To Marry a Prince

1

‘Heir to the Throne Dumped Again’ – Royal Watchers Magazine

Bella Greenwood arrived back in London two months earlier than she was supposed to. It was the end of September, a cold Friday, and her credit card was still de-activated, which she expected. And she couldn’t call and revive it because her mobile phone was as dead as a dodo, which she didn’t.

Suddenly her backpack seemed awfully heavy. She put it down and sat on it while she considered her options. She knew what Granny Georgia would say: ‘There’s always another path. A sensible woman will find it.’

‘OK,’ said Bella, flexing her tired shoulders. ‘What’s the other path here?’

In the end, she found a public telephone that took coins and, after failing to connect with her mother, ended up speaking to her stepfather at work, as the machine swallowed the coins at an alarming rate.

‘Costa Coffee, Waterloo Station, five o’clock,’ he yelled as the beep started.

So Bella made her way across London and sat at one of the shiny silver tables, trying to warm her hands round a mug of coffee and scanning the commuter crowds for Kevin Bray’s tall figure. But in the end he was nearly upon her before she caught sight of him.

‘Look, Bella,’ he said, plonking himself down in the chair opposite, ‘it’s good to see you, of course, but this weekend is just not on. Your mother’s got people staying. Your room’s occupied. I’m sorry.’

Bella had been travelling for four days by then. All she wanted Kevin to do, really, was pick up her backpack, shepherd her on to the train and take her back to the comfortable Hampshire villa where she could have a warm bath and climb into her bed and sleep for about a hundred years.

A hug would have been nice, too. But she was philosophical about that. Kevin was not a natural hugger and Bella had come into his life too late for him to adjust his habits. Kevin had many qualities that her natural father, H. T. Greenwood the explorer, lacked, most notably not being out of the country all the time. So Bella was reconciled to there being no hug.

But no bath, no bed, no monster sleep either? This couldn’t be happening.

‘Not on?’ she echoed, bewildered. Jet lag always slowed her down.

Kevin could not quite meet her eyes. ‘It’s this Charity Ball tomorrow night. Your mother’s on the Committee. Been working on it for months. We’re taking a party, of course. The house is full. You know your mother.’

Yes, Bella knew what her mother was like. She fought down brain fog and interpreted. ‘You mean, she doesn’t want me home because she’s partying with the movers and shakers of Much Piddling in the Wold.’

Kevin was shocked. He was a nice man. ‘Of course not. She wants you home. We both do. She can’t wait to see you. Only—’

Bella sagged. ‘Only not this weekend.’

‘There’s so much to do and the house, well, it’s—’

‘Full. You said.’

He winced. ‘Sorry. If we’d only known. But we thought you were staying out on your island until after Christmas.’

‘So did I,’ said Bella, desolately. But her words were lost in the echoing station announcements and the stampede of Friday night commuters.

‘You should have let us know sooner,’ said her stepfather firmly. ‘Call your mother on Sunday after the ball and she’ll sort out a date for you to come down. You’ve got somewhere to stay?’ And, before she could answer, ‘You’ll need some cash, I bet. Won’t have had time to sort yourself out, if you only got in this afternoon.’

He had come prepared. He stuffed a