Prince Ever After(4)

By: A.C. Arthur

On the other hand, her father, Hugo Harrington, was a totally different subject, one Val had been struggling with her entire life. Her mother had died in childbirth. Val was Hugo’s only child. His only daughter. That hadn’t been Hugo’s plan. He’d wanted sons to carry on the Harrington name, to stand next to the royal family in the place he’d always thought was owed him thanks to his father’s contributions to the battle that put the DeSaunters family in the palace.

It was an old story, one that Hugo had told Val over and over while Val was growing up. It was also the reason Hugo drank and gambled more than he had ever worked to support Val. It was a good thing Val had been a cute child and that one of the women her father had fallen into bed with had worked for a beauty pageant. From the time Val was six years old until her sixteenth birthday, she and her father had lived comfortably on her winnings from being a participant in one pageant after another.

But by the time she was sixteen, Val was done. She had refused to do another pageant. That was nine years ago. Her father had continued to drink, curse, gamble and guilt-trip her ever since.

Now, he was smiling as Val held a pillow over her chest and glared at him and the man that he’d just escorted into the room. The man who was the prince of this beautiful island she called home.

“What are you doing? I thought you were going to be out tonight. Why are you…why is he…what are you doing?” she exclaimed. Hugo, who looked as proud as a peacock, dressed in an appropriately colorful shirt and ragged black jeans, grinned.

“Here’s your winnings,” Hugo replied clapping his beefy hand onto the prince’s shoulder. “She’s a beauty, isn’t she? I mean, really she is. Got all the pageant prizes to say so. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”

To Val’s complete mortification, her father continued to talk, his words oddly clear even though she could smell the liquor oozing from his pores from across the room.

“Sure, she was promised to Prince Kristian. But he’s all married up now to that American. So there’s no harm, no foul here. You can have her and this’ll settle our debt,” Hugo announced with another smile.

“Dad!” Val yelled. “Are you crazy?”

He ignored her, something he’d been doing for most of her life. Despite sharing his DNA, Val never really felt like his daughter. More often than not, she was his commodity.

“Get out! I want both of you to get out!” she screamed.

The window behind her was open and a warm breeze blew in, reminding her that she only wore her work pants, shoes and a bra. The pillow in front of her was certainly large enough to keep her covered, but still, she was standing there in her bra. She was so angry her hands were beginning to shake and she thought for one instant that she might actually lose her grip on the pillow and then…what? She would be flashing the prince of Grand Serenity. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she was wearing her old cotton bra with the broken snap in the back. Yeah, this was the perfect Friday night scenario.

“I apologize, ma’am,” the prince said before giving her a slight bow and then turning to her father. “I’ll speak to you outside, Harrington.”

The prince walked out of the room but her father stayed. “Put some clothes on and come out to meet the prince. You’re embarrassing me,” he said in what was supposed to be a whisper, but Val was certain everyone in the vicinity could hear his drunken words.

She made a sound that was animalistic, which was all that she could muster. She was so freakin’ angry. She was embarrassed as hell, too, but the anger was really trying to take over.

The minute that door closed, Val grabbed her work shirt and shoved her arms back through the openings. She buttoned it hastily and grabbed her purse and bag. When she opened that door minutes later it was, thankfully, to an empty hallway. Her feet couldn’t seem to carry her outside fast enough. A short way down the street she saw her car and hustled to it as quickly as she could. She stopped at the driver’s-side door and cursed again when she remembered her father had her car keys.

“I can drive you home.”

No, no, no, she chanted silently without turning around.

“Your father can’t find your keys. He’s looking, but I doubt he’ll be successful. At least, not until he’s a bit more sober.”

Realizing that it was rude to keep her back turned to a member of the royal family, Val turned slowly. She looked up into soft brown eyes and sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she said to him. “I’m sure this is not how you expected to spend your Friday night.”

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