“What the hell happened during tea?” King Reginald demanded as soon as Pierce closed the door.
“Evelyn had made room for me at the table, Prince Philip got jealous, and as Evelyn was pouring my tea, he rammed his shoulder into me. I lurched forward and hit the teacup and saucer, causing the hot liquid to spill all over her,” Pierce reported matter of factly.
“And Evelyn’s display of temper was a result of Philip’s actions?” The older man ground out.
“Yes. You should also know, Your Majesty, he threw her into a wall yesterday. Evelyn then defended herself and Lily with a candlestick.” Pierce knew this information could get him dismissed from his position, but he felt King Reginald needed to know.
“Was that when Evelyn and Lily escaped from dinner during the chaos she created?”
“It was. We searched for them as soon as we discovered they were gone, but I didn’t find her fast enough. I didn’t find her before Philip threw her into a wall. Before he terrified her again,” Pierce uttered.
King Reginald said nothing for several minutes. Pierce knew what was coming, he was going to dismiss him.
The older man let out a long sigh. “Pierce, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Evelyn does what she wants. She always has. Evelyn knows every servants passage, as well as all the secret passages everyone has long forgotten. If she was going to have an adventure with Lily, then there was no stopping her.”
“But I should have protected her from Philip. She isn’t supposed to get hurt under my watch, and yet he’s hurt her now twice,” Pierce lamented.
“Pierce, he hurt her under my watch too. We can’t change what happened, but we can stop him from hurting her in the future,” King Reginald told him.
“He needs to go. I know Thad and Queen Maria are hoping he will marry Princess Evelyn, but that idea needs to be stopped at all costs,” Pierce observed.
“I agree.” King Reginald looked Pierce square in the eye. “What do you propose?”
“We need to get Princess Evelyn out of the country as soon as possible. Shorten the tournament, tell no one of you intentions until the last minute, and above all else, have multiple ways to get her out,” Pierce explained in hushed tones.
“Then create a plan, give it to me, and do everything in your power to keep her safe,” King Reginald demanded.
Evelyn didn’t come down for dinner, nor did she request dinner be brought to her. Evan and Jessica were guarding Lily in the room across the hall.
When Pierce asked after Evelyn, Jessica told him she had helped her change from her tea soaked gown and put a salve on her wound. The doctor had also come and said it was a superficial burn and Evelyn was lucky.
Evelyn had then dismissed her and told her she wasn’t feeling well and was not to be disturbed.
Pierce cursed himself. This day had been one disaster after another. First, Evelyn had told him she loved him and he yelled at her for being naked. Then Philip spilled tea on her and burned her.
Now she was sitting in her room alone. He didn’t like the idea of her being in her room by herself with her thoughts.
“Oh Marabelle, ye cheeky woman,” Pierce called out.
“Pierce, I know you are trying to butter me up with all your sweet talk,” the chef giggled.
“Yer a sly one my fair Marabelle,” Pierce cooed. The woman let a out a bark of laughter as her cheeks flushed.
“Quit it, sir. You are embarrassing me,” Marabelle cried playfully. She then smacked him with a nearby hand towel.
Pierce chuckled deep in his chest. “I’ve come for a favor.”
“You always come for a favor,” she teased. “How may I be of service?”
“It’s Evelyn.” That was as far as Pierce got before Marabelle went on a rant about Philip destroying the poor girl. She then took all her emotions out on the bread dough she had been kneading.
After several minutes, Marabelle seemed to have calmed down. Pierce decided to tread carefully.
“She didn’t come down for dinner, and she didn’t have a tray sent up, did she?” It was a rhetorical question, but answering it would make the woman feel in charge of a situation she couldn’t control.
“That’s right. Breaks my heart, it does. Everyone knows who she has been longing for this past decade, and yet, that bastard has them wrapped around his finger,” Marabelle muttered angrily as she moved the dough to loaf pans.
Pierce was about to agree with the woman and make his request, when her words registered. “What do you mean he has them wrapped around his finger?”
The question seemed to take Marabelle by surprise. “I can’t believe you don’t know about Thad’s gambling debts. And it’s not just his, but also Lady Grisham’s son too. Both men have racked up huge debts from what I’ve heard,” Marabelle explained quietly.
“What does Philip have to do with the gambling debts?”
“From what I’ve heard, Lady Grisham’s son owes both Philip and Lord Isaac money for getting him out of a tight spot overseas. As for Thad, he borrows the money to pay his debts from Philip and then pays him back with his monthly allowance,” she snorted.
“I take it there isn’t much repayment going on by either man. So Thad is championing Philip as an eligible husband for his sister.” It would make sense and explain a great deal from what Pierce had heard and seen.
“He’s practically selling her from my understanding. She marries Philip, he thinks his parents will give him Astonia, and then he can pay Philip back and get the lifestyle he wants now. He’s very jealous of Evelyn.”
Marabelle had given Pierce a wealth of new information to consider. “Thank you, Marabelle. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“You would have to make your own damn hot chocolate for starters,” the woman teased as she handed him a tray.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize you were putting a tray together,” Pierce fumbled as he grabbed it.
“It’s a gift of mine, being able to do everything at once. Now use the passage in corridor to get to Evelyn’s room,”Marabelle advised.
“There is a passage in the kitchen to Evelyn’s room?” Pierce asked.
“Yes, it’s a very old, hardly used servants entrance. Jessica prefers the new one in the hall, which leads to the main hall on the Royal Family’s floor. I think I’m one of the few around here that knows of its existence.”
Marabelle led him down a dead end hallway, she looked around to make sure no one saw them. Carefully the woman pushed on a rosette carved into the wood panel. This popped open a door.
“Go all the way up these stairs. Evelyn’s room will be the door on the left,” Marabelle whispered as she closed the door.
Pierce climbed the stairs, grateful for the candle Marabelle had thoughtfully put on the tray. When he reached the top of the stairs, Pierce knocked on the door to the left.
After a few minutes he thought maybe Evelyn hadn’t heard him or fallen asleep, but then he heard footsteps.
“Marabelle, you needn’t worry. I promise I’m fine,” came Evelyn’s muffled voice as she opened the door.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not Marabelle,” Pierce replied.
Evelyn let out a tiny gasp of surprise, but she didn’t slam the door in his face. For that he was grateful.
Wearing a cream dressing gown, Evelyn’s eyes were red rimmed and puffy. She had been crying. Probably because of him. Richard was right. He was an ass.
Pierce set the tray of goodies on the side table near the chairs in front of the fireplace. He fixed her a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of finger sandwiches before looking at her again.
Evelyn looked small and fragile sitting in the large wingback chair. She must have taken a bath because her hair was braided. Her arms were wrapped around her legs and she was just staring at the fire.
Pierce didn’t know what to do. He could apologize or just sit here and watch her. She needed to eat something. It had been hours since her last full meal, and Pierce was truly worried about her.
“Evelyn, lass, I need you to eat for me. I didna sweet talk Marabelle for nothing,” Pierce coaxed.
“I’m not hungry. I told Jessica I wanted to be left alone,” Evelyn huffed.
“I know, and yet, here I am with a peace offering,” Pierce muttered.
Evelyn’s sharp green eyes tore him. “A peace offering? You bastard! After what you said to me? You are supposed to be the one person I can trust in this sea of uncertainty. My lighthouse in the storm, but that was too much to hope for.”
“I shouldna have said what I did, Evelyn. It was cruel and undeserved. Ye have every right to be mad at me. I made ye worry and then I spilled tea all over ye, I would hate me too,” Pierce confessed.
Evelyn didn’t say anything, she just went back to looking at the fire. After what felt like an eternity, she grabbed the mug of hot chocolate and began to drink and eat.
Relief hit Pierce like a wave crashing into the rocks. It was short lived and receded just as fast. She was eating, but she hadn’t forgiven him.
“How are your legs?” Pierce asked cautiously.
“Fine. They are pink and hurt a little, but I should be fine for tomorrow.”
An awkward silence continued to envelope them. It was suffocating him, this need to comfort her, but knowing he couldn’t really because he’d damaged her in his own way.
“No,” she hissed. “You do not get to call me that! Not after the way you treated me. I have never been so humiliated in all my life. Not even Philip made me feel as dirty as you did today.”
Pierce winced. He deserved that. If she was trying to knock him down a peg or two, she had accomplished that goal.
“I was worried about you when I didn’t see you at dinner. I found Jessica and she explained you refused a tray too. Breakfast was the last meal I saw you eat, I wanted to make sure you were alright,” Pierce explained.
“I’m fine. I didn’t go to dinner because I wouldn’t have been wearing the right undergarments and I know how you feel about that,” Evelyn retorted, throwing his words and actions back at him.
“Touche. I shouldna have been drinking. Once the doctor left, I should have been there with you, protecting you. I’m so sorry, Evelyn. This is the second time I have failed you with that bastard.”
“Prove it,” Evelyn challegend.
“Prove what?” Pierce was confused. She had a hard glint in her eye, like she was going to prove he would fail her again.
“Prove to me you are sorry. Talk is cheap, but actions, well those I can trust. After all, you pushed me away from you,” Evelyn taunted angrily.
“What do you want me to do? I promised to win the tournament for you so you would have your freedom,” Pierce told her. “What else can I do?”
“Figure it out,” Evelyn sassed.
She wanted him. She loved him. She wanted to marry him, but that wasn’t going to happen. The conversation he had had with her father didn’t include him marrying her.
He had only a few weeks left before he set sail with Evelyn and his men to Astonia, if he stayed on the original timeline. The situation with Thad and Edmund Lamont, Lady Grisham’s son, was much worse than originally thought. Both men had been living well above their means for sometime. The problem is no one knew what that looked like in reality.
Once he left Evelyn, he was going to map out a plan and put it into action. Then he would let King Reginald know of the plan so the tournament timeline could be altered.
“Evie, I canna marry you,”Pierce groaned. “You need a partner, a protector, and a friend right now. You donna need a lover.”
“I never said anything about marriage,” Evelyn grumbled. “I’m just tired of being a burden.”
“You’re not a burden. I care about you, a lot, but you can and will do better than me,” Pierce told her.
Evelyn continued to stare into the fire. “I’m tired. I’m going to go to bed now.”
Pierce got up from the chair and picked up the tray. He moved to the servants passage to leave. Looking behind him, Evelyn hadn’t moved a muscle.
Pierce sighed to himself. All he ever did was disappoint and fail her. She deserved someone who would love her and cherish her in ways he never would be able to. She was and always would be out of his reach.
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