Guarded Hearts, Part 59

Summary: Before leaving on their honeymoon, there are a few more surprises in store for MC (Alice) and Bastien.

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

We have reached the end of this series! Thank you so much to everyone who read and supported this series, especially when I had to take long breaks between updates. I’ve loved writing this and I have plans to eventually continue through the The Royal Heir and The Royal Finale. Thank you again for reading, it means the world to me.

CW: pregnancy

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 50Part 51Part 52Part 53Part 54Part 55Part 56Part 57, Part 58

The following afternoon, Alice and Bastien headed down to the great hall and, waiting outside they doors, they found Hana, Drake, and Maxwell waiting for them.

“So you guys were summoned, too, huh?” Maxwell asked.

“Yeah, a staff member came by to let us know to show up dressed in our best—any idea what this is about?” Alice asked.

“Whatever this is, I think Liam is in on it,” Drake said. “I saw him coming out of the royal armory this morning, but he wouldn’t tell me what he was doing in there.”

“Weapons and fancy outfits…sounds like a party to me,” Maxwell said.

“Not everyone parties like the Beaumonts,” Hana said.

“And that’s their burden to bear,” Maxwell said.

“What do you think it could be?” Alice asked Bastien.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” he said. “But we’re leaving in a couple days for our belated honeymoon and I know Liam and Olivia are planning to go a few days after us, so whatever it is, they’re clearly trying to do it while we’re all still here.”

“I can’t believe your honeymoon is finally here,” Hana said. “Where’s your first stop?”

“Paris,” Alice said as she took Bastien’s hand. “We’re going to Cafe de Flore, Shakespeare and Company, Victor Hugo’s house…where else?”

“Closerie des Lilas,” Bastien reminded her. 

“What’s at the…what you just said?” Maxwell asked.

“Allegedly, it’s the cafe where F. Scott Fitzgerald first showed Ernest Hemingway the manuscript of The Great Gatsby,” Alice said.

“It sounds like the perfect honeymoon for a couple of bibilophiles,” Hana said as the door to the ballroom opened and a staffer slipped out, closing the door behind her.

“Excellent, you’re all here,” the staff member said. 

“What’s this about?” Drake asked.

“I’m not at liberty to say, but if you all would please follow me, you’re expected inside,” the staffer said politely. She opened the door and Alice was stunned to see the entire hall packed with people from across Cordonia with two thrones at the front of the room.

“What the…” Drake said, stunned.

“Maybe it’s a flash mob?” Maxwell asked hopefully.

“It looks like some sort of official royal ceremony,” Bastien said.

“For what?” Hana asked.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Bastien said.

“Alice, what are the chances this is an execution?” Maxwell asked.

“Very low, but Olivia’s always packing knives, so the chances are never zero,” Alice whispered back.

The five of them started towards the thrones and trumpets began to blare as they walked through the great hall. The staffer followed behind them and arranged them in a line before Liam and Olivia entered. Alice made eye contact with Olivia and raised a questioning eyebrow at her, but Olivia only smiled knowingly as Liam addressed the crowd.

“People of Cordonia, we have assembled this morning to recognize and pay respect to our national heroes,” he said.

“Did he say…heroes?” Maxwell whispered.

“Don’t look at me, I’m just as surprised as you are,” Drake whispered back.

“Children, shush,” Hana whispered as Olivia spoke.

“Like the legends of old, the brave souls presented before you today have withstood many dangers, sacrificed their safety, and stood strong in the face of those who would destroy us.”

“Lord Maxwell Percival Beaumont,” Liam said.

“Yes, sir! I mean…yes, Your Majesty,” Maxwell said nervously.

“For unerring optimism in the face of adversity, I hereby dub thee Guardian of the Realm,” Liam said.

“I…thank you!” Maxwell said, surprised.

“Lady Hana Lee,” Olivia said. “For grace and bravery under duress and invaluable companionship, I hereby dub thee Guardian of the Realm.”

“You humble me, Your Highness,” Hana said as she curtsied.

“Duke Drake Walker,” Liam said. “For unwavering loyalty and steadfast determination, I hereby dub thee Guardian of the Realm.”

Drake nodded respectfully, too stunned to speak.

“Duke Bastien Lykel,” Olivia said. “For your staunch allegiance and selfless sacrifices to Cordonia, to its citizens, and to its king, I hereby dub thee Guardian of the Realm.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Bastien said, bowing.

“Guardians, step forward and be recognized,” Liam said. 

Bastien, Hana, Drake, and Maxwell all stepped forward as the hall filled with thunderous applause and cameras flashed.

“Finally, Duchess Alice Ayers,” Liam said when the applause finally died down. “From the moment you stepped foot on Cordonian soil, you treated this country and its people as your home and your family.” 

“You were promised the chance for a better life, and I hope you’ve found it,” Olivia said. “But it was us, here, across the whole of this nation, whose lives were truly made better. You fought for us. You unified us. You won our hearts.”

Liam rated a large, ornate medallion above Alice’s head. “I hereby dub thee Champion of the Realm, the highest title bestowed by the crown. This distinction reflects the gratitude of not only the royal family, but our entire nation.”

Alice’s mouth went dry, shock reverberating through her with every heartbeat. Liam lowered the medallion over Alice’s shoulders, giving her the chance to say a few words to the crowd. Alice swallowed, willing herself into composure.

Do. No. Vomit.

“Thank you, Your Majesties,” Alice said. “I am deeply honored by this, but I could not have done anything were it not for the support of both of you, House Beaumont, Lady Hana Lee, Drake Walker, and, above all, my husband, Duke Bastien Lykel. I will strive to prove myself worthy of such a great honor.”

“A goal I have no doubt you will achieve with both ease and grace,” Liam said.

Alice felt Bastien take her hand and squeeze it and she gratefully returned the pressure.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Alice said.

“Here, in the presence of such noble heroes, I have one more announcement to make before my people,” Liam said. “Queen Olivia and I have decreed the formation of a Royal Council, a circle of worthy advisors from common to noble-born, to help guide our decisions.” 

“It is our sincere hope that through this council, all who now or will ever live in Cordonia will have a rightful say in its future,” Olivia said, sending the members of the press into a flurry of whispers and activity.

“A Royal Council?” Ana de Luca asked. “But the monarchy hasn’t had one in…well…ever. Why today?” 

“Anton Severus’s actions were inexcusable, but Queen Olivia and I believe that he and other groups with similar goals felt the need to grasp at power through violence because Cordonia failed to offer it to them any other way,” Liam said.”That is why I have formed the Royal Council, a peaceful and productive means of sharing the responsibility of power.”

“Have the councilors been chosen?” another reporter asked.

“We will reveal the council’s full roster and the selection process at a later time, but there are some members we wish to announce today,” Olivia said. “All newly-appointed Guardians of the Realm before us are hereby invited to join as our advisors.”

Alice glanced at her friends and was mildly amused to see that Drake looked like he was about to be sick while Maxwell’s jaw hung slack with surprise.

“I can’t believe it…a seat on the Royal Council?” Hana asked.

“Just when I thought I was out of amazing titles to tack onto the end of my name,” Maxwell said.

“Um…what?” Drake asked.

Alice looked over at Bastien, whose ordinarily calm exterior showed a few cracks of disbelief. “What do you think?” she asked quietly.

“I’m just…this is not how I expected this afternoon to go,” he admitted. “Do you want to do it?”

Alice took a deep breath, considering the offer. “Yeah, I think I do.”

Bastien smiled at her. “Me, too.”

“Duchess Alice Ayers of Valtoria,” Olivia said. “I hope you will do us the honor of leading the Council.” Olivia smirked when Alice’s eyes grew wide. “Cordonia…and Liam and I…need our Champion, now more than ever, as we enter a new era of peace and prosperity.”

“I…I accept,” Alice said.

Olivia stepped forward and hugged Alice. “Thank god, because I can’t be the people person here,” she whispered.

“You’re better at it than you think,” Alice said.

“Please,” Olivia said. “If it weren’t for you, half of the nobles in Cordonia wouldn’t have shown up for the wedding yesterday. Plus, there’s a lot I want to accomplish as queen and as the other face of Cordonia’s Me Too movement, I need you with me.”

“I am very much on board for that,” Alice said. “Thank you, Liv.”

“Thank you for having my back yesterday,” Olivia said. 

“How are you all feeling?” Liam asked the group.

“I…I’m speechless,” Hana said.

“Hopefully not for long. We need your voice on the Council, Hana.”

“I just have to be sure to manage my other commitments—“ Hana started to say but Alice put up her hand.

“You’re fired. Effective immediately,” Alice said.

“But you still have a home in Valtoria for as long as you want it,” Bastien added.

Hana walked over and hugged them both. “Thank you. For everything.”

“Hana, we could spend fifty years trying to pay you back for everything you’ve done for us and it still wouldn’t be enough,” Alice said. “We’re lucky to have you in our lives.”

“Liam, are you sure you want me for this?” Drake asked him quietly.

“Completely,” Liam said with a grin.

“You hear that, Drake? You’re going to have an actual job instead of just being Liam’s professional best friend,” Olivia said.

“When are we supposed to start council-ing?” Maxwell asked. “Also, how specific are we allowed to get with our advice, because I have opinions about the playlists used at Cordonian balls that I need to get out.”

“There will be time to work out the details soon,” Liam promised him. “But for now, we have a ball thrown in everyone’s honor to attend.”

As the hall began to clear out, Alice hung back with Bastien.

“Champion of the Realm…how does it feel?” Bastien asked.

“Weird. And like the title should’ve gone to you instead,” Alice said. “It’s not like I ever acted alone.”

“Gray,” Bastien said as he took her hands in his. “I’ve done a lot over the past twenty years in the royal guard. Some of it I’m proud of, but many others I’m not. Frankly, I think it’s generous that Liam gave me the title of Guardian because from the moment I saw you here in Cordonia, my allegiance was to you over anyone or anything else. But I think you don’t give yourself credit for how much you’ve done for Cordonia. By starting from where you did, people have felt represented by you. When you chose to come forward about what Tariq did to you, you gave victims a voice. Then when everyone ran scared from terrorist attacks, you convinced all of them to show a united front while literally fighting terrorists—twice. Not to mention all the things you’ve personally done for your friends that the public doesn’t know about. You’ve helped Bertrand make business contacts to keep House Beaumont’s finances afloat, you helped Hana come out to her parents, you encouraged Drake to get help when you saw his drinking was getting out of control, you helped Bertrand and Savannah get their heads out of their asses for the sake of their son, and you befriended Olivia, which she desperately needed.”

“But I’m nobody, I’m just a girl who was in a bar,” Alice said. “None of this would have happened if that cab driver hadn’t recommended that bar to you.”

“Why should that matter?” Bastien asked. “Just because everything was sparked by a chance meeting doesn’t lessen the impact. Think about it—a infinite number of tiny, random occurrences and choices have made it to where you and I can stand here having this conversation. And, for what it’s worth, Liam and Olivia wouldn’t have awarded you the title if they weren’t sure you personally earned it. They’ve been studying Cordonian history since they learned to read and if they believe that you are as deserving of that title as any who have come before you, they did not make the decision lightly.”

“So…I guess I’m fancy now,” Alice said. Bastien smiled.

“Well, I’ve always fancied you,” he said as he leaned in to kiss her.

“Thank you,” Alice said. “Not just for what you said, but for everything.”

“You’re welcome,” he said as he wrapped her in a hug. “I am incredibly proud of you.”

When they entered the ballroom, Alice and Bastien found their friends waiting for them.

“Alice!” Hana exclaimed. “Or, should I say, the Champion of the Realm. You know, it’s been five hundred years since Cordonia had a Champion.”

“So…no pressure, right?” Alice asked.

“Oh no, there’s pressure,” Olivia said as Liam joined her at her side.

“Liv, let’s not scare her, she’s only had the title for twenty minutes,” Liam said.

“She can handle it,” Olivia said.

The band began to play and Bastien led Alice out to the dance floor.

“You know, I remember that we were in this very room when we found each other in Cordonia,” Alice said as they began to move through a waltz.

Bastien nodded. “I remember. I heard your name announced with Maxwell and I couldn’t believe what I heard, but there you were.”

“Your side of it sounds much more romantic,” Alice said. “I made the connection that you were here after Drake made a reference to Maxwell streaking while shouting, ‘Release the kraken!’”

“Oh god, I’d forgotten about that,” Bastien said, shaking his head. “That’s an experience I don’t need to relive.”

“Thank god you didn’t completely turn me away when we snuck away to the library,” Alice said.

“It was all for show, I already knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay away from you,” Bastien said. 

The continued dancing, a warm silence between them. As the song wound to a close, they were approached by Maxwell.

“Hey, sorry to interrupt, but could I talk to the two of you for a minute?” Maxwell asked.

“Of course, is everything okay?” Alice asked as they followed him out of the ballroom towards the grand staircase, where they happened upon Savannah, Bertrand, and Bartie. Bertrand leaned over to straighten Bartie’s clothes and as he did so, Bartie squeezed Bertrand’s cheeks, making him laugh.

“Hey, you two,” Alice said. “I know everything just happened, but have you started wedding planning yet?”

“While we can’t replicate the splendor of yesterday’s big event, we’re thinking of something courtly,” Savannah said.

“We’ll use the entire royal stable if we have to,” Bertrand said.

“My mom lives in Texas, I’m kind of a horse girl,” Savannah explained.

Of course you are, Alice thought.

“But I don’t think we’ll need quite that many horses,” Savannah continued. “We can start with four.”

“Alice, I want to thank you,” Bertrand said. “This wouldn’t have happened without you.”

“Counseling has been going really well and we’re much better at communicating with each other,” Savannah said.

“I’m glad I could help,” Alice said. “But you two are the ones doing the work, I just recommended therapy.”

“Well, it’s a step we needed to take, so thank you,” Bertrand said. 

“I think you two are good together,” Bastien said.

“Aw, thanks, Bastien,” Savannah said.

“Savannah, even if House Beaumont’s fortunes aren’t what they once were, I promise to give you and Bartie nothing but the best,” Bertrand said.

“You’re what we need,” Savannah said.

“We can also help in whatever way we can,” Alice said. “You’re family, and you’re stuck with me.”

“Thank you, Alice, but I wouldn’t feel right taking anything from you and Bastien,” Bertrand said. “I’ve found embracing the truth to be far less exhausting than attempting to give the appearance of wealth. Besides, thanks to your help in connecting me with Rashida and Francesco, we’re doing a lot better and we have enough money to stay afloat. Plus, for the first time, I can say I’m truly happy,” Bertrand said as he took Bartie from Savannah and kissed his forehead.

“So does that mean I’m going to hear less about your desperate need to hold yourself to an impossible standard in order to uphold the legacy of Barthelemy Beaumont?” Alice asked.

“I will always uphold the great legacy of my father, because I’ve learned that our legacy can carry on in other forms. I can declare with absolute clarity of meaning that everything I do now, will be for House Beaumont.”

“Then I hope you’re not disappointed that I’ve found the key that leads to the vault that leads to the other secret hidden vault that solves all our financial troubles,” Maxwell said. “I was waiting for the right time to tell everyone, and I think this is it!” He turned towards the staircase and from a bag hidden from view, he pulled out a manuscript.

“What is it?” Bertrand asked.

“I present to thee, my darling family, the laborious flowering of my secret diary, unsuccessful bullet journal, and awkwardly-taken scrapbook photos. A story so inspiring that it could only be written during the nights of caffeine-induced delirium. This is the definitive tale of the rise of Alice, her soulmate, and her lovable companions.”

Maxwell held out the manuscript to Alice and Bastien so they could see the title page read “The Royal Romance by Maxwell Beaumont” with a note in the corner that said “Property of Harper Collins.”

“Um…you wrote a book about us?” Alice asked slowly.

“Yeah!” Maxwell exclaimed. “Wait, that’s okay, right?”

“I guess that depends on what you said,” Alice said. “Can I…can Bastien and I have a minute to talk about this?”

“Yeah, of course,” Maxwell said quickly. 

“Thanks,” Alice said as she and Bastien made their way down the hall, manuscript in hand. They found an empty study and Bastien closed the door behind them, locking it.

“Gray, try to calm down so we can—“

“What the fuck?” Alice exclaimed. “He wrote a book about us and didn’t even bother to ask? He already sold it! Jesus fucking Christ, I just…” she paused, flipping through the manuscript. “He wrote about Tariq attacking me. Of course he did. At what point do I get to tell my own fucking story without having some guy come in and take it upon himself to do it for me?”

“If it upsets you this much, you can tell him no,” Bastien said. “You can tell him that he doesn’t have permission to use the rights to your life story and we can hire a lawyer to keep the book from coming out.”

“I can’t do that!” Alice exclaimed. “Part of the whole plan about me staying here in the first place was to be with you, help Liam find someone else, and do what I can to help the Beaumonts with their finances since they put all of their eggs in my fucking basket.”

“And you’ve done that by helping Bertrand get business contacts with Rashida and Francesco, he just said so himself,” Bastien said. 

“How are you not more upset about this? Why aren’t you as angry as me?” Alice demanded. 

“Because one of us has to be calm so that you don’t say something you’ll regret to Maxwell,” he said. “Also, I’m kind of surprised that Maxwell had the focus to actually sit down and write a whole book.”

Alice opened the manuscript to the first page. “Chapter One: That Fateful Night.”

“Chapter title is a bit of a cliche.”

“‘It all began one night in a New York City dive bar’—I didn’t work in a dive bar.”

“Creative embellishment.”

“‘Liam was looking for an inconspicuous location to celebrate his bachelor party. Now, I’m not one for unremarkable party locations. The more spectacular, the more memorable has always been my modus operandi. But there comes a time in a man’s life where he has to choose between his trusted ways and the needs of a trusted friend. Liam was that friend, and by god, we were going to find an unassuming dive bar. With my intrepid guidance, we arrived at the bar and took our seats. My sour assistant and second-in-command, Drake—“

“Oh, Drake will love that,” Bastien said.

“‘—could not contain his demands for whiskey as the manager seated us. That’s when the future Cordonian sensation walked into our lives…radiant, friendly, and smelling like she just took out the trash. While I cleverly kept up our commoner ruse by ordering steaks, Liam walked in, and he and Alice laid eyes on each other. In that moment, I knew this girl in the ill-fitting waitress uniform would become House Beaumont’s salvation, Liam’s freedom, and Cordonia’s here. But, little did we know, however, that she had already met the Cordonian love of her life the night before.’” Alice paused, looking up at Bastien. “This is a bad book.”

“Yes, it is,” Bastien agreed.

“What are the chances no one will read it?”

“Oh, everyone will read it,” Bastien said. “You and Maxwell are famous; it doesn’t matter how good or bad the writing is, it’ll be a bestseller.” He walked over to her and took the manuscript out of her hands, setting it down on the table before he took her hands in his. “Like I said, you have every right to pull the plug on this. I will start working on this with lawyers right now if you want to.”

Alice sighed. “I don’t think I can do that to Maxwell.”

“Which leaves you with the option of supporting him as this book moves forward.”

“God dammit.”

“For what it’s worth, this is likely going to be the first of many books written about you, with or without your permission,” Bastien said. “At least Maxwell is one of the most likely to paint you in a favorable light.”

“He said I smelled like trash and that my ‘dive bar uniform’ was ill-fitting.”

“Admittedly, he might’ve taken some extreme liberties with his descriptors,” Bastien said. 

“Fuck,” Alice said, defeated. “You’re okay with him exposing our lives like this?”

“I don’t know, I guess it is what it is,” Bastien said as he let go of her hands and put his arms around her waist. “For me, all of the best parts are from when you and I were alone together. Teaching you the Cordonian waltz, reading together in my room, standing on our bedroom balcony after we got married and found out we’re expecting our daughter…those are the moments that matter most to me and those are what feel like they belong to us.”

“We could be having a son you know, we won’t find out for a few more months,” Alice pointed out.

“You’re changing the subject.”

“I know,” Alice said. “And you’re right, those are the important moments to me, too.” She sighed again. “Fine, Maxwell can move forward with the stupid book and I’ll give him my stupid support.”

“Are you sure? Because if you want me to, I will get our lawyers on the phone to stop this.”

“I’m sure,” Alice said. “Thank you for calming me down. I would’ve felt terrible if I’d yelled at Maxwell.”

“Let’s go back out there,” Bastien said. He picked up the manuscript and handed it to her before offering her his hand.

No sooner had they opened the door to the study when they heard Bertrand yelling.

“…and you didn’t even THINK of asking her before you SOLD IT?” Bertrand yelled. “How could you be so IRRESPONSIBLE as to not remember how upset she was when Justin—Anton—talked to the press for her?”

“Looks like I didn’t need to yell at him after all,” Alice said as she broke into a jog, Bastien keeping step beside her.

“Hey, hi, that’s a lot of yelling that can be heard on the other side of the palace,” Alice said as they ran into the room. Savannah and Bartie were gone and Bertrand glowered with anger, his face red.

“Alice, this book will not happen, I will do everything in my power to stop it,” Bertrand said.

“I already signed a contract!” Maxwell protested, his face distressed. “Alice, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking about what Anton did to you by holding that press conference and I thought this would be a happy surprise because you’ve been such a good friend to—“

“Everybody stop,” Bastien said, holding up his hands. Bertrand and Maxwell fell silent.

“Bertrand, it’s okay,” Alice said.

“But—“ Bertrand spluttered, furious.

Bertrand. I said it’s okay,” Alice said. She turned to Maxwell. “I wish you had at least told me you were working on this, but I’m okay with the book moving forward.”

Maxwell breathed a sigh of relief, shoulders sagging low. “Oh thank god, I—“

Alice held up her hand. “However, I have some conditions. One, I want you to donate a percentage of the book’s profits to a nonprofit organization I’m working with alongside Rashida for victims of sexual violence.”

“That’s fair,” Maxwell said, nodding.

“Two,” Alice said. “Please tell me if you start working on another project like this. Partly because I’d like to know if you’re using my life in it, but also because if you’re working on something that matters to you, I want you to be able to tell me about it.”

“I didn’t know if anyone would even want to publish my book, and I was scared of telling you about it only to have it not work out,” Maxwell said. “I’m always such a screw up, and—“

“Three,” Alice said, interrupting him. “You can’t call yourself a screw up anymore.”

“Okay,” Maxwell said, lightening a little. “Full disclosure, my publisher called this morning and they want me to add on some additional chapters to include the events of yesterday in it.”

“Fine,” Alice said. “Thank you for telling me.”

“You’re not mad about this?” Bertrand asked. “Because I’m a little mad that some personal matters between Savannah and me are in that book.”

“I can’t tell you how to feel about it, but I’m fine with this. To me, this isn’t worth causing a rift between us, especially now that we’ve talked about what I need from Maxwell moving forward.”

“What about you?” Bertrand asked Bastien. “You’re not going to come out great in parts of this.”

“That feels accurate,” Bastien said with a shrug. “And I’m with her,” he said, putting his arm around Alice’s waist. “Although…Maxwell, what exactly did you say about the plot against Alice during the social season? Because I don’t think Liam wants certain bits of information to be shared with the public right now.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t mention anything about Constantine or Regina,” Maxwell said. “I kept it vague and said it was the work of a jealous suitor–which is technically true, Madeleine was really jealous of Alice–and I just…didn’t really talk about you until the two of you got back together. Oh, I did give you credit for helping us to get the full photoset, but I didn’t say where you got it. You come off a very mysterious.”

“How exactly is this going to be good news for House Beaumont?” Bertrand asked as he turned back to his brother.

“My publisher is pretty confident that we’ll be able to have a strong release considering recent events and Alice’s popularity, plus they think we’re a cinch for movie deals and licensed merchandise,” Maxwell said. “They think this is going to be huge, which means lots of money for House Beaumont.” Maxwell glanced at Alice. “And the nonprofit. Plus, everyone featured in the book will see royalties.”

“That’s generous of you,” Alice said.

“What can I say? I’m a benevolent media mogul,” Maxwell said, his good humor returning. “And, Bertrand, I’d like to give you most of my share to pay you back for the odd purchases you know about…and the ones you still don’t know about.”

“No,” Bertrand said, the fight leaving him. “You’ve been such an asset to running the house since Savannah came back into my life with Bartie so I could focus on spending more time with them. You deserve a reward…and a chance to manage your own funds responsibly.”

“That’s the first time you’ve ever used the word ‘responsibly’ to describe me!” Maxwell said.

“I didn’t say you were responsible, just that you should have the chance—“

“Just let him have this,” Alice said as Maxwell wrapped Bertrand in a big hug.

“You are maddening, but I do love you, little brother,” Bertrand said. “Just don’t let it go to your head.”

“Too late,” Maxwell said.

The four of them returned to the ballroom and as Maxwell and Bertrand rejoined the fray, Alice and Bastien stayed near the wall.

“How much longer do we have to stay here?” Alice asked.

“I mean, the ball is partially for us, we should probably stay for a little while longer,” Bastien said.

“I guess you’re right,” Alice said as she took his hand in hers, threading their fingers together. “But we still have to pack tonight before we leave for our belated honeymoon, and I want to make sure you’re not too tired…”

Bastien grinned and raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, really? Why, did you have something planned?”

“Maybe,” Alice said with a noncommittal shrug of her shoulders. “Did you have any suggestions?”

“Why don’t you dance with me and while we’re out on the floor, I’ll tell you everything I’d like to do with you tonight.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to duck out right now?” Alice asked. “I’m pretty sure that study is still empty…”

“Yes, but I want to take my time with you,” Bastien said as he led her to the dance floor. “Now that we don’t have to hide anymore, I don’t want to rush.”

“Are you saying you won’t sneak out with me during court functions anymore?” She asked as he put his arm around her waist and held her close as they began to dance.

“Oh, I definitely will, but tonight I think you deserve to be celebrated by the public,” Bastien said. “I can wait to celebrate privately with you.”

Alice smiled at him. “I love you, Dorian.”

“I love you, too, Gray.”

The End

for now…Alice and Bastien will return in The Guarded Heir!

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