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Happily Inc.

Happily Inc.

Happily Inc.

Happily Inc.

Chapter One - A Very Merry Princess

De-princessing one's life wasn't the easiest thing in the world. There were the obvious items to leave home—tiaras, scepters, ladies-in-waiting. But there were also actual problems. For Bethany Archer, otherwise known as Princess Bethany of El Bahar, the complications included her passport. As in, which one to take on her trip.

She had her American passport by virtue of being born in California and spending the first nine years of her life there. But once she and her mom had moved to El Bahar and her mother married Crown Prince Malik, who two years ago had become the king, Bethan had become an honest-to-goodness princess, with an El Baharian passport. One that under Occupation actually said Princess.

She looked at the two official booklets on her bed, then groaned and shoved both in her backpack. She would enter and exit the United States with her American passport, but have the El Baharian one with her just in case. Because where she went, complications followed.

If only her mother had fallen in love with an ordinary man. Someone as wonderful and loving as King Malik, but less …royal. Not that Bethany hated living at the famed El Baharian pink palace. Or working in the royal stables, or being with her three younger brothers, or her mother, Queen Liana. As for her adoptive father, the king, Bethany had loved him from their very first meeting when she'd been nine years old. But the monarchy thing really, really sucked.

Bethany's late biological father had raced cars for a living. Looking back, she had no idea how her parents had ever thought they could make their marriage work. After their divorce, Chuck had been far more interested in maintaining his cars than paying child support and he'd forgotten to spend time with his daughter.

In an effort to provide a home and college fund for her daughter, Liana had taken a job as a math teacher at the American School in El Bahar. The well-paying position was to be a temporary thing—just long enough to provide the two of them with a little financial security. But Liana and her daughter had caught the eye of the then-Crown Prince and within a matter of weeks, the couple had been married and Bethany had become a princess.

Bethany added her e-reader to her backpack, along with a few protein bars. The flight from El Bahar to the small airport near Happily Inc, California would take nearly seventeen hours, including one fuel stop. While meal service would be offered, she couldn't know if she would be able to leave the back of the plane for more than short bathroom breaks. That all depended on Rida and how he handled the journey.

She'd already packed her two duffels. She wasn't going on vacation, or traveling officially, so she wouldn't need much. Jeans, shirts and boots should do it. Her entire skin care regimen consisted of soap, water and sunscreen. Her idea of nonprincess makeup was mascara and lip gloss. The second duffel held her sleeping bag and a pillow.

"Are you ready?"

She turned toward the door and saw her mother walking into her suite. Queen Liana of El Bahar was a beautiful woman in her forties who dressed stylishly and always looked perfectly pulled together. Bethany supposed it helped that famous designers were forever dropping by with new clothes for her mother to try.

Her mother never forgot where she'd come from. One of her favorite charities helped women get an education so they could raise themselves out of poverty and take care of their families. In addition to serving on the board of the charity, the queen purged her wardrobe every year and sold the pieces at a fund-raising auction.

One day, Bethany promised herself. One day she would be as smart and gracious and pulled together as her mother. As of yet, that day had not arrived.

"I see you're packed," Liana said as she hugged her daughter. "I wish you didn't have to go."

"Me, too, but there's no way Rida can go by himself. He'll need me along."

"You'll miss Thanksgiving dinner and I'll miss you."

Bethany tried not to smile. "I'll miss you, too, Mom, but Thanksgiving dinner? Seriously? Do you want me to remind you about last year?"

Her mother's mouth twitched. "I would prefer you didn't. It wasn't my fault."

"Yeah, those wily calendar people tricked you."

El Bahar, known diplomatically as the Switzerland of the Middle East, was a multicultural haven of many faiths. There were always myriad holidays to celebrate and the royal family enjoyed all of them, including Thanksgiving.

After nearly twenty years away from California, and with no in-palace turkeys and pilgrims to provide a reminder, Thanksgiving occasionally took a backseat to other events. Last year Liana had forgotten completely until two o'clock on the very day. The staff had been uncomfortable watching the queen run shrieking through the palace, begging for a turkey with stuffing and gravy, along with pumpkin pie, all by seven that evening.

The family had agreed to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday instead, with Bethany's three younger brothers not understanding the big deal. Of course they had been born and raised in El Bahar. Their knowledge of the United States was limited to a few visits and what their mother told them. Plus none of them especially enjoyed turkey.

"I have the holiday on my calendar now," Liana said with a sigh. "I was planning on a big turkey dinner with lots of leftovers. What will you do? I might have forgotten last year, but you'll be in the States. It will be all Thanksgiving, all the time. I don't want you to be lonely."

"I'll be fine," Bethany promised. "Rida and I will try to make sense of American football. You know he's a fan."

"Very funny." Her mother looked around the room and smiled. "I still like that you're living in this suite."

The huge apartment was the same one Liana and her daughter had been given when they'd first come to the palace, all those years ago. The furniture had changed, but the view of the Arabian Sea was still the same, as was the decoration on the wall.

The mural of beautiful Arabian horses galloping across the desert had been the first thing that stirred Bethany's interest in their new home. Then she'd seen the Crown Prince's large stable of beautiful horses and she'd been a total goner.

When her mother had married Malik, Liana and Bethany had moved in with him. On her eighteenth birthday, Malik had presented Bethany with this suite to be her own.

"It brings us back full circle," she told her mother, then shook her head. "Mom, I'm going to be fine."

"I know. You're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself."

Bethany knew there was more. With her mother, there was always more. "But?" she prompted.

"I just want you to be happy."

"I am happy."

"Fine. Then I'll be more specific. I want you to fall madly in love and I want grandchildren. There, I said it. Now you can hate me forever."

At twenty-six, Bethany kind of wanted the same thing. All right, not grandchildren, but a man who loved her and a couple of babies would be really, really nice.

"Not that I'm trying to pressure you," her mother added primly. "You have to make your own decisions."

Bethany laughed. "Right, Mom. No pressure." As for making her own decisions, to date, she'd done an excellent job of making bad ones. Especially when it came to men.

"I'll always have my career," she said, trying to smile so her mother wouldn't worry.

"Your career won't keep you warm at night."

"It will if I sleep in the stable."

"How you love to torment your beautiful mother," King Malik said as he swept into the room. "I will not complain because you are the daughter of my heart and can do no wrong, but know that she worries about you."

King Malik—relatively new to the title since his own father stepped down a mere five years ago—was tall and handsome, with dark eyes and dark hair. He wore a stylish business suit, with a shirt and tie. He saved his traditional El Baharian garb for his frequent trips into the desert. The country might be incredibly modern and financially successful, but it never forgot its desert roots and neither did the king.

"You are leaving us again," Malik said, kissing Bethany on the cheek. "We will be heartbroken."

"I'm the one whose heart is shattered," she said, only half kidding. "I can't believe you sold Rida. You rarely sell your stallions and technically he's still a colt. He's only four. And to sell him to some guy I've never heard of in California. What's up with that?"

Malik shook his head. "You dare to question the decision of your king? I have failed you as a father."

Bethany groaned. "Dad, this is serious."

Malik's eyes brightened with amusement. "I agree. I am the great and powerful king of all the land, yet you speak to me so impertinently. A punishment must be arranged."

"She's missing Thanksgiving," Liana said with a sigh. "That is punishment enough."

"Ah, so we will be remembering it this year, will we, my sweet?" he asked, taking Liana's hand in his and kissing her knuckles. "I am beyond delighted."

"You two are weird," Bethany said as she picked up her backpack. "I have to go get Rida so we can head to the plane." She looked at her father. "All kidding aside, I'm still not happy you did this, Dad."

"I know, my child. I think Rida will do well in America, but if you are not satisfied with the facilities, then you have my permission to bring him home. I will not question your decision."

"Thank you." She knew she could trust his word. Not once had Malik ever lied to her.

Her father glanced at her mother, then back at her. "As you requested, the stable manager in Happily Inc has been informed that a Beth Smith will be accompanying Rida on his journey and will be staying with him until he is settled."

"I appreciate that."

She knew her parents didn't understand why she sometimes preferred to be a regular person rather than a princess, but they respected her wishes. As her father had never been anything but a Crown Prince and then King, he didn't know any differently, but she did. Despite her occasional appearance in gossip magazines, she was a relative unknown and preferred to keep it that way. Rather than use her before-being-a-princess-real-last-name, she went with an alias to avoid being found on the internet. Plain Beth Smith could move easily through life, unnoticed by all. Princess Bethany of El Bahar took up a lot more room on the stage.

It was like her job at the royal stables. Had she even hinted she was interested, her father would have given her some lofty position, simply because she was his daughter. But Bethany preferred to earn her place, so she was a (somewhat) lowly groom, assigned to a few horses at a time. Rida being one of them.

"You'll be back by Christmas?" her mother asked anxiously. "You have to be."

"Mom, I promise. Rida will need a few weeks to get settled. I'll know long before Christmas if I can leave him or not. Either way I'll be home."

Her parents hugged her. As they held her close, she felt more like she was six rather than twenty-six, and leaving home for the first time ever. It was always like this, she thought to herself. The palace had become her haven and traveling outside its protective walls meant risking far too much. But Rida needed her and she would be there for him, no matter how much leaving home cost her this time.

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Where people live ... wait for it ... happily ever after