Guarded Hearts, Part 28

Summary: Alice attends the picnic and learns a disturbing truth.

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, Part 26, Part 27

“Seriously though, what is it with rich people and garden parties?” Alice asked as she rifled through her suitcase the following morning.

“Well, today is special because it’s supposed to remind the engaged couple of the beauty and bounty of Cordonia amidst the glitz and glamour of a royal engagement tour,” Maxwell explained.

“It is a beautiful country, today especially,” Hana said from where she sat on the sofa in Maxwell and Alice’s room.

“Lucky for us, because Bertrand said Alice needs to be seen today,” Maxwell said. “Also, he said no black dresses.”

“What about black pants? Or my black leather jacket?” Alice asked.

“I don’t think it’s a great idea to give him an aneurysm today,” Maxwell said. “But I promise we can drive him nuts after the party.”

“Deal,” Alice said. “So why today of all days?”

“We haven’t had any major problems with your reintroduction to court so far,” Maxwell said. “This is a chance to really establish yourself.”

“As a perfect angel who loves Cordonia,” Alice chanted tonelessly. “Alright, fine, how’s this?” she asked as she held up a dress for Maxwell and Hana’s approval, light blue with white flowers. “It’s floral and not black.”

“Perfect!” Hana said.

“It really is,” Maxwell said. “You’ll stand out with the press but still blend in enough for a little investigating.”

“What are you looking for today?” Hana asked.

“I need to sneak away to the place where the photos were taken,” Alice explained. “Bertrand suspects we might find clues there.”

“Speaking of Bertrand, he just texted me and he’s getting antsy, so go get changed,” Maxwell said. “We’ve got a mystery to solve!”

“You got it, Scooby.”

Alice arrived at the party with Hana and Maxwell and nearby, Madeleine, Kiara, and Penelope stood nearby, chatting and sipping lemonade.

“Bertrand told me to check in with him, so I’ll catch up with you later,” Maxwell said, giving Alice’s arm an encouraging squeeze.

“Ready to face the vipers?” Hana asked.

“I suppose so,” Alice said. “Shall we?”

The two friends approached Madeleine and the others. Madeleine turned to them, a neutral expression on her face.

“Lady Hana, Lady Alice,” Madeleine said. “How lovely to see you both out and about. Alice, I’m happy to see that you’ve managed to clean yourself up for the occasion.”

“Well, I did just take my annual bath,” Alice said. Hana stifled a giggle.

“How are you two enjoying the picnic?” Kiara asked.

“We just arrived, but it’s lovely,” Hana said.

“And you, Alice?” Madeleine asked.

“I agree, everything looks great,” Alice said.

“I’m so pleased you think so,” Madeleine said, a smile spreading across her face. Alice found it unnerving whenever Madeleine smiled.

“Aren’t the little sandwiches just adorable?” Penelope asked.

“Penelope, why don’t you go fetch Hana and Alice some lemonade?” Madeleine asked.

“Oh! Me?” Penelope asked, surprised.

“Now,” Madeleine said, her face suddenly dark and angry.

“Yes, Madeleine,” Penelope said meekly.

“Was that necessary?” Alice asked as Penelope headed for the refreshment table.

“What do you mean?” Madeleine asked, her face neutral once more.

“Penelope’s not a server and even if she was, you were really rude,” Alice said.

“She’s my lady-in-waiting,” Madeleine said. “Penelope knows her place.”

Penelope returned with two cups of lemonade, which she offered to Alice and Hana.

“She’s just so obedient,” Madeleine said, cocking her head to the side as she looked at Penelope. “She’s just like one of her poodles. It may serve her well in finding a match among the more traditional noblemen.”

“If they’re just looking for a docile servant, they sound like assholes,” Alice said.

“Oh, Hana, that reminds me,” Madeleine said, ignoring Alice. “There’s someone here I’d like to introduce you to. He’s quite eligible and I’m sure if you really work at it, you can catch his interest.”

“Oh! Thank you, Madeleine,” Hana said graciously. “I look forward to meeting him and I appreciate you thinking of me.”

“Of course, darling,” Madeleine said. Alice tried to keep from retching. “You’re a member of my court now. And everyone knows how desperate you are to find a match after your engagement last year fell through. If you’re devoid of prospects, it’d be absolutely embarrassing for me to have you as one of my ladies.”

“Are you kidding me?” Alice said, bristling. She was about to say more when she felt Hana’s hand on her arm.

“Let’s hope you can pique his interest,” Madeleine said. “Otherwise, I don’t know how long you’ll last here in Cordonia.”

“You’ll send me away?” Hana asked, her face falling.

“Don’t make it sound so tragic, darling,” Madeleine said. “Just do your best to charm him.”

“Madeleine, why are you being so nasty to Hana?” Alice asked.

“I took a risk letting Hana into my court,” Madeleine said, narrowing her eyes at Alice. “I’m not going to have her failures reflect poorly on me. Besides, if she wants to be one of my ladies-in-waiting, she’ll receive my demands with a smile.”

“Alice, it’s okay,” Hana said. “Madeleine is right, I need her help.”

“Do you though?”

“Besides, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. My parents and I are all very grateful,” Hana said, giving Alice a pleading look.

“What kind of future queen would I be if I didn’t use my position for the benefit of those in need?” Madeleine asked, the smile returning to her face.

Vraiment, Madeleine est trop charitable!” Kiara said, trying to smooth over the awkwardness of the moment. “She’s going to help me get a position within the foreign ministry.”

“Kiara, keep the English to a minimum when speaking with the suitors. Best to keep an air of mystery,” Madeleine said. “You come off as much smarter when you don’t use English.”

Certainement,” Kiara said, her smile falling.

“I thought you wanted a job, not a husband,” Alice said.

“I do, but it never hurts to have both,” Kiara said with a shrug.

“It’s going to be so much easier to find a match in Madeleine’s court!” Penelope said optimistically. “I’m not beautiful and smart like Kiara, and I don’t have Hana’s talent or your charm, Alice…but at least I will be a lady-in-waiting to the queen.”

“Penelope, don’t underestimate yourself!” Alice said. “You’re really loyal and kind as well as beautiful. And, besides, there is more to life than finding a husband.”

“Maybe you’re right…” Penelope said slowly. “I still have my poodles, and they love me no matter what!”

“Good lord, Penelope, enough with the poodles already,” Madeleine said, rolling her eyes.
“Ladies, the men will be here soon, so you may all want to check your reflections. It should be quite the competition. Although…” She flicked her eyes to Alice. “Be careful with this one. She tends to get a little…greedy…around men.”

“Why don’t we go grab some more lemonade?” Hana asked, grabbing Alice and steering her away before Alice could unleash the storm brewing behind her lips.

“Hana, I’m sorry, I know you need to stay on her good side so you can stay in Cordonia but god dammit she is the fucking worst!”

“I know,” Hana agreed. “But she might not keep me around if I don’t find a prospect today. And my parents are already suspicious that I’m not focused on the goal.”

“Do they know that you…” Alice trailed off.

“That I’m gay? No, they don’t,” Hana said. “I don’t think they’ve ever considered that as a possibility. It was always understood that I’m going to marry a man.”

“Okay, I have an idea,” Alice said. “Why don’t you meet and charm this dude today to satisfy Madeleine, and I’ll help keep an eye out for someone who is…more your type?”

“But what if I blow it today?” Hana asked.

“Hana Lee, you are one of the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful people I know. You’re not going to blow it. And, anyway, I’ll help you.”

“Don’t you have to investigate?”

“That won’t take all day,” Alice said. “I’ll be your wingwoman.”

“You will?” Hana asked.

“Of course,” Alice said.

“Okay,” Hana said, brightening a little. “And please, please just try to get along with Madeleine. She’s terrible and we can turn her into a drinking game or something, but I don’t want her to get mad and kick me out.”

“Alright, I promise,” Alice said. “But you better not be kidding about that drinking game.”

“We’ll get alcohol poisoning before the day is over,” Hana said as she led Alice back over to the other ladies. As they joined the group, Liam did so as well, accompanied by a man and a woman Alice didn’t recognize.

“Mind if we join you?” Liam asked.

“Not at all,” Madeleine said sweetly. “Ladies, this is Lord Neville Vancoeur, future Earl of Cormery Isle.”

The man bowed curtly. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Alice thought he looked stiff and stuffy, which seemed appropriate for a noble that Madeleine would like.

“And this is the heir–” Madeleine started to say before the woman interrupted her.

“Rashida,” she said. She was beautiful with tanned skin and loose, dark hair that fell down over her shoulders. She looked effortlessly cool in a simple white shift under a leather jacket. “Countess Madeleine and King Liam have told us a lot about you ladies.”

“What Lady Rashida neglected to mention is that she is also heir to Duchy Domvallier,” Madeleine added.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” Alice said. “I’m Alice, and this is Lady Hana Lee.”

Hana dipped into a graceful curtsy. Alice made a mental note to ask Hana for tips to improve her own curtsy.

“And this is Lady Penelope and Lady Kiara,” Liam said.

“Now that introductions have been made, we must excuse ourselves. Liam and I have to make our rounds,” Madeleine said. “Neville, I think you’ll find you have quite a bit in common with Hana.” With that, Liam and Hana left.

“Lady Lee–” Neville said.

“Please, call me Hana.”

“Lady Hana. Countess Madeleine neglected to tell me how positively radiant you are,” Neville said. Alice tried not to wrinkle her nose at him and remembered her promise to Hana to behave.

“She’s also an excellent dancer,” Alice said.

“There’s more to a partnership than being a good dance partner,” Rashida said dismissively.

“Dancing with someone can tell you so much about compatibility,” Hana said. “Do you step on each other’s toes, or try to lead at the same time? Or do you listen to your partner and take cues from each other?”

“Very intuitive,” Rashida said, smiling slightly.

“Insightful and a dancer,” Alice said.

“Indeed,” Neville said. “I know I would love to take you out on the dance floor, Hana.”

“Perhaps there will be a ball on the engagement tour,” Hana said.

“I taught my poodles the box step!” Penelope said.

“That must be…a joke?” Neville asked.

“Er…yeah,” Penelope said, visibly deflating. “Just a funny, silly joke…”

“Lady Kiara, I understand you plan to work in the foreign ministry?” Rashida asked. “I admire your ambition.”

“Thank you, yes, I do,” Kiara said.

“Hana is very ambitious,” Alice said, smiling at her friend. “She masters anything she puts her mind to.”

“That is very impressive, Lady Hana,” Rashida said.

“The court is a…demanding place. I have learned a lot in my time here,” Hana said.

“You’re too humble, Hana,” Alice said. “You’ve excelled here because you prepared.”

“I guess I have worked hard for this,” Hana reluctantly agreed, allowing herself a smile

“Preparation is the soul of success,” Rashida said, smiling at Hana. Alice flicked her eyes between Rashida and Hana, an idea beginning to germinate.

“The court certainly is dog-eat-dog. It is most impressive for anyone to survive with their character intact,” Neville said, tossing a quick, condescending glance in Alice’s direction. Alice leveled her gaze at him, but said nothing.

“Dog=eat=dog?” Penelope asked with a gasp. “I’ve never heard of anything so barbaric!”

“It’s just an expression,” Alice assured her gently. “So, Rashida, what do you do for work?”

“I’m a partner at Sloan Enterprises, where I primarily handle legal matters,” Rashida said, a note of pride in her voice.

Un entrepreneur?” Kiara asked.

“Indeed, though my business partner is the real visionary,” Rashida said.

“If your partner is the brain, that must make you the looks,” Neville said.

“I’m sure you intended that as flattery, but I contribute far more to the business than my looks,” Rashida said frostily.

“You seemed hesitant to mention your title when Countess Madeleine made the introductions,” Hana said, smoothly diverting the conversation.

“I prefer to let my personal accomplishments speak for me rather than my lineage,” Rashida said.

“Very admirable,” Alice said. “And you, Lord Neville? What do you do?”

“I help my father manage the affairs of Cormery Isle and my family’s estate,” he said. “It’s quite a demanding job and usually keeps me away from court.”

“That’s a shame,” Alice said, not sounding the least bit sorry. Rashida bit back a smile.

“Perhaps you need an assistant rather than a bride,” Rashida said. “I have some excellent referrals I could send your way.”

Just then, Madeleine returned.

“I hate to interrupt, but there is someone else I would like to introduce you to, Lord Neville,” Madeleine said. “You, too, Lady Rashida.”

“Of course,” Rashida said. “Ladies, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Especially you, Lady Hana.”

Hana blushed slightly.

“Until we meet again, Lady Hana,” Neville said, a smug smile playing across his lips. Alice wanted to rap him across the nose with a rolled up newspaper like a bad dog.

“Enjoy the picnic,” Alice said pleasantly as Madeleine led Neville and Rashida away. Rashida glanced back over her shoulder at Hana and Alice nudged Hana, who blushed even deeper.

“I don’t think that went very well for me,” Penelope said.

“There will be other suitors, Penelope,” Kiara assured her.

“Guys, Neville’s a douche,” Alice said as a server walked by with a tray of food. “You can all do way better.”

“Oh, that smells like my grandmother’s curry chicken!” Penelope exclaimed. “I have to try it!”

“Oh, me, too!” Kiara said as they took off after the server and Drake sidled up beside Alice.

“Hey, Ayers. Hana,” Drake said. “Maxwell told me what’s going on today and now might be a good time for a distraction so Ayers can sneak off to check out the photographer’s spot.”

“I’m on it!” said Hana.

“What are you going to do?” Alice asked.

“You’ll see,” Hana said with a mischievous grin before she took off towards Madeleine.

“If she sets Madeleine’s hair on fire, I’ll marry her on the spot,” Alice said.

“I don’t think you’ll get that lucky,” Drake said as Hana reached Madeleine who was chatting with some nobles across the lawn.

“Drake, I’m surprised to see you here,” Kiara said as she rejoined Alice and Drake.

“I try to support Liam when I can,” Drake said stiffly.

“You’re a good friend to him,” Kiara said. “It’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked you.”

Drake coughed awkwardly, but said nothing.

“It’s such a shame what happened to your sister,” Kiara continued.

“What do you mean?” Alice asked.

“The way she left without any warning,” Kiara said. “Savannah used to be a fixture around here. She may not have been a noble, but she was one of us. And she was coming along so well in her French lessons, and I was surprised–”

“French lessons?” Drake interrupted. “Savannah didn’t speak French.”

“I was teaching her before–” Kiara started to say before loud music suddenly blasted through the air, drawing everyone’s attention to Hana and Madeleine.

“Madeleine, I was thinking that this picnic could use some entertainment!” Hana exclaimed.

“Well, yes, every good social event can do with some amusement, I suppose…” Madeleine said cautiously.

“So I challenge you to a dance-off!” Hana said.

“What?” Madeleine asked, her regal composure dropping.

Hana glanced over at Alice and winked before beginning a series of twirls around Madeleine. Alice noticed Rashida watching from the sidelines, an amused smile on her face.

“I think that’s our cue,” Alice whispered to Drake.

“Wait, I need to talk to Kiara about–” Drake started to protest but Alice cut him off.

“There’s no time now, we have to go while no one is looking,” she insisted, tugging on his arm.

They slipped away from Kiara while she was distracted by the dance-off and headed in the opposite direction. Alice spotted Bastien making his way through the crowd. He caught her eye and paused for a moment, but then kept walking. Alice and Drake continued towards the edge of the manor, rounding the corner so they were out of sight of the party goers at the picnic.

“So far so good,” Drake said as they walked over to the manicured gardens beneath her former bedroom window. Maxwell soon joined them, holding a skewer of curry chicken.

“Where’s Bertrand?” Alice asked.

“I sent him up to your old room to act as a stand-in,” Maxwell said. Alice glanced up at the window and saw Bertrand watching them.

“Alright, Ayers, where do you think we should start?” Drake asked.

“I think we should try to line up the shot,” Alice said, her eyes still up on the window. “If we can figure out the angle, we’ll know where the photographer was standing.”

Drake pulled his phone out of his pocket and held it up, aiming at the window. “The angle doesn’t look right. I think we’d have to be standing over there to get the right view,” he said, pointing to a patch of bushes circling a tall tree closer to the building. Alice headed over to the bushes with Drake close behind, aiming his phone this way and that to try and match the angle of the photographs.

“God, you can see right into the room from here,” Alice muttered.

“It’s still too low,” Drake said. “Even someone seven feet tall couldn’t have taken this.”

“They must have climbed the tree!” Maxwell exclaimed, looking up into the branches. He immediately tossed the skewer and hoisted himself up into the tree to begin his ascent.

“Maxwell, please be careful, you’re wearing dress shoes,” Alice called. No sooner had she said that when he reached for a branch a patch of loose bark came loose, causing him to lose his grip. He quickly recovered, grabbing another branch to pull himself up. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” Maxwell called back down. “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can…”

“This is really close to the building,” Drake said. “Whoever did it must have been at at the party.”

“More than that, they must have been waiting for the right shot,” Maxwell called down. “I mean, I’m literally in a tree.”

“Which means they knew Tariq would be in your room,” Drake said angrily. “The photographer was definitely in on it and whoever hired the photographer must have known the manor pretty well to know about the view from this spot.”

“A reporter snuck into the party that night,” Maxwell said as he started to climb out of the tree.

“So we need to confirm if the reporter you saw is the same one who climbed the tree and took the photo,” Drake said.

“Right,” Maxwell said as he reached the ground. “I’ll go get Bertrand and meet you back here.”

“Why can’t you just text him?” Alice asked.

“Think, Alice! What if they’re monitoring the airwaves?” Maxwell asked.

“That seems like a bit much, but okay, we’ll wait here,” Alice said.

Maxwell hurried off to fetch Bertrand and Alice looked back up at the window.

“You okay?” Drake asked.

“Yeah, I just…I still can’t imagine why someone would hate me so much to set me up in such a vicious way,” she said, shivering slightly in spite of the lovely weather.

“Hey,” Drake said gently. “You’re safe now.”

“Am I?” Alice asked, thinking back to her conversation with Bastien the night she’d returned to Applewood.

“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.”

Bastien knew something about that night, she was sure of it. He’d started to tell her that night but she’d stopped him, too overwhelmed to listen. Alice knew she needed to talk to him, but he was nearly impossible to find unless he wanted to be found. Even at events, it was often nearly impossible to get near him anymore and she had a suspicion he was avoiding her. But if he was avoiding her, then why had he tried to talk to her that night? The push and pull of his behavior was so frustrating and she wanted to know what he was hiding.

“Yes, you are,” Drake said firmly, his voice pulling her back out of her thoughts. Alice looked down at the bushes at the base of the tree and her eye caught something. She bent down and picked it up, carefully disentangling it from the plants.

“What’s that?” Drake asked.

“It looks like a security badge,” Alice said as Maxwell returned with Bertrand.

“What do you have?” Bertrand asked. She held out the badge to him.

“Mansingh?” Bertrand asked when he read the logo. “That’s the company they used for security at the party. Super high-tech.” He flipped it over and gently wiped the dirt from the other side with his sleeve, revealing a photograph of a serious-looking woman with dark hair.

“That must be the reporter!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“But how did she get her hands on a Mansingh security badge?” Bertrand asked.

“She must have had help from the inside,” Alice said. “Someone who could get her security clearance to a private party.”

“Probably whoever hired her,” Drake said.

Suddenly, it clicked. Drake kept talking, but Alice’s head was swimming with the realization. Who on the inside could have gotten the security clearance of that level? Who knew the room assignments?

Who had just tried to tell her something she didn’t want to hear?

Bertrand looked at Alice and saw the shift on her face. “Alice? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just…I’ll be back,” she said.

“Alice, wait,” Maxwell said, but she was already walking away back to the party. She scanned the group and it only took her a moment to locate Bastien along the perimeter. She forced herself to walk slowly so as to not attract too much attention. He saw her coming and looked back to the party, trying to appear inconspicuous.

“I need to talk to you,” she said when she reached him.

“Not now.”

“Yes, now,” she hissed.

“Alice, you don’t understand, it’s not safe here,” he said in a low voice.

“It’s not safe for me anywhere,” she snapped, trying to keep her voice quiet.

“It’s especially not safe in Cordonia,” Bastien said. “I can talk to you when we leave for Italy.”

“You’ll talk to me now, god dammit!” she exclaimed.

Bastien looked over to where Madeleine was still distracted by Hana and some of the other nobles. He took Alice by the arm and quickly ushered her away from the party, leading her over to a small alcove in the wall of the manor that he knew was another blind spot for the security cameras.

“Alice, I’m not kidding, you have no idea how dangerous this is,” he said, glancing around to make sure they hadn’t been followed.

“If I see you anywhere near her, if you tell anyone anything I’ve told you tonight, if you interfere in any way–I will kill her.”

“Did you hire the photographer who took photos of me?” Alice demanded.

Bastien met her angry gaze and took a deep breath. “Yes.” Alice took a step backwards. “Gray, you have to stay out of view of the–”

Before he could finish, she slapped him across the face.

“Don’t you fucking dare call me that,” she said, her voice low.

“Alice, you don’t know the whole story,” he begged. “Please, just–”

“I know enough,” Alice said.

“No, you don’t,” Bastien said. “I can explain, I just can’t do it here.”

“What the fuck difference does it make whether we’re here or out of the country?” Alice demanded.

Bastien’s frustration finally bubbled over. “Your fucking life, Alice, that’s the fucking difference!” He stopped and took a breath. “I will talk to you when we leave Cordonia.”

“Don’t bother,” Alice said. She turned and left, heading inside. Bastien leaned against the wall, tears stinging his eyes. He closed them, trying to come up with a plan. Now that everyone was at Applewood, it would be nearly impossible to get into the security room to delete the footage. Plus, if anyone saw them leave the party and decided to report it to Constantine…

Bastien felt sick, but he steeled himself and took a deep breath, straightening up before he prepared to return to the party. Constantine’s health was rapidly declining and all Bastien could do was hope he and Regina were too preoccupied to bother with Alice right now.

On the way back to her room, Alice ran into Hana.

“Hey!” Hana said, then stopped. “What’s wrong? Why do you look upset?”

“I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Alice said. “How was the rest of the party?”

“Oh, it was fine,” Hana said with a shrug. “A bunch of pretentious men and an agitated Madeleine. She was not impressed with the dance-off idea.”

“Did you get a chance to talk to Rashida some more?” Alice asked.

Hana blushed. “A little. She’s really intimidating…in a good way. If that makes sense.”

“It does,” Alice assured her. “Did you get her number?”

“What? No,” Hana said, looking embarrassed. “I’ve never asked for anyone’s number before.”

“You’ll get it next time,” Alice said said. “I’ll coach you.”

“How do you know she even likes women?” Hana asked.

“Because I saw the way she was looking at you, duh,” Alice said.

“Anyway, I’m dying to know, did you guys find anything outside?” Hana asked, quickly changing the subject.

“We found a security badge with what we assume is the photographer’s photo on it,” Alice said. “The badge was a little damaged though so we couldn’t read her name.”

“What? That’s great!” Hana exclaimed. “I’m sure you’ll figure everything out soon.”

“Yeah,” Alice agreed. “Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m feeling really tired. I think I’m going to go lie down.”

“Oh, of course,” Hana said. “Do you need anything?”

“Just a shower and a nap, I think,” Alice said. “Thanks though.”

“Okay. Text me if you think of anything I can do for you.”

Alice thanked Hana and left, heading to her room. She closed the door behind her and locked it. Although she’d intended to take a shower, instead she lay down on the bed, still fully clothed, and stared up at the ceiling.

“Did you hire the photographer who took photos of me?”


Alice began to cry. Eventually, she fell asleep.

A soft knock at the door jarred Alice out of a dreamless sleep. The room was dark and Alice sat up, slightly disoriented until she remembered where she was.

“Who is it?” she called.


Alice groggily climbed to her feet and headed over to the door, flipping on the light before she unlocked and opened the door.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“Of course,” Alice said as she held the door open for him. “What’s up?” she asked, closing it behind him.

“You weren’t at dinner so I wanted to check on you,” Liam said.

“I came up here to take a nap and I guess I slept longer than I meant to.”

“Oh, sorry, did I wake you?”

“Yes, but I needed to wake up,” Alice assured him as she gestured for him to sit on the sofa.

“Are you hungry? I can have some food sent up for you,” Liam offered.

“That’s sweet of you, but I’m fine,” Alice said. Just thinking about what Bastien told her that afternoon was enough to kill her appetite.

“I…also wanted to check on you,” Liam said. “I feel so bad about what happened to you the last time we were here. I hate even more that you had to come back here.”

“I didn’t have to, I chose to,” Alice reminded him. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard, but I feel like I’ve been doing okay.”

“I’m so sorry about the room assignments,” Liam said. “I didn’t even know about them until after we’d already arrived.”

“It’s fine,” Alice said. “Maxwell has been a good sleepover buddy. Although, he does keep trying to get me to try his homemade face mask recipe.”

“I can vouch for it, it’s a good recipe,” Liam said. Alice smiled.

“Somehow I can’t imagine you, Maxwell, and Drake all sitting around in face masks and painting each other toenails.”

“I didn’t say anything about toenails, but Maxwell did convince us to try the mask with him once. Drake complained the whole time, but I think he secretly liked it.”

“Of course he did,” Alice laughed.

“I should probably go,” Liam said, rising to his feet. “I don’t want to cause you any more problems in case someone goes looking for me and finds me here.”

“Yes, Madeleine was very clear that I shouldn’t embarrass her,” Alice said.

Liam sighed. “She can be…a lot. But she has a point. It won’t help your reputation and the attempts to clear your name if anyone thinks we’re having secret rendezvous.”

“Fair,” Alice said, standing. “Thanks for checking on me.”

“Let me know if I can do more,” Liam said, wrapping her in a hug. Then he wished her goodnight and left.

Alice turned to her suitcase and began to pack when there was another knock at the door.

“Alice? It’s me,” Maxwell called.

“It’s open!”

Maxwell opened the door and stopped. “Hey, did you drop something?”

“What?” Alice asked, turning to look as he bent down and picked up an envelope with her name on it.

“Looks like a note for you,” he said, handing it to her. Alice opened the envelope, hating the part of her that wanted it to be from Bastien when she was still so upset with him. Even worse, she felt herself deflate a little when it wasn’t his handwriting.

“This is weird,” Alice said as she read it. She handed it to Maxwell.

If you want to root out your enemies, meet me in the boutique car of the train tomorrow at 5pm on the dot.



“Who’s O?” Maxwell asked.

“Beats me,” Alice said with a shrug. “At this point, I’m more confused by the fact that there’s going to be a boutique car on the train.”

Bastien lay in his bed, unable to sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about the way Alice had looked at him when he told her the truth. But there was no going back now; he’d done what he’d done for Constantine. For his service to the crown. There was no way he could fix this or make this better.

Or was there?

Bastien got out of bed and started to pack.

Part 29

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