I woke up with a start. I groaned and tried to pull away from the bright light only to find I couldn’t move, and was covered in a film of sweat. Someone cleared their throat so, tentatively, I opened one of my eyes and peered towards the end of the bed. My stomach dropped as I took in the scene. This was worse then I had anticipated.
Angela, Mike, who was Leopold’s Angela, M. Arsnault, and M. Lefevre were lined up at the foot of the bed, staring at Leopold and me with blank faces. Angela had probably alerted the guards when she had found my own bed empty. Leopold, who had not been disturbed by their arrival apparently, was sound asleep spread-eagle on his stomach, half on top of me, and half naked. Yes, this looked less than innocent.
“Ahh, good morning...” I tried. None of them so much as blinked.
“I’m sorry. We were talking last night and I must have fallen asleep here. I didn’t mean...” I rushed, feeling my face heat up.
“The Prince’s presence is required at Council,” M. Lefevre said.
“Uh, how about I wake him up. Can you give us five minutes, I will have him there on time, I promise,” I told them.
“Yes, Mademoiselle,” nodded M. Arsenault and ushered the others out of the room. Mike looked like he wanted to object, but seemed to think better of it and followed the others out.
“Leopold,” I called gently as I brushed a few wayward locks of hair off of his forehead.
He scrunched his nose and nuzzled himself closer to me.
“Leopold, you need do get up,” I tried again.
“What if I don’t want to?” he murmured, voice thick, lips brushing against my neck.
“You need to go to your meeting,” I said, trying to be convincing.
“Hmmm, but the sooner I get out of bed, the sooner I have to leave. I don’t know about you,” he moved suddenly, holding himself over me, “but I am very comfortable.”
“I thought you liked going to the base,” I said pushing against his chest. He reacted as I knew he would by rolling off of me, onto his back. Free, I climbed out of the bed.
“I did,” he said, but then corrected himself, “I do. It’s just...”
I picked up a knit sweater out of one of the piles of clothes on the floor and pulled it on, then stood beside the bed, raising my eyebrow at him, urging him to continue.
Leopold groaned and rolled out of the bed. He walked over to his dresser and grabbed a box of cigarettes and his lighter. He walked over to the balcony, leaning against the fame of the French doors as he cupped his hands in front of his face and took a long drag.
“I didn’t realize it was possible to miss someone so much. That’s so new to me and I...” he cut off, running a hand through his hair in frustration.
I padded over to him, and standing on my tiptoes, wrapped my arms around his neck and placed a chaste kiss on his lips. “I missed you too.”
His hands moved to my hips, sliding inside the hem of the sweater as he deepened the kiss. I smiled and pulled away.
“No more of that for now, you are already late,” I said, walking backwards towards the door. Leopold’s lips fell into a delicious pout almost making me give in and jump back into his arms.
I nodded my head in the direction of his closet pointedly. Leopold took another drag of the cigarette before flicking it out onto the balcony and disappeared into his walk-in. He emerged a minute later in a crisp navy suit and dress shirt, looking far too ridiculously perfect for the small amount of time that it had taken.
I watched in amusement as he made his way over to me and pushed me up against the door of his room. “Fine,” he purred, “Ill play nice. Do you know what your plans are for the day?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know what is scheduled for today.”
“Why don’t you come with me then? I think you may want to hear some of the other things we are supposed to be discussing anyway.”
“Sounds good,” I told him and pecked him on the lips before ducking under his arm and heading out of the room. “Just give me a second to get changed.”
“Leopold, Winifred,” Felip acknowledged as we entered the council room. The Governors all butted out their cigars once they caught sight of me, and then quickly rose to their feet in recognition of their Prince. Leopold took his seat at the head of the table opposite his father. A butler quickly found a chair for me and seated me beside Leopold. The room sat down again.
“To what do we owe the pleasure of you joining us today, Winifred?” asked Felip, regarding me over the top of his half moon glasses.
“I asked her here,” said Leopold, saving me from responding. “I thought it may be prudent to involve her in our conversations today and she has a few questions she would like to have cleared up.”
“Very well. Shall be begin then? Arthur?” said the King, directing his gaze on a thin man with a mass of dark grey curls, Arthur, presumably.
“Well the first topic on the schedule for the day is the article in this morning’s newspaper.” He quickly unfolded a copy of the paper and pulled out a section holding it up so that everyone in the room could see. I blushed deeply, sinking down slightly in my seat. It was a spread of pictures of Leopold and me at the various events we had been to over the last couple of days. There was one of him and me at the restaurant; one of us on the red carpet at the Opera; one of him pulling me up onto Dave at the Cannette field; one of us on Dave in midair over the fence during our escape; shaking hands in front of the hospital; Leopold’s hand on my back in the circle of the children; Ella hugging him...They were endless.
“Yes, I spoke with Leopold on this matter earlier this week. The photographers are pushing boundaries again now that they are allowed too. So far, I say we should continue to let them,” said Felip.
Arthur nodded, “They are saying that the Lost Princess has turned the Dark Prince into Prince Charming. Claiming it is a fairytale, true love. I think this is a good thing.”
“This is good news considering the global media ban is to be lifted this week. I think we should run with this story and these pictures; put a positive spin on all of this. We will have to have our editors put our own spin on the details which lead to all of this of course,” said a ruddy-faced man.
My eyes grew wide. The global media ban was going to be lifted? That couldn’t be good. That meant that there would surely be even more photographers around soon. I was already overwhelmed with the few we had now.
I started as something suddenly hit my foot under the table. Leopold stifled a laugh and looked at me pointedly, smiling reassuringly. He rested his foot over top of mine, the skin of our ankles touching. He was trying to comfort me. I smiled and crossed my legs, placing my other foot over top of his so that our legs were tangled together.
“This, of course, brings up the topic of their marriage,” said another one of the counselors. “The Prince turns eighteen in ten months. We are running out of time. Perhaps the proposal should be soon so that there is time to plan the wedding, as well as his birthday and coronation, not to mention Winifred’s.”
“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Felip. “There is no point in committing Winifred unnecessarily. Let us wait until she has been cleared by France to be the ruler of Arcadis. The marriage will be moot unless she has an official title and position. Richard?”
“I leave for France this afternoon. I will have their verdict in the next two weeks,” announced the governor.
“What are the plans until then?” asked Arthur.
“Winifred’s family is here for the week,” said Leopold looking at me softly. “This is what she wanted to discuss. Fred?”
“I-I, uh,” I stuttered. My head was spinning from all of this sudden information and from the way they talked about my life so matter-of-factly. It was like everything was completely laid out for me for the rest of my life, which I suppose, if I stayed with Leopold, it would be. We would get married, rule two countries, and produce children, heirs, who would be raised to rule the two countries after us. No college, no hunting for a first home, no privacy. Was I ready to give all of that up just to be with Leopold?
“I was wondering what my schedule was for the week, what limitations or expectations there are for my family, and so forth,” I managed after a minute, my voice much more determined than I had expected.
“There are a few events that you and your family will be expected to attend. I’ll have a schedule written up and given to you as well as M. Arsnault. Phillipa is in Carmencie for the week visiting Lord Whitlock’s family, so your lessons are cancelled. You are free to do whatever you please between the scheduled events as long as you take Mr. Arsnault with you as well as M. Lefevre. He will not be with Leopold this week as Leopold will be away on a training mission,” replied Felip. “Oh, and I believe Beatrice told me that we are all having dinner together tonight.”
“Thank you very much,” I told him.
Felip smiled. “Is there anything further to discuss? We all agree?” They all did. “Then let’s end it here for today. I have to be in Lavert in half an hour.”
The Governors all rose to their feet as Felip exited the room through a side door. He paused for a moment, frowning and turned to look at Leopold and me. “Are you two still well within the regulations set by the contract?”
I blushed, looking down into my lap, suddenly very interested in the pattern of my skirt.
“Yes, sir,” said Leopold not sounding in the least bit embarrassed.
Felip raised an eyebrow in question but then smiled and quickly left the room.
As soon as he was out of sight, Leopold grabbed my hand and pulled me out through the heavy wood doors we had entered through.
Once we were out in the hall he pulled our linked hands to his lips and kissed my knuckles. “Are you okay?” he said softly, holding my gaze.
“Perfect,” I told him.
“Sounds great. I should probably make sure my family is awake first,” I told him as we made our way back to the center of the castle.
“So what are you planning on doing now?” Leopold asked.
“I think I will take them into the old town to look around,” I decided. I figured it was a good place to start. We stopped where the hall divided, one end heading south to my parents, the other north to the dinning hall.
Leopold nodded. “I have paper work to do, otherwise I would come along. Can I see you later tonight though, before I go?”
“Hmm,” I said, tapping the index finger of my free hand against my lips, “I’m sure I can fit you in somewhere.”
Leopold stopped dead in his tracks, pulling me to a halt in the center of the hall. His eyes darkened, a devilish smile spreading across his lips, “I do not get penciled in, Winifred.”
I opened my mouth to defend myself, to tell him I was only joking, but I didn’t get the chance. My words turned into a squeal as Leopold lifted me and threw me over his shoulder then began walking down the hall in the opposite direction I had to go.
“What are you doing?” I laughed lightly, breathlessly.
“If you have no time for me, you will just have to come everywhere with me, and I am hungry,” he stated.
“Put me down!” I cried swatting his butt.
“No, I’m pulling rank,” he said as his frame shook with laughter beneath me. “I want-” he cut off abruptly as we entered the dinning room, his body tensing. He slid me off his shoulder, righted me on the hardwood floor, and took a step forward, hiding me slightly behind his body.
“Sorry, Fred, I shouldn’t have done that, it was out of line,” he said tightly.
“What do you mean?” I frowned, and peered around him. My parents, Alec and Tess were sitting around the table in their pj’s staring wide eyed at us. Leopold was standing defensively in front of me still. I grazed the back of my hand against his.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “It’s different with them. The etiquette doesn’t matter.”
“Good morning to you too,” said Tess to us. “Now as lovely as your newly developed French linguistic skills are, could you please speak in English and let us humble commoners in the loop?”
She had never been a morning person.
“Sorry,” I blushed and took my seat beside Leopold. “Good morning. I didn’t think you guys would be awake.”
“Did you sleep well?” asked Leopold, playing the perfect host.
“Wonderfully,” drawled my mother. Her eyes danced between Leopold and I in amusement. She smiled into her orange juice. “We are ready for whatever you can throw at us.”
I put my hand on Leopold’s back, gently pushing him forward. He took the hint and went to his seat at the head of the table. I sat beside him and our usual breakfasts were delivered to us.
“We were just in a council meeting with Felip and the Governors and they said I just have to clear whatever we want to do with my bodyguard and make sure we are back in time for the planned events. I thought we could go explore old Dumasville today,” I said around a spoonful of yogurt.
“Sounds good. Will you be joining us, Leopold?” asked John.
Leopold put down his mug of coffee. “Unfortunately, I have a lot of paperwork I have to get through today, but my family and I will be eating dinner with all of you tonight.”
“My god, it’s gorgeous!” cried my mother an hour later as we emerged from one of the small cobblestone streets and into the square at the heart of Old Dumasville. “It looks like a fairytale village.”
“It’s pretty cool isn’t it,” I agreed. “Wait until you see the shops and cafes, many of them specialize in creating historically accurate products. There is a Solisian chocolate and pastry shop, a blacksmith’s where they still make weapons and armor, antique shops...”
“I so call going to the weapon shop first,” said Alexander squinting at the different shop fronts to see if he could find it.
“Fine,” said Tess, “but only if chocolate can be next. I read that it’s world famous.”
“So you had a meeting with the King this morning? That sounds pretty wicked,” said Alec. “I still can’t wrap my head around this whole princess thing.”
“I still have trouble sometimes too. The meetings aren’t so exciting, basically I just get a bunch of info dumped on me like wedding dates, virginity clauses, and paparazzi updates.”
“You’re getting married!” cried Tess excitedly.
“Virginity clauses?” questioned my mother in disgust.
My eyes grew big as I realized my mistake. These were just normal topics of conversation for me now and I knew that just because they were being discussed didn’t mean they were put into action. My parents and friends however, were not accustomed to the in’s and out’s of my new lifestyle.
“No, no, it’s nothing like what you are thinking. Those are old rules. They were figuring out how to change them for me,” I rushed, hoping that would be a good enough explanation.
“You better hope so, or I will be talking to Leopold and his parents, and then binging you home before the summer’s over,” said Grace.
“I promise, they have been nothing but good to me. It was a hyperbole,” I defended.
“Alright then,” she said, placated, “now where are these swords.”
I was going to have to be more careful. While my two worlds were currently meeting, it was now clear that they would not see eye to eye.
“This chocolate is absolutely delicious,” my mother cried.
“To die for,” Tess agreed.
My dad watched the two as he ate his own bar, clearly not sharing the same thoughts as the girls.
“I preferred the wine,” said Alec.
Tess and my mom shot them death glares.
We had spent most of the day exploring the various shops, cafes, and markets that made up Old Town. I felt very official as I listed off facts about architecture and history as me made our way through the various buildings and gardens. They had been completely enchanted by the charm of the old village and the Solisian delicacies and sights.
“I am bringing an entire crate off this stuff back home with me,” announced Tess loudly, as she licked her lips.
I hushed her, looking around nervously to see if someone had noticed us. So far, people did not seem to be recognizing me out in street clothes as I window shopped with my family. I guess without the fancy clothes or Leopold at my side, I blended in enough to be overlooked as a tourist. I glanced vaguely to my guard who stood at attention by the doorway to the pastry shop, calming when he didn’t seem to be concerned about us being attacked for the moment.
“Where to next, Fred?” My mom asked.
“Ummm, jewelry or stained glass,” I told her.
“Jewelry,” she and Tess said simultaneously and made a beeline for the door.
The boys groaned beside me.
“Not that the old town isn’t great, Fred, but how much longer do we have to shop?” asked Alec as he rearranged some of the shopping bags he had in his hands. “I mean, the blacksmith shop was great, and lunch, but I don’t know about jewelry.”
I looked at my watch, noting that it was just past four.
“This will be the last one,” I promised him. “We have to head back for dinner soon.”
He smiled, relieved, and followed the girls out of the shop.
To be honest, I was glad it was almost over too. I was exhausted from touring around all day, and constantly being on alert, although it had been nice spending time with them. So far everything had been light and fun, but I knew they were going to start digging for information soon and I was afraid I wasn’t going to have all the answers.
“How is tonight going to work?” Tess asked as she peered down into case of artisan crafted rings. “I mean, are there rules and stuff we have to follow? What do I have to wear?”
“It’ll just be casual,” I assured her. “Felip and Beatrice are very warm and welcoming, they won’t make this uncomfortable. That being said, I will be in a skirt.”
“I can do that,” she said as she fastened a pearl necklace around her neck.
“You should probably let someone lead you to your seat though, there are rules about that,” I added as I ran my fingers over a Sapphire pendant that looked very similar to the one Richard had given me.
“I can’t choose my own seat?” Alec questioned.
I shook my head no. “There are some things you just don’t mess with.”
“How about tomorrow? Do you think Leopold would take us to see that game you were telling us about?” asked John excitedly.
“Leopold is leaving after dinner tonight; he has to go back to the air force base. We are supposed to go to see him play in the Solisian Canette Tournament Finale on Wednesday though,” I told him.
“That’s too bad, I would have liked to spend more time with Leopold,” said my mother.
“He is really busy,” I defended mildly.
“Well I would hope so if he is running a country,” said Tess. “Plus, whenever he gets a free minute he seems to just want to be around you.”
“It is strange the way they interact together isn’t it?” my mom said to Tess, completely ignoring me now.
“I know, I was just telling Fred that last night,” Tess rolled her eyes.
“He tries to act all reserved but then he is so in tune to her. They are like magnets, any slight movement in one causes a reaction in the other,” observed Grace.
I pursed my lips and suddenly busied myself with examining a display of rings. It was a good thing they didn’t know about my little sleepover last night. It was bad enough that Felip had somehow found out.
“I don’t know, I still don’t trust Prince Charming,” added Alec, “I mean, he needs Fred, right, this could all be an act to get her.”
I opened my mouth to comment but M. Arsnault caught my eyes and tapped his wrist pointedly. I huffed. It was probably a good thing we had to leave though, it isn’t a good idea to talk about this in such a public area.
“Thank you so much for having us,” said John an hour and a half later.
“It is our pleasure and honestly, it’s the least we could do in return for you allowing Winifred to come and stay with us,” replied Beatrice, smiling warmly.
All of us, Felip, Beatrice, Hector, Rose, Phillipa, Hugo, John, Grace, Tess, Alec, Leopold, and I, were all seated around the dining room table. So far, it had been introductions and small talk, but it was only the first course so there was still plenty of time for things to go wrong.
“I can’t believe all the stuff you have convinced her to do!” added my mother. “Every time we speak she tells me about horseback riding, swimming, TV interviews, dancing. It all sounds so incredible. I would never have imagined my Fred doing half this stuff.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say she exactly ‘does’ some of it, but she definitely tries her best,” said Hector. Rose elbowed him in the ribs.
“That sounds more accurate,” chimed in Tess.
I blushed furiously and suddenly became very interested in the plate of salad in front of me.
“I can’t believe you got her near a horse,” said Alec. “She has been absolutely terrified of them ever since she was bitten by one on our fifth grade field trip to a ranch. It barely nipped her but she ran right back to the school bus and wouldn’t get off the bus for the rest of the day.”
I glared at Leopold who was beside me as he tried to stifle a laugh.
“Everyone is scared of something,” said Felip gently. “For example, I have never liked dogs. I had a pet bird when I was young whom I was very fond of. My father never liked the thing and told me I needed a real pet, so he gave me a hunting dog and dragged me out to the forest to see what he could do. I watched in disgust as the dog brought back birds and rabbits to my father. One day, when I returned from school, the dog walked up to me and dropped something at my feet, my pet bird. He had caught it, killed it and brought it to me. I have not been comfortable around dogs since.”
“So Leopold, what do you do at the base?” asked my mother around a forkful of lettuce.
“Search and Rescue mainly. We are actually going out on a practice mission next week to try out a new fleet of jets,” Leopold explained.
“How long how you been involved with the army?” asked John.
“As long as I can remember,” replied Leopold before taking a sip of wine. I could tell he was uncomfortable with all of the attention on him.
“He was so cute,” gushed Beatrice. “When he was really little he would get all dressed up in his uniform and run around the gardens with his arms spread wide, pretending to be a plane.”
Beatrice laughed, her eyes twinkling. “His nanny always used to bribe him with chocolates so that he wouldn’t wear his uniform to bed.”
I pictured a little Leopold asleep in the middle of his giant four poster bed decked out in his full militia regalia and smiled. It was hard to imagine he had ever been so young and carefree. Sounded like his stubbornness had been there from day one though.
The rest of the dinner passed without much incident, other than a few minor embarrassments on the parts of Leopold and I. It seemed that our families were bent on sharing the worst parts of our childhoods.
“Shall we run through the schedule for tomorrow, Mademoiselle?” M. Arsnault asked me. It was nine at night. Dinner had just finished so, in staying true to my word, I had said goodnight to my family and returned to my wing of the castle to wait for Leopold so that we could say goodbye.
“Sure, may as well,” I conceded as I emerged from my closet now wearing pajamas.
“Most of your day tomorrow is fully booked. You and your family are to meet with Mme. DuBech in the morning. Then you will be going to Le Mechant Steak for dinner and out to the Ampitheater to see the Solis Symphony Orchestra Play.”
“How much free time does that leave us with in the afternoon?” I asked my guard turned secretary.
“Five hours, Mademoiselle,” he replied.
“I’d like to take them on a ride around the grounds. Do you think we could have a lunch made up so that we could have a picnic in the meadow by the cliffs?” I smiled at the thought of subjecting my family to the evil horses. They would see that it wasn’t as easy to ride one as it seemed.
“Yes, Mademoiselle,” said M. Arnault making note of my request in a time book he produced from his breast pocket. “Anything else?”
“Can I ride Jacqueline or Dave if possible?” I asked hopefully. There was no way I was going to get back on my horse. Leopold’s two seemed much more reliable.
“Very well, Mademoiselle,” he said and bowed slightly.
There was a knock on my bedroom door and Leopold entered, coming directly over to stand behind me. He was dressed in his uniform, rucksack over his shoulder. He dropped his bag to the ground and pressed himself close to me, his hands on my sides, fingers strumming against my hipbones. M. Arsnault quietly excused himself from the room, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.
“Come with me,” Leopold said, wrapping his arms around my waist.
I laughed lightly, “I don’t think that would go down well.”
He shrugged and half whispered, half growled against my neck, “Too bad.”
“It’s just one week,” I said swallowing hard. I wasn’t sure if I was trying to reassure him, or myself.
Leopold spun me around suddenly so that I was facing him and kissed me passionately. His mouth was full of unsaid need and desire. I threw my arms around his neck trying desperately to hold on to him. He pulled back after a minute, resting his forehead against mine and licked his full lips.
“I will be back soon, promise.” He unlocked my arms from around him and picked up his bag off the floor
“Be safe,” I whispered. Then he was gone. Again.
“So, ahh, why exactly are we playing, royal Barbie?” asked Alec the next morning. He was standing up on the pedestal in the yellow room, Mme. DuBech plucking irritatedly at the seams of the suit she had forced him into.
“Il est si grand!” she murmured angrily under her breath.
“Huh?” asked Alec frowning.
I giggled but waved a hand at him dismissively, “It’s nothing important. And we are doing this because you guys need to be dressed properly for the concert tonight. It’s strictly black tie.”
“I call this one!” exclaimed Tess excitedly, pointing at a manikin who was wearing a glittering, strapless, navy, floor length gown. She and my mother got to choose between the array of dresses which had already been made for me. I wasn’t too sure where the suits for John and Alec had come from.
“I would have preferred it in pink but it seems you only wear blue, white, grey and green, so this will have to do,” she continued.
“That’s fine, Tess, I am fairly attached to this one,” said my mother as she emerged from behind the dressing screen in a jade halter-neck dress with a ruffled fishtail. John’s eyes grew large.
They were lucky they got to choose. As usual, my clothes had been selected for me. I wasn’t even completely sure why I had to put the dress on, seeing as it had been tailored to me and Angela probably already knew how to make five different outfits with it. They didn’t seem to care though, so I sat in an arm chair in my aqua gown, with its lace cap sleeves and back which was barely held together by a line of delicate pearl buttons, as Mme. DuBech decked out the rest of my family. It was probably a good thing I was here though. Not only did I get to spend more time with everyone, but it quickly became evident that a translator was needed.
“Est-ce que tu as des soulier que tu peux porter avec ca?” Mme. DuBech asked my mother.
“Did you bring shoes that would go with that, Mom?” I paraphrased.
“I brought a pair of black wedges?” Grace offered.
I relayed the information to Mme. DuBech who nodded her consent.
“So we are going out to eat and then to a concert?” asked Alec, then blushed as Mme. DuBech began to work on his inseam.
“Yes. There will be a security and etiquette briefing for all of you a half hour before we leave. You guys will have to be careful tonight if the paparazzi show up, and listen to M. Arsnault’s directions,” I warned. It was strange how I had gone from the student to the teacher. It was just a few days ago that Leopold and Phillipa had been teaching me the same thing.
“Is it going to be strange not having people to do all this stuff for you when you get back, Bells?” asked Tess. “Maybe you could convince Felip to lend some of them to you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked her frowning.
“Well, school starts in three weeks. You know, our fourth year of high school? You are coming back, right?” she asked.
It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Was that really all that was left of the summer?
“You said this was only a trial, Fred,” reminded my mother. “That was the deal, you would come to the castle for the summer. In three weeks you are going to have to come back and return to normal life.”
“What if I decide to stay?” I asked quietly. “They need me.”
“You can’t be serious,” spat Alec. “You can’t honestly be thinking of saying yes and marrying this guy. You’ve only know Leopold for a few months.”
“You would be committing to the entire lifestyle, Fred,” worried John.
I didn’t reply to them, just slouched down into my armchair, my head spinning. It was too soon to be making this kind of decision. I needed to stay here, to stay with Leopold, wanted to, but the reminder of school and home suddenly brought back a rush of memories. They were the thoughts and plans the old Fred had made, thoughts about going to university, becoming a publicist or a writer, or something else completely different. Thoughts about my American dream style husband and two point five children, dog, picket fence. Suddenly I felt like I was in the wrong place. Like my dress was choking me.
Instincts kicked in and I was suddenly out of the room, running down the hall. I burst through the door of Leopold’s bedroom and buried myself under the heavy blankets, cocooning myself away from all of the indecision, opinions, and paths. I inhaled deeply, the smell of smoke, spice, and apple calming me and realized that this was exactly the same as when Leopold had left last time. The second he was gone I was filled with doubt and worry, but all of that vanished when we were together again.
Alec’s comment from yesterday floated to the top of my mind. Leopold couldn’t really be faking all of this just to get me to stay could he? No, I decided resolutely. That couldn’t be possible. They hadn’t seen the change I had caused in him. They didn’t know anything about my life here at the castle with Prince Charming. They did know the old Fred though, and that’s what had me worried, because I didn’t know which Fred I was, or which I wanted to be.
There was a gentle knock on the door and Angela quietly stepped in. “Are you alright, Mademoiselle?” she asked, frowning in concern.
I sighed deeply as pushed myself upright. “Time for riding?” I checked, avoiding her question.
As according to schedule, the five of us had been stripped out of our gown and suits in exchange for jeans and riding boots. There were three stable hands waiting at the back entrance with the monsters.
“They are beautiful!” exclaimed Tess excitedly. She had gone to a summer horse riding camp when she was little and was clearly very comfortable around the beasts. “Oh, that’s not the only beautiful thing,” she whispered under her breath and then quickly made her way over to a white horse who was being held by tall, black haired, and muscled stable boy. Alexander, I think.
John was also very comfortable around the horses. He was from Montana, and had grown up on a farm. He immediately approached the beasts, examining each one, petting their necks, and making clicking sounds at them.
Alec and Grace were smart and stayed a little further back with me. They had never ridden before.
I smiled and then bravely approached Jacqueline, who they had brought out for me. I quickly pulled myself up into the saddle, impressed when I did it on my first attempt.
“Wow Fred, that’s so brave! How did you do that?” asked Tess, slightly too loudly.
“Would you like some help, Mademoiselle?” asked Alexander.
“Oh, thank you so much! I’ve never been on a horse before,” said Tess.
I rolled my eyes and watched as she let him lift her into the saddle. The faker.
I looked to my right to see that Alec had, with some help from one of the other stable hands, also managed to mount one of the horses and was now sitting in what appeared to be a very uncomfortable manor in his saddle. Grace, with some help from John, was also set to go.
Alexander expertly pulled himself up onto his horse, complete with saddlebags, and marched it around to face us. “Everyone good?” he asked, in his heavily accented voice.
“Alright, for those who have never done this before, to get your horse to move, or go faster, simply hit them in the ribs with your heels. To turn, pull on the side of the reins which are on the side you wish to turn. To stop pull back,” he explained.
Tess put up her hand, “Will you help me? I’m a little nervous.”
“You can ride with me at the front,” he assured her. “Let’s start slowly.”
Slowly, very slowly, we made our way across the grounds. After some initial issues getting her horse to move, my mother was now doing well and was chatting with John as they rode side by side. Alec was having difficulty in the steering department. His horse was stubborn and kept wandering off away from the group. Every once in a while I would hear a string of curse words, only to look over my shoulder and see Alec trying to convince his horse to cooperate with him as they headed off in some strange direction. Tess stayed at point, continuing her charade so that she could flirt with Alexander.
We came to the meadow and all dismounted our beastly steeds, Tess sliding down Alexander’s chest when he came to help her. He blushed then cleared his throat and busied himself with the saddlebags.
“I have been instructed to leave these with you,” he said handing me a large blanket and a wrapped parcel. “I will come back for you in three hours.” He bowed, then mounted his horse and took off at top speed into the trees.
“Oh my,” said Tess as she fanned herself with her hand.
“Oh, please,” sneered Alec as he snatched the blanket out of my hands and rolled his eyes.
We left our horses tied to a pair of trees, happily munching on some grass, and went to join Alec on the blanket he had spread out on the grass. I sat in the center and began unwrapping the package. I pulled out a series of drinks, salads, and sandwiches before frowning, my hand closing around something strange.
I pulled out a thermos with a frown, Alec’s name was written in swirly letters across the lid.
“What’s this?” I asked, as I threw the thermos at him.
He caught it nimbly and examined it briefly. “Oh no,” he groaned.
“What’s that?” Tess asked curiously, looking over Alec’s shoulder.
“Kraft Dinner, probably,” he muttered.
“The castle has Kraft Dinner which they made especially for you?” said John confused as he bit into a club sandwich.
“No. I got hungry last night, so decided to go to the dinning room to see if I could get a snack. No one was around so I poked my head through the door that the servers go in and out of. Turned out to be a kitchen, and there was one girl there. I asked her if I could have something to eat. She asked what I wanted. I said Kraft Dinner. She laughed at me and made me Fettucini Alfredo. And no...” he cut off, waving his hand towards the thermos in front of him on the blanket.
“Sounds like somebody’s got a crush on you,” teased Grace.
“At least she is more subtle then Tess,” I joked.
“Hey,” cried Tess, around a bite of butter tart. “I only have a couple days left, I have to take advantage of what I can, when I can. Not everyone gets a boyfriend, fiancée, and husband just thrown at them all in one.”
“I know,” I murmured and put down my sandwich, my appetite now gone.
The limo rolled to a stop outside the amphitheater later that night, the photographers swarming closer to try and see who was inside. Subconsciously, I reached down beside me, but the hand I grabbed onto was far too petite and delicate to be the one I had been hoping for. Tess took my hand anyway, squeezing gently and smiling brightly at me.
“This is so exciting!” she said. “It’s like we are at the Oscars or something, red carpet and all!”
Dinner had gone well. It was fun, like when we would all go out together back home in Phoenix, just a little more elaborate. We were on to the second half of the night, the tricky part. Hopefully they would remember their impromptu training from earlier tonight.
I took a deep breath to calm myself, not sure if I was ready to do this alone, without Leopold here to lean on. I didn’t have time to hesitate though, because suddenly M. Arsnault had opened the limo’s door, and was helping everyone out and onto the red carpet.
They had been instructed to travel in pairs to make the transition from the car to the entrance easier. Tess and Alec were first. They were enjoying themselves maybe a little too much, waving and posing as they made their way down the red strip. John and Grace acted more subtle and reserved, awkward even. I was last, solo except for M. Lefevre who was shadowing me silently.
As I was the Royal Representative tonight, the lights dimmed as soon as I had sat down, and the musicians filed out onto the stage. The conductor came out, bowed in my direction, and the music started.
“It’s like being with a God!” Alec joked under his breath, nudging me in the ribs with an elbow. “You should make Principal Goldbloom bow down to you when we get back to school.”
“This is just out of respect. You should see what happens when an actual member of the Royal Family goes somewhere,” I told him.
“You’ll just have to invite us back when you are Queen then,” said Tess with a wink.
We got back late. Exhausted, I dragged myself back up to Leopold’s and my tower, leaving a trail of my shoes, handbag, and fascinator along the way. I slid the dress off my body as soon as I was in the bedroom, leaving it in a pool on the floor, and then crawled into Leopold’s giant bed, and drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When Angela woke me, the sun was already high in the sky, its light flooding into the room from the balcony. I yawned, not feeling at all rested.
“Mademoiselle Tess is looking for you, miss. She is waiting in your bedroom. I told her I would get you,” said my maid quietly.
I guess my secret was out now then. Tess would have no problem putting the pieces together and figuring out where I had been. I pulled on one of Leopold’s t-shirts, covering up the underwear I had slept in, and let Angela lead me back to my room.
Tess was perched on my bed, dressed in full riding gear. Her eyes ran over me when I came in, taking in my haggard appearance. I crossed my arms over my chest.
“You going riding again?” I asked, my voice coming out thick.
“Just got back actually, went out with Alexander. He is amazing, Fred, like no one I’ve ever met before,” she gushed and then sobered.
“You miss him don’t you?” she asked, looking me straight in the eye.
“So much it scares me,” I replied.
Tess held out her arms, waving me closer. I immediately went to her, allowing her to hug me, to pull me down onto my bed beside her. “I just don’t know what to do. I feel so lost when he’s not around, but I don’t know if I can do what I would need to, if I stay,” I mumbled.
“Shh,” Tess soothed, stroking my hair. “You need to relax, Bells. Enjoy all of this while you can. You will make the right decisions when you have to.”
“I’m sorry,” I sniffed, as I pushed myself upwards so that I was sitting, “you came here to tell me something.”
“Don’t worry about it, my story is the whole summer fling slash star struck lover’s thing. It can’t work out with Alexander and me. It’s just fun while I’m here,” explained Tess.
There was a knock on the door and Alec suddenly poked his head in, “Hey guys, can I come in for a sec?”
“Oh course, Alec, what’s up?” I asked.
He looked back over his shoulder, down the hall, and then shut the door and crossed the room, joining Tess and I on the bed.
“Nessa won’t leave me alone. She keeps popping up and trying to force feed me,” he said exasperatedly, flopping down onto the pillows.
“You should have seen the stack of pancakes she gave him at breakfast, Fred. It probably could have fed the entire royal family for a week,” Tess laughed.
“It’s not funny,” defended Alec. “I don’t know what to do!”
“Why don’t you just give in, live a little, have some fun. Fred did and look how that turned out,” Tess said, waving her hand around, indicating my luxurious bedroom.
A clock chimed inside the library making me sigh and rise from the bed. “Time to get ready guys, Leopold’s game starts in an hour.”
“So how does this work exactly?” John asked from beside me. We were at the field now, Felip, Beatrice, Hector, me, Alec, Tess, John and Grace, and were waiting for the game to start.
“They score by getting the ball into the other team’s net. You pass it from player to player down the field. If the ball is dropped, the play is over, and it is given to the other team,” Beatrice told him gently.
John frowned but nodded.
“It makes more sense once you see it,” I reassured him.
The audience burst into applause as the players rode onto the field. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes found Leopold’s familiar form, then stopped completely when I realized he was riding straight towards us. He slowed and dismounted Dave.
“Hello,” he said smiling brightly. His eyes twinkled with excitement. He bowed slightly to his father. “They want Winifred to throw the first ball,” he said, eyes boring into mine.
“What?” I blanched.
“Don’t worry, you will be safe,” Leopold reassured me and then waved me over to him. He grabbed hold of my waist, lifting me over the barrier and onto the turf beside him. He released all of me but my hand, leading me towards the center of the field, applause and camera flashes erupting around us.
“What do I have to do?” I asked him, trying walk as gracefully as possible while my heels sunk into the ground with every step.
“You will go on one of the referees’ horses, and throw the ball into the air to start the game. Then, the ref will take you back to your seat. Alright?”
“You have no idea how much I wish I could kiss you right now,” he said suddenly under his breath.
I blushed. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Two more days,” he said and brought my hand to his lips, kissing our linked fingers. I was surprised he did in such a public location. “Oh, and Fred, here.” He handed me his dog tags which I quickly fastened around my neck.
We arrived at center field. All of the players were dismounted, standing beside their horses. Leopold left me beside the ref and went to his allotted spot. He whistled loudly and Dave, who was still where he had left him, by my parents, dutifully bounded over to stand beside his rider. The national anthem played, then the players mounted their horses.
The ref lifted me onto his horse, handed me the cannette ball, then climbed up behind me.
“Shake hands,” he said to Antoine and Leopold who were facing each other at center field. “Whenever you are ready, Mademoiselle.”
I took a deep breath, and threw the ball up as hard as I could, then closed my eyes as all hell broke loose around me. I could feel the horse moving beneath me, feel the refs arm around me, keeping me in place on the bare back of his horse, but I kept my eyes closed until I was sure we had stopped.
“That was great, Winifred!” boomed Hector. He was right in front of me, hands extended in my direction. “Do you mind?”
I shook my head and let him lift me off the horse and back into the bleachers.
The game was intense, violent. Both teams were trying their best to win the title. Alec and John were absolutely entranced; Tess and my mother, both squeamish, were hiding their eyes. Both teams were neck and neck until the last minute, when Leopold scored the last goal. I could see the smile on his face from the opposite side of the field. He had gotten revenge for the last game I had seen.
We left quickly, before the crowd had dispersed, led to the limos by our security guards.
“Absolutely amazing!” announced John.
“More like barbaric,” said my mother.
Felip laughed, “Yes, it is very violent, but you must admit, fun to watch.”
“And Leopold plays really well,” complimented Alec.
“I thought Antoine had him few times,” admitted Hector, “but then Leopold got out of it. All that practicing he did with you last week must have helped,” he winked at me.
I blushed and opened my mouth to retort but was cut off.
“Winifred,” called a silken voice. Our security team stopped around us, clearly recognizing the voice as well. “Fred, wait,” it called again.
I turned to see Leopold running down the front steps of the clubhouse, trying to catch us before we made it to the limos. He was panting by the time he made it over to us.
“Good job, son,” said Felip, shaking Leopold’s hand.
“No kidding,” agreed Hector, and slapped his brother on the back.
“Thanks,” Leopold smiled, then he turned to me. “Fred, I need my tags back.”
“Oh,” I said, hand flying to the chain around my neck. “I am so sorry, I forgot.”
“It’s fine, I thought we could switch,” said Leopold. He took his dog tags from around my neck, and replaced it with his gold medal. His fingers lingered on its blue ribbon, where it sat against my collarbone.
“Do you have any time?” I asked him hopefully.
Leopold shook his head then leaned in, placing a delicate kiss on my cheek. “Keep it safe.”
“Always,” I vowed, then I was pulled into the limo.