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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21. Fears

As we pack up our suitcases and the farmhouse two days later, I can’t help noticing Louis isn’t acting normally. His face is pulled in a scorn and his movements are hasty and rigid. I intercept him as he places the last suitcase in the carriage.

“Lou? What’s wrong?” I enquire softly, my hand rubbing his arm reassuringly.

He inhales once, shooting a sideways glance in Zayn’s direction. The darker boy is taking care of the horses up front, making sure they’re well fed and groomed before our short journey back to the castle.

The prince’s hands slide into mine, pulling us behind the carriage so we’re out of sight and hearing range.

“What’s wrong?” I repeat, growing worried. “You know you can tell me anything—”

“Runaway with me Belle,” Louis gives in. He takes me in his arms, hugging me tightly. His voice is unsteady. “I thought about it last night. Let’s elope and never come back,” he whispers in my hair. “We can—”

“Lou, eloping means getting married and we’re already married—”

“No, I want a real wedding. Something intimate and personal where we can truly share vows.”

The idea makes butterflies burst in my stomach.

“But...Louis, we can’t leave the kingdom like that,” I deny, not wanting to get my hopes up.

“We can get your mother and the twins to come with us,” the prince persists. “My mother’s dying anyways, there’s nothing left for me in Headow. I don’t want to be the prince anymore,” the words flow rapidly out of his mouth as he’s hit by a wave of emotion.

My heart skips a beat.

“Your mother is dying?” I respond in shock. “Lou, I’m sorry—”

“Annabelle, please, I want to run away with you,” he begs, cutting me off. “I want to live the rest of my life as we have these last couple of days. I’ve never been this happy and the thought of having to hurt you at the castle because of the king…” his eyes are blue with tears of frustration. “I couldn’t live with myself if I had to make you cry like I have in the past.”

I take my hands and wrap them around his.

“Louis, you can’t run away from your people like that. They need you.”

“They don’t: they need someone stronger—I’m not strong enough Annabelle, I never have been.” His hands are shaking, but the tears don’t fall. “Annabelle, I’m giving you what you’ve wanted from the start, why don’t you want to leave now?”

“We’re going to return to the castle Louis, because whether you can accept it or not, your kingdom needs you, and I’m certain your mother wishes to spend her last moments with you and not with the king. We can stand up to him—”

“We can’t stand up to him—no, it’s much more complicated than that,” he shakes his head. “The castle walls and kingdom are home to an elaborate system of spies and snitches who report back to my father. Everything is reported back to him. Absolutely everything.” He visibly flinches at a memory.

I ponder for a few seconds.

“What if we take away his control? Break his system?”

“Annabelle, if he simply imagines I’m plotting against him, he’ll hurt you. If he believes you’re plotting against him, he can hurt your family.”

“And he’d hurt you too,” I mumble, recalling the vivid scars on his beautiful back. I dig my face into his neck. There’s a moment of silence. “We’ll find a way to overthrow him alright? I know we will,” I persist, looking up at him from under my lashes. “We’re a team, and he’s alone. We’ll figure something out,” I repeat. “Let’s just head back to Headow for now, put on pretty faces and then we’ll sort things out.”

Our gazes lock, a million words wanting to be said but nothing making it out of our mouths.

“God, I love you Belle,” he mumbles finally, taking my face in-between his hands. “What did I do to deserve you?” He continues quietly, voice laced with disbelief.

As he bends down for a kiss, Zayn clears his throat behind us. I immediately take a step away from Louis, still embarrassed about the other night. Louis on the other hand, is oblivious.

“We’re ready to leave, sir?” It comes out as a question.

Louis turns towards me and I nod gently.

“We are,” he acknowledges, his hand sliding into mine, “as soon as we’re changed into proper clothes,” he ends, motioning our inappropriate attire.

“Goodbye pants,” I sigh. “And hello corsets.”

My husband squeezes my hand.

 

*****

 

I wince as the carriage hits another bump, seemingly making the dress squeeze more air out of my lungs.

“I don’t recall wearing dresses being this horrible,” I groan, shifting uneasily in my seat for the millionth time. “The person who invented corsets clearly didn’t think breathing as a necessity.”

“No indeed. But I can have a couple tailors arrange them to your liking,” Louis suggests. “I believe if the material is a little more flexible, it might make it more bearable,” he trails on, eyeing me.

“And what about removing them completely?”

“No.”

“Why not? I’m pretty sure many women would support me on this—”

“Undoubtedly,” he exhales, smiling. “But for the moment, we need to focus on making small changes in Headow, Annabelle. Nothing too drastic.”

“But—”

“No buts.”

“Well look how the tables have changed…” I point out, smirking.

“What?”

“You’ve interrupted me. Twice,” I mock. He blinks once, then again, before his mouth breaks out into a grin.

“You’re growing on me,” he chuckles, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. He kisses my temple, before breathing in and out deeply. “I love you, Belle, and I wish I could give you everything you wanted,” he mumbles. “But we need to do this one step at a time or things could go sour.”

“I’m sorry,” I nod. I let myself enjoy his warmth, gazing aimlessly out the window as I do so.

“You know we’re probably going to fight a lot at the castle, right?” he states suddenly, as Headow comes into view.

“It’s a certainty Lou,” I snort. “We’re black and white.”

“I’m being very serious, love. I need you to know that no matter how angry I am, I still love you. Never doubt it okay?”

“Of course not Louis. It’s normal for couples to fight. My parents did it all the time,” I shrug.

“Belle, losing you… it terrorizes me,” he repeats earnestly. Hearing the fear in his voice, I pull him closer and kiss him gently.

“You won’t,” I promise, keeping our faces near.  I can tell he’s not convinced so I go on. “What if every time we fight, we head to the meadow once we’ve cooled off and talk things through? That way we can resolve our differences sooner rather than later, without any unwanted ears?” I propose softly.

“I like that idea very much,” he agrees. “I love you…” His eyes descend to my lips, just like mine descend to his and something suddenly snaps inside the both of us. Louis brusquely pulls the drapes to cover the carriage’s windows and I eagerly close the gap between us, wanting to touch him. The kiss is nothing like the innocent peck I gave him a few seconds earlier. No, this time it feels more meaningful, as trust and love radiates from both of us and seals our promise.

“I love you too,” I murmur, eyes locked on his as my hands clutch the fabric of his blouse. He kisses me again and it takes but mere seconds for it to shift into something much rawer, our hands fervent to touch the other due to the several hours spent stuck in the cramped space.

We move around on the uncomfortable carriage bench.  I end up straddling him, fingers intertwined in his hair as his mouth leaves open-mouthed kisses in my neck.

“Lou,” I moan quietly in his ear, eyes shutting.

“I’ve created a demanding little kitten, have I?” he chuckles, breathless. “But as tempting as giving in to our needs sounds, we’ve got to stop now or I’ll have to face some very embarrassing interrogations when Zayn opens the door,” he groans, digging his face into my neck. “We can continue this tonight.”

“But it won’t be the same…your father’s spies will be watching…And that makes me uncomfortable,” I shake my head.

“Who said anything about doing it at the castle? I believe our meadow would be perfect for making love, no?” He mumbles.

Our meadow. I smile and kiss him again.

“Okay enough,” he ends, carefully setting me back down on the seat. “Wouldn’t want to get out with our lips all swollen either,” he smirks.

“Of course not,” I sigh deeply, pushing a strand of hair behind my ear. I find myself shifting on the seat, fingers grabbing the dress and pulling to get the material to loosen. It doesn’t do anything. My arms drop in defeat. Guess I’m stuck suffocating.

Not long after, the carriage halts to a stop. I feel dread spreading through my limbs, something suddenly nagging me.

I hear Louis inhale and exhale loudly beside me, pulling the drapes open once more. There are voices outside. My head is buzzing, my heart is beating wildly.

“Louis?” I ask softly.

Zayn opens the carriage door, letting light engulf the small space.

“Welcome back home, your Majesties,” he bows, motioning the courtyard outside.

“Lou?”

I feel myself drowning in a wave of fear as memories of a couple days ago assault me. Last time I was at the castle, I almost died. Someone tried to kill me.

“Louis, I don’t feel so good,” I whisper.

“Let’s go love,” Louis encourages, hand sliding in mine. I’m woozy as I stand. Louis steps out, and my free hand manages to grab Zayn’s as I head to the small steps.

“Louis, I really don’t feel good,” I repeat as I step out on the paved ground. My heart is like a caged bird in my chest; my palms are sweaty. I can’t breathe, the corset tightening around my already compressed lungs. My husband touches my forehead with the back of his hand.

“Annabelle?”

Spots dance in front of my eyes.

“Lou…” I groan, nearly losing consciousness as I fall into his arms.

“Send a doctor up to my room!” Louis calls out urgently to a handful of guards, hoisting me in his arms. “Annabelle, love, stay with me,” he urges, walking quickly out of the courtyard and in the direction of his room, Zayn on his heels.  “You’re shaking, Belle. What’s wrong?”

I shut my eyes, arms wrapped tight around my husband’s neck. Minutes later, we’re in Louis’ bedroom, and he’s depositing me on the bed, asking Zayn to fetch a towel dunked in cold water.

“I’m sorry, I just freaked out,” I gasp out, trying to regain focus and calm my heart. “And it doesn’t help that I can’t breathe properly.”

“What freaked you out?” Louis enquires softly, hand moving a stray strand of hair out of my face.

I bite my lip, my fear suddenly seeming ridiculous considering the quantity of guards that were around the castle at our arrival.

“It’s ridiculous,” I mutter.

“You wouldn’t have nearly fainted if it was,” he denies, shaking his head. Zayn arrives with the towel. He hands it to Louis.

“Still need the doctor, sir?” the guard asks politely.

“Yes, I’m going to do a full check-up,” he insists, carefully patting my forehead with the cold cloth. “She’s due anyways.”

Zayn nods and leaves the room.

 “Annabelle?” my husband asks expectantly.

“What do you mean I’m due?” I counter, pushing the towel away from me.

“Don’t try to change the subject love, please. You’ve got me thinking all sorts of things with that panic attack. You seemed more than fine in the carriage…”

There’s a pregnant silence, as I ponder telling him or not.

“The person who tried to kill me,” I mumble finally, looking away. “I’m scared of the person who tried to kill me last time I was here,” I admit. I shift uneasily on the bed, trying to get more air into my lungs despite the corset. “I don’t know why it terrorizes me so much but it does and—”

His finger presses on my lips, gently silencing me.

“Darling, didn’t I tell you I wouldn’t let you set foot back in here until the culprit was arrested?” he sighs deeply, clearly relieved. “She’s locked in a cell, at the other end of the castle, love. Her trial is tomorrow afternoon,” he reassures. “You’re safe.”

It’s a she?

“Who’s trial? Who is she?” I’m suddenly very confused. Why didn’t he tell me anything? “Louis?”

He rubs his neck, sighing deeply.

“I don’t know if I should tell you…” he admits. “I don’t want you to become paranoiac. It’s what the people she works for want.”

My mind turns blank.

“Because there are more people who want me dead,” I say slowly, as if tasting the words.

“Annabelle,” he takes my hands into his and sits beside me, “it comes with the title. You’ll be fine. I’ve made sure to double the security in the castle before our return. We’re going to be okay, not matter what,” he insists.

“Who is she?” I repeat again.

“If I tell you, I don’t want you to start doubting everything and everyone at the castle alright? I want you to keep being the brilliant hotheaded spitfire you’ve been from the start, alright?” the prince says softly, eyes gazing into mine. “She’s heavily guarded, and we’re doubling checking everything, trying to put our hands on the people she works for.”

I nod slowly.

“She’s been through your things. And has had discussions with you,” he continues. Louis breathes in and out slowly. “And all signs pointed to Harry’s wife,” he gives in finally.

Élodie?!

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