The lads nod behind him and I can’t not smile.
“You’re good men. I’ve always liked you. You’re going places, I can tell.”
James and the rest of the security boys add their hands to the pile. And because I don’t want to be a full-out wanker, I don’t cheer or yell. I just nod to each of them, tap our hands, and say, “I’m proud of all of you. And grateful to each of you. I won’t let you down. Go, team.”
MR. HAVERSTROM ISN’T PLEASED WHEN I present him with my official Act of Royalty letter, excusing me from work for the next six weeks. But, as he acknowledged, he can’t fire me. And while I’ll miss the library and the regulars and lunch with Annie and Willard, in the end, it’s worth it. The unknown of Matched pales in comparison to the stark terror of standing in front of hundreds of people. No contest.
Ten days after Miss Herald showed up at our front door, a car arrives to take Penelope and me to Anthorp Castle. The property is only a little over an hour’s drive from Castlebrook. It’s guarded grounds, the royal family’s private property, so while I’ve read a few books about the castle’s history and have seen photos, I’ve never actually visited.
When the car pulls up the long, winding drive and stops in front of giant wood-and-iron doors, I decide for the first time that a book just can’t compare. The smell of salt and sea is in the air, and the wind coming off the water whips at my hair. It’s sunny and cool, and the huge gray stone castle with its points and towers, flags and flowers, drawbridge and moat, is straight out of a fairy tale—like Cinderella or The Little Mermaid.
Yes, with the waves crashing on the rocks below the cliff, The Little Mermaid is the perfect comparison. And it’s my favorite Disney movie.
A few of the show’s crew members collect our bags and carry them in. I notice a few other ladies—in designer clothes and large sunglasses—exiting cars nearby. A couple are familiar to me—the Duchess of Perth, Laura Benningson, and Lady Cordelia Ominsmitch—but the rest I’ve never met, though I’m sure Penny has. Miss Herald greets us in the main foyer and gives us a quick tour. Penelope chooses her room almost immediately—a large pink room on the second floor, near the main staircase and close to the action.
“I’d like to explore the grounds on my own, if that’s all right,” I tell Miss. Herald. “I’ll select a room after.”
“That’ll be fine,” she replies. “The crew, wardrobe, and makeup are using the whole west wing, but any other empty room is up for grabs.”
She hands Penelope her schedule for the day. The first filming session is late this afternoon, in front of the castle with the full cast, including Prince Henry, to shoot the opening scenes of the first episode. Before that, Penny has an interview, a wardrobe consultation, and a cocktail hour meet-and-greet with the other ladies in the castle.
I give my sister a hug before Miss Herald guides her away.
“Have fun, Pen.”
Her soft brown eyes dance up at me. “You too. If you spot any ghosts in this old place, try to get a photo!”
When they walk off, I step slowly through the castle, taking it all in, gazing at the ceilings and the walls and everything in between. I think about the people who have stood where I am right now, whose footsteps I could be retracing—grand lords and ladies, powerful soldiers and warriors, mighty kings and commanding queens.
It’s humbling and thrilling at the same time. Like their energy and spirit is in the stone itself, speaking to me, showing me—guiding my way. Before I know it, I’m in the corner of the east wing on the third floor. It’s quiet here, a bit far from the commotion of the main filming areas. The door creaks when I open it, stepping inside the bedroom.
And my breath catches.
Oh. Hell. Yes. I’ve found my room. Because for me, this one is perfect—absolutely perfect.
Later, when the sun hangs low in the sky but there are still a few hours until sunset, the full cast of ladies and crew are down in front of the castle. Vanessa Steele, the executive producer, announced that all assistants and non-cast members must remain indoors or off set. Since it’s an outdoor shoot, she doesn’t want to chance any of us getting caught in the shot.
I’ve found the perfect spot to watch the taping—on the forested side of the castle, up a hill, near a tree for cover, just in case. I have a stellar view of the castle entrance down below, and in the meantime, I have my book for company. Sitting back against the tree, I sigh with contentment. This is going to be lovely. Then I open my book . . . and practically jump out of my skin when a cough sounds from behind me.
I didn’t see anyone when I first walked up here.
Closing my book, I look out from behind the trunk cautiously. Just far enough . . . to see the unmistakable sight of His Royal Highness, Prince Henry, standing a few yards away.
With a gasp, I duck back behind the tree.
I grew up inundated with news stories of the royal family and posters of our handsome princes pinned to my bedroom walls—every girl in Wessco did. Nicholas was the serious one, staid and well-spoken, honorable—just like Mr. Darcy. Henry always seemed more like Fiyero Tigelaar from Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—fun-loving, passionate, and thoughtless, focused only on the next party and his own pleasure.
I stand up and peep back out from behind my tree for another glimpse.
And my heart starts to gallop, my head goes fuzzy, and it feels like my throat is closing in on itself. Because—sweet baby Jesus in a manger—he’s coming this way! His long, purposeful strides are aimed right at me. Which means when he gets here, I’ll actually have to speak to him. Although we met that one brief time—last year in a pub when he was with his brother and Olivia Hammond, who is now Princess Olivia, the Duchess of Fairstone—and while I’m acquainted with the details of Prince Henry John Edgar Thomas’s life, he’s still just a handsome stranger. And I don’t do well with strangers.