“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”― Angela N. Blount
It was late Autumn, almost Winter, Max and I had been on many dates by now, we frequently studied together, he even came to watch my mandatory performances for class, you know the music student’s equivalent of a recital.
Still, we were taking it super-slow. Sometimes I would argue too slow, but he said he felt I had more healing to do and that I was too important to him to risk rushing in, so kissing and cuddling was as far as it would go. I guess it made sense, even though I couldn’t help but worry sometimes that he was just not that into me. I mean, which young, healthy man wouldn’t at least try to get to the next base? Without wanting to sound entitled, I know I am not exactly shabby.
Then Thanksgiving came around, I found out that evidently that wasn’t a thing in Henford-on-Bagley, and while we weren’t exactly couple-y enough yet for the ‘meet the parents’ thing in my book, I didn’t want to leave him behind all alone on campus, so he got to meet my parents, my big brother Nick and his wife Adrianna spending his very first Thanksgiving ever with us at my parents’ mansion in the Del Sol Valley hills. If you are wondering about Rohan, for the first time in a decade or so he did not celebrate with us. Aryelle usually spent festive holidays with her grandparents and family, and supposedly Rohan wanted to spend his with his new boyfriend. Whether that was true or if he was just trying to avoid me because it was still very awkward between us, only he knows. No worries, his friendship with Nick was untainted and strong as ever, and he and I would get there again eventually. I was certain of it.
Even without Rohan, it was so much fun, mom and dad were quite taken by the charming guy I was now dating, he was apparently from a wealthy background as well, taking the gold-digger scenario worry out of the equation, and he managed to make their daughter smile again, a LOT actually, and had given me back my ‘joie de vivre‘, as mom called it, which got him big Brownie points with Nick too.
Adrianna is too polite to say so, but I could tell she REALLY liked Max too. Nick noticed as well and guess what? That’s right, my infallible super-brother is the jealous type. He is always so uber-confident, it actually surprised me to see him so clingy with Addy around Max, smooching around on her more demonstrative than usual, which really is saying something. But that did not surprise me as much as them telling us that they were seriously considering having a baby.
No buns in any ovens yet, but they said they would start trying soon. About time if you ask me. Oh yeah, I know I sound disgustingly like those grandmas that as soon as someone gets married, they are already asking about babies. But first of all had Nick and Addy been married for over two years now, been dating since they were fifteen, both of them in their late twenties now, and I was itching to be made a proud auntie of some genetically blessed baby, cos let’s be honest, Adrianna is the perfect woman, kind, sweet, warm personality, model-like looks, excellent cook, perfect hostess, businesswoman, and just graceful AF. And my brother is pretty close to perfect as well, so that baby would have to be Guinness Book worthy. Yes, I know I am biased. Sue me. I can suggest two really good lawyers.
And if you were wondering, no Max wasn’t faking it just for the family. He acted just as he always had, even when on campus. He really was very considerate, thoughtful, he would often bring me flowers, was very attentive, romantic, and surprisingly fun to be around.
Fast forward another week, and Max had talked me into taking a long weekend trip to Henford-on-Bagley to meet his family. Yeah, that’s what being nice got me.
If I hadn’t really been all that ready to introduce him to my family, who were incredible people and always so supportive of me, had it not been for not wanting to abandon him, then I was most certainly not ready to face his parents and siblings.
Besides, wouldn’t that imply we’re more serious than I felt we are? Not for lack of readiness on my part. Gawd, I made it so easy for him, if I didn’t know myself better, I’d think I was a slut. I wasn’t. Just totally crazy about this boy. He just always seemed so controlled and would stop us whenever things got too heated. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Every time!
I consider myself a sensual person, so that bothered me immensely. But not enough to give up on him.
We hadn’t even said the magic ‘L-Word’ yet, even though I’ll admit, I was dying to hear it.
Just as I was dying for him to lose composure one night, just get so carried away by us making out that he would just throw caution to the wind, we’d make passionate love, during which he would whisper those three words I was dying to hear from him in my ear.
Yes, I am a hopeless romantic.
Did I mention I was crushing so very hard? I didn’t expect that either, especially not so soon after the Rohan debacle. But by now I was more than ready to turn what Max and I were building into something real.
Oh well, with only a few months for both of us left until finals and hopefully subsequently graduation, our class load was a lot lighter now, making getting away for long weekends a lot more doable.
Upon arrival at a small airport in a private jet, his family’s, not mine, we were collected from the airport by a luxury town car and the Henfordish version of ‘Bear’.
So far so good.
But then … the car eventually came to a buttery soft halt; we got out and …
“Welcome to Cromwell Castle, Aria-Grace.” Max said.
“Cromwell Castle?” I parroted, even accidentally mirroring Max’ Henfordish accent, my voice failing as I stared that the sprawling building before me, well the parts of it I could see, considering it was huge!
No, I got the Cromwell part, Max’ last name, but … castle?! CASTLE?!
“Yes. Walk with me, I promise I’ll explain.”
A walk? Now? While I am processing that we are standing at a castle with the same name as him?
As I let Max pull me with, I watched the door to the giant … well, castle … open, and some staff hurry out to get our luggage inside.
Ahem … what?! Can someone please wake me. PLEASE?! Is this candid camera? Cos you got me. You all got me GOOD! Because of mom I have stayed at some fancy places before, but never a castle. Yeah, I was being so Punk’d here!
On pudding knees I wobbled along with Max through some parklike setting. It was immensely beautiful and pristinely maintained. At some point he stopped, but I couldn’t focus on anything, until he took my face in his hands, turning it to look directly at him, his face inches from mine.
Lifting my chin up, he kissed me. Long, softly, meaningful.
I relaxed a little.
“I love you, Aria-Grace.” he said with full sincerity, his lips still close enough to my face that I could feel his breath.
My heart jumped, I literally winced.
There it finally was!
The L-word – and he said it first!
He actually said it, with all the sincerity in the world. He meant it. He really loved me! Love!
WOW! My heart was racing a million miles per hour and that castle thing was off my radar for the time being. Right now, all that mattered was that intoxicatingly smelling, beautiful man before me. Those eyes. Deep blue green like the deepest ocean at sunset. I could get lost in those forever – and I had many times before.
Wait, this required more of a response than just me drooling.
“I love you too, Max.” I beamed up at him.
“I think now would then be the moment when I should tell you that my proper name is Maximilian Edward Henry Cromwell, the first of his name, Crown Prince of Henford-on-Bagley, Duke of Henfordshire, heir apparent to His Majesty Frederick George Cromwell, the third, King of Henford-on-Bagley. It is a small kingdom, and things have changed a lot for monarchs through the ages, but this is still a very demanding and restrictive business and would affect you and your family greatly, if we were to make our relationship public. One reason I brought you here, aside from wanting you to meet my family, is for you to see what you would be up against if you chose me. I already have chosen, but realize the sacrifices being with me would demand of you. I am sure my mother will have someone brief you on what all that would mean for you, immediately and in the future.”
WAIT …. WHAT?!
Did he just say what I think I heard or am I hallucinating now?!
He kissed me again, said some more things, none of which I can remember, my brain was malfunctioning. No friggin way!
“I can’t do this!” I looked up at Max, panicked.
“Please, don’t fret. All will be fine.”
“No, I don’t know how to behave at a castle. And you’re a prin… your dad’s a ki… I don’t … I … don’t even know how to curtesy! I can’t. A prince? Naaah … come on now. How can you be … and why would a prince be in Britchester … and do princes even go to colleges? But you are so … real.” I stuttered, bewildered and confused.
Max chuckled, then kissed me again, while he ran the back of his hand across my cheek.
“Aria-Grace, my angel, nobody has to curtesy anymore. I sincerely apologize for surprising you with all of this, but you see it’s hard to believe for you while standing right here in the castle gardens, imagine trying to do this an ocean away. I am sure you understand, being from a celebrity family, that sometimes you have to wait for the right time to disclose complicated things. Like you did, even though I commend you for opening up to me so much sooner than I have. I disliked keeping this from you, but it is not a truth to be shared freely. This visit is not an official one, and really won’t be much different than when I was so kindly given the courtesy to meet your parents. Just my family meeting their son’s girlfriend, casually. Forget the titles for now. If after this visit you still want to be with you, you will learn all you need to know in due time, this, I promise you. I won’t let you stumble, my heart.”
“I think your idea of casual and mine don’t really align. And did you say girlfriend?”
“I did. This is how I announced you to my parents, as my girlfriend. Did I overstep? I felt we are a couple by now and I felt you agreed, since you invited me to celebrate an important holiday with your family. One request if I may; perhaps you could find it in your heart to take off Rohan’s engagement ring. I have given you so much time, always hoping that the next time we meet, your ring finger might be unadorned, signaling that you are finally fully ready to be with me. If you are not, I politely ask that you at least not wear it when meeting my parents. They would notice and it would leave a bad aftertaste with them, leading to me having to tell them personal things about you that I think you are not eager to share.”
“Oh my God! Max I am so sorry! I didn’t even realize I was wearing it. This has nothing to do with Rohan, at least not the way you may think. It’s just pretty and I like it, but I don’t have to wear it anymore.” I felt guilty. So THAT was that why he stopped us all this time? Then again, would I be so willing to give it up for a man who still wore his ring by an ex? I’ll clue you in, NOPE. What that man would get from me would be an ultimatum. Boy, now I felt bad. Poor Max!
He smiled and kissed my forehead.
I have a complete blackout following all those shocks in a row, and can’t remember what happened next, but remember being inside the castle while being shown to a room, into which my luggage was just about to disappear at the hand of some lady servant, as I turned back to Max, still just standing there.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“I am not supposed to enter your quarters until after you have been officially introduced to my father. He has to approve of you, please, it’s merely a formality. They won’t be able to help but love you. I hope you will like this room, I chose it for you personally, since it is green, the color of your eyes.”
Well, so he left, I freshened up, removed Rohan’s ring and placed it into my wallet, feeling guilty again for having made Max uncomfortable like that, but before I could figure out a different outfit, there was a knock on the door. Relieved I tore it open to get a much-needed hug from Max and apologize to him again, but it was someone else, to take me to the ‘unofficial parlour’ or something to that tune. Once we arrived there, I was relieved to see Max already waiting.
“A mere formality.” he said, winking, as he offered me his arm, which I linked mine into.
And OMG, every room I had entered so far was fancier than the one before. Mouth agape I was so preoccupied that I nearly missed the people inside the room. Until I didn’t and my heart stopped. Now what? How do you address a king? Do I greet him or his wife first? And how? Should I curtesy? Just how? And how do you adress royalty again? Was it your Excellency? Majesty? Highness? Oh gawd! And why did they look like normal people, not even a crown, let alone the usual frilly clothing you see in paintings. This was confusing.
“Father, mother, may I proudly present to you Aria-Grace Cameron, of Del Sol Valley.” Max pulled me forward, then removed his arm.
I felt naked, staring at the King and the Queen from widened eyes. They looked so … normal.
The King addressed me first, smiling, extending his hand to me, which I luckily had the mind to shake.
“Hello my dear! It is my very good honor to meet you. My son has spoken very highly of you, and I see he was not exaggerating. What a fine young lady indeed.”
“Oh, dear me! She is absolutely lovely, Maximilian! Oh, may I hug you, darling girl?”
Before I could figure out what she was saying, I was getting a hug by the Queen. Oh man.
A teen girl, maybe 16 or 17, maybe a little older, was introduced to me as Princess Genevieve and a pre-teen or early teen boy, his age was impossible to guess, who was evidently Prince Leopold smiled at me politely from a distance after nodding their heads when introduced. No PDA from them. Fine by me.
“My son, there won’t be any need for an official meeting. I approve of your choice.” the King told his son, smiling, when his wife nodded in agreement.
“Oh, me too. Very much so. Maximilian, she is simply darling! Aria-Grace, my dear, oh, what a pretty name! Our son tells us you are a quite the artist, the King and I fancy ourselves avid patrons of the arts. Would you mind awfully if I asked you to play something for us?”
Oh, heaven help me now! What, what and WHAT?! I think she said she liked me. And wanted me to play music for them? Okay, now THAT I can do. Blindfolded.
I had not been THIS nervous playing at the Starlight Accolade Awards, at least my mom had been there. Panicked I looked to Max, who smiled encouragingly, winked and nodded. Then I remembered Nick telling me about being nervous before big cases in court and that it was imperative to not let them see you panic. All righty, sweet brother of mine, let’s put that to the test.
I straightened up, forced a smile, and nodded.
“It would be my pleasure, your Majesty.”
Max was about to lead me to wherever I was supposed to play for them, but his father stepped in our way, grinning at his son, like a father would. Like MY father would do to Nick. Holy shit, they are just human.
“Father, I was going to show Aria-Grace to the ballroom.”
“I am sure you were, but you wouldn’t deny your King the pleasure, would you, son? I would like to see her to the ballroom myself. You don’t mind, my dear girl?” he smiled at me, then winked back at his son as he offered me his arm to link mine into, while the King was chuckling at Max sticking his tongue out at him.
The KING smiled at ME. ME! Is everyone getting this?! And he is just like my dad with Nick. WOW!
“Oh, Frederick! Stop vexing our son, he is nervous enough. Come on kids, let’s go.” The Queen ushered the two younger siblings through some door, while the King winked at me. WINKED. AT. ME.
Man, I wanted to call my mom and dad soooo badly now. Instead, I was shown to a … well … a ballroom with the most amazing acoustics, where I gave my most nerve-wracking performance to date, first on the grand piano, then the violin. Evidently, they all liked it, I was applauded by royalty. Monarchs.
Ha, eat that, fellow graduating Fine Arts studies classmates. If my profs were here now, I would instantly pass all exams and graduate on the spot! HA!
O.M.G! It now dawned on me that I was dating a monarch. WTF?!
After some more pleasant conversation, we went to yet another room, I think they called it a “sitting room”, someone brought in ‘high tea’, no, seriously, that is an actual thing here, even though I nearly couldn’t get either tea, nor scone or sandwich down, the others didn’t seem to have those troubles, so I forced it down to not seem ungrateful.
Then finally we were released to ‘retire to our quarters and freshen up before supper’.
More food? I sure hope they mean in a few hours, or these people must work out like maniacs.
Max saw me to my door, but this time, he entered my room.
“Oh, you figured out how to cross a threshold again. Congrats!” I said.
He smiled, tilted his head.
“You heard my father. He formally approves of us dating. I had no doubt. This means, we can do whatever you like together now, within reason, like any other couple. Anything, queen of my heart.” he smiled.
“So, now that daddy okayed me, we can be a real couple, and we can stay in the same room?” I asked.
“Indirectly, yes. Technically, until engaged or married, royals are officially supposed to keep separate quarters from their partners to keep up appearances of proper and classy demeanor, but that doesn’t mean we cannot visit each other, even overnight, just have to be a little discreet, that’s all. Just say the word. Once the family retires after supper, I am all yours.” he said.
“I am definitely telling you that word right now, but have to cut this discussion short, as I desperately have to call my parents to let them know we arrived safely, so they don’t worry and I am about to combust if I can’t tell them ASAP, if not sooner, that the nice guy I introduced them to at Thanksgiving is actually an undercover Prince and instead of at some hotel I am staying at an actual castle, where I met a real King, Queen, Princess and Prince. They’re gonna think I am slobberknocker drunk and probably on some serious drugs too.”
He looked at me, nodded and smiled.
“Well, technically, you have known a Prince for a while now, Crown Prince even, but all right, fair enough. We’ll expand on this … ‘discussion‘ … later then, after we have been released to retire for the night.” he winked at me and the way he said the word discussion gave me hot flashes. Not the menopause type, the hot-for-you kind.
“Oh, absolutely. It’s a long overdue ‘discussion‘ anyway and I foresee it taking up the better part of the night, so you better rest up, my Prince.” I smiled overly sweet at him while demonstratively wiggling my now empty ring finger in the air. I couldn’t help but grin at our code word. ‘Discussion‘. Ha.
“As much as I can see how you enjoy torturing me, I’ll give you privacy to talk to your parents. Please give them my regards. Oh, and Aria-Grace – I probably shouldn’t say this, but I cannot wait for our ‘discussion’ after we retire tonight. You are very right; it is much overdue, please know it has been very hard for me to resist having it with you much sooner. And, on a more serious note, thank you for removing the ring. As much as I understand your unwillingness to let a beautiful piece of jewelry go unworn, it was rather unsettling knowing the woman I love still wore another man’s promise of marriage, regardless the circumstances.” he said.
I reached for his hand and pulled him closer with force, then kissed him in a way that made it unmistakably clear to him that there were no more promises to any man but him, neither on my finger nor in my heart.
After he left, I giggled giddily, as I was dialing my mom, had her get dad on the phone, then we conferenced Nick and Addy in, before I dropped the bomb. I swear my mother had a mom-gasm about her little girl having stumbled into some real-life royal fairytale. Dad was being dad, a lot more cautious and sober about this, maybe even worried, and he wrote down Max and his parents’ full names to run them through some databases lawyers have access too.
Addy didn’t say much, except some cooing and squealing, she was probably in some mental Lala-land already planning my royal wedding to the prince, even though he and I had only just begun and were lightyears from anything like that.
Welcome to my beautiful, crazy family.
And my beautiful, crazy life.
Wherever it may lead me next.
And just like that, may I introduce you to our first royal family, House Cromwell
For centuries, the family has ruled over the island of the Kingdom of Henford-on-Bagley from Cromwell Castle situated in the beautiful Henfordish countryside.
Naturally, there are many rules and regulations that come with such a prestigious task, some of which outlined after the introduction below.
Reigning monarch is
HM King Frederick George Cromwell, King of Henford-on-Bagley.
By his side his loyal wife HM Queen Margaret Anne Cromwell (Queen Consort)
They share three children:
HRH Crown Prince Maximilian Edward Henry Cromwell, Duke of Henfordshire, heir apparent
HRH Princess Genevieve Amelia Alexandra Cromwell
HRH Prince Leopold Edgar Cromwell, Duke of Bagley-upon-Thyne
The crown succession is absolute primogeniture, meaning the crown is inherited by the oldest child, irrespective of gender, as long as they are Cromwell lineage (direct blood-relations to the reigning monarch), adopted or fostered children are excluded from the succession line. Should this ever fall on an illegitimate child, a grand committee of the mayors of the 5 existing Counties decides eligibility.
Members of the royal family are free to choose their own mate, but the ruling monarch has to agree and approve of their choice, especially for the heir apparent, or else the marriage cannot go through.
If a decision unfavorable to a union were to be defied, the offending royal would automatically, immediately and permanently be removed from the succession line. Same-sex marriage is allowed, except for the heir apparent, since they are required to produce an heir. If the heir apparent chooses a same-sex partner, the succession to the throne skips them and goes to the member of the royal family next in line to the throne.
Succession takes place in case of death or abdication of the currently ruling monarch. In the first instance a mourning period of one month will go in effect, after which the coronation shall take place, during which the surviving spouse or the heir apparent rule in absentia until the new leader has been coronated. In case of abdication the period is a maximum of one week but can be as short as one day.
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