Well, isn't that just fucking fantastic.
I cross my arms and push that thought right out of my head. "You're going to just let her run off with her crappy ex, then?"
"I'm not letting her do anything," Albie tells me. "Belle is capable of making her own decisions."
"You're so stubborn."
"Go talk to Max."
Talk to Max? I'm about to go jump his bones. "Fuck off, big brother."
"Love you, little sister."
I pretend to scratch my face with my middle finger, flipping Albie off, and he rolls his eyes at me before he walks away.
As I cross the room to meet Max, the vibrator turns off again. When I reach him, he looks concerned. "Sorry about the vibrator. Noah was talking to me. He left to go with Albie," he explains, his voice hushed.
"Belle's ex-boyfriend is here, and Sofia is, well, being Sofia," I whisper. "Albie might do something stupid."
"Shit. Something stupid like what?"
"I don't know … Publicly announce he's with Belle? He was pissed off when he saw her ex."
Max's brow furrows. "Come on," he whispers. "Let's get out of here."
He follows me out of the room, and I smile and nod as I pass people, acting as if this is any old event and not as if I'm chasing my brother out of the room to make sure he doesn't do anything public to the ex-boyfriend of his stepsister whom he's in love with – while I'm wearing a butt plug and vibrator that's remotely controlled by my bodyguard who I'm in like with.
Yep, all of this is totally normal.
Move along, nothing to see here.
By the time we make it down the hall, everything erupts into total chaos, raised voices, and Belle shrieking. "Come on," Max says, and I follow him, running in my heels and dress in the direction of the noise. He's right in front of me, and I pause in the doorway, watching horrified as Noah tries to pull my brother off of Derek.
Max jumps in to help, and he and Noah hold Albie back as he yells obscenities at Derek. Then Derek loudly accuses him of fucking Belle.
Sofia and my father arrive, standing behind me, and everything in the entire world comes to a screeching halt as my father orders the room shut down.
Max immediately lets go of Albie and makes it to my side. I stare at my brother, who's standing there with his nose bleeding and glaring at Derek – who's in the custody of two other security guards – like he's ready to murder him.
"You can't take me out of here," I tell Max as he puts his hand on my arm. "My brother and Belle and –"
"You heard your father," he says tersely. "It's protocol. You're on lockdown while they sort it out."
"You can't make me a prisoner in my own –"
"Get her out of here," my father growls at Max. "Now."
Max escorts me back to my bedroom. He doesn’t say a word because he knows I'm absolutely fuming. I can't just walk off while Belle and Albie get totally outed by Belle's ex and my brother gets into a public fistfight and has to deal with my father.
Surely Max knows that much about me.
Inside my bedroom door, he puts his hands on my arms. "Stay here," he says. "A bodyguard will be in the hallway."
"This is ridiculous," I protest, shrugging off his grip. "I'm not a child."
"You're not a child," Max growls. "But this is part of the security protocol. Your father is trying to keep you out of it so you're not publicly involved."
"Albie is my brother," I argue. I'm beyond irritated with Max.
"I'm trying to help both of you," he says, his tone firm. "I'll be back."
Then he leaves.
I change into a t-shirt and shorts, carefully removing Max's little presents. I text Albie and Belle, but get no response.
I must fall asleep because when I jolt upright in bed, light is streaming through the windows. I grab my phone.
Holy shit. It's ten in the morning.
Max never returned last night and I have no idea what happened with Belle and Albie.
Running to my bedroom door, I yank it open. A non-Max bodyguard stands at the end of the hallway. "Where's Max?" I snap.
"He's – I'm not sure, Your Highness," the bodyguard says.
"I need to see him, please." I close the door without waiting for an answer. Then I pull up one of the gossip blogs on my phone. Maybe we got away unscathed and everything was successfully covered up.
Oh, God. No such luck.
THE PRINCE'S MARRIAGE TO HIS SISTER! ROYAL VIOLENCE! A NIGHT THAT WAS OUT OF CONTROL! THE SHOCKING STORY THE ROYALS DON'T WANT YOU TO READ!
Rushing to pull on something presentable, I yank my hair into a ponytail and slip on a pair of shoes. I head straight for my brother's room, but he's not there.
"Where are my brother and Isabella?" I ask the new bodyguard.
"The future princess is gone, I believe."
"I believe she left a little while ago with her friends. Your brother is with the king and future queen."
Oh, God. That's not good.
"Where did Belle go?"
"I believe on a trip," he replies. "Around Europe."
"You know an awful lot for being new."
"I pay attention."
I narrow my eyes. "That's just what this place needs."
The new bodyguard tails me at a respectable distance, but as I'm heading toward my father's residence, Max calls me from the end of the hall.
"Princess Alexandra," he calls loudly. "Your Highness."
I don't stop, though, and I don't wait for him to catch up, because I'm too focused on making sure nothing terrible happens. All I can think about is the fact that I've never seen Albie the way he is with Belle and I don't want her banished from the kingdom.
It's the same thing I fear will happen to Max.
I don't have time to think about that, though, because I hear my father and Albie's raised voices inside of my father's residence suite. I knock on the door, and then just fling it open.
"Get out, Alex," Albie insists.
He and my father and Sofia are all obviously angry. A myriad of newspapers and magazines are strewn across a table, all of them emblazoned with headlines similar to the one I read on my phone.
I take a deep breath.
What I'm about to say is a really bad idea. It's a terrible idea, the worst idea in the world.
But it's the only thing I can think of to do, my small attempt to help Albie by distracting everyone with my drama: "I'm sleeping with Max."
"Oh my," Sofia says. "Who is Max?"
"He's my bodyguard."
Behind me, I hear Max take in a deep breath. "Oh, shit," he breathes.
Okay, so maybe this wasn't the best-conceived plan in the history of plans.
"You've got that right," Sofia says, obviously incensed – first at Albie and her daughter, and now at me.
"If you're mad at Albie, you can be mad at me too," I say imperiously, out of some crazy notion of solidarity with my brother and Belle. I look at Albie. "Did you tell them you're in love with her?"
"You're not in love with Belle," Sofia dictates.
"Of course he is," I insist. If they know he's in love with her, everything will be okay. Don't they understand what a big deal it is for Albie to be in love with someone? "I've never seen Albie look at anyone the way he looks at Belle – and now she's off running around Europe because he didn't have the balls to tell her how he felt."
"Didn't have the balls to tell her?" Albie asks. "She went running off before I could even say – "
"No balls," I repeat. "You missed your shot with her –"
Just then Max's gaze meets mine. Despite all of my talk about having balls, I'm struck with a sense of panic at the thought that I've just ruined everything between us with my impulsive outburst. Is that anger in his eyes? Disdain? Coldness? I can't tell what he's thinking and the fact that I can't tell makes me apprehensive.
Albie tells me to shut up, and then we begin bickering back and forth the way we've always done since we were
children – until my father silences us with a loud yell.
"Stop acting like children!" he bellows.
"I'm just trying to tell him what's good for him," I insist.
"Enough!" My father pauses, walking over to his bar to pour himself a glass of scotch from his decanter while we all stand there in silence. "Do you love her?"
"You can't seriously be entertaining this," Sofia begins.
"Do you love her?" he repeats.
I interrupt, pointing at Albie. "Obviously he does."
"Alex, stay out of this," my father warns.
"I love her," Albie admits.
I squeal and clap my hands together. Nothing's going to burst my bubble of excitement for Albie, not even when my father kicks us out of the residence because he wants a chance to think.
Outside in the hallway, Albie scowls at me. "So you and Max, huh?"
I glance at Max, trying to read the expression on his face. Does he hate me for what I just did? "I was trying to take the heat off of you, Albie," I explain more for his benefit than for Albie's. Then I quickly change the subject. "But more importantly, back to you and Belle. Where did Belle go?"
"She took off," Albie replies.
I whirl around and look at Max. "But you can get her location, can't you?"
"We can track her," he says.
"I'm on it already," Noah interrupts.
"You obviously have to tell her you love her, right?" I announce, clasping my hands together. "We need to chase her down!"
Fifteen minutes later, we're piled into one of the SUVs and on our way to track down Belle, a madcap race to wherever she is. I have no idea what Albie's grand plan is when he finds her. All I know is that this whole thing is crazy and exciting. For some reason, I'm all wound up about it, despite the fact that I'm the girl who doesn't have a single romantic bone in her body.
So the girl who doesn't believe in all of that icky love stuff is pushing her brother to go bare his feelings for Belle, consequences be damned.
When Max's gaze catches mine, my heart skips. The cat flew right out of the bag when it comes to Max and I hooking up. I blurted the whole thing out, without talking to him about it first, though. I still can't read his expression and things have been too crazy since we hit the road to even know whether he's completely freaked out by the fact that I just blurted out our little secret.
I'm not sure whether I'm freaked out that I blurted out our little secret.
All I told them was that we were screwing. No big deal, right?
You know you're not just screwing him. You like him.
Liking him? That's a way bigger deal.
The past thirty-six hours have been complete and utter chaos. Ever since Prince Albert punched Isabella's ex-fiancé in the face at the charity event, I haven't had a second to breathe. It's virtually unimaginable that less than two days ago, I was lying on the riverbank with Alexandra wrapped up securely in my arms.
Since then, we've chased Isabella to Budapest and watched Albie publicly confess his love for her, right in the middle of a restaurant while a hundred people filmed it on their phones. He and Belle stayed in Budapest, holed up in a hotel and protected by security, while Alexandra and I were picked up by the royal helicopter and whisked back to the summer house as a diversion to distract the paparazzi.
I haven’t gotten a single second alone with Alexandra to confront her about her disclosure to her father.
Nothing that Alexandra says or does should come as any big surprise anymore. But the fact that she outed us as sleeping together? Okay, that was a slight shocker.
In less than five minutes, we'll be back at the summer house, and I've already been given notice that I'm to report directly to the king.
If it was my daughter who just confessed to screwing her bodyguard, I'd be royally pissed. I'd probably want to kill the guy.
So, really, I'm probably on my way to my own execution.
When the helicopter lands, I don't get a chance to talk to Alexandra because one of the king's attendants comes to get me directly from the helicopter pad, accompanied by two other security guards. "Please come with me," the attendant says gruffly with no further explanation.
Yep, definitely execution. Prison, if I'm lucky.
"I'm going with you," Alexandra huffs, following us. When the security guard tries to stop her, she gets angry. "Don't touch me. I'm the princess and I said I'm going!"
I turn around and glare at her. "I'll talk to your father on my own," I tell her, my voice harsh.
"Just go," I order, my tone totally inappropriate, far too harsh for a member of the royal family. I'll face her father all on my own because it's the right thing to do.
She crosses her arms and raises her eyebrows, her eyes fixed on mine. "Fine," she says, her voice tight.
Obviously it's anything but fine.
Alexandra just confessed to sleeping with the help. Worse, even: her bodyguard. I should know better. I do know better. I crossed a thousand lines – we crossed a thousand lines.
The king sits inside an office at his monstrous desk looking down at paperwork. I bow, and then stand there waiting to receive the biggest ass-chewing of my life. Eight years in the Marine Corps and I never got called on the carpet to see the general for fucking up. Standing here right now in front of the king is the equivalent of that.
The Max who was in the Marines would have never done something so egregious that I got called to account for it in front of the general. The Max who's in charge of protecting the life of a princess … well, apparently, the man I am now has no regard for boundaries and rules.
"I don't want to know if what my daughter said is true," the king finally speaks. "Do you understand?"
"I understand, Your Majesty."
"Unless you're here to tell me it's not true," he finishes.
He only pauses for a moment. I'm sure it's evident in my expression that it's definitely true because the king exhales heavily.
I'm waiting for the part where King Leopold calls in the Royal