Gwen handed me a pair of pinstripe dress slacks and a deep red top with a black blazer. “This will make you and your dad happy.”
I dressed quickly and followed Gwen down to the parlor. She disappeared into one of the servant’s secret passageways.
“Ah, Juliet, you’re looking better. Are you feeling better?” James asked, concern evident on her features.
“Yeah, a few extra hours of rest can do wonders.” I assured him as I looked around. Millie was sneering at me, as usual. Carolynn had a tired expression on her face, bags under her eyes and beside her was someone else. He was tall, had brown hair so dark it was almost black, and deep chocolaty brown eyes. He looked a little older than me, but not my more than a few years. He looked like someone who took care of themselves, despite the five o’clock shadow across his strong jaw.
“Juliet, this is your advisor, Xavier Lewis. Xavier, this s my daughter, Juliet.” James introduced.
“It’s a pleasure.” I offered my hand. He shook it with a strong grip and turned to my father.
“Now, I know this will be an uphill battle for you, as you’re starting with a challenge from the start.” James started. “But I do appreciate all that you can do.”
Xavier nodded. “I will do what I can.” Xavier turned to me. “Lana called and warned me a bit about you. She tells me you’re more or less clueless. I hope I fix this, Lord Eastgate. With you permission, I’d like to show her how a lady should behave in public.”
“That sounds fine with me. Juliet, are you feeling up to it?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“Very well, behave yourself.”
Xavier offered a hand and I took it. He led me outside to where a car was waiting. He helped me into the car and sat across from me. He gave me a stern look once we were seated comfortably. “Honestly, I was expecting worse.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means Lana was damn near in hysterics when she called me. At least there is a lot that’s right with you.”
“I’m not really sure how to take that.”
“Juliet, I am here to repair an image and prevent future disasters. To do that, I’m going to teach you how to prevent these sorts of events from happening in the first place. I’m good, I’m bloody brilliant when I have to be, but even I’m not god. This will take work. To fix what happened will require a certain finesse. This will begin with image. I have some friends in high places, fortunately for you. I’ve called in a few favors. Today we will be meeting with several people and together we’ll create an approved, more appropriate image for you.”
“It doesn’t really have to be who you are, but it will have to be who you are in the public eye. Does that make sense?”
“That’s politics.” Xavier cut me off. The look he gave me made me not want to argue. “Politics are not about truth, but illusion and image. Your father is a politician, and by extension you represent him. If he is unqualified to control a single, unruly child, how can he be qualified to make decisions for the good of the masses? Do you see what I’m saying?”
I sighed. It made sense.”
“As you’re not arguing with me, I imagine I’m getting through to you.”
“I can see what you’re saying, and I can even see the logic behind it. I even agree to it, to some extent. But I can’t agree with all of it.”
“Then I hope you’re partial to your room.”
“They won’t let you out if they don’t trust you to behave yourself.”
“So what? I’m locked in a room the rest of my life? You know, I am an American, I can always go back.”
“True.” Xavier nodded. “And they’d eat you alive. The paparazzi will hunt you down, harass you, and they will be merciless. You will always be a public figure from here on out because of who you are. Don’t forget, your uncle is the king. If you make his life more difficult, I can assure you he’ll return the favor.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t promise to all of this, but I guess I can try.”
“Good. We’re making progress. We’re meeting with a stylist first.”
Three hours, and much discussion and argument later, we were at a small dress shop. Xavier was glaring at me, his jaw clenched. “What is that?” He growled, his eye locked on my shoulder.
“A tattoo.” I shot back.
“What in the world would possess you to get that?”
“I have three.”
Xavier pinched the bridge of his nose and took a calming breath. “You are wearing on the last of my patience. Where are the other two?”
I showed him my ankle and foot. It was a music inspired piece with a treble clef, bass clef, and the staff and notes. “And there’s one on my hip.” I shot back, my eyes and tone defiant.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
“The one of my shoulder is for my mom, and the other two were because I got bored.”
“Because you…” Xavier’s glare intensified and he took several more breaths. “Because you got bored?”
“You are being insufferable right now. You are aware of that, right?”
“Been called worse.”
“Lana was right.”
“Right about what?”
“She warned that you may be even out of my hands. Understand how infuriating you’re being. You’ve fought me on absolutely everything today. You are purposely being combative. I have never wanted to strike someone so much in my life.”
“And to think, I’ve only known you a few hour.” I cooed and batted my eyes.
“This isn’t a game, Juliet!” Xavier shouted.
I took a step back. Xavier was tall. I hadn’t realized how tall until he shouted. He was at least six feet tall, and I was barely over five feet. He had the potential to be frightening. I had the feeling this side of him was rare, but I was just the right pain in the ass to bring out the worst in everyone around me.
“Do you have any concept of how your actions affect all those around you?”
“You are a selfish child. You have no idea how to act like an adult, do you?” Xavier grumbled something incoherent under his breath. “Very well, if you are going to act like a child, you will be treated as a child. You don’t get to make any decisions until you prove you cam make grown up decisions.”
“Excuse me? What did you just say?”
“Giovanni!” Xavier called as he stormed out of the dressing room. “You get to pick her outfits for her. I want that bloody shoulder covered at all times. Other than that you have free rein.”
Two hours later, I was livid and more or less pouting. Xavier had spent the last two hours making all decisions for me. It was infuriating. Whenever I said something, he acted like I hadn’t and no one else was paying me any mind.
“Juliet,” Xavier turned to me. “are you hungry?”
“Yes.” I grumbled as I glared out the window of the car.
“Would you like to get some dinner?”
“Very well. Change into one of your new dresses. I liked the blue one personally.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“I’m taking you somewhere nice.”
“So what I’m wearing isn’t nice?” I snapped.
“Now you’re finally catching on. Now, come on, hurry up.”
I changed into the blue dress he’d hinted at and he handed me a pair of black boots that came half way up my calves. Xavier had ensured all my tattoos were covered.
“You’re starting to look like a lady. I have reservations for us.” Xavier took my to a fancy five star Italian restaurant. We were seated and I looked at the menu. Almost everything was written in Italian.
Someone I recognized came up to our table. “Good evening, what can I get for you tonight Mr. Lewis and…Juliet?”
I looked up. Where did I know him from?
“Lady Eastgate.” Xavier corrected. “I’ll have a merlot this evening for starters, go ahead, be quick about it.”
“Don’t talk to him that way. You’ve been bitching all day about manners this and etiquette that, but what about a simple please and thank you?” I snapped.
Xavier growled out, “Please.”
The boy smiled at me while Xavier’s eyes were locked on me. “I’ll be right back with that.”
Xavier glared at me from across the room. “Don’t embarrass me again.”
“You embarrassed yourself. I just pointed out that you’re rude. I might be stupid sometimes, but at least I’m not purposely rude.”
Xavier scoffed and shook his head. “Don’t say things like that.”
“First off, I’m not rude, just direct. Secondly, you aren’t stupid. Ignorant perhaps, but you aren’t stupid.”
I considered him for a long moment. What was he getting at?
After a moment Xavier sighed. “What are you going to get?”
“I have no idea.”
“May I suggest the - ”
“Xavier, what are you playing at?”
“What are you doing here, really? I believe there’s more here than you’re telling me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You didn’t deny it, which means I hit some level of truth. Plus you answered a question with a question. Half the day, you act like I have the subpar intelligence of a snail, and suddenly at dinner you’re an entirely different person. I want to know why.”
Xavier gave me a strange smile. “How astute…I shall have to watch myself around you more closely.”
“So you are up to something.”
“Get whatever you like.” Xavier dismissed as he glanced back at his menu.
The waiter came back with two glasses of merlot. “How are you feeling today, love?”
“That is no way to speak to the daughter of a duke.” Xavier scolded as he threw a scowl at the boy.
“Juliet?” The waiter asked as his eyes shifted between Xavier and me. “What’s going on?”
I looked at him for a long moment and then it started coming back. Our waiter was the boy from last night. “Oh! I remember you!”
“Great.” Harper still looked confused.
“Juliet, you know this boy?” Xavier asked.
“Yeah! You’re the singer from the band last night!”
“Yeah.” Harper laughed.
“Band? What band?” Xavier demanded, giving me a hard look. It was then that I realized.
“My band was playing at a pub last night.”
I shook my head and covered my face.
“Oh? Last night? Interesting.” Xavier raised an eyebrow, his eyes locked on me. “Juliet, care to explain?”
“No. No, I’m good.” It was right about now that Harper caught on.
“We recorded an EP. Gwen brought her a recording. Gwen introduced us.” He gave me a wink. “I’m Harper Abby, lead singer of Flaming Penguins. This is just my day job.”
“Interesting.” Xavier’s eyes never left mine. “No wonder you were ill this morning and fine by the time I arrived.” Xavier gave me a coy, knowing smile. “Harper, was it? Tell me more about what really happened last night.”
“I just met up with Gwen.”
I shook my head. “I, uh, I don’t remember.” Harper shrugged. “I had a lot to drink last night, but I can’t forget a pretty face like hers.”
I felt my cheeks flush and couldn’t help but smile.
“Very well.” Xavier ordered for both of us and sent Harper away. “I hope you know I don’t believe you or Harper were completely honest with me. You have two options; you can either tell me the truth or I tell you father I believe you snuck off last night with a servant. If I suggest a name, she may lose her job.”
I felt my anger rise up. “And what are you going to do if I tell you something?”
“Gauge the severity of your actions and take action accordingly.”
“I need to know what I’m dealing with when it comes to you. You are strong willed, intelligent, fiery, stubborn, and a free spirit. You have to potential to be great or the greatest train wreck in history depending on three things; your will, your training, and most importantly, your choices.”
I nodded. “If something is suggested, are you going to try to get someone fired?”
Xavier shook his head. “That would not be my intention, provided the individual didn’t intentionally cause you harm.”
“Are you going to tell my father?”
“If there is no reason to, then I won’t.”
I nodded. “I want your word of honor.”
Xavier nodded. “I give you my word, but I need you to be honest with me. I cannot do my job if I don’t know what’s really going on with you.”
“Okay.” I sighed. “Gwen works for my father. She was trying to help me with all the etiquette and what fork is which and all that crap. I still think it’s stupid, but I think I’m starting to get it. She saw me yesterday, I was feeling pretty defeated. Let’s just say I’m not one for being cooped up alone in a room without my freedom. I hate it. I’ve never had this happen before. So, Gwen helped me the best way she could. She disguised me and took me out. No one saw me, no one recognized me. We had a few drinks and then Harper helped us get back to the manor.”
“No one caught on to who you are?”
“And you successfully disguised yourself.”
“That doesn’t totally surprise me.”
“So now what are you going to do?”
“I’ll start my accepting your father’s invitation to live at the manor.”
“To keep a closer eye on you. I’m going to need to be on full alert to keep an eye on you. Otherwise, you will take a chance on something, and I won’t be there to help you.”
“And do you plan on telling my father?”
“What good would that do?”
“And you’re not going to get Gwen in trouble?”
“I believe that will do more harm than good.”
“Am I supposed to trust you?”
“Am I supposed to trust you?” Xavier mirrored. “Trust is a mutual thing, Juliet. If I am to gain your trust, I must also extend my own. I will make a deal with you. There are certain things you cannot do and I cannot allow you to do.” I nodded and waited for him to go on. “But I believe imprisonment would be far worse for you. You will rebel and do as you please either way. I would much rather be able to accompany you on such occasions to make your bad decisions less severe.”
I took a sip of my wine as I thought it over. “Maybe.”
Xavier laughed. “That is probably the best I’m going to get from you. This is going to be an adventure.”
Harper returned with our food not long after that and gave me a shy smile. “It’s okay Harper, he knows.” I smiled back. “It’s okay.”
Harper sighed. “That’s good. Gwen told me how much trouble you’ve been in. I didn’t want to make any more for you.”
“I’d like to see you again.”
“I”d like that too.”
Xavier cleared his throat. “I could do with another glass of wine.”
“Of course Mr. Lewis.” Harper gave me a wink as he left to refill Xavier’s glass.
“What is going on between the two of you?” Xavier asked raising an eyebrow.
“Dunno yet, but he seems nice enough.”
“Stay away from him.”
“That boy is going to make trouble for you. My advice, stay away from him, far away.”
“You want me to be honest with you, right?”
“Telling me not to do something, usually makes me want to do it even more. Especially if it’s something I wanted to do in the first place. So telling me who I can and can’t associate with, it probably a good way to piss me off.”
“So, I’m going to need to reverse psychology you?”
“No, just don’t tell me what to do.”
“Juliet, telling you what to do is my job description.”
I rolled my eyes. “True as that may be, you’re going to have to find another way to do your job because I can’t be put in a box and made to be happy. Giving me lots of stifling restrictions is a good way to piss me off. When I get pissed off, I do stupid things. Just a little heads up.” I gave him a smile before I sat up perfectly straight and started using the proper etiquette that had been drilled into my head.
“You are truly a dangerous figure.” Xavier commented between bites.
Harper brought back the bottle of merlot. “Any more for you, my lady?” Harper smiled at me.
“That would be lovely.” I smiled back as I handed him my glass.
“Anything for you.” Harper turned to Xavier as he refilled my glass and Xavier’s. “I’ll leave the two of you for now, unless there’s something else I can get you?”
“We’re fine.” Xavier dismissed before I could and I shot him a warning look.
“Very well, I’ll come back to check on you later.” Harper gave me another wink before he was off to check on his other tables.
“Ehem.” Xavier coughed. It was then I realized I was staring at Harper’s backside. It was a nice backside.
“Ladies don’t stare.” Xavier warned, his voice cold. His entire demeanor had changed. What was his issue?”
“I’m an America, I’m supposed to be rude.” I teased.
“You’re an American for sure.”
I smiled. “You wouldn’t love me any other way.”
“Calm, quiet, collected and well behaved might be a nice change.”
I glared until I realized he was teasing too and I couldn’t help but laugh. “So tell me more about you.”
“What would you like to know?”
“What got you into this?”
“I went to Cambridge and studied in political science and was considering teaching. Jobs have been a bit scarce so I decided to travel instead. I’ve been traveling around Europe for the past year. Luckily for me, as I was on my way back, I got that call from Lana and now I have this job. I must retract my previous statement though. I don’t believe you are out of my hands. Perhaps you’re just a lot to take in at first.” He sipped his wine, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I do know one thing for certain, you will not allow me to get bored.”
After we finished Harper handed me a plate of zeppole half with chocolate drizzle, half with raspberry drizzle. “Oh the house.”
“Aww how sweet! Who told you I love zeppole?”
“I’m just pscyho like that, I mean psychic.” he teased.
“I’m sure you’re both.” I laughed.
“I’d believe the former.” Xavier growled. I don’t think I was supposed to hear that.
“Enjoy, love.” Harper sauntered off again.
“Want some?” I asked pushing the plate to the center of the table. “Food is just better when it’s shared.”
Xavier smiled and we shared dessert. He paid the bill and hurried me out. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Harper, but had to fight my way through the paparazzi but this time I kept my mouth shut and just let Xavier usher me into the waiting car.
“I’m impressed.” Xavier smiled at me.
“You can keep your mouth shut.”
“Wow, you’re an advisor? Here I thought you were my own personal comedian.” I rolled my eyes. There was something about Xavier. He was stiff, calculating, and very much about work and business, but there was more to him that I wanted to get to know.
We spent the ride back teasing each other about everything we could and ended up laughing for most of it. When we pulled up to the manor James was waiting for us.
“Good evening, Lord Eastgate.” Xavier greeted with a bow.
“Good evening, Xavier, Juliet.”
“James.” I waved as we came up the steps.
“I just received two very important phone calls. The first is that you two were spotted by the paparazzi and there was not an incident. Juliet, I must say I’m proud of you. The second was from my sister. She too was phoned about the lack of incident, and after careful consideration, they’ve decided to give you another chance. There is a charity ball coming up in a two days. You are permitted to attend if you are able to behave yourself. If there is the slightest incident caused by you, well no one will be too keen to let you out of their sight anytime in the near future. Do you understand?”
“I can leave?”
“I’ll do it!”
“You have to find a dress tomorrow though.”
“Good night, darling. Tomorrow will be an early morning. Xavier, have you thought any more on my recommendation?”
“Yes sir, I’ve decided to accept your generous offer.”
“Very well, have your things sent for.”
James went back inside and I beamed at Xavier. “I can have freedom!”
“If you can behave.” Xavier cautioned.
“Do you have Lana’s phone number?”
“Can I get that from you?”
“Sure,” Xavier pulled out his phone. “It’s ringing.”
“Hello Xavier, oh my god what happened? Did she do something?”
“It’s Juliet actually,”
“I haven’t done anything bad yet, well again.”
“That’s a good sign.”
“I want to start by apologizing. I really had no idea what I was doing or how it would affect everyone else. I don’t want that to happen again, and I’m really truly sorry. So, in order to prevent something bad from happening, I have a really unfair thing to ask of you.”
“I have a favor to ask of you…I know it’s not fair but I think you’re one of the few people I can trust with this.”
“Because you don’t like me.”
Lana let out an irritated sigh. “What is it?”
“Will you take me shopping?”
“Why in the world would I do that? Do you remember what happened last time?”
“I understand if you say no, the only reason I asked you is you seem to know what you’re doing. You know what to say, what to do, what to wear, and you’d be honest with me. I don’t want to make everyone’s lives harder, but I don’t want to lose myself either…forget I said it. It was a stupid idea.”
Lana grumbled something under her breath and sighed. “Fine, but the second you do something ridiculous I have permission to smack you.”
“I understand, I know you don’t like me, and wait? What? Really?” I asked. I hadn’t expected her to agree. “Lana, you’re amazing! Truly amazing!”
“Can you take me shopping tomorrow? Apparently there’s some ball in two days?”
“You don’t have a dress?”
“No, why would I have a dress? I didn’t even know about this thing until about ten minutes ago.”
“Oh god, I’ll be there first thing in the morning. Be presentable, please.”
“Lana! You are the absolute bestest! I hope you know that! I owe you so much!”
“You have no idea.”
“Here’s Xavier, thank you so much!” I handed Xavier the phone and was ecstatic. “Thanks Xavier!” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and ran inside, toppling Angelica over.
“Would you watch where you’re going?”
“Sorry Angelica, how are you?”
“Delightful.” she sneered.
“Me too! Angelica, are you going to the ball?”
“Yeah! James just said I could!”
“I thought you were under house arrest.”
“The king said I can go if I can behave myself!”
“He really thinks that’s possible?”
“Yeah! I’m so excited! Are you going?”
“I have to go and get my dress tomorrow. Do you have yours yet?”
“Of course, I’ve had mine for weeks. You’re getting it tomorrow? The day before?”
“This is going to be rich.” She sneered.
“Oh, what color is your dress? Oh, and Millie’s”
“I don’t want to accidentally show up wearing the same color as you two. I know you two already don’t like me and I don’t want you guys to get mad that I’m wearing the same color as you guys or something. I really just want everyone to be able to have a good time.”
Angelica sighed. “Would you like to see mine?”
“Really? Yeah! Sure.”
Angelica rolled her eyes and led me to her room and pulled out a gorgeous crimson form fitting backless dress. “You are going to look stunning in that.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Good night, Angelica.” I walked out and to my room. I threw myself on the bed and smiled. I was going to get out of the house. I was floating on air. Tomorrow would be interesting.