Sunday, May 15, 2022

Palace Envy updated!

I think this is the second to last Palace Envy update before the release!  Thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting!

Chapter 6

Table of Contents

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Palace Envy Update

 Better late than never!  Here's my update for Palace Envy.  Thank you so much for all the comments last week!!!

Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Palace Envy update

The next chapter of Palace Envy is now live!

Chapter 3

Also, it's now on Amazon, with a release date!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Palace Envy Update

 I decided to post a few more chapters of my royal romance, which I'm hoping to release by the end of May.  Here is:

Chapter 2

And for those of you who missed it, here's Chapter 1.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

NEW book out: Lobster, with a straw

My ebook is on Amazon today for purchase

I’m soo happy and excited and also a little nervous. Oodles of thanks go to our Annabelle, Rowan, Devo Girl, Vanessa, Marisa, Sarah and Nessa, and everyone who read and commented on this story and helped get this book out. You are the best and your support means everything! This community is simply amazing and I’m so glad I get to know you all.

Please, pretty please, if you purchase the book and like it, please leave a review on amazon! I read them all. And I’ll probably print them all to sleep with them tucked underneath my pillow or something 😊


I’m used to stares.

I’ve been observing them my whole life. You know, that slightly panicked, embarrassed reaction when I enter the room in my power wheelchair, limbs flailing.

Or when I try to talk.

But today I’m being stared at for a completely different reason. By a beautiful woman in a lecture hall, with a mysterious smile.

And now our conference is about to end and I may never see her again. So, I’ve got to make this count.

 

Get it now on Amazon! Free on Kindle Unlimited!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Update to Not Gay and NEWS!

Hi guys!

As promised so long ago, here is the next chapter of Not Gay: Chapter 20! I hope you enjoy it and find some well-deserved distraction. Also, I finally managed to put together a Table Of Content with all chapters of Not Gay. Good, right?

Then, even better than that, I have exciting news!! With the help of this awesome community I finally finished editing my ebook, Lobster, With a Straw, and it releases NEXT WEEK! What?! Yes! Preorder it here!

Hugs,

Lovis

Sunday, March 27, 2022

New Story: Palace Envy

 Hi all!  This is a royal romance story I wrote a while ago and I decided to finally publish it.  This will most likely be the LAST Annabelle story.  I was debating if I should post it here or just come right out with the book, so I'm going to play it by ear.  Without further ado, here is...

Palace Envy

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Norland, the king and queen wanted nothing more than a son.

It took them nearly 6 years of marriage to conceive their first child, a daughter named Marabelle. But after Marabelle’s birth, the queen was believed to be barren. The king flew in medical specialists from all over the world, in hopes of finally having an heir to the throne. It took another 10 years, but the queen finally fell pregnant again.  This time, she was expecting twins.

On a rainy, frigid day in March of 1965, the queen gave birth to two newborn baby boys. The first was a perfect specimen—a tiny prince who came out screaming and pink and perfect with tufts of golden hair on his scalp. This was Prince Arthur, who would be the heir to the throne of Norland.

The second prince was me.

The queen—my mother—could not have been more proud of her two tiny princes. She had tried for many years to provide her husband with a son, and now she had two perfect little boys. She walked all over Claybrooke, the capital of Norland, eagerly showing off her perfect baby boys in a twin stroller that cost more than most of her loyal subjects earned in a year.

It was somewhere between ages two and three that the queen noticed something wasn’t quite right with one of the little princes. Whereas both boys used to run around the house and all over the lush garden outside the palace, now one of the princes seemed to have more difficulty running around than he used to. At first, the queen would wash off the skinned knees or elbows from one of his many, many falls.   She expressed her concerns to the king, who shrugged it off. Edward is just clumsy, that’s all.

But I wasn’t just clumsy. And my mother knew it.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Take Me Down

Hey all! Author Avery here. My latest book, Take Me Down, releases on Friday, March 25th. I've been working on this one forever it seems. So happy to finally share this couple with the world. Here is the prologue and the first chapter as a teaser. Hope you enjoy! I'd love to hear your comments. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Bérénice is still on hiatus

Hi PD readers, if you hadn't already guessed, my story is still on break. Things are gradually improving over here... but that means that I first have to clear the backlog of other needs I was supposed to be taking care of, before I can get back to having fun with BĂ©rĂ©nice and Jean-Claude in Paris. :)

If you'd like to catch up with the story in the meantime:

Table of Contents

I hope that folks are doing well.

- Rowan

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Palace Envy, Chapter 2

Hannah

 

It’s a little miracle that I make it up the stairs to Prince Arthur’s room without dropping the tray all over the floor. I really feel like somebody up above must be looking out for me.

And the hallway to get to his bedroom is endless. On my first week working here, I walked up and down the hallway, my shoes digging into the luxurious red carpet, just taking in the sheer space of it all. I loved it.

But I don’t love the long hallway quite as much when I am delivering a heavy tray (or vacuuming). Also, Arthur has the very last room, past at least a dozen other rooms. Iris told me once that he chose the room so nobody would hear his sexual escapades, but I’m sure that’s her wild imagination. Arthur is engaged, after all. Whatever the reason, by the time I get there, my arms are shaking.

And naturally, the door to the room is closed. I have to knock with my foot.

I hear whistling coming from inside the room, so he must be in there. But he takes his sweet time pulling the door open. And then when he does open up the door…

Oh my God, he’s naked!

I let out a breath of relief when I realize he’s not completely naked. I thought so at first because the giant tray is obscuring my line of vision. He’s wearing tighty whities. But no pants. And no shirt. And no shoes either, but that seems like a minor point.

Even though she was very negative about our visit to the palace, when we were teenagers, my roommate Gertrude—like every other girl in the kingdom—hung a poster of the prince in our bedroom. He was posing on some sort of yacht, his T-shirt arms just short enough to show off his firm biceps, his golden hair perfectly windblown, one hand planted firmly on his hip and the other shading his beautiful brown eyes, which were squinting into the distance. Gertrude used to slobber over that poster on a daily basis.

Truthfully though, the image of Prince Arthur on that poster never really appealed to me. Not to say that Prince Arthur isn’t spectacularly handsome. I’m sure he has plenty of time to spend working out in the gym, and it shows. There are well defined muscles in his chest and arms, and his legs look powerful. And his facial features are very classically handsome. He looks a bit like a plastic Prince Arthur doll that I might have bought at the store as a child.

“Hello there.” Arthur flashes me a smile with the most perfect, whitest teeth I have ever seen in my life. They are almost blinding. “What do we have here?”

“Dinner for you, Your Royal Highness,” I say.

“Dinner,” he muses. “What is it?”

My arms are starting to really tremble, but I stay as steady as I can while he slowly, slowly lifts the cover off his plate. He picks up a fork and jabs at the chicken.

“Chicken again?” he says.

“I… I didn’t prepare the menu, Your Royal Highness. The food was prepared by the cook.”

“Glad to hear it because it appears dry.” He scoops up a dollop of mashed potatoes and inserts it in his mouth. “And this needs salt desperately.”

Oh my God, is he going to make me stand here holding the tray while he eats the entire meal? I would try my best, but I don’t think I can do it. I will collapse before half the mashed potatoes are gone.

But then he steps aside to let me put the tray down on his empty dresser. Thank goodness, because in another five seconds, it would have been all over the floor. Now, with my arms free, I curtsy for him.

When I look back up at him, his eyebrows are raised. “That’s it? That’s your curtsy?”

My cheeks burn. My curtsying skills may have grown rusty in the last six years. As I said, the duke never expected me to curtsy for him. He could not have cared less. And it’s not like I curtsy for my own health.

“I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

I try again, crossing my right foot behind my left and lowering myself before him. I glance up. Was that a proper curtsy? Please say yes.

“Lower,” he says.

Lower? I don’t know if I can go any lower. It’s like he wants me to limbo a curtsy. But what can I do? He’s the prince. If he tells me to jump, my job is to ask how high. (Or if he tells me to curtsy, my job is to ask how low.) It’s my honor and privilege to curtsy for this man.

So I do my best. I get as low as I can until my ankles and knees start to scream with pain. Once again, I’m shaking to try to maintain my balance. But after a minute, the prince says, “Much better.”

Thank goodness. Now I just have to stand up without falling on my knees.

I manage to do it somehow, and even better, the prince puts on a pair of pants. Still no shirt though.

“So,” he says, “you’re the new girl, huh?”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“Holly, was it?”

“Hannah.”

“Oh.” He nods vaguely in a way that makes me think he’s going to forget my name again in another sixty seconds. “Did they find you at that orphanage?”

I nod. It’s no secret that a lot of the staff for the royal family have been recruited from the local orphanages. “Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“What happened to your parents then?”

My cheeks flush at his bold question. It’s not proper to just ask something like that, is it? But then again, he’s the prince. I suppose he can do whatever he likes. “My mother died in childbirth.”

“And your father?” he presses me.

“He… he wasn’t around.” According to the relatives I lived with when I was young, my father was a scoundrel. They used that word so often, I literally thought his name was Scoundrel Clarke until I was about eight.

“Ah.” The prince nods. “So he knocked her up, huh?”

I don’t know what to say to that. I also don’t appreciate the way he’s snickering under his breath. Also, he is still shirtless. There’s a shirt on his bed. I’m not sure why he doesn’t just pick it up and put it on. Seems like it would be very easy. And wouldn’t he be more comfortable with a shirt on? I would like to suggest such a thing, but it’s not my place.

“So what do you think of working in the Royal Palace so far?” he asks me.

I look him straight in the eyes. It’s customary to make steady eye contact when addressing members of the royal family. “It’s wonderful,” I say honestly.

“Anyone giving you any problems?”

“No. Not at all!”

“Huh.” Prince Arthur scratches at his chin. He has just a bit of a five o’clock shadow sprouting from his jaw. Just like he did in the poster. “Well, if anybody gives you a hard time, you let me know straight away.”

I have to stifle a laugh at the idea of it. Right. The next time the queen asks me to re-iron her dresses because I didn’t do it right the first time, I’ll be sure to go and tell Arthur. That would go wonderfully, and I wouldn’t be fired even a little bit.

I clear my throat. “Will that be all, Your Royal Highness?”

Arthur places a hand on his hip. “Are you in some sort of a rush, Hannah?”

His tone is teasing, but there’s a bit of an edge in his voice. I hope I haven’t upset him. “No, not at all! I just wanted to know if there’s anything else you need.”

“Anything else I need…” He taps his finger against his chin. “I don’t know, Hannah. What do you think?”

I swallow. I don’t know exactly what’s going on here.  He has this funny look in his eyes. And also, the prince is still shirtless.

I mean, really, would it kill him to put on a shirt?

“Arthur! Arthur, are you up here?” A shrill voice echoes down the hallway. “Arthur! I’ve been waiting for you!”

Oh goody, it’s Charlotte.

I’ll say one thing. The sound of Charlotte’s voice gets Prince Arthur to put on his shirt real fast. He’s got it over his head and smoothed out by the time she bounds into the room, her insanely high heels stabbing the floor with each step.

Charlotte is very beautiful. Before I came to work here, I saw some photographs of her in supermarket tabloids, but they didn’t do her justice. In real life, she is like a work of art. Model tall and thin, with legs that go practically up to her armpits. She wears her impossibly silky long blond hair loose, and it swishes when she walks. I’ve never met anyone whose hair was so noisy.

“Arthur.” As beautiful as she is, Charlotte’s voice is not beautiful. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard. “What nonsense are you doing here?”

At the word “nonsense,” her eyes rake over me. I am the nonsense. I’m not sure how to respond to that, but I decide to curtsy to show her respect. Even though she’s not the princess yet. She’s nothing.

But in six months, she will be a queen. That’s a horrifying thought.

No, I shouldn’t say that. Charlotte will be a wonderful queen. I am… looking forward to it! Yes. Totally.

“Hannah here just brought me up some dinner.” Arthur flashes one of his blindingly white smiles at his fiancĂ©e. “I thought we’d have a quick bite before we go out.”

Fine.”

Charlotte removes her light jacket and tosses it on me. Not at me, but on me. Like I’m a coat rack. She doesn’t give me any instructions for what to do with the coat she draped over me, but there is a coat room downstairs. I guess I’ll put it down there.

Charlotte shoots me a look. “That will be all, Hannah.”

“Yes, Miss.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be addressing me as ‘Your Royal Highness’?”

My mouth falls open. “But… you’re not…?”

“Excuse me?”

Prince Arthur throws an arm around Charlotte’s thin shoulders. “Charlotte is to be my wife in three months. You should call her Your Royal Highness.”

“Yes, of course.” The words stick in my throat. “I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

Then I get out of there as fast as I can.

I don’t know why, but I have a lump in my throat as I take the stairs back down to the kitchen. I shouldn’t be sad. I am living out the dream I have had since I was ten years old. I am living in the royal palace. I am waiting on the king and queen. I should be the happiest I’ve ever been.

Yet somehow the thought of going back to Prince Arthur’s room makes my skin crawl.

The job working for the Duke was far less glamorous, but in retrospect, it was so much better. The Duke was kind to me. He didn’t care about how deeply I curtsied or if I curtsied at all. He always thanked me when I helped him out with anything. You’re a sweet girl, Hannah, he would say. You should be working somewhere better than this.

The Duke was nice, but he didn’t understand. It’s not like I had some great opportunity that I turned down to work for him. My parents left me with nothing. I had no family that I could turn to. My grades were never anything special either—college was never a realistic option on the horizon. All I ever wanted was to work here, and now I’m doing it.

When I get back downstairs, dinner has already been served to the king and queen, the chefs have retired for the evening, and Iris is cleaning the kitchen. She is spraying down the oven and scrubbing at it furiously. She always seems like a woman on a mission when she’s cleaning.

When I enter the kitchen, Iris raises her eyes. “You were up there a long time.”

She doesn’t say it in an accusing or angry way. More like she’s curious.

“The prince wanted company,” I say, tugging at my ugly uniform.

A knowing smile touches her lips. “I’ll bet he did. How was it?”

I suck in a breath. “Iris! I didn’t… I mean, I would never…”

She puts down the spray bottle and folds her arms. “Please. Nobody would judge you for making out with the prince. It’s a rite of passage around here.”

I clasp a hand over my mouth, horrified. “Did you…?”

She giggles. “Oh, yes. It wasn’t bad at all. I mean, it was definitely all about him, but that’s fine. He’s gorgeous. And it’s got to be better than that gross old Duke you worked for before.”

It takes me another few seconds to realize what she’s implying. I want to throw up. “Iris, I did not have sex with the Duke. That’s… yuck. He was old enough to be my grandfather!”

“I know. No judgment.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. And if Iris thinks it, everybody else must think the same thing. “I’m not messing around with the prince. He’s engaged!”

“So? He doesn’t care so why should you? It’s not like anyone is going to feel sorry for Charlotte.”

“This is ridiculous!” My voice is sharp enough that there’s a chance the king and queen might’ve heard it from the dining room. I take a deep breath and get myself under control. “I’m not going to do that. Ever. I’m not interested.”

“Well, if you want to keep your job at the palace,” Iris says, “I suggest you get interested.”

I check her face for signs that she’s joking. She’s not.

 

Edward

I keep very busy during the day. Part of it is that I’m a workaholic, but there also isn’t a lot in my life now outside of work. So I may as well be successful.

Uncle Walt has had this restaurant for as long as I can remember. He always struggled to get customers in the door, but after I graduated college, I came back home and told him I was going to help him. After a series of advertisements and promotions, the restaurant doubled then tripled its revenue. Walt was happy to sit back and let me handle the business end of the restaurant because what he really likes to do is cook. (Nobody but nobody makes a better burger than my Uncle Walt.)

Now Walt is semi-retired and we have two other restaurants that I opened. I spend all my time handling the business end of it and driving between the three restaurants. I work seven days a week because the restaurants are open seven days a week. That said, all the restaurants have their own managers who do a good job. I could probably step back more if I wanted to, or even occasionally take a vacation. But I don’t.

Today I am at one of the restaurants, sitting in the back office, looking through the inventory for the week. I’m scribbling some notes in the margins, and that’s a very accurate description of my handwriting—scribble. Although my arms aren’t as weak as my legs, they are also affected. I do curls with five pound weights to keep my arms as strong as possible, but there’s only so much you can do about genetics. My dexterity sucks and my hands get shaky. As a consequence, my handwriting is a disaster. But I know what I’ve written, at least.

I’ve been at it for about half an hour when I hear a fist tap against the open door. It’s Uncle Walt.

“I knew I’d find you here,” he says.

I shrug. “So I’m at work. So what?”

“So it’s Saturday night.”

“Right, so?”

“So you should be out enjoying yourself, Eddie!”

“Saturday night is the busiest night for the restaurant. You know that. I can take Monday night off.”

Walt tilts his head to the side. “You used to sometimes take Saturday night off. Back when…”

He’s talking about when I was with Kate. Yes, I had a more active social life back when I had a girlfriend. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

“You know,” he says, “there’s a singles night at the church tonight. Grace organized it.”

And that’s why Walt is here. Because Aunt Grace is having yet another singles night at the church. I’m fairly sure if she is organizing these events entirely for my benefit, even though she has not yet persuaded me to go. And she won’t.

“I’m busy,” I mutter.

“You got to get back on the horse again sometime, Eddie. I know you’re still upset about…”

“I’m not upset. I’m just busy.”

“Bullshit.”

Uncle Walt never curses, so it’s enough to make me look up in surprise. My uncle is in his mid-seventies now, and he looks older—there are wrinkles etched into every millimeter of his face. He and Grace want me to settle down. They talk about it constantly. They want to see my life squared away, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.

“There are plenty of nice women out there,” Walt says. “They’re not all like her.”

“I’m sure there are.”

“Yeah, but it seems like you don’t care. How long are you going to keep moping over her?”

My lips pull down. What part of “I don’t want to talk about Kate ever again” does he not understand? I want to forget it happened. I want to forget she existed. I’m not bitter, I’m not angry—I just don’t want to think about it.

Walt lets out a long sigh at the expression on my face. “Fine. Did you at least have some dinner?”

“I’ll grab something in the kitchen.”

“Will you?”

I shoot him a look. “Walt, I’m really busy…”

“Fine.“ He holds up his hands in surrender. “At least walk me out.”

This is another trick on his part. When I first came to stay with the Boyds when I was five years old, I wasn’t walking very well. Walt and Mary took me to the Conroy rehab center in the next town over, and they got me set up with braces and crutches. Walt got very good at assessing the way I walked, trying to figure out if I needed an adjustment to my braces as I grew or maybe another course of therapy as my muscles deteriorated further.

Now I’m an adult and perfectly capable of knowing when I need an adjustment. Which is why I really don’t want Walt to see me walk right now.

“I’m busy,” I say again.

“Too busy to spend five minutes walking your old uncle to his car?“

“You know it will take me longer than that.“

His eyebrows shoot up. “Is there something you don’t want me to see, Eddie?“

Damn it. “No. It’s fine.”

I reach for my crutches and pull myself to my feet. I usually use my crutches at the restaurant instead of the chair, just because it’s hard to wheel between the tables. Ironically, my restaurants are not as wheelchair accessible as they could be. But better than most places in town.

I thought I could fake it from the distance from the office to Walt's car, but I can’t. I’m limping more than usual, and he can tell. Especially when I’m going down the ramp outside the restaurant, and there is a tiny little groove in the pavement and I nearly fall. In my defense, I don’t fall. I’m very good at not falling. (I’m also very good at falling.)

“Jesus, Eddie,” he says.

“I’m okay,” I insist.

“The braces fitting okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

But I’m not quick enough to keep Walt from pulling up my pants leg. I guess I’m flattered he cares so much. Considering my real parents probably don’t even know I wear the braces in the first place.

Or maybe they do. After all, this is why they kicked me out in the first place.

Anyway, the second Walt pulls up my pants, he figures out my secret. “Eddie, are you kidding me?“

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine!”

He’s referring to the fact that the ankle foot orthosis (AFOs) that support my ankles and keep my knees from buckling are literally duct taped together right now. The thing is, I’ve had them a while and I put in a lot of mileage. So they’re in bad shape. Duct tape is the only thing keeping them from collapsing.

This isn’t entirely my fault. The Conroy rehab center, where I’ve been getting my braces adjusted since I was a kid, isn’t doing well. They are on the verge of shutting down and the next appointment I could get was two months from now. I felt sick when I heard about their near bankruptcy. I asked them what I could do to keep them from closing, but it’s a lost cause. People don’t have much money around here and the insurance doesn’t cover everything they do. For years, they were treating people for free and eating the cost, but you can’t do that forever. It’s not a solvent business model. I don’t go around serving people free meals, after all.

“I’m taking care of it,” I say. “I promise. I’ve got an appointment.”

Walt grunts. “Come by the house tomorrow. I’ll fix them up in my shop until your appointment.“

My uncle has a little workshop in the garage. He’s good with his hands. I wish I could say the same about myself, but I’m never going to be a master woodworker like Walt.

I’m busy tomorrow, but I recognize how much my duct taped braces are slowing me down. This is something I should make time for. “Okay. Thanks.”

For the first time since he walked into the restaurant, he smiles. “Good. And then you’re going to stay for dinner.”

“Fine. As long as Aunt Mary doesn’t invite any single women.”

He snorts. “You can’t stay single forever, you know.“

Yeah? Watch me.

To be continued.... 

Palace Envy, Chapter 3

Hannah

 

The palace is quiet at night.

After finishing up my work for the day, I retired to the servants’ quarters, which are connected to the palace. The term “servants’ quarters” makes you think of some sixteenth-century broken-down building where we lower class workers are packed inside with hardly any breathing room. But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually really lovely—so much better than what I experienced growing up at the Home for Girls.

A lot of people work for the palace. Last I heard, ninety-five employees are working here. This includes servants, chefs, footmen, cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, chauffeurs, and electricians. There’s even a man whose entire job is just to look after the clocks in the palace. (He’s a very, very nice man, and very knowledgeable about clocks. Like, did you know that the oldest working mechanical clock was made in 1386?)

Anyway, the palace is somewhat isolated from the rest of Claybrooke and all ninety-five of us work long hours, including the clock guy, so it makes good sense to have housing provided for us—and every room is fully furnished. My private room is small but perfect. The mattress is firm, but not too firm, and the bedsprings only creak just the tiniest bit when I lie down on them. It is a single room, but they provided a little loveseat and bookcase and I brought my own small television. I share a bathroom with only one other person. And I have my own private phone line.

Free room and board are amazing. It means every penny I earn here goes straight into my bank account. I’m slowly building a little nest egg. But I don’t need the money right now. I’ve got everything I want.

One thing I regret is that the servants’ quarters don’t have a kitchen. I do have a small microwave in my room, and the cook in the kitchen provides meals for all of us, so really, there’s no reason to have a kitchen. But when I was working for the duke, I cooked a lot of his meals. And even when I wasn’t cooking for him, I would go down to the kitchen and make something for myself. I found it incredibly relaxing. Especially baking.

So tonight, after most people are in bed for the night, I sneak back to the palace. To bake some chocolate cupcakes.

I lay out the ingredients on the counter: flour, eggs, cocoa powder, vanilla, and baking powder. The palace kitchen is stocked with everything you could imagine. The duke had a nice kitchen, but this is on another level.

I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like growing up here. We were packed in like sardines at the Home for Girls—the whole facility only had two bathrooms for all twenty-something of us. (Can you Imagine nearly thirty girls sharing only two bathrooms? No wonder we all hated each other.) There was a kitchen, but it was also tiny. Probably smaller than any of the closets in the palace. (This morning, I went into a room and couldn’t figure out why there wasn’t a bed for me to make. It took me an embarrassing few seconds to realize I was inside a closet.)

As I combine the wet ingredients in a bowl, I try not to think about Prince Arthur and the way he spoke to me last night. But it’s hard. Of course, I had heard rumors about the prince before I started working here. But I assumed because he was engaged, any shenanigans with the palace staff members would have to stop.

Maybe I misunderstood his intentions. The more I think about it, the more I’m sure I must’ve overreacted. Prince Arthur is an upstanding member of the royal family. He would never be unfaithful to his betrothed, and it’s not like I’m so irresistible. Iris was just teasing me because I’m new here.

Yes, she was definitely teasing me. I have nothing to worry about.

As I get the cupcake tray in the oven, I hear a sound coming from somewhere within the palace. The palace is so large that I can’t tell where any of the random sounds are coming from. And it’s old—so old. The Palace of Norland was originally built in 1703, and although it has been through dozens of renovations during this time, most of it is furnished in original early nineteenth-century interior design, in a cream and gold color scheme. The paintings on the walls span hundreds of years as well. The only part of the palace that’s modern is the kitchen, and even that is badly in need of an update.

If I were the sort of person who believed in such things, I might think the palace was haunted. But I’m not that kind of person. When I hear a loud creak, I am much more worried that the eighteenth-century ceiling is about to collapse on me.

The sound grows louder. It sounds like footsteps now. Somebody is walking down the main staircase.

I look down at my watch. It’s nearly midnight. The king and queen are elderly and usually are in bed by nine o’clock. It’s Saturday night, so Prince Arthur is out having another night on the town, this time without Charlotte. All the staff members are in their quarters. Except for me.

The footsteps grow louder and my heart is pounding in my chest. I back up against the oven, nearly burning my hand on the hot surface. There’s no way there could be an intruder in the palace. There’s a gate encircling the grounds, and there are multiple guards who stand watch at the only entrance twenty-four hours a day.

So who is walking around the palace?

“What’s cookin’, good lookin’?”

The voice comes from the far entrance to the kitchen. I spin around, brandishing an icing spatula. Not the best weapon, but… better than nothing? Maybe?

But then I lower my spatula. It’s just Prince Arthur. Oh, thank goodness.

“Hello, Your Royal Highness,” I say.

“Hiya, Hannah.”

He remembered my name. I’m not sure whether to feel pleased or uneasy.

I’m hoping he will move along, but instead, he enters the kitchen. He looks somewhat disheveled. His golden hair is flopping over his eyes, and his expensive white shirt is unbuttoned at the top revealing pale chest hair, his tie hanging loose. He’s giving me this strange look—is he angry to catch me using the palace kitchen at night? I can’t tell. So I do the only thing I can think to do: I curtsy for him.

I perform my usual curtsy, which is rusty but has been deemed acceptable by the queen and king. But then when I look up at him, he shakes his head. So I go lower.

He shakes his head again. “Lower.”

Again? Is he joking with me? I can’t go any lower than this. It’s not physically possible! But I do my best. Of course, it’s not a real curtsy because I’m wearing my pajamas instead of my uniform, but I try to get my knee down as low as I can.

Not surprisingly, I fall.

The prince starts to laugh, which is also not that surprising. I scramble back to my feet, avoiding his eyes. At least he’s wearing a shirt this time.

“I didn’t know you were home, Your Royal Highness,” I mumble.

“Clearly not.” There’s amusement in his dark eyes. “Or else you wouldn’t have snuck into the palace to use the kitchen.”

“I didn’t…” I clear my throat. “I wasn’t sneaking. Nobody was using it, so…”

“So you thought you would come in here and help yourself to what isn’t yours.” He lifts an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the definition of stealing?”

Oh no. He really does seem upset about this. “I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

Prince Arthur takes a step toward me. He looks handsome tonight, with his golden hair, brown eyes, and muscular build. Most women in the kingdom would kill to be alone with him like this. But all I can think is that I need to get out of here.

I let out a loud yawn and stretch my arms over my head. “Well, I guess I’ll head off to bed then.”

He jerks his head in the direction of the oven. “Don’t you have cupcakes in there?”

Yes, I do. Dang it. “Right. And I should be keeping a close eye on them. Then I’ll go to bed.”

He takes another step toward me, a smile playing on his lips. “How long until the cupcakes are done?”

“Um, ten minutes?” Close enough—I’ll take them out raw if I have to. I’ve lost my appetite anyway.

“I’d love to try one…”

The prince is only about two feet away from me. I back up against the kitchen counter, feeling the cold hard surface biting into my ribs. “I’ll leave them on the counter for you. You can have one in the morning.”

He flashes those perfectly white teeth at me. “What if I want a cupcake now?”

My voice feels hoarse. “They’re not ready now.”

He takes one more step toward me. Now he’s close enough to touch me. “Maybe you can entertain me in the meantime.”

“I… I should get to bed.”

“But you have to wait for your cupcakes, don’t you?”

For the love of God, why did I have to make cupcakes? Why didn’t I make… cookies? Those are ready in less than ten minutes. I would’ve been done by now. I squirm against the kitchen counter as he crosses the small gap between us. I feel his breath on my face. He smells like vodka.

“You’re sexy, Hannah.” His breath feels hot on my cheek. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you after you left my room last night.”

I suck in a breath. I wasn’t mistaken last night after all. “Oh…”

Even though I’m squirming, he reaches out and runs his fingers over the curve of my jaw. I can barely breathe. I never had to deal with this back at the duke’s house. Even when he thought I was his wife, he was always imminently respectful.

“Listen…” I cough into my hand. “I am so flattered, um, Your Royal Highness, but I’m not really interested…”

He smirks. “Yeah, right. Don’t be a tease.”

“I… I’m not…”

“You don’t have to play hard to get. Trust me.”

“No, I—”

Whatever I was about to say gets cut off by the prince jamming his tongue down my throat. It feels like an eel trying to squirm its way into my mouth. I taste the vodka and orange juice and cigarettes, and it’s all I can do to keep from throwing up in the prince’s mouth. Wow, that would be such an embarrassing reason to get fired—throwing up in Prince Arthur’s mouth.

Although I planned to renew my objections when he pulled away, he’s not pulling away. He keeps his lips on mine and he keeps pawing at me—his fingers are sneaking under my shirt. I feel a wave of almost overwhelming revulsion, and I try to push him off of me, but he won’t budge. He’s too strong. So I do what Gertrude used to tell me I should do if a boy got too grabby with me:

I raise my right leg and knee him in the groin as hard as I can.

It works. Really, really well. I’ve never done it before, so I’m very impressed and pleased at how well it works. I got him right in the sweet spot. In an instant, he is doubled over, clutching his family jewels, looking like he’s about to throw up.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he snaps at me.

“I’m sorry,” I say, even though I’m not the slightest, tiniest bit sorry.

Although I have a feeling in another sixty seconds, I might feel differently.

Prince Arthur is still doubled over, his face bright red. “You know, every other girl in your position has been grateful. Anyone in the entire kingdom would be thrilled to have the attention of a crowned prince!”

Every other girl in your position. How many girls has he done this to?

And now I’m extra glad I kneed him in the groin.

“I’m so sorry,” I lie. “It was an accident.”

“Was it?” He manages to straighten out just a bit. “Well, let’s hope next time there are no other ‘accidents.’ Or else…”

I stare at him. “Or else what?”

“Or else.” A tiny smile curls his lips. “I don’t think it’s going to be very pleasant for you, Hannah.”

He steps toward me again and I’m scared he’s going to grab me, but instead, he reaches for a bottle of rum on the counter. He unscrews the top and takes a long swig. He glares at me, then he wanders out of the kitchen, just as the timer goes off on my cupcakes.

 

_____

 

Okay, this is bad.

I just kneed the royal prince of Norland in the groin. After he groped me. When I imagined all the scenarios for what I would be doing three months into my stay at the royal palace, this was not in any one of them.

Iris’s room is right next to mine. I bang on the door until my knuckles hurt. It takes that long for her to open up, and I can tell she’s been sleeping. Her hair is disheveled and there are circles under her eyes.

“Hannah, what the hell?” she snaps at me.

I push past her and don’t stop until I reach her loveseat, which is a mirror image of the one in my room. I drop down on it, my hands shaking. My whole body is shaking.

“Hannah, do you know it’s almost one in the morning?” Iris folds her slim arms across her chest. “I’m exhausted.  You can’t just barge in here in the middle of the night and expect—”

“Prince Arthur attacked me.”

Her eyes widen. She drops down onto the loveseat beside me. “Are you serious? What happened?”

“I was in the kitchen.” I hug myself, rocking back and forth. “And he just started kissing me out of nowhere.”

She frowns. “That’s it? He kissed you?”

“That’s it? Iris, he just grabbed me out of nowhere. I was terrified!”

“Yeah, but it’s just a kiss…”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I expected the prince might hit on me, but I didn’t think he would just grab me like that. How could he do something like that? He’s royalty! It’s so… unbecoming!

“So what did you do?” she asks, a little more gently.

“I kneed him in the groin.”

Iris clasps a hand over her mouth. “You didn’t!”

“Oh, I did.”

She winces. “Hannah, look, there are some unwritten rules when you’re working here. Arthur is a bit grabby, but you have to go along with it. It’s not like he’s disgusting or anything. Most women would be happy for some attention from the prince.”

It’s exactly what the prince said to me. I hug myself and rock harder.

Iris sits down beside me on the love seat so that our knees are nearly touching. She has been far from maternal since I’ve been working here, but she does give me a lot of advice—almost like a big sister. Things were so lax when I was working at the duke's house, so it’s invaluable to have her advice. She’s got tons of it.

Always look the members of the royal family in the eye. Always use formal addresses. Always curtsy.

Never complain.

“You should know,” she says, “there was a girl here a while ago who made an accusation against Prince Arthur. She was very pretty and he was trying to seduce her. She wasn’t interested. She already had a boyfriend and she thought Arthur was an ass. So she told him to stay away from her and she quit her job. She didn’t even do anything to him. She just wanted to leave.” She pauses. “But then a few days later, a piece of the queen’s jewelry, estimated to be worth twenty thousand dollars was found in her home. She’s in jail now, Hannah. She was ostracized by her family and friends.”

I stare at Iris. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Listen to me, Hannah.” Her brows knit together. “You don’t go against the royal family. Ever. They’re too powerful. And everyone loves them. Especially Arthur.”

That sick feeling returns. Iris is right. Everyone loves the royal family. Prince Arthur is every girl’s first crush. And who am I? I’m nobody. I have nothing—even the bed I sleep on every night isn’t mine. I don’t even have money for a decent lawyer if they accuse me of stealing something.

“Just… keep your head down.” She looks down at her watch. “It’s late. I bet he was drunk. Maybe he won’t remember what happened in the morning.”

But I saw the look in Arthur’s eyes. He’s not going to forget what happened. He wants to make me pay for humiliating him.

There’s no way out of this situation.

 

 

Prince Edward

 

The phone wakes me at three in the morning.

I can barely open my eyes as I grasp blindly at my night table, feeling for the cordless phone I keep there. My fingers find the receiver and I yank it off the hook, blinking my eyes to try to focus in the dark.

“Eddie!”

It’s Mara’s voice. Why would my sister be calling at three in the morning? It can’t be for anything good. Also, she sounds like she’s crying.

It must be our parents. Something must’ve happened. Shit.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

She gulps loudly. “Eddie…”

I grip the phone so tightly, it hurts my fingers. “Mara, what’s going on?”

“There was an accident and…” Her voice breaks. “Arthur is dead.”

And then she dissolves into hysterical tears.

I sit up in bed, staring into the blackness of my bedroom, trying to wrap my head around what she just told me. Arthur is dead. Is she talking about our brother? Our young, healthy, virile brother is just about the most alive person I’ve ever met. I must’ve heard her wrong. Arthur can’t be dead. It’s not possible.

“Mara.” I swallow. “I don’t understand. How could…?”

“He was in a car accident,” she manages. “He was driving drunk. Again.”

I wince. A year ago, Arthur was pulled over for a DUI. But when you’re the prince, there’s always a way to get out of it. He didn’t even end up going to court. Maybe if he had, he would have learned his lesson.

“He bashed into a tree,” she sobs. “Nobody else was hurt but he…”

I rub my eyes. This doesn’t seem real. It feels like I could still all be part of some crazy dream. “Are you sure he’s dead?”

“Yes, I’m sure, Eddie!”

Mara is still crying on the other line. I rub my eyes again, but they’re completely dry. Arthur is my twin brother. This should have hit me hard, but somehow, I feel nothing.

“I’ll drive in tomorrow, okay?” I tell her.

“Okay,” she whimpers.

“I love you, Mara. I’ll see you soon.”

My thoughts are racing as I put down the receiver and lie back down in bed. Arthur is dead. My brother is fucking dead. Holy shit. I can’t believe it.

I squeeze my eyes shut. I’m supposed to feel sad over this. I should be holding back tears right now or else letting them fall. Instead, I just have this hollow feeling inside me. Only I know the truth.

I hated my brother.

Maybe hate is a strong word. But I didn’t love him. I didn’t even like him. I never have. The two of us never liked each other. I can just imagine us getting in fistfights in the womb.

My first clear memories of Arthur are from when I was about four years old. By then, I was walking badly enough that I needed to hold onto things around the house to keep from falling, or else I would crawl. Really, I needed crutches, but my mother would have died rather than buy me a pair. Anyway, she used to take us to the small playground in Claybrooke a few times a week. Arthur was great at making friends, so he would usually find kids to play with, while I would be relegated to sitting in the sandbox—if my mother allowed me out of my stroller at all.

I couldn’t stand up from the ground. Standing up from a chair or sofa was hard enough, but the floor was impossible. If I wanted to leave the sandbox, I would have had to crawl, but there was no way my mother would allow me to do that. She wasn’t going to let anyone see her four-year-old son crawling because he couldn’t walk. Crawling was forbidden outside of the house.

So I would just sit there in the sandbox, hoping Arthur would bring his friends over to play with me. And he never, ever did.

But one day, some of his friends went to play in the sandbox of their own accord. Given my physical limitations, I had a lot of trouble making my own friends, so I was very excited the other kids were coming to me. And even more excited when they showed interest in what I was making.

What’s that? one of the boys asked me.

I’m building a palace, I said. Like the one I live in.

The boy opened his mouth to ask me another question, but before he could, Arthur stepped between us. Don’t play with him. He’s my stupid, crippled little brother. He’s no fun.

And then Arthur kicked my palace of sand until it was nothing but a mound of dirt.

The truth is, I was glad to leave him behind when my parents sent me away. Arthur was the one thing about home I knew I wouldn’t miss.

And not much changed as we got older. Arthur wasn’t as cruel right to my face, but he always found subtle ways to jab at me. When I first met Charlotte, he nudged me and said, That’s what a real woman looks like. Not like your Kate. Sorry about that, by the way.

The last time I saw my brother—the last time I will ever see my brother—was at Christmas. I’ll never forget the last words he said to me before I left to go back home. I was sitting in my wheelchair in the dining room, looking at the family portrait over the dining table. It had been painted a few months prior, and it contained the entire Montgomery family: King Frederick, Queen Amelia, Prince Arthur, and Princess Marabelle. I was never aware it was being painted, and no invitation has been extended to me to be part of the family portrait. Not that I would have expected it. But it would’ve been nice if I didn’t have to stare at it during every goddamn meal since I got there.

Arthur caught me looking at the portrait. He could tell it upset me. I remember he put his hand on my shoulder, and I thought for a moment he might say something nice. You’ll always be my brother, Edward. I’m sorry they left you out.

But that wouldn’t have been Arthur. He wouldn’t have been my brother if he didn’t take every opportunity he could to make me feel like crap about myself.

Sorry we left you off the portrait, Edward, he said. But you must understand how important appearances are. We can’t have people coming into our dining hall and staring at you in your…

And then he looked down disdainfully at my wheelchair.

The words “fuck you” were on the tip of my tongue. The entire drive home, I was speeding and fuming about how I should’ve just said it. Of course, now I’m glad I didn’t. Because if I had, it would’ve been the last words I said to my brother. Instead, I just mumbled, It’s fine. I don’t care.

And now he’s gone. He’s never going to make a snide comment again about how badly I walk. Or what a good thing it was that he was born first, because can you imagine the alternative? My brother is dead. He’s dead.

Nothing is ever going to be the same.

 

 

Hannah

 

My head is pounding and so is the door to my room. Every few pounds, they line up perfectly, and the effect is excruciating.

Go away, I silently will the person at my door. Please go away!

I couldn’t sleep last night. Surprise, surprise. All I could think about was Prince Arthur and his tongue jammed down my throat. I’m scared that’s not going to be the only thing jammed down my throat in the next few months.

But what can I do? Prince Arthur is one of the most powerful men in Norland. Yes, there is the Prime Minister who does most of the governing. But Prime Ministers come and go—the royal family is beloved by the entire kingdom. Everyone watched Arthur grow up from when he was a baby. He’s the most popular celebrity there is.

Even I loved the guy. Until I met him.

Working at the palace has always been my dream. I can’t believe this happened.

“Hannah!” Iris is shouting my name from the other side of the door. “Hannah, let me in!”

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and bury my face in my hands. I don’t feel like getting up. Not now, not ever. “Go away!”

“Hannah!” The banging gets even louder. “Please open the door! Prince Arthur is dead!”

Prince Arthur is…

What?

The fatigue I felt a moment earlier vanishes in an instant. I jump out of bed in my pajamas and dart across the room. I yank open the door and Iris is standing there in her own pajamas, her blue eyes swollen and lined with red.

“Prince Arthur is dead?” I manage.

Oh God, what if they think I killed him? I had thought about it, that’s for sure. I mean, not in a serious kind of way. Like in that kind of way when you think about what would happen if you stood up in the middle of a movie theater and yelled “fire!” I wouldn’t really do it, but there’s that temptation…

And we were alone together last night. What if they think…

“He was in a car accident.” Iris’s voice breaks. “It’s all over the news.”

I start to ask what channel, but it’s a stupid question. The young prince of Norland is dead. That’s going to be on every channel.

Sure enough, it is. The second I turn on the TV screen, I see an image of the front fender of Arthur’s crumpled red Porsche. He loved that car. I watched him once from the window of my room, tearing down the driveway to the exit, nearly mowing down the gardener. The poor fellow had to leap out of the way.

“Prince Arthur was declared dead at the scene,” the newscaster reports, her eyes bleary with tears. “And now the entire kingdom is mourning the loss of their beloved prince.”

Oh my goodness…

I look over at Iris, who is wiping her eyes. Everyone in the kingdom is in mourning like the reporter said. They don’t know what that man was really like. You don’t know who a person is until he’s grabbed you and forced his tongue in your mouth. That says a lot about a guy.

And now nobody will ever know. Prince Arthur will be buried in a grave and the world will keep believing he was a saint.

“It’s so sad!” Iris cries.

I nod hesitantly. Prince Arthur was beloved by all of Norland. Everybody’s mourning today. Except… I don’t feel sad. Not even a little bit. All I feel is relief that I never have to deal with that horrible man ever again.

I… I think I might be glad he’s dead.

I suck in a breath, horrified by my own thoughts. I love the royal family. The duke rescued me from that terrible home for girls, and I’ve dreamed about working in the palace since I was ten years old. And Arthur is the prince. I should feel horrible about his death.

But… I don’t.

Of course, I can never say anything to anyone. Everything that happened last night must be buried with the prince. I can never tell anyone how I really feel.

“How drunk was he when he left you last night?” Iris says suddenly, interrupting my disturbing thoughts.

I swivel my head to stare at her. “What?”

“You told me he was drinking,” she reminds me. “Did you try to stop him from driving?”

A bubble of anger rises in my throat. “How was I supposed to stop him?”

“Well…” She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. “If you had told somebody he was drinking, maybe they could have stopped him from driving. And then he would still be alive.”

I don’t know what she’s talking about. Who was I supposed to tell? Was I supposed to wake up the queen at one in the morning?

Although now that I think about it, perhaps I could have told the guard at the front gate. Maybe they could have stopped him.

My breath catches in my throat. I could’ve done something to stop him. Am I responsible for this?  After all, I was sober and I let him drive away.

But I didn’t know he was going to drive. He walked off with the rum, and for all I knew, he was going to his room.

Right?

Oh God. If a girl got sent to jail just for turning Arthur down, imagine what they would do to the person who might be responsible for his death.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” I beg Iris.

“Don’t worry.” She looks into my eyes. “We’re both from the Home for Girls—we're like sisters. I have your back.”

I wish I could believe her.

 

 

Prince Edward

 

When the sun comes up the next morning and I wake from a restless sleep, I’m not entirely sure whether I imagined it all or not. Did Mara actually call me in the middle of the night and tell me that our brother is dead? Did that really happen? Or was it all just a crazy, vivid dream? I’m not even sure anymore.

But then I turn on the television. It was not a dream.

Arthur’s death is all over the news. Every station. Image after image of Arthur’s mangled Porsche. The prince is dead. Of course, nobody mentions that he was drunk. That will be kept out of the news if my mother has anything to do with it.

As soon as possible, I’ve got to get in my Dodge and make the ninety-minute drive out to the palace. But I can’t just up and leave like nothing—I have to make arrangements if I’m going to be gone for a week or two.

The news station flashes an image of the king and queen standing in front of the palace entrance. My mother is dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief while my father stands beside her, his shoulders sagging in his navy blue suit jacket. The sight of my mother gives me a stabbing feeling in my chest like it always does these days.

“We are devastated by the loss of our son, Prince Arthur.” My mother’s voice breaks on his name. “Please allow us to have privacy during this difficult time.”

Shit, my parents. I’ve got to call them.

If I call the main line for the palace, I’ll never get through right now. I’m sure it’s clogged with dozens of people calling to offer condolences. Instead, I dial the private number to my parents’ bedroom. I brace myself for what is likely to be a very painful call. It’s a relief when nobody picks up.

I’ll have to try again later, but in the meantime, I hit the shower. I use my wheelchair first thing in the morning, and I’ve got a shower bench set up in my bathroom. The first thing I did when I bought this house was I widened all the doorways, but unlike in the palace, the bathroom is tiny. The palace has bathrooms larger than my whole house put together, but I can’t afford that.

I don’t get any money from my family that might help me upgrade my lifestyle. Why not? Well, first, I would never take money from them. Ever. Second, my family doesn’t have any money.

That’s another well-kept secret, like my brother’s drinking problem. The Montgomery family does not own the palace. The palace is the property of the kingdom of Norland. All the servants who work in the Palace? Employed by the government, not my family. Because they are the royal family, they are allowed the privilege of living in the palace and all the amenities, as well as a fund designated for the royal family. But if the public sentiment ever turned against them, my family would be homeless.

And that’s why appearances are so important to them. I don’t know what my parents have in their bank account, but it’s not a lot. It wouldn’t be good if they got kicked out of their home.

That’s why on some level, I get why they wanted Arthur to represent the family. Despite his character flaws, he was the kind of person who could make an entire kingdom fall in love with him. I can’t. And I have no interest in trying.

I spend far too long in the shower, letting the burning hot water scald my skin. I’ve got a portable shower chair I’ll take with me to the palace because it would of course be too much trouble to ask them to store one for me in one of their ten thousand closets. I left one there once, and it had been quietly disposed of before the next time I returned. But I need it. I can’t stand in the shower.

When I get out of the shower, the light on my answering machine is blinking. Without even checking, I’m sure it was my mother. I count to ten in my head, then I call her back. I don’t know how this conversation is going to go, but one way or another, it’s going to be painful.

“Edward.” Her voice is crisp, without any trace of the tears I saw on the television screen. My mother is the master of her own emotions. “You’ve heard the news.”

“Mara told me. Are you okay?”

“We are… as to be expected.” She clears her throat. “The funeral will take place on Saturday. We’re making the arrangements.”

“Okay…” I probably wouldn’t have said what I say next, except she sounds so calm: “I heard he was drunk.”

There’s a long silence on the other line. “I don’t think we need to talk about that, do we, Edward?”

Now I feel bad for saying it. “No. We don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Yes…” Somebody is speaking in the background—a muffled voice. “Edward, I must go. We are hoping to see you today though, as soon as possible.”

“Right. I’ll drive out this afternoon. I just need to take care of a few things.”

“Please don’t take that car of yours.” My mother doesn’t like my ‘84 Dodge. Even though it’s a perfectly reliable car. Again—appearances. “We’ll send a car for you this afternoon.”

“I’d rather drive,” I say through my teeth.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

I don’t want to argue with her right now—even if she sounds calm, she’s got to be incredibly upset over the death of her son. But that said, I don’t want to take one of the limousines. If I let them give me a ride out to the palace, I’m stuck there. If I feel like taking off in the middle of the night, because I can’t stand it another minute, I won’t be able to do it. And there’s about a fifty percent chance of that happening.

“We’ll see you later today.” She sounds distracted now. “I’ll have Iris make up a room for you.”

“One of the ones on the first floor—” But I get cut off before I can get my request out there. She’s notorious for “forgetting” to give me a first-floor bedroom. It’s at the point where I’m beginning to feel like she does it on purpose. Like maybe the fact that it takes me half an hour to get down all the stairs will inspire me to walk better.

I turn the television back on. This time, Charlotte is on the screen—Arthur’s fiancĂ©e. Like my mother, she’s dabbing daintily at her eyes. I’m sure she’s sad, but probably not because she misses Arthur so much. I didn’t even get the sense she liked him all that much. But she liked the idea of being Queen someday. You know the type. Her father has some sort of title of nobility, which is why Arthur was allowed to marry her. But she isn’t really royalty. Marrying the prince would have been a huge step up for her.

And Arthur, on his part, liked the idea of having a beautiful woman on his arm.

I’m lucky I got out of there when I did. I can’t imagine growing up that way. It does a number on you.

And now I have to go back. But I won’t stay for long.

To be continued.... 

Palace Envy, Chapter 4

Hannah

 

The whole kingdom is in mourning over the death of Prince Arthur.

For the most part, the servants attempt to go about business as usual, even though things are very much not usual. But every free second we get, we are whispering about Arthur’s accident. Everybody knows he was drinking—Arthur was notorious for his binges—although nobody knows about me kneeing him in the groin minutes before he left the palace in a fury.

First thing in the morning, I usually make up the bedrooms. I start with the king and queen’s bedroom. Their bedroom is about the size of the entire Home for Girls, maybe larger. There’s a gigantic bed in the center of the room that’s only slightly smaller than a swimming pool, with an ornate wooden headboard. I’m fairly sure that only the king sleeps in that giant bed at night. Because there is a second equally enormous room a few doors down that I’m supposed to make up as well, and I’ve noticed the bathroom in that room contains the queen’s toiletries. But I’m not a gossip or anything, even if I hadn’t signed a fifty-page nondisclosure agreement.

After I finish taking care of the king and queen’s bedrooms, I make up the rooms of any guests that are staying at the palace. And last, I make up Prince Arthur’s room since he wakes up late and tends to get cranky if I disturb his slumber.

This morning, I go straight to Prince Arthur’s room.

Even though I cleaned it yesterday morning, it’s a disaster like it always is in the morning. He never even attempted to throw his clothing in the laundry basket, even though it was right in the corner of his room. Iris once said she considered putting a sign on the basket that said: “clothing goes here.” Like, maybe he didn’t know? And he changed his clothing multiple times a day, so at the start of every day, there were always at least seven or eight pieces of clothing on the floor. I also usually find multiple crumpled pieces of paper on the ground, some scattered coins, and a few empty bags of chips.

And his private bathroom is usually even worse. More clothing is always on the floor as well as sopping wet towels covering every inch of the tile. How many towels does one man require to take a shower? And there’s always piss on the toilet seat. Never fails. You would think they would teach you how to aim in prince school, or wherever they sent him.

I inhale deeply, taking in the scent of Arthur’s cologne. Thick and musky and expensive. After I scrub it down, the smell may linger for a day or two, and then it will be gone. I’ll probably never clean this room again.

“Please leave it.”

I nearly drop the mop in my hand at the sound of the sharp voice behind me. I whirl around and find the queen standing in the hallway, right outside Prince Arthur’s room. Staring at me.

The people of Norland might love Prince Arthur, but they absolutely adore Queen Amelia. I’m certainly not the only one. There is nobody in the kingdom—possibly in the universe—more beloved than our queen. Her beautiful smile makes her look just like the queen in a fairytale. And even in her seventies, she’s still a very beautiful woman.

After seeing her that one time when I was ten years old, my obsession with Queen Amelia grew. She was truly my idol. When I was in sixth grade, we all had to write an essay about the person we admired most. I didn’t even have to think about it—I picked her. And the essay was like ten pages long even though it only had to be five hundred words. I was just bubbling over with everything I had to say about my queen. As much as I wanted to return to the palace, I was most excited about serving the queen.

And then I came to work here.

It turns out Queen Amelia is very different up close and personal. In the three months I’ve been working here, she hasn’t smiled at me once. Not even a slight twitch of the lips. She barely even looks at me. When I serve her food, she doesn’t thank me. I would bet any amount of money that she doesn’t even know my name. And I don’t have much money to bet.

But somehow, that makes me all the more desperate to impress her.

“I… I’m so sorry, Your Majesty,” I mumble as I curtsy.

She nods once, briefly. Her eyes are slightly swollen, but other than that, she looks remarkably put together for a woman whose only son was just tragically killed. She’s wearing a black dress suit that doesn’t have a single crease on it. Her golden hair is immaculately pinned up behind her head.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to at least…” I glance at the floor of Arthur’s room, which is littered with an almost shocking amount of dirty clothing and food wrappers. I mean, it would be shocking for most people. Not for Arthur. Anyway, if they leave it like this, it will attract insects. “I can just tidy up quickly.”

“That’s fine.” She pushes past me into the room. She sits down on her son’s bed, staring at a crumpled candy bar wrapper on the ground. “Actually, perhaps you can pick up the food items, at least.”

“Of course!” I’m happy to pick up a few candy wrappers. Anything to cheer up the queen. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you,” she says quietly. “It was a loss to the entire kingdom.”

Right. In six months, Prince Arthur would have been king. And now what will happen? Without him, there’s no male heir to the throne. The law states that if there is no male heir, the throne would go to Princess Marabelle, but only if she were married. Since she is unmarried, it’s not clear who would be next in the line of succession.

Queen Amelia sits on Arthur’s bed while I pick up the junk on the floor. I can feel her eyes on my back. She’s watching me clean. When I straighten up to look at her, her eyes are narrowed at me.

My legs turn to rubber. Why is she looking at me that way? Did she figure out what went on between me and her son shortly before he died?

Oh God, am I going to end up being hanged? There are still gallows in the town square in Claybrooke. And they’re only slightly dusty. Totally ripe for a good ol’ hanging.

“What is your name?” she asks me.

“Hannah,” I squeak.

She gives me an impatient look. “What did you say? Speak up!”

I clear my throat. “Hannah,” I say in a very slightly less squeaky voice.

“Hannah.” She rolls my name around her tongue. For a moment, I’m wondering if she’s going to ask me to consider changing it. But instead, she says something incredibly unexpected: “I would like you to go with Nigel to fetch Prince Edward.”

She’d like me to… what?

I try to wrap my head around this request. Apparently, even though she looks put together right now, Queen Amelia has completely lost her marbles. The death of Prince Arthur has pushed the poor elderly queen over the edge. Because now she somehow wants me to go “fetch” her other dead son.

“I see,” I say carefully.

“Nigel will be leaving in about an hour.” She clears her throat. “Will that be a problem for you?”

I’m supposed to have the afternoon off. I had been looking forward to a few hours of relaxation, but that’s not the only problem with this request. The bigger question is: how exactly are we going to fetch a dead prince? Because I don’t have a shovel.

“Of course, Your Majesty.” I swallow. “I just… how are we supposed to fetch him exactly?”

She sniffs. “Nigel will take you to him. But I’d like you to ensure he gets into the limousine.”

My stomach turns. She doesn’t really expect me to dig up a grave, does she? And what if I can’t do it? What will she do to me? This woman is unstable.

“Um, so…” I squeeze my hands together. “Which cemetery will we be going to?”

Queen Amelia stares at me, her eyes darkening. “Cemetery? What are you talking about?”

“I’m so sorry, Your Majesty,” I choke out. “But Prince Edward… he’s…”

“Oh Lord.” The queen lets out an impatient huff. “Prince Edward isn’t dead. Is that what you think?”

“I…”

“He lives in Ancaster.” She rolls her eyes. “He usually visits on the holidays. I suppose you haven’t been here long enough to meet him.”

I frown, trying to figure out if she’s for real. She certainly doesn’t seem crazy. And she’s giving me very specific details. Now I’m starting to think Prince Edward might actually be alive. I read all about the twin sons born to the royal family thirty years earlier, and then, after five years, one of them was gone. So everybody assumed…

But I don’t get it. If the prince is still alive, why doesn’t he live with the royal family? He’s not even in that portrait they have over the dining table.

“Prince Edward… isn’t well,” Queen Amelia says, answering my unasked question. “He’s an invalid. We sent him to get medical care in private when he was a boy—far from Claybrooke, so he wouldn’t have to be in the public eye. But he never recovered.”

I cover my mouth. “Oh…”

Her voice lowers to a hush. “He’s severely disabled and he prefers to stay out of the limelight, which of course, we respect. But unfortunately, the situation has changed. He needs to come home and embrace his new role.”

She winces as she makes the statement. Prince Arthur was the golden boy. He was the shining beacon of good looks and good health. Now he’s dead. And the only remaining heir to the throne is his twin brother, who is apparently a mess.

“You’ll help him pack his belongings,” she says. “I’m going to put you at his disposal for whatever he needs. Obviously, given his disability, he will require a great deal of assistance. When you see him, make it clear to him that you are there to help him with whatever he needs.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

I don’t feel at all daunted by this task. In the last year of the duke’s life, he was mostly confined to a wheelchair and I was doing a lot for him. I helped him get dressed and bathed. The last few months, I was spoon-feeding him. I felt good about helping him through the final stages of his life. So if I have to do all that for Prince Edward, I’m okay with it. Not that I’m excited by the idea of having to spoon-feed a prince, but I’ll do it. And if I have to spoon-feed him when he is the king, I’ll do that too.

Queen Amelia looks me up and down, the corners of her mouth turning down. “Also, do you have something else you could wear for the trip?”

I frown. “Like… scrubs?”

“Oh no.” She picks up one corner of my shapeless black frock and lets it fall back down. “Something pretty. A dress, perhaps? This uniform isn’t terribly appealing.”

I don’t want to point out the obvious, which is that she approved these ugly uniforms we all have to wear. “Yes, Your Majesty. I can wear a dress.”

“Very good.” She nods her approval. “Then please go change and meet Nigel in the front.”

I start to pick up my mop and cleaning supplies, but the queen shakes her head. “Leave it. Just go get changed quickly and meet Nigel. I’d like you to leave as soon as possible. You don’t want to keep Prince Edward waiting, after all.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” I curtsy for her. “I’ll get changed right away.”

“One more thing, Hannah.” She gives me a sharp look. “Don’t come back without the prince.”

I don’t know what she’s talking about. We are driving out for the sole purpose of picking up Prince Edward at his home—or nursing home or wherever he is. Why would we come back without him? It doesn’t make any sense.

But I’m not about to start asking questions. When the queen asks you to do something, you better do it. This is my chance to impress her. I’m not going to let her down.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” I say. “I’ll be back with him before you know it.”

 

 

Prince Edward

 

I spend most of the morning on the phone, making arrangements to be out of town for the next week. I haven’t taken a vacation in… Well, there haven’t been any since Kate and I broke up.  I admit I’m a bit of a control freak, and I don’t like the idea of leaving important stuff to other people.

Fortunately, everyone heard about my brother on the news, and even though they don’t know I’m the prince, they know I’m closely related to the royal family. So none of the managers are surprised when I call them and tell them I’m going to be gone for a few days.

“You okay, Eddie?” Oscar, the manager at my second restaurant, asks me.

“I’m fine,” I say honestly. “I hardly knew Arthur. He’s… you know, just a cousin.”

The lie feels bitter on my tongue. Arthur isn’t my cousin. He’s my brother. He’s my twin brother. But nobody can know that.

And then Oscar asks timidly: “How is Mara?”

About a year ago, Mara was here for dinner and Oscar stopped by with some business to discuss. I mumbled my usual lie about her being my cousin, and after being momentarily starstruck, he accepted my dinner invitation, and the two of them hit it off big time. Despite being a princess, Mara is really down to earth. She might live in the palace, but she avoids the limelight as much as possible. She loves volunteering for worthy causes—it’s how she spends most of her waking hours—as long as there won’t be any cameras around.

I was hoping the two of them might start seeing each other more seriously, but she won’t break the tradition that the princess must marry somebody from a royal family.  I told her it was total bullshit and she should marry whoever the hell she wants—or at least give Oscar a shot—but my sister is a rule follower to the end. Even if it means sacrificing her own happiness.

“Mara is very upset, of course,” I say. “You should give her a call.”

“Oh,” Oscar mumbles. “She’s a princess though. She wouldn’t want to hear from me.”

“She would. I’m sure she would. I’ll give you her number.”

I read off Mara’s private number to Oscar, and he makes me repeat it twice to make sure he’s got the number correct.

After I finish squaring things away with my restaurant, I pack a bag for the trip. I toss in about a week’s worth of clothing—nicer stuff than I usually wear. I’m sure my mother will do her damnedest to keep the cameras off me, being that I’m an embarrassment and all, but the paparazzi will inevitably get some shots of me. I don’t want to look like some bum in jeans and a T-shirt. Also, the palace has a dress code. I’m on my crutches today, but I bring my wheelchair to the door so I can throw it in the trunk. I’m just about ready to go when I see the limo pull up in front of my house.

Great. That’s just great.

I had been planning to be on the road already by the time it arrived, so I’d have an easy excuse. I see my mother’s driver and bodyguard, Nigel, behind the steering wheel. He’s a mild-mannered guy in his fifties who doesn’t take any bullshit, and he will have no problem getting my mother on the phone so that she can guilt trip me personally.

It doesn’t matter though. Nigel may be massive with biceps that strain the fabric of his suit, but he isn’t going to physically force me to get into that car. I want my own car, and nobody is going to guilt-trip me into getting into that limo. The important thing is that I’m coming out to the palace. It doesn’t matter how I arrive. They’re just going to have to deal with my shitty Dodge being in the parking garage.

And then the passenger’s side door opens.

I watch from the window as a girl in her twenties gets out of the car. She’s wearing a pale yellow sundress, and her vivid red hair is loose around her shoulders—it looks almost like fire under the light of the sun. She has this little nervous smile on her face so that just the very corners of her lips turn up. And she has a button nose that makes her face look impossibly cute.

I have to admit, after what happened with Kate and the number she did on my head, I haven’t been able to think much about other women. The truth is, I haven’t even been on a date since my broken engagement. I haven’t even wanted it.

But now I’m looking at this girl, and for the first time, I’m starting to wonder why I’ve been torturing myself all year. Because I can’t stop looking at this girl. And all of a sudden, the limo doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Christ, my mother is a really smart woman.

 

 

 

Hannah

 

Prince Edward lives in a completely normal, unremarkable house. It’s small, only one story, and very much in need of a paint job on the outside, with some visibly loose shingles on the roof. It doesn’t seem like the sort of place where a prince would live.

Perhaps the prince’s caregiver lives here, and that’s why he’s here now. That makes a bit more sense. Especially since there is a dented blue Dodge parked in the driveway that certainly couldn’t belong to the prince.

I’ve been dying to ask Nigel questions about Prince Edward, but Nigel is a man of few words. He’s a big guy—you can’t see his muscles under his suit, but they’re there. Nobody has said the word “bodyguard,” but that’s his job. It’s my job to serve the royal family, and his job is to protect them. That’s why he’s here with me.

By the end of the drive, if somebody informed me that the only words Nigel could speak were “yes” and “no,” I would absolutely believe it. All I managed to get him to say was that he had met Prince Edward before, just to reassure myself one final time that we would not be digging up any graves during this trip.

“How will we get Prince Edward into the car?” I ask Nigel as he kills the engine.

He gives me a strange look. “The usual way.”

I don’t know what “the usual way” means. Queen Amelia described her son as “severely disabled.” I wish I had a little more information. Especially if I’m going to be doing some heavy lifting.

“Who lives here?” I ask him.

Now he’s looking at me like I’m a total moron. “Prince Edward.”

“Oh.” I take another look at the peeling paint on the house. “But…”

“You do understand why we’re here, right?”

“Yes. Yes. I just…” I take a deep breath. “Maybe I should go knock on the door.”

“I agree.”

I get out of the car and smooth out my faded yellow sundress. I throw my shoulders back and try to smile. It’s a crooked smile, but it’s the best I can manage under the circumstances. I wonder how Prince Edward is taking the news of his brother’s death. Or maybe he doesn’t even understand that Prince Arthur is dead. Oh no, am I going to have to be the one to tell him?

My hands are trembling only slightly as I get to the front door and push my thumb against the doorbell. At the palace, there’s a doorbell that sends the most beautiful chimes all around the hallways. This doorbell sets off an annoying buzzing noise that continues even after I lift my finger off the doorbell.

A second later, the door gets yanked open. I take a step back as a man leans out of the doorway and slams his fist against the doorbell. Repeatedly. The buzzing finally stops.

“Sorry,” the man says. “It does that sometimes.”

I open my mouth to ask for Prince Edward, but I notice two things simultaneously. First, the man in front of me is gripping crutches in both of his hands with metal that goes up to his elbows. And second, he has an uncanny resemblance to Prince Arthur.

Oh my goodness. This is him. This is Prince Edward.

“Hello, Your Royal Highness.” I grab the skirt of my sundress and curtsy as low as I can. “It is an honor to finally meet you.”

I look up at the prince, hoping my show of respect has been acceptable to him. But when my eyes meet his, he’s gawking at me.

“What are you doing?” he says.

“I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.” I try another curtsy. “Is this better?”

“No. I mean, stop it. Just… get up. Why are you doing that?”

I frown at him. “I’m curtsying. It’s a show of respect.”

He blinks at me. “Seriously? They still make you do that?”

“Yes…”

“Jesus…” He lets go of one of his crutches and tugs at the hem of his dress shirt. It’s not tucked in—the Queen will go nuts if she sees it. Prince Edward notices me noticing, and he adds, “I know. I’ll tuck it in before I get there.”

I don’t know quite what to make of Prince Edward. He looks like Prince Arthur, but he talks completely differently. You could tell Prince Arthur was royalty from a mile away, but you would never think this man was a prince. He seems completely down to earth. And even though he shares a similar nose and jawline to Prince Arthur, there’s something gentler about Edward’s looks. Even though his hair is blond like Arthur’s, the light color seems more from the sun than the unnatural shade of gold in Arthur’s hair. Arthur looked like a prince, but Edward is the boy next door.

I never felt a moment of attraction to Prince Arthur, but standing next to Edward, I’m surprised when I feel that tug. No, it’s a little more than a tug. It’s more like a yank.

Of course, I don’t really like him. He’s a prince. And I’m a servant who works at the palace. Any sort of attraction for him will be fleeting and pointless, naturally. But if he tried to kiss me in the kitchen at midnight, I wouldn’t knee him in the groin. That’s all I’m saying.

“We should get going,” I say. “The queen is expecting you.”

“I’m sure.” Prince Edward flashes a lopsided smile. Unlike Prince Arthur, his teeth are not blinding white. They are a normal amount of white, with a slightly crooked incisor on the left. “So here’s the thing, um… what did you say your name is?”

“Hannah.”

“Hannah.” He nods. “So listen, Hannah, here’s the thing. I already have a car.” He nods at that dented Dodge. Oh my God, that’s his car? It looks like it barely runs. “And I’d like to take my own car to the palace.”

Okay, I get it now. This is why the queen sent me. She didn’t believe Prince Edward would want to take the limousine back to the castle.

Well, Queen Amelia has been my hero since I was a kid. And I am not going to let her down.

I lift my chin. “The queen asked that you come to the palace by limousine. Those were her explicit instructions.”

“Maybe.” He leans in a little closer to me, putting more weight on his crutches. He doesn’t smell like expensive cologne. He just smells like soap, and some of the aftershave you would get at the supermarket. “But unlike my brother, I don’t have to do everything the queen tells me to do.”

“But—”

“Look, don’t worry.” He shifts his weight. “I’ll get to the palace myself, no problem. I’ll probably get there a lot faster than slowpoke Nigel over there.”

Obviously, he has ridden in a car with Nigel before. At one point, a little boy on a tricycle passed us.

I can see the determination on his face. He wants his own car. And I don’t entirely blame him. I don’t have a car, and I hate relying on other people to get into town. But Queen Amelia gave me a job to do. And I’ll be damned if I return to the palace without having done it.

I don’t know much about Prince Edward. But I have a feeling he’s the sort of guy who can’t resist a damsel in distress. I have to at least give this a try.

“That’s fine,” I say quietly. “Queen Amelia asked me to bring you to her in the limousine. But you don’t want to go.”

He opens his mouth as if to say something more, but then he just says, “Right.”

“So I have not done my job.” I lower my head, my lower lip trembling. “This is the first task the queen has asked me to do, and I have failed. I’ll probably be fired.”

“Come on. She’s not going to fire you over this.” But he doesn’t seem certain.

“You don’t know that,” I shoot back. “But don’t concern yourself. I’ll find a new job and a new place to live if I have to.”

I venture a look at Prince Edward’s face. This never would’ve worked on Prince Arthur, but then again, Arthur would have been happy to jump in a limo. Finally, I see his eyes soften.

“Okay, fine. I’ll leave my car.” He heaves a sigh. “Man, you know how to land a guilt trip.”

“I’m so pleased, Your Royal Highness!” I clap my hands together. “Why don’t you head into the car and I’ll take your bags.”

“I can handle my bags,” he says through his teeth.

But I’m already waving to Nigel and he joins me at the front door. Prince Edward tries to insist he can handle it, but even though he’s not nearly in as bad shape as I had anticipated, he’s still on crutches. He can’t just throw his luggage over his shoulder like it’s nothing.

“Thanks,” he mumbles as Nigel puts his bag in the trunk. He also has a wheelchair that I push down the walkway and that goes in the trunk as well.

I’m surprised he only has one bag though. If he’s coming to the palace to take his place as the new heir to the throne, he’s going to need a lot more stuff than that. Maybe he intends to come back for it.

Prince Edward goes slow walking down the walkway. He takes each step carefully, and he’s limping like he has pain in his left leg. I imagine the queen looking at him walking when he was a little boy and thinking to herself this was unacceptable. The thought gives me a jab in my chest.

Once he gets to the end of the walkway, Prince Edward takes one last look at his Dodge. I’m worried he’s going to change his mind, so I quickly open the back door to the limo.

“Please get in, Your Royal Highness,” I say.

He makes a face at me. “You don’t need to open the door for me.”

“It’s customary.”

“No.” His knuckles turn white on the handles of his crutches. “It’s customary for the man to open the door for the woman. Not… this.”

I don’t understand this man. Why does he have to be so difficult about every little bit of this? Most people would be thrilled to ride in a limo! I’m tempted to close the door and let him open it again himself, just to shut him up. “Please get in, Your Highness,” I repeat instead.

He starts to get into the back of the limo. Ordinarily, I would wait for him to be inside and close the door, but I have a feeling he won’t like that. So I start to get into the passenger seat again. But as I open the door, his eyes widen.

“You’re not going to sit back here with me?” he asks.

I can’t help but laugh. “No!”

“Why not?”

I stare at him. “Wait. Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious.”

I frown. I don’t understand Prince Edward. Yes, I know he didn’t grow up in the palace. But does he not know anything? “Because it’s not customary.”

“Customary? What’s not customary?”

“Please, Your Highness. The queen is expecting us.”

His jaw tightens. “I hate this stupid limo.” He looks into the limo, then back at me. “This is a mistake. I’m taking my Dodge.”

No.” I grit my teeth. “Fine. I’ll sit in the back with you. But you must tell Queen Amelia that you insisted.”

“Okay.” He smiles at me now. He’s about five years older than I am, but there’s something very boyish about his smile. Even though he looks like Arthur, he has an approachability that his brother never had. “Thank you for keeping me company, Hannah.”

I mumble something as I slide into the back beside him. I am so going to be in trouble for this. But at least I’m returning with the prince. Hopefully, all will be forgiven.

When I climb into the back of the limo, I have to stifle my excitement. Why was Prince Edward so difficult about being back here? This is incredible! This limo is nicer than the room where I live. The seats are made of plush, buttery leather, there’s a television screen mounted on the wall, and there’s even a minibar. I run my hand over the material of the seats, trying not to let on how insanely excited I am to be back here. There’s even a phone back here! I could make a call if I wanted!

Not that I have anyone I would want to call. But still.

“I know.” Prince Edward rolls his eyes. “It’s ridiculously decadent.”

“Uh-huh…”

The engine starts up and now we’re heading back to the palace. The drive is about ninety minutes, and I am going to enjoy every moment of it.

Prince Edward doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it though. He tucks his crutches below the seats and drops his face into his hands. He rubs his temples with his fingertips. He looks like he’s being led to his execution. But I have to remember, the man just lost his brother. This must be hard for him.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I say.

He raises his eyes in surprise. “My loss?”

“Prince Arthur.” My brows knit together. “I’m very sorry.”

“Yeah, well…” He squeezes his eyes shut. “We weren’t exactly close. But… thank you.”

I’m dying to ask him more. After all, Edward and Arthur were twins. How could they not be close? I would have given my right arm for a sister of any sort, much less a twin. But it’s not my place to ask. Iris can give me the dirt later. I’m sure she will, whether I like it or not.

“How are my parents doing?” he asks.

I think back to the morning, at the lack of expression on the queen’s face. And then the way she sat down on Arthur’s bed, staring at the wall. “As well as can be expected.”

“What about Mara? Is she okay?”

I look at him blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Mara,” he repeats. He quickly adds, “My sister. Princess Marabelle.”

“Oh!” I never heard the princess referred to as anything but Marabelle. “Sorry, I didn’t realize—”

“It’s fine.” He rubs his knees. “I’m probably the only one who calls her that. When I was a little kid, I couldn’t say her name. I mean, Marabelle? So I just called her Mara. I still do.”

There’s a look of affection on the prince’s face. Whatever he felt for his brother, he obviously cares a lot about the princess. I remember how Princess Marabelle said she was visiting him the other night. Yet neither the king nor the queen has made such a trip. Prince Arthur certainly never did.

“I hadn’t seen her before I left,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

He nods almost imperceptibly, a crease between his eyebrows. He rubs his jaw with his thumb, lost in his own thoughts. He looks so much like Prince Arthur, yet he doesn’t look like him at all.

“Would you care for a drink, Your Royal Highness?”

He blinks a few times as if he’d forgotten I was sitting across from him. “Listen, can you please stop calling me that?”

“I’m sorry,” I say quickly. “What would you prefer? I can refer to you as Your Royal Highness Prince Edward. Is that better?”

“No.” He snorts. “That’s not better.”

“What about Your Royal Highness Prince Edward of the Kingdom of—”

No. Stop. Jesus. I really don’t want you to call me that.”

I take a slow breath.  “Well, what would you like me to call you?”

“Eddie.”

I can’t help myself—I start giggling. It’s been a very long day and an even longer night the night before. And once I start giggling, somehow I can’t stop. This is completely unprofessional, but tell that to a woman who can’t stop giggling.

I’m terrified to look up at Prince Edward after my giggle fit is finally calming down. But he doesn’t look furious. More like equal parts amused and baffled. “What’s so funny?”

“I can’t call you Eddie!” I cover my mouth before I start laughing again. “Do you think I can just go up to the royal prince of Norland and be like, ‘Hey, Eddie!’ You don’t see how ridiculous that is?”

He raises his eyebrows. “I really don’t.”

“Well, you should.”

“Sorry, I don’t. And anyway, I’m not a prince.”

Is this guy for real? “I disagree, Your Royal Highness.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

I stare across the limo at Prince Edward. I only now realize an important physical difference between him and his brother: their eyes. They both have light hair, but Prince Arthur’s eyes were much darker. Edward’s eyes are more of a hazel color.

He actually has quite nice eyes.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says. “You can call me Prince Edward if we’re around other people, but if it’s just you and me, I want you to call me Eddie.” Before I can protest, he adds, “Please. I hate royal titles. It only reminds me of how they kicked me out.”

“Fine,” I agree, knowing full well that I will never ever be able to call this man “Eddie.”  

His shoulders sag slightly. “Why don’t we have that drink, huh?”

“Of course.” The mini bar is on my side, so I reach in and open the door, peering inside. “What would you like? There’s some Irish cream, Bailey’s, whiskey—”

“I’ll take the whiskey.”

Prince Edward locates a couple of small glasses on his side, and he holds them out for me to pour the whiskey into. I don’t know what he’s doing now. I’m on duty right now. So I just pour the whiskey into one of the glasses.

“And yours,” he says.

I shake my head. “I can’t.”

He raises an eyebrow. “You don’t drink?”

“I’m working.”

“I won’t tell anyone.” His second eyebrow goes up. “Come on. I’ll feel like a loser if I’m sitting back here drinking by myself. And I think we could both use this.”

Well, that last part is right. “Fine. Just a small one.”

I pour about half an inch of whiskey into my glass. I’ve been feeling edgy ever since last night, but after I down that whiskey, I feel just a little bit better.

“For whiskey from a minibar, this is good.” Prince Edward looks at his glass in amazement. “I’m not used to stuff like this.”

“Do you want more?” I think of how much Arthur had been drinking the other night. These things run in families, don’t they?

But Edward just laughs. “Better not. Can you imagine if I showed up at the palace drunk? And I’m not much of a drinker.”

“Prince Arthur was,” I blurt out before I can stop myself.

Edward’s eyes widen. Oh God, I should not have said that. It wasn’t my place at all. And now he’s going to tell the queen that I called his dead brother a drunk.

“I’m so sorry,” I say quickly. “I shouldn’t have—”

“Don’t be sorry.” He drains the last of the whiskey from his glass. “I know my brother. I know he was drinking when he got in an accident. You’re only telling the truth. I’m just glad nobody else got hurt.”

I can’t help but think again about how different Edward seems from his brother. He doesn’t seem like a prince at all. But like it or not, that’s his role from now on. After all, Norland needs a prince. And when the king retires in six months, they’re going to need a king. And it’s going to be this man.

Right now, I can’t even imagine it.

“So,” he says, “tell me about yourself.”

I blink at him. “What?”

He glances at his watch. “It’s a long drive. So… let’s talk. You go first. Tell me about your life. Where are you from? What do you like to do in your free time?”

“I…” I sputter. What’s going on here? Doesn’t he realize how inappropriate this is? “I like to work for the royal family.”

“Fine.” He waves his hand. “I realize you think you have to say that. But what about when you’re not working for them?”

I squeeze the empty glass of whiskey in my hand, wishing I had more. “This is my job. It’s my honor to work for the royal family.”

He looks at me for a long time—long enough that I start to squirm. “Wait. Is your name Hannah Clarke?”

“Yes…”

He snaps his fingers. “You wrote that article I read. In the Gazette. About the privilege of working for the royal family. That was you, right?”

My cheeks flush. I’ve gotten so many positive comments about that article. It’s my proudest work. “Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“Eddie,” he says.

I don’t respond to that.

Like I said, most people have showered praise on me for my article. But the way Prince Edward is looking at me, I don’t think he’s going to do that.

“So let me get this straight.” He leans back in his leather seat, shaking his head. “You feel like it’s a privilege to wait on a bunch of pompous assholes?”

“My privilege is to serve the royal family.”

“Same difference.”

“I beg to differ,” I say through my teeth. I quickly add, “Your Royal Highness.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, “but I think that way of thinking is nuts. I mean, there must be something else you want to do in life besides that.”

“It’s an honor.”

“An honor?” He laughs. “Please. I know what my family is like. They probably treat you like crap.”

My face burns. “They treat me very well, thank you very much.”

“And that’s all you ever wanted to do? To quit high school and go into servitude for the royal family? How do your parents feel about that?”

“My parents have been gone since I was a baby,” I say, much more sharply than I intended.

His head jerks back. “Oh,” he says quietly. “I… I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” I say tightly.

“But even so,” he presses me. “You’re not a kid anymore. You could find another job that—”

“I don’t want another job!” I snap at him. “I’m happy working for the royal family. I love it.”

I’m surprised at myself. I’ve been dealing with members of the royal family for a long time, and I’ve never been anything but respectful. And now, over the course of two days, I have physically attacked one prince and now I am snapping at a second. I don’t entirely know what’s wrong with me. I’ve been taught better than this.

I should apologize. That’s what any servant who speaks out of turn should do. But then again, why should I? Maybe he doesn’t live in the lap of luxury, but he doesn’t understand what it’s like to have absolutely nothing—no money, no family. He’s always had people to take care of him.

Also, he’s been going on and on about how he isn’t a prince. So maybe I should go ahead and treat him like the commoner he claims to be.

But no. I can’t do that.

“I apologize, Your Royal Highness,” I say finally. “I should not have spoken out of turn.”

Prince Edward looks at me for a long time, playing with a loose thread on his white shirt. “Eddie,” he says.

“Your Highness, I—”

“And I’m the one who should apologize,” he says.

“You… you should?”

“Yes. I mean, if you want to spend your whole life waiting hand and foot on a bunch of spoiled rich people, then who am I to judge?”

Hmm. I sort of feel like that was a judge-y kind of apology. But it’s more than I’ve ever gotten from a member of the royal family so far. So I’ll take it.

“Hey,” he says. “Want to watch some TV?”

I really, really do.

To be continued....