Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off. On the other hand, the actress who plays Amara wouldn’t mind being axed. Jessica Stone doesn’t even like being part of the Starfield franchise—and she’s desperate to leave the intense scrutiny of fandom behind.
Though Imogen and Jess have nothing in common, they do look strangely similar to one another—and a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon sets off a chain of events that will change both of their lives. When the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, with all signs pointing to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. The deal: Imogen will play Jess at her signings and panels, and Jess will help Imogen’s best friend run their booth.
But as these “princesses” race to find the script leaker—in each other’s shoes—they’re up against more than they bargained for. From the darker side of fandom to unexpected crushes, Imogen and Jess must find a way to rescue themselves from their own expectations...and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.
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Princess Amara is dead.
In a perfect universe, I wouldn’t care. My character dies a noble and brilliant death at the end of Starfield, when she rams her spaceship into the Black Nebula (which is more like a black hole, but whatever) to save her one true love, the dreamy Federation Prince Carmindor.
In a perfect universe, I would’ve cashed my check and used Starfield as a springboard to more Oscar-worthy roles. Roles that mean something, roles that tell invaluable stories, that aren’t me looking hot in a suffocating dress while running in heels.
In a perfect universe, I would be happy.
But this universe is not perfect and neither am I, although I’ve tried to be. I’ve tried so, so hard. And it all might be for nothing.
Because today I made three unforgivable mistakes.
The first one:
During a presser (a presser is basically a marathon of filmed interviews with different media outlets back to back to back . . . I can usually endure them for hours, but these nerd ones are a different beast entirely. How I long for questions about Darien Freeman’s new diet or my glittery pumps), held in a small room in a hotel, I accidentally let this slip:
“I certainly hope Amara doesn’t come back.”
Which, I know.
The interviewer had been coming for blood for the past thirty minutes, poking and prodding at our airtight answers until something had to give, and the bright lights were giving me a headache.
So of course it was me who slipped first.
I wasn’t paying attention. For hours Dare—Darien Freeman, my costar—had been entertaining the interviewers. He lived and breathed Starfield—he was a fanboy before he became Prince Carmindor, and that’s stellar publicity. The world eats it up. It’s adorable.
What’s decidedly less adorable is Princess Amara, poor dead Princess Amara, played by a girl who’s never even seen the show.
I don’t make good press fodder.
Or, at least, I didn’t think I did.
The interviewer’s eyes widened behind her candy-apple-red glasses. She was petite and blond, stylish in a ’60s pinup meets Revenge of the Nerds sort of way. “But thousands of fans would love to see you back! And your character, too. Have you heard of the #SaveAmara initiative?”
I shook my head.
Dare jumped at the chance to inform me. “Oh, it’s a Twitter hashtag created to rally the fandom and save the princess from her fate.”
The interviewer nodded enthusiastically. “The user who created it claims that Amara deserved better, especially in this reboot. She deserved to live, not to be fridged for Prince Carmindor’s character development.”
It was all I could say.
I curled my fingers tightly around the phone in my lap. It buzzed again. Another Instagram comment. Or Twitter. I wished it was neither.
The interviewer went on. “Natalia Ford, the actress who originally played Amara, whose shoes you stepped into, has already voiced solidarity for the movement, pleasing a lot of older fans. She has also recently criticized your interpretation of Amara, saying that you don’t embody the spirit of the character. Does that bother you?”
For other people to not like you? The fandom to not like you? That’s what she didn’t say, but I saw it in her eyes. I was surprised, really, that it had taken this long for an interviewer to bring it up.
I’m a girl in Hollywood, I wanted to tell her. I’m either too fat or too skinny or too pretty or not pretty enough. Nothing bothers me.
But that would’ve been a lie, as evidenced by my death grip on my phone.
“Erin, right?” I said, when I should’ve not taken the bait. But I was too tired to stop, and I wasn’t paying attention to Dare’s signals to shut up. If you know anything about my overly enthusiastic costar, it’s that he’s never subtle about anything. I just didn’t care. “Tell me, Erin, what has Natalia Ford done since she played Amara, what, twenty years ago? Another one-off Starfield
special? Ms. Ford doesn’t have a career. I do, in spite of what everyone says. That’s all that matters—”
“I must be early,” a calm voice interrupted. “That tends to happen to people without careers.”
My blood ran cold.
In the doorway stood a woman with piercing brown eyes and peppery-gray hair pulled back into a bun. Her face was heart shaped, eyebrows dark and severe, her lips pursed. Though she was short, standing in that doorway she commanded the room. Trade her monochromatic pantsuit for a dress made of galaxies and starlight, and she was still the princess of the universe. In her arms sat a hairless cat who surveyed the room with narrow emerald eyes, looking almost as dour as his owner.
So, yeah, my second mistake was insulting Natalia Ford.
And my third mistake?
After that disaster of an interview, I needed to take a breath. Dare warned me that we had to be at a panel in ten minutes. It felt like every one of my days at this loud overcrowded convention was planned down to the second, squeezing as much of Jessica Stone out of my appearance as possible. But I needed quiet. I needed to breathe.
So I excused myself to the restroom to collect myself, and that was my third mistake. If I’d never gone to the bathroom, if I’d never left Dare’s sight, if I’d followed him straight onto that stupid panel—
My phone dings, wrenching me out of my panic spiral. It is Ethan Tanaka, my assistant and best friend (only friend, if I’m being truthful).
ETHAN TANAKA (3:03 PM)
—THIS ISN’T YOU.
—WHERE ARE YOU.
Pulling down my black beanie in the hopes of passing unnoticed, I elbow my way into the ballroom, where the Starfield panel has already started. The one I’m supposed to be on. The lights are off and the audience is quiet—such a drastic shift from the thundering noise of the hundreds if not thousands of people in the Marriott hotel lobby. My ears are ringing with the silence; I can’t even hear myself think.
My eyes slowly adjust as I gaze over a sea of anxious fans, panic prickling at my skin.
“I’m Jess—Jessica Stone,” says a girl on the stage, but it isn’t me.
This isn’t happening.
This is impossible.
I stare at the girl sitting between Dare and Calvin. There, in my chair. Behind my name tag. She’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. Where I need to be. But instead I’m in the audience, mute and invisible, and all the lights are on her.
And to my mounting horror, no one seems to realize that she isn’t me.