The Heiresses

Sara Shepard

On Sunday afternoon, Rowan Saybrook sat in the corner of a living room in the Dakota on Central Park West and watched twelve princesses meet and greet one another. Each was adorned in a taffeta ball gown, crystal slippers, and a tiara. They plucked hors d’oeuvres from a silver tray with grace and poise.

But then Jasmine stepped on Ariel’s foot. Aurora raised an eyebrow at Sofia the First, declaring that she wasn’t as real a princess because the Disney cartoon had only started a few years ago. Rowan, sensing disaster, tiptoed out of the room and into her cousin Poppy’s kitchen, reaching for a bottle of cabernet. It was Poppy’s daughter Skylar’s third birthday, and it was probably best to let the little princesses work things out for themselves.

The kitchen was large and airy, with new marble countertops and Brazilian cherry cabinets. Poppy, dressed in a gauzy batik-print silk popover and skinny pants that made her legs look a million miles long, stood at the island, arranging the tray of chopped-up locally grown vegetables she’d bought at the Union Square farmer’s market, her twenty-month-old, Briony, balanced on her hip. She noticed Rowan pouring the wine. “The kids driving you to drink, huh?”

“I’ve never really understood the whole princess thing,” Rowan said, recorking the bottle.

“Of course you don’t,” Rowan’s mother, Leona, said good-naturedly, smiling at her daughter from across the kitchen. “This one was all about climbing the highest trees in our backyard when she was Skylar’s age. And sometimes falling out of them.”

Aunt Penelope paused from making a plate of food for her husband, Mason, the CEO of Saybrook’s, and laughed. “You could climb higher than most of the boys, Rowan. I still remember when you beat your brother at the ropes course; he sulked for days.”

Corinne, who had been leaning against the counter, sidled over to Rowan and eyed the wine. “Can you pour me a glass? I need it after the week I’ve had.”

“I heard about Turkey,” Rowan said. “Congratulations.” Then she lowered her voice. “I also heard what happened with Aster.”

Corinne’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Yeah, well. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.” She peered around the room, probably searching for her sister, who’d been here a few moments ago but was now absent. “She’s probably passed out in Poppy’s bed right now,” she spat angrily.

“Don’t worry—I’ll make sure she’s on time to the wedding,” Evan said, taking a break from directing the housekeeper’s cleanup efforts. She hated messes, especially kid messes. “Believe me when I say I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Worse than the Saybrooks?” muttered Natasha from her perch near the pantry.

“Natasha!” Natasha’s mother, Aunt Candace, snapped from the corner, where she was helping Poppy with the hors d’oeuvres.

Rowan glanced at Natasha cautiously. Not so long ago, she and Natasha had been so close. Rowan was nearly ten years older than Natasha, but she’d happily played bit parts in Natasha’s one-act plays and cheered when Natasha put on karaoke concerts on the back porch at Meriweather. But after Natasha disinherited herself from the family—never explaining why—she treated Rowan and the others like irritating pedestrians taking up the whole sidewalk on Fifth Avenue.

Rowan knew her cousins were wary of Natasha too. Except Poppy, who’d begun to mend fences with Natasha a few years ago, after Poppy’s parents died. But perhaps that was because Aunt Candace and Uncle Patrick had served as Poppy’s surrogate family after the plane crash, smothering her, James, and their girls with love, help, and baked goods for months.

The Heiresses