“Don’t shake your head; it’s not ladylike,” Elora chastised me. “A Princess doesn’t make promises either. She might not be able to keep them, and she doesn’t want them held against her.”
“I wasn’t really making a promise,” I pointed out, and Elora narrowed her eyes more severely.
“A Princess is never contrary,” she said coolly.
“I’ve only been a Princess for like a week. Can’t you give me a little break?” I asked as kindly as I could.
I’d grown frustrated by all the Princess talk. Nearly every sentence she’d said to me in the past two days had started with “A Princess” and was followed by things that a Princess never or always did.
“You’ve been a Princess your entire life. It’s in your blood.” Elora sat up even straighter in her chair, as if she were trying to loom over me. “You should know how to behave.”
“I am working on it,” I grumbled.
“Speak up. Use a clear strong voice no matter what it is you’re saying,” Elora snapped. “And you don’t have time to work on it. Your party is tomorrow. You must be ready now.”
I wanted to snap back at her, but both Rhys and Finn were giving me warning stares to keep my mouth shut. Rhiannon stared nervously at her plate, and Garrett just went about munching his food politely.
“I understand.” I exhaled deeply and took another drink of my wine. I’m not sure if I held the glass right this time, but Elora didn’t say anything.
“So, I got your picture of the dress.” Willa smiled at me. “It was really stunning. I’m a little jealous, actually. You only get to be the belle of the ball once, and you definitely will be tomorrow. You’re going to look amazing.”
She was coming to my aid, changing the subject from things I was doing wrong to something I was doing right. Even if she was a bitch to Finn and Rhiannon, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate her.
“Thank you.” I smiled back at her gratefully.
My final fitting had been earlier in the day, and since Willa had asked me to the other night, I sent her a picture. Finn took it on his camera phone.
I felt very awkward posing for the photo, and it didn’t help that he never reassured me that I looked good in the dress. It felt like too much for me to pull off, and I would’ve liked a little boost just then. But Finn had simply snapped the picture, and that had been the end of that.
“Have you seen the dress?” Willa turned to Elora, who nibbled primly at a piece of broccoli.
“No. I trust Frederique’s designs, and Finn has final approval,” she answered absently.
“I’m going to insist on being involved in the process when my daughter gets her gown,” Willa offered thoughtfully. Elora bristled almost imperceptibly at that, but Willa didn’t notice. “But I’ve always loved dresses and fashion. I could spend my whole life at a ball.” She looked wistful for a moment, then smiled at me again. “That’s why it’s so great that you’re here. You’re going to have such a monumental ball.”
“Thank you,” I repeated, unsure how else to respond.
“You had a lovely party yourself,” Garrett interjected, slightly defensive about the party he had thrown for his daughter. “Your gown was fantastic.”
“I know.” Willa beamed immodestly. “It was pretty great.” Finn made a noise in his throat, and both Elora and Willa glared at him, but neither of them said anything.
“My apologies. Something caught in my throat,” Finn explained, taking a sip of his wine.
“Hmm,” Elora murmured disapprovingly, then cast a look back at me. “Oh, that reminds me. I have been too busy this week to ask you. What were your plans for your name?”
“My name?” I asked, tilting my head to the side.
“Yes. At the christening ceremony.” She looked at me for a moment, then turned sternly to Finn. “I thought Finn told you about it.”
“Yes, but isn’t that name already decided?” I was definitely confused. “I mean, Dahl is the family name, isn’t it?”
“Not the surname.” Elora rubbed her temples, clearly annoyed. “I meant your first name.”
“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t my name be Wendy Dahl?”
“That isn’t a proper name for a Princess,” Elora scoffed. “Everyone changes their names. Willa used to be called something different. What was it, dear?”
“Nikki,” Willa said. “I took the name Willa, after my mother.”
Garrett smiled at that, and Elora tensed up slightly, then turned her focus back to me.
“So what is it? What name would you like?” Elora pressed, possibly using me to deflect the tension.
“I . . . I don’t know.”
Irrationally, my heart had started pounding in my chest. I didn’t want to change my name, not at all. When Finn had told me that about the christening ceremony, I had assumed it would only be my last name. While I wasn’t thrilled about that, I didn’t care much. Eventually I would probably get married and change my name anyway.
But Wendy, that was my name. I turned to Finn for help, but Elora noticed and snapped my attention back to her.
“If you need ideas, I have some.” Elora spoke in a clipped tone, and she was cutting her food with irritated fervor. “Ella, after my mother. I had a sister, Sybilla. Those names are both lovely. One of our longest-running Queens was Lovisa, and I’ve always thought highly of that name.”