Pierce had watched Evelyn leave her box with Richard after her Mother’s remark. He went upstairs to his room to clean up and change. There were still a few hours before dinner, so Pierce decided to climb up his balcony onto Evelyn’s.
She was sitting in front of the fireplace looking pale and withdrawn with her arms around her legs. He could tell she had been crying. Suddenly her face crumbled and Evelyn started sobbing into her legs.
Pierce had no idea what had happened or why she was crying. With everything going on in her life, she was completely isolated. He was supposed to be the one person Evelyn could talk to, but he had made an ass out of himself. Even though he had apologized, he knew she needed more from him than words.
Pierce sighed and was starting to leave when he noticed a table moving by the wall. It took him a moment before realization dawned on him. That was the passage no one was supposed to know about. The one he had used the other night. It seemed someone else knew about it too.
He looked back at Evelyn, she was still sobbing, oblivious to the possible danger. Pierce made up his mind. He knocked on the door.
Evelyn’s head jerked up. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. The sight broke his heart. She was warring with herself when she heard a jostle from the table she had placed in front of the servants passage. She ran for the balcony door, unlocking it, and hiding behind Pierce.
“Someone is trying to get in,” Evelyn whispered.
“I know, that’s why I knocked,” Pierce replied.
Evelyn was shocked. Pierce had been sitting out here on the balcony watching her this entire time? For a moment she almost let herself believe he cared, but reality hit her. She was his duty. If something happened to her, it would be his head.
Pierce stealthy crept to the servants passage. He carefully moved the table so the person on the other side could come in. He was surprised when it turned out to be a maid.
The woman let out a shriek when she saw Pierce. “Begging your pardon, sir. I was told this was the way to Princess Evelyn’s room.”
“Not a problem, as you can see, it’s my room. Do you mind telling me why you are looking for the Princess’s room?” Pierce asked, laying on the charm.
“I was asked to find out if the little girl was in her room by a gentleman. He said he was the child’s father and he had come to fetch her, but couldn’t find anyone to get her. I told him I would do it,” the maid explained.
“What did this gentleman look like?” Pierce questioned innocently.
“He was about mid-height, balding and smelled of cheap cigars, which I thought was odd for a gentleman, but who am I to question the habits of the upper class,” the maid answered.
“Well I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. But you are more than welcome to stay,” Pierce suggested, nodding to the bed. The young woman blushed and fled from the room.
Pierce sighed. He moved the table back in place in front of the servants passage. He was going to have to have a conversation with Marabelle to see who exactly knew about this passage.
“It’s safe to come out now, Evie,” Pierce softly called to her.
Evelyn walked back inside, closing the door behind her. “I’ll bet it’s her uncle who is looking for her. He always smells of cheap cigars.”
Pierce took note of the distance Evelyn was maintaining from him. It hurt, but he understood. He had hurt her deeply and now she doubted him.
“Possibly. I’ll have Ian look into it. Jessica and Evan are with her across the hall, so I’m not worried about anything happening to her. Not with so many of us nearby,” Pierce explained.
“Well, good. I’m glad you were watching over me. You can leave now, I’m fine,” Evelyn said dismissing him from the room.
“No, you’re not fine. Tell me what is bothering you.”
Evelyn lifted a brow as she stared him down. Did he really want to know? She doubted that. He saw she was in distress and saw his duty falling apart.
“I’m just really overwhelmed by everything,” Evelyn softly explained. “Without you, the others, Jessica and Lis, I would have lost my mind by now.”
“I understand. Taking over a kingdom is overwhelming enough on its own, then add suitors and politics to the mix, things get crazy.”
Evelyn stood up and walked over to Pierce. “I can handle all of that. I was trained to rule a kingdom from the minute I was born. However, the pressure to always impress the men here is grating my nerves.”
Pierce was silent as he watched her walk over to her bed. She carefully touched the fabric of the dress she was to wear.
Her eyes glistened as she spoke. “This is the sapphire gown I’m to wear tonight. It leaves little to the imagination and is practically sheer, but the worst part is I’m sitting next to Philip.”
Her mood made more sense to Pierce. She had been avoiding that man. He had been disqualified from the competition, and yet he was still here. Pierce hadn’t had a chance to find out why, but he would be making it a priority now.
“What do you want me to do?” Pierce asked. He hated how helpless he felt. He couldn’t keep her away from the one person who kept hurting her.
Evelyn smiled sadly. She wanted him to marry her. She wanted him to say he loved her. However, that wasn’t what Pierce had in mind. “Send me Jessica. I’ll see you when you escort me to dinner. Just make sure he doesn’t touch me.”
Pierce nodded. He knew what she wanted him to say. As the fourth son in line to the throne, it would never happen. Pierce wasn’t good enough for her.
Pierce left Evelyn and walked into the room housing Lily. The sight before him was not what he had been expecting. Lily was sitting on the lap of an older woman, while Evan watched them closely from a corner of the room. Pierce pulled Jessica asided and told her to tend to Evelyn.
“Lady Grisham?” Pierce asked.
The older woman and Lily looked over to where he was standing by the door.
“Mr. Pierce, this is my Grandmama! She came home! Isn’t that wonderful?” Lily cried.
Pierce smiled at the child. “That is wonderful news, Lily. I just came to check on you and fetch Jessica for Princess Evelyn. Will you be joining us for dinner Lady Grisham?”
The woman eyed Pierce. She studied him carefully, he never flinched under her scrutiny. “No, I will be taking dinner in my suite with my granddaughter.”
Pierce nodded. Lady Grisham continued, “I understand my niece would like an audience with me. This evening would please me.”
“Wonderful, I will let her know. Should I bring her to your rooms?” Pierce asked.
“Yes, but not through the castle,” Lady Grisham replied in a hushed tone.
“I understand. If you’ll excuse me, I must get ready for dinner,” Pierce stated, bowing before leaving the room.
Evelyn was on her third glass of wine and the main course hadn’t even been served. Philip was to her left, constantly finding ways to brush against her, while the Archduke of Isaacs sat to her right. He kept finding reasons to whisper in her ear.
Of course what had caught everyone’s attention when she had entered the parlor before dinner was the thin fabric of her gown. Despite the dark color, areas of her gown were sheer. She had dressed as complete as she could, but there was only so much she could do.
Evelyn was miserable. Her men were guarding and watching her from around the room, but if she was touched one more time she was going to lose it.
Pierce could tell Evelyn was at the end of her patience. He wasn’t sure if anyone else had noticed, but he had. She was also drinking like a fish. A fact that annoyed him greatly.
She was supposed to meeting with Lady Grisham after dinner, but Pierce was afraid she would be too drunk to even speak with the woman.
The servants were taking the soup bowls away as the main course was brought out. Meanwhile, David was pouring Evelyn a fourth glass of wine. She had barely eaten anything over the past four courses.
Philip leaned in and lightly grabbed her breast. Evelyn turned and slapped him hard across the face.
“How dare you!” Evelyn seethed. Conversation around the table ceased.
“I have no idea what you are talking about, Princess Evelyn. Perhaps you have had too much to drink,” Philip replied innocently.
Evelyn went to stand, when Philip grabbed her arm hard. “Apologize now,” he growled in her ear.
Evelyn glared at him and tried to break free. He was squeezing her bruise and he knew it. Her eyes were beginning to water from the pain.
“Unhand her now,” Pierce barked.
“You stay out of this. After all, you’re only help,” Philip retorted.
“He is a Prince of Scotland, and you would do well to remember that. Now unhand Princess Evelyn before I do it for you,” boomed King Reginald at the head of the table.
Queen Maria started to defend Philip, but Thad cut her off. “Prince Philip was just reaching for his drink, Evelyn. You have overreacted, Sister,” Thad explained, working to deescalate the situation.
“I apologize for creating a scene,” Evelyn said. Philip let her go.
“If you don’t want to be treated like a whore, then you shouldn’t dress like one,” Philip whispered in her ear. He then turned his attention to Thad and the pair began a lively conversation.
Conversations resumed around the table, but Evelyn was shaking.
Pierce knelt down beside her. “Evie, lass, I need ya to eat yur food. Ya will need yur strength.”
She nodded and began to eat. The Archduke and Philip didn’t try to converse with her for the rest of the evening, which was fine with her. Once dinner was over, she was going to her rooms.
Her mother could do what she wanted with her competition for Evelyn’s company tomorrow morning. So long as it wasn’t Philip, but she knew she couldn’t be rid of that man that quickly.
Once dinner was over, Evelyn got up from the table and marched from the room. Her cheeks were flush and her equilibrium was off from the bottle of wine she had consumed at dinner.
Her men were somewhere behind her, as she climbed the stairs to the fourth floor. She was almost to her room when Pierce stopped her.
“Evelyn, let Robert and Peter clear the room,” Pierce ordered.
After a few minutes, Evelyn became impatient. She wanted a moment to herself. She pushed her way into the room halfway through them clearing it, kicked off her shoes and as soon as the room was declared safe, threw everyone out.
The maids were not happy with their mistress’ behavior. He listened to their complaints as they walked down the hall. He waited five minutes before sneaking back into the room.
“Evelyn, you have your audience with Lady Grisham this evening,” Pierce told her. She was sitting before the fireplace drinking water.
“I didn’t forget. I’m ready whenever you are.” Evelyn stated, standing up.
“We have to balcony jump. I will go first and then you will follow,” he explained to her.
Pierce knew Evelyn was afraid of heights. She had been ever since childhood when she had fallen out of a tree and broken her arm trying to rescue a kitten.
“What? You want me to do what! In this gown? Are you insane? I’m on the fourth floor! And I’ve been drinking!”
He watched as her breathing increased and her eyes grew wild. He was losing her. “Evie, listen to me. I’m going first and I will not let you fall. Nothing will happen to you, I swear.”
Watching her chest rise and fall rapidly reminded him just how sheer her gown was. Gradually her breathing returned to normal.
He grabbed her hand and led her on to the balcony where Robert and Peter waited for them. Both of the men were wearing black cloaks.
He put one over Evelyn, then took off his neck cloth. He had worn dark colors knowing he wouldn’t be able to jump in a cloak or have time to change.
Pierce climbed on top of the railing and jumped. His arms wrapped around the railing on the other side and he hoisted himself up.
He then grabbed two boards and placed them across the gap by the wall. Pierce climbed back up onto the railing and stood on the boards.
Robert did the same and Peter handed Evie to him. Robert placed her on the boards and she began to whimper as she took a few tentative steps.
“Evie, listen to me, we won’t let you fall. I won’t let you fall, just focus on me,” Pierce told her gently.
Evelyn had one hand on the wall for balance and another holding up her skirts. “That’s easy for you to say. You know what, you had better win the tournament for making me do this,” she grumbled.
Pierce chuckled and watched her. Her breathing was heavy, but she was still doing it. He was proud of her.
When she made it to him, he set her on the ground. Peter then walked across the boards. Pierce grabbed them and put them across the last balcony.
He then walked across and waited as Evelyn worked her way across. Once she was next to him, he set her on the ground and made sure she was behind him.
Pierce then knocked on the door. Ian opened it cautiously before letting them in. Lady Grisham was sitting before the fire with Lily.
She was listening to the animated little girl as she told her all about the events of the last week. Evelyn took off her cloak and the room went silent.
Lady Grisham stood and curtsied. “Your Highness, thank you so much for taking in Lilian. She was telling me what happened.”
“I love Lily. It was no trouble at all. I was very concerned about you, I’m glad you’re alright,” Evelyn told the woman.
“Lily, my love, why don’t you go to bed so the Princess and I can talk?” Lady Grisham asked the girl.
She nodded and went off with Ian into the bedroom. They waited until she was situated in the room and Ian had joined them before talking.
Lady Grisham sighed. It wasn’t hard to see the circles under her eyes or the lines around her mouth. She was tired, but here she was for her granddaughter.
“I received an urgent letter saying my sister-in-law was ill and they didn’t know if she would make it. She is doing better now, but there was a moment we almost lost her. I didn’t want Lily exposed to her sickness, so I left her with her new governess,” she explained. “She is the only servant to not have returned to the house after my trip.”
Pierce and Ian digested this information. They looked at each other and nodded in understanding.
“Her governess took her to the orphanage, didn’t she?” Pierce asked.
Lady Grisham nodded. “Yes and I have reason to believe my youngest son, Edmund, is behind all of this. I disinherited him because of drinking and gambling. He ran through the money in his trust and wanted Lily’s money. I refused and he’s been hounding me ever since.”
“Does anyone in your household know where Lily is?” Pierce asked.
“They heard she was with the Princess,” Lady Grisham explained.
Ian jumped in. “Edmund knows she was found and he has been trying to get his hands on her ever since. Another interesting tidbit, he is reporting to Thad and another man in the tournament. Thad doesn’t want anyone to know the kingdom is practically bankrupt because of his gambling and poor investments. He had rigged the tournament, but Evelyn threw a wrench in the plan. He is now working on a way to get you three out of the way.”
“Thad is working with Prince Philip, isn’t he?” Evelyn asked. She had known something was amiss from the moment she had seen them together. Her brother would do anything to save his inheritance because hers never mattered.
“I’ve narrowed it down to three. Prince Philip, Duke Isaacs, and the Earl of Thornton. They are the three men your Mother has been pushing you toward and they all come from the same region,” Ian finished.
“What do you mean same region? There isn’t supposed to be anyone from the same kingdom competing,” Pierce said.
“I know and I wish I had better news, but it looks like there is cheating going on at a higher level.”
Evelyn let out a sigh. She was tired of all the deception of late. It seemed everywhere she turned, her brother and mother had another trick up their sleeves.
“It doesn’t matter if there are three from one kingdom, we will continue to win for our Queen,” Robert stated. Peter nodded in agreement and Evelyn smiled.
“Do you think Lady Grisham and Lily are safe here in this kingdom? Or should we get them somewhere else?” Evelyn asked.
Pierce had been thinking along the same lines, but didn’t want to alarm the women. “Let’s see what happens with the rest of the competition. We’ll continue to watch Lady Grisham and Lily and see if other dangerous situations come up.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Lady Grisham agreed.
“If you’re fine with it, then that sounds good to me as well, Pierce,” Evelyn told him.
“Good. Now we must get Princess Evelyn back to her room before anyone realizes you two have spoken,” Pierce declared. He stood and guided Evelyn to the door.
Pierce took the lead, exiting out the door to make sure everything was safe. Once he gave Robert the signal, he motioned for Evelyn to join him.
“You’re going to go first this time,” Pierce softly spoke into her ear.
The look of sheer terror was not lost on him. “But I don’t want to. Why can’t you go first?”
“Who would lift you to the railing?” Evelyn knew she couldn’t argue that logic. Taking a deep breath, she nodded to Pierce. He picked her up and set her on the railing.
Grabbing her skirts and looking straight ahead, Evelyn slowly made her way across to Robert. She stumbled slightly at the end, but Robert swept her up and put her solidly on the balcony.
Pierce made quick work of joining them. He grabbed the board and set it next to the other leading back to Evelyn’s balcony. Peter was waiting for them to make their way back.
Evelyn took another deep breath and began walking across. She was about halfway to her balcony when there was a knock on her bedroom door.
“Evelyn? It’s your mother. I need to speak to you at once, open the door,” Queen Maria commanded.
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