She looks different. The first thing I notice is the arms wrapped around her, arms that aren't mine. The second thing I notice is her hair. It's shorter, cropped at her shoulders, and even though I loved it long, I find I don't hate what she did with it. It looks- dare I say it- cute.
But enough about my wife's new look because there's currently another man embracing her- a man I despise.
Annie hasn't yet seen me, the back of her head is right in front of me, but I watch her spine straighten and I can hear her subtle intake of breath. Just seeing the back of her head is like a breath of fresh air, I didn't realize how much I missed her until I saw her, and I haven't even seen her face yet.
William glares at me and tightens his arms around my wife with something I can only describe as an evil smirk on his smug face. I don't think I've ever been this angry. I stalk towards the two of them, fully ready to physically rip my wife away from this man when William takes a large step back, releases Annie, shoves her behind him, and stares me down. I'm taller than him, but not by much so we're fairly matched. I grind my teeth together. How dare he? How dare this man hide and shield my own wife from me? Why does he think he is?
"William, please." Annie pleads, trying to get in front of him, but he's not having it. He keeps Annie, whos much shorter than him, at bay with just one of his arms. Her voice sounds like a song. It might have only been a few days, but I missed the melodic tilt her words possess.
I frown. "I believe my wife is trying to come to her husband."
William's eyes blaze red hot as they peer into me but I'm not threatened. I'm not going to walk away and leave Annie, of course, I never was, but I sure as hell am not going to leave her with him. No chance in hell.
"You should leave. You've done more than enough here." He says it in a calm voice, but I can tell it's laced with threat.
I smirk. "Oh yeah? I think you should leave. This is a martial dispute and you're not welcome. Do I have to remind you again why it isn't a good idea to piss me off? I thought that shiner would teach you a lesson. Suppose I was wrong." I snap back.
A muscle in his lower jaw ticks, letting me know that I struck a nerve. He doesn't like to be reminded of his failure, I'll remember that.
William goes to open his mouth when Annie slips under his arm and stands in front of him. Now I'm staring directly into her ocean eyes. I find my triumphant grin slipping when I notice that her cheeks are puffy and her eyes are duller and rimmed with red. I also find myself feeling something suspiciously close to regret- It's a feeling I'm not enjoying experiencing.
"Stop. Both of you. It doesn't matter who has the longer dick." Her eyes pierce into my soul, but not because of their usual brightness or expected intensity, but because of the way they look so drained-devoid of any emotion. It's unsettling. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and with Annie that used to be true, her eyes always gave her away, but now, they're empty, nothing but color.
While I'm trying to figure out what she's feeling, she continues her rant. "You," Annie turns to William, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to need you to leave. I appreciate the help, but this is something I have to deal with on my own. If you're still in the city tomorrow, I'll call you, okay?"
That makes me pause. She has his number?
Nope. Not for long she doesn't.
William frowns. "Annie, I don't think you should be here alone with him."
Annie sighs. "Sadly, I don't think I have much of a choice, now I'm sorry, but will you please leave? It's not a good time and he's right, we have to be alone for this."
William looks at her, searching her face for the sincerity I know he sees there, before looking to me. His eyes darken and I can't help but smirk in response. That's right buddy, she's kicking you out, not me. You're the one leaving. You're the one she doesn't want to see.
He sighs once more and nods once before leaning in and giving her a tight hug. I crush my nails in my palms because seeing them together angers me and I feel it worsen when I watch Annie's curvy body soften when he holds her. That is something that I do not like. He releases her from the hug that went on for too damn long in my opinion and gives her a nod before glaring at me and walking to the door. "I don't agree with this, but I understand. I will see you tomorrow, Annie."
She gives him a sheepish smile and we both watch until he's out the door. The sound of it closing seals her fate. Annie will once again be mine and I'm not leaving NYC without her.
She then swivels so violently in my direction that her hair catches in the momentum and hits her cheek a little before she determinedly tucks it behind her ears. "What do you want? Didn't you read my note."
I take a step towards her and she instinctively takes one backwards. It's an action that I do not appreciate.
"Your note? You mean the one that ended with 'goodbye forever'?" I snarl and stalk towards her. I reach into my pocket and pull out the note, waving it at her. I step forward, she steps back and so on until the island is separating us. This is another thing that I do not like. She's using the countertop as protection from me.
Once she's behind the island she straightens her spine, almost as if the protection has given her confidence. "Yeah, that's the one. I think it was quite clear." What strikes me as odd is that she doesn't sound bitter or cold like a woman scorned should. Her voice is completely monotone, almost as if she's conducting business and not arguing with me. It's strange and very unlike her.
I frown. "You just decide to leave? Without talking to me? What we have isn't over."
Annie lifts her chin and crosses her arms across her chest. It's another thing separating her from me and I do not like it one bit. "What we have? We don't have anything, Your Highness, we never did." That stings more than it should. While I'm recovering from the sudden blow her words have caused to my chest, she continues on in that calm voice. "I told you how I felt and you told me you do not feel the same. What's done is done. We cannot come to an agreement so no further discussion is needed."
I place my palm on the counter and stare at her. She didn't call me by my name. It's yet another thing that I do not like. Her calling me by my royal title further distances us and I don't like how it makes me feel when she addresses me like I'm a stranger to her.
"Little American, I have shockingly missed you these past few days and I want you. Come back home with me. My mother misses you, the kingdom is wondering where their future queen has gone."
The second I call her by her old nickname I know I made a mistake. Annie's expressionless eyes darken and her lips twist into a frown. "I told you never to call me that again. I am home, Your Highness. I don't belong in Verilia, I belong here in New York, and you say you miss me, but do you love me?"
I have nothing to say, she already knows my answer. I can never love Annie.
Annie nods. "That's what I thought. I am not the future queen. I'm just a girl who got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not fit to rule, I never was. I was playing fantasy, but now I've woken up. I can't stay with someone who doesn't love me- I deserve better than that."
She's right, I know she's right, but I can never tell her that. Annie deserves the world. She deserves a man who's going to love her, but I'm too selfish to give her up to that man. I really am an asshole.
"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but I'm not going back-- I can't. I won't set my self up for heartbreak again, it's too painful. I have to move on. If you won't love me, then I need to be free to find someone who will. I can't continue to play house with you, Your Highness. I'm not strong enough." For the first time, I hear her voice break with emotion. Once again I'm feeling something close to guilt and regret. She's in so much pain, and it's all because of me.
No, it's because she didn't follow your warning. She went ahead and fell in love with you when you specifically told her not to.
"I told you, Litt-- Annie. I told you not to."
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you warned me. The heart wants what it wants, and mine stupidly wants you." She turns away from me and places her hands on the sink, staring at the small window above it. "Don't worry, I've learned my lesson."
I frown and before I'm conscious of my actions, I'm standing behind her. I inch my hands around her mid section and lean down so I'm whispering in her ear. "Come back to Verilia with me, Annie. Come back home."
I feel her heart beating fast in her chest, like a rabbit caught in a snare. I think she's going to turn around and accept my offer, but she doesn't. Her soft voice breaks on a whisper as she gives me her final answer. "I... I can't, Daniel."
The contract is legally binding, that fact alone is indisputable, and I can use it to force her to come back to Verilia with me, but I wanted to try a softer approach first. Sadly, that didn't work.
Avoiding the press is difficult enough in Verilia, but I never thought it would be this tough in The States. I barely make it past the hoard of reporters outside her house as I get back into my guarded town car with a frown and an audible curse. This isn't going to do any good for our public image. As of right now, the media already thinks we're fighting, and them getting footage of her practically kicking me out of her house isn't going to help.
"I'll take it that didn't go well?" My mother's voice fills the car from the speaker phone on the dash. She must've called earlier when I was inside the house. Knowing my nosy mother, she stayed on the line to get an update on the situation as soon as she possibly could.
I sigh and roll my eyes. "Mother."
"Considering I hear no Annie..." She trails off and I can't help but roll my eyes again.
I want to lie, but she's right, that didn't go well at all. "She's decided she doesn't want to come back."
My mother sighs. "Well, what did you say? Did you tell her how you feel?"
I raise a brow. "How I feel?"
My mother snorts, and it's very unladylike, I must say. "Of course. Of course you didn't tell her you love her. I must say honey, you may have gotten high marks at the academy, but you're truly stupid. If you want Annie back, then you have to be honest with her."
I can't tell her something that isn't true. I can't lie to her, and I've explained this to her, but she still doesn't get it; she still doesn't understand that I'm simply not capable of loving her.
It isn't worth repeating what she'll never understand so I opt to stay silent.
She clucks her tongue. "Like I said... stupid. Well, I have to go, it's late here. Call me when you finally decide to do the right thing."
With that, she hangs up, and leaves me in the silence, surrounded by my bodyguards.
I've never been a quitter, and I'm not going to start today. Annie is going to be mine again, and I'm not going to stop until she's back in our shared suite, laying on her stomach with a hot, red ass.
I find the nearest hotel and check into the most expensive, safest room I can find. It's on the top floor and it's no palace, but it's definitely appealing to my eye. The wrap around windows show off the city. It's such a good view that I'm starting to realize why Annie loves it here so much. The shining lights of the city are truly amazing to look at.
I take off my jacket and throw it on the sofa before walking into the bedroom area and plopping down, spreading out my arms. I stare up at the ceiling and sigh, my thoughts running wild. I keep thinking about Annie, what she's doing at this moment, what she's been doing since we've been apart, what she's going to do tomorrow (well, besides come home with me, because she is, no doubt).
I can picture her being at the island in her kitchen, baking or cooking. I could smell something sweet, so she must've been cooking earlier. It tasted of cinnamon and apples so I guess apple pie. The thought makes me smile small and It shocks me for a moment, but then I understand.
It's because my Little American Annie baking an apple pie just simply, undoubtedly, makes me happy.
And it's not the kind of fake happy that money, booze, or women give me. It isn't the type of happy that I get from winning a poker game, or from outsmarting my stupid brothers. No. This is the unfiltered happiness that only comes from...
I have to stop myself and I sit up abruptly, because for the slightest moment, I almost thought the one word I vowed I'd never think or say about a woman.
I almost said love.
And that's fucking terrifying.
My parents come home from work like they usually do at around five o'clock. It's good, because it gave me a few hours to sit on the kitchen floor and cry the tears I promised myself I wouldn't cry. I want to say I'm surprised that he came after me, but I never thought he would leave me alone. I knew he would come after me. Daniel's both stubborn and possessive, and that isn't a great combination when it comes to letting things go.
It takes me a while to compose myself. I sit on the floor, my legs beneath me in a heap and just sob. I sob until I think I have no more tears left and then I sob some more after that. It's pathetic and I endlessly try to pick myself up but every thought I have brings me back to him and then I start to cry again.
It's at least an hour until I'm finally able to stand once more. I wipe my eyes with the back of my palms and run then through my hair, fluffing it up. I stand up and brush the imaginary dust and dirt off my clothes and turn to the sink where I rub at my eyes in the distorted reflection of an aluminum pot. As I thought, my eyes are red and puffy and my skin is splotchy. I look like hell and I decide to take a shower before my parents get back from work.
The hot water is as cleansing as a baptism and I feel better as I stand under the hot water and let it scald my pale skin. I rub and scrub the memories and the feel of his hands around my waist. I run my fingers over the spot his once were and feel even more pathetic than I did before. I mean, here I am, mourning the loss of a man who took advantage of me, a man who said he'd never be able to love me.
What I need is one of those feminist montages where I learn that I don't need no man. I need to take a day to myself, maybe Aline and I could go to a salon or maybe some shopping. We should just hit all the clichés at once.
The thought alone makes me laugh. If my life was a rom-com movie, this would be the climax where the two main characters-who everyone (including themselves) thought things were going well for-fight and separate, only to later reconnect and realize their deep, eternal love for each other.
Ha, what a joke.
I giggle to myself about the hilarity of that analogy as I get out of the shower and as I get dressed in a comfy pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt that says "I Spend The Night At The Museum Of Natural History" I got when I was in ninth grade on a girl scout trip. I'm glad I got it in a bigger size so I can still wear it today.
I put my hair up two pigtails and slide my feet into fuzzy slippers and head downstairs. Everyone will be home soon, and I have nothing better to do, so I figured I'd make dinner.
It's nothing fancy, just spaghetti and red sauce with salad, but it allows me to temporarily take my mind off of things. I've always enjoyed cooking.
I'm stirring some garlic into the sauce when my phone buzzes on the island. I pick it up absentmindedly, thinking it's my parents, or Aline, or even William, and freeze when I hear the voice.
"Don't hang up."
I frown. "Give me one good reason not to... Your Highness."
"Because you and I have to talk, and I told you to call me Daniel."
I sigh. "... Daniel..."
I can practically hear the smile in his voice. "There you go! Now, we need to talk. This arrangement of ours isn't over."
Now, I'm getting frustrated. "I already told you, it is. We're done Daniel. I don't care about the money. I'm done."
He laughs, which infuriates me more, and I contemplate hanging up, but what he says next chills me. "Oh no, we aren't done, Little American. We've only just begun. You see, you signed a contract, and I tried to play nice, but I see it's time for me to fight dirty."
My mouth hangs open. "No." I mumble in horror. He can't. He won't. This isn't happening.
"Oh, it is." I didn't realize I said that last part out loud. How much have I been murmuring?
He continues and every word he says makes me shiver. "You're my wife, and you still are. You signed a contract saying you're to give me an heir and help me win the crown and since I currently have none..."
"No. No, Daniel."
He chuckles again. "You see, Little American? It seems we do have more to talk about."
A tear streams down my cheek. "Daniel, you can't do this. Please, let me go." My voice sounds completely broken. It doesn't matter how much I plead and beg, he's won. Just like before. When will I learn that Daniel always wins?
He sighs on the other end of the phone. "For some reason, I can't, Little American. I'm coming to pick you up tomorrow at noon. We'll have lunch back at my hotel and we can discuss all the details."
Like everything with him, it's a command, not a request, and it sure as hell isn't up for debate. I swallow down the lump in my throat and nod, not trusting my voice before I realize he can't see me and agree. "Yes."
Those two words both scare and excite me and I realize two things.
I once again belong to Daniel, and I was never truly free of him in the first place.
"I'll see you for lunch, Little American. Don't be late, you know how much I care about punctuality."
With that he hangs up, and for the second time today, my knees can no longer hold my weight and I fall to the floor. As I sit there, I smell my sauce burning, but I don't care, because it doesn't matter. Nothing matters anymore. Baxter rushes to my side and rests his head on my leg. He looks up at me with sad eyes and whines.
By this time tomorrow, I'll be on a plane heading back to Verilia-back to my worst nightmare. A nightmare where I'm forced to live with man I will never stop loving, a man who will never feel the same.