Emma's parents had never quite understood why she was so fascinated with the cobbler's shop.
It wasn't much to look at, her mother argued. The main room was musky with the odor of fresh leather, dusty from the collection of shoes littered all over the place. The windows were dirty, as if they'd never been cleaned.
But, Emma would counter with a huff, the shoemakers themselves were the best in the entire realm, accumulating thousands of orders over the years ― and when you're busy like that, it's hard to keep everything in order all the time.
Her father would just shake his head and smile knowingly at her, as if he was exactly aware of why Emma kept demanding so many new pairs of shoes.
The life of a princess is serious. The life of a princess is important. The life of a princess is―
Emma cared about the fate of her subjects, she really did. She put an effort into her studies, she practiced the rules of state and etiquette until her head ached, and she tried her best to always obey her parents.
She tried to be a good princess. That counted for something, right?
But this whole suitor business was really a pain in the ass. Expectations everywhere she turned, choices that she didn't want to make.
There were a lot of moments, when she would have some free time to stare out her bedroom window at the sea, to drift off and let her imagination run free, where castles and kingdoms and futures were inconsequential.
Dreams that included her and a certain blue-eyed, dashing young man from a particular shop.
The first time she had noticed Killian was when the old shoemaker had died. David had paid a regal visit to the man's abode, mainly because the shop had been closed for days on end without any notice. The neighboring villagers had gotten worried and sent a man to ask the king and queen for their help. Her father had dragged her along as one of their lessons, as he called them. Emma, you need to interact with the people and get to know them. You will be queen someday.
She had pouted and kept her face glued to the carriage window during the entire ride there.
It turned out that not only was the wizened gentleman lying still in his bed, but there were two exceptional items hiding in the storage closet. Two dark heads, with elvish shaped ears, bodies shivering in each other's arms when David yanked the rusty door open and let the light in to shine on their faces.
The shoemaker at the time didn't have the best reputation. He was called miser, thief, cheat ― and that was on a good day. Who could have known that he had taken in two vagabonds as his apprentices, having them do his work at night and giving them scraps to eat as payment? They had been ordered never to come out of the closet during the day, to stay out of sight and not make any noise. Two orphan boys, abandoned years ago by their father and scared to death, even after David had given them Emma's lunch (she had fumed at that) and asked the guards to find some damn blankets.
Of course, her father just had to introduce her to them, still in a tantrum about the trip and her missing lunch and the whole day altogether. She was Princess Emma of Misthaven. They were Liam and Killian Jones, older and younger brother. She shook hands with them, curtsying only because of one whisper in her ear (be polite, sweetheart, or no riding for a month).
Amazed by their handiwork, David decided to give them the shoemaker's shop, seeing as he had no relatives to speak of and by God, the town still needed a resident cobbler. Emma wears out her shoes and slippers all the time, you'd think she was dancing all night, he told the two boys with a laugh.
Liam said he was old enough to take care of both of them. Killian hid his face in his brother's shoulder. Emma looked them over, curious why the smaller boy was so shy.
When he peeked at her, she was shocked by the color in his gaze, so clear and intense and decisive. She had never seen eyes like his.
Tentatively, he smiled at her, his cheeks red. To her own chagrin, she smiled back, blushing herself.
Naturally, she still fought her shoe fittings, but every month of every year, it was with a little less fervor, a little less resentment. By the time she was seventeen, she only pretended to be flummoxed by her parents' insistence she go to the cobblers.
Secretly, she'd take whatever chances she got to see Killian. There was a good reason why the village girls all swooned over him whenever he'd run errands in town.
When Liam was older, he was placed under the king's personal tutelage and offered a position in the Navy. After a while, Killian followed in his footsteps, and the shoemaker's shop was closed for a time.
The day they came back, safe and sound, to the Enchanted Forest was the happiest of Emma's life.
For Lieutenant Killian Jones, decorated by her father and knighted by her mother, was the man she wanted by her side and in her bed.
"Another pair ruined, Your Highness?" Killian tsked with a mocking smile. He held the shoes up with a curled finger. "What have you been doing in them?"
Emma pointed her nose in the air, peering out of the corner of her eye at the other customers. They were all fawning over Liam as he showed them the latest wares.
"That is frankly none of your business, Jones," she said briskly, sweeping past him to eye a lavish set of ballroom slippers. They were blue and white and extremely elegant, tailored for small feet.
Scratching behind his ear, Killian motioned toward the shoes. "Those are for Princess Ella, Your Highness. Your mother―"
"Commissioned them as a birthday present ― I know." Emma raised her eyebrows, glancing at the stairs that led to the workroom above their heads. "Don't you have anything special in my size?"
He nodded, extending a hand. She followed him up, taking each step carefully so she wouldn't trip over her dress. A small smile crossed her lips when he cursed as he fiddled with the keys, searching for the right one to slam into the lock.
They stood in the open doorway for just a moment before he was pulling her into the darkness, shutting the light out behind them.
Her back was pressed against the thick door, his hands on either side of her as his mouth found hers in a clashing of teeth and tongues. Their hungry moans echoed in the small space.
"Good God, we need to stop doing this." His lips slid down her throat, stopping at her decolletage. "Because 'the last time' always leads to a next time, and I may not be able to stop next time ― bloody hell, I want you, Emma."
She groaned out "Killian" before kissing him again, until there wasn't any breath left for words.