Summary: The tour arrives in Lythikos with unexpected guests and a rendezvous at an ice palace. (NSFW)
Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.
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, Part 37, Part 38, Part 39, Part 40, Part 41, Part 42, Part 43, Part 44, Part 45, Part 46, Part 47, Part 48
Two days later, after Constantine’s funeral, Bastien and Liam assembled Alice and the others for a meeting.
“Thank you for coming,” Bastien said, his face serious from where he sat between Alice and Liam. “I’ve called you here to talk about the palace bombing.
“How did this happen?” Liam asked, his voice cold.
“I don’t know,” Bastien admitted. “We tripled the security for the gala and we’re certain that the palace was air tight. The only people who entered that night were on the guest list and had been thoroughly vetted by our agency.”
“So we were betrayed from the inside,” Drake said.
“So it would seem,” Bastien said.
“Do you have an idea as to who it might be?” Alice asked.
“We have some leads, but we have to examine everyone who attended the gala, even those who have professed their loyalty,” Bastien said.
“But how?” Hana asked. “The entire court scattered after the bombing.”
“I have good news on that front,” Liam said. “The Unity Tour is still schedule to attend the Winter Festival in Lythikos.”
“You’re not postponing it because of your father?” Maxwell asked.
“No,” Liam said, anxious to change the subject. “I would rather move forward.”
“Liv…I hate to say this, but what about your aunt?” Alice asked.
“How did we not know she was returning to the gala?” Liam added.
“When she arrived, she was allowed in because of who she is, of course, but even though her name was flagged, the guard in question didn’t deem it necessary to alert me,” Bastien said. “He’s been terminated, of course.”
“Trust me, I’ve been thinking about her a lot,” Olivia said. “Lucretia is back in Lythikos, which is all the more reason to continue with the tour.”
“I agree,” Bastien said. “It could be our best and only opportunity to gather the suspects and get answers. By going to the Winter Festival, we have a chance to go on the offensive and scrutinize our main suspects.”
“Which is where all of you come in,” Liam said. “With the exception of Bastien, I don’t want any of you directly interrogating anyone. But I trust all of you completely and just…keep your eyes and ears open for anything that might be useful.”
“Especially you, Alice,” Olivia added.
“What? Why me?” Alice asked.
“Because for some reason, people like you and they seem to volunteer a lot of information when you’re around,” Olivia said.
“It must be the bartender thing,” Alice said.
“Whatever it is, it works and it could be really helpful right now,” Olivia said.
“But please do not put yourself in harm’s way,” Bastien said. “No more running towards explosions.”
“I said I was sorry!”
“Alright, everyone,” Liam said as he rose from his seat. “Go pack. We’re leaving for Lythikos in an hour.”
Everyone stood up and started to exit the room, but Alice noticed Bastien lingering behind.
“Hey…everything okay?” Alice asked gently as the last of them left, leaving the two of them alone.
“Not really,” Bastien said as he leaned against the table. “I don’t understand why I keep missing things.”
“You’ve been expecting the attacks to come from a group outside of the court,” Alice said. “So you protected against that. Now that something still happened, it’s clear now that this was likely from someone who was on the guest list and in attendance. That narrows the suspect pool down.”
“Yes, but I’m still not doing enough,” Bastien said. “At the Homecoming Ball, Regina was killed. This time, it was Constantine. What if the next time it’s Liam? Or Olivia? Or you?”
“Hey,” Alice said, taking his face in her hands and tilting it so he was looking at her. “Liam, Olivia, and I are all still here.”
“But for how long?” Bastien asked. “Everyone is here until they’re not.”
“Bastien, I’m not going anywhere,” Alice said firmly. “You are stuck with me for the rest of your goddamn life.”
“I won’t get the chance if you keep running into danger,” Bastien said. “Two days ago, you ran towards an explosion.”
“So did Leo and Liam.”
“They are two able-bodied people with extensive self defense training.”
“Because knowing Krav Maga is going to help them fight off a bomb?”
“And,” Bastien continued, “there’s something going on with you lately.”
“I’m just tired from the tour,” Alice protested. “It’s stressful trying to get everyone to play nice with each other when terrorists are attacking the monarchy.”
Bastien took her left hand in his, thumb gently tracing over the pen ink ring on her fourth finger. “When we get to Valtoria, I want you to see a doctor.”
“That seems unnecessary.”
“Gray, I don’t want to miss something important with your health just because there are other things going on,” he said gently. “Please.”
Alice sighed. “Fine. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll see a doctor when we get to Valtoria.”
“It will. Thank you.” Bastien reached for her, gently wrapping his arms around her waist as he pulled her closer. “Alice, I love you so much. You are the most important person in my life and I can’t risk anything happening to you.”
“Hey, the same goes for you,” Alice said as she slid her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “We’re lucky you didn’t end up in the hospital again.”
“God, I don’t want to let you out of my sight right now,” he said, his face buried in her hair, the comforting smell of her shampoo lingering in his nose. He closed his eyes. “I always lose the people I love.”
“You’re not losing me,” Alice whispered. “I’m right here.”
She hoped that would remain true.
When they arrived at Lythikos, Hana and Alice were en route to the estate’s boutique when they were suddenly stopped by a loud voice.
“ALICE FUCKING AYERS!”
Alice turned around and was nearly knocked over as none other than Frankie barreled into her, wrapping her in a giant hug.
“Frankie! What are you doing here?” Alice exclaimed. “I thought you weren’t getting her for a couple more days?”
“Olivia flew us out early,” Frankie explained as she finally let go of Alice and hugged Hana. “She said something about needing to see the best duchy before showing up at yours. Apparently this Winter Festival is a big deal.”
“I just…I can’t believe you’re here!” Alice said happily. “So you’re joining us for Lythikos and Valtoria?”
“Yup,” Frankie said. “Olivia and Liam are trying to convince us to come back for the wedding, too, but I don’t know if Seth and I can take that many days off. We’re going to try though.”
“Where is Seth?” Hana asked.
“Off with Drake somewhere. Seth is very fascinated by the fact that Drake won an actual duel with swords the other day,” Frankie said with a grin. “Although, apparently I should’ve brought him with me to see you after you pulled that MMA shit on what’s-his-face.”
Hana blushed. “It was nothing. But, we’re actually going to get dressed for the ball tonight—come with us!”
“Please, you two can’t get rid of me,” Frankie said as they headed for the boutique.
“So, what am I wearing tonight?” Alice asked Hana.
“I wanted to put you in something that projects confidence,” Hana said. “Something that shows passion, elegance, and grace in the face of danger.”
“So you’re giving me a bunch of Olivia’s knives to wear?” Alice asked as they arrived at the boutique.
“I swear, I will never get over the fact that all of these places have stores in them,” Frankie said. “Does Valtoria have one?”
“Probably,” Alice said as Hana immediately started to dig through the racks of clothing. “Hana, are you looking for something specific?”
“I called ahead and had them send me photos of some of the available…there it is!” she said happily as she pulled a hanger off of the rack. “Ta da! What do you think?”
“Oh my god,” Frankie said as she stared at the gown. The dress was a dark crimson color with just enough sparkle to make it look both beautiful and dangerous, with the Nevrakis symbol of a flaming sword pinned at the hip. “That is…wow.”
“Go try it on!” Hana said, urging Alice into the dressing room. She emerged a few minutes later in the gown, which hugged her body like a second skin.
“What do you think?” Alice asked.
“I think I have never seen you look more beautiful than you do at this exact second,” Frankie said. “Like, you should never wear anything else.”
“I mean, it seems a little impractical for every occasion, but I think I’m a little bit in love,” Alice said with a grin. “Thank you, Hana. You have the most impeccable eye…you didn’t make this one, did you?”
“No, not this time,” Hana said. “Between Joelle’s dress for the wedding and a few other commissions, I haven’t had the time. But I’ve been sketching a lot lately.”
“Are you going to try to put together a collection?” Frankie asked as she rifled through the dresses on another rack.
“I’d like to,” Hana said. “But I don’t know if I really have the time right now as Alice’s press secretary—“
“Hana, I will fire you right here and now if it means you finally get to do something you want,” Alice interrupted. Hana smiled at her.
“I appreciate that, but I want to finish out the Unity Tour and get all of us through the wedding before I turn in my resignation,” Hana said. “I’m actually really enjoying doing this, it’s giving me an insight into the workings of court in a way that I’ve never been privy before.”
“As long as you’re sure,” Alice said. “Because you can quit at any time and I won’t be upset.”
“I’m sure,” Hana said. “But thank you.”
“Hey, there you—“ a voice said before suddenly stopping. Alice turned around to see Bastien in the doorway, staring at her with his mouth agape. “Wow. You look…wow.”
“Cat got your tongue?” Frankie asked innocently.
“Something like that,” he said. “Hi, Frankie,” he said, giving her a hug. “How was your flight?”
“I’m spoiled forever,” Frankie said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fly commercial again.”
“Did you know she was coming?” Alice asked.
“Of course,” Bastien said. “Olivia told me this morning that she was flying her out so I could alert the security team and get Frankie and Seth clearance. Didn’t you notice that Mara didn’t jump out of the shadows to dropkick Frankie?”
“Oh,” Alice said. “That’s a good point. I literally didn’t think about it.”
“Your bodyguard was going to jump out at me and do what now?” Frankie asked.
“I took care of it,” Bastien said. “I was coming to check on you to see if you’re ready for the ball, it’s due to start soon.”
“I guess so,” Alice said. She turned around and noticed Hana had already changed into a gown. “When did you do that?”
“Just now,” Hana said.
“I just have to run back to our room to get—oops, never mind,” Frankie said as Hana pushed a dress into her hands. “I guess I just have to change here and then I’m ready.”
“Are you personally escorting us all down to the ballroom?” Alice asked as she linked her arm through Bastien’s.
“I am,” he said, smiling at her.
“Everyone’s going to be so jealous that you’re showing up with three beautiful women,” Alice teased.
“They already are because I’m always with you,” Bastien said as he leaned in to kiss her. They heard Frankie pretend to retch loudly behind the dressing room curtain, which made Alice laugh.
“Less fake vomiting, more dressing,” Alice called to her. A few moments later, Frankie pushed back the dressing room curtain.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said, offering her arm to Hana. “Let’s see if a Lythikos party lives up to all of Olivia’s hype.”
Downstairs in the ballroom, they were greeted by Liam who immediately gave Frankie a hug hello.
“There you all are,” Liam said. “The festivities will start once Olivia greets us. I’d also like to remind everyone to be cautious tonight,” he added.
“We will,” Hana said.
Alice realized everyone was staring at her. “Okay, fine, yes, me, too. Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a Girl Scout,” Frankie said.
“You’re not helping, Frankie,” Alice said, sticking her tongue out at her.
“It’s still odd to think that someone we know was behind the attack,” Hana said.
“I don’t like to think about it, but unfortunately, that’s where we are,” Liam said.
“I need to go touch base about a few things, but you should be fine here,” Bastien said to Alice. “Mara is still keeping a close eye on you. Just don’t go wandering off somewhere without me.”
“I promise to behave myself,” Alice said. He smiled at her and kissed her cheek before squeezing her hand and leaving to make his way through the crowd.
“Who’s going to behave themselves?” Olivia asked as she joined them.
“Theoretically Alice,” Frankie said. “Hey, Olivia. Thank you so much for flying us out here for this.”
“Of course, I’m glad to do it,” Olivia said. “Let me officially welcome you to the great duchy of Lythikos.” She glanced over at Alice. “Nice dress.”
“Oh, this old thing? I only wear it when everything else is in the laundry,” Alice said.
Olivia smirked. “You know, red is the best color to wear when hunting your enemies,” Olivia said.
“Wouldn’t that make me more of a target?” Alice asked.
“It reminds people of the blood you’re going to spill once you catch them,” Olivia said as Liam grinned and put an arm around her waist. Alice looked past Olivia to see Seth standing behind her, looking worried.
“How much blood are we talking?” Seth asked slowly as he walked over to hug Alice.
“Depends on my mood,” Olivia said. “How are you two settling in?”
“Great, thank you,” Seth said. “Our room is amazing. Actually, this whole place is.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said, a note of pride in her voice.
“If you’ll excuse me, I see Rashida over there,” Hana said, giving Alice’s arm a friendly squeeze as she left. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Now, if you’ll follow me,” Olivia said, motioning for everyone to follow her to the head table at front of the ballroom, where they were soon joined by Drake and Maxwell, with Hana and Rashida close behind.
“Looks like we finally made it to the front of the room this time,” Drake said.
“I could make other arrangements if you’d be more comfortable in the back,” Olivia said sweetly. Alice noticed Liam gently squeeze her hand. “But, I suppose I could hardly put royalty and company in the back,” she continued. “You’ll all enjoy the best seats with your magnificent hostess.”
“You just can’t resist complimenting yourself, can you?” Alice teased.
“When you’re as good at hosting as I am, we can talk,” Olivia said as she motioned for everyone to take their seats. Alice sat down beside Frankie and soon they were joined by Bastien, who sat between Alice and Liam as a waiter poured drinks for everyone.
“Oh, the selection looks wonderful,” Hana said as she examined the menu card in front of her.
“I’m all about that fondue,” Maxwell said.
“Huh,” Drake said as he scanned the card. “Some of the food on here actually looks good.”
“I had to request a few changes for your more…rustic palate,” Olivia said.
“What she means is, she wanted everyone to be comfortable so she decided to expand her usual menu choices,” Liam said.
“Well, thank you,” Drake said to Liam.
“Don’t thank me, it honestly was her idea,” Liam said as he smiled at her.
“Can we not admit things like that in public?” Olivia asked him.
Not long after ordering, the waitstaff rolled out trays of fresh food, placing a pot of fondue in front of Maxwell and a tray of glazed salmon in front of Hana. Alice felt Bastien take her hand under the table and give it a squeeze.
“You okay?” she asked quietly.
He smiled and nodded before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He typed something into it and put it back in his pocket. A few moments later, Alice’s phone buzzed. She waited a few beats before she opened her clutch to retrieve her phone.
I can’t stop staring at you in that dress…and remembering our last adventure in Lythikos…
Alice felt warmth rising in her cheeks and she suppressed a smile before typing a response.
I’d love a repeat performance, but someone told me not to wander off…
She put her phone away and tried to rejoin the conversation at the table as she took a bite of her food.
“Oh my god, this is so good,” Maxwell mumbled around a mouthful of fondue.
Alice felt her phone buzz again and she checked it again.
I told you not to go wandering off without me…
“Olivia, these ribs are amazing,” Seth said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had better.”
“What a lovely little gathering…or at least it is now that I’m here,” Lucretia said as she sidled up to the table and put her hands on Olivia’s shoulders.
“Don’t you have some carcass to scavenge somewhere else?” Olivia asked, trying to shrug off her aunt’s hands, but Lucretia held firm, her nails digging slightly into Olivia’s pale skin.
“And miss our guests? That would be rude,” Lucretia said as she surveyed the table. Her eyes skipped over Seth and Frankie before coming to a stop on Alice. “Alice, it’s great to see you again. Welcome to Lythikos.”
“Thank you, I’m glad to be here as Olivia’s guest,” Alice said. Lucretia narrowed her eyes slightly at Alice, but her polite smile remained firmly in place.
“I had such a wonderful time meeting you at the gala that I’d love to be introduced to your friends,” Lucretia said.
“The less people you bother, the better,” Olivia said, finally able to remove Lucretia’s hands from her.
“Come now, deary, that’s not an introduction,” Lucretia said.
“Fine,” Olivia said, annoyed. “Liam, Bastien, Frankie, Seth, Drake, Maxwell, Rashida, Hana,” she said as she gestured around the table to each of them in turn. “This is Lucretia Nevrakis. My aunt.”
“Bastien Lykel,” Lucretia said, turning her icy gaze towards him. “You seem to be sitting above your station.”
“He’s sitting where he belongs,” Olivia snapped. “Unlike you, who is intruding on the head table.”
“Now, now, Livvy, that’s not very nice,” Lucretia said lightly, although Alice could hear the frost underneath the words.
“Oops,” Olivia said darkly.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am for your marriage, Olivia,” Lucretia said. “We have so much to talk about.”
“We really don’t,” Olivia said.
“We’ll see,” Lucretia said. “In any case, a pleasure to meet everyone. I would’ve loved to meet you all sooner, but our night at the gala was interrupted.” She turned to Liam. “My condolences, Liam. What happened to Constantine was a tragedy.”
“Thank you,” Liam said coolly as music suddenly filled the ballroom with a lighthearted tune.
“Ah, a waltz,” Lucretia said. “Olivia, dear, you owe our royal guest the first dance.”
“I’d like to remind you that I am the Duchess of Lythikos. I’m not here to dance for your amusement,” Olivia said sharply.
“Your lineage makes you the ranking Nevrakis, but you still lack experience,” Lucretia said with a dangerous smile. “Now, go fulfill your customary duty.”
“Liv, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Liam told her in a low voice.
“It’s fine,” Olivia said as she pushed herself to her feet and held out her hand. “If you’ll please join me for the opening dance, my love.”
Alice noticed Lucretia roll her eyes at the term of endearment, but Lucretia said nothing.
“Of course,” Liam said as she stood and took her hand. They made their way out to the dance floor and Alice watched as Liam pulled her close and said something in her ear that made her nod. Then, as she watched them dance, Alice felt a sudden tap on her arm.
“Alice…” Kiara said. “Excuse me, but I felt I should tell you in person,” she said, sounding nervous. “After the festival tomorrow, I’m withdrawing from court.”
“But you just came back!” Alice said as she stood up to talk to Kiara.
“I know,” Kiara said. “But I’ve thought about it, and it’s the best course of action for me. I’ve already given my public support; you all don’t really need me traveling with you.”
“Alice, I’m sorry,” Kiara said sadly. “Thank you for everything, but this is goodbye.” She quickly turned and hurried away, leaving Alice behind and staring in shock.
“Didn’t she just come back?” Frankie asked.
“Yes, but I guess it’s really not that unexpected after the bombing,” Alice said as she sat back down. “She was already hesitant to come back after getting injured at the Homecoming Ball, and her first event back at court…that happened.”
“She said she’s not leaving until after the festival,” Hana said. “Maybe we can still reach out to her.”
“If she’s not trying to hide anything,” Drake said.
“I don’t think we need to look for zebras when we hear hoofbeats,” Rashida said. “She probably has some PTSD from the Homecoming Ball and court is probably too much, at least for right now.”
Alice reached over and took Bastien’s hand, who folded his fingers between hers and squeezed. “Want to dance?”
“With you? Always,” Bastien said as he stood up and offered her his hand. She took it and he led her out onto the dance floor, pulling her close as he led them in time to the music. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Alice said. “I just wanted to get away with you for a second.”
They danced quietly for a minute before Bastien finally spoke again.
“If you wanted some space from court, you could have it,” he said. “You could stay in Valtoria, or you could even go back to New York with Frankie for a little bit.”
“No,” Alice said, shaking her head. “Thank you, but I’m okay. I’m just worried about everyone right now.”
“I know,” he said as he held her a little tighter. “Me, too.”
Alice thought for a moment. “Is it just me, or does Lucretia not seem thrilled about Olivia marrying Liam?”
“It’s definitely not just you,” Bastien said. “Which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Throughout Cordonia’s history, the Nevrakis family has had a lot of members who were…very interested in claiming the crown, but none of them have before. Honestly, if I didn’t know Olivia and if I hadn’t seen firsthand that she’s been in love with Liam since she was six years old, I might suspect it of her. But I would’ve thought her aunt would be happy at the idea of a Nevrakis as queen.” He considered it as he led Alice through the waltz. “Unless she’s worried that any children they have would be a continuation of the Rys line, not the Nevrakis line.”
“That seems like semantics.”
“It is, but I’m just trying to think through all the possibilities,” he said. “That being said, I can’t imagine who else Lucretia might want Olivia to marry if not the king.”
“I don’t know,” Alice said. “Lucretia doesn’t seem to like me very much so I doubt she’s going to confide anything in me, but I can still keep an ear out.”
“As long as it doesn’t interfere with your own safety,” Bastien said, a slow smile spreading across his face. “I’m expecting to marry you in a few days and I need you to show up.”
Alice smiled at him. “It’s a date.”
Bastien stopped dancing for a moment and leaned in to kiss her. She closed her eyes, his lips warm against hers, and as they kissed, the rest of the world fell away.
Later, when Bastien went to check in with the security team, Alice sat down beside Maxwell at their table.
“Look what I found,” he said, holding up two bottles of unopened champagne with a gleeful expression on his face.
“I know you like to party, but that seems like a lot for one sitting, even for you,” Alice said.
“No, no,” Maxwell said. “These beauties just volunteered to be the latest assistants of Maxwell Beaumont’s Super Party Trick Spectacular….trademark pending.”
“That doesn’t sound like a real thing,” Frankie said as she and Seth joined them at the table.
“Wait…is this the thing where you open corked bottles with dangerous weapons?” Alice asked.
“Yep, and tonight is set to be the best version yet!” Maxwell said excitedly. “Not only have I learned a few new tricks, but we’re in Lythikos, Alice. Lythikos!”
“Yes, I know! We traveled in the same car!” Alice said.
“Think about it—can you even imagine what sort of crazy weapons they have here?” Maxwell asked.
“This sounds amazing,” Seth said, a grin spreading across his face.
“Olivia does seem like the sort of person to get bored by the average sword,” Frankie said. “But this still sounds like a giant safety hazard.”
“Oh, it is,” Alice said.
“Oh, come on, Alice, you did this with Bertrand and me during the social season,” Maxwell protested.
“That’s how I know it’s a safety hazard,” Alice said.
“Well, I’m headed down to check out the armory,” Maxwell said. “If you come with me, I’ll let you pick what I use for the trick!”
“I guess if I go with you, I keep you in check a little,” Alice said. “Alright, fine. Are you two coming?”
“Yes!” Seth exclaimed as he stood up. “Drake fought in a duel, you’re going to use weapons to open champagne…Cordonia might be the coolest place ever.”
As Alice stood up, she sent Bastien a text. Heading to the armory with Maxwell, Seth, and Frankie because Maxwell insists on smashing champagne bottles.
Of course he does…stay together, Mara will keep an eye out for all of you.
Alice tucked her phone away and the four of them headed into the hallway, Alice and and Frankie falling a few steps behind Seth and Maxwell.
“So tell me more about why you wanted me to bring my tattoo equipment.” Frankie said.
Alice smiled. “Well…I sort of got you here under false pretenses.”
“What sort of false pretenses?” Frankie asked, narrowing her eyes at Alice before she glanced ahead to make sure Seth and Maxwell weren’t listening.
“It’s a secret, so you have to keep it to yourself for now…but when we get to Valtoria, Bastien and I are getting married that night after the ball.”
Frankie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from shouting with excitement as she grabbed Alice and pulled her into a hug.
“Oh my god, you bitch!” Frankie hissed at her when she finally took her hand away from her mouth. “I’ve been here for hours and you’re just now telling me this?!”
“It’s a surprise!” Alice whispered. “So far, the only people who know about the wedding are you, Drake, and Bertrand.”
“But they all know you’re engaged, right?” Frankie asked.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Alice said. “We haven’t announced anything to the press, but our friends know. They just don’t know that they’re going to a surprise wedding in a few days.”
“Oh my god,” Frankie said, hugging Alice tightly to her side as they walked down the hall. “This is so…wait, that still doesn’t answer my question about the tattoo equipment. Oh, god, you and Bastien aren’t tattooing each other’s names on your asses, are you? Because I love you and I’ll do it, but—“
“No,” Alice said with a laugh as she held up her left hand, the ink ring half-smudged away. “We talked about it and instead of exchanging rings, we want to do tattoo rings. And, since you’re my best friend, we wanted you to do them,” Alice said. “Will you? Please?”
“Oh my god, of course I will!” she exclaimed. “Now? Do you want them now? Go grab him, we’ll duck out.”
Alice laughed. “We don’t have to do them at this exact second,” she said. “After all, we’re on a mission to ensure Maxwell and Seth don’t accidentally lose a hand, remember?”
“Fine,” Frankie said. “So, what do you guys want? Anything fancy or just a plain band?”
“A plain band is all I want,” Alice said. “But I don’t know if Bastien wants to match with me or do something else.”
“Okay, well, either way, I’ve got you covered,” Frankie said as they caught up with Maxwell and Seth at the top of a long flight of stairs.
“Covered for what?” Maxwell asked.
“I’m just reassuring her that I’ve got her back to keep you both from losing a limb,” Frankie said smoothly.
“I’ll be fine!” Maxwell said dismissively as he led them down the stairs. At the bottom, they found a tall wooden doorway below a Nevrakis crest carved into the wall. Maxwell opened the door held it. “After you,” he said with a dramatic flourish.
The four of them walked inside and Alice stopped when she saw the expansive array of weapons mounted on the walls. “Whoa,” she said. “Who knew there were so many ways to stab someone?”
“How much do you want to bet this place doubled as Olivia’s nursery?” Frankie asked.
“Everything I have,” Maxwell said. “Which isn’t a lot, but I’d still bet all of it.”
“That would explain a few things,” Alice agreed.
“Alright, let’s see what we have here…” Maxwell said as he surveyed the walls.
“Wow, look at this,” Seth said as he leaned forward to examine an ornate wooden bow.
“If you’re planning to open the champagne with that, I should probably find an umbrella first,” Frankie said.
“Bows are too unpredictable for my purposes,” Maxwell said. “But you know what? My purposes can wait!”
“I don’t think I like this…” Alice said hesitantly.
“Let’s shoot this thing!” Maxwell exclaimed. He reached into his pocket and removed a shiny red Cordonia apple before carefully placing it atop a nearby training dummy made of straw.
“Why did you have an apple in your pocket?” Frankie asked.
“I thought you were just glad to see me,” Seth said. He and Maxwell dissolved into laughter as Maxwell retrieved the bow.
“Oh my god, my boyfriend is twelve,” Frankie muttered as she shook her head and smiled.
“You never know when you’re going to need a healthy snack…or when you’re going to find a really sweet-looking bow in a Nevrakis armory,” Maxwell said with a grin as he handed the bow and one of its arrows to Seth.
“This seems dangerous,” Alice said.
“Of course it is,” Maxwell said. “That’s why it’s fun.”
Maxwell showed Seth how to carefully nock an arrow and stretch back the bowstring before giving him a few tips. Seth nodded as he closed one eye, keeping the other trained on his target. Maxwell stepped back and Seth took a deep breath, aimed, and released the bowstring, sending the arrow deep into the apple.
“I did it!” Seth exclaimed before handing the bow to Maxwell and turning around to kiss Frankie.
“You’re like Robin Hood without the tights,” Frankie said as she grinned at him, unable to stay immune to his excitement.
“Oh, I have tights…” Seth said.
“Alright, my turn,” Maxwell said. Seth stepped back and kept his arm around Frankie’s shoulders as everyone watched Maxwell set up the bow and take aim. As he pulled the bowstring back, Alice noticed his hand wobble a little.
“Maxwell, you might want to—“ Alice said softly, but not soon enough. The bow fired suddenly with a loud twang and Maxwell’s arrow plunged into the dummy where its face should have been.
“Hey, look at that! I got him right between the eyes,” Maxwell said happily.
“I’m pretty sure you only get to brag when you hit what you were aiming for,” Alice said as she raised an eyebrow at him.
“Still counts! Frankie, do you want to try?”
“Nope,” Frankie said. “I’m 99% sure I’m going to accidentally shoot my own eye out, so I’ll pass. Alice?”
“I’m good, but thank you,” Alice said.
“Alright, as long as you guys are sure,” Maxwell said as he returned the crossbow to its spot. “Now, let’s get to the party trick!”
“Right, and you said I get to pick what you open the bottle with?” Alice asked.
“Absolutely,” Maxwell said. “But…make it cool.”
“Uh-uh, I didn’t agree to any caveats,” Alice said as she surveyed the available weapons.
“Oh my god, is that a flail in the shape of a skull?” Frankie asked as she leaned closer to examine the weapon in question.
“Hey, cool, it’s a hammer with a dragon’s face,” Seth said as another one caught his eye.
“What’s it going to be, Alice?” Maxwell asked.
“How about that dagger?” Alice said, pointing to an extremely ornate dagger with a delicate handle and a gleaming blade.
“Excellent,” he said with a grin.
“Can you really open a bottle with that?” Seth asked.
“Of course, it’s child’s play,” Maxwell said confidently.
“You’re holding a bottle of alcohol and a dangerous ancient weapon,” Frankie said. “Exactly how do you think children play?”
Maxwell ignored her as he removed the foil and cage before turning the bottle to face the seam upwards. Then he carefully angled the bottle, put the blade against the glass, and, after taking a moment to adjust his hands to the appropriate angle, quickly slid the blade up the length of the bottle. The cork and the glass ring popped off effortlessly and champagne foam spilled down the bottle’s neck.
“Ta da!” he announced. Seth, Frankie, and Alice all dutifully clapped for him. Maxwell took a deep bow. “Thank you, thank you. Now, let’s drink this! Champagne always tastes better when you’ve freed it with something deadly.” He took a swig and passed it to Frankie.
“Hey, do you hear that?” Seth asked. “It sounds like people talking.”
Alice looked around, listening for the sounds of voices. “I think I hear that…wait…” She walked over to the far corner of the armory and with each step, the voices became clearer.
“I think we’re underneath the ballroom,” Maxwell whispered as he cocked his ear up towards the ceiling. “That sounds like Drake, but who is he talking to?”
“Kiara,” Alice whispered back.
“Any recommendations from the buffet?” Kiara asked.
“The eclairs are okay,” Drake said. “The croquembouches and palmers look more promising, but I haven’t tried them yet.”
“I had no idea you had such a refined palate!” Kiara said.
“Is she complimenting or insulting him?” Frankie whispered. Alice shrugged.
“Eh, not exactly, but I figure I’ve been to enough of these parties that I can at least know which food is which,” Drake said.
“Dare I hope to see the influence of your budding sophistication at Liam and Olivia’s wedding?” Kiara asked.
“I thought she was leaving?” Seth whispered.
“Liam and Olivia are far more sophisticated than I am,” Drake said. “I don’t think they need my help. But…does that mean you’re still coming to the wedding?”
“But of course!” Kiara said. “Leaving court is one thing; missing the royal wedding is quite another! The whole thing is très exciting, non?”
“Why are we listening to Kiara hit on Drake?” Frankie whispered, but Alice and Maxwell shushed her.
“I suppose so,” Drake said. “Weddings are apparently very complicated.”
“Oh non, I can tell by your face,” Kiara said. “You are definitely excited. No matter how much you may try to hide it.”
“If you say so,” Drake said, sounding increasingly uncomfortable.
“I can tell you’ve been thinking a lot about this,” Kiara said conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, Drake. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Oh my god, just ask him out already,” Frankie muttered.
“It’s not a…I’ll see you later,” Drake said.
“That was really awkward to listen to,” Seth said. “Should we get back up there and help him?”
“Probably, but—“ Alice froze suddenly and dropped her voice. “Wait, that sounds like Olivia and Lucretia.”
“Olivia, tell me more about this Alice woman,” Lucretia said.
“Why?” Olivia asked, annoyed.
“Have I taught you nothing, Olivia?” Lucretia asked, her voice exasperated. “She’s an unknown, Olivia. Only the foolish knight surveys the battlefield with her visor down.”
Alice and Maxwell exchanged a look, but said nothing.
“Come now, Olivia, why are you protecting her?” Lucretia asked.
“What do you want to know anyway?” Olivia asked.
“Anything that might be useful,” Lucretia said.
“Fine,” Olivia said. “She’s from New York. She wears red almost as well as a Nevrakis. Oh, and she’s a duchess. Happy?”
“You know what I mean, girl,” Lucretia said, her tone bordering on a snarl.
“Obviously I don’t,” Olivia snapped. “Anyway, that’s all I know.”
“At least there was one seed of truth among your childish games,” Lucretia said.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Olivia asked.
“That you don’t know much. About that woman, about your family…even about yourself.”
“Myself? What are you talking about?” Olivia asked.
“Your past or your future. But you will. Soon enough, my dear, you will,” Lucretia said before her voice disappeared.
“That was…ominous,” Alice said.
“What do you think she meant with all that past and future stuff?” Maxwell asked.
“I don’t know, but that didn’t sound like a woman who was fucking around,” Frankie said.
“So…is Olivia in trouble?” Seth asked. “Alice, are you in trouble?”
“I don’t know,” Alice said, an uncomfortable feeling settling in her stomach. “Lucretia certainly seemed to think so.”
“I don’t know what that woman thinks she’s doing, but I do know that anyone would have to be stupid to go up against you or Olivia,” Frankie said.
“Especially you,” Maxwell said as he moved to put an arm around Alice. She wasn’t sure if the gesture was to comfort her or himself.
“We should probably get back upstairs,” Alice said. The others agreed and after they quickly cleaned up their mess in the armory, they headed back upstairs, Lucretia’s words still echoing in Alice’s head.
“Are the Beaumonts about to get banned from another armory?” Bastien asked as he met them at the entrance to the ballroom.
“Not this time,” Alice said with a grin as Maxwell, Seth, and Frankie headed towards the dance floor. “But…I did happen to hear something while I was down there.”
Bastien glanced around before he led her off to the side, away from prying ears. “What sort of something?”
“One corner of the armory is directly below the dessert table, and we overheard Olivia and Lucretia talking.”
“Lucretia was trying to get information about me from Liv, but Liv only gave her really basic facts like me being from New York.”
Bastien nodded. “Did Lucretia say anything else?”
“She said something really cryptic to Liv about how not only does Liv not know anything about me, she also doesn’t know anything about her family or herself, including her past or future. Liv asked her what she meant, but Lucretia just said Liv would see soon enough.”
Bastien frowned. “I don’t like that.”
“I don’t either, but I’m not sure what that means exactly,” Alice said. “Have you been able to connect Lucretia to either of the terrorist groups?”
“Is it possible she’s just being a cunt just for the sake of being a cunt?” Alice asked.
“Maybe,” Bastien said, but he didn’t sound convinced. He pulled out his phone and typed out a quick message.
“Do you need to go?” Alice asked.
“Actually, I had an idea…but it involves you going with me,” Bastien said, the smile returning to his face as he put his phone away. “That is, if you’re interested in wandering off for a minute.”
“Of course I am,” Alice said as she put a hand on his hip.
“Well…since this is your first time in Lythikos, I’m sure you’re unaware that there’s a kind of ice palace built for the festival.”
“An ice palace?” Alice asked.
“In anticipation of you possibly wanting to duck out with me, I might have reserved a room there so we could check it out together,” Bastien said.
“Might have?” Alice asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“I just wanted to get some time alone with you,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her.
“You know we live together, right?”
“And yet it’s never enough,” he said with a grin. “So, are you up for it?”
One short car ride later, Alice and Bastien arrived at the icy building that glittered in the moonlight. After they checked in, an attendant led them to their room.
“Holy crap,” Alice said as she surveyed the ornate ice carvings on the walls. “Aside from the blankets, everything is literally made of ice in here.”
“What do you think?” Bastien asked as the attendant left.
“I can’t decide if this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen or the coldest,” Alice said.
Bastien smiled. “I think both can be correct,” he said as he pulled her close. “But I can probably fix the cold part.”
“Really?” Alice asked. “Does it involve getting under those fur blankets?”
“Among other things,” he murmured as he slid his hand under her coat, his fingers playing with the zipper of her dress. “There’s so much going on right now, but I just want to forget with you for a little while.”
“I’d like that,” she said as she lightly kissed his ear, her fingers tugging at his tie. He slowly pulled down the zipper of her dress, slipping his hand inside against her bare skin.
“Take off your clothes and get into bed,” he said in a low voice.
Alice took a step back from him and held his gaze as she slowly shrugged her coat, letting it slide down her arms before she let it fall to she floor. Bastien’s breath caught in his throat as he watched her slowly remove her dress, pulling it down to reveal she wore nothing underneath it. She took her time turning around before she took her time walking to the bed. She sat down on the mattress and kicked off her shoes one at a time before she pulled the fur blankets back and slid beneath them, relishing the feel of the fur on her bare skin.
“You’re not going to make me stay in here all alone, are you?” she asked.
Bastien took off his coat and suit jacket before he pulled at his tie. As he worked on the buttons of his shirt, he walked over to the bed. Bastien took off his shirt and tossed it aside, kicking off his shoes before he knelt onto the bed.
“I had to get you into an ice palace to get you to willingly throw your clothes on the floor?” Alice asked as she raised a teasing eyebrow at him.
“I guess I’m a little distracted right now,” he said as he reached down, running his finger along the icy bed frame. Then he began tracing a freezing line along her throat, causing her to suck in a breath at the sudden coldness. “Is that okay?”
Alice nodded and smiled as she ran a hand up his thigh. “Yes, but you’re still wearing pants, which is definitely not okay.”
“We’ll get there,” he said with a grin as he ran all of his fingers along the ice. With his other hand, he started to pull back the blanket as he traced his fingers across her chest. When she gasped, he knelt down and captured her nipple in his mouth, flicking his tongue across the already hardened peak. Alice moaned softly as she ran her fingers through his hair.
Bastien continued tracing his cold fingers along her skin, followed by the warmth of his mouth, over and over her skin until Alice couldn’t lay still, her every nerve ending fizzing with anticipation. He lay down beside her, running his still chilly fingertips along the inside of her thigh, but his touch stopped just short of where she wanted him.
“Dorian, please,” she begged, reaching down to put her hand on his and guide him closer.
“Tell me what you want,” he said in that same low voice as before, eyes dark with lust as he looked at her.
“I want you to touch me,” she pleaded. “I want you to feel what you to do me.”
Bastien inched his hand closer, groaning softly when he felt how wet she was. “Fuck, Gray.”
“That’s what I want,” she whispered as she reached for his belt buckle, shaking fingers pulling it free. She pushed down his pants and boxer briefs just enough to free his cock and she took him in her hands slowly rubbing one hand along his length as she gently massaged his balls with the other. When she gently rubbed a bead of precum across the tip with her thumb, Bastien groaned and pulled her leg over his hip, fingers digging into her flushed skin despite the icy room. Alice guided him to her and he pushed in slowly, stretching her with each delicious inch. He set a slow, measured pace, forcing himself to take his time instead of ravaging her like he wanted to. She pulled his lips to hers, locking him in an intense kiss as she tugged his hair, bringing him closer.
Alice ran her nails down Bastien’s back from his neck to his hips, encouraging him to go harder, deeper. He followed her lead, thrusting into her as she moaned against his kiss. She clutched at Bastien, her hands leaving heated memories across his skin, and Bastien could feel she was getting closer and closer.
When she climaxed, Alice’s body writhed against his, his name spilling from her lips as it curled against the dense ice walls in the chilly air. He kissed her neck, her chest as his thrusts lost their control, further and further until he came, pulsing inside of her. She covered his face neck, shoulder with kisses, her hands and lips everywhere at once as he held her tightly to him, fingers digging into her hip.
As they caught their breath, Bastien tugged one of the fur blankets over them, as he held her, unwilling to pull away even as he softened inside of her. He brushed the hair back from her face, curling his hand around the back of her neck to bring her close enough to kiss.
“I just want to stay in here with you forever,” he said softly as he ran his hand down her back. “Is that too much to ask?”
“No,” she said. “It’s not.”
Before long, it was time to go back to the ball and the drive back seemed to go much faster than when they’d left.
“Think anyone noticed we were gone?” Alice asked as they re-entered the ballroom, hand in hand.
“Where have you been?” Hana asked as she and Rashida walked over to join them.
Bastien grinned. “I think that’s a yes,” he said as he kissed Alice on the temple. “I have to go take care of a few things, but I’ll find you later.” He nodded to Hana and Rashida as he left and Alice turned to the two women.
“We…might have snuck out to check out the ice palace,” Alice said.
“There’s an ice palace?” Hana asked, impressed. “How was it?”
“Very cold, but it’s really beautiful,” Alice said. “You two should definitely check it out.”
“Oh, right, I forgot they did that,” Rashida said. “I went inside once years ago and I remember the carvings on the wall were really intricate. You’d love it, Hana.”
“Sounds good, I’d love to see it,” Hana said as she took Rashida’s hand, smiling at her girlfriend.
“Love to see what?” Justin asked as he joined them.
“Justin,” Alice said, trying to suppress the surprise and annoyance she felt as she saw him. “I wasn’t expecting to see you in Lythikos.”
“Didn’t Bertrand tell you I was coming?” Justin asked, then shrugged. “He seems kind of preoccupied lately, so I’m not surprised.”
“Rashida, have you met Justin?” Hana asked. “He used to be Alice’s press secretary.”
“Yes, I remember seeing you around,” Rashida said as she held out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Alice watched Rashida and noticed the slight crease in her brow as she studied Justin, the only break in the otherwise polite expression she wore.
“You as well,” Justin said as he shook her hand and smiled brightly at her. “You’re the duchess of Domvallier, correct?”
“Yes, but you can just call me Rashida,” she said.
“So, how are you all enjoying the ball?” Justin asked.
Hana glanced at Alice and noticed she didn’t make a move to speak. “It’s beautiful here; Olivia always throws such an elegant party,” Hana said.
“Indeed she does,” Justin agreed as a waiter paused beside them with a tray of Lythikos Nog. “Anyone up for something warm?”
“Yes, please,” Hana said as she accepted one and Justin held out a mug to Alice.
“No, thank you,” Alice said. “I’m sure it’s delicious, but it looks like dessert in a glass and I’m already stuffed.”
“I’ll take yours then,” Rashida said as she accepted the glass from Justin.
“Cheers to being in Lythikos,” Hana said as she held out her glass. Justin and Rashida clinked theirs against hers and they each took long swallows as Olivia tapped her glass with a spoon at the front of the room.
“If I may have everyone’s attention, please, I’d like to close tonight with a toast,” Olivia said, drawing all eyes to her. “I’d like to thank everyone for coming. I hope that you have all found Lythikos hospitality exquisite.”
Rashida stumbled suddenly, shaking a nearby table as she caught herself on it, her face pale.
“Rashida? Are you okay?” Hana asked worriedly as she hurried to her side and put an arm around her waist to steady her.
“I don’t…feel…” Rashida mumbled.
“Whoa, what’s happening?” Alice said as she rushed over to Rashida. She took one look at her face and looked up. “Bastien!”
“What’s happening?” Olivia asked, concerned.
Rashida’s eyes rolled back and she collapsed, just narrowly caught by Hana and Alice as Bastien pushed past Justin and knelt beside her.
“What happened?” Bastien asked as he examined Rashida, putting his fingers to her throat to check her pulse as Mara hurried over to join them.
“I don’t know,” Hana said frantically, trying not to cry.
“She was just standing here and then she collapsed,” Alice said. She glanced up at the table and saw the mug Rashida had been drinking from, half of the contents sloshed onto the table. “After she drank that,” she said, pointing.
“Mara, get the paramedics in here,” Bastien ordered as Rashida’s breathing began to slow and her body shivered.
“What’s happening to her?” Hana asked, tears beginning down her face.
“Alice, get everyone to make room for the paramedics,” Bastien said. Alice nodded and quickly got to her feet, clearing a pathway as medical stuff began to run into the room.
“Hana, you need to give them space to—“ Bastien said gently as he reached for her arm, but she yanked it away.
“No! I’m not leaving her!” Hana snapped.
“Hana, come on,” Frankie said as she knelt beside her. “You need to let them help her.”
She drew in a shaky breath and nodded, allowing Frankie to help her to her feet as the paramedics swarmed around Rashida. Hana put her hand over her mouth as Frankie wrapped a protective arm around her, keeping her upright.
“No matter what, stay with me,” Bastien said quietly to Alice, taking her hand in his.
“What happened to her?” Alice asked. Bastien clenched his jaw before he leaned closer to her, his voice barely above a whisper.
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