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I look around me, shading my eyes with my hand. There still aren’t any horses on the track, but I think this event is about showing off fancy hats and drinking champagne more than it’s about horse racing. I’m about to ask Miles about the horses—mostly which ones have the silliest names—when I catch sight of that girl glaring at me again. Poppy.
Dropping my hand, I scooch a little closer to Miles, and he follows my gaze.
“Ah. I see you’ve met Poppy.”
“Oh yeah,” I reply, picking a piece of lint off my skirt. “She is not a fan.”
“She’s not a fan of anyone save Seb and the words ‘Princess Poppy,’” Miles retorts, and I look up at him again. See, this is the kind of info I need.
“Remember how you thought I was an evil seductress out to ensnare your innocent friend?”
“I literally used none of those words,” he says, and I wave him off.
“Gist is right, though. And my point is, do other people think that, too? That I’m after Seb?”
Miles looks down at me. He’s not that much taller than I am, especially since I’m in heels, but he’s mastered looking down his nose at people, I think. “Most girls are,” he says at last, and I wrinkle my nose.
“He’s going to be my brother-in-law,” I say. “I get that you people are into marrying your cousins and stuff, but that doesn’t really work for me.”
“I’d hoped to wait until at least week three of our acquaintance to start talking about incest,” Miles says in a low voice, still twisting his hat in his hands, and I narrow my eyes at him.
“Are you being funny?” I ask. “Because that was kind of funny, and I don’t like it.”
Miles snorts, then offers me his elbow. “I can take you up to the box if you want,” he says, and I follow his nod to the top of the stands, where my sister is already sitting next to Alex, looking out at the track through little binoculars. Fliss is there, too, but Poppy has vanished back into the sea of hats and champagne flutes, and I can see Seb sitting on Ellie’s other side, scanning the crowd through expensive sunglasses. The other Royal Wreckers are up there, too, and Sherbet waves to me and Miles, his handsome face split with a broad grin.
We both wave back, but then Sherbet turns to talk to another man in the box, a man wearing a bright-red-and-green kilt, a sash decorated with all kinds of medals draped across his barrel chest.
“Who’s that?” I ask, and Miles glances back toward the box.
“The Duke of Argyll,” he says. “The queen’s brother, Seb’s uncle.”
“Oh,” I say weakly. So technically a family member. Or a soon-to-be one. And once again, I totally forget how you’re supposed to greet a duke. Your Grace, I think? Or is that for the queen?
“Shall we go up?” Miles asks again, and I watch as Ellie bobs a quick curtsy to a blond woman in pale blue. Who is that? Clearly someone important, but no one I recognize. I really should’ve read that stupid folder.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that,” I say to Miles, looking at the royal box, all draped with bunting and filled with the fanciest of the fancy people here. I’d really rejected the idea of needing a guide through this world, but suddenly milling around with Miles—a guy I don’t even like—is preferable to taking my chances up there.
“You mentioned drinks,” I say to him now, tilting my hat back as it starts to slide, and when Miles offers me his elbow again, I place a hand there.
Better the devil you know, I guess.
Chapter 15
We make our way through the sea of hats, and while I want to drop my hand from Miles’s elbow, I actually kind of need him for balance. My heels keep sinking into the grass, and I have horrifying visions of me on the front page of the paper, sprawled on the grass, skirt up over my head.
Holding on to Not-Hot Mr. Darcy isn’t as bad as that.
“So,” Miles says as we make our way past a grouping of high tables littered with crystal champagne flutes, “this is An Reis. That’s Gaelic for ‘the Race,’ which is not exactly the most original of names, but—”
I stop, looking up at him from underneath the tentacles. “Dude.”
He glances down at me and pulls his arm back. “What?”
Some kind of trumpet-y fanfare is starting up in the distance, and I glance toward the royal box to see my sister and Alex waving as the crowd claps politely. At the high tables, I see a few women smirking behind gloved hands, their eyes darting up at Ellie, and I frown.
“I don’t need to know about the race,” I tell Miles now. “I’m sure it’s fascinating and historically thrilling, but that kind of information is not exactly useful. However . . .” I nod at the women who are now moving away from the table, taking some satisfaction in the way they wobble on their heels in the damp grass, too. “Knowing why people are smirking at my sister? That would be helpful.”
Miles sighs and, to my surprise, reaches up to loosen his tie. “Let’s go get something to drink,” he says.
He leads me to a yellow-and-white-striped tent and with a “wait here” ducks inside, leaving me to stand awkwardly beside the entrance. I should’ve brought my phone so that I could at least pretend to text someone, but instead I’m stuck with a fake smile on my face, trying not to notice that people are looking at me.
One woman in particular is really looking at me. Glaring, almost. She’s older, probably in her fifties, but she’s definitely been nipped and tucked here and there, her face seeming just a little tighter than faces should. She’s thin and reedy, dressed all in black except for a massive burst of yellow feathers on her head, and to my shock, she comes to stand right in front of me.
“So,” she says, her mouth curling around the word, “you’re the latest American invader? How unfortunate.”
I’d thought Miles was snobby, but this woman is next level. She looks at me like I’m something unpleasant she just stepped in, and I know that I should let it go, that I should smile politely and murmur something bland.
But I’m not Liam Winters’s daughter for nothing.
“Yup!” I say brightly. “Here to throw your tea in the harbor and marry up all your princes.”
Her lips purse even tighter, and I think she’d narrow her eyes at me if her face could actually move from the nose up. “Charming,” she says in a way that lets me know she finds me anything but. “And here I thought your sister was the worst embarrassment to happen to the Baird family in quite some time.”
My temper flames higher. I can admit that I’m not cut out for this thing, but Ellie? Ellie has been nothing but perfect as far as I can tell, and I’m not letting this slide.
“Your hat is lovely,” I tell the woman, giving her my sweetest smile. “I’m sure Big Bird’s sacrifice was worth it.”
I hear the soft murmuring of voices around us. A couple of gasps, some smothered chuckles, and a bunch of whispering. For the first time, I remember there are a lot of people around, and I mentally kick myself. This is clearly why I can’t be trusted around fancy types, because I have never been able to hold my tongue.
Just like Ellie said.
The woman just lifts her chin a fraction of an inch higher and swans off, practically leaving a trail of ice crystals in her wake.
“Here you go.”