Guarded Hearts, Part 4

Summary: Alice flies to Cordonia with Maxwell before preparing for the masquerade ball.

Notes: I again used a lot of the original PB dialogue, but I bedazzled it a bit.

New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Alice had never been on a private plane before and hadn’t been sure what to expect when her Dryve pulled up to the small airport. How do you tell which private jet is the private jet you’re supposed to be on? There were a handful on the airstrip and Maxwell hadn’t been specific. Luckily, he must have been watching for her because he stepped onto the stairs of the closest one and waved his arms.

“Alice! You’re here!” he exclaimed, hurrying down the stairs to take her suitcase. “Ready to go?”

“I suppose it’d be stupid for me to say no now,” Alice said sardonically.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!” Maxwell said brightly as he led her to the plane. Alice found herself smiling in spite of her reservations. Maxwell’s enthusiasm was infection and, in many ways, he reminded her of Daniel.

The interior of the plane was nice, but it wasn’t quite what Alice had expected. However, even she couldn’t have said what she expected. The seats were comfortable and expensive-looking, but not ostentatious. She assumed this wasn’t Tariq’s plane.

“Wow, you actually came.”

Alice looked over to see Drake relaxing in one of the seats, a glass of whiskey already in hand.

“So it would seem,” she said. “But with a welcome party like this, how could I say no?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like a dick,” he said, straightening up a little. “But you have to admit, it’s kind of nuts–you just met us and suddenly you’re flying to Cordonia to vie for the prince’s hand.”

Alice smiled at the way his words mirrored the very same ones both she and Frankie had said within the last hour. “I don’t disagree.” She glanced around the plane. “Is it just us and Maxwell?”

“Yeah, Liam and Tariq flew back already to prepare for tonight,” Drake explained.

“What’s tonight?” Alice asked as she settled into a seat across from Drake.

“The masquerade ball to kick off the social season!” Maxwell announced cheerfully as he joined them, sitting beside Alice. “It’s always so fun, you’re going to love it.”

“Assuming, of course, that the noble ladies don’t eat you alive,” Drake said as he leaned over to offer her a glass of whiskey, which she accepted. “They might look demure and polite, but they’ll bite your face off if you’re not careful.”

“They sound like expensive chihuahuas,” Alice said. Drake nearly choked on his whiskey as he laughed. “But I’m not worried. After all, I’m a bartender; I know how to handle myself.”

“Is that what happened there?” Drake asked, pointing to her wrist. Alice glanced down, tugging the sleeve of her leather jacket to cover the bruises.

“It’s nothing, just some asshole customer from a couple nights ago,” Alice said. “I handled it.” This wasn’t entirely true, but Alice kept that to herself. She thought of the way Bastien had come to her defence, pinning that guy in the Northface jacket to the bar. God, she had to stop thinking about Bastien. Drake eyed her contemplatively, but said nothing. “What, you don’t think I can handle myself in court?”

Drake shrugged. “I just met you, I don’t know what you can and can’t handle.”

Alice raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing. Drake tried to match her stare but wilted under her gaze, looking down at his whiskey. Amateur, she thought. It was a stare she usually reserved for customers at the bar around 1AM when they started ordering shots of Jagermeister and calling her “baby.” It never ended well for them either.

Just then, the pilot announced they were preparing for takeoff. Maxwell began to chatter excitedly about the upcoming masquerade and Alice tried to listen, but she wondered yet again if she was making a mistake.

“Alice, we’re arriving in Cordonia! Come here, you’re not going to want to miss this,” Maxwell said, gesturing for her to join him at the window. Alice leaned across him and was momentarily stunned into silence. She couldn’t believe she was actually looking at something so beautiful in real life. The blue sea sparkled in the sunlight and the lush, vibrantly green countryside was populated with beautiful Mediterranean houses.

“It’s like something out of a fairy tale,” she said softly. Maxwell grinned at her.

“I know, right?”

“If you two break into song, I’m jumping out of this plane,” Drake interjected.

“I’m just saying it’s beautiful,” Alice said, not taking her eyes away from the window. “But by all means, let me help you with the door.” She heard Drake chuckle at her joke. Finally, she sat back in her own seat.

“Are you ready?” Maxwell asked.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Alice said.

After they landed, there was a town car waiting to whisk them away from the airport. As soon as they began to drive, Alice texted Frankie.

Just landed in Cordonia. You won’t believe how beautiful it is here.

A few moments later, her phone buzzed with a reply.

Send me a photo of you holding up three fingers so I know you’re not dead.

Alice grinned and turned on the camera of her phone so it was facing her. She put on a big smile and flipped off the camera.

How about one finger instead? she texted.

That’ll do, thank you. Text me later once you get settled

Alice smiled and put her phone away.

“Everything okay?” Maxwell asked.

“Yeah, my friend just asked me to text her a photo of myself to prove I made it here safe and sound,” Alice said.

“Why wouldn’t you have made it here?” Maxwell asked, confused.

“Well, I did just meet you last night. She just wanted to make sure I hadn’t been abducted into some sex trafficking ring,” Alice explained, expecting Maxwell to laugh. Instead, Drake laughed from the front seat and Maxwell’s jaw dropped, his face horrified.

“Why would I abduct you?” he asked, sounding both upset and hurt.

“I–look, it was meant as a joke, I’m sorry. She’s just watching out for me,” Alice said, feeling a little guilty about the look on Maxwell’s face. “I’m sorry, I’m glad to be here. Really,” she said, taking his hand and squeezing it. That seemed to make him feel a little better and Alice was relieved. Really nice, Alice, insult the guy who’s sponsoring you on this insane trip to the other side of the world, she thought as she mentally kicked herself.

“Hey, we’re here!” Maxwell exclaimed, looking out the window. Luckily, his hurt feelings seemed to dissolve quickly. The car pulled through a heavily armored gate and began to wind its way along a long driveway before coming to a stop in front of a massive building. Maxwell hopped out of the car and held the door for her, offering a hand to help her out of the car. “Welcome to the royal palace, your home for the next few months, Alice,” he announced with a wide grin.

“This is where I’m staying?” Alice asked in disbelief as she gawked at the ornate building. “I didn’t realize I’d be living in the palace.”

“Most of the nobility live here while the social season is underway,” Maxwell explained. “Especially all the ladies vying for Liam’s hand.”

“Yeah, living under one roof just makes it easier to attend the rose ceremony later,” Drake said as he climbed out of the car as well. Maxwell rolled his eyes.

“Oh, come on, you two, enough with the Bachelor jokes,” Maxwell said. “This is going to be fun! Come on, Alice, I’ll show you to your room.”

“Welcome to Wonderland, Alice,” Drake said with a wry grin. Alice rolled her eyes and followed Maxwell into the palace. He led her up a grand staircase that she was positive she’d seen in more than one Disney movie.

“So what’s the deal with Drake?” she asked.

“Well, he’s not actually a noble,” Maxwell explained. “He’s a commoner and I think he’s always felt like a bit of an outsider here, even though he’s Liam’s best friend.”

She nodded. She’d only been here for two minutes but could already relate to the feeling of being an outsider. Of course, that didn’t excuse him being such a snarky jerk. Although, if she was honest, Alice wasn’t really one to talk.

At the top of the stairs, Maxwell turned down a long corridor. “Your room’s here in the west wing. In case you need anything from me or my brother, our rooms are just a couple doors away.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Alice said.

“Yeah, an older brother. His official title is Duke Bertrand Beaumont. As the eldest son, he’s the heir and I’m the spare.”


Maxwell laughed. “Sorry, I meant that as a joke. I don’t mind, honestly. Running House Beaumont is really more Bertrand’s speed. You’ll meet him tonight, he’s looking forward to meeting you.” Maxwell suddenly stopped short in front of an ornate door. “This is it. Here’s your room!”

Maxwell flung open the door and Alice froze in the doorway. The lavish guest room was more ornate than anything she’d ever seen and it was at least twice the size of her studio apartment back in New York. Huge paintings of pastoral landscapes stretched the length of the walls and the bed was excessively large and piled high with enough pillows to convince Alice that once she crawled in, she’d never be able to climb back out.

“This is…wow,” she said lamely, stunned into silence.

“As a royal guest, you’re spared no luxury,” Maxwell said, placing a hand on her elbow to urge her into the room. “You also have your own bathroom through that door,” he said, pointing. Alice walked over and opened the bathroom door.

“Oh my god!”

“What?” Maxwell asked, concerned, as he hurried over to her.

“I literally didn’t know bathrooms this large existed!” Alice exclaimed. She climbed into the huge, ornate, claw foot tub. “Seriously, this tub is bigger than my kitchen in New York.”

Maxwell eyed the tub. “That’s a small kitchen…”

“I don’t disagree,” Alice said. They both turned at a noise coming from the bedroom. Maxwell stuck his head out of the bathroom for a moment.

“Someone just dropped off your luggage,” he said. “I’ll leave you to get settled before you make your debut tonight.”

“My what now?” Alice asked, sitting up in the tub.

“I’m sorry, I keep forgetting that you’re not used to all of this. The first event of the social season is tonight, the masquerade ball.”

“Right,” Alice said slowly.

“It’s the ball where all the suitors will be presented to the prince, as well as to the king,” he explained. “Not everyone dresses in costume, but you can be sure all the ladies vying for Liam’s attention will be pulling out all the stops.”

“I mean, Liam knows I’m not really fancy and he seemed to like me okay in New York,” Alice said hesitantly. “How elaborate are we talking here?”

“Any chance you brought a ballgown?” Maxwell asked, his face wary. She shook her head. “That’s okay, I anticipated this. I’ve already made an appointment for you at the palace boutique; I’m sure you’ll find something there.”

“Of course the palace has its own boutique.”

“Why wouldn’t it?” Maxwell asked, confused. “Anyway, your appointment is in an hour so you have time to unpack or whatever. But remember, tonight is very important. It’s your chance to make a first impression on all the influential people at court and to stand apart from everyone else.”

“You only get one chance to make a first impression and all that,” Alice said.

Maxwell grinned. “Exactly.”

Alice took a deep breath. “Well, okay then. I’ll do my best to make you proud.”

After Bastien finished going over the security detail with the other guards for the masquerade that night, he released everyone to start their preparations. He pulled out his phone again and, when he was sure no one else could see the screen, opened the photo of him and Alice that he’d insisted she send him. If only it hadn’t been the start of the social season…maybe when all of this was over, he could take some vacation time and go back to New York. God knew he never took a day off; Bastien was sure he had quite a few saved up.

He opened the messaging app on his phone. He wanted to text her, but his thumbs hesitated over the screen. Bastien didn’t want her to forget him, but he couldn’t exactly ask her to wait for him. It’d be months before he could conceivably get away to see her.

You just met her, you’re being ridiculous he scolded himself. But then he had another thought, a quote from their shared favorite book: “The only way to to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Briefly emboldened, he texted her before he could talk himself out of it.

Thinking of you x

Alice’s phone buzzed from within the pile of her own clothes as she stood in the boutique dressed in an angelic white gown.

“That looks gorgeous on you,” her new friend Hana, exclaimed. “Seriously, with your blonde hair…it’s like it was made for you.”

“I don’t know,” Alice said slowly.

“You don’t like it?” Hana asked.

“Oh no, it’s a beautiful dress,” Alice said quickly. “I just…I don’t know if it’s really me. I feel like I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would describe me as an angel. One of my friends often says I swear like a dockworker.”

Hana laughed. “What about something like this instead?” she asked, holding up a red dress. “You could always go with type instead of against.”

“Now that’s definitely more me,” Alice said. “Although…” She sighed, think of what Maxwell said about making a first impression. “I don’t know if I should necessarily present myself like this to court for the first time. I want to make the Beaumonts proud and I’m not sure they’d be thrilled with me as a devil.”

“Hmm…” Hana put the red dress back on the rack and shifted through the dresses on the hangers. “Well, what do you want to be?”

Alice smiled. “That’s a loaded question if I’ve ever heard one. I have no idea who I am, let alone who I want to be.”

Hana smiled back reassuringly. “Fair. How about we just find something beautiful for you instead of something that necessarily says anything?”

“Works for me.” Alice helped Hana search through the racks and although she shifted past dress after beautiful dress, none of them felt right. She was nearly ready to give up when she saw it: a beautifully ornate gown embroidered with delicate flowers. Alice couldn’t have said why, aside from the obvious floral reference, it made her think of the opening line of The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

“Oh, wow,” Hana said softly, coming up behind her. “That’s incredible. Please, please try it on!” she begged.

“Well okay, twist my arm,” Alice said in mock surrender as she headed into the dressing room and Hana laughed. Alice removed the angel costume and carefully hung it up before stepping into the flower dress. She pulled it up around her and was astonished to realize how perfectly it fit her.

“So? How does it look?” Hana called. Alice pushed aside the curtain and Hana’s jaw dropped at the sight of her. “Oh my god, Alice…it’s perfect.”

Alice walked over to the mirrors and studied her reflection. She felt surreal, thinking about how only the night before she’d been waiting tables and serving drinks and now she was standing in a palace boutique, preparing to make a royal debut. Maybe Drake was right and she really had fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Hana handed her a mask and Alice tied it around her head with a ribbon, securing it in place.

“I think you’re ready,” Hana said, smiling at their reflections.

Back in her room, Alice checked her phone. She grinned and a blush bloomed on her cheeks when she read the text from Bastien. She was about to text a reply when her bedroom door banged open and Maxwell burst in.

“Jesus, Maxwell!” Alice exclaimed, nearly dropping her phone. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

“Sorry! Bertrand’s always yelling at me for forgetting to knock,” he said apologetically. “It’s almost time for the masquerade; did you find something in the boutique?”

“Yes, but you’re going to have to get out so I can change,” Alice said.

“Right, sorry! I’ll meet you at the main staircase when you’re done,” he said, leaving as quickly as he arrived and shutting the door behind him. Alice rolled her eyes; she was going to need to remember to lock her door. Before she dressed, she sent a quick reply to Bastien.

You won’t believe the insane day I’ve had. I’ll tell you about it later (but I wish I could tell you in person…) x

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, Maxwell turned and his jaw dropped in nearly the same way Hana’s had.

“Good or bad for my royal debut?” Alice asked.

“Perfect!” he exclaimed. He held out his arm to her and she looped hers through his. “Shall we get some champagne to celebrate?”

“Yes, please,” Alice said gratefully, anxious to calm her nerves.

“One more thing I should mention,” Maxwell said. “As soon as you enter, you’ll tell the herald your name and title so that you can be announced.”

“Um…I don’t really have a title,” Alice said. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, since my family is sponsoring you, you can technically be considered a lady,” Maxwell said. Alice laughed.

“Literally no one has ever called me a lady before,” she said.

Maxwell grinned. “There’s a first time for everything.”

Bastien gave the grand ballroom a once over before pulling his phone out of his pocket. He read Alice’s text and suppressed a smile. He couldn’t admit it aloud, but he’d so much rather be in Alice’s apartment than here at the masquerade. Bastien silently scolded himself for the disloyal thought, but he also knew that didn’t make it any less true.

“Lord Maxwell Beaumont,” the herald announced, his voice ringing loudly across the ballroom. “And Lady Alice Ayers.”

Bastien’s head snapped towards the doors. It couldn’t be true and yet there she was on Maxwell’s arm. Even with the mask, he knew it was undeniably her. She was breathtaking.

You won’t believe the insane day I’ve had.

She was right; he couldn’t. And yet, there she was.

Part 5

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