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Chapter 18

"When you love someone, you let them take care of you."
~Jodi Picoult


Annalise

I'd just showered, dried my hair, and crawled into my nice warm bed when someone knocked softly on my door. At first, I groaned, wondering who forgot what from dinner.

Then I looked at the time.

11:30 pm.

Who the hell would be here at this time of night? I tiptoed to the door. The person knocked again, slightly louder but not by much. I tiptoed to the door, not wanting to alert the visitor I was here in case they were here to rob me instead of a friendly house call. Peering through the peephole, I froze, recognizing the crazy gray hair and black trench coat. I threw open the door.

"Will, what on-"

"I had to get away from the palace," he interrupted. "I know it's late, and I hate doing this to you because you need sleep, but I just need a couch to crash on. I don't know where else to go."

"Will, what happened?" I demanded gently, pulling him inside. "Where are your bodyguards?"

"I snuck out. Father and I had a nasty argument. He knows I know about his Alzheimer's, and I called him out on keeping it a secret from me. Dad said he thought I wouldn't be able to handle knowing the truth, and I lost my temper. If he thought badly of me before, he certainly thinks even less of me now. I-" Will was interrupted by his cellphone ringing. Glancing down at the caller ID, he made a disgusted face and ignored it. "It's my dad."

"Look, I know you don't want to talk to him," I said, "but at least tell him you're safe. He's probably worried like crazy."

Will scoffed. "The only thing he's worried about is what's going to be in the press tomorrow if it gets out that I've snuck out of the palace."

"What about your mom?"

"I'm mad at her too but not near as much as my dad. At least she apologized. That's more than my dad did, and more than he will do."

His phone rang again. This time it was his mom. Still, he ignored it.

"You take my bed, Will. I'll sleep on the couch." His phone buzzed again. Will continued to ignore the incessant ringing.

"I'm not taking your bed. I'll take the couch. You need the sleep more than I do."

"But, you're the guest."

"An uninvited one."

"Invited or not, you're still a guest."

"Then, as the prince of Verona, I'm ordering you to sleep in your bed while I take your couch. No arguments. I've had enough of those for one night, and you're the last person I want to argue with right now."

I sighed. "What exactly did you say to your dad?"

Will shrugged. "That I'm sorry for everything. I don't really remember to be honest. I was so mad at him that I'm not sure what came out of my mouth. The last thing I apologized for was not being the perfect son he wanted."

"No one's perfect, Will. You've made mistakes, your dad's made mistakes, and I have too." I placed my hands on his shoulders. "You have nothing to apologize for."

"But I do. I'm not the son he wanted me to be, and I never will. I've accepted that now. I just-" Will huffed in annoyance when his phone rang for about the fiftieth time. This time he picked up. "What?... Oh, James… I'm fine… no, stop my parents from sending out a search party… yes, I'm fine… no, don't call Annalise either… yes, I know she could find me, but I've already talked to her… trust me, my dad's not worried about me… it's an act. Us royals are good at that… fine, I'll call him… yeah, you too."

Will hung up and tipped his head backward, staring at my ceiling for a few moments.

"Will?" I asked hesitantly. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I have to call my mom. I'm just now realizing what I've dragged you into, and I'm really sorry." Will cupped my cheek and kissed me on the side of the head before stepping away and dialing a number. Ignoring the pounding of my heart, I moved to the kitchen, pretending not to eavesdrop as I made two glasses of water.

"Hi, mom… I'm fine… no, I'm not coming home. Not right now… I- no, don't put dad on the-" Will pinched the bridge of his nose. "Hello, Sir… fine… no… it's not like you're going to tell me any more than I already know if I come home… I don't care…"

Will fell silent. I could hear his father on the other end, ranting and raging. Will's face reddened by the second, turning such a violent shade of scarlet I thought he might cry.

But I was grievously mistaken. Will was upset, but not sad. He was furious, growling into the phone, "You leave her out of this. She has nothing to… don't act like you know her when you don't. Talk to mom about it and see how wrong you are. She stays. I'll be home tomorrow. Good night."

Will hung up. I hesitated before asking, "Who was he bringing into the conversation you didn't want him to?"

"You. He thinks you're the reason I'm running off right now." Will let out a humorless chuckle. "Never accepts responsibility for things he causes. He doesn't have that right when you're my secretary, not his. Besides, I need you. And not just because you force me to get things done."

"Oh?"

"You're my best friend. I need someone who doesn't treat me like a prince twenty-four-seven."

"You can always count on me to be truthful with you. Why don't I get you some blankets and pillows?" I offered.

"That sounds great. Let me help, though." I didn't object, and the two of us went to the closet, grabbing the items we needed. Fixing up the couch, Will plopped down, sinking into the cushions.

"Can I get you anything else?" I inquired, sitting next to him.

"No. You have already gone above and beyond by letting me come in." He leaned forward, rubbing his face. "I'm not looking forward to the shit storm I've caused tomorrow."

"I'll support you in any way I can," I promised. Will smiled softly, taking my hand in his.

"Can you promise me something? If I start throwing blame on other people when it's my fault, will you please slap me upside the head and knock some sense into me?"

I laughed. "I might get thrown into jail for assaulting the future king, but I can at least guarantee I'll knock some sense into you. You know I don't hold back what's on my mind when it comes to you."

"All too well." He kissed the back of my hand. "You're an angel, Annalise Stark. I don't know what I'd do without you right now."

"You'd probably be at James'," I said. "You always have him, and you always have me. If you need anything else, come get me, okay?"

"All right. Goodnight, Annalise."

"Goodnight, Will." I kissed him on the head and let him be, once more crawling into the comfort of my own bed. Despite my exhaustion, my mind raced, wondering just how bad the consequences were going to be for me for keeping Will's location a secret.

Then again, I didn't really care. Will needed an escape, and if that meant coming to me rather than getting shit-faced at a party, then I would bear whatever consequences came my way. I would protect him like he was protecting me.

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