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THE LONG DINNER TABLE is laden with food, drink, and enough tableware to fill a small store. A palace worker is placing tall, white candles in a candelabra in the center of the table and arranging fresh flowers around its base. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I check on the preparations, nodding to the head waiter as he straightens out a fork.
“Good work, Charles. It looks beautiful.”
“Thanksgiving should be wonderful this year.”
I smile, turning back toward the door. In one of the palace’s formal living rooms, the rest of the family is assembled. As soon as I enter, my daughter Ariella comes tottering toward me. She’s two years old and starting to get a quick pair of legs on her. Ariella crashes into my thighs, wrapping her chubby arms around them as she giggles.
She’s wearing a light pink dress that she’s already managed to rip down the front. The girl is a hurricane—and I love her for it.
Theo smiles, striding toward me as he wraps his arms around me and spins me around. He kisses me tenderly before ruffling Ariella’s hair.
He’s not helping the whole ripped-dress-hurricane situation.
But when he turns to me and smiles, I don’t mind. He’s wearing a crisp black tuxedo, and he looks absolutely incredible.
Another hand appears on my back, and I turn to see Luca and Ivy standing beside me. Luca wraps me in a hug, saying a muffled, “Happy Thanksgiving” into my shoulder. Ivy gives me an equally warm embrace. When she hugs me, I get a scent of cinnamon and fresh baked goods. She must have been baking up until the minute she left Farcliff to come here.
“Good to see you, Cara,” Luca says with a smile. Both of them are dressed to the nines.
“How was the trip from Farcliff?”
“Uneventful,” Ivy responds.
I sigh, staring at the two of them as Dante comes to greet me as well. His wife, Margot, looks thinner than I remember, but from what I hear, she’s doing well. Both Luca and Dante live in Farcliff now, and I don’t get to see them all too often.
Seven years ago, Luca broke his back, and my whole world fell apart.
Four years ago, I thought I needed to run away to be happy. I hadn’t spoken to Luca in years, and I was ready to leave everything behind, until I went on a fateful sailing trip with the future King.
A few months later, I promised myself to Theo forever.
Three years ago, Luca met Ivy, forgave us, and came back into the family.
Now? Things are almost too good to be true. We have a two-year-old baby. Luca and Ivy have beautiful twins, and Dante has a daughter of his own. Our lives have changed so much in such a short amount of time. My heart is so full, it feels like it’s going to explode.
Luca and Ivy’s twins come rushing over, grabbing Ariella’s hand and dragging her back to their play area. The three of them giggle as Hope—Dante’s daughter—hands them each a toy.
I settle into a seat next to Theo, not even trying to wipe the smile off my face.
It feels good to be a family again.
All heads turn toward the door to the living room as my father bursts through. He stands there, spreading his arms wide, a smile beaming over his face.
Ariella squeals, sprinting toward her grandfather. He laughs as he picks her up, throwing her in the air. She flies up so high I screech in terror, which makes my father laugh even more.
I know where she gets the hurricane gene.
My six sisters and my mother stream in behind him, and all the hellos and how-are-yous are exchanged. Their husbands are here, and ten of my nieces and nephews as well. Nearly three dozen of us are here, ready to celebrate family.
The noise in the room swells as royal waiters pass around drinks and canapés. I have trouble focusing on conversations, because all I can do is look around the room at all the people I love, gathered in one place.
It doesn’t happen very often.
How did I ever think I would survive out in the world on my own? This is where I’m happiest. When I’m surrounded by a big family. When everyone is talking at once, and I feel like I can’t hear myself think. When there are kids running through everyone’s legs, and the scent of Thanksgiving food is already wafting through the palace.
When the maître d’ comes to bring us to the dining room, Theo hooks his arm into mine and leads the way. For once, I don’t feel like a Queen. I don’t feel like I need to act with stiff propriety and make sure my facial expression is appropriate for the occasion.
Today, it’s intimate.
We head to the dining room just in time to see one of the waiters trip over his own feet and splash red wine all over the crisp, white tablecloth. Ariella starts giggling. Coco and Hazel, Luca’s twins, run forward, eyes wide. They stop just on the edge of the mess as three waiters move to start cleaning up.
Theo tries to help, but he nudges the table hard enough to knock over a few glasses. They smash against the fancy, special-occasion plates, sending glass clattering across the table.
“Shit,” he says under his breath, which makes the kids inhale in shock.
I try to usher them away, but the rest of our family is trying to get inside the dining room.
“Turn around!” I call out to the small crowd as my dear family stretches their necks to see the carnage.
Then, it happens.
I didn’t even know ‘it’ was a possibility, until now. I thought we were coming in here to have a pleasant, joyous meal as a family, where we’d catch up and congratulate each other on how wonderful our lives are.
I was wrong.
Because in the chaos of trying to contain the children from heading toward the broken glass and spilled wine, I bump into Theo, who bumps into the table again.
This nudge is harder than the first time. Hard enough to knock over a tall, beautiful candle that was part of the ornate centerpiece.
If we were lucky, the candle would put itself out as it hit the table.
Are we lucky, though?
No. No, we are not.
The candle hits the wine-soaked tablecloth and with a low whoosh, ignites it. A scream sounds out, and I realize after a split second that it came from me.
Theo rushes forward, grabbing a cloth napkin as if to put out the blaze with his scrap of material. He waves it at the fire, trying to stamp it out, but the napkin catches fire instead.
More shouts. More screams. The smoke billows up, and I push our family backward. Dante shouts something. Ivy screams at everyone to back up. My father stands in the doorway, watching for a moment before turning into a human fire alarm. He picks up one of my nieces and a nephew under each arm, carrying them out of the room as he commands everyone to back away.
“Get away from the fire!” I scream to Theo as Ariella cries. I grasp her hand so hard I know I’m hurting her, but I’m not letting go for anything. She’s wriggly, she’s fast, and she’s not going anywhere near that blaze. I haul her into my arms as she flails and screams.
Three staff members come rushing inside. Two of them are carrying bright red fire extinguishers. The fire has spread to half the table, igniting all the napkins, flowers, the tablecloth, and even catching on some of the dining chairs. The smoke is billowing in thick, black waves.
Grabbing the edge of my once-gorgeous gown, I cover Ariella’s mouth to protect her. Luca scoops up Coco and Hazel, screaming at the crowd of family members to back up.
The staff members point the fire extinguishers and pull the trigger at the base of the fire.
Thick, white foam comes flying out of both nozzles, smothering the fire in just a few seconds. The foam covers Theo from head to toe, and I turn around to shield myself and Ariella from the mess.
Silence and shock settles on the room. I stay huddled over Ariella, who finally, finally has stopped moving. She stares up at me with wide eyes. Her little chubby fingers cling onto my shoulders as I struggle to catch my breath.
Theo wipes the white foam from his face, flinging it toward his feet.
“Your Majesty…” The waiter who spilled the wine drops his head. His lower lip is trembling.
“It’s all right,” Theo says with a sigh. He glances at me as a flash crosses his eyes.
“Don’t you dare laugh, Theo. Don’t. You. Dare.”
“You have to admit, it’s kind of funny—”
“I don’t have to admit a thing,” I snap. I stand up, cradling Ariella in my arms.
Theo brushes fire extinguisher foam off his tuxedo with a sigh. Charles, the head waiter, rushes over with a white, fluffy towel to help dry down the King. I shake my head, letting my eyes drift over the carnage.
Half of the dining table is still perfect. Pinterest-worthy. Pristine.
The other half?
Decimated. The tablecloth is completely charred, and the table underneath is ruined, too. Most of the chairs have char marks on them, and the dishes and crystal glasses have all turned black.
“Your Majesties, we can prepare the ballroom for a meal, but it’ll take about an hour.”
Theo shakes his head. “Let’s just use the informal dining room. The regular tableware will be fine. No need for centerpieces or anything flammable. No candles.”
He flashes a smile at me, and I glare. “Don’t even start, Theo.”
“I’m just taking precautions.”
Ariella stares at her father, and she lets out a little giggle. Theo grins. I try my best not to smile, but deep down, I’m not mad.
No one got hurt. Accidents happen.
I carry Ariella back to the living room where my large, boisterous family are already cracking jokes about the fire. They’ve blown out all the candles in the room, as a precaution—or maybe as a joke. Either way, I’m grateful.
I put Ariella down, and she immediately runs toward her cousins.
Sinking down into a chair, I shake my head. “That was so dangerous.”
“Cheer up, Cara,” Luca laughs. “At least we got to see the King of Argyle sprayed head to toe by a fire extinguisher!”
When Theo appears in the doorway with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, somehow looking showered and immaculately dressed again, the room erupts in applause.
“A+ for entertainment, Your Majesty,” Dante calls out. “Best Thanksgiving so far.”
“Don’t encourage him,” I shoot back, but I can’t keep the smile off my face.
“Don’t encourage me?” Theo says in mock outrage. “Babe, I’m a hero. Did you see what I did with that napkin?”
“Nearly burned your fingers off? Yeah, I saw.”
Theo laughs, wrapping his arms around me and planting a thousand kisses on my neck. He holds me close until I relent and hug him back. When he stares into my eyes, I see so much love and devotion that it’s hard not to smile.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” he says softly, touching his nose to mine.
“It was an accident,” I sigh. “No one got hurt.”
“Nothing like a bit of adrenaline to get the appetite going.” He grins. “And to get something else going.” His hand drifts down to the small of my back, pressing me against the growing bulge in his pants. Heat sparks in the pit of my stomach.
I blush, shaking my head. “Not now, Theo. You’re unbelievable.”
“So I’ve heard.” He wiggles his eyebrows, and this time I have to laugh. My husband wraps his arms around me and kisses me tenderly, holding me until I let out a sigh.
“I was so scared you’d get hurt,” I say in a small voice.
“I know.” He kisses my forehead. “But I’m fine.”
“Let’s just get through the rest of the day without any disasters, yeah?”
Theo chuckles, his arms still firmly wrapped around me. “I can’t make any guarantees. But I can promise I’ll make it up to you as soon as we’re alone.”
Theo kisses me once more and then releases me with a wink.
“Love you,” he whispers.
The man must have a spell on me, because all my anger and fear has somehow dissipated.
“I love you too, Theo, even though you drive me crazy sometimes.” I turn to the rest of the family and shrug. “Happy Thanksgiving, I guess.”
Theo laughs and grabs a glass from a waiter’s tray. “Happy Thanksgiving!”
I sigh, trying to hide the smile on my face. This is my family, and for better or worse, I love them with all my heart. Flaws, fire hazards, and all.