Guarded Hearts, Part 53

Summary: Everyone is headed to Vegas for Olivia and Liam’s stag/hen do–but Alice and Bastien still find time to celebrate their honeymoon. (NSFW)

Notes: I used some of PB’s original dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.

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 36Part 37Part 38Part 39Part 40Part 41Part 42Part 43Part 44Part 45Part 46Part 47Part 48Part 49Part 50, Part 51, Part 52

The next afternoon found Alice, Bastien, and the others on a private plane as they made their way to Las Vegas for Olivia and Liam’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party.

“Do you need anything else?” Bastien asked as he returned to his seat beside Alice and handed her a bottle of water. She smiled and shook her head.

“No, I’m okay. Thank you though,” she said as she took a sip. The water tasted cold and refreshing. “Mostly I’m just hoping that this will be the last time I attend a party to celebrate Liam’s impending marriage.”

Bastien glanced around to make sure no one else was listening and lowered his voice so only she could hear him. “I’m with you on that. Four is a lot.”

“Oh my god!” Alice sat up with a start and turned to him. “I just realized you never had a bachelor party! Did you want one? I know it’s a little after the fact, but you could still—“

“Gray, stop, it’s fine,” he assured her, smiling. “All I wanted was to spend time with you.”

“But you could’ve done something like taken Drake and some of the guys into the woods to…I don’t know. Go camping. Fight a bear. Manly stuff.”

“You want me to fight a bear?” Bastien asked, amused.

“Hey, I don’t know what guys do when they go into the woods,” Alice said. “I assume that every camping trip you ever went on with Jackson involved a bear fight.”

“You’ve got it all wrong,” Bastien said. “You have to befriend the bears, not fight them.”

“Ah, silly me,” Alice said as she leaned over to kiss his cheek. 

“But, that being said—thank you. I appreciate the offer anyway, Gray,” he said as he got up and switched his seat so that he was sitting across from her and leaned down, slipping her shoe off of her foot. He pulled her foot up onto his lap and began massage the sole of her foot with his thumbs as Alice relaxed more fully into her seat.

“If you keep this up, I’m going to get very spoiled,” Alice warned him.

“Spoiled or just treated the way you deserve to be treated?” he asked.

“You two would be disgusting if you weren’t newlyweds,” Olivia said as she flopped down into the newly vacant seat beside Alice. “Well, actually, you’re still disgusting, but you get a temporary pass.”

“And what a benevolent queen you will be,” Alice said.

“This is going to be the best party ever!” Maxwell exclaimed from the other side of the plane as he scrolled excitedly through his phone.

“You think every party is going to be the best party ever,” Alice said. “And I can’t believe you managed to plan a whole trip to Vegas without me knowing.”

“Nor can I,” Bertrand added, sounding both shocked and impressed.

“What’s on the itinerary?” Hana asked.

“Oh no, this plan is a closely guarded secret, and I will die before I tell you anything!” Maxwell declared, pressing the phone protectively to his chest.

“That can be arranged,” Olivia said. “I can have you spilling your darkest secrets in under thirty seconds.”

“Liv, if you kill your party planner, you don’t get to have a party,” Alice admonished. 

Olivia sighed. “Fine.”

“Thank you,” Maxwell said, looking more than a little relieved. “All I’ll reveal for now is that we’re doing this stag and doe-style, at Liam and Olivia’s request, meaning everyone is at one big party!”

“My cousin and his fiance did it that way, and it was vraiment one of the best parties I’ve ever been to,” Kiara said.

“Merlin, Morgana, and I are going to have such a great time!” Penelope said happily. “Aren’t we, my loves?” she asked the dogs.

“That was nice of you to let her bring the dogs,” Alice said quietly to Olivia.

“They’re her emotional support poodles or whatever,” Olivia said. “Not my coping mechanism, but it’s fine.”

“Oh my god, you’re so soft I barely recognize you,” Alice teased.

“Do you know what my favorite part of flying on a private jet is, Jon Snow? I didn’t have to go through a metal detector, which means no one checked me for knives.”

“It’s a forgone conclusion that you’re always packing, Olivia,” Bastien said as he switched to Alice’s other foot. “But, considering you’re better with knives than most of the Royal Guard, you’re an asset rather than a threat.”

“Speaking of, are you still with the Royal Guard now that you’re a Duke?” Olivia asked. “I’m sure Liam told me, but I don’t remember.”

“Yes, but only as a sort of consultant,” Bastien said. “My duties are now primarily with Alice in Valtoria, but Liam didn’t want to lose me completely as a resource for the guard. Which is why I was consulted on the itinerary of this trip…I only approved the schedule with the caveat that you and Liam not participate in certain events.”

“Wait, you knew about this trip? And didn’t tell me?” Alice asked, surprised.

“Sorry, Gray,” Bastien said with a shrug, looking completely unapologetic.

“I feel like I should be offended,” Alice joked. “Our marriage is built on a lie!”

“Hey, at the time I figured this was a good way to endear myself to one of my future in-laws!” Bastien protested. “Plus, Maxwell begged me to keep it a surprise.”

“Oh, fine…I guess I forgive you. But I expect you to make it up to me.”

“I’m already rubbing your feet, aren’t I?”

“Maxwell, please don’t let everyone get into too much trouble while you’re engaging in whatever debauchery is planned,” Bertrand pleaded, drawing Alice, Bastien, and Olivia’s attention back to the main conversation.

“Yes, the ‘kraken’ does not need to be released this time,” Drake said, his voice almost pleading.

“It’s too bad Frankie and Seth couldn’t come with us,” Olivia said as the plane began its descent.

“I know, but they had to go back to New York. Their bosses aren’t entirely thrilled that they keep taking off to come to Cordonia,” Alice said as the pilot announced their impending arrival.

“I know,” Olivia said. “But still. Hey, have either of you ever been to Vegas?”

“Yes, but I was working so I didn’t really get to enjoy it,” Bastien said. “Keeping an eye on Leo was a full-time job.”

“Once. Frankie and I found a great deal on a cheap flight, so we went out for a couple of nights,” Alice said. “However, I don’t remember much of it after the yard-aritas.”

“What the hell is a yard-arita?” Olivia asked. 

“It’s a yard of margarita,” Alice explained.

“A yard is a unit of length, not volume,” Olivia said. 

“Thank you, Bertrand, I know,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “That doesn’t change the fact that that’s what it’s called. It’s a three foot tall glass of margarita that is mostly sugar and will absolutely make you vomit.”

Olivia wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, never call me ‘Bertrand’ again. And maybe we’ll skip that particular drink on this trip.”

“Good choice,” Alice said.

When they arrived at Caesar’s Palace, Liam, Bertrand, and Bastien peeled off from the group to meet with the concierge while Maxwell led the way to an exclusive boutique that had already been cordoned off from the public.

“Wait, they just…shut down for us?” Alice asked.

“There are some perks to traveling with royalty, Jon Snow,” Olivia said. “And, anyway, I consider this an emergency. I can’t have you embarrassing me in public with what you normally wear.”

“Oh, come on, I’m not that bad!” Alice protested.

“Yes, you are,” Olivia said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find you something amazing to wear,” Hana reassured Alice as she looped her arm through hers and led her towards a rack of dresses. “Oh my goodness, this is beautiful!” Hana exclaimed as she pulled a beautiful black cocktail dress off the rack with a high lace neckline. “I had the idea that we should all wear dark colors so Olivia will stand out even more.”

“I don’t need help standing out, but I like the idea anyway,” Olivia said as she examined an intricately stitched red dress a few racks over. “Plus, you get to wear black, Alice.”

“Finally,” Alice said as she exaggeratedly rolled her eyes and pushed the dress back into Hana’s hands. “Hana, go try that one on.”


“Seriously, I can already tell it’ll look better on you. Plus, you’re already half in love with the dress. Go.”

Hana smiled and took the dress into the changing room while Alice turned back to peruse the clothes while Maxwell helped the others. A few minutes later, Hana emerged from the dressing room.

“So? What do you think?” Hana asked.

“I think I need to immediately send a photo to Rashida,” Alice said she she pulled out her phone and snapped a picture. “It’s too bad she couldn’t come.”

“I know, but she still really needs to rest. Plus, she has some board meeting that she’s already postponed,” Hana said.

“A board meeting doesn’t sound like rest,” Alice said, raising an eyebrow. “And anyway, getting poisoned by terrorists trying to overthrow the government should get you a free pass.”

“That’s what I said,” Hana said as she joined Alice at the dress rack. “But she promised she’d attend the meeting via Zoom and would spend the rest of her time relaxing. I wanted to stay and keep an eye on her, but Rashida insisted I come out here with everyone instead. Plus, as she pointed out, I’m still your press secretary for the time being.”

“Hana, you know you don’t have to be if you don’t want to, right? If it’ll help, I’ll fire you right now,” Alice offered.

“No, I want to be here and I want to at least keep being your press secretary through Liam and Olivia’s wedding,” Hana said resolutely, but Alice couldn’t help but feel like Hana was convincing herself. “Also…this might be a little selfish, but taking part in this tour has helped me get some clients requesting custom gowns, and the more people I can get interested in my designs, the easier it’ll be to start my own line.” Hana looked over at Alice guiltily. “That sounds even more selfish when I say it out loud. I’m so sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m using you or any of our other friends to get ahead, I just thought I could do both, I could help you and Bastien and Liam while starting something new for myself and—“

“Hana, stop,” Alice said gently as she put a hand on Hana’s arm. “You don’t need to explain anything to me and, for the record, you’re not selfish at all. I think it’s smart to use your connections to network, and I want to do everything I can to support your design career.”

“Career…” Hana said slowly, trying out the word. “It feels strange to say that. I’d never really thought of that possibility before, and now that I’m starting over…I don’t know.”

“Good strange or bad strange?”

“Good strange,” Hana said, sounding more decisive than before. 

“Then that’s what matters,” Alice said.

“Thanks,” Hana said, smiling at her. “Anyway, there will be lots of time to talk about that later. Right now, we’re here to celebrate, so let’s get you into something that won’t make Olivia stab us both.”

“I heard that,” Olivia called from inside one of the changing rooms.

“You were meant to,” Hana called back as she selected another dress from the rack and held it up. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s almost as beautiful as one of your dresses,” Alice said as she examined it. The dress was short and black, but elegantly beaded with cut outs near the collarbone.

“Hurry up and try it on, I want to go freshen up in my room before we head out tonight,” Olivia said as she stepped out in a striking red dress.

“Wow, Liv, you look incredible!” Alice exclaimed.

“Duh,” Olivia said. “Go. Now.”

Alice smiled and rolled her eyes, but did as she was told and headed into the dressing room. She undressed but paused before trying on the dress, turning sideways to examine herself in the mirror. Alice knew it was far too early to show yet—she was only six weeks—but she placed a hand on her stomach anyway, trying to imagine what she’d look like as the baby grew. The baby. She still couldn’t believe she was pregnant, that she and Bastien were on their way to becoming parents. So much had happened since that night at the bar when they’d first met. How had she gone from being a bartender to a married duchess with a kid on the way? The whole thing felt surreal and like something out of a TV show that, if she were watching it instead of living it, she would’ve rolled her eyes at the bizarreness of it all. And yet, here she was. Parts of it still felt overwhelming—she still had no idea how she was supposed to run a duchy or how she was going to be a mom—but all of the chaotic, overwhelming feelings melted away when she thought about Bastien. With him, everything grew quiet and steady. Everything made sense. Everything was…safe.

“Jesus, Jon Snow, how long does it take for you to put on a dress?”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Alice called back as she quickly shimmied into the dress and zipped it closed. She stepped out of the dressing room to find Maxwell standing there alongside Hana and Olivia.

“You look amazing!” Hana exclaimed.

“Acceptable,” Olivia said.

“Perfect!” Maxwell said happily. “Now, who’s ready to bridal party?”

“Soon,” Olivia said. “We need to get checked into the rooms and I, for one, could use a rest before whatever has been planned for tonight.”

It was as if Olivia’s words flipped a switch in Alice and Alice nearly melted with exhaustion. “I think I could, too. The last few days took more out of me than I thought.”

“Are you still up for going out tonight?” Hana asked, worried. “If you need to, you could go back early.”

“But—“ Maxwell started to protest, but Hana held up a hand.

“We’ll all understand if you need to beg out early,” Hana said, shooting Maxwell a warning look to silence him.

“Thank you, everyone, but I’m fine,” Alice assured them. “I’ll just take a nap and be ready to go.”

“A disco nap! See, this is why we’re family,” Maxwell said with a grin. “House Beaumont knows how to boot and rally!”

After they changed back into their clothes and paid for their outfits, Alice and the rest of the group headed back to the lobby to where Liam, Bertrand, and Bastien were waiting for them.

“Find something to wear?” Bastien asked as he kissed her cheek.

“The fashion gods approve,” Alice said as she held up the bag, the store’s name in delicate gold script on the side. “Are we all checked in?”

“We are, and our bags are on the way up to our suite as we speak,” Bastien said. 

“We get a suite? I had no idea we were so fancy,” Alice said with a grin.

“We’re a duke and duchess, we’re endlessly fancy now,” Bastien said with a laugh. “Plus, I actually have a surprise for you,” he added as he put his hand on the small of her back and led her towards the elevators. “Well, technically it’s not from me, and it’s for both of us.”

“What do you mean?”

Bastien smiled. “Apparently, Olivia decided that since we are newlyweds and because we are delaying our honeymoon until after her wedding, that we at least needed a…mini-celebration.”

“I just spent an hour shopping with her and she didn’t say anything!” Alice exclaimed.

“You know Olivia, she’s not really big on ‘feelings’ or ‘friendship,’” Bastien said.

“So what exactly does this mini-celebration entail?”

“It entails Olivia upgrading us to the Marc Antony suite,” Bastien said.

“Does it come with its own gladiator arena?”

Bastien laughed. “I don’t think so, but I’ll ask our butler when we get there.”

“You’ll ask our what?” 

“There’s an indoor fountain and a grand piano?” Alice asked in disbelief as they explored their suite. “We’re only here for one night! This is insane!” She pulled out her phone and sent a text to Olivia.

This is incredible, Liv, thank you.

A few moments later, Alice’s phone pinged with a new text.

I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about Jon Snow, but I’m glad you like it. Be sure to check out the jetted tub in the bathroom, I need you rested and ready for whatever the hell Maxwell planned.

“Dorian, Liv says there’s a jetted tub!” Alice called as she headed into the bathroom. “Holy shit, heated towel racks?”

“That’s what you find most impressive? Heated towel racks?” Bastien asked with a grin as he joined her in the bathroom. Alice smiled as she felt his arms slide around her as he planted a kiss on the top of her head. “I’ll make sure they’re part of the renovation in Valtoria.”

“You’re too good to me,” Alice said with a smile as she turned in his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Want to join me for a bath? It’s such a big tub…I’d be awfully lonely in there all by myself.”

Bastien grinned and pulled her closer. “Are you sure you’re not too tired?”

“Never for you.”

A few hours and a private dinner in their suite later, Alice and Bastien joined the group in the lobby before they headed out to a waiting limo that whisked them away to another luxurious hotel. From there, Maxwell guided everyone to one of the most exclusive nightclubs in Las Vegas where a roped off VIP table awaited them.

“This is amazing!” Penelope exclaimed. “I wish Morgan and Morgana could see this, but Kiara convinced me they should stay behind in our room.”

“My brother said the loud music might scare them,” Kiara reassured her friend.

“Plus, you don’t want any drunk people to step on them,” Drake said. Penelope turned to him, horrified.

Step on them?” she gasped.

“Maxwell, you didn’t tell me we would be engaging in nightlife,” Bertrand said, quickly changing the subject.

“Probably because he wanted you to come,” Alice said as she slid into the booth beside him, Bastien on her other side. “You look nice though!”

Bertrand muttered something that sounded vaguely like a thank you, but Alice couldn’t be sure over the thumping music of the club. 

“Is anyone ready to get out on the dance floor?” Kiara asked.

“All in due time,” Maxwell said with a sly grin. “But for now we should all sit back…and enjoy the show!”

As if they had been waiting for Maxwell’s cue, the lights on the stage came up and a man began to descend the stairs with exaggerated gravitas, even for Las Vegas. He wore a glittering green suit with a matching top hat with elegantly detailed facial hair. Alice leaned over to Bastien.

“We completely missed an opportunity for you to dress like that yesterday,” Alice said to him. “Can we have a wedding do-over?”

“How about I make you a deal—I’ll wear that as long as we’re alone in our bedroom and as long as you promise to rip it to shreds,” Bastien said, his lips brushing against her ear as he leaned in close to her.

“I’ll take that deal as long as I get to take one picture—just for me, I promise I won’t show anyone.”

“Not even Frankie?”

Alice hesitated. “Fine, not even Frankie.”

Bastien chuckled and kissed her temple before they both turned their attention back to the stage where the man was addressing the audience.

“Welcome one and all!” The man called out across the club as the music dimmed. “I invite you to journey with me tonight…into the unknown. Together, we will explore a world of occult and mystery…and you will bear witness to the most spellbinding feats of illusion and enchantment known to man!”

Alice glanced over to Olivia who met her gaze and rolled her eyes as the man on stage continued.

“I am The Great and Captivating Edward the Enchanter, and this…is Magico Magnifico!”

“Ooooh! A magic show!” Penelope exclaimed excitedly.

“And now,” Edward the Enchanter continued, “I’d like to introduce you to my fearsome assistant…Zahira!”

A spotlight appeared at the top of the stairs as a large, powerful white tiger entered, illuminating her path as she slunk down the stairs to join Edward the Enchanter onstage.

“Is that…” Bertrand asked, his jaw slack as he stared at the tiger.

“A live tiger!” Olivia exclaimed, all traces of annoyance gone from her face as she leaned forward excitedly.

“She’s gorgeous!” Alice said, unable to take her eyes away from Zahira.

“Look how giant her paws are!” Maxwell said in awe.

“And her ears are so fuzzy!” Hana said delightedly.

“Of course you focus on the fuzzy ears,” Alice teased.

Je sais pas…my brother always told me that you can never truly tame a wild creature,” Kiara said nervously.

“Oh, suck it up,” Olivia said, her eyes still transfixed on the tiger as she squeezed Liam’s hand.

“For my first act,” Edward the Enchanter said, “I will need a brave volunteer from the audience. He made a show of scanning the crowd before pointing his white-tipped cane directly at Liam. “The handsome man with the dark hair—you have been summoned.”

The group slid out of the booth to allow Liam to exit and he made his way to the stage.

“Lucky,” Olivia muttered.

“The show barely started, just wait,” Maxwell assured her.

“Aha, a brave volunteer!” Edward the Enchanter said. “Watch carefully as I restrain him,” he announced to the audience as he led Liam to stand with his back against a large board with a leather strap on each corner. Then Edward made a big show of tightening the straps around Liam’s wrists and ankles with flourish.

“Zahira, please assist me in demonstrating the security of the restraints,” Edward said. The tiger approached Liam and sniffed at his ankles. Liam instinctively tried to pull away, but his legs held tight to the board. 

“Now that we have confirmed that our handsome volunteer is, indeed, at my mercy…” Edward produced a bow and arrow from a box of props near the stage and lit the arrowhead on fire.

“Maxwell, was it really a good idea to sign up the king of Cordonia for a situation in which someone shoots flaming arrows at him?” Bertrand hissed. 

“It’ll be fine, I promise!” Maxwell said, although Alice could hear the confidence beginning to wane from his voice.

“Shall we see if he can cheat death?” Edward asked the audience.

“If anyone is shooting flaming arrows at Liam, it should be me,” Olivia said sullenly.

“I can’t watch,” Bertrand moaned, burying his face in his hands.

“This is probably safe…right?” Alice whispered to Bastien.

“Yes…but let’s hope he doesn’t sneeze when he fires the arrow,” Bastien whispered back.

They watched as Liam took a steadying breath, a confident, neutral expression on his face as Edward the Enchanter drew his bowstring taut. Liam stayed calm as the magician stared down the length of the arrow’s shaft, the anticipation in the deadly still room crescendoing until it was as tight as the bowstring. Alice gripped Bastien’s hand.

Edward the Enchanter let go of the arrow.

It flew toward Liam, the flames sweeping back as it soared to its target. To Liam’s credit, he didn’t so much as flinch as the arrow sped towards this heart…and then disappeared. The room exploded into applause as Edward the Enchanter helped Liam out of the straps and flourished his hand as Liam took a bow. Alice and the others jumped to their feet as they clapped while Bertrand tried to fight off the receding panic attack. Liam returned to their table and kissed Olivia before sitting down beside her once more.

“Whew, I can breathe again!” Maxwell exclaimed. Alice realized she was still holding her breath and exhaled as well.

“Flaming arrows? Child’s play,” Olivia said as she bumped Liam’s shoulder playfully.

“So you weren’t impressed by the illusion?” Liam asked.

“Oh, no, the illusion was cool. I meant children in Lythikos literally play with flaming arrows,” Olivia said. 

“Because that’s not weird at all,” Alice said.

“What?” Olivia asked. “They’re a practical, cold-weather toy.”

“Regardless of children’s toy preferences, I think Liam has earned a drink,” Bastien said as he flagged down a waiter.

“I hope you’re all prepared for my next astonishing feat of daring-do!” Edward the Enchanter called, drawing the crowd’s attention back to the stage. “Now, Zahira and I will need two more courageous souls.”

The tiger growled menacingly and Olivia grinned.

“Now, my kind sir,” Edward said as he gestured to Liam. “In honor of your boldness in the face of certain death, you shall have the privilege of selecting my next two assistants. First, select someone to aid me in demonstrating my masterful hypnotic control over this formidable beast!”

The lion roared, causing an anxious murmur to ripple through the crowd.

“Liv, my love?” Liam asked.

“God, finally!” Olivia exclaimed as she nearly shoved the rest of their group out of the booth before striding up onto the stage. The tiger’s voice rumbled in her throat as Olivia took her place beside Zahira. “Is that supposed to intimidate me?” she asked the tiger. “Because we have bobcats twice this size in Lythikos. Down, girl.”

Zahira cocked her head and sniffed at Olivia before lying on the ground at Olivia’s feet. The audience gasped in amazement as Edward the Enchanter raised an eyebrow at the pair. Olivia offered her hand to the tiger, who sat up and licked the proffered fingers gingerly before purring loudly and butting her head against Olivia’s hand. Alice stole a glance at Liam, who was grinning proudly at his fiancee. 

“Zahira! What has gotten into you?” Edward asked, his eyes wide with surprise.

“She recognizes her alpha,” Olivia said as if the answer should be obvious. She scratched Zahira behind the ears before returning to the audience. The tiger started to follow her, but Olivia turned and held up a hand, stopping the predatory cat her in tracks. Olivia pointed to the stage and the cat begrudgingly turned around and returned to a very annoyed-looking Edward.

“Now, sir, I’m not sure you’ll be able to choose another volunteer as formidable as your first choice, but who would you like to choose to participate in my grand finale?”

Liam glanced around the table, eyebrows raised. Maxwell folded his hands, pleading.

“All right, Maxwell, you’re up,” Liam said, reaching over to clap him on the shoulder.

“Oh my god, really?” Maxwell exclaimed, already pushing Bertrand to move so he could get out of the booth before Liam had the chance to change his mind. “Liam, I owe you forever!”

“First my king, then the future queen, and now my brother,” Bertrand groaned as they sat back down, hiding his face in his hands. “I swear to god, Alice, I am begging you—please don’t you go up there, too. I’m pretty sure my nerves can’t handle it and you are going to have to call for an ambulance because I’m about to have a heart attack and—“

“Relax, Bertrand,” Alice said as she put and arm around his shoulders and gave him a hug. “This is the finale, I promise I’m not going up there to play with the tiger. Although, let’s be honest—Olivia has more control over that cat than the magician does and she’s not willing to let any of us die this close to her wedding.”

Maxwell jogged excitedly up the stairs where Edward the Enchanter instructed him to sit in a velvet throne that had been placed center stage.

“Now, Zahira, please take our volunteer’s place in the audience,” Edward instructed. The tiger loped down the stairs and leaped gracefully into Maxwell’s empty seat between Bertrand and Olivia. The tiger stared adoringly at Olivia while Bertrand began to quietly hyperventilate. 

“Why is it making that noise?” Bertrand whispered to Alice, trying to stay calm.

“She’s purring,” Alice said, trying not to laugh at Bertrand as Zahira nuzzled Olivia.

“Watch closely now…” Edward said, drawing their attention back to him. “Don’t…even…blink…” He waved his white-tipped cane in intricate patterns through the air. At first, it seemed like nothing was happening, but then, slowly but surely, Maxwell’s throne began to levitate.

“Oh my god, this is so cool!” Maxwell exclaimed.

“What does an aneurysm feel like?” Bertrand whispered to Alice.

Suddenly, the throne shot up into the air above the stage. It hovered there for several moments, Maxwell grinning from ear to ear from his seat.

“Remember what I said,” Edward said. “Don’t. Blink.”

“Are we watching Doctor Who?” Alice whispered to Bastien.

A puff of smoke suddenly engulfed the throne, and when it dissipated, Zahira was sitting on the throne instead of Maxwell. Zahira roared theatrically, her voice reverberating through the room. Everyone in the room turned to where Zahira had been sitting to see Maxwell there instead, pumping his fist into the air like a New Jersey DJ.

“Did I just body swap with a tiger?” Maxwell asked, turning to Alice. “Alice, am I a tiger now?”

“Sorry, bud, still human,” Alice said.

“So instead I just teleported? Oh my god, this is the best day ever!”

His words disappeared in the thunderous applause of the crowd as Edward the Enchanter took several bows, flourishing his top hat as the throne slowly lowered Zahira to the ground.

“Thank you, thank you!” Edward the Enchanter said. “And with that, our time together has regrettably come to an end.”

“Oh thank god,” Bertrand said, one hand on his chest.

“I think you need a drink, Bertrand,” Bastien said as he signaled to the waiter again. “Maybe several.”

“Fear not!” Edward the Enchanter called out to the crowd. “I shall return tomorrow evening for another night of magic and mysticism…tell your friends!” He spun his top hat through the air and caught it on his head before retreating up the stairs, followed the tiger. The stage lights dimmed and the music swelled around them once more.

“You all were amazing!” Hana exclaimed. “Especially you, Olivia, that was incredible!”

“Oh, come on!” Maxwell protested. “Sure, Olivia, like, soul bonded or whatever with the tiger, but I teleported!”

“You were amazing, too,” Alice assured him.

“It’s too bad we didn’t get Liv and the tiger on film,” Liam said. “I’d love to show that to any visiting dignitaries who try to go toe to toe with the future queen of Cordonia.”

“Oh, we were not supposed to film it? Because I kind of did,” Penelope said, holding up her phone. 

“Please send me a copy,” Liam said.

“Me, too, please!” Alice added.

“So, Maxwell, what’s next on the agenda?” Hana asked.

Now it’s time for dancing!” Maxwell declared, holding out his hand to her. “Care to join me?”

“I’m still recovering, but you all go,” Bertrand said as he waved off the group and took a sip of his scotch. 

“May I have this dance?” Bastien asked Alice.


Bastien led Alice to the dance floor and before long they began to melt into one another, the music pulsing around them as he turned her around, pulling her back against his chest.

“Have I mentioned how incredible you look in that dress?” he murmured into her ear, fingers drifting down her sides.

“If you like the way I look in it, then you’ll love the way I look out of it,” she said, leaning back against him. Alice closed her eyes as she felt his lips brush against her neck.

“Oh, believe me, I do,” Bastien said. “I’m enjoying this night out on the town so far, but I’m going to be honest—I’m looking forward to getting you back into our honeymoon suite and into that very large, very comfortable bed…”

“The bed?” Alice asked as she turned in his arms, pulling her hips against his. “I was thinking we try out that incredibly plush rug in front of the fireplace…”

Bastien grinned at her and captured her lips in a kiss that stole the air from her lungs. “Let’s compromise and say both.”

Alice smiled as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Both is good.”

When they finally left the club, Maxwell led everyone down to the street.

“Where to next?” Liam asked.

“Here!” Maxwell said. “It’s time for a scavenger hunt!”

“I love scavenger hunts!” Penelope said excitedly. “I’ve always been a very good finder.”

“I’ve hidden three objects around Las Vegas,” Maxwell said. “We’ll split into two teams and whichever team finds more objects wins!”

“What are the teams?” Olivia asked.

“I’m glad you asked, Team Captain!” Maxwell said. “Your team has Alice, Hana, and Bertrand. Liam, the other team captain, has Kiara, Bastien, Drake, and Penelope.”

“Oh, come on, she gets Hana?” Liam protested, playfully poking Olivia in the side. “That’s not fair!”

“You get an extra team member,” Olivia pointed out.

“But Hana’s like three team members in one,” Drake said.

“Which is why we’re going to kick your ass,” Alice said.

“We’ll see about that,” Bastien said.

“All right, all right,” Maxwell said, waving his hands. “The teams are set, take them as they are. Now! Who’s ready to get started?”

“What are we looking for?” Liam asked as the group shuffled into their respective teams.

“The first object,” Maxwell said, “is a gold scepter located within eyeshot of this location, and here is your clue: to find the first object, you’ll need a hand.”

“That’s hardly a clue,” Penelope complained. “I use my hands for everything!”

“Team huddle,” Olivia said, pulling Hana, Alice, and Bertrand in close and lowering her voice. “We need to be strategic about this. What do you need a hand for on the Las Vegas Strip?”

“For collecting stripper cards?” Alice asked.

“Jon Snow, I do not have time for jokes right now,” Olivia said. “You’ve been here before which gives us an advantage, so tell us where to look.”

“Do you not remember me telling you about yard-aritas? I was super drunk and/or sick for most of it,” Alice said, feeling a little queasy at the memory. Don’t vomit. Do not vomit.


“Fine, fine,” Alice said, turning to look around as she tried to identify the likeliest hiding places. “‘To find the first object, you’ll need a hand’… what would Maxwell think of as a place where you need a hand?” Her eyes landed on the nearby palm tree. “Maybe the palm tree?”

“Why there?” Bertrand asked.

“Palm…hand…it’s worth a try anyway,” Alice said.

“Plus, you’ll need a hand to reach it, if it’s up there,” Hana pointed out. “Maxwell would love something that works on two levels.”

Olivia took a step closer, carefully eyeing the fronds. Then her eyes widened and she reached back for Alice’s arm, pulling her closer.

“Towards the base of the fronds, by the trunk—see it?” Olivia said quietly so as to not alert the other team.

“Good eye!” Bertrand said as they hurried to the trunk. After a moment of hesitation, Bertrand laced his fingers and held out his hands to Olivia, who took the boost and stepped on his self-made step to gracefully pluck the scepter out of the tree. As soon as Olivia was safely back on the ground, Bertrand immediately pulled a small bottle of hand sanitizer out of his pocket and vigorously scrubbed his hands.

“Team Olivia takes the lead!” Hana cheered triumphantly as Olivia held up the scepter for the group.

“I thought it was only polite to let you win the first one,” Liam said with a grin as he kissed Olivia’s cheek. She laughed.

“You’re so full of it,” she said. “We kicked your ass, fair and square.”

Maxwell led the group down the sidewalk and as they walked, Bastien laced his fingers between Alice’s.

“Feeling okay?” he asked quietly. She nodded.

“So far so good. I don’t feel too tired at the moment, but I did have some nausea back there. However, I can’t say for sure if it’s because of…” Alice glanced around to be sure no one else was listening. “The baby, or just because of the Strip.”

“Vegas is certainly much more glamorous from our suite than it is on the street,” Bastien agreed. “Do you need anything? I’m sure we could get the group to stop for snacks or water or something if you need it.”

“I’m okay, but thank you,” she said, squeezing his hand. “Besides, Olivia is fully in battle mode by now and I’m sure there are no breaks in war.”

“Just let me know if that changes, okay?”

“Dorian, I’m not going to break—I’m fine, I promise.”

“I know you’re not,” Bastien said as he put an arm around her. “I promise I’m not trying to micromanage you, I just…I want to wait on you and make sure you have everything you need.”

“I know,” Alice said, circling her arm around his waist. “And thank you. I love that you take such good care of me.” She tilted her face up towards him and he planted a gentle, jostled kiss on her lips as they walked.

“Jon Snow! Quit consorting with the enemy!” Olivia called back to them.

“See what I mean?” Alice asked.

A few blocks later, the group arrived at a nightclub. The bass thundered as they entered, reverberating in Alice’s chest.

“So what’s the next clue, Maxwell?” Kiara asked, shouting to be heard over the music.

“You can’t see, you can’t taste, you can’t touch, you can’t smell,” Maxwell called back.

“What are we looking for exactly?” Drake asked.

“The Monarch’s Orb,” Maxwell replied.

“The golden apple thing from the palace museum?” Drake asked.

“Hey, that ‘golden apple thing’ happens to be an ancient symbol of the monarchy, along with the scepter,” Liam protested.

“The royalty theme is a little heavy handed, but I’m not mad about it,” Olivia said.

“Maxwell, I just want to be absolutely certain that you did not take the real Monarch’s Orb and scepter?” Bertrand shouted over the music, brow furrowed.

“Of course not!” Maxwell replied and Bertrand visibly exhaled. “They’re both very high-quality replicas.”

“And the third item?” Bertrand asked.

“Oh, the crown in the casino is all real, baby!” Maxwell exclaimed.

What?” Bastien and Alice shouted at the same time.

Maxwell!” Bertrand yelled, easily heard even over the thumping music as his face began to redden with rage.

“There were like twenty of them!’ Maxwell said defensively as he turned to a shocked Liam. “I figured you wouldn’t miss one for a weekend…”

“Those crowns are all priceless Cordonian artifacts!” Bertrand growled at him.

“Okay, everyone calm down,” Hana said as she stepped into the fray, slightly shielding Maxwell as she did so. “We can’t do anything about what’s already happened, so let’s hurry up and find the last two objects.”

“Team Olivia, over here!” Olivia called, waving Alice, Hana, and Bertrand over. “What was the clue again?”

“Something about not seeing, touching, tasting, or smelling,” Hana said. They each turned and scanned the club.

“Maybe the DJ booth?” Alice suggested. “The only sense not mentioned was sound, and that’s where the sound is coming from.”

Olivia led the way through the club until they reached the DJ booth. The DJ raised an eyebrow at them but said nothing as they searched around him.

“Here!” Bertrand called, waving an arm to get their attention. “It’s in this speaker!” He pulled it out and handed it to Olivia, who held it aloft victoriously.

“Two out of three!” she said triumphantly.

“I guess this means we win!” Hana said as they flagged down the others and headed for the door.

“It’s not a complete victory until we have a perfect score,” Olivia said as the group emerged from the night club and into the cavernous hotel hallway.

“And there’s the part about recovering that crown before someone realizes its value and steals it,” Liam said.

“Yeah, I do not want to spend the rest of this party searching every pawn shop in Vegas,” Drake said.

“I didn’t know!” Maxwell protested as he quickly led the group through the hotel to the casino. “Okay, here we are. You’re looking for a golden crown.”

“And the clue?” Bertrand asked, still visibly irritated.

“Yo! Roll the hard six and watch out for snake eyes,” Maxwell said.

“A hard six? Like in Battlestar Galactica?” Kiara asked. Everyone stared at her. “What? It’s a good show!”

“Team Olivia, with me,” Olivia ordered. They circled up with her. “A hard six and snake eyes—I think we should go for the craps tables.”

“Me, too,” Alice said. They turned and strode quickly through the casino and Alice was grateful that this was one of the rare casinos that restricted smoking. 

When they arrived at the craps tables, they saw the crown sitting on a pile of chips at the end of a table. Olivia broke into a jog and snatched the crown.

“Yes!” Olivia cheered as Maxwell and the other team joined them. Relieved, Liam took the crown from Olivia’s hand and gently placed it on her head.

“It suits you,” he said, kissing her gently.

“It looks like we have our winner!” Maxwell said, looking nearly as relieved as Liam to see the crown.

“Congratulations, you definitely earned it,” Kiara said graciously.

“So what do I win? Do I get to be queen?” Olivia asked. Liam laughed.

“You already had that,” he said.

“Oooh, does Olivia’s team get a trophy?” Penelope asked.

“The prize is the friendship we found along the way!” Maxwell exclaimed.

Everyone stared at him.

“You didn’t get a prize?” Drake asked.

“I mean…it was going to be the crown, but I guess I have to give that back,” Maxwell said sheepishly.

“You do, but it’s okay,” Olivia said. “Just knowing that I’m better than the rest of you is enough for me.”

“Excuse me, this was a team effort,” Alice said.

“And the general takes credit for the soldiers’ efforts,” Olivia said as if it should be obvious. Alice rolled her eyes and smiled.

“Well, that’s the end of the scheduled activities,” Maxwell said. “I propose that we return to the hotel bar for the after party.”

“Hear, hear!” Liam said as he pulled Olivia close.

“You planned an after party?” Drake asked.

“Of course!” Maxwell said, looking a little offended. “What’s a party without an after party? Preferably in the hotel lobby?”

The group headed for the door to call a car to take them back to Caesar’s Palace and as they walked, Alice could hear Olivia ask Liam a question.

“Seriously though, I get to keep the crown, right?”

An hour later in the lobby bar at Caesar’s Palace, Bastien was deep in conversation with Liam and Drake while Alice listened to Penelope wax on about Merlin and Morgana.

“They did the cutest thing the other day!” Penelope exclaimed. Alice tried to feign interest, but it was hard to do when the next text from Bastien buzzed through her phone.

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair. Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.

It took all of Alice’s restraint to keep her face composed when she read the quote from Pablo Neruda. She asked Penelope a question about the new outfits she was making for the poodles and quickly typed a response from Anais Nin.

I want to love you wildly. I don’t want words, but inarticulate cries, meaningless, from the bottom of my most primitive being, that flow from my belly like honey. A piercing joy that leaves me empty, conquered, silenced.

Alice glanced at Bastien as he read the text and noticed the almost imperceptible twitch at the corner of his mouth. She returned her focus to Penelope and a few moments later another text came through from A Court of Mist and Fury.

I want you splayed out on the table like my own personal feast.

Alice couldn’t wait any longer.

“How are Merlin and Morgana doing in Vegas?” Alice asked, hoping to divert Penelope’s attention to her dogs.

“I went up and checked on them when we first got back, but…” she hesitated.

“Everything okay?”

“I’m sorry, will you think me horribly rude if I go up for the night?” Penelope asked. “Las Vegas has been fun, but I’m feeling a little…well, I think I need some time with Merlin and Morgana.”

“I get it,” Alice said as they stood up. “Vegas can be fun, but it can also be overwhelming. I might actually turn in, too.”

Penelope said goodbye and left, and Alice walked over to join Olivia and Kiara.

“Hey, I think I’m going to turn in, I’m kind of tired,” Alice said.

Olivia glanced over in time to see Bastien’s gaze flick towards Alice.

“You’re a filthy liar, but you’re spending your honeymoon at my bachelorette party, so you’re excused,” Olivia said with a smirk. “I’m probably going to drag Liam out of here soon myself.”

“Shots?” Maxwell asked, joining them with a tray of tequila.

“No thanks, I’m out for the night,” Alice said as Olivia and Kiara each took one and clinked glasses.

“But…but it’s so early! The after party has barely begun!” Maxwell protested.

“We’ve been here for an hour and we flew all the way from Valtoria today. I’m beat,” Alice said.

“Fine, fine,” Maxwell said with exaggerated resignation as he leaned over to kiss her cheek. “But you owe me a dance back in Cordonia.”

“Deal,” Alice agreed. She pulled out her phone and fired off one last text from The Picture of Dorian Gray before leaving the bar and heading for the elevators.

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

When Alice reached the elevators, she pressed the button and watched the numbers click down one by one towards the lobby. The counter had nearly reached one when she felt a familiar hand on the small of her back.

“Would you mind if I told you for the millionth time how beautiful you look tonight?” Bastien asked as he leaned down to brush a gentle kiss against the curve of her neck.

“Not as long as you make good on that feast you promised,” she said with a grin. The elevator dinged politely and slid open to reveal an empty car. They entered the elevator and Alice quickly hit the door close button. When they closed, sealing them inside, Alice turned to Bastien and tugged on the lapels of his jacket, pulling him into a deep kiss. She felt his hands tighten around her waist, pressing her tightly against him. Alice sighed as he dragged his lips along her jaw to her ear.

“Remember, Gray…elevators have cameras,” he murmured as his teeth gently tugged at her earlobe. “We’re a duke and duchess now and we should behave ourselves in public…”

“I always behave, Your Grace,” Alice said as she turned in his arms so that her back was to him. She slipped a hand behind her, palming his hardening cock through his trousers.


“What?” she asked innocently as she applied more pressure. He groaned softly and she felt his lips brush along the curve of her neck. “Excuse me, Your Grace, we’re in public,” she teased. He nipped at her neck with his teeth and she rocked her hips back slightly into his, the heat between her legs almost unbearable. “You’re going to cause a scandal…”

“Forget what I said before,” he said in a low voice, a thrill coursing down the length of her spine. “You’re worth it.”

When they reached their suite, Bastien quickly unlocked the door and tugged Alice in with him, kicking the door shut behind them. He pressed her against the door, kissing her deeply as he trailed his fingers up her thigh, inching under the hem of her dress. Alice rocked her hips against his, fingers yanking at his belt. She pulled it from the belt loops and threw it aside, the buckle clattering across the marble floor as Alice unzipped his pants and slid her hand inside, massaging his hardened cock. Bastien moaned into her tongue, hands gripping her thigh. His touch was almost painful but Alice reveled in the feel of him. She released him only long enough to guide his hips until they turned, his back pressed against the door, before she started to make her way down his neck, her hand stroking him slowly. Alice lowered herself down to her knees, the cool floor a welcome contrast to her flushed skin. She looked up at Bastien in the semidarkness, her eyes meeting his as she pulled his pants down just enough to free him. Bastien gently brushed a few loose strands of hair back from her face as he watched her, waiting, his breath heavy but controlled. 

Alice took him in her hands again and leaned forward, never breaking eye contact as she licked the tip of his cock. Bastien stifled a groan but kept his eyes on hers. Alice slowly traced her tongue along the length of him, leaving no inch dry as she massaged his balls with one hand. She felt one of his hands drop to her shoulder and squeeze it, fingers catching on the beadwork of her dress. Alice ran her tongue along the underside of his cock before returning to the head, swirling her tongue around the tip before slowly starting to take him in her mouth. 

“Fuck,” Bastien hissed under his breath, his gaze finally tearing away from hers as his head fell back against the door. Alice could feel his muscles tensing, his hips fighting the urge to move with her, but she continued to take her time, hollowing her cheeks as she traveled along the length of his cock. She felt the hand on her shoulder tighten while his other hand gently caressed the nape of her neck, his breathing less controlled now as she kept up the same, steady pace.

“Wait,” he said, voice heavy, as he gently pulled away from her and urged her to her feet. With considerable effort, he tucked himself back into his pants and zipped them up.

“Is something wrong?” she asked breathlessly. He answered her with a kiss so intense it left her lightheaded as he wrapped her in his arms.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said. “But I told you before that I want you splayed out on the table like my personal feast…and I’m hungry.”

Bastien led her to the dining room where a fire already crackled in the hearth. He brought her to the head of the table and pulled the chair back to give them room to stand. Alice felt like she was vibrating under his gaze as he took off his jacket and tossed it aside before running his eyes up her body and crossing his arms to keep from reaching for her.

“Take off your clothes.”

Alice reached behind her and slowly unzipped the black cocktail dress she wore, sliding it from her arms and down over her hips before letting it fall to the floor at her feet. She waited under his gaze as he drank in the sight of her.

“The rest of it.”

She unhooked her bra and dropped it before slipping her hands in the waistband of her underwear, pushing them down as she let her hands travel over her curves. Next, she stepped out of her shoes, nudging them aside with her foot. Finally, she tugged the tie from her hair, letting her blonde hair tumble down her back.

Bastien uncrossed his arms and stepped closer to her, not touching yet. Alice felt flushed with heat, but she couldn’t say if it was from the fireplace or the proximity of her husband. Bastien reached behind her and with a sudden sweep of his arm sent dishes and glassware clattering and smashing to the floor. 

“Get on the table,” he said quietly.

Alice took a step backward until she felt the edge of the table bump against her legs. She eased herself onto the table, knees hanging over the edge, and watched Bastien, his gaze devouring her with every movement.

“Lie down.”

Alice relaxed back onto the table as Bastien gently nudged her knees apart so he could stand between her legs. Above her hung a chandelier that glittered with the dancing firelight as she felt Bastien’s hands begin to lightly graze her skin, brushing over her throat, her arms, her chest, nipples, stomach, hips, and thighs. She closed her eyes, absorbed in the sensations as he traced shapes across her body, anointing her with his touch. Then his touch was gone and she heard the scrape of the chair across the floor draw closer.

She felt his lips first on her knee, a featherlight touch that dipped down to her inner thigh before it began to rise higher towards her center. Alice shifted slightly with anticipation but instead her never met her there, choosing instead to drift back down her other thigh. He repeated the process again, each time getting a little closer, but not quite enough to where she wanted him. Finally, Bastien’s fingers stroked a gentle path up her thighs before finally tracing along her lips, his touch soft. She sighed, aching for more.

“Please…” she whispered hoarsely. 

Bastien obliged, slowly teasing into her with his tongue. Alice moaned softly at his kiss and she heard his chair scoot closer, his hands securing her hips in place as he started to deepen his ministrations, teasing her closer and closer to a peak at his excruciatingly slow pace. Her mind was blank, lost in the feeling of his mouth on her as he consumed her, a haze of feeling and movement and warmth

As she could feel a climax starting to build, Alice’s hands scrabbled for purchase across the smooth table, finally gripping the edges of the table as her hips started to buck, pinned by Bastien’s strong hands as he held her where he wanted her. Her back arched off the table as she came, her cries filling the room as she writhed with pleasure under his tongue as he pushed her further and further until she collapsed against the table, sweat beading on her brow.

Alice jumped slightly at the brush of his kiss against her inner thigh, every nerve ending still alight with tension and pleasure. She reached down and ran her hand through his hair and he captured her fingers, planting a soft kiss to her palm. Then Bastien released her hand and returned his attention to her legs, gently massaging the sensitive skin as his thumbs drew closer and closer to her center. Alice sucked in a breath as he parted her lips with his tongue, careful to avoid her overly sensitive clit as he eased a finger inside of her, then two. In and out, he resumed his agonizingly slow pace from before as he brought her closer to the brink again.

“More,” she sighed, her fingers tightening in his hair, pulling him closer. She began to crescendo faster this time, her body already alight and electric as he pushed faster, responding to each breath and movement of her body. Her orgasm slammed through her like a bolt of lightning, coursing through her every fiber, bursting through every cell. When he finally released her she gasped for air, groping blindly for his hands as she tried to pull him to her. 

“What do you want me to do?” he asked. She shakily pushed herself onto her elbows and watched as he slowly wiped his chin with his finger before sucking it clean, savoring one more taste of her.

“I want you to fuck me,” Alice said as she managed to rise to a seated position. In her haze she’d forgotten he was still fully clothed and she tugged him to her, hooking her fingers between the buttons of his shirt. He dipped his mouth closer to hers, kissing her as she relished the taste she recognized as her own on his tongue. She was vaguely aware of the hushed zipper as Bastien undid his pants and pulled out his cock, teasing it against her warm, wet entrance.

“Yes,” she whispered as he slowly pushed into her, her breath catching at the feel of him. Her shaking fingers tried to fumble with the buttons of his shirt, but she couldn’t undo them as fast as she wanted. Finally, she summoned the last of her strength and yanked the shirt open, buttons clicking across the floor. Bastien moved inside of her, arms wrapped around her, keeping her upright on the edge of the table. Her fingernails raked across his back, trying to bring him closer to her, always closer and needing more.

Bastien’s hand slid down over her chest and over her hip before sliding between them, his thumb brushing against her clit.

“Is this too much?” he asked.

“Do it,” Alice said, her tone pleading, almost a whine. As he thrust into her, Bastien began to massage her gently with his thumb. Alice licked the sweat from his neck, biting at the taut flesh as he coaxed her closer and closer.

“Bas…I’m gonna…”

“Come with me,” he ordered, his voice tight. “Now.”

Alice let herself go, nails digging into his shoulders with a wordless cry, as if all the sound had already been wrung from her body. Bastien groaned, pulsing within her as he gripped her to him tightly. Their movements slowed and finally stilled as they panted for air in each other’s arms. Bastien finally turned, resting his forehead against hers. 

“I love you,” he said, still trying to regain his breath.

“I love you, too,” she said breathlessly.

He smiled. “I never get tired of hearing you say that.”

“Good. Because I intend to tell you a lot.” Alice pulled her head back from his and looked around the dining room. “So…it appears we might have made a mess in here.”

Bastien laughed as he followed her gaze. “You might be right. I’ll sweep it up tomorrow before we go.” He took a step back from her and pulled up his pants, buttoning them at his waist. Then he lifted Alice in his arms, carrying her bare feet over the broken glass before gently setting her down in one of the bedrooms. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her softly. “I have one more surprise for you.”

“I can barely stand as it is, I don’t think I can take another surprise,” Alice said with a grin. He smiled and kissed her again.

“Not that kind of surprise,” he said as he retrieved a plush robe from the closet and wrapped it around her. “But you should put this on and get into bed while you wait, I don’t want you to get cold.”

He kissed her one more time before leaving the room and Alice did as he said, pulling back the lush sheets to slide into the bed. A few minutes later, Bastien re-entered the room with a plate bearing two chocolate cupcakes.

“What is this?” Alice asked as a smile spread across her face. He grinned and kicked off his shoes before climbing into the bed beside her, careful to hold the plate steady. 

“Dessert,” Bastien said, offering her a cupcake. Alice took one and tapped it against his.

“Happy honeymoon,” she said.

“Happy honeymoon.”

The following morning, Alice was roused from sleep by a distant banging sound.

“What’s that noise?” she groaned.

“I think it’s the door,” Bastien said sleepily. He rolled over and planted a kiss on her shoulder. “I’ll get it.”

“No, it’s okay,” Alice said. “It’s probably Maxwell. I love him, but that guy is way too perky in the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Bastien asked, his eyes already closed again.

“Of course,” she said. “I’m at least semi-used to Maxwell’s early morning wake up calls.”

“Love you,” Bastien mumbled into his pillow as Alice got out of bed and retrieved her robe from the floor, wrapping it around her as she headed for the door. As she’d expected, Maxwell was waiting for her on the other side.

“Alice! We have to get back to Cordonia!” Maxwell exclaimed the moment the door was open.

“What a weird way to say good morning,” Alice said with a yawn. A mild nausea began to roll in her stomach. Oh god, no, I’ve been lucky so far…please don’t let me get morning sickness while Maxwell is here…

“Sorry,” Maxwell said. “But now that the party is over, Olivia is hell bent on getting back to Cordonia to start wedding planning. She’s already been packed for an hour and she’s getting…very impatient. Hana is keeping her at bay for the moment by going over wedding ideas because of course Hana is already packed and ready to go, but there’s only so much time she can buy the rest of us.”

“Got it,” Alice said, trying to focus on her breathing instead of her mounting nausea. “We’ll get ready ASAP.”

“Do you need any help?” Maxwell asked. “I’m not really a tidy packer, but I’m fast!”

“No, that’s okay, I think we’ve got it. We’ll see you downstairs in an hour, okay?” Alice said.

“Better make it half an hour. Hey, are you okay? You look a little pale,” Maxwell said, concern knitting his brow.

“Come on, Maxwell, I’m always pale—that’s my thing. See you in a few,” she said before shutting the door. Then she turned and ran for the kitchen, barely making it to the sink in time.

Part 54

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