There are many stories about regular girls meeting a prince. I’m not sure why this has become such a dream for women all over the world. Is it in hopes life was secretly this fairy tale, only given to a select few, which ended happily ever after? Life, royal or not, doesn’t happen like that. And ended sounded so final. No growth, no change.
Being royal or a part of that circle was anything but magical or a fantasy. It was a cage. Gilded, yes, but a cage nonetheless. I watched it from afar all my life, glad to not really be in the middle of it. They seemed arrogant, spoiled, exclusive, and snobby. But they also lived under an extreme microscope, forced by traditions and severe expectations from family and the world. What they wore, who they dated, what they said. Every inch of their lives when they stepped out the doors was no longer theirs. I could understand why so many went a little nuts at boarding school. Alton College was an exclusive private institute; the press was not allowed to enter.
I was only here because my father’s name had a baron title attached to it, the lowest rank on the aristocracy tree. And at this school, it was the equivalent of getting a “thank you for participating” ribbon. By normal standards, I wasn’t regular, but in the world of the elite nobility and the uber-wealthy, I wasn’t even on their social pages under “friend suggestions.”
But only one ran the school, even causing teachers and staff to bend over backward, doing everything they could to please him. Make his life even more pampered.
Theodore Alexander Philip Robert David Livingston, the Prince of bloody Great Victoria.
The arrogant arse, who happened to be strutting by me heading to class, had the longest, most pretentious name ever. Of course, he was sexy as hell. I was pretty sure it was illegal for royals to have ugly children. With the stunning beauty of Queen Catherine and handsome looks of King Alexander, he had little choice, neither did his absolutely stunning sister, Eloise. But still, there must have been a dungeon somewhere that hideous offspring were sent to, locked away for daring to be anything but attractive.
Prince Theo was more than six foot, broad, with styled light brown hair and sparkling green eyes. So good looking it hurt to look directly at him. Polished, fit, but with a mischievous bite to him. He was probably pinned up on most girls’ bedrooms walls all over the world, not counting the coed populace at this school, along with the staff. The boy was in more women’s fantasies on a regular basis than any other sexy male celebrity in the world.
And he knew it.
Even the “uniform” we were given to wear didn’t diminish his cocky sex appeal one bit or that of his close, selective group of friends, while it made the rest of us peons look like the frumpy cast of Harry Potter.
“Spence?” A voice circled my ear. “Earth to Spencer.” A shoulder nudged mine, drawing my attention back to my friend, Wilhelmina. Only her parents and teachers dared called her that. She liked to go by Mina. She was one of the few like me who had little tolerance for the Prince or his group. Her father was an earl. A few steps above mine, but still so low on the totem pole in the estate where he was earl, she was treated like me. Thanks for coming, but really, we couldn’t care less about the tiny manor your family inherited. “Stare any harder at His Majesty,” she rolled her eyes, sarcasm latching on to his title, “and his bodyguards will put your name on the watch list.”
I snorted, shaking my head. “Like I’m even on their level of notice to get on any list.”
“You say that, girl, but every guy here drools when you pass by.”
I shot her a leveled glance, sliding off the top of a picnic table. I could deny it, but since school started, we had more sign-ups for stopping animal testing than all the years before combined. It was like I went from a ghost to an actual human being. They noticed me now.
“I had a guy ask me yesterday if I was a new student.” I hitched my school bag onto my shoulder. “No, arsehole, I’ve been going to school with you since kindergarten.”
“Guys are wankers and totally obtuse. But really, Spence, you can’t totally be surprised. You completely changed over the summer.” She stood, patting down her pleated skirt, her brown eyes moving over me.
That was true. I was a very late bloomer, one of those preteen kids who would have been locked in the dungeon. But like most things in my life, my mother’s willpower won out and broke down Mother Nature, letting her have what she wanted.
An attractive daughter to brag about.
When Vivian Sutton set on something, not many things could stop her. Only my uncle’s will had been strong enough to break her over the years.
Introducing me to a curling iron and lowlights, my mother turned my silky straight dull brown hair into long, shiny auburn waves. My skin cleared up, now dotted with freckles instead of acne. My plump body decided to let go of the baby fat and give me a waist and thighs that wouldn’t start a fire when I walked. But in comparison to the top girls here, I was very average. Most looked like models or telly actors.
Standing about five foot six, I blended into the background. The only thing that I perceived unique about me were my huge gray eyes. Against my pale skin and dark auburn hair, they stood out.
Charlotte (I swear nobles had like five names they rotated around and named all their children the same), a clear leader of one of the popular clusters, had called me out the other day, noticing the change I had undergone. But her sentiments were followed by words like “peculiar,” “interesting,” and “different” when it came to all of me blending together. To any girl, no code needed to be broken; it was not a compliment.
Mina was used to peoples’ notice. She didn’t blend into the background, being one of the rare black nobles in the country. Her father was white, her mother of West African descent. It was another thing she and I found revolting about the upper crust, besides the clear inbreeding. The diversity, or lack thereof, in the noble circle was horrifying.
She was even more a token to the school than me, the dean practically motioning to her and saying, “See, not only do we let in the bottom barrel aristocracy, but we are diverse as well!”
I think that was why we bonded so much in secondary school. We’re both on the fringe. Oddities in the mind-numbing world of the aristocrats.
“You know you’re gorgeous, Spence.” She brushed her curly black hair off her shoulder. She was tall and thin with a smile that lit up the world. Smart and extremely shy, she came off as unapproachable, but once you really knew her, she was crazy and fun. Hilarious too. I thought she was stunning, but guys at the school tended to stay away from either of us. Landen, my cousin, was the singular male in our minuscule group. Another misfit.
“Just think of it as a compliment when the upper crust starts noticing and insulting you.” Mina grinned as we started to walk to our class. “Highest form of praise.”
“If you say so.”
“Did they even bother to insult you before?”
“But true.” She grabbed for the door, leading us into Durham Hall, which was named for Charlotte’s great-great-great- (times whatever number) grandfather. I found it strange that centuries later, children of some man they happened to be related to were living off his name like fat hogs. They seemed entitled and arrogant, without doing a damn thing to deserve it, besides being lucky enough to claim they had his blood somewhere in their pinkie.
“Charlotte is no different than a shark, smelling new blood in her pool. She doesn’t like competition, even from her so-called friends. You can deny it all you want, but the guys are noticing you. I mean, ‘tongues rolling out onto the ground, dry-humping the wall when you walk by’ kind of notice.”
“Mina!” I groaned, rubbing my head. “That was a visual I didn’t need.”
“Please.” She followed me into the history lecture room, finding our seats closer to the front of the large lecture room. We were the type who not only liked to learn, but had to. I had no billion-pound inheritance waiting for me, nor would the school ignore bad marks from me like they did the “other” people.
“Like you wouldn’t love his tongue lapping at you.” She lifted her eyebrows towards the back row on the other side of the lecture room. Butterflies fluttered in my gut at seeing Theo lounge back in his chair, legs wide and his laughter booming through the room at something his friend Ben had said. There was no denying he was gorgeous; his confidence and sex appeal gripped you like a drug. Even my body disregarded my feelings for him, wanting to move toward him like everyone else. But once my mind stepped in, it got angry for letting his looks turn me into just another one of his lackeys at this school.
“Gross,” I snarled, tossing my bag on the ground as I plopped down in my chair. “Seriously, everyone thinks you are so prim and proper,” I muttered.
“Always watch out for the quiet ones.” She winked, settling in next to me. “But let’s keep it between us.”
Pulling out my notebook, I glanced back up at Theo, watching him with his friends. Like everyone in the world, I viewed him and his sister grow up on television and from afar at events my family was actually invited to. He was raised to be perfectly polished, saying and doing the right thing in the public eye, generous and kind. But seeing him completely be himself with no press or cameras on him, he was a different bloke—relaxed, full of mischief and ego. He recognized that he could get away with anything here without consequences. Everyone wanted a piece of him, but he kept his circle small. Benjamin Astor, Charlie Fitzroy, and Hazel Seymour were his main group—all kids of dukes and duchesses he grew up with. The next tier was the guys on the lacrosse team, which Theo was captain of. The next group was Charlotte’s crowd. I was somewhere on the bottom.
Charlotte and her friends moved into the seats in front of him, peering at him and fluffing their hair, trying to get his notice. Charlotte wanted to be in the first tier. The girlfriend. I heard rumors they dated briefly last year, but if they had, they clearly weren’t now.
She was everything you’d imagine him with. Raised to marry a prince, she was tall and trim with soft blonde hair and the classic features of a Disney princess. The thought of him picking her to date or marry made me yawn. She was like a caricature. It would be so predictable and boring. But I was probably putting too much faith in men or the idea they’d want more than her poised and perfected responses. That they could see through her shit. The demure compassionate girl reared to be a noble’s wife was nothing more than a ladder-climbing bitch. I was disappointed that she couldn’t see how cliché she was. This life was all about the surface. What it looked like to the world, not what it really was.
“I get it.” Mina smirked, following my eyes to the back. “As much as I hate him, he’s still hot as hell and a bloody prince. Hard to fight that.”
“I do not care about any of that.” I shook my head, turning back to my bag, grabbing a pen.
“No one can fight that. It’s like coded into the title to make us commoners fall to our knees.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“Most hearing you would think you meant you drop to your knees in a bow, but I know you too well.”
“Only a select few do.” She grabbed her books, expression becoming the studious student as our professor strode in.
“All right. Everyone open to page 230, picking up where we left off on Monday. The reign of King Albert the first.”
“Who I liked to call Gramps.” Theo sighed, patting his chest like he was remembering him fondly. “I miss him so much.”
“Yes, Theodore. I’m sure your great-grandfather from the fifteenth century was a hoot at holiday parties.” The school had a rule, no student was to be called by their title. They liked to at least pretend they kept things fair. Professor Martin tried to hold back his annoyance. He was the one teacher who didn’t give in to the prince’s whims. He was the type of guy who didn’t give a shit who you were or what family tree you fell from. He was here to educate, and you were only special if you showed more brilliance in your brain than being a smart-ass.
He was my favorite teacher. Probably because he didn’t bend over for His Highness and kiss his arse.
“Oh, Grandpa Al is hilarious. He and I are always together drinking in the corner.” A smile tugged at his lips as most of the class collectively snickered at his joke. “Doesn’t talk much, but I enjoy his company. Bit of a lush, though.”
The chuckles warped into full laughs.
“That’s quite enough.” Martin sat on the edge of his desk, folding his arms.
“You think I’m kidding? I hang out with him all the time. He’s the picture of merriment.”
I groaned, understanding his awful joke. I had no doubt the castle had many paintings of King Albert over their walls; Theo probably did hang out and drink next to him all the time.
“Since you and King Albert are so close, maybe you can tell us who he was first set to marry to create an alliance between our countries?”
“Easy,” Theo scoffed. “Gertrude, the French princess.”
“Wrong.” I felt the word roll off my tongue before my mind got involved.
The entire class jerked to me. I felt the prince’s eyes burning into me as if he finally noticed the seat was occupied instead of empty.
“Excuse me?” He tipped his head, not believing I called him out. I could relate; my mind was also still rejecting the fact that it was me who had said it.
Mina stared at me, her mouth open, just like most of the class, but professor Martin leaned back, a smirk under his thick beard.
“Go on.” Martin nodded my way, encouraging me to speak.
Heat burned my cheeks, my confidence wobbling. Theo was so used to being in the spotlight. I wasn’t. I was fine with being behind the curtain.
“Y-you’re wrong.” I took a deep breath, forcing myself to sit up. He may be a prince, but I studied my arse off for my marks. I wanted to become a veterinarian, and you had to have really high grades to do it. To be a vet, you needed to be a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the RCVS, and to become a member, you had to complete a five-year degree course at a top uni. Because of that, I worked hard. Plus, I enjoyed history.
“You think I don’t know my own family history? I was raised with the stories. The real history. Don’t bring your CliffsNotes version of my family and challenge me.” He leaned back arrogantly.
Oh. No. He. Didn’t.
Mina’s mouth dropped open, knowing he had just pissed off a sleeping lion.
“Then this is going to be even more embarrassing for you.” I swallowed, noticing the professor now hiding his big grin behind his hand.
“Who the hell are you? I think I’d know more about my family than you would.”
His lids narrowed on me, his gaze feeling like he could slice right through me. I never had the prince’s full attention, and I felt like I was drowning in it. Intense and heavy, he locked on to me, too confident to ever doubt himself.
“Well, I’m clearly a nobody to you, but someone might have to revisit their dear grandpa’s journals or something.” I tried to ignore the heat turning me the color of a tomato, my tongue resembling the Sahara Desert.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” His green eyes sparked with anger.
“Master Theodore, no need for that kind of language,” Martin scolded, nodding to me. “Let her continue.”
“Sure.” He shrugged, falling back in his seat like he couldn’t care less what I would say. “If she wants to humiliate herself, by all means.”
The professor arched an eyebrow, turning to me with a knowing smirk. “Go ahead, Spencer.”
“The first alliance was set on Spain. They had a bigger military, and Albert’s father wanted that. He was determined to get Princess Isabelle for Albert, but I guess your Grandpa Al was such a twat, she wouldn’t do it. Turned him down flat. Even her father, the king of Spain, thought it better she marry her cousin instead.” I clicked my tongue. “That’s got to hurt. That level of rejection.”
Theo’s shoulders moved up to his ears.
“That’s why he married Gertrude and declared war on Spain.”
The class was silent, all eyes dancing back and forth between us, ready for our own war to be declared.
“Sorry, Theodore, but Spencer is right.” Martin stood from his desk, going around to the projector, putting up a timeline on the screen, his voice rambling on. I heard none of it. I couldn’t fight the pride bursting at my chest, knowing I just schooled the Prince of Great Victoria on his own history. But the evil glares coming from my peers shifting in their seats suggested I made a mistake. How dare I correct the prince? He was right, even if he was wrong.
“Bollocks, girl,” Mina muttered. “If you weren’t on their radar before, you sure as hell are now.”
I swallowed, feeling the truth in her words. Briefly, my attention went back to the prince, expecting him to be another one glowering at me. He sat back, his fiery gaze heavy on me, but it wasn’t filled with malice. If anything, it was curious and intrigued, like he enjoyed being challenged. He didn’t break away when I caught him staring at me, unabashedly watching with a strange hitch on his lips.
I not only gained attention from people who never looked at me before, but I acquired the prince’s.
And somehow, I knew nothing would ever be the same after that.
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