“There were magnets in my bones for that iron in her blood.”
I entered Will’s room to find him surrounded by staff preparing him for the day. Will’s blank expression changed when he saw me.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, turning around.
“Hey, yourself,” I replied. “Thought I’d check on you before today really starts.”
Will shuffled on his feet. “Everyone, could you please leave Annalise and I alone?”
No one argued and, within a few seconds, vacated the premises. I picked up where the staff left off as I inquired, “What’s on your mind? Nervous?”
“I’ve been nervous since you left my room this morning,” Will admitted, staring down at me. “I’m getting cold feet, I guess. I’m worried I’m not going to be the king the people want or deserve. Or both. I’ve made so many mistakes. I don’t know how they’ll be able to look past that.”
“The same way I did.” I took his hands in mine. “I realized you’ve done so much more good than you have bad, and you always try to rectify whatever mistake you make. We both know not everyone will love you. It comes with the territory of being famous, but the majority does, and that’s what matters.”
“They love me because of the man you turned me into.”
“I might’ve influenced your change, but only you are responsible for keeping it up. Don’t sell yourself short.”
Will leaned down and kissed her, soft and slow, his hands slipping around her waist. “My first announcement as King of Verona is going to let the world know I am an extremely, happily taken man.”
Annalise grinned. “You know, once you announce it, it’ll be tough to get rid of me if anything happens.”
“I do. It’ll also be difficult for you to get rid of me,” he pointed out cheekily.
“Hmm… has this been a plan of yours all along?”
Will laughed, holding up his hands in surrender. “You got me!”
“I knew it!” I exclaimed. “I’m calling it quits now!”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling?”
“Not anymore. You know Top Gun references are my weakness.”
“Why do you think I said it?” Will kissed my nose before returning to the mirror, taking in his appearance. “You know I’d get on my knees for you.”
“You know, that sentence could have many connotations,” I said, biting back a smirk.
Will’s eyes flashed mischievously. “I’m well aware, although I’m not talking about where your mind’s going. Not right now, at least. I meant I’d get down on my knees to beg you to come back if you left. Or to propose. Whichever comes first.”
I cocked my head, my mind flashing back to Mia, asking me if I’d say yes to Will. “Have you thought about it?”
“Yes, but I don’t think you’re ready for marriage a few months into dating.”
“Ask me and find out.”
“If my coronation didn’t start in-” Will checked the time- “thirty minutes, I would. Speaking of which, we should head down.”
I stood up and straightened out my dress, lest anyone get the wrong idea. As we walked out of his room, Will swiped something off his dresser but seeing his phone in hand, I didn’t ask.
Queen Lillian, Everly, Mark, Mia, and James waited for us in the foyer, wearing ear-to-ear grins. On the table next to them, a stack of presents.
“Thank you all for gathering here today. I know you’re meant to be at the church already, but I wanted to give each of you a present before we left.”
He pulled out a simple, elegant box and presented it to Mia. Upon opening, it revealed a stunning tiara. Sparkling diamonds and orange gemstones dotted the simple design. Mia gasped, as Will explained, “You showed great strength and courage in your fight against leukemia. You showed me what a positive outlook can do when life throws monumental obstacles in your way. The loops on this tiara are meant to mimic the cancer ribbon. The orange gemstones represent the leukemia you defeated. When you’ve graduated university, and when you’re ready, I’d like your help in developing a better program to aid students to continue their education when they’re incapacitated in a hospital due to an illness or disease.”
Mia barely held back her tears as she accepted Will’s offer and gift. He placed the tiara on her head, and she gave him a bone-crushing hug before rushing to a nearby mirror to stare in awe at the piece of jewelry on her head.
When she returned, Will moved onto James. “You’ve been like a brother to me since you started working here almost ten years ago. I don’t have a tiara for you, although I’m sure you’d look dashing in it-”
James waved a hand, grinning. “It’s fine.”
“- But I do have keys to a new Mercedes SUV. I know you love your motorcycle, but this is for the days when it’s too cold to ride, and whenever you want to take Mia on dates without ruining her hair with a helmet,” Will teased, handing the keys to a shell-shocked James. “Furthermore, I want to create a new position in the palace for you. No one is better at researching international cuisine and creating dishes than you. If you accept, now or in the future, I’d like you to be the head chef for all future events I hold.”
James blanched. “Seriously?”
“Yes!” James pulled Will into a hug, shock still evident on his face. “Oh my god, I can’t- this is incredible!”
“You’ve more than earned it,” Will assured. James returned to Mia’s side, rubbing his fingers over the Mercedes logo on his car keys. Will continued going through everyone: a mother-son trip for Queen Lillian, originally meant to be an anniversary trip for her and her husband; a cabinet position for Mark to help with economics; for Everly, a German Shepherd named Simon trained to protect.
“Lastly, Annie,” Will said, pulling out the last box, “you are the best thing to ever happen to me, and I think everyone here can agree that I wouldn’t be here without you. You had so much thrown at you, and you never complained. Not once. You exhibited true Veronian strength, and I’m honored to have you by my side, both as a girlfriend and a friend. I would like to gift you this.”
He opened the box, revealing a beautiful, delicate amethyst and diamond tiara. It was slightly bigger than Mia’s, and the sight of it made my mouth drop open. Will took it out and placed it on my head, saying, “I chose amethyst because, while it’s also your birthstone, the color purple has long signified royalty.”
“I’m not royalty,” I said, lightly touching the tiara.
“No, but you’ve handled everything thrown your way with the grace of a queen.” Will lifted my hand and kissed it, sending butterflies flying erratically in my stomach. “I do have one more surprise for all of you.”
“More tiaras?” Mia asked jokingly.
“No, but if you ever want to try others on, let me know,” Will said, winking at her. Seeing Mia’s eyes widen in exhilaration, I pointed out to Will he’d be trapped for hours if he let her do that. Mia stuck her tongue at me but noticeably didn’t disagree. Will laughed at our antics before continuing, “The six of you are riding in carriages behind me to the abbey, and you’ll be leaving the church with me as well.”
I gasped. “But I didn’t plan for that! The-”
“I got it situated with your boss,” he interrupted. “I promise it’s all sorted. Everly, mom, and James know about it, so follow their leads.”
With that said, the seven of us left the palace in horse-drawn carriages like we were in a real-life fairytale.
“Prince William of Verona, do you solemnly swear to govern our country with our best interests at heart?” The Minister asked. A ghost of a smile tugged at Will’s lips. Without a doubt, I knew he was thinking of Harry Potter.
“I swear,” Will said.
“Do you swear to protect all of Verona’s kingdoms from those who would mean to do them harm?”
“Do you swear to align yourself only with those who will help you continue Verona’s prosperity?”
Will’s gaze flicked over to me as he said, “I swear.”
“Do you swear to be the voice of Verona’s people?”
The Minister placed the royal cloak over Will’s shoulders, handed him the Scepter of Verona, the Sword of Verona, and planted the heavy crown firmly on Will’s head.
“All rise,” The Minister ordered, “and join me in honoring the new ruler of Verona: His Majesty, King William Oliver Ward.”
Applause sounded through the church, accompanied by the thunderous applause of the citizens outside. For twenty minutes, Will stood there, beaming. Our eyes locked, and I mouthed, “I’m so proud of you!”
“I love you,” he mouthed back. I smiled through my tears. They only disappeared when we began the procession to Windsor Palace. I walked alongside Queen Lillian behind Will, waving at the crowds.
We took a short break upon our arrival at Windsor, giving us time to rehydrate and prepare for Will’s speech from the top of the palace’s front steps. I’d barely steeled myself for the next part before we were ushered out the door onto the front steps.
“Good afternoon, citizens of Verona,” Will greeted, holding up his hand. The cacophony died instantly, everyone hanging onto his every word. “First and foremost, I want to thank you all for being here. I’m honored and humbled to see so many people supporting my ascension to the throne. The people of Verona are what make our country as incredible as it is, and everything I do for this country, I do it with you in mind. I promise I will never make a decision that will put Verona or her citizens in harm’s way. I promise to uphold the constitution and laws of our land, to protect and serve our country to the best of my ability, and to be as transparent as possible.”
Will hesitated, fiddling with his notecards as he turned to me, whispering, “It’s time.”
“But this day is supposed to be about you,” I replied back quietly.
“I’m not me without you, though. Please? As my first act of transparency?”
I took a deep breath and nodded. Will returned his attention to the people and said, “To illustrate this, I would like to introduce you to my girlfriend of five months. She is someone all of you know well and even speculated we were dating many years ago. Those rumors weren’t true then, but they are now.”
Will backed up and took my hand, eyes glittering with joy. He hesitated for only a second before leaning in and kissing me for all the world to see. I’m not sure if I was deafened from the crowd’s cheering or if I just blocked everything out as I melted into Will. Still, I knew there was no turning back now: we were officially a couple to the world.
“I have one more surprise for you,” Will said softly against my lips. “And if you say no, blame Mia and Everly because they told me you’d say yes.”
“What are you talking about…” I trailed off as Will pulled away and got down on one knee. Mark handed him a red velvet box. Will opened it, revealing a gorgeous diamond ring.
“I know we haven’t been dating long, but I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you, and I can’t wait any longer.” Will stroked the back of my hand with his thumb, his eyes glittering simultaneously with elation and trepidation. “Annalise Stark, will you marry me?”