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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10. Hot and Cold

Half an hour later, Perrie’s got me dressed up into what she calls a riding habit and boots.

“Why can’t I wear pants?” I enquire. “We’re going to be riding horses: I should be allowed to wear trousers!” I complain, motioning the outfit.

“I’m afraid I have no control over this Miss Annabelle,” she responds.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Yes?”

“Are you almost ready Annabelle?” Zayn questions from the other side.

“I’m coming out right now,” I sigh, opening the door, my fingers still pulling at the uncomfortable material.

“Perfect,” the dark boy smiles. “Shall we head to the stables?” He continues, handing out his arm.

“I don’t really have a choice, do I?” I reply.

“Indeed you don’t.”

I scowl, locking my arm with his.

“Annabelle... Princesses don’t scowl,” he remarks, walking us away.

“Well I do. I think I’ll declare a day the Headow scowling day. And everybody will be scowling,” I huff.

The guard laughs, shaking his head.

“Things don’t work that way, princess.”

“I know.”

*****

 

I wasn’t ignorant about horses: I knew how to ride one. My father had taught me a couple years ago, when our farm was actually a farm. I even used to have my own horse, Beauty, whom I loved very much and cared for every single day. But then, a little after the arrival of the twins, we started running out of money and all our animals had to be sold, including Beauty. Of course I had been destroyed, but sacrifices needed to be made for our family to survive, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

 “Wait a second. Side-saddle? You want me to side-saddle?!” I exclaim incredulously after Zayn’s brief but useless explanations on how to ride a horse. I was used to riding bareback, without a saddle at all. This definitely wouldn’t be the same.

“Yes. It’s not very lady-like to ride with... your legs open you see?” Zayn replies, uncomfortable.

“But I―”

“Arguing again, aren’t you?” Louis chuckles as joins us in front of the stables, rolling his sleeves. “My dear Annabelle, what am I going to do with you?” He sighs almost to himself, a small smile on the corner of his lips as he enters the wooden structure. I watch him as he heads over to the horses, approaching a chestnut colored one. The horse seems to know him, placing his head under his raised hand. Louis pets the animal, whispering soft things before hugging the creature.

I notice Louis has also changed his clothing, though his seem much looser than mine. And much more peasant-like. His brown trousers were loose-fitted, just like his shirt, which which had the first few buttons undone. Black braces were pulled over his shoulders and a brown leather bag was slung diagonally over them.

“Zayn, you may leave us. I’ll take it from here,” the Prince says suddenly, stepping away from the horse.

“Louis you won’t―”

“Zayn. Please. Leave us,” he persists, cutting out his words.

“Very well Sir,” the guard gives up.

“Annabelle come here,” the blue-eyed boy asks, motioning me forwards once Zayn is out of sight. I do as asked, keeping my head down. “Look at me.”

Reluctantly, I tilt my head upwards, my eyes meeting his.

“First things first, are you ashamed of something?”

“No...”

“Then you should walk with your head up, love,” he remarks. I nod. “Good. Next question, did you ever ride a horse?”

“Yes.”

“Great. Which means you can stay on it if it gallops?”

“Probably not. I’ve never side-saddled before and apparently, I have to,” I respond, resisting the strong urge to roll my eyes.

“Don’t fret, I’m going to teach you how to side-saddle,” he decides, leading me deeper into the stables. “It’s really not complicated.” We stop in front of a soft beige, practically golden, colored horse. “This is Paris,” Louis explains, his hand caressing Paris’s forehead. “He’s one of my best horses, but if he likes you, I might as well leave him to you,” he says, petting the animal. “I trained him myself.”

I watch silently as Louis starts bridling the horse, before ushering it out of his stall and outside. He leads him in a big fenced area and ties him to a post.

“Wait for me here,” the prince tells me, his gaze drifting upwards to the castle for mere seconds. “I’ll go fetch the saddle,” he elaborates, shooting another glance at the horse before turning back to the stalls.

I move to face the horse, cocking my head sideways.

“Hi Paris,” I say softly, using the same calm voice I had used so many times with Beauty. I raise my hand towards him. The horse neighs, taking a step back in apprehension. I bring my hand back down, feeling stupid. Of course he won’t let me pet him, he doesn’t know me! Even Beauty didn’t let me approach her for the first few days...

Louis comes back a few seconds later with the saddle in his arms, his gaze once again distracted by the castle.

I frown.

“Is anything wrong Louis?” I ask. He blinks, looking at me.

“What?”

“Are you okay? You seem... disturbed,” I continue.

“I’m perfectly fine,” he responds, smiling. I stare at him, doubtful. The Prince walks over to Paris, stroking his coat a bit before placing the saddle on his back. He pats the animal. “So, do need my help to mount?” He questions, turning towards me.

“Probably.”

“Come here,” he beckons me near him. I gasp as his fingers suddenly wrap around my waist, before hoisting easily on Paris. I automatically grip the animal’s neck, flipping my right leg over its back. “There there,” Louis calms the surprised horse as it moves slightly, neighing. “It’s alright Paris.” Louis ushers gently, reassuring it. “Now sit straight Annabelle, and get both of your legs on one side of the horse,” he continues once it’s tranquil.

I shake my head.

“Louis I’m going to fall.”

“No you won’t: I’m right here to catch you if you do okay?”

“Why can’t I just ride with my legs astride?” I continue, my fingers lacing on the bridle.

“Because Princess, you’re going to side-saddle, end of discussion,” he declares. “I want you to move your right leg so it’s resting on the pommel and your left leg so your foot is in the stirrup.”

I grimace, shifting on the horse.

“Annabelle I promise I’ll catch you if you fall,” the Prince insists.

Taking a deep breath, I hold myself up and move my leg carefully to the other side, resting it on the hooked material at the front of the saddle. I finish off by slipping my left boot in the metal semi-circle by the horse’s side.

“Perfect. Now hold the reigns, I’ll make Paris walk a bit, get you used to it, and then I’ll let you practise a bit while I bridle and saddle Mystique.”

I scowl as Louis makes the horse walk, disliking the lack of stability side-saddling implied.

“So?” He asks, about five minutes later.

“I don’t like it.”

“But do you feel able to ride, say, for half an hour?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s all that matters,” The blue-eyed Prince smirks. “Practise slow trotting maybe? If you gently dig your heel in his girth once, it should get him going. I’ll go take care of saddling my own horse,” he ends, leaving me and heading back towards the stalls.

I blink a couple times, before bending towards Paris, stroking his mane.

“You aren’t a very difficult horse, are you?” I coo. “Louis’s right, you are a good horse,” I continue, patting its neck. Inhaling deeply, I even the reins and lightly press my heel into his body.

To my surprise, he starts trotting almost immediately. I’m impressed. I lead him left and right, feeling the horse movements so I could get used to his way of moving. After a few minutes, I pull the reins, stopping Paris. “You’re a good boy,” I say lovingly, tapping his neck lightly. I move my hand, feeling his heartbeat thump against my palm. He doesn’t seem exhausted at all. I could try and make him run...

I glance sideways, looking for Louis but seeing him nowhere.  Here goes nothing... I push my heel once into his side, making Paris trot a little before pressing my heel in twice. My fingers grip the reins tightly as the horse starts running. I give one sharp tug and Paris slows down to a trot. I smile, a refreshing feeling of success spreading through me.

“You are doing particularly well, Annabelle.”

Louis’s voice startles me. I turn my head sideways to see him coming towards me on Mystique, the horse he was petting earlier.

“Think you are ready to go riding?” He asks, pulling on the reins to stop his horse.

“Sure,” I shrug.

“See that forest over there?” He says, motioning the thicket of trees more than a hundred yards away. “That’s where we’ll go.”

“Okay.”

“Follow me,” he ends, shooting one last glance at the castle before urging his horse into a run. Frowning, I do the same, direction Paris so he’d follow Mystique. I can’t help feeling nostalgic as the horse runs, the whole situation being similar to what I’d felt while riding Beauty two years ago. Louis looks back at me a couple of times, probably making sure I was still chasing behind him. Paris though, seems like he doesn’t need any guidance. It’s almost if he knows where we were going already.

When we’re about fifteen minutes deep into the woods, Louis slows to a trot, forcing me to do the same. I grimace as he makes us direct our horses off the trail. My right hand reflexively heads to Paris’s neck, feeling his heartbeat. A little tired.

I’m speechless though as the Prince of Headow leads us to a small meadow. Louis jumps off his chestnut-colored horse, keeping her reins in his hand. I watch, baffled as he completely removes her bridle, letting his horse roam freely. He then walks towards me, holding his arms out for me.

“Jump.”

Without hesitation, I slip off the saddle and land into his arms, our faces inches apart when he catches me.

“Thank you,” I murmur, breathless.

“It’s my pleasure, love,” he responds, removing his hands from me. My gaze lingers on Louis as he also releases Paris from his bridle.

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll leave?” I ask curiously, looking Paris trot away happily.

“They won’t. I’ve trained them very well,” he responds, removing the brown leather bag he had on his shoulder. “Here.” He hands it to me. “You can go change behind that big tree over there,” he continues, pointing the giant willow beside the easy-going river.

I frown, peeking into the bag. My eyes grow big.

“There are no rules here, Princess, so you may dress as you please,” Louis supplies as I eye the pants and blouse.

“Thank you!” I exclaim, joy lighting my features as I practically run to the willow, hurrying to get out of the horrible riding habit as soon as possible.

Once I step out of behind the willow, I undo my hair letting it flow freely. I sigh in pleasure, shaking my head: the hairdo Perrie had done was making my hair ache, if that’s even possible.

“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Louis mumbles from nearby. I look around to see Louis practically staring at me as he laid on the riverbank, sunlight beaming down on him. “You are so perfect Annabelle.”

“Thank you,” I flush, placing a strand of my hair behind my ear.

 “See that’s the way I would’ve wanted to sweep you off your feet,” he starts, gazing at the sky. “I would’ve made you blush every chance I had, showering you with compliments and gifts and whatnot.”

“I don’t want gifts Louis,” I shake my head negatively, sitting at a safe distance from him.

“I know. That’s why I’m so drawn to you. And also because you value family above everything. I admire that. I don’t know how I could ever love my family like you love yours.”

I bite my lip, unsure of what to respond.

“What do you like Annabelle? What are your hobbies, your favourite foods, colors, I want to know all,” he says suddenly.

“Why does it only spark your interest now?” I counter. “Why do you suddenly care for what I like?”

“Oh I’ve always cared princess, but a prince can’t look weak and show actual feelings. At least, not in my father’s opinion,” he huffs, shaking his head negatively. “And he’s always on my back: how do you expect me to act how I please? This is the only place where I get to be free, where I get to be myself,” he trails on, motioning around us. “Here I can think for myself, clear my mind,” Louis sighs, smiling.

I was looking at a completely different Louis. One who couldn’t stop smiling, who didn’t look burdened. One who fascinated me.

“I love raspberries,” I mumble after a few seconds. “My father used to get some for us all the time and I absolutely adored them.”

“Is your father a tetchy subject?” he enquires. “Because it’s the first time I hear you bring him up in a conversation.”

“It’s not like we have had a lot of conversations either,” I reply dryly.

“We can’t: you’re always angry after me,” he chuckles.

I frown.

“I’m not always angry.”

“We’ll you certainly haven’t been throwing me roses. But it’s totally understandable. After all, I did literally rip you away from your home and forced you to marry me,” he grimaces.

“You say it like it’s not of your doing,” I scoff. Louis purses his lips, looking at me.

“Like I said earlier, if I could have, I would have swept you off your feet in the most gentlemanly way possible. But I wasn’t given that chance. I had a time limit, and you were the angel that would help me walk through hell,” a pained smile forms on his lips. “And no, before you ask, I am not discussing family matters with you just yet.”

My shoulders sag.

“You know, I would’ve let you ride Paris normally... but my father was watching out the window,” he points out. “Plus, you needed to learn if ever we had to ride through town for whatever reason.”

“So that’s why you we’re so distracted.”

“Indeed. I’m curious though... where did you learn how to ride?”

“I had a horse named Beauty when our farm was functional... I used to ride her bareback all the time,” I answer, playing with a strand of grass.

“Bareback?! Are you serious?” He seems genuinely interested.

“Very.”

“Well that explains it,” he declares, leaning backwards.

“Explains what?”

“Why your thighs are so firm.”

I scoff before breaking into a laugh.

“What?” he frowns.

“You say you want to be a gentleman and compliment me, yet you talk about the firmness of my thighs! How ridiculous is that?!” I snort.

“It is quite ridiculous,” he chuckles, shaking his head in wonder. “Ah Annabelle I should flatter you with compliments about your emerald eyes, but I really do find your thighs exquisitely firm,” he persists, a cocky smile printed on his lips.

I smile and laugh, exhaling in disbelief. This Louis Tomlinson was refreshing. This Louis Tomlinson definitely could have stolen my heart if he had tried.

“You are complicated,” I state finally.

“That I am,” he acknowledges. His face becomes serious though. “But know this Annabelle: I act like a prince at the castle for a reason, and I act who I really am here, but here only. I ask you don’t search for who I am here, when we’re at the castle,” he pauses. “I do not mind taking you here occasionally to let you breathe, get out of all these royal routines, but you need to know the difference between here and there. Am I clear?”

“Crystal,” I nod slowly.

“Good. Because if you do happen to take me for the wrong person at the castle, I’m afraid we won’t come here anymore,” he lets the sentence hang for a few seconds before his joyful attitude is back. “So, wanna go for a swim?”

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