She raises her glass to me. “Remember that I told you so.”
And then she drifts away, like smoke after a blaze.
I take a big gulp of wine and decide not to get into whatever that was with Nicholas. At least not now.
“So…ex-girlfriend?” I ask, clearly unable to resist.
“More like ex-psycho stalker,” Esmerelda answers for him. Then she takes my hand. “Forget about her. Let’s go lose some of Daddy’s money.”
Nicholas takes a breath, nods, and we head off to the tables.
But I don’t lose anyone’s money. An hour later, I’m up eight black chips at the blackjack table. I think, I hope, they’re worth a thousand each—if it’s any more than that, I’ll be too freaked out to touch them. My dad taught me to play the game when I was twelve. On his good days, we still play a few hands.
Nicholas’s big, warm hands squeeze my shoulders, and he speaks close to my ear. “I have to head to the little lads’ room.”
I look at him over my shoulder. “Okay.”
Our eyes meet and I know him well enough to recognize the look burning in his. He wants to kiss me—badly. He stares at my mouth like a starving man.
But then he pulls back, looks around the room, remembers where we are.
“Ezzy—mind Olivia for me a bit?”
“Yeah, sure.” She nods and Nicholas walks away.
But fifteen minutes later, he still hasn’t come back. And Esmerelda spots a group of friends she hasn’t spoken to “in ages.” With a pat to my arm, she says she’ll “be back in a jiffy” and she heads off to them.
Leaving me alone in the center of the room, feeling like an alien surrounded by Martians who sweat money and shit gold.
I watch a white-gloved waiter slip through a swinging door—probably to the kitchen—and my feet itch to follow him. Because my home planet is behind that door—my people.
Dozens of curious, unkind eyes appraise me as they float past, in groups of chatting, laughing twos and threes. So I lift the hem of my shimmery dress and walk closer to the wall, to be less conspicuous. I slip my phone out of my purse and text Ellie, asking what she’s up to. I talked to her and Marty last night, just after they’d finished closing the coffee shop. They sounded good. I sent them pics of my room and the palace grounds—Marty replied with so many emoji’s, he probably broke the button. He’s expressive like that.
When she doesn’t respond a few minutes later, I put my phone away. And I don’t want to smother Nicholas, but at the same time—where the fuck is he? Five more minutes pass and my stomach turns twisty and sour. He knows I don’t know anyone here—why would he leave me alone?
Screw it. I put my Champagne glass on the tray of a passing waiter and set out to find him. Every room I wander through looks like the inside of a crystal chandelier—sparkling and glittery. And they’re noisy, with pinging slot machines and cheering crowds.
Royals like winning money too—even when they already have it. Go figure.
One room is dark, black, except for colored strobe lights, a glowing dance floor, and the pounding club music coming from the DJ’s speakers. I spot Henry’s unmistakable blond head in the middle of the floor, surrounded by gyrating women, and I almost head over to him to ask if he’s seen his brother.
But then—I can’t explain why—a door on the far side catches my attention. It leads outside, onto a balustraded balcony. By the time I reach it, my palms are sweating and clammy. My heels click on the tiled stone outside—I only go a few steps—and that’s when I see them, at the far corner of the balcony in the soft halo of a teardrop-shaped lamp.
I taste bile in the back of my throat.
Her back is to me, her blond hair cascading, her head tipped up to him and her forearms resting on those broad shoulders I love to touch. I can’t tell if he’s pushing her away or pulling her closer—and the sour sensation in my stomach seeps into my bones.
Anger mixes with embarrassment—and flight kicks fight’s ass.
When I pull the door, back open I think I hear my name, but the sound is drowned out by the pumping bass that rattles the walls. I walk quickly, through the dance room, back into the main gambling room.
I make it through the doorway—and then my arm is grabbed, encircled by an iron grip, like a shackle.
“Just where do you think you’re going?” she asks, with a light Wessconian accent.
I look up at her and the breath literally whooshes out of me. Because she’s the most breathtakingly beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Half a foot taller than me, with shiny dark brown hair, onyx eyes, perfect doll-like features and pale, pristine skin.
Nice recovery, Liv.
“Let me guess—you walked outside and saw Lucille and Nicholas, not quite kissing but not not-kissing either?”
“How do you know that?”
She snorts—and manages to make it sound adorable.
“Because Lucy is the most unoriginal bitch I’ve ever known.” She taps my nose. “But you aren’t going to run off—absolutely not. You can’t give her the satisfaction.”
She plucks two fresh glasses of Champagne off a passing tray, hands one to me, and clinks our glasses together.
“Drink up and smile—you’re being watched.”
I peek around the room. “Watched by who?”
“Everyone, of course. You’re new and shiny and…poor. And you have your hands on what every woman here, except me and Esmerelda, wants—the royal family jewels.” Her head tilts. “Are you really a waitress?”