Summary: They’ve reached the wedding reception, but someone has one more fight left in them…
Notes: I used some of PB’s original dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.
CW: pregnancy, violence, character death
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, Part 54, Part 55, Part 56, Part 57
At the reception, Alice and Bastien stood off to the side with their friends as Liam and Olivia entered to raucous applause from the guests, the latter wearing a sleek and elegant white reception dress.
“I didn’t know she was changing for the reception, but I guess it makes sense,” Alice said as she leaned over to Hana.
“It would’ve been hard to dance with that train,” Hana agreed. “I think this one turned out well, although I had to talk Olivia out of making everything red.”
“I should’ve figured it was one of your designs,” Alice said. “How did you convince her to forgo the red?”
“I pointed out that she’d match both us and the tablecloths too closely.”
The room was awash in Nevrakis red detailed with elegant gold details that gave Alice the vague feeling of being in a heart. Which, she supposed, wasn’t the worst thing considering it was a wedding.
“I’m pretty sure I have the most talented girlfriend on the planet,” Rashida said as she put an arm around Hana’s waist and kissed her cheek.
“Not to mention ass kicking,” Alice said.
“That’s not a surprise to me, I’ve always known Hana is formidable,” Rashida said as Liam and Olivia joined them.
“Congratulations!” Alice said.
“The ceremony was beautiful,” Rashida said. “Olivia, you make a stunning bride.”
“I agree,” Liam said as he put an arm around Olivia and kissed her cheek.
“Thank you,” Olivia said. “And thank you for the dress, Hana—I dare say this is Lythikos quality.”
“Quote that on whatever the fashion designer equivalent of a book jacket is, you’ll never get a better compliment from her,” Alice said.
“It’s true,” Bastien agreed.
They made their way over to be seated for dinner. Liam and Olivia had broken with tradition and opted for a sweetheart table, so Alice and Bastien were seated with their friends, with the addition of Leo. The food was served and the wine from Kiara’s family vineyard was poured as everyone relaxed into easy conversation.
“So, now that all of the royal wedding stuff is over, what’re you going to do now?” Leo asked Bastien.
“Well, once Alice and I get a few things sorted in Valtoria, we were planning on taking a trip,” Bastien said.
“Kind of a belated honeymoon,” Alice added.
“Oh, that’s great, where are you going?” Rashida asked.
“I have guidebooks if you want them,” Bertrand offered as he held Bartie on his lap, who was busy collecting silverware in his chubby fists.
“We were thinking of doing a kind of literary road trip through Europe,” Alice said. “Bastien found this great book that maps out all kinds of stops so you can visit landmarks that were significant to authors and their stories. Plus, since our first real date was at a bookstore in Paris, it just felt like it fit.”
“That’s very fitting for the two of you,” Hana said.
“A bookstore, man? Really?” Leo asked Bastien, who shrugged.
“It worked, she married me.”
“May I have your attention please?” Liam called as he stood up, holding his wine glass. “I’d like to propose a toast to my beautiful wife, Olivia.” They smiled at each other. “Olivia and I have known each other since we were children. Honestly, I don’t remember my life without her and, what’s more, I wouldn’t want to. She is smart, beautiful, funny, sharp—and I’m not just talking about her knives.” The crowd laughed quietly as Liam paused before continuing. “Olivia is everything I could have hoped for in a partner, not only as my wife but as a leader of Cordonia. She pushes me to be better, she inspires me, and I would not be half the man I am without her. You, my love, are one-of-a-kind, and thank goodness for that, because I don’t think the world could handle two of you.”
Liam held out his hand to Olivia and she took it. “It was a long road that brought me to you and I’m so grateful to be here with you now. I’m yours, as long as you’ll have me.”
Olivia smiled at him. “I’ve loved you since I was six years old. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m going to hold you to that. With that said…” Liam held up his wine glass. “To Olivia, my friend, my queen, and my love.”
The crowd cheered and clinked glasses with each other as Bastien leaned over and kissed Alice softly. A slow, romantic song began to play as Liam led Olivia to the dance floor and Alice took Bastien’s hand in hers.
“What are you thinking about?” Bastien asked.
“I was thinking about how lucky I am to be sitting here with you,” she said. “Not just after what happened today, but just…everything. We’ve been through a lot to get here,” she said as she turned his hand so she could trace along his tattooed wedding band with the tip of her finger.
“I’m the lucky one,” Bastien said as he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers. “You are everything to me and I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“Fortunately, neither of us will have to find out,” Alice said as the song ended and Liam and Olivia invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. Bastien stood up.
“I believe I owe you a dance,” he said.
“Just a dance?”
“Let’s start there.”
After some dancing and cake cutting, Savannah and Bertrand took Bartie to put him down to bed and leave him with a babysitter as the music cued up again.
“Ready for another dance?” Bastien asked.
“Yes, I just need to run to the restroom first,” Alice said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Alice made her way out of the ballroom and into a hallway to the restroom. When she exited back into the hall, she nearly ran into Liam’s majordomo, Maureen.
“Oh, sorry!” Alice exclaimed.
“That’s quite alright,” Maureen said. “As it happens, I was looking for you.”
“For me? Why?”
“The queen requested to speak with you privately, if you would allow me to escort you.”
“Oh…sure,” Alice said as she and Maureen started down the hall together. “Did Olivia say what she wanted?”
“No,” Maureen said.
The walked together in a somewhat awkward silence.
“The wedding today was really amazing,” Alice said. “All of your hard work really paid off.”
“Oh,” Maureen said, caught off guard. “Thank you for saying so. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. The nobles are usually too busy to think of anyone other than themselves on a night like tonight.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience with nobles,” Alice said. “Working in the service industry, you can really tell what people are like based on how they treat the people who serve them.”
“Yes,” Maureen agreed. “You can.”
Maureen led Alice outside to the hedge maze where Olivia was waiting for her.
“What’s this about, Jon Snow?” Olivia asked. “This couldn’t wait until after the wedding?”
“What are you talking about?” Alice asked. “Maureen said you wanted to speak with me.”
Alice saw the connection click in Liv’s eyes but before she could do anything, black hoods were pulled over Alice and Olivia’s heads as strong hands restrained them. Alice heard a grunt before a voice ordered someone to restrain Olivia’s legs.
“Anton’s looking forward to seeing you,” Maureen said. “Both of you.”
When Alice’s hood was finally removed, she looked around to see she was tied to a chair in an ancient-looking dungeon with stone floors and torches lining the walls. To her right was Olivia, tied to her own chair.
“Liv, you okay?”
“I’m pissed, but I’m fine,” Olivia snarled, her eyes never leaving Anton, who stood just inside the door to their cell, dressed in a dignified suit.
“My two favorite ladies,” Anton said. “How lovely to see you again.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Alice snapped, pulling against her restraints, but she found her wrists and legs didn’t budge.
“Is that a nice thing to say to your old friend?” Anton asked. “By the way, it’s no use struggling—even if you escape those ropes, my guards will have you back here in mere moments.”
“What is this, you little weasel?” Olivia demanded.
“Don’t you see?” Anton asked, amused. “It’s me, my former client, and my darling wife. It’s quite the reunion.”
“I’m not your wife,” Olivia said.
“Yes, I heard that you had our marriage annulled. No matter, you’ll be a widow soon enough and we can remedy the situation,” Anton said.
“What makes you think I’d agree to that?” Olivia asked.
“Because you’ll cooperate, or you’ll die here with Alice,” Anton snapped.
“The moment Liam realizes we’re gone, he’s going to find us and destroy you with the royal guard,” Alice said.
Anton laughed. “Oh, Alice, you’re so naive. Honestly, I expected a little more savvy from you. I thought I taught you a thing or two.”
“Speaking of lessons, how’s that broken hand my husband gave you?” Alice asked. Anton narrowed his eyes at her, his expression hardening.
“You’re right that Liam and your little bodyguard will come for you, I’ll give you that. The only trouble is, they’ll be playing right into my hands.”
A man in an assassin’s mask walked through the cell door. “Sir, preparations are underway,” he said. “When Liam comes for them…we’ll be ready.”
Christ, it’s as if he’s trying to sound like a Bond villain, Alice thought.
“Thank you, Claudius,” Anton said. “And what about Liam’s impressionable servant?”
“Maureen is dead, just as you ordered,” Claudius said.
“I know that voice,” Olivia said. “You were at the palace the night of the first assassination attempt.”
“You shot my husband,” Alice said, fury flaming inside her.
“My aim will be better this time,” Claudius promised.
“Tonight, we’ll finally finish what we started at the Homecoming Ball,” Anton said.
“So what, you’re just going to kill me?” Alice asked, anger pushing forward a bravado she didn’t feel.
“Eventually, yes,” Anton said. “We’ve sent word to King Liam that we’re holding you all here, and that he’s to come alone if he ever hopes to see either of you alive again. Liam would never let anyone die because of him, least of all you or Olivia. He’ll arrive shortly to trade his life for yours.”
“Liam’s not that stupid,” Olivia said.
“That’s why I brought a spare, my darling,” Anton said, pointing at Alice. “He has one hour before I kill her to show I mean business. He’ll do as I say because he’s too ‘noble and ‘heroic’ to let you die for him, and that will be his undoing.” Anton leaned down, bringing his face level with Alice’s. “I’m going to enjoy this.”
Alice spit in his face. Anton recoiled, wiping the spit from his eyes before he backhanded her across the face. Pain exploded across her cheek but she gritted her teeth to keep from crying out. You have to be careful, she reminded herself. The next hit could be a punch to the gut.
“God, you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” Anton said, shaking out his hand. “Well, I guess we’ll know who’s right by the end of the night, won’t we?”
“He’ll come running and when he does, we’ll kill him,” Claudius said. “Then we’ll kill you, and Anton will claim the Nevrakis shrew as his queen.”
“Cordonia will never submit to a king who slaughtered his way to the crown,” Olivia said, her voice even and dangerous.
“The fact that you say that makes me more of a Nevrakis than you’ll ever be,” Anton said. “Luther Nevrakis’s legacy was built on just that very act.”
“And yet it was Kenna Rys who ultimately sat on the throne of the Five Kingdoms,” Alice said.
“You’re not a Nevrakis and you never will be,” Olivia snarled at him.
“Nonsense,” Anton said, ignoring Alice. “My legacy will be bringing his vision to fruition under my rule.”
“You’ll never be king and your only legacy is one of cowardice,” Olivia said.
“Oh, come now, Olivia, don’t you want to be a part of the restoration of House Nevrakis?”
“I’ve done more for House Nevrakis than you could ever hope to achieve,” Olivia said. “Just because this building is an old Nevrakis stronghold doesn’t mean you have any claim to my family.”
“I’m not surprised you recognize this place,” Anton said. “It’s quite special to me because it’s the very place where your parents trained me.”
“My parents were traitors,” Olivia said.
“Their blood runs in your veins, the same way it will in our children’s,” Anton said. “It was within these very walls that I first heard your father say, ‘if you can breathe, you can stand, and if you stand, you can fight.’”
“I will cut out your tongue before I hear you utter those words again,” Olivia said.
“You know, I had hoped you would cooperate with me, but now I think it might be more fun to break you in like a wild horse,” Anton said. “Olivia, this is what your parents wanted for you. For us to rule Cordonia, together, with the iron might that is your birthright.”
“I am not my parents,” Olivia said. “You’re a fool if you think I’d ever betray Liam or Alice.”
“If that’s true, then the last drop of real Nevrakis blood died with your parents. A shame,” Anton said.
“And the last shred of their rebellion will die with you,” Olivia said. Anton bent down in front of her, bringing his face close to hers.
“You are going to watch as I destroy everything you have worked so hard to build,” Anton said.
Olivia regarded him for a moment before she reared back, ramming her forehead against Anton’s nose. His face erupted in a gush of blood.
“Ow, fuck!” he screamed, stumbling back against the wall. He held his nose and straightened up, regaining his composure. “That was as idiotic as it was pointless.”
“I don’t know, I thought it was pretty satisfying,” Olivia said.
Anton leaned closer, grabbing her chin with bloody fingers. “You’ll pay for that.”
“Funny, I was going to say the same thing.”
A guard appeared in the doorway and gestured to Anton. Anton let go of Olivia and stood up. “Claudius, double-check their restraints,” he said before he stepped out with the guard for a brief, whispered conversation. “Ladies, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see to the final arrangements. My guards will fetch you once it’s finally time to rid Cordonia of its weak and pathetic king.”
Claudius slammed the door behind them before the left and Alice exhaled slowly, trying to get her bearings.
“Well, this isn’t exactly how I expected the evening to end,” Olivia said.
“Liv, I need to tell you something,” Alice said. “I’m not saying this because I’m giving up or because I’m not going to fight like hell, but I just…I need someone to know. For Bastien’s sake, just in case things…don’t end up the way we want them to.”
“What? You are?” Olivia asked, turning to look at her. Alice nodded, noticing the momentary flicker of sadness in her eyes.
“Eight weeks. I haven’t even told Frankie yet, Bastien and I are the only ones who know. Well, and my doctor.”
“When did you find out?”
“The day Bastien and I got married.”
“You know, if you wanted a shotgun wedding, I could’ve provided an actual shotgun for you,” Olivia said, all traces of the momentary sadness gone. Alice laughed, the sound strange and unsettling in their cell.
“We were already getting married, this was just a…let’s call it a surprise wedding present.”
“Or a surprise guest,” Olivia said.
“I just…I don’t want Bastien to lose both of us,” Alice said. “He’s already lost too many people and I can’t be a part of that number. But if he does…I needed someone to know.”
“I understand,” Olivia said. “But you and I are both going to walk out of here in tact.”
“I know we are,” Alice said. “So how do we get out of here?”
“Well, they found my first knife and my backup knife when they captured me,” Olivia said.
“So that’s two, what about the rest?”
“You know me so well. However, I can’t reach the knife like this so you’ll have to be the one to grab it.”
“Just tell me what to do,” Alice said.
Under Olivia’s instructions, Alice scooted her chair until she and Olivia were back to back. The wooden legs gave a loud screech as they moved across the stone and they paused for a moment, listening. When it didn’t seem like anyone was coming, the continued.
“The knife’s just above where my wrists are tied. And please try not to stab me,” Olivia said.
Alice stretched her bound hands as far as they would go before her fingers brushed against a thin blade concealed in the folds at the back of Olivia’s dress. Alice pulled the hidden knife free and tried to aim for the rope binding her hands by feel alone. Slowly but surely, Alice cut through the ropes.
“There!” Olivia exclaimed, pulling her hands free as Alice dropped the knife to the floor. She rubbed her wrists briefly before she quickly retrieved the knife and cut the ropes binding her legs, freeing Alice as soon as she was done.
“What now?” Alice asked.
“Those idiots didn’t bother locking this cell, so that’s one step done,” Olivia said as she pulled open the door. Alice followed her over to the dungeon’s door at the top of a short flight of stairs, but it was locked.
“Looks like they remembered that one,” Alice said. “Okay, there has to be something here we can use. Anton said this was an old Nevrakis stronghold…are you familiar with this one?”
“It’s not a stronghold I recognize, but if Anton was telling the truth, any Nevrakis estate is bound to be full of secret passages,” Olivia said.
“Yes, I remember your house.”
“The entrance is sure to be carefully hidden. Check for false flagstones, moveable torches, or—“
“Weird metal panels on the wall?” Alice asked as she leaned in to examine a panel that matched the color of the stone wall. She touched it and it slid back to reveal four stone buttons, each one inscribed with a symbol: a shield, a bow, a sword, and a helmet.
“Yes, exactly,” Olivia said. “This has to be the key to a secret passage.”
“So which one opens it?”
“Well, we obviously need to know the right symbol, and knowing my family, the wrong ones are probably traps.”
“Cool, I’ve always wanted to be in an Indiana Jones movie,” Alice said, rolling her eyes as Olivia leaned in to inspect the symbols, concentration knotting her features.
“I think I’ve seen these before,” Olivia said. “My grandmother used to give me riddles with these symbols when I was a child.”
“My grandmother just baked me cookies, but to each their own, I guess.”
“There was a saying she always drilled me on…’The best offense requires a personal touch.’”
“I guess stabbing someone would be pretty personal,” Alice said.
“My thoughts exactly,” Olivia said. “I’m impressed, you’re thinking like a Nevrakis.”
“Let’s hope we’re right,” Alice said, bracing herself as Olivia pushed the button with the sword on it. The ground below them began to rumble before a hidden doorway in the wall beside the metal panel slid open. “Oh, thank god.”
Olivia led the way through the secret passage and up an old staircase that creaked and groaned beneath their feet with each step. When they neared the top, Olivia peered out of a window into the night.
“Well, it’s official, we’re in the middle of nowhere, although that’s to be expected,” Olivia said. “For all his idiocy, Anton isn’t foolish enough to hide us in the middle of the capital.”
“He wanted a home field advantage over Liam,” Alice said.
“Exactly. Let’s keep going.”
“Wait,” Alice said as Olivia reached a door. “We don’t know what we’re walking into.”
“Which is why we’re going to be careful,” Olivia said. “We don’t know when Anton or his goons are going to be back to check on us, so we need to keep moving.”
Alice nodded and followed Olivia up the last few stairs and into a deserted, dusty sitting room.
“If I had to guess, I’d say Anton must have most of his forces preparing for the ambush,” Olivia whispered.
“Bad new for Liam, but good news for us, I guess,” Alice whispered back. “If the next room is clear, we can head toward the front entrance.”
Olivia shook her head. “There has to be an armory here. Anton’s people have guns, but there has to be something in there that can help us.”
“Okay, fine, let’s go,” Alice said. “Do you have any idea where it would be?”
“A lot of these strongholds have similar layouts, so…not exactly, but maybe?”
“Cool, as long as we have strong sense of direction.”
Alice carefully followed Olivia through the stronghold and after a few wrong turns, they managed to find the armory.
“Is it me or does this place look exactly like your armory at Lythikos?” Alice asked.
“It’s not just you,” Olivia said. “I guess Anton will do anything to set himself up as my parents’ true heir.”
“Yeah, but replicating parts of your house is a whole new kind of creepy…but at least we can use his obsession to get some payback. Not that I know how to use any of this stuff.”
“You did fine at the bridal boutique with the knife I gave you,” Olivia said as she took stock of the weapons, surveying the options before selecting a handful of daggers. “Here,” she said as she helped Alice strap one to her waist. “Hopefully you won’t need it, but you have it just in case.”
“Don’t I need more than just a dagger?” Alice asked.
“Yes, which is why I also think you should use this,” Olivia said as she removed a ram’s head mace from the wall. Alice nearly dropped it when Olivia handed it to her.
“Holy shit, that’s heavier than I thought it’d be,” Alice said.
“Well, you need some weight if you’re going to smash through someone’s helmet, Jon Snow,” Olivia said.
“I don’t know if I could actually hit someone in the head with this,” Alice said, feeling sick.
“You can, and you will,” Olivia said. “Remember—you are fighting for you and your baby to get back to Bastien. You can do this.”
Alice took a deep breath and nodded. “I can do this.”
Olivia listened at the door to the armory for a moment before stepping outside to check for guards. Seeing none, she motioned for Alice to follow her. Together, they cautiously made their way toward the front of the building, checking each room for guards before they entered.
“Coast looks clear,” Olivia said as they made their way down a long hallway.
“Wait!” Alice hissed, grabbing Olivia and pulling her around a corner just as a guard stepped into the hall. Alice held her breath as they listened for the guard.
“Man, these creaky old buildings give me the creeps,” the guard muttered before he turned and walked away down a side corridor.
Alice exhaled slowly, careful not to make too much noise. Olivia motioned for her to follow as they continued forward through the building. Suddenly, they heard hushed voices down the hallway ahead, freezing them in place.
“They aren’t in here,” the voice said.
“Then we just have to keep looking,” another voice replied.
“Wait a second, I know those voices,” Alice said as the three people walked around the corner.
“Drake! What are you doing here?” Olivia hissed as he, Hana, and Maxwell came around the corner, each holding bladed weapons.
“What in the Scooby Doo-style fuckery is this?” Alice asked.
“Are you both okay?” Maxwell asked as he hugged Alice.
“Obviously,” Olivia said. “You were this close to having a throwing knife in your neck, Drake.”
“So just like every day of my childhood,” Drake said. “Wait, Liv, your face is covered in blood.”
“What?” Olivia asked, touching her face gingerly. “Oh, that. I broke Anton’s nose and he got blood on me.”
“Where’s Liam?” Olivia asked.
“He’s…probably on his way to meet with Anton,” Hana said. “We knew Anton’s people would be watching the royal guard since Liam was warned to come without reinforcements, but they weren’t keeping tabs on us. Liam knew we couldn’t trust Anton to let you go, but he was hoping to distract him until we could find you.”
“This…doesn’t seem like the most well thought out plan,” Alice said.
“I know, but it’s all he had at the moment,” Drake said.
“Where’s Bastien?” Alice asked.
“He tried to come—it took three members of the royal guard to keep him from getting in a car—but Liam finally convinced him that Anton was likely watching him and coming here might put you in more danger,” Hana said.
“So Liam is just walking into a trap alone?” Alice asked.
“He’s not alone,” Olivia said, determination steeling her face as she adjusted her grip on one of her knives. “We need to go now.”
Olivia led their group down the hallway until they finally heard faint, but familiar voices nearby. Olivia motioned for silence as they followed the voices to the top of a curved staircase in a cavernous, ruined entrance hall. Alice squeezed the mace in her hands as she crept forward until she could see Anton, Claudius, and Liam in the foyer below.
“Where is my wife?” Liam demanded. Alice peered through the remains of the banister and saw that Liam appeared to be unarmed.
Liam, I really hope Olivia taught you something about concealing weapons…
“King Liam, it’s so nice to see you again,” Anton said. “I trust you haven’t done anything foolish that would end in unnecessary bloodshed.”
“I came alone, if that’s what you mean,” Liam said. “Where are Olivia and Alice? I want to see them.”
“You want to see my guests?” Anton asked. “Fine.”
One of Anton’s masked men stepped forward and whispered in Anton’s ear. Anton jerked back at the news, but nodded, frowning.
“His poker face sucks,” Drake whispered.
“You know what?” Anton said. “Requests are for people with leverage. And I think you’ve use all of yours up. Coming here alone, unarmed…was it really worth it? You’ve sacrificed Cordonia for the sake of a woman who doesn’t belong to you. Because, let’s be honest, King Liam, we both know you were never going to leave here alive.”
Claudius stepped forward and punched Liam in the stomach. Alice flinched and looked over at Olivia, her mouth set in a grim line.
“Don’t give us away. We wait for our moment,” Olivia whispered, her eyes locked on Liam.
“I don’t care what happens to me, I just want Olivia and Alice to be safe. Let them go,” Liam said.
“Sorry, I don’t negotiate with dead men,” Anton said smugly.
“You were never going to free them, were you?” Liam asked.
“Alice? No, I’m going to kill that bitch myself tonight, right after you. But I need Olivia alive in order to claim what’s mine…for now, anyway.”
Liam’s expression hardened as he pulled a concealed dagger from his jacket sleeve.
“That’s my love,” Olivia said proudly.
Liam roared and charged straight for Anton, blade raised.
“Guards!” Anton shouted.
Claudius moved to intercept Liam, but Liam kicked him squarely in the chest, sending him sprawling. Several more masked men flooded into the room as Anton pulled a pistol out of his pocket and took aim. Alice looked over at Olivia to see her stand and take aim, sending a knife flying directly into Anton’s shoulder, making him shout with pain.
“Nice hit, Olivia!” Maxwell said.
“I was aiming for his neck,” Olivia said as she vaulted over the banister and into the foyer below. “Now!”
Alice and the others ran down the stairs, weapons in hand.
“Kill them all! Nobody leaves alive!” Anton yelled as he yanked the knife out of his shoulder.
Around the room, fights broke out everywhere. Maxwell dodged a punch and ducked, sweeping the guard’s legs out from under him while Drake disarmed another and took his gun. Hana moved quickly with her knife, aiming for the thigh like she had back at the boutique. Alice looked around and saw Claudius had Olivia pinned down by the staircase across the room. Alice steeled herself and took off running, dodging the fighters. She aimed at his head, swinging the mace as hard as she could. Claudius saw her at the last second and dodged, but the momentary distraction was enough of an opening for Olivia. Olivia grabbed one of her knives and thrust it up into Claudius’s neck, severing his carotid artery with a spray of blood. He started to collapse forward but Olivia brought her foot up, kicking him off of her and sending him crashing on the stone floor.
“Thanks for the assist, Jon Snow,” Olivia said.
“Alice, look out!” Drake shouted.
Alice spun around to see Anton aiming his gun at her. Time slowed and Alice couldn’t hear anything other than the thundering of her heartbeat in her ears.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Bastien tackled Anton to the ground, knocking the gun free and sending it clattering to the floor and out of reach. Anton twisted under Bastien, snarling as he pulled a knife free.
“Knife!” Alice yelled.
Anton slashed at Bastien’s arm but he didn’t seem to notice. Bastien grabbed the arm with the knife and pinned it below his knee. Another guard tried to rush him but Olivia slowed him with a knife, giving Liam a chance to knock the guard unconscious. Anton used the momentary distraction to poke Bastien in the eye with his free hand, causing Bastien’s grip to loosen. Anton flipped Bastien over and punched him in the face.
“I don’t fucking think so,” Alice said as she ran over, hefting the mace over her shoulder. She swung hard, crashing into Anton’s shoulder. Alice heard the crunch of bones as Anton screamed in pain. Bastien flipped him back onto the ground and punched him, blood spreading across Anton’s face. After a few hits, Anton stopped moving but Bastien kept punching.
“Bastien,” Alice said, touching his shoulder. “Bastien! Stop!”
Bastien stopped, staring down at Anton’s beaten, pulpy face. Alice looked around, surveying the room to see that Anton’s guards who hadn’t fled were either unconscious or dead.
“Is he dead?” Liam asked.
Bastien pressed his fingers to Anton’s throat to check for a pulse. “No, just unconscious.” He stood, shaking out his hand before he pulled Alice to him. “Are you okay?”
“I am now,” she said. “I thought you had to stay behind?”
“There was absolutely no way I was going to do that.”
The massive front doors opened to reveal Ian, Mara, and a contingent of the royal guard who streamed into the room, rushing to provide aid.
“Some of Anton’s men fled, search this place from top to bottom. I want every single person found and arrested,” Liam ordered.
Ian nodded, conveying information through an earpiece as the guards swarmed to follow their instructions as Alice’s friends convened near where Anton lay.
“Everyone okay?” Maxwell asked.
“More or less,” Drake said, a black eye already darkening his face.
“What happens to him now?” Hana asked.
“I’ll take care of it,” Liam said. “There should be some cars out front—why don’t the rest of you head out, Bastien and I will meet you in a minute.”
Bastien squeezed Alice’s hand before he watched her walk out of the room, Maxwell’s arm slung around her shoulder.
“It’s hard to watch Liv walk away after everything that’s happened today,” Liam said. “I don’t want to let her out of my sight.”
“I know the feeling,” Bastien said. Liam took a breath and turned to look at him.
Bastien nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Wake him up.”
Bastien kicked Anton in the side, the pain rousing him back to consciousness. Bastien then pulled Anton up into a sitting position, leaning him against his legs to prop him up as he put one hand on either side of Anton’s head.
“Wha?” Anton said groggily, his swollen face making it difficult to talk.
“Hi there,” Liam said as he crouched down in front of him. “You awake?”
Anton blinked slowly at him.
“Good. I wanted to make sure you could hear me, because what I’m about to say is important. Anton, a true king knows how to create balance. He knows when to deliver punishment and when to show mercy.”
Anton’s eyes turned hopeful.
“However, mercy has its limits,” Liam said. “I might have let you live, but you decided to kidnap my wife and her best friend on our wedding day.”
Anton tried to struggle, but Bastien held firm to his head.
“I hope this was worth your life, you miserable, pathetic maggot,” Liam said. He stood up and nodded to Bastien. With a twist of Bastien’s hands, Anton’s neck snapped, the sound amplified by the empty room, and he fell to the ground, dead.
“Duke Bastien Lykel of Valtoria, you are officially relieved of your duty to the royal guard,” Liam said.
“Thank you, sir.”
An hour later, Alice sat in the royal doctor’s office with a paper blanket spread across her lap while Bastien stood beside her, holding her hand. A few moments later, they were joined by Liam’s personal physician.
“Alright, Your Graces, shall we see how the little one is doing?” the doctor asked. “I don’t have a tech here due to the late hour, so it’ll just be me tonight.”
“That’s fine,” Alice said as the doctor prepared the wand for the internal ultrasound. The doctor inserted the wand and adjusted a few knobs on the ultrasound machine.
“Alright,” the doctor said, turning the screen so Bastien and Alice could see. “That right there is your baby, and do you see that flickering right there?” she asked, pointing to a blinking spot on the screen. “That’s your baby’s—“
“Heart,” Bastien finished for her, his voice barely above a whisper as he stared at the screen with naked love and adoration.
The doctor pressed another button and a steady metronome of a heartbeat filled the room, bringing tears to Alice’s eyes as she put her hand over her mouth.
“Your baby looks perfect to me,” the doctor said. “Although I would recommend trying to lower your stress levels for the remainder of your pregnancy—no more fighting off terrorist attacks.”
Alice nodded, unable to speak as she stared at the screen.
The doctor let them listen for a bit longer before she took some photos to print out and removed the wand.
“I’ll send the notes from our visit to your doctor in Valtoria while you get dressed,” the doctor said. “Congratulations, you two.”
“Thank you,” Alice said. The doctor smiled and left, closing the door softly behind her. Alice turned to look at Bastien and saw he was crying. There were no words so instead he kissed her, and he never, ever wanted to let go.