Princess Adelaide sat on the balcony that jutted out of her royal suite. She looked out over her father’s kingdom, content with her life. The skyscraper in which she, her parents, the king and queen of the human kingdom, Lomena, lived was the tallest building, and her line of sight extended for miles and miles. Lomena sat safe on an island surrounded by the ocean. Addie, as she was more familiarly called, couldn’t see the mainland, so large was the island. The skyscraper in which she resided with her family, a battalion of servants, and royal courtiers sat in the middle of the island and was protected by a contingent of human soldiers.
A knock sounded at her door, and Addie turned her head to call out. Her handmaid and close friend, Jeanne, entered without waiting for an answer, bustling in with a tray of food holding her breakfast.
“Good morning, Addie,” Jeanne called in her sweet, high-pitched voice. She set the tray down, and as was customary for the pair, sat across from Addie to join her in her repast.
“Good morning, Jeanne. Thank you,” Addie replied, handing her friend a napkin from the tray before pouring them each a cup of coffee. As she divided the food, a note on the tray caught her eye. “Who’s the note from?”
Jeanne rolled her eyes. “Thomas met me in the kitchen and asked that I give this to you.” Thomas was the king’s second in command, sort of a vice president type figure.
“Such formality,” Addie mused aloud. She put a piece of fruit in her mouth, enjoying the succulent sweetness, before she opened the note. Her eyebrow lifted. “I’ve been summoned to his office.”
“Really?” Jeanne asked, glancing sideways at the note Addie had dropped on the tray. “How weird that he asked you like that.”
Addie sighed. “He only does this when he has something to talk to me about that he knows I won’t like. I can’t ignore a formal summons, but I can skip dinner.” They laughed together.
“Hmmm,” Jeanne hummed in thought. She chewed on a hunk of cantaloupe and swallowed before saying, “I wonder what he could possibly want.”
“Who knows? The last time he summoned me like this, it was to tell me that I had to go to college whether I liked it or not.”
“Yeah, but you wanted to go to college, so that doesn’t really count,” Jeanne reminded her as she speared a piece of watermelon with her fork.
“True, even though he insisted my major be in foreign diplomacy rather than literature,” Addie grumbled.
“You minored in literature and have written and published several short stories.”
Addie nodded thoughtfully as she sipped her coffee. “I still wonder if they published them just because I’m the king’s daughter.”
“No way,” Jeanne assured her. “I read them. They’re really good.”
“You have to say that. You’re my friend,” Addie returned with a grin. “Anyway, I can’t imagine what he wants.”
“Well, let’s finish breakfast so you can choose what to wear. You might as well look your best when you go down to meet him,” Jeanne commented.
Addie cut into her omelet fiercely, scraping the plate with her fork and causing both herself and Jeanne to shudder at the sound. “Sorry. You know, he could just come up here or talk to me at dinner, but no! That’s why I’m kind of freaking out right now.”
Jeanne waved her empty fork around. “I wouldn’t worry about it until you get there.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Addie changed the subject. “Any gossip I need to know about?”
Jeanne giggled and launched into a ten minute discussion about one of her father’s aides who had been caught dillydallying with a were, a big no-no among the humans. Addie’s worries about her father’s desire to meet with her melted away as she listened to the newest scandal.
Addie descended alone in the elevator, dressed in the dove-gray pantsuit Jeanne had chosen for her, assuming her father had called her to his office to discuss a business matter. Addie had admired herself in the mirror after putting the suit on. Her ample bosoms and generous curves filled the suit as if it had been tailored for her, which, of course, it had been. She’d asked Jeanne to pull her hair up in a professional looking up-do and had put on minimal makeup. The soft fabric of her suit felt smooth under her hands as she ran her hands over her clothes and hair just before the elevator door opened.
She stepped into the foyer that led to her father’s office. The opulence was understated, but it was there in the stainless steel and glass, the original art hanging on the walls, and the polished older woman behind the desk waiting to greet her father’s guests.
“Good morning, Adelaide,” the woman greeted, standing as she spoke in a show of respect for a member of the royal family. Her gray hair was perfectly coiffed, her clothes immaculate, and although she was her father’s secretary, Addie knew she held a great deal of power.
“Good morning, Ginger,” Addie replied, inwardly grinning at the almost silly name for such an elegant woman. “Is my father ready to see me?”
“Yes, dear,” Ginger replied. She stepped around her desk to stand close to Addie. She leaned in and whispered, “Your father and Thomas are in there. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s big.”
Addie’s stomach clenched. If Ginger felt it was necessary to warn her, she was in trouble. She took Ginger’s hand and squeezed it, hoping to gather some of the woman’s strength. “Thank you, Ginger. I hope I’m not in trouble.”
Ginger looked at her, her face pinched with concern. “I’ll be here if you need me. Your mother also told me to tell you to come see her as soon as this meeting is over.”
Dear gods! This must be something awful! Addie thought, but her face didn’t show her worry. She’d learned from an early age to keep her thoughts from crossing her face unless she wanted them to be known. She smiled at Ginger. “Well, here goes.”
Addie put her hand on the door, took a deep, calming breath meant to ease the stressful tension in her body, and pushed the door open. Her father and Thomas, his second in command, rose when she entered. She looked around the room; the men were alone. Her father, King George, never included anyone in private family business. This was something else.
“Addie, come on in,” George called to her.
She realized she’d been standing at the door, thoughts in disarray, staring at her father and Thomas. She put a smile on her face and stepped in, listening to the swish of the door as it closed behind her. She felt trapped by the sound and the men’s eyes as they watched her cross the plush, white rug and take a seat.
Her father had chosen to sit at the head of the conference table with Thomas on his right. He rose to kiss her cheek chastely and gestured that she sit to his left. Again she felt serious concern; he never made her sit at the table like an associate. Normally, they sat on the leather couch and comfortable chairs he had in his office. Her nerves were on fire, especially when her father grinned at her like a cat with a mouse in its sights.
“Addie, I have something very important to speak to you about this morning,” George began.
“Why is Thomas here?” Addie asked abruptly. She looked at Thomas apologetically. “I’m sorry, Thomas.”
“No offense, Addie,” Thomas said with a small, almost uncomfortable smile. “You’re not used to such formal meetings.”
“No, which makes me wonder what this is about,” Addie said, looking back to her father with an eyebrow raised.
“Addie, how old are you?”
Addie’s eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips. Her father knew the answer to that question. “I’m twenty-seven.”
“Twenty-seven. Perfect,” George murmured, nodding at Thomas.
“Father, pardon my language, but what the hell is going on? You know how old I am,” Addie said, glaring at her father.
George’s smile broadened, and he looked absolutely delighted by her question. “I’ve made a wonderful arrangement for you.”
“Arrangement?” The word frightened her. “What kind of arrangement?”
George took a deep breath, a sign that he wasn’t expecting this to go well once he made his announcement, but he was pretending he thought she’d be happy. “You are getting married.”
Silence permeated the room. Addie’s breath had stopped, her pulse hammered, and she felt a little faint. After several moments, she found her voice again. “Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you correctly.”
George and Thomas exchanged a glance. George sat forward and reached for Addie’s hand, but she pulled it away before he could touch her. Again, the men looked at each other, and George sighed heavily, his false happiness evaporating. “Addie, I’ve promised that you will marry the dragon king.”
The king wished for the silence of earlier. Addie leapt to her feet and yelled, “Are you kidding me? The dragon king? You promised me to someone without even asking for my opinion in the matter?”
“Addie, unfortunately, your opinion holds no sway in matters of foreign policy.” Addie’s eyes jerked to Thomas, who cleared his throat before continuing. “An alliance with the dragon king and his kingdom is required for our safety and theirs. The best alliance is a marriage.” Thomas finished his explanation by lifting his hands in a gesture filled with helpless resignation.
“An alliance?” Addie looked at her father. “Let me get this straight. Are you selling me to the dragon king so that he’ll be on your side should a war break out? Am I a whore you are pimping out?”
“Adelaide!” her father bellowed, rising to his feet as well. “Do not use that language when speaking to the king!”
Addie bowed sarcastically. “My apologies, your Royal Highness. I thought I was having a conversation with my father.”
George breathed in. “All right. We need to calm down.” He returned to his seat and gestured for his daughter to do the same. “Please, sit down.”
Addie lowered herself onto the edge of the chair, her back straight and prepared to fight against this decision. In a calmer voice filled with suppressed fury, she stated, “Father, I do not want to marry anyone, let alone a man I’ve never met, especially a man who is of a different species. That’s never been done before.”
“You’re right, Addie. It’s never been done before by our family or the dragon king’s family. But many commoners of all species are married to a person of a different species. And even have children.”
Addie’s lip curled in derision. “Is that a not-so-subtle hint, Father? Am I supposed to get knocked up as soon as possible? Eager for grandchildren, are you?”
“It’s the only way to solidify the alliance.” Thomas spoke but did not meet her eyes.
“Well, God forbid love have anything to do with it,” Addie replied sarcastically, her eyes shooting daggers at Thomas, then her father. “I will not marry. I will not bear the child of a man I do not know nor love.”
George sat up. His demeanor changed to that of a king rather than the man who had thrown her into the air as a child. “Adelaide, you will marry. You will marry the dragon king, you will move to Wyvern, and you will produce an heir within the year.”
“I have to move to the dragon kingdom?!? Leave behind everything I know, my family, my friends, my life! Father, this is absurd, backwards, and completely unfair!” Addie was close to tears, her voice hitching by the end of her sentence. She blinked once; the tears were gone, replace by anger once again.
George softened as he watched his daughter’s display of strength. “I’m sorry, Addie, but this is the way of things when you are a member of the royal family. The wizards have wed into the were royal line and created an alliance. They are stronger than us now. We have no choice.”
Addie rose. “You mean I have no choice but to submit to this absolutely preposterous marriage.”
“If that’s the way you choose to see it, then yes, I suppose so.” Her father rose again and handed her some papers. “The wedding will take place a week from tomorrow.” He ignored his daughter’s gasp of indignation. “Your mother is aware of this and has already begun preparing. I suggest you join her.”
“Have you met the dragon king?” Addie asked.
George would not meet her eyes. “No.”
Addie was silent, her fury filling the room with each passing second. The papers in her hand were crumpled in her fury. “But I’m supposed to marry him,” Addie hissed. She shook her head. “And when do I have to move?” she asked scathingly.
“The day after the wedding,” George said. Addie stared at him, hatred plain on her face.
Thomas cleared his throat. Gently, he said, “Addie, the papers you’re holding are a contract. I’ll need you to sign that before you leave the office.”
Her eyes didn’t leave her father’s as she said, “Of course. I’ll sign my freedom away and bind myself to a man I’ve never laid eyes on. A man my father has never met. I’ll give myself to this man who may or may not be a mean son-of-a-bitch.”
Addie jerked the proffered pen out of Thomas’ hand and signed the line he pointed at with a flourish. She slammed the pen on the table and lifted her eyes to her father’s.
“I will never forgive you for this. And any child of mine will never visit this kingdom. I will never return to this kingdom. Next week will be the last time you will lay eyes on me.”
She refused to look at Ginger as she marched out of the office. She’d wanted to slam the door, but she was unable because of the stopper. She pushed the elevator button with such anger she hurt her finger. Ginger watched her but did not speak; the pain Addie felt was plain on her face and in her stance.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, she broke down, sobbing so hard her body put itself into the fetal position. She braced herself in the corner of the elevator and let the tears rack her body. She’d chosen the floor that would open into her mother’s private rooms, and she was standing there, waiting for her daughter with Jeanne as well as Addie’s best friend, Poppy.
“Addie,” her mother gushed. She rushed into the elevator and helped her daughter back to her feet. With her arm around her, she guided her to the couch closest to the window, where her daughter had always liked to sit. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry for the suddenness of this.”
“The suddenness?” Addie sobbed, looking at her mother, her words garbled by tears. “This is positively the most appalling thing that’s ever happened to me!”
“I know, baby, I know,” Claire murmured, soothing her daughter’s hair as her friends circled around her.
“Addie, Poppy and I get to go with you to Wyvern, so you won’t be totally alone,” Jeanne told her as her hand ran down her sobbing friend’s arm.
Addie frowned as she looked at her friend. “That’s not fair! You two have to give up your lives here to go with me?”
“We don’t see it that way,” Poppy explained. “We’re excited to see new places and new things. We volunteered to go with you to help you.”
Addie stared at her fairy friend, absorbing the comfort she always exuded. Her little body, only a couple of feet high, flitted about, her fairy wings moving so quickly they looked like a blur of pink. Her skin was flawless and stained a sweet pink, and her dress was also pink. Addie’s father had rescued her from a were who planned to force her into slavery, and her loyalty to him, and to Addie, was absolute.
“Do you feel the same way, Jeanne?” Addie asked her handmaid, who held out a tissue as she sat on the couch next to her.
“All I’ve ever seen in my whole life is the human kingdom. I’ve only met a handful of other species during my very sheltered life. Going to the dragon kingdom, meeting new types of people, is incredibly exciting for me,” Jeanne finished with a squeal of excitement. “And besides, I get to be with you, my closest friend in the world. I would never want you to be alone.”
Addie smiled. At least her friends were going and she wouldn’t be completely alone. But that didn’t make the fact that she had to marry a stranger any better. “I’m so glad you two are going with me. Maybe it will help make it all better.”
“That’s my girl! Stay positive in a bad situation,” Claire smiled, squeezing Addie’s shoulders. “Now, I called the dress shop and they’re sending a few dresses over in your size. In fact,” she glanced at her watch, “they should be here in the next fifteen minutes.”
Addie’s eyes narrowed at her mother. “How long have you known about this little arrangement?”
Claire had the courtesy to look a little ashamed. “Okay, your father told me two days ago. I have no idea how long he’s known.”
Addie rolled her eyes. “I hope he at least put some thought into the plans he’s made for my life. Without consulting me.”
Claire sighed loudly and looked at the other two women in the room. “I know this is terrible right now, but lots of people have arranged marriages and have found their happiness.”
“Was yours an arranged marriage?” Addie asked pointedly. She knew the answer.
“No. Your father and I chose each other.”
“I don’t understand what you’re going through, and I won’t pretend to. Honestly, if I could stop this, I would.”
Addie sighed in resignation. “I know, Mom. But just so you know, I don’t care how this turns out. I will never forgive Father for this.” She didn’t share her threat to never return to Lomena, nor the threat that her child would never visit here.
Claire nodded but didn’t reply. Her daughter’s anger would burn hot for some time, she knew that. Her independence, her freedom had been compromised when her father had taken her choice away. Eventually, though, the anger’s fire would begin to die down and turn to ash. Claire just hoped it wouldn’t take a lifetime, though, like her father, Addie could be incredibly stubborn when she didn’t get her way. The ding of the elevator announcing guests interrupted her thoughts.
“The dresses are here!” she exclaimed. Independent and fiery were perfect adjectives for her daughter, but a third was girly. Nothing pleased her daughter more than to try on clothes, dress up, fix her hair, and do her make up.
“How exciting!” Jeanne exclaimed as she jumped up to help the clerks who carried what looked like heavy bundles of lace, tulle, and fabric, all in white. They laid the bundles on every surface in the room.
A man, the owner of the store, sashayed in, ordering his lovely minions about. When the bundles were strewn about to his satisfaction, he turned to the four women. “Hello, hello, Queen Claire and Princess Adelaide.” He took each of their hands in one of his and kissed the knuckles, bowing deeply. “I have brought the finest dresses in my shop for you to appraise.”
“It looks as if you brought the entire store,” Addie mumbled. Poppy poked her side and gave her a look. Addie nodded and changed her tone. “I have a specific style in mind, if you have it.”
“Ah, I like a girl who knows what she wants!” Pierre exclaimed with a clap of his hands. “Let’s get started!”
“While you are trying on dresses, I’ve got some details to attend to,” Claire claimed.
Addie looked at her. “Like what?”
“Oh you know, the dinner, the guests, the reception, the ceremony, the list goes on and on when you’re planning a wedding,” Claire answered with a wave of her hand and a small laugh. “Would you like me to wait so you can help me? I don’t want to make any decisions without you.”
“The only decision I cared about has been made for me, thank you,” Addie replied bitterly. “But I would like my opinion taken into account, so please stay here and work.”
Claire nodded. “Of course, sweetheart. I’ll have my assistant bring my laptop up here and make the calls and reservations with your help.”
“Thank you,” Addie said. She returned her attention to Pierre. “Ok, Pierre, let’s see what you have to offer.”
King Seathan, the king of dragons, watched out the window of his personal jet as it flew over the kingdom of humans. He’d always thought the place too modern for his tastes, with the skyscrapers and busy streets packed onto an island so crowded no one had room to themselves. He much preferred Wyvern, with its rolling hills and farmlands. King George appreciated his lands as well; without them, his kingdom would have no fresh produce or meat.
This alliance through marriage was as much about keeping both kingdoms safe should a war break out as it was about keeping the humans in food. As he looked down, he wondered what Princess Adelaide looked like. He was going into this marriage blind, just like she was, but unlike her, he’d made the choice to accept the alliance. He was close to her age at thirty-five and had never been married. The heir they would make together would bind the two kingdoms together for generations, creating a safe haven for dragon shifters and humans alike.
His thoughts were interrupted by his best friend and top advisor, Conall, who plopped down in the seat next to him with a grunt. He held out a bottle of ale with a grin.
“Your thoughts are too heavy this fine morning, Seathan,” Conall claimed in his rich brogue. The pair of men had been friends since grade school and knew each other better than anyone else.
“Yes,” Seathan agreed heavily, his deep voice vibrating in his throat as he took the ale from his friend. He took a long drink and said, “I do believe I am nervous about meeting the princess.”
“Nervous?” Conall guffawed, shaking his head at the words. “I can’t believe it! You, who have charmed and bedded more women than I have fingers and toes!”
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