Sitting at tea and catching up with Richard had been a treat. Although Pierce had glared at them at times and Sven was a little too interested in her cleavage, she had still enjoyed herself. She knew as time went on, she would be bombarded with eligible bachelors arriving for her birthday celebration extravaganza.
Evelyn sighed. She was supposed to be relaxing in her room, but she couldn’t help staring out the window and thinking. What was she going to do with all the attention?
She didn’t mind King Richard or Prince Sven, and there were a few others in the running, but she knew there was a good chance he would show up. She shuddered thinking about the man. He was oily. He left a bitter taste in one’s mouth and always managed to get what he wanted, no matter the cost. He was also one of Thad’s good friends.
She never told anyone about what had happened with Prince Philip. Her mouth went dry, as her hands began to tremble. She never wanted to see that man again.
A light knock on the balcony door pulled her from her thoughts. She rushed to open the door as Pierce quickly pushed passed her. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong?” Evelyn peppered the questions at him.
Pierce turned to look at Evelyn. He took in the trembling of her hands and the haunted look in her eyes. She was jumpy, like a caged animal. He had just scaled down the wall from the third floor in order to get to her room, and if he could do it, so could others.
He was just about to ask her what the matter was, but the set of her shoulders told him all he needed to know. She would crumble and hate herself for it. Rather than questioning her, Pierce decided to answer her questions.
“I’m testing the security of the castle in regards to your safety and I find it horrible,” he explained.
“Oh. I wasn’t aware it was that bad.” Evelyn was a little taken aback by his answer.
“Did you know another four potential husbands have arrived? I’m trying to find all possible entry points into your room to keep you safe,” Pierce stated while checking the windows.
“Well I appreciate the care you’re taking. Do you have a moment to talk?” Evelyn asked cautiously.
“I’m a little busy making sure your room is secure from intruders and possibly kidnappers,” Pierce tersely responded doing a sweep of the room.
“I realize that but I need to speak to you about the tournament. I also have to change for dinner, so unless you want to help me do that, I suggest you give me a few moments of your time,” Evelyn retorted.
Her words stopped him cold in his tracks. He looked up at her and started undressing her with his eyes.
Evelyn saw the fire in his gaze and smiled seductively at him while she fidgeted with the neckline of her gown.
Pierce’s eyes followed her fingers as they lightly moved along the edge of the fabric and her cleavage. He was captivated and took a step forward before catching himself.
“How may I be of service?” He bit out.
Evelyn’s breathy laughter filled the air as she closed in on him like a tigress stalking her prey.
“I need to know if I can have men enter on my behalf so I don’t end up engaged to someone I don’t care for,” Evelyn asked him, stopping mere inches from him.
It took Pierce a moment to register what she was saying. “I’m sure your father would indulge you by letting a few of us enter.”
“Yes. Who do you think I should suggest?” Evelyn trailed her fingers up and down his left arm.
“Myself, Peter, and Robert.” Once Pierce understood what she was talking about, he didn’t hesitate with his answer. He also wasn’t sure why he was letting her pet his arm.
Then a thought struck him. He could use this opportunity to get more information out of her about her shift in mood from earlier.
Evelyn looked puzzled by his response though. “Do you think they would mind if I had three of you enter? Also, do you know some of the gentlemen expected to be here and possibly complete?”
“Yes, I believe your father would indulge you anything. I am aware of some of the men coming, but I am to be given a complete guest list tonight when I meet with your father,” Pierce explained.
“Oh? And who might those be?” Evelyn feigned boredom as her hand paused at the top of his shoulder. There was an intensity in her eyes Pierce found peculiar, but thought he would indulge her. She was clearly hoping for someone to be in attendance. Probably a love interest.
“Well, Richard is here, as well as Prince Sven,” Pierce paused and saw there wasn’t any reaction. “There is also the Archduke of Sagewood, Prince Edmund of York, a couple other dukes, possibly a marquis,” Pierce responded watching Evelyn’s face.
“Anyone else of consequence?” Evelyn asked, trailing her hand across his shoulder so that it rested in the center of his chest. She had also closed the distance between them, Evelyn’s body was pushed up against his and while he loved it, this was a dangerous game to play.
“Why, Evelyn? Is there someone there you are hoping to reconnect with?” Pierce watched as her cheeks colored lightly.
Evelyn turned her face away from his. He was right, and a peculiar feeling, much like disappointment shot through him. Evelyn started to push away from him, when Pierce let out a deep sigh. “There is one more gentleman I am aware of.”
Evelyn’s gaze flew to his. “Who?”
“Prince Philip of Montgomery,” Pierce answered softly.
Evelyn’s skin turned sheet white, her knees buckled at the sound of his name. Oxygen, she needed oxygen. Her breath was coming in quick gasps as she started falling.
“Evelyn! Evelyn!” Pierce was calling her name frantically, but she couldn’t hear him. His arms quickly came under her knees as he set her down in a chair. This had not been the reaction he had been expecting.
Pierce quickly untied the laces at the back of her dress. “Deep breaths, Evie. I need you to take deep breaths.”
Evelyn couldn’t hear Pierce through the ringing in her ears. Philip was coming! Philip was going to be here. What on earth was she going to do? How would she get through this?
“Evelyn! Oh dear God, Evie, please answer me,” Pierce begged. He pulled out his handkerchief and began drying her eyes. He then pulled her to him and rocked her back and forth as sobs racked her body.
Evelyn wasn’t sure how she came to be in Pierce’s arms, but the sensation was heavenly. She felt safe and protected, but more importantly, she felt like she was home. Evelyn clutched to the front of Pierce’s jacket as the feelings she had bottled up flowed from her.
To his credit, Pierce just continued to rock her as he rubbed his hand gently up and down her back. He didn’t say anything. There was really nothing to say. Evelyn was sobbing in his arms after hearing a man’s name. It told him all he needed to know.
After several minutes, Evelyn’s tears subsided. She pushed back slightly and blinked as she took in the fierce expression on Pierce’s face. “I’m so sorry I cried all over your jacket and shirt. They are drenched in my tears. I don’t know why I got so worked up over a silly name.”
“Don’t, Evie. Don’t lie to me. I am your personal bodyguard, and if you can’t bring yourself to trust me, then I don’t even know why I’m here,” Pierce bit out.
Evelyn flinched at his hard tone. “Pierce, I have an ugly history with Prince… With that bastard, and I don’t want to speak of it now, please. But if you help me not end up engaged to him, then I promise I shall tell you everything.”
Pierce saw how fragile she was. Like a porcelain doll sitting at the edge of a shelf, one wrong move would break her. “Alright, Evie. I will talk to your father and we will join this friendly competition. I will also make sure you are always safe from him.”
Evelyn nodded. The two sat in silence for a moment before Evelyn became aware of two things. One her dress had been loosened to help her breath, and two, she was still in Pierce’s arms.
Evelyn cleared her throat. “I, ah, I should get ready for dinner. Well, you should also get ready as well.”
Pierce realized he still had hold of her, and hastily dropped his arms. “I will leave you to get ready, Your Highness.”
Pierce bowed before her. As he leaned down, it dawned on him that he had a great vantage point of Evelyn’s milky colored breasts. Desire hit him and he stood back up quickly.
He was almost to the door, when Evelyn softly called out to him. “Pierce, before you go, there is something I want to give you.”
Before she could think about it and talk herself out of it, Evelyn walked up to him, stood on her tiptoes and kissed Pierce. He was stunned for a moment, but quickly came to his senses. He was about to push her away when she lost her balance and fell into him.
Desire poured through his veins. He wrapped his arms around her and gave himself up to the kiss. Fire ran through his body as he ran his hands up her rib cage, stopping under her breasts. He couldn’t get enough of her as he plunged his tongue into her mouth.
Evelyn let out a low moan as she ran her hands up his chest. She had dreamt of kissing Pierce for years and now she finally was. It was better than she could have ever imagined. A shudder ran down her spine as he licked her bottom lip.
His lips moved from her mouth to neck and then lower to the tops of her breasts, which were exposed thanks to him. He was placing feather light kisses when a knock sounded on the door.
Pierce cursed as they quickly separated. Evelyn worked to get her breathing under control for a moment before answering. “Yes?”
“Your Highness, your mother said it is time to get ready for dinner. May I come in?” Her lady in waiting responded.
Pierce was hard as a rock under his pants. There was also no way he could walk into the hall and justify his presence in her room alone.
“Just one moment.” Evelyn called out. “You need to get out of here,” she hissed.
“I’ll go out the balcony and no one will see me, I promise. I shall see you tonight at dinner.” With those parting words, Pierce walked out the door and disappeared from sight.
Evelyn checked her appearance in the mirror before letting her maids into the room. It was going to be a long night.
In a light peach gown, Evelyn sat in between two of the latest arrivals. It was not lost on her that Richard was across from her, while Pierce and her men were scattered throughout the room, standing off to the side like common servants. Clearly rank, money, and inheritance had played a role in deciding tonight’s seating arrangements.
The Archduke on her left had no problem staring at her cleavage and making suggestions. Evelyn smiled and laughed it off, meanwhile, the prince next to her let his eyes wander occasionally to her bosom. However, he was trying to touch her under the table.
Richard could see her distress, but being on the other side of the table he wasn’t much help. Pierce was shooting daggers at her end of the table, however, he also wasn’t in a position to help. He was there to protect her from danger, not from randy men. No, she had to do that on her own.
It would seem as though her parents were serving her up as some kind of piece of meat, a prize to be won, and most of the men were taking them up on it.
Evelyn was sipping her wine, lost in thought while pretending to listen to the Archduke so she didn’t notice when the prince slide his hand under the table. She jumped and almost dropped her wine glass as she felt his hand grab her thigh.
She turned to glare at him, but he clearly didn’t care. He was drinking and had had several glasses of wine, so this action was fair game.
He leaned into her while caressing her thigh. “Come to my room tonight, I want to try you out before I decide to buy you.”
Evelyn didn’t say anything in response, her throat constricting in anger. Evelyn looked across the table and gave Richard a dark look. He attempted to lighten the mood and turn the Prince’s attention to him, but it wasn’t working.
Pierce knew that son of a bitch prince was putting his hands on her under the table. Short of proposing to her here and now, he couldn’t spare her from the tournament or the gentlemen in it, but no one took advantage of a lady on his watch. As he was about to intervene, he saw Evie motion for more wine.
A minute later, a two full glasses were placed in front of her and Prince Derek. She turned slightly and caught his eye. Pierce nodded and motioned to men on his side of the room.
Evelyn reached for her glass of wine, taking a sip before setting it down and knocking down Prince Derek’s in the process. Evelyn jumped up from the table, Pierce and her bodyguards flanking her, while the Prince jumped up a moment later realizing wine was spilling onto his lap.
“Oh my goodness! Are you okay Princess Evelyn?” Richard asked, making a big scene. He then looked at the prince. “I think you’ve had too much to drink, sir.”
The prince glared at Richard as others around the table began to swarm Evelyn. A tap on her shoulder had her turning. Relief flooded her body as she saw Pierce behind her.
There were so many men trying to check on her, she had no room to breath. But then there was Pierce, moving the men back, clearing a way for her to leave the dining room.
She made her escape and there were her men on the other side. She smiled.
“Let’s go,” Pierce growled as the men cocooned her.
They walked in silence back to her room.
Evelyn didn’t dare risk a glance at Pierce. His tone and body language said it all. He was angry about the situation.
Once in her room, the men gave her space. She turned to say something but was interrupted when her mother stormed in the room.
“What do you think you are doing?” She raged at Pierce. “She needs a husband and being up here isn’t accomplishing that goal.”
“She needs to not be auctioned off to the highest bidder like a cow to slaughter,” came the terse response.
“The kingdom is bankrupt, Pierce! She doesn’t have that luxury. You of all people should realize that,” Queen Maria shouted.
Then she frozen, the color draining from her face as the realization of where she was and who she was with sank in.
“I’m so sorry, Evie. Your father and I didn’t want you to know the kingdom you are inheriting is insolvent. That’s why we were trying to find you a new kingdom through marriage.”
Evelyn just stared at her. “You think all I want to be is a rich queen? That I want to be a queen so bad any man or kingdom will do?”
Everyone just froze. No one said a word as silence choked the room. “Get out,” came the whispered response.
“But Evie, we need to talk about this. You need to understand-”
“Get out,” Evelyn calmly commanded. Her eyes were on fire. It was clear she was furious and insulted at the same time.
Her mother paused for a moment, trying to figure out if she should say something or just leave. She finally nodded and walked out.
The men looked at her expectantly. “No one, and I do mean no one, gets into this room. I am packing my things, and then we are leaving.”
Pierce motioned for two of the men to go to the balcony, while the others took the hall.
He stayed and moved a trunk for her.
She quietly began to pack her things. They stayed like that until the third trunk was packed.
“You know they won’t let you just leave. They need you to get them out of debt,” Pierce noted.
Evelyn looked up at Pierce. He was solid muscle, oozed raw masculinity, and above all else, felt like home. Why couldn’t she marry him? Why couldn’t he be deemed worthy? She knew the answer — he may be a prince, but he wasn’t an heir or even the spare.
This kingdom is insolvent, not mine. They want to marry me off to save themselves,” Evelyn choked on the words.
“I know. I have known how things were since you were a girl. They need the money from your inheritance, so marrying you off means you forfeit Astonia,” Pierce explained.
The shocked look on her face told him all he needed to know about the situation.
His chest was tight. Anger poured through his veins. They were stealing from their own daughter while begging her to be considerate.
“I’ll win the tournament. You can be free and marry whomever you want. Then we’ll leave. If you run away, they will chase after you and possibly start a war to get you back. Stay and I’ll win,” Pierce told her.
Evelyn looked down at her hands. She was silent for a long moment, thinking about her options and what he had told her.
When she finally looked up, her eyes were glistening. It took everything in him not to scoop her up in his arms.
“Pierce, can you send these trunks along to Astonia on one of Richard’s ships? I’ll stay and see how things are going, but I want an escape plan in case things fall apart,” she requested softly.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He was silent for several minutes. “Fine. I’ll get the trunks moved onto his ship, but they leave when he does because I don’t want anyone becoming suspicious. I’ll also have a backup plan too.”
Evelyn smiled sadly. “Thank you, Pierce.”
He nodded and then walked to the balcony. He went out to talk to the men there. They then came back in and started moving the trunks outside.
Once the trunks were outside, Pierce went to Evelyn. “If you are feeling better, I think we should go talk to your parents.”
She nodded and followed him as he led the way, flanked by two others.
Once they hit the study, Pierce knocked. There was a response on the other side telling them to enter.
Pierce, Robert, Peter, and Evelyn walked into the room.
“Your Majesties, Princess Evelyn has something to discuss with you,” Pierce stated.
“I don’t see why my daughter needs three men and an announcement to speak to her mother and I,” King Reginald stated with surprise.
“These are the men representing me in the tournament where you’ve made me a prize,” Evelyn announced. The look in her eye dared them to argue with her.
“We will allow one not three,” Queen Maria responded.
“No, that simply won’t do. If I’m to be auctioned off like a piece of arse, then I damn well get to choose how many men have the chance of giving me peace and quiet to rule my kingdom. You have close to fifty and I have three,” Evelyn explained. “I’m practically falling out of my dresses and almost had a goblet of wine spill all over me. The drunken fools next to me would have taken the opportunity to dry me off, and I don’t feel like being molested. Thank you very much.”
Both the king and queen studied their daughter. “My dear, it was never about you throwing yourself at every available man. I only ever wanted to give you the opportunity to meet someone. I don’t like the idea of you being alone in a foreign land,” King Reginald explained.
Evelyn took a look at her father and realized he meant what he said. She couldn’t be sure of her mother’s motives, but her father had always given her leave to run her life. “Thank you, Father. That gives me great peace of mind. I will meet and talk with the various men, but I throw myself at no man.”
“I would never expect you to. I was very selective in who I invited to your birthday celebration. No daughter of mine is so desperate as to wed just any man,” King Reginald boomed.
“And no daughter of mine will be labeled a spinster. We must take a firmer hand in this, she needs to be engaged before she leaves,” Queen Maria argued.
“With the winner of the tournament, there is a great chance she will become engaged to him. But mark my words, Evelyn is free to make her own path. Yes, she is the prize at the end of the tournament, but she must accept. I made that very clear,” Kind Reginald fired back.
“Fine! Have three men enter the tournament, what do I care? Now that this little dispute is settled, I wanted you to know there will be a special guest at breakfast,” Queen Maria announced.
“Who, if you’ll permit me knowing tonight,” Evelyn carefully asked.
Queen Maria was so delighted, she didn’t realize Evelyn was getting anxious. “Prince Philip! Isn’t that wonderful? I know how well you two hit it off at your twenty-first birthday party, and then again six months ago when he came for a visit.”
Evelyn visible paled, but she held it together better this time. “That’s good to hear. I hope you don’t plan on sitting him next to me at breakfast, or lunch or dinner for that matter.”
King Reginald sat and studied his daughter, while Queen Maria look crestfallen. “Evelyn, don’t be rude. Of course, he is going to sit next to you at breakfast. I thought you would be overjoyed. Thad made it home late this afternoon, so I figured you three could also have high tea together as well.”
“Of course, Mother. I apologize. I was just shocked is all. I’m feeling tired, so if you’ll excuse me.” Evelyn leaned down and kissed both her parents on the cheek. She then swept out of the room, carefully ensconced between her bodyguards.
As Pierce was closing the door, he could hear King Reginald and Queen Maria begin to quarrel about the additions made to the guest list. He found this surprising. All was clearly not what it seemed.
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