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“And yet you look as alive as ever,” Finn said dryly, leaning back in his chair. “Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough with you.”

“Is that some kind of burn, stork?” Willa pulled back her lip in some kind of snide grimace, but she didn’t completely pull it off.

“If you’re feeling a burn, I suggest you look to your former sexual partners.” Finn gave her a small smile, and I gaped at him. I’d never heard him speak like that to anyone before.

“Funny.” Willa tried to keep a straight face, but I got the impression she was amused. “Anyway, I’m here to rescue the Princess.”

“Really?” I asked a little too brightly. “Rescue me how?”

“Fun stuff.” She shrugged in a cute way, and I looked to Finn to see if I could leave.

“Go.” He waved vaguely at me. “You’ve worked hard and you need a break.”

I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to get away from Finn, but I nearly scampered after Willa. She looped her arm through mine, leading me away from the dining room and toward my room. I instantly felt bad about leaving Finn, but I couldn’t take another lecture on silverware.

Willa chatted with me the whole way to my room in one endless stream of commentary about how dreadful her first few weeks were. She’d been certain that Finn would stab her with a fork before they even made it through the dining service, or vice versa.

“This is the worst part,” she said solemnly as we walked into my bedroom. “The whole boot camp before the ball.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s horrid.”

“Yeah, I’m not enjoying it,” I admitted tiredly.

“But I made it through, so you’ll definitely make it through.” She walked into my bathroom, and when I didn’t follow, she looked back at me. “Are you coming?”

“To the bathroom with you?”

“To practice hairstyles.” She gave me a duh look, and reluctantly I walked in after her. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

“Hairstyles?” I asked as Willa ushered me over to the stool in front of the vanity.

“Yeah, for the ball.” She sifted through the hair products on the counter and stopped, meeting my eyes in the mirror. “Unless your mother is going to help you with it.”

“Not that I know of.” I shook my head.

“She’s definitely not the nurturing type,” Willa agreed, somewhat sadly. Picking a bottle of something and a brush, she turned to me. “Do you want your hair up or down?”

“I don’t know.” I thought back to when I’d first met Willa, and Finn had told me to wear it down. “Down. I guess.”

“Good choice.” She smiled and pulled out my hair tie, painfully taking my hair down. “So, did Frederique come today?”

“Uh, yeah, a few hours ago,” I said between gritted teeth as she raked a comb through my hair.

“Excellent,” Willa said. “When you have your fitting, you should take a picture and send it to me. I’d love to see what it looks like.”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

“I know how ridiculous and confusing everything is at first.” Willa teased and primped my hair, all the while chatting happily. “And Finn knows pretty much everything, but he can be a little . . . cold, at times. And I’m sure the Queen isn’t much better.”

“Not really,” I admitted. But cold wouldn’t be how I described Finn. Sometimes he was standoffish, but other times, when he looked at me just so, he was anything but cold.

“I’m just letting you know that I wanna help you.” She stopped pulling at my hair long enough to meet my eyes in the mirror again. “And not like that backstabbing bitch Aurora Kroner, or because my father told me to, although he did. Or even like Finn because it’s his job. I just know what it’s like to be you. And if I can help, I want to.”

She gave me a crooked smile, and the sincerity in it startled me. Underneath her vapid pretense, she was actually a kind person. So few people here seemed to genuinely care about anyone else, and it was nice to have finally found one.

Immediately after that moment, Willa launched into a lengthy monologue about gowns. She could describe every gown she’d seen since coming to Förening three years ago, and she only liked one or two of them.

So my training with Willa didn’t turn out to be that much more interesting than that with Finn. She had a lot more gossip, about who dated whom and who was engaged and all that. But since I didn’t know who any of the people were, it wasn’t that interesting.

Willa was thus far single, and it didn’t sit well with her. She kept saying that her father needed to arrange something, and mentioned a few guys she’d had her eye on who’d slipped by. She spoke very fondly of Tove Kroner. Although she did point out that by missing out on him, she’d also miss out on a monster of a mother-in-law.

Still, by the end of the day I had a hairstyle picked out, a makeup “plan” in order, and I felt like I knew a little bit more about Trylle royalty. She made it all sound a lot like high school, which would’ve been comforting, except I hadn’t done that well at high school.


further instruction

They had taken an interest in me, and I knew I should feel flattered, but I wished they’d just left me alone. Elora and Aurora Kroner stood on the opposite side of the table. A seating chart stretched across the giant oak surface, and they both leaned over it, staring with intense scrutiny.