***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2018 Rachel HawkinsROYALSBy Rachel HawkinsCHAPTER 1
Ever since Prince Alexander of Scotland was spotted with the blond American beauty, we’ve been nuts for all things Ellie! But do you know everything about this maybe-princess-to-be? We bet at least a few of these will surprise you!
• Eleanor Winters may have the same la-di-da accent as her boyfriend, but she was born in Florida to British parents!
• Clearly a love of the spotlight runs in the family since Ellie’s dad was once a musician and her mom writes mystery novels set in Ellie’s very own cozy small town.
• Born on September 9, our Ellie is a Virgo (no jokes about how princes only marry virgins)!
• Valedictorian, National Merit Scholar, and captain of her local swim team, Ellie has clearly been overachieving since forever! Hmmmm, not seeing any crowns on that list, though. But why be a prom queen when you can be a REAL queen!
• Ellie attended the très exclusive University of the Isles in her boyfriend’s home country—one day to be his kingdom— where she studied English literature!
• Her favorite color is blue, as you can probably see from some of the killer outfits she’s worn!
• For the past year, Ellie has been working for a small press located in Edinburgh, editing children’s books about Scottish history. Maybe brushing up on some lessons for herself?
• A vegetarian since the age of twelve, Ellie has Prince Alexander—a longtime outdoorsman—giving up some of his old hobbies, like fly-fishing and hunting! (Something that has made her not too popular with certain members of his circle, we hear!)
• While “Eleanor Winters” is definitely a fancy—dare we say regal?—name, Ellie’s middle name is the decidedly less posh “Berry”! Apparently it’s a family joke!
• Or maybe plant life is just really popular in the Winters household—Ellie has a seventeen-year-old sister named Daisy!
“Some old lady just called me the C word.”
I glance up from the magazine I’m paging through. Isabel Alonso, my best friend and fellow cashier at the Sur-N-Sav, leans back against her register and snaps her gum. Her dark hair is caught up in a messy braid, black against the green of her apron.
“Just now?” I ask. The store is more or less deserted, which has been the case since the giant Walmart opened up on the other side of town, so Isabel and I are the only cashiers working today. I haven’t had anyone in my line in over an hour, hence the magazine. Still, I can’t believe I was absorbed enough to miss something actually exciting—if super rude—happening.
Isabel rolls her eyes. “It’s my fault the price of sour cream went up.”
“That seems fair,” I tell her with a solemn nod. “You are a fabulous dairy heiress, after all.”
Isabel turns back to her register, punching buttons at random. “We have got to get new jobs, Daze. This is humiliating.” I don’t disagree, but when you live in a small town in north Florida, your options are kind of limited. I’d wanted to get a job at the library last fall, but that hadn’t worked out—no funding—and one summer of helping out at Vacation Bible School had cured me of the desire to work with little kids, which meant babysitting or working part time at the local pre-school was out. So it was all Sur-N-Sav all the time.
Although now, looking at my phone where it’s propped against the register, I see that my time at Sur-N-Sav is up.
“Ah, three o’clock, the most beautiful time of day,” I say happily, and Isabel groans. “Not fair!”
“Hey, I’ve been here since seven,” I remind her. “You wanna leave early—”
“You have to take the early shift,” she finishes, waving a hand at me. “Okay, Mrs. Miller, got it.”
Mrs. Miller is the manager of the Sur-N-Sav, and Isabel and I have gotten very used to her lectures over the past year.
Sighing, Isabel leans next to her register, chin propped in her hand. Her nails are painted three different shades of green, and a simple beaded bracelet slides down one slender wrist. “Four more weeks,” she says, and I repeat our favorite mantra.
“Four more weeks.”
At the end of June, Isabel and I are bidding a not-so-fond farewell to the Sur-N-Sav life and heading out to Key West for Key Con, then plan to spend a week bumming around the town. Isabel’s brother lives there with his wife and Isabel’s ridiculously cute baby nephew, so we have a free (and parent-approved) place to stay. To say my entire life is revolving around this trip might be something of an understatement. Not only will we get our geek on, but we will also get to do fun Key West things. Snorkeling, the Hemingway House, all the key lime pie a gal can hold . . . yes, this trip is going to make my entire summer, and Isa and I have been planning it for almost a year now, as soon as the con was announced. Our favorite author, Ash Bentley, is going to be there talking about her Finnigan Sparks series, plus there are at least twenty different panels Isabel and I want to check out—on everything from women in space operas to cosplay design. It is geek heaven, and we are beyond ready.
“You need to come over this weekend so we can start planning outfits,” Isabel says, straightening up and punching ran- dom buttons on the register as Whitney Houston wails about the greatest love of all over the sound system. “I still haven’t decided if I’m cosplaying as Miranda from Finnegan and the Falcon
or Jezza from Finnegan’s Moon
“Ben would probably prefer Jezza,” I say. Ben is Isa’s boyfriend, and has been for roughly eleventy billion years. Okay, since eighth grade. “Lot less clothes on Jezza.”
Isa screws up her face, thinking. “True, but Ben’s not even going to be there, and I don’t know if I’m ready to show a quarter of my butt cheeks to all of Key West.”
“Fair,” I acknowledge. “Besides, being Miranda means you get to wear a purple wig.”
She points a finger at me. “Yes! Miranda it is, then. Who are you going to go as?”
Smiling, I start shutting down my register. “Cosplay is your thing,” I remind her, “so I’m just going as me. Boring Girl in T-Shirt and Jeans.”
“You are a disappointment to me in every way,” Isa replies, and I shake my head.
The doors slide open, another senior citizen shopper strolling in as I finish with my register and take the cash drawer to Mrs. Miller’s office. At most grocery stores, clerks count the money themselves, but years of working with teenage employees has given Mrs. Miller trust issues, and to be honest, I’m happy to leave that chore to someone else anyway.
That done, I make my way across the store, noticing as I pass the magazine racks lining the register lanes that a bunch of them have been turned around, the ads on their backs, rather than the covers, facing the customer.
This has to be Isabel’s doing. I walk up to a rack and turn the nearest backward magazine to face me. I see a quick flash of blond hair and bright teeth, and then my eyes land on the headline, printed in bold yellow script: “TEN THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT ELLIE WINTERS!”
I wonder if any of the ten things would surprise me
. I doubt it, though.
My sister has lived a life pretty free from the scandalous, almost as if she knew she’d end up on the cover of magazines. I’m almost tempted to flip through, but then decide that “A,” it would be weird and “B,” Isabel did
go to the trouble of trying to hide the magazines from me in the first place.
“It was nothing bad this time,” she calls out now. “Just figured you didn’t need to see!”
Giving her a thumbs-up, I continue toward the door at the far side of the store.
My stuff is in the break room, a truly tragic space made up of orange walls, green plastic chairs, and a scratched laminate table. At some point, someone had carved “BECKY LOVES JOSH” into the top of it, and every time I sat there on my break, reading or studying, I wondered what became of Becky and Josh. Were they still in love? Had Becky been as insanely bored here as I was?
Although, hey, at least Becky was never confronted with pictures of her sister on the front of tabloids.
Or being in the tabloids herself for that matter. Ugh.
The whole prom debacle is still this mix of anger and hurt, a thorny ball lodged right in my chest, and thinking about it is like poking a sore tooth. You forget just how much the tooth aches until you focus on it, and then suddenly it’s all you can think about.
Which means I can’t risk thinking about it now, or I might start crying in the break room at the Sur-N-Sav, and there is nothing on earth more depressing than that scenario. That’s like movie-where-the-dog-dies levels of pathos, so yeah, not doing that.
Instead, I heft my beat-up patchwork bag onto my shoulder and head out the door.
The blinding brightness and heat of the late-May afternoon is intense as I walk outside and into the parking lot, and I squint, reaching in my bag for my sunglasses, my mind already on what I’m going to do for the rest of the afternoon. Mostly, it involves draping myself over the AC vent in my room and reading the new manga I picked up from the bookstore yesterday.
And there’s that sore tooth. Great.
Michael is leaning against one of the yellow-painted concrete pylons in front of the store, one ankle crossed in front of the other, dark hair falling in his eyes. He’s probably been practicing that pose. Michael Dorset is a champion
leaner, one of the best, really. In the Olympics for Cute Boys, he’d take the gold in the Hot Lean every time.
Lucky for me, I am now immune to the Hot Lean (trademark pending).
Sliding my sunglasses onto my face, I hold up a hand at my ex-boyfriend.
Michael’s face curls into a scowl. He has these really soft features, all round cheeks and pretty brown eyes, and I swear he’s taught his hair to do that thing where it falls juuuuust right over his forehead. A month ago, I would’ve been a puddle of melted Daisy at that face, would’ve reached out to push his hair back from his forehead. Michael Dorset had been my crush since ninth grade. He’d always hung out with a way more popular crowd than I had (I know, shocking that my glasses and Adventure Time
T-shirts didn’t make me a bigger draw), and then last year—finally
—I’d gotten him.
“I screwed up,” he says now, shoving his hands in his pockets. He’s wearing the skinniest jeans known to man, jeggings if I’m being honest, and he’s got one of my ponytail holders around his wrist. The green one.
Fighting the kindergarten urge to rip it off, I shift my bag to my other shoulder. “That’s an understatement.”
in the parking lot, and I suddenly realize I’m still wearing the little green Sur-N-Sav apron that goes over my
clothes. Michael is all in black, as per usual, but doesn’t seem to be sweating, possibly because he’s like 0.06% body fat. This is the last place I want to have this discussion, so I move past him and toward my car.
“C’mon,” he wheedles, following. “We need to at least talk
The asphalt grits under my sneakers as I keep walking. Even though we’re not that close to a beach, sand magically appears here, pooling in cracks and potholes in the parking lot.
“We did talk about it,” I say. “It’s just that there wasn’t much to say. You tried to sell our prom pictures.”
Fun part of having a famous sibling—you yourself somehow become kind of
But it seems like you just get the annoying parts of fame, like, you know, your boyfriend selling private stuff to a tabloid.
Or trying to.
Apparently the royal family had people on the lookout for that kind of thing and shut it down pretty quickly, which, hon- estly, just made the whole thing ever weirder.
“Babe,” he starts, and I wave him off. I’d liked
those stupid pictures. Thought we looked cute. And now every time I look at them, they’re just another thing that got weird because of Ellie.
I think that’s what pissed me off most of all.
“I was doing it for us
,” Michael continues, and that actually makes me stop and whirl around.
“You did it to buy a ‘super-sweet’ guitar,” I say, my voice flat. “The kind you’d talked about forever.”
Michael actually does look a little sheepish at that. He shoves his hands in his pockets, shrugging his shoulders up and rocking back on his heels. “But music was our thing
,” he says, and I roll my eyes.
“You never liked the bands I liked, you would never let me play my music in the car, you—”
Fumbling in his back pocket, Michael cuts me off—another habit of his I wasn’t that nuts about—saying, “No, but listen.” He pulls out his phone, scrolling through it, and I’m just about to turn away and walk to my car when there’s a sudden cry from the Sur-N-Sav.
“NO BOYS!” a voice warbles across the parking lot.
I turn back to the store to see Mrs. Miller, my manager, standing on the sidewalk just in front of the sliding doors, hands on her hips. Her hair is probably supposed to be red, but it’s faded to a sort of peachy hue, and thin enough that you can see her scalp through it.
“NO BOYS ON SHIFT!” she yells again, wagging a finger at me, the skin under her arm wobbling with judgment.
“I’m off the clock,” I call back, then jerk my thumb at Michael. “And this isn’t a boy. It’s a sentient pair of skinny jeans with good hair.”
“NO! BOYS!” Mrs. Miller hollers again, and seriously, Mrs. Miller’s hang-up about her female employees having boys around them is both psychotic and ridiculous. I’m not sure why she thinks the freaking Sur-N-Sav is a hotbed of sexual activity, but the “no fraternizing with the opposite sex” rule is far and away her strictest.
“THERE IS ZERO EROTICISM HAPPENING HERE IN THE PARKING LOT!” I shout back, but by now, Michael has found what he was looking for.
“I wrote this for you,” he says, touching the screen, and a tinny blast of music shoots out of his phone. The quality is crap, and I can’t really make out any of the lyrics over the shriek of the electric guitar, but I’m pretty sure I hear my name several times, rhymed with both “crazy” and “hazy,” and then Michael starts actually singing along with it
, and please, god, let me die of sudden heat stroke, let a car take a turn and mow me down here in the parking lot of the Sur-N-Sav because between my ex war- bling “Daisy’s driving me crazy” and Mrs. Miller beginning to march across the asphalt toward us, I’m not sure this afternoon can get much worse.
And then I look up to see the black SUV parked at the edge of the lot, window rolled down . . .
With a telephoto lens pointed directly at me.
Copyright © 2018 by Rachel Hawkins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.