Happily Never After

Annabelle Hearst is just another person in the Headow kingdom, ruled by the Tomlinson family. Pressured by his father the king, Prince Louis is searching for a bride, a wife to make him a heir. He stumbles into Annabelle, one of the few who doesn't venerate the royal family. Can he convince her to come to the live the royal life with him willingly, or will he have to force her into it?

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9. Compromises

 I wake up to a soft hand caressing my cheek. I blink a couple times, turning to look at the owner’s hand.

“Good morning my dear princess,” Louis sighs, smiling.

“Hey,” I recoil slightly, not liking his closeness. Grimacing, I sit up, eyeing the mess we'd made of his bed. My lower body throbbed in minor pain.

“I asked Perrie to prepare a warm bath for you, Princess. To thank you for being so cooperative last night,” Louis continues.

“Mmhm,” I nod, my stomach twisting unhealthily at the realisation that I really did sleep with him. And I actually liked it?! I start crying, digging my head into a pillow.

“Oh no Annabelle don’t cry,” Louis shushes, scooting closer to me. I flinch when his hand touches my back.

“Please don’t touch me,” I hiccup, hugging the pillow tightly.

“Annabelle...”

I feel him shift to touch me once more.

“Louis please don’t touch me,” I repeat shakily, clutching the sheets to my naked skin. “Please.”

He stays silent for a moment.

“Very well,” he sighs. “This reaction is totally proper given last night’s activities so I will accept your wish and give you some personal space,” he agrees. The weight on the bed shifts as Louis’s body removes itself for it. “Though I want you to remember that we are married and that I have the right to touch you whenever I please. Am I clear, Annabelle?” He continues. I hear the shuffling of clothes.

“Crystal,” I respond, tears streaming down my cheeks. There’s another pregnant silence.

“So I guess I’ll see you for breakfast after your bath,” he ends.

I stay unmoving as I hear his steps leaving the room, before pain and shame come crashing back down on me. Why? Why did I sleep with him? Why did he make me feel loved?

“Miss Annabelle? Your bath is ready.”

My face is still stained with tears as I get into the silk bathrobe Perrie hands me and follow her out to the bathroom. My fingers dip into the water briefly.

“Is the temperature okay Princess?”

“It’s Annabelle, Perrie. And I wouldn’t mind if the water was a little colder? Please?” I ask. The baths I used to take at home weren’t as hot as that and it made me uneasy. I watch as the maid nods and adds cold water to the bath.

“Better?” She enquires.

I let my hand sink in the water and nod. That felt more like home.

“Can I be alone, please?” I ask Perrie once I’m finally nestled into the big bath.

“I’ll be right outside the door if you need me,” she acquiesces. Shutting my eyes, I try calming myself down, letting the cool water cradle my body. Too soon though, I’m overcome with another wave of tears. How could I? How could I sleep with the Prince and like it?! God I wish I was home right now, with Finn, Leah and Mom...

I’m suddenly struck with worry. Louis said they’d be kicked out in the morning...

“Perrie?!” I call, grabbing a towel and stepping out of the bath. She walks in as soon as I call upon her.

“Yes?”

“Do you know anything about my family’s whereabouts this morning?”

“I do believe I’ve seen your younger siblings in the kitchens this morning. They were eating at a small table,” the maid reveals, handing me another towel.

“And what about my mother?”

“I’m sorry, I haven’t heard or seen from her,” Perrie admits. “Maybe you should bring the matter up during your breakfast with your husband?”

My teeth clench at the mention of Louis’s new status. My grimace clearly distresses the maid.

“I’m so sorry Miss if I have offended you―”

“It’s okay Perrie,” I shake my head. “I just need to get used to the term,” I continue, swallowing the lump forming in my throat. “So, breakfast?” I question, changing the subject.

“Your breakfast gown is waiting on the bed. I’ll let Zayn know you’ll soon be ready and he’ll escort you to the Dining Hall,” she elaborates, leading me back to the bedroom. Perrie quickly shuffles out of the room while all I can do is stare at the gown strewn on the bed. The bottom was made of multiple layers of pink fabric; while the top, right under the bustier, was held with a small belt of what I guessed were real gems. The same gems decorated the dress’s two short sleeves. I had worn more sophisticated of course, but the pink dress seemed too refined for a breakfast.

“Do you need help putting it on?”

I jump in fright hearing Perrie’s voice, taken by surprise. Boy that was fast.

“I’m so sorry again―”

“It’s no problem,” I wave, rubbing my temples.

“Do you wish my help to get prepared?” She repeats.

“Please,” I sigh, passing my hand through my hair. She nods and rapidly helps me dress up, before sitting me in front of a gold-rimmed mirror. I can’t help scowling as I watch myself.

“Something wrong Miss Annabelle?” The blonde asks while arranging my hair.

“I hate knowing I’ll have to change my dress at least four other times today,” I grumble, my fingers clenching the fabric lightly between my fingers. “I mean, why would I need five dresses in a day? One is more than enough. I think it’s even too much. Dresses should be worn on special occasions,” I ramble, looking directly at Perrie. She gives me no answer. She probably isn’t allowed to complain about how things are done here... “Never mind,” I reassure her. She nods, spraying me with a little bit of perfume.

Exhaling, I stand up and slip on the small transparent ballet flats that matched the dress. There’s a soft knock at the door.

Perrie looks at me expectantly.

“What?”

“Princess, are you decent?” comes Zayn’s voice from the other side. Oh.

“Yeah come in,” I sigh. The door creaks open and Zayn appears.

“Usually, you’d say ‘Yes, you may come in,’ or something more proper than what you just said,” Zayn explains, frowning as he walks towards us. “I think you’ll need etiquette classes...”

“You’re right. Maybe that’d be a good thing,” I agree sarcastically, rolling my eyes.

“Indeed,” The darker boy’s eyes become slits. Without adding anything else though, he hands out his arm for me to take, which I oblige.

He doesn’t say anything else as he walks me to the Dining Hall. Louis is the only one seated as we enter the vast room. He stands up though as soon as he sees me.

“Annabelle,” he beams.

I don’t return it. I can’t help despising everything I see, from the huge, empty table made for thirty guests, to the many flags hung up on the never ending walls, to Louis. The Prince of Headow. My husband.

Zayn lets go of my arm and lets me sit before leaving us alone.

“You’re in a sour mood,” The blue-eyed prince states, sitting down when I’m seated. “I had hoped the bath would calm you...” Louis starts. “But clearly it did nothing other than upset you.”

 As he finishes his sentence, multiple servants come rushing to the table with different foods. There were loads of fruit platters, as well as steaming buns, eggs, bread and many more. In no time at all, there’s a buffet in front of Louis and I, with foods I have never seen in my life. I watch as he helps himself with some raspberries on the table.

“Louis we have to talk,” I declare.

“About?”

“All of this,” I continue, motioning all around.

“All of what? What are the things you hate about my humble abode, sweetheart?”

“I want―”

“If you’re asking to go back home, you’re wasting your breath Princess―”

“I’m not asking to go back home,” I sigh.

“Then, by all means, what can I do for you?”

“We are married, you know that right?” I start awkwardly.

“How can I forget?” He chuckles, taking a bun of bread.

“You remember our vows too? The promise you made?”

Louis stops chewing his food, looking at me with caution.

“Yes. Of course.”

“So you can recall promising to be sensitive and to pay attention to my needs,” I state. He takes a deep breath.

“Yes Annabelle I do have a memory,” he responds, all previous humour gone from his features.

“Well Louis, I need my family, I need comfortable clothes and I need a certain freedom.”

“Annabelle I thought I had made myself clear...” the blue-eyed prince exhales loudly, rubbing his temple with his right hand. “Your family doesn’t belong here. I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about that. And as for the clothes, I can assure you these dresses are made of the best fabric out there. But I don’t quite understand what you meant by needing a certain freedom. You are always allowed to do as you please, as long as it’s done with appropriate royal behaviour,” Louis trails on. “Now eat.”

“I’m not going to eat,” I shake my head. “Not until I’m content.”

“What do you mean content?” He scoffs. “Annabelle I love you. A lot. But you can’t manipulate me like that.”

“Then I want to make a compromise with you,” I say, picking up a red apple from a basket. “Then I’ll eat. If you’re willing to give, then I’ll give too.”

“I’m not going to make a deal with you.”

“Louis if you want things to work between us, you’re going to have to let me do certain things.”

“I’m listening,” he says carefully.

“First off, these dresses,” I sigh, fingering the pink one on my body.

“What about them?”

“Can I please have only one per day? It’s exhausting to change my clothes five times a day and I really think they should be worn only on special occasions.”

“Princess, every occasion is special when you’re there,” he smiles, taking a sip of water.

“Louis―”

“My answer is no.”

“Then what if I change minimum twice a day, one dress for the morning and another one for the evening?”

“Minimum three dress changes Annabelle. I’m not going lower than that. I can’t go lower than that. My father would notice if you didn’t have a different dress for every meal.”

I pout a little.

“Three dress changes and only two on weekends, unless there’s a special occasion,” he proposes.

“Fine,” I huff. “Three dresses during weekdays, two during weekends unless there’s a special occasion. I can live with that.”

He smiles.

“One thing done... ”

“Could I maybe make some of my dresses?” I ask. “I’m quite good with a string and a needle.”

Louis frowns, pondering the thought.

“Okay,” he agrees. “I’ll have Perrie bring some fabric to the boudoir and you’ll be able to work there during your leisure hours. But,” he holds a finger up, “I need to approve it. Whatever ‘it’ is. I don’t want you strolling around in rags.”

 I acquiesce, rolling the apple in my hands.

“Can you take a bite please? Just so I’m sure you’ll really eat?”

Reluctantly, I bite in the fruit.

“Pleased?” I enquire.

“Very. Now what else deranges you?”

“Freedom.”

“I don’t have much myself Annabelle, so I can’t give you more than I have,” he sighs.

“What if I want to go to town?”

“You are welcome to go, as long as Zayn, me, or any guard accompanies you. And my father has this strict rule that forbids us from going more than once per week, or else he’ll...” he stops short, looking at me with wide eyes.

“Or else he’ll what?”

“Or else he’ll nothing Anna... Just don’t go disobeying him please.”

“I’m not a villager anymore, what can he do to me?”

“Annabelle please,” he inhales deeply. “I ask that you don’t go disobeying him.”

Weird.

“Okay I won’t,” I respond, taking another bite out of the apple. “Now about my family―”

“Annabelle I said the matter was closed!” He explodes, slamming his fist on the table. I jump in surprise.

“Please Louis just hear me out,” I try. “What if they work as domestics in the castle?”

“I’ve tried already but your siblings are too young to be of use,” Louis gets out. He’s tried?!

“But I can’t simply send them back in our home!” I protest. “It was falling to pieces when I left, it can’t have gotten much better!”

“Annabelle I’m so sorry but I can’t keep them here.”

“I’ll do anything Louis! I’ll try to love you back, make you happy and be a good little princess, anything!” I plea.

“The best I could do, for now, is let you send them stuff that you’d have to bring yourself, once a week.”

“I’ll take that,” I nod rapidly. “If you let me bring them food, clothes, something, I promise I’ll keep my mind open about trying to love you back.”

A small smile draws itself on his lips.

“So we have a deal?”

“We have a deal,” I approve.

“Good,” he sighs. “Well that went well,” he beams, taking another sip of water before biting a loaf of bread. “Are you content enough now to eat more than an apple?” He enquires.

“I’m not very hungry honestly,” I admit. “I’m not used to having this much food on the table.”

He nods.

“Finish your apple, grab a bun and I’ll let you be excused from breakfast.”

After doing as asked, I stand up, Louis doing the same.

“Would you like to come visit the gardens? I realise I haven’t let you in on all the castle’s little wonders,” Louis proposes, handing out his arm from me to take.

“Sure.” Hooking my arm into his, I let him lead me outside. “When are you going to kick them out?” I whisper once we’re in the courtyard.

“I managed to keep them here until after lunch... You’ll be able to bid them goodbye then,” he answers. My mood drops a little. I don’t want to say my goodbyes... The first time was hard enough.

If Louis did realise my mood change, he doesn’t mention it.

“I don’t know if Perrie has let you in on the next few days events but―”

“She hasn’t.”

Louis pauses in mid-step, looking at me.

“You mustn’t interrupt when I’m talking. Interrupting is rude.”

“Sorry.”

He shakes his head, resuming our walking. “It’s not a serious fault... Just try to avoid it when you can alright?”

I nod.

“Good. So as I was saying, we have a pretty charged up week. I have a very important meeting this afternoon, so either Zayn or Harry and his wife will be able to keep you company, unless you’d prefer otherwise. Tomorrow, we present you to the people. It’s a small ceremony. Nothing too big, but the people of Headow ought to see their Princess. Is that alright so far?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Overmorrow, I’m turning 20 so there will probably big party, but after that, we’re leaving for a short honeymoon in one of our fellow kingdoms. I might have other important meetings I’ll have to attend in between all that due to the recent tensions with Iregar.”

Right. Niall’s Kingdom. I wonder why.

“Anyways, here are the gardens, princess,” he says, pushing the doors of an iron gate open. He motions for me to go in. As I carefully step through, I immediately smell the different flowers. The gardens are vast, spreading gracefully out in the open. Blotches of color are beautifully spread here and there, forming a path that lead to a stunning fountain that’s surrounded by a pond with plenty of water lilies. Different types of trees are also strewn around the gardens, almost as if they are circling them. Stone benches sat peacefully under some trees and in front of the fountain.

“It’s grand, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I agree. “Who takes care of it?”

“Gardeners mostly. I come by also when I feel like it. Father wanted to get rid of it but I couldn’t let him destroy what my mother had spent her time creating,” he answers, his face turning sour for half a second. Zayn had mentioned something about the queen...

“Where is she? Queen Joannah?”

“Where she has to be. Look Annabelle I don’t want to talk about all my family problems with you just yet,” Louis declares, taking me out of the gardens. “I’m not ready for that and you aren’t either so please don’t ever bring the matter up again unless I do so,” he orders.

Great. Now I’m curious. As we walk back into the inner courtyard, I notice plenty of semi-circle holes at the ground level, covered with iron bars. As I get a little closer, I realise people are walking below ground level, circulating in corridors between the semi-circles.

“Louis, who are they?”

“Slaves. Prisoners. Anybody stupid enough to disobey laws basically,” he shrugs.

I stop dead in my tracks. “What?”

“They’re only getting what they deserve Annabelle...Some of them killed people―”

“But I bet some others only stole food or clothing to stay alive,” I protest.

“I’m not expecting you to understand just yet but―”

“That’s simply cruel. Royalty is cruel.”

“You interrupted me Annabelle. Again,” Louis huffs. “Look these prisoners are my father’s responsibility, not mine. But you have to understand this: rules need to be respected, or we lose the control. If we lose the control, chaos will build amongst our people.”

“I bet you take pleasure in being a prince, don’t you?” I say spitefully.

“Some parts of it yes... But what exactly makes you say that?”

“Your actions,” I reply, looking away. “The way you talk also.”

“Would you care to explain?”

“You clearly need to have the control. You’re trying to control me just like you rule the others. When the Declarations were posted, that was also control. I remember the numerous girls you had at the castle at one point. I couldn’t help seeing you as a man who used women to his benefit only,” I say, shaking my head.

“And did your opinion change?”

“Well now that you’re enslaved to only one girl...”

“Annabelle... All these girls... My father brought them here. I was scarcely at the castle when they came,” he explains, taking me back inside the castle.

“Where were you then?”

“I―”

“He spent most of his days following you.”

Louis and I both turn around when we hear Zayn.

“Why? Why would you follow me? Of all people,” I question, taken aback as I turn to look at Louis.

“I don’t know Annabelle... You were just so different. You were the fairest of them all. You glowed in the street. You weren’t afraid to take risks. You pulled me in Annabelle, with your beauty and your genuineness.”

“Yet you couldn’t be a normal person and try to befriend me... No you just had to take me to the castle on that day, without a care in the world about my life,” I roll my eyes. Louis’s jaw clenches.

“Annabelle there are things I cannot yet explain but in time it’ll be clearer. Now Zayn? Can I help you?” He sighs, turning to his bodyguard.

“Yes your mother wished to see you, sir,” Zayn declares very gravely. I frown.

“I’ll go see her straightaway,” he nods. “Could you maybe escort her back to her room? I want her to get changed, for we will go riding before lunch. You can bring her down to the stables afterwards, I’ll meet you there,” he instructs.

“Will do.”

“Thank you,” he ends, kissing my cheek lightly before leaving me with Zayn.

“My lady,” the guard beams, handing his arm. I’m about to ask him about the queen but he stops me. “I’ve told you too much about Queen Johanna already Annabelle... Please don’t press me with questions about her.”

“I was only going to ask if you knew about my mother’s whereabouts this morning,” I lie.

“Oh. Well yes. Last thing I heard was that she was giving a bath to your younger siblings,” he answers. A thought crosses my mind.

“What about Prince Niall?”

“He left at the break of dawn, like he was asked to,” he says, a pang of hurt in his voice. “I’m sure he’s on his way home as we speak.”

I nod. Too bad Louis banished him... He was sweet.

“I’m right outside the door if you need me,” Zayn states once we’re back in Louis’s and I’s quarters. “Perrie should already be waiting for you,” he continues, ushering me into the boudoir beside our room.

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