I love my Kathy and Minerva—they tell me I’m pretty and special and so Gryffindor I probably need a disclaimer, but it’s not the same. My moms love me to the moon and back, but they’re my family.

A stranger has never called me beautiful until now. Not sincerely.

All my life I’ve thought that maybe if I didn’t rush in, if I grew my hair out, if I put on makeup or liked Gossip Girl or sports or anything besides Starfield and animes, maybe I would’ve been asked to study sessions or proms or football games.

Maybe Jasper wouldn’t have bailed on me at ExclesiCon last year.

And yet, when I slip into playing Jessica, people take notice. I’m interesting as Jessica—I’m smart and talented, and this boy I barely know just called me beautiful.

Then why does it feel weird, and wrong?

“No one has ever called me beautiful before,” I say softly.

Vance laughs, deep and rumbly. “Now I know you’re lying. Everyone knows you are, Jess. It’s part of the package.”

That word gives me pause; his hand rests on the side of my neck and he leans in close. I ease backward a little. “The package? Like I’m some made-to-order special on QVC?”

“It’s just a saying, Jess. You’re gorgeous,” he says and twirls a finger through my hair. I really hope it’s human hair and not, you know, fake, but he doesn’t seem to mind either way. “And you’re mysterious, and not easy to take out on a date, that’s for sure.”


“Isn’t that what this is? You finally agreed to go out on a date with Vance Reigns.”

Oh sweet baby Carmindor, he just referred to himself in the third person.

“And I finally get to go out with one of the most elusive girls on the market.” He lowers his face as if to kiss me—


I plant a hand on his chest and push him away.

“Whoa, we barely know each other, Vance.”

He scoffs. “Barely? Jess. We run in all the same circles. You dated that cad Darien Freeman, and we both know I kiss much better than him.”

Oh no.

I’ve made a grave mistake.

The Vance in my head, the one who is kind and charming and puts a finger down to “Never have I ever had a crush on Ron Swanson,” is dying in a blaze of bad acting.

He goes on, even though I really would just appreciate him shutting up. “We’d look great together, don’t you agree? General Sond and the dead Princess Amara. The tabloids’ll go nuts.”

“You…want to date me,” I fill in.

He rolls his eyes. “Duh.”

“But what if we aren’t compatible?”

“Jess, we’re not on the market for what’s inside.”

“On the market?” There it is again. Those words.

The waitress comes and sets down our shakes and quickly scurries away. Warning signs flare up in every corner of my brain because this is not where I want this conversation to be going.

Vance takes out his phone from his back pocket and pulls up the camera.

“I’m sorry to lead you on,” he says, sounding not very sorry at all, “but honestly, you play the game too, don’t you? Go on a few dates, call a few paparazzi, pretend something scandalous is about to go down.”

“But what if I…”

He gives me a peculiar look and the charming set to his face is no longer charming at all, but arrogant. “What? You actually thought I—? Oh, Jess.” He tsks and takes a selfie of us, even though my face is already beginning to fall. He turns his head to me, our shoulders touching, and he is so close that I can smell the mint gum on his breath and see the individual strands of bronze in his hair. His lips part into a strange toothy grin, more beast than prince, and he says, “Princess Amara doesn’t have a happy ending. I thought you knew that.”


“And you’ll never get a second chance.” He runs his thumb along my jaw. “Stop looking at me like I’m talking nonsense. Why couldn’t you act this swell on screen?”

“This was all a stunt? You—you invited me here for a photo?”

“They’re worth a thousand words.” He shrugs away from me and takes out his wallet, tossing a five-dollar bill onto the table. “You can pay for the rest, yeah sweetheart?”


The word pulls me out of my stupor.

We aren’t sweet—he barely knows me. And I’ve seen enough BBC Doctor Whos to pick up on the sarcasm in his brilliant British accent.

I can handle a surprise selfie. I can handle figuring out that he’s a douchebag supreme with a side of dumbass.

But what I can’t handle?

I am the daughter of Kathy and Minerva Lovelace, and I am no one’s pet name.

I plant my hands on his chest and shove him out of the booth so hard, he flops onto the ground. He stares up at me from the tiles, because clearly he’s never been put on the ground by a girl before.

“Don’t call me sweetheart,” I snarl, “you two-faced nerf-herding hobgoblin!”

He stumbles to his feet, shaking out his leather jacket, vibrating in anger. “I’ll see you on the front pages!” He jabs a finger toward the window, and for the first time I notice the paparazzi outside, peeking from behind parked cars. He sneers. “Good luck getting off them.”

He called the paparazzi, I realize, and a flash of anger jolts through me.

Then—just to add insult to injury—he reaches for his shake. Oh no, sir. No you don’t. I snatch it away and toss it at him, melted ice cream spilling across his shirt and precious leather jacket. He gives an anguished cry, as if I’ve torn his favorite Blue-Eyes White Dragon Yu-Gi-Oh! card in half.

Oh, he hasn’t even seen what I can do yet.

I grab the other milkshake, glad that it’s strawberry, which goes so well with chocolate. I stand on the booth’s bench and hold it menacingly over his head.

He looks up in disbelief. “Stop! What the hell—”

And then, I dump it.

He slushes around, wiping strawberry milkshake from his eyes, calling me all of the most colorful names in the book, and then he storms out of the diner on squeaky shoes. The paparazzi train their lenses on him as he leaves.

The waitress returns, handing me a handful of napkins. “Your insult was way better.”

“Thanks. I’ll help you clean up,” I offer, and take the mop from her hands. I’m glad I’m in motion so that when the paparazzi turn back to take more photos, they don’t see Jess’s hands shaking.

But it’s strange.

They don’t turn back to me.

They don’t click their cameras.

There’s a woman shooing them away from the window—

The bell above the diner door dings and my skin prickles, thinking it’s Vance, come back with the paparazzi. I summon all of the best insults I can think of. I launch into my tirade: “Coming back for seconds? Good, because you haven’t even seen my Angry Feminist Rampage yet. Jess?” Her name comes out as a squeak.

Jessica Stone is standing in the middle of the diner, her SPACE QUEEN beanie in her hands and her soaking wet hair pulled back into a ponytail. She leaves a puddle on the ground around her. “Angry Feminist Rampage? See, the trick is,” she replies, folding her arms over her chest, “to always be angry.”

“Jess!” I jab a finger at the people with cameras. “They’ll see!”

But she waves her hand. “Don’t worry about the paparazzi,” she says, and I notice they’re not pointing their cameras at us. She levels a look at me, “I think I need to tell you the truth.”

AS IMOGEN FINISHES MOPPING UP THE MILKSHAKE, she says, “So let me get this straight: you accidentally threw away the Starfield sequel script that some asshole then found in the garbage and started posting on Twitter, so you asked me to switch with you in hopes that you could find the thief before they revealed that it was yours?”

“That about sums it up.” I tap some hot sauce onto my fries.


Most of the paparazzi have left us for Calvin (I gave them his hotel name and room number, so I make a mental note to buy him a sorry-you-were-bait bouquet later), but a few hang around in the diner, watching Imogen and me from a distance. They aren’t taking photos, though, because I promised them a better op later. The paparazzi aren’t all soulless cockroaches. They just go where the money is, and I’ve never given them a reason not to trust me. They’re more like—what’re those things called? The birds that sit on a rhino’s back, picking bugs off its skin? They’re more like that.

There is an ecosystem in Hollywood that I know well. It’s just the rest of the world that I don’t quite get. Especially the internet.

Imogen leans on the mop. “And you still haven’t found out who took the script?”

“It’s a big convention. I was stupid to think I could do it alone.”

“Then that makes two of us,” she replies with a sigh. “Listen, Jess, about the whole Save Amara thing—”

“Why does it mean so much to you?” I interrupt, picking at my basket of fries. “Why does she mean so much to you?”

She. Princess Amara.