“You need to sit still,” Mrs. Nottingham admonished, hair brush in hand. Penelope was the absolute worst when it came to patience. Every day she had to sit through hair, and makeup, and dress fittings, an endless litany of responsibilities out of the spotlight that hopefully would make her more palatable to the public when she finally emerged from her various chairs.

“I’m just so bored,” she told the stylist, shifting in the seat.

“Don’t you want to look your best?” the older woman asked. But it was rhetorical. Her entire life, Penelope had been groomed for that exact moment, or the adjacent exact moments that made up her existence. It was never about her, either, which was the most frustrating part. She belonged to the country, as the country belonged to her, though she had never asked for the responsibility.

“I never asked for this responsibility,” Penelope whined. But even she knew she was wasting her breath. Mrs. Nottingham shook her head, mutely, preferring peace over setting the young girl to rights. It would be a long enough existence for the girl, but telling that to the princess was simply not in her job description.

“None of us ever ask for the things we get,” the older woman opined. “They just fall to us, because they are our due.”

Which, in Penelope’s not-so-humble opinion, was so much hogwash, what adults said when they didn’t have an answer but they wanted to end the subject. She sighed.

“Besides,” Mrs. Nottingham continued. “Lord Rupert will be here soon, so we don’t have time to bemoan our stations in life. It’s courting season, and you can’t be seen as anything but amenable to, how shall we say, certain dispositions.”

“But Lord Rupert has a massive overbite,” Penelope moaned.

“Which is precisely the disposition we must avoid,” replied the governess. “As you know, Lord Rupert is immaculate in all the ways that count. We cannot afford to dismiss him out of hand.”

We cannot afford to be flippant about our decisions,” snapped Penelope. After a few moments’ pause, Mrs. Nottingham shut her mouth, swallowing her words whole. It wasn’t her place to put the princess in her place, and she had already overstepped enough.

“As you wish,” she said instead, forcing a smile onto her generally taciturn face. She could only hope that her charge did not ruin what was best for her, when Lord Rupert did indeed show up to court, to woo, to make exchange of vows.

Because Mrs. Nottingham knew a secret. The king of the neighboring Belgravia had just lost his eldest son to a freakish horse-riding accident, which meant that Lord Rupert was next in line, suddenly, for that throne. But Penelope’s father wanted her to approve of the match, for her sake, not because a kingdom was in the offing. Mrs. Nottingham wondered if she could keep her mouth shut and let nature take its course.

And hope to god that it would take the right one.

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