Mia dashed through the crowds on the streets of New York. “Crapppp,” she said, barely dodging a round-bellied baker exiting his store with a freshly baked cake, “Sorry,” she yelled back to him with a smile as the red-hot man shouted curse words with his fist raised to the sky. Mia zigzagged through a narrow alleyway and stopped at a side door. “I’m so late,” she said, frowning at her watch, which showed that she was indeed minutes past the time she was supposed to arrive. She rested there momentarily, catching her breath before reaching up to smooth down any wayward strands of hair. “She’s going to kill me,” she muttered as she let herself in.
Mia quietly slipped into the auditorium, taking care not to make any noise and catch the people’s attention onstage. The room was eerily still, and her eyes darted around the shadows looking for a familiar face. Ten young women stood in line in front of a panel of five judges. Smiling nervously, they awaited their questions. Mia found an empty seat in the back row, tucked away so she wouldn’t disturb the proceedings. Mia’s stomach was a bundle of nerves as she watched the stage, her friend among the group. She had almost missed the presentation, but the section was about to begin. Spotlights lit up the scene, and there stood the wealthiest women in North America. Some owned hotels, restaurants, and beauty companies, while others were heiresses to enormous financial fortunes. The women were dressed to the nines - designer gowns, flawless makeup, and jewelry that glimmered even in the harsh lighting. A statuesque blonde stood at the mic and flashed a dazzling smile. Her teeth were a sharp white against her golden locks. The woman spoke with an air of confidence, “I would be the best choice for princess because….”
Mia sighed and pulled out a luxurious black envelope with a golden wax seal bearing the crest of Alverna. Mia stared at the plain black envelope with a golden wax seal bearing the crest of Alverna. This invitation was only sent to society’s wealthiest and most influential women. It read:
The Prince of Alverna is holding an invitation-only ball for young ladies of high esteem who hold influential roles within their country. Please join us as we try to find our next queen.
Mia gazed up at the stage, fear and disbelief knotting her stomach as she watched Olivia prance to the microphone. When they first got the invitation, Olivia had jumped up and down, delighted at the prospect of being a princess, while Mia had other things she needed to focus on. Her non-profit organization wasn’t going to run itself. Mia couldn’t believe Olivia had convinced herself that marrying a man she barely knew was the right thing to do. But here she was, answering questions about her views and opinions as if she were a contestant in a reality television show with only one round left.
The judges went from state to state, searching for the perfect woman to represent America in the monarchy of Alverna. After a series of grueling interviews, brutal auditions, and careful observations, they will choose one lucky candidate. She will then be whisked away with her counterparts from other nations and spend the next three months in a luxurious palace as part of the rigorous selection process to determine who would be their country’s next princess.
As Olivia finished her answers, Mia gave her a two-fingered thumbs up, mouthing, “Good job!” She flashed a warm smile, although internally, she wished she were anywhere else. Mia didn’t want to attend this audition, but she promised to support Olivia through the process. She glanced at her phone, a pocket-size reminder of the two hours she still had to go before she could finally go home and relax. Letting out a frustrated sigh, she made herself comfortable and prepared for the long wait ahead.
The room was silent as the judges looked over the remaining eight women. Finally, one spoke up and asked, “If you had to do the same thing every day, what would you say?” The women looked around the room apprehensively before offering a variety of answers, ranging from humorous to inspiring.
“Like this?” Mia’s neck became a pendulum, her head swaying heavily over the back of the stiff auditorium chair. Her eyes glazed over, and her mouth hung open in a silent expression of boredom. With a heavy sigh, she muttered, “Kill me now.”
A burst of stifled laughter broke from the row behind her, and she slowly turned around. She saw a man wearing a black ball cap, its brim casting a dark shadow on his face. But even with the darkness, she could make out his light hazel eyes, which sparkled like stars in the night. He smiled slightly and said, “I apologize. I was just thinking the same thing myself.”
“This is a private event….” Mia turned around to face the stage, “…creeper.”
“Creeper? Ouch,” he said.
“Why else would you be at an all-women’s extremely exclusive, invitation-only event.” She asked over her shoulders, eyes still glued to the women on stage.
“I have a perfectly good reason…” the man started to say, hesitation written on his face. Before he could finish, he dove to the ground, jolting Mia’s chair in the process.
He cautiously raised himself above the back of the chair, catching a brief glimpse of two men in identical black suits and dark sunglasses. His heart raced as he dropped back down, cursing softly under his breath, “Damn it.”
Mia sat in the theatre and watched the men that moved swiftly up and down each aisle. “Hmm. I think they’re looking for you.” Her voice was calm and confident, yet her eyes never moved from the men’s movements.
The man was still kneeling on the ground behind her. His voice was raw and desperate as he pleaded, “Please help me.”
Mia’s voice was low and firm, her gaze unflinching as she watched the men creep closer, searching each aisle. “I don’t help creepers,” she declared.
“I’m not a creeper,” he said, trying to sound convincing. He nervously adjusted the baseball cap he wore, pulling it low to obscure his features. There was a long pause, and then he took a deep breath. He wanted to tell her who he was, but he knew that if word got out that Prince Wyatt had come to see the competition for himself, there’d be hell to pay. So instead, he took a shot in the dark. “I’m Leopold Wren, the prince’s best friend,” he said. Mia didn’t say a word, just stared straight ahead at the crowd of women answering questions. He swallowed hard and continued with his lie. “He asked me to come here and see the competition for him. If the royal guards catch me, it won’t just be me in trouble; I’ll be dragging the Prince down with me. Please,” he begged.
Mia’s voice quavered as she mumbled, “I’m gonna regret this.” Her gaze darted around the massive space, looking for any sign of the guards being close. When she saw none, she whispered, “Stay on the ground and crawl to your right. When you reach the end of the row, make another right and head toward the exit in the back.” Wyatt followed her instructions as Mia took out her phone and placed it to her ear. She stood, pretending to take a call, and began strolling through the row; her purse held tightly under her arm to simulate a casual stroll. When she reached the end of the row, she sped up slightly and started walking toward the exit with Wyatt still crawling in front of her, staying out of eyesight from the guards. When they finally got to the side door, Mia opened it and nodded silently toward Wyatt before allowing him to crawl out so she could close it gently behind them.
Once outside, he unsteadily clambered to his feet, gravel from the road stuck to the palms of his hands, which he shook off and wiped on his jeans. He looked up at Mia, a blush spreading across his cheeks as he searched for her name. “Thank you...”
“Mia,” she said.
“Mia,” He said, repeating her name quietly. She took a moment to take him in fully. The blue sky’s backdrop accentuated his tall frame. His light hazel eyes were kind, and she noticed his sturdy jawline and defined cheekbones that looked as if they’d been carved from marble. When their eyes met, a warmth spread through her cheeks as she realized he was studying her too. “That’s a beautiful name,” he said.
She was taken aback by the compliment, “And Leopold is a …..” she hesitated, trying to find the right words.
He chucked, “Everyone calls me Leo.”
Mia smiled brightly, “Okay, Leo.” She cast a quick glance down the empty alley; the only sound was the faint hum of cars on the nearby street. “Well...the coast is clear. You better go now if you don’t want to get caught.”
She reached out, and her delicate fingers gingerly touched the door handle. Just as she began to turn it, he said, “I’m assuming you got an invitation. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”
She turned back to him and answered, “I did.”
The creases between his brow deepened as he eyed her, curiosity etched across his face. “Can I ask why you didn’t enter the competition?” he asked. He hadn’t expected any to be still unanswered.
Mia lifted her shoulders in a noncommittal shrug. She met the Prince’s earnest gaze and paused, gathering her thoughts. “I don’t know,” she finally said. She hesitated, nibbling at her bottom lip before continuing. “I have no desire to marry someone I don’t know just to be able to call myself a princess.” Her voice was frank and direct, her expression determined. “Besides, I have others to care for, and that is more than enough responsibility as it is.”
Mia’s family and friends surrounded her, their love and support palpable. She was content with her simple life, her strong moral compass guiding her. She had been offered the chance to become a princess, with all the luxury that entails, and although many would leap at the opportunity, Mia turned it down. Wyatt was surprised, admiration evident in his gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “It’s rare to see someone willing to turn down such a grand chance like this.”
Mia’s lips quirked into a small, surprised smile. Her sparkled with amusement, “Guess I’m that someone,” she said, her voice light and airy.
“I respect that,” he replied, his voice steady and calm.
Mia smiled, “I better go.” she said as she opened the door and saw the men still searching the building. Instantly, realization dawned on her, and she quickly spun around, her gaze meeting his. “And so should you.” Her voice was gentle yet firm, her eyes speaking volumes of warning. He nodded in understanding and smiled sweetly at her before running off. Mia watched as he disappeared around the corner into the busy streets. She was left wondering if she would ever see him again.