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His Royal Highness
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I’ve spent eight years wishing I’d fall out of love with Derek Knightley. Blowing out birthday candles, chasing after shooting stars, making it rain spare change into mall fountains—every time it’s the same wish: forget about Derek.
But the day he walks back into my life, I realize there are two things time has yet to soften: my feelings for him and his chiseled jawline.
It’s infuriating that my heart still races when he walks into a room. I refuse to fall prey to old unrequited love, so I decide the less I’m around him, the better. Avoidance is key.
Unfortunately, Derek isn’t going to make it easy. As a teenager, I would have crawled on my hands and knees to attract his attention. Now I can’t seem to escape it.
I’m not sure why he’s bothering. He’s not just out of my league—he’s out of my tax bracket. As the sole heir to the Knightley Company, he’s as close to American royalty as you can get. As for me, I’m just a part-time princess at Knightley’s flagship magical theme park.
I spend my days playing make-believe, but Derek has no use for fairytales. His unwavering confidence makes it clear he thinks I’ll surrender in the end.
He’s just biding his time.
His Royal Highness always gets what he wants.
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My life is a fairytale. Or rather…it takes place inside of one. Smack-dab along Georgia’s southern coast is the largest theme park in the world. When guests turn off the highway, they drive beneath a colorful two-story welcome sign and leave all vestiges of the outside world behind them. A winding road cuts through patchy pine forests and sprawling grasslands. Long minutes pass. The trek continues, seemingly endless. Children grow restless in the back seat of a rented minivan. Tiny shoes and crackers start to fly. The leader in the driver’s seat fears he took a wrong turn and wonders to himself if—nay, when he should admit he has no idea where he’s going.
This is all intentional.
That drive is a black hole, transporting theme-park-goers from their mundane 9-to-5 lives and plopping them down into a world filled with magic and wonder.
At the precise moment in which a U-turn seems all but inevitable, a sight appears on the horizon: a medieval French castle with purple-roofed spires jutting toward the sky, so large and imposing, there’s no way to miss it.
The driver is unsure if his vision is failing him. He convinces himself it’s just a mirage right up until his children start to scream with glee. “We’re here! We’re here!”
Both parents wipe beads of sweat from their brows. The driver can now admit, with a relieved laugh, that he was near tears there for a second.
Welcome to Fairytale Kingdom.
I work inside that castle on the horizon, on the bottom floor inside a room designed to mimic a great hall. It has stone floors and tapestry-covered walls. A spiral staircase leads guests up to a restaurant that requires reservations one year in advance. I stand across from the staircase, in front of an oversized hearth wearing a pale green iridescent gown. Soft music plays from a harp in the corner and several hundred children stand in line waiting for their turn to meet me.
“IT’S HER! MOM! IT’S THE REAL PRINCESS ELENA!”
A toddler stares at me starry-eyed. Another girl cries with excitement when I glance in her direction then she quickly shoves her face into her mom’s dress, overcome with shyness. I smile and wave gracefully and continue to act my part.
All the while, security tries to extricate a little boy who has wiggled his way up underneath my dress.
It’s not the first time this has happened.
My tulle skirt is a sparkling poof of temptation, a fabric cloud begging to be repurposed as a hiding spot. I knew the little boy was trouble as soon as I laid eyes on him. He wiped snot from his nose with the back of his hand while he scanned my dress, eyes alight with possibilities. Beside him, his older sister waited patiently with her autograph book clutched to her chest, shaking with excitement. When it was finally her turn to meet me, her brother didn’t miss a beat. He bypassed her and nosedived for my dress, too quick for his mom to grab.
Now I laugh lightheartedly, all the while trying to signal to Ryan to hurry it up down there. Under my dress, the boy wraps his skinny arms around my leg and shifts my center of gravity a smidge to the right. For the first time, my mask crumples. Oh no—I’m going down. In a second, I’ll be lying face down in a heap of fabric and this carefully constructed idyllic scene inside Elena’s Castle will be ruined as paramedics rush in to tend to my broken nose. Hundreds of children will be scarred for life by the image of blood raining down across my gown.
There’s protocol for this situation. Under no circumstances should I break character. Under no circumstances should I put my hands on the child and forcibly remove him myself. The Knightley Company doesn’t want photos circulating on the internet of one of their princesses manhandling a little boy. That’s Ryan’s job.
Ryan is the man cast as His Royal Highness, Princess Elena’s love interest. On top of playing his part, he’s supposed to function as a form of first-level security. He should have this situation under control, but he doesn’t. He’s too gallant and sweet. He kneels down and tries to goad the boy out from under my dress with promises of candy—“You like Skittles? Yeah? How ’bout I buy you a pack? Ten packs?”—but the boy just giggles with glee and clings to me tighter. I waver on my heels, wide eyes finding Ryan’s.
“Please hurry!” I whisper.
With gathered courage, Ryan flips up the bottom of my skirt, sticks his upper body underneath, and tries to grab ahold of the little boy. Oh dear god. Ryan’s hand accidentally glides against my bare calf—the one I forgot to shave this morning—and the boy wiggles away like a little snake. My face turns the same shade as my hair: blazing red.