Whoo! It's been forever since I've written any EA fanfiction. I hope you all enjoy it! I hope it's more cohesive than I think it sounds.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything Ever After related besides my copy of the DVD. All characters belong to their appropriate owners.

Ladies are never to ride backwards in a carriage in the same way that ladies should not ride a horse astride nor use a gentleman's Christian name in address, especially if that gentleman is royalty, but this was a day for breaking rules and neither party currently occupying the jostling carriage cared for them. Prince Henry and Nicole de Lancre sat in comfortable silence, both of them flanked by stacks of books.

"How is your novel?" the Prince asked, staring rather blatantly at his companion for the afternoon. Nicole traced a hand down the page she had been reading and sighed dreamily, meeting his eyes with a hazy smile.

"Wonderful," she half whispered, closing the book with a small crack of the spine.

Henry watched her as she placed the book atop the many others she had brought with her from the monastery. Not being able to choose only one, he let her borrow whatever struck her interest. Though, after twenty or so books, he had to regrettably stop her browsing. He loved to watch her face as she discovered new and exciting things, so many little emotions would flit across her features he could hardly keep their count. When she spoke, he hung on every precious word as if they were drops of gold. The monks also regretted their departure, though not enough to deny a sizable donation.

"Your Highness-"

"Henry," he corrected her.

"I want to thank you for this morning. I've never seen the monastery, and I am glad to have visited."

"Thank you, Nicole, for coming with me. To be honest, I was supposed to share this trip with Signor Da Vinci, but he was nowhere to be found this morning." She smiled a little sadly and stared into her lap. He wanted to reach out and touch her, but that would be too improper. Instead he cocked his head to the left and lowered his face to meet hers.

"And I much prefer your company." he said. She smiled and blushed.

The carriage took a hard bump and suddenly everything was thrown into disarray. Henry felt a distinct sensation of falling backwards as the books on either side of them flew up off the carriage seats and fell all around them. Nicole, on the other hand, let out a loud gasp and pitched forward, landing squarely on his chest as the carriage came to a grinding halt. The feeling of her hands and body pressed against him made him shake inside. Never before had a woman had such a profound effect on him, both emotionally and intellectually. Her eyes were wide with shock and slight embarrassment and he couldn't help but smile a little at her modesty. A strange emotion passed across her face then; it was something like a mixture of fear and desire he couldn't quite pin down.

"I'm sorry!" she gasped out.

"Your Highness! Are you alright!" Captain Laurel and the other attendants wrenched open the carriage door, which banged loudly against the side. Nicole quickly rolled off the prince, her blue gown tangled around her feet. She quickly went about collecting the fallen books into a neat pile on the seat beside her, checking each one for damage as she went.

"Nicole, are you hurt?" Henry asked. She looked up from her stack of books and shook her head, still blushing mildly from their close encounter.

"We're fine!" he called back. Captain Laurel peaked his head inside and let out a sigh of relief.

"We've completely broken a wheel, Your Majesty. We're going to right the carriage and send for a new one from the monastery."

The carriage rose shakily on the count of three from outside and two pairs of red gloved hands braced the carriage doorway to receive the prince and his companion.

"Ladies first," Henry said. Nicole raised herself up off the seat carefully and took an unsteady step forward.

Henry put a hand out to steady her as she stumbled over her too long skirts. Her hands came down to rest on his forearm for a moment longer that proper, but Henry didn't mind. Her hands, he noticed suddenly, were strangely hard for those of a countess. She gave him a reassured smile and stepped from the carriage. As he followed her out and she thanked the attendants, he picked up the last book from the floor and tucked it into his pocket.

"Well, this is terribly embarrassing." Henry said, stepping into the dappled sunlight. The carriage wheel was broken completely in two and stuck in a highly inconvenient pothole.

"We'll head back to the monastery at once." A slight look of worry crossed Nicole's face.

"And we shall continue on foot." she said, a little too loudly. Henry was aghast.

"But it's half a day's walk!" he blustered, turning to face her, but she had already begin to march up the hill. She turned and gave him a feisty smile.

"Honestly, Your Highness. Where is your sense of adventure?"

With a nod to Captain Laurel, Henry turned to follow her. "Well, I guess it you put it that way."

The pair walked in silence for a long time, keeping pace together as they went.

"You know," Henry said finally, breaking the silence. "My mother always told me a lady should never ride backwards in a carriage. It's not proper."

"Well, I'm not much of a lady." she replied with a little unladylike scoff. Henry couldn't help but smile.

"You're so unlike any courtier I've ever met, Nicole. You fascinate me. Oh, and before I forget," he pulled the little novel from his pocket and handed it to her.

"I saved it for you."

He watched her face as she read the title. She stopped in her tracks; her eyes lit up like Christmastime and her full mouth made a little O of surprise.

"Utopia. I had no idea it was there. Where…?"

"I got it for myself at first." he confessed with a smile. "I thought maybe I should try reading it again and open my mind."

She met his eyes with a newfound respect. Something about him was changing, she could see it there just beneath the surface. Something within her was changing, too. For a moment she really believed she could be Countess Nicole de Lancre, not just plain Danielle the farm girl. She was every part a lady as anyone else, and she would prove it in time.

Until then she was content to be Nicole, as long as Henry was by her side.

R&R, please and thanks. :)