"Trust is earned when actions meet words."
Stepping outside of my apartment the day after Will's call was as bad as I thought it'd be, if not worse. I could hear the clamor of the paparazzi the second I woke up, all waiting for Mia or me to exit my apartment building. I even called my boss ahead of time to explain the situation and that despite leaving early, there was a possibility I'd be late for our one p.m. meeting.
Somehow, I made it to work on time, but not before being accosted by a reporter shouting, "Miss Stark! Did you have anything to do with the downfall of Lorraine? Are you glad to see her out of the picture?"
I gritted my teeth and swallowed my annoyance. "I did not have anything to do with the downfall of Lorraine, and while I'm glad the throne is safe from the usurper, that doesn't mean I'm happy about the situation. A lot of people were hurt because of her, including William. I know he loved her, and this betrayal can't be easy for him. If you'll excuse me, I have a meeting to attend to."
I pushed my way through the reporters into my building; the security guard blocked any of them from following me. My boss, Mrs. Trifle, sat in her office. She smiled at me when I arrived. "I see you survived the chaos."
"Barely. I might be deaf from all the shouting," I said, setting my bag down. "I'm sorry I'm causing so many problems. I'll figure something out, so the paparazzi leave-"
Mrs. Trifle held up her hand, silencing me. "I've had my fair share of scandalous events. Before I went into event planning, I worked for a PR firm with a CEO who liked sleeping with everyone that showed them the smallest amount of interest in them."
"Alex Kringle?" I said, remembering the media firestorm from my high school years.
She nodded. "But that's not why I've called you in. I wanted to discuss this baby shower you're doing for Miss Ward. How's it going?"
"Very well. One issue I've run into is the venue. The last place canceled at the last minute, so I'm searching for another. Also, Everly and Mrs. Ward had a huge argument, and they're not speaking right now, so I'm having to avoid setting Mrs. Ward off whenever I mention Everly's name, hard to do when it's her daughter's baby shower."
"Don't you love the politics of royal families?" Mrs. Trifle joked lightly. "I'm only asking to see if you needed any help, but you seem to have it all under control, as usual."
"Wonderful! Then we can move on to the next topic of discussion," she said, pulling out some papers from her drawer. "You've been here just under a year, but you've shown incredible tenacity, quick wit, and you've had nothing but happy customers. We started you out at a lower salary than the others because of your inexperience in this industry, but I want to change that today. I am giving you a promotion today. One of our senior planners just retired, so the person moving into their spot has left their old spot vacant. It comes with a higher salary than what you're making now, and if you do well in this role, I'm expecting another one of our employees to retire soon as well. If that's the case, you'll be in the running for their position. I have the papers here for you to sign if you'd like to have the promotion."
"Yes!" I exclaimed excitedly. "Oh my gosh, thank you!"
"You're very welcome." Mrs. Trifle slid the papers over to me, and I signed them after completing a quick scan of the contents. "Congratulations to our new Junior Event Planner! That's all I wanted to talk to you about today. Do you have any questions?"
"No, ma'am," I said, trying to keep my voice calm despite my excitement.
"Good. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call. I'll see you later, Annalise."
I grabbed my bag and nearly skipped out of the office I was so happy. I passed a few coworkers on the way. They all smiled at me as if they knew what happened. Although I dreaded facing the paparazzi, even they couldn't put a damper on this fantastic Friday afternoon.
Reaching my apartment, I set down my bag and was reaching for a pen when my phone buzzed. I glanced at it to see Mark calling for the close to the twentieth time. Trepidation settled in as I answered, "Hello?"
"Annalise! Finally!" Mark breathed, sounding agitated.
"Sorry, I was in a meeting and didn't think to check my phone when I left. I'm at my apartment now. What's up?"
"Is Everly with you?"
"I just learned her apartment building caught on fire a few hours ago. I can't reach her cellphone. It keeps going straight to voicemail, and I don't know if something's wrong or if she's just not answering because it's me."
"Why wouldn't she be answering you?"
"Because we got in a fight, and I stormed out in frustration. It was such a stupid fight. We were literally fighting over the toast that finally croaked, but she accused me of breaking it because I was using it, and she was being super emotional about it, which I didn't get, and now I know it's the pregnancy hormones, but I walked out and just came to check on her about an hour ago to find the fire brigade at her apartment, and she won't answer her phone." Mark took a deep breath from his rant like he'd been bottling it up for a while. "I don't know where she could've gone."
"Have you tried Mia and James?" I asked calmly.
"Yeah. They're shopping for food together right now, and Everly wasn't with them. They've tried calling her too and aren't getting anywhere." Mark fell silent for a few moments, but I could hear his ragged breathing on the other end. "Oh god, Annalise, what if she's dead? What if she died in that fire?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy. Don't go there just yet. Have you tried calling William? Ev is fighting with her parents right now, so she wouldn't be there. If she tried coming to my apartment first and realized we weren't here, she would've gone to William."
"No, I don't have his number. She gave it to me when we first started dating in case of an emergency, but I deleted it after what he did to you, and-"
"I'll call him and will let you know what I find out."
"Do you want to give it to me, and I'll call him? I don't want you-"
"He won't answer an unknown number. We know he'll answer for me. I'll let you know, okay?"
Mark let out a small sigh of relief. "Okay. I'll keep trying everyone else I know."
We hung up, and I took a deep breath of my own before calling William. He answered halfway through the first ring. "Annalise? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I said. "Is Everly there?"
"Anna!" My friend's voice burst on the other end.
"Everly! Are you okay?!"
"No! I stepped outside to walk Eliza, and the next thing I know, my apartment is on fire! I don't know anything about what was ruined or salvaged…"
I sighed in relief, grateful to hear my friend alive and well. "I'm so glad you're okay. Mark called me in a panic. He's making himself sick searching for you."
Everly sounded close to tears as she said, "I left my phone in my apartment, and I've been so scared to call him after our stupid fight this morning because I was afraid he didn't love me anymore and-"
"He still loves you," Will told her comfortingly. I realized I must've been on speaker. "Trust me, you don't stop loving someone just because they make you angry one time."
"I'll call Mark and let him know where you're at. He's going to want to come straight to the palace."
"I'll make sure the guards know to expect him," Will said.
"Anna, can you please come?" Everly pleaded. "I know this is the last place you want to be, and if you don't want to, I understand, but I'd really, really appreciate it if you could."
I froze as every pro and con to the situation raced through my head—more cons than pros, to be honest. Naturally, I wanted to be there for Everly, but what would it be like being in the palace again? What if I ran into the King? The man who hated me with every fiber of his being?
"I'd love to come," I said, "but will the King be okay with me being there? He kind of… hates me."
"If my dad gives you any trouble, tell me," Will said firmly. "I'll handle him. I'm used to his temper."
"You shouldn't take it on behalf of me, though…"
"I did it before for you, and I'll gladly do it again. I'll let the guards know to expect you too. Should I add Mia to the list?"
"Yes, please, she'll want to see Everly."
"Okay, I'll do that once we hang up."
"I'll let you go so you can call Mark," Everly said, her voice trembling. "Can-can you explain why I didn't-"
"I've got your back, don't worry. See you soon."
We hung up, and I leaned my head back against the wall, grimacing at returning to the palace. I would do anything for Everly and anyone else I considered family, but I dreaded returning to Windsor Palace, not so much because of Will, but because of his dad. I feared I'd run into him without being able to reach Will nearby. What happened then? Would I be subjected to his temper? I wasn't afraid of many people, but I was of the King.
Trust Will to protect you. I thought, quickly followed by the criticizing voice: Like he did when you were accused of betraying his secret?
I shook my head and pushed myself off the wall. I'd have to trust him again sometime. After all, if and when Mark and Everly married, we'd basically be family. I'd have to learn to be around him again.
With that in mind, I grabbed my purse and called Mark. As I left my apartment, a nagging voice refused to stop repeating that going to the palace was a horrible idea.