THERE’S A WALL IN ANTHORP CASTLE that displays weapons of war used by the royal family through the centuries. Swords, sabers, daggers—some still have blood on the blades. One of those weapons is a flail, commonly known as a ball and chain—a two-foot baton attached with a chain to a heavy, spiked ball. It’s an unwieldy mace that was actually rarely used in battle because of the danger to the wielder, and the long recovery time before one could strike again. However, when it was used, the damage it inflicted was deadly—the spikes pierced armor and embedded themselves in chests and skulls.
That flail is the first thing I think of when I pry open my eyes—because I feel like one has been planted in my brain. The bright sliver of white light seeping through the shades, in the otherwise dark room, makes agony explode behind my eyes. I moan, and a moment later the door opens, Simon’s shadowed silhouette spilling in from the hall.
“You’re alive then? For a time I wasn’t sure.”
“Thanks for your concern,” I grate out.
Too loudly. Even the hushed words bounce around my skull like shrapnel. I try again, even softer this time. “What the hell did you let me drink last night?”
Simon laughs without sympathy. “Let you? You guzzled what you’ve been drinking since The Goat. Vodka—straight up. Barbarian.”
Never again. I swear to my liver that if he just pulls through for me this one last time, I’ll be kinder, smarter, from now on.
With sickening realization, I remember the black-tie fundraiser we attended last night to support a royal charity. “Did I make an idiot of myself at the gala?”
“No, you were very restrained. Quiet and aloof. I was the only one who could tell that you were lucky to still be standing.”
Good. At least I don’t have to worry about that.
I rub my temples. “I had the oddest dream last night.”
“Was it flying pink elephants and Fergus in a ballerina tutu? That one always disturbs me.”
I laugh—not the smartest thing, as pain reverberates through my bones.
“No,” I tell him quietly. “I dreamed about my mother.”
“She was…scolding me. All sorts of riled up. She even yanked on the short hairs at the back of my neck. Remember how she used to do that when we’d misbehave in public?”
“I remember.” Simon’s voice is laced with nostalgia. “Until Henry ruined it for her in front of the press when he yelled, ‘Ow, what’d you pull my hair for, Mum?’”
I chuckle again, despite the discomfort.
“What was she railing at you for? Did you know?”
“She said…she said I made the angel cry.” I move my arm over my face to block out the light.
“Well, she did look like an angel and her pie was heavenly. I didn’t see any tears, but you definitely hurt her feelings.”
I drag my arm away and struggle to sit up.
“What are you going on about?”
“The waitress,” Simon explains. “At the coffee shop we stopped in after you dragged me through the city because you could walk around without being mobbed by cameras and fangirls. Don’t you recall?”
Images flicker through my head. I stop on one—the sound of a wounded gasp, and navy-blue eyes, the color of the sky at dusk, fighting back tears.
“That…that was real?”
“Yes, you bloody arse, it was real. You offered her twenty thousand for some rumpy-pumpy. She turned you down. Smart girl.”
I run my palm along my jaw, feeling dry crumbs and leftover granules of sugar. The sweet taste of apples lingers on my tongue. And it all comes rushing back—every word.
“Fucking Christ—is the story online yet?”
I can see the headline now:
PIMPING PRINCE HITS NEW YORK
“No. Not a word.” Simon checks his watch. “It’s half past two in the afternoon, so you’re probably safe. If the little bird was going to sing, I think it would’ve leaked by now.”
“That’s a relief, I guess.”
But still…whether it’s because of the dream or my own behavior, regret rises around me like steam. It seeps inside with every breath, clinging to my lungs.
“It’s still coming down outside. Hell of a storm. You may as well finish sleeping it off; we won’t be traveling today.”
“Good idea,” I murmur, already drifting off, with visions of delicious ripe lips and swirling dark hair dancing in my head.
Early the next morning I’m feeling almost human again—though still achy and fog-headed. I have a meeting upstate with the heads of a military charity organization, and we’re scheduled to leave just before sunrise. The earlier we arrive at our destination, the less likely a crowd will be there to greet us. Thankfully, the damnable snow has finally stopped and if there’s one thing I appreciate about this city, it’s its ability to get up and running through any catastrophe. Although the roads appear passable, Logan trades out the limousine for an SUV. In the backseat, I straighten my tie and adjust my cuff links, while Simon mentions a craving for breakfast tea and a slice—or two—of pie to go with it.
I’ve been looking for a reason to return, not that I need an excuse. Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the pretty waitress—and the way I treated her. After I nod, Simon gives Logan the directions, and we pull up in front of Amelia’s a few minutes later. The streetlamps are still on and the sidewalk is empty, but the door is unlocked, so we walk inside, an annoying bell chiming above our heads.