Chapter Two: Silent Strolls And Pretty Pictures
Kensington did not wish to spend more time with her intended. From the way he disappeared after the wedding practice, she was sure Douglas did not wish to either.
But when his mother, Queen Joan, said they should spend time alone together, to get to know each other before the wedding, they both agreed.
She wanted to be a good wife and to have a successful marriage: one where they publicly seemed like the perfect picture of wedded bliss.
Even if—like for her mother and father—there were secrets behind the closed doors.
And she wanted to be a formidable queen one day.
She just regretted that Douglas had to be her route to it all.
Kensington was a few minutes late to the arranged meeting at the willow tree. When she left her royal apartment, she took a wrong turn and ended up in the opposite direction.
When she arrived, he was waiting by the tree, a slightly irritated look on his face.
“Good afternoon,” he said. His back was ramrod straight; his shirt buttoned right up to the neck.
“Good afternoon. Sorry I’m late. I got lost.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Douglas said. His face was pinched, and he avoided looking at her eyes. Surely her lateness bothered him.
The weather was colder than Kensington was used to for spring, and she pulled her jacket tighter around her.
The footsteps behind them of two security guards were the only sound that broke through the silence. Kensington racked her brains trying to think of something to talk about.
She wasn’t usually one who was stuck for words. And yet, here, around Douglas… The words just didn’t seem to come.
“It’s quite chilly for this time of year,” she said eventually, even though she knew how pathetic it sounded as a conversation starter.
And so that was that. The conversation slowed to a halt before it even got going.
“The gardens are beautiful.”
“Mother enjoys them.” His words were short and sharp. Did he not want her to respond?
But what was the point of this awkward walk, if they did not talk?
His arms were stiffly by his sides; his gaze directly ahead. She wrapped her arms around her body, feeling the cold.
Another long pause—and then he finally said something without her prompting.
“You can see the stars on a clear night from here. Not too much light pollution.” He looked up at the sky and waved one hand towards it.
“That’s good,” she said. She had no interest in astronomy. She understood that he did, from the little information her parents gave her before the engagement was made official.
She loved the outdoors, and she supposed that could be extended to the stars, if someone cared enough to teach her.
But she wondered if he found her interesting enough to spend that much time with. She wondered why he’d agreed to this marriage. Was it only for political gain?
Normally, people showed far more interest in Princess Kensington Lance than this man who was to be her husband was showing.
Kensington put on a dress that she knew made her curves look incredible, and finished with a dark red lip, ready for dinner with Douglas that evening.
She wanted to at least feel desirable—even if being around Douglas did not seem to inspire any passion in her.
At a candlelit table in the prince’s residence, the two royals waited for their starter in silence. A bodyguard hovered nearby, and a young lady waited on them.
Aside from that, they were totally alone.
Kensington was used to being surrounded by people—it was all part of being a member of a royal family. Having no people here seemed to highlight how little she and Douglas spoke.
She and Douglas were supposed to be—to the outside world, at least—the perfect picture of young love.
And yet Douglas barely looked at her, all day.
And she felt queasy at the thought of kissing him again.
When the first course was brought out, Kensington felt her stomach turn over.
A whole fish, head and eyes still intact, lay on the platter.
As it was placed before them, she felt like the eyes were watching her.
Remembering that this was a delicacy in the North, she did not comment, but she did not think she could eat it.
She hated fish—but this was even worse.
The eyes, the scales, the mouth…
Then the waiter came and filleted it in front of them, then put a piece on each plate, next to a side salad and a slice of bread, before backing away.
Kensington gulped and glanced at Douglas, who seemed to be tucking in with relish. She picked up her knife and fork, and pushed it around the plate.
The fish was inedible to her, and she could not quite believe it when Douglas reached for a second helping.
“Delicious, no?” he asked.
“Indeed,” she said, hoping he did not notice she had not touched the fish.
“Caught this morning, apparently.”
“Wonderful. Living near the sea must provide a lot of fresh seafood.”
Another awkward conversation, she thought.
It was going to be a long meal.
She took a sip of her wine as she tried to think of topics that might last a little longer than a couple of exchanges.
“So,” Douglas said suddenly, after a gulp of his own wine. “The kiss, earlier, in the rehearsal—how do you think it went?”
Kensington almost choked on her wine. Never had she been asked such a direct question about a kiss.
The men she had kissed before—though there weren’t many, despite what the tabloids claimed—had always been smooth, experienced, and far too confident to ever ask such a question.
Was he asking about the public aesthetic? Or for a review of his performance?
Of course, the kiss had been a disaster. But she needed to be polite and could not possibly say that.
“It was… decent,” she said, avoiding making direct eye contact.
“Well, I am inexperienced, but I am sure I will improve with practice. That’s the way of things, isn’t it—they get better with more time put into them.”
She nodded and drained the rest of her wine. How was she meant to give off the image of a woman madly in love when the man did not even know what a good kiss felt like?
The run-up to the royal wedding was as hectic as Kensington had expected it to be, but she was rather grateful for that, as it took her mind off the actual wedding.
First there was the royal fitting—to ensure that both their outfits were perfect for the many photos that would be taken.
Then there was the official photo shoot, which would be done the day before the wedding, in order to maximize the publicity opportunities.
This Kensington reveled in. She loved clothes, and taking beautiful photographs was second nature to her.
Her beautiful wedding dress made her beam every time she saw it, and she did not find any of this part of a big royal wedding to be a hardship.
Kensington and Douglas stood on separate podiums in the same room, so the dressmaker and tailor could measure every section of their garments and make sure the details complemented each other.
As the dressmaker removed the tape measure from Kensington’s bust—double- and triple-checking the measurements—the silky robe she wore slipped.
She grasped at it as it pooled around her waist, leaving her lingerie on display.
It seemed ridiculous to cling to the silky robe, in an attempt to stay covered. After all, this man would be her husband very soon.
She did not feel comfortable enough around him to not worry about being nude, however.
But as she glanced at him, she realized he wasn’t even looking at her. His eyes were focused on an abstract painting on the wall, far away from any of the people milling around the room.
Was he not interested to see what his wife-to-be looked like under her clothes?
“This way, Your Highnesses. Smile, that’s it, and flirt with the camera a little. Perfect, Princess Kensington.”
In many ways, Kensington felt she was born to do this. She felt fabulous in her wedding dress—the second outfit of the day.
Her wedding dress gave her a dramatic silhouette, and yet up close, it accentuated her curves, with dreamy layers of satin and lace.
She looked every inch the person she wanted the world to see: wife, princess, future queen.
They posed inside the palace, by the large fireplace, before it was time for a costume change and photos in the rose garden.
Fashion excited Kensington, and the white two-piece suit she wore for the next set of photographs was so very different from her wedding dress, and yet just as striking.
She took a glance at Douglas, who had seemed awkward throughout the first hour of the shoot. His stance was so wooden, his smile so forced; in truth, he looked like he hated every minute.
But as he removed his jacket and white shirt, in order to change into the black shirt and royal purple waistcoat for the next set of pictures, she found it hard to tear her eyes away.
She’d only seen him dressed in stuffy suits, with the top button done up, and a tight tie knot right up to his throat.
And yet, it seemed, beneath those shirts was the body of a Greek God. He could have been a statue, with solid abs and impressive biceps.
Where had he been hiding that physique? As he redressed, she pried her eyes away.
Medieval costumes, a ball gown, and an uncomfortable futuristic outfit followed, as they were dragged all across the castle to take pictures.
Kensington got another couple of glances at Douglas’s physique during costume changes. She was somehow just as surprised each time and every time as the first time.
But by the time they reach five solid hours of taking photos, even Kensington found she’d had enough.
Her face hurt from smiling, and all she wanted to do was put on her comfortable pajamas and curl up in front of the television.
Perhaps her tiredness was the reason for her lack of grace when Douglas caught the hem of her dress under his shoe for the third time.
“Watch where you’re stepping!” she snapped.
“Perhaps if you weren’t throwing yourself in front of the camera all the time!”
Kensington was a little shocked by his bluntness. She held no punches in responding.
“At least I am engaging with the camera!”
“Well, it’s a good job you’re pretty, else this wedding wouldn’t be going ahead!”
“And it’s a good job you’ve got a decent body, or the press would be questioning my choices.”
Realizing how cruel their words were, both froze, and Kensington wondered if she ought to apologize. But then, he was the one who started it.
“Group photos now, please,” the photographer said. “Back into your wedding outfits, Your Highnesses. It’s the last change.”
“Smiles, then. I know it’s a long day, but let’s show the camera how in love you are!”
Kensington grimaced, but then pulled herself together and smiled.
She could not help but notice that Douglas’s younger brother, the enigmatic Prince Patrick, was absent from these family photos.
Though she had heard he could not attend the wedding, she assumed she would see him soon, which made her feel a little strange. She hadn’t seen him since they briefly dated back in boarding school.
Thoughts like that were not helping her with her picture-perfect pretend smile—but she would see him soon, surely, right?