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“You know,” I say to El as we get out of the car, “I don’t even like horses that much. What if they sense that and feel disrespected?”
Ellie stops, turning to look at me. There are two men in dark suits on either side of us, not David and Malcolm, the bodyguards I’m used to, but they have that same air of being more statues than people. They’re certainly working hard at both staying close to me and Ellie and ignoring everything we’re saying.
“It’s just a race,” she says, and I can see the reflection of my stupid hat in her expensive sunglasses. “And there are enough people here that we shouldn’t steal the focus.”
“From the horses or the other people here?” I ask, and Ellie grimaces.
“Is this the part where you tell me just to relax and be myself?”
Turning to me, Ellie fidgets with the lace on her hat. “Relax, yes,” she says. “Definitely don’t be yourself, though. Just . . .” She steps closer, laying one gloved hand on my arm. “I’m serious, Daisy. I know you come by that ability to say whatever comes into your head naturally, but remember you’re not Dad.”
I want to scoff at that, but she has a point.
A point she’s going to keep making, apparently. “Just smile, be polite, and don’t try to make jokes, okay?”
She gives my arm a squeeze, and as she turns to walk away, I fight the urge to call after her, “Thanks for the pep talk!”
Instead, I just follow, my knees shaky and my face kind of numb. This is the first time I’ll really be out among these people, and it’s like I’m seeing every tabloid cover, every headline that’s featured Ellie over the past year, and suddenly imagining my face, my name in them. The few brushes with that life I’ve had have been more than enough.
But Ellie is right—as we make our way from the car to the actual track, there’s no deluge of photographers or people shouting Ellie’s name. There’s just . . . a lot of posh people.
And I mean a lot.
This may still be the most horrible hat in all of creation, but at least I blend in. I’ve never seen such an assortment of headgear. There’s one girl wearing a concoction of blue, red, and green feathers on her head that makes me wonder if a parrot crash-landed in her hair. I turn and see another girl with long dark hair and a truly gorgeous black-and-white suit rocking a pink hat with so many frills and furls that it looks like something out of an anatomy textbook.
The hats are honestly so ridiculous and over the top that I wonder if this is just another part of the fancy life. Do they wear stuff like this just to prove they can get away with it? Is this hazing via hats?
The girl in black and white with the slightly obscene hat approaches us, her shoulders stiff. Next to her is a redhead all in light purple, her hat small and actually hat-like. “Ellie!” the redhead says. There’s a glass of champagne in her hand, and some of it sloshes out as she hugs my sister.
The dark-haired girl is a little more reserved, her smile tight as she looks at me and my sister.
“Daisy,” Ellie says, pulling back from the hug, “I’d like you to meet Fliss and Poppy.”
I refrain from saying “Fliss” doesn’t seem like a real name and smile at both the girls, wondering if I’m supposed to shake their hands or curtsy. In the end, I just give a little wave. “Hi.”
“Are you enjoying your stay?” the redhead—Fliss—asks, and I give my best Ellie Smile.
“I am. It’s really lovely here.”
That part is sincere, at least. Everything I’ve seen of Scotland has been gorgeous, and this place is no exception. Rolling hills, green grass, blue sky . . . it’s a postcard of a day, made even prettier by all the ladies wandering around in bright colors.
“I’m sure Ellie is thrilled to have you,” Fliss replies, smiling. Poppy, the brunette, is watching me with a weird, almost-hostile look on her face, and I wonder what that’s all about.
Once the girls have drifted off, Ellie tugs me toward the stands and leans in to say in a low voice, “Lady Felicity and Lady Poppy Haddon-Smythe. Sisters. Fliss is wonderful, Poppy is . . . less so. She dated Seb last year, and it was all a bit messy.”
Ah, that explains it. If Seb assumed he and I were meant to be (or at least meant to bone), maybe Poppy did, too.
We make our way toward the royal box, flanked by the guards, and while most heads turn our way, there’s not the crush I was expecting. But maybe that’s because everyone here is fancy, so that would be tacky.
We’ve just reached the steps that will take us up to where we’re supposed to sit when I hear someone call my name.
Glynnis is approaching, dressed in bright red except for her hat, which is stark white. It’s a pretty contrast that weirdly doesn’t make her look like a candy cane, so extra points to Glynnis. That can’t be easy to pull off.
I wave, and then see Miles just behind her wearing the saddest gray suit I have ever seen in my life. I mean, I get that I’m wearing an actual sea creature on my head, and therefore have zero leg to stand on, but his jacket has tails, and there’s a cream-and-violet-striped tie at his throat, and it’s all just so . . . tragic. I’d feel sorry for him if he hadn’t been such a jackass last night.
“Your first big event!” Glynnis says happily, her teeth practically winking in the sun. “Are you excited?”
“Super pumped,” I reply, giving her a thumbs-up, and behind her back, Miles rolls his eyes, muttering something to himself.
What a fun outing this is going to be.
“Excellent,” Glynnis says, then steps back, sweeping an arm out. “In that case, I’m going to steal Ellie away, and I leave you in Miles’s capable hands.”
I really don’t want to be in Miles’s anything, much less his hands. “Wait, what?” I ask, but Ellie doesn’t even look, and Glynnis is already striding off. I watch the bobbing of the ribbon on her hat before turning back to Miles.
“Why am I in your hands?” I ask, and he looks just as horrified by that image as I feel.
“You’re not,” he tells me. “Glynnis just wanted to make sure you had someone around to prevent you from embarrassing yourself, and somehow, I was blessed enough to be chosen.”
“So I’m not going to be able to get up on the fence and sing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ while waving six American flags and twirling a baton?” I snap my fingers. “Well, there’s today’s plans ruined.”
Miles looks at me like he’s wondering what sins he committed in a past life that have led him to this moment, and I decide today might actually be kind of fun after all.
“Would you like something to drink?” he finally asks, his tone frosty.
I brush a green tentacle from my face before responding. “Are you seriously going to hang out with me all day?” I ask. “And, like, teach me about horses and fetch me punch? Because you really don’t need to do that.”
“Sadly, I really do,” he replies, turning to look at me. He’s holding a top hat in his hands, and I nod at it.
“Why aren’t you wearing that? Is a silly hat just a bridge too far with that outfit?”
His green eyes go from my face to the top of my head, and he raises his eyebrows.
Sighing, I touch the monstrosity currently masquerading as a hat. “Touché, fair point, all that,” I concede, and Miles does that thing again where it looks like he might smile, but then he thinks better of it. He might actually be physically incapable of smiling.