Summary: Alice attends the ball at Lythikos, finds a private moment with Bastien, and babysits a drunk friend.
Notes: I again used a lot of the original PB dialogue, but I bedazzled it a bit. Also, this section turned out far longer than I thought it would, but there’s smut in there! I promise!
New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 , Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12
“Wow…” Alice said softly as she entered the Lythikos ballroom on Maxwell’s arm. The whole room was bathed in a glittery elegance like the snow itself and the soft lighting made her feel like she was inside of a dream.
“Yeah,” Maxwell agreed. “Olivia really goes all out. She might be a lot of things, but one of those happens to be a great party planner.” He glanced over at her. “Hana’s dress really looks good on you.”
“Thanks,” Alice said with a smile as she glanced down at herself. The dress was white with a plunging neckline and although she’d initially worried it looked too summery, Hana had assured her it would be fine as she added a white fur stole around Alice’s shoulders. “Is everything okay with you though? You seem…I don’t know. Off.”
“Tonight, I’m representing the Duchy of Ramsford at this important social event,” Maxwell said, sounding a little nervous.
“That sounds like something Bertrand would say.”
“He’s been calling me all night to remind me,” Maxwell said. “I just don’t want to let him down, you know?”
“Maxwell, I wouldn’t worry if I were you,” Alice said, giving his arm a friendly squeeze. “Despite the fact that you don’t know how to knock on a door to save your life, I’d say you’re an excellent representative for House Beaumont.”
“I said I was sorry!” Maxwell said, his face turning bright red as they joined Drake and Hana near the edge of the dance floor.
“Sorry for what?” Drake asked as he took a sip of whiskey.
“Nothing,” Maxwell said quickly, but Alice laughed.
“Maxwell accidentally burst into my room while I was getting ready for tonight and…well, let’s just say he saw more than he bargained for,” Alice explained.
Drake nearly choked on his whiskey and Hana laughed. “Maxwell, I’m so sorry, I’m not laughing at you,” she said between giggles.
“It was an accident!” Maxwell protested.
“Maxwell, I’m not mad, I thought it was funny,” Alice assured him. “I know you weren’t trying to be creepy, you’re just…enthusiastic.”
“Ooh, look!” Hana exclaimed, trying to divert the conversation and save Maxwell from further embarrassment. “Olivia hired a full orchestra to play for tonight!”
Maxwell looked at her gratefully. “I’ve heard you’re quite the musician yourself, Hana.”
“Oh, no, I’m not,” Hana said quickly as Alice raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit,” Alice said. “What do you play?”
“I heard you were a virtuoso pianist,” Maxwell said.
“Really?” Drake asked, intrigued. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“I still play from time to time, but only for fun,” Hana said modestly.
“I’d love to hear you play sometime,” Alice said.
“Hey, remember when Maxwell walked in on Alice when she was naked?” Hana asked, changing the subject. Alice laughed as Maxwell turned bright red and Drake coughed on his whiskey again.
“Drake, do we need to get you a sippy cup for that?” Alice asked, pointing to his glass.
“No, I’m fine, I…um, excuse me,” he said, turning and heading towards the bar.
“We should find our seats,” Maxwell said, glancing around at the tables with their engraved namecards. Alice felt her phone buzz in her clutch and as Maxwell left to investigate the seating arrangements, she checked her text messages.
Why does Maxwell look like he’s about to throw up?
Alice grinned and texted Bastien back. He accidentally walked in on me while I was getting ready for tonight and we keep teasing him about it
That kid really needs to learn how to knock…
It’s okay, I don’t think he’s ever going to open a door without knocking ever again
Maxwell returned and Alice tucked her phone back in her clutch. “Where are we sitting?”
“About that…” Maxwell said. “Turns out, I’m sitting at the head table with Olivia and Liam, but you and Hana are at the farthest table in the back. I’m guessing Olivia was in charge of the seating plan.”
Alice snorted. “Shocked. I’m shocked,” she said sarcastically. “Whatever, I’m just glad she hasn’t tried to lock me in my room or something.”
“Does your door even have a lock?” Hana asked. “You should look into that…”
“Okay, um, do you two want me to escort you to your table? Because I think I’d rather go die of embarrassment somewhere else,” Maxwell said.
Hana grinned apologetically at him. “I’m sorry! The joke was right there, I couldn’t pass it up.”
“You’re rubbing off on her,” Maxwell said with a smile as he pointed an accusatory finger at Alice, who shrugged.
“Sorry, not sorry,” Alice said. “Shall we?” she asked Hana, offering her arm. Hana looped her arm through Alice’s and the two women headed to their table in the back of the room.
“Wow, Maxwell wasn’t kidding, we are in Siberia,” Alice said when they reached it.
“Welcome to the table of exiles,” Drake said from his seat.
“Glad to be here,” Alice said as she and Hana took their seats on either side of him. “I’m relieved to see someone else I know.”
“It’s probably meant to be an even bigger slight that we’re seated with a commoner,” Hana said.
“Well, joke’s on her,” Alice said. “If she really wanted to punish me, she would’ve sat me next to–”
“Lady Alice Ayers,” Tariq said smoothly as he sat beside her. “What a lovely surprise.”
God dammit, Olivia is good.
“Unfortunately, I can’t say the same,” Alice said with a polite smile. Tariq chuckled.
“It seems like fate keeps bringing us together,” he said as he draped an arm across the back of her chair. Drake narrowed his eyes at Tariq over Alice’s shoulder.
“Tariq, I suggest you get your arm off of my chair before I stab you in the leg with my fork,” Alice said evenly.
“Oh, come on, there’s no need for that,” Tariq said as he put his other hand on her knee.
“The lady asked you to get your arm off of her chair,” Drake said, his voice low.
“You know what, Drake, why don’t you–” Tariq started to say but before he could finish, Alice calmly reached for her fork and jabbed it into his thigh, making him yelp and nearly fall out of his chair.
“What the fuck?!” he exclaimed, drawing the attention of several nearby tables.
“Leg cramps are serious business,” Alice said calmly as she set down her fork. “You should really see someone about that.”
“You’ll be sorry you did that,” Tariq glowered as he checked his pants for holes, but found none.
“Did what?” Hana asked innocently. “All she did was recommend you see someone about that leg cramp.”
“Very helpful, actually,” Drake added with a smug smile.
“Excuse me, Lady Alice?”
Alice looked over her shoulder and had to hold her smile in check when she saw it was Bastien.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but you have an urgent message,” he said. “If you’ll just come with me…”
“Of course,” Alice said, rising to her feet. “Drake, would you mind requesting a new fork for me from one of the servers? The one I have needs to be disinfected.”
She calmly followed Bastien out of the ballroom and into a nearby study. Bastien quickly surveyed the room to ensure they were alone before he locked the door behind them.
“What happened out there?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
“Tariq put his hand on my leg when I told him not to touch me, so I stabbed him in the leg with my fork,” she said. “It’s not a big deal, I didn’t even break the skin.”
Bastien’s face went dark with anger and he glanced away from her, balling his hands into fists.
“Bas, I’m fine, really,” she reassured him. “I’ve dealt with guys like him before.”
“Is that supposed to make me okay with the fact that he keeps harassing you?”
“No, I just don’t want you to worry.”
“Alice, we’re way past that point aren’t we?” he asked, his voice softening. “Of course I’m going to worry.”
“Yes, but if we’re trying to be discreet, you can’t exactly come running across the ballroom everytime Tariq does something creepy,” Alice pointed out. “Especially when you’re supposed to be watching Liam and Olivia put us on opposite sides of the room. As it is, coming to get me like this was a risk.”
“I know, you’re right,” Bastien said. “I just hate seeing anyone treat you like that.”
Alice took his face in her hands and kissed him softly. “I know. But I’m okay, I promise.”
Bastien wrapped her in a tight hug and she let her eyes close for a moment, breathing in his comforting scent. Finally, he released her again.
“Alright, we should both go back out there,” he said. He paused, looking her up and down from head to toe. “You look like a Greek goddess in that dress.”
“Thank you,” Alice said as she reached for the door, unlocking it. A wicked grin spread across her face. “Do you know what my favorite part is?”
Bastien eyed her suspiciously. “What?”
She leaned close to him. “I’m not wearing anything underneath it,” she whispered in his ear before she opened the door and left him alone in the study. She’d nearly reached her table again when her phone buzzed. Alice pulled it out and read the quote from Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns:
“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”
It took all of her restraint not to run back to the study.
After dinner, Olivia made her way towards the band to make an announcement into the microphone.
“Hello, everyone,” Olivia said with a benevolent smile on her face. “Thank you so much for joining me at the Nevrakis family chateau. It means so much to me that you would join me in this place that’s so dear to my heart and I hope you enjoy the festivities tonight as much as I will.” The crowd clapped politely and Olivia smiled, waiting for the applause to die down. “Now, everyone, please join me up front to begin the Cordonian Waltz.”
Alice and Hana rose to their feet but Drake remained in his seat.
“Aren’t you coming?” Hana asked.
“Waltzing isn’t really my thing,” Drake said. “Besides, I think it’s about time for a refill of my drink…”
“I think they switched over to just wine and champagne,” Hana said, glancing over at the bar.
“In that case, that’s my cue to go find the Olivia’s wine cellar,” Drake said. “That’s where she keeps the good stuff. See you all later.” With that, he got up and left the ballroom while Alice and Hana headed for the dance floor.
“Lady Alice,” Maxwell said with a slight bow as he joined them. “Would you care to dance?”
Alice curtsied and smiled. “Lord Beaumont, I’d be honored.”
Maxwell grinned and led her onto the dance floor near where Liam and Olivia were partnered together. Alice put her hand on his shoulder while he puth is on his waist and she couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder at Bastien.
“Oh my god!” Maxwell exclaimed. “Wait a second, do you even know the Cordonian Waltz? Oh my god, I can’t believe I forgot to tell you about this, Bertrand is going to kill me…”
“Hey, it’s fine!” Alice assured him. “Drake gave me a heads up about the waltz yesterday, everything’s okay,” she said, carefully omitting who taught her.
Maxwell breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Oh thank god. I can’t believe I forgot to tell you.” His face fell a little. “Bertrand never would have forgotten.”
“Yes, but if he were here, I’d be stuck dancing with him, and we’d be having much less fun,” Alice pointed out. “I like Bertrand, but you’re a much better partner in crime at parties.”
Maxwell brightened a little. “Thanks, Alice.”
The music picked up and the couples around them began the waltz. Maxwell stepped forward, pressing slightly on her hand, and Alice stepped backwards, allowing him to lead her in a graceful glide down the length of the room.
“Very nice,” Maxwell said, impressed. “I had no idea you could dance.”
“I’m full of surprises.” Not all of them good, she thought guiltily. Focus. I have to focus.
Maxwell grasped her hands and spun her in time to the waltz. Alice remembered what Bastien said about spotting and she intended to use Maxwell as her fixed point, but instead she found herself looking at Bastien. His eyes never left her as she spun and she nearly forgot what she was doing, recovering just in time.
“What are you looking at?” Maxwell asked when they returned to the box step.
“Just spotting so I don’t get dizzy,” she said, evading his question. Maxwell glanced over his shoulder and saw Liam and Olivia behind him. He smiled as he looked back at Alice.
“I don’t blame you for using Liam as a fixed point,” he said with a conspiratorial grin. Alice smiled back. I’m definitely going to hell for this.
Maxwell twirled Alice until she was facing away from him and they swayed together to the music. She thought about dancing with Bastien the night before, his lips brushing her neck as he pressed her to his chest. Focus, dammit, focus!
“Time to switch partners,” Maxwell whispered as he twirled her back around to face him. “Good luck!”
On the next strain of the waltz, Maxwell urged her forward and she found herself in Liam’s arms.
“Why, hello there,” Liam said with a beaming smile.
“Fancy running into you here.”
“You mean, on the dance floor of a private ball during a choreographed waltz?” Liam teased.
“Yes, I mean, what are the odds?” Alice asked as Liam began to lead her through the steps.
“You look gorgeous, as always,” Liam said, a slight blush tinting his cheeks. “I’m sorry I haven’t seen much of you lately. Olivia is the hostess so she’s required more of my attention, and I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t spend time with all of the women here. I spend all of these events rushing from person to person, trying to say the right things and keep all the nobles happy.”
“Liam, please, it’s okay,” Alice assured him. “I totally get it. That’s a lot to have to worry about.”
“I think I worry too much sometimes,” he said. “At night, I find myself lying awake for hours, unable to sleep. There’s just so much to consider, I feel like I never get a break.”
Alice squeezed his shoulder sympathetically before glancing over at Olivia, who was dancing with a noble Alice didn’t recognize. “On the bright side, it must be nice to spend time with Olivia in her element.”
“It is,” he said carefully. “She’s a good friend.”
“I mean, possibly more, right?” Alice asked. “She’s a suitor, after all. And she does throw a very impressive party, I have to hand it to her.”
Liam led her into the twirl and held her against him as they moved to the music. Alice glanced over at Bastien in time to see him avert his eyes and her heart cracked, just a little.
“Alice…” Liam said quietly, his mouth near her ear. “You should know…you’re special to me. I don’t want you to worry about Olivia.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
“That’s very sweet of you to say,” Alice said gently as he Liam twirled her around to face him again. “But I want to make sure you…make an informed decision. There are a lot of women here who are well-versed in courtly life and could really be strong partners for you.”
Liam sighed. “You’re right, I know you are. There are a lot of factors to consider…never mind how I might feel.” He paused. “Alice, I–” he started but before he could finish, Olivia joined them.
“Excuse me, Lady Alice, I believe he’s my partner now,” Olivia said, her smile cold as she glared at Alice.
“Of course,” Alice said with a genial smile, relieved at the interruption, before she rejoined Maxwell in the waltz.
“That looked like it went well!” Maxwell said with a hopeful smile. “Watching the two of you together…I can tell that Liam cares for you a lot.”
Alice hesitated. “Liam is very—what?” she asked, noticing Maxwell’s face suddenly go slack with surprise. She turned to follow his gaze just in time to see Olivia lean in close to Liam and kiss him deeply on the dance floor. After a long moment, Liam gently pulls away.
“Olivia…could we perhaps talk for a moment? Maybe outside?” he asked quietly. She smiled at him, but Alice could see the worry creasing the corners of her eyes as Liam led her outside. The waltz ended and Maxwell bowed to Alice before leading her over towards the sidelines where the other suitors were talking in excited whispers about Olivia’s move.
“Well, that was a bold play…” Penelope said, looking shocked.
“Little Olivia is growing up. How sweet,” Madeleine said, sounding bored.
“Why aren’t you more upset?” Kiara asked, turning to Alice. “You don’t seemed threatened at all.”
“Why should I be?” Alice asked.
“For once, I agree with Lady Alice,” Madeleine said. “Ostentatious displays are for those who are either unrefined or insecure. I am neither.”
“That’s not what I–” Alice started to say, but was interrupted by Penelope.
“We always knew that she and the prince were close,” she said.
“It was a power move, if you ask me,” Kiara said grumpily.
“Perhaps she was just…I don’t know, living in the moment,” Hana offered.
Madeleine snorted derisively. “What do you know about living in the moment, Hana?”
Alice narrowed her eyes. “You know what, Madeleine? You–”
“Excuse us, one moment,” Maxwell interrupted, grabbing Alice’s arm and tugging her away from the group.
“What?” Alice asked, annoyed.
“You can’t keep name calling the other suitors!” he hissed.
“I didn’t say anything that time!” Alice protested. Maxwell raised an eyebrow at her. “Okay, fine, maybe I was going to. But she had it coming.”
“Yes, she does, but today is not the day,” Maxwell said. “Look, we have a chance to play a little politics here. Kiara is clearly upset at Olivia’s display and she’s alone by the appetizers right now,” he said. “You should go try to get on her good side. If you can drive a wedge between her and Olivia, it might weaken Olivia’s position. And if Kara has good things to say about you, it’ll help your reputation at court.”
Alice considered this for a moment. She didn’t want to weaken Olivia’s position, but if she could get Kiara to boost her own reputation at court, that could in turn help the Beaumonts.
“Okay, fine, I’ll give it a shot,” she agreed.
“Great!” Maxwell exclaimed before lowering his voice. “But please don’t call anyone else a cunt tonight?”
Bastien paused on his way out of the ballroom to follow Liam and watched Alice walk across the ballroom to join Kiara. He hadn’t planned on stopping, but he couldn’t help it. He was completely transfixed by her, consumed by her, and he managed to only linger for a moment before doing his duty and heading outside.
However, that one, lingering moment did not go unnoticed by one pair of eyes in that ballroom.
“Excuse me, Lady Kiara.”
“Oh! Lady Alice,” Kiara said, surprised. “Comment ça va?”
“Ça va bien, merci,” Alice said. Kiara smiled, impressed.
“I didn’t know you speak French!”
“Well, you just heard most of it,” Alice admitted. “I took it in high school, but I haven’t had much reason to use it since then so I’ve lost most of it.”
“For what it’s worth, your accent is very good,” Kiara said. “Anyway, what can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to see if you’re okay,” Alice said. “You seemed kind of upset about Olivia and Liam.”
Kiara sighed, exasperated. “I can’t believe her. She wouldn’t have the guts to do that anywhere else. She’s gone mad with power here in Lythikos.” She paused, looking resigned. “But, to be fair, I guess she’s just doing what we’re all wishing we could do. If anything, I suppose I have to give her credit for pulling it off.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to like it,” Alice said with a shrug. “You can respect a strong move while still making moves of your own.”
Kiara eyed her with a small smile. “Are you proposing an alliance?”
Kiara considered this. “I wouldn’t normally entertain the idea, but you are fitting in remarkably well, especially as an outsider to court. You certainly look like you could be an important ally.”
“I’m also a very supportive friend,” Alice said. “Other…friendships…can be a one-way street. Why should you always let someone else get their way at your own expense?”
“You do make a fair point,” Kiara agreed.
“We all need someone to speak well of us,” Alice continued. “We can help each other out.”
Kiara nodded. “I suppose we could both benefit from a little well-placed support here and there.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Alice said, hoping she sounded more like Tyrion Lannister than Petyr Baelish. Kiara smiled at her.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should mingle a bit more. But I’m glad we had this chat,” Kiara said. And with that, she headed off into the crowd. Out of the corner of her eye, Alice saw Liam return, but noticed Olivia was not with him. That’s not good, she thought, wincing slightly. Liam surveyed the room and Alice slowly edged into the crowd in case he was looking for her. A moment later, her phone buzzed.
If you can get away without being noticed, I’ll be in the study.
Alice put her phone away, trying to keep her face even. She slowly made her way through the crowd and headed towards the door. Alice paused, turning to casually survey the room, but no one was paying attention to her. Even Maxwell was on the dance floor with Hana, leaving her to her own devices. She waited a few more minutes before slipping out of the room, undetected.
When Alice entered the study and carefully locked the door behind her, she was pleased to see Bastien sitting behind the desk on the far side of the room. He was focused intently on a book in his hands, but he looked up and closed it when she entered.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Alice asked as she crossed the room.
“Not at all,” Bastien said as he set the book down on the desk. Sexus by Henry Miller.
“Have you read that before?” she asked, gesturing to the book. He nodded.
“It’s been a while though. It’s one of those books that I keep meaning to re-read, but I never get around to it.” He reached up and pulled her down onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her. “There are always…distractions.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, should I leave you to your reading?” she asked. She moved to stand but Bastien grinned and held on tighter.
“Don’t you dare,” he said cupping her face and tilting it to his so he could kiss her.
Their kisses grew deeper, leaving them both breathless. Bastien trailed his lips down her throat as his hands roamed her body, her fingers embedded in his hair.
“Sit on the desk,” he murmured in her ear.
Alice slowly rose off of his lap and sat before him on the desk. He met her gaze and held it as he picked up her feet one by one, placing her heels on the arms of the chair in which he sat. Then he slowly began to lift the fabric of her gown higher and higher, pulling it around her waist. He finally looked down from her eyes and sucked in a sharp breath.
“You weren’t kidding about not wearing anything underneath,” he said as he placed a gentle kiss on the inside of her knee.
“Why would I lie about something as important as that?” she asked. “Is that why you wanted me to meet you now instead of later?”
“In addition to, not instead of,” he said, his breath warm on her skin as he slowly kissed his way higher and higher up her leg. When he reached her apex, he slowly licked her damp folds with a flat tongue, reveling in the way she reacted to his touch. “But yes, that might have had something to do with it.”
Bastien teased her with his tongue again, parting her lips, but just barely, eliciting a soft moan from her. He stood up and leaned in to kiss her as his fingers brushed her entrance.
“Remember,” he whispered, “you have to be very quiet. He slipped a finger inside of her and she bit her lip, but stayed quiet. “Good girl.”
He sat down again, sliding the chair forward as he tugged her hips a little closer to the edge of the desk. Bastien couldn’t tease her anymore, couldn’t wait. He buried his face between her legs, intoxicated by the taste of her. His tongue danced around and around her as he gripped her hips, pinning her to his mouth. He could hear the shift in her breathing and he responded to each hitch of pleasure, following her body’s movements.
Bastien knew she was close, her hips bucking beneath his ministrations. He gripped her hips and sucked on her clit as she ground her hips against him, pushing her further and further until he pleasure crescendoed. He heard her clap a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out as her body undulated under his mouth, consumed by her climax. Bastien didn’t let her go, continuing to caress her with his tongue as he slid two fingers inside her, slick with desire. Alice stifled another moan as she collapsed back on the desk, her shoulders arching off the polished wood.
Finally he released her, sliding his fingers out of her before sucking them clean and placing gentle kisses along the tender, sensitive flesh of her thighs. Bastien stood up, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand as he gazed down at Alice, flushed and breathing hard on the desk. He smiled down at her and she looked at him, carefully pushing herself up into a sitting position.
“I need you,” she whispered, tugging him closer by the waistband of his pants.
“I don’t think we have time…” Bastien said as she fumbled with his belt, although he didn’t stop her. Alice unzipped his pants and slid a hand inside, grasping at his fully erect cock. He groaned softly, involuntarily bucking into her hand.
“Then make it fast,” she breathed as she massaged his hard length. “I can’t wait until later.”
Bastien fished a condom out of his pocket and Alice yanked down his pants, his cock springing free, as he ripped open the wrapper. He rolled the condom on and lined himself up with her entrance. He paused, hands on her hips, and Alice curled her hand around the back of his neck, teeth grazing his earlobe.
“Dorian, please,” she begged.
He captured her lips in a bruising kiss before he thrust into her, her gasp disappearing on his tongue. Bastien gave her a moment to adjust before he began to move in and out of her, hard and fast. Alice clung to him and he could feel her nails across his back, even through his suit jacket. He kept one hand on the small of her back, holding her close, but he slipped the other between them, his skilled fingers teasing her sensitive clit. She moaned against his kiss at his touch.
He felt her flutter around him and he kissed her, hard, swallowing her cries of pleasure as she came and he pounded into her.
“Come for me, baby,” she gasped as his thrusts grew sloppier, more erratic as he neared his own climax. The sound of her voice in his ear sent him over the edge and he came, hard, his fingers dragging across the soft skin of her hips.
“Fuck…” he said, resting his sweaty temple against hers. He tilted her face towards his and kissed her deeply, his hands trailing down from her jaw to her throat and beyond, tracing the plunging neckline of her dress. Regretfully, he pulled away from her and removed the condom, tossing it into the small trash can under the desk before he pulled up his pants. Alice straightened her dress and stood up on shaking legs, steadying herself on the desk.
“You okay?” Bastien asked with a smug grin.
“Never better.” She walked over to a mirror near the door to check her makeup and was a little shocked see her reflection. Her face was flushed, hair drooping from its multitude of pins, makeup in disarray. Alice leaned forward, trying to clear the smudges of eyeliner from under her eyes with the sides of her fingers. “Wow, I look like a mess.”
Bastien walked up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck as he met her gaze in the mirror. “No,” he said, “you look like a woman who’s been fucked good and hard by someone who knows what they’re doing.”
After composing herself and waiting a few minutes after Bastien left, Alice snuck out of the study, thankful that the hallway was empty. The ball had nearly come to a close with most of the guests retired for the evening. However, she noticed Liam still talking to Kiara and Penelope, so she ducked out of the ballroom and headed towards the stairs. The main staircase was mostly dark, but before Alice could go up more than a couple steps, she heard the sound of glass breaking. She paused and turned, looking for the source of the noise. At first she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but then she noticed a door was slightly ajar, yellow light leaking from the crack. Alice hesitated, then walked back down and headed over to investigate.
When she opened the door, she was surprised to find a spiral staircase. Alice took a few tentative steps down. “Hello? Is someone in here?”
“No!” a familiar voice called back with the lazy enunciation of the intoxicated. Alice sighed and continued down the stairs.
“Ayers! What are you doing here?” Drake asked from where he sat on the floor, broken glass and spilled whiskey in front of him.
“I thought you said no one was in here,” she said.
“Maybe I’m a ghost,” he said before bursting into giggles.
“What happened?” Alice asked, pointing at the broken glass.
“My glass might have…jumped out of my hand.”
“Maybe it was a ghost.”
Drake laughed. “You’re funny. I don’t think you get enough credit for being funny.”
“I didn’t think I was being graded,” she said, crouching down by him as she carefully reached for the broken glass. “Here, let me.”
“No, I got it, I can do it,” he protested, his words slurring.
“I’m sure you can, but I’m sober and you’re not, so why not let me be in charge of the sharp objects?” Alice said as she collected glass. “You didn’t cut yourself, did you?”
“Uh-uh,” he said, checking his hands. “And I only spilled the one glass, I didn’t break the bottle.”
Alice glanced around the room before returning her attention to the glass. “That’s good, at least. I don’t think anything in here is worth less than a thousand dollars a bottle.”
“Nope,” Drake agreed as he hauled himself to his feet. Alice eyed him warily, but he stayed steady enough to sit down heavily in a chair at a nearby tasting table. “Not Olivia’s style.”
Alice stood and carefully carried the glass to a nearby trash can before she returned, examining the ground carefully.
“You don’t have to clean up after me,” Drake said.
“I know, but I don’t want to leave any glass on the floor,” Alice said. She carefully picked up a few more tiny pieces with the pad of her finger.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Drake said as he reached for a new glass and poured a sloppy portion of whiskey into it. “You won’t ever have to clean anything again.”
“Everyone has to clean up after themselves,” Alice said absently, only half-listening to him.
“Not when you’re the queen.”
Alice’s ears pricked at his statement, but she kept her voice light. “Liam won’t necessarily pick me.”
Drake snorted. “Of course he will.”
“A choice like that has to go both ways,” Alice said without thinking. She bit her tongue, hard. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Drake looked at her, trying to focus on her.
“Are you saying you don’t want to marry Liam?” Drake asked.
“I’m not saying anything,” Alice said as she brushed the glass from her hands. “Okay, come on, let’s go.”
“Go where?” Drake asked, confused.
“You need to go to bed,” Alice said, motioning for him to stand up.
“But I don’t wanna go to bed,” he protested. “I still have this,” he added, holding up his glass.
“I’ll save it for you, I promise,” she said, taking the glass from him and setting it down. “Come on.”
Drake stood up and allowed Alice to lead him over to the stairs.
“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the staircase with a flourish.
“I’d rather you go first, I don’t trust your balance,” Alice said. Drake rolled his eyes, but did as she said.
“Whoa…” he teased, holding onto the handrails as he leaned backwards.
“Hey, knock it off,” Alice scolded, busting out her best “bar’s closed, get out” tone. He laughed and continued up the stairs with Alice following close behind.
Once out of the wine cellar, Drake managed to navigate her in the direction of his bedroom. By the time they reached his door, Drake was leaning heavily on Alice as she tried to prop him up long enough to turn the door handle.
“You’re nice for doing this,” Drake said as she managed to kick open the door and half-drag him inside and flip on the lights. “Liam needs someone nice.”
“We all need nice people,” Alice agreed, leading him over to bed. She tried to maneuver him so he was sitting on the edge of the bed, but only succeeded on flopping him onto the mattress.
“Is the room supposed to move?” he asked with a groan as Alice knelt down to remove his hoes.
“Only on really special occasions,” she said, setting the shoes aside. “Okay, come on, I need you to put your head on the pillow.” Drake dragged himself around on the bed until his head was on the pillow. “Good, now roll over onto your side.”
He did so and looked at her. “You know why Liam needs someone nice like you?”
“Why?” Alice asked as she found a small trash can and brought it over beside the bed.
“Because everybody just uses him,” Drake mumbled as he closed his eyes. Alice started, guilt stabbing at her gut.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Drake opened his eyes again and tried to focus on her. “You remember Liam’s bachelor party?”
“We found out someone was trying to sell pictures to the tabloids,” Drake said, his face half-smushed into the pillow.
“What kind of pictures?” Alice asked, brow furrowed. “You guys seemed pretty tame.”
“Dunno,” Drake mumbled. “Bastien just sent me a message that he was able to buy the photos back before they were printed.”
Alice felt an uncomfortable sensation slide down her spine. Why hadn’t Bastien told her about the photos? If they were from the bachelor party then she was probably in some; why would he keep that from her?
“What was in the photos?” she asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Drake said. “You know how tabloids are. If Liam is holding a drink, suddenly the crown prince of Cordonia is a raging drunk.”
“Please, anyone who knows Liam knows he’s not on your level.”
Drake barked a laugh. “No, he’s not. But the big part was the pictures of you and Liam together.”
Once again, Alice didn’t like the feeling she got. “What pictures? We talked, he walked me home…no big deal.”
“You were talking and he’s obviously interested in you,” Drake muttered into his pillow. “That’s enough for gossip rags. What did Bastien say that headline was…oh, right, ‘Prince Liam’s Drunken Fling Before the Ring.’”
“And you don’t know who did this?” Alice asked. She hesitated, then added, “Does Bastien know?”
“Huh-uh,” Drake said. “I hope it wasn’t one of the guys…the kind of pictures they had would’ve been hard to take without being one of us.”
“Maybe someone’s phone got hacked,” Alice suggested.
“Maybe your phone got hacked,” Drake mumbled, chuckling at his own joke.
“Okay, I think you’re all set here,” Alice said. “I’ll get you a glass of water and put it on the nightstand for you in case you want it.”
Drake mumbled what sounded like a thank you and Alice headed into his bathroom to retrieve a glass. She filled it at the tap and by the time she returned, Drake’s eyes were closed. She quietly set down the glass and turned to leave when she felt Drake take her hand.
“You’re nice,” he mumbled without opening his eyes. “Liam is really, really lucky.”
Alice gently let go of Drake’s hand and set it on the bed. He didn’t stir, so she left, careful to turn off the light and shut the door behind her.
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