Right...so the third princess book has been taking a much longer time to write than I expected (grr...grr...not again...), but now I've finally finished the draft and sent it off to my editor! It's about the same length as Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts--about 260 pages--but I expect the final version to be longer, as I tend to write more sparsely in my drafts. Not sure how long the editing will take--it will go through a content edit then a line edit--so at least two more revisions--but it should be done by the end of summer. Hooray!
Anyway, I'm so happy that the draft is done after eight long months! Also I'm really proud of the cover--because my lovely designer got a model and did a photo shoot for it! Looking forward to when the book is finally released~~
Princess Elaine has been through eight governesses. Only when she decides to study math and science at the prestigious University that she stops tormenting her elders. The problem is that the University does not welcome females. How can Elaine, who has only been schooled in basic reading and court etiquette, prove that she is capable of a higher education? And how will everyone accept an anti-social princess who just wants to invent gadgets and fix machines?
“You can’t be serious. No. You can’t possibly mean you’re intending to sneak into Lady Wesley’s room.”
“Then let’s bet.”
“All right. I’ll bet you can’t pick the lock on the door.”
A moment of silence.
“Oh, are you letting me choose?”
“No! All right, if you really can pick the lock, I’ll coax Old Maurice to let you sit with him when he pilots Uncle’s steam carriage.”
“And what about my reward?”
“No need, Bran. I assure you that the lock is no trouble. Why, I’ve picked the one in the throne room...”
“Well, I didn’t really finish because Ralph arrived. But if I had enough time, I could have slipped in.”
“Thank goodness you didn’t,” Bran heaved a sigh.
Just at the moment, the bell tower began to strike.
“Elaine, you’d better hurry, before someone comes this way.”
‘No problem. I’ll be done in a jiffy.”
A mischievous gleam in her eyes, Elaine produced her lockpicking kit--a wrench, a hook pick, and a tweezer.
“Bran, stay in the corridor and keep an eye out for me. Whistle if you see anyone.”
Elaine inserted the pick into the lock. She jammed and adjusted for a minute; there was an audible click, and the door creaked open, revealing a luxuriously furnished room.
“You did it,” Bran whispered, a tone of incredulity in his voice.
Elaine arched an eyebrow. “It isn’t that difficult, Bran. Here, all you have to do is--”
“You’d better hurry,” her cousin interrupted. “Lady Wesley could change her mind and return early.”
Elaine doubted that her governess would be in a hurry to finish her breakfast, which was usually a relaxing affair of coffee and croissants, but she tiptoed into the room and shut the door as quietly as she could.
Now it was time to carry out her nefarious plan. She scanned the room quickly--even with two grownup sons and a daughter, Lady Wesley was extremely fastidious about her appearance and sensitive about her age. Elaine counted seven bottles of anti-wrinkling face cream on the dressing-room table.
With such an overwhelming amount of cosmetics, it wouldn’t be hard to accomplish her mission. The corners of her mouth quirked up. This was going to be fun.
The princess bounded to the dressing table and climbed on the silk-draped mahogany chair. She examined the cosmetics boxes one by one until she found one that seemed to be of the right size. She opened her handy toolkit, extracted a coil of spring with a bright, colorful toy clown at the end, and a bottle of resin glue. Then she started to glue the spring to the bottom of the cosmetics box, pressing it down for a few minutes to ensure the spring was firmly attached.
So absorbed she was that she almost missed Bran’s whistle.
“Psst! Winifred’s coming!”
Winifred? What was she doing here? Shouldn’t she be attending the queen at breakfast?
Elaine tried to shut the lid. Since the spring was quite sturdy, it took her several tries before she managed to slam the lid completely shut. By the time she was done, Winifred’s footsteps were so close to the door she had no time to flee.
Frantically, Elaine looked for a place to hide. The bed? No, there was only massive solid wood beneath the mattress; unlike some other beds, it didn’t have four legs with plenty of hiding space. The curtains? They didn’t reach the floor. Her feet would show. The wardrobe, then. It was so big that Elaine was certain even Queen Valeria, who was well known for her plumpness, would fit in it.
Elaine dashed to the wardrobe and dove into a sea of frilly dresses. She closed the door just when she heard the sound of a key inserted into a lock.
The door creaked open. Light footsteps tread on the velvet carpet.
Elaine held her breath. It was dreadfully hot and stuffy and uncomfortable, being wedged in numerous folds of silk and velvet. Inwardly, she cursed Lady Wesley for bringing so many gowns to the palace. Was it really necessary to wear a different dress in the morning, afternoon and evening? She felt a sneeze coming and held her nose. If Winifred wasn’t going to leave soon, she was going to sneeze into Lady Wesley’s finest crimson silk ball gown.
Then came an ominous sound of the lid popping open.
“Princess Elaine!” Winifred’s voice, stern but carrying an undertone of amusement. “I know you’re in here. Somewhere.”
Elaine put both hands over her mouth. She could almost picture Winifred, hands on her hips, looking irritated. But she was not going to give up without a struggle.
Chairs were moved aside, tables creaked, and the curtains swished and rustled. Winifred was certainly determined to find her. Then footsteps approached the wardrobe. The next second, the door was flung wide open.
“Oh Winnie!” Elaine said in cheery tones, as though it was normal to hide in the wardrobe every morning. “What a nice surprise. How did you know I was in here?”
Winifred placed her hands on her hips, looking exasperated. “What did Lady Wesley do to you?”
Elaine glanced at the dressing table.
The clown in its striped suit glory was hovering in mid-air, completely protruding from the box. It swayed from left to right as though mocking her.
“I...er...thought she might like one? For her grandchild?”
“By planting a springing mechanism in her cosmetics box instead of simply buying a ready-made toy?”
“Well...er...yes.” Elaine scuffled the ground, not daring to look at Winifred straight in the eye. Perhaps it was best to offer a diversion. “How come you’re here, Winnie?”
“I was passing through this corridor and saw Prince Bran, looking like he’s keeping a watchout. Then I remembered how you were in a hurry to finish breakfast, so I suspected you two must be up to no good.”
“How clever you are, Winnie!” Elaine offered her most flattering smile. “I’ll just grab this and go--”
“Not so fast, Princess Elaine.” Winifred blocked her way. “We should have a talk with the king. Or with His Highness Ralph.”
Elaine’s face fell. “Please don’t tell them! I promise I’ll behave myself and be a good girl from now on.”
“That’s what you said when you put a toad in Miss Greenwood’s coat pocket. And then you went and put a tortoise in Miss Blair’s handbag.”
“Oh, but those were live animals,” Elaine insisted. “This is different. The glove is perfectly harmless, honestly, I swear.”
“Pssst!” Bran’s anxious face peeped out in the doorway. “I hear footsteps! Sounds like Lady Wesley is coming this way!”
Alarmed, Elaine scurried out of the room as though it was infested by rats. She didn’t even have to look up; the ominous click-clacking of heels hitting the marble floor could only belong to her governess.
Lady Wesley appeared. She was well into her forties, though not a wrinkle was visible on her heavily powdered face. Her velvet gown swished as she walked, her manner poised and graceful, every inch of the perfect lady Elaine was supposed to be.
“Elaine, child! There you are! Hurry along to the schoolroom, our morning lessons shall commence shortly.”
“Um...” Elaine darted a nervous glance behind her; the jack-in-the-cosmetics-box was still visible. “Certainly, Mrs. Wesley, but aren’t you coming with me?”
“Not yet. I need to get a new handkerchief, my old one was soiled by spilt coffee this morning. Such a pity; that handkerchief had the most exquisite handiwork along the hems.” Lady Wesley took a step towards the door, but Elaine stood in the way.
“I can get the handkerchief,” Winifred offered. “I’ll bring it to the schoolroom so you can start the lessons on time.”
“It’s easier I get it myself. You don’t know which drawer it’s in.” When Elaine didn’t budge, Lady Wesley started to sense something was wrong. “Child, why are you not letting me enter my own room?”
“Be...because it’s pretty messy at the moment,” Elaine said hurriedly. “A cat got in through the window and left muddy foot prints all over the carpet. You wouldn’t want to dirty your new gown, Mrs. Wesley.”
“A cat!” Lady Wesley put a hand on her bosom. Unlike many ladies, she detested feline creatures, especially the long hairs they left everywhere. “Well, send the servants to clean up immediately. Inform me as soon as they’re finished.”
She turned away and marched down the corridor. Elaine breathed a sigh of relief. But only for a second.
“Wait.” Lady Wesley whirled around. “How did you know the state of my dressing room when it should have been locked? Have you been lying to me, Elaine?”
So sudden was Lady Wesley’s question that Elaine was startled and automatically took a step backwards. Her back hit the door and it swung open.
Uh-oh. The jack-in-the-cosmetics-box sat on the dresser, the clown with its bright red nose waving cheerfully in the air.
Lady Wesley’s shriek pierced the air.