As much as I love this baby inside me, this little plum inside me loves to put me through hell--or something close to it. We’re only a few days from my first ultrasound and I’m constantly tired. What I told Daniel wasn’t a lie. I’m always exhausted. I want to do nothing but sleep, and when I don’t want to sleep, I’m leaning over a toilet spewing my guts all over the inside of the porcelain bowl. It’s kind of ridiculous and I can’t wait until I can see Dr. Henrietta because I’m going to ask her if all of this is normal or if there is something wrong. I can’t help but be paranoid that there’s something wrong with the baby, even though I have read nothing to suggest there is.
I’m laying on the bed, watching a crime show on a streaming service-- Daniel got me a subscription to every single one out there it seems like-- with Baxter curled up beside me, laying his head on my bump, when there’s a knock at the door. Not only has Daniel been very protective, but Baxter, who grows more and more every day, seems to never leave my side when I’m in the suite. He’s always making sure I’m okay and even growled and barked at one of the guards when they got too close to me and wouldn’t let up until they stepped back. Now his little head rests lightly over my bump, like he’s keeping watch over it. I took a picture earlier and posted it to my social media, knowing people would get a kick out of it. I haven’t checked but I’m sure it’s viral by now. I’d almost be disappointed if it wasn’t.
Baxter’s ears perk and he lifts his head, slowly focusing on the bedroom door. “Come in.”
A guard comes in and Baxter lets out a low growl, his head resting on my bump again almost as if to challenge anyone trying to hurt me or my unborn baby. He’s almost as bad as Daniel. If he could growl I’m sure he’d behave this way.
The guard places his arm across his chest and bows. “Apologies for disturbing you, but you have a guest.”
“Who is it?”
He frowns and shakes his head. “She wouldn’t say and I don’t recognize her. I’m sorry Your Highness but I am new.” His eyes dart to Baxter nervously, who has the fur on his back standing to attention.
I smile at him and pet his back, smoothing out his fur and try to calm him. His growl stops but I can tell he’s still tense. “It’s alright. What did they say they wanted?”
“She said she wanted to speak to you about some kind of contract?" His voices goes up and octave, telling me he isn’t sure about his answer. “I am so sorry, Your Highness.”
I want to reassure him that everything is alright, but I’m stuck on his wording. “Did she say that? Did she use the word contract?"
He nods. “She was very specific about that. She made sure I got that across to you.”
I can feel my pulse spike and my heart beats a little faster in my chest. The contract shouldn’t mean anything, it shouldn’t even be a thing I should be thinking about since it’s pretty much null and void, but the fact that the person at my door wanting to speak of a contract is a woman sets me on edge. There’s only one woman who knows about that stupid contract.
I can’t even say her name.
I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself, and nod. “Thank you very much. Can you please send her in?”
The guard bows again. “As you wish, Your Highness.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them to call me by my name, they insist on using that stupid royal title that still sounds weird. The other day a guard was trying to get my attention and I didn’t realize he was speaking to me. I wonder if it’s ever something I’ll get over.
The guard leaves the room and I sit up so I’m not laying down again and I must do it a bit too fast because I get a little headache. I close my eyes and place my hand on my forehead and smooth the skin in little circles to try and massage the pain away. It seems to work a little bit because the headache fades but if I’m certain as to who’s about to walk through that door I’m sure that my headache will soon return with full force.
Sure enough her red heels walk through the door. Her long, slender pantyhose-clad legs lead up to her tight waist covered by a briefcase and supple breasts before her angled face appears, surrounded by her sharply straight brown hair. Her makeup is perfectly done, tied off with a light Smokey eye and a red lip, and her skirt suit combo is immaculate as usual. She’s absolutely stunning. Too bad what’s on the outside doesn’t even remotely compare to what’s on the inside. Inside she’s as cold and manipulating as ever.
I narrow my eyes at her. “What could you possibly want?” I haven’t forgotten about our unpleasant encounter before I left the palace. If I remember correctly she compared me to a stray spaniel? Yeah that’s it.
She frowns. ”What? I can’t come here to formally congratulate you in person and bury the hatchet?”
"How big of a hole do you plan on digging because our hatchet is fucking massive.”
She laughs and for the first time I can tell she isn’t trying to come off friendly or hide her true intentions. It’s a dark laugh, one filled with the cruelest of intentions. Baxter growls and I’m tempted to take my hand off his back and let him at her. I have no doubt he’d bite into those perfect legs of hers. The thought of a large bite mark scar marking up her leg is almost enough to make me smile. Almost. Too bad she sucks all the joy out of the room the second she walks into it.
“I can see formalities aren’t going to work with someone as ill-bred such as yourself.” She scoffs. Baxter growls louder, almost as if he can understand her. He must realize she’s insulting me, and he isn’t happy. In this moment he reminds me of a mini, furry, Daniel.
She rolls her eyes. “You can’t even control that mutt of yours. How do you think you’re going to care for a child?”
She can insult me and my ‘breeding’ all she wants, but I won’t let her insult Baxter or my skills as a mother. That’s a line I won’t let her cross. “You don’t have to be jealous all because Daniel didn’t think you were wife material.”
Her eyes darken and she smirks. “It’s funny you should mention that.” She motions to the chair by my bedside. ”May I?"
“Go ahead.” I say through clenched teeth.
She elegantly takes a seat and crosses her legs out in front of her similarly to the way Cassandra did. I assume it’s a technique they’ve all been taught since birth. Too bad I know nothing about being a lady.
Vanessa reaches into her briefcase and pulls out a folder that I know all too well. Her eyes dance. “I can see based on your reaction that I don’t have to tell you what this is.”
I say nothing. I’m not going to give her the satisfaction.
“You and I both know your relationship is a lie. You may have gotten Daniel to think he loves you, but it’s not real. None of this is real.”
Her words should terrify me, but they don’t. I feel nothing because I know otherwise. I know Daniel loves me. Not only has he told me-- something he said he could never do-- but he shows me he does every single day. I know better than to listen to her bullshit because while my relationship didn’t start off that way, it’s more real than anything else.
Daniel’s love is real. My love for him is real, and above all else, this baby we’ve created together is genuine. A product of our love--living proof and I bet that pisses Vanessa off more than anything else.
That makes me smile.
“If you’ve come here with idle threats then you might as well leave, they mean nothing to me.”
She grins. “Oh I know you’ll want to hear this. I’m giving you a chance, right now, and I don’t want to hear that I didn’t.” She holds up the contract. “This is the legally bounding document between you and Daniel detailing a lot more than your sham of a love story.” She licks her finger and flips the page a few times and I just know where she’s going. “Hmm... Let’s see...
Annalise Shaw will obey Prince Daniel Windsor for the duration of the agreement. Any violations of the rules laid about below will result in swift punishment as Prince Daniel Windsor sees fit:
1. Annalise will not swear.
2. Annalise will be respectful to The Prince at all times and to any other member of the Nobility while out in--"
I cut her off. "Enough."
"What, is this embarrassing you, Little American?" She spits in a mocking tone.
"Don't." I snap at her, angrier than I think I've ever been. "Never call me that."
"There's truly nothing to be ashamed of. You're in the company of one of kinky Prince Daniel's past whores--there's tons of us. I'm well aware of this wording because it was the exact same given to me when I signed on to be his submissive and it's the same given to all of us" She runs her finger over the text. "Well, some things were changed, for example it said Vanessa, not Annalise."
I once again stay quiet. Baxter lets out a low growl, voicing both our equal levels of displeasure.
"I apologize, I'm getting off track here. Where was I?"
"I believe you were being a bitch." I snap without thinking.
"Oh right," she continues, ignoring my comment. "I was giving you the only warning you're going to receive." She closes the folder and places it on the bed by my feet. Baxter nearly bites her and I don't try and stop him. She bares her teeth and takes a step back. "You have until the end of this week to leave Daniel. When you're ready to, come to me and I'll provide you with all the details to be sure he never finds you. You and your baby will live a good life, I'll be sure you're well looked after."
"Why the fuck would I do that?" I'm not going to leave him! That's insane! I'm also not going to censor myself. There's no one else to hear me. I'm going to voice my displeasure at her little threat.
She rests her hands on the bed and leans in. "Because believe it or not, I'm not a completely cold hearted bitch. Shit is going to go down and it's going to go down hard. Things are changing in the palace. News that Daniel is going to be King doesn't sit well with a very dangerous group. If you don't leave him, thus removing his chances of wearing the crown and putting him out of the spotlight, I can't be responsible for what happens. It's out of my control."
"What's out of your control?" I say slowly. The fur on the back of Baxter puffs up and stands on end, showing his anxiety and alertness. "What do you mean?"
"I can't say specifics, but you have to leave him. It's a matter of human safety and life at this point. It's gotten too real. I was only in it for revenge. I can admit I was heartbroken and spiteful but I never wanted anyone to get seriously hurt." She lets out a deep breath. "People know about the contract, bad people, Annie. People you don't want to mess with, people who will do anything to get what they want, trust me. You're in their way and they won't hesitate to do what's necessary."
I narrow my eyes at her. "How can I trust you? After everything you've done?"
She sighs. "I know. Trust me, I know, but I have no choice. I just have to hope you believe me and get out before it's too late-- you and your baby. If not to save you, then for my own conscience."
With that she leaves without another word. The door closes and I fall back into bed, my head racing with a thousand thoughts, none of them making a lick of sense. I do this until I no longer can and my eyelids start to become heavy. I fall asleep, dreaming of monsters and demons lurking in the shadows. I run away from them, but it seems the faster I run, the closer they get as Vanessa's words ring in my head.
It's out of my control...
They won't hesitate...
Before it's too late...