We are so excited to bring you this exclusive excerpt from Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick!
About Playing the Palace:
When a lonely American event planner starts dating the gay Prince of Wales, a royal uproar ensues: is it true love or the ultimate meme? Find out in this hilarious romantic comedy.
After having his heart trampled on by his cheating ex, Carter Ogden is afraid love just isn’t in the cards for him. He still holds out hope in a tiny corner of his heart, but even in his wildest dreams he never thought he’d meet the Crown Prince of England, much less do a lot more with him. Yes, growing up he’d fantasized about the handsome, openly gay Prince Edgar, but who hadn’t? When they meet by chance at an event Carter’s boss is organizing, Carter’s sure he imagined all that sizzling chemistry. Or was it mutual?
This unlikely but meant-to-be romance sets off media fireworks on both sides of the Atlantic. With everyone having an opinion on their relationship and the intense pressure of being constantly in the spotlight, Carter finds ferocious obstacles to his Happily Ever After, including the tenacious disapproval of the Queen of England. Carter and Price Edgar fight for a happy ending to equal their glorious international beginning. It’s a match made on Valentine’s Day and in tabloid heaven.
After arriving in New York I’d interned in a publicist’s office, I’d written mini-reviews of sex toys and lubricants for a website called ManBatter.com, I’d bartended in Broadway theaters, having to defend the obscenely expensive cocktails on the grounds that they’re poured into sippy cups; I’d worked almost salary-free at a startup dedicated to renting scrupulously laundered luxury bed linens, which remained an off-putting and unsuccessful concept; I’d had fun as a rich lady’s social secretary until her accountant had advised her to economize, so she’d fired me, and I’d walked dogs, delivered sustainable floral arrangements (made from newsprint and recycled plastic bags), taught Slow Pilates to seniors, and eventually began to worry that I was drifting, embarrassing my family and coming dangerously close to moving to California, as if that was a career.
I’d met Cassandra while cater-waitering at one of her events; I’d been unable to resist rearranging a stack of glowing, lit-from-within Lucite cubes into an impromptu Christmas tree, and she’d been impressed and hired me. I’d learned the ever-shifting basics of event planning: interviewing clients to coax out their must-haves; drafting sketches and building three-dimensional models; combing the city for quirky DJs, inventive chefs and off-duty acrobats; in short, applying my imagination to every occasion. I’d soon realized that event planning is pure theater and that if I put my mind to it, I could surprise and delight people who were dreading a conference or reunion or Midtown fountain pen trade show. My favorite moment is always overhearing a guest comment, “I can’t believe it, but I’m actually having a great time!”
Today’s event was a press conference for the Royal Clean Water Initiative, a charitable organization devoted to providing drinkable water to the over a third of the world’s population that lacked such a necessity. Most of our team’s work entailed filling the stage with a podium, a sound system and restrained floral design. So all of this wouldn’t remind guests of a funeral, I’d commissioned, as a backdrop, a series of shimmering floor-to-ceiling acrylic panels, which, when layered and ingeniously lit, appeared to be a glistening, tumbling waterfall, flanked by photo blowups of Prince Edgar, who’d visited over thirty countries helping to dig wells, construct pipelines and bring global attention to his signature cause.
I’m not going to talk about Prince Edgar, because I hate his guts, since he’s perfection itself. I hate him because when I was little and I’d smear ice cream on my striped T-shirt, my parents would inevitably ask, “Why can’t you behave yourself, like that Prince Edgar, who’s always such a gentleman?”
I hate Prince Edgar because he’s almost exactly my age and has never had, as far as I can tell, a blemish, an awkwardly timed fart, a cataclysmic breakup or not just a bad hair day but even a bad hair moment. I hate him because he’s openly gay, which means every queer man in the world fantasizes, even if they won’t admit it, that Edgar’s their boyfriend or husband or secret when-he’s-in-town fuck buddy. There aren’t that many out dreamboats on such an international level; when seeking mass-media swoon material, gay men will sometimes insist that various movie or pop stars are actually gay, as if collective gossip is a form of conversion therapy.
I hate Prince Edgar because, as I stood atop the cherry picker and adjusted a banner, which pictured His Royal Perfection in a tux at a previous summit, I knew one thing for sure: I was the total opposite of Prince Edgar and I seriously wanted to slap his photo or have sex with it. But instead I signaled Mikaela to lower the cherry picker and I told the team they’d all done an awesome job and had earned a longer lunch break and could clear out, as the United Nations staff would be running the event itself.
I stayed behind to fulfill Cassandra’s most unbreakable edict, which was humiliating but at least could be done without anyone watching. Cassandra had a bizarre, we-are-all-one, zen-consciousness streak, which was Cassandra combining her daily-horoscope superstitions, her rampant OCD and her needing the constant intuition that she’d pleased and befriended Marie Kondo, Martha Stewart, Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow.
I stood in the amphitheater’s wide center aisle and faced the stage. Everything looked good: symmetrical, dust-free and inviting. I shut my eyes and spoke Cassandra’s Gratitude Prayer, which she stipulated I recite aloud, because “otherwise the universal hive-sensors will know you’re cheating.” But I kept the volume at a respectable level to avoid security guards rushing in and asking, “Who the hell are you talking to?”
“I am thankful for the freshness of the forsythia and the on-time delivery of all products and services. I salute the impact and grace of this event, and I bring an intersectional awareness to this day, along with providing flattering side lighting, basic but attractive stemware and effective signage. I am blessed and I bless in return.”
I clapped my hands briskly three times over my head, offered three joyful shouts, and tried not to kill myself as I heard, in a distinctly English accent, “Are you all right?”
From PLAYING THE PALACE published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Paul Rudnick.
About the Author:
Paul Rudnick is a novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter, whom The New York Times has called “one of our preeminent humorists.” Rudnick is writing the book for a Broadway musical adaptation of Devil Wears Prada in collaboration with Elton John. He wrote the script for the recent HBO special Coastal Elites, a socially-distanced film about the COVID-19 pandemic, staring Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, and Sarah Paulson.