Bad Princess, страница 1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Julianna Keyes. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher at [email protected]
Visit our website at www.juliannakeyes.com.
Cover design by Khoi Le
First Edition November 2017
Notorious for leaping off roofs, maiming foreign royals, and that twerking incident, Brinley Cantrella of Estau is nobody’s definition of a good princess. She’s fearless and bold, not good and gracious. And after a lifetime of being told she’s unfit to be queen, wearing the crown and helping to usher Estau into a new era is the one dream she’s never dared chase.
But when her older sister abdicates the throne, all Brinley has to do to inherit the role is not twerk, not maim anybody, and definitely not get caught fooling around topless with Prince Finn, her childhood crush, the only man she’s ever loved...and her sister’s former future husband.
Finn embodies the definition of good. Tall and handsome, serious and honorable, he always does the right thing—including agreeing to marry his ex’s sister to cover up this latest scandal. Brinley has fallen down stairs, broken teeth and broken bones, but this is the first time her heart has ever been broken. She now has the crown and the prince, and on the surface, life is good—but is being married to a man everyone swears could never love her back good enough?
Approximately 39,500 words.
For all the bad girls.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BOOKS BY JULIANNA KEYES
ABOUT JULIANNA KEYES
PRINCESS ELLE VIDA was born at precisely 12:01 a.m. on a snowy January 1st. The nurses swore she was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen, and not just because she would one day inherit the throne of the Kingdom of Estau, but because even at just one minute old, Princess Elle was astonishingly beautiful.
Though Estau was very much a 21st Century kingdom, Elle had the flaxen hair and sky blue eyes of the fairy tale princesses of old. Her skin was like satin and her smile could be seen for miles. Her parents, King Luke and Queen Vivienne, were delighted with their daughter, as were her royal subjects. Growing up she was kind, bright, curious and obedient. Elle Vida was the epitome of Estau’s motto, Be good and be gracious. Elle Vida was everything she was supposed to be.
Until the day after her twenty-fifth birthday, when Princess Elle Vida of Estau abdicated the throne and ran away with a lumberjack to live a life of hedonism on an unnamed island in the South Pacific. Or so that’s how it was interpreted. It was hard to properly decipher all the words scrawled in the drunken goodbye message left on her bathroom mirror with red lipstick.
Elle’s younger sister, Princess Brinley Cantrella, was born three years later on October 31st, a night filled with ghouls and demons, and she was, to all accounts, a baby born possessed. She was not a good baby, not quiet or sweet, always wailing and red in the face. While Elle was an appropriately curious child, Brinley was dangerously so, hanging out of windows and sliding down banisters and attempting to scale the inside of a fireplace to see if she could reach the castle roof, which she had been forbidden from visiting lest she try to fly again.
Rumor had it that Brinley had been born blond, and her now-dark, tangled hair had been permanently stained by soot and guilt. Her ever-broken fingernails and uneven smile were considered further proof that not only was she not fit for the throne like her saintly sister Elle, she was not in any way, shape or form, a good princess.
In fact, Brinley Cantrella was a bad princess.
All the tabloids agreed.
There was hardly an issue published that did not carry at least one photograph of Brinley doing something bad. A gust of wind blowing up her skirt to expose a gold thong, sticking out her tongue at a shouted insult from an unseen passerby (to be fair, that had only happened five times), a grainy shot of a woman assumed to be Brinley making out with one of her university professors. (To be even more fair, it was her in the shot, and the man was a professor, but he was in the English department and she was in the science program and there was no conflict of interest at all.)
Elle had done wonderfully in her castle mandated etiquette classes; nine exasperated tutors had given up on Brinley. Elle had never picked up a sword; Brinley had accidentally sliced the queen’s official portrait in half while fending off make believe bandits. Elle had never cursed in her life; Brinley had been secretly recorded during a drunken karaoke night at a pub, singing an expletive-filled rap song while twerking. It was actually an excellent performance and the internet loved it, but the powers that be had not, and they had threatened to drag her home early from university if she were caught misbehaving again.
Fortunately she had not been caught again.
Brinley Cantrella may have been a bad princess, but she was quite good at it.
“Brinley?” Her mother’s voice at her bedroom door, punctuated with a quick knock, had Brinley stuffing her e-reader into her pillowcase and leaping to her feet. She smoothed her yellow gown—she hated the thing; she looked like a knock-off Belle from Beauty and the Beast, except she was not allowed close enough to a forest to actually encounter a beast—and hurried to the vanity to grab a comb.
The door swung open to reveal Queen Vivienne, arguably the most beautiful woman in the kingdom now that Elle was gone. She wore a royal blue gown and a diamond necklace, and smiled as she entered. “Almost ready?” she asked. She approached quietly, practically gliding across the floor, and neatly sidestepped the furled edge of the carpet on which Brinley always tripped. It was a gift from King Edric of Lenora, the neighboring kingdom, one of whose very handsome sons had been expected to marry Elle before she ran off with the lumberjack.
“Very nearly,” Brinley replied. She returned the comb to the vanity as though just finishing, as though it had not taken four minutes to pull on the wretched dress and yank her hair into some semblance of a bun, and another hour to read twelve chapters of her book. It was a modern take on Little Red Riding Hood—the modern part was zombies—and Brinley would happily face a horde of zombies if it meant escaping the castle’s expectations. It was only at university that Brinley had tasted any freedom at all, and even then it had come after employing some serious evasive maneuvers she had read about online. Maneuvers that were swiftly countered and defeated after the twerking incident.
“Edric has arrived,” Queen Vivienne said, using a bobby pin to twist an errant curl into Brinley’s bun and smoothing the stray hairs at her temple. “Finian as well.”
Brinley did her very best to keep her expression neutral. Though arranged marriages were no longer technically legal, they were still very much arranged, and Prince Finian Bellamy of Lenora had long been expected to wed Elle the following year.
It was easy to see why. Like Elle, Finn looked as though he had stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale. With his broad shoulders and strong jaw, straight nose and piercing gray eyes, he was the pin-up fantasy of every girl in all t
Brinley had never stolen one of the cut-outs, but she loved Finian Bellamy all the same, and had since she was five years old. She had been sliding down the banister into the main hall, the way she always did, when she lost her balance and toppled off, rolling down the last ten steps to land in a disoriented heap at the bottom. The first thing she saw when her vision cleared was the perfectly polished wingtips of then-eight-year-old Finn, gazing down at her with his stern countenance and unsmiling mouth, the only hint of amusement betrayed in the sparkle in his eyes. He extended a hand to help her to her feet and waited to confirm she would not immediately collapse, their fingers linked for thirteen blissful seconds, each one absconding with another piece of her young heart.
In those seconds she had envisioned her entire life with Finn, every moment a page stolen from the same fairy tale from which he had emerged. Balls and feasts and carriage rides and a royal wedding through the streets of Estau, picture perfect snapshots of the idealized royal life. Then she had learned that Finn and Elle were to wed and she had spent the next seventeen years trying her very best not to envy a life for which she was not destined and, if the tabloids were to be believed—and they had photographic evidence to support their case—for which she was not fit.
“Wonderful,” Brinley murmured, lowering her eyes. She was not being demure or showing consideration for the awkward meeting that would ensue this evening, when her parents would apologize profusely to King Edric for Elle’s behavior. She was trying not to roll her eyes. Elle and Finn may have looked like a fairy tale couple, but together they inspired all the passion of a bowl of porridge. They were both so prim and proper and boring she had felt mostly pity and not envy for their scheduled nuptials. As far as Brinley was aware—and she and Elle were not close, so she was not very aware, as it turned out—Elle had never had a boyfriend in her twenty-five years under close castle scrutiny. Even the scheduled outings with Finn were heavily monitored and carefully structured, and never once had Elle returned with flushed cheeks or swollen lips or a smile she could not hide.
One of the reasons Brinley had fought so hard to get her education at a university and not from the castle tutors—not that any would return to teach her—was so she could actually live her life. Having accepted her role as second in line for the crown and unlikely to ever wear it, she had turned her attention to everything but her royal responsibilities. At university she kissed boys and drank beer and overslept and finally—finally—had sex. And fun. Lots of fun. The kind that came without her parents or her father’s sniveling secretary tsking over her shoulder. She loved her new life and was very much looking forward to more adventures after graduating, but Elle had other plans. Exactly one day after her twenty-fifth birthday Elle had up and left, and Brinley, four months away from completing her degree, had been rushed back to the castle to try to fill the gaping hole in the shape of a very perfect princess, a position for which she was not at all suited.
“You look lovely,” the queen said as they headed for the door. Brinley watched her feet carefully, so she didn’t trip en route, and instead nearly banged into her mother when she stopped.
“Thank you,” she said quickly. “You too.”
They made their way down the hall and into an elevator that whisked them to the main level. The castle, now close to two hundred years old, still bore many of its original features, with stone floors and walls, and classic paintings and tapestries covering most of the surfaces. It boasted modern conveniences as well, lights and cameras controlled by mobile phone, an elaborate wine cellar, a library with rotating shelves to display the impressive collection of antique books. Windows were carefully positioned to provide the perfect angle from which to watch the sun rise and set, framing snow-covered fields and the rolling mountains beyond, and they had a private bowling alley and cinema, complete with a popcorn machine and soda fountain.
For Brinley, the girl who had spent her life exploring every forbidden nook and cranny, crawling under desks and peering behind paintings, the castle was very much her home. For Elle it had been a jail cell. Her perfect behavior had been that of a model prisoner, biding her time, waiting to break free. And now she had fled and left the world with—
“Brinley,” King Edric said. He rose from his seat where he waited with her father in the formal sitting room. He buttoned his perfectly tailored jacket and nodded politely. “How lovely to see you again.” The words were polite, but the man himself was cold and impersonal, his pale hair and eyes a visual representation of the permanent frost in his voice.
“And you,” Brinley replied, extending her hand for him to kiss. No matter the modern ideology of the kingdoms, some traditions never waned. She kept her eyes on his, her crooked smile bright and cheerful, even as she almost died from the effort required not to look at Finn, who stood just behind his father, calmly waiting his turn to greet her.
Edric finally released her and Finn took his place, taking her hand and pressing his lips to her knuckles. A roaring fire burned brightly behind him, but that was not the thing that made Brinley’s cheeks flush.
“Princess,” he said formally. Everything Finn did was formal. Everything about him from his carefully coiffed hair and his straight features to the brass buttons on his jacket and the tassels on his epaulets was formal. He was so stiff and handsome, but instead of off-putting Brinley found it incredibly tempting, the way she found the castle’s forbidden secret passageways tempting. She wanted to explore him. She wanted so desperately to see those carefully chiseled features crack a smile when it was not called for, to hear him laugh, curse, moan.
But even as she wished for it, she knew it would never happen. Elle may not have reciprocated his feelings, but Brinley had little doubt that he had cared deeply for her sister. It was mandated, after all, and Finn was very much a dutiful prince, one who always followed orders and never his heart.
THOUGH THE REASON FOR the visit was nothing short of awkward, decorum still required the families to dine together, and for that they retired to the smaller of the castle’s formal dining rooms. The west side of the castle was open to the public, but the east, where the family resided, was heavily guarded, populated with more staff and guards than actual family.
The walls in the dining room were covered with gold brocade fabric, and Brinley had to curl her hands into fists to resist the urge to stroke the fine material. A carefully positioned potted lemon tree hid a tiny hole from a childhood exploration with a steak knife, and an antique serving table hid a much larger hole she had made years later when she accidentally sliced it with a sword. After that incident they had hired a castle steward specifically to prevent Brinley from getting her hands on any more swords.
The kings sat at either end of the mahogany table, the heavy piece of furniture carved hundreds of years ago by the most skilled hands in the land. Queen Vivienne sat to the right of her husband, with Brinley and Finn opposite one another at the center. The proximity made focusing on the polite small talk nearly impossible for Brinley, who so seldom had the opportunity to watch Finn this close for this long. She preferred hard liquor to wine and normally had to choke down whatever was in her glass, but tonight she kept pace with Finn, who, if she wasn’t mistaken, was drinking more quickly than normal.
She felt bad for him. How terrible to come here to see the parents he would never call his own; to visit the castle that would never be his. His older brother had already wed a princess from a neighboring kingdom and laid claim to Castle Lenora; Estau had been Finn’s chance, and now it was lost. Well, not lost. Now it was basking in the sunshine on an unnamed island in the South Pacific. They were pretty sure.
Eventually King Luke cleared his throat and shot Brinley a very pointed look. The platters of roasted squab and root vegetables and homemade bread had been cleared, dessert barely touched, wine glasses emptied. Brinley had be
She wasn’t quite ready to retire to bed, but the sound of the castle tour guide stopped her in her tracks on her way to the library. The castle was open for tours every day of the week, and for one evening tour on each night with a full moon. Tonight the evening tour was currently passing through the lobby, and Brinley really didn’t want to pose for photos. Her too-tight dress would almost definitely choose that moment to pop a seam or dissolve, and she would find herself on the cover of the tabloids yet again. Her father had opened the castle to tours to show the public that the royal family was also a normal family, though armed guards prevented them from seeing the parts of the castle the family actually used, and, more often than not, any members of the family. In any case, she was pretty sure he would prefer it if his bad daughter stayed out of the spotlight while the kingdom was still reeling from Elle’s departure, and for once, she was more than happy to behave.
She knew the tours normally began in the library and worked their way steadily west, and since they were in the lobby that meant they had already completed that section of the tour and would not be returning. She waited until the voices faded, then ducked into the impressive room. It was large but not overlarge, with shelves of books arranged from floor to ceiling. A stone fireplace occupied one wall, and any inch of space not filled with books boasted a framed map or painting or rare manuscript pages.
Brinley checked the library thoroughly for hidden visitors—there were none—before seizing the rare opportunity to climb the old wooden ladders that rolled along the shelves, two floors high. She pushed herself along one section of wall, past the history tomes, then snagged the next ladder and side-stepped onto it, pushing herself to the far end of the room, foreign languages. She had been forbidden from doing this many times, but she had only ever fallen off once, so she continued to do it whenever she had the chance. She was prepared to shove off the wall to repeat her trip, but when she turned to go, she almost fell off again. Finn waited in the middle of the room, hands clasped behind his back, gazing up at her with an inscrutable expression on his handsome face.