Summary: The engagement tour arrives in New York, Alice and Bastien make some big choices, and new information is revealed.
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 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 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, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33, Part 34, Part 35, Part 36
“How does it feel to be back?” Bastien asked as the sleek black car carried them through the streets of New York, warm afternoon light setting the city aglow.
“Honestly, it’s a little weird,” Alice said. “I never thought I’d say that, but it is. Everything is the same and at the same time it feels so different…does that make sense?”
“Sure,” he said as he took her hand, weaving his fingers between hers. “You’ve been through a lot over the past few months. I don’t think you’re the same person you were when you left.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I love you as you are,” he said, bringing her hand up to his lips to gently kiss her fingers. “But I also loved you before.”
“You loved me back in New York?” Alice asked incredulously.
“Hey, we’re here,” he said, dodging her question as the car slowed to a stop at the curb. He climbed out first before offering a hand to Alice to help her out of the car. Bastien quickly conferred with the driver before the car pulled away from the curb and Bastien and Alice walked up to her old building. His avoidance of her question didn’t go unnoticed, but she let it go for the moment.
“This seems familiar,” Bastien murmured while Alice fitted the key in her front door, his lips grazing the curve of her neck as he put his hands on her hips, his chest pressed against her back. Alice smiled and reached up behind her to curve her hand around the back of his neck.
“Does it? I don’t seem to remember anything…” she teased. Alice yelped as Bastien tickled her, spinning her around to face him and leaning her against her door.
“Maybe you need me to jog your memory,” he suggested.
“Oh, I definitely do,” she said, tugging at the lapels of his suit to pull him closer to her as she captured his lips in a searing kiss. She reached blindly behind her for the doorknob, causing them to stumble through the doorway, Bastien barely catching her around the waist with one arm while his other hand grabbed the doorway. Alice laughed as she clung to him for support.
“I feel like we were more coordinated the last time,” she said. Bastien grinned and hoisted her up in his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist before he kicked the door shut behind them.
“We should probably lie down then,” he said. “Safety first.”
“Well, if you insist,” Alice said with faux resignation. Bastien quickly crossed the room to the bed and gently dropped her on the bed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t gently enough.
“Oh, god, I forgot how uncomfortable this bed is,” Alice said with a groan.
“I am so sorry!” Bastien exclaimed, instantly kneeling beside her. “Are you okay? Shit, I am so sorry!”
“No, I’m fine, I’m just being a little dramatic,” Alice assured him as he peppered her face with kisses, making her laugh. “Apparently I’ve gotten spoiled by all the fancy beds in Cordonia and at the hotels we’ve been staying at. Christ, when did I get so bougie?”
“I think you’ve just gotten used to the way you’re supposed to be treated,” Bastien said as his kisses grew slower and more languid against her neck. Then, without warning, he tickled her again, making her jerk away from him with a squeal that quickly dissolved into giggles.
“You are trouble,” she admonished him, unable to suppress her smile.
“But you love me,” he said as he propped himself up on his side.
“I do,” she said, rising up to kiss him before letting herself fall back on the bed. “God, it’s so weird to be back here.”
“I bet,” he said, brushing her hair from her face with his fingertips.
“I’m not sure what I expected to feel when I came back here,” she said. “Maybe that it’d feel more like home the way it used to.”
“It doesn’t anymore?”
“If I’m honest, no, it doesn’t,” she said. She hesitated for a moment before turning her gaze over to him. “Hey, I want to talk to you about something.”
“A good something or a bad something?”
“A good something,” she assured him. “Or, at least I think it’s a good something…while you were in that meeting this morning, I had a talk with Bertrand and he asked me to move into Ramsford with him and Maxwell.”
Alice nodded. “He said a lot of really nice stuff about us being family and then he turned bright red and suddenly had to be somewhere else.”
“Are you going to do it?” Bastien asked carefully, not wanting his reactions to influence her decision.
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Alice said. “Is that…I don’t know, weird or something if I move to Cordonia?”
“I mean, you’ve already been living there for the past several months,” he pointed out.
“I know, but I’ve still had this place here with the idea that I’d eventually come back.”
“Do you want to come back to New York?”
“I always thought I did, but…now I’m not sure.” She took a deep breath. “Dorian, I love you and I want to be with you and if that means moving to Cordonia, then I’m willing to do it.”
Bastien reached over and took her hand. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to do that if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that I don’t…god, none of this is coming out correctly,” Alice said, rubbing her free hand over her face. “Okay, let me start over. I want to move to Cordonia and be with you, but I don’t want to put any kind of pressure on you because of it.”
Bastien took a deep breath. “Move in with me instead.”
“Wait, what?” Alice asked, sitting up.
“Move in with me,” he repeated, staying where he was on his side.
“Are you insane? We just barely started to go public with our relationship and we’re not sure if Liam’s plan to contain his parents is even going to work. And even if those weren’t factors, wouldn’t us moving in together now be…I don’t know, kind of fast?”
He shrugged. “Maybe, but I don’t really care. I love you and I want to be with you, in whatever way you’ll have me.”
“You really want to move in with me,” Alice said slowly, searching his face. He nodded.
“What if you get sick of me?”
He laughed. “I don’t think I’m ever in danger of that happening. But if you’re not ready…”
“No, I’m not saying I’m not ready, I’m just…surprised,” Alice said.
“Look, I don’t need an answer now,” he said. “But please consider it.”
Alice leaned over and kissed him gently, cupping his face in her hands.
“What time do you have to be back?” she asked.
“I don’t,” he said, gently pushing the hair back from her face. “Liam insisted I take the day off since we don’t have any official engagement tour events until tomorrow.”
Alice grinned and kissed him again, fingers drifting up his thigh. “That is excellent news.”
After dinner, Bastien and Alice walked through Brooklyn hand in hand on their way to The Basement.
“Did you tell her you’re in town?” Bastien asked as they descended the stairs into the bar.
“No, I—” Alice started to say before she was cut off.
“ALICE AYERS, WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK?” Frankie shouted, drawing the eyes of the small, Wednesday-night crowd as she hurried out from behind the bar and threw herself at her best friend in a violent hug, nearly knocking her over. Bastien had to catch and steady them to keep them from falling to the floor.
“Did I not mention we were coming to New York?” Alice asked innocently as she hugged Frankie.
“Oh, fuck off, you know you didn’t,” Frankie said. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Frankie, why are you never that happy to see me?” an older man at the bar called out.
“Shut up, Greg!” Frankie called back before she finally let go of Alice. “Holy shit, I can’t believe you’re here!” she exclaimed. “Hey, Bastien,” she added, turning to him to give him a hug as well.
“How long are you here for?” Frankie asked, focusing her attention back on Alice.
“Just a couple of days,” Alice said. “Apparently we’re going to a party at the UN tomorrow.”
“Christ, you’re so fancy now,” Frankie said. “Come sit down, what do you want to drink? Green Spot?”
“Yes, please,” Alice said as they headed over to the bar and sat down.
“I’ll have the same, thanks, Frankie.”
Alice noticed a tall man with brown hair sitting near the sinks. “Frankie,” she said when her friend returned with the drinks. “Is that…”
“Oh, shit!” Frankie exclaimed. “I swear, I suck at this girlfriend thing,” she muttered before turning to the man near the sinks. “Seth, come here.” The man stood up and grinned as he picked up his beer and headed over to join them. “Alice, Bastien, this is Seth Levine.”
“Hey, it’s nice to finally meet you,” Seth said as Alice gestured to the open seat beside him. “Frankie talks about you all the time and it’s nice to finally put a face to the name.”
“You, too,” Alice said. She liked him immediately; he seemed so nice and easygoing. In other words, the polar opposite of Frankie. But Alice figured that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She loved Frankie and after everything she’d gone through with her past relationships, Frankie deserved to be with someone who was nice. Alice noticed right away the way that Seth’s eyes followed her adoringly as Frankie tended to other customers. He was clearly smitten with her and for that, Alice was glad. “Frankie says you’re a professional boxer?”
Seth laughed. “That’s kind of her, but I’m still just doing amateur fights. I just started working with a new coach though and she has some connections, so I’m hoping things could change. In the meantime, I work construction during the day.”
“That’s interesting that you box,” Bastien said. “I’ve always enjoyed it.”
“Oh, yeah?” Seth asked, his face lighting up. “Do you get to do it often?”
“No,” Bastien confessed. “Unfortunately, it’s more of a hobby for me. My official training has been more martial arts based.”
“Really? I’ve always wanted to try martial arts, but when I was a kid, we never had money for lessons. My dad taught me to box and it just kind of stuck, you know?”
“Alice, do me a favor and go pick out some decent music on the jukebox,” Frankie said, dropping a handful of singles in front of her. “If left unattended, one of my regulars is going to play ‘Strawberry Wine’ two dozen times.”
“I’m on it,” Alice said, excusing herself from between Seth and Bastien who continued to talk animatedly about fighting. She smiled as she headed over the jukebox, rifling through the selections.
“So, what do you think?” Frankie asked as she sidled up to Alice.
“He seems great,” Alice said honestly. “Granted, I’ve only talked to him for about thirty seconds, but Bas seems to like him and he’s a tough crowd.”
Frankie’s shoulders relaxed a little with relief. “He is great,” she agreed. “He’s so…nice.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Alice asked, raising one eyebrow at her friend.
“No, I’m just surprised,” Frankie said. “‘Nice’ isn’t my usual modus operandi.”
“No, it isn’t, but maybe that’s a good thing,” Alice said as she picked a couple of songs. “He obviously adores you.”
“Okay, enough about me,” Frankie said. “What are you doing in New York?”
“It’s part of the engagement tour,” Alice explained. “Like I said, there’s some party at the UN tomorrow.”
“Your life is beyond ridiculous, you know that, right?”
Alice laughed. “I don’t disagree.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Bastien, still deep in conversation with Seth. “Hey, I did want to talk to you about something.”
“This morning, Bertrand asked me to officially move to Cordonia to live with him and Maxwell at Ramsford.”
“I mean, you’ve pretty much already moved in with them, so I guess that’s not that weird,” Frankie said.
“It still seems strange to pick up and move to another country.”
“You literally went to Cordonia on a whim; this isn’t any weirder than that. In fact, I’d say it’s less weird because you actually know them now and, having met them, I feel confident you’re not going to end up on Nancy Grace.”
“Okay, but here’s the other part: I told Bastien about Bertrand’s offer, and Bas asked me to move in with him instead.”
“Okay? That’s it?”
“Alice, I’m not sure what you’re looking for me to say here,” Frankie said. “If you’re hoping I’m going to tell you not to do it, that’s not going to happen.”
“You don’t think it’s too fast?”
She shrugged. “If it weren’t you and Bastien, then I’d say maybe it is fast. But you guys love each other and you’re both committed to your relationship, so…why not?”
“I don’t know, it just seems fast.”
“Do you not want to move in with him?”
“No, I do,” Alice said. “Actually, I really do. I’m just…I’m worried I’m going to ruin this.”
“Alice, listen to me,” Frankie said, taking her friend by the shoulders. “If having a royal family conspire against you isn’t enough to ruin your relationship, then a fight over whose turn it is to take out the trash sure as fuck isn’t. If you want to move in with him, then move in with him. If you’re not ready, stay with Bertrand and Maxwell until you are.”
“What about my stuff here? I won’t have enough time to pack everything.”
“That’s not a real problem,” Frankie said, holding out her hand. “Give me your keys, I’ll pack your shit for you and then you can hire movers to take it back with you.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not, and I’m doing it,” Frankie said, still holding out her hand. “Keys, please.”
Alice dug her keys out of her bag and handed them over, allowing herself a smile. “I owe you.”
“You owe me nothing except a free place to stay in Cordonia. Oh, and Seth, too, assuming I don’t fuck this up.”
Later that night, as they lay in their plush hotel bed, Alice nestled into the comfort of Bastien’s arms.
“Hey,” she whispered. “Are you still awake?”
“Mmhmm,” he murmured sleepily.
“I just wanted to tell you that I thought about it, and if you’re sure…I’d love to move in with you,” she said.
“Really?” he asked, sounding more awake. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Alice said. The room was dark, but she could tell he was smiling. “As long as the offer still stands, of course.”
Bastien pulled her tightly to him, his breath tickling her ear. “Of course it does. ‘You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.’”
They settled into each other, each drifting into each other as they reveled in the closeness of the other. As she drifted to sleep, another quote from Jane Austen rose in her mind: “When I fall in love, it will be forever.”
The following night, Alice put the finishing touches on her makeup in the hotel bathroom. One thing she had to say for the high end hotels they stayed in with the royal court—the bathrooms had significantly better lighting than any other hotel she’d ever stayed in. Although, to be fair, she hadn’t been traveling with royalty then. With a final swipe of mascara on her lashes, she took a step back and took stock of her appearance as a whole. Her dress was dark blue, cinched in at the waist, and her hair hung long and loose around her shoulders. Alice studied her appearance for a moment before pulling out her phone and snapping a mirror selfie and texting it to Olivia.
Am I going to bring shame upon Cordonia if I leave my hair as it is?
About a minute later, her phone buzzed with a reply.
You’ll probably bring shame upon Cordonia no matter what. But your hair looks good.
Alice smirked at her phone and dropped it into her purse. If nothing else, Olivia was always honest to a fault. She wished Bastien were still there and able to escort her to the UN party, but he’d had to go ahead for the security. Alice understood, of course, but still. She liked having him around.
A sudden series of quick knocks on her door broke her out of her thoughts, making her smile. Alice left the bathroom, clicking off the light behind her, and headed for the door to let Maxwell into the room.
“Hey, Alice!” Maxwell exclaimed. “Wow, you look great!”
“I’m forced to agree,” Bertrand said from behind his younger brother.
“You still always sound surprised when I manage to competently dress myself,” Alice said, rolling her eyes.
“Fine, you’re a genius with fashion and never need any help in that department,” Bertrand said. “Happy?”
“Excruciatingly,” Alice said as she stepped into the hall to join the Beaumonts and the guards Bastien had posted outside of their room. That’s when she noticed another person in the hallway. “Justin,” she said, trying to muster a smile. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“No worries, my golden girl,” he said with a wide grin that reminded her of a used car salesman. She swallowed the bile that began to rise in the back of her throat. “And Bertrand and Maxwell are right, you look stunning. You’re really bringing your A-game.”
“Thank you,” Alice said. She glanced at Bertrand, whose eyes pleaded her to play nice as Justin continued speaking and they headed down the hallway to the elevator.
“Tonight’s event will be brimming with influential politicians and diplomats. Impressing them now could be indispensable in the future.”
“Who am I supposed to impress tonight?” Alice asked. “I feel like a show poodle. Ow!” she exclaimed as Bertrand poked her in the side.
“Duchess Adelaide,” Justin said. “She may not look it, but she wields a lot of power.”
Alice sighed heavily. “Do I really have to be on babysitting duty?”
“Getting into her good graces will be very helpful if you intend to stay at court,” Justin said. “She’s the Duchess of Krona, after all.”
“I thought Madeleine’s family was from Fydelia?” Alice asked, confused. Maxwell reached past her to hit the button for the elevator.
“Fydelia is a county within the Duchy of Krona, which places Adelaide higher in the noble hierarchy,” Bertrand explained.
“Exactly,” Justin said as the elevator doors dinged politely and slid open to allow them entrance. “So, Alice, it’s your job tonight to turn heads and minds—especially when it comes to clearing your name.”
“I know, I know,” Alice said. “I’m a perfect angel who loves Cordonia.”
“You make my job so easy,” Justin said, then he frowned. “Also…do we have any more information about Tariq’s location?”
“Nothing specific, but we’ve likely narrowed him down to Los Angeles,” Bertrand said as Maxwell put a protective arm around Alice’s shoulders. She closed her eyes for a moment, hating that the mention of Tariq still made her hands shake.
“Alright, keep me posted,” Justin said as they elevator arrived at the lobby and the doors opened. “I have a few things to attend to, but I’ll see you later.”
Justin bid them a cheerful goodbye before striding away, leaving Alice and the Beaumont brothers behind with the security detail.
“God, I can’t stand him,” Alice muttered.
“Would it kill you to play nice?” Bertrand asked.
“Hey, I’m going to go see if our car is ready,” Maxwell said, quickly extricating himself from the situation. Bertrand glanced over at the guards and gently led Alice by the elbow until they were out of earshot.
“Alice, I wanted to ask you…have you given any more thought to my offer?” he asked quietly.
“Actually, I have, and I wanted to talk to you about that,” Alice said. “I told Bastien about it and he asked if I’d move in with him instead.”
“Really?” Alice nodded and Bertrand smiled at her, stepping forward to hug her. “I’m very glad to hear that.”
“Yes,” Bertrand said, releasing her. “Alice, you deserve to be happy.”
“So do you.”
Bertrand sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. “We don’t all get happy endings.”
“Oh my god, shut up,” Alice said. “You can have a happy ending.”
“I don’t know,” Bertrand said, his face falling a little.
“Okay, what is happening right now?” Alice asked. “I thought visiting Bartie went well.”
“It did,” Bertrand said, smiling slightly at the thought of his son. “Savannah agreed to figure out something for joint custody, but…”
“But…look, if I tell you, you’re going to think I’m an idiot.”
“I already think you’re an idiot, so tell me anyway.”
Bertrand looked down at the floor before glancing back up at Alice. “I’m still in love with her. I always have been. And I know what you think about her and I agree that it’s awful that she kept Bartie a secret from me like she did, but…I can’t help it.”
“What I think doesn’t matter,” Alice said.
“Yes, it does,” Bertrand said. “You are…well, your opinion matters a lot to me.”
“Look,” Alice said. “If I’m being fair…I don’t really know her. I know very little about her and it’s hard for me to ignore what she did. But if she matters that much to you, I can try to give her another shot.” Bertrand raised a skeptical eyebrow at her. “No, really, I will,” Alice said.
“Because you’ve cut Justin so much slack?”
“Justin isn’t the mother of your child.”
“Thank god for that,” Bertrand said, allowing himself a small smile.
“I’m serious though, I’ll give her another chance,” Alice said.
“You know, this might all be a moot point,” Bertrand said. “I don’t think she feels the same way about me.”
“Did you tell her how you feel?”
“What? No!” Bertrand exclaimed a little too loudly. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice again. “It wasn’t the right time.”
“I guess that would’ve been a lot for a single visit,” Alice agreed. “Just…don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Sure you’re not, champ.”
Bertrand winced. “Please don’t ever call me ‘champ’ again.” He glanced over towards the doors of the lobby where he noticed Maxwell waving to them. “Looks like our car is here. Are you ready?” he asked, holding out his arm.
“Of course not,” Alice said, looping her arm through his as they started to cross the lobby.
“Just so you know…you’ll still always have a place at Ramsford,” Bertrand said. “Not that I think things won’t work out with Bastien,” he added quickly. “But I hope you’ll still come visit. Maybe for holidays?” He grimaced. “You could even invite Frankie if you really wanted to.”
“That hurt to say, didn’t it?”
“You have no idea,” Bertrand said.
“And thank you,” Alice said. “I’m definitely going to take you up on that. I’ll be that houseguest that grossly overstays their welcome.”
“You can’t overstay a welcome at your home,” Bertrand said as they stepped out into the New York evening.
“God, fatherhood has made you so soft,” Alice said with a grin, poking him in the arm.
“I know. Appalling, isn’t it?”
After a short car ride, Alice and the Beaumonts arrived at the United Nations celebration. After escorting her inside, Bertrand pulled Maxwell aside to talk and Alice surveyed the room, looking for a familiar face. Her phone buzzed in her bag and she pulled it out to view the text message.
“She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don’t know what she was – anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. There was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong, before I had sense to say a word to her.”
Alice smile and texted back. I’m impressed, David Copperfield.
Not as impressed as I am by how beautiful you look right now.
She looked around for Bastien but instead spotted Liam speaking with some delegates and, when she noticed her, he excused himself and headed over to greet her.
“Alice, you look lovely as always,” Liam said as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.
“Thank you, I dressed myself which is apparently the most shocking part,” Alice said. Liam laughed.
“I have to admit, I did get a preview of your ensemble,” Liam said.
“Liv?” she asked with a smile. He grinned.
“I was with her when you texted her about your hair,” he admitted.
“Where is she?” Alice asked, looking around.
“She’s here somewhere,” Liam said a little sadly. “I just wish I could have arrived with her, you know?”
“I do,” Alice said. “But…this will all be over soon, right?”
“Yes,” Liam agreed, nodding. He lowered his voice. “Bastien told me he’s making progress on finding Tariq.”
“We’ve narrowed him down to Los Angeles—assuming he hasn’t gone anywhere else,” Alice said, her hand tightening around her back to quell the tremors. “So I guess that’s progress.”
“I don’t mean to put you on the spot if you don’t want to talk about it right now, but have you thought about what you want to do when we find him?” Liam asked gently. “Obviously, he’ll be arrested and extradited to Cordonia for a trial, but I want you to be in control of the press when the story breaks.”
“Of course,” Liam said. “It’s your story to tell and you deserve to be in charge of the narrative.”
“Thank you,” Alice said, surprised.
“There’s nothing to thank me for,” Liam said. “I do want to prepare you though…I think this story will end up being pretty big.”
“Oh?” Alice asked cautiously.
“I’ve learned recently that you’re not the only one Tariq has…targeted. If you come forward with the truth of what happened, you might end up becoming the face of something much bigger than just what happened to you. But if that isn’t something you’re ready for or don’t want, I can help you figure out a way around it.”
“No, I am,” Alice said. As the words came out of her mouth, she realized they were true. She glanced down at her hands and realized they’d stopped shaking. “This is important, and I’m ready. It wasn’t my choice to have those photos thrust into the papers, but I want to take back my experience and own it.”
Liam smiled at her. “I’m so proud to be your friend.”
“Likewise,” she said, nudging him with her elbow. “Hey, it’s a party, we should probably lighten up a little. How are you enjoying being back in New York?”
“I wish I could say I’ve seen more this time around, but unfortunately I’ve been working for most of it,” Liam said. “I’m hoping that’ll change though since we’re here for a couple more days.”
“Any big plans?”
“Nothing specific, but I might be asking you for ideas once this event is over,” Liam said. “What about you? How does it feel to be back?”
“Good, but a little strange,” Alice said. “Bastien and I went to see Frankie last night.”
“I’m sure she was thrilled to see you,” Liam said, grinning.
“She may or may not have screamed obscenities at me as she leaped over the bar to hug me.”
Liam laughed. “That sounds about right.” He glanced off to the side where an imperious man with several medals on his chest was making his way over to them, eyes intent on Liam, who tried not to sigh. “It seems my courtly duties call. But I’ll see you later?”
“Of course. Go, be king,” Alice said, gesturing towards the approaching dignitary. Liam bowed slightly to her and Alice looked around again, quickly spotting Drake and Maxwell by a large, stained glass window.
“Alice, thank goodness you’re here!” Maxwell said, looping his arm through hers.
“Why, what did you do?”
Drake smirked as Maxwell’s face took on a chagrined expression. “I got my flags mixed up and thought Finland was Sweden, Sweden was Norway, Norway was Iceland, Iceland was Denmark, and Denmark was Sweden.”
“He addressed all the delegations incorrectly, including Sweden. Twice,” Drake said, amused.
“I was guessing by that point,” Maxwell admitted. “Now they’ve been arguing for the past hour over disputes going back to something called the Kalmar Union…I just wanted to say hello.”
“Oh, Maxwell,” Alice said, gently squeezing his arm. “See, this is why you need a generic term for everyone if you’re not sure what to call them.”
“Are you suggesting he call everyone ‘dude?’” Drake asked as he took a sip of his water.
“‘Fuck face’ is also a nationality-neutral term,” Alice said innocently. Drake choked on his water and Maxwell laughed.
“Bertrand would never forgive me, but I appreciate the idea anyway,” Maxwell said.
“How about you, Drake…caused any diplomatic disasters?” Alice asked as Drake’s coughing subsided.
“That would require me to talk to a diplomat,” Drake said. “Do you have any idea how boring they are, Ayers?”
“Let me guess, you’re just here for the food?” Alice teased.
“You know me well,” Drake said. “But what are you doing with us? Aren’t you supposed to be doing courtly stuff like winning friends and influencing people?”
“Speaking of, I’m under instructions from Justin to impress Adelaide tonight. Got any tips that don’t involve whoring out Maxwell?”
“Yes, let’s please avoid that,” Maxwell said, his face reddening.
“If I know anything about Adelaide, it’s that she likes a stiff drink,” Drake said. “She’ll certainly respect you if you can go drink-for-drink with her. Show her you know how to have a good time.”
“Plus, she’s the biggest gossip at court,” Maxwell added. Alice sighed.
“I was really hoping to avoid pouring drinks down her throat,” she said.
“But, hey, you used to bartend—drinking and talking are kind of your thing, right?” Maxwell asked hopefully. “So you’ve definitely got this all by yourself and without my help at all!”
“Alright, alright,” Alice said. “For your sake, I’ll go solo on Adelaide duty tonight. You just stay out of her line of sight and I’ll tell her I have absolutely no idea where you are.”
Maxwell hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. “Oh, thank god.”
“Speaking of,” Drake said, gesturing with his glass of water. The three of them turned to see Adelaide standing alone at the bar. “Now’s your chance.”
“Bye!” Maxwell said, quickly fading into the crowd. Alice said goodbye to Drake and made her way across the room to join Adelaide at the bar.
“Duchess Adelaide, it’s lovely to see you,” she said as she joined the duchess.
“Is it?” Adelaide asked, sounding a little surprised.
“Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” Alice asked.
“Honey, I like you so much better when you’re not behaving like these uptight courtiers,” Adelaide said. “And, please, dispense with the ‘duchess’ nonsense. It makes me feel like I’m becoming my mother.” She grimaced and glanced down at the open seat beside her. “What are you waiting for, an invitation?”
“Preferably engraved,” Alice said as she sat down. Adelaide laughed.
“God, we are a pretentious bunch, aren’t we?” she asked as she flagged down a passing server and took a fresh glass of champagne. “Champagne?”
“Yes, thank you,” Alice said as she took a glass, nodding to the server. Adelaide held up her glass.
“To this insufferable party and my insufferable daughter,” she said, holding it out to Alice. Alice clinked her glass against Adelaide’s and watched as the duchess drained her glass in one sip. Remembering what Drake said, Alice followed suit and set down her empty glass on the bar beside Adelaide’s. The duchess smiled.
“That’s why I like you, Alice,” Adelaide said. Her words were still solid, curling only slightly at the ends, indicating that she was still early in her night of drinking. “At least someone at this so-called ‘party’ knows how to have a good time.”
“A perk of being a bartender,” Alice said.
“But you’re not a bartender anymore,” Adelaide said, studying her. “In fact, you’re really quite the Cinderella story.”
“If Cinderella is a slutty waitress who embarrasses the new king in the press,” Alice said. Adelaide laughed.
“Oh, please, everyone pretends to be so uptight here, but everyone screws everyone,” Adelaide said. “Problem was, you got caught. Or, rather, someone ensured you got caught. Here, let me get you another,” she said, raising a hand to flag down another server. As she did so, Adelaide glanced down at Alice’s dress. “I see you know how to dress for an occasion. That ensemble will certainly spark a few conversations…”
“Thank you,” Alice said. I think.
Adelaide sighed. “You know, I find that the United Nations takes itself far too seriously. Don’t you think this even could use a little extra…excitement?”
“I suppose that depends on what you have in mind.”
“I’m pretty well versed in what goes on around court, but something tells me you might have the inside track on more…information…than I’ve heard,” Adelaide said as she handed Alice a fresh glass of champagne.
“Well…” Alice thought for a moment. The biggest information she knew was, of course, about Constantine and Regina’s house arrest, but she wasn’t about to share that with Adelaide, so she settled on the next thing that came to mind. “Did you know that Madeleine pretended she had a chocolate allergy to haze Hana at her bachelorette party?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Adelaide said. “She is my daughter, after all. Not that she’s especially proud of that,” Adelaide said as she took a swig of her champagne. “But I’m impressed with your backbone. Not everyone would gossip about a woman to her mother.”
“Who’s gossiping? We’re merely trading information,” Alice said lightly. Adelaide smiled at her.
“Trading, huh?” she asked, amused. “You know, to be honest, Alice, Regina and Madeleine gave me a rather negative impression of you. But I should’ve known better than to trust those two bores. Neither knows how to have any fun at all. In fact, Regina won’t even return my calls since that night in Shanghai. I left her a message telling her she should rejoin the tour instead of just fussing over Constantine, but I haven’t heard anything back.”
“I’m sure she’s been busy,” Alice said noncommittally.
“Busy avoiding me,” Adelaide muttered into her glass. “But that’s nothing new. She’s always been embarrassed by my behavior at parties. Regina never did know how to have fun.” She regarded Alice for a moment. “But it seems that you do. I may be less careful to avoid your company in the future.”
“I look forward to it,” Alice said politely.
“Honey, if you’re going to hang out with me, you have to be a better liar,” Adelaide said. “But I do wish Madeleine had your sense of levity…it would do her a world of good.”
“What do you mean?”
“That girl has had ambitions higher than the sky since she was old enough to sit at a state function…I know beyond a doubt that she will be an excellent queen. But…” Adelaide hesitated, swirling the remaining drops of her drink in her glass. “I do worry about what being queen will mean for her. She puts immense pressure on herself as it is. I can’t see it doing her any good. Perhaps if she could just let loose every once in a while like you, I wouldn’t worry so much.”
“It would probably be better for everyone if she could unclench a little,” Alice said. Adelaide laughed.
“That’s the perfect way of putting it,” Adelaide said. “You know, I think you could have gone far in this court if you hadn’t gotten caught up with that Tariq fellow. Such an obnoxious little shit. The only good thing about him was his taste in shoes.”
“His shoes?” Alice asked.
“Sartorinis. Really exclusive, they’re only available in New York and Los Angeles in the states. Now, I’m told this place carries an extremely rare and delicious scotch, and I bet I can charm some out of that waiter.”
Adelaide stood up on mostly steady feet and bid Alice goodbye before trailing away behind a man in all black carrying a serving tray.
Alice turned in her seat to see Bastien standing beside her. She smiled up at him as he reached over, hooking his pinkie finger around hers.
“I think I just learned a clue about where Tariq is,” Alice said.
“What? Really?” Bastien asked, surprised.
“Yeah. Adelaide said Tariq only wears these really fancy and exclusive Italian shoes. Sartorinis.”
Bastien quickly pulled out his phone and tapped the screen, searching. “There’s only one location in LA. I bet we can find him if we connect with the store.”
“Dorian…what if we don’t find him?”
“Why wouldn’t we find him?” Bastien asked, putting his phone back in his pocket.
“That’s not…even if we find him, we don’t know what’ll happen.”
“I know he’s going to have his hand re-broken.”
“Bas, you know what I mean,” Alice said. He sighed.
“I do,” he said. “But whatever happens, we’re going to figure it out together. The tough part with Constantine and Regina is over.”
“Is it though?” Alice asked. “I feel like I can breathe again, but for how long? And there’s still Madeleine to contend with, plus you said there have been threats against the monarchy from terrorist groups—“
“Hey,” he said, squeezing her hand. “I’ve got you. No matter what happens, I’ve got you.” Bastien glanced around the room, surveying the security detail. “By the way…there’s a rooftop lounge. If you want to go see it.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Head of Security, aren’t you working?” Alice teased.
“Yes, but things will be fine for ten minutes. There’s so much security on this place that you can’t go two steps without running into an armed official. Besides…I don’t remember you being so concerned about me being on duty during that party in Lythikos…”
Alice bit her lip, grinning as the memories came rushing back as a warmth in her abdomen. “Alright, Dorian, let’s go.”
Bastien led her to the elevator and they rode it to the top floor to find a small stairwell, which led them the rest of the way to the roof. He opened the door for her to reveal an empty, secluded lounge light by fairly lights and the New York City skyline.
“Wow,” Bastien said as he took her hand and they entered the lounge area.
“That view is incredible,” Alice said.
“Yeah, it is.”
She glanced over to see him staring at her. “Hey, mister, the view is out there,” she said, pointing to the buildings.
“No, it’s not,” he said. He stepped closer to her, turning her towards him as he brushed the hair back from her face.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked.
“Yesterday when we were on our way to my apartment…my old apartment,” she corrected. “We were talking about how much I’ve changed and you said that you love me now, but you also loved me before. What did you mean?”
Bastien smiled softly at her. “You’re really going to make me say it?”
“That night we met…I’ve never really believed in love at first sight. It all just seemed like Hollywood nonsense. But that night with you…I noticed you the second I walked into that bar and I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but from that first night, I knew something was different about you. But now…now I know that was the night I fell in love with you.”
He paused, lightly tracing his thumb across her lower lip.
“Alice Ayers, you are the love of my life. I know that moving in together is a big step and I don’t want to rush you or make you feel pressured, but I want you to know that I’m all in. I’m not going to ask you tonight, but there is another question I want to ask you when you’re ready. And there’s no timeline on when that’ll happen—I would wait until the end of forever for you to be ready. But I want you to know that I’m thinking about it.”
Alice closed the distance between them and kissed him softly. “I don’t think you’ll have to wait that long.”
“Good,” Bastien said. Then he closed his eyes and kissed her, over and over and over again.
“Christ, you’re nauseating,” Olivia said after Alice and Bastien rejoined the party and he’d left to make the rounds.
“What?” Alice asked innocently.
“You two are always sneaking off mid-party. And you’re so cute together it makes me want to vomit,” Olivia said as she sipped her wine.
“He asked me to move in with him,” Alice said. Olivia raised her eyebrows.
“Really? Are you going to do it?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah. I’m a little nervous because I’ve never lived with a significant other before, but I’m also really excited.”
“Well, then, I’m happy for you,” Olivia said. She smiled, but Alice could see the strain at the corners of her mouth.
Olivia quickly waved her off. “I know. I feel really good about Liam and me, but then I remember that publicly he’s still with her,” she said, nodding towards Madeleine, whose arm was looped possessively through Liam’s as they spoke to dignitaries from Sweden.
“I’m not gonna lie, I still have the urge to rip her hair out,” Alice said.
“Just borrow my dagger instead. Less of a chance you’ll ruin your manicure that way.”
Bastien held his phone in his hand as he made his way around the perimeter of the room, not wanting to miss the incoming message. Then it buzzed in his hand and he paused, bringing up the phone to study the screen.
Got you, you little fucker, Bastien thought as he studied the image on the screen. The shop owner had been quick to comply with Bastien’s requests, immediately forwarding security footage as well as information. As it so happened, Tariq was due to pick up a pair of shoes the following day and Bastien planned to be there to meet him. He tucked the phone back in his pocket and made his way through the crowd to Liam.
“Excuse me, Your Highness,” Bastien said politely. “I just received some information I need to share with you.”
“Oh, of course,” Liam said, nodding to the Swedish diplomats. “Excuse me.”
“What is it, Bastien?” Madeleine asked, looking annoyed at the interruption.
“My apologies, but I need to speak with the king alone,” Bastien said.
“Excuse me?” Madeleine asked, face hardening with anger. “I’m the future queen.”
“Madeleine, please,” Liam said. His face was neutral, but his tone was dangerous. Madeleine fumed, but turned and left them alone.
“I think she suspects her days in her current position are numbered,” Bastien said.
“I think you’re right,” Liam said. “To my knowledge, she doesn’t know about my parents yet, but she’s not stupid and, at the very least, she suspects something is off. But, anyway, I’m sure you didn’t come over here to talk about her.”
“No,” Bastien agreed, holding out his phone to Liam. “We found Tariq.”
“Really?” Liam asked, taking the phone to study the message. “This is excellent news. Send a couple of guards in my jet to retrieve him and immediately extradite him to Cordonia. After the party ends, I’ll file formal charges so the paperwork will be in place when the plane lands in LA.”
“I’d like to go.”
Liam looked at him in surprise. “Really? I would’ve thought you’d want to stay here with Alice.”
“I do, but I need to do this for her,” Bastien said. “I’m the one who threw him out in the first place; if I’d just arrested him that night, I could’ve saved everyone a lot of hassle.”
Liam nodded. “Alright. Keep me posted with updates and I’ll send over the paperwork as soon as it’s done.”
She turned to see Bastien join her and Olivia. “Hey, is everything okay?”
“We found him. I’m leaving tonight to go get him.”
“Wait, what?” Alice asked, shaking her head.
“I’m going to go…somewhere else,” Olivia said. She left, melding into the crowd at the UN party.
“He’s in LA and I’m taking a couple of guards with me to retrieve him and take him back to Cordonia.”
“Why do you have to go? Why can’t you just send them to get him?”
“Gray,” Bastien said softly, taking her hands in his. “I’m sorry, but I want to do this. I need to do this…are you going to be okay while I’m gone?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah. I’m just…god, I can’t believe you found him. The idea that he’ll be locked up somewhere instead of out there, just hanging over my head…I don’t know. It feels a little surreal. Good though.”
Bastien leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I love you. And I’ll have my phone, so I’m available anytime you need me.”
She squeezed his hands. “I love you, too. Be safe.”
An hour later, as the plane began to taxi down the runway, Bastien pulled out his phone and began to flip through some of the pictures. But this time, he wasn’t looking at the photos of Tariq on the security footage in LA. Instead, he looked at the photos he’d asked Hana to send him, the ones she’d taken of Alice the morning after Tariq attacked her. Bastien examined the pictures closely, zooming in on each mark Tariq had left behind on Alice’s skin. When he’d first seen the photos, they’d made him sick to his stomach. Now, they fed the rage that grew inside of him, a smoldering heat that threatened to consume him. As he continued to cycle through the photos, Bastien thought about how lucky Tariq was that he was bringing backup. Left to his own devices, Bastien knew he likely would’ve killed him. Part of him felt disappointed that he wouldn’t get the chance.
Then again, accidents happened all the time.
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