Princess Charming
Chapter One

     The late morning sun glinted off the giant pink cupcake atop the food truck, catching one of the glittery sprinkles. Like a laser, the beam shot directly into Aurora Maguire’s eyes.

      “Aw, come on," she slapped her hands over her eyes. Her day had gotten off to a stellar start so far. First her assistant was a no-show, now temporarily blinded by jumbo jimmies.

      Once her vision returned, she cupped her hand over the screen to diffuse the light and checked her cell for the umpteenth time. No missed call or text notifications.  Damn Aidan. She asked her brother and only employee to be at the venue to help her unload the five-layer cake. He also agreed to be her plus-one at the reception because there was nothing worse than attending a wedding alone.

She tapped Aidan’s number on the screen. The phone rang once, then went straight to voicemail. 

      Whatever. She would be okay moving the cakes by herself.  Not that she had another choice.

The thought crossed her mind to call her mother to see if Aidan was at home but decided against it. The conversation would end with her mother’s famous line, ‘Rory, you’ve already had the worst thing in your life happen when we lost your father. Everything else is trivial.’

       Emotion clogged her throat. She had every right to be upset with Aidan. Her mother was right about her father. He'd be gone ten years this summer, and God she missed him. He never would have put up with Aidan's behavior. Yes, they owned a pub and brewery, but neither Jamie Maguire, nor any of his kids for that matter, were drunks. 

       Her hand ached from the vise grip she had on the phone, so she tossed it in through the open window onto the driver’s seat. She honestly thought today would be different. That for once in her life she could count on her youngest brother. 

       The disappointment left a bitter taste in her mouth. Or maybe it was the briny ocean breeze that kicked up. She pulled a few loose strands of hair from her mouth that had come undone from the bun she wrestled with earlier. 

        At least the weather cooperated. Early May in New England could be a mixed bag of anything from rain to snow, but not today. Maddie, the bride, lucked out with a beautiful spring day, and she couldn’t be happier for her. Not to mention, the event was taking place at The Sea Rose Inn, advertised as a premiere Massachusetts reception facility, which sat directly of the shoreline. Now if she could just get the cake inside of it, everything would be perfect.

          Rory opened the back doors of her truck. Each frosted and decorated layer had been placed in its own cardboard cake box then set on top of non-skid shelf liner to keep them from sliding around. Pieces of Styrofoam cushioned any extra spaces so there’d be no wiggle room at all and from the looks of it, her plan worked. 

          With one foot on the ground and one on the back step of the truck, she reached for the box that held the 16” bottom layer. She inhaled to gather all her strength and slipped her arms underneath the box. If she backed out slowly—

           “Rory?”

            His voice knocked the breath from her lungs, and she steadied herself before carefully placing the box back on the floor of the truck. She peered up at her most recent heartbreak.

            The last time she saw him had been the night he dumped her on the beach outside her family’s pub and brewery, about three months ago, on Valentine’s Day. She’d thought he brought her there to propose. Why else would he have insisted they take a walk on the beach while it snowed?

            Rory composed herself, trying hard to keep her voice from wobbling at the sight of him wearing a tall, leggy blond on his arm. 

            “Hi, Brad.”

            “I forgot that you were making Maddie’s cake.”

  

            He shook his dark hair from his brown eyes feigning interest in what she was doing.         While they dated, he couldn’t care less that she'd been trying to get her cupcake/wedding cake business off the ground.

             “A promise is a promise,” she said, trying to sound matter of fact. She wanted to say that it wouldn’t have been fair to let down his cousin just because he turned out to be a lying sack of…but she wouldn’t. Brad hurt her badly, no denying that, but she got through it. What didn’t kill you made you stronger. Another of her mother’s phrases.

              “This is Destiny,” he motioned with his head toward the blond. 

               The woman, about Rory’s age she guessed, had left Brad’s side to check herself in the glass of the truck windows, flipping her hair over her shoulder, not even glancing in their direction.

Rory caught Brad’s eye. She wanted to see if his brown eyes had even a hint of regret, but he looked away too quickly. Several agonizing seconds passed and then, silence.

              After their breakup, she had thoughts of running into him and how she would tell him in no uncertain terms how devasted she was when he left her on the beach that night. But now, seeing him with a very vain Destiny, something inside Rory shifted as realization dawned on her.

 

              Appearances.

 

             That's all he cared about. She had no idea why, but when they were together, she’d never seen it, yet now it glared at her, so painfully obvious.

 

             She had coppery red hair paired with freckles and a less than perfect body, none of which could compete with his new girlfriend’s blond hair and size zero frame. The animosity she had about their breakup evaporated. She had nothing left to say to him. They weren’t a good match after all. The awkward silence between them became too much.

            “Well, this cake won’t put itself together,” she said.

            “Right. Do you need some help?”

            Frustration mixed with anger bloomed inside her, but it had nothing to do with Brad and everything to do with Aidan. The next time she saw him, she’d rip him a new one for standing her up.

            Destiny did her version of a model’s runway walk back over to Brad, put her hand in his, and flipped her perfectly perfect blond hair over her shoulder for the hundredth time. 

            Suddenly she regretted throwing herself a three-month long pity party instead of getting back in the dating game. God help her for what she was about to do.

***

            His Royal Highness, Prince Hugh Sebastian Louis Henri du Clair of Asterlaine, very much loved the life he’d created for himself in the United States. Few people knew he was second in line to the throne of his small country, and he liked it that way. 

           Hugh checked his watch as he walked from his car toward the doors of the restaurant. Being a groomsman in the wedding party of his good friend, they had just finished taking photographs at church. After a quick glance around the parking lot, it appeared that the cars with the bridesmaids and the newlyweds hadn’t arrived yet.

            However, a woman stood by a food truck with a giant cupcake on top, waving frantically at him. At least he thought she waved at him. He looked around. No one else in the vicinity. 

           “Over here,” she called out, louder this time.

           With no one else around, she definitely wanted his attention, but why? Still, her frantic gesturing piqued his curiosity. He hated the term damsel in distress with him being a prince. He abhorred the connotation, seriously doubting in this age of feminism that a woman still wanted to be rescued. 

           Again, he surveyed this situation. The woman jumped up and down while a couple stood next to her. They hardly looked to be a threat, but his gut told him to investigate. He walked over and took off his aviators. Sunlight bounced off the giant cupcake, momentarily blinding him.

           “Merde,” he muttered the expletive n his native language, halting his steps to slip his sunglasses back on. 

           “Honey, remember I said I might need your help?”

          The woman called to him her tone more urgent.

          As Hugh got closer to the truck, the girl’s hair was more of a reddish gold. He caught her gaze. She silently pleaded for his assistance with her bright green eyes. The tension in the air became more palatable as he moved nearer to the trio, too. 

          “Darling,” Hugh said as if he knew her. “I was just going inside to look for you.” He leaned in and kissed her continentally on both cheeks. Adrenaline kicked his heart into high gear, hoping he did the right thing. 

         “Thank you, darling. Well, just as I suspected, Aidan is nowhere to be found, and I’m afraid I’ll need your help moving the wedding cake inside after all,” she said, rolling her eyes. 

          Hugh quickly stuck his hand out to the man, so ‘Red’ could know his name. 

         “Hugh,” he said, shaking their hands.

         “I’m Brad and this is Destiny.”

         “I had no idea you were seeing anyone,” Brad said, searching Red’s eyes as if he knew something was up. 

          Hugh quickly read the situation. It appeared to be the dreaded-ex-lovers-running-into-each-other scene, starring Brad, A.K.A. the douche canoe, and his new infatuation, Destiny, the stereotypical brainless blond with the killer body. He happened to be all too familiar with the ‘great in bed but empty in the head,’ type. He used to love that type of woman, himself. Lately, not so much. Past-life Hugh had a penchant for being shallow, not something present-day Hugh was proud of.

          “Oh,” Red gave a dismissive wave. “It hasn’t been that long. What, about a month, Hugh?”

          “Yes, about that,” Hugh nodded then put his arm around her and kissed her temple. She stiffened at his boldness, but he hoped she appreciated him trying to make their little charade believable. 

            When she relaxed a bit, he took it to mean she did. 

           “Well, I’ve got to get these cakes inside. Nice meeting you, Destiny.”

           “Yeah, take care, Rory,” Brad said, grasping Destiny’s hand as she flipped her long blond hair. 

           Hugh leaned up against the cupcake truck and they both watched Brad and Destiny

walk off.

          “Thanks for playing along,” Rory said.

          “My pleasure.” Not a lie. He enjoyed their little role-playing escapade. Weddings were usually long, drawn out affairs. He understood the formality of them and why it was such a rite of passage, but if it wasn’t for the alcohol, they would be dreadfully boring.

           “Thank you for making what could be a dull event more entertaining,” he added.

            Rory tried unsuccessfully to tuck the curls that had come undone from her bun, pulling a small clip from the pocket of her blue tee shirt with the cartoon cupcake on it.    

      

            “I thought I was over him,” she clipped the loose strands to the side.

            “I had a feeling he was an ex.”

            “Oh God, please don’t tell me I still had love in my eyes.”

            He chuckled. “No, it was more the thick tension that nearly choked me.”

            “Ah. He broke up with me a few months back but now I know we weren't meant to be. My apologies for dragging you, a total stranger, into it.”

            “No worries. Glad I could be of assistance. What made you realize you weren’t meant to be together?”

            “Well, look at her. She’s perfect. I’m soo not.”

            Hugh glanced again at Destiny. Too thin, too pale. Basically, two dimensional for his liking.

           “Perfection is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.

           “When he dumped me, he said he needed his space. Apparently, his space’s name was Destiny.” 

            Hugh snickered.

          “I’m glad you find it funny,” she said, also smiling.

          “Not the breakup, but I do appreciate your sense of humor about it.”

          “You have to have one if you’re in the dating game, especially when you’re not very good at playing.” She kept her gaze on Brad and Destiny who chatted with another couple at the door of the venue. 

          “There is nothing good about a break-up, that’s for sure,” Hugh said, joining Rory in  

watching them.

          “Doesn’t appear to be bothering him any,” she said.

            “Give him time, he’ll tire of her.” He’d seen that movie before. Hell, he’d had a starring role. Guys, himself included, thinking that just because a woman looks like a supermodel, she is a great catch. He learned the hard way that women like that are only interested in one thing…themselves. 

            “Is Rory short for something?”          

            She nodded. “For Aurora, but no one calls me that.”

            “It’s a beautiful name. Aurora was the princess in Sleeping Beauty, correct?”

            “Yeah. Love the accent by the way. Is it French?”

            “A mix of French and Flemish.”

           “Well, whatever it is, it’s very nice. Thanks again for rescuing me from looking like a total loser in front of Brad.”

            She took the few steps to the back doors of her truck, sizing up her next move.

           Quite the task, from what he could see. “Would you like some help?” He offered. He had nothing else to do to pass the time.

            Rory hesitated for a few seconds. “If you wouldn’t mind. My brother should’ve been here to help me, but I have no idea where he is.”

            “It’s the least your fake boyfriend could do.” 

            She laughed. “Fake boyfriend. I like it.”

           She stepped aside and Hugh lifted out the first box.

            “Lead the way,” he said.