Guarded Hearts, Part 22

Summary: It’s the night of the big Beaumont bash!

Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit. It feels like a bit of a filler chapter to me, but the coronation is coming and things are going to happen, so hang in there!

CW: references to sexual assault and violence

New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8,Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13, Part 14Part 15Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21

“Are you ready for this?” Frankie asked.

Alice stared at herself in the full length mirror in her bedroom at the Beaumont’s house. She’d dressed carefully in a long, glittering dress with long sleeves and an open back. The gown covered the bruises on her arms and leg and looking in the mirror, Alice barely recognized herself. With her hair and makeup done and in this dress, she looked almost…normal.

“I guess so,” Alice said.

“I don’t mean your outfit.”

Alice looked at Frankie’s reflection in the mirror. “I don’t either.”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.

“Alice? It’s me,” Maxwell called through the door. “Bertrand sent me to escort you both downstairs.”

“Ready?” Alice asked Frankie.


Alice opened the door to her bedroom and Maxwell’s jaw dropped slightly when he saw her. “Wow, you look great!”

“Will Bertrand approve?” Alice asked.

“That…remains to be seen,” Maxwell said. “He wanted you to wear a big, poofy Cinderella dress, but I barely managed to talk him out of it. But, for what it’s worth, I think you’ll do House Beaumont proud.”

“Thank you,” Alice said as she took his proffered arm. Frankie looped her arm through Maxwell’s on his other side.

“Shall we?” he asked.

“We shall.”

Maxwell led them through the manor to the ballroom and Alice was pleasantly surprised by the transformation. Despite helping to decorate the night before, Alice was impressed by the impact of the soft lighting that seemed to make the whole room glow.

“Wow…everything really came together,” Alice said.

“I’m sure Bertrand’s pleased with it…moderately, at least,” Maxwell said as he led them through the room.

“The best we can hope for,” Frankie added as the clock struck the hour. Bertrand spotted them and headed over, grinning widely.

“You look disconcertingly happy,” Alice said.

“Why wouldn’t I be? We’re showing off the splendor of House Beaumont,” Bertrand said. “And, fortune willing, this is also our chance to show the court just how well you and the prince are suited right before the coronation. If everything goes well, tonight will be a grand accomplishment.”

Alice could feel Frankie glance at her, but she kept her gaze on Bertrand as he talked. She hadn’t yet told them that she’d effectively taken herself out of the running to be queen, and she didn’t want to put a damper on Bertrand’s good mood moments before the party. With her relationship with Bastien ended, she’d considered letting herself open up to a relationship with Liam, but Alice had quickly dismissed the idea. She liked Liam, she did, but the that romantic connection just wasn’t there for her.

“Places, everyone!” Bertrand added. “Guests are about to be let in, so let’s get ready to greet them.”

Maxwell led Alice and Frankie over near the doors in preparation to receive guests. On the other side of the room, Alice saw Bastien enter through a side door, keeping close to the wall as he circumvented the room. He glanced over at her and she saw his gaze catch on her before he quickly looked away. She felt what was left of her heart crumble and she composed herself, turning back to the task at hand. Bertrand threw open the main doors of the ballroom with a flourish and the room came to life as guests began to stream into the room and servers distributed drinks and appetizers on elegant trays.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Bertrand so happy,” Maxwell commented. “It kind of reminds me of how he used to be.”

“You mean he wasn’t always the delight we know him to be?” Frankie asked.

“Oh, no,” Alice said. “Apparently, he used to be fun.”

“Who knows, we might get to see fun Bertrand tonight!” Maxwell said hopefully.

“I did hear a rumor that hell had frozen over…” Alice mused. “But, in all seriousness, that would be kind of cool to see.”

Maxwell smiled. “Honestly, it means a lot to me to see him in such good spirits. It’s been a long time since…well, it’s been a long time.”

“Ayers, Frankie, Maxwell,” Drake said as he joined them, sharply dressed in a gray suit.

“Hey, Drake,” Alice said. “Ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor?” she asked, gesturing to the table arrangements.

“I’ll be honest, when I arrived yesterday, I was skeptical about this place being ready in time, but it looks like you’re about to have an actual party in here,” he said.

“You actually looked dressed for a party for once,” Alice said. “I’m surprised you actually wore a suit.”

“Do you not usually?” Frankie asked.

“He does not,” Alice said.

Drake shrugged. “I don’t usually see the point. People are here to see Liam, not me.”

“And yet here you are…wearing a suit…” Frankie said thoughtfully. Drake blushed as Hana joined them.

“Alice, hi!” Hana said, gently hugging her. “You look great. Are you…doing okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Alice said quickly. “Hana, this is my friend, Frankie. She flew in from New York to surprise me.”

“It’s so nice to finally meet you!” Hana exclaimed, shaking Frankie’s hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Likewise,” Frankie said with a grin. “But whatever Alice said about me, it’s only half true.”

“Which half?” Drake asked.

Frankie shrugged. “Depends on the day.”

“Maxwell, I’ve never been to the Beaumont estate before,” Hana said. “Everything looks so wonderful.”

“Thank you,” Maxwell said with a slight bow. “We’re glad to have you here.”

“I’m heading over to the bar, anyone need anything?” Drake asked.

“Yes,” Alice and Frankie said simultaneously.

“What do you want?”

“A lot,” Alice said.

“I’ll go with you,” Frankie said. “Anyone else?”

She quickly took drink orders and headed off with Drake, leaving Maxwell and Hana to greet Olivia and Madeleine as they entered.

“Duchess Olivia, Countess Madeleine, welcome,” Maxwell said brightly.

“Lady Alice,” Madeleine said, the words sounding sour in her mouth. “Don’t you look…nice. And Lord Maxwell, it appears you and your brother have outdone yourselves.”

“Yes, this isn’t nearly as tacky as I’d imagined it would be,” Olivia agreed.

“That was almost nice, Olivia,” Alice said with an amused smile.

“Alice, can I borrow you for a minute?” Olivia asked.

“Of course.” Alice let Olivia lead her to the side and out of earshot of everyone else. “What’s up?”

“You missed the jamboree at Applewood,” Olivia said.

“Yes, I did,” Alice said carefully. “I was sorry to miss it, but I wasn’t feeling well so the Beaumonts brought me here early to–”

“Yes, I heard the excuse,” Olivia said. “What’s really going on?”

Alice shrugged, keeping her face even. “That’s all there is to it.”

Olivia studied her. “Look, I know we’re not friends or anything, but I noticed someone else went missing when you and the Beaumonts took off for Ramsford.”

“Purely coincidence, I’m sure.”

“Is it though?”

Alice met Olivia’s gaze, refusing to back down.

“Look, I’m not trying to be a bitch here,” Olivia said, lowering her voice. “I just…wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” Alice said lightly. “But…thanks for checking.”

“I’m not really the hair-braiding-and-friendship-bracelets type of person, but if you need something sharp, the Nevrakises are known for our weaponry,” Olivia said.

Alice smiled. She could tell Olivia was trying and although she wasn’t sure how much Olivia actually knew, she was still grateful for the support. “Thank you. I might take you up on that.”

Olivia exhaled, visibly relaxing. “Good. Now that that’s done, let’s start drinking.”

“One step ahead of you,” Alice said as Frankie arrived at her side with an excessively full glass of whiskey. “Olivia, this is my friend, Frankie. Frankie, this is Duchess Olivia Nevrakis of Lythikos.”

“I don’t know what any of that means, but it’s nice to meet you,” Frankie said.

“Likewise. If you’ll excuse me, I need to ask Maxwell where he’s hiding the good wine,” Olivia said before she turned and left.

That’s Olivia?” Frankie asked.

“Yup,” Alice nodded. “She’s honestly not that bad. I think she just uses a tough exterior to hid her insecurities. Plus…”

“Plus what?”

“She…I don’t know, I can’t be sure, but I think she might know about what happened to me.”

“How would she know that unless someone told her?” Frankie asked.

“She seems to have made a connection that I left the same day he did,” Alice said as she took a deep swallow of whiskey. “She didn’t say it outright, but she did offer me access to her family’s weaponry.”

Frankie shrugged as Madeleine walked over to join them. “Some people bake cookies, others offer up swords.”

“You must be feeling pretty smug,” Madeleine said.

“As usual, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Alice deadpanned.

“I’ve been hearing some rumors that you’ve become the frontrunner going into the coronation,” Madeleine said.

“Madeleine, it’s not a race,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “Liam is a person, not a trophy.”

“You may have the upper hand while we’re at the Beaumont estate, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be chosen as queen,” Madeleine continued, ignoring her. “You never know what might happen…or come to light.”

“I’m sorry, are you threatening her?” Frankie asked.

“Simply stating facts,” Madeleine said. “Alice isn’t fit for court and you’d do best to take her back to whatever dumpster you both crawled out of back in America.” Madeleine smiled smugly and turned back to Alice. “Don’t fly to high, Alice. Your wings are already melting.”

“I’d call you a cunt, but you lack warmth and depth,” Frankie said as Madeleine’s eyes bugged in shock at the insult. “Come on, Alice.”

Frankie led Alice away, the latter of which was trying and failing to suppress a laugh.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help it,” Frankie muttered.

“Don’t apologize,” Alice said as they made their way over to the dais where Bertrand was preparing to make an announcement. “That was the best thing that’s happened in days.”

“Welcome, everyone!” Bertrand announced with a wide grin on his face. “If you’ll please take your seats, dinner will begin shortly.”

Alice and Frankie made their way to the head table to take their seats. Liam and his parents took the three center seats and Alice sat to Liam’s right with Frankie beside her next to the Beaumonts. Servers began to serve dinner and Liam leaned over to Alice.

“Alice, you look lovely as always,” Liam said.

“Thank you,” she said. “But I can’t take the credit; Frankie picked out my dress today.”

“Clearly, you have excellent taste, Frankie,” Liam said with a smile as Frankie nodded her thanks.

“Frankie? Who is Frankie?” Regina asked.

“Your Highness, this is my friend, Frankie Parker. She flew out to Cordonia for the event,” Alice said.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Your Highness,” Frankie said politely. Beside her, Bertrand looked relieved that she’d used the proper title.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever met a woman named…Frankie,” Regina said slowly, eyeing Frankie’s numerous tattoos.

“It’s actually short for Frances, but I prefer to go by Frankie,” she explained.

The queen pursed her lips. “I suppose that’s your prerogative.”

Alice noticed the look on Frankie’s face and bumped her with her elbow, reminding her to keep her composure.

“I must say,” Constantine interrupted. “The food is delicious, the wine is excellent, and the setting is magnificent, Duke Ramsford. You do your house proud.”

“It’s kind of you to say that, sir,” Bertrand said graciously. “I regret we could only host you for the one night.”

“It can’t be helped with the social season coming to an end; we must return to the palace,” Constantine said with a helpless shrug.

“I can’t believe the coronation is coming up so soon,” Alice said. “How are you feeling about it?” she asked Liam.

“He’s ready,” Constantine said before Liam had a chance to reply. “Liam is well-equipped to take on the role.”

“Of course,” Alice agreed. She glanced at Liam who was suddenly supremely interested in his food.

“There are still decisions to be made,” Regina said meaningfully. “But I trust Liam will make the correct decision.”

“To be fair though…do any of us make the ‘correct’ decision when it comes to relationships?” Frankie asked. “I mean, we try, of course, but sometimes our hearts get away from our heads.”

Regina’s mouth tightened in a line. “That’s very bohemian of you, dear, but there is no room for error when it comes to choosing a future ruler. Not that I expect you to understand.”

Frankie seethed, but said nothing when she saw Alice’s pleading look. When the queen turned her head to say something to Constantine, Frankie leaned over to Alice.

“Is it just me, or does everyone have an enormous, pointy stick up their ass?” she whispered.

“Just keep drinking,” Alice whispered back as she signaled to a server.

“Lady Alice, do you think you’d be ready to marry if Liam chooses you?” Constantine asked.

“Of course she’d be ready!” Bertrand exclaimed.

“Duke Ramsford, I’m sure Lady Alice is perfectly capable of answering for herself,” Regina said. “She is rather fond of speaking her mind.”

Liam shot her an apologetic look as Alice took a fortifying swallow of whiskey.

“I think any partnership, marriage or not, requires trust and compromise. As Liam and I have gotten to know each other, I believe we have a solid foundation in our friendship.”

“An interesting answer,” Regina said. “I hope you wouldn’t have to…compromise…too much of yourself in a marriage to the crown prince.”

“Alice is very unapologetically who she is,” Liam said. “It’s one of the things I like best about her. She doesn’t try to pretend to be anyone else she’s not.”

“We all pretend, Liam,” Regina said. “Being able to present a strong front despite chaos behind the scenes is an important quality in a ruler. No one wants to deal with a hysterical leader who is just ‘being who she is.’”

Alice held a calm expression on her face despite wanting to claw the queen’s face. Regina had no idea what she’d been through; she had no idea what Alice was fighting through just to get dressed and come downstairs. Part of Alice wanted to calmly raise the sleeves of her dress and show Regina exactly what she was hiding behind the scenes.

“Luckily, Alice is one of the most level headed people I know,” Frankie said. “I’ve seen her handle hordes of drunken customers at one in the morning on a Friday with not only grace, but the charm to ensure every drunken idiot leaves her generous tip.”

“It’s true,” Liam said with a smile. “And if the press’s reception of her is any indication, Cordonia already adores her as much as the rest of us do.”

Alice gratefully squeezed his hand under the table.

“Lady Alice has certainly charmed us all,” Constantine said with a generous smile. “I’m certainly impressed with the way she handles pressure.”

On the other side of Frankie, Bertrand slowly exhaled the anxious breath he’d been holding as everyone returned to their meal.

He couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but Bastien did not like the way Constantine was smiling at Alice. To the casual observer, the king seemed friendly and warm towards her. Bastien, however, knew differently. Had Constantine heard Alice came by to talk to him last night? Was he planning something else? Or was he simply maintaining his polished facade for the sake of the social season?

Bastien wasn’t sure what the king was thinking, but he hoped Alice spent most of the party with Liam. Not because he wanted Liam and Alice to get closer, but he knew it would be easier to protect Alice if she was with the prince.

When the meal was over, Bertrand rose to his feet, clinking his spoon against his glass to get everyone’s attention.

“Now that the dessert course has been served, the grand hall is now open,” Bertrand announced. “Please join us there for the after-dinner festivities.”

“Ready?” Maxwell asked after Bertrand left to lead the way.

“I don’t know…am I?” Alice asked.

Liam chuckled. “I don’t think you are. Neither of you have attended a Beaumont bash before.”

“I mean, I’ve been to some ragers in my day,” Frankie said. “How crazy could things get?”

Maxwell grinned mischievously and Liam laughed.

“Frankie, I’m getting the feeling we might die tonight,” Alice said as they stood up.

Frankie shrugged. “I’ve had a good run.”

Maxwell held out his arm to Frankie and started to lead her towards the grand hall, the king and queen behind them.

“Alice, hang on,” Liam said, catching her arm. Alice winced when his fingers unintentionally touched one of her bruises. “Oh, god, sorry! Was my grip too hard?”

“No, it’s fine,” Alice quickly assured him. “I banged my arm yesterday when we were setting up, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Liam said, concern knitting his brow. “Do you want me to take a look? Or I could get a doctor…”

“No, I’m fine,” Alice said. “Anyway, you wanted to tell me something?”

“Yes,” Liam said. “I just wanted to apologize. I don’t want you to think I forgot what we talked about before the hunt…I just haven’t said anything to my father or Regina. I’m sorry if you felt like you were put in an awkward position during dinner.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Alice said. “Really, it’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” Liam asked. “Because Regina was…difficult,” he said slowly.

“That is the most polite way you could’ve put that,” she said. Liam laughed. “But I’m okay. I promise.”

“Good,” he said, relieved. “Also, I wanted to tell you that I’m glad you’re feeling better. I missed you at the jamboree.”

“You wouldn’t have if I’d been sneezing all over you,” Alice said, looping her arm through his as they headed towards the grand hall. Liam chuckled.

“I would’ve had to turn Bastien into a sneeze guard instead of a royal guard,” he said. Alice smiled at his joke, but she felt her stomach clench at the mention of Bastien.

“Luckily, I’m all better now.”

In the grand hall, Alice and Liam watched as Bertrand walked halfway up the staircase before turning to face the crowd.

“Citizens, nobles, friends,” Bertrand said. “We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the end of the social season. So, if you’ll hear me out, I’d like to share a few words…”

Maxwell came up behind them and tapped Alice’s elbow. She looked over at him and he nodded to the back of the staircase.

“It’s time to pick our weapons,” he whispered with a grin. “You and I are going to open some champagne.”

“Nothing about that sounds safe,” Alice whispered back as she let Maxwell lead her towards the wall of weapons behind the staircase while Bertrand finished his speech. She noticed there were already a couple bottles of champagne waiting for them.

“It’s not,” Maxwell agreed, gesturing to the wall. “Which one do you want?”

“If I must…I guess the dagger,” Alice said, figuring that would cause the least amount of damage if she lost control of it.

“Sleek and precise,” Maxwell nodded before lifting the flail from the wall.

“Jesus, Maxwell, you can’t be serious,” she hissed.

“Go big or go home!”

“You’re already home!”

“…and so,” Bertrand continued. “With all of House Beaumont, let us propose a toast!”

“That’s our cue!” Maxwell whispered, urging her forward. Alice followed him up the stairs, weapons and champagne bottles in hand.

“To our gracious royal family…” Bertrand said.

“To all those here tonight!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“And to the brothers Beaumont,” Alice added with a smile, finding it hard to resist Maxwell’s infectious enthusiasm. “Our legendary hosts, without whom I would not be here.”

“Let’s rock this place to the ground!” Maxwell cried as the music started, loud and thumping. He swung the flail into a champagne bottle, shattering it entirely and causing champagne to run down the steps as Alice dodged the flying glass.

“We’ve never let a lost bottle stop us before,” Bertrand said with a wide smile that made him look so much more like his younger brother. “Bring out another!”

The crowd cheered as Maxwell leaned over to Alice. “Quickly slide the blade up along the seam!”

Alice did as he said and the top popped off the bottle, champagne spraying and foaming out onto the stairs to the approval of the crowd.

“See? You really are one of us,” Maxwell said with a grin.

“From all of us at House Beaumont–thank you!” Bertrand shouted. The volume on the music went up as servers circulated with glasses of champagne and Maxwell hurried to the top of the stairs.

“Nicely done,” Bertrand said.

“Thank you, it’s my first time wielding a dagger,” Alice said as the king and queen approached them.

“Maybe I’ll…take that,” Bertrand said, delicately taking the weapon from her.

“Splendid night, Duke Ramsford,” Regina said. “Lady Alice.”

“You’ve delivered the type of enjoyable evening we expect from a Beaumont celebration,” Constantine said.

“You’re too kind, Your Majesties,” Bertrand said graciously.

“However, we should take our leave,” Constantine said. “The old folks like us can’t handle the late night events like we used to.”

“Bring out the blindfolds! Find my bow and arrow! Put an apple on the bust of my great-grandfather!” Maxwell shouted from the top of the stairs.

“…though we’re sure it’ll be something to remember,” Regina said.

“Try not to incapacitate half the court again,” Constantine said, nudging Bertrand.

“Perhaps only a third this time,” Bertrand said as he raised his glass to the king and queen. “You’ll be sorely missed when you retire, sir. It’s been an honor knowing you all these years.”

“Oh, Duke Ramsford, that’s not necessary,” Regina said.

“I think it is, ma’am,” Bertrand said. “To the crown!” he shouted at the crowd.

“To the crown!” the guests all shouted.

Constantine nodded with a smile. “We’ll see you again at the coronation, and hopefully the results will be favorable for us all.” With that, he and Regina left, heading up the stairs towards their quarters.

“Well, well, well…” Bertrand said, turning to Alice.


“Did you hear that?” Bertrand asked. “‘Favorable for us all.’ I think the future is looking bright…”

“Bertrand…” Alice said. She didn’t want to ruin his night, but after everything she’d been through, she was tired of the lies. But then she saw the joy on his face and she just couldn’t be the one responsible for taking it away. Let him have tonight. “Does this mean we’re about to see your fun side?”

Bertrand grinned and picked up an open bottle of champagne, taking a big swig. “Maxwell!” he shouted.

“What?” Maxwell called back.

“Let the revelry begin!”

Maxwell whooped and slid down the railing as professional dancers and acrobats began to stream into the room. He headed to the center of the dance floor, moonwalking as the crowd cleared a space for him. Then Maxwell dropped into a flurry of breakdance moves. Alice laughed and cheered for him before heading down the stairs to join Liam, Drake, Hana, and Drake.

“It’s been less than two minutes and my ears already hurt,” Drake grumbled.

“Come on, Drake,” Liam protested. “You usually give it at least five minutes before tapping out.”

“I honestly don’t know where to look right now,” Hana said. “There’s so much going on!”

“That’s the problem,” Drake said.

“Hey, do you guys know where Frankie went?” Alice asked.

“BRING OUT THE HORSES!” Bertrand shouted.

“THE HORSES!” Maxwell shouted back.

“I’m sorry, bring out the what now?” Alice asked. Drake smirked and pointed over her shoulder. Alice turned to see a staff member leading a pair of beautiful steeds into the hall.

“Who’s ready for a little horse riding?” Bertrand asked.

“I am!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“Oh…my…god…” Alice said, unsure if she should close her eyes or if the paramedics were going to need a reliable account of events.

“I told you, there’s nothing like a Beaumont party,” Liam said as Maxwell mounted one of the horses.

“Who will be my partner?” Maxwell asked.

“How about your king-to-be?” Bertrand suggested, pointing to Liam.

Liam laughed. “I nominate Drake as my proxy.”

“Oh no, you’re not talking me into this again,” Drake said.

“Again?” Hana asked.

Drake zeroed in on Alice and grinned. “I vote for Ayers.”

“Alice!” Maxwell yelled.

“Get over here, Alice,” Bertrand called.

Alice sighed and pointed a finger at both Liam and Drake. “If I break my neck, you’re both personally responsible.”

She walked over and mounted the nervous horse behind Maxwell as Bertrand climbed aboard the other. “You guys remember that I just rode my first horse a few days ago, right?”

“So you’re an old pro!” Maxwell said as she held on tightly. “Let’s go!”

Alice and the Beaumonts rode around the room, waving to party goers.

“Ever thought you’d ride a horse in a duchy?” Maxwell asked.

“Can’t say the thought ever crossed my mind.”

Bastien stood along the wall, watching the festivities, when he realized someone was standing beside him.

“Frankie,” Bastien said, not meeting her gaze. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Cut the bullshit, Bastien,” Frankie said. “We both know it’s not.”

“I’m glad you’re here for Alice.”

“Are you?” Frankie asked. “Because I think of someone else who should be there for Alice.”

Bastien said nothing.

“Look, if you don’t want to be with Alice, that’s fine, but I will tell you that you’re a fucking moron if you don’t see how amazing she is,” Frankie said. “She’s been one of my closest friends for years and I don’t care how fancy everyone here is, you won’t find anyone better than her.”

“I know.” The admission was past his lips before he could stop himself.

“So what’s your problem then?” Frankie asked.

“It’s complicated.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Frankie said.

“Did Alice ask you to talk to me?”

“No, and she’d smack me if she knew I was, but she’s preoccupied at the moment,” Frankie said, nodding towards Alice and Maxwell on the horse. “All I’m saying is that I’ve spent a lot of time being less happy than I could be for the stupidest reasons. Did you know Alice told Liam she was in love with someone else?”

Bastien froze. It took a moment for him to compose himself and find his voice. He swallowed hard. “No, I didn’t.”

“Right before that hunt thing everyone went on. She was going to tell you that night.”

Are you okay?

Yeah. It’s actually a good thing, I promise. I’ll tell you later

Bastien’s mouth was dry. “I didn’t know.”

“Funny how it’s difficult for someone to tell you something important when you shut them out,” Frankie said. “If you don’t want to be with her, that’s fine. You’re an idiot, but that’s fine. But I thought you should know.”

Frankie left, melding into the crowd. Bastien turned his gaze to Alice, watching as Maxwell helped her down from the horse. If it weren’t for the threat against her life, Bastien wasn’t sure he could have stayed away from her. But even though Constantine and Regina had retired for the evening, Bastien knew Alice wouldn’t be safe if he went to her. You never knew who was watching.

“Where were you?” Alice asked as Frankie joined her.

“I’m thinking about challenging Drake to a drinking contest,” Frankie said. “He talks a big game, but I’m pretty sure he’s full of shit.”

“Maybe don’t do that…” Alice said slowly.

“Why? You probably wouldn’t be the one who had to clean up the vomit.”

“No, it’s just that…I don’t know, Drake’s been worrying me,” Alice said. “He’s been drinking…kind of a lot lately.”

“Well, yeah, he’s got a thing for you,” Frankie said.

“What does one have to do with the other?”

“He thinks you’re here for Liam and Liam clearly has feelings for you,” Frankie said with a shrug.

“What are we talking about?” Hana asked as she joined them.

“We’re talking about how Drake is in love with Alice,” Frankie said. Alice swatted her in the arm. “What? It’s true!”

“Oh, thank god, I’m so glad I can talk to someone about this,” Hana said, sighing with relief. “He was so worried about you after…after everything that happened. I had to talk him out of immediately following you here after you and Beaumonts left Applewood.”

“Hey, can we talk about literally anything else right now?” Alice asked.

“Drinks?” Frankie asked, pointing to the bar.


Later that night, when the party finally began to wind down, fragments of split apples littered the floor. The bust of Maxwell and Bertrand’s great-grandfather was riddled with cracks and chips and an arrow protruded from the statue’s eye while the apple on its head remained unscathed. Bertrand sat on the floor, slumped against a column with a sword in one hand and an empty bottle of champagne in the other.

“We gave those apples what for,” Bertrand said when Alice walked over to him.

“Yes, you really showed them,” Alice said, holding out her hand to help him up.

“It was a fun night, right?” Bertrand asked as he stood, leaning heavily on the column

“The most fun,” Alice agreed. “But I think it’s time to go to bed now.”

“But Maxwell is still going,” Bertrand said, pouting like a child as he pointed to Maxwell, still dancing amidst the carnage of the party.

“Trust me, he’s going to crash sooner rather than later,” Alice said.

“How do you still sound sober?” Bertrand asked.

“Because I know how to pace myself,” Alice said. She waved and managed to catch Maxwell’s eye.

“Need something?” Maxwell asked.

“Your brother needs to go to bed,” Alice said.

“I’m fine,” Bertrand insisted, slurring slightly.

“Okay, I’ve got him,” Maxwell said. “Come on, let’s go.”

Bertrand grumpily allowed his brother to lead him away and Alice sat down heavily on a nearby chaise lounge.

“It’s over,” Drake said, sitting down heavily beside her. “I’m finally free.”

“You could’ve gone to bed at any time,” Alice pointed out.

“Tried that once,” Drake said. “Didn’t end well.”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not relive the memory.”

“Oh man, I have to hand it to them, the Beaumonts know how to party,” Frankie said as she and Hana joined them. “I’m sufficiently impressed.”

“This was actually tame compared to some parties,” Drake said.

“Then I must be getting old, because I’m ready for bed,” Alice said.

“Me, too,” Frankie said with a yawn. “I have to fly home tomorrow and I should probably be coherent at the airport.”

“You’re not staying?” Hana asked.

“No, I have to get back to work,” Frankie said. “I’ll see you all in the morning,” she added before heading towards the stairs. Hana soon went to bed as well, leaving Alice and Drake behind.

“I should go to bed as well,” Alice said as she slowly hauled herself to her feet.

“I can walk you to your room, if you want,” Drake offered.

Alice was about to refuse, but stopped. She felt silly, but the idea of walking around the building so late at night still unnerved her. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. As long as you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Drake said as he stood up.

“So, did you have fun tonight?” Alice asked as they began to ascend the stairs.

“I did.”

“You admit it?” Alice asked with a gasp.

“I mean, it’s not every day I get to see someone like you open a champagne bottle with a dagger,” Drake said.

“What do you mean ‘someone like me?’”

“Just that…I don’t know. I’m tired, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore,” Drake said, rubbing a hand over his face. “But I’m glad you came tonight.”

Alice snorted. “Like Bertrand would’ve ever let me skip something like this.”

“He would have,” Drake said. “You know that.”

“I know.”

“Seriously though,” Drake said. “I know things have been hard lately, but I’m glad to see you…more like before.”

Alice shook her head. “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I did before.”

Drake was quiet for a moment, considering this. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“I know, but…I just hate that you have to deal with this,” he said. “No one should have to deal with this, but you…”

“I what?” Alice asked as they arrived at her door.

“…nothing,” Drake said. “Like I said, I’m tired and I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. Anyway, we’re here.”

“Yes, I recognize my own door,” Alice said. “Thank you for walking me back.”

“No problem,” Drake said. He hesitated, looking like he wanted to say more, but instead he just bid her goodnight and left.

Alice went into her room, clicked the lock into place, and leaned back against the door. She’d had fun at the party, but now she was alone. Everything was worse when she was alone. After she checked the lock again, Alice carefully changed out of her dress and into her pajamas. Then she took her phone along with a blanket and pillow from the bed, went into the bathroom, and set up in the bathtub. Alice burrowed under the blanket and looked at her phone: no new messages. She knew he wasn’t going to text her, but, all the same, she couldn’t help hoping.

Part 23

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