Caterina LaValle is determined to show she’s still the queen of St. Rosetta’s Academy…
We’re excited to share an excerpt from Of Princes and Promises, the second installment of Sandhya Menon’s young adult series set an elite boarding school that’s a contemporary spin on fairy tales—this one a romantic twist on The Frog Prince. Available June 8th from Simon & Schuster.
Caterina LaValle is determined to show she’s still the queen of St. Rosetta’s Academy. Sure, her crown may be slightly askew after her ex-boyfriend, Alaric, cheated on her, but she’s a LaValle. She’ll find a way to march right back in there, her hands clutching the strings to the whole puppet show. This time, she’s going to be untouchable.
Rahul Chopra knows that moment he shared with Caterina LaValle at the winter formal meant something. Surely she feels it, too. He’s a little uncertain how someone like him (socially inept to a point way past “adorkable”) could fit into her world, but he’s loved Caterina for years. He knows they’ll find a way.
When Caterina finds out Alaric is taking a supermodel to the upcoming gala, she knows she cannot arrive without the perfect date. But the thought of taking another superficial St. R’s boy exhausts her. The solution? Sweet-but-clueless Rahul Chopra and a mysterious pot of hair gel with the power to alter the wearer into whatever his heart desires.
When Rahul tries it, he transforms instantly into RC—debonair, handsome, and charming. But transformation comes with a price: As Rahul enjoys his new social standing, the line between his two personas begins to blur. Will he give up everything, including Caterina, to remain RC? Or will this unlikely pair find their way back to each other?
Caterina did not like being nervous. It was an odd, uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling, as if an olive pit had gotten lodged in her diaphragm and was waiting to be coughed up. She felt like she couldn’t get a deep-enough breath, even though her custom Balenciaga evening gown was perfectly fitted to her form.
She turned to Rahul in his hotel room in Denver. The Hindman Gala was a mere hour away now, which meant Caterina had exactly sixty minutes to make him presentable. And so far… it wasn’t working.
He stood there before her in the tuxedo that Oliver had so carefully picked out. It was impeccable, as were all of Oliver’s curations. Caterina had purchased all-new designer makeup for his exact skin tone, and that, too, was top-of-the-line. Rahul promised he had freshly washed his hair. She’d gotten him into contacts, even though he insisted stabbing his eye with his finger was completely unnatural. And yet… yet he was still so very Rahul.
Somehow, he managed to make the tux look ill-fitting, even though Oliver had tailored it (at record speed; he was such a lovely person) to suit him. The makeup did accentuate his strong jawline, but his hair refused to cooperate, no matter how much she’d fiddled with it. And it was clear he had no confidence. He kept rubbing his palms on his trousers, though she’d warned him not to about a thousand times so far.
“I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing his palms on his trousers again. Caterina stifled a sigh. “I know it isn’t working, but I’m not sure why. Should I stand up straighter?” He adjusted his shoulders, and she could see the reflection of his back in the floor-length mirror behind him. He had a playful whorl in the middle of his head that she hadn’t noticed before; it showed a pale scalp. Not to mention, “playful” was all wrong for the gala.
“No, that won’t help,” she said, rounding the sharp edge out of her voice. It wasn’t his fault this wasn’t working. She should’ve known it was too much to ask of him. And now it was too late to call in a backup. All the suitable ones would already be at the gala with other dates.
A sort of numbness took over Caterina then, forcing the nervousness away. Alaric would see her fall tonight, spectacularly, with all the cameras flashing. He’d get plastered all over the magazine pages with Lizel Falk, his supermodel, and Caterina would get photographed with Rahul, with a snide caption something along the lines of, “Millionaire Heiress Caterina LaValle Seems to Lag in the Rebound.” Alaric would really enjoy that. He’d probably frame the page.
Rahul was staring at her desperately, as if he were upset. And maybe he was, Caterina realized. He wasn’t like any of the guys she’d dated. He probably really did care how this night went for her, without much thought about how it would affect him.
Caterina forced a small smile. “Let me just fix your hair a bit.” There was no need to suck him into her vortex of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. He’d done nothing wrong. In fact, he’d made a valiant effort to help her achieve her goals. She walked around behind him and tried to get a strand of hair to lay over his whorl, but it kept snapping back into place.
“Oh,” Rahul said suddenly, turning around to look at her. “We forgot. The hair gel, remember?”
She hadn’t forgotten. Yesterday, at Oliver’s shop, she’d been overcome by the possibilities of what Rahul could become. She’d been swept up in Oliver’s vision and optimism, sure that they could make something of Rahul together. But tonight, seeing him in all of the Oliver-sanctioned finery, Caterina had to admit she’d been a tad overzealous. And so she hadn’t bothered putting the gel into Rahul’s hair. What good would it do now, honestly?
But he was looking at her with a mix of hope and desperation, and she couldn’t dash that. “Oh yes.” She walked over to the bed and grabbed the pouch that contained Rahul’s makeup. Pulling the pot of gel out of the bag, she held it in her palm for a moment, noticing that the glass had an iridescent shimmer she hadn’t noticed before. It caught the light and winked at her. “Let’s try it.”
Caterina walked back over to Rahul and opened the jar, holding it out to him in the flat of her hand. He peeked in at the milky white substance. “Do I just… take some in my fingers and put it in my hair?”
“Yes,” she said. “And kind of style your hair as you go.”
“Style it…” Rahul looked as though she’d asked him to open a wormhole in the hotel room.
“Just run it through your hair,” she said, not able to edge out the touch of impatience this time. “It really doesn’t matter.” His face fell. God. It was like kicking a puppy. She added, “It’ll look good no matter how you do it.”
Looking happier, Rahul reached his fingertips into the jar and came away with far more than she would’ve advised. “Whoa,” he said, bringing it to his nose. “It smells weird. Like lilies and metal and almonds. And dirt.”
Dirt? Caterina tried not to let her irritation show. “Just put it into your hair. I’m sure it’ll fade once it’s in there.” She sighed and began to fiddle with her jewelry. This was hopeless. They were going to fool exactly no one at the gala, and worse, she was about to become a laughingstock. Dammit. Why had she ever thought this was a good idea?
“Yes, what?” She blinked and refocused on him. He was turned away from her now, looking into the mirror in front of him. From this angle, she couldn’t see his face anymore. “What is it?”
Rahul turned around slowly, to face her once more.
And Caterina found herself staring.
Something was happening. Something very strange was happening.
Excerpted from Of Princes and Promises, copyright © 2021 by Sandhya Menon.