Page 11


Last week, I was working at a grocery store, studying to retake the SAT, and hanging out with Isabel. Today, I’m on my way to a castle.
We got in yesterday after flying first class into Heathrow in London, then taking a smaller plane to Edinburgh. While I might object to a lot about my sister’s new lifestyle, first class was something I could appreciate. We didn’t just have seats, we had these little pod things, complete with actual beds. I’d spent the first few hours of the flight just scrolling through all the movies and TV shows available, then listened to fifteen minutes of the spa channel just because I could. There had also been great food, free champagne (not that I’d gotten much more than a sip before Mom had taken my glass away), and, best of all, free pajamas. Really comfy white cotton ones, too. Dad had said they made us all look like cult members, but I’d noticed him stroking his own arm once he’d changed into them.
Once we’d landed, we’d been hustled off to a hotel, but that was a blur of suitcases and cars and Glynnis’s very red smile. She had looked even more terrifying in person, and I’d snapped a surreptitious pic to email to Isabel once we were at the hotel. (“That lady is totally getting you ready for the Hunger Games” had been Isabel’s reply.)
Staying at the hotel—an enormous place called the Balmoral—had been a nice surprise since I’d been afraid we’d be ushered straight into royal living, no matter what Glynnis had said about “easing into things.” But nope, Alexander’s parents were in Canada at the moment, and so Glynnis had decided we might want a night at the hotel to “adjust.”
We’d mostly just slept, and then this afternoon, Ellie and the car had come to get me to drive me a few hours south to Sherbourne Castle, where the engagement party was being held this weekend.
There had been a fair amount of cloak-and-dagger with getting Ellie to the hotel and me out, but there were no photographers or gawkers, and I had to admit that Glynnis clearly knew her stuff about being “in the circle.” I had no idea how they’d arranged it all, if there had been decoys or other cars or what, but when we drove out of the city without one single flash, I breathed a sigh of relief and told myself that maybe this summer wouldn’t be so bad.
It’s even easier to think that now, watching the scenery go past. I’ve been to Scotland before. We’d visited Ellie a few times back before she started dating Alex, and the whole family had gone when I was around eleven, but I’ve never been to this part of the country before. It’s all green fields and rolling hills and shifting light.
I like it.
Next to me, Ellie fidgets in her seat, adjusting the slim leather belt around her waist and picking imaginary bits of lint off the leather seats. “Did you read the stuff Glynnis put together for you?” she asks, and I think of that massive manila folder shoved in my bag in the trunk—sorry, the boot—of the car.
“Kind of?” I offer, which is the truth. I opened it, saw there were things in it, and was like, “I will read this later when my eyeballs don’t feel like they’re filled with sand.”
But now, El does that thing where she clamps her lips together and flares her nostrils, turning to look out the window. “I know it’s important,” I tell her. “And I really appreciate Glynnis doing it for me, and I don’t think she’s even a little bit scary.” I flash my sister a smile. “How’s that?”
El turns back to look at me, the corner of her mouth twitching, and finally, she gives me a smile. It’s half-hearted, but at least it’s not blinding and fake.
“Glynnis is a bit scary, I’ll give you that,” Ellie says, crossing one ankle over the other, “but she’s also efficient and smart. I couldn’t get through all of this without her.”
The words shouldn’t sting, but they do. It’s a reminder that Ellie didn’t really want us here for this, the biggest thing that’s ever happened to her, that she’s depending on Alex and his family and his family’s employees during all of this. I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
“I obviously read the part about my appearance,” I tell Ellie, gesturing to my newly dyed strawberry-blond hair. I wasn’t getting rid of the red altogether, but I’d toned it down after Glynnis had made a “gentle suggestion.” I’d also gone and bought a couple of completely boring dresses for the trip. I smooth a hand over my skirt. “Polka dots, El. I’m wearing polka dots.”
But that doesn’t seem to cheer her up. She just sighs and says, “All the polka dots in the world aren’t going to save you if you call an earl ‘my dude’ or make jokes about kilts.”
I roll my eyes. “You know I do have, like, basic manners, right? Wasn’t raised by wolves? Although I guess Dad’s not far off from—”
“I just need you to be on your absolute best behavior,” she interrupts, and I fight the urge to make a smart-ass comment that would basically prove her point.
Instead, I shift to face her, sliding one knee up on the seat as I do, only to have her quickly pat my leg and shoot a glance up at the driver. I sigh—my dress hadn’t ridden up all that much—and put my foot back on the floor, smoothing out my skirt and sitting like the sister of a soon-to-be princess should.
“So what are we going to do at this party?” I ask, trying to make peace. “Shoot small animals? Play inappropriate drinking games? Uncover hidden treasure?”
I’m joking, but the little smile that was on Ellie’s face falls, and I sit up straighter in my seat. “Wait, we’re not really shooting things, are we?”
Ellie leans closer, looking over at the driver before she whispers, “Daisy, the people at this party . . . they’re more Sebastian’s friends than mine or Alex’s.”
Her blue eyes keep darting toward the driver, but he’s staring straight ahead, no sign that he’s overhearing us at all. I guess if you have a job driving royal types around, you get pretty good at tuning things out.
“The Royal Wreckers,” I whisper back with a nod, and El jerks like I’ve slapped her. And then she’s leaning in so close that her long blond hair nearly touches my arm.
“Oh my god, you won’t read the stuff Glynnis prepared for you, but you will read internet gossip?”
“I didn’t read the internet gossip, Isabel did,” I fire back. Whisper-fighting is hard to do without spitting, but Ellie and I have practice with these hissed arguments in back seats. Years of family road trips will do that. “And to be honest, that’s the kind of thing I might need to know more than how to address an earl in ‘formal written correspondence.’ See? I did look at the file.”
Ellie’s only reply to that is a very eloquent eye roll, but at least she sits back a little and stops clenching her fingers in her lap. “The point is, I want you to know that—”
Looking out the windshield, her eyes go wide, and I turn to follow her glance, only to find my own jaw dropping.
We’re coming up a narrow dirt road, and at the end, there isn’t a castle but a low stone farmhouse, pretty and perfect with a slate roof and green hills rolling in the background. It’s like something out of a fairy tale, but that’s not what has me and Ellie staring.
It’s the line of pipers in kilts outside the house.