ROYAL MESS EXCERPT
From Royal Match
My life is the blueprint for a new kind of fairy tale, and I like it a lot better than the original.
Forget the version where the handsome, charming prince saves a maiden’s life because he’s in love with her. In my updated fairy tale, the prince is handsome, but far from charming. I’m no maiden, and he’s definitely not in love with me.
But he is going to save my life. Hopefully.
When Dr. Barchon notified me yesterday that the transplant center had found a match for me, he provided only three details about the donor: male, thirty-one years old (two years older than I), and in perfect health. I never imagined my donor—the man who would give me a large chunk of his liver—would be Prince Leo of Alsania.
I’ve been in the hospital for twenty-two miserable days, and I feel like shit. Unfortunately, I look even worse than I feel. I’m propped up in an adjustable bed, my favorite lavender bathrobe hiding the ugly hospital-issued gown, and a pair of striped socks warming my feet.
Unable to hide my surprise that a member of the royal family is in my hospital room, I stare at the prince. He’s standing just inside the door, his black suit like an ink blot against the soothing bluish-gray walls. His shoulders are stiff, and his hands are clasped behind his back, pulling his jacket tight across his broad chest.
His rigid posture reminds me that he spent several years in the Alsanian military. I think he was a pilot, but I’m not sure.
A lot of my friends are obsessed with the royal family. They’re crazy about Prince Leo’s younger brother, Prince Marco, but I don’t pay much attention to anyone in the royal family or the Alsanian aristocracy. I’m too busy being a commoner.
Dr. Barchon clears his throat. “Your Royal Highness, this is Tessa Lulach.”
The prince inclines his head in a brief nod. His short hair makes me think of queen of the night tulips—black and glossy. I think they’re beautiful, but I rarely stock them in my shop because black flowers aren’t big sellers. Most people think they’re depressing, not even suitable for funerals.
For a second, I wonder what kind of flowers people will send to my funeral if this transplant doesn’t work. Probably white roses. They’re a popular choice for the deceased.
I meet Prince Leo’s eyes. They’re dark, like his hair, and focused on my face. As he stares at me unblinkingly, embarrassed heat prickles over me, like ants marching up my chest to my forehead.
Since I wasn’t expecting a visit from a member of Alsania’s royal family, I haven’t bothered to wash my chin-length hair in four days. A stretchy gray headband holds the dull, greasy strands away from my face.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have washed it even if I’d known Prince Leo was stopping by. Just the simple act of going to the bathroom exhausts me.
I don’t usually obsess over my appearance, but when faced with perfect, polished Prince Leo, any woman would feel unattractive. I doubt anyone will notice my flush though.
Thanks to my failing liver, my skin has turned a ghastly shade of yellow. Prince Leo’s skin is a healthy honey hue against his bright white dress shirt and French-blue silk tie.
“I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Lulach,” Prince Leo murmurs.
His words don’t match his expression. It’s blank, not a trace of delight to be found.
Pursing my lips, I silently acknowledge that Prince Leo’s nickname—the Polar Prince—is fitting. A glacier has more warmth and personality than the heir to the throne.
Dr. Barchon moves to the side of my hospital bed and gives me a fond smile. He’s one of the best transplant surgeons in Western Europe, but he looks like a Santa-for-hire.
“Tessa has a rare blood type—O negative,” Dr. Barchon says. “That’s why we had such a hard time finding a match for her.”
It’s the negative that makes my blood type rare. If it were O-positive, I wouldn’t be in this situation; O-positive is the most common blood type in the world.
Blood types are hereditary, according to Dr. Barchon. My parents—I don’t call them my adopted parents because they don’t call me their adopted daughter—aren’t a match.
Finding a donor would have been easier if I lived in a larger country. But Alsania is a tiny principality tucked between Italy and France with a population of only half a million people.
Dr. Barchon gently pats my left hand—the one without the IV—before glancing toward the tall man still lurking by the door. “There aren’t many people who’d be willing to give part of their liver to a woman they’ve never met.”
Prince Leo’s mouth twists, baring his teeth into something that resembles a snarl. I can’t help thinking, if this is what he looks like when he smiles, no wonder he always frowns. It’s way less scary.
Dr. Barchon looks back and forth between me and the prince. “I’ve scheduled the surgery for Friday.”
“This Friday?” I ask, my voice shrill.
“This Friday, Tessa,” he confirms, his tone soft and gentle. “Time is of the essence.”
Curious how the prince feels about the imminent surgery, I seek out his gaze. He’s looking at me, his expression set in solemn lines. He doesn’t seem surprised by Dr. Barchon’s announcement. The surgeon must’ve already notified him.
Dr. Barchon pats my hand again. “I’m going to leave you and His Royal Highness alone for a while so you can have a little chat and get to know each other.”
The surgeon leaves the room and closes the door behind him. Prince Leo and I are alone, two strangers with nothing in common except the same blood type.
After pulling the lone armchair closer to my hospital bed, he unbuttons his jacket and sits with his hands resting in his lap. He moves differently than most guys I know, his limbs working in precise, powerful coordination.
Slowly, his dark gaze slides across my face. His expression remains impassive throughout the evaluation, effectively shielding his real thoughts.
“I look like the summer squash my dad grows in his garden,” I say, gesturing to my yellow face.
Meeting my eyes, Prince Leo cocks his head. “I’d say you look more like Dijon mustard.”
A surprised laugh spills out of me. “I’m not sure that’s any better.” I wrinkle my nose. “I hate Dijon mustard. Do you like it?”
His dark eyebrows arch. “Do I like Dijon mustard?”
I’m aware our conversation has taken a nonsensical turn, but I would rather talk about mustard than my failing liver. That’s all anyone has discussed for the past month.
“I don’t like any kind of mustard,” the prince replies.
“Are you one of those guys who puts ketchup on his hot dogs?” I ask before realizing how silly my question is. “You probably don’t eat hot dogs.”
His lips twitch almost imperceptibly. “It’s been a while since I’ve had one.”
As we stare at each other, silence descends on the room. It’s not like the awkward, uncomfortable silences that occur on blind dates. Weirdly, Prince Leo’s presence soothes me. Glancing at the machine that monitors my vital signs, I see my blood pressure is lower than it’s been for the past several days.
After a couple of minutes, he breaks the silence. “Dr. Barchon said your liver damage is the result of an allergic reaction to antibiotics.”
“Yes. I dropped a vase at work. I own a flower shop here in Circo—The Enchanted Florist.”
“That’s a clever name.” The corner of his mouth lifts. “Nice play on words.”
“My little sister’s idea. I wanted to call it Kabloom.”
He chuckles. “That’s a good one too.”
“Anyway, I sliced myself on one of the broken pieces when I was cleaning up.” I show him my left hand, which bears an angry red scar. “The cut got infected and needed an antibiotic. I’d never taken the one my doctor prescribed, so I didn’t know I was allergic to it.”
“That’s unfortunate,” the prince murmurs.
“It could be worse. I could’ve cut off my hand. Then I would need a hand transplant and a liver transplant.”
He makes a funny noise. “I agree. That would have been worse.”
It’d be easy to fall into a black hole of self-pity, but I’ve managed to stay positive by thinking of all my blessings. I have a lot of reasons to be grateful. In fact, one of those reasons is sitting next to my hospital bed.
“You mentioned your sister earlier…” Prince Leo says.
“Based on my research, siblings usually are a match for liver donation. Why didn’t she offer to help you?”
I can hear the judgement in his voice. He obviously disapproves of Cassie for not sacrificing her liver to save me.
“She’s not my biological sister,” I explain. “We’re both adopted.”
“She wanted to help. She was devastated when she found out she wasn’t a match. She cried so hard she almost threw up.” My legs are aching from inactivity, so I scissor them a few times. “A lot of people aren’t willing to help, even when they can. It can cause huge rifts in families.”
“I can imagine.”
“I wouldn’t have been angry with Cassie.” I shake my head. “And I definitely wouldn’t have allowed it to ruin our relationship.”
“Then you’re a lot more understanding than most people. More understanding than I would be in that situation.”
“I don’t think anyone should feel forced or guilted into donating if they don’t want to. It’s their choice … their life.”
I watch his face closely, trying to gauge how he feels about donating part of his liver. “I’m surprised you’re going to do it,” I
say, giving voice to the thought that’s been ricocheting inside my head. “Isn’t there a provision in the constitution that prohibits you from taking unnecessary risks … since you’re in line to inherit the throne?”
“No.” He huffs out a soft laugh. “I can skydive anytime I feel like it.”
Intrigued by his answer, I angle my body toward him. “You’ve gone skydiving?”
“The term skydiving refers to an activity one does for fun,” he replies in a wry tone. “I jumped out of a plane as part of my military training.”
“I’ve never gone skydiving. I try to avoid activities that may result in my death.”
With the word death hanging in the air, I swallow hard. The fear that I’ve pushed down for weeks abruptly rises to the surface.
“I’m so afraid. I don’t want to die.”
I didn’t mean to say that out loud. I haven’t admitted my fears to anyone. Strangely, I’m neither embarrassed nor regretful that I shared my feelings with Prince Leo. I don’t have to be strong for him, not like I have to be for my parents and Cassie.
“Shouldn’t we be on a first-name basis at this point? Call me Tessa.”
“Tessa,” he says in his deep, rich voice.
“Are you afraid?”
He leans forward and our eyes lock. “Liver transplantation has a high survival rate. More than seventy percent of recipients are still alive after five years.”
Even though I know he’s right, I’m still scared to go through transplant surgery. But I have no choice. Without it, my death is inevitable.
“Are you going to change your mind?” I ask.
“I’m sorry.” Prince Leo frowns. “I’m not following your question. Change my mind about what?”
“About donating your liver. Are you going to back out?”
He stares at me, his eyes steady on mine. “No.”
He says it so firmly, with such conviction, that I have no choice but to believe him.
This prince is going to save me.