Somebody to Love (Gideons Cove #3) Fate Interrupted (Fate Interrupted #1)

Where is your flaw, Josh Walker?

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. Impressive. 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. Daisy— 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.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.

The Darkest Kiss (Riley Jenson Guardian #6)

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. Lovely. 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. Thanks. 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.I snatch the paper back from Dad, swatting it with him as I do. We’re all in a parlor at Holyroodhouse, the Baird family palace in Edinburgh. We’ve been given our own suite of rooms, complete with two other parlors and three bedrooms, although we’re only using two of them. Ellie is still staying in her apartment in the city, but no more hotel for us. We’re being officially wedged into royal life. Or we will be if all the headlines don’t lead to my banishment. I know yesterday was a disaster, and while I apologized profusely to the Duchess of Argyll, there was no doubt that I’d been a major screwup. I’d spent last night reading the file Glynnis had made me, hoping that in the future, if I decided to run my mouth, I wouldn’t end up insulting one of Ellie’s future relatives. Dad picks up another paper and turns it to face me. There, on the front page, is a huge picture from the race, blurry but brightly colored, my green hat and red hair especially standing out, as does the duchess’s yellow feathered hat. FOR THE BIRDS! the headline blares, then right under that, ELLIE’S LITTLE SIS GIVES THE DISDAINFUL DUCHESS WHAT FOR! I glance over at Ellie, who leans forward from her spot next to me on the sofa, blond hair falling over her shoulders. I haven’t mentioned to El that I only said what I said defending her, mostly because I don’t want her to know that Alex’s aunt doesn’t like her. I mean, she probably already knows, but if she doesn’t, I don’t want to be the one to tell her. Glynnis is going to die, she mutters, and I feel my face heat up as I study the photograph. You can’t really read the expression on my face due to the low-quality shot, but I’m standing there with my hand on my hip, something I don’t even remember doing, and the duchess is so ramrod straight, she looks like she might snap in half. Dad turns the paper back to face him, snapping the pages. Glynnis should be thrilled, he tells Ellie. This article is practically fawning all over Daisy. What? Ellie and I ask at the same time. No one’s ever liked Argie, Seb says from his spot near the window. He’d been the one to show us to our rooms when we came into the palace today, which had surprised me. I was even more surprised that he was just . . . hanging out here, drinking tea, but he hadn’t shown any signs of leaving. Argie? I repeat, then work out that that’s a nickname for the duchess. Probably not one anyone uses to her face. She’s the worst kind of snob, Seb continues, stirring his tea. Daisy giving her a right bollocking probably did her some good. I didn’t . . . I don’t even know what that means, I say, leaning back against the sofa. Everything in this room is done in shades of rose and gold, and I think every pillow, every lampshade, every drape has been weighted down with tassels. Outside the windows, the afternoon has gone dark and rainy. Seb looks up from his tea and grins at me, a dimple flashing in his cheek. It means you told her off. And there’s nothing the Scots love more than a mouthy lass. I wrinkle my nose, looking at the stack of papers in my dad’s lap. How does Ellie stand it, that constant itch at the back of her brain that tells her people are talking about her, people are always talking about her, and that both the best and worst things she could ever hear about herself are just a few clicks away? How does that not make anyone insane? There’s a brisk knock at the door to the sitting room, but before any of us can say anything, Glynnis is striding in. I’ve begun to realize she doesn’t ever walk anywhere. It’s all striding, marching, trooping . . . she was probably a heck of a general in a past life. Just the girl I was looking for! she says brightly, but her eyes are laser-focused on me, and I swallow hard. Hi, Glynnis, I say, waggling my fingers. Her smile doesn’t drop as she addresses the entire room. So, bit of a rocky start, but we’re here now, and I think course correction should be easy enough. Course correction doesn’t exactly sound great, but I guess it’s better than what I’d been expecting, which was something like, Some time in the dungeons will do wonders for Daisy’s attitude! If I could just steal Daisy for a wee bit . . . Glynnis continues, holding her thumb and forefinger apart. Sure, I say, but it comes out like a squeak, and to my surprise, El gets to her feet, too. Mind if I come with? she asks, and I shoot her a look of gratitude. I don’t really think Glynnis is going to imprison and/or eat me, but having Ellie along for whatever is about to happen seems nice. Bring them back in one piece! Dad calls cheerfully, opening another paper with my face on the front. Then he frowns, thinking. Well, two pieces. Their two separate bodies, that is. He waves a hand. You know what I mean. Of course, Glynnis says through a tight smile, and I have to roll my lips inward not to giggle. Ellie doesn’t look nearly as amused, sighing a bit as she steps closer to me, and the two of us follow Glynnis out of the room. Are we going to the— I whisper, but Ellie cuts me off with one lifted hand. Hush. You don’t even know what I was going ask. We’re going down some stairs now, big, wide stone ones with shallow grooves in the center from hundreds of years’ worth of feet. You were going to make a joke about dungeons or drawing and quartering. Something weird. Something Dad would say. Both offensive and also kind of true, I concede. We pass under several portraits of Alex’s ancestors and finally come to a set of double doors carved with unicorns. One of my favorite things about Scotland so far is that the unicorn is their national animal. You really can’t hate a country where that’s the case. The doors open up into a well-lit room that’s a lot more spartan than the other rooms I’ve seen in the castle so far. There aren’t little knickknacks resting on every available surface, and there’s only one sofa and two chairs as opposed to a whole showroom floor’s worth of furniture. One wall is completely lined with mirrors, and I catch a glimpse of myself, my hair very bright in this room that’s mostly gray and white. And then I see the table against the window, clothes draped across it. Skirts, sweaters, slacks, a few dresses that come kind of close to 1950s housewife . . . Oh my god, I murmur. Makeover montage. What? Ellie asks, walking over to the table. But it’s Glynnis I turn to. Makeover montage, right? This is the part where you give me a bunch of conservative clothes, maybe fix my hair, some upbeat song plays, and at the end, I’m gonna look at myself in this mirror—I walk to the back of the room, reaching out to touch the glass and widening my eyes, lips parting—and I say something like, ‘Is that . . . me?’ And then everyone claps and tells me I look great, and I do look great, but deep inside, I’m afraid something within me has irrevocably changed. I turn, and Glynnis and Ellie both stare at me. Have neither of you ever seen movies? I ask, putting a hand on one hip. It’s just new clothes, Daisy, Ellie finally says, and I roll my eyes, going to stand next to her.You’re exactly zero fun, I tell her, my eyes scanning over the clothes lined up for me. They’re all . . . fine, really. Boring colors, mostly, definitely Ellie Wear, but nothing too terrible. Ellie is flipping through a catalog Glynnis has left lying on the table, and she pauses on a page with several ballgowns on it. Oooh, I say, pointing at one that seems to be a mix of tartan patterns, all purple and green and black. The skirt is wide and floofy, and a narrow green ribbon belt separates it from the purple strapless top, and I tap the page. Can I get one of these? Glynnis looks over Ellie’s shoulder and makes a tutting sound. You may have an occasion to wear a ballgown, but that one is a bit . . . out there. I like out there, I say, but Ellie is already closing the book and handing me a gray cardigan. Go try this on, she says, nodding toward a screen set up in the corner, and I frown, taking the sweater from her. You’re less than zero fun, I tell her. Something that should be fun is your friend Isabel’s visit, Glynnis calls out as I step behind the screen and I poke my head out the side. Is that all set up? Isa coming, the Ash Bentley signing . . . Gathering up more clothes from the table, Glynnis nods. She’ll be here the day after tomorrow, just in time for the signing. Then she flashes that predatory smile at me. Won’t it be nice to surprise her with your new look? Ah. I get it. This is the payment for getting an Isa visit—I princess up. Well, sister-of-the-princess up. As I slip the cardigan over my shoulders, scowling at the little pearl buttons, I wonder if even Isa is worth looking like my own grandmother. Chapter 17 The palace puts Isabel up at the Balmoral, the same fancy hotel we’d stayed at when we came to Edinburgh. I was finally getting used to saying, the palace did this, the palace thinks that. Ellie said it so naturally, and so did Glynnis, that I could almost forget that the palace meant some weird cabal of people who made all the decisions for anyone even a little bit related to the royal family. In any case, this was one time when I was really happy with the palace. The Balmoral was gorgeous, and I knew Isabel would love it, especially after I told her that J. K. Rowling finished the last Harry Potter book in one of the suites. That would send Isa into geek heaven. I didn’t get to see her when she’d gotten in the night before, but the next morning, I hop in the back of a black town car (another thing to get used to) and head straight for the hotel. No one takes a second glance at me when I walk through the front doors, which is a relief. I’d thought after the race, my face might be getting a little more familiar, but then I remind myself that famous people stay at this hotel all the time. I take the elevator—sorry, the lift—up to the sixth floor and walk down the hall to Isabel’s room, my head already full of plans. It’s not a huge walk from the hotel to the National Museum of Scotland, so we can do that first, see some art, look at weird Scottish knickknacks, maybe say hi to an ancestor or two of Alex’s. From there, it’s a short walk to Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is both beautiful and super creepy. Very much Isabel’s bag. Lunch at Nando’s, tea and some cake, and then we get to go see Ash Bentley speak and sign books at this amazing little bookshop on Victoria Street. The perfect Isa and Daisy day. Stopping in front of room 634, I knock a funny little knock, three quick taps, two louder ones with my fist, and after a minute, the door opens just a little bit, Isabel’s face appearing in the crack. Her red, teary, kinda snotty face. What happened? I cry. Isa opens the door wider to let me in. The second I slip into the room, the door shuts behind me and Isabel’s face crumples. It’s Ben, she says, spitting out her boyfriend’s name like it’s a bad word, and uh-oh. Isabel and Ben have always been the nicest, most stable couple I know. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I wished Ben wasn’t in the picture, but that was only in moments when I was feeling a little lonely, and maybe a little envious. On the whole, he was a good guy, and it definitely wasn’t like Isabel to cry over him. What about Ben? I ask, taking her arms and steering her toward the little sofa in the suite. She’s wearing one of the white hotel bathrobes, her black hair still wet from the shower. A room service tray is untouched on the table, so I pick up the silver pot of coffee and pour her a cup, putting in plenty of sugar the way she likes. She takes it from me but doesn’t drink, her gaze focused somewhere around her bright orange toenails. He sent me this email, she sniffles. While I was flying across the freaking ocean, my boyfriend was typing me out his thesis on why we should maybe take some time apart this summer. I sit down heavily on the sofa. What? That’s what I said! Isa takes a sip of the coffee, shuddering a little. Look at this. She fishes her phone out of her robe pocket and hands it to me. The email is already open. I just saw it, Isabel says. Her voice is still wavering, but she’s not crying anymore. Literally got out of the shower, sent him a text to say I was here safe, and he asked if I’d checked my email yet. That’s all he said. Three years of dating, he knows he’s breaking up with me in an email, and not ‘glad you’re safe, but we need to talk when you get a chance,’ just ‘have you checked your email?’ She takes another sip of coffee, her hair dripping water onto her robe. Are you done reading it? Um, almost, I say, but the truth is, Isabel wasn’t lying about this being a thesis. It’s like two thousand words of Ben’s feelings and concerns, and while I like Ben, I really don’t need this much of him. But I skim it enough to see his general point—because Isabel is going to be gone for nearly a month, and Ben is going up to see his grandparents in Maine, he thinks they should use this time as a sort of test run for college, to see what it’s like being apart . . . before they’re apart? I don’t know, I’m not following Ben’s logic, and I suspect this is more about wanting to make out with girls in Maine than any sort of journey of the soul he and Isa should take as a couple. It’s total bullshit, she says flatly, echoing my own thoughts. He’s probably got a thing for some girl in Bar Harbor. At least he’s not planning on cheating? I say, but it’s the wrong thing to say, and we both know it. Isabel takes a deep, shaky breath. But what if he already has? she asks in a small voice, and then she’s crying again, and there’s this entire story coming out about how Ben was weird after his trip to his grandparents’ last year, that there was this girl, Carlie, on his FaceBook that he’d only added after that trip, that she didn’t have a location listed, but all her pictures sure looked like Maine, and as all this spills out, I sit there, stunned. Finally, when the saga of Ben and Carlie has come to an end, I blink at Isabel. Why didn’t you tell me any of this? Isabel gets up from the sofa, sighing as she makes her way to the massive desk and a box of tissues concealed in a marble-and-gilt box. She picks up the whole thing, shaking her head slightly at the over-the-top packaging, then sits down again, tucking one leg under the other.

Our Lady of Darkness

You had so much going on this year, she says, pausing to blow her nose. With Ellie and all the weirdness . . . She gestures around the room, at the giant bed, the expensive furnishings, the fancy tissue box, too, probably. This. And I wasn’t sure, and I felt so dumb, you know? Ben and I have been together forever, and I thought I was being paranoid, and I hated that. Also— Saying it out loud would’ve made it feel true, I finish, and Isa looks up, her dark eyes wide. Exactly, she breathes, and I nudge her leg with my knee. See? That’s why you should’ve told me. I get this kind of thing. I lean back into the sofa, nearly swallowed up by the striped cushions. You’re important to me, Isa, and things that are important to you are important to me. No matter what’s going on with my sister. My sister. Who’s the reason I’m here this summer. Which, in turn, makes her the reason Isa is here this summer. Would Ben still have sent that email if we’d gone to Key West like we planned? I almost say that out loud, the words right there on the tip of my tongue, but then Isa gives a shuddery sigh and tilts her head to the side. What are you wearing? she asks, and I tug at the hem of my cardigan. I’m wearing the green one, not the gray one, at least, but it’s over a white sleeveless blouse and my jeans have creases down the legs. I’m even wearing little pearl studs in my ears. Nothing interesting, I assure her, and she nods, but then her lips start wobbling again. Okay, so scrapping the museum and bookstore idea. That stuff is fun, don’t get me wrong, but this is an emergency situation, and hey, I now have some pretty cool stuff at my disposal, stuff I know Isabel has been excited about. Why not use just a little bit of it? I lean forward. You wanna go to the palace? Chapter 18 The tour I give Isa of Holyrood is definitely not as thorough as the one the tourists get, and most of the impressive parts are on display for the public, but Isabel, dedicated reader of royal blogs, is thrilled with this behind-the-scenes look. We stop in one of the parlors, and she touches a sofa covered in tartan pillows. So, like, the queen sits here? she asks, and I lean against a doorway. Yup, I reply. Puts the royal bum right on it. When she’s here, which she’s not right now. Alex’s parents still aren’t back from Canada, which, to be honest, is quite the relief. Next week, though . . . No, not even contemplating that. We leave the parlor and head down one of the long hallways. It’s not as cluttered as Sherbourne Castle was—fewer paintings and knickknacks, but then again everything that belongs to the Bairds technically belongs to the country, so maybe most of their stuff is in museums—but it’s . . . grand. High stone ceilings arch overhead, and there’s this heavy feeling in the air, like all that history is seeping into the rock. We stop near a thick window that looks down on one of the inner courtyards, watching a line of visitors snaking past. The glass is old and wobbly, same as the windows at Sherbourne, making everything outside blurry. It’s a palace, Isabel says, turning to me. Well, yeah, I joke, that’s why it’s right there in the name. Kind of gives it away. Isabel’s bag slides from her shoulder to the crook of her arm. It’s so weird seeing something so familiar—Isabel, her black hair caught in a messy braid, her jeans frayed at the knee, that stupid bag she loves so much, made up of different squares of tweed—in this completely foreign place. A good kind of weird, don’t get me wrong. I’m so happy to see someone who isn’t a Fliss or a Poppy that I could cry. Suddenly, I wonder if this is what Ellie felt like when I’d showed up earlier in the summer. Worlds colliding and all that. Your sister is going to be a princess, Isabel says, as if she was just now realizing that. Yup, I say with a shrug. And then she’ll be a queen, and one day she’ll have a kid who’ll be king or queen, which is actually the weirdest part of all this. Isabel thinks that over, blinking. Holy crap, yeah, she says, widening her eyes. Will you have to bow to your own niece or nephew? Do you think Ellie and Alex will let you hold them? I roll my eyes, grabbing her hand and tugging her toward the side staircase that leads to our private apartments. Yes, believe it or not, they let commoners touch the king baby. That makes her laugh, and as we head to another part of the palace, she doesn’t even mention all the paintings on the wall, the bizarrely lush carpets, or how everything that could be gilded has been, the gold dull under the surprisingly dim lights. Ellie said that Alex’s dad used the lowest-wattage light bulbs he could to save money, something that made no sense to me, seeing as how these were people who lived in multiple castles and had a literal fleet of fancy cars. Then Isabel turns, grabbing my arm. Okay, so yay palace, castle, very cool, hurray for fancy. Spill on Seb. I almost snort at that until I remember that Isabel probably shouldn’t know what a tool that guy really is. Hopefully, she won’t even have to see him since, as far as I know, he’s still gallivanting around in Derbyshire, doing whatever debauched royal types do. Probably having some weird orgy involving costumes and claret or something. Burning twenty-pound notes for fun. No thanks. I’ve barely seen him, I tell Isa now, which is mostly true. We’d only shared that one conversation in my room, and that hardly counted. I hadn’t even spoken to him at the race, and he’d left Edinburgh not long after we got back. Okay, but you have to tell me everything, Isabel says. How he looks, if he’s as handsome as he is in pictures, how he smells . . . I raise my eyebrows at her. How he smells? Isa fixes me with a look. Girl, I am heartbroken and vulnerable. Throw me a bone and tell me a hot prince smells like manly books and leather, okay? Seb usually smells of expensive cologne and whatever alcohol he’s currently pouring down his throat, but no need to crush Isabel’s dream. All those things and more, I tell her, and she closes her eyes, tipping her head back. Yes. Thank you. Giggling, I bump shoulders with her. Come on. We walk down another hallway, this one less furnished than the rest and colder, our footsteps loud against the stone floor. So, Isa asks, crossing her arms over her chest, how are things? Blending in with the royals and all? I shoot her a look. Haven’t you been keeping up with the blogs? Shaking her head, Isa gives me an elbow to the ribs. No, I’ve been loyal, she says. And honestly, reading about what your best friend is doing felt too . . . bleurghy. Imagine reading it about your sister, I reply, and Isa stops, her sneakers squeaking a little. I get it now, she says, then gestures around us. Why you were so weirded out by all this. And then she flashes me a classic Isabel Smile, all dimples and shiny teeth. It’s still kind of cool, though. And the thing is, she’s not wrong. It is kind of cool. I don’t mind the fancy cars and the nice clothes. I’m never going to like a Pimm’s Cup, but the rest of it? It’s . . . not that bad.I don’t know how to tell Isabel all that, though, so I just shrug. It has its moments. Skipping slightly, she takes my wrist and gives me a little shake. Like us getting to see and possibly meet and, in my case, marry Declan Shield this fall. Laughing, I shake her off. Wait, I thought you were all about Seb. Isabel gives a shrug and flips her hair over her shoulder. I can handle both, she says, lifting her nose in the air, and we’re still laughing as we turn the corner out of the hallway. We’re just coming back down the stairs when I hear the sound of someone coming up. Taking Isabel’s wrist, I pull us to one side, expecting to see a butler or one of the 9,000 secretaries the royal family seems to have wandering around. But instead, I catch sight of a glint of auburn hair, and before I know it, Seb is rounding the curve of the stairwell. Crap. He’s not as well dressed as he was the first time I saw him—it’s jeans and a henley today—but that doesn’t stop Isabel from freezing in place, her free hand coming up to grab the fingers I have locked around her wrist. Seb comes to a sudden stop, looking at us standing there and clearly noticing—and liking—the look on Isabel’s face. Great. Ah, Daisy, he says, but his eyes are still on Isabel. I didn’t know you were staying at the palace. I’m not, I tell him, inching down a step, pulling Isabel behind me. I was just showing my friend around. Isabel, this is— Iknowwhoheis, Isa says, all in a rush, and I fight the urge to groan. Of course. Of course we’d run into Seb the day Isabel has just gotten her heart splattered by her boyfriend, and of course Seb would be looking both extremely handsome and not as intimidatingly princely as usual, and oh, this is bad. This is really bad. Especially because Seb begins to bloom under her obvious smitten-ness. Isabel, he repeats, and then he reaches out and takes her hand. Doesn’t shake it (doesn’t kiss it, either, thank god), but just holds it, his blue eyes bright, his smile a winning combination of charm and mischief. I’ve seen it on him before. It’s a look that says, Yes, whatever happens with us will probably be a bad idea, but won’t it be fun? And I am not here for it. So we were just leaving, I tell him, fighting the urge to pull Isa’s hand from his. But Seb isn’t letting go, and he’s also not looking at me. Where were you headed? he asks her. She’s still glamoured, pretty much, smiling down at him there on the lower step, so I sigh, roll my eyes, and say, Museums. Bookstores. Other respectable establishments. Seb’s grin deepens. Well, that’s no fun at all, he all but purrs, and oh my gooooddddddd, how is Isa not seeing this for the line it is? Because her boyfriend has broken her heart, you idiot, I remind myself, and now the most eligible teenage boy in the world is talking to her and holding her hand and giving her the full court press. We’re actually going to a book signing in a little bit, I say, already preparing to pull Isa away, but he leans against the banister, his eyes still on Isabel. Who’s the author? he asks, and Isa answers, Ash Bentley. To my surprise, Seb straightens up, lifting his eyebrows. Seriously? Do not tell me you know who that is, I say, but Seb shoots me a look. I read Finnigan’s Falcon five times the year it came out. I actually went as Finnigan to a fancy dress party just a few months ago. Ask any of the lads, they’ll tell you. It’s very hard to imagine Prince Sebastian, royal rogue, reading about the adventures of space mage Finnigan Sparks, but he does look genuinely . . . excited? His eyes are bright, he’s grinning, and this is actually worse than his usual prince schtick. Cute, royal, and into a nerdy book series? No girl could resist. I’ll come with, he says, and I lift a hand, palm out. Okay, no, because, A, no boys allowed, and, B, you’re going to cause a total scene if you just roll up to a bookstore. No one will pay any attention to the author if you’re there. Seb’s brow wrinkles as he thinks that over. Then his face clears and he snaps, pointing at me. No worries, ladies, he says, but I have all the worries as he adds, I’ve got a plan. Chapter 19 This is, I say as I walk down the street between Isabel and Seb, by far the stupidest thing I have ever done. We’re headed to the Ash Bentley signing—I insisted we walk rather than take cars because the cars would be too conspicuous—and I feel like at any moment, someone is going to notice that the tall dude next to us in the cloak and space helmet is Prince Sebastian. Given that you participated in the Cinnamon Challenge not once, not twice, but three times, that’s really saying something, Isabel replies, moving her bag up higher on her shoulder as she keeps looking at Seb out of the corner of her eye. There’s basically no part of his face visible, and the cloak covers him from neck to ankle, but I’m convinced someone is going to figure it out. How can they not? Even completely hidden, he seems to stand out. Too tall, too swaggery . . . And too into Isabel. Does the cloak accentuate my eyes? he asks her, and honestly, how is he capable of flirting while wearing a space helmet, I ask you? Giggling, Isa looks up at him, squinting slightly. I can’t actually see your eyes, she reminds him, and he ducks his head closer to her. You’re not trying hard enough, he says, and I am going to vomit right here on this perfectly charming street. Less talking, more walking, I say to Seb. Your face might not be recognizable, but your voice is. He scoffs inside the helmet. I sound like every other bloke on the street. And here, watch this. Stepping just a little ahead of us, Seb lifts his arms wide, black cloak billowing, tilts his head back, and yells through the helmet, GOOD PEOPLE OF EDINBURGH! ’TIS I! YOUR PRINCE! A guy in a jean jacket gives him the side-eye and mutters some variation of the f-word, while a group of girls in school uniforms nudge each other and roll their eyes as they walk past. Seb drops his arms, and even with that helmet (which, gotta admit, is a pretty perfect replica of what Finnigan Sparks wears on the cover of Finnigan’s Moon), I swear I can feel him grinning. See? No one gives a toss. No one gives a toss, Dais, Isa repeats with a shrug, then breaks into giggles again, jogging a little to catch up with Seb, and I watch them, fighting the urge to stamp my foot. It’s silly, really, feeling jealous or upstaged or whatever it is currently twisting my stomach. It’s just that I’d looked forward to this day with Isa, and now it’s becoming a Seb day. But then I remind myself that, hey, Isabel is having fun, and after the whole thing with Ben she deserves that. Besides, it is kind of nice to know that Seb is a genuine Finnigan Freak. On the way here, he made a pretty good case for Team Jezza, complete with examples from the book, and now, as we make our way to the bookstore, I hear him telling Isabel, Miranda was ace in Finnigan and the Starhold. Most I’ve ever liked her.

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. Eurgh. 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.

But when I get to the foyer, I see that I’m already too late. Seb’s helmet and robe are hanging up on the hat stand by the door, and Seb and Isabel? Are nowhere in sight. Chapter 20 I try Isabel’s phone, but there’s no answer. And then I pull up my FaceBook app and start messaging her. Still nothing. In fact, I almost think she’s purposely ignoring me, which is very much not okay and a sacred violation of our friendship, which I plan on informing her of as soon as I freaking find her. Which, I realize, means finding Seb. The palace is a confusing warren of halls and rooms, smaller than Sherbourne Castle, plus there’s the added issue of parts of it being open to tourists and other parts private and for family only. I know I’m technically family now, but I still feel funny creeping the halls of the palace, ducking in rooms, looking for Seb and my best friend. My best friend, whose rights to that title might be stripped if she doesn’t turn up soon. It’s actually kind of a relief when I run into Spiffy—or Dons (I still have trouble telling them apart)—on one of the staircases. Hey . . . you! I say, trying to seem normal and not at all freaked out. Spiffy-or-Dons stops, grinning at me, hands in his pockets. He’s dressed like a banker in his forties—polo shirt, khakis, shiny shoes—rather than a teenage boy, and I wonder if Miles is the only one of them who ever manages to look semi-normal. Lady Daze, Spiffy-or-Dons says, and, great, apparently I have a nickname, too. How does anyone know who people are talking about around here? Getting the lay of the land? Kind of, I reply, resting my hand on the banister. You haven’t seen Seb, have you? Possibly with a girl? It’s the strangest thing, but I can actually see Spiffy-or-Dons shut down. Like a door closing in his face or something. Can’t say I have, he replies, and I know he’s lying. I press harder. It’s just my friend Isabel might be with him, and we had plans for tonight. With her parents. That part is a lie—Isa’s parents are still in London, coming up tomorrow afternoon—but I’m hoping that invoking parental authority will rattle him a bit. Doesn’t work. He shakes his head again and gives me the fakest apologetic look I’ve ever seen. Maybe she went back to the hotel, he suggests. I smile at him. Or grit my teeth, more likely. Maybe, I say, but I am pretty sure that’s not the case. Where could Seb have taken her? And then I realize who might know. And who would have a vested interest in preventing any scandal involving Seb. Is Miles around? I ask. Spiffy-or-Dons grins. Thought something might be afoot there, he says, then literally nudges me in the ribs with his elbow and winks. I shake my head. Ew, no. Spiffy—it is Spiffy, I’m pretty sure now—rocks back on his heels, face falling. Ew? he echoes. Monters is really the least ew of all of us, I feel. I smile in spite of myself at that but reach out and grab his forearm. Spiffy. Focus. Where is Miles? It turns out Miles has a flat—his own, which is crazy to me—not far from the palace, and within a few minutes, I’m in the back of one of the palace’s fleet of cars, heading for the part of Edinburgh called New Town. The fact that it was built in the eighteenth century is apparently enough to make it new around here. Should I wait here, miss? the driver asks, and I nod, barely thinking about how weird it is to have a driver, to have him waiting for me. I guess you get used to those things pretty quickly. Miles’s door is painted deep blue, and there’s no buzzer, so I just knock, hoping he’ll be home and that he might know where Seb has taken Isa. And sure enough, after just a few seconds, I hear footsteps coming, and then Miles is there, back in his regular uniform of jeans and a T-shirt, clearly puzzled to find me on his doorstep. I need a list of every den of iniquity in the city of Edinburgh, I blurt out. Miles stares at me for a moment before blinking owlishly. I . . . don’t have a list like that? He thinks for a second, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. Although I really wish I did now. I roll my eyes, and he ushers me in. It’s unsurprisingly adult and stuffy. Heavy leather furniture, lots of wood, books. There are two pairs of shoes lined up just inside the front door, and as I look at them, I realize they both have cedar shoe trees inside them. Shoe trees. What teenage boy even knows what those are, much less uses them? But then I remember I’m here on a mission, and I don’t have time to marvel at how Miles might be a time traveler from 1812. Instead, I follow him into the living room and, as quickly as I can, tell him about what happened back at the bookstore, then the palace. By the time I’m done, Miles has his arms folded over his chest, his brow creased. Okay, so your friend is visiting from America, and her boyfriend just chucked her. If ‘chucked’ means ‘dumped,’ then yes, that’s what happened, I say, leaning on the arm of his couch, and dear god. How did they even make leather that soft? I refrain from stroking the couch while Miles turns to walk back toward the bar separating the living room from the kitchen. And now your friend is out with Seb—where, by your own admission, she wants to be—and you want us to go . . . rescue her? He picks up a bottle of water, twisting off the cap and frowning at me. From what exactly? I throw my hands up. From Seb, obviously. Isn’t that your whole deal? He’s still looking at me, fiddling with the water bottle. What? I ask. I’m just not clear on why she needs rescuing if she’s with Seb by choice. Look, he can be a complete tosser, I know. He blows out a long breath. Trust me, I know. But . . . Seb doesn’t exactly have to kidnap women. Young ladies who choose to spend an evening with him do so quite willingly. I stare at him. Okay, what? What? he replies, but his eyes slide away from mine. Don’t what my what, I tell him, crossing one foot in front of the other. I what-ed first, and you know what I was what-ing about. Miles does that pressed-lips thing again, and when he doesn’t answer, I go on. You freaked the freak out about me with Seb, but now that I tell you my friend is off with him, you’re all, ‘Oh, no big, that’s just Seb’? I stare him down. That’s what I’m what-ing. Miles waves his hands, one still wrapped around his bottle of water. It was different, he says, and I tilt my head. Because it was me, I say. Because . . . of Ellie? Of me personally? Because of a lot of things, he says, but then, before I can get to the bottom of that, he adds, The point is, I don’t understand why your friend needs rescuing unless you think Seb kidnapped her, which would be a bit much, even for him. Frustrated, I shake my head. No, she totally went with him willingly, it’s not that, it’s just . . . she’s not making good choices, and as her friend, it’s my job to save her from those bad choices if I can. I fix Miles with a look. Something tells me you of all people can understand that.What the hell was holding me back? Just the fear of the risk, of letting him all the way in and getting destroyed when I’d barely put myself back together.

Walking into class yesterday, I’d slid into my seat at the same time a leggy brunette perched on his desk. I kept my eyes on my notebook, pressing the date deeply into the paper as her giggle nauseated me. Josh, I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow night. I bet you’ll score a goal just for me, huh?Vomit. This would be it. The moment I realized he’d finally grown tired of waiting for me to get my act together.

Shame on Him (Fool Me Once #3)

I’m hoping to score a lot of goals, Scarlet. Double vomit.Her giggle was even more obnoxious than the first one. Of course. What the hell was she? Part hyena?

And there’s only one girl I’m thinking about. Why did he have to use that tone of voice? The one without flirting or chauvinistic shimmer? Why did he have to use the low, seriously sexy one he reserved for me, the one I couldn’t ignore . . . at her?His hand reached across the aisle and captured mine. My gaze flew toward his, and I found him staring. My smile must have told Scarlet everything she needed to know, because she hopped right off his desk.

Sorry, Ember! I didn’t realize . . . well, yeah! She bounced back to her seat.He didn’t drop my gaze. I meant every word.

Yeah, you’ve done amazing things with him.He’s an amazing kid, he countered. December, about tomorrow—

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