The Heir and the Spare (Untitled #1) - Emily Albright

Chapter One

My Brave New World

Hand on the knob, I closed my eyes and held my breath. I can do this. With a gentle shove, I opened the door. Please, be nice. I cracked an eyelid, peeking. My breath released in a rush as my eyes opened. It’s perfect.

Look out Oxford! This year’s so going to rock.

I tossed my new keycard on the desk and dropped my bags. Twirling, I scanned the room. Next to the minimalist workstation was a twin bed. On the opposite wall, a substantial floor-to-ceiling wardrobe stood. Large windows wrapped around the corner between the two. A black, L-shaped couch filled the space below.

The trunk that had once been my mom’s sat by the wall. I’d been so nervous to ship it. Thank God it made it.

With a jump, I threw myself on the unmade bed and sighed. I did it. I’m here. Exactly where Mom had always dreamed I’d be.

Quest one, complete . . . finally. It had only taken three years.

Where’s the second letter? I shot upright and peered around again; nothing.

How the new letters would find me, I hadn’t a clue.

Every year on my birthday I’d get a new letter from Mom. It was tradition. Dad would wake me bright and early and hand me an envelope. My hands would tremble with excitement—it was the letter I’d been dying to get hold of since I’d ripped open the last one.

Together we’d read it. Together, we’d remember.

On my seventeenth birthday, things changed.

Oh, Dad still delivered my birthday letter. But a few days later a second one appeared, postmarked from London. In that moment my adventure with Mom began. She was sending me on a quest. One Dad had no clue about.

I’d expected my next quest letter to be here, waiting to welcome me to my new world.

Maybe it’ll come in the mail again?

With a disappointed sigh, I dragged a suitcase onto the bed and unzipped it. Grabbing my toiletry bag, I headed for the bathroom. Unlike in the States, everyone here got her own room. There’d be no dealing with a snoring roommate or listening to someone doing the mattress polka.

But, the best part, I’d managed to snag a room with a private loo. That word still made me giggle.

I tossed the bag in the sink and went back to work on my suitcase. My clothes fit in the wardrobe—barely. I fluffed my aqua coverlet over the bed and, exhausted, I nearly crawled in. Instead, I reached for a stack of photos to put up and continued my unpacking.

Above the bed I Sticky Tacked my favorite picture of Dad and me. I was in my cap and gown, Dad in his suit, his arm slung over my shoulder, a proud smile on his face. We each held a light pink peony in memory of Mom—peonies were her favorite flower.

God, I miss her.

Next came a picture of Abby and me. We were fifteen and at a slumber party. Our fingernails freshly painted, red lips perfectly puckered, and two large balloons stuffed down each of our shirts. I laughed, remembering the silliness of the night.

“Oh, Abs, who’s gonna make me try new things?” I said to my empty room.

Tears stung my eyes as I looked at the pictures. It’d only been a day, but I already missed home so much it hurt. The pile of pictures dwindled and soon I had a collage of the faces I loved splashed across my wall. Standing back, I smiled at my handiwork then glanced at the shelf above the bed.

What a perfect place for my treasures.

I pulled out the stuffed cat Mom had given me and placed it up there. Its name was Pinky, and for the first seven years of my life I didn’t go anywhere without it. Next to Pinky came my books—I loved anything by Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, or Louisa May Alcott.

I smiled. My little room was feeling more and more like home.

“Now, a place for my letters.”

Pulling them from my bag, I sat on the bed. My hand ran along the top of the pile. The cream ribbon holding the stack together untied with a gentle tug. I always figured Mom chose the heavyweight paper because she knew the letters would have to stand the test of time.

At the top was the first quest letter. I opened it and scanned down the page to the bottom paragraphs.

And so, my darling Evie, I’m setting you off on a life-altering adventure. For years I’ve kept a secret; one