“He wants to stay. And I’m going to eat with him,” Lisa announced, whipping her apron from her thin waist and winding it up, before tucking it into her bag.
The chef assessed her, before winking. “You’re in for a treat, then, new girl,” the man said. “Go out there. Sit down. We’ll take care of everything.”
Lisa pulled her hair tie from her ponytail, allowing her blond locks to flow down her back. She was momentarily hesitant, knowing that she wasn’t the royal beauty who’d sat, so recently, across the table from the Prince. But something pushed her forward, a bright smile upon her lips, even with the knowledge that what she was doing was reckless.
The Prince leaped from his seat and pulled out Lisa’s chair for her, gesturing. She sat primly, crossing her ankles, and noting that he’d already ordered a bottle of the wine she’d suggested, from Lyon. Her cheeks burned with the reminder: she wasn’t classy enough to know much about French wines. Not like these royals, who’d grown up with them. Her Detroit roots had given her a love for cheap beer and fast food. And although she’d shelled these loves when she’d moved to the big city, she felt like a clown, masquerading as something she wasn’t.
The Prince poured her a glass of wine, the liquid glugging as it filled the glass. Lisa lifted it and clinked it with his, their eyes twinkling in the soft restaurant lighting.
“Cheers to you,” she murmured. “And thank you for this invitation.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “You’re really doing me the favor right now.”
“Why’s that?” Lisa asked. As she spoke, Evelyn placed their second course in front of them—the soup from fifteen minutes before, once again hot and steaming. Finely chopped vegetables lifted to the surface of the liquid. Lisa kept her hands on her lap.
“This looks wonderful,” the Prince said, thanking Evelyn. Evelyn couldn’t keep her eyes from Lisa, like a proud mother. But in a moment, she was gone, leaving Lisa with the Prince, and his dark, churning thoughts.
“I suppose you witnessed the scene leading up to the Princess leaving the restaurant?” he asked then, slipping his spoon beneath the surface of the liquid. He drew up a spoonful. Small droplets leaked back into the bowl.
“I did,” Lisa affirmed. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
The Prince didn’t speak for a moment. Lisa felt she had to fill in the gaps, to affirm that everything was all right.
“But every relationship has its ups and downs,” she said, leaning heavily upon her elbows. “Evelyn—the waitress who just delivered this—she’s going through a breakup right now. Can’t walk three feet without crying. It’s horrible. My heart breaks for her.”
The Prince raised his left eyebrow high, listening. “Well, fortunately for Evelyn, the continued existence of an entire kingdom doesn’t hinge on her relationship.”
“What do you mean by that?” Lisa asked. Her soup cooled beneath her, but she was too engrossed to care.
“My engagement to the Princess is a sham,” the Prince revealed.
Lisa’s lips parted slightly, acknowledging the shock value of his statement. “One of those royal arrangements, you mean?” she asked. “I didn’t know those still existed. Not in this day and age.”
“Well, there’s probably a lot the average person doesn’t know,” the Prince said. “The Princess and I were introduced when we were just fourteen years old. That was fifteen years ago—meaning I’ve known her longer than almost anyone else in my life.” He scoffed. “And yet, she’s still a stranger. Everything she says seems like a nightmare. Like, I look at her, and I can’t believe she’s in my life. Have you ever felt that way about anyone?”
Lisa shook her head, wanting to tell him that she purposefully didn’t fill her life with people who made her feel bad about herself. She blinked rapidly, urging him to go on with her eyes.
“The ties between our countries, the Netherlands and Aluzzi, are historically rather weak. A few years ago, however, Italy and the Netherlands, had a falling out, which left the Netherlands looking for a nearby ally in order to reaffirm their ties with Italy. All of this is rather boring for you, I’m sure. And probably, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. After all. You live in America. You don’t have to worry about such things.”
“Just because I’m an American, doesn’t mean I’m uninterested in world politics,” Lisa said, trying to make a joke. “Although, I can imagine why you would think that.”
“All right,” the Prince said, a crooked smile stretching across his face. For a moment, he looked at her like he’d known her for a long time—with endearment, with gleaming eyes. “Touché, I suppose.”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Lisa said softly. “Please. Continue.”
“Anyway,” the Prince said, pushing his soup away, clearly no longer hungry. “Our parents set up the relationship in an attempt to reinforce the diplomatic ties between our two countries.”
“Right,” Lisa said, feeling a flirtatious smile on her face. “Diplomacy. Politics. Yes.” She winked.
“I can’t speak seriously about this with you, can I?” the Prince laughed, extending his long fingers across the white tablecloth. “You make me feel too serious. And, I suppose, that’s what I want. Every single day of my life feels far too serious. And you seem to laugh in the face of it.”
“Not necessarily laughing,” Lisa said. “Just trying to keep your head above water. Too much sadness won’t do.”
“No, I suppose it won’t,” the Prince affirmed. His eyes glinted. “What you need to understand, Lisa, is that I don’t love the Princess. I don’t love her at all.”