto the couch beside Keira. "But we should have at least an hour of peace and quiet."

"Before someone has to put on a dress to play Pirates," Dru said, throwing Jamie a cheeky grin. After all, the two likeliest candidates should be treated gently for a while, right?

Keira snorted with laughter, leaning into Jamie's side. "Congratulations to you two, as well," she said finally. "When will you be announcing it?"

Jamie huffed. "Are you suggesting I play the damsel in distress?" he asked, though it seemed the conversation had moved on without him.

"You do have the legs for it," Josh interjected with a smirk before glancing at Dru in anticipation of an answer to Keira's question. It was really up to her to decide that.

"Why, yes, James, I do believe I am," Dru told her brother-in-law innocent, catching Josh's eye with a gentler smile. "We'll be going over to Rhy'Din tomorrow to tell the rest of the family, so I'll give the PR department permission to make the announcement a couple of days later. Any longer than that, and someone there is going to leak the story."

"Are you going to take a leave from the theater?" Jamie asked his brother curiously, at the mention of Rhy'Din. It was a gentler way of asking if he was going to quit now that his responsibilities in Tirisano were increasing. 

Josh looked at Dru once again, this time with a small frown on his face. "I haven't really thought about it much," he admitted, though he supposed he should.

Dru bit her lip. "We are going to be under more scrutiny from now on," she admitted. "But we can work around it. I know how much you love performing, sweetheart."

"A boy's dream," Josh replied with a shrug. A dream his mother had encouraged and that he'd spent most of his life working toward, but that was before he'd met Dru. Now, nothing else seemed as important as her, their family, and their country.

"Not just a boy's dream," Dru argued, shaking her head. "We'll work something out, I promise." She squeezed his hand, her brow furrowed with worry now that it seemed Josh was once again volunteering to squash his own ambitions for her sake.

Jamie looked between them, wondering why they didn't realize the simplest solution was the best one. "Why don't you just take a leave until after the baby is born and you're settled, and see how things go?" he suggested.

Dru didn't dare show any reaction to that suggestion, knowing from experience that Josh would agree to anything if she showed interest. This had to be his decision. The theater was his dream.

What he'd said was true though - the theater had been a boy's dream. Now, there were far more important things to consider than a career in the theater. Josh sighed. If he'd known how things were going to turn out, he might not have auditioned this past summer.

"Jamie's right," he said, his attention on Dru, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "You and the baby are the most important thing to me right now, and the theater isn't going anywhere."

"I'm sorry."

The guilt in her eyes was plain to see, absorbing all the blame for his having to give this up, despite the fact that the decision to get pregnant had been an agreement between them both. Across from them, Keira rolled her eyes discreetly, glad she and Jamie had never had to navigate this.

Jamie moved to his feet, pulling Keira up with him. "I think I hear Natty crying. We'd better go check on him. Would you excuse us?" he asked the other pair, tugging Keira from the room.

Keira flickered an encouraging smile to the royal pair as she was tugged out of the room, missing Dru's wince that they had felt the need to leave at all. The princess sighed, shaking her head.

"I can't believe it didn't occur to me," she murmured. "I'm so sorry, Josh."

"Sorry for what?" Josh asked confused. He'd never blamed Dru for any of his own decisions and he wasn't about to start now. He curled his fingers against her cheek with a gentle touch and a soft smile on his face. "I love you, Dru, and I have no regrets."

"I never once thought about what you might have to give up for this," she said, gesturing to the bump at her middle. "It seems selfish to have asked to have a child when I know how much performing in Rhy'Din means to you."

"Dru, I knew when I married you that I might have to give up the theater someday. I know how important having a child is to the nation, but most importantly, I know how much I love you and how much I want this baby. Nothing else is more important than that. Nothing," he tried to assure her, taking her hands between his.

She sighed, twisting to rest her brow to his, clinging to his hands. "I love you so much," she whispered. "I couldn't bear it if I did anything to hurt you, or to make you resent the position being with me has put you in. Promise you'll tell me when you want to go back?"

"I wonder sometimes if my mother knew what she was doing when she encouraged my interest in the theater. After all, we're more comfortable in front of a crowd because of it, aren't we?" he asked, a soft smile on his face as her brow rested against his and he lifted one hand to touch her cheek again.

She smiled faintly. "It did help," she admitted a little ruefully. "At least we know how to deliver a good speech." Her cheek tilted into his palm, her guilty tension fading once more under his reassurance. "Josh ... do you want to be a king?"

He smiled, glad to see his reassurance was helping her to relax, but that question surprised him a little. "King?" he echoed, brows arching upwards. He knew that was a possibility, but it was one he hadn't really thought much about. "I want to be your husband, your partner, and the father of our children, but king?" He shrugged. "If you want me to be, but that's not why I'm with you."

She laughed, a soft huff of breath colored by her smile. "I know," she promised. "And before everything, I am your wife, your partner, and the mother of your children. But it seems more and more likely that Uncle Julius will abdicate within the next few years, and now Parliament wants to name me a queen. Your role won't change, no matter which title you take. Would you rather be king, or prince-consort?"

"I ..." Josh started, trailing off, brows furrowed. "I really don't know, Dru. I'm sure my father would want me to be king, but is the title that important?" he asked, uncertainly. It was just a title, after all. It wouldn't really change anything, would it?

"Perhaps we should wait and see what the public opinion is," she mused. "The title won't change anything for us, but it could change the way you are viewed. Most people expect a king to take precedence over a queen, after all."

"But you were born to be queen, Dru. I am only the second son of a duke," Josh pointed out. "And I do not care if I'm king, so long as we're together," he assured her again. The people might not take well to the second son of a duke rising to become king, when they were so fond of their queen.

"I wasn't even the heir to the throne five years ago," she reminded him, but her expression was more relaxed. "I just want you to be comfortable with how people perceive you, how they look at you. We're under a microscope so much of the time."

"Something we both got used to being performers at the Shanachie," he reminded her with a grin. "I don't mind being a prince, so long as I outrank Jamie," he told her, only half serious. "We can stop at the theater and talk to Mataya while we're in Rhy'Din. I'm sure she'll understand."

Dru snorted with laughter. "You're always going to outrank Jamie," she promised, inching closer to kiss him affectionately. "This might turn into an overnight visit, you know. But that's fine. It's been four months since we took any real time off."

"We might end up with a curious three-year-old waking us up in the morning," Josh told her, returning her kiss with one of his own. Or was she talking about an overnight visit in Rhy'Din? But it hardly mattered. She was right - they deserved a little time off, especially now that she was with child, and they had another family to share the news with.

"Well, whether we stay overnight here or in Rhy'Din, that's usually a gimme," she pointed out. Despite the fact that they had a house of their own on the beach, somehow her nephews always managed to convince an adult to bring them to the house around dawn.

13
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:26:44 PM »
With the tinted windows, the press had nothing to go on but to speculate that the Earl of Roslae had dropped in on his brother and sister-in-law for a quick breakfast, which was just as well. There was no hiding the fact that Josh and Dru also got out of the car when they reached the door of the Belle Epoque, but any press there were held outside the gates, and were too far away for either a decent picture or to ask invasive questions.

There was nothing suspicious about a visit to the ducal mansion, given the fact that they were family, but it was a relief all the same that the press wasn't close enough to harass them. Jamie took the rear, just to make sure no one got close, as if he, too, was one of their security guards, not the future Duke of Roslae.

It was a relief to step inside, knowing they could trust the staff here to keep their mouths shut about the royal news before it was announced. Dru smiled as Forsythe, the butler, took her coat and scarf.

"A pleasure to have you here, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart," the man greeted them. "I believe the lady of the house is still in the office, but would likely welcome a break."

Josh smiled as he helped Dru with her coat, relieved the staff here at the mansion didn't bother too much with formality. Besides, Forsythe had been butler here for years and likely remembered when Josh and his brother were mere tykes.

"Thank you, Forsythe. It's always a pleasure to visit."

"Thank you, sir." The old butler smiled as he nodded, handing the coats to the nearest footman. He didn't bother offering to show them the way - they all knew their way about this house.

"I love being called that," Dru commented as they began to head in the right direction.

"It is accurate, in a way," Josh pointed out. He might have said more if Jamie hadn't arrived just then, slapping a hand affectionately against his brother's back.

"Shall we go intrude on Keira?" he asked them both with a grin.

"You mean rescue her from your terrible twosome?" Dru countered, smiling as she tucked herself against Josh's side. There were so many rules about how they had to behave in the public eye that being able to be thoughtlessly tactile was a luxury.

"Noooo," Jamie replied, drawing the word out. "I mean, rescue her from work," he explained, not considering the fact that looking after two small children could be considered work, too.

"Oh, I do beg your pardon." Dru laughed comfortably. "After you, then, your lordship." She couldn't imagine what it must be like to try and get work done with two toddlers in the room, but it was only a matter of time now.

"If you insist," Jamie replied, as he turned to lead the way toward Keira's office. "The boys promised to be good," he informed his companions, though that didn't mean they'd follow through with that promise. Did toddlers even understand what such a promise meant? And it was probably nearing nap time, which meant they might be getting cranky.

As it turned out, Keira was in control. Freddie was lying on the floor, happily scrawling all over his special paper with his special pens, but Nate was on her lap, already blinking sleepily but determined to stay awake until his uncle and aunt arrived at the very least while his mama typed one handed. She did look relieved when the door opened, though.

"See? Didn't I tell you they'd be here soon?"

"I'm home!" Jamie declared as he stepped into the room and pushed the door open so they could see who he'd brought with him. "And look who came to visit!" It should be no big surprise to find Josh and Dru there, as he'd told them he was going to fetch them.

"Daddy!"

As Nate perked up on Keira's lap, Freddie launched himself up from the floor and careened excitedly over to Jamie, thumping into his legs with a loud cackle of laughter.

"Good grief, anyone would think he'd been gone for days," Keira laughed, shaking her head.

"That's my boys!" Jamie declared with a wide grin. There was no mistaking he was not only proud of his sons but that he clearly adored them - and the feeling seemed mutual. "Were you good for your mum while I was gone?" he asked, as he scooped Freddie up in one arm and Nate in the other.

Josh chuckled at Keira's remark. "If they're still doing that when they're teenagers, you can start worrying."

"If they're still sitting on my lap when they're teenagers, we will have done something terribly wrong with their upbringing," Keira countered, rising from her desk with a smile to come and greet Josh and Dru. She handed out hugs easily, blinking and pulling away to look accusingly at the swing of Dru's sweater. "You're pregnant!"

"Gosh, is that what this is?" Dru answered innocently. "I thought I was just eating too much."

"I thought you swallowed a pumpkin!" Josh added with a smirk.

"All right, you two," Jamie said, one toddler in each arm. "Say hullo to your aunt and uncle and then it's nap time! They'll still be here when you wake up."

"Awww!" Freddie grimaced, but he knew better than to argue about naps. The kisses he gave out were a little perfunctory, but his hugs were always worth waiting for. Nate was half-asleep already, so it was likely he'd do his hellos after naptime.

Dru giggled softly as she stepped away. "They really are an adorable pair."

"And you're going to have one of your own in a few months," Jamie teased with a wink at Dru,  pausing to let Freddie greet his aunt and uncle and give his mother a hug before submitting to a nap.

"As if we could forget," Josh murmured with a smirk of his own.

Gently kissing Freddie's cheek, Keira smiled. "Go on then, gentlemen, go and nap," she told them, tweaking Jamie's nose fondly. "We'll be in the ghastly green drawing room."

Jamie wrinkled his nose at the tweaking, knowing she didn't mean him when she mentioned a nap. "I won't be long," he promised her, leaning in for a kiss of his own before turning to carry the boys to their room and settle them in for their nap.

"Well, then, shall we?" Keira said, turning to their guests with a smile. "You know where to go, and the seats are most comfortable. And also ... when are you due? How did you manage to hide a bump that size?"

Dru laughed, slipping out through the door in the direction of the green drawing room. "We could ask you the same thing," she countered cheerfully. "Well, not about the bump, but the dueness."

Josh inwardly winced, unsure how Keira would feel about Jamie spilling the beans without her knowledge or permission. "To be fair, he didn't tell us flat out. We sort of wheedled it out of him," he confessed.

"I haven't had a scan yet," Keira pointed out with a smile. "But we're family, why should I mind you knowing? He only found out this morning, after all."

Dru snorted with laughter. "That explains why he was so cagey about it."

"That explains why he's so excited about it," Josh said. Though it admittedly didn't take much to excite his older brother, he hadn't had much time to get used to the news before he'd shared it. "He came to visit to tell us the news, didn't he?" he thought aloud, as the real reason for Jamie's visit finally dawned on him. It wasn't about seeing them, so much as it was about the need to tell someone that he and Keira were having another child.

"And to see if you'd like to spend the day with us," Keira assured Josh. "The contents of my womb aren't the only reason he wants to see his little brother, you know."

"Are you sure about that?" Josh asked, though if anything, he looked more amused than anything else. He reached for Dru's hand, drawing her close. "No one knows yet, outside of the palace," he explained. No one but them, anyway.

"You must be, what, five months in?" Keira asked, ushering them into the green drawing room and nodding to the footman by the door, who would deliver a request for tea and sandwiches to the housekeeper before returning to his post.

"Four," Dru corrected her quietly, squeezing Josh's hand. "Due in February."

"Does she look like she's five months?" Josh asked, curiously. They hadn't had a scan yet and had no idea if they were having a boy or a girl, but the doctor had assured them that there'd only been one heartbeat.

"Well, I can't see it very well, there's the world's biggest sweater in the way," Keira pointed out in amusement.

Rolling her eyes, Dru lifted her sweater to reveal her little bump, covered snugly with a t-shirt. Keira, of course, took the opportunity to touch - even having been pregnant herself and hated the touching, she couldn't resist.

14
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:26:09 PM »
Jamie smiled at Dru's question. "She promised them special paper and markers if they were good," he told her, which was basically a form of bribery parents used to encourage their children's good behavior. "I may have promised them a game of Pirates later," he added with a shrug.

Josh chuckled. "You mean, you promised I'd play a game of Pirates with them later," he corrected his older brother.

"Same thing," Jamie said, taking another swig of his coffee.

"No one plays Pirates better than Uncle Josh," Dru agreed laughingly, sipping her tea. "Sadly, I think Mum is going to have to be the damsel in distress today."

Jamie arched a brow at Dru's remark. She was always the damsel in distress, and the boys were bound to have questions if she begged out of the role. "And why's that?" he asked, already having his suspicions regarding the answer to that question.

Josh exchanged glances with Dru, allowing her to decide whether they share the news with his brother now or wait until later.

Dru caught Josh's glance, her smile blossoming into a wide grin. She looked over at Jamie, and lifted up the hem of her sweater, revealing a sweet little baby bump. "Well, this rather gets in the way."

Jamie glanced briefly at the baby bump before a huge grin appeared on his face. "I knew it! Keira will be so pleased!" he said, not only because the family would be growing, but because the two women would be pregnant for at least a few months together.

Dropping the sweater, Dru laughed at her brother-in-law's exuberant reaction to her condition. She could only hope that everyone would be that pleased with it. After all, speculation had been rife for a couple of years now that perhaps she or Josh were infertile, which had been hilarious to read about.

"What about you?" Josh asked, wondering how his brother felt about the news.

"Me?" Jamie echoed, with another shrug. "I'm eager enough to be an uncle, if that's what you mean," he assured the pair.

"So off-hand, darling brother," Dru teased him. "You can hug your brother, you know. I won't get jealous." To be honest, she was looking on this as a sort of test run for telling Des, Jon, and Lena tomorrow.

"I knew it was going to happen sooner or later," Jamie replied, his reaction somewhat subdued, but happy, nonetheless, if the grin on his face had been anything to go by. No, he hadn't shouted and jumped up and down, but he'd already guessed it as soon as he'd walked through the door. "I'm sure Father will be overjoyed," he told them. As well as relieved. The entire country would no doubt find it cause for celebration and exhale a collective sigh of relief.

"Clearly, you have more faith in my uterus than the gossip rags," Dru told him laughingly, sliding her fingers between Josh's as she spoke. "Uncle Julius is over the moon, but he's the one who told us to keep it secret until it was too late."

"I agree," Jamie told her. It was better to keep it secret until they couldn't anymore, not only for Dru's safety but her sanity, too, just in case something went wrong. There was no reason to think anything might happen, but it was better to be safe than sorry. He tapped a finger against his coffee cup, as if he was debating something, his thoughts his own, at least momentarily.

"There's something you're not saying," Josh said, knowing his brother almost as well as he knew himself.

Dru glanced between the brothers, curious to know what it was Josh had picked up on that she had not. She knew she was mostly oblivious to the unspoken words that passed between the Stuart men, but they'd never held it against her.

Jamie smiled, a final tap of fingers against his cup, as though that would dismiss the matter. "I think perhaps I should wait for Keira," he told them, though he couldn't help it if they guessed his own news before that.

"A-ha!" Josh said, waggling a finger at his older brother. "You see? There's something he's not telling us."

Dru's eyes narrowed teasingly as she considered Jamie's evasive response. "You're pregnant again, aren't you?" she accused rather merrily, taking a shot in the dark.

"Me?" Jamie said, with a huff of laughter, tugging his shirt up to check if he had a baby bump where there had only been a six-pack earlier that morning. "Now that would be a feat, wouldn't it?" he teased, eyes flashing with humor. He knew what she'd meant, but couldn't help teasing her.

Josh rolled his eyes. "You know what she means."

Dru snorted with laughter, throwing a fresh bread roll directly at Jamie's bare midriff as he showed it off. "You are a ridiculous hack, James Stuart," she informed him, "and I am never going to stop being pleased to be able to call myself a Stuart because you're all wonderful. Not as wonderful as Josh, of course, but I shouldn't be too greedy."

Jamie laughed as he caught the bread roll and took a bite. It almost seemed as if he had a voracious appetite that was never truly appeased.

"Be careful, brother, or you're going to look pregnant, even if you aren't," Josh warned.

"And if you say something like I'm married, I don't have to look good, the next thing I throw will be heavier," Dru added cheerfully. With nothing to do today but be herself with family, she was definitely more relaxed than usual.

"Don't worry. He's far too vain for that," Josh interjected, seemingly contradicting his previous warning. He knew his brother better than that, but he still couldn't help teasing him when the chance arose. "So, are you or aren't you?" he asked. Or rather, was Keira or wasn't she?

"Yes, do tell." Dru leaned forward onto the table again. "After all, you are in the privileged position of being the first person outside the palace to know our big secret."

Jamie smiled sweetly at them both and replied with a simple and blunt, "No." He took another bite of the roll before setting it aside. "But if you two would get your arses moving, I'm sure Keira will tell you herself."

"Oooh, you stubborn brute." Giggling, Dru leaned back, unfolding her legs to rise to her feet. "Let me find my shoes, wherever they ended up, and I'll be right with you." Of course, finding her shoes was code for talk Xoren out of sending the entire secret army with us.

"I brought a car and a driver," Jamie informed her as Josh moved to help his wife up from her chair, even though she probably didn't need any help just yet. They should be able to sneak away without the press noticing.

"You thought of everything, then." Dru smiled, squeezing Josh's hand gently. "I'll be fine," she promised her husband. "My ever-present shadow will be on me like glue the second I leave the room, you know that."

"He's just doing his job, Dru," Jamie pointed out, ironically, considering how he'd just been complaining about said shadow a short while ago. Josh didn't bother to echo that, knowing how much Xoren cared for her, almost as though she were his own daughter.

"Says the man who has a tendency to look at him as though he's produced a particularly odious fart," Dru drawled. She kissed Josh's cheek. "I'll be back in just a few minutes."

"I just don't like being fondled, unless it's by my wife," Jamie retorted with another shrug and a smirk.

Josh nodded his acknowledgment. He would have accompanied her, but someone had to entertain his brother while he waited for them to be ready to leave.

A few minutes later, and Dru rejoined them, flat shoes on her feet and a scarf wrapped about her neck, ready to put her coat on to go outside in the blustery autumn.

"Subtlety is the watchword of the day, it seems," she told the men cheerfully. "No one's coming with us, but they'll be keeping watch on the house."

"Good! Shall we?" Jamie declared with a grin, as he moved to his feet, allowing Dru to lead the way through the palace to their inevitable exit.

Josh had grabbed a jacket, while Dru had been chatting with Xoren, and if no one was the wiser, the trio looks like ordinary citizens, casually dressed for an ordinary autumn day.

Buttoning her coat, Dru slid her hand into Josh's, wishing they could walk through the city to the Stuart house for once. But it just wasn't safe to do so. They could never be wholly certain that everyone on the street wished them well, and they were too well-known to take that risk.

But that was something they could do in Rhy'Din, as they were nothing but ordinary citizens there. Even Jamie and Keira enjoyed the ability to get away every now and then and not be recognized, but they all had their fair share of responsibilities here. The car was waiting for them, as expected, the driver ready to take them to the house Jamie and his family called home when they were in the capital.

15
Of Gall And Grangers / Re: A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:25:52 PM »
He still had to get past the monarchs' ominous head of security though, but that was the price to pay for being of noble birth, he supposed.

To be fair, Xoren was nowhere near as bad as Jamie painted him. At least Jamie got his attention; he was never fobbed off onto a trainee or a lesser functionary. Xoren met him at the door to Josh and Dru's private wing, offering the Earl of Roslae an apologetic smile.

"My apologies, my lord," he said politely, producing the scanner from a pocket. "It is just a formality."

"Yes, yes, I know," Jamie replied, waving a hand at the man to get on with it. He was pretty sure no one had tried to hide anything on his person to smuggle into the palace, but he supposed it was better to be safe than sorry.

With this evidence that Jamie was just as irritated at his existence as always, Xoren kept his mouth shut and swiftly swept the scanner over the earl's body, checking for just about anything with state of the art technology.

"As expected, all clear," he said, stepping back to open the door. "I believe their highnesses are still in the breakfast room, my lord."

He wasn't so much irritated by Xoren's existence as at what Jamie deemed as a humiliating search of his person, as necessary as it might be.

"Thank you, Xoren," he said, in at least a halfway-civilized tone. He did appreciate the man's fastidiousness at keeping Josh and Dru safe, after all.

Xoren inclined his head in acknowledgement, already turning to stand guard at the door. As the head of security, he didn't have to take a turn on the doors, but he did so. His team were almost as proud of being on his team as they were of guarding the prince and princess.

The words of thanks were all Xoren was going to get, as Jamie stepped past the man and into the monarchs' private chambers. He'd been here often enough to know his way around and to be recognized by most of the staff, guards, household staff, and advisors alike. He followed the sound of voices to the breakfast room, knowing it was unlikely he'd catch them in their jammies, but he might get lucky enough to catch a second breakfast.

He actually caught them finalizing the details of their day over the last vestiges of breakfast, going over diaries and signing off on press releases. As the footman opened the door for Jamie to enter, Dru's voice floated out to him.

"... is not the time yet to release that statement," she was saying. "I have no intention of making our families feel we have been deliberately keeping them uninformed to the point where they had to read a newspaper to know our news. You will wait until we give the all-clear."

Jamie mouth twitched into a smirk, bearing news of his own that he was reluctant to share without Keira there to share it with him. Could it be that the royals were at long last going to give the country an heir?

"What news is that, Majesty?" he dared ask as he strode across the room to greet them. He'd come unannounced, but it wasn't so very unusual considering he was family.

"Don't call me that, your lordship." The words were automatically out before Dru registered that Jamie was actually in the room, half twisting in her seat to offer him a warm smile. "And good morning."

Her secretary rose from her seat with a deferential nod. "I'll leave you now, highness."

"Jamie!" the Prince Consort exclaimed, jumping up from his seat to cross the room and meet his brother halfway with a warm welcome. "What's the occasion? We weren't expecting you," he told his brother, once they had greeted each other with clasped arms and a brotherly pat on the back.

"What, I can't drop in to say hello to my favorite brother and sister-in-law without having a reason for my visit?" Jamie teased in return with a playful gleam in his eyes.

Josh laughed at his brother's not unexpected reply. "I'm your only brother," he reminded him, escorting him toward the table.

Jamie lifted a hand to Dru to keep her in her seat. "Don't get up," he told her, bending down to hug her where she sat. "So, what's this news I'm not supposed to know about yet?" he asked, nicking a muffin from the breakfast table.

"Ah, but I am not his only sister-in-law," Dru pointed out with a smile, happy to take her hug while staying seated. She didn't look any different than usual; perhaps a little more casually dressed than she tended to be, in a voluminous sweater and leggings, but it was nice to see her looking comfortable. "Stay a moment, Hannah," she added to her secretary. "Do you need us for anything today, Jamie?" The schedule had to be finalized, after all, and Dru was always up for taking a random day off.

"But you are my favorite sister in law," Jamie assured her, kissing the top of her head, for no other reason than to show his affection. "Need? No, but the Duke of Roslae is requesting your presence for dinner, if you would," he told her. "That is, if you have no other pressing matters," he added, knowing there were more important matters of state than a visit with their family. He leaned in, lowering his voice a little conspiratorially, "And the boys are officially requesting a game of Pirates."

"Nothing that can't be rearranged," Dru said, glancing at Josh with a raised brow in query. "There are no public appearances rostered for today or tomorrow, that I know of. Josh?"

Josh shrugged, moving over to pour his brother a cup of coffee, knowing he'd want one.  "Why not? There's nothing I know that can't wait," he replied.

"Awesome!" Jamie exclaimed, with a grin. "Keira has missed you."

"That sounds like a lovely idea," Dru agreed, nodding to Hannah. "Cancel everything for today, send our apologies, and reschedule for next week, please, Hannah."

Hannah smiled, nodding to her employers. "Certainly, highness. Should I mention to Xoren that you will be out of the palace for the day?"

Dru chuckled. "If you would, thank you." With a last nod, Hannah left the room, and family group could relax. "I hope you don't mind hosting us for the day, Jamie."

"Of course not!" Jamie assured her with a grin as his brother handed him a mug of coffee. "That's why I'm here," he told them both, taking a seat before being asked. Josh and Dru might be royals, but he was family.

"It will be nice to take a day off," Dru admitted, smiling over at Josh fondly. "Although I have to remember to call my brothers and sister tonight." That couldn't wait until tomorrow; she had a feeling the PR group were going to "accidentally" leak the story ahead of time if she didn't give them a set date in the morning.

"Why not just tell them in person?" Jamie suggested. He had a feeling what that news might be, even if they hadn't shared it with him yet. "How long has it been since you've been to Rhy'Din?" he added, knowing Josh had probably been there more recently than Dru, given his connection to the theater there.

Dru bit down on a smile, her gaze flickering to Josh almost shyly for a moment before she answered Jamie. "About four months," she told him. "Perhaps we should use tomorrow to pop to Rhy'Din briefly?"

"I think we could manage that," Josh replied agreeably. There was nothing so pressing in Tirisano right now that they couldn't get away for a day or two, and the break would do them good.

"It never hurts to take a break," Jamie added, perusing what was left of breakfast.

Just like that, it seemed as though a heavy weight of tension had been lifted from Dru's shoulders. Her smile relaxed as she let out a breath, tilting her head toward Jamie. "Didn't you eat at home?"

"Yes, of course," Jamie replied, as he jammed another muffin into his mouth. But just how much did he get the chance to eat while wrangling a pair of boys under the age of three. "But most of it was cold. Natty had blueberries in his hair."

"How did he get them in his hair?" Dru ask, as much amused as bemused by that statement. "I'm not sure even Luke has managed to get fruit in his hair, and he is one messy little eater."

"He was squishing them between his fingers," Jamie replied, matter-of-factly. "He's a little obsessed with fruit right now. You'll see when you have one of your own someday," he said, a tiny hint of amusement in his eyes, as if he'd already guessed at their news, but didn't want to spoil it.

"That sounds vaguely ominous, you know." Dru chuckled, drawing her feet up onto her chair and underneath herself, elbows resting on the table, chin in her hand. "So I assume you'd quite like us to be ready to go soon?"

Jamie shrugged, taking another sip of his coffee, which he had definitely not had time to enjoy a hot mug of back home before it had turned cold. "There's no rush. Keira has some business to tend to for a few hours," he explained.

Josh handed Dru a cup of tea, just the way she liked it, before going to refill his own cup.

"Thank you, sweetheart." She smiled at Josh affectionately, wrapping her hands about her cup. "So, hold on ... Keira has work to do, and you didn't bring the boys with you? Does Oliver have them, then?"

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