Maman was the most beautiful woman in le monde entier, and everyone knew it.
I didn’t have to look at the judges’ faces to know that we’d win. We always won, Maman and I, just as Papa always came to every one of our mother-daughter pageants.
Before they announced the winners, I caught Papa speaking to one of the judges in private…
She was très jolie, but Papa never looked at anyone else the way he looked at Maman. So why was he smiling…?
I decided to ask ma mère, even though I was worried about what she might say. But she only laughed…
“Your father’s only bribing her, Belle. No reason at all for a fuss, truly.”
“He pays the judges to let us win?” That didn’t make sense… “But aren’t we the most beautiful contestants?”
She lifted a hand toward the crowd of mothers and daughters waiting to hear who would be crowned ice queen and ice princess–and all the lower titles only fit for peasants. “A single glance would tell you that we are,” she said, letting her hand fall on my shoulder. “Please don’t tell him we know, dearest.”
“But why would he do that…?”
She went quiet. “Men like to feel useful, I suppose. He was like that as well…” Why did she sound like she was going to cry? Maman didn’t cry–tears would ruin her makeup.
I looked up at her. “Who?”
“No one, darling. Keep this a secret between beautiful vampiresses?”
“Bien sûr, Maman.” I didn’t like to fight with her, since Papa had such a hard time picking sides, and I was glad to be trusted with a secret like an adult.
“That’s my lovely girl.”
The three of us talked about happier things on the way home, like our new first-place titles. Papa was so proud, just like he always was.
He and Maman were so in love…
When I grow up, the first thing I’ll do is find a rich and handsome man who loves me as much as mon père loves ma mère.
If only I could grow up faster…
Papa was going to have to order someone to build more shelves.
The more trophies I won, the less exciting each new one became…
But I liked having something special to do with Maman, and I wanted everyone to see me next to her.
Papa came to my room a couple hours later, which probably meant he and Maman were using the dungeon again. “Admiring the spoils of victory, my little ice princess?”
“Papa, did you bribe that judge today?” It was something I had to find out for myself, even if I made a promise. “Does that mean Maman and I aren’t really the prettiest?”
“Of course you are, ma belle.” He laughed. “I was only financing a new set of eyewear for her,” he said, “so that she could better see just how beautiful my two moonlit opals are. Keep it a secret from your mother?”
“Bien sûr, Papa.” If I promised to keep a secret, Papa would have to buy me more presents or give in to more of my demands. “Can you invite Galatea over, s’il vous plaît? Or Ophelia?”
They were both my older sisters–Galatea was Papa’s daughter with another wife who he liked to curse about sometimes, and Ophelia was Maman’s with…someone she never mentioned, so she must not have loved him half as much as she loved Papa. Ophelia was a very beautiful writer though, so her father must’ve been handsome…
Even though Ophelia was a vampiress like me and Galatea was fae, I liked Galatea’s glamorous movie star life best and how she always had something funny and clever to say. She was magnifique! Maybe I could be in a movie with her someday, the way Maman did pageants with me…
“I wish I could, my petite porcelain princess,” Papa said, taking my hands. “But your sisters are very busy. Your mother tells me Ophelia’s on a book tour, and my turquoise-winged butterfly is promoting her latest film.”
“…What about Finn? Oh, and Benedict, since they’re always together.” Finn was Galatea’s brother and Benedict was Ophelia’s, and they were married because our family is very unique.
“They’re still very busy with all that adoption paperwork and travel arrangements,” Papa said, “even after I offered to help cut through all that inconvenient red tape and secure a child through less conventional means.” He laid a hand on my head. “Won’t you like another niece or nephew?”
“Non,” I said, puffing out my cheeks. “I have six brothers and sisters, Papa. Why can’t any of them make time for me? Except Leopold,” I added, “but he’s boring and tries to order me around.” No princess should have to clean up after herself…
“They all love you very much,” he said, “but I’m afraid they–”
This called for one of Maman’s special techniques (except I couldn’t do exactly what she does, because I’m his daughter). “I want to see Galatea,” I insisted, squeezing him with my dainty (but très fort) vampire arms. “Please, Papa? Pretty please with bonbons on top?”
“I’ll see what I can do, my snow-feathered dove.”
That was as good as a promise with Papa. His “I’ll think about it” always meant yes too, but Maman’s meant no.
And thanks to Papa, my sister arrived two days later.
“Bonjour, Galatea,” I said cheerfully.
“Still in the whole random French word-vomit phase, huh?” But she gave me a hug anyway without me having to order her to. “And before you or the tabloids ask, I’m not pregnant–I just ate half my body weight in fried food now that my movie’s done shooting. Bas and Daisy won’t stop feeding me.”
My bedroom door opened. “This place is a shithole,” my nephew said.
“Sly, what’d I tell you about calling people’s homes shitholes?”
I loved hearing Galatea scold her loud, rude son… Maman and Papa never talked like that to me, but I was always une princesse parfaite.
Sly smirked. “…Don’t do it where they can hear me.”
“Damn right. And don’t destroy any priceless antiques while you’re here–and be nice to your aunt.”
“I’d rather play video games,” he said.
“You just wanna get rid of me so you can go home and fuck Dad in peace,” he complained.
“You try not getting any for two months straight,” she said. “Well, when you’re older, anyway.”
“I’m gonna get laid every day.”
“Not if puberty is anything like it was for your dad.” She glanced at me. “Speaking of dads, don’t leave him alone with ours for more than five minutes. Wait, maybe five’s too many…”
“You’re leaving?” I asked. “But you just got here…”
“I’m leaving too,” Sly said.
“Like hell you are. Your mom needs a break.”
“CHILD ABUSE!” Sly yelled.
“Yell a little louder–if you get taken away now, I’ll get to miss the shitty teenage years completely.”
And then Galatea left me alone with my awful nephew. Why didn’t any of my brothers and sisters want to spend time with me? Was it because I was only their half-sister, or because they were all so much older than me? But Maman and Papa agreed that I was very mature for my age…
“Got any good snacks?” Sly said. “Mom says Gramps always buys the most expensive shit.”
That was true, but… “Why do you hate your mère?”
“My what now?”
He scratched the side of his nose and shrugged. “I don’t. Everybody wants to be my friend and gives me free stuff because she’s famous.”
“Then why are you such a–” I tried to think of something that suited him. “Such a bête mauvaise to her?”
“The hell you call me?”
“A bad beast.”
“Huh–’bad beast.’ I like it.” He shrugged. “And that’s just how we talk. It’s different with my dad. What’s with all your annoying weird words?”
How could Galatea’s son be so unrefined? “It’s French, the most romantic language in le monde entier. Papa says I’m descended from a beautiful French vampire queen.”
“Whatever. It just makes you sound like a twat.”
I had a feeling I didn’t want to ask what that word meant. He was fae like Galatea, but he didn’t look or act fae at all…
But I knew I could impress him, because Papa always bought me the best presents. And at least I had someone to play with. “Let’s go to my playroom,” I said. “We can pretend we’re the hero and heroine of Ophelia’s new novel.”
“Mom says Aunt Ophelia is a giant fucking weirdo,” he said.
“Non, only poor people can be weird,” I corrected him. “Rich people are excentrique.”
Sly wasn’t happy about me forcing him to wear a costume, but I was the princess of this castle, not him. “You better not expect me to do any creepy Game of Thrones shit,” he mumbled. “I’m not kissing my aunt.”
“I wouldn’t waste my first kiss on a bête mauvaise, even if we’re only acting.”
“Hey, this place is pretty cool…”
I smiled proudly. “Papa renovates it completely every year and Maman scolds him for spending so much money until he buys her a present that costs just as much.”
“Your parents are weird.”
“Excentrique. And there are fancy little cakes in the castle–some without plasmafruit.”
Maman had taught me that men were easily controlled and bribed…
But playing with Sly wasn’t as fun as being with Galatea or Ophelia, who were so mature and sophisticated. Sly was just a little boy, even if he was exactly the same age as me. Had my kingdom always felt so small?
This was a child’s playroom, but I didn’t feel like une enfant anymore…
I couldn’t wait to grow up.