“I guess this is it,” I said, brushing the palms of my hands on my jeans as I glanced around the room one more time. I had gotten used to it being an organized mess over the past couple weeks, so it was unusual to see it so spotlessly clean.
Alisha smiled softly, watching as a footman carried the last of her bags out the door before taking both my hands in hers. “It was lovely to get to know you, Jules. Please keep in touch, okay?”
“You too,” I replied automatically, thinking that it seemed like just yesterday that I’d welcomed her to Astoria. But the official announcement that the engagement had been called off was made this morning, so it was only a matter of time before Alisha packed her things and left. I supposed she wanted to be gone sooner rather than later in an effort to reduce the awkwardness.
I would miss her, though. We hadn’t known each other for very long, yet I felt like we’d been friends for a lifetime and my days would be a little bit emptier without her in them. I knew that technology made it easier for us to keep in contact, but I felt like the promise to keep in touch was a hollow one in this instance. Especially since once Alisha arrived back in Aberdeen, her parents would undoubtedly start the hunt for a new husband, keeping her busy, unless she decided to tell them truth about the ownership of her heart.
Stepping forward, she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and pulled me into a tight embrace, whispering in my ear as though sharing a secret, “And if you ever happen to find yourself in Aberdeen, you know how to find me.”
She’d given me her private cell number, the one she only gave to people she trusted implicitly, and I was honored to be on that list. Maybe I would get up the nerve to text her at some point in the near future and maybe she would actually reply and maybe we would stay good friends. But that’s all it was; a bunch of maybes.
Still, I’d always wanted to visit Aberdeen. So I promised myself that if we ever did end up in the same kingdom again, I would make an effort to reach out to her, no matter my fears that nothing would come of the gesture.
“I do,” I smiled as we pulled apart, feeling slightly more hopeful about the future of our friendship than I had a few moments before. “Goodbye, Alisha.”
Leaning in, she kissed me quickly on the cheek before turning towards the door, lifting one hand in a wave as she walked away. “Goodbye.”
I stared after her for a moment once she was gone, finding it surreal that she could disappear from my life so quickly; just as quickly as she had entered it. With a shaky sigh, I left the guest suite a few minutes later, turning down the hall towards Tristan’s suite to meet him, like I’d promised I’d do as soon as Alisha and I had finished our goodbyes. I was stopped on my slow trek down the hallway, however, by the sound of my father’s voice calling out my name.
“Hey, Dad!” I grinned, feeling instantly relaxed at the sight of him. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in years. Preparations for Tristan’s upcoming trip to Pressia had been keeping him on lockdown. His recently insane schedule explained the bags of exhaustion under his eyes, but not the concerned furrow in his brow. I matched the expression as he came to a halt at my side. Everything alright?”
“You tell me,” he replied pointedly, crossing his arms over his chest like he used to do when I was a child and he was waiting for me to confess to something he already knew I had done. “Did something happen between you and Tristan?”
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and I couldn’t raise my voice above a whisper as I replied, “What makes you say that?”
His answer was vague, yet oddly telling. “The king wants to see you.”
“Shit.” Cursing definitely seemed to be the most appropriate response. The king requesting my presence meant that he was in the know about the recent shift in my relationship with Tristan and my guess was that King Robert was far from pleased.
My father let out an exasperated sigh, his entire posture relaxing. “What happened, Jules?”
“Tristan and I….,” I began, pausing because I was unsure how to continue. I felt like he already knew the answer. And usually, I’d have no problem telling him the truth, but usually, my romantic life didn’t profoundly clash with his professional one. I kept my response as cryptic as possible. “We’re gonna see where it goes.”
He quirked an eyebrow upwards. “As in, you guys are together?”
The question was so direct that I knew it warranted a direct answer, so I gulped and nodded. “Yes.”
I wasn’t sure what I expected. My father knew all about my feelings for Tristan. He’d known since I’d figured them out myself as a teenager. And although he’d always encouraged me to get everything out in the open, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if he was glad that I’d never taken that step before. Because me being only platonically involved with Tristan meant that I wasn’t a threat to the future of Astoria, which meant that I remained in the king’s good graces, which meant that my father and I were kept safe.
But one blurted out confession had set the future of Astoria on a completely different path and I wasn’t sure my father was prepared for the consequences. I wasn’t sure I was either.
A bright smile encapsulated his expression. “Well, it’s about time.”
Okay, maybe he was prepared. Or maybe he just didn’t care. Either way, I was a little shocked. “You’re not mad?”
“No, sweetie, why would I be mad?” he smiled softly, reaching out both hands to reassuringly grip my shoulders. “I just want you to be happy and I know for a fact that Tristan makes you happy.”
Of course. I knew that. But my father was my father. He was pretty much programmed to support me in any way possible. The trouble came in the form of someone else’s father. I scrunched up my nose, preparing for the worst. “Is the king mad?”
My dad knew better than to be anything but straightforward, letting out a heavy sigh. “He didn’t seem too pleased when he asked me to find you.”
“Oh.” I felt my heart fall into my stomach. I wasn’t sure why I was so surprised. The king had made it clear since I was a child that Tristan’s romantic relationships had to serve a purpose that would be beneficial to Astoria, which is why the fact that Tristan and I were only friends, never bothered him before. But now…now I was upsetting the balance of the life he had carefully constructed for his son and if there was one thing I knew about King Robert, it was that he hated when plans changed.
“Promise me something, okay sweetie?” my father said, no doubt noticing my crestfallen expression, “Promise me that no matter what the king says, you’re not gonna give up on Tristan.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused as to why he would say that.
He kept his resolve. “I’ve watched you be in love with him for most of your life and I don’t want you to walk away from that just because the king’s not happy.”
The romantic in me understood, but the rational part of me saw more than one problem with that situation. “But…what if he takes it out on you?”
Considering how much mental back and forth I’d gone through for the past couple weeks, that was actually a scenario that I hadn’t given much thought to. But I was thinking about it now. It was entirely possible that the king would be so upset about my relationship with Tristan that he’d try to cut us out of the royal family’s life entirely, starting with telling my dad to find a new job.
“Then he’s not a particularly good person, is he?” my dad shrugged nonchalantly, as though the prospect of having to completely start over wasn’t at all daunting. Keeping our gazes locked, he spoke softly. “Look, don’t worry about me. You just live your life and do what makes you happy and whatever happens, happens.”
It was such simple advice. I just hoped that it led to a simple solution. Grinning, I wrapped my arms around his middle and squeezed him tightly. “I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, sweetheart,” he murmured into my hair, swaying me gently.
I kept myself safe and warm in his embrace for a few more moments before stepping away and turning down the hall towards the king’s offices, calling out over my shoulder, “Wish me luck.”
I was going to need it.