Guarded Hearts, Part 39

Summary: The nobles return to Cordonia, Liam makes Alice an offer, and Alice moves in with Bastien. (NSFW)

Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit. Also, look! Smut!

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 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30Part 31Part 32Part 33Part 34Part 35Part 36, Part 37, Part 38


Alice quickly shoved her belongings into her suitcases, not bothering to fold anything. She knew Bastien’s eye was going to twitch when she opened her suitcase at home, but she was running late and needed to hurry before Bertrand dragged her to the airport.

Home. A few months ago, Alice couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t call New York home anymore, but home was with Bastien, wherever that might be. Currently, that was in Cordonia. Despite her reservations from a few days earlier, Alice now felt nothing but excitement. The only thing darkening her otherwise happy mood was Justin and the media circus surrounding his announcement. What should’ve been her announcement. Fucking Justin, she thought.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, but it wasn’t Maxwell’s usual energetic knock.

“Yes?” Alice called.

“Would you hurry up, Jon Snow? I don’t have all day,” a familiar voice called back.

Alice quickly crossed the room and opened the door for Olivia and Liam, who stood beside her. “Hey! Sorry, I’m just in a rush trying to pack everything.”

“How are you not packed yet?” Olivia sniffed as she walked into the room. “It’s a goddamn disaster in here.”

“Good morning, Alice,” Liam said as he followed Olivia and closed the door behind him. “We’re sorry to disturb you so early while you’re packing,” he added, shooting a look at Olivia, “but we wanted to talk to you and we didn’t want to wait.”

Olivia opened her mouth to say something but reconsidered when she glanced over at Liam.

“I know, and I’m sorry,” Alice said. “I had no idea Justin was going to do that. In fact, I told him I wanted to make a statement myself and he agreed, but then he…well, he did what he did.”

“I know,” Olivia said. “I guess I shouldn’t have flown off the handle at you like I did last night.”

“Liv,” Liam said.

“Okay, fine, I’m sorry,” Olivia said. “I just think Justin is a horrible little weasel. But, you know, if we cut out his tongue, he wouldn’t be able to do that again,” she added helpfully.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled Justin went rogue,” Liam said, tactfully ignoring Olivia’s suggestion. “However, I am glad that the truth of what happened that night came out. Although I’m sorry you weren’t able to be the one to say it first. I feel like so much has already been taken from you and Justin had no right to do that.”

Alice noticed the furrow in Liam’s brow, and she suspected there was more he wasn’t saying. “There’s something else bothering you.”

“Well…yes and no,” Liam admitted, frowning. “Since Justin’s press release last night, there have been a handful of opinion pieces that have aimed barbs at the palace for not doing more the protect the women at court.”

“But what happened wasn’t your fault,” Alice said. “That’s what I was trying to avoid by making my own statement; I’d planned on talking about how supportive you’ve been throughout everything, but Justin robbed me of that,” she said, anger bubbling in her chest.

“On the plus side, by taking action and having Tariq extradited to Cordonia, I think that shows you’re proving yourself to be a more compassionate leader than your father, which works heavily in your favor,” Olivia said as she gently touched Liam’s arm.

“I hope you’re right,” Liam said, although the crease didn’t completely leave his brow, even as he changed gears. “Alice, there’s something else I wanted to talk about with you.” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “I’ve been working on this since we were in France, but I wanted to talk with you before I finished finalizing everything.”

“Okay…” Alice said slowly, unsure of where this was going.

“There are a number of unclaimed duchies in Cordonia and, since you are planning on staying in Cordonia, I wanted to offer one to you.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Alice asked, stunned.

“He’s making you a duchess, Jon Snow,” Olivia said slowly, as if spelling it out to a toddler. “Which means we’d technically be the same rank, but I’d still have seniority in regards to experience.”

“Liv, you’re not helping,” Liam said with a sigh.

“I don’t…I’m really flattered, but I’d have no idea what to do as a duchess,” Alice said. “I’ve never managed anything.”

“You’ve been the manager at multiple bars,” Liam pointed out.

“Managing a bar and managing a duchy are not the same thing,” Alice countered.

“You’re better at courtly life than you think,” Liam said. “And both involve handling people and finessing delicate situations.”

“Except at a bar, the worst that’ll happen is I have to call the cops on some unruly asshole,” Alice said. “As a duchess, I could cause an international incident.”

“I mean, you’ve already done that,” Olivia pointed out. “Besides, even I have to agree you don’t suck with people,” she added. “Think of it as babysitting on a much larger scale.”

“I’ve spent time with you and listened to your answers when the press asked you questions during the social season,” Liam continued. “You’re authentic and down to earth and someone I trust completely. I need people like that at court.”

Alice hesitated and Olivia took the opportunity to speak up again. “Look, I know I give you a hard time, but I really think you’d be good at this. Plus, this would be really good for Cordonia. The people really relate to you and I think it would help for them to feel better represented in the government.”

“Thanks, Liv,” Alice said, genuinely touched.

“I don’t need an answer immediately, but I do want you to please consider it,” Liam said.

“Okay.”

“Okay you’ll accept?” Liam asked hopefully. Alice smiled.

“Okay I’ll consider it,” Alice said.

Liam smiled sheepishly as Alice’s phone chimed from its resting spot on the nightstand. “You can’t blame me for trying. Alright, I guess we should go and let you finish packing. We’ll see you on the plane.”

Alice walked them to the door before retrieving her phone to see a text from Frankie.

Everything okay? How are you doing?

Alice texted back and a few seconds later, her phone began to ring.

“Hello?” Alice asked innocently.

“Don’t you ‘hello’ me,” Frankie scolded. “I’m pretty sure I’m getting senile and can’t read without glasses anymore, because I think you just texted me that you’re going to be a fucking duchess.”

Alice laughed. “I haven’t said yes yet.”

“Why not?”

“Seriously? Because I couldn’t even agree to move in with Bastien without using you as a focus group! I have no idea how to be a duchess! I’d have to pass legislation! I don’t know how to do that! Everyone else at court has been groomed for this since birth. Hell, Hana literally took a class in small talk.”

“Okay, calm down,” Frankie said. “Liam isn’t an idiot—he wouldn’t have offered this to you without being sure you could handle it.”

“I just don’t want to be responsible for destroying a country’s government.”

“First of all, you won’t be in this alone. Plus, didn’t Bertrand train you for life at court?  He’s a duke and I’m sure he’d be more than willing to help you while you’re getting you footing. And second of all, you can’t possibly be worse in a government job than Trump.”

Alice laughed. “That’s a really low bar.”

“Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at,” Frankie said. “Hey, speaking of sexual predators, how are you doing with all the Tariq stuff today?”

“I’m doing okay, I guess,” Alice said. “Honestly, right now I’m mostly just pissed off at Justin.”

“I mean, you guys haven’t left yet—my offer to beat the shit out of him still stands,” Frankie said. “However…”

“There’s a however?”

“Look, I’ve been reading a lot of articles about you since the press release, and it is completely fucked up that Justin took that moment from you—but your story being out there seems to be pulling back the curtain on a lot of shady bullshit at court. Did you know Tariq also assaulted Olivia?”

“Wait, what?” Alice asked. “She was literally just here and said nothing.”

“Early this morning, she released a statement of solidarity for you and recounted her own story about being assaulted by Tariq at a ball when she was fourteen. It was pretty powerful to read.”

“I…wow, I had no idea,” Alice said. “Well, I guess not entirely. She’s been supportive of me after everything that happened and it seemed like she was maybe talking about herself, but I was too wrapped up in my own shit to really listen to her. God, I’m way too self-absorbed to be a duchess.”

“No, you were in pain, there’s a difference,” Frankie said. “And now you know. You’ve already been through so much, but this is your chance to be a part of something bigger and actually benefit the women of Cordonia, especially in a position of power as a duchess. You and I have volunteered together and while that helps on a small level, you have an opportunity to do something really big here.”

“Fuck.”

“Indeed. So put on your big girl pants, write out your own statement to release to the press, and go be a fucking duchess.”

Alice smiled. “You’re so bossy, you’d be a much better duchess than me.”

“Yes, I’d be quite popular with my ‘fuck everyone’ policies.”

Maxwell’s familiar knock sounded on Alice’s door. “Alice? Are you ready?” he called through the door.

“Shit, Maxwell and Bertrand are here and I’m not done packing,” Alice said.

“Text me when you land.”

“Will do.”

Alice hung up the phone as she opened the door for the Beaumonts.

“Good morning!” Maxwell sang as she stepped back to let them inside her room.

“Good lord, Alice, how are you not packed yet?” Bertrand exclaimed as he looked around the room in horror.

“I’m almost packed!” she protested.

“You’re not even folding anything!” Bertrand said as he gaped at her suitcases.

“It’s fine, that’s what an iron is for,” Alice said as she hurried to the bathroom to sweep her toiletries off the counter. “Maxwell, can you help?”

“I’m on it!” he called as he started to haphazardly shove clothes into the suitcases. Bertrand pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply.

“You are both a complete and total embarrassment to House Beaumont,” he muttered.

“Less talking, more packing,” Alice said. “Don’t make us late.”

I shouldn’t make us late?” Bertrand asked, offended.

“Chop, chop, Beaumont!”


As the plane began its descent into Cordonia, Alice read over her statement for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Alice, if you’d like, I can go over that for you before we land,” Justin offered as he sat down across from her.

“I’d really rather you fuck off,” Alice said, not bothering to lift her eyes from her paper. Justin sighed.

“I know you’re upset with me, but I’m still in your corner. Let me know if you reconsider,” he said before getting up to move to another seat.

“It’s not the worst idea,” Bertrand murmured as he leaned over.

Et tu, Brutus?”

“Yes, he overstepped his bounds, but we’ve paid him to help you through the Homecoming Ball and he does have experience in dealing with the press,” Bertrand said. “I know you don’t like him, but just consider him to be a resource you can utilize.”

“I’d rather stab him in the ear with a fork.”

“As long as you use the correct fork, that’s fine,” Bertrand said.

The plane gently touched down on the runway and Alice watched out the window as the plane slowed to a stop. In the distance, she could see a small crowd of people waiting to greet the plane. Judging by the flashing lights, Alice assumed it was the press who had assembled to welcome them back. When the plane came to a halt, Alice noticed a lone figure making their way to the plane and she grinned. It had only been two days, but Bastien looked even better than she remembered. As soon as the stairs lowered, he boarded the plane.

“Welcome back, sir,” Bastien said, bowing slightly to Liam.

“Thank you,” Liam said with a smile. “It’s good to be back.”

As everyone began to collect their things, Bastien made his way over to Alice and, without saying a word, wrapped her in his arms and held her tightly. Alice closed her eyes, breathing in his comforting scent.

“God, I missed you,” he whispered.

“Not as much as I missed you,” she said quietly.

“The press are waiting outside,” he said, finally releasing her. “Are you ready?”

“Theoretically,” Alice said as she gestured with her statement in hand. Bastien leaned in and kissed her briefly.

“You’ve got this,” he said.

“We should really get out there,” Justin said apologetically as he interrupted them. “We don’t want to keep them waiting.”

“No, I don’t,” Alice said, purposely avoiding looking at Justin. Bastien quickly squeezed her hand before he headed back to the door to disembark first with Liam.

“Ready?” Bertrand asked as he offered Alice his arm.

“Guess I have to be,” she said as she took it.

“We’re with you all the way, Alice,” Maxwell said.

Alice smiled gratefully at him, but she couldn’t ignore the flutter of nerves in her stomach as they made their way off the plane and towards the waiting press. The photographers’ cameras burst into a flurry of flashes as their group drew nearer and Alice tightened her grip on Bertrand’s arm.

“Welcome back to Cordonia, Your Majesty,” one of the reporters called out to Liam. “How does it feel to be home?”

“Thank you for the warm welcome,” Liam said, smiling genially at the crowd. “It’s wonderful to be home among the Cordonian people.”

“There are rumors that you’ve broken off your engagement with Countess Madeleine,” Ana de Luca said as she adjusted her dark sunglasses. “Can you comment on that?”

“It’s true,” Liam said, his face growing serious. “Countess Madeleine and I are no longer engaged. My reasons are personal, but I wish her the best in her future.” The press panel broke into intrigued murmurs, but before they could ask a follow up, Liam continued. “However, there are more pressing issues at hand,” he said, nodding towards Alice. He gave her an encouraging smile as the press’s attention swiveled over to Alice.

“Lady Alice, welcome back to Cordonia,” Ana de Luca said. Alice took a deep breath before releasing Bertrand’s arm.

“Thank you,” Alice said. “I won’t dance around the elephant in the room; by now, you’ve surely seen the statement made by my press secretary.” Soon to be ex-press secretary, you little fuck, she thought, but she kept her face calm. “However, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my own story in my own words.” Alice hesitated, the words momentarily freezing in her throat, when she felt someone take her hand. She glanced down and saw Olivia’s hand with its perfectly manicured crimson nails in her hand. Olivia squeezed her hand and Alice looked back out at the crowd, feeling a little braver than before. “The night after the royal hunt at Applewood Manor, I was followed to my room and attacked by Tariq.”

“When you say attacked, you mean…” a reporter said.

“I mean he tried to rape me,” Alice said firmly, staring down the reporter as Olivia squeezed her hand again. “Were it not for Drake Walker’s intervention, things could and likely would have been much worse.”

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” Ana said sincerely. “Why did you stay in Cordonia? I imagine you might have wanted to return to America after something like that.”

“I stayed because Cordonia has become my home,” Alice said. “I have also been incredibly fortunate to have the support of the people standing here beside me. They held me up when I didn’t think I could stand on my own.”

“Where is Lord Tariq now?” another reporter asked. Alice glanced at Liam who nodded and stepped forward to stand on her other side.

“After careful investigation, we were able to locate Lord Tariq and extradite him to Cordonia where he is currently awaiting trial,” Liam said.

“Lady Alice, since the first news of your attack broke last night, your story has sparked a #MeToo movement in Cordonia. What does that mean for you?” Ana asked.

“Although I am saddened to hear that so many have endured trauma like mine, I believe there is power in sharing one’s truth. By staying silent, we only continue to give power to our attackers. By speaking up, we reclaim the space and the power that was taken from us.”

“Do you feel that the crown should have done more to protect you and other women at court?” a reporter asked.

“Since learning of my experience, King Liam has been one of my biggest supporters and champions,” Alice said. “He has done and continues to do everything in his power to make sure justice prevails.”

“Duchess Olivia, since revealing your own shocking story, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this as well,” Ana de Luca said.

“Like many women in my position, I felt I wasn’t able to stand up for myself. I was only fourteen when it happened, and rather than tell anyone what happened, I chose instead to bury my truth within myself. But Lady Alice and King Liam have both given me the support I need to come forward, because Lady Alice is right—silence only perpetuates violence.”

Alice squeezed her hand and felt Olivia return the pressure.

“Thank you, Duchess Olivia,” Ana said, nodding. “And, Lady Alice, I applaud both you and the duchess for sharing your stories. I look forward to the positive changes that the two of you might be able to bring to Cordonia’s future. Thank you for speaking with us today.”

“Of course,” Alice said.

“Thank you all,” Liam said. “It’s time for us to return to the palace, but thank you for your time and for coming to meet us here.”

The press snapped a few more photos before the crowd began to disperse.

“Thank you,” Alice said as she turned to Olivia and let go of her hand. “I couldn’t have done that without you.”

“Someone had to make sure you didn’t make an ass of yourself,” Olivia said. “But…yes, you could have done it alone.”

“Fine, then I’m glad I didn’t have to,” Alice said.

“I’m so proud of you,” Maxwell said, wrapping Alice in a tight hug. He let go of her and turned to Olivia.

“Touch me and die,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Maxwell said.

“Come on, everyone, let’s go,” Bertrand said as he attempted to direct everyone to the waiting cars. “No sense just standing around the airport.” He led everyone over towards the cars before he stopped Alice.

“What, I’m not riding with you and Maxwell?” Alice asked, confused. Bertrand smiled and pointed behind her. She turned to see Bastien standing beside a sleek red muscle car.

“Ready?” Bastien asked as she walked over to join him.

“Holy shit, is this yours?” Alice asked as she gaped at the car. She wasn’t much of a gear head, but even she could appreciate a car like that.

“It is,” Bastien said. “Want to go for a ride?”

“Depends…are we still talking about the car?” Alice asked with a devilish grin.

“We’re talking about whatever you want, Gray,” he said as he led her around to the passenger side and opened her door for her.

“You know what I want?” Alice asked when Bastien slid behind the wheel.

“What?”

“I want you to take me home.”

He smiled and leaned over to kiss her, fingers brushing the hair from her face. “Anything you want.”


“Did you even attempt to fold anything?” Bastien asked as he stared at her open suitcases in horror.

“Nope,” Alice said. Then she suddenly remembered why she hadn’t had time to pack. “Hey, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Can we shut your suitcases while we talk?”

“Yes, fine,” Alice said, knocking them shut with her foot before sitting on the couch and gesturing for Bastien to join her.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, this is a good thing. I think,” Alice said. “When I was trying to pack this morning, Liam and Olivia came by my room and…Liam offered me a duchy. I haven’t accepted yet,” she added quickly before Bastien had a chance to say anything. “But I told him I’d consider it. And anyway, I wanted to talk to you about it first. Are you upset? I hope you’re not upset. I was ready to say no, but Olivia actually gave me a compliment and said she thought I’d be good at it, and—”

“Gray, that’s incredible!” Bastien interrupted, taking her hands in his before silencing her with a kiss. “Why would I ever be upset about something good happening to you? And Olivia is right—I do think you’re the right person for the job. You care about people so much and you’re not blinded by the ‘glamour’ of palace life, so I think you’ll really work to make life better for everyone in Cordonia, not just the nobles at court.”

“But what does that mean for us?” Alice asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean our talk at the UN party…is that still something you want if I’m going to be a duchess?”

“Why would that change anything?”

“I don’t know! I’ve never been a duchess before! And, to my knowledge, you’ve never been a duke before.”

Bastien laughed and took her hands in his. “I haven’t but we’ll figure it out. Seriously, it’s going to be fine.” He kissed her, their embrace quickly deepening as she wound her fingers through his hair, pulling him closer

“I haven’t said yes yet,” Alice said breathlessly as Bastien’s lips slid along her jaw to her neck.

“Maybe you’ll be ready to become a duchess if you have some practice bossing your loyal subject around,” he murmured, the heat of his breath on her neck making her shiver slightly.

“Are you volunteering?” she asked, closing her eyes as she felt his strong hand slide up her thigh, fingers skimming beneath the hem of her dress.

“Always,” he whispered as his hand slid higher, his calloused fingers rough against her smooth skin. “I’m yours, my duchess.”

A sudden knock at the door caused his hand to pause and Alice groaned in frustration.

“What are the chances we can ignore that?” she asked.

“I hate to say it, but we shouldn’t,” Bastien said as he pulled back. “However, I’m going to need you to answer the door because…” he gestured down at his lap and Alice laughed.

“To be continued,” she said, kissing him briefly before she stood up and straightened her dress. Alice crossed over to the door and opened it, surprised by who she found on the other side. “Liam! Is everything okay? Come in.”

“Thank you. And yes, everything’s fine,” Liam said. “No, it’s okay, don’t get up,” Liam said when Bastien started to stand automatically. Alice bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing as Bastien blushed slightly and crossed his ankle over his knee. “I just wanted to talk to you both about something.”

“I have something to tell you, too,” Alice said.

“You first,” Liam said with a smile.

“If the offer still stands, I’d like to accept the duchy,” Alice said. Liam grinned.

“You mean the offer from this morning? Of course it stands,” he teased. “And I’m thrilled you’ll accept. I’ll finalize everything, but there are still a few things left to discuss.”

“Do I have to go to duchess school or something? Because I’m pretty sure Bertrand would volunteer to be my tutor,” Alice said.

Liam laughed. “No, I was talking more about the name of your duchy.”

“Does it not have one?” Alice asked, a little confused.

“No, it does,” Liam said. “Traditionally, it has been known as Valtoria. However, according to Cordonian law, a new duchess or duke may change that name upon claiming the duchy’s lands, so it’s up to you.”

“I actually really like the name Valtoria,” Alice said. “No point in fixing something that’s not broken.”

“That suits you,” Bastien said as he finally stood up and joined Alice and Liam near the door.

“I agree,” Liam said. “It was named after Val Greaves who was one of Queen Kenna’s closest friends and fiercest warriors during the war with the Iron Empire,” he explained to Alice. “Admittedly, I’m glad the name will continue to have its place in the kingdom. Plus, considering all the press over the last twenty-four hours, I think the Cordonian people will appreciate that connection as well.”

“I’m honored to be taking over a duchy with such significance,” Alice said. “But I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous about all this.”

“Completely understandable, but you have me and a whole host of people who are willing to help you and want you to succeed,” Liam said. “I’m really happy about this and I can’t wait to make the announcement at the Homecoming Ball. Which, incidentally, is what I wanted to talk to you about,” Liam said, looking over to Bastien. “I wanted to formally invite you to attend the ball as a guest to celebrate clearing Alice’s name.”

“Are you sure?” Bastien asked. “But with the intel we’ve gotten about the Sons…”

“You’ve already ensured that this event is going to be as secure as it can be,” Liam assured him. “After everything you’ve been though, I want you to be able to enjoy yourselves at the ball. Besides, I have a hunch I’m going to need a new head of security soon anyway if Alice is going to be a duchess, so this will be good practice for both of us.”

“As long as you’re sure…” Bastien said hesitantly.

“I am,” Liam said confidently, although Alice couldn’t help but notice him fidgeting.

“Are you okay? You seem…weird,” Alice said. Liam smiled.

“You’re a little too perceptive for your own good, Alice,” Liam said with a laugh. “I can’t say anything yet, but hopefully I’ll have good news later.”

“What sort of good news?” Alice asked, a teasing grin spreading across her lips. “Does it have anything to do with a certain lovable, prickly redheaded duchess?”

“Maybe,” Liam said, unable to suppress his smile. “Okay, I need to go, but I will see you both tomorrow at the ball.”

“Can’t get out of here fast enough, huh?”

Liam laughed. “Goodbye, Alice, goodbye, Bastien.”

Bastien walked Liam to the door and closed the door behind him.

“I’d bet anything he’s going to propose to Olivia,” Alice said as she walked up behind Bastien and slid her arms around his waist.

“I’d bet you’re right,” Bastien said as he gently rubbed her arms with his fingertips.

“But on to more important matters…I believe that before we were so rudely interrupted, we were in the middle of something,” Alice said mischievously.

“It’s true, we were,” Bastien said, smiling as he turned to look over his shoulder at her.

“If you’re still up for the idea…I think I’d like to be in charge. You know, purely for research purposes for my future as a duchess.”

“Anything you want, Your Grace,” he said. Alice let go of his waist, taking her time to slide her hands from his body.

“Turn around.”

Bastien did as she said and watched as she tugged the knot in his tie free, gently pulling it from his shirt collar before she slowly walked behind him and placed the silk tie over his eyes.

“Is this okay?” she asked softly, pausing before tying the knot.

“Absolutely, duchess.”

Alice knotted the tie securely around his head and let her fingertips slide down the back of his neck. “You’re not allowed to touch me unless I say so,” she said as she walked around to face him again.

“Yes, duchess,” he said, a small, anticipatory smile tugging at his lips.

Alice put her hands on the sides of his neck before sliding them down over his toned chest, her fingers tracing the edges of his suit jacket before she slipped her hands underneath the jacket, sliding her hands back up to ease it off of his shoulders. Bastien shifted slightly to help her remove the jacket, which she tossed onto a nearby chair. She turned her attention to his shirt and slowly began to unbutton it, taking her time with each button. When she’d pulled the shirt from him, she rose up on her tiptoes to lightly kiss the curve of his neck, feeling his breath catch under her touch. Alice smiled and lightly traced her fingers over the bare skin of his arms, reveling in the goosebumps her touch left in its wake.

She continued to undress him piece by piece, slowly dragging her fingers over each inch of newly exposed skin until he stood completely bare before her, save for the blindfold still secured over his eyes. Alice took a step back and quickly undressed herself before she drew closer again, letting her bare skin brush against his. Bastien groaned softly at the feel of her, flexing his hands at his sides as he attempted to follow her instructions.

“You’ve been very well behaved so far,” Alice said softly as she traced her fingers down over his hips. “Would you like a reward?”

“Yes, duchess,” Bastien said, his voice almost hoarse with restraint.

Alice knelt down in front of him, slowly running her hands over his hips as she leaned forward, kissing down his stomach until her lips reached the edge of his neatly trimmed hair. His hard cock twitched slightly when she gently traced her fingernails over his inner thighs and she noticed his hands flex again. Alice grinned and continued to tease him with her breath and fingertips until she noticed he was straining to keep his hips still. Then and only then did she lick the bead of precum from the head of his cock, making him hiss through clenched teeth.

“You don’t come until I say so,” Alice said, her lips brushing against his hip.

“Yes, duchess,” he said, breathing labored as he clenched his hands into fists to keep from touching her.

Alice dragged her tongue along the base of his cock as she caressed him with her hands, taking her time as she kissed his length before taking him slowly into her mouth. Bastien groaned at the feeling of her mouth wrapped around him and clenched his fists tighter, his knuckles turning white.

Before long, Alice could tell Bastien was close she she released him, lightly kissing his thighs as he panted, trying to regain his composure.

“Not until I say so,” she warned.

“Yes, duchess,” he said, willing himself back from the edge.

After giving him a brief reprieve, Alice steadied his hips with her hands and took him in her mouth again, swirling her tongue against him, hollowing her cheeks as she sucked his cock.

“Fuck, Alice…” Bastien groaned, his hands clutching at hers on his hips. Alice nearly kept going, caught up in the moment, but she forced herself to pull away from him.

“I didn’t give you permission to touch me,” she said as she gently removed his hands from hers before she stood up. The realization hit Bastien hard; he hadn’t even noticed he’d grabbed for her hands.

“I’m sorry, duchess,” he said, breath still coming hard.

“Get on your knees.”

Bastien immediately dropped to his knees in front of her, awaiting further instructions.

“I think you need to learn to keep your hands to yourself,” Alice said.

“Yes, duchess,” Bastien agreed.

“Take off your blindfold and crawl to the bed.” Bastien did as she directed and she watched him, admiring the way the muscles in his back flexed as he crawled. “Get on the bed and lie down on the pillows.”

Bastien did as she told him and watched as she took her time walking across the room to the closet. Alice retrieved two more ties and walked over to the bed.

“If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, I’m going to have to ensure you behave,” Alice said. “Hold out your arms.”

He smirked slightly as he held out his arms, watching as she secured each one to the bed post. Then she walked around to the foot of the bed and stood for a moment, admiring his naked form stretched out before her. She flicked her eyes up to his and saw him watching her with a gaze thick with lust and desire as he bit his lip. Alice felt sexy. Powerful in her own skin without clothing as armor to protect her. She slowly climbed onto the bed, crawling up his body until she straddled his chest.

“It’s too bad,” Alice said as she slid a hand between her legs, teasing her wet folds. Bastien groaned and pulled at his restraints as he watched her, desperate to touch her. “I wanted you to help me with this…”

“Please,” Bastien said, his voice gravelly. “I want to. Come closer.”

“I don’t think so,” Alice said as she continued to touch herself, sliding two fingers inside of herself. She moaned softly and caressed her breast with her free hand, tugging at her nipple. “I think that for now…oh, fuck…you should just watch.”

Alice began to circle her clit, her hips grinding against his chest as she touched herself. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back as she felt the orgasm quickly building within her. She opened her eyes again and looked down at Bastien to find his his eyes locked on hers, completely transfixed by her. Her fingers moved faster, the pressure growing greater and greater. Finally, the pleasure burst through her and she had to catch herself on the headboard with her free hand to keep from collapsing on top of him as the electricity coursed through her body.

“Fuck,” she gasped.

“Let me taste your fingers,” he begged. “Please.”

“I guess that’d be alright,” she said, still trying to catch her breath. “Since you said please.”

Alice brought her fingers to his lips and he sucked at them hungrily, licking her wetness from her skin. But before he was done, she pulled them away and adjusted herself until her entrance was over his hard, throbbing length.

“Should I give you want you want?” she asked as she took him in her hand, teasing the tip of his cock against her wet folds. Alice could tell he was trying to keep his hips still against the mattress.

“Please, duchess. Please.”

“You’re not allowed to come until I say so,” she reminded him.

“Yes, duchess.” Alice took her time and slowly slid down onto him, causing his eyes to roll back. “Oh, fuck…”

Alice kept a slow pace as she rose and fell on top of him, moaning at the way he stretched every sensitive part of her. Then she leaned forward and kissed him. His lips and tongue were desperate against hers, teeth tugging at her bottom lip as he kissed her like he might never kiss her again. She sighed against his lips, her rhythm slowly gaining speed. Bastien met her thrust for thrust, angling his hips until she mewled with pleasure when he hit the right spot.

“Make me come,” she whispered, her voice ragged. “Then you can come. I’m close.”

Bastien thrust harder and faster as she rode him, the orgasm building in her again. After a few more pushes, she cried out, nails digging into Bastien’s chest as she came, clenching around him, pulling him over the edge as he pulsed inside her, toes curling in pleasure.

After a few moments, Alice kissed him gently. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered, exhausted and spent.

Alice carefully climbed off of him and untied his wrists, softly kissing his arms. “Can I get you anything? Water?”

“In a minute,” he said as he motioned for her to lay down beside him. “I just want a moment with you first.”

They lay together, intertwined in one another’s arms as Alice gently ran her fingers through his hair. Before long, they both drifted to sleep, home at last with one another.


A few hours later, after the sun had fallen almost completely below the horizon, Alice and Bastien were awoken by rapid knocking on their door. Alice groaned.

“God dammit, Maxwell,” she muttered.

“What time is it?” Bastien asked as he squinted at his watch. “6:30. I didn’t realize we’d fallen asleep for so long.”

Alice climbed out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt and jeans while Bastien retrieved some clothes from the closet and headed into the bathroom. She walked over and opened the door to find not only Maxwell, but Drake and Hana as well.

“Alice! Good, you’re here,” Maxwell said. “We were looking for you!”

“Is everything okay?” Alice asked.

“Yup! We just wanted to invite you to the best beer garden in Cordonia,” Maxwell said.

“Both of you,” Drake corrected as Bastien joined them at the door, already dressed in a suit. Alice made a mental note to ask him later what sort of witchcraft enabled him to get ready so quickly.

“Hana’s been reading this place’s menu for the last hour,” Maxwell said.

“Don’t judge! They have a lot of options!” Hana protested.

“I appreciate the invitation, but I need to check on a few things for the ball tomorrow,” Bastien said. “But you should definitely go,” he added to Alice.

“I don’t know, I still have a lot of unpacking to do,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder.

“I can help you unpack!” Maxwell offered.

“I don’t know, I saw the way you helped her pack,” Bastien said drily.

“I was going to for speed,” Maxwell said with a shrug, making Alice laugh. “Alice, come on, what do you say?”

“Sure,” Alice said.

Over Maxwell’s shoulder, Hana mouthed, “I can help you unpack later.”

“Have fun,” Bastien said as he leaned in to kiss Alice’s cheek, pressing a key into her hand as he did so before he left.

“Yay! Let’s go,” Maxwell said, tugging Alice’s arm.

“Okay, okay,” Alice said, reaching back into the apartment to grab her bag. She locked the door with her new key and followed her friends down the hall with Maxwell enthusiastically leading the group.


When they arrived at the beer garden, music and loud voices spilled over the garden walls towards the street.

“Wow, this place is happening!” Hana exclaimed.

“I guess we weren’t the only ones who wanted to unwind a little,” Drake said.

“Alright, who wants drinks?” Alice asked after they sat down at one of the tables and began to study the drink menu.

“Ooh, I want to try the raspberry lambic,” Hana said.

“Me, too. Maxwell, what do you want?” Alice asked

“Umm…that one,” Maxwell said, pointing to an IPA.

“Awesome, I’ll go get them, the first round is on me,” Alice said as she stood up.

“I’ll help you carry,” Drake offered and the two of them headed over to the bar.

“So…I got a text from Savannah today,” Drake said once they were out of earshot of Hana and Maxwell. “She’s coming back to Cordonia.”

She couldn’t even fucking call? Alice thought, but she kept her voice light. “That’s great news.”

“Yeah, it is,” Drake agreed.

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“No, I am,” Drake said with a sigh. “Seeing her in Paris was…a surprise, but even though  there’s still some stuff to work out with her, I’m just glad to have her back in my life.”

“It’ll be nice for you to get to know Bartie,” Alice said. At that moment, she noticed Bertrand sitting alone by the far wall of the garden, staring into a pint of beer. “I don’t know what’s more surprising, that I just noticed Bertrand here or that he’s drinking a beer.”

Drake followed her gaze. “I should…probably let you handle that. We haven’t really talked much since Liam’s bachelor party…”

“I’ve got it,” Alice said. They ordered their drinks and Alice sent Drake back with Hana and Maxwell’s while she made her way over to Bertrand.

“I can’t believe you’ve deigned to drink something as common as beer,” Alice said as she sat down across from him.

“I’ll have you know that this is a limited edition craft brew,” Bertrand said. “It’s very exclusive.”

“‘Exclusive’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good.’”

“You’re telling me,” Bertrand said as he took a sip and grimaced.

“Here, trade me,” Alice said, sliding over her lambic.

“It’s pink,” Bertrand said, examining it with distrustful curiosity.

“And yet the world keeps spinning,” Alice said. Bertrand took a sip and nodded.

“Not bad,” he said.

“Hey, I have some news,” Alice said.

“Oh?”

“Liam offered me a duchy.”

“Really? Which one?”

“Which one? That’s seriously your first question?”

“I’m sorry, was there another question I was supposed to ask?”

“Maybe something along the lines of ‘what on earth was Liam thinking?’”

“I happen to think this is a sound decision. You’re new to court, but you’ve brought a lot of pride to House Beaumont and I’m sure you’ll do the same for your own house,” Bertrand said dismissively.

“Thanks, Bertrand,” Alice said, touched. “That’s incredibly nice of you to say.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, reddening slightly as he accepted the compliment. “Anyway, which duchy?”

“Valtoria.”

He smiled. “That’s very fitting.”

“So I’m told.”

“Are you nervous?”

“Extremely.”

“Well, I’m happy to offer you any assistance I can. Although, if you try and top House Beaumont when it comes to parties, we might have to start a feud.”

“I couldn’t top one of your ragers if I tried,” Alice assured him. “Besides, there’s no way I’d be able to hold my own against Maxwell in the inevitable dance-off.”

“True.” Then he sighed and his gaze fell to his phone on the table. Alice noticed that the current background was a photo of Savannah holding Bartie.

“So…I just talked to Drake,” Alice said. “He said Savannah’s coming back to Cordonia.”

“She is?” Bertrand asked, shocked.

Oh my fucking god, she didn’t even fucking tell him, Alice thought. “Yup. I’m not sure when, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she made it back for the ball tomorrow. It seems fitting…coming home to a homecoming ball.” Making everything about her…

“That’s…” Bertrand hesitated. “That’s good to know. I’ll be sure to give her plenty of space during her visit.”

“Or you could be the adult in this scenario and talk to her instead of behaving like an awkward teenager,” Alice said.

Bertrand sighed again. “Look, I know you think I’m being ridiculous, but I consider myself lucky that she’s even willing to text me. The way that I—“

“Oh my god, Bertrand, fucking listen to me. You did not do anything to her.”

“I broke her heart and made her feel like she had to leave!” Bertrand protested.

“No, she kept a huge secret from you and hid your son from you by running away to one of the most expensive cities in the world and having Maxwell bankroll her little adventure,” Alice said. “I know I said I’d be nice to her and I will—but I am not going to sit here and listen to you talk about how you’re at fault when you have done absolutely nothing wrong.”

“No, I know, and I hear you,” Bertrand said. “But…I didn’t tell you about what happened in Paris.”

“I thought things went okay,” Alice said. “Plus, I imagine it couldn’t be that bad if she’s coming back to Cordonia.”

“I…I intended to tell her how I felt about her. Still feel about her,” Bertrand admitted, staring at the lambic. “But I panicked at the last minute and I…may have said that House Beaumont never neglects its obligations and I’m ready to make sure I attend to my duty from now on.”

“Wow, dude,” Alice said. “She’s not my favorite person, but that’s still pretty harsh to call her an obligation.”

“I know,” Bertrand said miserably. “And please don’t call me ‘dude.’”

“Sorry,” Alice said. “Go on.”

“She told me that she didn’t want my pity and that she and Bartie would manage just fine without me,” Bertrand said.

“‘Just fine’ meaning—ugh, never mind,” Alice said, cutting herself off before she started ranting again. “Okay, this is clearly just a misunderstanding. You have difficulty telling her how you feel and she…anyway, I think you guys could benefit from some counseling.”

“Counseling? You can’t be serious,” Bertrand said.

“I’m completely serious,” Alice said. “Even if you two don’t end up together romantically, you still have a son together and you need to learn how to effectively co-parent. For Bartie’s sake, you two have to learn how to have a conversation.”

Bertrand considered this for a moment. “Maybe you’re right. But what if she doesn’t want to go to counseling?”

“She’s coming back to Cordonia, that’s at least promising,” Alice said. “And I know you don’t necessarily want to go this route, but you have a legal right to your son. She can’t just hold him hostage from you.”

“I know. This is just…a lot,” Bertrand said. “If I’m honest, I feel so tired. Between the responsibilities of House Beaumont and everything that’s happened this social season, I just want a break.”

“I’m sorry for the role I played in that,” Alice said gently.

“What? No! I didn’t mean you,” Bertrand said quickly. “You’re family and I want to help you the way I want to help Bartie…and Savannah, if she’ll let me.”

“You spend so much time taking care of other people that you don’t take care of yourself,” Alice said. “It’s like being on an airplane—put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.”

Bertrand smiled weakly. “That’s a good analogy.”

“Thanks. I learned it in therapy.”

“Okay, fine,” Bertrand said, putting his hands up in resignation. “I’ll look into counseling. Happy?”

“Very,” Alice said as she stood up. “I’m here with Maxwell, Drake, and Hana if you want to join us.”

“Thank you, but I think I need to decline,” Bertrand said. “I’m going to finish…whatever this pink beer is and head back. Take the night off before the ball tomorrow.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Alice said. “Text me if you need anything.”

“I will. Thank you.”

Alice headed back to the table where the others were waiting for her and as she did so, she checked her phone and found a text waiting for her.

“I exist in two places, here and where you are.” – Margaret Atwood

Alice smiled and texted back a quote from Hour of the Bees: “It is a big world, full of things that steal your breath and fill your belly with fire…But where you go when you leave isn’t as important as where you go when you come home.”

“It feels so good to be back in Cordonia,” Hana said as Alice joined them and slid her phone back into her bag.

“Hear, hear,” Alice said, clinking her glass against Hana’s. “Are you going to stay for a while?”

“I think so,” Hana said. “I don’t know exactly where I’ll be after the Homecoming Ball, but I’d like to stay in Cordonia if I can.”

“Well…I might be able to help out with that,” Alice said.

“Really, Ayers? I’ve seen Bastien’s—your—apartment. It’s a pretty small studio,” Drake said skeptically.

“I’m not sure how long we’ll be there,” Alice said.

“What are you talking about?” Maxwell asked.

“I have some news,” Alice said. “Liam approached me with the idea, and….” She paused, enjoying the drama of the moment for a second.

“Alice, come on, the suspense is killing me!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“There’s going to be a formal announcement tomorrow, but you are looking at the newest Duchess of Valtoria,” Alice said. The other three stared at her for a moment before their table erupted into a flurry of activity.

“Alice, that’s incredible! You’re going to be so amazing!” Hana exclaimed as she pulled Alice into a hug.

“You have to let me plan your inaugural party!” Maxwell practically shouted. “I have the perfect playlist!”

“You’re going to be great, Ayers,” Drake said. “I think the Cordonian people are really going to appreciate having someone they can relate to at court. I know I will.”

“Thanks, everyone,” Alice said. “I’m completely freaked out, but I think it’s going to be good.”

“So, does that mean Bastien is going to go with you and not be the head of security anymore?” Drake asked.

“It won’t be immediate, but yeah, that’s the general plan,” Alice said.

“This is like a fairytale,” Hana said. “Did you ever imagine that you’d go from bartending to being a duchess?”

Alice laughed. “Absolutely not.”

“I think this calls for a toast,” Maxwell said, holding up his glass. “To Alice.”

The other two echoed the sentiment and they all clinked glasses before taking a sip.

“Alright, now who is going to dance with me?” Maxwell asked as he stood up and pointed to a corner of the beer garden where couples had paired off and were dancing to the music.

“I will!” Hana volunteered. She took another sip of her lambic and set it down before she and Maxwell headed off to dance. Alice glanced over at Drake and noticed him smiling as he took another sip of his water.

“Are you…smiling?” Alice teased.

“You know, I am,” Drake said as he set down his glass. “I’m just…happy. We’re home, you’re going to be a duchess, Savannah is coming back…there’s a lot of good things right now.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t made any snarky comments about me becoming a stuffy noble yet,” Alice said. Drake shrugged.

“I have a feeling you’re not going to be like that,” Drake said. “You’re really grounded and you’re not impressed by all that glittery crap at court.”

“It’s funny, that’s what Liam and Olivia said,” Alice said.

“They’re right,” Drake said. “Although I can’t imagine Liam said the word ‘crap.’”

Alice laughed. “You’re right, he didn’t, but the sentiment was the same.”

“Well, cheers to you again, Ayers,” Drake said as he held up his glass. “I’m really happy for you and…well, not to be all mushy or whatever, but I’m really grateful for your friendship.”

“Me, too,” Alice said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”

“To friends,” Drake said as he clinked his glass against hers.

“To friends,” she agreed.


Later, when Alice unlocked the door to her and Bastien’s apartment, she smiled when she saw him lying in bed reading a book.

“Hey,” he said, putting down his book. “How was the beer garden?”

“Good,” Alice said as she kicked off her shoes and dropped her bag near the door. She crawled onto the bed fully clothed and into Bastien’s waiting arms. “I’m glad to be home though.”

“I’m glad you’re home, too,” Bastien said, kissing the top of her head.

“What are you reading?”

On the Road.”

“What part are you at?”

Bastien cleared his throat and began to read. “‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’”

Alice yawned as she snuggled closer to him. “I love that part.”

“I love it almost as much as I love you.”

She laughed. “That was ridiculously cheesy.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.”


Part 40


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