Prince Ever After(10)

By: A.C. Arthur

So, stumbling across Valora and her group had absolutely been unplanned, but the moment he saw her he’d felt the urge to clear the air. To make sure there were no hard feelings or even bruised ones from the previous night.

“I settled things with your father,” he told her, as if the thought had just popped into his head. “I also expressed my utter disappointment in the fact that he would use you as a source of repayment.”

She dropped her napkin on the table and sat back against the cushioned seat.

“I feel like I’ve been apologizing for him all my life,” she told him with a sigh. “He doesn’t really mean any harm. He’s just searching for a life that’s not meant to be.”

“His search should not embarrass you,” Roland stated evenly. “He should, however, stop drinking and gambling. He’s not good at either.”

She gave a quick chuckle and ran one hand through the short strands of hair just above her right ear. “I’ve been telling him that for much longer than I care to admit.”

Roland knew Valora had been her father’s caretaker when it should have been the other way around. He was certain he didn’t like that fact.

“Anyway, thanks again,” she said and stood to leave. “Dinner was wonderful.”

“Yes, it was,” he told her. “And not just because of the food. I thoroughly enjoyed the company, as well.”

“Oh, ah, thank you again,” she replied.

He noted how shocked she looked at his words. Possibly more shocked than he was for saying them. Quiet public dinners weren’t normally what he would call a nice time with a woman. Private meetings in hotel rooms or meals in secluded parts of a restaurant, from which he and his date could eventually be whisked off into the backseat of a car and driven to a hotel, were more to his liking.

“I’ll take you home,” he told her when he thought she might try to walk out of the restaurant as if she had her own means of transportation here.

“Thank you again, Your Highness.”

She spoke politely and had even given a respectful nod of her head. Everything this woman had done so far had been cordial. There seemed to be no ill feelings toward him or even her father after the odd events of the previous night. So Roland’s job was done. He could take her home and be done with the matter entirely.

The sudden urge for something more was strange and disconcerting. So he tried ignoring those thoughts.

* * *

Val was officially tired of thanking him. She knew she must sound like a complete idiot, with nothing better to say than “thank you.” It was pathetic.

So, during the ride back through town, she’d opted to keep quiet. That was, until the car came to a stop in an area she knew was fifteen minutes from her house. The rain had been coming down at a pretty steady pace when they’d run to Roland’s car and jumped inside. He drove a sporty little vehicle, which did not surprise her at all. The car fit his personality perfectly. Sleek and controlled with a bold hint of danger. What did not fit was that he was driving himself around instead of having a driver like the rest of the royal family. She’d noticed this last night, as well, but wasn’t going to ask the prince about it.

The fact that she’d just had dinner with the prince—the Reckless Royal, at that—was not lost on her. It had been a surreal experience, one that should have had her giddy with excitement. Except she’d known it was his pity gift to her. Val hated pity, almost more than she hated the situation her father had created for them. She’d seen how the waitress looked at her when she’d brought their meal. While the woman had remained silent, Val knew very well who she was and what she was thinking.

Her name was Idelle Masoya and she lived a block over from Val. Idelle was friends with Cora Sorenza, a woman who had slept with Val’s father years ago. Hugo and Cora had been an item for about six months, during which time Cora swore that Hugo stole money from her and gambled it away. She’d also accused Hugo of tearing up her house one night when he was in a drunken rage. After that night, their love affair was over.

No formal charges were filed against Hugo for destruction of property or stealing from Cora, but the damage was done. Cora spent the following years telling anyone within earshot about Hugo Harrington and his nefarious ways. By default, Cora disliked Val. She had spread it around town that Val was an enabler and just as foolhardy as her father, claiming it was the reason Prince Kristian severed ties with her. It was a sordid tale that contained more fabricated details each time it was retold. Val figured the retelling had taken place at least a thousand times in the past few months.

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