Page 23


Miles has returned, a drink in each hand. They’re filled to the brim with iced tea, pieces of fruit, and, I think, even cucumber jumbled up with the ice. He’s scanning the crowd, a little crease between his brows. “Did something happen while I was gone?”
“Someone was rude to me, so I caused an international incident,” I reply before taking the sweating glass from him gratefully.
And then I promptly choke.
Whatever is in the glass, it is not iced tea. It’s sweet and bitter all at once with some kind of medicinal flavor happening. It’s not that strong, whatever it is, but for someone who’s only ever had half a lukewarm beer, it’s way too much, and my eyes water as Miles looks at me, his eyes wide.
“What,” I manage to gasp out, thrusting the glass back at him, “is that?”
He takes the glass, nearly dropping both drinks in his haste, and now people are definitely watching us, probably because I look like I’m dying.
“Pimm’s Cup,” he tells me, and I wave my hands, indicating that he needs to keep going with that explanation.
When he just continues to stare at me blankly, I roll my eyes and say, “I have no idea what that is.”
You would think I just told him I’d never seen a dog or the color red or something. He seems that incredulous. “It’s a drink. Popular here in the summer, always at the races or regattas.”
I can breathe again now, and I dab at my watery eyes with one gloved finger, hoping I haven’t smeared my mascara beyond repair. “And what’s in it?”
“A lot of things.”
I look up at Miles, waiting, and he clears his throat. “Mostly gin.”
We stand there for a moment, and then Miles takes both glasses back into the tent. When he comes out again, this time he’s holding a goblet filled with ice and sparkling water. “Better?” he asks, handing it to me, and I nod.
For a second, there’s an awkward silence, and finally I clear my throat, turning the sweaty glass of water in my hands. “Now that we’ve gotten my attempted poisoning out of the way, spill the tea.”
Miles is still watching me with a slight frown, hair curling over his forehead, hands shoved in his pockets. “Spill . . . tea . . . ,” he says slowly, and I roll my eyes.
“Tell me why everyone is all sneery. I thought people here loved El.”
Understanding dawns on Miles’s face, and he rocks back on his heels a little. “Ah. Well.” He glances around us, and I notice the top hat he was holding seems to have disappeared. I hope it’s gone for good, because honestly, no one should be forced to wear that thing. “Let’s walk a bit, shall we?” he says, offering me his elbow again. I take it, and he leads me away from all the people, nearly to the fences lining the racetrack.
A cloud moves over the sun briefly, the light shifting, and Miles puts one shiny shoe up on the lower rail of the fence. “I’m trying to think of a way of saying this without sounding like a ponce,” he finally says, and I cut him a look from the corner of my eye.
“Point taken, too late for that,” he mutters, then looks up at the sky for a second before saying, “Regular people love your sister. Think she’s down-to-earth, kind, smart . . .”
“She is all those things,” I say, folding my arms on top of the fence, glass dangling from one hand, and Miles nods. “Right. But these people”—he tilts his head, gesturing to the crowd behind us—“would rather see one of their own as the future queen.”
“Would you?” I ask, lifting my drink to take another sip, and he turns his head, surprised. When he’s not looking down his nose at everything, it’s easier to remember he’s kind of cute, or at least aesthetically appealing, what with the good bone structure and pretty eyes.
“I like Ellie,” he says, which I notice isn’t really an answer, but I let it go for now, turning my attention back to the track in front of us.
“So how did you end up a Royal Wrecker?” I ask. “Because, honestly, you don’t seem all that wreckish.”
“Is that a compliment?” he asks, and I shrug.
Taking a deep breath, Miles rests his arms on the top fence rail as well. “I met Seb at school. Gregorstoun.”
“That scary boarding school up north where Alex went. Ellie’s mentioned it. Isn’t it all up at six a.m. and freezing showers and gruel?”
Miles grimaces just a little, reaching up to push his hair back. “That’s the place. Scottish princes have gone there since the 1800s. And,” he adds, giving the lower fence rail a kick with the tip of his shoe, “the Montgomery sons as well.”
When I just raise my eyebrows, waiting for Miles to go on, he says, “We’re like Sherbet. Courtiers, really. Titled, usually a big house or three somewhere in the family, some of us rich, some of us skint. And we all have families that have been tangled up with the royal family for generations. Sherbet’s dad? Nearly married Alex and Seb’s mum. Her parents ended up sending her off to Paris to get her away from him, in the hopes that she’d fall for someone more suitable to be a prince consort. Which she did. Not sure Sherbet’s dad’s ever gotten over it. He was looking forward to that crown.”
I wrinkle my nose. “So what, he was more upset about not getting to be a prince than he was about not marrying the woman he loved?”
It’s Miles’s turn to snort. “Not sure if he did love her, to be honest. Love is never a big part of royal matches.”
The silence that falls between us is definitely of the awkward variety, and Miles frowns, puzzled, until he suddenly remembers who he’s talking to, I guess.
“Not anymore, though, of course. Alex is absolutely mad about Eleanor; anyone can see that.”
They can, actually, so I don’t think he’s just trying to kiss up, but still, it’s another reminder that this world Ellie is stepping into is completely different from anything we know. What kind of family doesn’t have their first real marriage for love until the twenty-first century?
Clearing his throat, Miles moves back from the fence. “So,” he says, “was that the sort of ‘tea’ you were hoping for?”
“It was lukewarm at best, but better than learning about the history of horse racing,” I reply, and there it is again, that little moment when I think Miles might actually smile.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he nods toward the royal box. “The race is about to start. We should head up.”
I know I can’t put it off any longer, so I nod, too, but I don’t take his arm this time, just trail behind him as we reach the stands. I can feel eyes on me the whole way, but I try to pretend I’m Ellie, sailing through it all without a care.
There are only a few steps up to the box, and I use them to take deep breaths, preparing myself to be the picture of respectability.
And come face-to-face with Big Bird Head herself, standing right by Alex and Ellie, both of whom are wearing the expressions I’ve only seen in pictures where they’re visiting hospitals and cemeteries.
Oh no.
Oh nononononono.
Ellie turns. “Daisy,” she says, giving me a tight smile. “May I present you to the Duchess of Argyll?” Her smile hardens. “Alex’s aunt.”
Chapter 16
“To be fair, her hat did look like Big Bird’s arse.”