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Royal Games

By´╝ÜSariah Wilson

Chapter 1

“Genesis, you should probably sit down.”

I dropped my overnight bag on the wooden floor. I had been traveling for the last nine hours, and I’d had two layovers and a long ride home from the airport in a very gross taxi. All I wanted to do was go upstairs to take a shower and a nap before my shift at the diner started. I had that horrible airplane smell in my clothes, and my poor hair had gone all tangled and frizzy.

“Nothing good ever happens after someone says that,” I told Aunt Sylvia. She fidgeted in her chair, with her hands cradled in her lap. Her fingers were slightly bent and pointing up, trembling. My heart started to beat too fast as worry set in. “Is it your MS? Have you had another flare-up?”

“Oh, no, I’m doing fine. It’s something else.” I couldn’t remember her ever sounding quite so anxious. Not when she told me my mother had died, not when she said the bank was planning to foreclose on the farm, not when she told me she’d been diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. She usually reminded me of the old maple trees outside of our farmhouse—despite everything she’d gone through, she was steady, strong, and unbending.

She wasn’t making eye contact with me. I hadn’t known her to ever do that. It was freaking me out.

“Please tell me. You’re really scaring me.”

“I don’t want you to be angry, but I rented out the guesthouse.”

Relief set in as I sat in the armchair across from her. “That’s a good thing.” We so needed the money. The taxes were overdue, we still needed to catch up on the mortgage, and we had some serious repairs to do on the house. We were already living tiny paycheck to tiny paycheck. We had sold off everything we could sell other than the land itself, and I was determined to do whatever I had to do to keep the farm with our family. There might have been a time when I would have just believed that we’d make it somehow, some way, but that was before.

“How much did you get?” I asked.

I had spent the summer and fall cleaning and painting the guesthouse to get it ready to rent. All that work felt worthwhile when Sylvia named a sum that was nearly double what we had hoped for.

“But that’s fantastic. Why did you think I would be mad?”

“Because there’s one thing that you’re not going to like.”

I relaxed back into the chair. My aunt wasn’t usually overdramatic, but I supposed she was entitled to go there every once in a while. “What’s that?”

“Who I rented it to.” She swallowed several times in a row, still nervous.

Unless she had rented the place to my high school bully, Brooke Cooper, everything would be fine. And there’s no way that had happened since the Coopers lived in the biggest house in Frog Hollow.

I mean, the only other person she could have rented it to who would make me upset would be . . .

I sat straight up, my fingers digging into the armrests.

“You didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”

She finally faced me, looking and sounding determined. “We needed the money, and I think all of this was just a big misunderstanding. He’s so nice and charming, and if you would just sit down and talk with him . . .”

Her words trailed behind me as I stalked through the living room, into the kitchen, and out the back door. There was snow on the ground, but the sun was bright and beaming overhead, making my coat feel unnecessary. Typical Iowa weather.

Three days. I had only been gone three days to be on some stupid morning talk show, again being forced to relive the most humiliating experience of my life. If I had my way, I would never do another appearance or interview for as long as I lived. Unfortunately, they were willing to pay, and I couldn’t say no to the money.

This all started because Aunt Sylvia had insisted that I audition for a televised reality dating show called Marry Me. I’d been worried that I would be found, but she reminded me that the people I was afraid of didn’t believe in electricity or interacting with our “wicked” society in any way. Which meant no televisions. She assured me that there was no way I’d be discovered. No one would come after me.

And it had been eleven years. Surely they’d given up.

But I’d discovered there was another way to get hurt. After miraculously being chosen for the show, I had fallen hard for the male lead, the “suitor,” and he had been revealed to be a real-life prince. That had sent me into panic mode because if I really ended up with a prince, there was no way I could hide indefinitely. A life with him would be way too public.

Not that it mattered, because as a final twist, the show revealed that the prince had an identical twin.