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Chapter 9

"Every new friend is a new adventure... the start of more memories."
~Patrick Lindsay


"Seriously, Will, what are you wearing? Did you even bother to change last night?" A girl chastised lightly. Her tone hinted that she desperately wanted to laugh. I couldn't recognize who it was. They sounded too young to be the queen or Patty.

I continued Swiffering the hallway floors, pretending I wasn't listening. I doubted anything of importance would be said, but eavesdropping took out the monotony of the task.

"I was busy and tired, not to mention I got in a fight. Cut me some slack," Will mumbled. I involuntarily cringed at the memory of last night, feeling terrible that he got injured trying to rescue me.

"What do you mean you got in a fight? Were you drunk? Trying to prove yourself to a lady? Trying to protect a damsel in distress?"

"I mean what I said. I got in a fight. No, I was not drunk, I don't need to prove myself to anyone, and I hardly call her a damsel in distress."

"Fine. Just get dressed. Lunch is in a few minutes." I heard some shuffling around, presumably Will getting out of bed. Everly threatened she'd steal the shirt he was going to wear if he didn't hurry up. He obviously didn't take her seriously until Everly dashed out of his room, running with black button-down in hand. Will scrambled after her, skidding to a halt when he saw me.

"I like her," I said with a grin.

"God, if you two ever become friends, I'm screwed," he muttered.

"Will! Stop flirting with the maid," Everly upbraided. She dangled his shirt from her pointer finger. Her eyes dared him to come after her.

The prince threw his arm around my shoulders. "Pfft, Annie adores me."

I ducked under his arm while trying to hide the blush creeping onto my face. "Whoa there, don't flatter yourself that much, Your Highness."

He winked at me. "Our friendship mainly consists of her shooting down my ego."

"Someone needs to do it. I like her already," Everly said, echoing my earlier statement.

"No, no, no. You two are not hanging out. I can barely handle either of you alone!" Will declared, waving his finger at the two of us.

"Is Annie your real name or your nickname?" Everly asked.

"Nickname that I only allow Will to call me. It's my form of payment to him. My real name is Annalise Stark. You can call me Anna, though," I said.

"Hang on." Will placed a hand on his hip. "Let me get this straight: you're super nice to her when you first meet her, but you weren't to me? What sorcery is this?!"

"She's not drunk and trying to lay a move on me," I pointed out. "Does that ring a bell?"

"Always the charmer, aren't you, Will?" Everly laughed and looked at me. "I'm Everly Ward; I'm his cousin."

"Nice to meet you." Something about her name nagged at me in the back of my mind. Where had I heard her name before?

"Everly, may I please have my shirt?" Will begged, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout. Everly rolled her eyes and chucked it at him. He grinned. While putting the shirt on, he asked, "You want to join us for lunch, Annie?"

"Sorry, Will, I have to work."

"Oh, come on," he insisted.

"No, really, I have a ton of chores to do today," I said.

"You're not going to skip out on lunch."

"I will if I have to, but I'm not hungry. Go enjoy lunch with Everly. If you want to talk to me, I'll be right here."

"Well, you won't be right here because you'll be moving around the floor, Swiffering."

I made a face of annoyance. "Technicalities. Will, if you want to talk to me, you'll be able to find me. You're surprisingly and eerily good at it."

"Sorry," Will said sheepishly, appearing genuinely embarrassed.

"You're fine," I assured. "I'll see you later, okay?"

"I'm holding you to that."

"I know you are."

"See ya around, Annie." Will turned around and walked away with Everly. I shook my head. Who knew I would sort of get along with the prince?


Will

"She's cute," Everly remarked while we were eating their lunch.

"Who?" I asked, playing dumb.

"Annie."

"Annalise or Anna to you. She's only Annie to me," I corrected.

"I'm surprised you haven't asked her out."

I shrugged. "She'd say no."

"What's wrong with her? You're the Prince of Verona. I'm not saying she should date you for that reason, but what girl would pass up that chance?" Everly mused, shoveling some salad into her mouth.

"Annie is different. She's focused on other things and couldn't care less about whether I talk to her or not. I only just got her to talk to me without a sarcastic remark coming out of her mouth each time."

"Why wouldn't she talk to you before?"

"I kind of tricked her into telling me, which she probably doesn't appreciate, but pretty much that I was an idiot because I'm a partier, and I get drunk constantly."

"She'd be right if you still did those things, but you haven't been partying in the past few weeks. Wouldn't she talk to you when you stopped?"

"She didn't know until I told her. She's not one of those people who pays attention to news about people she doesn't like."

"Gotcha. Well, are you okay with just being friends?" Everly prodded. At this, my head shot up, wondering what she was implying. She saw the question on my face and added, "I saw the way you looked at her."

"No, Everly. It's not like that between us. I know when a girl isn't interested in me. I'm fine with being friends," I said firmly.

"All right, but if you want my opinion-"

"I don't."

"You're going to get it anyway. I think you two would make an incredibly cute couple."

I snorted. "Always shipping the people that will never get together."

"That's not true!"

"Do you want me to go down the list? Luke and Thalia, Nico and Thalia, Percy and Rachel, Sophie and Jem, Piper and Leo, Dean and Lisa, Sam and that vet chick-"

"Shut up," Everly grumbled. I took a victory swig of my drink.

"I win."

"No, you don't." She checked her phone. "I've got to go. I'm meeting Eric and his friend at Donaldson's. Go seek out Anna. I know you want to. See you later."

Everly got up and strutted out of the room. I rolled my eyes. I loved her, but she was a handful sometimes.

I dropped off my dirty dishes in the kitchen, taking two small diet cokes out of the fridge at the last second. I went upstairs to the library, silently hoping Annie would be there. As luck would have it, she was. Mrs. Griffiths liked having Annie clean the library, I learned, because she knew Annie would be careful with all the books.

"Knock knock?" I rapped my fist against the door twice to alert her I was there.

"Hey, finished with lunch already?" Annie asked, continuing to dust the coffee table.

"Yeah. Everly went to Donaldson's to see her boyfriend and his friend."

"I knew I recognized her name from somewhere!" Annie exclaimed. When I stared at her in bewilderment, she said, "Sorry. She's dating Mark's best friend Eric; Eric ditched Mark one day to go on a date with Everly."

"Small world," I said. "Want a drink?"

"Sure. Thank you," Annie said, taking the soda from me.

"Which pillows have you not done?" I asked, glancing at the sofa and plush armchairs.

"What?"

"Which pillows have you not done?" I repeated. "I don't want to mess up your hard work."

"Oh, I haven't done the pillows yet, so you can sit anywhere." I nodded and sat down in the comfiest chair I could find.

"How do you like the library?" I inquired, taking a sip of my diet coke.

"It's incredible," Annie admitted.

"You should see mine. I have more recent series: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Hunger Games. You name it, I probably have it."

"You have another library?" she demanded, halting midway through dusting. "I'm just now finding out about this?"

"Whenever you want to see it, I'll be glad to show you." I took a sip of my drink, watching her clean, when I noticed the bruise on her cheek, mostly hidden by her makeup. "How's your cheek?"

"I'm good." She placed a hand to her cheek. "It hurts if I open my mouth too wide, like when I'm yawning, which is bad late at night because all I do is yawn."

"Is it hurting right now?"

"A little, but I hardly notice it when I'm working."

"I'll go get you some Aleve," I offered.

"You don't have to do that. I have some on me. I'll only take some if it really starts hurting."

I grimaced. I didn't want Annie in pain. I hadn't gotten to her in time before the guy punched her. Rage had boiled up in me when I witnessed it. But I reminded myself that she was safe now. The guy was going to go to prison, most likely. I couldn't do anything else now except change the subject, mostly to get my mind off of wanting to strangle her attacker. "So, what's your favorite book?"

"Did you really have to ask me that?" She whined.

"Can't decide?"

"No. I admit I'm a sucker for Pride and Prejudice. It's my favorite classic. I also like Great Expectations. Then I like mostly any current book as long as it's not Twilight. Don't ask why, but I couldn't stand that series. I couldn't even get through the first book. I'm sorry, but a girl should not be that dependent on a man."

"Annie, I think you and I will get along famously if we talk books. What series shall we start with? Harry Potter? Percy Jackson?The Hunger Games?" She looked at me curiously, as if she was trying to figure out my motive behind this conversation. "Just trying to start a chat…"

"Let's start with Harry Potter," She finally decided.

"Perfect. Prepare to have me whoop your butt with Harry Potter facts," I said with a grin.

Annie returned it, a mischievous spark in her eyes. "I accept that challenge."

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