Summary: Alice asks Bastien about the bachelor party photos and prepares to race in the regatta after a surprising announcement.
Notes: I again used a lot of the original PB dialogue, but I bedazzled it a bit.
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, Part 13
When Alice knocked on Bastien’s door, she didn’t feel the same giddy anticipation she usually did. She couldn’t stop thinking about what Drake had told her about the bachelor party photos–how long had Bastien known about them? Why hadn’t he said anything to her? These questions were running through her head when he opened the door, his pleased expression at seeing her falling as soon as he saw the look on her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I just…I need to ask you about something,” she said.
Bastien held open the door for her before closing it behind her. He led her over to the bed and they sat on his rumpled sheets, Alice crossing her legs as she faced him. She took a deep breath.
“I need to ask you about the bachelor party photos,” she said.
“What about them?”
She studied him. “You don’t seem surprised I know about them.”
“I am a little surprised, but also not,” he said. “How’d you hear about them?”
“Drake told me.”
Of course he did, Bastien thought. “So then you know I got them back.”
Alice nodded. “Yes, but…why didn’t you tell me about them?”
Bastien sighed. “Because of my role here, there are certain things I can’t discuss with you.”
“But you could tell Drake about the photos?”
“That wasn’t necessarily my choice,” Bastien said. “Liam had to know, and then he told Drake.”
“So then why send an update to Drake instead of Liam?”
“I contacted them both,” Bastien said. “I’ve known Drake since he was a kid and his dad and I were in the royal guard together.”
Alice nodded, briefly retreating into her own thoughts. Despite some of the nobles’ best efforts, she hadn’t truly felt like an outsider until this moment. She was a stranger, wandering into a whole group of people with their own histories and she was…what?
“Hey,” Bastien said as he reached over and took her hands. “I wasn’t trying to keep this from you. If the photos were going to come out, I would’ve told you, but I handled it.”
“I guess that’s something that you would’ve told me if I was going to be painted as some slutty waitress in the tabloids,” she said. “What was the headline? Prince Liam’s Drunken Fling Before the Ring?”
“I never would have let that happen,” Bastien said. “I didn’t let that happen.”
Alice looked down at their intertwined fingers. “I know, I just…god, I’m just realizing how in over my head I am here.”
“Alice, look at me.” She did as he said, her blue eyes meeting his gray ones. “I swear I will do everything I can to keep you safe.”
“Bastien, you can’t promise that,” she said softly. “What if there comes a time when you have to choose between your job and me?” He started to protest, but she stopped him. “I’m not trying to be dramatic here; I’m serious. You’ve been in Cordonia for your entire life, you’ve worked here for decades. I just showed up here a week ago; if it’s a question of loyalty, it’s not a contest.”
Bastien knew she was right, but not in the way she thought.
“Luckily, I don’t think you’re in danger of being an enemy of the state,” he joked weakly, squeezing her hands. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the photos. I’m used to being…single-minded when it comes to my job.” He swallowed. “But I want you to know that when it comes to you and me, I’m in this. Completely.”
Alice nodded. She was quiet for a long time, but Bastien waited patiently.
“Do you mind if I just lie down for a minute?” she finally asked. “I just feel really drained.”
Alice lay down on the bed, her head on the pillow. Bastien stood up and gently pulled the blankets over her before he lay down beside her. He hesitated, not sure if she wanted him to, but then he put an arm around her, pulling her back against his chest. She put her hand over his, threading their fingers, and Bastien slowly let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair, remembering a quote from Henry Miller: “To have her here in bed with me, breathing on me, her hair in my mouth–I count that as something of a miracle.” Could he really keep her safe? Were they just kidding themselves that this could work out? His position as the head of the royal guard awarded him a lot of power, but Bastien didn’t know if it’d be enough.
Alice rolled over, turning in his arms to face him. She brushed the hair off of his face, eyes roaming his face as if she was trying to memorize him.
“I’m not upset about the photos,” she said. “I mean, I was at first, but I get it. And you’re right, you took care of it. I’m just starting to realize what I’ve gotten myself into.”
“Do you regret coming to Cordonia?” Bastien asked, unsure of whether or not he really wanted to hear the reply, but she answered him immediately.
“No,” she said quickly. “I don’t regret it at all. I’m just…I don’t know. Honestly, I’m a little nervous. If someone from the bachelor party is willing to exploit Liam for their own gain, who’s to say I won’t end up as collateral damage in some other scheme?”
“I’ve got you,” Bastien said firmly.
Alice kissed him softly, wanting it to be true.
A few days later, Alice stood near the cars with Maxwell and some of the others as members of the Lythikos staff loaded everyone’s luggage into the trunks amidst a flurry of snowflakes falling from the sky.
“Looks like everyone’s just about ready,” Maxwell said.
“I can’t believe it’s time to go,” Olivia said, looking crestfallen. Her expression briefly reminded Alice of the other night after Liam asked Olivia to speak with him outside.
“Thank you so much for hosting us, Olivia,” Alice said kindly. “Your home is really beautiful and I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Olivia sniffed, composing herself quickly. “Of course you did.”
Christ, you are so hard to be nice to, Alice thought, restraining an eye roll.
“I’m ready to get back to somewhere a little warmer,” Kiara announced, tugging her jacket a little closer around her. Olivia narrowed her eyes and was about to say something, when Hana noticed and swooped into the conversation.
“Alice, are you excited for the Royal Regatta tomorrow?” Hana asked.
“The Royal Regatta?” Alice asked.
“That’s the ceremonial boat race, the next event for the social season,” Maxwell said. “You’ve been to a regatta before, right?”
“Uh…no, no I have not,” Alice said. Frankie was going to laugh when she told her about this.
“Really?” Maxwell asked, surprised. Alice just stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Right…I forgot you’re not from here. Anyway, we’re heading back to the royal palace and it’s going to be so fun! You’ll love it, I promise.”
Alice laughed. “You say that about every event we go to.”
“And have I been wrong yet?”
The morning of the Royal Regatta, Maxwell and Bertrand walked Alice back to her room after breakfast.
“I gotta say, it’s really nice to be back,” Maxwell said. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved our ski chateau adventure, but I’d rather hang out at a good beach party any day.”
“A beach party?” Alice asked. “I thought we were just watching a bunch of boats race.” Alice had texted Frankie about the regatta and ever since then, Frankie had been sending her nothing but “I’m on a boat” memes.
Bertrand snorted derisively.
“Oh, I’m sorry, do I not automatically know everything you’ve been raised to know since birth?” Alice asked Bertrand. “My deepest apologies, Your Grace. When can I expect the floggings to commence?”
“This morning we’re going to watch the boats race,” Maxwell explained quickly. “But then this afternoon, there’s a big beach party!”
Alice glanced over at Bertrand, who said nothing. “Seriously? All we’re getting are grunts today? You barely said anything at breakfast either.”
“Excuse me?” he asked, confused.
“At this point, you’d usually say something like ‘it’s not a beach party, it’s a dignified soiree’ or ‘don’t embarrass House Beaumont, waitress,’” Alice pointed out.
“He does say that, doesn’t he?” Maxwell teased, poking his brother who ignored him.
“I thought you were a bartender?” Bertrand asked, confused.
“Holy shit, you actually retained that?” Alice asked, jaw dropping with genuine shock. Bertrand grimaced at her cursing, but didn’t correct her.
“I suppose I’ve been distracted lately. I’ve been dealing with some complicated matters concerning our estate,” Bertrand said.
“Oh…I’m sorry to hear that,” Alice said, feeling like a bit of an ass. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Thank you, but no,” Bertrand said stiffly. “Just focus on the event today. The press will be there for the regatta and the more they like you, the better it reflects on House Beaumont.” He glanced at her outfit. “Is that what you’re planning on wearing today?”
“Judging by the way you’re looking at me right now, it seems stupid to say yes.”
“I think she looks good!” Maxwell interjected, smiling encouragingly at Alice.
“Regardless of Maxwell’s vote of confidence, you may want to wear something more seaworthy,” Bertrand said to Alice. “Not only will you be participating in the first race–”
“I’m sorry, I’m going to do what now?”
“–but the regatta is open to the public, so the press will take photos and interview you and it might behoove you to wear something less…” he paused, looking her up and down again, “…less like you.”
“Okay, we’re going to revisit that last comment in a second, but can we quickly sidebar and go back to the part where I’m racing?” Alice asked. “I’ve literally never been on a boat in my life.”
“Anytime a social season involves picking a royal bride, the first race of the regatta is traditionally one in which all the suitors participate. It’s mostly for show,” Bertrand explained.
“Yes, but you heard the part about how I’ve never been on a boat before, right?” Alice asked. “Even if it’s a no pressure, show pony kind of a race, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Oh, there’s definitely pressure,” Bertrand said. “The regatta is one of King Constantine’s favorite events. He bestows an honor upon the woman who wins the ceremonial race, so it’s an opportunity to get into his good graces.”
“Jesus, Bertrand, are you even listening to me? I’ve never been on a goddamn boat!” she practically shouted at him.
Bertrand glowered. “Lower your voice, I heard you the first time. I’ve commissioned a qualified crew to man your boat. All you have to worry about is looking good at the railing. You do know how to stand in one spot, correct?”
“Hey, Alice, why don’t we head down to the boutique?” Maxwell asked, casually stepping between her and his brother. “I can help you find something.”
“Sure, let’s go make me look nautical Barbie.”
Down in the boutique, Maxwell pulled together several options and practically shoved her into a dressing room. Alice tried on outfit after outfit until she finally found one that didn’t make her want to barf.
“How’s this?” Alice asked when she finally pulled back the curtain on the dressing room. She wore a striped top paired with navy blue shorts that were tied with a rope belt. “Do I look like the yacht club’s wet dream yet?”
“That’s not exactly how I’d put it, but yes! I was hoping you’d pick that one,” Maxwell said. “Ready to hit the high seas?”
“That’s the spirit,” Maxwell said, looping his arm through hers. “Let’s go!”
An hour later, Alice and the Beaumont brothers arrived at the marina where colorful, grandiose boats sailed through the water in celebration of the regatta.
“This is so great!” Maxwell exclaimed. “The weather is perfect.”
“Sun’s out, fun’s out,” Alice said absently as she glanced around the crowd that had already gathered.
“Please try to keep your sarcasm in check when the press is around,” Bertrand muttered.
“Worried I’m going to steal your public persona?” Alice asked.
“Just please remember that in a crowded venue like this, a photo can be taken at any time,” Bertrand warned her. “And trust me, the unflattering photos always generate more attention than the good ones.”
Alice remembered the bachelor party photos and her mood dampened a little. She wanted to look for Bastien, but she’d have to wait until later.
“And a word of advice…” Bertrand continued. “If the press corners you, be sure to hint that the prince likes you, but you don’t want to be obvious about it.”
“Got it,” Alice said. “We’re close, but not too close.” She knew she’d have no problem presenting that position to the press, but she wished she knew how to successfully convey that to Liam.
The trio made their way through the throngs of attendees and before long, they spotted Liam. He noticed Alice through the crowd and grinned as he made his way over. Alice didn’t want to notice, but Bastien wasn’t far away.
“Ah, the prince,” Bertrand said as Liam approached. “Maxwell and I will get the paperwork squared away. You go mingle. Our yacht will be docked at gate B.” Bertrand quickly took Maxwell’s elbow and led him away, just as Liam reached Alice.
“Alice, you look lovely as always,” he said with a grin as he leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek.
“Thank you,” Alice said. “I’m hoping the rope belt will be purely decorative and I won’t need it during the race.”
“Ah, yes, the ceremonial race. It’s an honor to be a part of the tradition of the Royal Regatta,” Liam said with mock seriousness. Alice smiled; he sounded like Bertrand.
“The tradition of rich people having private boats?” she asked.
Liam laughed. “Yes, that, too. The regatta is really symbolic. Since Cordonia isn’t very big, we don’t have many glorious battles as part of our identity…or, at least, we haven’t for several hundred years.”
“Right, I remember Maxwell telling me a little bit about Cordonia’s history,” Alice said. “The five kingdoms and the Iron Empire and all that.”
“Exactly!” Liam said with an appreciative smile. “More recently, we had a bit of a…we’ll say defining moment. When a storm ravaged our neighbors across the sea, Cordonians responded by manning every available boat to bring humanitarian supplies to the devastated area.”
“That’s amazing,” Alice said. “I had no idea Cordonia was so involved with aid.”
Liam nodded proudly. “It was one of our finest hours. So, this regatta symbolizes the generosity of the Cordonians and the strong bonds we’ve forged with our neighbors.”
“I’m honored to participate,” Alice said truthfully.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s still an element of celebrating rich people owning private boats,” Liam said with a smile. “But I like to think that having an annual event like this reminds people of its origins in the hopes it’ll encourage further generosity.”
Alice studied him for a moment. “I like that you always try to see the best in people.”
Liam shrugged. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“No, they don’t,” Alice said. “Trust me, if you work in the service industry long enough, you become convinced most people are a plague. It’s refreshing to talk to someone who isn’t jaded.” She paused. “I have to ask you though…are you enjoying yourself? I’ve been a little worried about you since you told me you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“It’s a beautiful day, the staff has been well-prepared, and we’re ready to celebrate our fine seafaring tradition,” Liam said, his response sounding a little like the freshness had been cooked out of his words. “My father in particular seems in high spirits. But he always loves this event.”
“That’s all well and good, but you didn’t answer my question and you stopped smiling. What’s wrong?”
“Well…” Liam hesitated. “My father loves the regatta so much and I’ve never had the heart to tell him that I hate sailing. Well, i used to enjoy sailing, but one experience soured me on it.”
“Once, when Drake and I were young, we snuck out with one of the royal sloops.”
“And a sloop is…a boat?” Alice asked hesitantly. Liam chuckled.
“I’m guessing you’re not a boat person,” he said. Alice shook her head.
“No, but go on with your story.”
“Anyway, the weather was sunny when we left, but it quickly turned gray and windy by the time we were a few kilometers out. We probably could’ve managed if we’d been more experienced, but the choppy waters capsized our boat.”
“Oh my god!” Alice exclaimed.
“I mean, spoiler alert, we both lived,” Liam said with a smile, causing Alice to swat his arm. “We had to swim back to shore and I’m honestly not sure which was worse, the cold or the taste of saltwater. Even worse, we had to push the boat all the way back to shore so we wouldn’t get in trouble.”
“At least you were lucky enough to not be alone out there,” Alice said.
“Actually, Drake saved my life,” Liam said. “Moments before the boat capsized, the boom swung across the deck and knocked me overboard.” He paused. “I’ll never forget that without even a second of hesitation, Drake jumped right in after me.”
“Wow,” Alice said, finding herself at a loss for words.
“I know Drake can be tough to get to know, but he really is the most incredible friend,” Liam said. “I trust him with my life. Anyway, I’ve never told anyone that story before,” he admitted. “No one ever found out what we did…although my interest in sailing did drop quite a bit after that.”
“I’m glad everything turned out okay. Thank you for telling me that story,” Alice added. “But this does seem like a bad moment to mention I’ve never even been on a boat before…”
“Seriously?” Liam asked, his eyes wide. “And you just let me tell you the story of how I almost died during a boating accident? Are you going to be okay during the race?”
Alice laughed as she put a hand on his arm. “I’ll be fine, I promise. Bertrand hired a crew and, as he put it, I just have to stand in one spot and look good next to the railing.”
Liam exhaled a sigh of relief and put his hand over hers, squeezing it gently. “That’s a relief. I–”
Just then, the sound of a herald trumpeting broke through their conversation.
“Oh, it’s time for my father’s opening remarks,” Liam said, tilting his head towards a raised platform. Alice followed his gaze to see King Constantine with a growing crowd forming at his feet.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Cordonia…I welcome you all!” King Constantine said genially, a wide grin. Alice glanced down and realized Liam’s hand was still on hers and she wanted to move it away, but she remembered what Bertrand said about the press and how a photo could be taken at any moment. A picture of her and Liam could benefit House Beaumont, but Alice couldn’t stop thinking about what Drake had drunkenly said to the other night.
“Everybody just uses him.”
Her included, and Alice hated herself for it as the crowd around her began to bustle as reporters started took notes and began their broadcasts.
“Today is a momentous day,” Constantine continued. “As you know, I have a soft spot for the Royal Regatta, and it remains one of my favorite events of the social season. Because this event has always held historical significance and personal importance, I have chosen today to make my announcement.”
Alice glanced over at Liam, who looked puzzled.
“At the end of this social season, I will be stepping down as your reigning monarch and in a few weeks’ time, Prince Liam will be your new king.”
Alice watched as Liam’s face went slack with surprise but he quickly recovered as the reporters whirled on him, snapping photo after photo of their future king as he held the hand of the American suitor. Several other reporters lobbed questions at Constantine, but he silenced them with a raise of his hand.
“I expect you all have questions,” Constantine said. “I promise you in due time that I’ll release an official statement. But for today, allow an old man time to enjoy the festivities. Let the regatta begin!”
If you really wanted the focus to be on the regatta, you wouldn’t have made this announcement now, Alice thought as she turned her attention to Liam.
“Are you okay?” she whispered, leaning in close to his ear, causing the camera shutters around them to chatter like excited birds. He didn’t say anything but instead led her by the hand away from the crowd and down towards the docks. The press tried to follow, but Bastien stopped them at the edge of the dock, allowing Liam and Alice to get away near the boats. Alice glanced over her shoulder and saw Bastien look over at them as they walked away before turning his attention back to the reporters.
“Are you okay?” she asked again. Liam nodded.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But it’s…a shock.” He swallowed as he let go of her hand. “I always knew my father would retire; I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. To realize that I’m going to become king in a matter of weeks…that’s a lot.”
“I don’t know if this is a stupid question, but would it be possible to…I don’t know, cancel or at least pause your suitor selection?” Alice asked. “It seems like this really caught you off-guard and I want to make sure you have time to breathe.”
Liam shook his head, lost in thought. “My father usually keeps my counsel on all matters. I don’t know why he didn’t discuss this with me…” He paused and straightened up, turning back to Alice. “I can talk to him later. For now, he’s right–we should try to enjoy today.”
“Liam…you don’t have to pretend like everything’s fine when it’s not,” Alice said gently. He smiled at her sadly.
“Unfortunately, I do,” he said. “But I appreciate your support. I…I’m glad you’re here, Alice.”
“We’re friends, Liam,” Alice said. “I hope you know you can talk to me if you need to.”
He held out his hand to her and she took it, overly aware of how many sets of eyes were watching them even though there was only one gray pair of eyes she cared about. “I know. Thank you.” He gestured back to the reporters. “We should answer a couple questions to satisfy them. Time to put our game faces on…”
“It’s showtime!” Alice said with a wide grin. Liam smiled at her, visibly relaxing for the first time since his father’s announcement.
“We shall,” Alice agreed. She and Liam walked back to where Bastien was holding the press at bay and it took a concerted effort for her to avoid looking at him, especially as Liam stopped walking when they reached him.
“Your Highness!” one of the reporters called. “A few questions please?”
“Of course,” Liam said.
“The king’s announcement was quite a surprise! What do you think about it? When did you find out?”
“As much as I’d love to answer, my father has made it clear he’ll issue a statement later. For now, I can’t comment.”
“If you can’t talk about the announcement, then we’ll have to talk about something else…” the reporter said with a grin as he nodded towards Liam and Alice’s clasped hands. “You’re looking awfully friendly with Cordonia’s everywoman…”
“Is that what they’re calling you?” Liam asked Alice as he turned to her with an amused smile.
“People feel they have a real connection with her,” the reporter said before Alice had a chance to answer. “But what I want to know is…what’s her connection to you? After all, the social season’s more than half over.”
Half over? Alice thought, surprised.
“And with the king’s announcement, you’re basically choosing the future queen in a matter of weeks,” the reporter continued.
“I was always aware my future bride would someday be queen,” Liam said calmly. “The immediacy of my becoming king doesn’t change much at this time.”
“What about you, Lady Alice?” the reporter asked. “Care to comment on your relationship with the prince?”
“I’m very fond of the prince, but we’re still getting to know each other,” Alice said smoothly, a technical truth. Liam smiled at her and Alice was overwhelmingly aware of Bastien standing on her other side.
“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” Liam said.
“Do you feel the same way about Lady Alice, Your Highness?” the reporter asked.
“Yes, of course,” Liam answered. “I care for her but, as she said, we’re still learning about one another.”
The reporter jotted down a few notes as another one took his place.
“Lady Alice, surely you’re aware of the historical significance of the Royal Regatta,” a chic woman in large sunglasses said. “Do you have anything to say on this momentous day about it?”
“Of course,” Alice said. “I love that the regatta represents Cordonia’s generous spirit. The people’s effort to give humanitarian aid and relief is truly inspiring, and I believe it represents Cordonia’s interconnectedness with its neighbors.”
“Very well-put,” Liam said, gently squeezing her hand.
“I agree,” the reporter said. But before the reporters could ask more, Liam released her hand and stepped between Alice and the press.
“As wonderful as it has been to connect with you all, the races are about to start, and Lady Alice is due at the starting line,” Liam said politely.
“Of course,” one of the reporters aid. “Thank you, Your Highness, Lady Alice. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Alice wished desperately that she could say something, anything to Bastien, but she knew there were too many cameras. Instead, she let Liam lead her away.
“I think that went well,” Liam said as they made their way down to the other end of the docks.
“You handled yourself really well,” Alice said. “That can’t have been easy to answer questions when you were just hit with such big news.”
“I meant you,” Liam said with a smile. “I can tell by now when the press likes someone. I’m glad…the people take their cues from the press.”
I am literally going to spend eternity being poked by sharp objects while “Baby Shark” plays on a loop.
“Come on, the race is going to start soon,” Liam said. “We should get you to your boat.”
Bastien watched out of the corner of his eye as Liam led Alice away down the docks. He and the rest of Cordonia could see how much the prince already adored her; he didn’t blame Liam. Who in their right mind wouldn’t fall in love with someone like her? Even so, he couldn’t ignore the guilt that had begun to gnaw at him. Bastien had sworn his loyalty to the royal family and until now, that had never come into question. But having a relationship with a suitor–especially Liam’s clear favorite–was the furthest thing from loyalty to the crown.
As he stood guard to prevent the press from flooding the docks, he thought back to the night before when he’d lain in her bed with her.
“So what is this exactly?” Bastien asked her as she lay on her stomach and he traced lazy shapes on the bare skin of her back.
“What is what exactly?”
“This. You. Me.”
She turned her head to look at him. “Are you looking for a birds and the bees talk? Because I think we’re a little past that…”
He laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“To define is to limit,” she quipped, quoting The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Come on, Gray, I’m serious.”
Alice rolled onto her side to face him. “What do you want this to be?”
“What I truly want and what is a realistic option at the moment are two different things,” he said.
“What is it you truly want then?”
He took a steadying breath. “To be in a relationship with you. Just you and me. I know we can’t be public yet, but–”
Bastien stopped. “Really?”
Alice hit him with a pillow. “Yes, really! There’s no one else but you, Dorian. You know that.”
“I know, I just wanted to…check.”
Alice grinned. “Does this mean we’re going steady?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around him. “Are you going to give me your pin? Are you my fella?”
He laughed and kissed her. “For as long as you’ll have me.”
Bastien felt warmed by the memory of the previous night, but it didn’t completely assuage the guilt he felt for keeping a secret like this–or the jealousy he felt when he saw Liam holding Alice’s hand. He trusted her completely and knew she was trying to keep up an image for the sake of the Beaumonts; that wasn’t the issue. Rather, he felt jealous that Liam had the freedom to hold her hand regardless of who might be watching.
Someday, he told himself. But not soon enough.
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