“I couldn’t bear another single second in there,” I tell my older sister, Helena, as we leave through the back entrance, surrounded by five of our royal guards.
I’m eighteen today.
It was my private birthday party.
The white party.
This was nothing like the tame, proper royal celebration held in my honor at the castle earlier this evening.
Not by a longshot.
No, this was the dirty little secret party organized at my request by Tasha Lloyd, my personal assistant. And she blew this event out of the park. Set up on the sprawling penthouse floor of the only six-star resort hotel in the kingdom, it was by invitation only, and was everything I asked for and then some. Gorgeously sculpted male dancers hanging from silk aerial ribbons. Lilac strobe lighting that danced on the elaborate chandeliers and on all the guests’ all-white attire. Loud, vibrating club music that would never be heard within the castle walls. More wine and spirits than anyone could imbibe in one night. A chocolate fondue fountain, all of my favorite appetizers, prepared exactly the way I love them. And only the tight-knit crowd of other royals and kingdom elites I’ve had in my circle for as long as I’ve known myself.
But still, just like my official birthday party earlier in the day, something was missing.
I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what that thing was, but perhaps one day I’ll know.
“I wasn’t quite ready to leave, little sis,” Helena tells me as we are helped into the first of two black Escalade SUVs parked beside the doorway, vehicles from the royal fleet. Tasha was smart to pick out this more subtle, unobtrusive SUV, which are usually occupied by our royal guards. No one would think to be on its trail if it’s not following or leading the more conspicuous town cars that the royal family almost always drive in.
“Really?” I ask. “Wow, that was wild.”
“No, you were scandalous.”
“Who? Little old me?” I joke. “Well, it’s-my-par-ty, I-can-be-as-wild-as-I-want-to,” I sing heartily to the tune of that old song, holding up my little clutch purse as an air mic for effect.
She nods, a teasing eyebrow raised in feigned disapproval as she fusses with my skirt and pulls it down my legs. “You were wilder than that, dear child. Do you even know where your panties are? Your lady bits are exposed for all and sundry.”
“Yes. They’re exposed, but remain untouched, dear big sister,” I muse with a hint of frustration. No man in this kingdom would dare touch Helena or me. Everyone in the land knows that my father would have their head if we were ruined before marriage.
“You’re such a princess whore,” she jokes.
“A princess whore in training, dear queen whore in training,” I counter lightly, then remember her mention of wanting to party a while longer. “Do you want to stay?” I ask, studying her closely for the first time all night. “Wait, why do you want to stay?” Her cheeks flush, and she smiles sheepishly, looking out through the window, but she doesn’t answer me. “Helena? You must tell me.”
My sister flashes a shy glance my way and I know right away it’s something big. Something earth-shattering and huge that she’s about to tell me. Because I know that look. My sister, three years my senior, is the girl I’ve looked up to since I knew myself. We’ve been inseparable all our lives. She’s the person I studied for cues on how to carry myself as a proper princess, and until this day, I’ve never seen such a telling expression on her face.
Which is huge.
Helena is the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Gideanor. The next Queen. If something has created a wave in her composure, it must be significant.
I wait for an answer.
And still, not a word from her.
“Sister, we don’t keep secrets from each other,” I plead. “We never have, so please don’t start now.”
“I promise I’ll tell you in the morning… when you’re more… sober,” she says to me.
“Sober? Darling, I’m fine.”
She shakes her head slowly. “No, no, my little lush. If you could hear yourself, you’d agree with me. You’re royally wasted.”
“No, I’m—” I start, but she presses her index finger over my mouth to stop me from saying another word.
“If you leave with our four main guards and swear not to say a word about my staying back here, I promise to tell you everything,” she whispers. “You must swear it.”
I nod vigorously and push her finger from my lips. “I swear… but wait. Four main guards?”
She darts a glance toward the large, broad, imposing guard standing outside her car door. “His name is Daniel,” she says hardly above a whisper, and color stains her cheeks yet again.
“Wait,” I utter, eyes widened as I stare back and forth between the two of them. Not that this Daniel would know I’m looking. The reflective tint of the SUV windows prevents anyone from seeing inside. “You and one of the royal guards?” I squeak.
“No one can hear us,” I remind her, pointing toward the closed glass partition between us and the driver up front.
“I know. It just sounds so… so scandalous when you say it out loud.”
“And it’ll be a hell of a lot more scandalous if anyone from the court finds out.”
“Exactly… but… honestly, I almost don’t care anymore.”
“Anymore? How long has this been going on? How long have you been… fraternizing in secret with one of our royal guards? Father will kill him if he ever finds out. Hell, he’ll likely string you both up, but definitely your Daniel’s head will be on a spike for what you’re doing.”
“Not necessarily,” she whispers and pulls me into her arms for a tight hug. “I have to go now… with the man that you just pretty much condemned to losing his head.” She smiles as she pulls from our embrace, running her hand lovingly down through my thick red hair as she often does to show her affection for me. “But I’ll give you much more… tomorrow. I swear it, sister.”
“Oh, all right,” I breathe out in a fake huff. “Go on. Tell me all about it tomorrow. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
She titters out a laugh as her hand grips the inside door handle. “It’s far too late for that, darling. Enjoy your beauty sleep.”