Crown Jewels

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The lessons with Tiffani lasted through Friday afternoon, where Zelda was finally released to ready for the welcome festivities that would begin the weekend's celebration. According to her handler, Zelda learned at a satisfactory rate and would make for a passable guest of the royal family so long as she didn't whip out her wand in the middle of dinner again.

Zelda's silent team of beauty gurus curled her hair and twisted it into a low knot at the back of her head. "Here. Add this," she said, handing the hairdresser the star hairpins Leo had given her. The woman soundlessly tucked the stars among the other pins. She then passed Zelda a hand mirror to perform the final inspection.

"Marvelous," Tiffani said drolly as she strode into Zelda's chamber. "It's a fine piece from the crown jewels. Very fitting for you, in my opinion."

Zelda's hand flew to her hair, but before she could reach for the pin, the stylist slapped her hand away. "Ow! Did you say crown jewels?"

"Yes," Tiffani replied as she laid Zelda's freshly steamed gown on her bed. "I believe it has a lovely tiara and earrings to match."

"Crown jewels..." Zelda whispered as she looked at the pin in her hand mirror. Leo certainly hadn't mentioned that when he'd given it to her, but then again, she probably should have guessed.

"He must be very serious about you," Tiffani said, pausing to adjust a few of the loose curls that framed Zelda's face.

"And do you approve of his choice?" she asked. She tried not to think of King Theodore and how he had barely given her a passing glance in the days since his outburst at dinner.

Tiffani smiled. It was a practiced smile, but Zelda had come to recognize it as genuine as any. At their first meeting, she'd found her handler cold and unapproachable, but the King's distaste for Zelda seemed to earn her some sympathy. Tiffani taught her with the patience of a saint and still had the heart to offer her little encouragements here and there. Zelda enjoyed the strange rapport they'd developed over a few days together. Tiffani had hardly left her side, and she was glad for the company since Leo had to be with his father at all hours of the day. "Maybe. But I know the glamazons he used to date would have baulked to receive such a trinket."

"I'd hardly call anything with diamonds a trinket."

"Exactly," Tiffani replied. She pulled Zelda away from the vanity and held up the dress so she could step into it. "There are some things I can teach, and some I can't."

Zelda tossed her robe aside and clutched the post of her bed for balance as she stepped into the gown. The dress slid softly over her silk stockings and corset of reinforced satin. Zelda had quickly learned that the thinner her dress, the more underwear she had to wear. Tonight would be no exception.

As Tiffani buttoned Zelda into her gown, she said, "I do believe I can make a princess out of you yet.

Zelda laughed dryly. "I'm not thinking about that just yet."

Tiffani gave her a playful smile. "One never knows where the heart will take them. Come," she said, grabbing Zelda by the hand. "The guests are already arriving, and you are expected downstairs."

As she was pulled from her chamber, through her window, Zelda caught a glimpse of the line of cars that extended all the way to the gates of the Winter Palace. Her stomach knotted, but she could only wonder if Leo was of the same mind as Tiffani. Was this weekend a test to see what sort of princess she would make?

They descended the steps to the grand foyer, and to Zelda's delight, she found Leo waiting for her below. She didn't rush to him as per Tiffani's instructions. Apparently ladies glided wherever they were going, but while Leo watched her with a warm smile, taking each step with her newly practiced grace took every ounce of her self control not to throw herself into his arms. The appearance of his parents and Astara through a side door also tempered the urge.

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