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“That’s because she spent the entire book under an accidental love spell,” Isabel says, “so she was actually into Finnigan for once.”
“Aww, come off it,” Seb says, elbowing her. “She’s liked him the whole time.”
While it’s definitely next-level surreal to watch my best friend nerd out with a costumed prince, we’re close to the bookstore now, so I scoot in between them, ignoring the look Isa cuts me.
“Okay, so here’s the deal,” I say. “Glynnis basically strong-armed Ash Bentley’s publisher here in the UK to do this signing since me and Isa missed out on Key Con thanks to all . . . this.” I wave my hand, taking in Seb, Scotland, all of it. “Which means best behavior from all of us, and by all of us, I mean Seb.”
He pushes his shoulders back, looking down at me, but the helmet kills any intimidation factor he may have been going for.
It strikes me suddenly that I sound a lot like Ellie the day of the race, reminding people how to act, but this book signing is important to me, and the race was . . .
Important to El.
Okay, so maybe a few more apologies are in order once we get back to the palace.
For now, I stop just outside the bookshop. It has a bright blue door with a bell over it, and next door, the window frame is painted hot pink, the colors especially cheerful against all the dark stone and the gray sky. It hasn’t rained yet, but it’s been threatening it all day, and I wish I’d thought to bring an umbrella.
“So,” I say, tugging my jacket tighter around me. “This is the Ash Bentley Show, not the You Know Who Show.” I nod at Seb. “We’re letting you tag along because . . . well, I’m not sure, really. I mean, if you’re this big of a fan, couldn’t you have seen her at a signing like a hundred times by now?”
Seb nods. “Oh yeah, I have signed first editions of the whole series.” Then he spreads his arms out, palms up. “But this is fun.”
I don’t mention that it’s not a huge amount of fun for me because Isabel is smiling up at him again and is clearly living her own royal dream date today, which is something she deserves, frankly.
So I open the door to the shop and hope for the best.
The store is already pretty crowded, but because the date was announced so late, it’s not quite the packed house it could’ve been. Still, all the chairs are filled, and I immediately see that Seb is not the only one in costume. There are a lot of purple Miranda wigs, plenty of helmets that match Seb’s, and more mage robes than I can count.
Seeing them, I feel a smile start to spread across my face. Okay, this? This is much more my scene than a race or a party at a castle or whatever other crazy stuff I might have to do in Scotland. Here, I actually feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on things, and I’m still smiling as I make my way to the table of Finnigan Sparks books near the middle of the room.
Which is when I hear the first squeal.
It’s a high-pitched whistling sound that immediately makes me wince, and I’m already whirling around, expecting to find Seb with his stupid helmet off smiling his stupid smile like a stupid person.
But Seb is still near the door, still behelmeted, Isabel at his side, and, confused, I look around.
And realize the squealer is looking at me.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” she burbles, coming up to stand in front of me, practically shivering. She’s not in any kind of cosplay, just a T-shirt and jean shorts over black tights, and she flaps her hands, beaming at me.
“Daisy!” she goes on. “You’re Daisy Winters! Oh my gooooddddddd!”
Her accent is pretty and rolling, but her voice is loud, and suddenly a lot of heads are turning in my direction, and then there’s this . . . Look, “stampede” is way too strong a word, but there are definitely a lot of people heading toward me, and a lot of voices suddenly talking at once.
“You changed your hair!” I hear one girl wail, while another scoots closer, her Miranda wig slightly crooked. “When you told off that duchess at An Reis, I nearly died. I mean, I didn’t see it, but I read about it, and—”
“Is it true you’re dating Prince Sebastian?” another person asks, and in that weird moment of panic, I do the absolute worst thing I could possibly do.
I turn to look at Seb.
And maybe if there had only been a couple of girls standing there instead of about thirty, they wouldn’t have put it together, but one lone voice cries, “Is that him?”
I don’t even think, really. I just react, shaking my head and backing away. “Nope, just two friends from the US. Anyway, just came in to look at books, and”—I make a show of turning my head this way and that—“there . . . seem to be lots in here, so good job with that, bookstore!”
Giving the world’s most awkward thumbs-up, I turn to go, nearly dragging Isabel and Seb behind me, the bell over the door clanging cheerfully as we spill out onto the street.
Underneath his helmet, Seb is laughing, and to my surprise, even Isabel is smiling.
“So I was going to be the problem, was I?” Seb asks, and Isa puts an arm around my shoulders.
“How come you didn’t mention you got famous over here?” she asks, and I shake my head, still confused by what just happened. It’s not like I don’t know that people are interested in me, but they’ve always been interested because of Ellie, not, like, in actual me as a person. But those girls felt like . . . fans. Of mine. Which is bizarre since I haven’t done anything worthy of fandom.
“I just never thought . . .” I start, and then trail off, not sure where to go with the rest of that sentence.
Then I look up at Isabel, frowning. “We can go back in. Or you can. I’m sorry, I just freaked out, I guess, and—”
Clapping a hand over my mouth, Isabel shakes her head, dark eyes shining. “I can see Ash Bentley speak some other time,” she says. “Seeing the day my best friend became famous? That was worth the trip.” Then her gaze moves over my shoulder to Seb. “And the day’s had other perks.”
So instead of seeing our favorite author sign books, we spend the rest of the afternoon wandering, Seb still in his costume, which, oddly, doesn’t attract nearly as many looks as you’d think. We go up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, then make our way back down again, toward Holyroodhouse. It’s summer, which means touristy season, so the streets are crowded, bagpipes competing with each other, and more guys dressed as Braveheart than should be allowed.
Maybe I’ll talk to Alex about that.
By the time we get back to the palace, it’s evening, although sunset is still pretty far away, and I’m hoping I can talk Isabel into some takeout food and bad British television tonight, although the way she looks at Seb when he steps into the main hallway of the family entrance and takes off his helmet is . . . not promising.
“I need to find Glynnis, tell her the day didn’t exactly go as planned,” I say, watching Seb smile at my best friend while she smiles back.
“I’ll keep Isabel company,” Seb offers, and I grimace, but what can I say? So against my better judgment, I leave them there in the foyer, heading up the narrow stairs to the back hallway where Glynnis’s office is.
She’s not in there, though, and while I check a couple of other places—a sitting room, the small private kitchen—I don’t want to leave Isa and Seb on their own for too long.