I picked up the phone and saw twenty new text messages and seven missed phone calls. Four calls were from Harper, two from Gwen, and one from Xavier and then I read through the text messages. Harper had sent several. Apparently he was drunk and wanted to see my other tattoo. I felt my face flush. Oh my. I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just didn’t. Then I scrolled through Gwen’s texts. She basically warned me that she doesn’t trust Xavier and how much Harper seems to be interested in me and how we would be good together. Once again I felt my face flush. Good to know that I need to watch what Harper and Gwen say while intoxicated. Then I had two texts from Xavier.
Juliet, I’m being escorted off the property, James will send my things.
I will be back tomorrow morning to figure out arrangements. Don’t worry everything will be alright.”
I couldn’t explain why that made my heart sink. I didn’t like the idea that Xavier was being sent away. I felt empty again. As exhausted as I was, I just cried myself to sleep.
I awoke to being violently shaken. I saw Angelica standing over me and screamed. “Jesus! What the hell?”
“You’re leaving.” Angelica sang, sing-song, a gigantic smile across her face.”
“You’re finally leaving.” She repeated. “Daddy has finally come to his senses and is sending you away. Not a moment too soon either. It’ll be nice for you to be gone again. I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.
“Great. Now get out.”
“You’ve had your fun, and now you can get out. Okay? Thanks.”
“I can’t wait for you to be gone!” Angelica sneered as she stormed out.
“Angie, darling, that’s hardly becoming of a lady. You’re better than that. That’s something I’d expect from that one.” Millie chided as she glided in. “As for you, let’s get your things packed. You’re being sent off.”
“So suddenly I’m off house arrest and I’m heading back to America? Because a few hours ago, the consensus was pretty much the opposite.”
“No, you aren’t going back to America. We need to watch you. You are, however, going to be kept away from society for now. My husband has finally reached his senses. Meet him in his study.”
“Great. How about you get out and let me get dressed and then I’ll go meet him.”
“I’m not wearing pants, or underwear. So get out and let me put some on unless you really want to see me naked.”
“Oh heaven no! Good lord!” Millie screeched as she dashed out. I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew I was wearing pants, but she didn’t. I changed quickly and headed to James’s study.
I knocked and when I heard a gruff enter I opened the door. “James?”
“What’s going on?”
“I have spoken to my sister.”
“Have a seat; we have much to discuss.”
I sat in one of the chairs across from him. “I’ve been told I’m being sent away?”
“I need to discuss a great deal with you.”
“Juliet, you’re angry with me. I understand why. I didn’t act the way you believe I should have. I cannot change the past. Your mother hiding you from me is not what I would have wanted. I wish I had gotten to watch you grown up into the young lady you are today. There are a few problems with the scenario we now have.”
I eyed him warily. I had the feeling the next thing he said was going to hurt. I was angry with him, but not just for the reasons he listed. “Okay.”
“You are so much your mother’s daughter it frightens me. This society will never accept that. I have not been entirely straightforward with you. I have wanted to tell you so much, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do that.”
“James, what aren’t you telling me?”
James sighed and ran a hand down my face. “I’m trying to say that there are mannerisms and decorum here that are expected. I would like it very much if you would let Lord Raleigh accompany you out to the countryside. It would look good for all of us. It will give all of us time to adjust.”
“You want me to what?”
“You heard me.”
“With that Raleigh guy?”
“Yes, he asked me if he could take you on a proper date and I see no reason why I should deny him.”
“Maybe because it’s not your place to decide that? Maybe because he’s an obnoxious jerk?”
“Juliet, please do not speak ill of him. He’s a respectable member of society.”
“Yeah, well, so is Ethan.”
James took a calming breath. “Juliet, please, I am trying to work with you. It would be appreciated if you would do the same.”
“Are you kidding me? James everyone here hates me! Everyone here wants me gone. It’s really, really hard to be nice to people who hate you. I have to say it just feels awesome to be woken up by someone skipping into your room and telling you it’s about damn time they got rid of you, thank goodness Daddy finally came to his senses. I have been trying, whether you realize it or not. I don’t understand this place. I never asked for this place. Every time I try, the harder I try, the more screwed up everything gets. My every effort is thrown right back in my face. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, congrats, you’ve had forty years to adjust to this lifestyle, I’ve had less than forty days. I don’t know what I’m doing, why don’t you just convince your sister and the king to let me go back home and we’ll just pretend we never met. We can pretend this never happened. We can pretend you have one daughter and go back to your perfect little life and I’ll go back to mine. I’m not wanted here and I don’t even know if I want to be here. Just send me back, it’ll be one less burden for everyone.”
“Is that really how you feel?” James looked taken aback.
“Yes.” I shrugged as I crossed my arms. “No. I don’t know.”
“Juliet, if nothing else, I can assure you not everyone hates you. Not everyone wants you gone.”
“James, you’re my father. I get that. But come on, even you have to admit, your life would be easier if I’d never been introduced to your life.”
“Yes, Juliet, easier perhaps, but now that I know you, I don’t want you gone. You must understand that.”
“Juliet, you’re my daughter.”
“This is going to sound selfish, but please bear with me. Not only are you my daughter, but you are also Rose’s daughter.”
I felt the anger rising a little again. “Great, so I’m your link to my mother, right? I get it now. I remind you of her, right?”
James sighed. “While that’s part of it, it’s not all of it.”
“James, I don’t know if I can do this.” I sighed as I ran a hand through my hair.
James stood up. “I have not been a proper father to you.” James pulled me into a hug. “It’s not fair of me to do this to you, but there are few other options.”
It felt weird giving James a hug. It was stuff and awkward and I don’t think hugged people often. “Um, what are you doing?”
James pulled away and held me at an arm’s length. “I don’t know either.”
I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. After a moment, James join in and we were in laughing fits by the end.
“What just happened?” I gasped after we started calming down.
“I can’t say I’ve ever actually done that before.” James coughed as he composed his features. “That was quite out of the ordinary for me.”
“So what’s going to happen with me?”
“I’ve arranged for you to go on holiday. Ian and Christine are already out there. Christine is also having her debutant ball. She’ll be properly launched into society. You are invited, which is part of the holiday.”
“So who all is going with me?”
“And my advisor?”
“Is that wise?”
“What do you mean?”
“Juliet, did he hit you? If he did, he is no longer your advisor.”
“James, that was a massive misunderstanding.”
“So you didn’t hit your face on the toilet?”
“What did happen?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Oh, but I do.”
“No, you really don’t. But I can assure you, Xavier would never do anything to harm me in anyway on purpose.”
“James, I can promise you, Xavier has done nothing wrong. He’s helped me more than anything else. I’m not as much of a mess as I was. Even you have to have seen that.”
“It’s true. Perhaps I did overreact. I do want to know how you injured yourself.”
“James, I found my way to alcohol and in my drunken stupor, I ended up slipping and hitting my face on the edge of a counter. Are you happy now? I’m a drunken idiot.”
“You did what?”
“Oh…what? How did you manage that?”
“Do you question yourself drunk?”
“I haven’t been drunk in a very long time.”
“Maybe you should try it sometime.” I teased.
“Juliet, I may enjoy a good brandy every now and then, but I cannot afford to get drunk. Go get your things packed. Raleigh should be here soon. I’ll ring Xavier and have I’m prepared to go as well if that’s what you want.”
“Okay, thanks James.”
“Juliet, I don’t know how to do what we are doing. I just want you to know, you aren’t alone.”
I nodded. “That means a lot, thanks James.” I gave him small smiled and headed back to my room.
“So, you’ve accepted that you’re leaving?” Angelica sneered.
“Actually, I’m going to see Ian and Christine for a party you aren’t invited to because you aren’t of age yet.” I grinned. “It’s that just a pity.” I cooed as I brushed past her.
“What?” Angelica screeched. “How are you going?”
“Because I’m of age and karma is smiling on me now because of the way you are.”
“Oh I’m going to see Daddy about this!”
“You do that. Meanwhile, I have some packing to do.” I rolled my eyes and retreated into my room with a sigh. I started pulling clothes out of drawers and wardrobes and stuffing them into my suitcases. I was almost finished with all the toiletries when I heard a soft knocking on the door. “Come in!”
Gwen was standing there looking forlorn. She looked around a grim expression on her face. “So it’s true then?”
“You’re really leaving?”
I gave her a sad smile. “For a little while.” I nodded. “James wants to get a few things straightened out then I’ll be back.”
“Why did you agree?”
“Gwen, right now, my options are pretty limited. I have to go.”
“Do you want to?”
“Yes and no.”
“You want to leave?”
“I want out of the media circus I’ve found myself the main attraction for. It’ll be nice to be away from Millie and Angelica. Of course I’m going to miss you and Laurel, and Harper, and the shenanigans we get into.”
Gwen nodded sadly. “I understand. Want a cookie?” She sighed as she pulled out a package.
“Sugar or snicker doodles?”
“Both are fantastic.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
I pulled her in for a hug. “I’m going to miss you too.” We chatted for a while until I heard someone else knocking at my door. “Who is it?” Xavier opened the door and gave me a smile that sent my heart soaring. “You’re back!” I felt at him and tackled him.
Xavier let out a throaty laugh and fixed his askew glasses. “I wasn’t gone that long.”
“I know.” I coughed as I picked myself up and offered him a hand. He laughed and took it, but wouldn’t let me pull him up, he used his own power.
“Are you ready? The car is waiting as is Lord Raleigh.”
“Lord Raleigh? Ethan’s mate?” Gwen turned to me. “What is going on here?”
“James set it up.” I sighed. “He thinks that since Raleigh is an accepted member of society it will help my imagine.”
“He’ll be a prat like the rest of the lot.”
“Be nice, Gwen. I have to put up with him for an undetermined amount of time.”
“I’m going to miss you. We’ll be stuck with Angelica again.” Gwen crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out. “Delightful.”
“Gwen, you have my number, which is crazy, because I don’t even know what it is.” I laughed. “And I’ve already gotten your drunk texts. I expect plenty more while I’m gone. But I’ve got to get going.” I made to grab my bags, but Xavier had beaten me to it and already had them all.
“Come along, Juliet. We’ve got to get going.”
“See you soon, Gwen.” I promised as I followed Xavier to the door.
“You better. Don’t have too much drunken fun without me.”
“Would dream of it!” I shot her one last smile as I followed Xavier out. I stopped in my tracks when I saw Raleigh and my smile faltered.
He was wearing a slate grey shirt, black dress slacks, and polished black loafers. His eyes popped with the grey of his shirt and contrasted nicely with the blonde of his hair. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Juliet.” Raleigh took my hand and kissed the back of it before I pulled it back. “I can’t tell you how excited I am that your father allowed me to show you the country.” I nodded. He offered me his arm and I just stared at it. He had to be joking. “May I escort you to the car.”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“Juliet, be polite.” Xavier scolded. I rolled my eyes before I took Raleigh’s arm.
“Is something the matter?” Raleigh asked as he opened the door for me.
“Nope, everything is just peachy.”
Raleigh climbed in after me and Xavier after him. Raleigh thought it was a good idea to sit next to me. It was a very long ride in awkward silence. Raleigh kept trying, bless his heart, to start conversation with me, but I kept ignoring his attempts and as Xavier kicked me I started giving stiff, one word answers. I really didn’t want to talk to him and eventually I managed to fall asleep. The next thing I knew I was being gently shaken awake. I opened my eyes to see Raleigh and the first thing I did was throw a punch and scream. “What the hell!” I gasped as I scooted back until my back was against the opposite car door.
“Bloody hell, you can throw a punch.” Raleigh sighed as he cupped his jaw. “I was just trying to let you know we were here.”
I looked between Raleigh and Xavier and I remembered what was going on. Xavier was trying to stifle a laugh with a cough and managed to make it look legit. “Right, sorry about that.” I apologized as I scratched the back of my head. “Sorry.”
“Well, the arrangements have already been made. Christine knows you’re here, as does Chad. I need to find Lana. Juliet, you are going to be meeting a designer in a few hours to get your dress situated, until then, Raleigh, I believe you’ve been here before. Would you give her the tour?”
“What?” I asked as I glared at Xavier. He was going to leave me alone with him?
“Of course. I haven’t seen Greg in ages. We’ll meet you up in the main house.” Raleigh grabbed my hand and started leading me away. I pulled my hand free and glared at him instead. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes. Who said you can hold my hand?”
“Well, this is a date, isn’t it?” Raleigh smiled. It was a charming smile, but I’d seen smiles like that too many times.
“No, this is me having no choice. A date implies you asking me and me saying yes.”
Raleigh’s smile changed and I think I saw the mask slipping. It was still a smile, but it looked less practiced. “Fair enough. May I escort you?”
“You can show me around, but no funny business.”
Raleigh couldn’t hide his laugh. “You are so cute when you’re being indignant.”
“Getting me pissed is a bad way to win me over.”
“Maybe I like it.”
“Then you’re an idiot.”
“Maybe, but you’re still amusing. Come on, I’ll show you to Greg’s place.”
I honestly like Greg’s house. It had that lived in appeal that I loved, unlike Eastgate estate, where everything looked too practiced and formal. This house looked like someone lived in it. My favorite part of the place was the massive black lab that leaped on me and nearly knocked me over as he began ferociously living my face.
I pushed him off before I kneeled down and he trotted back over. “Who is this charming prince?” I grinned as I stroked him behind the ears.
“Sorry about that.” A boy with shaggy brown hair apologized as he pulled the dog away from me.
“It’s alright, he makes me miss my Loki back home.” I felt a pang of guilt. This was the longest I’d been gone since I’d gotten Loki. I hadn’t really kept in touch since I’d been here. I’d pretty much fallen off the face of the earth.”
“He’s my German Shepherd back home. I miss him. This one here is just a sweetheart.”
“Yeah, he just loves everyone.” the boy chortled. “Harvey, sit.” The dog sat and I smiled. “I’m Greg.” He offered me a hand and I went to shake it, but he bowed and kissed my hand instead. “Raleigh, it’s been too long.”
“Yeah, I know mate. How’ve you been?”
“Great, and you must be Juliet.”
“Yes, that’s me.” I felt awkward as they exchanged glances and had a silent conversation in front of me. “And we use our words so no one feels left out?” I muttered under my breath.
“I was actually just about to head up to the main house. Have you seen Christine yet?”
“No. I miss that girl.”
“Let’s head up there then.”
I followed Greg up and I heard a squeal and braced for Christine’s hug. “Juliet! I’m so glad you could come!”
“I’ve missed you!”
“Me too! How’s everything been?” Christine pulled me away from the boys. “Are you here with Raleigh?”
“Yeah.” I sighed with a roll of my eyes.
“Why do you say it that way? Raleigh is a good guy.”
Christine shook her head and we went back over to the boys and chatted for what felt like hours until Xavier came and found us. “Pleasure to see you Christine, Greg. Juliet, it’s time for your fitting. I’m afraid I have to steal her away.”
I happily followed him. “Thank you for saving me.” I whispered. Xavier smiled and gave me a sideways glance.
“I knew you didn’t want to be around Raleigh, but I had little other choice. It would look suspicious if I followed the two of you around, so I gave you space. I did make good use of my time, however. I’ve had this dress designed for you, though it might need a few alterations. I hope you like it.”
“You picked out my dress?”
“I had it designed for you.”
“Thanks. How long have you known about this?”
“Okay, show me the dress.” I was led to a room with a man who introduced himself as Paolo and had a thick accent I couldn’t place. It was almost French and something else.
“Zis is vat you vanted, I do believe.”
My jaw dropped. It was a beautiful shimmery, almost iridescent material that changed color in the light. It started a deep crimson at the top and it darkened as it flowed down to the floor to a deep burgundy. It was gorgeous. It was a one shouldered gown, that covered my tattooed shoulder and had black and gold embellishments stitched through out. The bodice had a sweetheart neckline and was corset inspired and flared out in an a-line fashion. It had a sort of attitude and kick to it and I love it.
“Well, try it on.” Xavier smiled as he situated himself in a chair.
“Zis vay.” I was led to a screen that I guessed neither of them could see through. The dress fit like a glove. I looked at myself in the mirror and smile. I almost couldn’t believe my reflection was me. I walked out and Xavier stared for a long moment. “I vould have razer not had sleeves, but Meester Xavier insisted upon at least zee one, so I did vat I had to. I’m not sure how I feel about zis.”
“I love it.” I smiled. “Thank you, Paolo.”
“As long as you’re happy, at is vat matters. I’ll let you two discuss.”
Paolo hurried out and closed the door behind himself.
“Well?” I asked. Xavier still hadn’t said a word.
“You look, you’re so…” Xavier cleared his throat. “Wow. You look beautiful.”
I smiled. “You think so?”
“No doubt of it. How are you feeling?”
“Your face, is it still tender?”
I’d forgotten about that. I reached up and winced. “Yeah, I guess it is if I touch it.”
“I was afraid of that. I’ll warn the makeup artists. I’ll be sure they’re gentle.”
Xavier stood and it looked like he was studying me. Xavier’s hand traced my face around where his fist had made contact and I couldn’t reach the expression on his face.
“What are you thinking right now?” I asked.
“How much of a monster I am for hurting you.”
“You are no such thing. I’ve met a few monsters, but you aren’t one of them.”
Xavier gave me a sad smile. “You don’t know everything.” Xavier ran his hand through my hair and stepped away from me. “There is much you do not know, but this is hardly the time.”
“Xavier, whatever you’re afraid to tell me, it can’t be that bad. I don’t see anything wrong with you, other than your arrogance with servants.”
Xavier shook his head. “You are too kind sometimes. Now, get changed. They’ll wonder if we’re gone too long.” Xavier left the room without another word.
That boy confused me beyond belief. Whatever. I pulled my jeans back on and the sweater and then hung the dress over the screen. Not knowing what else to do, I started wandering. It wasn’t long until I, quite literally, ran into Ian.
“Sorry,” we both muttered.
“Juliet? When did you get here?”
I shrugged. “A few hours ago.” Ian offered me a hand and helped me to my feet. “How are you?”
“I’m doing well. And yourself?”
“I’m good. What are you up to?” I asked raising an eyebrow. He looked like he was nervous, like something important was going on.
I crossed my arms and shifted my weight to one side. “Something?”
“Yes, erm, something.”
“Just tell me, I’m going to find out.”
“I have something very important to ask tonight.”
“Are you popping the question?”
“Shh!” Ian hushed motioning with his hands which I found hilarious and adorable.
“Ah, so I’m right. It better not be that Amelia I met last time.”
“Oh, no it isn’t.”
“You haven’t heard?”
“No.”I shook my head. I felt so out of the loop. “What have I missed?”
“I’m seeing Lana now.”
“Mhmm, that makes sense. I noticed the two of you before. So, that’s the girl you were in love with.”
“Yes, yes, you were right. Are you happy now?”
“Very.” I nodded.
“I didn’t expect to see you, but can I get your opinion anyway? You seem the sort to be honest no matter the consequence.”
I shrugged. That was true. “Sure, what’s up?”
Ian pulled out a small box and opening it. Perched inside was one of the most beautiful rings I had ever seen. “Well?”
“Do you think she’ll like it?”
“That girl is head over heels for you. You could give her a quarter machine ring and because it’s from you she’d love it.”
Ian sighed and seemed to visibly relax. “Thank you, Juliet.”
“No problem. I seem to have lost everyone else, do you need any help with whatever you’re up to?”
I was giggling like a school girl. I was helping Ian set up for the big moment which would be happening later tonight. I was so excited. I loved having secrets, especially this kind.
“And remember she mustn’t suspect a thing.” Ian reminded me for the umpteenth time.
“Okay, so I should go find a bull horn and scream into it, right?”
Ian smiled and let out a sigh. “You might want to go get ready. Christine is looking for you.”
“How do you…” Ian help up his cell phone and I nodded. “That makes sense. Where should I be?”
“Greg is on his way here, I’m sure he won’t mind visiting Christine for another moment. I’ll have him take you to her room.”
An hour later Christine looked like the princess she was. “Christine, you’re going to be the belle of the ball.” I smiled.
“You too, just look at yourself.”
“Greg is going to love it.” I saw Christine flush.
“Do, do you think so?” she stammered looking at herself in the mirror again.
“Yes, if he doesn’t he’s an idiot.”
“So, why don’t you like Raleigh?”
“He blackmailed me into a date.” I answered, my tone flat. “Then went to my father rather than asking me.”
“That’s because you said no to him.” Christine smiled. “He really does like you.”
“I’m just fresh meat. I’m the new girl without any history with them.”
“I can assure you Raleigh isn’t like that. He’s persistent when he wants something. He really does like you.”
“Well too bad. I don’t feel that way about him.”
“Is there someone else?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m not seeing anyone.”
Christine raised an eyebrow. “Then what is it?”
I shrugged. “I just don’t feel like that about him.”
“If you could dance with anyone tonight, who would it be?”
“I have no idea.”
Christine gave me a coy little smile. “Okay.”
“What does that mean?”
“If you won’t be honest with yourself, then I can’t expect you to be honest with me. That’s okay. You’ll figure it out. I’m so excited.”
“Wait, Christine, what are you talking about?”
“Oh Juliet!” Christine grabbed my hands and spun me. “It’s about time!”
Before I knew it I was on Raleigh’s arm and being announced to a room full of mostly strangers. I was beyond excited to see Fiore again. I watched with baited breath as Christine was properly introduced into society. She was every bit a princess. It was too cute the way she and Greg looked at one another.
“May I have this dance?” Raleigh asked offering his arm.
“Do I really have to?” I asked giving Fiore a look.
“Raleigh, of course you can,” Fiore winked at me and took his hand and she began leading him around the dance floor.
I mouthed ‘thank-you’ to her and she gave me the thumbs up as she twirled off with Raleigh who didn’t know what to do.
“That wasn’t very nice.” I heard Xavier chide behind me.
I shrugged. “I don’t want to dance with him. He’s already got the wrong idea.” I sighed.
“Who do you want to dance with?”
“I don’t know. Fiore seems safe.” I joked.
“Would you like a drink?”
“I’d love one.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’m going to get some air.”
I walked out of the huge tent that had been brought in for the event and took a long breath of the crisp country air. It just felt clean here. Open. Free.
“Still wondering off by yourself?”
I jumped at the familiar voice. It was a voice I’d never thought I’d have to hear again.