It started out slowly, it’s coming on fast.
I got a feeling it’s gonna last.
Timber, I’m falling in love.
Cromwell Castle Independent Kingdom of Henford-on-Bagley
The months following Max’ big royal reveal were just a rollercoaster of emotions for me. Following the stress of finals, Max and I both passed and graduated from university with really good grades. PHEW! Mom and dad were bursting with pride and frankly, so was I. They snuggled around on Max too, since – for obvious reasons – his parents couldn’t be there. Mine were, as were Nick and Addy. Rohan was gonna come but got called in for an emergency while they were driving out, so Nick had to drop him off at the hospital instead.
With one complication out of the way, I stumbled right into the next. I had temporarily moved to the castle to attend a sleuth of crash courses in royal history, customs, etiquette, proper demeanor, you name it. Don’t look at me like that, I promise you that wasn’t my idea. Luckily, as a Cameron I was already an expert on huge, convoluted family trees, funnily enough the hush-hush fact that my parents were second cousins was nothing compared to what had gone down in the royal family tree of the Cromwells centuries ago. As the great-granddaughter of Caleb Vatore, this whole castle business wasn’t all that new to me, even though there are huge differences between Cromwell Castle and the Vampire lair Vatore Castle. My mom actually was born and spent a lot of her early childhood at Vatore Castle and we had gone to visit a lot when Nick and I were younger. My Great-Grandpa Caleb is a stickler for manners and loved few things more than giving endless lectures about history, geography, you name it.
So, I endured everything, patiently, including being taught how to properly talk, walk, eat and – you guessed it – sit.
And there were mandatory fittings for new clothes, a full wardrobe, as mine was supposedly too “pedestrian” and “common” and above all not blue enough. Blue, in particular a royal blue, was the signature color of the royal family, but any muted, classy shade was acceptable, the younger you were, the lighter you could go, and likewise the other direction. Most of my clothing was designer, high fashion, not outlet mall. Pedestrian! After torturing me with a measuring tape in even the most bewildering spots on my body, the royal style advisor lady proclaimed that I had a ‘decent canvas’ to build on, even though my cleavage was too small, my derriere not firm enough and my skin was too pale, making me look sickly, but I should not even dream of trying to tan or I’d end up looking like a common farm girl. I am not gonna say what I thought about that evaluation. Anyway, this forced makeover already started out on a touchy note, but ended with me forgetting all my etiquette lessons as I bitterly argued with the wardrobe lady about the sample dresses she wanted me to try on, because they were dowdy AF! I’d sooner go naked! Luckily HM Queen Margaret happened to pass by, heard the commotion, and mediated, then decreed that I would have some say in the design, to straddle my taste and the required level of dowdiness. And we actually came up with a really pretty grown-up and sophisticated wardrobe. With Queen Margaret by my side, I had even let them shorten my hair a little some weeks ago. And I have to admit, my new look started to come together nicely and was growing on me.
I endured all that stuff for Maximilian, who was indescribably great. As were our nightly ‘discussions’. Oh yeah, we both found we had a LOT to – cough, cough – ‘discuss’ nearly every single night, both with great enthusiasm. The last weeks on campus before graduation he had actually unofficially lived with me. Officially, he kept his dorm room at Drake Hall, just didn’t go there anymore except to check for mail. Unofficially we lived together, ate together, studied together, slept together. It wasn’t like his parents would be able to suddenly show up on campus, and mine wouldn’t care. I had always wondered how Rohan could have been secretly gay, when the things in the bedroom between us had always felt good to me. Rohan had also been my first and only, until Max. And let me tell you, there most definitely is a very noticeable difference, now that I have something to compare it to.
Max wouldn’t talk much about his prior romantic experience, but he definitely hadn’t been a shrinking violet. Basically, as soon as he turned 18, he was 25 now, his parents arranged for him to meet debutantes from all over the world, clearly with the intend for him to find a future wife. At first, he obliged, until he noticed the only thing the girls were after was a crown and a title, not him, so he started doing what boys that age do when girls offer themselves up so freely, until he realized he didn’t like himself that way. Eventually Max categorically refused more introductions, so he was given a choice to either join the military or attend university. He chose the latter, and then was sent from one college to the next, supposedly to gain international experience but it was totally to try to get him to meet someone there. Out of protest he didn’t even try, until he saw a certain sobbing girl in the middle of a meltdown cursing up a storm on a bridge. The rest, as they say, is history. For him, it was love at first sight, for me it took a few more glances since I was blinded by pain over Rohan. Oh, I also found out by now why King Daddy and Mommy Queen were so quick to accept me. They had me vetted thoroughly the moment Max first mentioned me to them. So, they already knew everything there is to know about me by the time we met. All they needed to see was if I was agreeable, which evidently, I was. As were my parents, and even Nick and Addy, who had all been invited to the castle so my parents could agree to what my future would probably look like. Let’s say mom and Addy were in 7th Heaven, while dad and Nick had reservations, but were deeply impressed.
My head was still spinning from the daily grind that comes with dating a prince, so I had fled to my new most favorite spot in the whole world: the castle gardens. I had loved this spot from the moment I first laid eyes on it, now it had become my reset button.
With a sigh I exhaled, sitting on a bench, as I tilted my head back, eyes closed, enjoying the rays of sunshine, warm on my face, even though the day itself was more tepid. Well, this was Henford-on-Bagley, not Del Sol Valley.
Something tickled my face startling me slightly, causing me to open my eyes and I saw Max smiling big at me. Giggling I stretched towards him as he bend down to kiss me, then pulled me into his lap as he sat down next to me.
“Let me but bear your love, I’ll bear your cares. That was Shakespeare to tell you that I love you and am here for you. How has your day been so far, my gem?” he said.
“Almost murdered your royal stylist lady had your mom not run interference, other than that, mostly same as yesterday.”
“Good. Hiding bodies isn’t my forte and good stylists are very hard to come by, if you believe my mother. Speaking of, she wanted me to have a serious talk with you about our immediate future and long-term plans. Has she talked to you about our engagement?”
“Do what?” my head snapped around to him, eyes wide. WHOA, hold them horsies, sweet Prince of mine!
“I am sorry, that was mindless and insensitive of me, I didn’t know what all you have been told and what not. I foolishly assumed you knew that when you chose me and agreed to put yourself through all the classes and changes, you were aware that I would ask you to marry me before the year is out. At 25-years-old, being the heir apparent, I am overdue for an engagement. I know other royals have the luxury to take it slow, I do not. I must get married and produce an heir, preferably within the next few years. Especially since we are the last of the Cromwells.”
“Okaaaaay. That was incredibly romantic. I mean, yeah, I do get all that, and yes, I kinda figured that was coming at some point waaaaay down the line, I mean, why would your family go through all the lengths to get me presentable if you all didn’t have something permanent in mind, but I am only 22 and the ink on my diploma is barely dry from just graduating college. I didn’t think that they’d expect you to slap a ring on me and bang a child into me ASAP!”
Max laughed loudly, shaking his head. It was a nice laugh, contagious, so my appalled disgruntlement subsided, and I smiled. I knew this wasn’t his idea or fault. And come on, there are worse things than a man like him telling you he wanted to marry you and make a baby in the foreseeable future. Even if I wasn’t really all that prepared for either, but I am sure I’d have a lot of fun trying. Chuckling, he said now.
“You are but priceless. I wish I could tape these moments for whenever someone asks me why I chose you. How could I not? So, do you not want to marry me?”
“I just never thought about marriage. Not to mention kids.”
“You were engaged before.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, well, that was … honestly, I don’t know why that happened. Rohan and I clashed a lot and I think he was afraid to lose me if he didn’t tie me down with a ring. Jeeze, that sounds bad.”
“Then why did you accept?”
“Because I thought I loved him.”
“So, you don’t love me?”
“Of course, I do! You are twisting my words.”
“Aria-Grace, my beautiful rose, let me be perfectly frank with you. There will be some official photographs taken soon, of us, there will be a press statement released by the royal house introducing you as my partner. And then there will be some introductions into society. If you are not sure about me and all this, you should tell me now. Once all this has been put into motion, your life will forever change, like I tried to tell you before. I can’t help any of that. You will also be asked to move to the castle permanently, and if I may say so, might as well get engaged so we can share a room. Officially, without us sneaking around.”
“Move here permanently? Press release? Wow, your parents must really approve if they are so quick to toss me to the wolves. Bet my mom will buy up an entire newsstand worth of magazines if we are on them.”
“Oh, we will be on every magazine, you can count on it, that is why I am telling you all this. It’s a machine, once put in motion, is nearly impossible to stop. The press is always very eager to print anything about any royal, which is why we keep so guarded. And I prefer to look at it as proudly flaunting you.” he winked.
I had to laugh. He was right. The situation was just odd from every angle. Max and I would never be able to go on normal dates. Wherever we would go, there was now a pack of guys like ‘Bear’. One time we passed through town in the official royal car, we didn’t have time to stop, but every pedestrian stopped on a dime, stared and cheered. I thought my mom caused commotion when she went out in public, but it was NOTHING compared to this. And it had only been a small town, imagine this in a big city. On top of that, I had never managed to fly under the radar like my brother Nick did. Nobody ever recognized him or bothered him or Addy on the street, they could go out, to eat, dance and walks. As soon as I tried that, paparazzi came out of the woodwork and were hounding me. I guess it’s because I look so much like my mom when she was younger and because I had public performances before, when my dream was still to become a famous musician. I cannot count the times – this was long before Max – I ended up fleeing to a bathroom and hiding in a stall. Yeah, ‘normal’ was just never gonna happen for me either way. With or without Max I would NEVER be able to do all the things other young women do.
“You know what, Max? You’re right. It’s stupid to sit on an engagement. I love you, you love me, we already spent so much time together during extremely stressful times and didn’t kill each other, if anyone can make it, it’s us. And you gave me back my smile and hope when nobody else could. We’re meant to be. I feel like that now, I’ll feel like that in a month, in a year and in ten years from now. Forget what I said about me not being ready. I will be ready when the day comes.” I said.
“You’re an amazing woman, Aria-Grace. I promise you; we will have time to enjoy every step in the evolution of our relationship, I vow to be the best partner to you I can be, and I also give you my word that I won’t overwhelm you with things you are not ready for, including immediate heir mass production lines.” he chuckled.
“Why, thank you, Your Highness. Hey Max, if we were to get married, would I be a princess?”
“That depends on my father. Marrying me does not automatically give you that title, but since I am the Crown Prince, I am sure you would be styled princess. Most often that is the case. It will definitely get my vote, queen of my heart.”
“Princess Aria-Grace Cameron. Yup, has a ring to it. I could get used to that.”
“Except it would be Cromwell, but for that inconvenience I raise you a Duchess of Henfordshire to add to the end. That title you will get for certain.”
“Oh goodness, that won’t fit into any forms.”
“Luckily, one benefit of biting the bullet and becoming my wife will be that you won’t have to worry about filling out forms ever again. Only about signing them, if your personal assistant can’t do it for you.”
“Oh really? Tell me more! Will I get carried around, even to the bathroom, by some personal servant? And maybe tucked into bed, too?” I grinned at him.
“I will delight in being but your humble servant and carry you to your bedroom right now! How’s that?” laughing, he pulled me up off the bench, swept me up in his arms and started walking.
“I love it! SOLD! I want that! How fast can we get married? Is Las Vegas on the list of approved wedding venues?” I joked, making him laugh as he hurried into the castle still carrying me in his arms, getting only brief glances from the staff always buzzing about. They were probably getting used to the craziness that moved into the castle when I did.
Sadly, we never made it to my bedroom but were called into the King’s study to go over some public appearances that were being scheduled to introduce me publicly. Max and I were both very distracted, and very immature, playing footsie under the desk, making funny faces at each other whenever the King wasn’t looking, then trying to appear interested and focused when he addressed one of us, while trying not to burst into laughter.