If you read Falling for Your Enemy, you might have seen a sample chapter from Royally Rearranged in the back! I’ve made some tweaks (and probably will tweak this version too) but here is the first chapter of Royally Rearranged!
Note: This version will likely change on publication AND it has not gone to the proofer. 🙂
Is duty still considered duty when it’s something you want to do?
This is the question I’m pondering as I watch Prince Callum thoroughly trounce his opponent in tennis. Specifically, I’m watching Callum’s firm, athletic bum as he trounces his opponent in tennis. His thighs too. Hard not to ogle those when they look good enough to eat. Almost like two meaty Christmas hams.
Duty looks delicious.
In case you’re the judgy sort, thinking I’m just objectifying the poor man, he’s my fiancé. Well. Almost my fiancé. And I have waited my whole life for this man without so much as a kiss goodnight from him, so you’ll forgive me if my mind is a little focused on his physical attributes.
He’s also my best friend, so this isn’t a shallow crush.
“You’ve got a little drool there.”
From beside me, the incredibly irritating and decidedly devilish Duke of Weldon swipes a fingertip across my lower lip. I swat him away, feeling my cheeks heat. Callum may be my best friend and almost fiancé, but I hate getting caught ogling him.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” I hiss to Rafe. “I don’t want to even know where they’ve been.”
“Let me know if you change your mind about that.”
His grin is pure wickedness. It makes me shudder. Not in a good way.
“Why don’t you crawl back under whatever rock or woman you crawled out from under?”
His dark chuckle matches his dark eyes and even darker hair. Honestly, Prince of Darkness would be a more fitting title for the duke. I’ve never seen him look anything but smug. He doesn’t walk; he saunters. Every smile, every chuckle, every comment is useful, intended toward some purpose–that purpose usually involving a woman.
And duty? He’s allergic to the very idea.
He’s the very antithesis of me, the opposite of Callum who is the hero to Rafe’s bad boy. It makes total sense that they’re rivals, always have been. Which means Rafe is my rival too.
I’m not sure what his game is today. He’s been flirting with me, which is a first. Normally he seems to either ignore me or treat me with cool detachment while flirting the pants off any woman who has, well, pants. Or a dress. Basically, anyone with a pulse.
Today though, he’s like one of those gnats humming irritatingly near my ear. I’d like to squash him.
I didn’t really think about it, but it makes sense that Rafe would attend Elsinore’s Centennial Ball next week–everyone will be there, even dukes who have been rumored to be all but exiled. Rafe tends to pop up like a spectre, haunting royal events and (apparently) charity tennis matches across Europe. But why he’s here now, a week early, and why he’s sitting beside me to watch Callum, I have no clue.
“I promise my hands are clean, and I haven’t been under any rocks or women. Just so we’re clear, Princess.”
Kat leans her head around me to bat her lashes at Rafe. “Does that mean you’re actually single for once?”
He winks, and I roll my eyes. “Very much.”
“Let me know if you want to change that.”
“We’ll see, Kitty Kat.”
“Both of you, hush!” I lean closer to Kat, whispering, “Don’t encourage him. Never feed the strays.”
“But he’s so pretty,” she whines, smoothing a hand over her short, dark bob. “And you know how I feel about bad boys.”
“The same way you feel about all men?”
Despite our different personalities, Kat is my best–and other than Callum, only–friend. She acts as my sole source of personal information about men as she tends to enjoy them. A lot. It’s not my style, but after watching her parents divorce bitterly after twenty-seven years of marriage, three kids, and emigrating from Korea, I think Kat’s way of guarding herself against the pain.
She’s excellent at guarding–I would know. She’s acted as my unofficial bodyguard almost since the moment we met. Five-foot-two inches of Kat fury is surprisingly effective at keeping people at bay. Kat all but adopted me my first year in uni when she was the resident assistant.
I adopted her right back, and hope when she finishes law school, she’ll join me in Elsinore as part of our legal team.
“Yes, but the bad ones are so good,” Kat says.
We can agree to disagree. Talk, dark and roguish isn’t my type. I return my focus to Callum down below, who is exactly and only my type: golden hair, a crooked smile complete with dimple, and eyes the blue of the Mediterranean. My childhood best friend. My soon-to-be fiance. I can hardly wait but am going to be a ball of tightly wound nerves until things are official.
Interrupting my romantic thoughts, my stomach growls loudly, and Rafe chuckles again. “I’m going to grab a bite. Can I bring you something?”
Tempted, I glance at Rafe, but some pretty socialite-type further down the row seems to have caught his eye with a flirty wave. It’s no wonder he’s known as the Royal Rogue.
“So much for being single,” I mutter to Kat.
I wave Rafe off, glad when his presence isn’t overshadowing the moment. Why is he even here if he’s going to miss the end of the match?
I am starving, to be honest. I’ve been much too nervous to eat much for the last few days. First, I had to pass my last set of final exams at uni–check! Now, I’m here in Elsinore to publicly announce my engagement to Prince Callum–almost check!
We need to iron out the actual details of the engagement, but have almost a week before the Centennial Ball to do so. It will be strange to actually discuss this out loud.
Ever since our parents made this arrangement when Callum and I were just children, it’s been very hush-hush. The kind of thing where I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
Callum and I have never even discussed it, though in my second-to-last letter to him after imbibing in a little wine, I came the closest I’ve ever come to mentioning it out loud. It’s an unspoken rule about something unspoken. I can’t quite remember what I wrote, but I remember enough to know it wasn’t very subtle.
When Callum never wrote back, I sent a quick apology letter, and when he didn’t respond to that either, I’ve done my best not to panic and obsess.
Did he even get the letter? Was it too forward or did he smile while reading at how ridiculous I was?
Is he looking forward to this as much as I am? Will it be strange to flip the switch from lifelong friendship to something more? Did he already pick out the ring or will we do that together? Is he planning to officially ask for my hand in private or with a grand gesture?
Kat has listened to me obsess over these questions–and more–all year as the date grew closer and closer. Finishing my course work provided a necessary distraction, but the questions and worries have been pinging around in my brain like a bunch of rubber balls.
It’s been worse this year since Callum’s letters have trickled to a stop. I’ve missed my best and oldest friend but knew it was just a matter of time. Now that I’m finally done with uni, I can’t wait to start the rest of my life with this man. We’ll have all the time in the world to catch up.
Kat fans herself with her hand. Her hair brushes over her cheeks, looking effortlessly chic as always. My light brown hair is rather wild, falling in unruly waves down my back. Without Kat’s help, I would probably pin it up in a ponytail every day. I jokingly tell her often that if the lawyer thing doesn’t work out, she could be a hairstylist.
Leaning close, Kat says, “Your betrothed looks particularly delectable in short shorts. I’ve never been so thankful for the invention of tennis. Specifically, tennis shorts.”
You and me both.
I grin. “Yes. My betrothed does look delicious, doesn’t he?”
I’d certainly like to take a bite out of Prince Callum. A love bite, obviously. I’m not a zombie or vampire, for heaven’s sake. I’m a princess.
Though at the moment, my thoughts do not in any way match the prim and proper image I’ve cultivated and maintained my whole life. No one would ever suspect the fact that Serafina the Ice Princess (the nickname given to me by the press) is all hot and bothered watching her secret, soon-to-be-official fiance.
Callum could inspire the most innocent thoughts to take a turn to the wild side. He’s that attractive. More than that, Callum is a genuinely great guy. Kind and funny–the sort of man you could be yourself around. Or, at least, I always could.
He didn’t ever mind my awkward years and he always laughed at my lame jokes. Our friendship has always been so easy, so safe. He and Kat might be the only ones who have truly seen behind my Ice Princess facade, who know that I’m not a closed-off, snobbish royal.
But in his tennis shorts, his personality is not what’s on full display. I’ll ogle his personality later.
Kat’s bad influence is probably the reason half these thoughts are floating through my head. For years, I’ve listened to her go on about the men she’s dated and the wild, free life she’s embraced. I’m grateful for my lot in life–at least, most days–but I do sometimes live vicariously through her.
I have yet to taste so much as Prince Callum’s lips on mine. Something I plan to remedy posthaste. The few kisses I’ve had over the years have been disappointing and made me feel like I was cheating. It’s hard to date around when I knew one day, I would be Callum’s. I’ve always felt like his.
And though he seems to have dated half of Europe this year, I’m choosing to believe he probably feels the same. They were simply … placeholders. Dates to events he had to attend. That’s all.
Callum wins the point after a particularly long volley and people politely clap in that reserved way they do for tennis matches. Except for the woman behind me who has been giggling obnoxiously this whole time. She lets out a loud, whoop and then whistles, a piercing sound that I’m sure has dogs howling three countries away.
She’s got an American accent, and I’m not sure how she ended up in the royal box. Maybe she won a contest? When I give her a subtle glance all I can make out is bright blonde curls and some kind of horrendous red and white ensemble. Tacky.
I try to block out the grating sound of her laugh and focus on this moment, the one I’ve been waiting for. Not literally this exact moment. I’m sure Callum isn’t planning to get down on one knee in the red clay before his next serve, or even after he wins the final point. He doesn’t even know I’m here. I thought I’d surprise him, arriving a few days earlier than planned for the ball. I’ve missed him so much this year.
Callum dives to save a ball right on the line, sending it over the net with just enough spin that his opponent can’t return it. Only one more point and it’s game, set, match.
A riot of butterflies takes flight in my stomach–or maybe that’s the hunger pains? I can’t tell the difference at this point. As soon as Callum wins, I can make my way down to surprise and congratulate him. Maybe boldly, with a kiss? The thought makes me giddy. Soon, all the waiting, all the loneliness, all the missing him will be worth it.
Before he serves, Callum wipes the sweat from his brow with a small towel.
“That towel would go for a million euros,” Kat says. “Think you could snag it for me? It would help make a dent in paying off my student loans.”
I elbow her. “Absolutely not.”
Not because that would be wrong, but because if anyone’s keeping that hand towel, it’s me. I’m also secretly working out how to pay off Kat’s student loans without her knowing. She’s ridiculously stubborn when it comes to letting me help her with anything, so I have to be sneaky.
Callum bounces the ball a few times before his serve and then pauses to glance at the crowd. My heart swells as his gaze finds mine. A wide grin takes over his handsome face, making the dimple appear in his right cheek.
For years, I’ve been fascinated with that dimple. One more thing I’ve been waiting for—to trace it with my finger, to kiss it. Maybe lick it?
Giggles and whispers behind me have Kat turning around to glare at the American. Kat mutters something under her breath that could make a sailor blush.
“Is she talking about us?” I whisper.
Kat rolls her eyes. “No. About your betrothed.”
Jealousy flares hot in me, not for the first time. I haven’t been able to avoid seeing the tabloid photos of Callum with other women, especially this past year. I’ve thought of them as necessary evils, the way Mum and Dad arranged for the pot-bellied Duke of Valdonia to be my date when Callum couldn’t come to the New Year’s Eve gala. Elsinore had their own celebration, so I understood. Mostly. If Callum had called or written to me himself rather than politely declining by way of his press secretary, I might not have been hurt at all.
It didn’t help that the Valdonian Duke whose limp hands kept trying to rove over my body, isn’t quite on par with the women Callum has been seen with. Like the leggy Swiss supermodel or that second-rate actress with the ridiculously massive fake breasts. I swear, you could hang coats on those things!
The jealousy I’ve felt from afar is nothing compared to the molten liquid fire igniting every inch of me right now as the woman whispers “Callum” on a sigh. It’s ridiculous, really. This loud American isn’t my competition. I’ve already won, and it’s simply time to collect my much-coveted prize: the prince who has owned my heart since childhood.
Speaking of winning, Callum’s opponent hits a ball wide, and I find myself getting to my feet along with the rest of the stadium, clapping. I’m eager to get down to the court and greet Callum properly. I can’t stop the spread of a smile over my cheeks.
The American giggler bumps into us on the stairs and this time, I barely restrain Kat.
“Don’t make a scene,” I hiss between gritted teeth.
“But you know I love making scenes. I’m quite accomplished at it.”
“And usually I don’t mind. You know how I do love your scenes–they’re glorious. But not here. Not. Today.”
Kat sighs, and we continue down the stairs. “Not all problems are best solved by ignoring them.”
As though to prove how wrong she is, I ignore her comment. My tolerance for ignoring is unusually high. It has to be.
I’ve learned to ignore digs from the paparazzi about my weight (no matter whether I’m up or down on the scale), my (lack of) dating life, and Prince Callum’s overactive one this year. I’ve perfected smiling primly while deflecting questions about marriage, my coronation in a year’s time, and the growing criticism for the monarchy.
Smile and nod. Ignore, ignore, ignore. It’s served me well thus far.
But all the years of decorum lessons disappear in a cloud of dust as I reach the court, waving and grinning like a fool. “Callum!”
His eyes meet mine, and my confident steps falter. Callum looks … surprised. Which can’t be right. Wasn’t he just smiling up at me?
His expression quickly shifts, replaced by a grin that’s decidedly casual. No dimple in sight.
“Mayday mayday,” Kat mutters, letting me know that whatever this strangeness is, unfortunately, I’m not imagining it.
My stomach drops, feeling like an ocean trench, dark and fathomless. I force myself to keep walking toward Callum.
“Fi,” he says, striding forward to meet me.
The sound of his nickname on my lips dispels some of the strangeness, and I close the distance between us. His smile settles into the handsome, warm look I’m familiar with, dimple on full display.
Things are fine. We are fine. It’s just been a long time. Soon, you’ll settle back into your friendship—and more. No need to panic.
Then he holds out a hand for me to shake. We stand there for a moment, frozen. His hand, outstretched formally. My arms, open wide for a hug.
It’s awkward, and the panic I just tried to shove down is suddenly climbing up my throat again. Along with—oh, don’t you dare!—hot tears of rejection, which sting the backs of my eyes.
Keep it together, Serafina. It doesn’t mean anything. We’re in public, and displays of affection are best kept behind closed doors.
It’s because of my stupid letter, I bet. I wish I could remember exactly what I said, and how hard I hinted at our arrangement. It was too bold, too honest. Callum is the kind of man who wants to wear the proverbial pants, something that at times has worried me. Did I overstep by hinting at what we’ve avoided discussing all these years?
“Sorry,” Callum says. “I’m quite sweaty.”
“Of course.” We shake hands, and it feels … wrong. Stiff. Formal. Unfamiliar. “Great match!” I say. “Quite a show.”
“Yes. Quite a show,” Kat says, letting her eyes rove over Callum’s torso. I swear she’s about to squeeze his biceps when a shrill voice interrupts the moment.
A shrill American voice. I can’t seem to escape this dreadful woman seated behind me.
Callum’s warm smile widens as his eyes shift somewhere behind me. And then, In a flash of blonde curls and—dear Lord, is that gingham?—the obnoxious woman from behind me launches herself into his arms.
The arms that were, apparently, too sweaty for me.
I watch as Callum swings her around, the tablecloth she appears to be wearing fanning out behind her. She’s tiny and gorgeous and perfect, like a miniature doll. I manage to find my royal smile, the one that’s practiced enough to fool almost anyone.
“You should have let me have a go at her,” Kat whispers to me.
“Shut up. It’s nothing. Probably just—”
Whatever words were on my tongue disappear as the fluffy blonde tablecloth-wearer presses her lips to Callum’s mouth.
I hear a loud cracking as a big piece of the iceberg that is now my heart breaks off and floats away. Gone. Dead. Irrecoverable.
Callum carefully sets the woman down before glancing at me with what appears to be guilt. Maybe a little regret. Not quite enough emotion compared to the utter devastation inside me, but it’s something.
The woman wraps an arm around Callum’s waist like a tentacle. She places her other hand possessively on his chest, stroking him.
I’m going to be sick.
She is stroking Prince Callum’s chest. My Prince Callum.
Except he doesn’t really appear to be mine, does he?
I’ve never touched him so casually, so proprietarily. I think back to when we were children, so rough and tumble together, hardly knowing where one of us ended and the other began. Back then, everything between us was easy as we climbed trees in the royal garden, snuck into the servants’ quarters in his palace, and explored that closed-off turret rumored to be haunted.
The memories leave me feeling hollow, and I can’t drag my eyes away from the sight of this woman’s polished nails, staking a claim on what–who–I always assumed was mine.
She turns her big brown eyes to me and blinks, another giggle escaping. “Oh! I’m sorry! How rude of me. I’m Brit. Callie’s girlfriend.”
Whatever was left of my heart shatters until it’s all just tiny pieces of ice, bobbing and floating in an arctic sea.
“Girlfriend.” It’s as though I’ve never said the word before. It feels funny on my lips.
I have never been anyone’s girlfriend. Because I was waiting for this man. The one looking at me with apologetic eyes. But not so apologetic, because he doesn’t shove Brit away and wrap me up in his arms instead.
If anything, he pulls her closer. I stare at his hand on her waist. It looks far too large, too powerful for this small, shrill woman. I saw plenty of photographs this year of Callum with his hands on other women. It stung, but I assumed it meant nothing. Now, with a painful sinking sensation, I realize those women might have been more.
That’s the moment when the paparazzi swarm out of nowhere like the insects they are. Photographers shouldn’t be on the court at all, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping them. Callum’s security team steps forward, blocking them as best they can. The photogs are snapping pictures and shouting questions and practically shoving me and Kat out of the way to capture shots of Prince Callum of Elsinore and his new American girlfriend.
“Prince Callum—are you officially off the market?”
“How and when did you two meet?”
“Are you in love?”
Yes, Prince Callum, do tell.
Kat takes a firm grip on my arm and leads me through the throngs of reporters as security guards scurry over.
“You’re going to be fine,” she assures me, and I think I nod, though I don’t believe it. Not for a second.
We pass Rafe as we’re almost to the private exit where a car waits to take us to the palace.
“Trouble in paradise?”
I glare, and his smirk disappears, morphing into something more like concern.
The concern in his eyes seems genuine, but there’s a lipstick smudge on his cheek the same color as Brit’s tablecloth dress.
I snort and pass right by without pausing. Rafe seems to be the only one who watches our quick exit, and we disappear into the black car as though we were never there at all.