Home > The Wild Heir (Royal Romance #2)(10)

The Wild Heir (Royal Romance #2)(10)
Author: Karina Halle

I exchange a look with Mari. This is going to get interesting.

“She’s here,” my mother says from behind us, her voice urgent and hushed.

We turn around to see my mother dressed in a dark silvery dress that catches the light, something that she would normally wear for an official event. From the anxiety sparking in her eyes, I know this is a big deal for her. She’s meeting her potential daughter-in-law and wants to put on her best face possible.

Fucking hell.

The thought hits me again for the millionth time that day.

Just what the fuck am I doing?

My mother looks us both up and down quickly. “You look fine, Mari. Magnus, you could have shaved. And an orange tie? Really?”

I glance down at my tie. I’m in a navy Tom Ford suit that fits me like a fucking glove thanks to the family tailor and I always try to inject a little bit of personality into my clothes via color. “What’s wrong with orange?”

My mother shakes her head and then hurries off.

I look over at Mari. “Seriously, what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing,” she says reassuringly, taking my arm and pulling me toward the door. “Let’s go.”

We head down the stairs and stop outside “The Bird Room,” the formal antechamber for visitors and guests, where the walls are painted with scenes of Norway and adorned with different birds. My mother is waiting outside the doors beside my father’s butler, Sven, and I’m surprised to see father already there, discussing something with the nurse before she nods and walks away.

My father is dressed in a tuxedo that must be new since he’s lost a bit of weight from being ill and this fits him better than his other clothes. He flashes me a warm smile, his cheeks ruddy which has to be a good sign, as my mother quickly reaches over and adjusts his bowtie.

Shit. Was I supposed to wear a tux too? Is that what my mother had issues with? Next to my father I look out of place. Then again, he is the King. Maybe that’s the point.

“I think you made a great choice,” my father says to me.

I point at the tie. “The Queen doesn’t seem to think so.”

“I mean with Princess Isabella,” he says patiently. He glances at his wife. “And in this case, I think the Queen agrees.”

“She’s certainly beautiful and seems to have brains,” my mother says quickly. “Let’s see what else she has to offer us.”

Suddenly I feel sorry for Isabella and what she’s about to be subjected to, like a prized cow being paraded in front of discerning judges, sizing her up on the sheen of her coat, the way she handles, how big her udders are. Okay, maybe it’s only me who is interested in that last part.

Kidding. I’m kidding.

There’s a certain order in the way that we enter rooms when we’re together—by rank. So with Sven opening the door and announcing us, my father is the first to step in, followed by my mother, then me, then Mari.

Isabella and her assistant are already standing and giving the standard curtsey to my father and lightly bowing before him as he offers his hand to shake.

“Thank you so much for coming tonight, Princess Isabella,” my father says to her in English, and I remind myself that Isabella won’t understand a lick of Norwegian. Luckily we all speak English fluently, as do most Norwegians these days.

“It was a great honor to accept,” Isabella says, her voice soft and airy, her accent unusual, like mild German with a British tone and refinement. Though I can see clear over my mother’s head in front of me, I have to crane my neck to get a good look at her around my father’s back.

My father moves on to the other woman, who, in a very loud and twangy British accent, addresses herself as Lady Jane, and the moment she says it, Mari kicks the back of my calf lightly because she just knows I’m about to laugh. I’ve met a lot of “ladies” in my day and I don’t think Lady Jane is one of them, which of course makes me like her even more.

I bite back my smile at that and my eyes shift over to Isabella. Her eyes are trained on my mother who is now coming forward with her hand extended. Not once have we made eye contact, but at least now I can get a good look at her while she’s preoccupied.

In person and up close, Isabella is pretty. That’s the first word that comes to mind. Not necessarily hot, not in her demure, long, floaty blue gown with cape-like sleeves that only shows off her pale collarbones. Not necessarily sexual with her prim mannerisms, her hair up, and her makeup light and casual, with just a dusting of pink on her cheeks and her lips like bruised cherries, like she’s been kissing for a long time.

Fuck. Maybe she is hot and sexual. I could definitely look at those lips all day, bring that same flush to her cheeks my own way.

Then she smiles at my mother as she greets her, and hot and sexual and pretty don’t seem to cover it anymore. She’s absolutely gorgeous, her smile so wide and real that it stuns me, making me momentarily forget that this is supposed to be a horrible and unjust experience.

Until my mother moves on to Lady Jane and I’m up next.

Isabella meets my eyes rather reluctantly.

Just for a second before she curtsies.

And that second is all it takes to get her message across.

She does not like me.

Whatever radiant light was shining out of her a moment ago when she was greeting my parents has now dimmed like an oncoming storm and I swear I feel a wave of pure animosity rolling toward me.

I really wouldn’t have thought she would have come at all if that’s the way she felt.

Then again, maybe it meant nothing at all, just that the light was in her eyes. Maybe she’s nervous. Maybe my thoughts are starting to do that thing again where they ramble along at a mile a minute.

I take in a deep breath, reminding myself to speak slowly and clearly. Sometimes when I get like this and my thoughts seem all over the place and I feel like I’m driving in a car in the rain and the windshield wipers aren’t working, I tend to blurt out the first thing I’m thinking.

In this case, it wouldn’t help at all. It would be “what the hell is your problem with me?”

Instead, I manage to rein it in and extend my hand to her and flash her a smile that makes normal girls weak in the knees.

It’s hard to tell if it works since she’s curtseying anyway.

“Very nice to meet you,” I tell her. My words sound stiff and absolutely rehearsed even though I never gave any thought to this. I probably should have so I didn’t sound like such an idiot.

She gives me a tight smile, seems to think twice about what she’s going to say, and then says, “Very nice to meet you as well.” She shakes my hand and I’m surprised at how firm it is. I expected a limp noodle but it’s like she wants to break my hand in two. I guess it matches the venom in her dark eyes.

Then her attention immediately goes to Mari behind me and her hand drops out of mine like I was never even there to begin with.

Well, fuck. This is going to be a hell of an interesting dinner with my potential bride. Which, after this, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to hit that list again because there’s no way in hell I’m hitting that, whether in marriage, in bed, even on a fucking date.

Especially as I watch her greet Mari like she’s her long-lost relative or something, back to being all smiley and beautiful and warm.

The clearing of my father’s throat brings my focus back to him.

Back to Lady Jane who is waiting in front of me.

At least she looks happy to see me. I think her smile might just break her face in two and her dancing eyes are along for the ride.

“Lady Jane,” I say warmly, and it’s impossible not to smile back at her. “So thrilled that you could join us tonight.”

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Your Highness,” Lady Jane says. “But, please, if you can, call me Jane. I’m definitely not a lady.”

I burst out laughing and shake her hand even harder. Even though up close she seems to be middle-aged, maybe in her mid-fifties, there’s seems to be youthful exuberance escaping every pore. This is a woman who hasn’t lost her lust for life. Perhaps she could teach the princess a thing or two.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I tell her and then lean in to whisper in her ear. “Between you and me, there aren’t that many ladies in this house to begin with.”

Now it’s my mother clearing her throat. I pull away from Lady Jane and avoid my mother’s eyes. The Queen’s hearing is second to none. She can hear a bubble-wrapped pin drop on a floor of cotton balls a mile away.

We then leave The Bird Room and proceed down the hall to the formal banquet room, my mother and father walking beside each other, heads held high. The last time I was in here was a few months ago when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to visit, but it looks kind of silly now when it’s dinner for just the six of us in this large, ornate room.

There is a round table in the center of the room lavishly decorated with gleaming place settings and hydrangea flowers in heirloom vases, and I hear Lady Jane suck in her breath appreciatively.

“How darling,” she coos. “Oh, Ella, would you look at all this.”

I glance at her over my shoulder. Not Isabella but Ella, huh? She didn’t even address her as madam or Your Highness.

And Ella doesn’t seem to notice that until she catches me looking at her. Then her cheeks go even pinker than before and she elbows Jane in the side who doesn’t even pay attention to the jab.

We all sit down, with Ella and Jane’s places right across from me and Mari, my father and mother between us on either side. Two of our waiters come out with various bottles of wine and sparkling water, a nice little distraction before things settle into being awkward as fuck.

Because how can it not be? This is like a blind date, only I’m on it with my entire family. If I let myself think about it too much, I might just get up and leave. I have a hard time sitting through dinners as it is.

But then I look at my father and he looks like a completely different person from the one I saw hooked up to the IV last week. There a spark in his eyes that wasn’t there before and the way he keeps glancing at my mother as they exchange secret thoughts makes my chest feel like it’s way too tight. For reasons I don’t understand, this really is bringing them joy, and as Mari said, at least there’s that.

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