I’m now a full-fledged member of the royal family. That means all my problems are over, doesn’t it?
Even though I’m now a princess-by-marriage and a duchess-by-title, I’m still the same Kyra who’s prone to putting her sneaker-clad foot into her mouth.
It’s a good thing Nicky loves me. Our work is thriving and our marriage is strong. Together, we can tackle any challenge. But it’s not until our peaceful existence is threatened that I realize how precious it is.
And they lived happily ever after . . . right?
Read the First Chapter Here!
There was a soft click, rousing me from the deep slumber of an afternoon nap. I stirred in the soft sheets and reached blindly toward the spot where my husband should have been lying next to me.
It was empty, and my eyes still closed, I frowned.
“Nicky?” I murmured. “Are you all right”
His hand brushed over my hair. “How could I be anything else?” The mattress dipped as he slid under the covers with me. “I’m here in this paradise with the most beautiful, fascinating, sexiest woman in the world, who just happens to be my wife. There’s nothing in the universe that could make me anything less than perfectly blissful.”
Still more than half asleep, I smiled. “Prove it.”
Nicky chuckled softly. “Again?”
“Always.” I rolled toward him, opening my arms and snuggling against his solid strength. “Love me, Nicky.”
He bent his head to kiss me. “Forever.”
* * *
“Do we really have to go back?” I trailed my toes along the rushing surf, one hand still clinging to Nicky’s as we meandered along the shore. “I mean . . . would anyone miss us? Between the two of us, I think we’d have enough money to hide away here for a couple of years, at least.”
“As if you’re remotely cut out for a life of hedonistic pleasure,” Nicky snorted. “In moderation, you handle it quite well. But if we stayed here forever, within a week, you’d have the locals organizing gardens and farm co-ops, and then you’d set up some experimental fields, just to test the regional produce markets.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I think I could very easily get used to being a lady of leisure, thanks very much. Don’t forget, I’m not Kyra Duncan anymore. Now I’m Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Kendal. I could do all kinds of shit I couldn’t before.”
My husband began to laugh. “All right, then, Your Royal Highness. Let’s stay here for another two weeks and see how it goes.” There was a note in his voice that dared me to call his bluff.
“Fine. Two weeks will be amazing. I’ll work on my tan, and I’ll read another of those mysteries I’m enjoying so much, and—oh! I almost forgot. I have the company-wide meeting five days after we’re due to be back in London. And there’s the kickoff for the new gardens in Tottenham—the St. Joseph of Cupertino fields are opening early next month.”
Nicky’s grin stretched over his face. “Uh-huh. And this was the woman who thought she could live the idle life here indefinitely?”
I shot him a withering glare. “That was a mean trick.” Swinging my foot, I sent a little bit of sand in his direction, spraying his legs with the fine white powder. “You know I meant it more as in the spirit of our honeymoon. I know we can’t stay here for the rest of our lives. You, for one, would be letting down the family, and I’d never be responsible for that. Second, I’d feel horrible about not stepping up to do my duty as Her Majesty has asked.”
“And that’s why you’re the perfect wife.” Nicky spun me until I had no choice but to fall against his chest. “Because you can dream about running away, but you’d never actually do it.”
“Probably not,” I decided. “I’m not tremendously excited about going back and having to deal with the Palace people and the reporters when we’re in England, but I know it’s my life now, and I’m very okay with that. As long as I’m with you, I can handle anything.”
“That’s good because you’re not going anywhere.” He pressed a hard kiss to the top of my head. “I’ve gotten too accustomed to having you at my beck and call.”
“I’ll always be your beck and call girl.” I snuggled against Nicky’s chest. “And meanwhile, we have another week here. I plan to take full advantage of every opportunity for—what did you call it? Hedonistic pleasures.” Pressing my breasts into the hard planes of his body, I looped my arms around his neck. “You know, like making out in the surf with my husband . . . or laying in the water, kissing passionately like they did in South Pacific.”
We’d enjoyed a screening of the classic film a few nights before, and the love scenes had made an impression on me.
“Hey, when I suggested that sort of thing, you told me that—uh, ‘beach lovin’ was out of the question. You said that the risk of sand in sensitive spots would make it—I believe you referred to it as ‘unpleasant.’” He smirked, remembering.
“That’s true, I did. And then you said we could have the best of both worlds if we made love on the lounge chair, but you got so involved in demonstrating what we might do out there that we never actually made it to the beach itself.”
“We didn’t, did we?” Nicky rubbed one gentle hand down my back until his fingers teased the edge of my bathing suit bottoms. “Then maybe we need to test out my theory. There’s a lounge chair in the secluded part of the beach, you know. The section where no one’s allowed to go except the two of us.”
Desire buzzed through my veins and pulsed in some very specific places—namely, between my legs. “I might know the spot you’re talking about.”
His fingers dipped lower to pinch my bottom. “Race you there. If you get to the chair before me, you get the first orgasm.”
I frowned. “That’s not fair. Your legs are longer than mine, and you’re a faster runner.”
“I’ll give you a head start, darling.” His voice was deep with want. “Believe me, I have a vested interest in letting you win.”
“But maybe I don’t want you to let me win.” I pretended to sulk for a moment, just long enough to disentangle myself from his arms. Once I was free of his embrace, I took off, racing at top speed toward the cottage that had been our hideaway and love shack for the past three weeks, sending sand flying in my wake.
“You little vixen!” I heard Nicky’s laugh-filled accusation behind me, but I didn’t stop running. It was marvelous, this freedom to be myself, to be crazy and wild and stupid in love with the man I’d just married.
And when that man caught me and swung me up into his arms, I knew that I’d never been happier in all of my life.
Wasn’t that the point of the fairy tale? We were living happily ever after, and nothing in the world would ever change that.
Falling in love with a prince wasn’t something I planned . . .
When I reconnected with the first guy I ever kissed, I never dreamed I’d end up moving to England to be closer to him. But Nicky and I are in love, and living together was the next logical step.
If I thought dating royalty was a tough gig when I was living in the USA, I’m learning that it’s even more challenging now that I’m in London. Every move I make, every word I say, is under the microscope. Becoming part of Nicky’s family while staying true to who I am isn’t easy.
Nicky makes everything worthwhile. The hours when we’re alone together are paradise. And if the press and the pressure are the price I have to pay for him . . . I’ll choose Nicky, every single time.
After all, London’s just another town. Right?
Read the first chapter here!
“Heading home, Kyra?” Serena Kessel turned a bright smile toward me as I passed her desk. Although it was only mid-afternoon, I was on my way out of the brand-new London offices of Honey Bee Juices.
“Actually, I am. I know it’s early, but I’ve found that it’s—ah, easier to avoid—well, it’s better if I vary the time of day that I come and go.” I hated being so vague, but I’d learned the hard way that discretion was the better part of valor—or wisdom, in this case. Being my normal chatty self could potentially put an innocent person into a bad position if she was cornered by the press.
“Of all people, Kyra, you certainly don’t need to explain to anyone why you’re leaving before five. No one would ever question you.” Serena didn’t sound anything but respectful and cheery, but her words struck a nerve.
“Do you mean because my grandparents own the company? Is that why it’s okay for me to cut out early? Or is it because of who I’m . . .” I stopped abruptly. I heard the almost-shrill tone in my own voice, and I hated it. “Serena, I’m sorry. I know you didn’t—well. I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“I understand.” The woman was completely unflappable. Here I’d just insulted her, and she didn’t even lose her smile. “I only meant that you work so hard and put in so much more time than the rest of us that no one doubts your dedication.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” I was certain my cheeks were red with embarrassment. “That’s very kind of you.”
“Not at all.” Serena inclined her head. “Have a lovely weekend. I’ll see you Monday?” It was more of a question than a statement.
“Yes, of course.” I hiked the strap of my handbag more firmly onto my shoulder. “See you then.”
My heels clicked on the gleaming tile floors as I walked out of the suite of our offices and down the hallway to the elevator. I passed a few people, some of whom greeted me with a nod and smile, and others of whom glanced at me with open curiosity. I worked hard to keep a blank but pleasant expression on my face. The hardest thing, I was finding, was not reacting to anything or anyone around me. I thought I’d perfected that ability back in Maine, when the press had first begun following me, but it turned out to be much more challenging here in London.
The elevator was blessedly empty, and I sagged against the wall, closing my eyes with a long sigh. But once the doors slid open, I was alert and ready again.
“Heading out, Ms. Duncan?” Alfred, our tall and elegant doorman, smiled at me. “Anything I can do for you?”
Alfred asked me the same question each day as I left, as if he might be able to suddenly wave a magic wand and make all of the reporters and photographers waiting for me beyond the frosted glass doors disappear. I only wished he could.
“Thanks, Alfred. I’ll be fine.” I paused to offer him a genuine smile. “I hope you have a nice weekend.”
“You too, Ms. Duncan.” He paused. “Keep your chin up, if you don’t mind me saying it. Everyone here thinks the world of you.”
“Thank you.” I wished I could say something more—I could tell that Alfred, like so many of the people with whom I worked, hoped that I might relax and share a little with him. But I liked him too much to put the dear man into that position.
So I simply gave him a wave and another smile before I braced myself for the onslaught and pushed open the door.
The late-afternoon sun in London in November was anemic at best, but it was shining directly into my eyes, making me blink madly. And it was then the clicking began.
“Kyra! Kyra! Look here. Kyra!”
“Are you joining Prince Nicholas in Africa this weekend? A little pre-engagement honeymoon?”
“Has the Queen given her approval? Have you met Her Majesty, Kyra?”
“Give us a smile, love! One good picture, Kyra!”
They all shouted at once, and the flashes went off, and they crowded around me. The same panic I felt every single time this happened roared to life, making me long to push them out of my way and run. Run far away and escape from their relentless questions, particularly when they were asking about matters that were tender spots just now.
My car was parked just a few yards down the block, and with as much purpose as I could manage, I waded through the hoard of press, my lips pressed together and my jaw clenched. I didn’t make eye-contact with any of them, and I tried not to react when they shouted out my name . . . over and over again.
Once I was finally safe in the driver’s seat, I wasted no time before I started the engine and carefully eased away from the curb. I’d learned my lesson during my first week at Honey Bee London, when, in an effort to make a fast getaway, I’d peeled out without looking over my shoulder and nearly side-swiped a passing car. That had made the newspaper and the internet rounds, with the less-charitable publications christening me ‘Krashpad Kyra’.
Today I managed to get into my lane without any issue. By now, I could make the drive from my office to Kensington Palace with my eyes closed, and it didn’t take long before I was pulling in through the gates at a special residents-only entrance, restricted from public view. The guard waved to me, and I waved back with a quick grin.
I always experienced an odd mix of feelings when I was back here at the Palace. There was relief, of course, because this was one place where I didn’t have to worry about photographers or reporters, provided I stuck to the more secluded sections of the grounds. But at the same time, I felt a pang of sadness, a sense of being stifled, because in all of the small island nation, this was the only place where I could relax. It felt rather like living in a zoo, I thought as I made my way slowly to the cottage that Nicky and I shared. A beautiful, historic zoo with tons of security and lots of benefits—but a zoo, nonetheless.
Since it was Friday, there weren’t many people around the palace grounds. Most of the residents had decamped for the country either yesterday or earlier in the day; Nicky’s cousins, all of whom were ahead of him in the line of succession, owned estates outside of London, where they could indulge in fun things like hunting and riding horses. One of his sisters lived here with her husband, but they too were away now, representing the Queen on a trip to Spain.
I let myself into the cottage and glanced around. We didn’t have a housekeeping staff, although Nicky had had a weekly housekeeper before I’d moved in, and she still came by to dust and sweep every Friday morning. But I knew that with Nicky in Africa, I could stay here in the cottage all weekend and never see another soul.
I wasn’t sure if that idea was appealing or appalling.
But first things first. I glanced at the clock on the wall and gave a happy little hum as I kicked off my heels and settled onto the plush loveseat, retrieving my laptop from the leather bag I’d been carrying. It was just after four here, which meant that in New Mexico, it was . . . I frowned, doing the mental math. Eight in the morning. The perfect time to call a friend.
Within moments, I had the FaceTime app open and was waiting expectantly as the line buzzed. It stopped abruptly, and the screen was suddenly with the sleepy face of my best friend, Shelby.
“Hey,” she croaked. “If it isn’t my favorite princess-to-be.”
A wave of unease slid over me. “Don’t say that. Someone might hear you and think there really are plans in the works.” I paused. “As of right now, I’m still just the girl living at Kensington Palace with Prince Nicholas. His shack-up lady. The cow who’s giving him the milk for free.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Shelby cleared her throat and rolled her eyes at the same time. The woman had talent. “First of all, you know you’re more than just a fling for Nicky. You’re living with him because you both decided you didn’t want to have an ocean between you—and if I remember correctly, darling friend, you’re the one who told Nicky you didn’t want to rush into anything official since you’d never lived in the same time zone. Second, what’s this business about the cow giving away the milk? Are we living in 1955? You aren’t giving anything away—you’re having loads of hot and heavy consensual sex with the man you love.”
“I know you’re right.” I dropped my head to the back cushion of the couch. “It’s just been a long day. A long week, actually. And all of those things I just said are shouted at me daily by the reporters who follow me around. So it’s hard not to internalize some of them.”
“Hmmmm.” Shelby shifted her phone slightly, and I could see that she was still in bed.
“Hey, shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?” After we’d finished our graduate program in Maine, Shelby had received and accepted an offer for an internship at a center for experimental farming in New Mexico. It was quite an honor, since each year, hundreds of applicants vied for those positions.
“Nah, I don’t go in until noon today. I worked a late shift last night.” A shadow passed over her eyes, and I wondered if everything was as great as she’d been claiming. Before I could ask, she spoke again. “So you’re just finishing your workday, right? What do you and Prince Charming have planned for this weekend?”
I blew out a long sigh. “Nicky’s in Africa at a conference for No Hungry Child. He won’t be back until Tuesday.”
“And you didn’t go with him? Why not?”
“Because he’s there in an official capacity.” I lifted one shoulder. “I can only travel with him when we’re going someplace for leisure. Like a vacation or a holiday trip. Because as I’ve been reminded more than once, I don’t have any official standing now.”
“That’s bullshit. You’re the prince’s girlfriend. Can’t he tell them he wants to take you with him?” Shelby was bristling, ready to jump to my defense as always.
“No. I mean, he could, I guess, but it wouldn’t make any difference. There are ways of doing things in this family, and they don’t change on a dime. We’re talking centuries of tradition.” I hesitated. “It’s not easy, though, for either of us. I spend a lot of time here at the cottage by myself.”
“That sucks.” Shelby was still indignant, tradition be damned. “What about Nicky’s sisters? His family? Can’t you do things with them?”
It was all so complicated, a situation mired in potential pitfalls for me, and since I barely understood all the whys and wherefores, I knew it would be difficult to explain to Shelby. “If we’re invited to dinner by his parents or Alex and Jake, his sister and brother-in-law, I can go, as long it’s just a family meal. But they don’t do that very often. Everyone’s busy with their own lives and commitments. And if it’s the larger family, with the Queen and all the aunts and uncles and cousins—then I’m not included. I can’t go with Nicky if he’s going to a party or a movie premiere or a charity benefit if he’s there in his official capacity.”
“But if he’s going as a board member for his charities—the hungry child one and Waste Not—those you can go to with him, right?” Shelby persisted.
“As long as it’s deemed a quiet event, like a lunch or a tea or something at a private home. It’s just the way they do things here, Shel. I’m not mad or anything—I understand it. Only, sometimes I’m a little lonely.”
“Of course, you are.” She was quiet for a few seconds. “Have you made any friends of your own there, so you have people to hang with when Nicky’s occupied?”
I shook my head. “No. I have a working relationship with the people at Honey Bee, but I can’t socialize with them really—not in any genuine way, because I’m constantly worried that one of them might go to the press and share something. I can’t just go to a pub and make friends, either. If I’m not here at the cottage, I’m at the Honey Bee offices. That’s my life.” To my horror, a sob caught in my throat. I backed away a little, hoping Shelby hadn’t heard it.
But no such luck. “Kyra, that’s no way to live. You sound miserable.” Her forehead drew together. “Isn’t there anything you can do to make things better? I mean, the Royal Family can’t make you stay home alone, right? If you’re not official enough to go to public events with Nicky, then they shouldn’t have the power to force you into anything.”
“Nobody is forcing me to do anything.” I pressed my fingers to my temples, where suddenly a headache pounded. “But would you want to go sightseeing if a throng of reporters were following you everywhere? Or if you couldn’t even run to the corner shop without being recognized and having people stare and point?” I shuddered. “Trust me. Staying here is far preferable to that.”
“Oh, Ky.” Shelby bit her lip, her eyes worried. “This isn’t good.” She studied me through the camera. “When’s the next time you’re coming home for a visit?”
“Two weeks.” I was so looking forward to the trip—and dreading it at the same time. “I’m spending Thanksgiving in Florida with the entire family.”
“Florida? Don’t the Duncans usually do Thanksgiving in Maine?” Shelby had been my best friend long enough to know our traditions. “And is Nicky coming with you?
I shook my head. “No. It’s not a holiday for him, you know, and he already had engagements for that week, so it’s just going to be me.” I swallowed over the lump of worry that had risen in my throat at the thought of leaving him behind. It was far too reminiscent of what had happened between us last year, when we’d broken up for six months. Giving myself a little shake, I went on.
“And you’re right about Maine. Usually we do celebrate there, but this year, Honey’s been sick. She was in the hospital with pneumonia for a week in October, and the doctor advised against her traveling this winter.”
“Wait a minute—Honey was sick—in the hospital—and you didn’t tell me?” Shelby scowled at me through the camera. “Is she okay?” Shelby adored my grandparents, who were known as Handsome and Honey by both family and friends. I’d given them those names when I was a toddler, and to their delight, the nicknames had stuck.
“From what I hear, yes, she’s going to be fine.” I crossed my legs and shifted on the cushion of the sofa. “Believe me, I wasn’t any too happy about being all the way over here when she was sick. But my dad promised he’d keep me informed. He was concerned that if I flew to Florida, the press circus might be too disrupting for the family while they were trying to take care of her.”
“I understand.” Shelby tilted her head, sympathy in her eyes. “Not being there must’ve been killing you. But here’s some good news—if you’re going to be in Florida for Thanksgiving, I can come see you. I’m flying home for that week, too.”
I sat up straighter, giving a little squeal of delight. “Oh, my God! That’s awesome. If you can come over to the beach, we can have a girls’ night. Movies and wine and ice cream.” I paused. “Maybe not in that order.”
Shelby laughed. “I’m in. I’m spending the first three days with Vivian and Charlie and the baby, and then I need to fit in a visit with the parentals and Aunt Gail. But by the weekend, I’m sure I’m going to be more than ready for some best friend time.”
“Okay. It’s a date.” I’d been looking forward to going home for the holiday anyway, but now I was even more excited.
“It definitely is.” She glanced at something off-camera and wrinkled her nose. “But right now, I need to get my ass in gear. I want to grab some breakfast before I go to work. So . . . we’ll text about the details, but otherwise, I’ll see you in two weeks.”
“I can’t wait.” I frowned a little. “But Shel, is everything all right there? I feel like we talked about all my problems and you didn’t tell me how things are in New Mexico.”
That same shadow passed over her eyes again. “It’s all good, Ky. Maybe slightly complicated, but—well, I love the work, and the people are mostly nice. I’m learning so much. I just wish . . .” Her voice trailed off. “We’ll talk at Thanksgiving, babe, and I promise, I’ll spill my guts then. You can give me wise counsel over wine.”
“Okay. You know I’m here for you no matter what, right, Shelby?” I had a feeling that she was evading my questions. “Best friends trump everything, even Royal Family orders. That’s not going to change.”
“Of course, it isn’t,” she returned. “I know that. Ciao for now, sweetie. And hang in there. Everything is going to work out for you and Nicky. I just know it.”
I ended the call with a smile, but once I’d shut the computer, the silence of the cottage weighed on me even heavier, and the empty hours of the weekend stretched out before me.
“Well, I guess it’s just me and Netflix once again,” I sighed, reaching for the television remote. “Another glamorous weekend in the life of Prince Nicky’s girlfriend.”
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.
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Duty. Honor. Country.
Love. Romance. Passion.
Look, I don’t need a psychologist to tell me why I am the way I am. I grew up with a mom who was forever chasing her happily-ever-after, never considering the cost to herself–or to me. That’s why I’m not interested in fairy tales or in finding some elusive prince charming to solve all of my problems.
Until I meet him in the bar where I work. One night of fun somehow begins to mean more, and it scares the crap out of me.
I joined the Army when I was just a kid, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I never dreamed I’d love it enough to make it my career, but now here I am, an officer, stationed at West Point, leading a company of soldiers. What started as an escape has become my passion–and it’s one that doesn’t have space for anything–or anyone–else.
Until I meet her at my buddy’s bachelor party. I think I’m indulging in one meaningless night, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Remembering her. Wanting her.