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“So getting me to escort you to your room wasn’t an invitation?”

“Are you kidding me?” I shake my head. “No. Why does everything have to do with sex when it comes to you?”

He shrugs, grins. It’s charming and it shouldn’t be. “I don’t know, I guess I’m just used to it. Bad habits, Your Highness.”

“Well, I guess you can chalk me up to being one of your bad habits,” I say with a sigh as I look up and down the halls. The palace is opulent, but up here in the residential wing, things are a lot more subdued. No more marble statues, just rustic paintings instead. It’s almost homey.

“What does that mean?”

“How about you show me to my room first?”

He squints at me. “I swear you’re a different person from the one at the start of dinner. Maybe even two seconds ago.”

I choke on a laugh. “No kidding. The person I was at the start of dinner had no bloody idea what the hell she was getting herself into. Now I do.”

“Your British slang is very cute.”

“Get stuffed.”

“There you go again,” he says but starts off walking down the hall, gesturing with a nod of his head for me to follow him.

He opens the door to one of the rooms, and I step inside as he flicks the lights on. It’s smaller than I thought and maybe a bit drafty, but the bed looks warm, with loads of wool blankets piled on top. My little suitcase is sitting on an ottoman.

I turn around to look at him, feeling more indignant than nervous now.

“So, if you didn’t invite me up here for nefarious purposes, what did you invite me here for?” he asks.

I take in a deep breath. I feel like this evening has just been a series of very deep breaths. “That was my father on the phone.”

“Yes, I figured that.”

“Your father and he had a long chat while we were out in the garden.”

He purses his lips. “Okay…”

“Your father,” I continue, “told my father that you were proposing to me.”

Magnus stares at me for a second, eyes wide as it very slowly sinks into his thick skull. “But…I wasn’t. I mean, I was telling you the deal, the truth and all that, but…oh fucking hell. Do they think…does your father think this is actually a real official thing?”

He’s starting to freak out. It makes me feel good for a nanosecond to know that this wasn’t what he expected either.

“Yes. Your father said you were proposing and that’s why I was invited here, and he said we were a good match. My father automatically assumed I had said yes, because for crying out loud, why would I ever say no to anyone?”

Okay, so that last outburst is more about me than it is about him, but still.

“And you didn’t tell him otherwise?”

“This isn’t about me, okay?”

He looks out into the hall and then shuts the door behind him so it’s just the both of us in this room. “It kind of is. First you shoot me down, repeatedly, like you’re playing Duck Hunt and running out of quarters—”

“You’re twenty-eight! Why are you referencing things that are old? And anyway, I never shot you down because you never asked me anything.”

“I told you the plan.”

“Yes, in some round about half-assed way.”

“Hey, I was putting my full ass into it,” he says snidely. “You’re forgetting the big picture here, and that is…why the hell didn’t you tell him that my father was being premature and talking out of line?”

“You don’t know my father,” I tell him. “Or our relationship. To say it’s strained is putting it mildly, and anyway I didn’t exactly want to admit that your father, the King of Norway, is a big fat liar!”

“But now we have to get married!” he cries out.

“This was your idea!”

“This was my parents’ idea,” he counters, shaking his finger in my face. “And now it’s real. Jesus. I’m not ready for this.”

“You’re insane,” I mumble. “And it doesn’t matter. I’ll tell my father the truth in a few days. I just didn’t want to tonight. He sounded so happy and, well, you told me that this was all worth it to make your father happy, right?”

He seems to think that over before he nods with a heavy sigh. “Yeah.”

“And it’s the same for me. Only I don’t have the relationship you have. I don’t have one with him at all. And I wasn’t about to sever the little contact we just had because of some technicality.”

He lets out a dry laugh. “You make it sound like it’s wording on a legal document.”

“If we’re not careful, that’s what it’s going to be. Only the legal document will be a marriage certificate.”

“I need to talk to my father,” he says, turning around and opening the door.

“And tell him what?”

He pauses and looks over his shoulder at me. “I don’t know. Just that he’s put you in a very awkward position.”

“And what about you?”

“I’m fine. It’s no different than before, I had just hoped or assumed that when I told you the truth about all of this that you would decide to do it based on your own merit and not anyone else’s lies. I can have my father call yours in the morning and explain that everything has been a big mistake.”

Ugh. That hurts my heart. Not just in terms of my own father being disappointed, but Magnus’ too. He actually cares for his father and vice versa. That might be a blow neither can handle at a time like this.

“No,” I tell him. “Let me just think about it for a few days and get back to you. Let it go with your father. I just need time to process everything and figure out the right thing to do.”

“But isn’t the right thing to do to call it off?” he says. “I mean, in your mind.”

God, I’m tired. Exhausted to every last brain cell and weary to the bone. And yet there’s something blocking me from agreeing to what he’s just said.

Maybe it was the promise of respect.

Of power.

Of a voice to make change in ways I’d never dreamed of.

I only nod to Magnus. “What I really need right now is sleep. Perhaps I’ll see you in the morning.”

His dark brows knit together. “I can’t believe you might actually give this a chance.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath,” I tell him.

He nods. “Goodnight, Princess.”

“Goodnight, Your Highness.”

He shuts the door, locking me in with my thoughts.

Seven

Magnus

“Sir, I really don’t think you should go out there,” Ottar says, pulling back the curtains and peering out my window.

It’s not just that the weather has taken a turn for the worse and it’s absolutely pouring, dark and dreary, like October has decided to strangle the last breath out of summer.

It’s that last night as I was walking back from the pub I was harassed by not only the paparazzi but a few party boys looking to cause trouble with Mad Magnus. It took a lot of restraint not to punch them out, because, believe me, I could have with ease, and it wouldn’t have mattered how big they were. But with the paparazzi on my trail and cameras at the ready, I couldn’t afford to blow it.

So I just took their insults. Apparently I’m an attention whore, I’m not fit to rule, and I’m the laughing stock of the country. You know, the usual things I’ve been hearing these days.

I guess it didn’t help that earlier in the day a press conference had been called at the palace. I had to stand, with my parents flanked on either side of me, before a row of photographers and journalists, including those damn Russian twins, and make a public apology to the prime minister, to his daughter, to my family, and to the Norwegian people.

I don’t even know how I got through it. It was humiliating to say the very least but I guess that was the point of the whole thing. Plus, I did mean what I was saying. I am beyond sorry that all of this happened, not just because it’s brought deep shame to my family, my father especially, but because it’s pretty much ruined my life.

Then, after the press conference and the profuse apologies, I had to head over to the prime minister’s office and apologize to him in person. Thank god his daughter wasn’t there.

Prime Minister Erling Lundström has never liked me. That’s been apparent from his glib comments over the years about my reputation, and the way he kind of sneers at me when we’re face to face, as if I’m the chewed up gum beneath his shoe.

This meeting was no different and there were many times I wanted to wipe that smug look off his face with a cutting remark or two. But, for the sake of everything and everyone, I managed to bite my tongue and behave. I nearly had tears rolling down my face, and I hope he thought it was because of how sorry I was that I humiliated him, not because I was thinking about having to spend the rest of my life married to a stranger.

Which is another reason why I want to go outside and walk around, to let the rain soak me from head to toe as I stroll from pub to pub, hoping to wash all the bullshit off me and get belligerently drunk. It’s been a few days now since Ella and I had apparently gotten engaged and I’m still waiting to hear if this is actually happening or not.

I mean, it’s ridiculous, but what isn’t these days? After Ella had me escort her to her room and proceeded to tell me what happened, I immediately pulled my father aside. Not to get mad at him, though believe me, I was livid. He had absolutely no right to tell her father that I was proposing to her when he knew I was just talking to her and explaining the situation.

He, of course, thought he was helping, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he wasn’t and that he’d put Ella in a very uncomfortable situation. I did tell him, though, that she still needs to think about it and will give us her answer soon.

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