I'm so sorry to start out this article with a note, but I just felt that an apology had to come first. I'm really sorry about the long wait. It's been quite a month work and study wise. I've actually had this chapter done for a few weeks but I just really couldn't find the time/remember to post because so many other things were occupying my mind.
But it's finally here! And I hope it was worth the wait. I won't be taking this long a break from posting any time soon again - hopefully.
Thank you so much for your patience, guys!!
P.S. Part 2 should be up in a few days.
P.P.S. Comment replies follow chapter.
Giselle wanted nothing more than to go home.
As her eyes traveled over the trees and rooftops, she idly played with the pebbles in her hands. She wanted the comfort of the mountains, the university, her understanding sister's company. She wanted to go out with her friends. She wanted her dad to sit with her and bicker about music. Mostly, she wanted to be an ocean away from Eric before this got out of hand. The day before alone was enough to make her realize she was setting herself up for heartbreak. And then she saw the man dance.
Why is a man that knows how to dance so attractive?
She tossed one pebble.
Kayley asked that she play for them as Eric taught her how to tango. She wouldn't have been in the room if it weren't for that.
Giselle groaned and squeezed the pebbles until they dug sharply into her palm. This was so stupid. She even felt jealous - jealous! - as she watched them dance. As if either she or Kayley had a shot!
She chucked another pebble into the distance. She had to get her feet back on the ground. Had to get home. Had to get out of baking with him this evening so that she could clear her mind and get some distance. There had to be a way to convince him that she didn't need any help, that he didn't have to be there. She had baked carrot cake multiple times before on her own.
But he was so damn polite! He'd probably insist and then it would be awkward.
She tossed another pebble, harder this time and watched it bounce off a tree trunk.
On the bright side, she'd only see him at breakfast and dinner for the rest of the week. She would be out of the castle most of the time, he'd be working, and before she knew it she'd be on a jet back to safety.
Giselle chucked all the pebbles in one go then dropped onto the grass, hugging her knees to her chest. She wasn't sure how long she sat there, just thinking, trying to organize her thoughts. Mostly thinking about Eric and scolding herself. This would pass soon. It was just a silly little infatuation.
"Shouldn't you be in the kitchen?"
She jumped then looked over her shoulder. Shane smiled at her from the top of the embankment. Glancing at the watch on her wrist, she resisted the urge to sigh then got to her feet.
"Yeah, sorry, I guess I lost track of time," she said as she made her way to him. A frown crossed his brow. "You okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. . . I guess today just tired me out a bit." She walked past him and he fell into step with her.
"You don't have to bake if you don't feel up to it. There's enough time to notify the kitchen."
"No." Giselle shook her head. She just had to get over herself. "It's alright." She looked at Shane and forced a smile. By the look on his face she could tell he wasn't convinced and she held her breath to see if he'd bring it up again. Luckily, Shane knew how to take a hint and changed the topic.
"So Eric told me you're thinking about going to see the kids for the rest of the week. That's brave," he said with a smile. Giselle smiled as well.
"I have had so much fun at all the music festivals and I've met some amazing musicians in your kingdom, but I haven't felt inspired for this entire trip until I met those kids." She lowered her eyes. "I would come back every year just for them."
She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. She hadn't meant to say it out loud, at least not to Shane. The last thing she needed was a royal invitation back to this castle.
"We'd all welcome you back with open arms," Shane said.
Thankfully, they reached the back entrance of the kitchen. Shane held the door open for her. The moment she stepped in, Giselle could feel the tension. Utensils clanged together and timers went off but most of the staff were either silent or murmuring while focused on their tasks in front of them. Some shouted orders across the kitchen every now and then, but it was obvious they were uncomfortable about something. She glanced around until her eyes landed on what they all were so tense about. In the corner of the kitchen where one of the chefs was talking to a young girl. The girl's eyes lowered shamefully to the floor, her shoulders almost to her earlobes and her cheeks reddening while the chef quietly seemed to yell at her, his fists clenched and an ugly expression on his face. The girl flinched twice and Giselle knew she was being bullied.
Giselle placed her hand lightly on Shane's shoulder without looking away from the scene. "You go ahead, I'll start in a bit," she said. Without waiting for a response, Giselle walked towards where the reprimand was happening.
"Do you know what that's going to cost us?! You're lucky I don't fire you for this. That is coming out of your pay!" She heard the chef say as she neared. Giselle glanced at the girl and instantly noticed the tears that had gathered at the bottom of her chin.
"That's fine, I'll cover it," Giselle said when she was in earshot of them. The chef turned to her sharply, his cheeks flushing when his eyes met hers but he tried to cover it up with a smile.
"Madame, don't concern yourself with this. It's being taken care of."
"Well I would hope you treat your staff with more respect than that. She is terrified," Giselle said calmly as she gestured towards the girl. "I wouldn't call this a proper way to take care of things." She looked over at the girl. Her forest green eyes were swimming with tears.
"Are you okay, my girl?" She asked, placing a hand on the girl's back lightly. Giselle had found that the older she got, the more she became like her mother. Her protective instincts kicked in when she saw a girl in trouble and, regardless of their age, she'd use the term "my girl". Giselle felt the tremble going through the girl's spine. Her cheeks were red and her misty eyes were now darting in a semi-panic.
"Come on. Sit down, I'll make you a cup of tea. Is that alright?" Giselle asked. The girl nodded as Giselle directed her to a little step ladder and sat her down. Giselle placed the kettle on an open plate on the stove then turned it on.
"What's your name?" Giselle asked when she turned back to the girl.
"Megan," she answered with a tiny voice. "I'm Giselle," she said with an encouraging smile. She leaned forward a bit with her hands against her knees. "Can you tell me what happened?"
Megan lowered her eyes, the tears beginning to pool again.
"I cracked the China."
Giselle's heart sank. Royal tea sets were irreplaceable.
She turned and noticed the cup in the chef's hand. "May I?" She asked. Dumbfounded, he handed it to her. Giselle turned the delicate cup in her hand and followed the hairline crack that went straight down one side and chipped a little piece off the bottom. She sucked in a breath quietly.
"That's okay," she said and looked at the chef. "I'll still pay to have it fixed." And there goes probably two to three months of allowance and gig money. "You don't have to take it out of her pay. It was an accident, don't be so hard on her." She couldn't imagine what it would cost this young girl that probably had to cover rent, traveling to work, and other expenses.
The kitchen quieted instantly, as everyone turned towards Prince Eric. He stood near the entrance, his eyes focused on Giselle. "Don't worry about it, Giselle," he said then looked at the chef.
"Can I speak to you for a moment?"
Giselle watched as the two men exited the kitchen. She let out a breath slowly, only then realizing that she had held it in. With her heart hammering against her ribs, she turned back to Megan. The kitchen slowly regained its activity as people got back to work.
"Thank you," Megan said with a quiet voice then looked up at Giselle. "You didn't have to do that. It was my fault."
"It was an accident, Megan. No one in their right mind would purposely try to break antique China. Try to be a bit more careful in future, and don't worry about it. Everything's taken care of," she said.
Eric was still a bit shaken when he came back to the kitchen. They had spoken about many things the day before and he believed everything Giselle said, but actually seeing her act so selflessly and with such compassion threw him off.
He scanned the kitchen until he found Giselle in one corner where the staff had cleared a table for her. As he walked over, he couldn't ignore the warm tingle tightening his chest. With her finger raised, she touched the air over each of the ingredients on the table, taking stock of them all.
Heart thumping against his chest, he fought for something to say, but she glanced over at something, smiled, and walked around the table before he reached her. He followed her with his gaze as the girl, Megan, held an apron up for her. Giselle bowed and Megan placed the noose over her head. They both laughed at something Eric couldn't hear, then Megan glanced up and caught his eye. She flinched and lowered her eyes obediently. Giselle turned and met his gaze, making him involuntarily tense his muscles.
Giselle turned back to Megan, took her hand then walked over. Megan's eyes filled with panic but she didn't dare resist as they came closer. Eric made sure to look at Megan as they neared, giving her an encouraging smile. The girl looked about ready to faint.
"Hi," he said when they were close enough. "Prince Eric," she said, lowering her eyes as she bowed. Eric glanced over at Giselle.
"Eric, this is Megan. She's your new escuelerie. She's cool, a wee bit clumsy, but she's cool."
Megan, appalled by Giselle's words, glanced at her sharply. Giselle winked, letting her know she was joking. Her shoulders relaxed and she let out a breath slowly.
"I am so sorry, Prince Eric," she said, looking at the floor. "It won't happen again, I promise."
Eric heard the tremor in her voice then glanced at Giselle again, unable to stop now. She looked at him and gave a small smile then tilted her head towards Megan. He looked back at the timid girl before him.
"Megan, it's fine. These things happen. We spend a fortune a year paying these insurance companies, we might as well claim something back."
She lifted her eyes carefully to his.
"And you don't have to be so terrified," he said with amusement laced in his voice. "I'm not going to dismiss you over one little chip." Her shoulders relaxed a bit. "And I spoke to Chef Grane, he promised me he'd try to be nicer in the future. He tends to lose his top over the smallest of things but he stresses excellence over everything, that's what makes him a great chef. A terrible boss, but a great chef. I'd suggest doing such a good job that he doesn't notice you, and yes, I know how bad that sounds," he said. At that, Megan gave a small smile.
"Thank you, your highness." She looked at Giselle, who smiled and gave her a quick side hug around her shoulders. "Told you he's nicer in person," she said. Megan nodded. "I should get back to work. Enjoy baking," she said with another bow.
"Do you want me to save you a slice?"
A flicker of panic crossed Megan's eyes again as she contemplated her place. Eric almost laughed.
"She'll save you a slice," Eric said, saving the girl from the decision. Megan nodded then smiled as she glanced between Eric and Giselle before leaving. "I'm saving one for you as well Duane," Giselle called. A tan, dark eyed, middle aged man glanced up from the zucchini he was chopping and smiled at her.
"Do I sense a bit of arrogance there, Miss Balaco?"
"I need to build my confidence now before you shut it down later," Giselle teased. The chef laughed. "I look forward to it. Thanks," he said and turned back to his work. Eric looked at Giselle as she laughed quietly.
"Come on," she said without looking at him. He followed her back to the table where her ingredients were lined up. Giselle stopped when she faced the middle of the table. Her eyes searched the ingredients blindly and her fingers drummed the surface.
"That was . . . very noble of you, Giselle."
She paused before looking at him. Eric felt his chest tighten, then he noticed the light dash of freckles beneath her eyes and smiled. He had seen a similar pattern on Rosemarie, Rosaline's twin sister.
"Your cousin has freckles as well," he said. Instinctively, Giselle crossed her eyes to try to see hers, which made him laugh. She realized what she did and pulled up her shoulders, giving him an embarrassed smile.
"Hers are a bit more obvious," he said, realizing then that he had never paid attention to Giselle's, which was odd of him. He always noticed these things quickly. They were so pale, so decorative and sweet on her.
"Yeah, Rosie's are darker than mine," she said. He studied the rest of her features, taking in her dark, dark brown hair and the way it had slight waves. Her eyes were a clear green with no other element of color to it, gem like. Her face slender but soft. His heart gave a squeeze when he noticed that her top lip was just as full as her bottom. Her mouth was plush, soft looking.
"Marie's the same." His eyes jumped back to hers as her words sucked him back to reality. He realized instantly that he had missed a sentence or two. "Dark hair and green eyes, all four of my royal cousins have it as well, as you've probably noticed." He smiled, thinking of that night he first saw her. "Marie always goes on and on about how slim the chances are that so many of us could have green eyes when only one of each our parents do and . . ." Giselle gave a small roll of her eyes and a little shrug. "I tend to zone out after she gets technical, I've even written a song that I play in my head every time I hear her start. It's called Concepts of Genetics."
Eric couldn't help but chuckle at the irony. "I would love to hear that," he heard himself say. "I've got it on my phone. I'll send it to you," she said and turned away as she reached to the back of her hair. Expertly, she twisted her hair to the top of head in a bun and secured it with another piece of hair. Perplexed, Eric frowned when it stayed up. He was about to ask but she spoke before he could.
"Okay." Giselle glanced over the contents on the table. "Go wash your hands then I think you can start by grating those six carrots. Stop just short of the tops."
Eric did as he was told then came back to where the carrots lay. He picked up a carrot and the grater, thankful she gave him something he could actually do. He was even more thankful when he noticed how effortlessly she set to work. Giselle grabbed a mixing bowl, placed a sifter over it then measured and tossed flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. The mixture quickly went through the sifter into the bowl below as she lifted it slightly and gave it brisk taps. She set the sifter aside and brought another bowl closer. Oil, sugars, vanilla and an egg went in then she grabbed a whisk and began mixing. Eric's brows came together when she stopped, added another egg, then began whisking again. She did this until she cracked the fourth egg. It was easy to see she had done this a few times before. She glanced up at him then at the carrot in his hands as she whisked.
"Need some help there?" She asked, giving him an impish smile. Eric dropped his eyes to his own work and realized he had only done half a carrot while she was far ahead.
He laughed quietly and began grating again, trying to keep up with her pace without bruising or nicking his fingers. By the time he finished grating, Giselle was stirring nuts into the batter. She glanced over again. "Good job. Please add that while I mix," she said. He picked up the plate and slowly added the carrot bits while Giselle angled the bowl to make it easier for him.
"There we go," she said as he finished and she brought the bowl to her stomach to continue stirring. Eric crossed his arms and leaned back against the table as he watched her, tilting his head a bit. She looked at him.
"What?" she asked, clearly fighting a smile. "You didn't need me at all, did you?" he asked while pulling up his shoulders and squinting his eyes with amused skepticism. Giselle laughed. "I didn't," she said. "I didn't think you'd listen if I said I could do this alone."
"It wouldn't have been proper to let my guest bake for us without aiding," he agreed. "See?" she said and placed the bowl on the table then reached for two baking tins. She placed a round sheet into each of them then glanced around the table. "How did you become such a skilled baker?" He asked, straightening up. "You don't even use a recipe."
"I've made this cake many times with my mom. She enjoys baking," Giselle said, looking at him. Eric smiled. "You look almost exactly like her, you know," he said. Giselle looked at him quizzically. He lifted his hands innocently and chuckled. "I should probably explain."
"That would be nice."
"When I was engaged to Rosaline, I had to sit through some briefings on the history of your kingdom. This involved going through many, many historic photographs."
"Ah," Giselle said. "Obviously you saw one of my mom when she was younger."
"Around your age, actually. She was - is very beautiful."
Giselle's lips melted into a tender smile that made his heart race. As she stood in front of him now, Eric was certain that Giselle, in her flour dusted apron, her messily tied up hair, was more beautiful than any royal he had ever had the pleasure to meet.
"Thanks. I think your mom is absolutely stunning as well." Giselle shook her head as she glanced at the ceiling in awe. "Wow, that woman is amazing."
Eric smiled. When Giselle turned back to look at the table, he noticed the slight frown on her face.
"You are looking for . . . ?"
She smiled slightly.
"I think they gave me butter to grease the pans instead of cooking spray," she said as she picked up a block of butter and looked at him. "I prefer cooking spray."
"I'll check for some," he said. "No, it's fine. I was just confused because I couldn't find the spray. Eric -."
Eric was already around the table and at the storage cupboards. He opened one and glanced around then realized he had no idea what cooking spray looked like.
"It's the one with the orange lid and it's on the shelf next to the cupboard," Giselle called with clear laughter in her voice. Eric smirked as he spotted the can she spoke of then grabbed it and came back to where Giselle was standing. She smiled at him as she shook her head and slid the pans towards him. He popped the lid off and shook the can.
"Oh, Eric, don't -."
Eric realized his mistake before her warning was out of her mouth. The vapor of the spray surrounded them in seconds. Both of them staggered backwards a few steps, coughing as they did.
Giselle laughed between coughs with her arm in front of her mouth and nose.
"I'm sorry, I should've warned you," she said. Eric coughed, holding his sleeve up to his nose.
"That's -." Cough. " - my bad."
He looked across the room as some of the staff began to laugh.
"Struggling a bit there, your highness?" One of the cooks asked. Eric raised his free hand. "I've never appreciated you more, John," he said.
The man laughed again, shaking his head as he continued sautéing with trained precision.
Eric and Giselle turned to see one of the butlers standing near them. "I'm here to inform you that you will be receiving extra guests tonight, a Mr James Alexander and his son Mr. Thomas Alexander."
"The Alexanders?" Eric frowned with confusion. "They weren't -." Realization came over him. "Oh, right, my mother met with them today. Thank you, Martin."
The butler bowed and walked away.
"Who are they?" Giselle asked as Eric turned back to her. "James Alexander owns most of the engineering companies in the kingdom and at least two on every other continent other than Antarctica. He's likely got more money than we do."
Giselle's brows lifted.
"So I have to be on my best behavior tonight?"
"You have nothing to worry about. Just be yourself."
Eric thought a bit. "Can I ask you to play for them? Maybe the piece you wrote yesterday."
Giselle's eyes brightened. "I'd love to," she said. She looked at the batter on the table. "Maybe we should get one of the chef's to make the dessert though."
"I'm not giving up tasting that cake," Eric said before he could think. He really did have a great love for cake. Giselle laughed. "Don't worry, I'll finish it. I just don't want to risk underwhelming your guests with something so ordinary."
Eric looked at her, she made sense. "But . . . we do still get to have the cake?" He asked. Giselle's eyes squinted slightly before she laughed again. "Yes! Oh, my soul, Eric, what is it with you and Shane and cake?" She shook her head.
"Don't answer that. Come on. I'll pour the batter and place them in the oven then you can help me with the frosting. You'll have plenty of time to get ready for dinner with your prestigious guests."
Eric smiled as he watched her walk back to the table.
I'd rather be doing this, he thought, surprising himself as he followed her.
K: Aw, thank you, love
Monicka: Haha. Yeah, sorry about taking long. The boat thing will be clear in a few chapters :)
Miha: Aw, thank you! I really love Shane and Eric's relationship - I love writing about it. Thanks so much for your encouragement.
Sweetpea: Yeah, next post will come in a few days, pinky promise!
Naina: Ah, I'm sorry, yeah. I've been half stressing about this as well. Like, I was too scared to check the date the last chapter was posted because I was too scared to think about how much time had passed.