The Controversial Princess

By: Jodi Ellen Malpas

(The Smoke & Mirrors Duology #1)

For my Zoe.

If there is an example of a loyal,

devoted, perfect assistant, then she is it.

Thank you for everything. xxx

I STARE AT MYSELF IN the large, elaborate mirror while my long, dark hair is tugged and teased into place at the nape of my neck by my personal stylist, Jenny. She ensures I always resemble the enviable, beautiful princess I’m supposed to be. I look like my mother—dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin. My looks are the only thing I inherited from the Spanish princess, who is now the Queen Consort of England. Her doting, dutiful, compliant nature escaped me, much to the disappointment and frustration of King Alfred of England. Her husband. My father.

My old man is a stickler for tradition, values, and rules. Antiquated rules, and frankly, unreasonable rules. The modern age apparently bypasses kings and queens.

My black satin pencil dress is as noncompliant as my nature—tight and backless—my heels as high as my long legs can carry, and my lips painted disgracefully red. My look will certainly raise the bushy eyebrows of the King, and, as usual, I couldn’t care less.

I close my eyes, losing the sight of my scandalous self, while Jenny spritzes my loose updo with hairspray. “You could smile, you know,” she muses, tweaking the loose strands framing my face. “It is your birthday, after all.”

I open my eyes and pick up where I left off, staring into the dark, empty gaze reflecting back at me in the mirror. I’m thirty years old today. I’m supposed to be married by now to some blue-blooded member of the aristocratic world, someone like Haydon Sampson. The son of David Sampson, the King’s lifelong friend and one of his trusty advisors, is my father’s choice of husband for me. It’s a shame Haydon is not my choice. I will not marry him. Ever. “Tell me what I have to smile about.”

“Not everyone gets a garden party thrown at the palace in honor of their birthday.”

I move my gaze to Jenny. “You think today is all about me?”

Ignoring my question, she picks up my clutch and places a lipstick and a few other makeup items inside. Jenny has been primping and preening me for royal life for as long as I can remember. She knows how I feel about Claringdon Palace, garden parties, and rubbing shoulders with royalty and aristocracy. “Try to have fun.”

I look past Jenny when Kim, my private secretary, enters my suite. She looks as formal as ever, her short body encased in a stiff grey trouser suit, her red hair held off her face with a clip secured low on her nape. I disregard her raised brow when she takes in my choice of party wear. “Your car’s waiting.”

“Thank you.” I breathe in some courage to face the afternoon ahead, and accept my clutch from Jenny. “My phone?”

“In the side pocket.”

I nod my thanks and wander out of my suite, Kim on my tail. “How long do I have to endure this afternoon?” I ask as we round the huge gallery landing of my home at Kellington Palace, one of many official royal residences in central London. It’s elaborate and sparkling, everything a royal palace should be. I take in the walls as I go, portraits of my ancestors filling every available space, all dressed respectfully, all intimidating. One day, I will hang beside them, undoubtedly looking as royal as they do. Except my portrait will be smoke and mirrors. A lie.

“You mean how long do you have to endure your own birthday party?” Kim asks, amused. “I’d say you’re there for the duration.”

I grimace. “Wonderful.”

“About Friday night,” she says.

“What about Friday night?”

“Your little indiscretion with a certain banker.”

I smile, remembering the indiscretion well. Gerry Rush, president of Britain’s largest bank. He may be mid-forties, but the man is distinguished and delicious. “What about that indiscretion?” I look at Kim as we come to a stop at the top of the grand staircase, not liking the form of her tight, straight lips. “He’s married.”

“No, he’s separated,” I say, remembering the article published a few weeks ago in one of the tabloids.

Kim holds out a newspaper, and I look down to see an image of Gerry Rush with a woman on his arm. His wife. “When was that taken?”

“Thursday. Seems they reconciled.”

My hand meets my chest, my face dampening from the cold sweat breaking out. “Oh my goodness,” I breathe. “The dirty rat. He never said.”

Kim is quick to dab my cheeks down with a soft handkerchief, soaking up the beads. “Of course he didn’t.”

“Does the press know about us?” If they do, then my father does, and that will be a headache of epic proportions that I really could do without. And it would have been even before I knew the lying cheat was making amends with Mrs. Rush.