Once Upon a Princess

By: Clare Lydon & Harper Bliss

Chapter 1

Olivia Charlton clenched her left fist, a headache beginning to wrap itself around her brain. She could still hear the whir of camera lenses, the shouts of the photographers asking them to turn around, but she didn’t look back. They’d posed for 20 minutes and taken questions, and that was as much as the press were getting today. Her smile was broad and her head held high, her hand wrapped around that of Jemima Bradbury, now her fiancée.

It was early May, and the sky was blue and cloudless.

Unlike her mood, where storm clouds were brewing.

It was only when she was through the thick, black wooden gate and into the courtyard of the estate that she dropped Jemima’s hand and relaxed her shoulders, blowing out a frustrated sigh.

She still couldn’t believe her parents had made her hold a press conference to announce her engagement at such short notice — less than 24 hours. It wasn’t their style, which led her to believe they were worried she was going to bolt. They weren’t wrong.

When she glanced up, Jemima was flexing her hand, a soft smile on her face. “Jeez, you nearly broke a bone, you were holding my hand so tight. Anyone would think you didn’t want to marry me.” She punctuated her statement with a single raised eyebrow. “And what was that answer about the proposal? You could have at least made up a good story, given the press what they wanted. This is a happy occasion, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Jemima cocked her head, her long, blonde hair cascading around her tanned shoulders. She was wearing a specially tailored white skirt and matching top with black trim, and her feet were encased in a pair of pristine white Manolo Blahniks.

“What’s the point of a made-up story, Jem?” Olivia raked her fingers through her long conker-brown hair, her shoulders tightening all over again. “You really want to marry me? When you know damn well we don’t love each other?”

Call Olivia old-fashioned but she’d always thought that, when she got engaged, she’d be in love with her future bride. It was something her mother couldn’t understand, something she kept telling her youngest daughter wasn’t important in their circle. “Love comes quite far down life’s must-haves, Olivia. I thought, by the age of 33, you would know that.”

A soft breeze wafted over her as she stared up at the back of the red-brick Surrey estate, her home for the past three years since she’d come back.

Or her prison, as she often thought.

Jemima laughed, a pained expression settling on her face. “I’ve tried the love thing, and it didn’t work out. It often doesn’t.” She paused. “It didn’t work out for you and Ellie, did it?”

Hearing her ex-girlfriend’s name was still like a punch to the gut.

Jemima went on. “And you’re not such a bad catch from where I’m standing. You’re a princess. Getting the opportunity to marry a royal is one I don’t intend to turn down.” She sighed and reached out to take her fiancée’s hand.

Olivia jumped as they connected. Jemima’s palm was sweaty.

“We could be good together, you know that. We’ve got history.” Jemima fluttered her long lashes Olivia’s way, in a practised move.

“I’m not sure that’s enough.” Yet here they were, engaged. She and Jemima had gone out in their early 20s until Olivia had decided on a career in the army rather than one as a socialite. Sure, they still mixed in the same circles and they’d had an ill-advised one-night stand a year ago that Olivia still winced about, but now, her old flame was being thrust into her life once more by royal decree. The trouble was, everyone — including Jemima — was far happier about it than Olivia was.

“The press might be fooled because we make a great-looking couple and that’s what they want.” Olivia locked her gaze with Jemima’s. “But don’t you want something more? Do you really want to settle for me?” She wanted Jemima to think hard about what she was getting into, because she had more choice than Olivia. Whereas, in the back of her mind, Olivia had always known an arranged marriage was likely to happen, having seen her sister go through it.

Jemima let out a strangled laugh. “Marrying Princess Olivia, fourth in line to the throne is hardly settling. And we could rub along together just fine. It’s not like we hate each other, is it?”