“And a cherry on each of the custard creams, as well as a sprig of mint on the lime tarts!” I nodded as my assistant, Sadira, ran around me with a clipboard full of notes for my desserts. I went to the pantry and pulled out the tub of cherries and mint, and walked around the dozens of trays that were displaying my creations for the ball tonight. The kingdom was hosting a ball to celebrate the coming of age of Princess Velora. At 24, I was the kingdom’s best and youngest baker, and I was invited to create all sorts of desserts for the ball. And as the other daughter of King Maxim and Queen Nehara, my parents were counting on me to make my younger sister feel special.
For her ball, my baby sister had requested all her favorite desserts, the ones I would make for her when we would sneak into the kitchens after everyone thought we were asleep. Custard creams with candied cherries, lime mint tarts, and apple pies covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon were just the beginning. Then came the cakes. The first was a stunning ombré rosette cake with layers of red velvet sponge and then sprinkled with pink sugar dust. That was then succeeded by an absolutely dreamy and sophisticated coconut cake, iced with coconut frosting, generously covered with a handful or two of coconut shavings, and finally embellished with a champagne-colored satin bow at the base. Next up was a cinnamon-spiced apple cake drizzled on top with luscious caramel sauce, as bourbon-laced brown sugar buttercream oozed in between the layers. And last but not least, the cream of the coup, the dessert that I was most proud of, a double tier vanilla and almond cake with the bottom tier enclosed in edible silver leaf and adorned with a single sugar magnolia to honor the name of our beloved kingdom.
I must say, I was very proud of my desserts and couldn’t wait to see the look on Velora’s face once she saw all that I had prepared for her ball.
“Natilee!!” I was jolted out of my trance by Sadira’s voice. I craned my neck to find her amidst the towering cakes, studying her clipboard frantically. I walked over to her, dusting my hands on my apron.
“What is it?” I asked. She was running through the guest list.
“Did you know that Morgan was invited?” She arched an eyebrow at me. My face suddenly grew hot, something that the open oven next to us had nothing to do with. I grabbed the list from her and scanned the names. Sure enough, Morgan Serril (1) was right at the bottom of the guests.
“Are you seriously cracking my eggs right now?” I asked indignantly. My brain raced, trying to think of possible outcomes of tonight. I blinked and forced a smile on my face as I turned to Sadira, who totally didn’t believe me but nodded anyway.
“Well, at least he has the sense to come alone.” I practically snarled at her as I turned back to my cakes. Crapsticks. And here I thought nothing could go wrong. I scowled up at the ceiling, cursing the gods who were probably laughing above me. I turned back to my cakes and attacked the lemon tarts with the almond buttercream icing that would pair nicely with the tartness of the….well, tart.
Morgan Serril was the bread to my butter, the jam to my toast, the sugar to my…honey? I don’t know that exact analogy, but he was basically my best friend. He and I had first met when I had wandered into the kitchen, seeking something to do when my sister was born, and all the attention was on her. He was working the ovens, trying to support his family, and we had instantly clicked over chocolate chip cookies and a flour fight. We were friends for over a decade, always together, and always on each other’s sides. As we’d grown older, our feelings toward each other had changed, and we fell in love. It was the happiest time of my life. And just when it couldn’t get better, Morgan had proposed, and I’d accepted. We were to be married the following spring. But one day, I’d gone down to the kitchen and found out from our cook, Urgann, that he’d resigned the night before and left the castle. I was devastated. I hadn’t heard anything about him or from him since. So, I vowed never to trust a guy with my heart anymore.
Sadira had been my lady-in-waiting, and she had spent many nights comforting me with hot tea and desserts. She was my best friend during all that. After I left the castle, I’d taken her with me to be my business partner, but she’d declined, saying that she didn’t like baking but loved numbers. So, I’d made her my financial assistant with the salary of a partner.
I knew what I was going to do tonight. My desserts were my cover. I was going to pretend that I didn’t know him. I was going to humiliate him. And I was going to make him regret everything. I finished icing the tarts and straightened, looking over them all. I stared in shock, then burst out laughing. I hadn’t realized it while I was icing, but I’d iced the silhouette of a pile of poop on each tart. Everyone would be scandalized, but I knew Velora would love them.
“Alright, Sadira, I’m done.” She was going to handle the shipping of the desserts from my bakery, Natilee’s Cakes Cookies and Confections, to the castle. She came over and snickered when she saw the icing and marked stuff down on her clipboard.
“So, you’re heading home to get ready for tonight?” I nodded, untying my apron and hanging it on the hook.
“Yeah, I was going to head up the castle with my dress, so Vel and I can get ready together.”
“Aww, that’s sweet!!” Sadira said, smiling at me, before turning back to her clipboard and running out to the front of the shop. I grabbed my coat and hat and walked out the back door. Fall was slowly turning into winter in the Kingdom of Magnolia, and there was a nip in the air that smelled of upcoming snow. I grinned at the thought of all the snowflake cookies and cakes I could make and was too busy imagining the look of delight on my customer’s faces to watch where I was going.
“Oof.” I gasped as I collided with someone walking the other way.
“Oh, I’m so sorry-” I broke off as I looked up at the person I’d run into. With wavy dark brown and reddish hair, piercing hazel eyes, and the chiseled face that still had its dimples, Morgan Serril had aged handsomely. I realized I was gaping, so I closed my mouth and moved around him, praying he hadn’t recognized me. Of course, the fates couldn’t allow me a single break, and he reached out an arm to stop me. Muttering curses at the fates I shoved at his arm.
“Let go of me!” I growled.
“Natilee, wait.” Gods, even his voice changed. His arm tightened around me, so I did the only thing I could think of. In my defense, I was a baker and a princess at that. I didn’t know much about defending myself. I elbowed him in the side and bit down hard on his arm. Surprised, he yelped and let me go. I took off down the cobbled street and down to the market. Surely he’d lose me there. Amidst the stall selling fruits and vegetables, I ducked under the booth and watched as Morgan’s shoes ran past me. I held my breath, peering through the wooden boards to make sure he was gone, before popping back out. I pressed a coin into the startled merchant’s hand, gratefully smiling at him, and ran the opposite direction to my house. Thank…not the gods, they weren’t on my side anymore, but thank toast I’d lost him.
My home was situated on the edge of town, a small apartment that the owner had tried to give to me for free since I was the princess, but I’d refused, wanting to pay for it with my hard-earned money. It was small, one bedroom, bathroom, closet, kitchen, and I loved it. I let myself in and walked into my bedroom, opening my closet up. I had a lot of other dresses and fancy-schmancy stuff up in my room at the castle, but the dress I was planning on wearing tonight was a greenish-blue gown made of soft, satiny fabric, long and loose. A semicircular, high collar made of silk-like materials headed the ankle-length robe. The color matched my eyes and was the perfect complement to my dark brown hair. I grabbed the dress and gently placed it in my bag before heading back out of my apartment. I started back through town and up the long walk to the castle.
Feidelm Castle was situated on the top of the plateau, overlooking the town that was in the shadow of the castle. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but I enjoyed the hike. I finally arrived at the front gates, and the bellboy let me in. I ran up through the servent passageways that I had memorized a long time ago and reached my sister’s room. I knocked on the door, and her hand-maiden, Frione, smiled as she opened the door and let me in.
“Natilee!!!!” Velora squealed as I came up behind her. I kissed her cheek and gave her a small hug, as much as I could do while she was getting her hair pinned up. I laid my dress on her bed and went over to help Frione put the finishing touches of makeup on Vel’s face. She looked radiant, ready to make her formal appearance to the town, and I was so proud of her.
At every coming-of-age ball, each princess or prince must present to the guests their preferred talent. Mine was baking, and I’d charmed my way into the hearts, and stomachs, of the people with my scrumptious tarts and lavish cakes. Velora loved painting, and earlier, all the pieces that she had wanted to present had been hung up in the ballroom on full display to the court and the townspeople. She was super excited for the guests to discover what she was most proud of.
“Nat, will you put on my tiara?” I smiled at her in the mirror and nodded, getting the tiara from her jewelry box. Passed down from mother to daughter, I’d worn the same one when I was presented at my ball. It was a small silver tiara, threaded with sapphires and rubies that glinted in the glow that Vel radiated. I carefully placed it on the crown of braids that Frione had painstakingly put up and stepped back to admire my sister. With beautiful big blue eyes, caramel skin, glossy brown hair, and a bold purple dress that hugged her curves, she was every inch the princess she was about to be presented as. “Ok, now your turn.” Vel clapped her hands with glee, and I laughed at the eager expression on her face.
After about an hour, we were ready. I was wearing my dress, and Friona had put my hair up in a simple braided crown with the rest of my hair brushed out and falling to my bare shoulders. Vel had given me a couple of pairs of earrings to choose from, and I'd picked small diamond tear-shaped ones, as well as a short sapphire necklace with a pendant that rested in the hollow of my throat. We both looked amazing, and I couldn't wait for Morgan to see me now.
There was a knock on our door, and Frione went to answer it. She came back with a big smile.
"The ball is in full swing, and everybody's waiting for you." I grinned at Velora and held out my arm for her to take. We walked out of her rooms, and the guards fell in position behind us. Down the grand staircase, we went, and the few people milling outside the ballroom smiled at the sight of us. We finally walked up to the steward, who smiled at us before turning to the full room and announcing her.
"Princess Velora Keia Iyanna Saena and Princess Natilee Mavena Krisia Saena!" A hush fell over the guests as everyone turned to watch my sister gracefully enter the ballroom. Parting ways for her, everyone bowed as she passed, making her way to the two thrones at the far end of the ballroom where our proud parents sat. I walked a few steps behind her and merged with the crowd, walking over to the long table on the far end where my desserts were displayed.
"I must say, you really outdid yourself tonight, Nat," Sadira said as I walked up to her. She was dressed in a lilac dress, with her hair pulled up in a ponytail. She looked great.
"Thanks, Sadira. I hope she likes it."
"Princess Natilee." I stiffened as a deep voice said my name behind me.
"Morgan," I said quietly, as I turned to face the man who had broken my heart all those years ago.