Royal Estrangement: The Royals Book II

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“Oh honey, are you alright? You can’t go on like this; It’s been a week and you haven’t left the house.” My mother’s voice drones on in my head but her words barely register as I stare down at the dough I’m kneading in my hands. Have you every felt so lost that everything feels pointless? What’s the point of listening to her? What’s the point of making this pie for dinner later? What’s the point of everything?

These questions have rattled around inside my skull for the past few days.

“Annie? Honey?” I numbly recognize the heat of her palm on my right shoulder.

I look up from the pie dough and nearly let the flood gates open as I look into her sad eyes. “Please, dear. Talk to me. You haven’t said a single word... I’m worried about you.”

I nod. “I know, and I’m sorry I-I’m just... not ready to talk about it yet.” It seems too soon. Everything is still to real. It still seems as if I’m standing before Daniel even though I’m thousands of miles across the ocean. “And I haven’t left the house because I’m avoiding the media.”

She nods. “I understand, but please tell me this: Did he hurt you?”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I want to cry but I can’t. I simply have no more tears left. “No. He broke my heart.” Which is worse.

Her face softens into one of pity and she wraps her arms around me for the thousandth time this week. I awkwardly hug her back. In principle, it’s a good idea, but I’m just not feeling it right now. I’m desensitized to just about everything-- Including the affections of my mother, and it sucks.

After a few moments, she pulls away and kisses me on the forehead. Whenever you’re ready to talk... I’ll be here for you.” With that, she walks out of the kitchen and leaves me to my apple pie. I’m expecting Aline later and I promised her long ago that the next time she comes and visits me in America that I’d make her an apple pie, and heartbreak be damned, I’m going to deliver on my promise. Plus, it’s been working as decent distraction thus far.

Baxter yips at my heels and I bend down and give him another apple peel from earlier before petting him on the head. He makes a contented noise after gobbling it up and wags his tail in response. I can’t help but smile small down at him but the feeling is soon replaced with nostalgic sadness as I remember how Baxter came into my life.

The rest of the day passes by in a blur like usual, but I manage to come out and tell my mother the truth. I start at the beginning about how I agreed to help him gain the crown--leaving out the specifics of the contract and punishments-- and go into details about how I confessed my unrequited feelings to him. Throughout my story, she shakes her head and makes the occasional scoffing noise. When I have finished she practically strangles me in her arms, murmuring about how he doesn’t deserve me and how stupid he is.

Of course, I know all of this. What bothers me the most is that deep down, Daniel loves me too. Why would be behave the way he does around me? Why else would be buy me Baxter or get mad at William? I know he feels the same, he’s just too scared to admit it, and that’s unacceptable.

So, of course, my mother’s right: If Daniel isn’t strong enough to admit to not only me, but to himself, that he loves me, then he doesn’t deserve me, and that’s that.

Aline arrives and it’s pretty much the same thing. She grabs me so tight that I’m worried she’ll crack a rib or two and envelopes me in her arms, rocking me back and fourth kind of like a young child. I can’t lie, it’s very comforting and not completely unwelcome. Even though I feel next to nothing but sadness, I can appreciate this.

She looks down at me sadly and shakes her head before she opens that big Verilian mouth of hers and all Hell breaks loose. She swears and yells and punches the air and I just know she’s imagining it’s Daniel’s face- or worse. She calls him names that I didn’t even have in my own colorful New York City vocabulary, some in English, but occasionally she slips back into her native Verilian tongue. “I swear to God and all that is Holy Annie, he’s going to pay! I’m gonna get that-that- pussushay! How dare he? How dare he do this to my best friend? Why I-I-I I’m gonna kill him. Yep. Murder. I’ll go away for this. It’s more than worth it.”

Her little rant is the first thing that brings anything evenly closely resembling a smile to my face. The corners of my lips tip upward briefly but then visions of Daniel’s smile flood my vision and the smile slips. Of course, Aline notices this and grabs me again, and once more I’m eloped in the embrace of my best friend.

“I’m sorry, Annie.” She whispers.

The back of my throat feels dry and my voice comes out almost hoarse. “Me too.”

There’s a running gimmick about women and breakups and it has to do with their hair. According to society, women do messed up shit to their hair after their heart it broken. It’s some kind of freeing move, somewhat of a reinvention of identity, and I never quite understood it until now.

I stare at my pale face in the mirror above the sink of the upstairs bathroom. It’s later in the evening, and everyone has since gone to sleep. My mother has a shift at the hospital in the morning and my father has to go into the office early so they’ve both retired to their bedroom with apologies about wishing they could stay up and comfort me longer. Honestly, I prefer the solitude, I prefer being able to deal with things on my own, I’ve always been that way. Of course, this isn’t something I’m ever going to tell them, they’d be too hurt. Instead, I’ve been accepting their comforting words and warm hugs all while wishing I had just a moment to think to myself.

As I stare into my own eyes, I sigh in content. This is that moment. Sure, Baxter sits at my feet, looking up at me with his curious eyes, but for a dog owner, this is as close to solitude as one gets.

The girl in the mirror looks nothing like the carefree Annie I’ve seen staring back at me in the past. Her once bright eyes are now dull and lifeless as they’re rimmed red and framed with deep circles. My skin looks pallid. Overall, I look broken down and my hair doesn’t look any better. I’ve barely brushed it in the past few days and the once healthy strands look more like straw as they frame my face. I reach up and play with it between my fingers.

He used to like my long hair. He used to enjoy running his fingers through it, pulling it, or wrapping it around his fist. All of a sudden, I’m disgusted by my own appearance and it’s not because of my obviously beaten down spirit shining through the surface.

It’s all because of him.

The man I fell in love with is the reason that when I look at my long blonde tresses- the ones I used to love-I want to do nothing but vomit. I swallow bile in the back of my throat and grab a large piece of my hair and tug on it hard, fully prepared to start ripping it out of my skull, when something silver catches my eye on the counter.

I slowly release the pressure from my hair and bring my hands to the silver pair or scissors on the edge of the sink. I lift them up to my hair and start to cut. Snip. Again. Snip. Once more. Snip. It’s almost as I’m in a trance as I keep cutting. A single tear streams silently down my cheek and I make a promise to myself for that to be the last tear I give him the satisfaction of crying over my broken heart. With every swipe of the scissors I feel more and more free.

Golden hair falls into the sink as I mindlessly chop at my hair. I think about the past half a year. I think about his soulful eyes, the way he used to hold me tight to his chest, his boisterously confident laugh, or the firm line his lips used to make when he was about to punish me. I look back on the feelings of absolute bliss and the highs he could take me to and before I know it, there’s a pile of hair in the sink and I surprisingly feel better, freer, a women reborn.

I lock the memories of him away and put the scissors back on the countertop before looking up. What was once long flowing hair has now been chopped into a messy bob that dances on my shoulders. I run my fingers through it lightly and for the first time in days, feel a smile playing on my lips.

I feel different. It was just a haircut, but to me it was much more. By chopping off something that drew him to me, I’m effectively closing that chapter of my life. I was lost, lost in him, lost in the sex, the lust, lost in love, but now I’m free. Now, I’ve found myself once more.

I am no longer Princess Annalise, or Little American, or Daniel’s docile wife. No. I am Annie. I am ice queen Annie who stupidly let someone tear down her protective romantic wall, but never again. No. As I stare at the strong woman in the mirror I smile and make another promise to myself.

I’ll never again let a mean break my heart as he did. I will never again give another that power.

From now on, I’ll be the strong woman who has just straightened her shoulders in front of me. I’ll be the woman who’s piercing blue eyes flash with confidence and determination. I’ll be the Annie Shaw who refuses to shed another tear for he who doesn’t deserve it.

Baxter’s little confused yip breaks me out of my empowering stare and I smile warmly down at him before lifting him up in my arms. He licks the tear of my cheek before attacking my face with his tongue. I can’t help but laugh. “Alright, alright, it’s okay. Easy killer. I know I’ve been in a bit of a rut, but mommy’s okay now.”

I stare back into my own eyes in the mirror. “I’m okay now.” I whisper, and this time, I believe it.

William arrives at my door the next day and throws his arms around me. “Oh dear, I’m so sorry.” His voice is genuine and I'm actually happy to see him. He seemed like he could've been a good friend if Daniel wasn't always so jealous of him or if I had more leisure time. Of course, now I have all the time in the world, so I'm hoping we can see each other more often.

I smile small when we break apart. "It's okay. Thank you."

William nods. "Of course. So, tell me, how have you been? Has the press found you yet?"

I roll my eyes and open up the cabinet that hold our cups. "Would you like anything to drink?" It's kind of surreal to see Lord William Morburn coexisting in my space instead of the intricate palace, but I shake off those feelings.

He nods politely. "Water please."

"I course, and to answer you're question, sort of. They definitely know I'm here, but I've kind of been somewhat of a recluse so they haven't gotten a clear shot of me."

I hand him the glass of water and he accepts it with a thank you and takes a sip before gracefully placing it on the breakfast bar with minimal noise. "That's good to hear, they can be quite persistent. I'm glad to see you're faring well, I mean, as well as someone can in your situation." He amends.

I nod. "Yeah, it's pretty crappy, but I'm coping." William doesn't know everything, all he knows is that things went south between us. I never told him of our contract, if that ever got out, Daniel would be ruined. As much as that thought satisfies a dark need for retribution inside me, it makes me feel more shitty. I don't want to hurt him-- pathetically, I want him to love me. Of course, I know that isn't possible so I'll do everything in my power to keep his secret.

He takes another royal sip of his water. "Of course. If I may ask, what are you planning on doing next?"

I raise a brow and lift my cup up to my lips. "What do you mean?"

He gives me a look. "Well, you're still legally married to him, and speaking of legal... there is the matter of that pesky contract."

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be standing back in my parent's kitchen drinking a glass of water with a Lord of Verilia, and never did I think I would spit water across the breakfast bar at him and then erupt into violent choking.

But, I suppose there's a first for everything.

William's eyes widen and he springs into action. He wraps his arms around me and rubs circles into my back all while cooing and saying kind words. Occasionally, he'll hit in between my shoulder blades to try and get me to stop coughing. It's a nice gesture, to see that he actually cares about me enough to "get his hands dirty" and bypass that royal regality while I'm wheezing and hacking up my lungs. These royals keep seeing the worst side of me, it's actually kind of ridiculous.

Nonetheless, William keeps at it until I'm no longer dying. He turns to me sheepishly. "I'm terribly sorry, Annie. Had I know you would've reacted that way to me telling you I'm aware of your contract, I simply would've waited until you put down that glass of water."

I give him a wry smile. "Don't worry about it. If it wasn't water, I would've just choked on air. You can't drop a bomb like that without any explanation!"

He rubs the back of his neck. "Ah, about that... I do apologize for making it seem like I was in the dark." William looks me over, making sure I'm alright, before he takes his seat once more. "You see, I've known His Royal Highness since we were children and I'd like to say I know him very well. This also means I know when he's up to something. The Prince is a slippery one, known to cut corners, he's been that way since we were children, so when he suddenly had a finance after saying nothing of her I knew something was fishy." William takes another sip, ever the dramatic, before continuing. "Of course, The Prince isn't the only one with spies in the palace. I have eyes and ears everywhere and it was only a matter of time before I found out what was really going on."

I just sit there, in silence, staring at him. This is very uncharacteristic. I never thought he would have had spies watching for him. That seems like something Daniel would've done.

As I'm trying my best to figure out more about the man sitting in front of me, he laughs. "You look shocked. If shouldn't come as a surprise. The Royal Palace is a dangerous place and those who aren't informed will get crushed. You know about that more than others, I'd assume."

My chest feels tight and I absentmindedly reach up to touch my hair only to forget it was chopped off. I go higher and tuck a piece behind my ear nervously.

"I'm sorry, that was uncouth. May I ask what happened?" His eyes soften.

I nod and clear my throat, finding my voice. "I was stupid--foolish-- I did the thing I never should've done. I fell in love with him."

William closes his eyes and lets out a long sigh. "And he didn't feel the same." It's a statement, not a question. William knows full well how Daniel reacted based on inference. I nod slowly.

"Yeah. It went just as well as you could expect. I told him. He said he didn't love me. I left. End of story. And I'm not going back."

"I'm sorry. Unrequited love is never easy. Well, for what it's worth, he's an idiot." He smiles.

I find my own smile making it way to my lips. "Yeah, he is, isn't he?"

We both laugh and when the laughter dies down, I look at him and smile genuinely for what feels like the first time in years even though it's been days. Even though William is a reminder of something I'd rather forget, it's comforting to see a familiar face. Speaking of his face...

"I'm sorry my husband did that to you." I motion toward the bruise around the underside of his left eye. It's an ugly purple and yellow combination and it looks downright painful.

He shrugs. "It's ok. I'm just glad it isn't broken." He grins. "It would be a shame to mess up a face as sexy as mine."

I can't help but laugh and then I do something that wipes the smile right off my face. I roll my eyes. It causes me to freeze and before I know it, tears are streaming down my face. I expect a stern glance or to see Daniel approach me with that hungry, predatorial look in his eyes, but instead none of that happens, because he's not here. Daniel's not here in the kitchen, William is, and he doesn't care. He isn't going to stalk towards me and grab my face while his lips bruise mine. He isn't going to throw me over his lap and punish me for disrespect. And he isn't going to fuck me long and hard after.

And that's disappointing. I miss him. And that's even more disappointing. All it took was one stupid gesture, something I used to do every day, to reduce me to a blubbering mess, and that sucks.

William freaks out again and wraps his arms around me once more. I don't have the strength to fight him so I just let him offer me his comfort as I break apart to the sad inevitable truth that I'm not over Daniel. I love him with all my heart and I miss him more than anything. He might have broken my heart, but it still belongs to him completely.

Taking comfort in William's embrace isn't ideal. I don't know him as well as I know Aline or my other friends in the states, and there's one undeniable fact, he isn't Daniel. I would give anything to have Daniel be the one caging me in his arms right now. I think I would just about sell my soul to have him back and that's just sad. He was my tormentor. He forced me into a contract, punished me for stupid reasons, introduced me to a dark world that I'm obsessed with, made me fall in love with him, then shattered my heart without batting an eye. He doesn't deserve me. He doesn't deserve my love. Daniel doesn't deserve to be the one who gets to hold me.

Which is why I cuddle closer to William.

That makes me think. I mean, William is nice. So far he's been nothing but kind and supporting, and he's not stuffy and rude like the other royals. Maybe we could become closer and in time I could grow to forget and maybe love another and... to be honest... William isn't a bad choice. Sure, he's also a royal, and I'd still have to see Daniel, but isn't that just the icing on the top of the cake? That Daniel gets to see me on the arm of another? Someone he hates?

Just as quickly as that thought arises, it dissipates. I don't want that. I'm not even remotely ready to love again, let alone the man my husband knocked out cold. I need to focus on myself and forget about love for a while. I need to return to the Annie I once was, right after this comforting hug. I grab his arms with my hands and he starts to stroke my hair while saying sweet words. I feel safe... secure.

Before I even know what's happening, a loud bang echoes through the house. It sounds as if the door has been burst open on it's hinges and if I didn't know any better I'd say it was just kicked, but that couldn't be possible, right? I let out a little scream, causing William to hold me tighter. I'm facing away from the door but what I hear next makes every nerve ending in my body come alive in an intoxicating cocktail of fear and arousal.

"You have three seconds to remove your hands from my wife before I knock you on your ass. Again."

That's a voice that I'd recognize anywhere. It's deep and sounds more like a growl. The familiar timbre causes my heart to beat faster. It's him. He's here. He came for me. I should've known he wouldn't let me go that easily.

It's Daniel, my husband, and he sounds pissed.

No, scratch that, he sounds furious--absolutely enraged.

And he's here, in my kitchen, and so is William. And I'm in William's embrace.


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