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Chapter One

I'm in love! I'm in love! I'm in looooooveeeee!

I'm in love with a guy who I think is completely and totally perfect—he's got brains, he's funny, and best of all...he actually likes me. He's one of those guys where, if he were famous, everyone would constantly talk about how hot he is and flip through copies of Teen People looking for a really good pic of him, but if he happened to be the guy sitting next to you in Chemistry every day, you'd describe him as being decently good-looking (if you took the time to actually think about him) but not drool-worthy.

But the thing is, he is kind of famous. At least in a small, German-speaking part of Europe.

That's because I'm in love with a prince. And I don't mean that I'm in love with a prince from seeing him in a magazine and thinking he's hot. Oh, no.

Like, I'm actually going out with one.

I kid you not. With a prince. And it's not like I love him because he's a prince. I love him and he happens to be a prince.

And sometimes, I love him even though he's a prince, because there can be some serious downsides to dating a guy who actually has a 'lineage' instead of plain ol' relatives like the rest of us.

Since my English teacher back in Virginia was always trying to bash into my head that stories all have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end—I tend to jump around from place to place in my essay assignments—I'll start at the once-upon-a-time beginning before I get into the whole love part.

Once upon a time, there was this not quite cool, average-looking redheaded girl named Valerie Winslow, or Val for short. (That'd be me.)

One night, over a dinner of Kraft Mac & Cheese, Val's (my) mother, Barbara, announced that she wanted a divorce from her husband, Martin, (yep, from my dad) thus ending their storybook relationship. Barbara claimed she'd discovered her True Self and needed to follow her destiny.

And she did...right over the rainbow.

Her True Self, it turns out, had fallen in love with someone she'd met at the gym named Gabrielle, a skinny blonde vegan about ten years Barbara's junior.

Yes, it's a strange fairy tale. And yes, Gabrielle is a female.

By a cruel twist of fate, Martin just happened to have a cushy job as the Chief of Protocol in a very conservative White House where having your wife step out of the closet was frowned upon, particularly when the President decides to run for re-election and tout his family values on Meet the Press and during campaign trips to all fifty states. So Martin quietly relocated to the tiny European principality of Schwerinborg (yeah, don't even try to pronounce it), where the royal family agreed to do the President a favor and employ Martin until after the next U.S. election, at which time it was understood Martin could return to his duties in the good ol' U.S. of A., advising the White House on such important topics as the appropriate colors to wear while attending a state funeral in India or whether it's okay to serve lamb chops to dignitaries from the Seychelles.

In the meantime, this situation left Val (yup, still me) with quite the fairy tale-ish dilemma: where to live?

Staying in northern Virginia held its appeal—namely, Val's best friends, Christie, Jules, and Natalie. Then there was this gorgeous guy named David Anderson, whom Val had been crushing on since they met on the first day of kindergarten and who had finally noticed her in that way.

However, unable to handle living with her mother and ultra-vegan Gabrielle in their new apartment, which involved being forced to switch to a different high school—not to mention living on a diet of things like Tofurkey and bulgur wheat—Val (again, me) opted to go to Schwerinborg, where everyone speaks German. There, she lived in a tiny palace apartment with her father, which isn't as swanky as it sounds. Val and Martin discovered that properly heating—let alone renovating—the wing of the palace that houses the employees isn't exactly a high priority use for Schwerinborg's tax revenue.

But then, because this is a fairy tale and I forgot to start at the beginning, everyone already knows what happened next. When Val was feeling lower than low (in other words, holding a pity party for herself) she bumped into a guy her own age who had a knack for making her laugh.

More precisely, she bumped into Prince Georg Jacques von Ederhollern of Schwerinborg. (Not George, but Georg. Pronounced gay-org. Like the uptight Austrian Julie Andrews fell for in The Sound of Music. Watch it sometime and you'll understand.) Needless to say, Prince Georg was (and is!) totally, completely hot. Val really liked Georg, despite his strange name, and it turned out that Georg liked Val back and could kiss like nobody's business.

And right now, they're living happily ever after. The gorgissimo prince and the ordinary American girl with freakish red hair. Well, except for the fact the tabloids once snapped a pic of them (us) and claimed that the country's future leader might be hooking up with a 'corrupt' American girl. Since we were seen coming out of a bathroom together, the paper speculated that there might have been drugs involved. ( So not my style. Please.)

But that was just a blip. And things are really good between us now.

I know, because right now he's knocking at my door with his homework-filled backpack slung over one shoulder and a bag from McDonald's—my nutritional Achilles heel—in his hand. I'm feeling very happily-ever-afterish, watching him through the peephole, wondering how long I can torture him before I open the door.

Or how long I can torture myself, because I really want to plant one right on those delicious lips of his. Well, and then snag that Mickey D's bag to see what fattening, artery-clogging delicacy he brought me.

I think this is how all fairy tales should be, really. No mean stepparents (much as Gabrielle drives me insane, she's really okay), no evil witches with poisoned apples (though there is this one girl at school named Steffi who's determined to snag Georg for herself—not that she'll ever admit it in public), and lots of fast food and making out.

"I know you're looking through the peephole, Valerie," Georg says.

Shoot. So not what Prince Charming would say to Cinderella, even though Georg says it in the most delicious European accent.

I pull the door open and, as much as I want to play it cool, especially given that my very protocol-minded dad is just a few steps away in the kitchen—and it is literally a few steps, since this apartment is dinky—I can't. Georg's simply too phenomenal for words and too willing to kiss me blind during the few seconds I have the door open behind me, blocking Dad's view of us.

And, thankfully, the door's also blocking Georg's view of Dad. Dad's been acting strange ever since I got home from spending my winter break in Virginia, and I don't think Georg needs to witness any of the strangeness.

Dad's totally straitlaced—I mean, the guy accompanies VIPs to the Royal Ballet and he knows the difference between a shrimp fork and a salad fork without even having to think about it—but a few minutes ago, he was dancing while he diced tomatoes for dinner. Dancing. Shaking his forty-something groove thang and the whole bit. When I asked him what was up with that, he just shrugged and said it was because Modern Love was on the radio and everyone has to dance to David Bowie.

Um, I think not.

© Niki Burnham