"She's the kind of queen that knows her crown isn't on her head but in her soul."
The car pulled up to the maximum-security prison at two-thirty. Mark, Will, and I alighted from the vehicle, approaching the imposing building. Mark shuffled closer to me, and I grasped his hand. I would've taken Will's, but he walked in front of us as all royals were supposed to, and I didn't want him to appear weak or for anyone to get any ideas about us.
Mark leaned in and whispered, "You ready?"
"Yes. Are you?" I replied.
"I can't wait to punch his lights out."
"Can you wait until after I ask my questions?"
"I can't make any promises, but I'll try."
"That's all I ask."
We followed the guards through seemingly identical hallways and secured door after secured door. It was no wonder this place was a maximum-security prison. It was designed to confuse any potential escapees, making them unable to distinguish where they were going, hindering their escape.
"In here, Your Highness," the guard said, opening the door. The three of us filed in, approaching a one-way mirror. On the other side sat a red-haired man in handcuffs, chained to the table. His blue eyes stared at the wall across from him, unmoving, unblinking.
"Creep," Mark muttered.
"Meet Chuck O'Connell," a woman said, entering behind us. "The CIA caught him trying to cross the border into Mexico from California and captured him. They called me, and now he's here. He's not speaking, but we'll get him talking soon enough.
"Thank you for your efforts, Idina," Will said sincerely. "You've done a great service to your country."
"You're very welcome, Your Highness." Idina bowed her head. "After his daughter gave us all the information she could, we were able to discover evidence linking him to the attack on Miss Stark, Miss Ward, your mother, and Lorraine. We also found evidence that he was planning on attacking the younger Miss Stark, Mister Stewart, and Mister Monroe. It is irrefutable, and it will help us bring him to justice to the full extent of the law. Would you like to speak with him?"
Nodding, she opened the door, and the three of us entered. Idina stayed on the other side, watching from the one-way mirror. For the first time since I saw him, Chuck O'Connell moved his eyes to observe every moment we made.
Will approached the table, his sapphire eyes murderous. "How does it feel? To be in chains? To have failed your mission?"
"I have not failed," Chuck said, standing up to meet Will's gaze. "My name will go down in history as the man who almost usurped the Veronian throne, reinstating my family as the rulers of this great country, and avenging the injustice done to us so many years ago."
"Hundreds and hundreds of years ago," Mark corrected. "You and your family have serious issues if you're still holding a grudge for that damn long."
"How's your wife and son doing? Shame they didn't burn like the rest of her apartment."
In the blink of an eye, Mark swung his fist. It connected with a sickening thud, and although it rocked Chuck backward, the man seemed bizarrely unfazed.
"Isn't it illegal to punch a prisoner?" Chuck inquired casually.
"I gave him immunity," Will answered. "He could kill you, and he'd be able to get off scot-free."
"My fiancée and son are alive and well, and they will continue to be so," Mark growled.
"There's always next time," Chuck said.
"No, there's not," Will remarked. "With the evidence we've collected, you will never be leaving here. Depending on the severity of the treason, the sentence could be death. Since you are being accused of five murders, three attempted murders, three further planned murders, and multiple accounts of assault, I can assure you that you'll be sentenced to death. Even in the unlikely event you're not, I will use my power to overturn that decision."
Chuck smiled. "I know you will. I don't care if I live or die now. I will die a martyr for my actions because there are people in this country who would like to see the Wards off the throne. They will follow my actions until the mission has been successful."
"Will, may I speak with him? Alone?" I asked softly. My voice garnered the prisoner's attention, and he turned his piercing gaze on me.
"You may. If you need anything, we'll be on the other side of the door," Will said. Squeezing my shoulder reassuringly, he and Mark exited the room, leaving me to stare down my would-be murderer.
"How's the stomach and shoulder? Painful?" Chuck asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Healed. The pain is nearly non-existent now, thanks to the physical therapy."
"You're a tough bitch to get rid of, you know that?"
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, this isn't the first attempt on your life. Will's guards always got in the way, and then my stupid daughter convinced me it'd be better to break you and the prince up instead of killing you. My mistake was listening to her advice. I should've taken you out first."
"Why'd you do it?" I demanded.
"Are you daft? You were-"
"I'm not talking about me," I interrupted. "I know why you wanted to kill me. Everly and Queen Lillian too. We all have a strong influence on Will. It's probably the same reason you added my sister, James, and Mark onto your personal hit list as well because they've all become close to Will, and he takes their council into consideration. No, I'm talking about Lorraine. Why did you kill your own daughter?"
Chuck acted genuinely surprised by my question. "Why do you give a damn about her? She broke you and lover boy up. You should hate her."
"I did hate her back then, but I don't anymore. I understand her motivations, and they weren't for the throne. She did it for her little sister. Also, according to her confession, Lorraine did what she did to save my life, and you confirmed that earlier with your statements. So, why kill her?"
"She failed the mission, and she failed me. She had to pay," Chuck said with an accompanying snarl. "Besides, I gave her an out. Lorraine would've been imprisoned for life for trying to usurp the throne. She's in a better place."
"No, you failed the mission, and you failed her. You took away her future, one she had. Lorraine would've been released after a few years for helping in the investigation against you and for preventing you from attempting to kill me sooner. You not only destroyed her life and future but those of the four guards as well."
"They were merely collateral damage. I don't like killing anyone but my targets, although exceptions do have to be made."
"You are a sick man. I'm glad you're going to be dead one day soon."
"Will I? Does a man die if his name goes down in history?" he countered, smirking.
"That's all you care about, isn't it? That your name and your family name goes down in history to remind people of the family you believe should've been voted onto the throne all those hundreds of years ago. If your ancestors were anything like you, I shudder to think what Verona would be like under their rule."
"It should've been us!" Chuck roared, trying to step towards me. It took all of my willpower not to flinch. "It should be us in Windsor Palace! However, I can die happy knowing my followers will speak my name in reverence as they try to pick up where I left off when they try to complete my mission."
A realization dawned on me. "You know if it were me, and if I had a say in your sentencing, I'd erase you from all Veronian databases. I'd erase you from our history. I'd make it like you were never born. It's hard for people to talk about you when they don't know you ever existed, isn't it?"
For the first time, Chuck's cocky, self-assured demeanor faltered. "You're not the Queen, so you don't get to do jack shit about my sentencing."
"You're right, she's not," Will said, entering the room with Mark on his heels, "but I'm the King, and I do. I agree with Miss Stark's suggestion, which is why I want you to listen carefully. No matter what your sentence turns out to be, I will overturn it, and it will be this: I will have your name erased from every database and every record I can find. I will erase you from this world. You will be sentenced to death on an undetermined date, so you can experience the same fear and helplessness I felt when my loved ones were in danger. You will die with the knowledge that no one will remember you or anything you did."
Chuck snarled. "That's a breach of freedom of information."
"Perhaps, but a criminal like you has no place in Verona's history." Will smiled, almost maliciously. "I must be going because I have my coronation to plan. Enjoy prison and the rest of your life, however short it may be."
Slipping his hand in mine, Will walked out with Mark and me. I could feel the tension in his grip. We were escorted out of the prison by Idina, who explained how the trial would proceed. Most likely, Mia, Mark, James, Everly, and I would be required to testify. I had no problem doing that. I was fine as long as I had my family around me. It was when they weren't that I worried about myself.
We drove back to Windsor Palace in almost complete silence. Mark sat upfront with the driver, talking to Everly on the phone. Taking advantage of the backseat's privacy, I rolled up the partition and turned to Will, saying, "Sweetie, if you hold my hand any tighter, you're going to break it. Are you okay?"
Will instantly released it, sheepishly apologizing. "I didn't realize I was doing that. Sorry… I'm good. I just needed to get out of there before I killed him. I would've decked him for the comment about Everly and Reid if Mark hadn't, but I saw red when Chuck said he should've taken you out sooner. Idina and Mark held me back for a little bit, but then he said you didn't get to say jack shit about his sentencing because you weren't Queen, and I had enough. I had to get out of there for my own sanity."
"Understandable. Are you at least relieved it's over with?"
"Yeah. It hasn't quite set in yet that it's over. We've been chasing him for so long…" Will kissed the back of my hand. "What about you? You doing okay after facing him?"
I nodded. "I had my questions answered, and I know he's secure in there. Maybe that'll help with my nightmares."
Will smiled sadly. "I guess this means you and Mia will be moving back to your apartment."
"It does… but we don't have to leave right away. I don't think Mia would mind if we stuck around for a little while longer."
"Would the end of the month do?"
I smiled, glanced quickly at the still raised partition, and kissed Will. "That sounds perfect to me."