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, really?" 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 giant sprinkles.

           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 had asked her brother and only employee to be at the wedding venue to help her unload the five-layer wedding cake.             He had also agreed to be her plus-one at the reception because there was nothing worse than being single and attending a wedding alone.

             She tapped Aidan’s number on the screen. It rang once and the call went straight to voicemail. 

Whatever. She would be okay doing it herself.  Not that she had another choice.

             It crossed her mind to call her mother to see if Aidan was at home but decided against it. Her mother, a tad on the dramatic side, would probably say what she always said. 

             ‘Rory, stop complaining. In the grand scheme of things, your problem is inconsequential. You’ve already been through the worst thing anyone could go through when your father died.’ Blah, blah, blah. 

              Yes, she lost her father ten years earlier, but she’d never understand how her mother’s reminder was supposed to make her feel better. And she didn’t need to hear that today when things were already not going as planned.

             Her hand ached from the vise grip she had on the phone, so she got rid of it by tossing it in through the open window onto the driver’s seat. Damn, she honestly thought today would be different. That it would be the one time in her life she could count on one of her four brothers. 

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

             The Sea Rose Inn, advertised as a premiere Massachusetts wedding venue, sat directly on the shoreline. But hey, the good news was, 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.

            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 had to steady herself before carefully placing the box back on the floor of the truck. She peered up at her ex-boyfriend and 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. Nearly three months ago. On Valentine’s Day. She’d thought he brought her there to propose.      

            Why else would he have insisted on a walk on the beach while it snowed?

            She composed herself, trying hard to keep her voice steady. “Hi, Brad.”

            He stood there wearing a tall, leggy blond on his arm. 

           “I forgot that you were making Maddie’s cake,” he said, shaking 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 had turned out to be a lying sack of…no, she wouldn’t say it. Brad had hurt her badly, there was no denying that, but she got through it.

             What didn’t kill you made you stronger. Another phrase her mother told her over and over.

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

             Destiny 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’d tell him in no uncertain terms how he devastated her by leaving her on the beach that night. 

            But now, something inside her shifted. All that anger she’d had just two months ago, vanished. She had nothing left to say to him. The awkward silence between them became too much.

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

           “Right. Do you need some help?”

            Anger bloomed inside her, but not from their breakup. No, the next time she saw Aidan, she’d rip him a new one for standing her up and making her look so helpless. The only good thing so far was she could speak like a normal human being without getting all choked up at the sight of Brad and his new girlfriend. 

            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, yet again. 

            Something else shifted inside her then. While she could speak to Brad without tearing up, seeing the two of them together caused a firestorm of jealousy to bubble up from deep within, and she suddenly regretted throwing herself a three-month long pity party instead of getting back out there 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 reception venue. 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 limousine with the bridesmaids and the newlyweds hadn’t arrived yet.

          However, there was a woman standing 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. She had to be waving at him.

           “Honey, over here,” she called out, louder this time.

            He checked for a third time. Yes, she wanted his attention, but why? A man and a woman stood near her, but neither one of them were waving. 

            Still, her frantic gesturing piqued his curiosity. He hated the term damsel in distress because he was a prince, and he abhorred the connotation. He seriously doubted in this age of feminism that a woman still wanted to be rescued. 

            Again, he surveyed this situation. The woman jumped up and down, still waving, while the couple turned to him then back to the redhead. He doubted the couple standing there were a threat, but his gut feeling told him to investigate. 

          He took off his aviators and sunlight bounced off the giant cupcake, momentarily blinding him.

          “For crissake,” he muttered, halting his steps while he slipped his sunglasses back on. 

          “Honey, remember our conversation about how I might need your help?”

          The woman called out to him, this time in a more urgent tone.

          As he approached the truck, the girl’s hair was more of a reddish gold. He caught her gaze and saw that 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. He tried to read the situation, but he was never any good at that.

          Until the redhead winked at him when the man turned to him. 

         “I’m such an idiot, Darling,” Hugh said as if he’d known the woman. “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’d just done the right thing. 

            “Aw, you’re such a sweet guy. Just as I suspected, Aidan is nowhere to be found and I’m afraid I’ll need your help moving the wedding cake inside,” Red said then rolled her eyes. 

             The man standing next to the blond, stuck his hand out. 

            “I’m Brad and this is Destiny.”

            “Hugh.” He shook both their hands.

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

            Hugh couldn’t read the situation, but judging from Brad’s tone, it was 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 was 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. He hated himself for being so shallow in the past.

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

            “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. 

           “Well, I’ve got to get these cakes inside. Take care, Brad. Nice meeting you, Destiny,” the woman said.

            “Take care, Rory,” Brad said. Destiny responded with a flip of her long blond hair.

             Hugh leaned up against her truck and 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, these things were also dreadfully boring.

           “Thank you for making what would 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 said clipping the loose strands to the side in front of the bun.

            “I sensed he was an ex.”

            “Was it the daggered stare I gave to Destiny? Oh God, please don’t tell me I still had love in my eyes looking at him.”

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

          “Ah. Yeah, he broke up with me a few months back. I just didn’t expect that seeing them together would piss me off so much. My apologies for dragging you, a total stranger, into it.”

          “No worries. Glad I could be of assistance.”

“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.

       “It’s not funny that he broke up with you, 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, watching them, too. 

       “It’s not bothering him any,” she said.

       “Give him time, he’ll tire of her. Is Rory short for something?”       

        She nodded. “It’s short 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?”

       “It’s 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 my ex.”

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

       It looked like quite the task. “Would you like some help?” He offered. Now that the wedding photos were done, 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.

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