Guarded Hearts, Part 26

Summary: Alice talks with Liam and returns to Applewood Manor.

Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit. 

CW: references to sexual assault and violence

New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8,Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13, Part 14Part 15Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25


The next morning, Alice was awoken by the sound of hurried knocking on her door.

“Jesus, Maxwell, give me a second to open my eyes,” Alice called as she sat up, rubbing the sleep from her face. She climbed out of bed and headed to the door, pulling out the wedge door stopper from Bastien before she unlocked and opened the door, surprised to see who was on the other side.

“You’re not Maxwell!”

Liam laughed. “No, I’m not. I’m sorry to wake you, but I couldn’t wait any longer to talk to you.”

“Come in,” Alice said, stepping aside to let him in before she shut the door behind them. They looked at each other for a long moment before Liam stepped closer and pulled her into a hug, holding her gently like he thought she might break.

“Is this okay?” he asked.

“Of course,” Alice said, tightening the hug. “I’m glad to see you.”

When he finally let her go, she gestured to the bench at the foot of her bed and they sat down.

“I’ve been so anxious to talk to you, but I haven’t had the chance,” Liam said. “And then after the coronation, I wasn’t sure you wanted to talk to me. But I swear, it wasn’t me that had you escorted out,” he added quickly. “My father and Regina insisted and I–”

“Liam, it’s fine,” Alice assured him as she took his hand. “I’m not upset with you. Really, I get it.”

He swallowed hard. “Alice…I also wanted to talk to you about what happened…with Tariq. If you’re okay to talk about it, I completely understand if you’re not.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” she said. “You just had so much going on with the coronation and picking a suitor and I didn’t want to–”

“Don’t apologize,” he interjected fiercely, cutting her off. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you don’t need to be sorry about anything.” He squeezed her hands gently. “What can I do for you?”

“I don’t know. Nothing right now,” Alice said. “The Beaumonts have a plan to help me raise support from people in court and clear my name. I’m mostly just trying to keep my head above water.”

“I can help with that,” Liam offered. “I can make a statement in support of you, tell people what really happened, and–”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’ll be enough,” Alice said. “As Bertrand pointed out, the story in the press is that I tricked you, so if I don’t have enough support behind me, it’ll just sound like you’re still being duped and you don’t need that right now.”

Liam’s face darkened with anger at the situation. “What good is being king if I can’t openly support the truth?”

“We’ll get there,” Alice assured him. “Well, I hope we will.”

“How are you doing with dealing with all of this?” Liam asked. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

“Honestly…it sucks,” she said. “I feel like I’m wearing a lead coat I can’t take off. There are a few people who know the truth, but everyone else thinks I’m a lying whore. Which I guess isn’t entirely true since I was in a relationship with someone else, and–”

“Do not talk about yourself like that!” Liam snapped. “When you came here, we didn’t really know each other and you fell in love with someone else. Was I disappointed? Yes, but that’s not reflective of some kind of character defect in you. I care about you and want you to be happy, even if that means you’re not with me.”

Alice smiled sadly at him. “Not that it matters anymore; we’re not together.”

“Who was it?” Liam asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Alice hesitated. “Bastien,” she said finally.

Liam’s eyes went wide with surprise as he leaned back against the bed. “Wow, I…did not see that coming.”

“I met him in New York the night before I met you,” Alice said. “Neither of us thought it would turn into anything–I didn’t even know his job, he just said he worked in security–but then Maxwell brought me to Cordonia and…”

“And you found each other again,” Liam finished for her.

“Yeah.”

They sat quietly for a minute and Alice realized Liam was still holding her hands, absently running a thumb across her knuckles as he stared off into space, processing the new information.

“While I’m already prying, what happened? Why did you break up?” Liam asked.

Alice shrugged. “I don’t know. All he said was that he shouldn’t have gotten involved with a suitor and he had to focus on his job.”

Liam frowned. “That sounds strange and not like him.”

“I know, but when I tried to talk to him about it, he doubled down and said that’s what he wanted.”

“Is it because of me? Because I could talk to him,” Liam offered.

“No,” Alice said, shaking her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather just leave it alone right now.”

“As long as you’re sure…” Liam said, sounding unconvinced.

“And please don’t tell anyone that Bastien and I were together,” Alice added. “I don’t want to make things weird for him with his job and no one knows. Well, my friend, Frankie, knows, but I don’t think she counts.”

Liam nodded. “Of course. It’s not my story to tell.”

“Thank you,” Alice said before they lapsed into silence for a moment. “Hey, let’s talk about something that isn’t me for a minute.”

Liam smiled. “What do you want to talk about?”

“How about your engagement to Madeleine?”

“Ouch! Going straight for the throat, are we?” he asked, an amused smile on his lips.

“Just…why her?”

“Honestly, I wasn’t going to choose anyone,” Liam said. “I had originally planned on making an announcement that I was going to focus on the early days of my reign as king before finalizing any decisions about a marriage. However, with the release of the photos of you, my father and Regina insisted that I choose a suitor to divert attention to the royal family in a positive way instead of…well, the way the media was portraying my relationship with you. Regina pushed for Madeleine, pointing out that as she comes from a prominent Cordonian family, the choice would reinforce the strength of the court. I had a split second to make a decision and I just went for it.”

“So then are you and Madeleine together now?”

“Publicly, yes,” Liam said. “But privately…she and I have an understanding. She knows I’m not in love with her and she doesn’t care. She just wants to be queen.”

“That’s…very Game of Thrones of her.”

“Madeleine is uncompromisingly practical and as cunning as she is calculating,” Liam said. “She’s actually in favor of a political marriage rather than a romantic one.”

“Are you?”

“No,” Liam said. “But nothing is set in stone. We’re engaged, not married. I thought that by falling in line with her for a little bit, I could buy myself time to get things straight in my head and figure out what to do. Plus, Cordonia needs something positive like a royal engagement to focus on. We’ve had some…unrest lately. There are murmurings against the royal family and while we’re still trying to figure out exactly how much of a danger they are, presenting a strong, pro-Cordonian front can only help right now.”

“That makes sense,” Alice said, nodding. “It’s not going to keep me from calling Madeleine ‘Cersei’, but it makes sense.”

Liam chuckled. “Leo once made the same joke about her.”

They were quiet again for a minute before Alice asked another question.

“Are you really okay with me being here?” Alice asked. “I know Drake said you were, but if you’re dealing with some possible political dangers, is it really a good idea for me to stay?”

“Absolutely,” Liam said firmly. “As long as you want to be here, of course. Someone with considerable resources and access to the royal court set you up. Drake told me about your door not having a lock and then the photos…someone clearly sent Tariq to you on that night with the intent of you being photographed. And I don’t think it was him. Someone wanted to hurt you and make sure you left and didn’t become queen. I want to find out who did this not only for you, but also because I suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg.” Liam checked his watch. “I should go. For all intents and purposes, I need to appear to be properly engaged to Madeleine, which means…”

“…that it would look bad if you spent too much time in my room,” Alice said as she rose to her feet. “I understand.”

Liam stood. “But, Alice…I’m still your friend and I’m still here for you in every way I can be. And if you need me, then screw what everybody else thinks. I care about you and I’m here.”

“Thank you, Liam,” Alice said, pulling him into a hug. He held her tightly to him, then suddenly pulled away.

“Alice…did Bertrand tell you where we’re going next on the engagement tour?” Liam asked slowly.

“No,” she said, unease twisting inside her at Liam’s concerned expression.

“We’re going to Applewood Manor,” he said. Her stomach dropped and she felt her heart begin to race, rat-a-tat-a-tat against her rib cage. “But if you don’t want to, I can make arrangements for you to go early to he next stop. Or you could go back to Ramsford or I could set you up at the palace or–”

“That’s okay,” Alice said. She swallowed, composing herself. “I’m not…well, I’m not thrilled at the idea, but maybe we can find more information there.”

“If you change your mind at all, I will completely understand,” Liam said, placing his hands on her shoulders. “And if you need anything I can give you, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m here for you no matter what.”

“Thanks, Liam,” Alice said, putting her hand on his and squeezing it gently. Liam smiled and leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“I’ll see you later, Alice.”

Liam slipped out of her room, closing the door behind him, and Alice turned the lock to secure it. She dressed, waiting for Maxwell to call for her to attend the engagement party, and sat back on the bed, picking up Bastien’s note from the night before. Bertrand had warned her against any kind of written or electronic communication and she knew she should rip it up and flush the pieces. But Alice couldn’t bring herself to let go of the the first piece of Bastien she’d gotten in weeks. She folded up the note and tucked it into her bra near her heart.


“You really had to wear black?” Bertrand asked as he and Maxwell escorted Alice to the engagement party in the gardens of Madeleine’s home.

“What? I thought a little black dress was always appropriate,” Alice asked.

“This is a garden party,” Bertrand said. “Generally, you’re supposed to wear something lighter. More floral.”

“Maxwell is wearing black!” Alice protested.

“I think you look great,” Maxwell assured her. Bertrand sighed as they entered the party. Alice noticed Madeleine standing off to the side, talking to Constantine and Regina. Madeleine spotted her and smirked, grabbing her drink.

“Excuse me, everyone!” Madeleine called, getting everyone’s attention. “I would like to propose a toast.” She smiled. “First, to each and every one of you for celebrating our engagement. Secondly, to our King Father, Constantine, our Queen Mother, Regina, and to my mother for their support.”

“Think nothing of it, hun,” Adelaide said. Alice’s practiced eye from years of bartending could see she’d already had a few.

“And lastly,” Madeleine continued, turning to Liam. “To you, my darling. I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side.

“I’m ever grateful to have you with me,” Liam said, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. Madeleine sipped her drink along with the other guests before leaning in to kiss Liam on the cheek.

“Oh, honey,” Adelaide said, her voice a touch too loud. “Pecks on the cheek are sweet, but he’s your partner now. Kiss him like you mean it or I’ll do it for you!”

Beside Alice, Maxwell grimaced.

“Should I let her know you’re here?” Alice whispered.

“Don’t you dare,” Maxwell whispered back.

“That’s quite alright,” Liam said, looking supremely uncomfortable.

“Mother!” Madeleine exclaimed. “We’re in public.”

“That’s never stopped me,” Adelaide said as she took another swig of her wine.

“Adelaide, I don’t think that’s the kind of support Madeleine was toasting,” Constantine said with a chuckle.

“Oh, it’s fine,” Adelaide said, the words drawing out a touch longer than they should. “She needs a little prodding every now and then.”

“Well, we will have many years together ahead of us,” Regina said smoothly. “I’m sure we’ll see her come out of her shell.”

“This is so awkward I almost feel bad for her,” Maxwell whispered. Bertrand and Alice nodded in agreement as Madeleine excused herself from the conversation and approached Alice and the Beaumonts.

“Hello, Madeleine,” Alice said.

“You know, Alice, I would’ve expected more gratitude from you,” Madeleine said.

“…okay,” Alice said slowly.

“After all, if it weren’t for me, Lady Hana would still be on the other side of the world,” Madeleine said. “Plus, of course, my not throwing you out of my home the moment you arrived.”

“Hana’s here?” Alice asked, looking around.

“She arrived this morning,” Bertrand said. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“You did not.”

“I don’t know what I expected from such a disorganized group,” Madeleine said, rolling her eyes. “However, I’ve heard that dogs remember those who feed them. I hope you’ll keep this in mind and remember that Hana is here by my personal invitation.”

“Why did you invite Hana back to court?” Alice asked.

“Hana’s very talented and I can think of plenty of uses for her,” Madeleine said.

“She’s a person, not just a thing to be used,” Alice said, her tone sharp. She felt Bertrand’s touch on her elbow.

“Come now, even you benefit, Alice,” Madeleine said. “It will be nice to have your friend back, won’t it?”

“I somehow doubt you did this for my benefit,” Alice said.

“The competition’s over,” Madeleine said, waving her hand dismissively. “We don’t need to scheme behind each other’s backs anymore.”

“If the competition is over, why are you still competing with me?” Alice asked.

Bertrand cleared his throat as Liam approached their group. “Countess Madeleine, we’re thrilled Lady Hana is back at court, thank you.”

“Hana’s here?” Liam asked, looking around. “Where?”

“I believe a new delegation of visitors have just arrived,” Madeleine said. “Why don’t you go greet them, sweetheart?”

“Of course,” Liam said. “Duke Ramsford, Lord Beaumont, Lady Alice, it was a pleasure to see you again.” With that, he left, Madeleine on his arm.

“Bertrand, why didn’t you tell me Hana was back?” Alice asked.

“I honestly forgot,” Bertrand said. “I’ve been preoccupied with everything else.”

“Like forgetting to tell me we’re going back to Applewood Manor?”

Bertrand’s eyes grew wide. “Oh no, Alice, I’m so sorry. It completely slipped my mind, but I should’ve paid more attention. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to go. I can send you and Maxwell back to Ramsford, or maybe Drake can go with you?”

“It’s okay, I’ll go,” Alice said. “But I reserve the right to change my mind.”

Bertrand checked his phone. “I have to go take care of a few things. Try not to get into too much trouble while I’m gone.”

“No promises!” Maxwell exclaimed. Bertrand shot him a look and left.

“Alice!”

Alice turned to see Hana walking toward her, beaming with a wide grin.

“Hana!” Alice exclaimed, grabbing her into a tight hug. “I thought you weren’t coming back!”

“To be honest, neither did I,” Hana said as she let go of Alice and hugged Maxwell. “But my father received a call from Madeleine officially inviting me to come back to Cordonia as part of her entourage. She promised the court would find me a match worthy of my family name.”

“Is that…what you want?” Alice asked hesitantly.

Hana sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, I want to be in Cordonia, so if this is how I can do that and make my parents happy…why not?”

“Well, either way, we’re glad you’re here,” Maxwell said.

“Thanks,” Hana said with a smile. “Bertrand filled me in a little about you trying to clear your name, Alice, and if you need anything, let me know.”

“Thanks,” Alice said. “So far, the main issue has been Madeleine outdoing herself as a major bitch, but that’s not new.”

Hana laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. “No, it’s not.”

“Excuse me,” Madeleine said as she rejoined them. “Would you both mind if I have a word with Lady Alice in private?”

“Of course not,” Hana said.

“Alice, we’ll see you later,” Maxwell added, giving Alice’s arm a supportive squeeze. “Look for us when you’re done.”

“Walk with me,” Madeleine said.

Alice followed her across the grounds and into the estate. Once inside, Madeleine led her to a corner away from prying eyes and ears.

“You two could be a little more subtle,” Madeleine hissed.

“What are you talking about?”

“You and Liam,” Madeleine said as if it was obvious. “The long-suffering looks, the star-crossed lovers act.”

“I literally do not know what you’re talking about,” Alice said. “Liam and I are friends.”

“Right,” Madeleine scoffed. “What are you doing, collecting men at court? The papers were right about you. In any case, I don’t care if you insist of having some kind of relationship with Liam provided it’s out of the public eye. But do not embarrass me.”

“I think we’re done here,” Alice said, struggling to keep her voice even despite her anger. Play nice, play nice, play nice…

“Yes,” Madeleine agreed, her tone icy. “We are.” With that, she turned on her heel and left to return to the party. Alice stayed where she was and leaned against the wall while she thought about what had just happened. She took a deep breath. Madeleine is just like every obnoxious, entitled customer you’ve ever had. She’s just a Karen. You know how to deal with Karens. Just put on your customer service face around her and deal with it.

She straightened up and took another calming breath before heading back outside.


“Liam, I think we’re going to take our leave,” Constantine said to his son, Regina by his side.

“So soon?” Liam asked.

“Yes, we need to head back to the palace,” Regina said.

“I have some business to attend to,” Constantine explained.

“You’re not coming to Applewood?” Madeleine asked as she joined their group, looping her arm through Liam’s.

“No, dear,” Regina said with a smile. “But rest assured, we’ll rejoin the tour at a later date.”

“Besides, you don’t need an old man hanging around while you’re celebrating your engagement,” Constantine said as he clapped Liam on the shoulder.

“If you’re sure…” Liam said, still a little surprised by his father’s announcement.

“May I walk you in?” Madeleine asked.

“That would be lovely, thank you, dear,” Regina said.

Liam bid them goodbye and watched for a moment as Madeleine walked away with his parents. His father had been skipping more and more functions lately and for the first time, he’d started to look old to Liam.


When Alice returned to the party, she was immediately intercepted by Bertrand.

“Alice, there you are, I’ve been looking for you,” he said, ushering her off to one side.

“Madeleine wanted to talk to me inside, what’s up?” Alice asked.

“What did she want?”

“To have a dick measuring contest.”

Bertrand sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know why I asked. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Applewood. Firstly…are you sure you’re alright with going there? I feel terrible that I didn’t tell you sooner.”

Alice smiled at him. “I’m okay. At least, I hope I will be.”

“As long as you’re sure…” Bertrand said, concern creasing his brow. “Secondly, I have arranged for us to go early before everyone else arrives. We will depart for Applewood as soon as the festivities here end and everyone else will arrive tomorrow morning. I thought you might not want to go back in the middle of a crowd.”

“Thanks, Bertrand,” Alice said. “That was really nice of you.”

“Yes. Well,” he said, clearing his throat awkwardly. “You are a member of House Beaumont and deserve to be treated as such.”

Alice looped her arm through his. “Want to go get a drink?”

“God, yes.”


After Constantine and Regina left, Bastien found himself watching Alice and Bertrand as they crossed the lawn towards the refreshments. He wanted to talk to her so badly, but he wasn’t sure what exactly he’d say. He knew he had to tell her about his role with the photographer, but it wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to having.

“Bastien.”

“Prince Liam,” Bastien said with a nod. “Enjoying the party?”

“Yes, thank you,” Liam said as he stood beside Bastien, looking around the party with him. “There’s plenty of staff and security here.”

Bastien waited, unsure of where he was going with this.

“The Beaumonts are taking Alice to Applewood Manor tonight rather than tomorrow morning,” Liam continued. “Since it will just be them and the staff for the night, I was thinking perhaps you could go ahead as well.”

“Sir, with all due respect, your father–”

“My father and Regina are on their way back to the palace,” Liam interrupted him. “And as your king, I am telling you I will be fine for a night.”

“But we just got that new intel about the–”

“Bastien,” Liam said, turning to look him straight in the eye. “Do not let me be a reason to keep you from being with her.”

Bastien let the words sink in for a moment. He knows. Did Alice tell him? She must have. “It’s…more complicated than that.”

“Not for today it isn’t. Take a car and go to Applewood; she’s going to need the extra support tonight.”


Later that night, Alice and the Beaumonts arrived at Applewood Manor. As the car pulled up the drive, Alice looked at the large, looming chateau out the window.

“Doing okay?” Maxwell asked tentatively.

“Yeah,” Alice lied.

They were met by a few staff members who immediately started to unload the luggage and when Alice slid out of the limo, a familiar redheaded maid greeted her.

“Oh!” the maid said, surprised, before she cleared her throat. “Welcome back to Applewood manor, my lords and lady,” she said, a smile back in place on her face. “Please, let me grab your bags and escort you to your room.”

“Indeed,” Bertrand said. “I also have a few questions for you…”

As Bertrand discussed the luggage with the maid, Maxwell leaned over to Alice.

“I recognize her,” Maxwell whispered. “That’s the same maid who helped us last time. Maybe she knows something.”

Alice nodded, her eyes still on the massive building in front of them. Maxwell put his arm around her and hugged her.

“We’ve got you,” he said. “I promise.”

Alice’s luggage in hand with the other staffers by her side, the maid led them into the manor. When they reached the front step, her foot caught and she fell, dropping the suitcases.

“Oof! I’m so sorry, let me get those,” the maid said quickly, cheeks reddening in the dim glow of the garden lights.

“Please, let me help,” Alice said, reaching down to help the maid to her feet.

“Thank you,” the maid said with a shy but grateful smile. “Not many would help a maid out.”

“I’m not exactly the typical person at court,” Alice said. “I’ve got years in the service industry under my belt.”

“Well, thank you,” the maid said before raising her voice to address all of them as the group continued inside. “I hope you all had a pleasant journey here. The roads can be bumpy at times.”

“It was acceptable,” Bertrand said as he checked something on his phone.

“How was your day?” Alice asked.

“My day?” the maid asked in surprise, nearly dropping the suitcase again.

“Yeah,” Alice said. “It can’t have been easy getting everything ready for the engagement tour.”

“Well…” the maid hesitated. “It’s been a bit hectic with all the preparations, but the worst of it has passed.”

“Just make sure you don’t burn yourself out,” Alice said, trying to keep her focus on the maid rather than the building she was in. “I know whenever I worked really crazy shifts where I’d close the bar and then have to open it again, it was really important to do some self care in between shifts.”

“Oooh, yeah, face masks are really good for that,” Maxwell added. “I have a really good homemade recipe for a face mask that includes bananas, oatmeal, and honey.”

“That sounds more like breakfast than a mask,” Alice said.

“Why not both?” Maxwell said with a shrug. The maid chuckled as they stopped outside of Bertrand and Maxwell’s rooms.

“Your rooms, my lords,” the maid said.

“Thank you,” Bertrand said. “Alice, come back once you get settled so we can discuss a few things.”

“This way, my lady,” the maid said, leading Alice away down the hall. It wasn’t until they returned to the stairs that Alice realized where they were going. Her heart began to pound and she felt a little lightheaded as her hands began to shake. Finally, the maid stopped in front of Alice’s old room at the end of the hall.

“Here we are, my lady,” she said, turning to Alice with a smile. However, her smile faltered when she saw the look on Alice’s face. “Is something wrong?”

“No, it’s just…” Alice’s voiced faded and she swallowed hard.

“You know…” the maid said hesitantly. “You’re a lot nicer than I thought you’d be. You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”

“What do you mean?” Alice asked, struggling to stay in the moment.

“You don’t know?” the maid asked, surprised. “I’m sorry. It’s just…you’ve been so kind to me and…there’s something I need to tell you.” She took a breath. “I know who you are and what happened last time you stayed at Applewood.” The maid paused, regret etched into the furrow of her brow. “I…I played a part in it.”

“What do you mean?” Alice asked slowly, trying to keep her emotions in check.

“That night…one of the noble ladies came to me,” the maid said. “She told me she wanted to help her friends, and asked if I’d help. We’re supposed to help the guests in whatever way we can and you don’t know the kind of trouble nobles can cause for us if they’re displeased.”

“I can imagine.”

“The noble lady told me that we were going to play cupid because two of her friends were desperately in love, but too shy to act on it,” the maid continued. “So I had to deliver a note to Tariq saying it was on your behalf and told him that you requested he come to your room.”

“Alice, come on. We both know you want this.”

Alice thought she was going to be sick, but she fought the bile rising in her throat as the maid kept talking.

“She said that if we only were able to put the two of you together, true love would do the rest.”

“You didn’t think that was a weird request?” Alice asked.

“Not in comparison to other requests we’ve gotten,” the maid said. “And I’d seen you and Tariq talking before…I thought maybe there really was going on there and I was helping. But then the next day, I heard Duke Ramsford yelling at the head of the royal guard and then when the photos came out…I’m so sorry, Lady Alice, I had no idea, I never would have–”

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not, and I’m so sorry,” the maid said. “I–”

“Who was the noble lady?”

“I…I didn’t get a good look at her face,” the maid said apologetically. “She was wearing sunglasses and a scarf on her head.”

“That didn’t seem suspicious to you?”

“Not really,” the maid admitted. “Many of the nobles don’t want to be bothered by the paparazzi, so they’ll dress that way to avoid photos.”

“Would you mind taking my bags back to Maxwell’s room?” Alice asked. “I need to step outside for some air.”

“Of course, absolutely,” the maid said quickly.


Alice hurried out the front doors of Applewood Manor, breathing hard as tears spilled down her cheeks. She felt like she wanted to run away, but to where? They were in the middle of the countryside and she couldn’t go anywhere. Alice closed her eyes and put her hands over her face, trying to block out what she’d just learned, but the maid’s words thundered in her ears.

“Alice?”

Alice lowered her hands from her face, quickly wiping away the tears. “Bastien? What are you doing here?”

“Liam sent me ahead tonight.”

Of course he did, Alice thought.

“Here, go stand over by the wall, next to that rose bush,” Bastien said, pointing. “It’s a blind spot for the security cameras.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should.”

Alice sighed, annoyed, but did as he said and stood beside the roses, leaning against the wall. Bastien walked over and stood beside her. It was the closest he’d been to her in weeks but she felt so far away, oceans between them as she cried.

“What happened?” he asked gently.

“Why did you go to the airport?” Alice asked.

Bastien hesitated. “I wanted to make sure you got on a plane.”

“Bullshit, I was already going to get on a plane,” Alice said. “Why did you really go?”

“Because I was going to go with you.”

Alice turned to look at him, but Bastien couldn’t meet her gaze. “What? Why?”

“Because I love you.” Bastien finally looked at her, her expression unreadable. “Alice, I have to tell you–”

“Stop.” Alice looked back out across the grounds. “I know there’s a lot for us to talk about, but I just…can’t right now.”

“Okay.”

They stood together in silence for a while, neither of them saying anything as the gentle nighttime noises of the grounds settled around them. Then Bastien felt her slide her hand into his and he twined his fingers with hers. He closed his eyes and for a brief moment, things felt okay. Then he opened his eyes and looked down at her bare arms in the moonlight. The bruises on her arms had long since faded like the ones on her wrist from the night they met, but Bastien still saw them. He had to find a way to keep her safe. He had no idea how to do that, but he swore to himself he’d figure it out.

Finally, they went back inside. Alice went upstairs to Maxwell’s room and Bastien went to the security offices to delete any footage that featured the two of them together.


Part 27


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