King and Kingdom

By: Danielle Bourdon

Chapter One

Chey stared at the door to the Queen's private parlor with trepidation and a niggle of fear. Was she about to get fired? Kicked out of the castle? Any number of things might happen, none of them good. Three days had passed since the attempt on Chey's life. Three days since she had decided to remain in Latvala and allow the heir of the throne to court her. The decision was not without risk and consequence, the latter of which she was about to become intimately familiar. For the Queen surely summoned her here to lambast her for the treachery she was foisting upon the Royal family.

Who knew dating could be so hazardous to one's health?

Smoothing her palms over her outfit, Chey glanced down at the pale pink pencil skirt and modest short coat. It was fashionable, sensible, and suitable for a meeting with Royalty. The three inch nude heels she wore with it were understated and plain.

Just then, she wished it was a suit of armor, capable of deflecting the Queen's scathing looks and viper tongue.

But it wasn't, and so, taking a deep breath, Chey knocked on the door.

“Come,” said a regal, bored sounding voice from inside.

She's just a woman, not a God. Don't let her scare you. Chey opened the door, stepped in, and closed it behind her. The latch caught with a quiet click. Resisting the urge to reach up and fix an escaped lock of dark hair, Chey turned around.

As ever, when she entered any private domain of the Royals, Chey was struck by the opulence. Light peach and cream was the color scheme, with gold accents on frames, furniture and chandeliers. Painted in the style of an old master, the middle of the ceiling sported a scene of an expansive sky and half draped humans in dramatic poses. Crown molding surrounded it, like one gigantic frame. It was nothing less than breathtaking.

The parlor itself was the size of a small house, with a roaring fireplace against one wall and a balcony accessible through one of four French doors.

Queen Helina Ahtissari sat in a wingback chair with a drink in her hand. Cool and aloof, the woman with dark hair and equally dark eyes wore her middle age well; whether it was by nature or the edge of a blade was difficult to tell. A few defining wrinkles creased her forehead and the corners of her down-turned mouth. Crows feet added personality, rather than charm. The expensive gown of pale grey brought to mind myths from ancient Greece, with fine gold rope wrapping Helina's modest waist and hips.

“Your Highness.” Chey decided to dip the Queen a curtsy, even if it went against her grain. She hadn't been raised to show subservience to people, only respect after it was earned. Still, she was in their house, in their country, and she gave the Queen her due.

Helina looked unimpressed. Using the wine glass, she gestured to a less grand chair positioned opposite her own. With a thick accent she said, “Have a seat.”

Not please, or will you.

Chey stepped over to the seat and sat on the edge. She didn't want to recline and even try to get comfortable. Comfort in this woman's presence was impossible.

“Thank you,” Chey said. She waited, maintaining eye contact with Helina.

The Queen took her time getting to the point. She studied Chey as if she was an insect that had just crawled out from under the carpet and was determining the most expedient process of eradication.

“Let me be frank and to the point,” Helina said. “No matter how close you get with my son, Prince Dare, there will, and can never be, anything more between you than occasional lovers. If you have visions of crowns and thrones swimming around your young head, I suggest you banish them now.”

Taken aback at the blunt assessment, Chey rested her palms on her knees and fought down a flash of anger. “I have no designs on a title. But I will not lie and say that I'll ignore Sander—Dare—for the duration of my contract. What happens between your son and myself is our business--”

“No, child, it is not just your business.” Helina interrupted Chey without apology or remorse. “You understand nothing of Kingdoms and the Monarchy. We are centuries strong, this family, and one little hellion from America will not displace us from our course. We have signed the contract, true, and it is not our way to break our word. But I will do exactly that and send you back to your homeland if I so much as suspect that you're attempting to finagle your way deeper into Dare's life. Have your fling, your wild nights.” Helina flicked her fingers dismissively. “Also understand a relationship as you know it will not happen.”