My eyes fall on another note, and another, and another.
You're fucking gorgeous
You're funny as hell
Your biting wit
Your driving skills (just kidding, your driving is pretty atrocious)
This is some kind of joke. This has to be a practical joke, because I was just told that he's gone. But my heart is insisting it's not a joke, doing that beat-skipping thing again and racing a million times faster than it should.
There must be hundreds of notes, each with something about me written on them – and one in the middle of the bed. I don't see it immediately because I'm too focused on all of the rest of it.
When I pick it up, I recognize the napkin right away. I take in a sharp breath.
He saved the napkin.
The man saved a napkin from the bar where I crashed the car. It was when he used his day off to teach me how to drive.
I didn't mean a lick of the shitty things I said to you, and I never should have said them. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
But I couldn't go without making sure you knew all of the things I love about you.
I know you hate the L word, but you made me love it. So fuck it, I'm using it.
Anyway, here's my favorite thing about you:
You are who you are – unapologetically.
So that makes three hundred eighty-two things I love about you. There’s only one thing I hate, and that’s that you’re not in South Hollow with me.
I should hate all of it. I should hate the L word and the over-the-top gesture and how fucking schmaltzy and romantic it is. I should hate the way it makes my heart feel like it's going to burst and crack into a thousand pieces at the same time.
Most of all, I should hate the way I don't hate a single bit of it.
I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
It all hits me at once. My father somehow convinced him to say all of those horrible things to me. Max would only have done that if he thought it was the right thing to do, if he believed that he was protecting me.
This is my father's doing, and Max's leaving is my father's doing.
I start pulling sticky notes from the bedposts and the desk and the chair and the walls around my room, yanking them down frantically until my hands are filled with notes. My heart racing, I burst out of my bedroom and run for my father's room.
I thought I was livid when they brought me back here from the safe house, but that was nothing compared to how angry I am at my father right now.
At my father's residence, I don't even bother to buzz the intercom. Glaring at the bodyguard by the door, I order him to let me in.
"Let me see if the king is accepting visitors," he says primly.
"I'm not a visitor," I snap, elbowing my way inside as soon as he begins to open the door. I shrug off his grasp. "Get your fucking hands off me!"
My father and Sofia are inside sitting on the sofa. My father looks up at me from his glass of scotch and waves away the security guard behind me. "Hello, Alexandra."
"You kidnapped me and kept me at a safe house so you could have him sent away!" I yell. I toss the sticky notes at both of them, watching as they scatter everywhere. "That's what he left! You didn't even let me say goodbye!"
My father gives me a dark look. "You'll kindly remember that you're addressing the King of Protrovia and not one of your peers," he states flatly. "Keeping you for twelve hours at a safe house for your own protection is hardly kidnapping."
I want to scream.
"Where is he??" I ask. I want to hear my father say it in his own words.
Sofia looks at my father and then at me. If it wasn't Sofia, I'd almost say I was seeing sympathy in her eyes, but that can't be true because the woman hates me.
"I expect that right now he's likely back in America," my father says casually.
"Why??" I ask, and my voice cracks as I try not to cry. "Why would you send him away?"
"You're really going to ask me that question?" My father looks at me with no remorse in his eyes. "You are a princess, and this little dalliance could not continue."
"Because he's a commoner??" I ask in disbelief.
"He's a commoner and he took advantage of his position," my father replies.
I point at Sofia. "She's a commoner! You're marrying a commoner! Albie and Belle declared their love publicly, and Belle is a commoner!"
"They're not you," my father bellows loudly.
"You're always so disappointed in me," I yell back. "I'm the princess who was never good enough to be a princess, so why do you care who I love?"
"You're my only daughter!" he yells. "He's not good enough for you!"
"Not good enough for me? He's too good for me!" I scream back at him, words beginning to overtake me. "He's loyal and stable. He's so fucking stable that I thought he was boring, so boring in the beginning, but he's not. He's real and he's not fucking pretentious and he cares what happens to me and I hated him from the very beginning… except I don't hate him anymore. I love him."
I stop short, gulping air. I've never spoken that word out loud before, and it hangs in the space in the room, foreign-sounding to my ears. But it's true.
I love him.
Sofia interrupts, her hand going to my father's arm. "These are what he left you, Alex?"
My blood is pounding in my ears as adrenaline races through my veins. It takes me a moment to register that she actually called me Alex for the first time. Not Alexandra.
"Hundreds of them, all over my room," I choke out. I threw them at my father and Sofia in a fit of rage but I'm now I'm panicking because suddenly they feel much to personal for her to read, too much like I'm baring my soul.
"These are things …" Sofia's voice drifts off as she looks at the notes. "These are all things about you."
"Three hundred and eighty two things about me," I say, my voice trembling.
"Leo," Sofia says, her hand going to her mouth. "These are things you should see."
"I don't need to see whatever this is," my father blusters, but then he picks up one of the notes and brings it close to his face, reading aloud. "You're so difficult…"
I bark a laugh. Only Max would list that as something he likes about me.
"…In the best possible way," my father finishes, his words slowing. He picks up another note and reads it aloud. "You're layered. Wall upon wall upon wall to keep people away, but when you let them in, your heart is incredible."
Tears well up in my eyes, and I open my mouth to tell my father that he can take my crown and shove it, but then I hear Sofia sniffle.
Sofia the Ice Queen… sniffles.
For a second, I completely forget everything else in the world and I just stand there gaping as she dabs the corners of her eyes with her finger. Is she crying??
"These are true," she says, her voice soft. "The things about you … they're true."
Um … say what?
"You're in love with him?" my father interrupts.
Sofia keeps going. "Do you know how rare that is?" she asks, her expression softer than I've ever seen. "He sees you for who you are. He sees things that other people consider flaws, and to him they're lovely."
Oh, God. I'm going to start crying in front of Sofia and my father.
"Are you in love with him?" my father asks again.
But I'm focused on what Sofia is still saying. "I saw how you'd changed, you know," she tells me. "Since he'd started working here."
I laugh bitterly. "You mean you noticed how I'd become less of a train wreck?"
"I noticed that you started to seem happy," she says. "When you confessed that you were sleeping with your bodyguard, I thought that he was the one responsible for all of the ways you'd started to change on the outside, but…"
"Now I think he just allowed you to show everyone else more of who you always were, the sides of yo
u that you hadn't let anyone see," she says. "The things I was too blind to see."
Now I'm totally crying. I'm crying in front of Sofia. I'm crying because of Sofia, which is even worse and a million times more embarrassing.
"You love him," my father says for the hundredth time, except this time he says it like a statement, as if he's finally figured it out.
"I love him," I say, this time with all of the certainty in the world.
My father exhales heavily. Then he looks at me crying and at Sofia crying and exhales again. "Well?"
"Well what?" I sniffle.
"Oh good grief," he huffs. "The man wrote down three hundred and eighty two things he loves about you, and I can't remember the last time I told you one thing I love about you. He's a better man than I am. He's clearly a good man."
I nod. "He is a good man."
My father lets out yet another long and slow exhale. "Then why are you still here, Alexandra?"
He yells for his security guard, who opens the door. "Get a plane," he orders. "And Felix. Get Felix. I won't permit you to go to America unaccompanied, so Felix is going with you."
I stand there for a moment, just blinking.
My father raises his eyebrows. "Well, stop standing here and go get him."
Sofia smiles. "Go sweep him off his feet."
"So?" My mother sets a large plate of bacon and eggs in front of me before putting her hand on her hip and giving me a stern glare. She gives my father a look, too, but he's at the other end of the table studying the newspaper like it's his job.
That's how my father does things. He feigns indifference, but he's always paying attention. My mother is exactly the opposite, charging headlong into a topic whether you want her to or not.
"We left you alone last night because you looked like Death warmed over when you got in, but now that you've had some rest and a shower – and breakfast – are you going to tell us what happened or am I going to have to drag it out of you?"
"Lord, woman, at least let him have a cup of coffee or something first," my father grumbles, looking over his newspaper. His reading glasses slide down to the end of his nose.
"My only child returns unexpectedly from Europe with his knuckles all busted to pieces and you're going to tell me to slow down?" she chides, huffing as she sits down across from me. "I think not. Spill it, Maxwell."
"It's a long story," I say, sighing as I shovel a forkful of eggs into my mouth. The gesture gives me an excuse to avoid answering more questions.
My mother clucks her tongue and sits back in her chair, her arms crossed. "Well, lucky for you I don't got nothing better to do with my time than listen to my son's stories."
I let out a long exhale. "I punched a guy a few times," I explain. "That's why my knuckles are torn to crap."
"I gathered that," she sniffs, giving me a disapproving scowl.
"Did he deserve it?" my father asks, his face hidden by his newspaper.
I bark out a laugh. "Yeah, he fucking deserved more than he got."
"Language," my mother chides.
"Well then, you did the right thing," my father chimes in.
My mother sighs again. "You don't want to know why he beat someone up and clearly got sent back here because of it, Earl?" she asks.
My father looks over his newspaper again. "How many times has Maxwell gotten into a fistfight?"
"There's been a few," my mother replies.
"Uh-huh, and I remember who those few fistfights were with. I also recall they deserved to get everything they got."
"Then why did he get fired?"
"Maybe he's on vacation," my father replies.
"Are you two enjoying talking about me like I'm not here?" I ask.
"Just tell your mother what happened and put her out of her misery," orders my father.
But I don't get a chance to do that before my mother lets out a gasp. She jumps to her feet with a horrified expression, nearly spilling her coffee in the process. She points at the window. "Lord Almighty, will you two turn your heads and look at this? Someone just hit the mailbox! It fell right off the post! A man is picking it up and putting it in the car! Get the shotgun, Earl! No one's running off with the mailbox!"
She rushes toward the front door and yanks it wide open.
"A man is in the car?" I ask, turning around.
Hitting a mailbox sounds a hell of a lot like someone else.
My mother stands at the door with her arms crossed. "Well, would you look at that. At least they're coming up the driveway to own up to smashing into the mailbox. Put a dent in the bumper, too. They must've gotten that post good and hard, and that car ain't cheap, either." She punctuates the last part with a loud cluck of her tongue.
Half-numb and trying to clamp down the hope that rises in my chest, I watch as the two vehicle passengers walk to the door.
Felix is wearing a pair of jeans, sandals, and a gaudy floral Hawaiian shirt – and he's holding our mailbox. Princess Alexandra is wearing … holy shit, I don't even know what the hell this outfit is.