“Yes!” I say, my voice a little bit too loud. I look around at the other café patrons, before leaning in closer to her. “He told his father that we were married in Vegas.”
“So he loves you, too, Belle,” she says.
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “He outed us.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Why do you think he told his father he married you?”
“Because he –“ I’m about to say, because he was standing up to his father. Except I know that’s not all of it.
Because he loves me.
“Exactly,” Raine says, even though I haven’t said the words out loud. “And I know you love him. It’s written all over you. It’s been in every word you’ve said about him on the phone since you got there, Belle.”
“Oh God,” I say, my heart sinking. “I’ve been a total idiot.”
“A little bit,” Raine says, smiling.
“Crap,” I blurt out. “What the hell do I do now? Call him? ‘Hey, I know that I ran away from Protrovia and that our parents are going to basically disown us for this, but I just wanted to tell you that I love you?’”
“I probably wouldn’t put it exactly like that.”
“Shit. I love him. I’m in love with him.”
Raine nods. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“This is fucking ridiculous,” Alex yells from the backseat of the SUV. "Dad is going to kill us when he finds out we all took off – and that you guys are with us."
"He won't kill us," Noah says. "I'm sure he has people to do that for him."
"You're always looking at the bright side of things, Noah," Alex says. "It's probably why you and my brother get along so well."
"At least you'll be dead and not fired," Noah says.
"No one is getting murdered or fired." My voice has a hard edge I can't quite keep out of it. I'm more nervous than I should be right now at the prospect of tracking down Belle. I should be excited. Isn't that how you're supposed to feel when you tell a woman you love her?
Instead, I feel edgy and irritable.
Part of me is afraid she's going to tell me to go to hell.
Or worse, she'll tell me she doesn't feel the same, and that it's been about the sex all along.
"How far is Budapest exactly?" Alex asks. "We should have just taken the helicopter."
"It's one thing to sneak out of a tea party in the helicopter, but another to try to be stealthy about flying to Budapest," I say. "It's only a couple of hours anyway."
"We couldn't get the exact location from the head of security," Max says. "Budapest was as far as they could narrow it down."
"Why don't you call Raine?" Alex asks. "Or are you going for a big dramatic entrance?”
"The girl who bursts into our father's room and announces she's sleeping with her bodyguard is giving me shit about drama?" I ask.
"I was trying to take some of the heat off of you," she protests. “Obviously, it was a miscalculated move on my part.”
“No shit,” Max says.
“If dad didn’t kill Max after you told him you were sleeping with Max, then all of us will be just fine,” I note.
“Thanks,” Max says. “I think.”
“I’m not going to call Raine,” I tell Alex. “Not until we’re actually in Budapest.”
“So Belle can’t run,” Alex says.
So Belle can’t run.
She makes it sound like I’m tracking Belle down like some kind of fugitive.
“She’ll want to see you,” Noah says.
“Totally,” Alex says, her voice unnaturally bright.
I focus my eyes straight ahead on the road. “This conversation isn’t helping at all.”
“Beer,” Raine says, handing me a glass. “It’s medicinal. Spending all night worrying isn’t going to do anything for you. We’ll go back to Protrovia in the morning.”
“Right now, you medicate with food and beer,” Phoenix says. “It’s therapeutic.”
“Fine, fine.” I study my menu, but my head is spinning, my thoughts focused on all of the things I need to say to Albie.
Why the hell didn’t I just tell him I loved him when I was in Protrovia?
Raine’s phone buzzes, and Phoenix groans loudly as Raine looks at the screen. “We said no phones during dinner,” he says, grabbing it from her hand.
“Give that back to me now,” she insists, slapping him playfully on the arm. “It’s important.”
“It’s important?” he asks, holding up the phone, but she snaps it out of his hand. “What do you think, Belle? Raine buys us the next round of beers since she’s on the phone during dinner?”
Raine looks up from the phone long enough to glare at us, before burying her head and furiously texting.
“Yes, definitely,” I say absently, still thinking about what I’m going to say to Albie tomorrow. “The next round of beers is on Raine.”
“I’m going to remember you gave me grief about this,” Raine says.
“Why?” I ask. But I’m immediately distracted by the waitress coming over to take our orders, and then Phoenix orders more beer and he's telling me stories about their adventures over the summer.
I’m finishing my dinner and I’m on my second beer when Raine and Phoenix look up, their eyes focused behind me. I hear the chatter of other diners in the restaurant, people whispering and pointing.
I’d recognize his voice anywhere.
I stand up and turn around slowly, my heart beating wildly in my chest. “Albie.”
He’s standing there, holding a pink box. A few feet behind him are Alex, Noah, and Max. The bodyguards stand there nonchalantly, but Alex looks like a kid on Christmas morning, her hands clasped together.
Albie steps closer to me and hands me the box.
The box. The one he sent me the first time. I shake it gently, listening to the rattle of the objects inside.
That fucker brought the box of sex toys with him to this restaurant, and just handed it to me in front of everyone.
“Flowers just seemed so boring,” he says. “And you left this behind.”
“You’re such a shit,” I whisper. “I’m not opening this.”
My hands are trembling.
“I hope not,” he says. “That would make headlines.”
“So you came all the way from Protrovia to return this?” I ask.
“I drove all the way from Protrovia because I have something to say,” he says. “Right here. In front of everyone.”
“So do I,” I blurt out, summoning every bit of confidence I have to ignore the stares of everyone around us. I can see people taking out cameras, but I don’t care. “I really fucked up by leaving, Albie. I – I want you. I don’t care about any of the rest of it. That’s all I know, and I –“
“Belle,” Albie interrupts. “I’ve been with a lot of women.”
“A lot,” Noah says from behind him, and Alex punches him on the arm.
“Shut up, Noah,” Albie says. He clears his throat, looking me in the eyes, and everything goes still and quiet. Suddenly, it’s as if we’re the only two people in the world. It’s Albie and I, and I’m not scared anymore. I’m the calmest I’ve been in a long time. “I might have been with other women in the past, but I’ve never been in love. I never wanted to be in love. And then you ran into me in Vegas.”
“You ran into me,” I say softly. I’m standing here suddenly grinning like an idiot, unable to get this stupid smile off my face.
“Drunken disheveled Cinderella,” he says.
“This is where I’m supposed to say something really poetic and meaningful,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows. “Meaningful and poetic doesn’t suit you,” I say.
“I’m not very poetic,” he says. He leans in close to me, his mouth near my ear. “But I have a b
ig cock. Hopefully that makes up for it.”
I laugh, even as a shiver runs up my spine at his words. “I’ll have to let you know.”
“Does that mean you’re going to face all of the public bullshit and consequences with me?” he asks.
I take a deep breath. “I think it does.”
“Good,” he says. “Because I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather face a public scandal with than you.”
He leans in close to me and puts his finger under my chin, tilting my head up to meet his. “I love you, you know,” he says. “And I’m going to love the hell out of you as long as you’ll let me.”
“That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard,” I say, with a laugh. I hear a whoop behind us, but everyone fades into a blur as Albie brings his lips down hard on mine. He kisses me like it’s been forever since he last touched me, even though it’s only been days, and I feel myself melting against him.
Like he’s where I belong.
Because that’s the truth. I belong with him.
When he pulls away, he grabs one side of the box as it starts to fall. “Don’t lose that, luv,” he says. “Wouldn’t want the press getting that photo.”
“I can’t believe I’m in love with someone who brings this as a grand gesture,” I say, my hand firmly on the lid of the box.
“And you thought princes were classy,” he says.
“I was misled by the fairy tales.”
“Are we going to stand here all night watching the two of you talk?” Alex shouts.
So Albie kisses me again, his arm wrapping around my lower back and pulling me tightly against him as I try to balance the box in one hand, nearly failing. I push him away, laughing.
“Are you scared?” Albie whispers. “Everyone is watching us, you know.”
“Terrified,” I say, as he grabs my hand.
That’s only partly true. I’m terrified and excited and content, all at the same time.
“That’s that prince,” I hear a woman call through the crowd. “And his stepsister!”
His hand on mine, he turns with me to face the restaurant. “I apologize for interrupting everyone’s dinner,” he says, squeezing my hand. “But I hope that picking up your dinner tabs will make up for the inconvenience.”
Several guys in the back of the restaurant hold up their beers and whoop loudly, before the room erupts in applause. Camera flashes go off, and I can see some diners holding up their phones to record. Normally, all of the attention would make me want to crawl into a hole and hide, but right now, I’m practically floating on a cloud.
Albie holds up his hand, and the room goes quiet. “I just ask for one more minute of your time,” he says. “You may or may not know who I am –“
“Yeah, you’re that fucking prince,” an obviously drunk man in the restaurant yells, and Albie chuckles.
“That’s me,” he says, amid laughter from the crowd. “That fucking prince, in some circles. I’ve been in the news recently. Well, we’ve been in the headlines, recently, Belle and I. We’ve caused quite a scandal.”
Now, the room goes quiet, everyone’s attention on Albie.
“And I have something to say about that scandal,” he says. “This is Belle. You might not know her, because she’s not the attention whore that I’ve been. In fact, for the last two years, she hasn’t even been on this continent. But I hope that she’ll let the public get to know her, in the future. She’s brilliant, and funny, and the kindest person I’ve ever met. And for some bizarre reason, she likes me.”
“Loves you,” I correct.
“She loves me,” Albie says. “And I married her. In the United States. We got married in Las Vegas the night we met.”
“By an Elvis impersonator,” I add, laughing.
“By Elvis,” Albie says. “And we were…well, let’s just say there were a lot of tequila shots involved.”
“A lot,” I say.
“And then she ran away,” he says, looking at me. “And I thought I’d never see her again. I shouldn’t have seen her again. Except I did – because, as it turned out, Belle was – is -- the daughter of my father’s fiancé.”
A few people in the crowd murmur, but I ignore the chatter, listening to Albie tell the thoroughly fucked up story of how we met.
This is our fucked up fairy tale.
And it’s fucking perfect.
“Scandalous, I know,” Albie says, holding up his hand again. “At least, that’s what the tabloid magazines would have you believe. But I think that you love who you love. And when you find love, you hold onto it and you don’t let it go. And this is the woman I love. I have no intention of letting her go, no matter what the cost.”
Then he turns to me, bringing his lips down on mine softly, and even though it’s the gentlest kiss, it takes my breath away. When he pulls away, the crowd bursts into thunderous applause.
“Ever heard the fairy tale about the princess and her stepbrother?” I whisper.
Albie laughs. “We’ll write our own fucking fairy tale, luv.”
Belle and I have a suite in the nicest hotel in Budapest. My phone is off, no doubt being bombarded with social media notifications. Outside the window, paparazzi from various European newspapers have gathered near the hotel entrance, waiting to catch Belle and I together.
My father and Sofia are going to be less than pleased with my public announcement, no doubt. Before we left, my father asked if I loved Belle. If I did, he said, I had his blessing.
I’m assuming that his blessing didn’t extend to running off to