Chapter One: Cold Hands And Limp Kisses
Princess Kensington’s eyes blurred across the intricate architecture and stained glass windows of the cathedral. As breathtaking as it was, her eyes couldn’t focus long enough to take any of it in.
No, she could not focus on anything other than how strange this whole situation was. Her eyes darted briefly to the man standing at the end of the aisle.
The man who would be her husband in a few short days looked even more nervous than she did.
His brow beaded with sweat, which he wiped every so often with a handkerchief. His hands wrung together tightly in front of him.
Prince Douglas, next in line to the throne of Marovia, was tall and surprisingly pale. She supposed the Northern country did get less sunshine than her Southern home of Estica.
Still, she would have expected a Royal Prince to live a jet-setting lifestyle—or at least to have invested in a bottle of fake tan.
His dark hair contrasted with his pale skin; his green eyes seemed to be darting around, avoiding looking at anyone directly.
Practicing getting married felt very strange, but a rehearsal was deemed necessary. She just hoped she was not as nervous on their actual wedding day.
There were many positives to marrying Douglas. She knew he was the best choice for the future of her country’s monarchy—but it felt odd to marry a man she did not even know.
At least it would ensure her country would prosper, after so many years of volatility between Marovia and Estica.
The cathedral pews were packed to the brim with people to support the marriage of the royal couple.
But judging by their wide prying eyes, eager to soak up every last detail, maybe they were just there to ogle them.
Douglas kept his gaze firmly planted straight ahead, shutting them all out. He was keeping quiet to himself, but obeyed dutifully whenever the wedding planners gave him orders.
Kensington felt a horrible knot twist up in the pit of her stomach. What a miserable start to the rest of her life.
She ran her fingers through her hair, huffed out a big breath of air, and tried to remember if she ever had romantic ideas about marriage leading up to that moment.
Surely she had not always seen it as a business contract—as something her parents would organize in order to benefit Estica?
She watched for a moment as the Queen of Marovia approached the prince. As Kensington nervously toyed with a curl, Queen Joan exchanged a few words with her son.
Even with his mother, his posture remained stiff. Did this man ever relax?
“Your Highness,” a voice called, and her musing was broken by a small, dark-haired young lady running up to her.
The royal hairstylist. The woman who spent hours pinning and spraying Kensington’s hair that morning.
Her face twisted in scowling disappointment.
“Your Highness,” she said again, chastising Kensington as if she was a child.
Kensington blushed as she realized the attention of many in the cathedral was now on her.
“Your hair—let me fix it.”
She did not openly tell Kensington off for messing up the delicate creation of curls and pins and ornaments, but the princess knew she damaged it by accident.
“Sorry…” she said. She had not really understood why she needed to be in full hair and makeup for a practice run, but that was the protocol, and so that was how it was.
“There will be millions of people watching on television when you actually get married,” she said, as she set to work with a comb and some hairspray.
“They all want to see the beautiful princess as she marries our handsome prince. We don’t want your hair to be out of place!”
“No, of course not,” Kensington murmured.
Her stomach started turning flips again. She didn’t need to be reminded of the millions watching.
Normally, she was a big fan of attention, but this wedding, to this man, felt so out of her comfort zone that for the first time in her life, she was shy about being watched.
“Practice is essential!” the hairdresser said. Kensington didn’t know if she was referring to the hair or the wedding ceremony itself.
Butterflies fluttered around her stomach, and she bitterly regretted messing up her hair, as she just wished they could get on with it.
Douglas was starting to turn a strange greenish hue, and even paler than before.
Although she did not know him well, she was fairly sure he was hating the attention far more than she was.
In fact, she thought he probably always hated being the center of attention—a problem for a royal prince, who was next in line to the throne.
His younger brother, Patrick, had always been keen on being in the spotlight—but she did not want to be distracted by memories of him right now.
Kensington smiled as her father, King Anthony of Estica, walked up to her side. The nickname ‘Princess’, while also her title, always made her smile.
As the hairstylist scurried away, she linked her arm with her father’s.
She stood up straighter, feeling his royal presence beside her, confident that she was walking beside the most powerful man she knew.
The musicians began to play the wedding march, and she took a deep, steadying breath.
Slowly, they proceeded down the aisle; all the while, Kensington tried to remember the steady walk that she had been taught to do when she arrived in Marovia.
They wanted her to behave less like a Princess, and more like a queen—the queen she one day would become.
Douglas was not looking at her, so she focused on the archbishop, who stood at the altar, ready for his part in this ceremony.
The warmth and strength of her father by her side reminded her why she was doing this.
This union would make her father happy—she knew that.
Now they would be tied together—just like she and Douglas would be.
The altar seemed to be before them very quickly, despite the slow walk, and Papa released her hand from where he had been holding it on top of his own hand.
“If you would please take the prince’s hand, Your Highness,” the archbishop said, and Papa passed her hand to Douglas, who took hold of it.
His hands were ice cold, and she had to tell herself not to visibly shiver. Had it ever felt so awkward to hold someone’s hand before? It felt so strange, and their eyes did not meet.
The archbishop went through the parts of the ceremony that he could, without anything being legally binding.
“And then I shall pronounce you husband and wife,” the archbishop said. “And you will kiss, to seal the union.”
All eyes were on them, and when Kensington’s eyes met Douglas’s, she saw hesitance there.
“If you could practice the kiss, please, Your Highnesses,” one of the wedding planners said, and Kensington forced herself not to recoil.
Holding hands was strange enough—kissing practice, in front of witnesses, was too awkward to bear.
Douglas bent forward, clearly determined, and Kensington stayed where she was, awaiting the inevitable.
His lips—which were almost as cold as his hands—brushed against her top lip, and then he pulled back.
His strong jaw was clenched with tension, and his dark green eyes avoided hers.
“So,” the wedding planner said, making his way toward them. Somehow his voice remained loud, and she wondered if he wanted the whole crowd to hear what he had to say.
“Great work, guys. Princess, your hair looks great, and Prince Douglas, that suit looks very sharp.”
“Now, I think we need some more passion in this kiss. You are both young, and beautiful. The crowd is going to be expecting a bit more than a peck on the lips your auntie might give you! Okay?”
She nodded, cringing with embarrassment.
Never had her kissing been criticized or critiqued.
It had been a lousy kiss, but she wasn’t sure they could inject passion on demand, no matter what the royal wedding planner wished.
“Understood,” Douglas said, as though the words were official orders.
Kensington stood with a fake smile on her face and tried not to let it show how troubling that kiss had been to her.
“I must get back to the observatory,” Douglas said. “If that is acceptable, Princess?”
He directed his question to Kensington, and she smiled and nodded, as was expected of her.
She watched him leave, her heart sinking even further into the pit of her stomach.
Not only did she barely know the man, she also felt no spark when she kissed him.
This did not seem like the best start to a marriage.
A marriage that the whole world would be watching.
But it was too late to change her mind. And even if it wasn’t, she knew this was her royal duty.
Was her whole life to be a game of pretend? She knew she was entering an arranged marriage. She had expected no love.
But had she expected how awkward everything would be? She could honestly say she had not.
Would she spend the rest of her life being told to show more passion in her marriage?