Authors: Abigail Snow
Matilda dressed carefully in a loose cotton dress, perfect for the humid weather currently winding its way through the city, and tied her hair back in an elegant but casual knot. Her entire body was thrumming and, like a caffeine addict about to enjoy a steaming hot, aromatic cup of coffee, she was eagerly anticipating the delicious feel of Damian’s lips on hers. She practically danced her way to their usual meeting spot a few blocks from her apartment, telling Colin that she needed to do some research at the library for her work.
She turned the corner, her senses straining for the first sight of Damian’s tall, athletic body, leaning casually against the brick of the building.
She spotted him, and immediately her heart started beating faster, her lips automatically stretching into a smile.
“Hi, babe,” he greeted her, giving her a long, lingering kiss. “
Mmm, you taste like strawberries and cream.”
“More like ham sandwiches, probably,” she said, and he chuckled.
“You always taste amazing,” he told her. “Ready for another adventure?”
“Yes, please,” she said eagerly. Over the past week, Damian had shown her so many amazing spots in and around the city. From the first day on the boat, they had explored the nooks and crannies around the parks, enjoyed
searching through quirky stores in Dupont Circle and eaten at amazing little restaurants in local spots like Chinatown and as far out as Rockville, where Damian had promised, and delivered, some of the best food she had ever eaten.
She had been blown away by his independent spirit and his seemingly unending knowledge of great spots to visit. She delighted at the feeling of his arm around her shoulders as they walked to where his car, a battered old sedan, was waiting.
“Food first?” he asked. “I know a great Thai place.”
“I’m starving,” Matilda said.
She leaned back in the faded passenger seat, intrigued as ever with studying his profile as he drove. She still couldn’t wrap her head around why someone so handsome and exciting would be with someone dull and boring like her.
“You’ve been to Thailand, right?” she asked, eager to hear his stories about his travels. He gave her a lazy smile, and turned off the street and headed north.
“Yeah,” he said. “I travelled through Thailand for about a year. It’s got to be my absolute favorite cuisine. You ever tried Thai food?”
“Not really,” Matilda admitted. “Just Chinese.”
“Oh, you’re going to love it,” he said, and Matilda thrilled at how excited he sounded to introduce her to something new. “When I was in Thailand, I tried a khanom chin nam ngiao
you ever heard of it?”
“No,” Matilda admitted.
“Oh, man, it was hilarious. It was one of the best things I ever tasted. A native guy I met invited me to his home and told me this dish was a specialty, and it was his grandmother’s recipe, so I knew it had to be fantastic
and it was!
“I only as
ked afterwards what was in it. I thought his English was wrong when he told me.”
“Why? What was it?” Matilda asked, fascinated.
“It’s fermented noodles with pork blood,” he said. “Absolutely delicious, but you have to do a double take when someone tells you you’ve been sucking down pork blood,” Damian said frankly. “They make it by curdling the blood, then dicing it. Really flavorful.”
“I’m not sure I’d eat that,” Matilda admitted. “Although we do eat blood pudding in England.”
“Yeah, it tastes pretty good,” Damian admitted. “Don’t worry, though, the place I’m taking you does plenty of good stuff which doesn’t have anything too outlandish in it.”
“I trust you,” laughed Matilda.
She loved his casual attitude to the outlandish, and she longed to prove to him that she, too, was adventurous. Although she felt like she could be herself around him, a part of her still longed to impress him and show him that she wasn’t just a silly little girl.
They reached the restaurant, a little place tucked into a side street, with small, cozy tables and tranquil music playing.
“My favorite place to sit is in the garden out back,” Damian said. “It might be small, but it feels like a little corner of Thailand, especially in this weather.”
She allowed him to usher her outside, and asked incredulously as they sat down,
“How do you find these places? I mean, it’s not as if you lived her for more than, what, a few months?”
“When you travel a lot, you meet all kinds of people, and they’ve been all kinds of places. I’ve met dozens of people who’ve lived in and around DC, and they’
ve given me all their secrets
or some of them at least. I bet if I asked you the best places to go in England, you’d have all sorts of interesting secrets to tell me.”
The way he said the last part made Matilda blush, the double meaning in his words making her at once excited and nervous.
She also felt a pang of guilt about the biggest secret she was keeping. She still hadn’t told him that she was a member of the Royal Family.
“You’ve been here before, though?” she asked.
“Loads of times,” he admitted. “Like I said, Thai is my number one favorite
the spicier, the better.”
Matilda looked up at him and felt like sh
e could never live up to him. He’d been so many places and tried so many new things compared to her. What had she done? What could he ever see in her, aside from a pet he could entertain easily?
The waiter came for their orders, and Matilda resolved to be ambitious.
“I’ll have the
what was it again? The cunning chin no-no?”
Khanom chin nam ngiao?” he asked. “Are you sure?”
want to try new things,” she said stubbornly. “I’ll have
what he said, please,” she directed at the waiter.
“It’s not on the menu,” he pointed out.
“Oh!” Matilda felt incredibly stupid. She wished the little fountain in the garden would suddenly turn into a flood and wash her away. Damian, on the other hand, was looking at her with admiration.
“Points awarded for bravery,” he assured her. “We’ll need a few minutes,” he added to the waiter, who nodded and left.
“I’m an idiot,” Matilda stated, blushing from the roots of her hair right down to her toenails.
“No, it’s my fault. I should have told you t
hat’s something of a specialty. I don’t think many restaurants would make it,” he said. “Here.” He held out the menu to her. “These are all excellent.”
Taking the menu and hiding her face behind it, Matilda fell just a little bit more in love with Damian. He was so kind and caring!
As Damian looked at her, hiding her blush behind her menu, he smiled to himself. She was just too cute. He couldn’t help but love spending time with her. Just until my interest fades, he told himself, but deep down, he wondered if this was it for him. Was this little English girl really everything he had travelled the world searching for, or was she just a passing fancy for him? As much as he hated to admit it, he was pretty sure he had fallen for her.
After dinner, Damian drove them back into the city, and they strolled, hand in hand, down t
owards the National World War II Memorial, where pillars representing each of the states surrounded a pool of clear, tranquil water. It was empty; although it was Friday night, the clouds were heavy in the sky, promising rain, and it was already late.
Matilda was quiet, still feeling embarrassed by her stupidity, although Damian had been incredibly nice about it and, for some reason, didn’t seem to think she was an absolute idiot.
“Have you been here yet?” he asked as they drew level with the pool.
“No,” Matilda said.
“We’re lucky to be here in the evening when all the tourists have gone elsewhere,” he said. “Usually it’s full of people. Come on.” He led her to the edge of the water, slipping off his sandals and dipping his feet into the pool.
“Are we allowed to do that?” she asked
“Of course. Besides, would it stop you?” he asked
, his eyes daring her to be bold. She decided she’d looked like enough of a fool for one evening. She’d be reckless for once and not care about the consequences.
She sat down next to him and slid her feet into the deliciously cool water. It felt wonderful in contrast to the heavy summer air.
“This feels so good!” she said out loud. “I never got to do anything like this back in England.”
“Why not?” Damian asked.
“Just… I was never allowed to do anything fun, or by myself. There were always rules to obey and commitments to fulfil,” she said.
“You sound like
you had such a sheltered life. I don’t understand how anyone could keep such a free spirit in chains,” Damian said, looking straight into her eyes.
“I’m not a free spirit,” she said desolately. “I’m just a girl.”
“You’re much more than just a girl,” he contradicted her. “You’re amazing. You’re so beautiful and strong and you don’t even realize it. You’ve never let anyone tell you what to do as long as I’ve known you, not even me. Everything about you tells me you’re independent and completely able to think for yourself. You’re the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met.
“I think I’ve fallen for you hard, Matilda,” he finished.
“I don’t think that I’ll ever want to leave, not now that you’re here.”
Matilda’s heart was thumping hard in her chest, and she wondered if she was dreaming, or had imagined the words. How could a guy like Damian have fallen for a silly little girl like her?
He must just be leading her on, telling her what she wanted to hear. But he always seemed so sincere. Could he truly mean it?
“I just don’t think I’m as great as you seem to think,” she said, and then thought: what am I saying? This amazing guy likes me and I’m trying to tell him what a loser I am. Why am I so dumb?
“I think you’re a lot more exceptional than you think,” Damian said. “You’ve had people telling you what to do all your life, yet you’re here, in America, doing something you love, with me. Tell me how exactly that makes you ordinary?”
“But my family would never allow it if they knew,” she said, forcing herself to speak the ugly truth.
“Sometimes you have to stand up for what you want no matter what anyone else says,” Damian said. “I want to show you everything, Matilda, not just this city. I want to take you with me to Europe, to Asia, to each and every country on the planet, just to see your face as you discover something new.”
“That sounds incredible,” she
admitted, and her heart yearned to do it even as her mind gave her an update on all the reasons she couldn’t. “But I can’t leave. I have a job here, and my family would never allow it.”
“I understand you not wan
ting to leave your job, but you’re a grown woman
I can’t say I understand why your family holds such sway over you,” he said, a touch of impatience in his voice.
Maatilda sighed. This was the last thing she wanted to get into with Damian. She wanted to enjoy her time with him, not to be reminded that she could never really be with him.
hen explain it to me,” he said.
“It’s not important. Let’s just enjoy our time together now,” she said.
“No,” Damian replied. “I want to be with you, Matilda. I want to travel with you. This isn’t just a fling for me, no matter what it is for you. I want to stay with you, explore new things with you
and I can’t do that if you’ve put some sort of sell-by date on us because of your family.”
Matilda felt tears welling in her eyes at the harsh tone of voice Damian was
using, and blinked them back. She felt as if she had been punched hard in the stomach just from this small reprimand. Had she really fallen so far that Damian could affect her emotions with a few words?
“It’s not that I’m trying to keep anything from you,”
she said desperately, “I just
there are things about me that aren’t great, and I don’t want you to hate me for anything outside my control.”
“Everything can be controlled. You just need to be brave enough to do it,” Damian said. “If you’re not, then maybe you aren’t the woman I thought you were.”
“Maybe I’m not,” Matilda agreed, a heavy feeling in her stomach. It was over. It was already over between them. She tried not to let the despair swallow her whole. Quickly, she rose with a splash from her seat next to the water, trying to pull away, run home.
Damian caught her around the waist, holding her tight and burying his face in her hair. She could feel his remorse for his hard words in every point of contact between their bodies.
“I’m sorry,” he said gently, kissing her softly on top of her silky hair. “I didn’t mean that.”
Matilda turned around and kissed him tenderly on the lips, trying to tell him without words that he was forgiven. He pulled her closer, deepening the kiss, and she was left gasping when he finally pulled away, her hair a mess and her heart thudding. A split second later, Damian pulled her towards him again for a second savage kiss, bruising her lips with his intense passion,
holding her so tight that she could barely breathe.