Mornings were always one of Eadlyn's favorite times of the day. Even with the busyness of the last couple of months when the palace had been stocked full of constant visitors, the morning had provided her with a constant, unerring reprieve.
She leaned back in her seat and pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders to protect her against the chill of the March morning. The air was crisp, spring and its renewal still just out of reach. As usual, a stack of magazines and newspapers sat on a table before her, but she didn't peruse them this particular morning.
The French doors opened, and her husband stepped onto the porch in his bathrobe and slippers, a pair of mugs clutched in his hands. "Morning, Eady." His voice was still thick with sleep as he settled himself beside her.
Eadlyn accepted her coffee and leaned into Kile's side. "Good morning."
"You look like you're in a good mood," noted Kile. "Have I missed something?"
"Our sons getting married today," smiled Eadlyn. "I think I half doubted that we'd actually make it to a wedding. You know Oliver."
"I'm not surprised," countered Kile, "Mae's the one for him."
Eadlyn picked up one of the magazines on the table, scanning the cover. Only a few months ago, the tabloids had proclaimed him the "Pleasure Prince" and mocked her decision to maintain his position as her heir. Now, they dubbed his upcoming nuptials the "greatest event of the century" and salivated over his love story with Maelys Villeneuve.
Eadlyn examined her future daughter-in-law, staring up at her from their engagement announcement in The Illéan Times. "Do you think she really loves him?" she frowned.
"Is that what you're really worried about?" Kile laughed. "Not whether people will expect him to take the crown soon or her, uh, background."
Eadlyn rolled her eyes. "No," she declared, "None of that bothers me anymore. I just want to know that he's going to be happy, and she's going to be a good wife."
Kile gave her a little squeeze. "That's the last thing you have to worry about Eady," he declared. "I think they're going to be very happy."
Finally, a groan. A head of messy brown curls rose from a tangle of blankets and pillows and glanced around, hazel eyes bleary and unfocused. When they landed on the figure beside him, the prince's face broke into a lazy smile. "Lady Mae." He reached out to pull his fiancée into his chest, wrapping his arms full around her.
Mae giggled as she tried to scoot away from him. "You have to get up," she told him, "I've been putting my maids off for an hour."
He tightened his grip so she couldn't escape, burying his face in her wavy hair and its familiar rose scent. "They can wait," he decided.
"You're not even supposed to see me before later," she pointed out, her voice affectionately exasperated. "It's bad luck."
"I don't believe in bad luck anymore," declared Oliver as he kissed her shoulder. "I have you, which I'm pretty sure qualifies me as the luckiest person in the world."
Mae seemed momentarily placated. "I won't argue that."
Oliver laughed and muttered something about his wife-to-be's humility. "Are you nervous?" he asked, rubbing his hands up and down her arms.
Mae rested her head back on his shoulder and smiled. "No. Not at all."
The expression was mirrored on Oliver's face. "Me neither." It was true. After months of uncertainty and doubt, he felt more certain than he'd ever been about anything in his life.
But although Mae's smile didn't falter, Oliver saw her eyes fall to a beautiful, enormous bouquet on her nightstand. He tightened his embrace in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "Have you talked to Kaitlyn since she told you she couldn't be a bridesmaid?"
"Just through letters," Mae admitted, "She's studying infectious diseases in Sahara with a French physician right now, so it's a little hard to talk to get ahold of her." There was a pause. "I understand why she couldn't be here, but I wish it were different."
"I know," he sighed. He felt a little guilty. The crux of dating thirty-five girls at once was that it was difficult to avoid hurt feelings. "She'll come around. You guys have a pretty solid friendship."
"We do," Mae agreed, a small smile tugging at her beautiful face.
Before either could say anything further, the doors to Mae's room burst open. "Okay, Oliver we expected to still be in bed," Presley sighed, "but really, Mae, you too?"
Mae smiled sheepishly. "He's a bad influence?"
Oliver gave an exaggerated gasp. "Traitor."
Isolde crossed her arms. "Crown prince or not, it's time for you to go," she declared, "Not everything is at your leisure, Your Royal Laziness."
"Like weddings," quipped Presley, "So, if you want us to deliver your lovely bride on time, scoot."
"Alright, alright," he sighed. He tossed the blankets off and gave Mae a quick kiss. "Six hours," he whispered in reference to the countdown that the two had been maintaining since they'd picked a date.
"Can't come soon enough," Mae smiled in response.
As their carriage slowed outside of St. Sebastian's, the thunderous roar of the crowds awaiting the arrival of their new princess greeted them. "Wow," Mae swallowed as she glanced out the window. The sheer number of people was overwhelming.
"There's still time to escape," Kile noted.
Mae laughed as she turned back to Oliver's father. "Not a chance," she declared.
"I didn't think so," Kile admitted. "Ready?"
She nodded firmly, and when the footman opened the door, Kile exited first, causing another loud cheer. The king consort waved to the people for a minute before he offered her a hand to help her from the carriage. Her wedding dress was beautiful, an off the shoulder creation with billowing yards of delicately embroidered lace, but it did make moving a little more difficult. She made it out of the carriage without tripping or accidentally knocking off the tiara that Eadlyn had leant her for the wedding—her two biggest fears about her grand arrival—and if she thought Kile's greeting had been raucous, she was thoroughly overcome by the reception that she received. She raised a hand in greeting to them, perfectly executing the delicate wave that Celine had taught her shortly after her engagement had been announced.
Kile offered his arm to her, and Mae had to take a second to collect her emotions. When Kile had asked if she'd permit him to walk her down the aisle, there'd been a bevy of tears from everyone present. It was an incredibly sweet gesture, one that she appreciated immensely. "Thank you for doing this," she smiled as she slipped her arm through his. "It really means a lot to me."
"Thank you for allowing me," Kile returned, "I really am honored."
It felt like she couldn't breathe as she walked down the aisle towards him. The church looked beautiful, decorated in accordance with the 'winter wonderland' theme they'd gone for, and the pews were nearly filled with everyone from visiting royals to past Selected and members of Oliver's extended family.
But she couldn't see anyone besides him. Their eyes were locked on each other, like they were the only two people that existed at that moment. They'd practiced her walk down the aisle extensively at the rehearsal—Eadlyn was determined for the wedding to go off without a single hitch—but if it weren't for Kile, she would've forgotten the slow, elegant pace she was supposed to keep and kicked off her shoes to run to him as fast as she could.
When they finally reached the altar and Kile placed her hands in Oliver's, Mae's heartbeat was hammering against her ribcage incessantly. It was finally happening. She was marrying him.
"You okay?" Oliver asked in a low voice as the priest began to speak.
"Better than okay," she realized, giving his hands a gentle squeeze.
She'd known she was bound to cry, something that she had discussed with the woman who had been employed to do her makeup, but she still didn't feel prepared when Oliver began to deliver his vows. "I grew up thinking I had just about everything. Being a prince will do that to you. My life was supposed to be magical—castles and crowns and more power than I knew what to do with. But it honestly didn't feel like anything special—until I met you. You are the thing that makes my life extraordinary. And I promise to thank you for that every day. I promise to take you to the snow every Christmas, I promise to watch your ridiculous romantic movies like Dirty Dancing with you, I promise to never complain about how long it takes you to get ready, even though you're beautiful in anything. And if I ever flake on any of these things, you have three hundred witnesses here to back you up when you come for me."
The crowd chuckled, and Oliver paused to smile at her before he pressed on. "But mostly I promise to always be here for you and be the family that you deserve, because I love you more than I thought it was possible to love another person."
And that's how he really got the tears. She'd resigned herself to a lonely life after her parents' deaths, and it was still hard to realize sometimes that that didn't have to be her future anymore. She had to pause to collect herself before she delivered her own vows in return.
"Oliver," she began, her smile radiant as she stared up at the love of her life, "The very first time I met you, I thought, 'Wow—this boy is a mess.'" The guests chuckled in amusement, and she heard Presley's snort from where she stood with Isolde and Celine. Even Oliver laughed. "But every day since then, you have amazed me. Every time I think there is no way I could possibly love you more, you do something that makes me fall harder. I love you for your intelligence and the way that you care about people and your cheesy jokes and the way that you make me feel like I could do anything in the world. Life hasn't always been easy, but there's not a single thing that I would change about it, because it led me to you."
She paused, the only quote that she'd ever read that could sum up her relationship with Oliver. 'And so I love you, because the entire universe conspired to help me find you,'" she choked out, and Oliver had to smile through his own tears as well.
The priest called for the thing rings, and Tristan and Isolde offered them to the pair. "Repeat after me," the priest requested, and they did. Once their rings had been delivered, the priest announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present His Royal Highness Crown Prince Oliver Maxon Lorne Woodwork-Schreave the First and Her Royal Highness Princess Maelys Elaina Woodwork-Schreave."
And Mae kissed her husband for the first of many, many times to come.
Summer in Angeles always brought high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. It wasn't like the hazy, oppressive kind of heat that blanketed the eastern coast of the country. Instead, it was inviting, a time for adventures. It made it difficult to justify work when the sun was high in the sky, and the weather encouraged play.
A desire to skive off of responsibilities had attacked King Oliver Woodwork-Schreave with a vengeance earlier that morning. While he had rarely missed meetings or canceled his day since he'd taken the crown three years ago, he hadn't been able to help himself when he'd seen what a beautiful day it was. So, before his wife could protest, he'd grabbed his laptop computer so that he wouldn't feel completely useless and told his butler to leave word that he was at the pool if anyone needed him.
As Oliver lounged on a chaise with a margarita in hand, watching his family play in the cool blue pool, he praised himself for making such a great decision. That is, until he saw his brother crossing the lawn from the direction of the castle.
By the time his brother and Lord Chancellor, Prince Tristan, had reached the pool, Oliver had pulled himself into a more dignified sitting position and poured Tristan a drink from the melting pitcher of margarita as a peace offering. "Playing hookey?" Tristan surmised as he took a seat beside Oliver and surprisingly accepted the drink.
Oliver shrugged. "I couldn't help myself."
"Well, I'd say you've built up some vacation time," snorted Tristan. "Want me to come back later?"
"Nah. Although you shoulda brought your swimsuit," he countered.
"I had some… important things to discuss," his brother admitted. He held up a file folder. "But I can really come back later tonight or something."
Oliver took a big drink of his margarita but shook his head. "Hit me."
Tristan raised his eyebrows. "You sure?"
It must've been bad if Tristan was so hesitant. For a moment, Oliver considered taking his brother up on his offer and remaining blissfully ignorant for a little longer. But instead, he steeled himself and nodded.
"Tsarevich Vitaly is dead."
Nothing could have prepared Oliver for that news. Ice spread through his veins, as though his slushy drink had been injected directly into his bloodstream. He took his sunglasses off and turned to his brother, eyebrows furrowed. "How?"
"A riding accident," Tristan declared. "He was out with Nikolai, and apparently, his horse was spooked. A broken neck." Doubt cloaked his voice, a doubt that Oliver shared.
"Sara said that Vitaly was a skilled rider," Oliver mused, thinking back to a conversation that had seemed unimportant at the time. It felt like it had occurred a million years ago.
Tristan sighed. "The tsar is inconsolable, of course, but the new tsarevich has expressed his family's desolation and his dedication to his new role as the Russian heir," he added bitterly.
Oliver's stomach almost rebelled. Nikolai was now first in line to the throne. "We'll have a meeting about it tomorrow," Oliver sighed. It was a serious situation that would affect Illéa quite directly, since Oliver and Nikolai had a tense, if not openly hostile, relationship, but he wanted one more day of peace before everything came crashing down. "Can you tell the rest of the council and the generals?"
Tristan nodded, pulling out the work phone that was constantly on his person. "Anything else?" Oliver asked, desperately hoping his brother said no.
"It's not a political issue," Tristan admitted, "But I've had word from Likely. Alaric Illéa's wife is terminally ill."
The king paused. This news wasn't as immediately concerning as Nikolai's new power, although he did feel a rush of pity for his once-friend. "He has two children, doesn't he?" he mused.
Tristan nodded. "He's desperate. He's consulted with all kind of specialists."
"Even…?" Oliver turned to his brother, the question that he was loathe to express clear in his face.
"No," countered Tristan, "He hasn't contacted Kaitlyn. She's still in France." She'd spent the last five years working alongside the royal physician at the French palace, returning to Illéa only rarely for things like holidays or birthdays.
Oliver mulled over the situation for a long minute. He had a complicated relationship with Alaric and hadn't seen the man since he'd ordered him from the palace five years previous. "Well, consult with Dr. Groff," he decided, "See if there's anything he can do. Send him if so. If not, send our condolences."
Another message was typed into Tristan's phone. "That's all," he declared, "You're free to enjoy your day off." The phone was dropped back into the pocket of Tristan's slacks, and he took another sip from his glass.
Oliver refilled his own drink, trying to shake Nikolai and Alaric from his head. "How's Isolde?" he asked. "Is she back from Carolina yet?"
This time, Tristan looked troubled. "No, she was delayed." A frown creased his forehead. "We're… having some difficulty with the adoption agency."
"What?" Oliver arched an eyebrow in confusion. "That's crazy. You're a prince and princess of Illéa. How are you having difficulty?"
"We didn't want to use that to get it to go through," mumbled Tristan. "But, by usual adoption standards, I guess we're not…" He trailed off and sighed. "I don't know. We don't have a technical income or our own home, we both have busy and unpredictable schedules… I get where they're coming from, but Ol, we really love Kingsley. If they don't let us adopt him…"
Oliver put a hand on his brother's arm. "They will," he assured him, "even if it's by royal decree. You and Is might not want to throw around your weight, but I will. You guys are going to be great parents, and Kingsley fits in with the family so well. Nolan and Lea love him."
They both glanced towards the pool where Oliver and Mae's twin toddlers were splashing in the shallow end of the pool with his wife. She was in the stage where she still enjoyed dressing them similarly, so Nolan wore blue swim trunks with little white anchors while Lea had a white swimsuit with blue trim. Both faces were lit up with jubilation as they played in the pool.
"It'll work out," Oliver insisted, smiling as he watched his children.
Tristan's weary face relaxed into a smile of its own. "I hope so. I want that."
Mae seemed to notice the brothers' gazes, and she pointed it out to the two nearly three-year-olds. "Tell Daddy to come play," she urged the twins.
Lea, always a little more outgoing than Nolan, banged one of her toys on the edge of the pool, as though to demand Oliver's attention. "Daddy!" she yelled. "Come play!"
Nolan nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "Please come play, Daddy!" he called.
Oliver grinned at Tristan. "That's my cue," he declared. He slipped his button-up shirt, hat, and sunglasses off before he hustled to the edge of the pool—Lea didn't tolerate leisureliness—and slipped into the water, cringing briefly at its coolness.
"Everything okay?" Mae asked, her bright eyes laced with concern.
"We'll talk later," he demurred, "Right now, everything is perfect. Right, buddy?" He scooped Nolan from the water and tossed him into the air, causing his son to break into a peal of giggles and his wife to close her eyes.
"Me next!" Lea demanded excitedly.
"Of course, Princess," Oliver assured her, kissing Nolan's chubby cheek before he deposited his son back into the water. "Mommy after?" Oliver teased his wife, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Mae rolled her eyes, but he caught the smile she tried to hide from him. He took Lea and launched her into the air as he'd done with her brother, causing the little girl to shriek with excitement. She refused to be returned to the water though, instead climbing onto her father's back and insisting upon being chauffeured around the pool, which Oliver gladly complied with.
Mae and Nolan joined them a short while later on a plastic, inflatable dolphin. Nolan always grew concerned when he realized that his hands were pruning, so he'd retreated to the inflatable to play with the water through a pail and shovel instead of splashing around like his sister. "Are you sure everything's okay?" Mae inquired as she steered Nolan's dolphin.
Oliver paused to examine his wife. She wore a bright green bikini that he realized was the same she'd worn on their first date in Paloma. It had been five years since they'd been married, but neither children nor being queen had changed her at all. He, on the other hand, had found a gray hair last week that he'd promptly plucked out and resolved never to tell anyone about.
He pulled her through the water to kiss her, causing both twins to begin yelling in concern at the PDA. Even after five years, every time he kissed her he was reminded of the fireworks their first kiss had caused after they'd tried the ridiculous Dirty Dancing dance move by that very pool. Despite the twins' clamor, Mae smiled up at him like he was the only person in the world for that second. "Everything is perfect," Oliver insisted.
Yes, he had work to do tomorrow. But for now, he was going to enjoy the perfect day with his family.
Author's Note: And that's a wrap. I got all of my emotions out in the last chapter, but again, just thank you so much. I'm going to post the summary for the sequel below as a little teaser, so if you're interested in getting involved, the form to send in a character is on my profile :)
If We Ever See the Sun: When the outbreak of World War V threatens Illéa's peace, King Oliver is faced with a fearful, divided nation and torn between action and isolation. To distract and unify his people, Oliver turns to his dutiful heir. Plagued by anxiety and inexperienced in love, Prince Nolan doesn't feel ready for a Selection. But he'd do anything for Illéa, so the next Selection begins.