“Insult is a monstrous scorpion, and compliment is a likable nightingale; one stings mercilessly, and the other sings sweetly.”
~Mehmet Murat Ildan
Hardly fifteen seconds into the song, King George asked, “Did you mean it earlier when you said you have no feelings for my son?”
I bristled. “I did, sir.”
“Even though you know he has some for you?”
“Will doesn’t have feelings for me, Your Majesty. He has trouble keeping secrets from me, and if he liked me in the way you believe he does, he would’ve told me by now, or at least given me some hint.”
“The gifts aren’t enough? The invitation for this trip wasn’t enough?”
“The gifts were him being nice because I have no dresses for formal events; I’ve never had the money to afford one nor a reason to buy one. As for the invitation for this trip, I’m his secretary. I must make sure he stays on schedule and doesn’t deviate,” I explained, barely containing my frustration.
“You didn’t come with us to Japan, though. Nor did you attend some of the trips after. Why this one?”
“I had family matters to deal with preventing me from traveling, but I organized Will’s entire agenda beforehand, and I was available twenty-four-seven when he needed me,” I said. “I hope I’m not coming off as impertinent, but I’m telling you the truth when I say I have no romantic feelings towards Will. My main focus in life right now is to give my sister a good life, to have enough money to send her to any university she wants to, and to let her live the way she wants to.”
“And later on? When she’s able to provide for herself and doesn’t need you to help her monetarily?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to university myself and get a degree. Maybe I’ll continue to be Will’s secretary because my life is pretty amazing with this job. I’m working with my best friends, making enough money to pay the bills and buy the necessities for my sister and me, and I have money left over to buy Christmas and birthday presents for her now. I haven’t had that since my parents passed.”
“You have earned my son’s trust very quickly, and I worry about his safety. I worry about girls taking advantage of his wealth and power to achieve the goals they want. You put your sister above everything else, so you must understand,” King George said, “just like you would do anything for your sister, I would do anything for my son. That includes protecting him from people trying to use him for their own selfish purposes.”
My nostrils flared. “Are you insinuating I would backstab Will by selling information to the tabloids to make more money to help my sister?”
I didn’t want others overhearing our conversation, but I was becoming increasingly more upset. I didn’t care what people thought about me, but I took great offense when they questioned my loyalty to my sister and to my friends. Just because I put my sister over everyone else doesn’t mean I’d sell out my friends. The audacity King George had to even assume that...
“You assume correctly.”
“Then it’s about time you listen to your son and understand I would never do such a thing,” I hissed, finally releasing some of my fury. “I might do anything for my sister, but that does not include going against my morals or compromising a dear and valuable friendship. There are very few people I’m close to in this world. Will is one of those. We understand what the other is going through because we understand that we don’t always need advice. Sometimes, we just need someone to lend an ear or to give us encouragement when things are hard, or when we need to get something off our chest, or when we need to talk about something that we can’t tell our family members. I’ve told Will things I’ve never told my sister because I don’t want her worrying about me more than she already does.”
The song ended as I finished my quiet tirade. I stepped back and gave the King a stiff curtsy. If you’ll excuse me, Your Majesty, the song is over, my feet hurt, and I’d rather not continue dancing with someone who questions my honesty and loyalty. Thank you for the dance.”
I left before he could stop me, finagling my way out of the crowd to the balcony to get some much needed fresh air. Thankfully it overlooked a courtyard the paparazzi didn’t have access to, so I didn’t need to worry about having my picture taken. It’d be difficult to explain away the furious expression I knew I wore, but I couldn’t get rid of it as hard as I tried. To say I was insulted by King George’s words barely sufficed. I did understand why he was protective of Will, but if I truly planned on selling him out, I would’ve done it a long time ago.
“What did my father say to you?” Will asked quietly, suddenly appearing next to me.
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently. I could handle being upset with King George, but I didn’t want Will dragged into it. He had enough problems with his dad. I didn’t want to add anything more to it.
“I saw you dancing with him, and I saw the look on your face. Anyone else would’ve been fooled by your mask, I know when you’re upset or angry, even when you try to hide it. Please tell me what he said.”
“What he said to me is not your fault,” I said.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t want to tell you because I don’t want you and your dad fighting any more than you already have on this trip.”
“Whatever he said got to you, though, and that takes a lot.” Will’s expression turned murderous. “Tell me he didn’t bring up Mia…”
“Not directly. He mostly questioned what I was willing to do for Mia and insinuated I would backstab you by selling information to the paparazzi to get more money to take care of her. I told him his assumption would go against my morals and that I’d never compromise a friendship by doing such a thing.” I sighed, wringing my hands, continuing to explain everything discussed in the conversation. The words kept coming; I couldn’t stop them. “I left before he could say anything else. I could handle him accusing me of not being trustworthy. I get that part. You’re royal. There’s always going to be people who want to take advantage of you. It was when he started questioning what I’d do for Mia that it started getting to me. I’m not perfect, but I do my best to take care of Mia, and I always will, even when she no longer needs me to take care of her.”
“Mia will always need you,” Will said. “Never doubt that.”
“Will, please don’t confront your dad while we’re here. I don’t want you fighting anymore with him on this trip than you already have.”
“Fine,” Will agreed, “but I’m talking with him about it when we return to Verona. I’m going to respect that you don’t want me fighting with him anymore on this trip, but I’m not going to let this insult to you slide.”
“But why bring it up when you know nothing you say will change his mind about me?” I protested. “I can tell you right now that he’s trying to find every reason not to trust me.”
“Then he’s just going to have to deal with it because, first and foremost, you’re my best friend, and second, I want you as my secretary, which means you need to come with me on trips like this.”
“I agree to both, but maybe we need to scale back the appearances together for the remainder of the trip?”
“Is that in response to my dad or to our fans?” Will asked jokingly.
“Your dad. People online ship fictional characters, so I’m not worried about what they think.”
“Then, if it’s just my dad, I’m not going to let him think he’s winning this argument by excluding you from the excitements of this tour. You’ve never been outside Verona, and I’m not letting him prevent you from seeing the sights while on this trip because he doesn’t like you.”
“But he’s the king.”
“I’m the future king.”
“You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”
“No. I don’t mind him arguing with me about you, but he crossed a line tonight.” Will took a deep breath. “What do you say we go back in, and I don’t let you out of my sight for the rest of the night, so he can’t interrogate you again?”
“I’m more worried about what I’ll say if he interrogates me again because I really had to bite my tongue earlier. If we’d been in private, I think my temper would’ve gotten the better of me.”
“I kind of wish we hadn’t been in public when it happened so you could’ve put him in his place because you, my dear Annie, have a way with words that knows how to do just that.” He grinned and added, “I would know.”
I laughed. “Thank you. I think.”
“What do you say we find James and go raid the dessert table? I hear they have multiple chocolate fountains.” He took my hands in his. “I want to make sure we end this night on a good note for you.”
“You had me at chocolate.”
“If only I’d known chocolate was the way to your heart when I first met you. We could’ve become friends a lot quicker.”
“C’est la vie,” I said. “Besides, the enemies to friends trope is highly popular. People will love it when they read your biography one day.”
Will raised his eyebrows. “I thought it was enemies to lovers that was the popular trope?”
“It is, but we’re not lovers, hence why it’s friends instead. Now, are we going to continue to debate this, or are we going to go drench things in chocolate?”
“You had me at chocolate. Let’s go!”