A/N: I've been gone from this website for a long time, and I don't necessarily have a big excuse for why. I love writing, but between a few career-related struggles and then some big shifts in other areas of my life I stopped writing for a long while. Then the idea for a women's writing community wordlywomen dot org sparked in my head, and that took much more than I anticipated to launch. Now, I'm in a good place where I'm back on a consistent schedule working on both this story and my first novel, and both projects are progressing leaps and bounds. I'm finally ready to post this! This story is very different from Swansong in many ways, but hopefully if you like my writing you'll enjoy this project too.
Alright - time to meet Principessa Isabella. And for me to remind you that I don't own these characters, only the situation I've placed them into.
I remember the first time I realized I was supposed to marry Jacob. I was six, still too young to understand why people took pictures of me and my sister when we went to school. Still too young to realize that other little girls didn't travel in armored cars with two security guards, that they didn't have grown adults curtsy to them, that everyone's older brother wasn't home schooled. But I did understand that Jacob was my best friend, even though his Italian was terrible and we had to speak Spanish when he came to visit me. On one of these visits his mother Sarah whispered to my mother that she could already hear the wedding bells, and I just knew in that moment that she meant me and Jacob.
Around age nine or ten I was pulled from school to join Emmett in his private lessons. Emmett learned how to fight, and at fourteen he was just beginning to learn diplomacy. I began to learn all of the different ways to curtsy. I learned how to act at any and every formal event, from a birth to a death. A year later I was putting my new skills into practice, keeping control of Ines, my sister, at the funeral of Jake's mother. Even at eleven I was old enough to understand why mother didn't bring her "special friend" Phillippe to the funeral, and I had finally caught on to why there were a million flashes going off as we paid our respects.
I'm not going to wax poetic and complain about being a Princess. I know that there are people who have it far worse. I know that the Americans still call for Europe to adopt their so-called successful democracy. I know that there are people who are born into extreme poverty, and I am not so insensitive as to complain about being born into extreme wealth and status. All I can say is that, especially as the first daughter, I have always known how I should behave, and what is and isn't out of my control.
I was fourteen when I realized that I would never love Jacob. Don't get me wrong, Jacob was still one of my best friends. After Sarah died my mother loved to see me and Jacob together, and so did the public. Jacob and I would go for walks, pretending not to notice the cameras going off. We would go on vacations and service trips together. I was everything I was supposed to be – beautiful and quiet, and Jacob was tall, handsome, and headstrong. We were not a great match for lovers, but I didn't mind. How could I? Nobody I knew had married for love.
Sure, Sarah and William, Jacob's parents, had fallen in love over the course of their marriage. But while my father ruled the country with an iron fist, teaching Emmett the diplomacy he would need to command the respect of a nation, he did not rule my mother's bed. Phil was my mother's not-at-all-well-kept secret. Many people hated my mother for Phil, even as many more hailed and celebrated her for flipping the script and having a consort of her own to be in love with. All I knew was that my parents could be civil in public, and that was what mattered.
Everywhere I went with Jacob, Nessie would tag along. I didn't ever think anything of it. The entire world knew that Jacob and I were as good as betrothed. It was what my mother wanted, what his mother had wanted. We'd already made peace with it. Looking back, I can see that they always got along better than he and I. When he was angry, she knew how to calm him down. When she got all worked up, lost in her own world, he could bring her back down to Earth. Just a year and a half younger than me, Ines had her own spirit.
If I was the well-mannered, well behaved Italian princess, Nessie was the wildcard. She had my mother's auburn hair in contrast to mine and Emmett's brown. She was curvier than me, and dressed in more contemporary fashion. I was my father's princess: well groomed, neat, ladylike. Nessie was my mother's princess: headstrong, free-spirited, and modern. We are very different, and so in a way I almost should have seen it coming.
Shortly after my twentieth birthday Jacob came to visit my father. He had just turned twenty-one, and everyone knew what that meant. At twenty-one, the eldest child (or eldest male child in some countries) becomes eligible to take on their title. However, in most countries they must get married first. The tabloid headlines were ridiculous.
Spanish Earl comes to Claim his Bride!
Three Cheers for the Spanish Wedding!
Childhood Sweethearts to be Wed?
Even though I didn't love Jacob, that's what we were considered. Childhood sweethearts. It was a story that had been painted our whole lives, and we both fit the bill. I was ready. My best friend Angela came to our estate the day Jake came to speak to my father. Because I was a higher station than him, me being a Princess and him an Earl, he had to formally ask my father for permission for my hand. Angela sat with me and Ines as we waited for my father to summon me to tell me that I was engaged.
"Bella, are you sure you're alright with this?" Angela asked. She and Ines were the only people who knew that I didn't love Jacob. It was my best kept secret.
"Of course I'm sure. I can't say no."
"You can." Ines said, with so much hope that it should have been my first clue. Instead, I shook my head.
"But why would I? This is a formality for something I've known my entire life."
"What if there's more out there for you?" Angela asked. I laughed.
"Angela, there is more out there for you. But for me, this is it. And I'm happy, I really am." And I was. The room grew silent again as we waited. I wondered what was taking so long, and if my father was having second thoughts.
"Did something go wrong?" Angela wondered out loud. Ines looked up suddenly, nervous. She moved over to me, joining me on the low loveseat I was sitting on.
"Bella, you love me right? That's never going to change?" I blinked at her, understanding.
"I will always love you Nessie. Being married is not going to change that."
"No, Bella I have something to confess." But it was too late. At that moment the door opened. Except, it wasn't a guard to bring me to accept Jacob's proposal. It was my father himself. And he looked livid. Angela immediately sprang to her feet, dipping into a low curtsey.
"Leave us." My father nodded to her, and she immediately excused herself from the room, along with the security who sat behind us in silence.
"Isabella, Ines, I need you to explain."
"Explain what?" I asked, just as Ines said "Bella doesn't know!" I stared at her.
"What don't I know?" I asked. My father was glaring at Ines, who was staring at me pleadingly. I looked between both of them, waiting for an answer.
"What, exactly, do I not know?" I asked, a bit more forcefully.
"Ines, why don't you tell your sister what you have done to her? To this family?"
"I didn't mean to." Ines had never been able to handle our father as well as I could, never understood that he got angriest when he was the most worried, the most unsettled. We were both frightened, but for very different reasons.
"Ines?" I asked, grabbing her hands in mine. She shook her head, and then began crying softly.
"Isabella." He sighed, and then opened his arms to me. That's when I knew that it was really bad. My father never offered to hug me unless something truly terrible had happened. I let go of Ines and stepped tentatively into the embrace. My father pulled me closer, kissed my head, and then said
"Jacob came today to ask for Ines's hand in marriage." Any reaction I might have had was eclipsed by Nessie's wail. She was sobbing, and I was…confused.
"What?" I shook my head a bit, as if I could shake that thought out of my head.
"Why? Have I offended him?"
"No, no Bella not at all." Ines stepped towards us, grabbed my hand. But I didn't need a hug, I needed to understand. I stepped back, tugging my hand out of Ines's grasp and stepping out of my father's embrace.
"I know we haven't spoken in a while. But you can tell him that any silence in my part was not meant as a rejection. At all." I said.
"He believes that he and Ines are in love. He wants to marry her." The room was silent, except for the quiet sobbing. I looked to Ines.
"Why wouldn't you tell me?" I asked her. I hated that I sounded stiff, polite, formal, but that was me. When the going got tough, I got diplomatic.
"No Ines. Really. Why wouldn't you tell me that you were in love with my betrothed? You know, you know that there is nothing between us." I said. She shook her head.
"I didn't think he would really do it. He told me that he was going to last time, last time we saw him. He told me that he loved me and that he wanted to marry me. But Bella I thought that was just talk. I never thought he would go through with it. And what kind of sister would I be if I let you live your life knowing that your husband loved your sister?"
"An honest one." I said, quietly. There was nothing else to say. I understood why she did it, or at least I thought I did. I would forgive her. We would move past it. But it hurt that she had lied to me – that she believed it was honestly the best solution. And it hurt that without my knowledge or input, the life I'd been groomed to expect was crumbling before my eyes.
"I'm going to hold him to his word, Ines." Father started, but I put a hand on his arm.
"Don't. I don't want to marry him if he loves Ines. Let them get married."
"Isabella, love is not always foolproof. It takes more than love to make a marriage work. You and Jacob are compatible."
"Are they?" Nessie choked out. "She doesn't know him like I know him." She said, and it was the truth.
"I'll be fine." I said, stopping my father from responding.
"She's right, I clearly don't know him very well at all." I said, still looking up at him.
"Very well. I will allow it. But Ines, you better be grateful to your sister. You do not understand what exactly you're bringing about. You're all about to be drug through the press, and Ines I am not going to save you."
"Thank you Bella." Nessie threw herself on me, hugging me from behind.
"Thank you Father!" She threw herself into his arms next, and he hugged both of us close.
"I want what's best for you. Both of you. But Ines, you're not getting married until you are eighteen. Isabella…" he sighed, and I knew what he was thinking. We'd spent my whole life thinking that I would marry Jacob. Now it was back to the drawing board.
"I cannot protect you either. Not from what they'll say." I wished in that moment that I was naïve enough to not understand, but I did. The tabloids were going to have a field day with the story. They'd speculate about everything, and Ines and I would both be dragged through the mud in the process.
"I understand." I said.
"This is what you want?" He asked, one last time. I nodded.
That evening, united as a family, we announced Jacob and Ines's engagement on a televised press conference. The room – the country – erupted.
The press were not kind.
At first, the public was confused. Conspiracy theories came up, about how I had been a pawn in concealing their romance. About how I had refused Jacob's hand, or we had secretly had a fight, or his father hated me.
My mother was beside herself with happiness at the news, which I think drove a wedge even further between her and my father. After making sure I was alright, she immediately began planning for Ines and Jacob's wedding. That also drew some speculation, as people started to demand answers as to what broke up the childhood sweethearts. That was all I got to see before my father declared that Nessie and I were not allowed to see the press.
Trying to get around the negativity, my father insisted that we all prepare a statement. Mine and Ines's statements were written by my father's speech writer himself. Mine was about how I was so excited for my sister to get married to the love of her life, so glad that my childhood friend would become my brother, and excited to see what life had next for me. Nessie's was about how she couldn't wait to get married to her dream man, move to Spain, and take on her new role of Baroness with her family's support.
I knew things were serious when even Emmett had to give a statement. Emmett, our older brother, was already of age to succeed my father on the throne. He only needed to get married first. But he had no plans of taking the throne any time soon, and as such he flirted, charmed, bedded, but never committed to any girls. He was known as a real Prince Charming, but we all knew that the press underestimated him. Emmett came across as easygoing and laid back, and he was, but he had been a brilliant tactician and political mind since before he got to secondary school age. He was just biding his time.
Emmett's statement was to say that he was so excited for his youngest sister's happiness, and that he and I were overjoyed to be celebrating her wedding. By the time my parents had read their statements, expressing similar sentiments, I could already tell something was wrong. The press was frowning, writing in their little notepads or on their tablets, already preparing to ask questions.
All of the questions were about whether or not Nessie had "stolen" Jake from me, when our own love had fallen apart, and if we had any idea why Jacob preferred one sister over the other. It got so bad that Ines started to tear up, which was when my father put his foot down. He told the press that we were finished for the day, sent them packing, and then immediately disappeared to think. For my father, this means taking a boat out on the ocean to fish, alone.
As my father stalked away I realized that this whole situation with Jacob was spiraling towards being a full-fledged scandal. Something was going to have to be done to solve it.