I watched as the archduke approached, gingerly carrying a ridiculously impractical glass slipper across the room. Soon he would ask me to try it on. This was my moment. Feigning clumsiness as he presented it to me, I jostled his wrist and gasped as the slipper crashed to the floor.
At first he only stared in shock at the scattered shards, but then he began to weep. Poor man. “Don’t cry,” I told him, reaching into my apron pocket. “I have the other one.” His eyes darted to the shoe I held out, and he began to smile again.
Trust a man not to notice the glaring size difference between the original slipper and mine.
“Thank you for finding me!” I threw my arms around him and wailed. A little melodrama couldn’t hurt. “I’ve missed my prince so desperately!”
He escorted me out to the carriage. And just like that, I was on my way to the palace and my betrothal.
I’d resisted my parents’ suggested brides for years. The fiscal irresponsibility of the parties they dreamed of throwing for my nuptials was almost a greater deterrent than the brides themselves.
Apparently their only requirement for my wife was that she sport the latest hairstyle. A brain was unnecessary. And a bit of common sense was quite undesirable. They didn’t want someone who would actually agree with my budgets and projections. At this rate, by the time the kingdom became mine, it would be destroyed.
As my parents increased the pressure to marry—increasing the costs of their wife-finding extravaganzas as well—I finally came up with a desperate plan. A fake mystery woman. A whirlwind romance. An impossibly tiny glass slipper that would never fit anyone. I would gain months of peace if I could convince my parents I was heartbroken when the archduke couldn’t find my true love.
Of course I wasn’t the girl from the ball. She didn’t exist. I was just a girl with a few unorthodox ideas, a penchant for eavesdropping on secret plans, and an unhealthy love of meddling. But no one listens to the ideas of an unimportant glassblower’s niece, no matter how marvelous. As the prince’s new fiancée, however, I had a chance.
Oh, he wouldn’t be pleased at first (men always think their plans are the only way to do something), but I was exactly what he needed.
The herald approached my parents’ thrones and announced, “The archduke has returned, victorious in his search for the slipper’s owner!”
“What?” I sputtered. “He wasn’t supposed to—” Mother shot me a surprised look. “I mean . . . I’m so thrilled he’s back. I just thought the journey would take longer.” I pasted on a smile of delight. “Bring her in!” Then I would decide how to get rid of the impostor. No gold-digging piece of fluff was going to trick her way into marrying me.
I sallied into the throne room wearing last year’s gown. The queen had looked excited when I entered, but now she cringed. I smiled. She’d change her mind soon enough, but first I had to convince the prince to hear me out.
“Darling! I feared we’d be parted forever!” I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck—the perfect position for secret conversation. Plus it couldn’t hurt to waft a little lilac scent over the poor man.
“Who are you?” he hissed into my ear.
“Your fiancée, of course,” I whispered back.
“Whatever you want, you’re not getting it.”
Straight to the point, then. “I want to help you. You’ve been going about things with your parents all wrong. Spreadsheets will never convince them to change.”
“Oh? And what will?”
I smiled wickedly. “Fashion, my dear.”
He pulled back, aghast. “Fashion?”
“Yes,” I told him firmly. “Retro-minimalist fashion, to be exact. Bring back the stuff that’s been sitting in the attic for starters. I made some charts for you to look at.”
“Yes. But first we have to convince them this is real.”
“Kiss me, of course.” I winked.
Could her plan possibly work? She smiled warmly, and I thought it might be worth a try. I’d have to consult her charts to decide for sure, but maybe my fortunes—and my kingdom’s—were turning around. So I leaned down to kiss my new ally. My new fiancée.
Now I just had to find out her name.