Marguerite Royale had a romantic name. Her name implied that she was destined for wild and epic adventures, for great affairs and battles, for slaying dragons and casting spells.
Her father blamed the name for her 'fluffiness,' as he called it. Charles Royale was a high-powered executive who worked in one of those frosty towers on Wilshire, one of the ones too busy to take the few extra minutes each day to drive the five miles west to take Pacific Coast Highway home just to unwind. He didn't understand the purpose of dreams and whimsicality, and though Marguerite never lacked for anything-- no, if nothing else, her life was plush and luxurious-- her life was barren of anyone who might possible understand her. Her father wasn't a bad man, just an overly pragmatic one. Marguerite was adored by him, but the times they spent together were few and far between and at best, awkward. He was capable of being warm, but there was a disconnect somewhere between them.
Marguerite's mother died of cancer when she was only three. Marguerite remembered her, a wonderfully beautiful golden-skinned, golden-haired, loving angel who would sing to her and coddle her when life wasn't so easy, when Charles Royale hadn't made it big yet. Marguerite was named by her mother, so she supposed she inherited the dreaminess from her, though she wasn't certain. Charles never spoke of her.
After over sixteen years, though, he still had not removed his wedding ring, which, Marguerite supposed, meant that maybe once upon a time, he had been a dreamer, too.
Marguerite was newly nineteen, not quite an adult emotionally, not quite stereotypically beautiful, not quite willing to take the next step in life, not quite ready to let go of her dreams of a knight in shining armor riding up to her Malibu beach house on a great white horse and sweeping her off her feet (yes, she was hopelessly addicted to romance novels of the worst kind).
Though her life held all the cliches of a trashy airport paperback, she had yet to meet her perfect ending. She wasn't model-thin like her Malibu neighbors or like the heroines of her books, but not fat either-- a size four, to be exact. Her nose was dainty, her eyes a wide-awake green, her skin not fashionably tanned-- rather pale, in fact, for someone living on a beach-- and her hair was a rich shade of a brown so dark it was nearly black. She had small breasts, wide hips, and lamented the fact that no boy all throughout her high school career had ever looked twice at her.
She dressed well, but only because her father insisted on hiring a stylist for her. He knew that otherwise she would wear the same frumpy clothes until they were transparent with time. She much preferred to stay inside with her books than venture into the outside world to meet with disappointment after disappointment.
This year had been awful. She hadn't thought of applying anywhere for school, so she was stuck here, at home, living practically by herself as her father traveled around the world for business or else spent twenty consecutive hours a day working on Wilshire. Her sole friend, Michael, had left three years ago for Harvard, then spent all of his vacations touring Europe and Africa and other exotic places. She had no one here but her books and her dog, a good-natured Rottweiler named Fish.
Days crept by and nothing changed. Nights crept by and nothing changed. Day after day after day saw a distance between her and her father, and a beautiful girl who was too timid to have friends and too self-conscious to do anything about it.
Summer came in late April. She was a bit more at ease after receiving acceptances from Yale, Harvard, Duke, NYU, Stanford, and numerous other schools, though home was beginning to become sweltering. The air started to heat, reaching ninety degrees early on and witnessing the masses come to the beach almost daily to cool off. Come July, the heat would be upwards of a hundred and five.
Michael didn't come home like he promised to this summer. Instead he went to Tahiti with a girl he met in some sociology class at school. He emailed photographs almost daily of the scenery, of the girl, of him and the girl, of him-- and how much more beautiful he had become. Somehow he had transformed over the course of the year from a scrawny, pale kid with tortoiseshell glasses and a mop of poorly-cut hair and ill-fitting clothes to someone who took pride in his body.
His muscles had filled out, and he was bronzed, built, and his brownish-blonde hair had grown to flop attractively over his eyes.
How he looked didn't matter to her. She had loved him for five years now, ever since he had come to California from Great Britain during his parents' divorce and become her neighbor, breaching the walls she had built around herself and loving her, albeit in an entirely different way than she loved him.
It made sense that the person with the best heart would become the one most desirable, the one to make the most of his life, who would reap all the rewards of his kindness…
Her thoughts trailed off. Tahiti was well and good, and at least he hadn't forgotten her, but she was beginning to despair. She wanted him-- always had-- and he had slipped through her fingers like sand.
"Marguerite," called Charles late one evening. The front door slammed shut as he walked through the marble entrance hall and handed his briefcase to an assistant. "Marguerite, come here."
Marguerite came out through a hallway leading to the kitchen, munching on a carrot stick. "Yes, Daddy?"
Marguerite had inherited Charles' coloring, though his hair was mostly gray now. He barely glanced at her as he gestured toward his office at the end of the foyer. She understood the message and waited precisely five minutes before she followed him in, allowing him to collect himself.
When she walked in, Bloomberg was on the television in the corner and Charles had rolled up his shirtsleeves as he glanced through some files.
"You haven't done anything this year," he stated. He looked up at her. "I'm aware that it is partially my fault. I care about you as my daughter, but work is currently a priority. I'm close to bidding for complete ownership of the entire company and all of its branches."
Marguerite gave a tight-lipped smile. "Congratulations, Daddy."
He barked out a laugh. "A bit premature, but thank you. Anyway, I want you to go to England for a year or two."
Marguerite felt her heart lurch. "What?" She sat down on a leather chair across her father's desk. "But-- I'm supposed to go to school next year--"
"You are going to King's College next year."
Her father sighed and put his face in his hands. "I've been estranged from my mother-in-law for a long time, but she contacted me a few days ago." Her grandmother . She had no idea her maternal grandmother was still alive. "She wants you to experience the other half of your heritage-- her words, not mine. Your mother was her favorite child, and she's dangling an inheritance over your head, but only if you go."
Marguerite gulped. "So I am supposed to live with an old woman I never met just so I can get a piece of what she leaves behind?"
Her father grimaced. "My in-laws never forgave your mother for running off with me. Your mother had blue blood-- her father was a Duke-- which made her a Lady. You are aware of the implications of that, I assume. I met her when I was backpacking through Europe during college. She came back with me." He stared her in the eye. "Should you go, you will be a Lady as well. You will also be a member of a very old, very famous family." He sighed, looking down at his paperwork again. "I would think it would be what you wanted, what with all of those fluffy fantasies you read."
Marguerite felt her heart pounding in every part of her body-- her fingertips, her throat, her head-- and she gasped for breath. "But Daddy, I can't live there! I don't know any of them, I wouldn't…"
Charles held up his hand. "I am prepared to make a concession to you if you go. I will take off precisely two weeks from my work to go to London with you, and we will find you a flat. I will set no limitations on cost provided that the place is well-secured and safe, as well as near your school. I will also ensure that you have transportation while you are there, either your own car or a driver, most likely the latter considering that the paparazzi will most likely have a heyday with you."
Marguerite smiled bitterly. She was going to the scene of her favorite romantic novels.; it was obvious that she had no choice. But why did she feel so miserable?