My mother closes her eyes. “I’m going to regret this . . . but, all right.”
Penny starts to squee, and my mother holds up an ultimatum finger.
“If Sarah goes along to keep an eye on you, to be your voice of reason because it’s apparent you were born without one, you may participate.”
Penelope flings her arms around her. “Thank you, Mummy!”
Then she whips around to me. Looking so hopeful, it just about breaks my heart.
“Penny . . . I can’t. I have my flat, my work. I just can’t blow them off for . . .”
“Six weeks in total,” the producer supplies.
“For six weeks. I’m sorry, Pen.”
She shuffles on her knees over to me—probably giving herself rug burns.
“Please, Sarah. This could change everything.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
“It’ll be so much fun. The best kind of adventure.”
And my chest aches. Because I want this for her—I want to be able to do it for her—but the prospect of so much change, so much unknown, terrifies me.
“I don’t think I can do it, Pen,” I whisper.
She clasps our hands together. “We’ll do it together. I’ll have your back and you’ll have mine.”
I open my mouth . . . but the words stay trapped in my throat.
“Penelope is supposed to report for military service next month,” Mother tells the producer.
“We’ll be able to get her out of that,” Miss Herald says. “We have a signed edict from Prince Henry excusing all the contestants from work, school, or any other obligations for ‘confidential’ Palace business. It’s an official Act of Royalty.”
Her words stop me cold. “What did you just say?”
“An Act of Royalty. It’s like a proclamation, an order from the Crown . . .”
“Or an act of God,” I whisper.
And the wheels in my mind turn.
“Could I get one? A letter for my employer if I go with Penny, as her . . . assistant?”
“Of course. Many of the ladies are bringing their own staff—chefs, hairdressers, yoga instructors, dog walkers—it’ll be interesting.”
“But I could have the letter?” I push. “To be excused from work for six full weeks?”
My eyes meet Penelope’s and her eyebrows rise. Because she knows exactly what I’m thinking.
“That does change things, doesn’t it?”
It certainly does. Now we’re down to the lesser of two evils.
And the choice is clear.
I was never a cheerleader, but if I had pom-poms I’d shake them until my hands fell off. Yay, reality television!
“Show us where to sign. We’re in.”
I’M IMPRESSED. Two weeks after I ring Vanessa Steele, I barely recognize the place. The castle is buzzing with activity—crewmen and women swinging figuratively from the rafters, installing lighting and cameras—without damaging the historical integrity, of course. Fergus had a full-out tizzy about that one, but I talked him down.
There’s always someone to chat with, someone saying hello or asking me a question or mentioning how excited he or she is to be working with me.
It feels bloody grand.
Set designers are arranging props and baskets of flowers here and there and oohing and ahhing over the antique paintings, suits of armor, and what Nicholas and I always called the Fantastic Wall of Death. It’s a large wall in the great room, covered floor-to-ceiling with weapons that were used by our ancestors on the battlefield. Writers and directors walk about the property, creating storyboards and film location lists.
AD’s and PA’s and Extra PA’s flit about, and I’m really hoping we can add DP to the frequently used initials vernacular very soon.
But then, in the library, Vanessa dashes those horny hopes as fast as Cinderella’s coach poofed back into a sad little pumpkin.
We’re going over my contract. I don’t have to sign the $50 million NDA like every single other person who’s even remotely involved, but I do have rules.
Sodding rules. Everywhere I look, there are do’s, don’ts, musts, and for fuck’s sake nevers.
Doesn’t anyone know how to have fun anymore?
“What do you mean, no sex? I’ve seen your show—sex is the whole point. All the good parts are blocked out, but it’s picnic sex, candlelight sex, after-hiking-through-the-forest sex. I was really looking forward to that part.”
She shakes her head, her shiny, short hair swaying. “Prepare for disappointment. This is the royal edition. It’s special. Special rules.”
“I don’t want to be special. I want to be like all the other average blokes on your show. Only, better-looking. Sucking face in the morning with one contestant, then sex with a different woman in the evening. And no one even gets angry. It’s a fascinating study in human behavior.” I clap my hands. “Bravo, sweetheart.”
And she’s still shaking her head. Damn it.
“In this case, we’re selling the fantasy. The fairy tale. That the woman you choose will be your queen. And in order to keep that fantasy going, you can party, but you can’t have sex.”
“Are you telling me that you actually found twenty noble virgins?”
Because if that’s the case, this isn’t going to be nearly as much fun as I thought.