Guarded Hearts, Part 30

Summary: Alice attends Madeleine’s bachelortte party and secrets come to light.

Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit. This is a long post, but some shit really goes down, I promise!

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, Part 28, Part 29


The next morning, Alice awoke to a knock on the door to her room on train.

“What?” she called groggily, wondering if she had the energy to make an Arya Stark-style list.

“It’s me!” Maxwell called.

Alice groaned, annoyed, and hauled herself to her feet before crossing the room to open the door.

“Good morning! I have good news!” Maxwell chirped as Alice let him into her room, shutting the door behind him.

“Is it that you’re leaving and I can go back to sleep?” Alice asked.

Maxwell laughed. “Nope, better than that!”

Alice glared at him before climbing back into bed and pulling the blanket over her head.

“Seriously, this is good,” Maxwell said as he sat down on her bed. “Bertrand scoured the receipt and was able to read the last four digits of a credit card number that was used for payment.”

“I guess that’s something,” Alice said. She didn’t think Bastien would be obvious enough to use his own credit card, but this information might still not lead anywhere.

“Think about it!” Maxwell said. “Remember what the maid said back at Applewood Manor? It has to be one of the noble ladies!”

“Assuming that the noble lady in question paid for the photographer and talked to the maid. It’s very possible that whoever paid the photographer was a different person from the noble lady,” Alice pointed out.

“True…” Maxwell said slowly. “But what if it was the same person?”

Alice thought about this, then pulled the blankets off her head. “Where’s Bertrand?”

Maxwell looked uncomfortable. “He sent me in here to talk to you…he wasn’t sure if you wanted to see him after everything that happened last night.”

Alice sat up, annoyed. “Go get him.”

“But–”

“Go get him.”

Maxwell left and a few minutes later, he returned with Bertrand behind him.

“Alice. Good morning,” Bertrand said awkwardly.

“Stop being weird, Bertrand,” Alice said.

“I’m not being weird!” he protested.

“Get it together or I’m going to swear in front of the press. A bad one.”

Bertrand’s face flushed with panic and annoyance. “Alice Ayers, you’d better not–”

“There we go,” Alice said. “Anyway, Maxwell, you said we have a credit card number?”

“Only the last four digits,” Bertrand said.

“But this could be it! This could be the breakthrough we’re looking for!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“Again, we don’t know if the noble lady who talked to the maid is the same person who hired the photographer,” Alice said.

“No, but it’s our main lead at the moment,” Bertrand said. “Which means you need to do a little digging.”

“Am I supposed to rifle through each of the noble ladies’ purses to check their credit cards?” Alice asked.

“Well, all the noble ladies are going to be gathered together tonight,” Maxwell said.

“So that’s when I’ll turn into a pickpocket?”

“Tonight is Madeleine’s bachelorette party and, as a lady at court, you’re expected to attend,” Bertrand said.

“What? No,” Alice protested. “There is no way in hell Madeleine wants me at her bachelorette party.”

“That’s sort of irrelevant when it comes to courtly decorum,” Bertrand said. “You’re a lady at court and you were a suitor, therefore you’re expected to attend the bachelorette party.”

Alice stared at him. “You know that this party is liable to turn into Thunderdome, right?”

“Just don’t break anything on camera,” Bertrand said. “I don’t think House Beaumont’s finances could withstand too many repair bills.”

“What about off camera?”

“Make sure there are no witnesses.”


Bastien climbed into the front seat of the car. He had a ways to go but if he managed to make good time, he could rejoin the engagement tour in Italy. He glanced over at his duffel bag on the seat beside him, thinking of what he’d found in Constantine’s office. He hoped it would be enough.

He settled in for the drive ahead and flipped on the radio to drown out his thoughts.


Later that afternoon, Alice sat with the Beaumonts as Justin reviewed the press release.

“Countess Madeleine invites all of Cordonia to glimpse her bachelorette celebration,” Justin read. “The events of the evening will kick off with an exclusive photoshoot and interview with the queen-to-be and her party.”

“I’m assuming Madeleine did a lot of these interviews already the first time she bagged a prince, how different could her answers be now?” Alice asked.

“That’s not helpful,” Justin said as he set down the paper.

“Oops,” Alice said. Bertrand shot her a look.

“Madeleine works the press like a professional,” Justin said. “If you want to stand out tonight, you’ll have to take a page out of her book.”

“Why would I want to stand out at someone else’s bachelorette party?” Alice asked.

Justin sighed, annoyed. “Because the press is going to be there and we want the press to like you and we’re trying to convince everyone that you–”

“Are a perfect angel who loves Cordonia,” Alice said. “Got it.”

“But don’t worry, I’ll be with you the whole time,” Justin said.

“Don’t like that,” Alice said without thinking.

“What Alice means is that she wants to know how that’s possible since bachelorette parties are traditionally all-female events,” Maxwell said quickly.

Justin reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device, offering it to Alice. “It’s an earpiece. As long as you wear it, I’ll be in your head.”

“Just as long as you play nicely with the other voices in my head,” Alice said.

“Ana de Luca is going to be in attendance and I need you to impress her,” Justin said.

“Alright,” Alice said. “Anything else I need to know for tonight?”

“Just one more thing,” Justin said. “Madeleine asked each of the ladies in her court to plan an activity for her bachelorette party.”

“Why am I just hearing about this now?” Alice asked. “That seems like the sort of thing a press secretary should have mentioned sooner.”

Justin shrugged, unfazed by her snarky tone. “Why should you have heard about it sooner? You have people like me to take care of it for you. Bertrand had me conduct some market research, and I’ve prepared two options for you to pick from.”

“You seriously did market research on bachelorette parties?” Alice asked Bertrand. “You remember that I’m a bartender, right? I deal with wedding parties on a nearly weekly basis.”

“I was covering all of our bases!” Bertrand protested.

“You have VIP reservations at the two hottest clubs in town,” Justin continued. “An underground lounge and a rooftop night spot with a pool. I just need you to pick so we can lock in the plans, including top-level security.”

“The rooftop with the pool,” Alice said. She didn’t care much either way, but the rooftop option came with the possibility that someone would push Madeleine into the pool.

“Great choice,” Justin said, typing into his phone. “Alright, go get ready. You’re due soon to meet the other ladies for the first bachelorette event.”

He stood and said a quick goodbye before leaving.

“Don’t forget, we need you to also focus on the investigation tonight,” Bertrand said.

“The what?” Alice asked.

Bertrand stared at her. “The investigation. To find out who set you up. To clear your name.”

“Why does my name need to be cleared?” Alice asked.

“Okay, ha ha, very funny,” Bertrand said, annoyed. “Just be on the lookout for any openings to identify the ladies’ credit cards and compare that number to the last four digits of the card used to pay the photographer,” Bertrand said. “Here,” he said, handing her a piece of paper. “I wrote down the last four digits for you, just in case.”

“Thanks,” Alice said. “Anything else?”

“Just…be careful,” Bertrand said.

“Yeah, we can’t have anything happen to you,” Maxwell added.

“Guys, I know how to handle myself at a bachelor party,” Alice said.

“Yeah, but someone in that group is likely the person–or one of the people–who set you up,” Maxwell said.

“They might have gotten someone else to do their dirty work, but they’re still dangerous,” Bertrand said. “Depending on who it is, we don’t know how far their reach goes.”

“Noted,” Alice said. “Anything else?”

“You were kidding this morning about swearing in front of the press, right?” Bertrand asked.

Alice shrugged. “I dunno. Guess we’ll find out.”


Before the party was due to begin, Hana and Alice sat together in the dining car of the train, the earpiece Justin gave her tucked into Alice’s ear.

“Are you looking forward to the party?” Hana asked.

“Not really,” Alice said. “Although, I guess it’ll be better to be a participant at the party instead of a bartender constantly making drinks for woo girls.”

“Woo girls?” Hana asked, confused.

“Yeah,” Alice said. “Those are the kind of women who go into bars and constantly shout ‘Wooo!’ at the top of their lungs because they think they can substitute loud noises for a personality.”

Hana laughed. “I have to admit, I’m pretty excited. I know it’s a party for Madeleine and she’s awful, but I’ve never been to a bachelorette party before.”

“Really?” Alice asked.

“I’ve never had many close girlfriends,” Hana said. “But I did watch every season of The Bachelorette in preparation for tonight, so I think I’m ready!”

“I admire the enthusiasm, but that show is a little different from an actual bachelorette party,” Alice said, but Hana pushed on.

“I spent all night planning my date!” she exclaimed. “We’re going to a chocolate shop to have fondue!”

“That…sounds lovely,” Alice said, not bothering to correct her. “I’m sure Madeleine will love it.”

“I hope so,” Hana said. “Though I’m not sure when I’m supposed to give her the rose…”

“What?” Alice asked.

“Or is she supposed to give me the rose? Unless I get eliminated…”

“Hana, tonight is just a party,” Alice assured her. “No one is getting eliminated, it’s just a bunch of us hanging out to celebrate Madeleine getting married. But, if it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure I’m at the top of Madeleine’s elimination list.”

No sooner had she finished saying that when Madeleine, Kiara, and Penelope entered the car.

“Ah, you’re already here,” Madeleine said. “Excellent. Lady Penelope has so kindly arranged a private shopping excursion in the most exclusive boutique in Italy, and I don’t want to waste it.”

“Let the fun begin,” Alice said as she stood, Hana following suit. Madeleine narrowed her eyes at Alice.

“You could at least pretend to stop pouting for ten minutes,” Madeleine said. Alice fixed a wide, fake grin on her face. “Ugh, never mind, that’s creepy. Let’s go.”

Soon after, Alice and the other women traipsed into a local shop that had been temporarily shut down for them.

“Alright, everyone,” Madeleine announced. “You should all select a metallic dress for tonight.”

“Why?” Alice asked. Hana poked her warningly.

“Alice, please don’t be difficult,” Madeleine said. “It’s a theme. Just go along with it.”

“Great idea,” Kiara said quickly. “Very classy.”

“I called ahead and had them put aside all of their metallic options,” Penelope said proudly. She motioned for everyone to follow her to a rack of sparkling, shimmering dresses. Madeleine and Kiara selected a few and headed to the dressing room as Alice flipped through the rack, feeling bored. A few minutes later, Madeleine and Kiara emerged from the dressing room.

“How do I look?” Madeleine asked, spinning to show off a low cut, gold dress that hugged her waif-like frame.

“So beautiful!” Penelope said, clapping her hands excitedly. “You, too, Kiara. You both look radiant. Literally!”

Merci beaucoup,” Kiara said, her own gold dress a much more modest variation of Madeleine’s. Alice figured it was very fitting for a diplomat.

“Alice, here, try this one,” Hana said as she held out a sleek gold dress as she selected a long silver one for herself.

“Definitely get the dress,” Justin said over the earpiece. “The press will eat it up.”

Alice already deeply regretted having Justin in her ear.

“Don’t just stand out,” Justin continued. “Outshine!”

Alice accepted the dress from Hana and headed into a dressing room. Hana was right–the dress did look the part. It was long and elegant and reminded Alice of a Grecian statue.

“You look like a Greek goddess in that dress.”

Alice tried to shake away the memory of what Bastien had said to her in Lythikos. She couldn’t afford to let herself cry, not here. And where the hell was he, anyway? What could he have been called back to the palace for? As angry as she was with him, it hurt to not have him with her. God, I’m a masochist, she thought.

“What do you think?” Alice asked, stepping out of the dressing room.

“You look stunning!” Hana exclaimed, Penelope and Kiara nodding their agreement. Madeleine looked her up and down slowly.

“Well, I guess we should all just be happy you’re wearing clothes,” Madeleine said. “Shall we go?”

“Let’s head to my event now!” Kiara said quickly. “We don’t want to be late for the photoshoot with Trend Magazine.”

“I just have to pay for your dress, Madeleine,” Penelope said. “It’s my gift to you.”

“And there’s not even a poodle on it!” Madeleine said with exaggerated surprise. “I guess I should be grateful.”

“‘Thank you’ also would’ve been an appropriate response,” Alice said.

“Alice…” came Justin’s warning voice in her ear.

Madeleine sniffed. “I’ll be in the limo,” she said before turning and heading out of the shop, Kiara and Hana close behind her. Hana turned and looked over her shoulder, glancing meaningfully between Alice and Penelope.

“Want some company, Penelope?” Alice offered.

“That would…be really nice, actually,” Penelope said as the two women headed to the register. Alice paid for her dress and stepped aside to let Penelope at the register.

“It’s really nice of you to buy Madeleine’s dress for her,” Alice said.

“Oh,” Penelope said, looking uncomfortable. “Um. Sure. Anything to get on her good side…”

When Penelope pulled out her card, Alice casually checked the last four digits. Not a match, Alice thought. Not that she was surprised–Penelope didn’t exactly seem equipped for subterfuge. Penelope signed the receipt and turned back to Alice.

“Ready for a photoshoot?” she asked.

“I guess I’m dressed for it,” Alice said. “Come on, let’s get out there. I get the feeling Bridezilla doesn’t want to be kept waiting.”

Penelope suppressed a giggle as they left the shop and joined everyone in the limo. After a short drive, they arrived at the studio Trend Magazine secured for the press event.

“Welcome, ladies,” Ana de Luca said as they entered the studio.

“Thank you, Ms. de Luca,” Madeleine said. “I am so pleased that Lady Kiara was able to arrange this event.”

“I was elated when Kiara’s mother called me,” Ana said, shooting Kiara a smile. “I can’t refuse an old friend a little favor. Let’s begin with a photos hoot for the feature, shall we? You’re all looking marvelous!”

Ana led the bachelorette party over to the set and arranged them around Madeleine.

“Lady Alice, that dress looks incredible on you,” Ana said approvingly as she nodded her head. Madeleine glowered, but said nothing.

“What did I tell you?” Justin asked in Alice’s ear. “You fit in and stand out!”

Ana backed out of the frame and nodded to the photographer, who held out a hand, counting down from three. Alice leaned in towards Hana to pose with her as the camera flashed.

“I think this is what they call ‘hashtag squadron goals,’” Hana said with a grin.

“Close enough,” Alice said, hugging Hana with one arm.

“My audience is going to love all the girl power in this room,” Ana said happily. “You ladies are just the sort of role models young Cordonians need right now.”

“Most of us, anyway,” Madeleine muttered.

“That’s so kind of you to say,” Alice said, ignoring Madeleine.

“Just stating facts. You’re naturals!” Ana said as she checked the photos on a nearby monitor. “Since I have you here, I think it’s time for a few questions.”

“Of course,” Madeleine said, smiling benevolently.

“Countess Madeleine, tell me…why do you allow Lady Alice at court after everything that has happened?”

“Honestly? It’s water under the bridge,” Madeleine said.

“Really? The scandal, the pictures…none of that concerns you?” Ana asked.

Alice felt Hana’s light touch on her elbow and tried to use that to orient herself in the present moment.

“To be frank, the way the press has treated Lady Alice and dragged her name through the mud is shameful,” Madeleine said. “The press loves a good love story and instead of embracing that aspect of her story, they’ve done nothing but rip her to shreds.”

Alice was almost positive she was going to be violently ill, but she tried to focus on her breathing. Breathe in, breathe out.

“And furthermore,” Madeleine continued, “where is the ire directed at Tariq? He’s the other half of this love story and the media has been conspicuously silent on his role in the whole ordeal.”

“Don’t say anything,” Justin warned in her ear.

“Anyway, instead of focusing on some torrid affair, wouldn’t Cordonia be better served if the focus were on the bright future King Liam and I are building for our people?” Madeleine asked.

Ana nodded. “You’ve given me a lot to consider, Countess Madeleine.” She turned to Kiara and as she spoke with her, Alice leaned over to Madeleine.

“What was that about?” Alice asked.

“I don’t expect you to believe me, but it wasn’t just for show. I meant what I said,” Madeleine said. “The focus should be on Cordonia’s future, not the revolving door of your bedroom.”

Alice was about to reply when Ana de Luca turned back to her.

“Your turn, Lady Alice,” Ana said. “What do you think of our queen-to-be?”

“Play to what she wants to hear,” Justin advised. “This is Madeleine’s day, so focus on her. If you’re hard on her, the press will turn on you like the wolves they are.”

“I think Madeleine is very dedicated to Cordonia and King Liam made a wise choice,” Alice said, hoping her tone sounded sincere rather than sarcastic.

“Putting aside your differences for king and country,” Ana said, nodding. “Very genteel. This will be a great addition to the feature.”

“Atta girl!” Justin chirped in her ear. Alice wished it was possible to smack someone through an earpiece.

“Happy to be of service,” Alice said, casually putting her hands behind her back so Ana wouldn’t see them shaking.

“This has been extremely interesting,” Ana said to the group. “My readers are going to eat this story up, thank you very much, ladies.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Madeleine assured her. “But I think it’s time for us to move onto our next location. Alice, I believe your activity is next.”

“That’s a wrap,” Justin said. “You’ve finished your public appearance for the evening. I don’t need to tell you how to enjoy yourself at a party. Over and out.”

When she was sure no one was looking, Alice pulled the device out of her ear and made a mental note to toss it into the pool when they reached the rooftop bar.


When they arrived at the venue, Alice quickly spotted the VIP booth Justin had reserved for them.

Alors…this is a club,” Kiara said, surprised.

“…yes?” Alice agreed slowly, unsure of where she was going with that.

“It’s so exciting!” Penelope said, grabbing onto Kiara’s arm. “Loud music…fun drinks…men everywhere…”

“Wait, have you two never been to a club before?” Alice asked.

“Not exactly,” Kiara said.

“No, but I’ve always wanted to!” Penelope said.

“We don’t all have the luxury of engaging in such gauche behavior, Lady Alice,” Madeleine said condescendingly.

“Hoo boy, I think we need drinks,” Alice said as she and Hana led the group to their seats. As they settled down, Alice noticed Kiara sitting a bit apart from the others.

“Hey, Kiara,” Alice said, moving to sit beside her.

Oui? Can I help you?” Kiara asked.

“Actually, you can,” Alice said, an idea forming in her head. “Can I see your credit card?”

Quoi? No. Why?”

“We need a card to open a tab and I can’t find mine right now,” Alice said. “Please? I promise I’ll pay you back.”

“You should really be more responsible,” Kiara said, but she rifled through her purse until she found her wallet. She removed her card and handed it to Alice, who checked the last four digits. Not a match, Alice thought.

“Oh, wait! I just remembered, I put it in a different pocket in my bag,” Alice said. “All good! Thanks though.”

Kiara rolled her eyes and took her card back.

“Well, well, well,” Olivia said as she joined their group, standing in front of the table. “Look what we have here.”

“Olivia!” Alice said, pleasantly surprised.

“What are you doing here?” Kiara asked.

“Surprised to see me?” Olivia asked, one eyebrow raised. “Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t invited.”

“Nonsense,” Madeleine said with a cordial smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “You’re welcome to join us. I simply didn’t think you were still up for the rigors of court.”

Olivia took a seat by Alice, who noticed Madeleine clutching her purse very tightly.

“I’m going to run to the ladies room,” Madeleine announced. “I expect champagne on the table when I return.”

“Want me to hold your purse for you?” Alice offered.

“And why would I need you to do that?” Madeleine asked drily.

“Because bar bathrooms are notoriously disgusting,” Alice said. “Trust me, there’s never a good place to put your bag and you definitely don’t want to put it on the counter.”

“I suppose you would know all about that as a waitress,” Madeleine said. “Kiara, come. You’ll wait outside and hold my bag. After all, I’m not going to just leave it here.”

“Did you seriously just ask her to follow you like a dog?” Alice asked.

“Kiara knows her place,” Madeleine said as she stood up. “Let’s go.”

Oui, Madeleine,” Kiara said as she got up and followed Madeleine through the crowded club. Alice looked over to see Olivia eyeing her suspiciously.

“I guess I’ll go get the drinks?” Penelope asked as she dug through her bag. “Wait, where is it?”

“Where’s what?” Hana asked.

“My card…oh no, I must have left it at the shop when I bought Madeleine’s dress,” Penelope said.

“Not to worry, the first round is on me,” Olivia said. “Alice, come help me get the drinks, I’ll need help carrying them back.”

“Sure,” Alice said, unsure of why Olivia kept looking at her so suspiciously. She stood and followed Olivia to the bar. “You know that VIP areas generally have cocktail servers, right?”

Olivia ignored her and made her way to the bar. “Two bottles of champagne and six glasses, please.” The bartender nodded and left to fetch her order, so Olivia turned to face Alice. “What are you up to?”

“What do you mean?” Alice asked.

“Don’t play dumb,” Olivia said. “I heard you talking to Kiara when I walked up and I saw you trying to get Madeleine’s purse from her. You’re trying to look at everyone’s credit cards.”

“I’m trying to check the last four digits against the bank transfer receipt we got from the reporter,” Alice said. “Bertrand and Maxwell asked me to do it.”

Olivia rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything about the Beaumonts. “Do you want to see mine?”

“No,” Alice said. “I trust you.”

Olivia stared at her in surprised. “Really? You trust me?” She narrowed her eyes. “Why? Because I poured my heart out to you and offered you my purse?”

Alice shrugged. “You went through a lot to come back and you’re trying to help me. Why wouldn’t I trust you?”

“Alice, I’m trying to like you, but you’ve got to stop doing extremely stupid things like that,” Olivia said. “You’re so lucky you have me to help you.”

“Wait, so you’d rather I not trust you?” Alice asked, suddenly too tired for any of this. She wanted desperately to call it a night and head back her room on the train.

“I’m just saying, you need to be a little smarter about this,” Olivia said as the bartender returned with the champagne and glasses. “Just get everyone dancing and I’ll do the rest.”

They returned to the table to find everyone waiting for them.

“About time,” Madeleine said, annoyed.

“Seriously? It’s packed in here and the bartenders are really busy. They actually took care of us pretty quickly,” Alice said.

“If that’s what you think is quick, I fear for your future when you return to waitressing,” Madeleine said.

Hana put a hand on Alice’s arm before she could say more. “Let’s pour the champagne!” She deftly popped one of the bottles and began pouring drinks, passing a glass to everyone in the group.

“Now what?” Madeleine asked as she took a sip, looking bored.

“Anyone up for some dancing?” Alice asked.

“We can’t just leave the champagne!” Penelope protested.

“True,” Alice agreed before she downed her glass. The other ladies giggled and followed suit, Madeleine being the one standout who rolled her eyes. Then they all stood and Alice led them to the poolside dance floor.

“Please don’t push her in,” Hana murmured in Alice’s ear.

“I would never do that on purpose,” Alice said innocently. “But if she dances too close to the edge…it’s a crowded dance floor. Anything could happen.”

Hana laughed as they started dancing, Alice moving fluidly to the beat. It’d been a while since she let herself go like this and it felt freeing to just let the music flow through her body. She’d felt like such an adversary with her body since that night at Applewood Manor and she was surprised by how in this club, surrounded by women she liked and women she didn’t, she felt…okay. At least, more okay than she had in a little while.

“Nice moves!” Kiara said, impressed.

“You can tell she’s a Beaumont,” Hana said, throwing a wink at Alice.

The other women began to pair off with nearby men who were drawn to them in their shiny metallic dresses like moths. Olivia shot a significant look at Alice. I should’ve asked her what her plan is, Alice thought, although she didn’t have to wonder for long. Olivia began to move erratically, as though her single glass of champagne had been an entire bottle. She stumbled towards Madeleine, a wide grin on her face.

“Miss Maidy Lady!” Olivia cried. “Er, I mean, Baronesssss Maddy…”

“Drunk already, are we, Olivia?” Madeleine asked, unimpressed.

“I’m not drunk, you’re drunk, you–” Olivia snapped, stepping forward to shove Madeleine, but she stumbled, catching herself on Madeleine’s arm and subsequently sending the contents of Madeleine’s bag skittering across the floor, including her credit card. Alice quickly bent down to help grab the contents of Madeleine’s bag, starting with the credit card.

Not a match, Alice thought, deflating a little. She thought for sure it would’ve been Madeleine as she was the only one who had been continuously hostile towards her. She still didn’t know who talked to the maid and sent Tariq to her room, but she had to face the facts: the credit card in question likely belonged to Bastien.

“Ugh, Olivia, you are an embarrassment to Cordonia and to yourself,” Madeleine hissed. “Have you no sense of decorum whatsoever?”

“Whatever, Maddy,” Olivia said dismissively. Her eyes flicked towards the pool and Alice had a suspicion that Olivia regretted not sending her into the water.

“Here, Madeleine,” Alice said, holding out Madeleine’s belongings to her. Madeleine quickly shoved her stuff back into her bag.

“Thank you, Alice. At least someone here has managed to retain control of herself,” Madeleine said, although the expression on her face still looked as though she still expected Alice to do something repulsive at any moment. She turned and headed towards a man dancing nearby, who eyed her appreciatively as he found a rhythm with her.

“You’re welcome,” Olivia said with a smirk.

“You couldn’t have shoved her into the pool?”

“Thought about it,” Olivia said. “So? What’s the verdict?”

“Not a match,” Alice said.

“Well, to be fair, you’ve only investigated the ladies at this party,” Olivia said. “It could be literally any other random lady at court.”

“That’s super helpful, Olivia, thank you.”

“What would be more helpful is if you didn’t ignore the facts,” Olivia said. “This is only a little setback. I’m not going to let your lack of imagination stop this investigation in its tracks. We will find the culprit.” She shrugged. “But, in the meantime, we might as well enjoy the party.”

Several songs and several drinks later, Alice and the other ladies headed back to their table.

“Kiara, I didn’t know you were such a good dancer!” Hana exclaimed.

Merci, mais…I didn’t know either!” Kiara said with a laugh, her demeanor much looser and more relaxed now. A server arrived beside their table, offering a tray of fresh champagne flutes.

“Oooh! We should do a toast!” Penelope exclaimed as they each took one.

“To Madeleine!” Kiara said, raising her glass.

“Oh, stop, I’ll blush,” Madeleine said with a smile.

“We wouldn’t want that, would we?” Olivia asked, holding up her glass. “To be able to blush, I think you have to have a heart,” Olivia added under her breath to Alice as everyone clinked their glasses together and took a sip.

“Hey, is everyone ready for some dessert?” Hana asked excitedly.

“Dessert?” Kiara asked.

“It’s my part of the evening! But I don’t want to spoil the surprise,” Hana said.

“Does dessert have alcohol, too?” Penelope asked.

“If you do it correctly,” Olivia said.

“Penelope, I hadn’t taken you for a lush,” Madeleine said. “However, I am intrigued to see what Lady Hana has planned for the evening. Let’s go.”

They made their way out of the club and back into the limo. A short while later, they arrived at a gorgeous chocolaterie.

“Here we are!” Hana announced as she opened the door for everyone. “I’m sorry I forgot the roses…”

“Don’t worry,” Alice reassured her.

“How very sweet,” Olivia said, looking around the upscale shop. Alice elbowed her. “What? I meant that literally.”

“This…is your activity?” Madeleine asked slowly.

“Yes!” Hana said, a wide grin on her face.

“Are you trying to kill me, Hana?” Madeleine snapped.

“What?” Hana asked, confused.

“Any lady-in-waiting of mine should know that I’m allergic to chocolate!” Madeleine said angrily.

“Oh my goodness, Madeleine, I’m so sorry!” Hana apologized, her face falling. “I had no idea!”

“This is simply unacceptable,” Madeleine said. “Hana, I’m going to be forced to strongly reconsider your place in my court. An error such as this could leave Cordonia without a queen.”

“Seriously? She just said she didn’t know,” Alice said. “And I don’t know how she would have unless you sent out a list of your allergies to everyone.”

“Honestly, it’s far too much of a risk for me to even be here. I need to leave at once,” Madeleine said, ignoring Alice.

Ne dit plus. Let’s find somewhere sans chocolat to cap off the evening,” Kiara said quickly, shooting a sympathetic smile at Hana.

“Hana…perhaps it’s best you don’t join us,” Madeleine said. She turned and left the shop with Kiara and Penelope on her heels. Alice looked over at Hana, who was on the verge of tears.

“I just…I thought it would be a good gift,” Hana said, her voice breaking as she tried to keep the tears from falling.

“Hana, you didn’t know,” Alice said, pulling her into a hug. Olivia knit her eyebrows and glanced towards the door.

“I could’ve sworn I’ve seen her eat chocolate before,” Olivia said.

“No, Madeleine is right, I should have known,” Hana said. “She could have been really hurt.”

“If she was stupid enough to eat chocolate knowing she’s allergic, she would’ve deserved it,” Olivia said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Seriously, Hana, you were just trying to do something nice. You had no way of knowing,” Alice said.

“Alice is right,” Olivia said. “I have a literal file on her…strengths, weaknesses, childhood fears…”

“Wait, you have a what now?” Alice asked, turning to Olivia. “Do you have files on us?”

“Of course. It would be an insult to you both if I didn’t,” Olivia said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“If you say so,” Alice said.

Hana sighed and looked around the shop before bursting into tears.

“Hey, Hana, it’s okay,” Alice said, hugging her.

“It’s just…I worked really hard on this,” Hana said through her muffled sobs against Alice’s shoulder. “We were going to eat fondue and do blind chocolate tasting. I even learned a special dessert pretzel recipe. My parents are going to be so disappointed when they hear how big of a failure it all was.”

“What if we stay with you and have our own chocolate party?” Alice offered. “I can text the guys and see if they want to come. You know Maxwell will break every speed limit to come have some chocolate.”

Hana laughed in spite of her tears and stepped back, trying to clean up her smudged eyeliner with the edges of her fingers.

“It’ll be way more fun than if we did it with Madeleine anyway,” Alice said.

“I don’t want to disturb the guys…could Liam even come?” Hana asked.

Alice noticed Olivia stiffen slightly, but the redhead said nothing. Trust me, Olivia, she’s not competing for him. “He might be able to, but I’m willing to bet Drake and Maxwell both will.”

“It’s okay, it was a dumb idea anyway,” Hana said. “Besides, you have to go with Madeleine and the others.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Olivia said.

“What she means to say is that we can go find them later,” Alice said. “Come on, let’s have a chocolate party!”

“Well…okay, if you’re sure,” Hana said, brightening slightly.

Alice pulled out her phone and sent a quick text. Moments later, it buzzed in her hand and she held it up to show Hana the string of ecstatic emojis Maxwell had sent in reply. “I think he’s in.”

Soon, they were joined by an overly excited Maxwell and a slightly exasperated Drake.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to give him sugar?” Drake asked as Maxwell bounded over and swept Hana into a huge hug.

“Chocolate PAAAAARTYYYY!” Maxwell yelled. Alice laughed.

“Yup,” she said. “I’m sure.” She glanced back at Drake to find him staring at her. He blushed.

“You, um, look really pretty,” Drake said awkwardly.

“Yes, yes, we’re all pretty,” Olivia said as she joined them. “Let’s get this started.”

“Thank you so much for coming, guys,” Hana said. “I hope you weren’t already busy…”

“Nothing is more important to me than chocolate entering my bloodstream,” Maxwell said seriously.

“Liam said he’s sorry he can’t come, but he was stuck in a meeting,” Drake said.

“Really? This late at night?” Alice asked.

“Please, Jon Snow,” Olivia said. “When you’re the king, you don’t keep regular business hours.”

“Oh, I have an idea!” Alice said. “Olivia, maybe you could set aside some stuff for him and then the guys can take it back for him.”

“You’d better leave me in charge of that,” Drake said. “I’m not sure a box of chocolate would survive a car ride with Maxwell.”

“Um…yeah, I guess I could do that,” Olivia said, surprised. Alice smiled a little at the blush that bloomed across her cheeks. “Stop looking at me.”

“Okay, weirdo,” Alice said. She glanced over at Hana. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Hana said unconvincingly. “I just can’t believe I messed up so badly. I’m such a failure at court.”

“Hana, please don’t beat yourself up,” Alice said.

“Yeah, everyone makes mistakes sometimes,” Maxwell said. “Do you have any idea how many priceless artifacts I’ve broken?”

“Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I accidentally dumped two Bloody Marys all over myself and two customers?” Alice asked.

“Did you really do that?” Hana asked.

“Yup,” Alice said. “It was my first day waiting tables and it was at this place that served brunch. I didn’t have very good balance with a tray yet and when I brought two Bloody Marys to a table, they tipped all over my white shirt and splashed all over the two women at the table.”

“That…sounds like it looked like a crime scene,” Drake said.

“Oh, it did,” Alice said. “Those customers were understandably pissed and I had to work the rest of my shift looking like I’d been shot.”

“No way!” Maxwell exclaimed. “Your boss didn’t let you change your shirt?”

“I didn’t have an extra one with me and it was super busy so there was no way I could run home and get another one,” Alice explained. “Plus, it was the middle of summer, so I didn’t even have a jacket I could wear.”

“Hey, wasn’t I promised fondue? Where’s the fondue?” Maxwell asked, looking around the restaurant.

“I swear to god, you could distract him with the smallest shiny object,” Olivia muttered.

“Maxwell, don’t you know impatience is a major fon-don’t?” Alice asked.

Maxwell laughed and slung an arm around her shoulder, kissing her cheek. “I have never loved you more than I do at this exact moment. We really were separated at birth”

“Oh, god, there’s two of them,” Drake groaned.

“Over here!” Hana announced, leading them over to a table with a tower of melted chocolate in the center of the shop. “I’ll go get the dipping options, be right back.”

She disappeared behind the counter for a moment before reappearing with an overflowing plate of fruits, cheeses, and desserts.

“This looks amazing,” Alice said as she took a wooden skewer and stuck it in a strawberry.

“Cheese?” Drake asked skeptically as he opted for a cube of pound cake instead.

“Don’t knock it until you try it,” Maxwell mumbled through an already full mouth.

“You know, if we’re sharing stories about big mistakes, I have one,” Drake offered.

“I’m sure you have many,” Olivia said. Alice shot her a look.

“Let’s hear it,” Alice said.

“Once, when we were little, Liam and I were playing hide and seek,” Drake said. “I found the best hiding spot at the bottom of an old laundry chute that probably hadn’t been used in years. I waited and waited and waited until finally, I fell asleep. Finally, Bastien found me the next morning.”

“You would be competitive at something like hide and seek,” Alice said, trying to ignore the reference to Bastien.

“Yup,” Drake agreed. “Turns out, when Liam couldn’t find me, he thought something terrible might have happened. Bastien turned the palace upside down trying to find me and he ordered the rest of the guards to keep anyone from coming or going.”

“Wait, that was you?” Maxwell asked. “You caused the Great Lockdown? Legendary!”

“We got in so much trouble that Bastien told us playing hide and seek was forbidden on palace grounds,” Drake said.

“Bastien was always kind of a hard ass,” Olivia said.

“He was and he wasn’t,” Drake said. “Honestly, he was really great most of the time. When he was a junior guard and worked with my dad, he spent a lot of time with my family. He didn’t have any family at court, so we kind of adopted him. He had dinner with us a few times a week and used to babysit Savannah and me a lot.”

“What was he like as a babysitter?” Alice asked, unable to stop herself. She glanced over at Hana, who was watching her carefully.

“Surprisingly lenient,” Drake said. “Basically the opposite of what he’s like when he’s working. He’d bake us cookies and let us stay up all night watching cartoons.”

Alice felt her heart twist and turned her attention back to the fondue, spearing a piece of cheese with her skewer even though she’d lost her appetite.

“Just think of all those poor children who will never get to play hide and seek at court because of you though,” Hana said, changing the subject. Alice looked at her gratefully before noticing Olivia watching her.

“What about you, Maxwell?” Alice asked. “What’s your big mistake story?”

“You know me. My life is just a series of mistakes, really,” Maxwell said with a good-natured shrug.

“What about all those dance-offs you’ve won?” Hana asked.

“Ask Bertrand if those were successes or mistakes,” Maxwell said with a grin.

“What about you, Olivia?” Alice asked.

Olivia frowned at her. “I don’t make mistakes. Is this what you all do? Just sit around telling each other how pathetic you are?”

“We’re cheering each other up,” Alice said. “Come on, try it.”

“I promise we won’t make fun of you,” Hana said.

“I’m not promising anything,” Drake said. “Ow, shit!” he exclaimed when Alice kicked him in the ankle. “Fine, I promise.”

“Sorry, but I can’t think of anything as sad as these stories,” she said, looking a little disgusted and supremely uncomfortable.

“We’ll wear you down someday,” Alicel said.

“Don’t count on it.”

“Everyone, thank you so much for coming, I really appreciate it,” Hana said. “I really do feel a little better now.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Alice said.

“I mean, it was a really hard sell,” Maxwell said. “Free chocolate with your friends? Sounds awful…”

“Still. It means a lot to me to know I can count on you,” Hana said. “You, too, Olivia.”

“Oh,” Olivia said, surprised. “Uh…you’re welcome, I guess.”

“It’s getting late though, and we should probably head back to the train,” Hana said.

“Agreed,” Alice said.

“Do we get souvenirs?” Maxwell asked.

“Of course!” Hana exclaimed. “I made special dessert pretzels for everyone,” she said, hurrying behind the counter before returning with pristine white boxes tied with elegant red ribbons and passing them out. “Here, Olivia, take an extra for Liam.”

“Thanks,” Olivia said, reddening slightly.

“Want me to take it to him?”Maxwell offered, already unwrapping his own box.

“No!” everyone said at once.

“Okay, okay, geez,” Maxwell said, taking a bite of his pretzel. “Oh my god, this is so good…yeah, good call not leaving me in charge of Liam’s box.”


After a long walk back towards the train, they were only a few blocks away when a taxi stopped just ahead of them. Through the open window of the car, they heard a familiar voice.

“Is that…?” Olivia asked. Alice nodded.

“Choo chooooo!” a very drunk Madeleine called from inside the taxi. “Party train!”

“Madeleine, be quiet!” Kiara shushed her. “Do you want someone to see you like this?”

That is a woo girl,” Alice said, leaning over to Hana as Kiara, Penelope, and Madeleine stumbled out of the taxi, the latter without her shoes.

“Too late!” Olivia called.

“Oh, no…” Penelope said when she noticed Alice and the rest of the group watching them.

“I’d…better go,” Hana said. “Before Madeleine sees me.

“I’ll walk you back,” Drake said quickly, looking relieved to have a reason to leave. He and Hana left, leaving Maxwell, Olivia, and Alice to approach the drunken remains of the bachelorette party.

“Wow, she is…” Alice started to say, trailing off.

“I know,” Penelope said as she pulled a credit card out of her wallet for the cab.

“Hey, you found your card!” Alice said, pointing.

“What?” Penelope asked, looking down at the credit card in her hand. “Oh, no, I still can’t find the other one. This is my backup card for emergencies.” She hesitated. “Alice, I’ve never paid for a cab before, can you help me?”

“Sure, just give me the card,” Alice said. Penelope handed it over and Alice ducked into the cab to pay the driver. As she handed it over, she looked at the last four digits.

Holy shit, Alice thought as she realized what she was looking at. This is the card the paid the photographer. She hadn’t thought Penelope was capable of that kind of thing, but apparently Alice didn’t know what exactly she was capable of.

“Poor Hana,” Madeleine laughed as Alice climbed back out of the cab and handed the credit card back to Penelope. “So scared and sad. I wanted to see her pretty little face when I told her I’m not even allergic to chocolate.”

What?” Alice stared at her in disbelief. “What the actual fuck is wrong with you?”

Madeleine laughed and shrugged. “I’m a future queen!”

“Then fucking act like it, you condescending bitch,” Alice snapped.

“At least I’m not naive,” Madeleine said, her words slurring slightly. “Everybody wants something, but the nice ones like Hana don’t have the decency to act like it. So I like to have some fun. Everybody has a breaking point. I’ll find hers,” she finished, smiling like the cat that got the canary.

“Christ, even I’m not that bad,” Olivia said.

“You’re the fucking worst,” Alice said, rage from the last couple months boiling up inside her.

“She’s drunk, Alice,”Olivia said. “Maybe now isn’t the best time.”

“The best time! Tonight was the best time!” Madeleine crowed. “I got a drink named after me.”

“She named a drink after herself,” Kiara said, before adding under her breath, “Quel narcissique.”

“It was on fire!” Madeleine exclaimed, a little too loudly.

“I didn’t know there was a drink called ‘evil cunt,’” Alice said.

Madeleine snorted. “Guess you’re a stupid waitress as well as a slutty one.”

“Alice, we should go,” Maxwell said quietly. Alice felt him gently touch her on the elbow but she shook him off.

“I’m not done with her yet,” Alice said before glaring at Madeleine as Kiara helped Penelope collect Madeleine’s things out of the back of the cab. “I know that you’re probably not going to remember any of this, but I don’t fucking care. You are the absolute worst person I’ve ever met in my life, you fucking sociopath. I hope you–”

“Oh, shove it, Alice,” Madeleine said. “Unless you need another visit from Tariq.”

Alice froze. “What did you say?”

“You heard me,” Madeleine said, taking a wobbling step towards Alice and lowering her voice. “I’ve been around court long enough to know what he’s like. I had a pretty good idea of what he’d do to you. I only regret Drake interrupted before Tariq could finish the job.”

Alice’s vision began to blur around the edges as she stared at Madeleine in disbelief.

“I hear your stupid boyfriend broke up with you that same night,” Madeleine said triumphantly. “Guess he didn’t want damaged goods.”

Without thinking, Alice lunged at Madeleine but she was caught by Maxwell before she made contact with Madeleine.

“Let go of me!” Alice shouted as Madeleine laughed. She fought against Maxwell, but he held her tightly and carried her with surprising ease down the sidewalk.

“Nope, we’re going,” Maxwell said firmly.

“Did you fucking hear her?” Alice snapped.

“Yes,” Olivia said, following close behind him, her face dark with fury.

“God dammit, Maxwell, PUT ME DOWN!” Alice shouted at him, causing several concerned heads to turn their way. Olivia waved them off and finally, when they were a block away, Maxwell set her down.

“Alice, I get that you’re pissed–”

“You don’t understand!” Alice shouted at him. “You can’t fucking understand!”

“I know,” Maxwell said calmly. “But even if she is the worst person on Earth, you can’t assault the future queen of Cordonia.”

“You really think Liam will still marry her when he finds this out?” Olivia asked with a derisive snort.

“No, but Alice is in enough danger as it is,” Maxwell said. “If Madeleine was involved in this conspiracy against her, we don’t know how deep this thing goes.”

“How…” Alice gasped, tears falling unbidden down her face. “How do you do that to someone?”

“She won’t get away with it,” Olivia said fiercely. Alice opened her mouth to respond but instead she dissolved into sobs. Maxwell pulled her into his arms and held her as she cried, her whole body shaking.

“We need to keep moving,” Olivia said, glancing over her shoulder at the metallic, slow-moving trio behind them. Alice nodded and pulled away from Maxwell and the three of them started down the dark Italian street.

“Penelope’s credit card paid the photographer,” Alice said dully as they walked. “Her backup card matched the receipt.”

“So it was Penelope and Madeleine,” Olivia said. “I bet that blonde bitch is the one who sent me that letter at the coronation.”

“We don’t know that it was just them,” Alice said, thinking of Bastien. She still couldn’t bring herself to admit his involvement to anyone else.

“This…is really bad,” Maxwell said.

“You think?” Olivia snapped.

When they arrived at the train, Olivia paused. “Alice, what do you want to do?”

What did she want to do? Still reeling from the new information she’d learned that night, Alice wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

“Sleep,” she said finally.

“Okay,” Olivia said, nodding. “I’ll walk you to your room.”

“I can come, too,” Maxwell offered as they boarded the train.

“No, that’s okay,” Alice said. “You might as well go tell Bertrand what we learned.”

Maxwell nodded. “Alice, I…”

She mustered a weak smile and squeezed his hand. “I know.”

Alice let Olivia lead her to her room and the two women went inside.

“I can’t believe it was Penelope and Madeleine,” Alice said, sitting down heavily on her bed before kicking off her shoes.

Olivia frowned. “The more I think about it, the more I don’t think they acted alone.”

“Why?”

“Because Penelope is an idiot and Madeleine is conniving, but this thing has too many layers,” Olivia said.

“What if it’s just what it looks like?” Alice asked.

“I doubt–” Olivia started to say before there was a tentative knock on Alice’s door.

“Alice?” Penelope called softly. “Are you in there?”

Confused, Olivia opened the door. “What do you want?”

“I, um, wanted to talk to Alice,” Penelope said nervously. “I heard what Madeleine said to you by the cab.”

“I imagine that was old news for you since you hired the photographer,” Olivia said, glaring at her.

“Can I come in?” Penelope asked.

“The doorway is fine,” Olivia said, crossing her arms.

“What is it?” Alice asked, feeling completely drained.

“I honestly didn’t know Madeleine meant for…” Penelope said, trailing off.

“For Tariq to try to rape me?” Alice finished for her, her voice flat and lifeless. Penelope winced.

“I honestly didn’t make the connection until much later,” Penelope said. “Not about…that…but something else.”

“Would you hurry up already?” Olivia asked as Drake walked up behind Penelope, although she didn’t notice him standing behind her.

“Madeleine said you guys were secretly together and she said she wanted to help,” Penelope said. “It made sense. I mean, I saw you and Tariq talking all the time–”

“When he was constantly harassing and threatening me,” Alice said.

“I didn’t know,” Penelope said. “I know that’s not an excuse, but I didn’t. I thought I was doing a good thing, so Madeleine wrote a letter and I asked a maid to deliver it to Tariq.” Behind her, Drake fumed, but said nothing. “It wasn’t until those photos came out at the coronation that I made the connection between what Madeleine did and Bastien asking me to arrange for that photographer–”

“Bastien did what?” Drake asked, horrified. Penelope whirled around, seeing him for the first time.

“Wait, I–” Penelope started to say but Drake spun on his heel and took off. Alice got up and hurried after him.

“Drake!” she called, but he didn’t slow down, causing her to run barefoot across the worn carpet of the train car to catch up. “Drake, stop!” She tried to catch his arm but he pulled it away. “Drake, Bastien’s not even here.”

“He got back an hour ago,” Drake said, still hurrying through the train. He broke into a jog and Alice struggled to keep up, her feet sore from hours in high heels. Finally, he reached a door and yanked it open. Alice heard the sound of skin hitting skin, followed by a pained grunt. She ran faster.

“DRAKE, STOP IT!” she shouted, grabbing his arm when he cocked it back for another punch. Bastien leaned against the wall, his hand on his face from where Drake had hit him. He didn’t seem inclined to fight back or even protect himself.

“He set you up!” Drake exclaimed.

“I know!” she yelled back at him. “Let me deal with it!”

“Alice–” Drake protested, but she cut him off.

“No,” Alice said fiercely.

Drake glanced back over at Bastien before looking back at Alice, frustrated. “Fine.” He left, slamming the door behind him.

“Your new boyfriend really packs a punch,” Bastien said, touching his eye gingerly.

“Jealousy isn’t attractive on you,” Alice said drily, not bothering to correct him yet. “You’re bleeding.”

Bastien walked into the small attached bathroom to examine the small cut near his eye where his skin had split. “It’ll be fine.” He looked back at her. “I have something for you.”

“It better be a fucking explanation.”

“I have one of those, too,” Bastien said as he walked over and sat on his bed. Alice sat across from him on the small bench.

“Start with the explanation.”

Bastien took a deep breath and began. He told her everything, from the way he’d been asked to arrange a photographer but he didn’t know who it was for to what had happened that night in Constantine’s office. He told her Constantine and Regina’s plan, including the death of Liam’s mother. He told her how he’d beaten up Tariq and thrown him out of Applewood and how he’d been under scrutiny from Constantine and how terrified he’d been for her life. He told her how he’d followed her to the airport because he’d wanted to leave with her, start over in New York with her.

“Alice, you have no idea how badly I wanted to tell you everything from the start,” Bastien said. “But I was terrified Constantine would come after you. He still might. I can’t keep you safe.”

“You said you had something for me?” Alice asked.

Bastien nodded and reached into his duffel bag, removing a flash drive. He handed it to her. “It has all the photos from that night, including the ones Constantine didn’t send to the press. It’s not as good as a paper trail, but with all the pictures, it’s clear what’s actually happening. I don’t know if this can help, but I thought maybe it would.”

Alice stared at the flash drive in her hand. For something so light, it was heavy with secrets and painful truths.

“How did you get this?”

“I broke into Constantine’s office,” Bastien said.

“Was that a good idea?”

“If it can help to fix things for you? Yes,” Bastien said. He sighed. “Look, I don’t have any illusions that this is going to fix anything between us. I fucked up. I know I did. I just wanted to make it right.”

“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Alice said.

Bastien nodded. “I know. I can’t change what happened, but I want to help. Constantine threatened to kill you if I told you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I’m glad you told me,” Alice said, still staring at the flash drive. “I’d rather know what I’m up against.”

“If you want to leave, I’ll take you to the airport tonight. I’ll go with you.”

Alice shook her head. “I thought I wanted to leave. I would have, too, if the Beaumonts hadn’t stopped me. But now, I…can’t. If this happened to me, it could happen to someone else. It probably will happen to someone else, unless I stay and fight it.”

Bastien nodded. “I can’t keep you safe anymore.”

“I wasn’t safe anyway.” Alice stood up. “Can you walk me back to my room? I’m pretty sure if I run into Madeleine in the hallway, I’m going to rip all of her hair out of her head.”

“Of course,” he said, standing quickly. He followed her out of his room and back to hers through the silent train, already speeding forward to their next destination as most of the occupants slept. When they reached her room, Bastien hesitated in the doorway.

“You can come in,” Alice said.

“I wasn’t sure,” Bastien said, stepping into the room and shutting the door behind him.

“You should get some ice for that,” she said as she dug through her luggage for pajamas, pausing to gesture to his eye.

“I’ll be fine,” Bastien said.

“Suit yourself,” she said as she stepped into the small bathroom and shut the door behind her to change. Bastien sat down on the small couch, unsure of what else to do. A few minutes later, she reemerged wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt.

“I like the dress you were wearing,” he said, gesturing to the gold dress draped over her arm.

“Madeleine insisted we all wear metallic colors for a theme,” Alice said before unceremoniously stuffing it into the bottom of her suitcase. She then sat on the bed, flash drive still in her hand.

“Do you want me to go?” Bastien asked gently.

“I don’t know what I want,” Alice said. “Everything is just…a lot right now.” She looked down at the flash drive. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

“I could get Hana for you,” he offered.

Alice shook her head. “Hana might be good at a lot of things, but I doubt she could fight off an assassin.”

“I might not be able to do that either.”

“Bastien, if you don’t want to be here, you can go,” Alice said. “I’m not forcing you to stay.”

“I want to be here,” he said quickly. “As long as you’re okay with it.”

She considered this for a moment. “Ever since that night I got the break up text, I’ve wanted nothing more than to have you with me. Even after you admitted to arranging for the photographer. I hate that I want you here, but I…I don’t know. I can’t help it.”

“I can stay on the couch. If you want.”

Alice nodded. “Okay.” She climbed into bed and Bastien stood up, locking the door and kicking his shoes off before turning off the light. He lay down on his side of the sofa, his knees pulled up a little too far in an effort to make himself fit on the couch. He lay there in the darkness for a long time, listening to the white noise of the rumbling train.

“Alice?” he asked quietly, unsure if she’d fallen asleep.

“What?”

“I love you. And I’m so, so sorry.”

Alice didn’t say anything and after a long time, he thought she’d drifted off. Then, finally, she spoke.

“I’m still mad at you.”

“I know.”

Alice paused. “Do you even fit on that couch?”

“No, but it’s fine. I’ve slept in stranger places.”

She was quiet for a long time. Finally, she spoke again. “You can sleep over here, but there are rules.”

“Okay.”

“Rule one, you have to stay on top of the blankets. Rule two, you have to be on the side of the bed between the door and me.”

“Anything else?”

“Rule three, you have to keep your back to me.”

“I really am okay staying on the couch, if that’s what you want.”

“It’s not.”

Bastien got to his feet and slowly made his way across the room until his knees bumped against the bed. He lay down beside her, careful to follow each of her instructions. They lay in silence together and Bastien had nearly drifted off to sleep when he felt Alice burrow into his back. He wanted to reach for her, but he remembered her rules. So instead, he stayed on his side, facing away from her as he acted as a barrier between her and her locked bedroom door. Eventually, Bastien felt her breathing grow slow and even against him. Then, and only then, did he let himself fall asleep.


Part 31


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