**Unedited and Subject to Change**
1 – Prince Alexander
There was a loud, forceful knock, before my bedroom door swung open. Good thing I wasn’t sleeping with the enemy.
“Good morning, Your Highness.”
I groaned loudly. “It’s too early, Gus.” It felt like I had just laid my head down.
“I apologize, Your Highness, but your father wants to see you in his office. He says that it’s urgent.”
Of course, it was urgent. Anytime my father wanted to see me it was urgent. I sighed, wishing that I was somewhere else. Anywhere, other than inside the palace. These walls had a way of making you feel like you were suffocating.
Gus stood at attention near the foot of my bed holding my long red velvet robe. He was waiting for me to jump at my father’s command. His tailored navy-blue suit was pressed to perfection, and there wasn’t a gray hair out of place. In the twenty years that he’d been employed by my family, his looks hadn’t changed. He was just as gray headed then, as he was now.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and paused, waiting for the room to stop spinning. Scotch hangovers were the worst. I swear I could still feel it sloshing around in my stomach from the night before, threatening to make its reappearance, and not in a good way.
Standing slowly, I didn’t make any sudden movements for fear that I’d lose my footing. I slid my arms into the robe that Gus held out for me, adjusting slightly at the weight of it. Tying the sash, I reached for and grabbed my black frame glasses from the nightstand sliding them on my face.
“I suppose I shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
Gus just nodded in response, staying as stoic as ever. The man never showed any kind of emotion other than urgency, so I wasn’t surprised.
After slipping my feet into a pair of slippers, I made my way out into the dimly lit hallway. I passed three of the morning guards before turning right down the far corridor to my father’s office. I was used to being summoned by him. Lately, it was becoming a weekly occurrence. I had probably done something to embarrass or piss him off again.
The double doors to his office were wide open allowing me to walk in leisurely.
Father was standing with his back to me staring out the large window behind his desk that over looked the smallest garden. His tailored gray suit was starched tight as usual, barely even wrinkling at the bend of his elbow.
“Have a seat,” he said before I even had a chance to speak or bow. His deep baritone voice could easily scare people off, but not me. I was used to the dictating tone. Today though, I wished that he would turn the volume down a notch, for the sake of my pounding head.
I was just about to take my seat when the sound of clicking heels grabbed my attention. This wasn’t good. Having both my parents in the same room for an urgent meeting, meant that I had fucked up royally. Pun intended.
“Mother,” I kissed her cheek before retreating back to the hot-seat.
The mood shifted, as my mother moved to stand next to my father behind his desk. It’s bad enough having one parent with a scowl on their face, but two… I may as well have sent for the firing squad. I wanted to question the reasoning behind this urgent meeting, but I knew my place.
My father shuffled through a stack of papers that were on his desk. “I would ask you what you did last night, but it seems everyone will be reading about it this morning.” His tone was clipped as he set five different tabloids in front of me on his desk.
My face was plastered to each one. They were all compromising photographs that made me look conspicuous in one way or another. The headlines were even worse.
Looks like the Playboy Prince is at it again. Seems he can’t keep his hands to himself.
Two women at once… Talk about a Playboy.
Do you want this sexual predator as your next King?
Looks like drinking isn’t the only thing that our Prince is good at!
All of these women claim that they have shared a bed with our Prince.
I’d grown used to the tabloids spreading obsessive rumors and finding ways to keep me in the spotlight. They followed me around like leeches waiting to suck out their next story. There was never a moment of peace. Never a time when I wasn’t being hounded in one way or another. Not to mention the fact that their stories were usually preposterous. Well, mostly.
Sure, I liked to have a good time. And yeah, I had a sexual appetite. But I never took a woman without her permission. I never put any of them in an unwilling situation. They were always eager and ready to please. Pity for me that the paparazzi were always there when it happened. The whole country knew me as the drunken Prince with playboy ways.
I scoffed at the thought.
“You think this is funny?” My mother snarled.
I shook my head. “No. I don’t think this is funny. But you have to know that they twist this crap around to make me look bad. I’m not the only person that is seen in compromising positions on the front of these trash mags.”
“We don’t give a damn about anyone else,” my father growled. “You are the future King of Stokkton.” He reminded me. Again. Internally, I wished I could roll my eyes. They needn’t say it over and over. It’d been drilled into my head since the day I was born. Every day in conversation someone would either start by saying, “You’re the future King.” Or, “It’s not proper of the future King,” or even, “Surely as the future King, you wouldn’t…”
I growled without even realizing that I was doing it.
“This has happened one too many times, and it will not happen again.” My father glared at me, as he leaned across his desk. His palms were rested on the hard wood, his body taught. He meant business.
“It won’t.” I stressed.
“Exactly. Since I intend to fix the problem immediately.” His lip turned up in a smirk. His thick, dark lashes weren’t hiding the eager spark in his eyes.
“And by, fix the problem immediately, you mean…” My brows bunched together, as I tried to understand the meaning behind his words. Clearly, I wasn’t caught up. “What are you saying?” I asked hesitantly.
“You will be married.”
“That’s right,” my mother agreed. “You, my son, will take a wife. There will be no more excessive partying or whatever this is that you do,” she scoffed, waving her hand towards the magazines. “You will be King soon, and it’s time you started acting like one.”
“This isn’t a negotiation,” my father said firmly. “You have shamed this family one too many times. If you want the country to take you serious as a leader, then you will become a serious leader. I will give you the option to choose your wife from a list of candidates. You will choose. Unless…” he narrowed his dark brown eyes. “Unless you screw up again. Do not make this harder than it has to be. If you screw up again in the public eye, then I will choose your wife for you. Are we clear?”
I felt sick and quite frankly pissed off. This was absurd. “An arranged marriage? You want me to marry some random girl from God knows where to not only please our country, but to please you?”
“Yes,” my mother said. She didn’t stutter. Her words were as clear as her icy blue eyes.
I pointed towards the magazines. “These are all just stories. You know that these people twist things around to make it seem like I’m unfit. Their interests are only to hurt me and this family.”
“You act like this is the first time it’s happened, Son.” My father finally sat down in his desk chair. But of course, it didn’t make me feel any less intimidated. “Time after time we have had to release press conferences and statement retractions all in the name of your weekends out. We have given far too much time and money into the efforts of appeasing our country and keeping you out of the limelight. It’s gone on for too long. You’re twenty-eight years old and you act like a teenager. We let you have your fun, but that all changes now. You have less than two years before you take the throne. You will be married as soon as possible, and you will attend every council meeting. Soon your schedule will be so packed that you won’t have time for anymore late nights out. Your mother will have the list of girls for you by morning and we will give you ample time to choose one of them. Now, this meeting is over. I have work to do.”
I couldn’t say another word. I was dismissed before even being allowed to. There was a ringing in my ears as I rushed back to my bedroom. I hated feeling like a petulant child. For God’s sake, I was a man.
I asked the servants not to disturb me. I needed time to think about what was going to happen to me. This was the most ridiculous idea my parents had ever had. Yet, they couldn’t have been more serious. My whole world was about to change, and I had no control over it.
My stomach knotted up. I could feel my insides churning over and over. With urgency, I sprinted out of the bed and spent the next half hour with my head in the toilet. I blamed it on the massive amounts of scotch that I drank the night before, but in all honesty, it was fear rushing out of me. Fear of the crown. Fear of what my future held. But most of all, fear that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never stop failing. Maybe I could find some way to get out of the arrangement. I needed to think, but my head was throbbing too hard for that.
Growing up in my world wasn’t easy. Obviously, there were people who desired to be where I was, I just wasn’t one of them. I never asked to be born into this family. I never wanted to be King, but unfortunately, I had no choice in the matter. My only other sibling was my younger sister Princess Grace, and she was recently married to the Emperor of Mount-Sutton. Her life was now far away from my own, and she was carrying on her duties as Queen consort. There was no one else to step in as King. No one, except for me.
Often times I wondered if I could be a great ruler like my father, but I knew there was no way. I’d never be as good and gracious as him. There were things about my country that needed to change and being hated meant that I’d likely never see those changes made. I’d likely screw everything before I even got to sit on the throne. It’s what I was best known for after all.
My duties were to uphold the law, keep my country at peace and happy, as well as produce a son or daughter who could one day take my place. It was disgusting to think about really. The idea of sealing my child’s fate to this life, or even having children at all. I guess I always pictured my life as my own. My choices. My kingdom. My way.
I was just kidding myself.
My parents still had quite the hold over me, and there wasn’t a thing that I could do or say to change that. There was no possible way to get out of this arrangement unless I ran away. And that was impossible.
Maybe I could find a way to get in one last night of fun before everything in my world turned upside down. As tempting as that sounded, I didn’t want my father choosing my bride.
No fate. No love stories. No courtship, whatsoever. Not that I ever expected to have that. I just thought that when the time came that I would settle down and get married, that I’d be doing it on my own terms.
Somewhere in the world was my future wife, and she was about to be tossed into this crazy messed up plan. I could only hope that the future Queen of Stokkton had a healthy sexual appetite. She was going to need one to keep up with me.
“These are my options? You’ve got to be kidding me?” I raked my fingers through the unruly curls on top of my head.
“Surely, one of them will do,” my mother scolded, causing me to growl under my breath. Even at the age of twenty-eight, my mother’s voice still rattled me. She was usually the sweetest, kindest woman in the world, but when she used her ‘Queen’ voice, I knew she was serious.
“Alexander,” my father’s deep voice vibrated through the room. “You will choose one. I have made myself perfectly clear on the matter,” he demanded just before he stormed out of the room. The heavy slam of the door made me clench my teeth even tighter.
The five photographs were laid across the table, making it look as though all five ladies were staring up at me. One of them would be the future Queen of Stokkton, their fate sealed right along with mine, and I had two weeks to make my final decision. For the sake of my country and my reputation, I was about to marry a woman I didn’t know.
My long fingers grazed the glossy prints, and like many times before, I felt what little grasp I had on my life slipping farther away.
My eyes kept coming back to the same girl. In the picture she was holding an open book tightly against her chest and she was trying not to laugh. She was the only one of the girls who wasn’t posing. That had to be what kept pulling my attention.
Wait. No. That wasn’t it.
I lifted the photo to exam it closer. She was a tiny little thing, at least from what I could tell. She had wavy, dark brown hair, that had a hint of red in it. Her eyes were a dark shade of green almost emerald, and those lips… Wow.
“That’s Princess Tessa from Dosscott. She’s quite lovely.” The hint of gleam in my mother’s voice was detectable. She lifted a piece of paper from the table and began reading me her list of qualities as I studied the picture. “It says here that Tessa is twenty-two, and a recent graduate from the University.”
“Twenty-two?” There was no hiding the distain in my voice. She was far too young to be marrying.
“Don’t be so naïve son. There are eight years between your father and I,” she continued. “She received a degree in business leadership with a minor in foreign affairs. She is third in line for her throne, but with her brother the King of Dosscott’s latest announcement of a royal baby, it looks like Tessa will move even farther down the line.”
“Lucky girl,” I spoke under my breath.
“Tessa enjoys reading and it says here that she loves sailing.”
My mother was overjoyed as she continued reading the long list of accomplishments. I don’t think I could remember a time when she sounded so excited.
I placed the picture back onto the table and examined the rest of the candidates. Each one was far different from the last. But, out of the five of them, I kept coming back to Tessa. She wasn’t the youngest in the bunch, thankfully, but something about her eyes kept drawing me towards her.
This was absurd.
They were seriously making me do this.
“Can I ask you a question?”
My mother glanced over the paper in my direction. “Of course.”
“How do these women feel about this? I mean seriously. Do they know that they are about to married off to the highest bidder?”
“Alexander,” she scolded. “That is not what this is.”
“Then what’s the catch here? These are attractive women. You’re telling me that they can’t find a husband on their own, and that they’re all willing to just settle for an arranged marriage. Do they have serious flaws that keep them from dating or something?”
There was tightening in the lines of her jaws as if I were asking the stupidest question. Like she was angry that I would want to know. “They do not have flaws. At least, not that I have been made aware of. Each of these girls have agreed to the arranged marriage. Some of them for political purposes, others because they want their chance to rule or make change and will never get the chance to in their country. The reasoning doesn’t matter. These five women are available, and you will choose one of them.”
“And this one…” I held up Tessa’s picture. “What is her reasoning?”
“I’ve been told that her mother is very ill, and being the youngest in her family, she would like to get married before her mother passes away.”
“So, she doesn’t care about marrying someone she doesn’t know?” I questioned again because I was finding it hard to believe. Not that I wasn’t a catch. Any of them would be lucky to have me.
“Her parents had an arranged marriage and so did her older sister. I think it’s something they still practice in her country if the noble agrees. Like I said before, she has already agreed. Every one of these women have agreed.”
“Do they know who I am?”
“No,” Mother replied. “They have no idea that you are choosing one of them. Whichever girl you choose will know once the decision has been made.”
If I allowed myself to think more on the matter, then I was going to throw an epic fit that would piss my parents off worse and would make my father choose for me. No way was I making that mistake.
“Can I at least meet them first? I mean, what if we have absolutely no connection whatsoever? I don’t want to be married to a woman I can’t even speak to.”
My mother narrowed her eyes at me, and for once I was thinking maybe, just maybe I was swaying her in my direction.
She sighed. “Let me speak to your father. Maybe we can arrange to have some kind of formal gathering where you can meet the ladies in person. Of course, it would have to be soon. We would like for your decision to be made quickly.”
“Fine,” I nodded. “Discuss it with him, and then let me know.”
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