I yawned, stretched my arms, and followed the scent of bacon. My shower did little to wake me up. I needed coffee and a lot of it. I descended the sweeping staircase into the kitchen, where the enticing scent of breakfast greeted me. My father stood by the kitchen island, sipping his morning coffee, glued to the television.

“Morning, Dad,” I greeted him, grabbing a piece of bacon from the platter. I was met with a nod, his attention still firmly fixed on the screen.

“Theo, take this,” Mom said and practically thrust the spatula in my hand. “Don’t let the pancakes burn.”

“Gee, good morning,” I muttered.

“What are they saying?” Mom rushed over to my father.

I glanced up at the screen mounted in the corner of the kitchen. The news anchor spoke of the upcoming royal weddings in the UK, and my father’s fascination with all things regal shone through. “Wedding season is upon us, Theo,” he said, finally acknowledging my presence. “Roman’s lucky to be over there, living the life.”

“Yep, lucky him,” I muttered. Roman, my older brother, was indeed living a life of luxury in the UK, basking in the royal limelight with his princess. With his absence, the responsibility of maintaining our family’s vast holdings fell on my shoulders. I would soon be overseeing the house staff, managing our finances, and handling all the high-level management of Ashford assets. It was an enormous responsibility, one that carried a singular requirement—I had to be wed.

It was supposed to go to Roman but his match to a royal princess meant he needed to spend the bulk of his time in England. He couldn’t possibly take care of the family business in the States. As the second in line, it fell to me. I supposed that was a good thing, but it was also a serious responsibility. It didn’t matter if I was ready. It was happening.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, contemplating the weight of my impending duties while my parents discussed all things Wed season. I wasn’t dreading it as much as my brother had, but I couldn’t pretend to be as excited as they were.

My mother walked back to the stove to check my progress on the pancakes. “You know, Theo, finding the right partner is crucial,” she said, her voice warm and maternal.

“I know. “

As I started flipping pancakes, my father’s voice grew louder and more animated. “Theo, come here! You need to see this.”

I joined him in front of the screen, where the camera had shifted its focus to a captivating figure. “She’s the one,” my father declared with certainty.

My heart skipped a beat as I gazed at the screen. Nora Hansen, the eldest daughter of Norway’s royal family, was there, smiling bashfully for the cameras. She was, without a doubt, drop-dead gorgeous. Her poise and elegance were mesmerizing.

Reporters swarmed Nora, asking about her participation in the upcoming wedding season. She seemed to stammer over her words, her grace momentarily faltering. I couldn’t help but be drawn to her, not just for her beauty but for the strength that I sensed beneath her façade. I could certainly do worse.

My father clapped me on the shoulder, his amusement all over his face. “Already got the girl weak in the knees, Theo.”

I watched Nora’s composure slowly return, her demeanor once again elegant and regal. It was then that I realized, with a tinge of hope, that this could be the solution to my impending responsibilities. Nora Hansen, a princess in her own right, could be the one who would stand by my side as I took over the Ashford legacy.

The aroma of pancakes filled the air as I stood by the stove, flipping them with practiced ease. It was just another morning in our grand mansion, the kind that felt almost ordinary amidst the opulence that surrounded us. My family was scattered around the kitchen, each occupied with their morning rituals.

My mother insisted on doing many of the normal jobs. Our family was extremely wealthy, titled when we were in the UK even, but we liked the American way of life. We liked blending in and not acting like we were royalty. My mom said it kept us humble.

As I resumed flipping pancakes, my mother started dishing up plates for my younger siblings. She turned her attention to me. “Theo, you know how important it is to find someone compatible. Love can’t be forced but it does grow on you.”

I nodded. “I know, Mom. I’m not going to let you guys down.”

In my family, we didn’t get to go out to a bar and see a pretty woman we liked and ask her out. Technically, I supposed we could do that, but it was never going to go beyond casual dating. My family was part of the Golden Society. Society dated back hundreds of years. Its sole purpose was to pair up members to make the most advantageous matches. Royalty and those with money and titles were part of the exclusive group. Our marriages were arranged by our parents. It was like a game of chess.

While technically my family wasn’t quite titled enough to marry one of the upper members of the major royal families, Roman had managed to wiggle his way in. Apparently, true love could not be ignored.

And it wasn’t like my family was destitute or plagued with scandal. We just weren’t pushing our English royalty in everyone’s faces. We lived a very quiet life in America where we were known only as the Ashford family.

Our titles were in name only back on English soil. They were passed down a few generations but we weren’t descended from kings and queens, which put us out of the running for the most sought after royal matches.

Except when it came to smaller countries. Then it was game on. I could give a shit about wearing a crown. It would get in the way of a soccer game. I appreciated my luxurious life and all the perks, but I didn’t think I was cut out for living in a castle. Then again, Roman was more anti-royal than I was and he seemed to be fitting in just fine.

The breakfast discussion was all about the upcoming Wed season. It was tradition. Every spring, the members of the Golden Society put forth their chosen children to be married. Back door deals were made long before the season actually started. We were allowed to party and flirt with all of the eligible participants, but our matches were often already established. In a way, it was a cruel trick. It gave us a chance to see what we couldn’t have.

I went about my day, but I couldn’t quite get Nora out of my head. She was beautiful, but she looked cold. Like someone that was all about her outward appearance. She smiled appropriately and knew when to speak and when to stay quiet.

As night fell over the grand mansion, I found myself in the home library with my manservant, Jack, who was also one of my best friends. Shelves upon shelves of books surrounded us, each one a testament to the history and knowledge of the Ashford family. The faint smell of cigar smoke hung in the room despite the air purifiers my mother insisted upon.

We were seated at a mahogany table, enjoying a smooth scotch and talking about the upcoming season.

We had brought our laptops to the library to do a little light stalking of my future wife. I wanted to research the royal family of Norway, particularly Nora Hansen, the eldest daughter. I knew of them, but I wanted to know more about her and her family. What exactly was I getting into?

Jack, ever the analytical thinker, was scrolling through articles on his laptop, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Theo, this is no ordinary family,” he began. “Their government was involved in a bad business deal that cost them a fortune. It’s all over the news.”

I nodded, absorbing the information as I read similar articles. Scandals were not uncommon among royalty, but a financial debacle of this magnitude was noteworthy. “Tell me more,” I urged as I clicked a link about Nora.

Jack was hunched over, reading and shaking his head. “They have properties all over the world that need restructuring. It’s no secret that whoever marries their daughter is expected to help with that.”

The weight of the revelation settled on my shoulders. I knew that marrying into a royal family came with responsibilities, but this was on a different scale altogether. Nora’s future husband would be tasked with not only managing their vast assets but also salvaging their damaged finances. I was Mr. Moneybags.

I sighed, my mind racing with the implications. “Do you think my parents know?”

“I’m sure they do,” he replied. “It’s big news. A princess gets stung by a bee and they’re going to know about it.”

I laughed. “True. I don’t know if I’m up for the job. Being a husband is one thing. Bringing years of bad financial management and shitty property management into the black is another. That’s a huge responsibility.”

Jack leaned back in his chair, offering a reassuring smile. “Theo, you’ve always risen to the occasion. Besides, this is an opportunity. It’s a chance to make a real difference, not just in your life but in the lives of others.”

His words struck a chord with me. Jack had always been the voice of reason and encouragement in my life, and he was right. Perhaps this was my calling, my chance to use my skills and resources to create positive change. My family’s business was all about property management, buying and selling. It wasn’t like I didn’t know how to do it.

We continued our research, delving deeper into the intricacies of the Norwegian royal family’s financial troubles. It was a complex web of investments, debts, and assets scattered across the globe. As I absorbed the information, I couldn’t help but think of Nora.

Jack glanced at me, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Marrying Nora means taking on not just her, but her family’s troubles as well.”

I met his gaze with determination. “I’ve always been taught that with privilege comes responsibility. If Nora and I can find common ground, I think I can do it.”

We each dug a little deeper before I closed the laptop. “Jack, I know I could be great for the business side of Norway, but what about Nora? What about the girl I’m going to wed? Am I good for her? Is she going to want me?”

Jack regarded me with a thoughtful expression. “I’ve never met her, but she’s pretty. She seems nice enough.”

I nodded. Love was a luxury, an added perk to a match. It wasn’t a requirement. Roman married for love and it just happened to be a really good match. He was lucky. I didn’t know if luck could strike the same family twice. “The woman I saw on the TV screen, she doesn’t look open to love. She seemed composed, regal, but distant.”

Jack smiled. “Appearances can be deceiving, Theo. We can’t judge someone solely based on a few minutes of media coverage. People often have layers, and we might discover more about her once we meet in person. She’s grown up in the spotlight. She knows she has to put on a certain look when she’s in front of the cameras. You’re not the same man when you’re meeting the movers and shakers. We all have to put on airs.”

I appreciated Jack’s optimism, but doubt still gnawed at me. “What if she’s just fulfilling her duty to her family, as I will be to mine? What if there’s no room for love in this arrangement?”

“I’ll repeat something I’ve heard your mother say—love can grow in unexpected places. Sometimes, it takes time for it to bloom, but it’s not impossible.”

I laughed and took a drink. “Thanks. Basically, suck it up and don’t bitch.”

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