Prince Ever After(9)

By: A.C. Arthur

She had been a lot neater with her bread, breaking off a little piece and buttering it with the small knife. If he were at the palace in the formal dining room, or attending some dinner party or royal meeting, Roland would have taken more care about the crumbs, how he was sitting and who was watching. At Pearson’s he was relaxed, almost as if this were the place he actually belonged, instead of some stuffy and overly formal event.

“That’s all I do, is refer places on the island for visitors to see and enjoy. I’m at the museum for at least ten hours a day, six days a week. The one day I have off I usually don’t spend getting around the island.”

“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘all work and no play’?” he asked, intrigued by what she’d just shared with him.

She tilted her head as she stared at him for a moment before replying. “You’ve never wondered where your next meal would come from. Never had to choose between paying the rent or the power bill.”

Her lips clamped shut quickly, then she shook her head.

“I apologize. I meant no disrespect, Your Highness,” she continued. “I was simply attempting to answer your inquiry.”

She’d spoken the words, but she was anything but sorry, Roland thought. She was honest and there was a mole just beneath her left eye. At the edge where her eyes tilted just slightly. It was small, but dark, and he’d stared at it a bit longer than he probably should have.

“No offense taken,” he replied. “You are correct. I have never wondered about those things. I understand it must have been tough with only you and your father.”

She shrugged. “It is my life,” was the somber reply.

“You don’t sound too happy about that fact,” Roland said, as he finished chewing the piece of bread he’d slipped into his mouth. It wasn’t because he was still hungry, but more because he’d needed something to do with his hands. Anything to quell the urge to reach out and touch her.

She had slim fingers and wore no rings. Her nails were short but had a sheen to them, as if coated with clear polish. She wore no jewelry, he thought, except for tiny pearl earrings. Her slim neck was bare, the collar of her white polo shirt resting against skin that appeared to be warm, soft, touchable.

“I’ve learned that life isn’t all about happiness,” she replied. “Yet I believe that everyone has their own path to walk. Along that path will be things that make that person feel happy or sad, complete and fulfilled. Different scenarios strike different people in an array of ways. We handle them the best we can and continue on.”

She was good at continuing on, Roland thought. He’d noticed that at the museum when the woman had brought up Valora’s previous engagement to his brother. Regretting that his appearance had sparked the memory for the woman and possibly embarrassed Valora, he’d taken over and Valora had simply continued on. She’d walked with the group as if she were the tourist instead of the guide for the remainder of the tour. When she’d really wanted to get away from him and the memory as fast as she could, she’d hesitantly agreed to join him for dinner. Yes, Valora was certainly used to continuing on.

“Well,” he said, picking up his napkin to wipe his hands. “Everyone deserves some happiness. I believe that’s a requirement.”

“It’s easier said than done for some.” She finished her glass of wine. “Which reminds me that I should really be going. The food and the company was a really nice gesture. Thank you again, Your Highness.”

He was going to get tired real quick of the stilted way in which she addressed him. The immediate answer to that would have been to take her home, drop her off and be on his way. There was really no need for him to see or speak to Valora Harrington again.

Seeing her today had been sort of impromptu. He’d had a meeting at one of the hotels in town. From the window of the hotel he was able to see the museum. It had been a few weeks since he’d attended the opening of the new Renaissance exhibit there, and even longer since he’d walked through the hall dedicated to the royal family. It was there that one of the first portraits of his parents and their young children hung. Kris had been five and already distinguished looking in his white pants and navy blue jacket with its bright gold buttons, standing by their father’s right side.

Roland wore the same outfit, but he was only three and so his jacket appeared a little big and his pants hung over his shoes as he held on to his father’s leg. His mother was seated, holding a barely one-year-old Samantha, dressed in a white dress and bonnet, on her lap. That picture never failed to make Roland feel a combination of happy and sad. Homesick, he thought. Even though it was in the museum his mother had founded, on the island he’d called home all his life. He always looked at that portrait and longed for that moment in time.

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