The Princess Royal: Book Two of the Royal Romances
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Here is an excerpt of Chapter One of Tangled Up in Princes
Eliza Margaret Penelope, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom, was talking to her cat.
“Bennie, I reckon it’s time for another tattoo,” Lizzy said, scratching the cat under his chin. He purred his approval. “I’m about to be well shot of Magnus who, I’m sorry to say, has proved to be something of a shit.”
Lizzy was stretched out across her canopy bed, mussing her designer gown as well as the starched and pressed duvet. She stood and gave a studied little wriggle until the draping of her beaded gown hung just right. All of her dresses for official functions were long and heavy as hell. This one was silver with a lovely cool corsetry top and crystals on the skirt.
She picked through the leather cases that had been delivered from her parents. She was expected to wear something from the private jewels, the collection of royal baubles accumulated over the centuries. She lifted the lid of the first leather case and grimaced. It was a brooch. No one but her mother had worn a brooch in fifty years. She moved on to the next box and found the inevitable pearl choker her mother would have insisted upon. She flicked through the rest, all non-possibilities. Losing hope of anything original, Lizzy picked up the pearls. She stacked up the rest of the cases and counted them idly. She’d looked at eleven pieces of priceless jewelry and hated most of them. Too stuffy, too ornate, too old. She set the pearls back down absently, peering at the stack of leather cases. One of them, black and scuffed, unassuming, didn’t look familiar. She had stacked the others on top of it. She felt a slight thrill of excitement as she uncovered it and flipped it open. She had known by the deep box that it would be a tiara. But this was the tiara, the very one she’d been asking to wear since she was twelve. Lizzy had wanted it with a fierce greed that she had felt for no other material object. It was the pink Argyle diamond tiara, the curls of white and pink diamonds in rose gold evoking the shape of swans.
Lizzy set it on her dark hair and instantly she looked and felt like a princess. She held her neck more regally, straightened her posture. She fussed with a hairpin and messaged her driver. Stepping outside her room, she informed the security guard that he could take the rest of the jewels back to the vault. She rode to the ballroom of the Perpetua Hotel for a benefit for the royal endowment for music education. Some year-eights were to provide music for dancing before the orchestra began. Watching their performance might be the only bright spot of her evening apart from the tiara.
She knew already what the headline would read in the morning.
“Princess Eliza arrived at the gala on the arm of on-again love, the international playboy Magnus Cameron.”
Lizzy reminded herself to stand tall as Magnus joined her, escorted by his latest minder. He required an entourage no less than any drug-addled rock musician. He was looking laddish in his designer tux, blond hair carefully mussed, a rogue’s dimple flashing as he offered her his arm.
“You’re looking well, Liz,” he said, eyes raking her with appreciation. She stifled a groan.
“It is a lovely dress,” Lizzy said. “Your suit is nice as well.”
“No, on second thought that gown hides your tits too much.”
With Magnus, that was what passed for seduction. He made Lizzy miss her cat.
She set her hand at his elbow and waited to be given leave to enter. When they were announced, she smiled and glided forth smoothly. The room was opulent with painted frescos, dark columns and the gilded trim all lit to a burnished glow by the blaze of crystal chandeliers. They were seated at a table with a handful of businessmen whose wealth would be welcome in the musical education program, and their Sloane wives, preening in their Prada. Magnus was on about his trip to Mustique and held their attention admirably, despite the odd reference to his recreational drug use. Lizzy pinched his leg meaningly and his accent climbed a notch more toward Eton. Lizzy picked up her dinner roll and buttered it lavishly.
“Liz, carbs,” Magnus said.
Magnus was one of the few who were aware of the directive her father’s office had given her to stop gaining weight. When she set her roll down on her bread plate to cut her fish, Magnus took her roll away and proceeded to eat it himself.
Lizzy didn’t permit herself a scowl. Instead she turned to one of her dining companions, a Mr. Belford, who had a remarkable family fortune, some of which ought rightfully make its way to the underprivileged music students they had gathered to benefit. He had a comfortable belly beneath his fine suit and was, she noted with slight envy, working his way through his second dinner roll.
“Mr. Belford, I understand you have quite an interest in racing?” she said.
“It is a hobby. We keep a little stable.”
“Did not your horse win at Newmarket? The Craven Meeting?”
“Yes. Mellow Spring is a fast animal,” Mr. Belford said. “We got him in Lexington, in the States.”
“I’ve heard fine things about Kentucky horseflesh.” Lizzy said. “My grandmother had a racing stable there when I was a child. Where do your horses go when you retire them?”
“Oh, out to pasture, you know. Stud services, if you’ll pardon the indelicacy, Your Highness.”
“Have you trained any of your retirees as therapeutic animals? I’ve read great things about former racers serving in therapy for people who’ve had strokes.”
“I cannot say as I have thought of that before, however if you suggest it…” Mr. Belford said.
Lizzy remembered that she was meant to be on about musical education and not her favorite topic instead.
“Not at all. Forgive me. We’ve come to enjoy the performance of some truly remarkable year-eights. Did any of you have musical lessons?” she asked.
What followed was a sort of upper-crust reverse one-upsmanship as each in turn suggested with false modesty that his efforts on an instrument were dismal despite excellent tutors. Mr. Belford himself had taught his own children the violin and Mrs. Limbridge once toured with the ensemble at public school to do a concert in Austria. She confessed to having played the tuba.
“There are really quite a few children in our city who haven’t the opportunities we’ve had–a good school and on ski trips after term. The fine arts have always been an interest of mine and it grieves me to think of little children who wish to learn and haven’t the chance.”
“My daughter stopped her piccolo lessons at fifteen. We were so disappointed,” one woman said. “Playing the flute was such a source of joy for me. I so enjoyed accompanying her on flute at family gatherings.”
Lizzy nodded, trying not to cringe on behalf of the teen who had been forced to perform at dinner parties with her mum on flute.
“She may return to the practice later in life,” Lizzy said. “Even if she does not, she had the opportunity to play and appreciate music.”
“Indeed. It is so important for a well-rounded character,” the woman said.
“I never learnt an instrument.” Magnus put in.
“Do you regret missing the opportunity?” Lizzy pressed, hoping that for once he was going to support her.
“Fuck no. Lot of poncy twits at school used to do chorus. I stuffed a few of them in the bin.” He let out a coarse laugh and Lizzy tried to think of what to say to smooth this gaffe. She had an impulse to kick him extremely hard.
“That’s a bit of a different experience than the one we advocate with the musical education initiative, Magnus,” she said. “Surely you’ve matured a bit since stuffing defenseless persons into bins.”
The music began and she nearly sagged with relief. She nodded to Mr. Belford who took her hand. She kept smoothly to her topic of music lessons and applied only a touch of flattery to secure the donation. At the end of the dance, Mr. Belford bowed to her. Someone caught her hand. She turned to see not Magnus but Phillip, her older brother Jamie’s best mate. Phillip, the unfortunate bridegroom.
He was quite the opposite of Magnus when it came to appearances. He was stronger, sturdy and dark. She smiled her first genuine smile of the evening when she saw him. He set her hand on his shoulder and led her through a waltz.
“Now, would that be the famous tiara, Lizzy?” he said.
“Why famous? All our jewels are famous, cheeky boy,” she scolded.
“The pink Argyles you used to tell me about. When you were about eleven, I’d say. Jamie had brought me along for holiday. You were pouting over this very thing. It looks as though you’ve grown into it.”
“You remember that?”
“You were devastated. I had thought at the time, we were at Pembroke, I think, and out by the pond, that you might cry off and be the next Ophelia.”
“I wasn’t that mad, even as an adolescent, Phillip. You’re far too harsh on me.”
“Indeed I feared for your very life. You were off your trolley. You told me you’d no reason to live. You were only a princess and no one cared for anything you did except—”
“What I wear and if get fat or divorced,” she said. “I’m older now, but it’s still true enough.”
“Now you’ve got an ace tiara,” he said.
“I quite like it. Thanks for noticing.”
“Was it your birthday present?”
“Hardly. Mum called to say they had a tree planted in my honor and I presided over the opening of a new flower bed.”
“Exciting times, then. What about the dashing Magnus? Did he give you sacks of diamonds and a Ferrari?”
“He forgot. Claims he did.”
“How could he forget? You’re his girlfriend.”
“You sound more indignant than I did!” she said. “I did point out rather forcibly that everyone in the UK knows I’m born on the eight of April. There were coins minted in commemoration, in fact!”
“If I’d known the smoothie git was going to bugger off—”
“Phillip, I realize you’re a commoner, but you’re at a ball, with the nice silver and the toffs. Do restrain yourself.”
“I forgot your birthday too, on the day. I’d have rung you.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve had things go pear shaped recently. I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Thought I could do with a bit of cheering up. You could try to coax me into a donation.”
“Shall I have them get you an extra helping of pudding? You were once quite mad for custard.”
“It might help your cause along. I had rather have you come to sit at my table. The crowd is dull as may be.”
“Really. Whom are you seated by?”
“My parents,” he said and she laughed. “They want me engaged to be married posthaste.”
“How sensitive of them. I’m not certain you want me at your table. I’m like to say something rude about their treatment of you.”
“They want me to be resilient and conquer greater things, you see. I’m to propose to someone of good birth with a title.”
“That’s total crap, Phillip, I’m sorry. I hate that it didn’t turn out for you.”
“Dance with me again later? It’s good to have someone to talk with at these dos,” he said.
As they parted ways, she was startled to see her elder brother Jamie come through the crowd toward them. Lizzy wasn’t sure why he was there–a benefit of being one of seven royal children was that only one or two at a time ever had to attend official events, so surely he hadn’t been bidden to appear at something so paltry as a children’s musical charity. The Prince of Wales was usually reserved for more pressing and prominent causes.
Yet there he was, striding across the dance floor toward the pair of them with purpose on his handsome face. If anything had been seriously wrong with their ailing dad, Martin would have sent someone inconspicuous to retrieve her, so there was no reason for her stomach to plummet with worry as it did. Then she saw Jamie’s gaze was fixed on Phillip, not herself. Her stomach lurched again, this time with real purpose. They probably hadn’t seen one another since Jamie got caught in flagrante with Phillip’s bride-to-be in Scotland. She had to get them out of sight, was her first thought. If there was going to be a row, which she had every reason to expect, it was her duty to get them to a private location. There was no press in the event but there were plenty of Sloanes with cameras on their mobiles who could record the proceedings and stir up a real scandal.
She seized Phillip’s arm as he was nearest to her, and tugged at it.
“Let’s go out for some air, eh, Phillip?” she said urgently.
He ignored her. His arm was pleasingly solid and muscular and she scolded herself for getting distracted and for holding on to his arm a bit longer than necessary.
“Now, James,” she said to her brother. “Wouldn’t it be best if we went–”
“No, Lizzy. If he’s to take a swing at me, he ought to get to knock me down in front of a whole roomful of spectators. I deserve it,” Jamie said, a defiant lift to his jaw. “I was a comprehensive ass and ruined his wedding. He’s the best mate I ever had and I treated him very ill indeed.” Jamie stood, hands in his pockets, waiting confidently to be punched by Phillip Rhys-Cooper, the wronged party.
Leave it to Jamie to apologize with unmitigated swagger, she thought.
No one could’ve blamed Phillip for hitting her brother if he had done it. Even though the public had only seen compromising photos of not Jamie, but Edward and his now-wife Carrie at Drummond Castle the week of the wedding, the inner circle knew the truth, that Jamie and Amanda had been about four minutes from committing adultery when Edward had discovered them together. In her heart, she thought Jamie was still acting like an ass, demanding his comeuppance as publicly as any spoiled child. What kept her from remarking on it was the fact that every word she’d use to describe her adorable, infuriating brother–brash, impulsive, with a good heart but a terrible track record–could be applied to herself as well. Lizzy wondered if she ought to step between them, alerting bystanders to what could easily escalate into a fight, or if she ought to keep her countenance and try not to betray her concern.
“Leave off, Wales, I’m not going to hit you,” Phillip said. “Now, I reckon I’d rather you hadn’t–done what you did–but in the end it was a service to me. It would be worse if I’d married her and then she–found someone else she liked a bit better.” His voice was low and Lizzy could hear the hurt in it. She laid her hand on his bicep again, meaning to be comforting but feeling utterly useless. “Every girl I’ve fancied since we were lads has looked right past me and thrown her knickers at you. I can’t imagine why I thought the American would be any different.”
“You’re not to be serious, Phillip? I’ve betrayed you. I’ve no right to ask your forgiveness. I only thought to turn up and–”
“Give the grand gesture as always, James.” Phillip shook his head indulgently. “You’re bollocks at apologies, but you’ve been a brother to me since Eton. Now stop taking the piss and say you’re sorry so I can forgive you and we can all quit standing on the dance floor causing couples to crash into one another while they stare,” he said.
“Lord, Lizzy, he’s a better man than we either of us deserve,” Jamie said under his breath, obviously moved by his friend’s grace. “I’m sorry, Phillip. Truly I am. I haven’t the smallest excuse for my behavior.”
“Then let’s have an end of it. Next time round I shall take care to choose a bride with no interest in the monarchy,” Phillip said ruefully and shook Jamie’s hand.
Lizzy had to blink hard, an unwanted welling of emotion hitting her from the depth of their friendship and Phillip’s forgiving heart. He deserved so much better. God, but that American was a stupid slapper to give up such a man. Anyone could see Phillip Rhys-Cooper was worth ten of Jamie. Lizzy couldn’t quit looking at him, long after it became awkward. The two men walked away together and she stared after them, after Phillip really, and couldn’t help thinking how fit he was looking, how–remarkable he really was.
She went back to her table. Lizzy had secured a promise from Mr. Belford to donate to the cause and it was time to work on the other gentlemen at the table. One of them was dancing with his wife already and the other had excused himself. That left Magnus, who had pots of money and no social conscience. She might separate him from some of his money before she dropped him cold, she reasoned.
“Care to dance?”
“You were awfully chummy with that last bloke,” he said.
“If I dance with you do I have to give money to this charity? I thought turning up was gift enough. It’s right dull.”
“So are you, Magnus,” she snapped. “You can dance and be pleasant or you may leave.”
“Quite the princess tonight, are we?”
“Do let’s take a turn on the terrace,” she said with false sweetness.
“You’re being very icy. Am I in trouble?” he mocked.
“That depends on how you look at it, actually,” she said and hauled him across the room to the French windows.
They stepped out into the cool night air. Lizzy allowed herself one breath of that sweet stillness before she launched in on him.
“I’m finished, Magnus. You’re free to sit in your flat and snort dodgy things up your nose and look at pornos. I’m bored of it myself and your behavior tonight has been an embarrassment.”
“You were looking for a bit of fun at the start, Liz. You knew who I was.”
“Not really. When I read ‘international playboy’ I thought you were more of a James Bond sort.”
“I’ve got plenty of birds like me as I am!”
“Super. You ought to go find them now,” she said. “I don’t want this to drag on, Magnus. Please.”
“I’ll not be tossed over by some bitch in a crown.”
“It’s a tiara. Pink diamonds from the Argyle mines of Australia,” a voice came from the French windows. “If you don’t wish to be tossed over by the bitch in the crown, how about at the hands of a commoner? I’ve no qualms that a bit of defenestration might set you up nicely. Teach you manners,” Phillip said, brushing his hands together.
“Easy, mate,” Magnus said, putting up his hands. “We were having words is all. Liz gets a mite uppity when she’s on her drink.”
“Right then,” Phillip shucked off his bespoke jacket and set about unfastening his cufflinks and rolling up his sleeves. “Here, Liz,” he said. “Hold these. They were Grandfather’s and I’d hate to get blood in the engraving.”
Magnus darted back to the ballroom. Lizzy put a hand over her mouth to cover her laugh.
“He’s not going to stop running till he gets to Hampstead, Phillip. What’s got into you?”
“I didn’t like how he spoke to you,” he said.
“I thought you were going to slap him with your glove and ask him if he prefers pistols or swords.”
“Nothing wrong with a duel. Completely effective way of settling differences.”
“Yeah, it proves who’s right and who’s dead.”
“You never have to have the same argument twice that way. It’s efficient,” he said. “On a more serious note—“
“More serious than death?”
“Yes. Was Magnus often that way with you?”
“A complete arse.”
“Ah, no he was quite a lark at first. I went round with him to spite Father, you know. He wanted me to go out with that beastly Latvian prince.”
“So you taught your dad a lesson by making an even worse choice for yourself?”
“I thought it would be all roulette and topless beaches,” she shrugged.
“I’m fairly certain you’re not allowed to shrug in a tiara. The royal bones interred at Westminster just rolled over.”
“I’ve given them quite the workout I imagine,” she said. “By the fourth or fifth time he tried to get me to try something he’d seen in a porno I was finished with him.”
“He sounds a right bastard. Wish I had hung him up by the ankles.”
“Thank you, Phillip. I’d have been fine on my own but it was nice of you just the same.”
“That isn’t how you persuade a man to donate to your cause. You’re supposed to flutter your lace fan and say you nearly fainted and thank him for coming to your rescue.”
“Right. Silly me. I don’t seem to have a lace fan about me. I do have lace knickers on. I suppose I could wave them,” she said and he grinned.
It was the first time she’d seen him smile all night, which wasn’t surprising since his fiancée had jilted him. He had a nice smile, she thought. Really nice. Somehow, she wished she could have five minutes in a room with Amanda, his former bride-elect. Five minutes in a room with no security cameras.
“I’d rather get out of here,” Lizzy said.
“Would you like some company?”
“Yes. Maybe cheer us both a bit. I’ve finished with Magnus and you recently dodged an unfortunate marriage. Want to go have a tattoo?”
“That’s actually the first time anyone’s ever asked me,” he said. “I reckon at school they thought I was too straight.”
“So do you want to?”
“Let’s go then.”
“This sounds the most fun I’ve even thought of having in a while.”
“I can be relied upon for fun. Most of my mistakes are a delight at the time,” Lizzy said.
“My mistakes are drab and I’m sick of thinking of them. I’d rather make one of yours for a change.”
“Take me to my place so I can change. It’ll take me five minutes. Ten at the most with this corsetry on,” she said.
“Where do you live?”
“Oh, okay. You don’t know? Pop round to the back at Kensington Palace.”
Phillip dropped her off and said he would wait in the car.
“It’s not as though it’s a sacred space. It’s just my house. I bet yours is bigger.”
“It is bigger, but not nearly so grand. It’s new.”
“So it’s got better heating, I suppose, and the plumbing lacks that quaint rattle when you flush.”
“We do have whisper-silent flushing. You should visit sometime.”
“I’ll wait here,” he said, and she bounded into the house as quickly as a woman encumbered with that much dress could bound.