Summary: Back in Cordonia, MC (Alice) helps plan the royal wedding.
Notes: I used some of PB’s original dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.
CW: pregnancy, references to sexual assault and violence, implied violence
New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1,Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13,Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33, Part 34, Part 35, Part 36, Part 37, Part 38, Part 39, Part 40, Part 41, Part 42, Part 43, Part 44, Part 45, Part 46, Part 47, Part 48, Part 49, Part 50, Part 51, Part 52, Part 53
“How are we doing on time?” Bastien called as he opened the door to the Marc Antony villa, shopping bags in hand.
“I have two missed calls from Maxwell and only nine angry texts from Olivia, so I think we’re okay, but we should head down soon,” Alice said from where she lay on the couch in the living room as Bastien entered.
“How are you feeling? Were you able to eat anything?”
“Okay at the moment, and a couple of the crackers from the cheese plate in the fridge, but that’s it,” Alice said as she sat pushed herself up to a seated position. “It’s so counterintuitive that eating can help with morning sickness.”
“I know,” Bastien said as he started to unload the bags on the coffee table. “But the baby book said—“
“Can we back up a second? What baby book?” Alice asked. “I meant to ask you earlier.”
“I bought a book about pregnancy,” Bastien said as he unloaded the last of the items and stood up to toss the bags. “I didn’t want to get a hard copy in case one of the staff members spotted it at Valtoria, so I bought it for the Kindle app on my phone. I figured it’s not too soon to start reading up, right?” he said as he headed into the kitchen.
Alice smiled despite her queasy stomach. “Get back here so I can kiss you!” she called after him. “I promise I brushed my teeth.”
Bastien re-entered the room and leaned down, kissing her softly as he cupped her cheek.
“Okay, I got a handful of things that might help,” he said as he sat beside her. “One of the benefits of the way casinos never want you to leave is that everything you need is available here. I got some ginger ale—the kind with real ginger, not that imitation stuff—and some candied ginger, but I thought maybe that’d be too sweet? Anyway, I also got some crackers, and dried fruit, and—“
“Hey,” Alice said, putting a hand on his arm. “This is amazing. Thank you.”
“I just want to help in whatever way I can,” Bastien said. “If there’s anything else I can do, anything at all—”
Alice’s phone blared to life, interrupting him. She checked the screen—Olivia. Alice sighed and answered.
“Hey, Liv!” she said cheerily.
“Jon Snow, get your ass to the plane! Everyone is waiting on you two and the Beaumonts!”
“I’m doing fine, Liv, thanks for asking. How are you?”
“I swear to god, I will leave you if you don’t hurry up.”
“No, you won’t. We’re leaving now.”
“You haven’t even left yet?”
Alice hung up the phone and started to collect the haul Bastien had brought. “She’s pissed, we better go.”
“Good call. If you get this stuff, I’ll get our bags.”
Downstairs, Maxwell nearly melted in relief at the sight of them.
“Oh thank god! Olivia keeps threatening to do terrible things to me with her throwing knives if we don’t get there soon,” he said as he jogged over to help Bastien with their bags. “Bertrand’s waiting at the car.”
They headed out front to where Bertrand was standing beside a limo, impatiently tapping his foot next to the open door.
“Alice, did I teach you nothing about the importance of punctuality?” Bertrand asked exasperatedly.
“You did, but it would’ve been more helpful if you’d also taught me how to tell time,” Alice said as she slid into the limo.
“You’re not funny,” Bertrand said as Bastien and Maxwell followed suit before Bertrand climbed in behind them.
“I don’t know, I think I’m pretty funny,” Alice said.
“What took you so long anyway?” Bertrand asked. “Maxwell went up to get you an hour ago.”
“It’s my fault,” Bastien said. “I ran out to get some snacks while she packed—Olivia didn’t exactly leave us time to get breakfast.”
Maxwell peered into Alice’s bag. “Crackers and ginger ale? Are you not feeling well? You were pale earlier—“
“They’re unrelated,” Alice assured him. “I really wanted ginger ale for the flight.”
“Why?” Bertrand asked, confused.
“Everybody loves ginger ale on a plane,” Alice said. Bertrand stared at her, confused. “Seriously?”
“I literally have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bertrand said.
“I can’t explain it, but it’s a thing,” Alice said. “Ginger ale on the ground is kind of whatever, but on a plane it’s like magic sky juice.”
“I don’t follow,” Bertrand said. “Ginger ale is ginger ale.”
“I get it,” Maxwell said. “And you’re totally right—ginger ale is better in the sky.”
“You’ve heard of this?” Bertrand asked.
“Well…no, not specifically, but it makes sense when I think about it,” Maxwell said.
“How does that make sense?” Bertrand asked, annoyed.
“I don’t know, it just does!”
As the two brothers argued back and forth, Bastien put an arm around Alice and kissed her temple.
When they arrived back in Cordonia, the waiting cars took them directly to the palace where the Liam’s new majordomo, Maureen, was waiting for them in the foyer.
“Your Highness, Duchess Olivia, welcome back,” Maureen said. “I hope you had a pleasant flight and I hope I’m not rushing you, but we’d best get to work straight away—there’s still so much to prepare before the wedding in two weeks. Now, I’ve confirmed the setup time with the orchestra and ordered the extra cocktail napkins for the reception that you requested via email during your flight, Your Grace.”
“And what about the press opportunity for this afternoon?” Liam asked.
“Already arranged for this afternoon,” Maureen said.
“Christ, she might be more efficient than Hana,” Alice said under her breath to Bastien. “We’ve barely walked through the door and she’s already got half a wedding planned.”
“What kind of press opportunity?” Liam asked.
“A photo op at the de Luca’s boutique in the city,” Maureen explained. “I booked it out for the afternoon so the press can observe Duchess Olivia’s planning.” She looked back to Olivia. “Who will be joining you today?”
“Alice and Hana are riding with me,” Olivia said. “The rest of the ladies will meet us there.”
“Very well,” Maureen said with a nod. “I’ll leave you to go to your rooms and get ready, but be mindful that the car leaves in thirty minutes,” she said, looking pointedly at Alice’s jeans.
Alice rolled her eyes but bit back a comment; she’d agreed to help Olivia with wedding planning and starting a fight with Maureen was hardly going to be helpful. However, that didn’t mean that Alice wasn’t currently fantasizing about telling Maureen where to stick her judgmental looks.
Just then a couple workers carrying a massive oak table entered the foyer.
“I think I’m losing my grip,” one of the workers said, straining to hold the table.
“Come on, we don’t have all day!” the other worker snapped.
The first worker hefted the table onto his arm but the movement caused it to tip precariously toward the floor. Bastien, Drake, and Liam all sprang forward and caught the edge of the table to stabilize it. The worker sighed with relief.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully, bowing his head towards Liam. “I’m so sorry, it won’t happen again.”
“Don’t worry, it happens. I’m just glad we could help,” Liam said with a smile. He, Drake, and Bastien kept hold of the table until the workers readjusted their grip until it was more secure.
“Are they new?” Olivia asked.
“Many workers were hired to prepare for the wedding,” Maureen explained. “The extended crew will be here for the next few weeks to ensure everything goes off without a hitch. Speaking of, you, Duchess Alice, and Lady Hana should prepare to leave soon.”
Alice felt Bastien’s hand on the small of her back and allowed him to guide her to their old apartment in the palace.
“Please tell me I don’t dress as badly as everyone likes to imply,” Alice said as they walked through the familiar door.
“I like the way you dress,” Bastien said. “But…”
“It can be kind of casual for official press events,” he said.
“I literally just got off a plane!”
“I know! I’m on your side!” Bastien said as he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “But you know this is also part of the deal of being a noble—we have to play dress up for the cameras. Plus, you’re part of the inner circle for the royal wedding and if you thought the tours were ridiculous, this is a whole other thing.”
Alice rested her forehead against his chest. “I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I?”
“Hey, no, you’re not,” Bastien said as he cupped her face in his hands and tilted it up so she could meet his eyes. “Noble life is weird. And if it makes you feel any better, I promise to not be wearing any clothes, fancy or otherwise, when you get back.”
She smiled. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
“Seriously though,” Bastien said. “Wedding planning is probably going to be a lot—are you sure you’re up for it?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Alice said. “It’s only a few weeks and hopefully things will calm down after Liam and Olivia are married.”
“If you change your mind, just let me know and I’ll make up an excuse to get us back to Valtoria,” Bastien said. “I’ll be the bad guy if I need to be.”
“Thank you,” Alice said as she rose up on her toes to kiss him.
They were interrupted by a polite knock at the door.
“That’s far too polite to be Maxwell or Olivia,” Bastien said as he crossed the room to open the door.
“Hi!” Hana said brightly, garment bag in hand. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“Of course not, come in,” Bastien said, stepping aside to let her in.
“Hey, Alice,” Hana said as she walked inside, holding out the garment bag. “Just in case you needed something for this afternoon, I got this for you. I know Gladys is sending some of your clothes over for while we’re here, but I wasn’t sure when they’d arrive so I got this just in case.”
“Hana, I’m pretty sure you qualify for sainthood, thank you,” Alice said as she hugged her. Hana then unzipped the bag to reveal a light, floral dress that, thankfully, looked like it wouldn’t put too much pressure on her already queasy stomach.
“Just doing my job,” Hana said, although Alice felt her give her an extra tight squeeze. “I’ll leave you to change and then I’ll meet you downstairs?”
“Sounds good,” Alice said, still admiring the dress.
“Oh, I meant to tell you this on the plane—I sent out a press release about your wedding. I figured it was better to get it out sooner rather than later since the news cycle is about to shift into nothing but the upcoming royal wedding.”
“Oh, man, I completely forgot about that—thanks for taking care of that,” Alice said. Bastien pulled up the news on his phone and she leaned over to look at it with him.
AMERICAN DUCHESS WEDS IN SECRET CEREMONY
Beneath the headline was a photo of Alice and Bastien during their first dance, their smiles captured on film as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Who took this photo?” Bastien asked.
“Maxwell took this one, but everyone took a bunch on the day,” Hana said. “I’ve been collecting them from everyone and I’ve got them all on a flash drive for you.”
“Literally how did I ever survive without you?” Alice asked.
“It’s nothing,” Hana said modestly. “And, as a bonus, the response to the news has been overwhelmingly positive—people not only love your original Cinderella story, but the romantic, secret wedding is sending people over the edge. Plus, Ana de Luca is already predicting that tattooed wedding bands are going to be a hot trend in the upcoming wedding season. Okay,” Hana said, with a clap of her hands. “You need to get dressed because we need to get going.”
Alice saluted her and Hana said goodbye to Bastien and left, leaving them alone in their quarters.
”When the time comes for Hana to stop working for us, can we clone her?” Alice asked.
“Absolutely, I’ll work on that while you’re wedding dress shopping with Olivia,” Bastien said, still looking at the photo on his phone. “What do you think about printing this one and framing it?”
“I love that idea,” Alice said. “I can’t wait to see what the other photos look like—how did we not think about getting a photographer?”
“I don’t know, but I might like it better this way,” Bastien said. “We’re going to have endless posed, formal photos but having a bunch taken by our friends…I don’t know, it feels more like us.”
“It does,” Alice agreed as she turned her attention back to the dress Hana had brought. “I should probably hurry and get dressed, Olivia’s already mad at me for my punctuality today.”
“You get dressed, I’ll put some anti-nausea snacks in your bag,” Bastien said as he tucked his phone back in his pocket. Alice dressed quickly and Bastien handed her her purse.
“You look beautiful,” he said as he gave her a kiss. “Have fun.”
When the limo arrived at the upscale bridal boutique, Ana de Luca waited for them inside along with Penelope, Kiara, and Savannah, who had Bartie on her lap.
“You invited Savannah?” Alice asked Olivia quietly.
“She’s the mother of your nephew and Liam insisted we all play nice,” Olivia said under her breath. “Plus, Hana thought the baby would make a cute addition to the photos.”
“I promise to be nice,” Alice said.
“Good, because I can’t make the same promise,” Olivia said.
“Duchess Olivia! Welcome, welcome,” Ana de Luca said effusively. “And may I say, you’re the picture of a blushing bride-to-be today.”
“Can you believe she just got off a plane?” Alice asked.
“Really?” Ana asked, impressed. “Remind me to set up an interview to talk to you about your travel tips to arrive looking well rested.”
“A Nevrakis is always prepared for anything,” Olivia said smugly.
“Clearly,” Ana said approvingly as she admired Olivia’s dress. “You always look like front page material.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said, a slight smirk pulling at the corner of her mouth.
“No, thank you for giving Cordonians everywhere a peek into the process of planning a celebrity wedding,” Ana said as she gestured for her photographer to snap some pictures of the scene. “And, not to detract from the occasion, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate you on your recent nuptials, Duchess Alice. Before the royal wedding, I’d love to sit down with you and the duke to do a profile of the two of you.”
“Thank you, we’d be happy to do that.” Alice said. “But for today, I’m glad I can be here to support Olivia—she’s an incredibly kind and generous friend, and I’m thrilled to be here for her.”
The photographer gestured for Olivia and Alice to pose together for a photo and as the camera flashed, Olivia muttered to Alice under her breath without breaking her smile.
“If you keep saying things like that, you’re going to ruin my reputation, Jon Snow.”
“God forbid anyone knows what a nice person you are,” Alice said.
“I’ve stabbed people for less.”
“Olivia, thank you for including us today,” Kiara said.
“Yes, thank you,” Penelope echoed as she reached down to pat her dogs on the head. “I feel so honored to be here.”
Bartie squealed happily from Savannah’s lap as he clapped his hands together and stared at the poodles.
“I think Bartie just said it all,” Savannah said with a laugh.
Make an effort, Alice told herself as she walked over and crouched in front of Savannah. “Hey, Savannah. And hello to you, mister,” Alice said to Bartie. Bartie rewarded her with a big smile and reached out to take hold of a hank of her blonde hair. But, instead of pulling, Bartie examined it with wonder, gently examining it in his hand.
“Hey, Alice,” Savannah said brightly. “I think he’s fascinated by your hair, and I’m surprised he’s being super gentle—usually he’s yanked mine by now,” she said with a laugh. Bartie studied Alice’s hair for a few more seconds before he dropped it, returning his attention back to Penelope’s dogs.
“To be fair, no one can compete with poodles,” Alice said. Olivia cleared her throat. “Except for our future queen who is the most beautiful and most intimidating woman to ever grace Cordonia with her presence.”
“Okay, dial it back,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes, although Alice noticed she didn’t look entirely unhappy with Alice’s hyperbolic compliments.
“Well…shall we?” Hana asked as she sat on a couch with an enormous red binder.
“Red feels like an…unusual choice for a wedding binder,” Kiara said.
“Not when it’s the bride’s signature color,” Hana said with a smile. “Okay, let’s start with the wedding party—who will have the distinction of standing next to you as the maid of honor?”
“Alice,” Olivia said.
“Really?” Alice asked from where she still knelt on the floor, Bartie holding her finger.
“Don’t make it a big deal,” Olivia said.
“Oh, I’m gonna make it a big deal,” Alice said. “And I’m very honored to accept.”
“Who is going to be Liam’s best man?” Kiara asked. “Or do I even need to ask?”
“Drake, of course,” Olivia said.
“Now, for the ring bearer…” Hana said as she turned the page in her binder. “As cute as Bartie is, he might be a little young for the job. However, traditionally, Cordonian children have been used in the wedding procession as a sign of commitment to the common people.”
“That sounds like a good idea, especially now” Alice offered.
“I agree,” Olivia said.
“That will be a very popular choice with the Cordonian people,” Ana de Luca added. “The wedding is about you and the king, Your Grace, but it’s also about our country and your dedication to Cordonia is beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said. “It’s important to Liam and me that our citizens feel that we don’t just represent the nobles, but we represent everyone and we care for them.”
Ana de Luca scribbled the quote on her notepad, nodding as she did so.
“Now for the officiant,” Hana said.
“Doesn’t the cathedral have someone to perform wedding ceremonies?” Savannah asked.
“The ceremony will take place in the Bossina Cathedral, per Cordonian tradition, but the customary officiant would have been Liam’s father. Due to his recent passing, any member of the royal family would be a suitable alternative…however, recent events have led to only one real option.”
“Fortunately, Liam and I had already planned on having Leo as our officiant from the beginning,” Olivia said. “Liam thought he’d add a bit of humor and levity to the ceremony, which we could all use right now.”
“Would you like me to make sure he doesn’t make any dick jokes during the ceremony?” Alice asked.
“Great, then that’s settled,” Hana said. “I’ve already spoken with Maureen to confirm delivery times with all of our venders and I’ve been in touch with the Cordonian television networks to start coordinating the coverage of the day. So, now that we’ve ironed out a few details, it’s time to talk about your dress!”
“I’m still putting the finishing touches on it, including the addition of the Lythikos lace detailing…but I suppose if you don’t mind seeing it unfinished, we could arrange for a preview,” Ana said.
“Yes! Fashion show! Fashion show!” Alice said, clapping her hands. Bartie imitated her, laughing gleefully.
“Okay, Maxwell,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes. “I have to admit, I’m anxious to see it, too.”
Ana led Olivia to the back and before long, Ana returned to the group, holding a bolt of lace in her hands.
“Keep in mind that the dress will include a lace overlay on the skirt and train with this,” Ana said as she unspooled a bit of the lace to show the group. “But…here it is.”
Olivia entered the room and Alice froze at the sight of her. Olivia wore a delicate ballgown with an intricately beaded bodice that narrowed at her waist before flowing out into a gloriously full skirt that made her look like she was floating. Ana adjusted the train behind her as Olivia stepped up on a pedestal in front of the mirrors, examining her dress with the practiced eye of a fashionista.
“Well?” Olivia asked.
“Liv,” Alice said.
“Liv,” Alice said again. “You look…I don’t even know what to say.”
“Is that good or bad?” Olivia asked.
“Literally how could that be anything but good?” Alice asked, exasperated.
“Ana, you have outdone yourself,” Hana said. Ana nodded modestly.
“Tu es très belle,” Kiara said. “Magnifique.”
“Olivia, you look…well, like a queen,” Penelope said.
“Obviously,” Olivia said. “Thank you,” she said, softening her tone a little as she turned to look at Penelope.
“I’ve never seen a more beautiful dress,” Savannah said. “Oh, sorry, Alice, I didn’t mean—“
“No, no,” Alice waved off her apology. “It’s fine. This dress is a work of art.”
“Now, as I said, the lace will create an overlay,” Ana said as she stepped closer to Olivia and held the lace up to the dress. She continued talking as Alice checked her phone to find a text from Bastien.
How are you feeling?
So far so good, no nausea at the moment. Olivia’s dress is incredible AND I’m playing nice with Savannah
Thank you for being nice to her, Gray. I know she’s not your favorite, but it means a lot to me
I’d do anything for you
Hey, I was thinking I’d cook dinner for us tonight so we could spend some time alone—anything special you want?
Other than you? I’m open to anything
When Alice opened the door to their quarters, she was greeted with a wave of warm, comforting aromas.
“Hey, you,” Bastien called out from the kitchen as she dropped her bag by the door and walked over to join him.
“Hey, yourself,” she said as she gave him a kiss. “This smells amazing, I’m starving.”
“Do you want me to get you something to snack on while I finish up?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just hungry after running around all day doing wedding stuff. After we left the boutique, Hana and I went with Olivia to help finalize flower arrangements and pick out bridesmaid dresses.”
“Why didn’t you eat any of the snacks I sent with you?”
“Those are nausea snacks!”
“Gray, it’s not like we have a finite amount of them—we can get as many as you need. I want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
“Okay, okay,” Alice said. “I hear you.”
“So, how was it today?”
“Tiring, but good,” Alice said as she sat up on some free space on the kitchen counter. “Olivia looked beautiful in her dress and she asked me to be her maid of honor.”
“Hey, that’s exciting,” Bastien said. “Although, I can’t say I’m surprised she picked you.”
“I’m really touched she picked me,” Alice said. “Who knew calling her a cunt so many times would lead to friendship?”
“Maybe don’t mention that part in your toast,” Bastien said as he cracked open the oven to check the food.
“What’re you making?”
“Roasted chicken with butternut squash, rice, and pan seared vegetables,” he said. “Should be done in another ten minutes or so.”
“Ten whole minutes?” Alice asked. She reached over and tugged on her shirt, pulling her to him. He smiled as he stood between her knees before he kissed her gently.
“If you distract me, I can’t promise the food will be edible,” he warned her.
“Fine,” she said, sighing heavily as she let him go. “Hey, I was wondering—won’t the new head of the royal guard need this place?”
“Possibly, it depends on who I pick,” Bastien said as he returned to the stove and checked the rice.
“Have you narrowed it down?”
“Yeah, I’m toying between Caleb and Ian,” Bastien said. “I trust them the most, but…”
“Well, I’m leaning towards Ian based on performance; Caleb’s excellent, but Ian is just a little better. But Ian’s married and his wife just had a baby last year…I don’t know if I can justify putting him at the head of the guard.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone getting daddy tracked instead of mommy tracked,” Alice said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Why should that matter?”
“Because I got to thinking about Jackson,” Bastien admitted. “If it weren’t for this job, Drake and Savannah wouldn’t have had to grow up without a dad. Really, without a mom for most of the time either since Bianca bailed and left them here after Jackson died. I don’t know if I can bring myself to put Ian’s daughter in that same position.”
“Dorian, I love that you’re taking everything into consideration and I also know how hard it was for you to lose Jackson,” Alice said gently. “But…Ian knew what this job entailed when he signed up for it, just like Jackson did. Just like you did. Right now you’re picking who is going to replace you as the head of the royal guard, and that’s not something you want to compromise on.”
“I know, you’re right,” Bastien said with a sigh as he turned off the stove and pulled the food out of the oven. “It’s just hard to bring myself to do it when I saw what Drake and Savannah went through.”
“I’m not trying to say what they went through with losing their dad was easy, but they’re doing okay,” Alice said as Bastien washed his hands and started plating their food. “Drake has all of us, Liam especially, and while he didn’t seem like he was doing great for a bit there, he’s been doing a lot better since he cut back on drinking. And Savannah, while I still have some…opinions…about her and Bertrand, she’s a really good mom. And she’s been willing to go to counseling with Bertrand. They might have had to lose their dad early, but they’re not alone—they’ve had you and everyone else who cares about them. If something happens to Ian, god forbid, his daughter won’t be alone either,” Alice said as she put her hand on her stomach. “I promise.”
Bastien walked over and put his hand over hers. “I just get so stressed out when I think about losing anyone.”
“I know, but picking your replacement is necessary. You can’t keep doing everything yourself.”
Bastien raised an eyebrow at her. “This feels like a pot calling the kettle black kind of situation.”
Alice laughed. “Fair enough, it’s something we both need to work on. But we can hold each other accountable.”
Bastien frowned. “Speaking of accountability…not to bring down the mood here, but I have some news for you.”
“This sounds ominous.”
“I hate bringing up this situation with you, but I know you’d want to know,” Bastien said as he set the plates on the table and came back to offer Alice his hand to help her off the counter. “I received word today that Tariq took a plea deal instead of opting to go to trial. The evidence was strong enough that his lawyer didn’t think he should risk it, and Tariq agreed. Or at least his father did.”
“What kind of a deal?” Alice asked as they sat at the table.
“Five years in prison, which could be reduced to three and a half with good behavior, and he’ll be stripped of his title and banned from all court functions.”
“That seems…I don’t know. Light for a repeat offender.”
“I don’t disagree,” Bastien said. “Unfortunately though, the statute of limitations ran out from when he assaulted Olivia, so your case against him had to be considered alone.”
“I guess it’s at least comforting to know that he’s banned from all future court functions,” Alice said. “Plus, for someone so obsessed with wealth and status, having his title stripped from him is at least something. But…Liam couldn’t do any more?”
“Well, he did do something. A couple things in fact,” Bastien said as they started eating. “First, he got the judge to throw out the suit Tariq’s father filed against me.”
“Injuries sustained during his arrest,” Bastien said lightly.
“What kind of injuries?”
“I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing you want to hear about while we’re eating,” Bastien said.
“Didn’t you already break his hand after he attacked me?”
“That didn’t feel like enough.”
Alice nodded, considering this. “You said Liam did something else?”
“This is the part I think you might like,” Bastien said. “Instead of Tariq going to some white collar prison, he’s going to be held elsewhere.”
“Lythikos. It’s some sort of early wedding present from Liam to Olivia.”
“Those two are a little scary together,” Alice said as she took a bite of her food.
Alice sighed. “Well, I guess that’s it then. It feels so anticlimactic, but it’s not like I want it drawn out any longer either. I know he’s banned from court, but what are the odds I’ll have to see him again?”
“Pretty much nonexistent. He’s going on every high security watch list and the royal guard will have at least a general idea of where he is at all times once he’s released from Lythikos, for both Olivia’s safety as well as yours.”
“If he’s released from Lythikos,” Alice said.
“I had the same thought.”
Alice put down her fork and reached across the table to take his hand. “Thank you for telling me.”
“How are you feeling after hearing all that?”
“I’m okay,” Alice said. “He’s not someone I like thinking about, but it feels…I don’t know, almost good to have some kind of closure about the situation. I’ve spent too much time thinking about him and I’m ready to move forward.”
Bastien lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Can I do anything for you?”
“You already do everything for me,” Alice said, smiling at him.
A few days later, Alice joined Olivia, Liam, Drake, Hana, and Maxwell at a cake tasting.
“This might be the single best part of wedding prep,” Maxwell said, rubbing his hands together in gleeful anticipation.
“And you’re sure you wanted us all here?” Drake asked. “This seems like a…I don’t know, bride and groom solo thing.”
“As our wedding party, we wanted your opinions,” Liam said. “Plus, we thought it could be a fun, bonding type of thing.”
“How much more bonded do we need to be?” Olivia asked drily.
“Surgically,” Alice said as two bakery attendants brought out a massive tray of cake samples, followed closely behind by the head baker.
“Oh. My. God,” Maxwell said, his eyes widening at the sight of the cake. “Did I die? Am I in heaven right now?”
“King Liam, Duchess Olivia, we’re so honored for the opportunity to create your wedding cake for you,” the head baker said. “We’ve brought a dozen samples for you to try, but if there’s another cake or frosting flavor you’d like to try, or another combination you’d be interested in, please let us know.”
“Thank you,” Liam said. “This looks incredible and I’m sure we’re going to find something we love here.”
The head baker smiled and bowed, and all three employees headed into the back to give them some privacy.
“So how should we do this?” Hana asked. Alice glanced over at Maxwell and saw his fork was already in a dark, decadent chocolate slice.
“Liv?” Liam asked.
“Let’s everyone try a different one and if it’s good, share it around,” Olivia said as she reached for a red velvet the shade of fresh blood.
“Oh my god, Alice, you have to try this,” Maxwell said, his full fork already in front of her face before she’d even picked up a slice of cake. She obediently opened her mouth and her palate was overwhelmed with the overwhelming decadence of the chocolate.
“Holy crap, that’s good,” Alice said. “It’s what I imagined the chocolate cake from Matilda to taste like.”
“What’s Matilda?” Olivia asked.
“The children’s book by Roald Dahl? About the little girl who’s a genius and can make objects move with her mind?”
Olivia stared blankly at her. “Never heard of it.”
“I’m with you, Ayers,” Drake said as he took a forkful of the chocolate cake. Alice clinked her fork against his.”
“Is it an American book?” Liam asked.
“British, but I don’t know many kids in America who haven’t heard of Roald Dahl. He wrote James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, too.”
“I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Maxwell said. “Bertrand didn’t like it though, he said the labor practices with the Oompa Loompas were abhorrent and he thought it was grossly irresponsible to invite children into a chocolate factory without any sort of protective gear for hygiene.”
“I…you know, what, he’s not wrong,” Alice said.
“My parents didn’t really let me read many kids’ books,” Hana said. “Not much practical use in the courtly arts.”
“I didn’t read them either, but my parents are dead,” Olivia said with a shrug.
“Jesus, I didn’t think children’s books were going to bring down the room,” Alice said. “I feel like I’m going to have to start a book club focused on children’s literature to help you all reclaim your youth or something.”
“That actually sounds like a really fun idea,” Hana said as she took a bite of a raspberry cake with champagne icing. “Oh wow, this one is amazing.”
Maxwell quickly claimed a bite. “I feel like I’m going to go into a diabetic coma, but it’s completely worth it.”
Liam took a bite as well and nodded before offering it to Olivia. “This one might be my favorite so far.”
“You’ve only tried three,” Drake pointed out.
“And each one is better than the last,” Liam said as he tried a bit of Olivia’s red velvet. “Okay, this one is my new-new favorite.”
Together, the group tried each of the flavors and when they’d sampled them all, Alice leaned back in her chair, deeply regretting how all of the sugar was causing her stomach to roll.
“I never thought this was possible, but I think I had too much cake,” Maxwell groaned.
“Alright, I think it’s decision time,” Hana said. “Which one do you want?”
“What do you think, Liv?” Liam asked.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “The red velvet was really good, but so was the raspberry champagne one you liked. Then the chocolate one was also really good…there’s too many to choose from.”
“Get the one you like! I want you to be happy,” Liam said.
“This isn’t just my wedding, it’s our wedding,” Olivia reminded him.
“Well, I’m happy when you’re happy,” Liam said.
“Why not do a groom’s cake?” Alice asked.
“A what? Is this an American thing?” Olivia asked.
“I don’t think it’s exclusive to America, but I don’t know,” Alice said with a shrug. “But a groom’s cake is basically just an excuse to have an extra cake. You have your main cake, the beautiful one that you cut together, and then you have a bonus cake that’s kind of a ‘just for fun’ cake. For example, a couple years ago, Frankie and I went to a wedding where the groom’s cake had a picture of his dog on it.”
“A dog?” Olivia asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow at her.
“Don’t get hung up on the dog part—it can be decorated however, it’s just a way to show some personality and have some fun.”
Olivia considered this for a minute. “Okay, I think I know what we should do.” She turned to Liam. “My vote is to have our main cake be the raspberry champagne, and then we should do another smaller cake—a bride’s cake, I guess—with the red velvet and the icing from the chocolate one.”
“Are you sure?” Liam asked. “We can switch those if you want.”
“I’m sure,” Olivia said as she took his hand and squeezed it.
“Great,” Hana said as she made a note of it. “I’ll talk to the bakers and get that set up and then we should probably get going before Drake has to carry Maxwell out of here due to his sugar coma.”
“I don’t think I’m in a position to carry anyone,” Drake said as he put his hand on his stomach. “Those cakes are rich.”
“Don’t worry, the car is outside so we don’t have far to go,” Liam said as he stood and offered his hand to Olivia.
“I’ll catch up with you in a minute, I’m just going to use the restroom,” Alice said.
Hana left to find the bakers and everyone else went outside as Alice tried not to run to the bathroom. Once inside, she locked the door and threw up as quietly as she could. When she was done, she flushed the toilet and washed her hands before rinsing out her mouth. Then she pulled out her phone and texted Bastien.
Note to self: the baby does not currently enjoy copious amounts of overly decadent cake
Bastien’s reply was immediate. Oh no! Are you okay?
Yeah, I made it to the bathroom in time without seeming suspicious and I’m about to eat as much crystallized ginger as I can handle. How are things on your end?
Another security meeting. But, good news, I officially put in a recommendation for Liam to hire Ian as my replacement so after the wedding, I’ll officially end my consulting role so I can focus on you and Valtoria
Yay! I think that’s a great choice. Meet you back in our room when you’re done?
Absolutely. Try and lie down for a bit if you can once you get back
Alice put her phone away and tried to freshen up in the mirror so she wouldn’t look like she’d just thrown up two pounds of cake. She popped a chunk of crystallized ginger in her mouth and chewed slowly, relaxing a little at the comforting taste.
When she opened the door, she was surprised to find Liam still in the shop.
“Forget something?” Alice asked.
“More like I had an idea,” Liam said. “I liked your story about the groom’s cake, so I came back to ask them to make Olivia’s bride’s cake in the shape of Lythikos.”
“She’ll love that,” Alice said.
“Are you okay?” Liam asked. “You seem…I don’t know, a little off maybe.”
“I’m just tired,” Alice said. “Gladys sent over a bunch of things from Valtoria to help me start to get up to speed and I guess Bastien and I stayed up too late reviewing them last night.”
“Okay,” Liam said, looking relieved. “And don’t worry too much about Valtoria just yet—you’re doing a lot right now and I don’t want you to overextend yourself.”
Alice smiled. “You sound like Bastien.”
“I always knew he was smart,” Liam said with a grin. “Hey, do you want to bring him some cake?”
Alice’s stomach rolled at the mention of cake, but she did her best to ignore it. “That’s a great idea.”
Alice ordered a slice of the hazelnut mocha cake for Bastien and after she had it in hand, she and Liam walked out to the waiting limo where Maxwell was stretched out on the seat.
“For the last time, Maxwell, you can’t put your head on my lap,” Drake said. “You should’ve paced yourself better.
“I regret nothing,” Maxwell said. A concerning wave of nausea passed over his face. “I regret very little,” he amended.
“Here,” Alice said as she moved to sit by him and pulled the ginger out of her purse. “I knew at least one of us would overdo it, so this should help with your stomach. And you can use me as a pillow if you really need to.”
“This is why you’re my favorite sister,” Maxwell said as he gratefully accepted the ginger and put her head in his lap.
“I don’t exactly have any competition,” Alice pointed out.
“I hardly see how that’s relevant,” Maxwell said.
When they returned to the palace, Alice headed for her room and was surprised to see Savannah waiting outside the door.
“Hey, Savannah,” Alice said. “Are you looking for Bastien?”
“Hey, Alice,” Savannah said. “Actually…um, I was looking for you.”
“Me?” Alice asked.
“Yes,” Savannah said. “I, um…wanted to talk to you about Bertrand.”
“Oh…okay. Come in,” Alice said as she unlocked the door and ushered Savannah inside. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, that’s okay,” Savannah said. “Thank you though.”
Alice motioned for Savannah to sit at the table as she put Bastien’s cake in the fridge before sitting down with her. “So, you wanted to talk to me about Bertrand?”
“Yes,” Savannah said. “You know him better than almost anyone and he trusts you. He also told me that you recommended we see the couples counselor, and it feels like that’s going well.”
“That’s good,” Alice said, still not entirely sure where this was going.”
“Things are getting a lot better between us, but…I don’t know, we’re not there yet,” Savannah said. “I know Bertrand cares about me, but it’s like there’s some kind of barrier between us. I just wish I knew what to say to him.”
“Have you brought this up in therapy?” Alice asked. “Having that third party to mediate and help you piece together your thoughts can be helpful.”
“Yes and no,” Savannah said, biting her lip. “He keeps saying he doesn’t want me to feel obligated to be with him just because of Bartie, but I do want to be with him. I love him. I just…it feels like he’s still mad at me and I don’t know if he’s ever going to get over that.”
“This is all still new to him and he’s processing a lot,” Alice said, choosing her words carefully. “You had your entire pregnancy and the first months of Bartie’s life to think about the situation and how you feel about it—Bertrand just learned about everything pretty recently.”
“I know,” Savannah said, looking guilty. “But I can’t undo what I did.”
“No, but sometimes there are…consequences,” Alice said hesitantly. “But for what it’s worth,” she added quickly, “I don’t think Bertrand wants to be angry forever. Have you told him that you want to be with him?”
“Not…exactly in those words,” Savannah admitted.
“Oh my god,” Alice said as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “I swear, the two of you have the worst communication. Okay, I’m just going to be blunt with you—if you want to be with Bertrand, you need to just tell it to him. Say it as plainly as possible, don’t assume he knows what you’re going to say, just lay it all out there and explain it like he’s five.”
“But…what if he doesn’t feel the same way?” Savannah asked.
“Then at least you’ll know where each of you stand and you can move forward with figuring out how to best co-parent Bartie,” Alice said.
“I’m just scared,” Savannah said. “How did a glamorous noble like him ever see anything in me? How could he ever want to be with me?”
“Because it’s not about all of the other stuff,” Alice said. “Bastien and I have been really fortunate to benefit from Liam and Liv’s generosity, but that’s all just a bonus. All I care about is getting to be with Bastien. I’d go back to bartending and live in the shittiest apartment with him as long as I got to come home to him.”
“But being a duke is so important to Bertrand,” Savannah said. “He’s so concerned with the reputation of House Beaumont and living up to his father’s legacy.”
“Not as important as the people he cares about,” Alice said. “After…after I was attacked, Bertrand would’ve blown off the rest of the social season if I’d wanted to. Yeah, the man loves his etiquette, but not as much as he loves the people in his life.”
Savannah took a deep breath. “So…I should just tell him how I feel?”
“Yes, as plainly as possible.”
Savannah nodded. “Okay. I can do that.” She stood up and Alice did, too. Savannah then surprised Alice by pulling her into a tight hug. “Thank you for talking with me.”
“Oh! Um, you’re welcome,” Alice said, hugging her back. She walked her to the door and when Alice opened it, she was surprised to see Bastien standing on the other side, holding his key in his hand.
“Oh! Hey Bastien!” Savannah said brightly.
“Hi Savannah,” Bastien said. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“I just had to talk to Alice about something. I’ll see you both later. Thanks again, Alice.”
“No problem,” Alice said. Savannah left and Bastien turned to Alice.
“So…I feel like I missed something.”
“She came by to talk to me about Bertrand,” Alice said, moving aside to let him into the room. “She was waiting for me when I got back from the cake tasting. By the way, there’s a slice of cake in the fridge for you.”
“Thanks,” Bastien leaned in to kiss her but Alice stopped him.
“You’re going to want to wait until I brush my teeth,” Alice said. “I didn’t get a chance because of Savannah.”
Bastien kissed her cheek instead. “So she wanted to talk about Bertrand?”
“Yes,” Alice said as she headed for the bathroom, motioning for him to follow her. “As usual, the two of them have the shittiest communication skills, even with the help of a therapist, so she wanted some advice.”
“What did you say?” Bastien asked, concerned.
“Don’t worry, I was helpful,” Alice said as she put toothpaste on her toothbrush. “I told her to be honest with Bertrand about how she feels. Neither one of them thinks the other actually wants to be with the other, but they both want the same thing.”
Bastien smiled at her as she started to brush her teeth.
“What?” Alice asked around her toothbrush.
“Thank you for doing that, that was really nice of you to talk with Savannah like that.”
“I did it for Bertrand,” Alice said, although it came out sounding more like “I di ih foh Bertrah.”
“You know, I think you’re starting to like her,” Bastien said. Alice spit into the sink.
“Tolerating isn’t exactly the same thing as liking her.”
“I’m still pissed at her for lying to Bertrand and hiding Bartie from him,” Alice said, pointing her toothbrush at Bastien before she resumed brushing her teeth. “That’s super fucked up and I hated seeing what it did to Bertrand.”
“I don’t disagree with you,” Bastien said as he leaned against the bathroom counter. “But if you really hated her, you wouldn’t go through all this effort to encourage Bertrand to go to counseling with her or to get them to actually talk to each other.”
“Fine, I don’t hate her. I just find her frustrating. Can we talk about something else, please?”
“Yes,” Bastien said. “How are you feeling?”
Alice spit into the sink again and rinsed her toothbrush. “Better than before, the ginger helped. Do we have anywhere we have to be tonight?”
“Nope,” Bastien said as he reached for her waist and guided her over to him so he could wrap his arms around her.