Crazy Fantasy: Part 1-2

As I expected the Hudson's were thrilled that I'm going to the ball. It's not as if it will be my social debut, but it has been a while since I went to anything by choice. I just don't want to leave Scott behind. We would have gotten married and carried on his line, but it has ended. Only my promise and the ring I wear on a necklace will go on now. I owe him so much. So very much.

"Aren't you ready yet?" Jess asks as she walks in.

"Just about," I answer as I put a chain of pearls around my neck.

"You look good, but take off the ring. It really doesn't look right."

Complete shock fills me. How can she expect me to take off Scott's ring?

Jess obviously notices the look on my face. "You can wear the ring you know."

"But-" I begin to protest.

"On your right hand, of course. It's just about the same as on your neck, but goes much better with the dress," Jess explains quickly.

"Alright," I agree as I take off both the chain with the ring on it and the ring I currently wear, a gift from my parents on my sixteenth birthday. Slowly I slide Scott's ring on my right finger, as I've done so many times before when no one is around.

"Ready now?"

"Ready. Let's go and meet the prince," I say in a strong voice. Then "God, I'm nervous."

* * *

Suit and tie. Tux and cufflinks. When do I get to wear shorts and a t-shirt? I miss those old days at school. Or even back at Kensington with mother and father. But those days are gone; everything simple about my life is really. The only simplicities in my life now are the simple minded folk who I seem to have to deal with daily.

I hope I didn't make a horrible mistake.

"Are you ready yet, Wills?" Granddad asks me through the door.

"Yes, just a moment," I say as I run a brush through my hair. I guess I look good. It'll have to do, the limo is probably waiting.

"Are we ready?" Grandmother asks.

To listen to a bunch of screaming teens? As much as possible.

"To impress the camera, always," I joke. The story of my life. Only I'm normally not so cocky. Honest. I would greatly prefer to never have to deal with cameras again in this life.

"Then let's get this affair over with."

I miss mother.

* * *

I can't believe the crowd. I guess they all want to see the prince. To think I'm here on his personal invitation. How many of them would give anything to be in my shoes.

What I would give to be in their care-free shoes.

"Your name, miss?" the doorman asks me.

"Genevieve Delarier Hudson. I'm here on invitation of the prince," I say as I show him the paper I was given yesterday.

"Of course, Ms. Hudson. Please speak with the matron when you get to the reception. She has instructions for you."

"Thank you," I respond as I enter.

The hall has been decorated differently than it is for normal functions. The provincial flag hangs from the ceiling along with the Union Jack and Canada flag in sequence down the hall to the ballroom where the dinner and dancing will be held. For now, everyone is standing in the front entrance, a large room in itself, but right now, it seems rather small with all the bodies in it. This is the event of the year, I can tell, if not the decade.

Once the herald announced my name, I set off to find out who is presiding over this event. I quickly question a server and start looking for Shannon Gerald. Of course, she would be matron tonight. I will give that she is good at her job, but she just seems to have something against me. Maybe because I'm not old money. Hell, I was raised no money, and only came into in the last few years. Or she could just be a hag. There she is.

I make my way towards the woman. She is probably just over thirty, but seems to have never outgrown a child's body. Except her face. Her straight edged figure is well complimented by her plain, heavily made-up face. She has the eyes of an old woman who has lost everything. They aren't sad, but more like empty. And she has perfected the fake smile. Whatever made her this way?

"Excuse me, Shannon. The doorman told me to speak with you," I say to get her attention. I know better than to mention why, especially in front of the women she had been speaking with. Well, unless I want the news I'm here on the prince's invite spread across town by morning.

"Oh, Ms. Hudson, I wasn't-" she began to say but thought better of it quickly. "Of course, if you ladies will excuse us."

The two ladies smile and nod and the two of us walk away to a quiet corner of the room.

"Where did you get a ticket? I know you weren't coming with the Hudson's," Shannon asks me curtly.

I smile and pull out the invitation from my handbag.

"I thought you'd be happy to see me. At least I know how to behave at these functions better than most people who were at the airport yesterday."

"Well this is good news. You won't make a scene, then?" she asks tartly.

"I try to avoid it."

"Good. You have an unnamed spot reserved for you at table two. If the prince asks about you, you may be introduced after the dancing begins."

Does she ever sound cheerful? "Alright. But I would have thought someone here by royal invitation would be at table one."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

"Hardly. I wasn't looking forward to sitting by the mayor. His daughter is positively dull. I will see you later, I hope?" I say and move away.

Okay, so I don't like her either, but her tone is always so belittling!

From across the room I notice the Hudson's enter and go to meet them.

* * *

Final information is being dictated to me as we pull up in front of an older building, probably one of the more ancient for the land. As the drawl ends, I nod my head and step out of the car when the door opens. Like some star out of Hollywood, I am greeted by flashing cameras and screaming teens.

I wonder if sad-eye's friends are among them. I hope she came.

I follow Grandmother and Grandfather into the building, using one of mother's techniques for dealing with the cameras. Paste a polite, shy smile on your face. It was her trademark and is quickly becoming mine.

Once we enter, I am greeted by the sight of a beautifully decorated room filled with bowing people.

I hate being royalty.

Grandmother stands and looks over the crowd for a moment before giving the command to rise. While doing this, and while she makes her customary speech, I use the opportunity to scan the crowd for my sad-eyes.

There are several young women in a group near the back, and by the looks that they are exchanging they somehow managed to get a hold of tickets. They are here hoping to meet me.

There are also a few daughters of the upper class, but I can't see any young women who appear to be here on their own. I know better than to hope to recognize her, because of both the distance and the change of appearance. Half the time I find it impossible to recognize a woman I saw the night before at a social to when we go on a hunt the next morning. Hair and makeup are masks.

* * *

Well, he's scanning the crowd. He's good, I'll admit. If I wasn't watching him so carefully, I wouldn't know. But there is no chance he'll pick me out. He's probably looking for a young woman on her own, possibly who doesn't fit in. I, on the other hand, look like the daughter who has been raised in this environment. That and this dress and hairstyle don't exactly leave me looking normal. Scott always liked to take me out to fancy places. He said he loved how elegant I always looked.

God, I wish I could have just shown my ring to the prince rather than coming here like this. He is handsome though. I wonder if he is as charming as they say.

The Queen has finished her speech it seems and is leading the way to the dining room. Mary and Jim follow the pack with me right behind them. They are very influential in the community and have seats at the table beside mine, so we won't be too separated.

The hall has been beautifully decorated, just like out of a book. There are ice sculptures of beautiful birds, the walls are covered with shear fabric hangings draped between floral bunches. There is a beautiful light, airy feeling to everything.

My seat, of course, leaves me with my back to the main table. I guess they really didn't want the royals to see the horrible manners that a common woman would have. At least I get a little recognition as ‘royal guest' on my place card. This night promises to be interesting.

Before I sit, I give a small curtsy to the already seated royals and take note of those with whom I will be sharing a table. To my left are the Delmont's, their son and, whom I'm guessing, is his girlfriend. Mathieu and Scott had been friends since childhood and the three of us and whomever Matt was dating at the time often went out together. On my right, the Lockhart's sit with their prissy daughter, Beatrice. Their family and the Hudson's have had differences of opinions for as long as I know of, and I doubt it will stop with the current generation. Across from us is a couple I don't recognize and all their place card says is ‘Reserved'. Hopefully they will introduce themselves later.

I was unable to find sad eyes in the entrance, but, in here, I may have better luck. All of the chairs seem to be filling, so she must have come. I just wish I could find her.

Of course, I have been seated next to the province's premier, and will probably be stuck speaking politics and golf all through the meal. Maybe I'll be lucky and he won't ask too much about me.

Where is she?! Grandmother must have given instructions for me not to be informed about her, hoping I wouldn't ask. Too bad. I'm not about to spend the night dancing with rich daughters and political guests when someone is here because I asked them.

The appetizers are being brought out now. Looks like caviar and other serf. Well, what can you really expect from a province that makes most of its living off the sea?

Ugh. Why did it have to be caviar? I can eat just about anything. If I have to I will even choke down liver, but I just can't stand caviar. Politely, I take a small portion of the king crab, but wave off the fish eggs. Matt seems to be trying not to laugh at me. I smile at him mockingly. On more than one occasion, I have lamented the necessity to ingest this ‘delicacy'.

The meal progresses slowly and I discover that the unknown couple are actually relations of the prince who are here to tour with them. They seem relieved when Mr. Lockhart introduces me. I guess they were aware of the invitation I was given and possibly were seated here in order to judge if I was even worthy of meeting the prince.

Conversation at our table covered a broad range of subjects but it eventually came to the topic I was dreading. My ‘royal guest' place card. Bea, of course, was the one who brought it up with a touch of disbelief mixed with arrogance in her voice.

I smiled at her. "Actually, it all happened quite suddenly. Two of my friends wanted to meet the plane yesterday and they asked me to drive. When the prince arrived where we were standing, he pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to me. I could barely make out over the noise, but I think he said ‘I would appreciate it', and then he moved on."

"Oh, that is so romantic!" Matt's girlfriend says.

A sad smile graces my lips. "I've had more romantic gestures," I say as I finger my ring.

Mrs. Delmont puts a comforting hand on my shoulder and whispers, "We all miss him, but don't dwell on that which is gone. Look at what has been brought your way. If I were younger…"

I nod. What else can I do? Yes, it is unbelievable that I have been given the chance to meet the prince, even to be here on his personal invitation, but what can come of it? I am just an ordinary girl who is still in love with her high school sweetheart.

* * *

The meal is finally over. Just a few more hours of dancing left. Maybe I can finally find my sad eyes.

Grandmother and Grandfather start the dancing and other couples slowly move onto the floor with them. Soon enough everything is well underway.

Aunt Sophie comes up to see me and sits in the premier's spot.

"How has your night been so far?" she asks.

"How else would it be, completely dull. Yours?"

"It hasn't been too bad. There are some interesting people at my table. You should come join us once the daughter is gone. The other two young ladies don't strike me as the royalty chasers."

"Just give me the signal. I would love the chance to get away from this brass."

"That is what school is for. Vacation is a time when you get stuck with ceremony."

"How many people do you know who look forward to school?"

"Only you and your bother. Come on, darling daughter just got up to dance."

"Thanks. You really are a lifesaver."

I get up and follow this wonderful creature that is so good to look out for me to the table where she and her husband were sitting for the meal. More than a few heads turn as I go and I smile.

As we approach the table, everyone begins to rise and, even as I start to signal to them to stay seated, I am taken by surprise. There, seated with her back to the head table, is my sad-eyes. She had started to turn around when I finally get to see her face.

She looks beautiful. Her gorgeous hair, which had been hidden yesterday, was a flowing mane of golden chestnut held back from her face in a half bun, the rest in loose ringlets. At her neck was a delicate string of black pearls, accenting the low neckline of her simple black dress.

In the moment that it took for me to take in her beauty the others finished standing. I remember where I am and wave for them to sit.

But my beautiful sad-eyes stays standing as if she knew I was praying for this chance.

I walk up to her and she offers her hand, which I dutifully kiss.

"I'm glad you came," I say quietly.

She smiles. Or at least her lips do. Her eyes still have that same lost look.

"I couldn't refuse such a courteous invitation," she says politely. She obviously has some finishing.

"Your highness," Sophie says, "May I introduce you to Genevieve Delarier Hudson. Miss Hudson, Prince William."

"Your highness," she says with a curtsy.

"The honor is mine, Miss Hudson," I say.

What a beautiful blush she has.

"Will you join us, your highness?" she asks.

"I would be delighted."

Thankfully, the chair next to Genevieve is free, so after helping her into her seat I sit down next to her. I was introduced around the table and we proceeded to converse for a few minutes. A young chap, maybe a few years younger than me, is seated across from me and seems a little protective of Genevieve. Every so often, I notice him looking at me with the most peculiar expression.

Finally, there was a pause in conversation which I took full advantage of.

"Miss Hudson, would you give me the pleasure of a dance?"

"It would be an honor, your highness," she answers.

I help her up and we walk silently onto the floor. A gentle waltz is playing and I lead in a simple step.

* * *

I can't believe this! I'm dancing with the crown prince of England! The local press will have a field day.

"You're a wonderful dancer, Miss Hudson," he says, his eyes scanning my face for a reaction.

"Thank you, but this step is hardly challenging. And please, call me Gen. Hudson is still a foreign name," I say.

"Only if you call me Wills, or at least William."

"I couldn't! There is such a difference-" I begin to say, but there is something in his face that makes me stop.

"We are both human, aren't we? An accident of birth leaves me with a crown. You are an heiress, are you not?"

I smile weakly. The Hudson's fortune is a touchy topic for me. "Only by a more tragic accident."

"I fear I have struck a nerve. Please accept my apologies," he says quietly, his accent making the words sound lyrical.

"There is nothing to apologize for. You couldn't have known."

William looks around and seems to notice something over my shoulder. "Would you like to go out on the balcony? I'm feeling a little pressed."

I nod in understanding. "Certainly."

* * *

What am I doing?! This is turning into a complete disaster. Hopefully I can turn things around out here. This city is quite beautiful at night. I smile. It isn't nearly as beautiful as the lady on my arm is. I only wish I could carry on a conversation with her.

We stand in silence for a couple of minutes, I can't think of a thing to say. Thankfully, Gen breaks the silence.

"Your highness-" I give her a look plainly telling her to call me by my given name "-William, if you don't mind me asking why did you invite me tonight?"

I smile at her. "Your eyes," I say quietly. At her confused look I continue, "They were so sad and lonely, I can still see it in them, though you hide it well. I wondered what could make someone so sad that even when out with friends you seem lost.

"I was hoping to bring some pleasure to such a life."

"You seem to have read me well, William," she says gently.

"You have had a question, may I ask you one?"

"It's only fair," again, a quiet, gently voice.

"Why was Mathieu, is it? Giving me such an evil look with his girlfriend right beside him?"

This at least earns me a scornful smile directed at Mathieu.

"He wasn't! Oh my. Matt grew up with my boyfriend."


She has a boyfriend.

Of course she would, you idiot! How often is such a beautiful, cultured woman single?

"You should be out here with him then, not me."

"Matt? Oh, you mean Scott. I wish I could. God, you have no idea how much I wish I could," she pauses for a moment. "He died from a riding accident last fall."

That's why she is so sad. She must really love him, even now. "I'm so sorry."

All I can do is offer my sympathies for her loss. She seems as though she has shed all the tears she is willing to in the past.

"That is why I am heiress to the Hudson's estate. Scott was their only child. His death left them without an heir to the family holdings.

"In Scott's pocket they found a small box. This was in it," she says, holding up her right hand. A beautiful ring rests on her fourth finger. If this was going to be an engagement ring, it shows the money and love she'd marry.

"It's gorgeous."

"I normally wear it on a chain, but that doesn't work well with a dress.

"Anyway, when Mrs. Hudson saw the ring she at least seemed a little happier. The day they took Scott off the machines, they asked me to join their family. I have full inheritance under the condition that my children and I keep the name Hudson.

"I was born into a French working class family and am now heiress to one of the largest English estates in the province. All because of a chance meeting in the library history section."

I am stuck yet again. There is such hurt in her.

"If there is anything I can do-"

"Not unless you've invented a time machine."

"Not yet, I'm afraid. Things would be quite different if I had."

"Oh, please, forgive me! Here I am going on about my loss while you're here on vacation," she apologizes, avoiding directly saying what for.

I smile sardonically, "I hardly call this vacation. School is my break."

"How sad," she says quietly.

"Why's that?" I wonder if she really understands.

"You find more pleasure at boarding school than with your family. It must be so lonely."

You have no idea.

"I'm not the only one who can understand others."

"Then why, with so much loneliness, do you invite sadness into your life?"

"Maybe we can ease each other's pain," I say, moving closer to her.

* * *

"William," I whisper in a distressed voice. What is happening? Here I am, the future King of England making advances on me, and I'm turning him away.

"William," I say again, this time with more confidence, "I'm sorry. This is so new – I can't… It's just – I'm sorry."

God, he must think I'm such a simple country girl.

Why is he smiling?

"If we are ever going to get past this introductory stage we are going to have to stop apologizing."

I nod, smiling as well.

"Now," he says as another song ends and applause trickles out to the balcony. "Do you mind having your picture taken as my dance partner?"

"It'll get me a spot on my friend's wall," I joke. "She has just about every locally published picture of you and most from the teen magazines."

He doesn't seem surprised. Not that I can blame him. If she had been in town, Laura would have been in with the crowd waiting to greet him at the airport.

"What is this fascination girls have with me?"

As if he didn't know.

"What's the reason guys plaster their walls with posters of Pamela Anderson?"

He laughs as we enter the hall again. It is so rich. And I have to admit, I like his accent.

We move out onto the dance floor and William seems to have discovered that I can dance.

Just as William predicted I notice a few flashes as we move around the floor. He seems to be trying to avoid the edge of it, but there is the occasional part and a flash lights up the room.

William leans over and whispers in my ear, "You look beautiful when you smile."

I blush. "Thanks."


"The cameras seem to like it too."

"How do you handle this all the time? The cameras always in your face?"

"Unfortunately, I've had to get used to it. Just another reason I prefer school. Too bad this is my last year."

We talk quietly for the next two songs and then I get my biggest surprise for the night.

"Excuse me, Wills. May I cut in?"

I don't believe this. Here is the Queen's husband, cutting in on a dance I'm sharing with his grandson.

"Of course," William says with a small nod of his head.

As William moves away, I curtsy low to Prince Phillip. We dance a simpler step than William had chosen, though it looks more complicated.

"My grandson seems to have found his mystery guest. Have you enjoyed your evening, miss?"

I can't help but smile at the tone of his voice. He is obviously here on behalf of his wife. He is trying to sound like he can just tolerate the idea, but there is too much of a sparkle in his eye.

"Genevieve Delarier Hudson, your Highness. It has been very pleasant," I say, trying to sound moderately enthused, but keeping the distance in my voice those of ‘status' always have. Normally I try to avoid it, but it has to be shown somehow.

He smiles at me.

"You had many people very nervous tonight. But by the way you carry yourself; it appears you know this setting well."

I nod. "I was adopted into the Hudson's family after their son died," only a little sadness creeps into my voice.

He nods.

"You have a unique affect on William. Since his father's death, both he and Harry have distanced themselves from others. He appears to have opened up to you. It's a shame you can't spend more time with him. It is wonderful to see him smiling."

I bow my head out of modesty. Surely, I'm not the only person he finds pleasure with. But then, he has managed to brighten my day more than anyone else I know has for a while.

The song ends.

"It has been a pleasure dancing with you, Miss Hudson."

"Likewise, your Highness," I say with a curtsy.

I wait for the prince to turn his back to me before I return to the table where Matt is waiting. I sit down and have a drink of much needed water.

"You're getting some high ranking attention," he jokes.

"Too bad it can't come from above," I say sadly.

Matt comes over to me and wraps me in a giant hug. "I know. I wish Scott were here too, but there is nothing we can do. Why don't you invite the prince to go for a ride with us sometime? I'm sure Danielle would love to see him again."

The corners of my mouth rise. "What do you see in her, anyway? I don't think Scott would even approve of her. But a ride sounds good. We just got a few new mounts in for the camp, and I want to try them out. Don't bring Danielle."

"I could bring Bea," he suggests.

"You'd do better with the ditz. Why not bring your sister?"

I burst into laughter at the look on his face. "What? You wouldn't want to bring a fourteen year old? There's always Laura."

This time, it's Matt's turn to laugh. The two of them do not get along.

"We can figure that out later. I feel sorry for your date. It looks like Grandmother is chewing him out pretty good."

"I'm afraid I may have monopolized too much of his time tonight. She probably expects him to spread his attention around."

Matt just smiles at me. Not liking the way he is looking at me I try to shift the attention, "Where is Danielle?"

"Dancing with Fredrick."

"I guess that's the end of this gold digger for you."

Fred was another of Scott's friends, but neither Matt nor I were very close to him. He is just too English.

"Care for a round?" Matt offers.

"It looks like my date is otherwise occupied. I don't see why not."

* * *

Grandfather was obviously under instruction from grandmother. As soon as I left him with Gen, I noticed Grandmother staring at us. Obligingly I returned to my seat next to her and even now am enduring her questioning, although she does do it tactfully. For now.

"And do you plan to spend the entire night with this young woman?" she asks.

I smile at her. She is always looking out for me, but there are times when she puts too much emphasis on protocol.

"Why shouldn't I spend what time I can with her? I did invite her didn't I? And it isn't as though she has no connections. Genevieve is a perfectly acceptable girl for me to be seen with."

"What about the papers? What does she think of the publicity?"

"She isn't used to it, but still manages to joke about it," I can't help but smile at her comment about her friend who is infatuated with my image. I've never viewed myself as that handsome. Either I don't see any of the real good pictures, or a title goes a long way. I'd just as soon be without.

"Grandmother, she is confident, comes from a good home, and is part of a well known family. She has something about her that I find endearing. I enjoy her company."

I look from Grandmother's face to the table Gen had returned to after her dance with Grandfather. She and Matt have both left. As I scan the floor, I notice them doing a more modern step, talking quietly. Matt is holding her with a respectable distance between them but I still feel a twinge of jealousy towards him.

"Be careful, Wills. We are only here for a few more days. I don't want you hurt."

"Don't worry, Gran," I use the name I called her as a child. "I won't let anything happen."

More like she won't, but I won't say that.

"Was there anyone you wanted me to dance with tonight?" I ask the obligatory question. She never brings it up, but at every dance she's taken me to Grandmother has had at least one partner picked out for me.

"It would be good show for you to dance with the mayor's daughter, and the matron is young enough to be a suitable partner. A few of the other young ladies would probably enjoy a dance with you, but be sure to enjoy yourself. Save a few more dances for your young lady."

That is about the closest I'll get to approval from her, so I nod and go to find the mayor's daughter or the matron. If I can get the formalities over while Gen is occupied, maybe I can spend the remainder of the night with her.

* * *

As my dance with Matt comes to an end, I notice we are standing right next to Scott's parents. Mary smiles at me.

"You are having a good time, I take it, Gen?"

I smile back. Not quite a true smile, but it is a lot stronger than it has been for a while. "Very much so. I've had some interesting partners."

"You will have to tell me about it all," she says, her eyes sparkling as she thinks of the details she knows I will divulge tomorrow when no male ears are around.

"Of course. Tomorrow afternoon?"

"Delightful. Now if you will excuse me, I'm rather parched. I think I will go get a drink."

"That leaves me with a dance free. You don't mind if I steal your partner, do you Matt?"

"She's all yours," Matt tells Jim as he passes my hand off.

"And what if I don't want to dance with such an old man?" I joke. Jim is only forty-five, very young for a parent in this community, and we often joke about his age.

"I'm afraid you're stuck with me, my dear. Shall we dance?"

I nod and take his offered hand. We do our traditional step, a mix between a fox trot and a tango that we do at every one of the dances.

"I noticed you dancing with the prince earlier. Did you manage to get a proper introduction or did he just happen to find you?"

"Someone from his party was sitting at my table and I guess they deemed me cultured enough to be introduced. Not long after the dancing started she brought him over to the table and introduced us. He seems so lonely. He prefers school to spending time with his family. Could you imagine?"

"Unfortunately, yes. At school, he leads a relatively normal life. When he's on vacation this is how he spends most of his time. He always has to watch what he says and does. He never gets to be himself, just a face for women to gawk at and a pawn used to bring the royal family into good light. I doubt he has much in life to enjoy."

I nod and we dance in silence for a minute.

Suddenly a thought strikes me. "Jim, you wouldn't mind if I invite him out to go for a ride, if he has the chance, would you?"

"You know that is Mary's area, but I doubt she'd mind. Don't be surprised if he can't make it out, though."

"I know. I have a feeling that he will try to make the time."

"Looks like you are remembering that charm that won you Scott's heart. Just remember that this won't last," Jim says with concern in his voice.

"I know. We just seem to connect."

Jim nods in understanding. We finish the dance in silence and I follow him back to the table where Mary and Matt are talking.

"I always knew you liked younger women, Jim, but must you flaunt them right under my nose?" Mary says to her husband in a mock-hurt voice.

"I'm sorry, love," Jim says, love shining in his eyes. "I just couldn't resist such a beautiful face."

I smile and kiss him lightly on the cheek. "You're sweet, but go dance with your wife. I'm not about to move in on another woman's man."

The couple goes out onto the dance floor and I am left sitting with Matt again.

"They make a wonderful couple, don't they?" I ask him.

"You know I'm not a good judge. And I'm pretty sure Bea will disagree with you on moving in on another's guy."

"I didn't know they were dating! Besides, it wouldn't have lasted. They just didn't click."

Matt just laughs.

* * *

Finally, the song is ending. I managed to find the mayor's daughter easily enough, and as soon as that dance finished the second woman Grandmother wanted me to dance with was there. The mayor's daughter had been locked in with a group of teenagers who seemed immensely interested in the fact that I was asking her to dance, and she proceeded to chat up a storm on the floor. During that dance, however, I managed to notice Gen dancing with a man likely in his early forties.

Now I say a quiet thank you to the young matron and go off to find Gen. Thankfully, Miss Gerald is not much of a conversationalist.

Ah, there she is! She appears to be talking with Matt again. I would think that he would be dancing with his girlfriend. I slowly move towards the table, not wanting to invade on their conversation. Gen turns, as though she sensed my approach, and smiles at me.

"You highness," she says, rising from her seat just enough to show respect, "won't you join us?"

"I'd be delighted," I say, taking the seat on the other side of Gen from Matt.

"We were just discussing a few of the new horses the Hudson's bought. Gen has been arranging a summer riding camp for under-privileged children here in town. I've heard that you do some riding yourself, your Highness," Matt leads.

"I try. Harry and I play a bit of Polo when we can," I answer. Turning to Gen, I prompt, "Tell me about this camp. It sounds like a wonderful idea."

"Scott and I used to be reading buddies at one of the inner city schools and I told him one day as summer vacation drew near how I wished there was some way to give these kids the same sort of experiences we had at summer camp. He started thinking, and, a week later, we stared to work on setting things up. I finalized the last investment last week. The program is completely free for twenty kids to come each week. The new horses were a donation from an Ontario stable that have a similar program."

She really is amazing. Not only has she overcome, or at least is in the process of overcoming Scott's death, but she has managed to set up such an expensive camp for free.

"Congratulations, then. That is not an easy feat. When do they camps start?"

"The first one starts two weeks tomorrow, and runs for seven days. None of us are getting much time off this summer, but it's only day camps, so we at least get our nights," Gen smiles.

"But it's going to be time well spent. Besides, we are taking one week off for ourselves at the end of July. Hopefully we won't be too saddle sore to do anything," Matt jokes.

"By then you should be more than bruised enough to not feel a thing," Gen retorts.

"And you won't be?"

"I ride enough to not have to worry about it. You just need more practice."

God she's quick. She can turn Matt's words against him in an instant. I'll have to be careful to not get in a battle of wits with her.

Who am I kidding? I probably will never see her again after tonight. I hope not. There is something about her.

* * *

Matt sends me a hurt look and I smile at him. It's been a while since I got him that quickly. William seems to be enjoying our antics. Not that I can blame him, the two of us can be fairly amusing. Of course, at this point there is an awkward pause in conversation. Thankfully, Matt manages to fill it.

"Gen, did that new stallion arrive yet? I want to see if he's as fine as they say."

"Not yet. He's due in tomorrow, but Mary has already laid claim to him. And he'd better be good, we paid enough for him."

"Jim pick him?"

"Nathan, the head groom. They've had a great time lately, keeping everything up with the extra horses in. Normally there are fourteen in there, max. There's more than thirty, last count, now. You should see poor Star. She's getting edgy. I think she knows something is going to happen. I try to take her out every day, but that isn't always possible. The other horses need exercise too."

"So I should keep Jack at our stables."

"Nate would appreciate it, and I'm sure Jack can handle the distance," I smile. Matt lives ‘next door' to the Hudson's, though they both have very large properties.

"Your highness, what breed do you prefer? Gen her adores Clydesdales, while I prefer my Arabian."

"Honestly, I like the standard. They have the best personalities I find."

I nod. "I normally ride a palomino, but most of the ones we've brought in are standards. They're a gentle breed."

"I normally find myself on something rarer, but standards are my preferred mount. Unfortunately, they aren't exactly considered a royal ride," William says.

Ah ha! The perfect opening!

"You'd be welcome at our stables if you can get away. Your pick of horses."

* * *

Did she just invite me to go out for a ride? Grandmother is going to kill me.

"If I get the chance I'd be delighted. But I'm afraid if I could I wouldn't be able to give you much notice."

"Just call me and I'll meet you there. The longest it takes me to get out is fifteen minutes from my apartment. I'll probably be out with my parents or at the estate anyway. Here, I'll give you my cell number."

She pulls a business card from her purse, circles a number on the front with what looks like a brown pencil (can we say eyeliner?) and hands it to me. I put it in the pocket of my jacket; I hope I remember it.

"I'll warn you now," Matt says, "don't expect her to get dressed up. The only time I ever see her out of jeans is when she has a meeting or at one of these functions."

I laugh.

"Well, jeans are a lot more comfortable than skirts. And what do you expect from someone who grew up playing in the woods?"

"Better balance," the older gentleman I saw Gen dancing with earlier says.

"You're one to talk. Prince William, allow me to introduce you to James and Mary Hudson. It's thanks to them we are able to run these camps. Jim, Mary, I have the honor of introducing you to Prince William," Gen says.

"Your highness," they say.

"Please, join us," I say.

They nod and sit. We talk and joke for a while and Gen and I dance a bit. As the night draws to a close, Gen and I find ourselves alone on the balcony again.

"Gen, this has been one of the best nights I've had in a long time. Thank you."

"No, William, I should be the one thanking you. Whenever I came to these things since Scott's death, I have worn a mask, pretending to enjoy myself. Tonight I really have. And it's because of you. There is no way for me to tell you how grateful I am. Thank you, Wills," the last word was spoken so quietly that I barely heard it, and there is no way anyone else could have overheard it.

The look of sincerity on her face is astounding. I move towards her slowly and this time she doesn't pull away.

* * *

He wraps his arms around me in a gentle hug which I return, leaning into his embrace. I feel so comfortable here. He has the perfect build, just the right amount of muscle so he isn't terribly bulky and hard, but not flabby flesh either. And the cologne he is wearing is sending my senses reeling. How wonderful this feels.

Wills moves back, but does not remove his hands from my waist, leading us to the edge of the balcony. As we lean against the rail, he begins to speak.

"Gen, I know this may sound presumptuous, but I feel like something has started tonight. It's something I can't explain, but I know that it is special. I don't want this to be the last time I see you, but I don't know how this could work. I'm going to do everything I can to arrange to go out for that ride with you. If I can't though, would you be willing to meet me somewhere? My grandmother will chew me out for it, but an opportunity like this doesn't come along very often."

God, he's a charmer. But I like him.

Leaning into him, I say, "I agree. We do have something special and it would be a shame to lose it. We don't have much time, and I want to have a chance to get to know you."

Wills kisses me lightly on the forehead and walks back into the hall. I look after him for a few moments, then turn and look back at the skyline. My hands are placed left over right and Scott's ring is digging into my palm. I hold up my right hand and look at the ring. I wonder what Scott thinks of this?

* * *

I kiss Gen gently on the forehead in thanks. Even if we just get to spend one more hour together, it will be worth it.

Not wanting Grandmother to send anyone out to find me, I return to the table I had sat at for dinner. Grandmother and Grandfather are dancing, so I must have had good timing. This late in a ball, they only dance together right before they leave. If it wouldn't create such uproar, I would do away with many of the traditions we still follow. But I don't care about courtship rituals. They were archaic in my father's day. Some things just have to change.

* * *

In all the pomp and ceremony they arrived in, the royals left and I called Jess for a ride back to the penthouse. As we always do, Jess calls my pager 30 seconds before she arrives, I bid ‘good night' to Matt, Jim, and Mary, and just as I exit the building, Jess pulls up. As soon as I'm in the car, the barrage begins.

"How did it go? Did you dance with the prince? What did you say? Better yet, what did he say? Well, come on, tell me!" Jess says as she looks at me through the rearview mirror.

I laugh at her. It is the first time in eight months that I have truly laughed at her antics.

"It was better than you could have hoped. Yes, I danced with him, I talked with him, and I even hugged him. Keep your eyes on the road, dear," I add as she had almost completely turned around in her seat.

"Did I hear you right? You made close, physical contact with a young, human, highly date-able male off the dance floor?"

"Under the stars. I just hope no one took a picture. I saw more flashes tonight than I have ever in one night. I'll tell you all about it when we get in. I need to think about some things right now."

Jess is a doll and lets me think in peace for the rest of the drive and the elevator ride. Meanwhile I think over everything that happened tonight.

I have known for a while that it was time to move on and start leaving Scott in the past, but I have been afraid. Afraid, that if I move on, I will have to let go of Scott's memory completely. Afraid, that there would be no room for him in my life with another. Afraid that I would forget.

But if what I have seen with Wills tonight could keep going then maybe I can move on and love again without forgetting Scott.

God, in one night he has gone from an unknown entity to Wills. And I have a feeling I could grow to love him in time. How strange to think that just this morning I thought that this would just be another dinner and dance.

* * *