I was fourteen and he was sixteen, and yes, it was magical. But that kiss didn’t exactly change my life. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about it-or Nicky Windsor-for the next ten years . . . until fate, in the guise of my grandparents, brought us back together again.
Now everything has spun out of control. I’m ducking reporters and photographers when I try to leave home. My friends act as if I’m someone they don’t know anymore. The whole world seems to be watching me, wanting to see some kind of modern Cinderella story.
But trust me, I’m no man’s princess. I’m more comfortable in tennis shoes than in a tiara, more likely to rock a bucket than a ball gown, and more liable to fall on my face than to pull off a graceful wave.
The only thing that keeps me from running away and hiding is Nicky. He’s all I’ve ever wanted in a man: hot, hunky, and head-over-heels in love with me. I think I feel the same way. I think I want to be with him forever.
But the idea of life with the royal family terrifies me. Even if I have found my one and only, can I handle what comes after our happy ending?
Read the first chapter here!
“Woooohooo! Hot mama walking alert.” Shelby, my roommate and best friend in the world, waved her hand in front of her face in an exaggerated fanning motion as she lounged in the doorway of my bedroom. “Damn, girl! Sometimes I forget how good you clean up.”
“Funny. Very funny.” Rolling my eyes, I balanced myself on one foot. “I need your input. Which shoes work best? Option one . . .” I switched feet, lifting the first one up behind me. “Or option two?”
“Hmmm. It depends. Are you going to a club? Or is this date a quiet affair at an elegant restaurant?” Shelby wiggled her fingers, grinning at me wickedly. “C’mon. Tell me all the details.”
I blew out a breath. “Neither one. And get real. Where would I find either a club or an elegant restaurant within thirty miles of us? Tonight is a command performance at my grandparents’ house.”
“You’re going to visit Honey and Handsome without me?” Shelby frowned, pushing out her bottom lip. “I thought you loved me.”
“I do, which is why I’m not taking you with. This isn’t the fun kind of H squared visit. It’s a formal dinner. It’s going to be long and boring.” I shook my foot. “Shoe answer, please.”
“Uh, the first one. It’s cute, but it’s not trampy.”
“Excellent. That’s exactly what I was going for.” I kicked off the shoe that hadn’t made the cut and found the match to the one I was wearing. “Tell me again why I put myself through this shit.”
“Because your grandparents are funding your graduate school career and keeping you fed, with a roof over your head?” Shelby tilted her head. “Those seem like wonderful reasons.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” I turned a little, checking myself out in the full-length mirror. My black dress was silk, sedate and stylish, the most important three S words for this kind of occasion. “Plus, there’s the whole thing where I love them.”
“What’s not to love? Honey and Handsome are the coolest people I know. No one who’d just met them would ever guess that they’re both in their seventies.”
“Or that they’ve been married for over fifty years.” I frowned, concentrating on fastening my earring.
“Yes! They’re so dang cute together. Remember when they came here to help us move in, and we caught them making out in the kitchen?”
I held up one hand. “I don’t want to remember that, thanks. Eww. You might find it adorable, but it’s not something you want to see if they’re your grandparents.”
“I guess I can see that.” Shelby was silent as she watched me dig through my backpack, pulling out essentials like my driver’s license, cash, tissues, and mints and depositing them into a small evening bag. “What’s the occasion tonight? Why did they ask you to come to one of their fancy dinners?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” I scowled. “Honey was being a little cagey when she called to tell me. She said they wanted me to be there because of my unique point of view on the subject at hand, or something like that. It probably has to do with ecological sustainability. They like to have me there as back-up so it seems like they have the latest research on conservation.”
“Are you saving the moose this time?”
I snorted. “Totally possible.”
“Well, whatever the cause, I know you’ll end up having a blast. Your grandparents never throw dull parties.”
“Yeah. You’re not wrong. I’m not afraid of being bored. I just don’t want to smile and act happy around a bunch of rich people. Even if they might someday consider donating millions to one of my projects.” I patted my bag, took one more look in the mirror, and straightened my shoulders. “All right. I’m set, I guess. Do I look okay? Will I do?”
Shelby scrutinized me with narrowed eyes. “You will. You’re gorge, babe. You’ll knock them all dead. And who knows?” She gave me wide, dramatic eyes. “Maybe one of them will bring his hot and sexy grandson, who just happens to be rich as hell, and your eyes will meet across the crowded room—”
“Ugh!” I stuck out my tongue at her. “Just stop. You’ll get my hopes up, and when no one under the age of seventy is there, I’ll have to drown my disappointment in some of Handsome’s best whiskey. That never ends well.”
“Hey, it could happen. And if it doesn’t, at least your grandfather’s whiskey is primo.” She leaned in to kiss my cheek. “Have fun. Drive safe. Make good choices. Give the two H’s my love.”
“Will do. See you tonight.”
I stopped at the tiny front closet by the door to grab my long raincoat. Yes, it was late April, but this was Maine, and although today’s high temperature had broken the sixty-degree mark, as soon as the sun set, the chilly air would get downright frigid. I’d lived here long enough that I didn’t mind the cold so much, but my dress tonight was sleeveless, and there was no way I was going to shiver when I could avoid it. The raincoat wasn’t exactly haute couture, but it would do the job.
Opening the door to the hybrid compact Shelby and I shared, I tossed the evening bag onto the passenger seat and eased behind the wheel. I was unreasonably grumpy about this dinner. My grandparents were wonderful, amazing people, and I adored them beyond reason. One of the reasons I’d chosen Grant’s graduate program was because the school was close enough to Honey and Handsome’s summer home that I could visit when they happened to be living there. But I wasn’t in any mood to play nice just now, when I’d spent all day mucking around in a muddy field, working on the research for my final project.
The sun was drooping low in the sky, but I still needed my sunglasses, thanks to the eye-level glare. I knew this route by heart since I’d been driving it for two years now. Still, this time of evening was when the moose liked to come out and play, and God knew I didn’t need to hit one of those monsters tonight. So I kept my car to a reasonable speed, sliding my eyes right and left as I passed wooded areas and open fields.
Darkness settled slowly, and I finally shed my sunglasses a few minutes before I reached the turn that led me down my grandparents’ driveway. Their home was large, but it wasn’t ostentatious. No one would ever guess that these two had founded and still owned—and were actively involved in—one of the largest organic juice and sandwich businesses in the country. Honey Bee Juices had won accolades over the years for its business practices, growing methods and passionate commitment to conservation and activism. I was proud not only of my family’s success and efforts to do the right thing but of the fact that they used their wealth in practical ways.
This estate, for instance, housed a group of horticulturists for a month in the summer, men and women of all ages who won scholarships to a camp where they were taught the latest methods for natural gardening. Not only that, but Honey and Handsome always opened their home to anyone visiting the nearby college—the one I was currently attending.
“Nothing we have is truly ours, Kyra,” Handsome liked to tell me. “Everything is held in trust. And if we don’t share, what’s the point in anything?”
My grandparents were, without doubt, the coolest, kindest, and most compassionate people I’d ever known. Growing up, I’d spent a lot of time with them—not because my parents were absent or neglectful, but because we worked and played as a family so often. Both of my parents worked in the juicing business, and I was always there, too, listening, watching, and learning.
It was natural that I became close to my grandparents, of course, who had wanted me to call them Grammy and Grampy. But even as a toddler, I’d had my own mind. I’d noticed from a young age that my grandmother always referred to her husband as Handsome, while he called her Honey almost without fail. If it was good enough for the two of them, it worked for me, too, which was why all of their grandchildren—and their grandchildren’s friends—henceforth used the same names for our grandparents.
I smiled as I stopped the car and climbed out, my heels crunching on the gravel of the drive. Handsome and Honey gave selflessly to all of us, whether it was time, attention, or education. They didn’t lavish us with gifts, exotic trips, or designer clothes, but my grandparents were the reason I was now in my last year of graduate school at Grant. They’d covered the tuition and bought the adorable little cottage that Shelby and I shared. I worked hard to keep up my grades, and Shelby and I were responsible for all the maintenance on our home, in addition to the improvements Handsome requested, but that was a small price to pay for the freedom to study and live without worry.
That was why I never really balked when H squared, as Shelby teasingly called them, asked me to make an appearance at one of their gatherings or fundraisers. They didn’t force the issue, ever, nor did they invite me to any social affair that would make me uncomfortable. Truth be told, I almost always ended up having a good time and meeting interesting people.
Which, come to think of it, made me wonder why my car was the only one in the circular drive as I climbed the steps of the porch. Usually, other guests’ vehicles would be here, too, by now; I was running late, as I usually was. Everything was quiet, and for a moment, I wondered if I’d somehow misunderstood my grandmother and gotten the date wrong.
“Kyra, are you planning to come inside, or should we deliver your dinner on a tray to the porch?” Honey’s voice behind me held more than a hint of laughter. “You look like you’re lost.”
“I was beginning to think maybe I was.” I turned around to face the front door, where my grandmother stood. “Where is everyone? I know I’m not early. That just isn’t possible.”
“You’re just exactly right on time.” Honey drew me into a tight hug and kissed my cheek. It was impossible to believe, looking at her, that she was over seventy years old. Her skin was smooth, her eyes clear, and the hint of white in her hair was well-camouflaged by her natural blonde. The smile on her face held just a hint of mischief, which made me pull back a little, my eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Honey, what are you up to?”
“Up to? Whatever are you talking about?” She affected innocence, but I knew better.
“Honey . . . you told me this was a formal dinner with some people you wanted me to meet. Tell me you’re not scheming about something else.”
“I never scheme, sweetie. And maybe you misheard me. I said it was a formal dinner, and you might meet someone interesting.” She gave a little nod, and I remembered that she was right. That was exactly how she’d phrased it.
“You’re not making me feel any better.” I followed her into the foyer. “How many people are you expecting? And where is everyone?”
“Already sitting down, waiting for you.” Honey inclined her head, indicating the direction of the dining room. “Your grandfather is entertaining.”
“Oh, brother.” I giggled, leaning conspiratorially against Honey. “That means long-ass stories, doesn’t it?”
She bent her head so her mouth was next to my ear. “‘When I was first coming up with the recipe for pineapple sunshine, the juice that put us on the map . . .’” Her impression of Handsome made me laugh even harder.
We walked across the foyer and down the wide hallway that led toward what my grandparents called the public side of the house—where the large, formal dining room, the conference rooms, and the ballroom were all located—but to my surprise, Honey steered me to the left and opened a door.
When I hesitated, she only smiled. “Since it’s just the four of us, I thought it would be cozier to eat in the family dining room.” When I didn’t move, she patted my back. “Come on, now, no one’s going to bite you. Don’t you trust me?”
“All of sudden, not so much.” I frowned, but I allowed her to move me along.
This part of the house was comfortable and warm. The sitting room where I’d played dolls as a kid flowed into the kitchen and dining room. As we rounded the corner, I heard the sound of my grandfather’s laughter mingling with someone else’s voice.
I didn’t know who it was—not really—but for some reason, my heart began to pound, and I felt a little lightheaded. There was something familiar—something in me that recognized the tone and timbre of the voice.
We rounded the wall that hid the table from my view, and I came to a sudden, abrupt halt. Sitting at the table next to my grandfather, leaning back in his chair as though his being here was the most natural thing in the world, was a man I thought I’d never see again—not in person, anyway.
He looked so different—and yet, of course, not that very different. He wasn’t the boy I’d known ten years before. He was a man now. Still, although I hadn’t been in the same room with him—or even in the same city, to the best of my knowledge, since I was fourteen, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen him. I hadn’t sought out glimpses of him, but they’d been impossible to avoid on magazine covers at the grocery store checkout counters or splashed over social media.
Yet, he was more a stranger than a friend now. Too many years divided us, and those years had taken us in opposite directions. Neither of us was who we’d been back then on the Florida beaches.
And then he saw me, and the way his eyes lit up was heart-rippingly familiar. A smile spread over his face, and slowly he rose to his feet.
Read the rest of it here!