From USA Today bestselling author Jenny Holiday comes a modern fairy tale just in time for Christmas about a tough New Yorker from the other side of the tracks who falls for a princess from the other side of the world.
Leo Ricci’s already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a “princess” in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he’s got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car.
Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn’t be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time.
When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.
Talking to kids was easier in cars. Leo might be making a hash of everything with Gabby, but that was one thing he’d learned in the two years he’d been trying to pinch-hit on the whole parenting thing.
Talking to kids was easier in cars. Not easy. Easier. Usually only marginally to imperceptibly. Like today when, despite his best efforts, he could not extract any information about how the middle school production of The Wizard of Oz had gone.
“Did Aidan remember his line today?” At yesterday’s show, number four of the weeklong run, the boy playing the head of the Lollipop Guild had forgotten his line—the line that came before Gabby’s—so
the whole production had ground to a halt, Gabby unsure whether she should wait for him. The result, she reported, had been “extreme and utter mortification” when the teacher cued her to go ahead, thus making it look like the flub had been her fault.
Or so he’d been told yesterday, when Gabby had been infinitely more chatty than today.
Today, getting her to speak was like trying to arrange an audience with the great and powerful Oz.
She didn’t answer, just performed a kind of girlish grunt as she looked out the window in the back of his taxi.
Did Aidan remember his line or not? he wanted to shout. But a person didn’t shout things like that at his eleven-year-old sister. Especially when Did Aidan remember his line or not? was really a proxy for Please tell me you’re okay.
Also: Where is your winter hat? It might not be snowing yet, but it’s December, and I don’t care about your hair. I care about your ears not getting frostbitten.
But Leo didn’t know how to say any of those things. One day Gabby was all smiles and stories and “extreme and utter mortification,” and the next she was closed up as tightly as the clams Dani brought back from Long Island.
He didn’t know if the way she ran so hot and cold was normal. The parenting books he read suggested it was, but he thought it was early for her to be like this—he’d been expecting this moodiness to arrive later, to be more of a teenage thing.
But on the other hand, she had always been socially advanced. And she was a lot smarter than he was. He had never used phrases like extreme and utter mortification when he was eleven. Or in the fourteen years since, for that matter.
“What does that mean?” he said in response to her grunt. “Did the Lollipop League boss come through? I’m on pins and needles, here, kiddo.”
“It’s the Lollipop Guild, Leo.”
And, oh, the disdain she managed to infuse into that single word. His heart sped up like it always did when he felt like he was on the brink of fucking things up irrevocably.
Who knew he was capable of getting so worked up over The Wizard of Oz?
But hang on, now. This was important, yes, because it was important to her, but confusing the Lollipop Guild and the Lollipop League wasn’t fucking things up irrevocably. He needed to keep some perspective here.
No. What he needed was a vacation. But that wasn’t happening anytime soon.
So he cleared his throat as he turned onto First Avenue. “Right. Lollipop Guild; Lullaby League. Got it.”
There was a long silence as he navigated the snarl of traffic on the few blocks between them and their destination. But then Gabby said, “You’re for sure coming tomorrow, right?”
There. That’s what these rides were about. She never would have asked him that so directly at home. But he could hear in her tone how much she wanted him there. And how much she’d missed the fact that he hadn’t been yet.
“You can count on it.” He still felt terrible about missing today’s show. He’d told her he would be there, but Mrs. Octavio in 2C had run a bath and forgotten about it, causing it to overflow into the unit below hers.
He should have been there like he promised. He should have been on hand to witness the “extreme and utter mortification.”
That he hadn’t was edging closer to “fucking up irrevocably” territory. Leo worried sometimes that all his small mistakes, his oversights and omissions, while not large enough individually to do any real harm, were invisibly accreting. That they were somewhere inside Gabby, dormant for now, but that one day, when he committed one too many, there would be a kind of tipping point. That all his little fuckups would add up to one giant one that actually harmed her.
“I’ll let the building flood before I miss it,” he vowed.
He was watching her in the rearview mirror, so he caught the way her brow knit. “Well, maybe don’t do that. I’m just Lollipop Guilder Number Four. I only have the one line.”
He hated that an eleven-year-old knew where their household priorities had to lie. Knew that his second job as their building’s on-site super was the only way they could afford the rent. Knew that flooded apartments had to take precedent over school plays.
Hell, he hated that their priorities had to line up like that to begin with. They had never been rich when Mom and Dad were alive, but things were a lot tighter now.
“Already done, kiddo. Dani’s gonna work from home tomorrow so she can be on call as backup in case any building nonsense crops up.”
“Don’t call me kiddo.”
He glanced in the rearview mirror again, and this time he liked what he saw. She was trying to tamp down a smile as she lodged her objection. He relaxed a little. They were okay. For another day, anyway.
“Okay, kiddo”—he stressed the endearment—“today you and Max are in for a treat. We are going to . . .” He rolled his tongue and drummed on the steering wheel. He was trying to irritate her now. He was still her brother, after all. Normalcy was important. Routines created stability. And Gabby needed to believe that there was a purpose to their little drive-arounds other than trying to, like, ensure her long-term emotional well-being.
He turned on the singsong, lecture-y tone she purported to hate. “And here we are! The United Nations Headquarters, designed in 1952 by Oscar Niemeyer, one of the pioneers of modern architecture. So like I said, you are in for an exciting time. And you, too, Max. Get ready, my friends.”
At hearing his name, Max started barking. Or yapping, because what Max did could not properly be called a bark.
“See? Max appreciates my genius even if no one else does.” Gabby snorted. But she was openly smiling now.
He had beat back the forces of chaos for a little longer.
When the applause broke out, Marie almost started crying.
Which was not rational. There would have been many more logical instances in which to cry today. Perhaps before she gave a speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations? When she’d been standing up there looking at all the dignitaries and translators—a literal subset of the entire world—she’d felt like she was floating outside her actual body and therefore would have to call in absent to the speech she’d been practicing for so long. Would have to call her father and tell him he had been right. That she had been foolish to try to tack this speech on to the New York visit.
But, no, somehow, as she’d made her way up to the podium and looked out at that sea of faces and been sure that she was about to float away—sail up past the murals on the side walls and up and over the press gallery—she’d managed to get a hold of herself. Reach up and anchor some small shred of her being, like capturing the string of a runaway helium balloon just before it floated away forever, open her mouth, and talk.
Once she’d gotten going, it had actually been fine. She knew this material. She cared about this material. She was giving a speech about the ongoing European refugee crisis. She owed those people her best. And she was fairly certain she had delivered.
But, oh, afterward, the relief. It was all-encompassing. Like when you woke from a nightmare and it was still playing in your head, but then there was that glorious tipping point when enough of reality—your
bed, the outline of your armoire—kicked in and triggered that wonderful notion: it was just a dream.
Or, less dramatically, like the feeling she used to get as a girl after she was done with her weekly dancing lesson. Six days of freedom until she had to do it again! Or like that one time Monsieur Lavoie went away for the summer and they decided to give her three months off instead of replacing him.
The startling liberation of a heavy responsibility suddenly lifted.
It made her giddy even as she wanted to weep with relief.
She had done it, her father’s naysaying be damned.
But, as she navigated a crowd of well-wishers after the session was over, both the giddiness and the relief faded. Because she wasn’t done yet with this epic day. It was the reason she was leaving so soon after her speech, instead of staying to take questions and talk policy.
In some ways, her father was right. Her next task was more important than the speech had been, if less public.
It was certainly as nerve-racking. She didn’t fear that she was going to float away like an escaped balloon this time. More that she might, suddenly and with no warning, be violently popped. Be left with nothing to show for herself but a sad handful of broken latex.
She had tried to tell her father the party was not the place to do this. That an ambush would not go over well. But, as he had pointed out—reasonably, she had to admit—they really had no choice. Philip Gregory was attending the party, and what they needed to do—their last resort—was to charm Philip Gregory.
Not something Marie possessed a lot of, despite her ongoing efforts.
Charm. Grace. Classical beauty. All the things that someone in her position was expected to have, Marie lacked. Her mother had had those things.
Instead, Marie was cursed with a surfeit of other qualities, things like anxiety and an overabundance of caution.
Which probably explained why she was in the bathroom at the United Nations changing into her party dress.
Mr. Benz had tried to insist that they had time to return to the hotel for her to change, and that plan might have worked if it had merely been a regular party. A party on land. But the boat was leaving at seven o’clock sharp, and even though anyone else would probably wait for her if “her people” asked, tonight’s hostess most decidedly would not. She had only invited Marie because it would look odd if she didn’t.
Marie, ever conscientious, had done her homework. A session with Google Maps had informed her that it was a twenty-minute drive down and around FDR Drive from the UN buildings to the marina. And while Mr. Benz, who so very much did not want to stand by while she changed in a restroom at the United Nations, might be technically correct—they might be able to get up to the Plaza and back down to catch the boat—that was cutting it too close for her liking.
Marie didn’t have room in her life for might. She hated being late at the best of times—being late only confirmed the worst stereotypes about people like her—and this wasn’t the best of times. This was important. This was work. This was duty.
“You should have had Verene make the trip with you.” Mr. Benz’s tone, as Marie emerged from the bathroom as polished and pulled together as she was going to get on her own steam, would have sounded neutral to outsiders. Marie, however, heard the nuance. She heard the slightly clipped consonants that signaled his disapproval.
She might be somewhat sheltered—she would admit to that—but even she knew that traveling with someone whose sole job was to pin her hair and steam the wrinkles out of her clothes was not a good look when one was trying to be casually charming. High-profile American people did not have these sorts of visible assistants. The Kardashians, for example, probably had armies of people spraying and fluffing them behind the scenes, but the key was that they made it look effortless. Americans enjoyed pretending they lived in a classless society, one where social mobility was as easy as a walk to the corner store. But she couldn’t explain that to Mr. Benz, who refused on principle to even attempt to understand the ways of Americans, much less bend to them.
“There was no need to pay for another person to make the trip,” she said with artificial cheer, falling back on the economic argument she’d made at home. And it was true. She was here to try to shore up the economy at home, not leech off it.
Mr. Benz sniffed. He preferred to pretend that they still lived in a world where the family did not need to concern itself with things so pedestrian, so crass, as money.
“Regardless, I’m perfectly capable of dressing myself.”
Which might not actually be true, judging by how much trouble the back of her dress had given her. It laced up corset-style, and the pink ribbons it was threaded with weren’t long enough for her to reach around and tie herself. This had been a poor choice, but of course she hadn’t thought through the sartorial details the way Verene would have.
But she was not about to ask Mr. Benz for help or, worse, let him see that she was setting out for the party with the back of her dress undone. She would have to find a sympathetic partygoer to discreetly help her.
So she adjusted her cape to better hide her back, pasted on a smile, and said, “Shall we go?”
When they emerged on First and East Forty-Second, the agreed-upon meeting place for maximumly efficient extraction, Torkel was there shaking his head and speaking urgently into his phone.
Torkel was usually the epitome of cool. A man of few words and no outward emotions, he let his big, beefy muscles and his mirrored sunglasses—oh, she’d had such a crush on him when she was a teenager!—speak for him.
Today he snapped, “Consider yourself fired,” into the phone, curse-whispered, “So ein Schmarrn!” to himself, and turned to them with a grim expression.
Seeing any expression on Torkel’s face was such a novelty, it distracted Marie for a moment.
“The car isn’t coming,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” Mr. Benz’s neutral-on-the-surface-of-things tone was now shading into alarm.
“It broke down.”
Mr. Benz blinked a few times. “Pardon me?”
“It broke down.”
“The car isn’t coming?” Goodness. Mr. Benz rarely emphasized one syllable over another. This must be his version of panic. If Marie hadn’t been sharing in that sentiment, she would have been amused. “It wasn’t supposed to go anywhere,” Mr. Benz went on. “It was supposed to wait for us and meet us here when I texted, which I just did.”
Oh, he had emphasized four words there!
Marie felt badly. Torkel would be taking this to heart. He’d chosen the car service because, after extensive research and interviewing, he had determined it could best accommodate their security protocol. He had swept the car and conducted extensive background checks on their driver.
“Our vehicle is currently broken down on the Queensboro Bridge.” A vein bulged in Torkel’s neck. “Apparently drivers on UN detail congregate at the home of the Costa Rican ambassador while they’re waiting to pick up.”
“All right,” Marie said. They didn’t have time to waste. “It’s not the end of the world. No one’s dead.”
“This was why the speech—” Mr. Benz cut himself off. He’d been going to say, This was why the speech was a bad idea. A frivolous indulgence. But of course he wouldn’t actually say it.
He might be right, though. Not about it being frivolous, but about Marie’s prioritizing it over the meeting with Gregory.
“I’ve ordered another car,” Torkel said.
Marie shook her head. “We don’t have time for that. We’ll summon a taxi.”
Mr. Benz gasped. Torkel growled.
She extended her arm out in the direction of the street before the inevitable volley of objections could be launched. She had never attempted to hail a taxi before, but that was how they always did it on Sex and the City. She started waving her arm around for good measure.
She could feel the disapproval radiating from both men. She didn’t pull rank very often. She usually let them . . . handle her. It was their job, after all.
But it wouldn’t be their job to tell her father that she had missed the boat—literally, though she was familiar with the American idiom—and with it her only chance to talk to Philip Gregory.
No, that would be her job.
She lifted her chin and tried to make the face her mother always used to when Grand-mère came to their apartment for tea. Recalled her mother saying, If you want someone to listen to you, don’t yell. Yelling signals desperation. Speak quietly but firmly. Assume you will be heard.
All those dancing lessons might have been for naught, but some of her training had stuck.
Marie also remembered her mother hugging her, grabbing the remote control, and cuddling up next to her to watch some “deliciously dreadful American TV” after Grand-mère left.
She lifted her chin. “Gentleman. We are getting a taxi. There will be no further discussion.”
She missed Maman so very much.
“So, even though they started out at odds on the project, it’s interesting that the final plan was a combination of their visions. Now, I’m not sure how happy Niemeyer was about that. He may have just given up and let Le Corbusier have his way.”
“Superinteresting,” Gabby said.
Leo was executing a complicated U-turn to put them in the direction of home, so he couldn’t check her out in the mirror, but he could hear the eye roll in her tone. He decided to lean in, to further antagonize her in the hopes of getting her to laugh. “The other interesting fact about the UN Headquarters is that the Secretariat Building—that’s the tall one—was the first skyscraper in North America to use a curtain wall. It was—”
“I got my period yesterday.”
He was drowning. Plunged into dark, swirling, freezing water. His body might appear to be sitting placidly in the driver’s seat of his cab, but he, his real, inner self, was a block over, sinking like a stone in the East River.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints—what?
He started sweating—like, his body just started shoving perspiration out of his pores—and Max started yapping. Probably because he could sense Leo’s panic. Leo couldn’t think through all the racket. He was going to die, and the last thing he was going to hear would be that glorified rat.
But no. He couldn’t die. He was all Gabby had left.
Okay. Think. Gabby got her period. She was too young for that. Wasn’t she?
Well, obviously not, Einstein.
Also, his sister liked to give him shit, but he found it hard to imagine her joking about something like this.
So, he needed to acknowledge her news. To say something.
He cleared his throat. “You mean like your first one?”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t known this was coming. But Gabby was eleven.
Oh god, maybe there was something wrong with her.
He rolled his neck to try to work out some knots that had taken up residence in it and made an effort to sound casual. “So I guess we should go to the doctor?”
The doctor for which the copay was four hundred dollars.
“I don’t need a doctor, Leo. I’m not sick.”
But what if you are? What if you have some terrible disease that causes little girls to—
“I just need some money to buy supplies.”
Right. Supplies. Right.
Oh, fuck, he wished Mom were here.
“Yeah, of course. No problem. We can stop on the way home.”
And then they would have to talk, right? About her feelings on the matter, if not the mechanics of things? They had already covered the mechanics during various excruciating versions of the birds and the bees talk in the past two years, Leo reading robotically from a script he’d modified from library books on how to talk to your kids about this shit—because the library had no books about how to talk to your much younger sister about this shit.
Was he supposed to say something here? Something profound and speechlike? Congratulations, Gabby; you’ve become a woman today.
But not today. Yesterday. She said she got her period yesterday.
“So, uh, this happened yesterday? What have you been . . . doing?”
“I went to the school nurse, and she gave me some maxi pads,” Gabby said matter-of-factly. “But I’m out.”
Maxi pads. Leo’s vision started to swim.
“She said I was too young for tampons.”
Oh, Jesus Christ, tampons. He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and forced himself to concentrate on the road in front of him rather than the blurry blobs congregating in his peripheral vision.
All right. They just had to get out of Manhattan. Stop at the store for . . . supplies. And maybe some takeout. They would get her favorite, pasta from Ralph’s. Which normally he hated doing, because she only ever wanted penne with marinara, which he could make at home. In theory. Not that he ever did. But their mom’s recipe was better than Ralph’s, so it bugged him to spend twelve bucks for subpar pasta from down the street.
But all he could think to do right now was figure out what would make his sister happy, and make it happen. “So, kiddo, what do you say we stop at—”
“Oh my god!”
“What? What?” Leo was already so enervated, that was all it took for his adrenaline to spike, making him white-knuckle the steering wheel so he wouldn’t fly away like an overinflated balloon. His chest hurt.
“Look at that girl! She’s trying to hail a cab! Stop for her!”
“I’m not on duty.” Also, I’m having a fucking heart attack.
“She looks like a princess!”
She did kind of look like a princess. She was even flanked by a tall, slim man looking very ill at ease in his old-timey suit, and a beefy, sunglasses-wearing bald guy looking very ill at ease in his new-timey one.
“Pick her up!”
“I’m not on duty,” he said again. Also, I’m still having a fucking heart attack.
“Then just give her a ride. She looks like she really needs one.”
She did. She was literally jumping up and down, waving her hands in the air like she was a runway worker at La Guardia trying to signal a plane gone rogue. She was wearing a shiny, white dress that puffed out like a parachute each time she jumped. She looked like a wedding cake topper in an aerobics class. It would have been funny if Leo had any humor to spare.
“Leo! Stop! You can’t just leave her there.”
He could, though. He would have exactly zero qualms about doing just that. He had other stuff to worry about. Maxi pads and pasta, to be precise. And heart attacks—the copay for heart attacks. “Traffic is terrible, Gab. If we stop, it’ll be forever until we get home. And we can’t keep Max crated that much longer.” Probably. He didn’t really know. Normally, he ignored Max. But normally, he wasn’t driving Max back and forth from his starring role as Toto in the Bronx Technology Charter School production of The Wizard of Oz. “Also, it’s going to start snowing any minute.” The sky was a heavy, telltale gray.
“She’s never going to get a cab.”
Gabby was not wrong. It was six o’clock, it was about to snow, and the traffic was horrendous, especially over here because FDR Drive was closed. Miss Cake Topper was going to be jumping for a while.
Which, okay, maybe he felt a tiny bit bad about. He didn’t like turning his back on a damsel in distress. But he was currently in possession of an eleven-year-old damsel who was taking up all his bandwidth. He wasn’t taking new clients right now.
He heaved a sigh, pulled up in front of the woman, and lowered the passenger-side window.
He’d been going to ask where she was headed. To say something about how he was off duty, but if she wasn’t going far, or was going straight uptown, he could take her.
But she got right in the front and, without even making eye contact with him, twisted around to face the back seat and said, “Can that thing go in the trunk so my . . . associates can sit in back?”
Leo did not care for that tone. Not at all. It was cool and entitled. And coming from someone who hadn’t even made eye contact with him yet.
“That thing is a dog, so no, he can’t go in the trunk.”
Funny how quickly Leo had become Team Max.
His passenger’s brow furrowed as she looked at the crate—it was huge and took up half the back seat. Max was small like Toto, but, as the beneficiary of Dani’s complete over-the-topness when it came to her canine companion, he had an enormous kennel they were using to transport him between school and home.
After silently assessing the backseat situation, the woman transferred her attention to her companions, who, given their extreme physical divergence, kind of looked like a nursery rhyme come to life—if Jack Sprat was a competitive body builder and his spouse was a stuffy professor of philosophy. “Well, you two are going to have to stay behind—which is fine.”
“I can’t allow it.” The proper man, who was, upon closer examination, not as old as his formal attire had initially suggested, spoke with what sounded like a German accent. “You need Torkel at least for the party.”
“I don’t. I’m not taking him on board with me. You will recall that I’m attempting to be casual. To circumvent all the formal meetings Gregory won’t take with us.”
“You can’t go alone.”
“Well, I’m not taking Torkel on the boat. I never was.” She looked at the beefy guy. “My apologies, Torkel. You would be a . . .what do they call it here? A down bringer?” Her brow knit slightly, then quickly smoothed as she found a phrase she apparently liked better. “No, a mood killer.”
The man—Torkel—nodded. It was a strange, deep nod that almost looked like a bow.
The other man sighed and opened the back door, like he was about to get in. “I’ll come, then.” He directed a “move over” motion to Gabby. “This young lady and I shall endure these tight quarters.”
“Hang on, now.” Leo spoke to halt the man’s progress, but he directed his words at the woman. “Rewind.”
She looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time since she’d gotten in his car.
His mind had made the cake topper bride comparison because of the voluminous white dress, and maybe because her dark hair was twisted into a low bun that seemed sort of formal and weddinglike, but up close, she did not look like a cake topper at all. Cake toppers were made of plastic and wore generically bland expressions.
This woman’s face was the opposite of generic. It cycled through a rapid-fire slideshow of emotions: confusion gave way to annoyance, and there was still a touch of that entitlement he’d seen earlier. It got his hackles up. She had dark blue eyes fringed with eyelashes so long they looked like cartoons—like someone had drawn them on with a Sharpie—and full, pink lips that also looked kind of cartoonish in the way they formed a heart on top.
It was good she was so snooty underneath all that beauty. That made it easier to say, “Did you not notice that the ‘Off Duty’ part of my sign was lit up?” He pointed to the ceiling.
“It was?” The entitlement slid off her face. It was very satisfying.
“Yeah. We’re headed home, so if you’re on our way, we’ll take you.”
“I’m going to the North Cove Marina.”
“In Battery Park?”
“Well, I’m getting on a yacht on a pier in the North Cove Marina. It’s down around the tip of Manhattan. Is that Battery Park? You should be able to take FDR Drive around, and it should take twenty minutes. Exactly twenty minutes—that’s not me rounding up or down.”
“That might be true if FDR Drive was open.”
The cascade of emotions continued: dismay, panic, and, he was pretty sure, outright fear.
That did something to him. Whatever this lady’s deal was, she apparently really needed to get to Battery Park.
“FDR Drive is closed?” she whispered.
“Yep. For resurfacing. Between here and the Manhattan Bridge.” When she didn’t say anything, he added, “So you’ll have to go straight across, which, this time of day, will probably take you at least forty minutes.”
She looked at her watch. It was big and chunky and seemed out of place with the fancy, poufy dress she was wearing. She blew out a staccato little breath, like she was steeling herself for something, and turned to him. “I so appreciate you stopping for me. I will pay you any amount of money you name if you will get me to the North Cove Marina by seven o’clock.”
He barked a laugh. Any amount of money he could name? Maybe four hundred bucks so he could take Gabby to the doctor to talk about her period? Or, no, maybe whatever amount it would take to hire a shrink for him so he could talk about Gabby’s period?
Or maybe just thirty-five bucks for a case of Moretti.
“Of course we’ll take you,” Gabby said from the back seat.
The woman turned to the serious man, who was still frozen half in, half out of the car. “Really, Mr. Benz, there’s no need for either of you to come. I’m getting on the boat by myself anyway.”
Mr. Benz looked like he was going to object, but the woman lifted her chin a good two inches, turned to Leo, and said, “It will just be me, thank you.” Then she turned back to her companions and said it again, more emphatically. “Just me.”
That last “just me” sounded like an order, but it also sounded like maybe this woman wasn’t in the habit of issuing orders.
“You can sort out the car service and send someone to pick me up,” she added in a mollifying tone.
The man’s nostrils flared, but he backed away from the car. “I must insist on collecting your name and contact information,” he said to Leo.
“Hang on, now.” Leo wasn’t really sure what was happening. He had not agreed to take this woman to Battery Park. If he did that, it was going to be three hours before they got home. They had maxi pads to buy and pasta to eat. And the mutt was going to need to pee—Leo had only been going to pick up Gabby and Max from the play, dip down for a quick architecture tour/sibling bonding sesh, and head back home. Dani would be home soon, and she would start worrying about the damn dog.
Which with anyone else Leo would give a fuck about, but they needed Dani. She was the closest thing they had to family.
The woman with the not-plastic face looked at him and said, “Please.” She whispered it so quietly, he was pretty sure Gabby couldn’t hear. Certainly her dude-posse outside the car couldn’t. And after she said it, she bowed her head and covered her face in her hands. Almost like she was already giving up.
Damsels in distress. They did it to him every goddamn time.
He tipped his head back and sighed.
Both Gabby and Miss Cake Topper must have interpreted that sigh as the surrender it was, because they both started exclaiming, thanking him like he had just saved a kitten from drowning or some shit. They didn’t understand that this afternoon, he was the one drowning.
But, resigned, he pulled out his phone so he could text Dani before they set off—and
also to figure out where they could stop to let Max out to pee after they dropped their posh passenger at her yacht since it was going to take them approximately a hundred years to get home.
“You’ve saved me. Thank you.” She spoke loudly enough that she drew the attention of the man she’d called Mr. Benz. He had moved away from the back door of the cab, but now he stuck his head fully in the open window on the front passenger side. He looked at the woman for a long moment and transferred his gaze to Leo.
“I think it important that you know the identity of your passenger, sir.”
Yeah, he wanted to say. That would be good. Because I’m guessing Miss Cake Topper isn’t actually her name. The womanstarted speaking rapidly to Mr. Benz in German, but he ignoredher, raising his voice so Leo could hear him over the woman’s protests—you didn’t need to speak German to know she wasannoyed. “You are transporting Her Royal Highness Marie Joséphine Annagret Elena, Princess of Eldovia.”
There was a squeal from the back seat. :And in case it matters,” Mr. Benz went on, “I shall inform you that Eldovia has always embraced absolute primogeniture.”
“Absolute what?” Gabby asked.
“It means the firstborn inherits the throne, regardless of gender. No tinkering with succession laws necessary in our country.” He sniffed and performed the slightest of shudders. “Her Royal Highness has been heir to the throne from the moment she was born. Which means, my good sir, that you are transporting the future Queen of Eldovia.”
Gabby started shrieking.
For his part, Leo rested his head—it was suddenly too heavy to hold up—on the steering wheel and groaned.