The far-off grumble of motorcycles drew Janet to the windows. The Presidential Suite had three of them, monstrous gobs of glass set in the outer curve of the oval room, the biggest guest suite in the sprawling mansion. She slipped by the antique desk and drew the flowery curtain back.
Beneath her, the dreary gardens of Deerfield House, the official home of the American Ambassador to Ireland, sat soaking up the rain. She thought an ambassador’s garden should have more flowers, more color, look more like Boston’s Public Garden. But this was Dublin, not Boston. She would never forgive her grandparents for dragging her here.
Beyond the gardens and rolling lawns that Gramp said would make a good golf course, Phoenix Park stretched green and boring. At the far end of the forever driveway that wound through the shrubs and grass, the motorcade crawled toward Deerfield House like a swarm of hungry bugs.
Janet tried to guess how long it would take them to reach the mansion. No more than a few minutes, she thought. They’d already passed the security gate. “They’re coming, Matti. As soon as my grandparents leave, we can go into town.”
Matti slapped her e-book reader shut and set it on the coffee table. “About time. I can’t wait to see more of Dublin, and the places I’ve been reading about will be crowded on a Saturday.” She pulled off her glasses, rose from the couch, and stretched. “What do you want to do first?”
The blue and white sofa in front of the fireplace had become Matti’s favorite spot in the suite, the only guest quarters in Deerfield House with twin beds. She’d arrived four days before for a ten-day visit, and the girls would share the space until the following Thursday, when Matti would return to Boston to start her junior year of high school.
Janet should be starting with her. She glanced down at the gardens again and pictured herself back in Boston. “How about a walk through Boston Common?”
“Come on, Jan. You’re not giving Dublin a chance. I think it’s great. At least what I’ve seen of it so far.” Matti cleaned her glasses on the hem of her shirt and slipped them back on.
“I still don’t see why I couldn’t have stayed with you,” Janet said. “Your parents offered. I’m going to ask Gram again. I can’t stand this place.”
She’d only been in the Kingdom of Ireland a little over a month, and already she missed her Drama Club friends. Was it so unreasonable to want to finish her last two years of high school with them? Not only was she lonely, but Mr. Bates had also promised her a big part in the Christmas play.
“Yeah,” Matti said in a teasing tone, “it’s horrible. A big mansion with a cook and a maid, and a bedroom you can get lost in. Don’t expect any sympathy from me.” Her face brightened the way it did when she tried to act. “Hey, want to trade places?”
Janet beamed at her friend. “I’d trade places in a minute if it didn’t mean we’d have an ocean between us.”
The hardest part about leaving Boston had been leaving Matti behind. They’d met two years ago, two nervous freshmen trying out for the Drama Club’s first play of the year. Mr. Bates had asked Janet to read for three of the one-act mystery’s roles. She breezed through the audition and landed the juicy part of the damsel in distress.
The stage quickly became her second home. She loved being anyone but herself. In the magical cloak of a false persona, her confidence soared, at least for a while. Her slim blond looks made her perfect for ingénue parts, but her flair for drama had won her a wide assortment of roles. Mr. Bates even thought she might win the next regional drama competition—but then she’d moved to Ireland.
Matti couldn’t act for beans. At that first audition, Mr. Bates had asked her to read for the spinster aunt’s role. She’d fumbled the lines and ended up crying. Janet felt sorry for the plump, nearsighted girl and tried to cheer her up by encouraging her to work with the scenery and props. Matti found her niche painting backdrops, and the girls became best friends. They loved the rehearsals, the makeup, the costumes and cast parties. For the first time since her parents died, Janet had felt she fit in.
Whenever she thought of her parents, she touched the heart-shaped locket they’d given her for her twelfth birthday: the last birthday present they’d ever given her. It hung from a delicate chain she wore around her neck. They’d put a miniature picture of themselves inside, almost as if they’d known they’d soon be gone. She touched it now. Her parents wouldn’t have made her leave her friends and move to Ireland.
“I mean it, Matt, about talking to Gram. If I catch her and Gramp just right, I’m sure they’ll let me live with you until Gramp’s term ends. Or at least until the Class of 2012 graduates. Maybe longer. Gramp said the colleges here are great, but I don’t want to go to college in Ireland. High school is bad enough!”
Matti had gone to the bureau to comb her hair. “How long is he here for? My mom thought three years.”
Janet sighed. “Yes, but if the president gets re-elected, it could be seven. I’ll be twenty-three. I’ll be so old, I could die over here!”
“Can we see more of Dublin before you do, Drama Queen? Let’s go to the zoo. It’s right here in Phoenix Park, and I heard on the news they have a two-week-old baby giraffe.”
Before Janet could answer, someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” she said.
Gram blew into the room dressed in the full-skirted navy blue suit she’d had specially made for meeting the Irish king and queen. The lambswool coat she’d bought the first day they arrived in Dublin hung over her arm. Her manicured hand held a small blue envelope and a brochure. As usual, she wore lots of jewelry, and her stylist had perfectly curled and heavily sprayed her short white hair. Gram had declared war on the Irish humidity the day they’d moved into Deerfield House.
She snapped a greeting at both girls before her familiar wooden smile appeared and zoomed in on Janet. “I have two surprises for you, dear,” she said, waving the blue envelope and the brochure. “You know that next Saturday night, your grandfather and I are attending the Ambassadors’ Ball at Clontarf Castle. Well, the royal family has invited you too.”
“Me?” Janet gripped the flowery curtain. “It must be a mistake. I’m not old enough to go to a ball!”
Gram had attended lots of upper-crust parties when she and Gramp lived in all those foreign countries. They’d left their lavish lifestyle behind when Gramp retired from the State Department so he and Gram could raise Janet. She’d hardly known her grandparents when she first met them, but she couldn’t say they hadn’t taken good care of her. Too good, in fact.
Janet’s father had been their only child. Losing him was undoubtedly what caused them to smother her to death. They kept her from school activities they considered risky and monitored every move she made. She hated it, hated that Gram had let her know more than once how much she’d given up to look after her. At least they’d let her join the Drama Club.
When Gramp had received the president’s invitation to serve as Ambassador to Ireland, he’d accepted. Not because he missed the job, he said, or because Ireland had great golf courses, but because Janet could attend school in Europe and see some of the world. If she heard one more time what a wonderful opportunity they’d given her, she’d scream. The opportunity seemed more for Gram, who’d clearly been ecstatic to reclaim her former lifestyle—a lifestyle it seemed she was trying to foist upon Janet.
Except for the junior prom, Janet had never attended a formal event, and she never wanted to attend another. The prom had ended in disaster. Ricky Gagnon, the school’s handsome basketball captain, had asked mere sophomore Janet to be his date. She’d jumped at the chance, and her grandparents had approved. She and Gram went shopping together and selected a lacy lavender gown. Gram treated her to an afternoon at a salon for the works, and Gramp hired a sleek white limousine.
With Ricky as her prince, Janet easily assumed the role of a glamorous fairytale princess. She’d never worn spiked heels, however. While freestyle dancing with Ricky, she stabbed dozens of defenseless feet, and that wasn’t the worst. The evil shoes caught the edge of a long white tablecloth. She’d tripped and knocked over the entire dessert buffet.
She still had nightmares about it, of the whole junior class, including that jackass Ricky, laughing at her. The chance to escape the taunts of the snooty new seniors had been the only good thing about moving to Ireland.
“Of course you’re old enough, dear.” Gram fixed her carefully made-up face into one of those looks, the one with the tiny twist in her lips that said that she knew best and that Janet was only a silly girl. “You’re already sixteen. Queen Eileen herself called me this morning. We had a lovely chat, and she insisted we bring you along.”
“But I’ll have no one to talk to. Everyone will be so”—Janet caught herself before she said old—“grown up.”
“Not so, dear. The queen said Princess Talty and Prince Liam can’t wait to meet you. They’re not much older than you, you know. We’ll have a wonderful time. The Boru clan might be one of the oldest royal dynasties in the world, but they’re far from stuffy. They all love to dance.”
Dance! Afraid she’d pull the curtain down, Janet released it and clutched at her jean pockets. “But I have nothing to wear!” she cried, knowing she sounded pathetic. Why did Gram always make her feel like such a little girl? As she suspected, her protest proved futile.
Gram had already made an appointment with a Dublin dressmaker. “Louise is a prominent designer, the same couturier who dresses Queen Eileen and Princess Talty. You’re seeing her today at two o’clock. We were lucky to get you in so soon. The queen put in a word for us.” Gram held the blue envelope out to Janet. “Here’s the address and some extra cash, dear. Take a taxi into town.”
“Yes, Gram.” Janet crossed the room and took the envelope. It would be full of those silly Euros. The coins confused her, and the bills looked like they belonged in a board game.
“There’s more than enough for you and Matti to have a proper lunch somewhere. Take your cell phones, and be sure to stay together. And Janet, I know you won’t do anything to embarrass your grandfather.”
“Like what? Run naked up Grafton Street?”
The face beneath the makeup turned white. “Janet Gleason! What sort of thing is that for a young lady to say?”
Janet bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Sorry, Gram.”
“Oh, I nearly forgot. Here’s the second surprise.” Gram handed Janet the brochure. “Here’s some information about that school we found for you. I know you’ll love it. We’ve arranged to visit it next week. Matti is welcome to come along.” Gram slipped into her coat. A quick shrug settled it on her shoulders. “We’ll see you sometime tonight. Be good!”
Gram never hugged or kissed when she was dressed up for a public event. She blew the girls kisses and opened the bedroom door. And she was gone. Off to Dublin’s mysterious Tara Hall, where the Irish royal family worked, if worked was the right word for what royal people did. Today Gramp would formally introduce Gram and himself to King Brian. Relieved that she didn’t have to go with them, Janet scanned the front of the brochure.
“Sweet!” Matti shouted. “My friend, Cinderella! Wait till everyone hears you danced with a real prince, Janikins!”
The school looked really posh. Janet already despised it. “I’m not dancing with anyone. I don’t know those ballroom type dances. They’re not like the dances we do in school.”
“Do you think Ricky will be jealous? Maybe not. I read an article about Prince Liam. Saw his picture. He’s a real nerd. Thick glasses, perfect haircut, only wears suits and ties, goes to school all year. All software, no hardware. A total geek.”
Leave it to Matti to read up on everything. “Unlike you, only a half-geek. And who cares what Ricky thinks? He’s not my boyfriend. He didn’t even say good-bye before I left.” Janet continued reading about the school, which was seven miles south of Dublin. One of Matti’s breakneck statements, the one about the prince attending school all year, came back to her.
“Why does Prince Liam go to school all year? Nine months is bad enough.”
“All the kids in the royal family do,” Matti called from the walk-in closet. “They’re seriously smart, and they have to have special training so they’ll be ready to rule the country. They even have special tutors on top of school.”
“Great. Just the kind of kids with whom I want to hang out,” Janet said, mimicking her sophomore English teacher explaining the correct use of prepositions. “They’ll know all the atomic numbers and think I’m a moron.”
Matti emerged from the closet with their jackets. “What’s gotten into you, Jan? You really need to cheer up. If anyone can pull this off, you can. You’re an awesome actress. If you rehearse, you can come off like a Beacon Hill debutante. You’re cute and skinny, and you’re going to have a totally hot dress. So let’s go. I’m hungry.”
Janet opened the brochure. Her stomach dropped. “Wait a minute! This is a boarding school! They’re sending me to a boarding school!”
Outside the house, the motorcycles coughed and roared. Janet ran back to the window in time to see her grandparents enter a black limousine. “Why are you doing this?” she called through the glass. “I hate you!”
The chauffeur closed the door. The car and its noisy escort turned in the circular drive and rolled away.