“Nothing hurts more than being disappointed by the single person you thought would never hurt you.”
I rolled over to drape my arm across Mark only to discover his side of the bed empty. Frowning, I opened my eyes to see my boyfriend was nowhere to be seen. I called out his name, to which he replied he was in the kitchen. I threw on a robe before making my way to him.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked, resting my head on his shoulder. He’d been intently staring at the computer screen when I’d approached, his face scrunched up.
“I’ve just been thinking about some things,” he answered softly.
“Like?” I prodded.
“Like if I’m the best person you should be with.”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded sharply. Mark swiveled around to face me, blue eyes meeting mine.
“I’m talking about how I’m no better than Eric.”
“Are you cheating on me too?” My heart dropped into my stomach at the idea.
“No!” Mark exclaimed. “God, no.”
“Then I don’t see-”
“I cheated on my best friend with his fiancée. I broke up your engagement. I never should have taken advantage of you that night. I should’ve told you what was going on and left; not do everything else that I did.”
“What brought all this on? Have you been reading the tabloids or something?”
“It’s not just the tabloids, Ev. It’s the comments too. I don’t want to tarnish your reputation by being with you. You deserve a guy who doesn’t cause a commotion or doesn’t start off the relationship with you by taking advantage of kissing you while you’re drunk or by starting off your relationship where you’re both basically cheating. You deserve better than that.”
“Yes, I was drunk, but I knew damn well what I was doing, and you know I have no problem telling a guy where to shove it if his advances are unwanted,” I declared, taking his hands in mine. “And screw what the tabloids and the people think because I’m not. I don’t have to give a damn what people think about my significant other because I’m not going to be ruling this country. Mark, if it weren’t for you, I’d be marrying a guy who screws any girl looks at him. You saw how many girls he’s cheated on me with. I would’ve found out sooner or later, and the breakup or the divorce would’ve been nasty regardless of your role in it. Yeah, it sucked having to dump my fiancé, but in the process, I gained a guy who is honest and trustworthy and is more worried about making sure he doesn’t make me look bad rather than what piece of ass he’s going to try and get with. You are nothing like Eric. Maybe we both made a bad judgement call that night, but that doesn’t mean I regret it. I wouldn’t be with you if I didn’t want to be, and you’ve treated me better in the past few weeks than he ever did. So stop reading the tabloids, stop reading the comments, and get it through that thick, handsome head of yours that I love you, and I want to be with you, all else be damned.”
“How do your parents feel about this?” he asked softly, giving me a small smile.
“They certainly like you better than Eric.”
“And about how we met?”
“They’re a little more uptight about that, but they know I love you and that I won’t be changing my mind anytime soon, so they’ll have to deal.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and added, “Everyone will have to deal. Who I date is no one else’s business but my own.”
His arms snaked around my waist, pulling me close. “You’re a royal. It’s everyone’s business, regardless.”
“They all want to know who I’m dating, sure, but who I decide to be with in the end is completely up to me.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too. Now promise me you’ll stop reading the tabloids?”
“I promise.” Giving me a kiss, Mark slipped out of my grasp to make something lunch. I turned on the TV to find the media in a frenzy. It was kind of confusing coming into the middle of the report. Still, I got the gist of it: Annalise allegedly told the media about the King’s conditions, and Will- the idiot- was blaming her.
“You should go check on Annalise. I’m going to go see Will and see what the hell is wrong with him.” I stood up angrily, nearly knocking my chair over.
“All right. Will you be okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Give my love to Anna and Mia, and be careful. Don’t let what people may say to you get to you, okay? Promise?”
“Promise,” he answered, kissing me on the head. Mark threw on his shoes, grabbed his wallet and keys, and then dashed out of my flat.
I went to my bathroom, where I hurriedly threw on some clothes and makeup before grabbing my keys and heading to Windsor Palace. Paparazzi swarmed the place, and I only barely managed to get through the gates without running any of them over. Had I not been so hellbent on finding Will, I may just have done so. I hated them for doing this to Annalise and Mia. They didn’t deserve this.
“Everly, what are you doing here?” Walt asked, appearing understandably frazzled.
“Where’s Will?” I asked.
“Upstairs with Lorraine. She’s trying to calm him down. He’s furious.”
“Yes. He’s convinced himself she’s actually done this.”
“She would never! Mark’s on his way to see her. I thought I’d come here and see what’s going on with Will.”
“Good luck. The King and Queen will be holding a meeting soon, so try and get to Will beforehand. If they think Annalise has done this, then they might try and charge her with something.”
“What could they charge her with?!” I exclaimed.
“Treason?” Walt suggested weakly. “I don’t know, but they’d find something if it meant preventing her from speaking anymore about it.”
“This is such a shitstorm. I’ll see you later, Walt.”
“Good luck,” he called out.
I rushed up the stairs, practically running through the hallways to find my cousin. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard. His voice boomed from within the library. Without knocking, I entered the room. Lorraine sat in an armchair, watching and listening to Will, who paced up and down, ranting.
“I heard what happened,” I said.
The couple turned to me, surprised by my presence. Lorraine remarked, “I can’t believe she’s done this. She never struck me as the person who would.”
“She wouldn’t do this. Call my crazy all you want, but I think someone’s framing her. It’s the only explanation.”
“Who on earth would want to even do that to Annalise?” Will demanded.
I hesitated for a moment before saying, “Lorraine, can I speak with my cousin in private, please?”
“I don’t think-”
“That’s not a request.”
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Will growled.
“I need to speak to you privately, so either I ask her to leave, or I drag you out of here by your ear to somewhere private. Your choice.”
My cousin glowered at me before saying, “Lorraine, would you mind waiting for me in my room?”
“Will you be okay?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.” When Lorraine shut the door behind her, Will said, “All right, what did you want to say that you felt you couldn’t say in front of her?”
“First of all, I know you’re going through a difficult time, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a dick to me,” I snapped. “Second of all, I wanted to say that you and I both know how much of an influence Annalise has on you and how long she’s had that influence on you. Maybe she knows that, but I’d bet she doesn’t know the full extent. A lot of other people do, though. Anyone in the palace knows that. Anyone who’s seen you with her knows that. With her out of the way, her influence is gone, and you can be manipulated.”
“Who the hell would want to manipulate me?”
“A lot of people, Will! You’re the future King for Christ’s sake! There’s a ton of people who would want to influence you.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, taking a deep breath to calm myself down. Will’s stupidity was astounding me right now. “You might be fooling Annalise and even yourself, but you’re not fooling me. Lorraine or no Lorraine, you still love Annalise.”
“Yeah, well, she never loved me back, so I don’t see the point of even bringing it up.”
“You actually believe that?”
“Yes! Why should I have any other reason to believe otherwise? Besides, she just ousted my dad’s condition to the whole fucking world, so I doubt she loved me as anything more than a boss.”
I stared at him incredulously. “I’m so glad Annalise isn’t here right now to hear these words coming out of your mouth. How dare you accuse her of such a thing? Are you forgetting she’s the one who let you into her apartment in the middle of the night when you fought with your dad?
Are you forgetting she was there for you whenever your dad would get on your ass about being King? Are you forgetting she worked her ass off and never asked for a raise even though she was in debt trying to pay for her sister’s care? Annalise is a good person, and she did everything she could for you, and this is how you repay her? By stabbing her in the back and believing the shit the media is saying? Shame on you, William. Shame on you. I don’t care how upset and mad you are. Annalise’s past actions more than prove her innocence in all this. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Annalise’s apartment to make sure she and Mia are okay.”
“What’s wrong with Mia?” Will asked, concern flickering across his face.
“Not that you deserve to know, but the paparazzi cornered her in a coffee shop. Annalise went to get her. I’m going to go see how they’re doing.” I whirled around, heading to the door, but I stopped as my hand touched the handle. Irate as I was, I forced myself to remain calm. Gently, I said, “I’m really sorry about what’s happening to your dad. It was his secret to tell to the world, not whoever did it. But I suggest you apologize to Annalise sooner rather than later because you’ve really screwed up, and you might not get her back after this. She’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”