The Escape

By: Alice Ward

“Please. No. I—”

He held up a hand. “I told you, it is done. Be prepared to meet your betrothed in two hours’ time. The ceremony will take place in late August.”

I stared at him. Three months? I had only three months to prepare.

“An engagement announcement and party will be held in your honor next week. Then, we shall sail for the mainland the following day.”

I was growing lightheaded, but one word broke through the haze. “Sail, Father?”

He nodded, his eyes sparkling as his first smile of our meeting appeared. “Your prince is gifting our family with a yacht for the voyage. It’s a beauty too.”

It was like a slap. I was being traded for a boat. Or at least the vessel was part of my payment package, and the realization had made me cold with fury.

“We will sail to Monaco, then fly to Paris, where an array of engagement celebrations will take place.” Papa smiled, but it was more of a baring of teeth. “The voyage will give you time to get to know each other better.”

At that time, I didn’t even know the name of man I’d be marrying, and yet my stomach had curled and churned, nearly turning in on itself.

Now, I knew to whom I’d be speaking my vows.

And I instinctively knew there would be no happy ever after that I’d dreamed of.

Once, my eldest sister had somehow smuggled in a romance novel. A tall man with long, flowing blond hair graced the cover, a beautiful brunette standing before him, her gown falling down her shoulders, nearly revealing her breasts.

I’d read the book a dozen times, at least. Probably more, based on how the pages had torn away from the binding. Other than the fact that it was the only book I’d ever read that hadn’t been approved by my many tutors, something else stood out to me.

The novel had been set in the 19th century, where women were property to be used as men pleased. Sold to the highest bidder or used as a bargaining chip. And the women had no say as to their destiny.

This was now the 21st century, and the same practices happened in this age. Not everywhere, I realized. I wasn’t totally isolated on our small island. I hadn’t been held captive in my room. Protected, yes. Sheltered, yes. But I had studied extensively in world politics — to better converse with men during social engagements, of course — and under the watchful eye of my tutors, had been allowed to view social media pages, even though my own social media accounts were only accessed by the royal public relations team. I didn’t even know the passwords for them, as I’d never been allowed to post anything myself.

My life had been carefully crafted. As my sisters’ lives had been before me, and my two brothers, only one and three years after my own birth.

It had been my brothers who had, ironically, been my blessings. As females were not allowed to govern the country, the arrival of an heir and a spare had been much celebrated. And the attention and pressure had turned away from me.

Although still closely guarded and prepared for my future role, the spotlight had faded off me as anyone of importance. After all, I held no value other than what I’d be as a tie to another country. As unimportant as I was, though, a royal wedding would still be a global celebration. My country didn’t hold the international appeal as did the royalty from the United Kingdom, and I wasn’t stalked as heavily as those royals, but a wedding would change that. The interest would grow and girls from all around the world would watch me, a living princess, walk down the aisle in a stunning dress, thinking how dreamy it all was.

Bile surged into my throat, and I swallowed it down.

Those girls would never know of the illusion. The carefully crafted painting of royal life.

They would only see the prince grin at me in the way he was grinning now as I promised to surrender myself to his guardianship for all of time.

Young girls everywhere would swoon over how handsome he was. After all, he fit the tall, dark, and handsome illusion quite nicely.

Would they be able to glimpse the evil behind his eyes as he slipped a ring onto my finger, claiming me as his? Would they be able to glimpse the fear and disillusion in mine?

Tears burned again as I met the eyes of my mother, the woman I so closely resembled. Silver streaked her light blonde hair while tiny lines bracketed her dark blue, nearly indigo-colored eyes. Worry caused the line between her eyebrows to appear, but only for a moment. Her thin body was regal beneath the champagne-colored lace dress that fell to her ankles.

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