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The Girl Who Loved Two Princes

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A tale as old as time… He ran a finger along her burning cheek, his eyes on her lips as he watched them part. "If you're found like this with me, there'll be no discussion about it. You'll definitely be stuck with me then. Are you really, really sure, princess?" Two brothers, vying for the attention of the same woman… "I do see you Zoey, whether you're at an art class or just wandering around taking in the sights. I see everything you do. That's the problem." He rounded the corner and bent down on one knee, pulling the robe over her shoulders. "Lately, all I see is you." Can one heart truly belong to two men? She's engaged. So is he. And according to the headlines, so are the mouths of their betrotheds. How far will he go for revenge? Lady Zoey is the daughter of Duke Arden, only she's never met the man. So what right does he have to marry her off to some pompous, playboy prince? Prince Aaron Condor is in love with Lady Emily Maine. But when King Henry and Duke Arden decide to mend fences, Aaron ends up engaged to newcomer Zoey. Duke James Beaumont returns to Caines after being exiled five years ago. He's only back to propose to his childhood sweetheart, Emily Maine. 3 months later, Aaron and Emily are caught together in a compromising liplock. James wants revenge. Zoey wants someone to tell her it's okay to give her fiance a second chance. When the jilted lovers meet on the streets of Caines and he proposes to her, Zoey learns that that person is not James Beaumont. She meets with James again anyway and accidentally ends up married to him. It was all a drunken mistake, but that doesn't make The King's Guard hunting them any less real. One small-town girl turned noblewoman, an entitled heiress and two best friends who just can't stop getting mixed up with the same women.

Becoming Lady Zoey Arden

2018, December 3rd

Caines, Terres Somnia (Zoey) 

It was dark when we got to the imposing mansion. Even in the dark, however, it was impossible to miss the armed men stationed at every corner as I was shown to a room. 

"Be up by five," said Bart, my brand new brother, after which he promptly shut the door on me.

He was arguably the tallest person I had ever known, not that I knew any young men, so to speak. Those brilliant, subdued dark blue eyes put you at ease and on alert all at once.  

The room was as big as the entire upstairs of the two-story house that I had lived in nearly all of my life. 

Much like what little of the house I could make out, the furnishings in my room were loud and arrogant. The way the room came together made me feel, perhaps for the first time in my life, the depths of my loneliness. 

There were no friends to call, no mom to comfort me given our falling out, and no way to know that I even really existed in the world. I threw myself onto the bed and stared at the ceiling until the darkest hour of the night, too numb to cry, wondering how I'd allowed myself to become so alone.

At exactly 5 AM the next day, a string of women streamed into the room, all talking over each other, practically carrying me to the dressing table like a doll. It was an icy, cold day, which was bound to bring snow. I felt the chilly air seep into my bones as the women invaded my personal space.

The words passed right by me as the women talked. Every now and then they'd say something about The King's Fancy. Stylists and hairdressers, and who knows what else had started bustling around me, pulling at my hair and sticking brushes in my face.

I wanted to tell them to stop, but no words came out of my mouth. Still feeling drained and exhausted from all the surprises of yesterday, I eventually gave up and let my mind wander.

Just then, I missed being in a lecture hall, filled with perfect strangers, who wanted nothing from me but silence so that they might all attend the lecture in peace. Turns out I missed my boring, predictable life. Already I felt so far from it. Like this was always my life and that had somehow been the dream. That was absurd, of course. 

I was only here to pick up a cheque, tell off the duke, my long lost father and hope never to see him again. 

The major denial I was in regarding my situation was fading fast the longer I stared into the mirror. Before my very eyes, I seemed to disappear entirely.

Don’t think of it. 

I could barely believe myself to be sitting upright in this chair. 

Do not think about it. Do not wonder how he looks. Just stop thinking altogether.

I knew it was him the moment he entered my room. The duke did not have a round belly. He was a tall man, not as tall as his son Bart, but still a giant of a man with a dignified air and a handsome face. 

The years had been kind to him. He walked well. I hated how he seemed to do everything well as I drew a breath and braced myself. Everyone in the room bowed. The duke, however, only glanced disinterestedly at the hired help, came to stand behind me and held my gaze in the mirror a second longer than I could bear. Then he marched off.

We all exhaled one after another, like a set of trickling dominoes. My mind, wherever it had been, was suddenly back in that room and focused again.

"My lady should not be alarmed by His Grace," said the woman sticking pins into my hair. "Been that way since the day I got here."

I tried to turn, but the woman steered me forward again.

"Almost done, My Lady," she said patiently.

"Yes, we'll make sure you are a vision for the prince," hummed one of the other women, as she painted my nails.

"Excuse me?" I asked, confused.

The hairstylist gave the manicurist a look, and the latter promptly quieted down.

Why was I being dolled up again? Where exactly was I going? 

Bart had not given me any information at all.

Soon chatter resumed and turned back to The King's Fancy. Evidently it was an important event on the calendar in Caines and it was happening today. 

The women spoke of business deals being made and rumours that would turn into scandals being spread. Whispers of King Henry and the duke filled the room. It was apparent that the two men couldn't stand one another. 

"Come on then," said a restrained, subdued Bart.

I looked to the right of me and there he was, even more dashing than yesterday when he had come to pick me up. Bart, all 6'6" of him, standing tall in his tux. 

His athletic build combined with his stature could not but overwhelm and though I knew he was only 19, he hardly looked it. Hardly sounded it as he took call after call on the drive to Caines.

All I had to worry about at his age was getting into my hometown university, The University of Rosa. I could hardly believe that this man, somewhat standoffish but ultimately perfectly put together, was the son of a father I knew next to nothing about. My thoughts turned to Rosa, and my mother, whom I had left behind. 

My mother, who, despite herself, cared for me immensely. Present circumstances notwithstanding, my mother's presence just then might have been comforting.

Bart gave me a half smile that seemed to make his stern eyes soften, but for a moment, as I took the hand he offered me.

"Stay with me at all times today," Bart ordered in an authoritative voice that did not match his youth.

He was only 19, for goodness sake. Just the same, he had banished any thoughts I had of asking where we were going.

"My Lord." I bowed awkwardly.

He sighed. "And knock that off. Seriously, quit it. We are House of Arden. We bow to no one."

I didn't know much about polite society, but surely even nobles bowed to the king? I shook my head. This was the time to ask, before something else overwhelmed or distracted me.

"Where are we going?" I asked, as Bart rushed us down the stairs and into the limousine where his parents awaited us.

Again, that eerie silence from the night before enveloped me. It seemed to run in the family. The luxury car was like a tomb. Speech seemed forbidden. My eyes landed on Duke Arden. 

"Stop staring!" Duchess Arden snapped.

I looked down immediately. 

Duchess Arden gave me a once over, then promptly looked away with another snort. No one seemed particularly interested in anyone else. 

There I was, all alone again with my thoughts. 

How could my mother have done this to me? 

Why could she not hold her tongue where grandpa was concerned? All they ever did was fight about the same things anyway. He wanted her to come and work for him and she constantly refused him, still bitter that he had kicked her out twenty-three years ago. 

Like it or not, without grandpa's monthly cheque, we were broke and I had plans for my life. If I was accepted as a PhD student at the University of Rosa, I would be assigned an advisor for my book next month. 

The promised handsome sum to meet with Duke Arden seemed insufficient reason to be in that car just then. Not knowing who to be mad at, I continued to rage on at my mother in my head. 

How could she have gotten us cut off by grandpa? Did she not know how the duke had no room for me? 

I scrubbed this last thought from my brain, refusing to acknowledge the pain that came with it. 

Duke Arden had asked for a simple meeting. I can only hope, therefore, that this, whatever he has planned, will not take long. 

With this I consoled herself, but though a lack of life experience and my emotions had clouded my judgement enough that I might have believed this yesterday, I now knew that something was amiss.

If the duke really meant only to talk to me and then send me on my way, why bother having me dressed up like this and dragging me along to wherever they were going? Just what the hell was going on?

Get out! My mind seemed to be screaming. Danger! It told me, as my eyes darted back and forth between three pairs of frosty, disinterested ones.

Upon arrival at what I soon surmised was The King's Fancy, I could not help being astounded at the sheer volume of people all dressed to the nines. 

Rows and rows of long tables topped with white tablecloths and expensive, delicious looking foods were all lined up along the riverbanks, so as to offer a spectacular view of the shimmering blue river and its surrounding trees and hills. It was truly a beautiful place and I imagined it might be even more so when all the people had cleared out and it was quiet. 

I found myself wishing for the quiet. Curse my mother for making this man my father. 

Their Majesties, King Henry and Queen Mary were announced, just as the members of the House of Arden were making their way to the last empty table.

We received scowls and grimaces from everyone, but the men of the house only hastened me and Duchess Arden to our seats, being eager to do their due diligence, say brief greetings as was expected of them and conduct the business that they had come to The King's Fancy for.

Chatter amongst the guests revealed that Duke Arden had last been seen at The King's Fancy five years ago, following the coronation of the now king. He would have disappointed the king in a similar manner today, had it not been for business that had to be settled between them. 

King Henry had come to power by the last-minute decree of an heirless King Maximus. Henry's reign until now had been somewhat volatile, owing to his appointment as opposed to that of his long-time rival, Duke George Arden. 

After years of awaiting King Maximus' choice between the houses of Condor and Arden, all of Terres Somnia was somewhat divided. To this day, the Ardens were hailed by many as the royal family that should have been. 

Support for the Ardens was so fierce that King Henry feared to see Terres Somnia alight with war even now, five years after his coronation. 

Families had come in all their grandeur and splendour and offered King Henry gifts the worth of which might buy houses and flattered him according to the best of their ability. After doing so, they would go back and find other friends and acquaintances to pay similar respects to, a good many of them looking ready to leave by the end of the first half hour. But stay they did, as stay they must.

How far removed the Arden family tree was from the Condor family tree was a discussion that could and had spanned debates that dragged on for many hours.

Duke Arden had even attempted to have King Henry dethroned by having his claim to the throne dismissed, based upon evidence of the Condor bloodline not intersecting with the former king's. This did not take, but the two men had been at each other's throats ever since. 

All others seemed momentarily dismissed as the House of Arden approached the royal table. 

"My Lord," was all Duke Arden offered.

King Henry smiled. "How are you, dear cousin?"

"I am not here to make small talk, Henry. I'm here to be assured of my business being done," said Duke Arden curtly. 

Duke Arden was short with King Henry, which brought the latter more displeasure than he liked. 

But it was only seen a moment, a small change in the face that lasted only long enough to be seen by those paying attention. Queen Mary hadn't been, or at least pretended she hadn't been, and as such expressed displeasure of her own.

"How untoward. Is this to be how you would form such an alliance? We have not even been given the opportunity for us all to say hello," said Queen Mary. 

With these words, Queen Mary gave me a meaningful look, and my knees promptly began to buckle. 

I was not easily unnerved, but something was afoot here and I felt I had something to do with it. And although I knew not what it was, I could not stop the bad feeling from settling in the pit of my stomach. I might have dropped or fainted under the queen’s scrutiny, had it not been for my brother's hand on my arm, giving me a tight squeeze. My eyes darted to his face, and I glared.

With an eyebrow raised in annoyance, Bart said, "Your Majesty, allow me to introduce Lady Zoey from the House of Arden."

Queen Mary looked me over for several moments as King Henry and Duke Arden continued a silent conversation, locked in a competitive glare as though to stare each other to death.

"I suppose she must do, being that you have no legitimate daughter, born and bred as noble," Queen Mary said at last.

At this, Duchess Arden saw red. Perhaps it was simply in her nature to see red. Queen Mary  might have been ash at any moment. 

"Then it is done," said King Henry. 

"Not quite. What about your side? She is my only daughter. I should hope you would pay me the courtesy of presenting to me the man whom you would have me wed her to, prior to such an engagement," said Duke Arden. 

The duke said this frankly and equally, without emotion. It was perhaps for this reason that it took me a moment to understand. And when my brain did once again function, I spat out the word engagement like every syllable was a hot coal.

In the midst of being on the verge of a panic attack, I caught sight of a shadow in the distance. There one moment, gone the next. 

"Insolent child!" Duchess Arden exclaimed.

"Forgive my sister, Your Majesty. She is not accustomed to noble society," said Bart. 

Bart's apology was swift and elegant, as though practiced.

"It's true. Lady Zoey only came to us yesterday," Duke Arden added. 

My head spun. Did this man, who deemed it appropriate to call himself my father, just apologize for me? 

But wait, that wasn't what was important. They had said engagement, had they not? Should I ask? Who was it that had said the words?

King Henry gave a nervous chuckle and said, "Think nothing of it."

"One might hardly expect anything less," Her Majesty quipped. "If nothing else, she is at least pretty, and pretty is all she needs to be."

Wait, wait, wait! Stop! Everyone just slow down. Why had I really been brought here? Why were they speaking of me, but not to me? Why would the words they were saying, though crystal clear, just not make any sense?

And I will protect you

2019, March 4th

Caines, Terres Somnia (Zoey) 

It seemed it had been pouring summer rain for months. In truth, the downpour had begun only yesterday. It was only yesterday that my world had come together at last. Aaron looked upon me as though nothing and no one could take him from me and regardless of all the terrible things happening in the world, I could not help being happy. I was a different person. He had opened up my heart and not just for himself, but for everyone around me.

I would mend fences with the duke, if only for the sake of the wedding. My new life had given me something I had never had before. Two somethings, actually. A brother and a best friend. 

Bart held my hand while I stumbled through every situation, good or bad, since I reached Caines. I wanted to be useful to him. I knew that this marriage would finally remove the burden of the Arden claim to the throne from Bart's shoulders.

Heroes

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