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.

I finally got the diagnosis when I was three. I had a rare inherited muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy. It takes two faulty genes, and my parents were distant cousins, as is common in royal marriages.  It could have been tragic—with the worst subtype of the disease, death is nearly guaranteed by age 2. I was lucky enough to have a much less severe form of the disease. The doctors said I would live a normal life span.

But probably in a wheelchair.

At home, my parents hired the best physical therapists to ensure I retained the ability to walk as long as possible.  In public, they did what they could to hide my affliction, even as I was already struggling to stay on my feet. At age 5, my mother would put me in a stroller to go around town, while my brother would walk by our side.  When we would stop at a playground, I was instructed to stay in my stroller. Or if I was lucky, she would place me in the sandbox. Either way, I watched my brother Arthur laugh and play while I just… sat there.

The ruse couldn’t last forever. I was getting too big for the stroller. One day, we were out in the neighborhood when a member of the paparazzi approached us. I was nearly 6 years old and I remember it well. He snapped a picture of the three of us—my mother, my brother, and me—and then he looked my mother right in the eyes and said:

“When are you going to get Prince Edward a wheelchair?”

My mother was in her mid-40s by then but still a very beautiful woman. She had long golden hair that she wore in a spiral behind her head, with high cheekbones and the skin of a woman 20 years younger. Her eyes flashed as she glared at the photographer.

“How dare you?” she snapped at him. “Get away from my family!”

My mother was furious, but I didn’t understand why. I knew what a wheelchair was by then, and I wasn’t afraid of it.  I wanted one.  I hated being pushed around all the time. And walking was becoming more difficult, especially for long distances.  But I was afraid to ask. I knew what the answer would be.

That night, I heard the king and the queen fighting about me. The whole house could hear it. Hell, the whole kingdom of Norland could probably hear it.

You can’t hide this any longer, Amelia. People are going to know. He’s too old to be in a stroller.

So what do you want me to do, Frederick?

The answer came a few weeks later. I would be leaving the Royal Palace and Claybrooke. I would stay with a distant relative in the town of Ancaster, about a 2 hour drive away, at the edge of the kingdom.  Since Arthur would be heir to the throne, they felt that it would be “better” for me to be raised in a different environment. The explanation didn’t quite make sense but it wasn’t like I could argue the point.

I didn’t take it well. I didn’t want to leave my home. I barely knew my father, and Arthur was outright cruel to me, but I loved my mother and my sister.  And this was the only home I ever knew. So I cried. A lot. In my defense, I was five.

It didn’t matter. I left the palace one month after the photograph with me in my stroller hit the local paper. I went to live with Walter and Grace Boyd, who didn’t have any royal titles or children of their own.  I saw my biological family once a year, on Christmas.  But it didn’t matter because after only a few months, the Boyds were my family.  When I turned 18, I took their surname.

And now it is 25 years after I was banished from the palace.  In three months, my brother Arthur will be married. My father will be turning 75 in six months, which means by tradition in Norland, he will pass on the reins of kingship to his eldest son.  Arthur will become the next king of Norland.

The kingdom is so freaking screwed.



APRIL, 1995


The first time I ever visited the palace of Norland was when I was ten years old.

Every month, the Norland Home for Girls was supposed to take us on some sort of outing, just to get us out of the orphanage.  In reality, it only happened every other month, at best. And usually it was to someplace pretty underwhelming, like the local box factory. 

But that month, when we piled into the dinged up yellow school bus, it delivered us to the heavy metal gates of the Norland Royal Palace.  The gates swung open, and all 26 of us girls (ages 5 through 17) were delivered to the front of the palace.

I still remember how the marble stairs of the palace shone in the sunlight.  There were 16 steps to the front door.  I counted each step I climbed as the excitement grew in my chest. And when Miss Eleanor ushered us through the heavy wooden doors to enter the atrium, my legs trembled. And…

It was breathtaking. 

I had never been inside a place like this—a marvel of gold and cream with red carpeting.  I had never even come close.  I never even had a home of my own—my father was never in the picture and my mother died in childbirth, leaving me with a void in the parents department. For several years after I was born, I bounced between various disinterested relatives, and then when I was seven, I ended up at the Home for Girls. Permanently. 

The orphanage wasn't much like the palace. It was a 10th of the size, for starters. I shared a tiny bedroom with three other girls, sleeping in the bottom bunk below Gertrude, who snored like a chainsaw.  Back at the orphanage, if I lifted my head, I saw peeling paint and a flickering light. When I looked at the palace ceiling, I saw a chandelier suspended in the air, like some spectacular indoor array of stars.  My mouth fell open at the sight of it.  I think a little drool came out.

For a moment, I imagined what it would be like to live here. To call these walls of my home.  It seemed so preposterous, given my current situation. But for a split second, I allowed myself to fantasize.

And then she came out. 

I had never seen anyone so beautiful in my entire life. This woman was more spectacular than the palace herself.  Her golden hair matched the palace decor, and it was twisted into an elaborate set of braids around her skull. She was wearing a yellow dress with a skirt that floated around her legs, and it was the loveliest piece of clothing I had ever seen.

I touched my own wavy red hair, gathered hastily into two braids behind my head. And then I looked down at my own clothing.  The T-shirt I had on was too short, revealing a hint of my belly button since I shot up 2 inches since the winter.  The skirt had a hole in the seam and the end was badly frayed—not surprising considering it was a hand me down of a hand me down.

I was almost ashamed to be in the presence of this incredible woman, given what I looked like today.

“What a treat!” Miss Eleanor exclaimed.  “Queen Amelia is here today!”

It made sense that this beautiful woman was the queen. This wasn’t just an ordinary person—there was something truly special and, well, royal about this woman. I had seen her before on television, but that didn’t do her justice.  And then she waved at us and…

It was magical. The smile on her face transformed her, and for the first time in my life, I felt cared for. This woman was our queen. She was looking out for the kingdom.  And she cared about us. That was what her smile told me—I would never forget it.

That night, Gertrude wouldn’t stop grumbling in the top bunk about how unfair it was that the royal family lived like that, while we had to share this tiny, dirty room. I grunted in agreement so Gertrude wouldn’t punch me in the arm again, but I felt completely differently. I couldn’t stop thinking about that beautiful palace. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed about it.

After that, I was obsessed with the royal family.  It was a bit unhealthy. I read every article or book that had anything to do with the Montgomery family—twice. And there was plenty to be found on the royal family—ours is a modest kingdom, where people adored the royal family, almost as much as I did. I devoured article after article about the courtship between King Frederick and Princess Amelia, who became Queen of Norland after a lavish royal wedding. I read about the birth of their first child, Princess Marabelle. And then the two twin boys, Arthur and Edward.  Arthur was the air to the throne, but Edward…

Well, that’s an unfortunate story.

My real obsession was with Queen Amelia.  I kept a photograph of her in my backpack, and I schemed different ways that I might meet her again someday.  I even taught myself how to curtsy, after having read that a curtsy is the traditional and appropriate way to greet the queen. 

I vowed to one day return to the Royal Palace.  It was my last thought when I fell asleep at night.

Then when I was 16 years old, something incredible happened.  The duke of Norland came to the Home for Girls, hoping to find someone to help him out since his wife passed.  When he came out to meet us, we all lined up, but I was the only one who curtsied for him. He was charmed.

I worked for the duke for nearly eight years. He had a large estate on the outskirts of the kingdom.  It wasn’t nearly as large as the palace, but I still managed to get lost five times during my first week.  (I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to stop getting lost.)  The duke was in his 80s—the duchess was gone and his children were grown up and now had grandchildren of their own, without much interest in the old Duke.

The duke was kind to me. He was happy to have a fresh face around, and I never got sick of listening to his stories about the royal family.  Even the fourth or fifth time he told them.

Unfortunately, in the last year, he barely knew who I was. He would call me by the names of his daughters.  Sometimes he would call me by his wife’s name. Sometimes he would call me Mother.

See, that one I really didn’t understand. How could he possibly think his mother was a 24-year-old woman? I mean, he was eighty.

Then three months ago, the Duke slipped away in his sleep. When I came to rouse him in the morning for his breakfast, he had this big smile on his face and I just knew. He was gone.

But I guess I did well working for him, and he put in a good word for me before his mind slipped away. Because shortly after, I got a huge promotion. 

That’s right—you guessed it.  I am now living in the royal palace of Norland, serving the royal family.

It is quite literally a dream come true.

I spend most of my days floating around on a little cloud, unable to believe this is really happening.  The palace is no less magical than it was when I was 10 years old. I want to work here forever. When I die, I want to be buried under the little picnic table in the garden.  Or wherever they want to bury me is fine. They can just scatter my ashes in the little tomato patch—I’m not picky.

I want to sing about it from the treetops. I wrote a passionate letter to the editor of the Norland Gazette a few months ago about the privilege of serving the royal family.  It was published in the last issue, and I’ve never been so proud of anything I’ve written in my entire life.

Even the most mundane tasks bring me immense joy.  Like right now, for example, I’m setting the table for the royal family to have dinner.  I used to set the table for the Duke, but he wasn’t very strict about it. But in the royal palace, the place settings must be absolutely flawless. The plate is in the center.  To the left are three forks: the salad fork, the fish fork, and the meat fork. To the left of that is a napkin, which we refer to as a serviette.  I won’t bore you with the details, but there’s a very specific order to the water goblet, the champagne flute, the white wine, the red wine, the cordial sherry. You can’t get it wrong.

When I’m finished, I step back to admire my handiwork. I imagine the queen looking down at this place setting and thinking to herself, This is the most perfect place-setting I’ve ever seen in my life! I am so thrilled Hannah Clarke has joined our staff!  I hope she works here forever, and if she someday has babies, I hope they work here as well!

And then my family and I will stay with the royal family forever. We will be absolutely indispensable.  And like I said, my ashes will be scattered in the tomato crop or the beets or whatever. 

“Hannah.” Iris’s voice bursts into my self-congratulatory thoughts.  “Are you going to spend the rest of your life setting the table? I need your help.”

Iris also came from the Norland home for girls. She is seven years older than me, and I just vaguely remember her as a sour-faced teenager, stomping around the common area.  She has that same surly expression on her face now, as she folds her arms across her chest and taps her sensible black loafers against the shiny floor. I don’t know what she’s talking about. I haven’t been setting a table that long.  It’s only been…

Oh, whoops. I guess it has been that long.

“Sorry. What’s up, Iris?”

I wipe my hands on my uniform.  That’s still something I’m having trouble getting used to—the uniform.  The Duke was too demented to care what I wore by the end, and even before that, he didn’t care all that much—but there’s a strict dress code for a royal servant in the palace. All the men wear a black suit jacket and pants with a black bowtie, whereas the women wear a black dress with a white ruffled collar.

I’m not going to lie. The uniform is not what you might call attractive.  Nobody on the cover of Vogue magazine is wearing this uniform. The hem of the dress falls squarely mid calf and it sort of looks like what people were wearing in this video I watched in primary school about the Amish country.  But if wearing this ugly uniform is part of the job description then I’m fine with it.  If it meant I got to work here, I would wear a clown suit to do my job.

“I need you to take a tray up to Prince Arthur,” Iris tells me.

I frown. I was told to set three places at the table—one for the king, one for the queen, and one for Princess Marabelle. “I thought he was going out to eat with Charlotte.”

Charlotte is Arthur’s fiancée.  During my three months working here, I’ve met her a few times and she is…

No, I absolutely shouldn’t say it.  I am privileged to work for the royal family. I shouldn’t say anything negative about them.

But then again, Charlotte isn’t part of the royal family yet, is she? She and Arthur aren’t married yet. So technically, the rule doesn’t apply to her.  So…

She’s a bitch. There. I said it.  Whew.

“Arthur likes to have a meal prior to going out with Charlotte,” Iris explains.

And then she rolls her eyes.  Even though Iris and I both came from the orphanage and she was present on our excursion to the palace 14 years ago, she is not nearly as enamored with the royal family as I am.  She thinks of this as a job—nothing more.  When she read my article in the Gazette, she rolled her eyes and told me I was taking myself far too seriously.  Also, she loves to boss me around. If there’s one part of the job that Iris is truly passionate about, it’s explaining to me all the ways I am screwing up.

I go into the kitchen to fetch the tray for Prince Arthur. Considering this is a pre-dinner snack, the tray has an insane amount of food on it. He’s got a full plate of chicken dripping with gravy, mashed potatoes, perfectly grilled asparagus, and even a little piece of chocolate cake on the side. The trays in the palace are these heavy wooden ones that weigh about 50 pounds on their own, not to mention with food on it. As I pick it up, I let out a grunt.

Iris watches me critically. The lines around her eyes deepen. She’s barely 30, but she looks 10 years older. “You’re not going to drop that, are you?”

“No.” God forbid.  I could never forgive myself.

That said, I’m whispering a prayer to myself as I walk through the main hallway to get to the flight of steps to the prince’s bedroom. One wrong move and I will definitely have food all over the floor. I take careful steps, glad for my ugly sensible black shoes. (Also a part of the uniform.)


I pause in my trajectory at the sound of my name being called out by someone with a posh, overly educated and overly cultured accent. I take a deep breath and turn around, coming face-to-face with Princess Marabelle.

The princess is pulling a coat over a very ugly dress—green with white frills everywhere.  It might be even worse than my uniform… And she chooses to wear it. Of the 95 employees who work at the palace, I don’t know which one picks out Marabelle’s wardrobe, but they definitely hate her.

Of course, there’s no reason to hate Marabelle. Unlike Prince Arthur’s betrothed, she’s really nice. So nice!  Soft-spoken and sweet, living in the shadow of three other people who are completely overbearing.

I would never ever dare to say so aloud, but Princess Marabelle is very unfortunate looking. Especially compared with queen Amelia, who I still believe is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. Iris confided in me that Marabelle had years of braces, but her teeth still jut out in the front like a rabbit. Her mud-colored brown hair is frizzy and sparse, like if you ran a brush through it, it might all come out and leave her bald.  She’s not so much overweight as she is lumpy, with rolls of soft tissue in all the wrong places, notably leaving out her flat boobs and her butt, culminating in a double chin that wobbles when she speaks.

According to Iris, the king and the queen did their damnedest to marry her off, but no other royals would touch her. And they didn’t want her to marry a commoner, which is unheard of for a member of the royal family in Norland. So that’s why she is 40 and still occupies one of the bedrooms upstairs.  Luckily for her, the palace has nearly 200 rooms, so it’s not like they’re all crowded in here.  It’s not like she has to live in the bottom bunk of a four person bedroom like I did growing up.

“How may I help you, your royal highness?” I say to Marabelle.

I attempt to curtsy, but it’s hard. Have you ever tried to curtsy carrying a 50 pound tray of food? Don’t judge.

Marabelle watches my efforts and her face colors. “Oh, don’t… I mean, be careful of the tray. Is that for Arthur?”

I nod.  “Yes, your highness, Princess Marabelle.”

Her brown eyes sweep over the tray packed with food.  There’s a trace of judgment in her eyes, but she does not comment. “I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be joining the family for dinner tonight. I’m going to visit my brother.”

Her… brother?

I frown.  That surprises me. I’ve only been here three months, but I’ve barely seen Marabelle and Arthur exchange so much as a sentence. And I wouldn’t tell her so, but Arthur has made a few extremely disparaging remarks about Marabelle when she wasn’t present.  “So… you will be joining his royal highness Prince Arthur tonight?”

One side of her lips quirks up. “No. I mean my other brother.  Prince Edward.”

I nearly drop the tray on the floor. I catch it at the last second, and Marabelle, noticing my struggle, attempts to help me. It’s awkward, because she is the princess. She’s not supposed to be doing my job.  It’s unheard of!

“Please, your royal highness.” I take a step back, clutching the tray for dear life. “I’ve got it. You go on.”

Her brows knit together.  “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.” I manage a smile. “I’m just going to bring this tray up to Prince Arthur. But when I’m done, I would be happy to help you gather flowers for Prince Edward.”

“Flowers?”  She shakes her head and her double chin wobbles. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind—”


Marabelle buttons her green Burberry coat with her chubby fingers, looking the happiest I’ve seen her since I’ve worked here.  I don’t want to be judgmental, but she should really gather some flowers to bring to her brother.

After all, that’s customary when you’re visiting a gravestone.



Sometimes I play a little game with myself. I imagine what my life would be like at this very moment if I hadn’t been diagnosed at age 3 with a degenerative muscle disease. If I had instead spent my days growing up in the royal palace.  What would I be doing at this very moment?

For example, right now I am sitting in a comfy padded chair on my front porch, watching the sun go down over the horizon, with a nice cold bottle of beer in one hand and the latest issue of the Norland Gazette in my lap.  The sunset is really beautiful. It’s one of those things that makes me wish I were the kind of person who liked taking pictures of the sunset. And the beer is great. I had a long day, and the beer is cold and refreshing.

So what would I be doing now if I were still Prince Edward?

Well, I wouldn’t be sitting on the porch of a one-story colonial, drinking some cheap ass beer, that’s for damn sure.  I’d be at a fancy restaurant. Or maybe riding in a limousine. And I’d be drinking champagne. Something that’s been aged.  Maybe from 1929–that sounds like a good year.

That’s what my brother Arthur is doing whenever I see photographs of him in the Gazette or elsewhere. Drinking something that’s 1000 bucks a sip, his cheeks pink, his arm around some insanely attractive girl.  That’s his life.

Well, he can have it. This beer is the best thing I ever had.

I look down at the issue of the Norland Gazette on my lap.  Almost every issue has a story about the royal family—the editors are obsessed or possibly getting kickbacks.  The bigger question is why I bother to read it. But I do. I’m not going to psychoanalyze myself.

This week’s issue has a letter to the editor about what it’s like to work for the royal family. It’s an embarrassingly gushy piece written by some girl who probably hasn’t ever been out of Norland before.  She has definitely been drinking the Kool-Aid.

What other people don’t understand is that when you work for the royal family, you’re part of the royal family. I would do it even if I didn’t get paid. I would do it for the experience alone.  You are not just an employee—you feel that you are looked after.  I am proud to call the royal palace my home.

At the top of the article, there’s a black and white photograph of the girl who wrote the letter. Hannah Clarke.  She has a sweet fresh-faced look—she’s no older than 25. She’ll probably spend the next forty years slaving away for my family.  And she’ll consider herself lucky to do it.

Poor Hannah Clarke.  Part of me wants to give her a call and clue her in.

As I take another swig from the beer bottle, my eye catches my new neighbor, who is carrying a box across her front lawn.  The woman moved in a couple of days ago, and she’s been hauling boxes into her house pretty much nonstop. Aunt Grace raised me to be a gentleman, so I feel guilty as hell that I couldn’t offer to help her. 

I want to help her. But I couldn’t lift that box any better than she could.  I probably couldn’t get it off the ground. If I could do that, I’d be sipping champagne with Arthur right now.  So what was I supposed to do? Supervise?

I’ll come by in a couple of days, when she’s settled in. I’ll introduce myself and bring her a tray of food from my restaurant.  That’s a nice, neighborly thing to do.

But it doesn’t look like my new neighbor wants to wait. As our eyes lock across our mutual lawns, she lowers the cardboard box onto her walkway.  She walks over, trampling my grass, but I don’t really care—I’m not much of a gardener anyway. She wipes her hands on her jeans as she smiles up at me.

“Hi, neighbor,” she says.

I raise my beer.  “Hi.”

She’s pretty. Maybe mid 30s, and she looks great in her skinny jeans and worn gray T-shirt. I didn’t see anyone else moving into the house. No husband. No boyfriend. Just her.

“I’m Georgia,” she says.

“Eddie,” I say.

I’m sure my brother introduces himself as Prince Arthur, but I don’t think I could call myself Prince Edward and keep a straight face.  Thankfully, I don’t have to. It was very hush-hush when my mother shuttled me out here when I was five years old. All the people of the kingdom knew was that I was sick, and then one day, I was gone. Most people think Prince Edward is dead, which is fine by me.

My aunt and uncle never told anybody that I was the son of the king and queen. In school, I used their last name. When I was 18, I changed my name and officially became Edward Boyd. Nobody knows I have royal blood. They probably wouldn’t believe it anyway.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Georgia says. “Have you lived here long?”

“A few years.” I bought this house to share with Kate. But that didn’t work out like I thought it would. Broken engagements are the worst. “It’s a nice neighborhood.”

“That’s nice to know.”

We have now used the word “nice” three times. We are being very polite, but there’s nothing polite about the way Georgia is looking at me.

I take another quick swig of beer, trying to recall if she knows why I’m not hopping out of the chair to shake her hand. I think she does. I was in my wheelchair yesterday before getting into my car, and we both raised our hands in greeting. And my crutches are now leaning against the armrest of the padded chair I’m sitting in. She’s got to notice them.

So she knows what she’s getting into with that sexy smile.  But it doesn’t matter. She’s my neighbor—I’m not stupid.  I’m not touching her with a 10 foot pole.

And this isn’t because I’m still feeling burned from the whole Kate situation. Although I’m sure that’s what Mara would claim.

“Maybe I could have you over for dinner sometime?” Georgia suggests. “I mean, after the place is cleaned up.”

“Sure. That sounds great.”

Georgia is looking at me funny, like she’s trying to place me. I shift on my chair, hoping she doesn’t say what I know she’s going to say next.

“You know,” she says, “you kind of look like someone…”

I grimace.  I knew it. The next words out of her mouth are going to be: You look just like Prince Arthur. I am so goddamn sick of hearing that. 

“Do I?” I mutter.

“Yes.” She snaps her fingers.  “I know what it is! You look just like Mark-Paul Gosselaar!”

“I… I do?”

She nods eagerly.  “Definitely.”

My mood lifts. My brother might be better looking than Mark-Paul Gosselaar, but I would much rather be compared to Zach Morris than to him. 

“So…” There’s a definite flirtatious tone in Georgia’s voice that’s hard to ignore. “Are you free on Friday, Eddie?”

I’m tempted. Who wouldn’t be tempted? My engagement ended a year ago, and my social life has been on the slow side since then.

No, that’s an understatement. I’ve been celibate.  Full stop. It’s as bad as it sounds.

But my neighbor? That can’t end well.

“I have to ask my girlfriend if we have any plans,” I say.

“Oh.” Georgia’s face falls.  “I… I didn’t… okay.” She tries to smile again, but her heart isn’t in it. “Just let me know then.”

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the limousine to arrive right outside my house. It’s Mara. And of course, she took one of the limousines to get here. But at least she didn’t take the stretch limousine. I asked her not to do that anymore—I don’t want anyone here to know about my connection to the royal family. When people ask me, I just tell them I’m a distant cousin. Because that’s how it feels anyway.

Georgia excuses herself and hurries back into her house, heaving that last cardboard box with her. But I’m sure she’s going to be watching from the window. I can’t blame her. 

After a few moments, Mara emerges from the back door of the limousine. She’s got on a black hat that covers most of her hair and a pair of oversized sunglasses, but she’s eminently recognizable. Who in this kingdom doesn’t know the princess?  Especially one as distinctive looking as Mara is.

My sister is beautiful. OK, I might be biased because I’m her brother. But I think she is.  Unfortunately, a lot of the local tabloids disagree.  They’re brutal.  A magazine recently had a top 20 list of “Princess Marabelle’s worst dresses of the year.”  They couldn’t even keep it down to ten—it had to be 20.  And it’s only April.

But the hell with them.  It’s Mara’s curse that she is the princess, and the tabloids have to scrutinize every little thing about her. Every time she gains 5 pounds, it makes the goddamn evening news. No wonder she’s so careful about not letting the media know where she goes or what she does.  She timed her visit to be after the sun was already down, to make sure nobody would see her.

“Hi, Eddie.” She waves a hand in greeting.  “Sorry I kept you waiting.”

I tilt back my bottle of beer and drain the last of its contents. “Don’t worry about it. Come on in.”

I reach for my crutches. I got them soon after I moved in with Uncle Walt and Aunt Grace. It wasn’t acceptable to my parents for me to walk with crutches, but my new family realized it was the only way. And there was no judgment.  Yeah, I got some crap about it at school—got made fun of plenty for being the crippled kid. But never from Walt or Grace.

The crutches aren’t the kind you put under your armpit when you sprain your ankle. They’re forearm crutches—metal with circles that encompass my forearms, and handles that I can grab onto.  With those crutches combined with braces on both my ankles, I can walk—although it isn’t pretty. I can’t run. I can’t walk far even. But I can get around without my wheelchair, which comes in handy.

“So,” Mara says when she joins me at the front door to my house. “Who was that woman you were talking to?”

“My neighbor.”

“Your neighbor, huh?”

“Don’t say it like that.”

Mara blinks at me.  “Like what?”

The door sticks and I have to slam all my weight into it to get it to pop open. It’s a far cry from the palace with 200 rooms where I spent the first five years of my life. 

“You know what,” I say.

She tugs off her pea green coat.  Underneath, she’s wearing a dress meant for somebody 40 years older than she is. Sometimes I think my sister was born an old lady.  “She just seemed to like you, that’s all.”

I press my lips together.  “Don’t start.”

Mara opens her mouth as if to say something, but I don’t want to hear it and she senses that.  Instead, she nods in the direction of my kitchen, which is probably a tenth of the size of the royal kitchen. “Is dinner in the oven?”

I nod.  I can’t leave my restaurant any evening without the head chef forcing a tray of food on me. I never say no, because it’s the best food in town. If I were left to my own devices, I would make a turkey sandwich or something. And it would be a bad turkey sandwich—you wouldn’t think anyone could screw something like that up, but I would find a way. “I’ll get it out of the oven.”

“I’ll do it.”

I grit my teeth. I got the lasagna into the oven. I sure as hell don’t need anyone to take it out for me.  “Mara…”

She rests a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Eddie, I’m your big sister. Let me fuss over you a little.”

So I let her take the lasagna out of the oven.  She’s right. She does like to fuss over me and usually I don’t mind it because most of the time I’m on my own, managing Uncle Walt’s restaurant and the two others I opened up in the last 10 years.  My business degree paid off, because all of the restaurants are doing great. But it’s a lot of work. Lucky for me, I don’t have much else in my life.

Mara is comfortable in my kitchen because she’s been here a lot. My own mother has only visited my house once since I bought it, but my sister is here at least once a month, usually more. My twin brother has never been out to visit me here.  I only see him when I make the trip out to the palace, and even then, we barely speak.  My father probably couldn’t even tell you what town I live in.

But Mara is my best friend. She’s the only other person in the world who gets it. She knows what it’s like to be born into this perfect family with the expectation that you’re supposed to be perfect.  And then failing spectacularly.

Mara portions two servings of lasagna onto plates and brings them into my tiny dining area. Even though at the palace, she gets waited on hand and foot, she prefers doing things herself, same as I do.

“This smells great, Eddie,” she says. “No wonder your restaurants are doing so well.”

I rest my crutches against the table and plop down into a chair next to her.  “Thanks.  It’s been a good year.”

Except it’s not only great food. Back when I was a kid, when Walt was running the place, the food was great then also. But the restaurant was always nearly empty, always on the verge of going under. I turned things around, and I’m proud of it. I don’t know how to cook, but I know how to run a business.  I never would’ve found that out if I had grown up as a prince.

Mara spears a lump of the lasagna with her fork. She takes a bite, spending a long time chewing. She’s got something on her mind. I know her well enough that I can tell. And I’m afraid I know what it is.

“So,” she says. “The wedding is in three months.”

Bingo.  I hate being right.

“Yeah,” I say.


I lift a shoulder as I take a bite off my own plate.  “So I’ll send a gift.”

“You’re not going to go?”

“I wasn’t invited,” I say through my teeth. “Half the population of Norland thinks I’m dead. So, you know, I’ll pass.”

“First of all.” Mara holds up her index finger. “You’re invited. Of course you are—it’s your twin brother. It’s an implicit invitation. You’re close family.”

I snort at that one.  “No.  I wasn’t invited because they don’t want me there. That lovely fiancé of his doesn’t want me mucking up their wedding photos.”

“Oh, come on.  Charlotte isn’t that bad.”

“You’re joking.”

Arthur’s fiancé is that bad. She’s worse than that bad. She is despicable. All she needs is an evil laugh and she could be a cartoon villain.  I met her over Christmas and she treated me like whatever I had was contagious.

And she never passed up a single opportunity to put Mara down.  That bothered me more than anything. I’m used to taking crap, but nobody talks that way to my sister. So I said a few things back to her at the end—I wasn’t exactly nice. Anyway, I can’t blame her for not wanting me at the wedding after that.

“You’re family,” Mara insists.  “You should be there.”

You’re family.” I shake my head.  “The rest of them… They’re nothing to me. Just my biological family, but they don’t mean anything to me.  And it’s mutual. It’s better if I just stay away. Let everyone think Prince Edward is dead.”

Because he is.

“It would mean a lot to all of us,” she says.

“It would mean a lot to you,” I correct her. “Nobody else wants me there, Mara. And you know it.”

Her next argument dies on her lips. “Fine. You’re right. I want you there.  This is going to be painful beyond words if you’re not there.”

It’s the most honest thing she’s said since she’s gotten here, and it’s enough to nearly change my mind. Even though Arthur is the one who goes through women like toilet paper, Mara is the black sheep of the family.  Because she’s not beautiful in the traditional way. Arthur can do no wrong—he’s an asshole, but he’s a handsome asshole.

And I bet half of all single women in the kingdom have got a poster of him hanging in their bedroom.  The media loves Prince Arthur.

I hate that I look like him. We’re not identical twins, obviously. He was spared the double recessive genes that made my muscles deteriorate.  But we are very clearly brothers if you are looking from the neck up.  His hair is a few shades darker and his features are more chiseled, but the resemblance is strong. People notice—I hear it all the time.  Hey, do you know who you look like…? 

Mara doesn’t look like either of us.  She doesn’t look like a princess.  It’s a stupid thing to say, but there’s a sort of look all the royal wives have. My mother has it.  Charlotte has it. Mara doesn’t. And that’s why my parents couldn’t marry her off—because all the royal jackasses wanted a wife who had that goddamn look. Maybe if she were going to be the queen, they would’ve married her anyway. But as it was, she was just a princess from a tiny kingdom.

That’s how she got screwed over. She has to marry royalty. That’s a tradition. So she couldn’t just find a decent guy who could like her just for her. One of the managers at my restaurant really hit it off with her recently, but there was nothing she could do about it.  Royalty must marry royalty.  It’s tradition.

And now Mara will be all alone at this wedding, all of our royal relatives clucking about how she is forty years old and destined to die alone.  Of course she wants me there.

“Fine,” I say.  “Maybe.”

Mara’s face lights up. She gets up and throws her arms around me. She really wants me at that wedding.  And she knows that I’m probably going to give in and go. After all, if you can’t help out your sister by coming back from the dead, what kind of brother are you?

To be continued...


  1. I love this story!! But please don't let it be your last one on this site I love your stories, you are a skilled and gifted writer and i have almost all your books..
    Why are you considering this story to be your last?
    With lots of love

    1. Unfortunately, I just am not feeling motivated to write these sorts of books anymore. I did try to write another one but I wasn't enjoying it. If I get an idea that calls to me, I will certainly give it a go, but I haven't had any in about a year now.

  2. Great beginning, I am already hooked! Please let this not be your last story! /Nessy

  3. Loving this so far. Can't wait to read the book.

  4. I loved the story. Annabelle has the ability to always delight with her books. I understand if she wants to change the alias, but Annabelle please don't let this be the last story you share with us. I'm missing Dev's story with wheelchair characters so much. And authors with unfinished stories in the PD, please take the time to finish. And I'm sorry if the English has some errors, I'm Brazilian. Thanks

    1. I think I just need a long break from these sorts of books. Maybe someday I'll return.

  5. I'm so happy, have been on this dev high for so long now, I have re-read all your books so many times

    kept thinking about "when is Annabelle writing a new book?"

    haahaahaa I even was thinking yesterday to write an email to inquire

    what I'm trying to say is thank you for the new story/book, I'm sure I will love it,will start reading now :)

  6. Hi ��
    When will it be available on Kindle ? Can't wait to read it all
    Please don't stop writing, you're my favorite writer, every week I come here to check when you'll drop another masterpiece

    1. Thanks! I'm not sure about the release date, but definitely no later than July.

  7. This can't be your last book! Every week I waited for your story and this can't be the last one... I also would like to buy Kindle version :-)

    1. I'm sorry! If the inspiration strikes me, I'll write another. It just hasn't happened in a while.

  8. Aww, what a perfect beginning to a new Annabelle story! I was thrilled to see your post, and so sad to read this will be your last story on the blog! I will miss you here! Totally understand though that you won't continue writing new stories if you don't feel motivated. I still hope you'll come back one day, maybe with a totally different kind of devvy story for us!

  9. Every single time I watch a romcom, with absolutely no disabled characters (because when have we ever been blessed with that onscreen?), I always think "this would make an awesome Annabelle story". Lighthearted, loving, funny, drlicious reading all at once, while giving us the much needed representation. How many times have I watched those royal movies on netflix thinking that it would be really amazing to read it as one of those stories? I'm craving it now, and I love you for reading my mind, haha!
    At the same time, I'm so sad to see you go. I hope you find your creativity someday—I'll certainly be waiting! Thank you!

    1. I agree with you 100%
      Do u think we should lie and tell her that her new story is awful so she would keep writing to better herself??

  10. Great!! I want more! And please, please, please keep writing! Your the best!

  11. A great beginning, thank you!