Dating the Prince(9)

By: Addison Quinn

“Functional, too.” He motioned to the west side of the garden. “The queen’s garden. Everything over there is edible.”

Libby picked a path heading toward the queen’s garden and Alex was content to follow. “What’s she like?”

“Who?” he asked cautiously.

“The queen. Well, the entire royal family.” She peered up at him from underneath dark lashes. “Have you met them?”

Met them … lived with them. “They’re people, just like anyone else. So, tell me about your family. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No, it’s always just been me and my parents.” She pointed to the plant. “Fresh lemon thyme. I bet that’s delicious.”

Alex didn’t pay much attention to that sort of thing. Eating was usually crammed in between meetings and appointments. “I don’t cook very much.”

“It’s something I enjoy.” Kenzie let out a grunt and Libby grinned. “At home we grow most of our own food, so our meals are always fresh and delicious.”

“You must have a lot of land for that big a garden.”

“We do community farming at the commune. Everyone helps plant and harvest, and we all share the food.”

Did she say commune? Alex flicked his gaze to where Finn was hiding, wondering if the bodyguard was preparing to call in backup. Communes were where cults lived, right?

“It’s not as weird as it sounds,” Libby said with a laugh. “Just a huge tract of land owned by this heiress who’s a bit of a hippie. People who want a simple life apply to live at Ocean Meadow. The heiress vets applicants, and then people are invited to live at the commune on a trial basis for six months. Everyone in the community votes at the end on whether or not that family can stay. It’s all very democratic.”

“Sounds like it,” Alex said, using his best neutral tone—the one he reserved for foreign officials and dicey political discussions.

She nudged his shoulder with her own. “I swear it’s not weird. Most of the adults at Ocean Meadow have a college degree. We’ve got quite a few Ph.D’s living there right now. It was kind of a perfect childhood, honestly.”

“Did you go to public school then?”

“In high school, yeah. My parents gave me the choice and I really wanted to try a more traditional educational experience.”

“And what did you think?”

She shrugged. “There were pluses and minuses, just like with homeschooling. I decided to move back to Ocean Meadow after college.”

“And what did you study there?”

“Everything and nothing.” She laughed, and Kenzie started fussing again. “It all looked so interesting, but I never could settle on a major. I dropped out after only three semesters, much to the horror of my dad. He’s an adjunct environmental professor.”

Alex nodded, walking slowly beside Libby. She leaned close to a plant and smelled the blossoms. Happy. Free. Beautiful. Libby was all that and more.

“Enough about me,” she said. “How did you end up working at the palace?”

He cleared his throat and looked away. Now they were definitely toeing that awkward line where omitting the truth turned into outright lying. “My family’s worked at the palace for a while now. I had some connections that helped me get the job.”

“Ah, nepotism. My dad keeps telling me I have job at the college whenever I’m ready.”

Sunlight filtered through the archways overhead, dotting the path with tiny pinpricks of light. They fell over Libby’s hair, making the brown curls fairly glow. Kenzie let out another squeak, and Libby fished a pacifier from the carrier and stuck it in the baby’s mouth.

“Why did you come to Durham instead of taking a job in Oregon?” Alex asked. She seemed like the type of girl who’d do it just for the adventure.

Her shoulders sagged, and for the first time a hint of sadness crept over her. “My parents are going through a rough patch right now and talking about divorce. I just needed to get away for a while.”

Kenzie spit out the pacifier with a wail. Libby started bouncing on the balls of her feet, patting the baby’s back rhythmically.

“I’m sorry about the divorce,” Alex said quietly. That wasn’t a word in the vocabulary of the royal family. Not to say there weren’t unhappy marriages, but Somersets shoved their feelings under the surface and put on a smile for the citizens. Yet another reason why his public breakup had been so humiliating.

“I’m hoping the money will help.” Kenzie’s cries intensified and Libby swayed back and forth. “Are you getting hungry, sweetheart?”