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Lisa Garcia snapped her copy of the New York Times back on her coffee table, sighing audibly as the Brooklyn night churned on outside her window. She’d scoured the paper, studying the various photographs, the way the features used stunning pictures that didn’t just “complete” the stories, but breathed life into them.
She swept her long fingers through her wavy, white-blond hair, which gleamed in the light from the street lamps. Protected within the confines of her one-bedroom apartment, she felt far from the roving 20-somethings on the street, who lived to drink, to party, to yell.
Lisa hadn’t moved from her hometown, Detroit, to New York in order to sleep around, to bat her eyelashes at strangers, or down shots till dawn. She’d moved there to become a top-tier, professional photographer.
And now that she was 26 years old, she sensed that finally, that future was just around the corner. She just had to accept all opportunities that came her way, and be ruthless in sniffing out her path to the top. As of late, those opportunities had been purely tabloid-based. But everyone had to start somewhere.
Lisa padded to her kitchen, just a few feet from her couch in her closet-sized one-bedroom, and set the kettle on her stove, waiting as the stovetop turned a bright orange. It was autumn, and the New York night was crisp, its trees turning cheery yellows and reds—mere weeks from dying sad, brown deaths. As she waited, shifting her weight from one fuzzy-socked foot to the other, she was reminded that she hadn’t had a sizeable project in weeks. Her bank account dwindled away with each passing hour, with the electricity that pumped into her light bulbs and the heat that poured from the furnace.
She needed something. Anything. She couldn’t phone her mother for a loan again. That had been a dark, terrible day—knowing her mother had been struggling to put food on the table her entire life. “I don’t have a Prince Charming,” her mother, Diana, had scoffed, swiping crumbs from the table. “I only have you. And me.”
Lisa bobbed her tea bag in her cup, watching the brown liquid spread like lazy tendrils in the water. She had been feeling lonely lately; homesick for friends who were no longer like her, who no longer held the same beliefs about life, love or happiness.
Her best friend from home, Anne, had recently had a baby—a tiny-toed, tiny-fingered thing, with soft cheeks and a funny sneeze. And now, her entire life revolved around him, and posting silly photographs over Facebook while telling Lisa they should “catch up soon.”
Lisa had never put much stock in the married-with-children scenario, anyway. Since as far back as she could remember, her career had held absolute priority in her mind, alongside a deep, entrenched hope to save up enough money to go to college and use the skills she’d learned as a paparazzo in a more traditional environment.
Cue her endless subscription to the New York Times. Cue her refusal to date around. Cue her long walks through Central Park and Brooklyn, taking street photography, hopeful that she’d find one or two celebrities a week, minding their own business, sipping coffee, clinging to their last bit of normalcy. She would rob it from them. Because, in her industry, it was eat or be eaten. And she’d come too far to quit.
She lifted her phone to her ear, knowing that the sound of her mother’s voice always calmed her, assured her that she could pull through. “I always did, honey,” she’d murmur. “I always made sure we ate, and no one else mattered. And now, it’s just you against the world.”
But as she paused, her eyes closed tightly and her eyelashes flickering against her cheeks, Lisa felt the sudden vibrate of her phone, already pressed to her ear. Calling out to her at this incredibly late hour, there in her cave in Brooklyn.
Immediately, the photo ID gave him away. Lisa donned her articulate, professional phone voice and twirled her near-silver locks, smiling brightly as she spoke. “Rocco,” she said to her boss. “How are you this evening?”
Rocco Salvador, editor-in-chief of notorious tabloid, the Daily Sneak was smug and sleek: a fierce gay man who’d never had a stray hair or in his life, and who grew angry quickly, whether it be at a one-hour tardy photo, or an off-angle shot of a celebrity (both things that had happened to Lisa more than once).
“Fine. Actually, better than fine,” Rocco began. “We’ve just received a bit of information, and I thought I’d pass it on to you, Garcia. You’ve been busting your tail for the past few months—everyone can see it—so I’m entrusting you with something big.”
Lisa’s eyebrows rose high on her forehead, excitement brimming within her. Rocco had never once complimented her commitment to the position in the years since she’d accepted it. Was her ship finally coming in?
“But I should emphasize, doll, that this is a very important job. If you don’t think you can handle it, say so now so I can pass it along to one of our more—shall we say—accomplished photographers. Do you understand?”
“Of course,” Lisa whispered, almost breathless. “Of course I do. And I’m up for it.”
“Fine, fine,” Rocco said, without pause. “Have your notebook ready.”
Lisa was already poised, her pen hovering above her pad of paper. She shivered with anticipation.
“Prince Francesco of Aluzzi—that tiny, mega-rich country down the coast from Italy—darling, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Prince Francesco of Aluzzi and Princess Rose of the Netherlands are engaged to be married.”
Lisa eyed her words on the page. The scribbles were barely legible. “Mm-hmm,” she murmured. “Engaged. Got it.”
“But there’s something different about this engagement,” Rocco continued, pushing ahead. “The couple’s courtship has been rather tumultuous. They’ve been spotted fighting all over the world. From Amsterdam, to Berlin, to Moscow, these two royals can’t seem to agree on anything. I read just last week that Princess Rose left the Prince in Paris without telling him. He was running through the streets, drunken, demanding people tell him where his princess was. And then, days later, they became engaged. Now, does that sound like the portrait of a happy couple, or what?”