Friday, September 23, 2022

update to Onde Anda Você!

 Okay! Here I am!

Ran into some issues editing this, a block of sorts, but I'll post it so I can stop looking at it and obsessing over details, so that I can move on with the story lol I hope you like it! Definitely not my best chapter and it's kinda long. Let me know what you think.

ONDE ANDA VOCÊ, chapter thirteen

Haven't done this in a while, but here's a song to go with it! Exagerado, by 80s Brazilian rock legend, Cazuza.

Next chapter, Ben finally meets Liv's family!


TABLE OF CONTENTS

P.S. I'm working on the boy in the garden, promise!

Friday, September 16, 2022

Short Story & Update

 Hello, everyone! 

Just dropping by with a quick short story, inspired by a sketch from a friend. It's almost pure tooth-rotting fluff. :)  You can find this new short story, titled Will You?, here. 

For the last few months I've been hard at work playing catch up with myself. I've completed a WIP I had originally posted here, Between the Pages; I'm halfway through revamping Parking Lot Desperation; and I've heavily re-worked The Aero Club. I also have something completely new (and out of my comfort zone!) in the works. It's a fantasy-based adventure/mystery story with a romantic subplot. I'm actually quite excited about sharing it when the time comes. 

The reason for all of this? Well, I've started a Patreon! And I would love it if you chose to join me and support me over there. Right now I have two tiers: a $3 that gives access to one short story a month (similar format to Will You? that I posted here today) and a $5 tier that is basically an all-access pass that will include updates on WIPs, writing prompt exercises, and early access to all of my new/updated long form stories (like BtP, PLD, and the as yet unnamed fantasy story). 

As much as I would love to see you on my Patreon, I completely understand anyone who chooses not to. I know we're all subscribed to things up to our eyeballs these days. Also, I don't want to completely make anything inaccessible to this community -- because if it weren't for everyone here and this blog I probably wouldn't be writing at all. I'm not quite sure yet how I'll continue to contribute here...it may just be posting little short stories (different from the ones on Patreon) and leaving my long form stories there. Or I may do like some other authors have done in the past and post previews here and have the rest accessible via Patreon. I don't know yet. But I'll certainly update this post or make/update a post on the message board when I do!

Anyway, if anyone read this far, THANK YOU! Thank you to DevoGirl, Lovis, Lee and anyone else who has worked so hard to keep this blog going through the years. Thank you to all of the amazing writers who share their stories here! And thank you to everyone who reads and follows things here for being a part of this community -- I truly love our little corner of the internet. :) 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

new-ish story!

 Ok, so. you all saw it coming, I don't have a new Onde Anda Você chapter because I wrote it and then absolutely hated it and now I'm trying to rewrite it lol the creative process is a bitch but hey, I'm trying.

meanwhile, I've been going through a major CP/quad high and writing a bunch of random things, and I think there's no fighting it, y'know? And maybe you'll like it. So this is the final version of that teaser I got y'all a few weeks back, the full chapter. It'll be a short story, not sure how many chapters yet, but I hope you like it! Let me know. It's my first time writing a quad CP story and I'm trying to get it right. Also, this quad CP high might or might not be Lovis' fault with Lobster with a Straw. lol

here's THE BOY IN THE GARDEN

enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Lobster, with a straw, DISCOUNTED!

Hi all, my ebook is available for $0.99 starting today for one week only! Grab a copy if you haven't done so already, and if you liked it, please consider leaving a review 😊

 


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.

 

Buy the ebook now for $0.99!

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

(no chapter this week, but) Bonus Story

 Hey friends! 

I couldn't get chapter 13 ready, I only got halfway through it (big surprise), but I didn't wanna leave you hanging, so I'll post a link to a short story I'm kind of working on, inspired by a personal childhood disappointment, The Secret Garden book. I always thought that Colin not being disabled was a major let down, and I've been imagining this story for years now, even though it's pretty underdeveloped---I'm not even sure when this will be taking place, if I'm bold enough to make it "historical", even though I don't think I'm english-proficient enough to go there. 

Consider this a prologue prototype, I guess? It's not a final version of it by any means, I've barely even proofread it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, anything. I'm lazily calling it

THE BOY, test chapter 1

let me know what you think, and see you next week!

Monday, June 27, 2022

UPDATE to Onde Anda Você

 OOps. Hello. It's been a while, I know. Time goes by so fast, I could swear it'd only been a few weeks since the last installment. But uh- better late than never, right?! *sweats* Ok, for those of you who would like to re-read the past chapter before getting into this one, since it's been sooooo long, here's it!

And here's the freshly off the oven, new chapter! ENJOY!

I took so long with it, writing and rewriting it, because I just wasn't happy with it and couldn't feel the story there at all, and felt a little lost as to where the whole thing was going, and it was a bit of a block because as soon as I managed it, I got my muse back and I wanna write endlessly. I'm working on the next chapter and I hope I can have it ready by next week *crosses fingers*. I honestly hope you enjoy it, and please, leave a comment! I'd more than love to hear your thoughts. As always, feel free to send me an email (caterin.alighieri@gmail.com), even if it's to complain that I'm taking too long lol

I've missed you all, and I have some other stories that I feel like writing too, so yep, expect to see me around often. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Monday, May 23, 2022

Palace Envy is LIVE

 My new book Palace Envy is now live on Amazon!  As I mentioned, this will be the final Annabelle book for some time to come, so I hope you like it!



My destiny in life is to serve the royal family.

After all, they rescued me from the orphanage when I was a young girl, and gave me a good job and a place to live. So when Prince Arthur is suddenly killed six months before he was to take the throne, leaving the kingdom without a successor, I'm willing to do absolutely anything to help save the royal line.

It turns out, all is not lost. Queen Amelia tells me about the existence of a second prince. Arthur’s twin brother, who was mysteriously banished from the kingdom years ago, and now wants nothing to do with the royal family.

First, I must bring Prince Edward back to Norland.

Second, I must convince him to become the next king.

I have made a solemn oath to do anything for the queen. But this?

This will be impossible.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Palace Envy final update

Hi all!  This is the final chapter of Palace Envy before the book releases on Monday! 

Chapter 7

Table of Contents

This is also most likely my final story here for the foreseeable future.  I have enjoyed posting here over the last decade but I'm honestly just not feeling it lately and a bunch of other projects are currently demanding my attention.  I hope the other authors continue to post because there have been some great stories over the years!

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 Bérénice 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 fiancée. “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 fiancée. 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....