I feel my face starting to flame, but I try to be strong. “Did he say anything to you about me? About the show?”

She flicks her wrist, checking her diamond watch. “I don’t have time to chat, Miss Titebottum—I have a show to plan.” She glances over my shoulder. “Make sure you’re dressed and ready for tonight’s shoot, Penelope. And you should wear that dark blue dress—it’s a good color for you.”

Vanessa moves to step past me, but my hand lashes out, grabbing her arm.

Because I will not be dismissed.

And then I look at her face, searching her eyes.

“You’re lying.”

She gazes back at me for a few seconds and then she sighs. “I got the vibe from Henry that he felt things would be easier this way, for everyone involved. He said he would speak to you when he gets back later. And that’s the truth.”

She pulls out of my grasp and walks away.

Back in my room, Penelope vibrates beside me, like a small blond tornado that wants to obliterate everything in its path. “Fuck. Him. He doesn’t deserve you. I could literally kill him for this.”

I try Henry’s mobile again, but the call goes straight to voicemail.

“It must be some kind of misunderstanding. I’m not going to panic, Penny.”

“How could it be a misunderstanding? He said he was going to quit and he obviously didn’t. Don’t be simple, Sarah. He spent the weekend screwing you into a trance and now he’s where? With Laura Benningson. On a boat. Probably telling her the same things he’s told you. The poor, misunderstood Prince. He knows women, Sarah. He knows it’s the broken ones we try hardest to fix.”

I feel sick. My stomach twists and drops. And for the very first time, I feel . . . used.

Penelope looks around the room, her face tight and sharp, the wheels spinning furiously in her mind. “We should just go. Pack up our things and leave. Right now.”

My voice is hollow, like an echo of myself.

“You signed a contract, Penelope.”

“Fuck the contract; I don’t need them. Jerry the cameraman has a brother-in-law who’s an agent in LA. He sent him my head shots and video and he wants to fly me out there next month.” She grips my hand. “And even if he didn’t, you’re more important to me than this.”

My back stiffens. “I’m not going to run away. If Henry’s feelings have changed, he can have the decency to tell me to my face.”

“There’s nothing decent about him! And it’s not running away; it’s telling him to piss the hell off! That he can’t mess with you, like you’re some lovesick fool. He may have taken your cherry, but who cares—at least you’ll have your pride. Come on, Sarah. Be strong.”

Is that what being strong means? I don’t think so. To me it means having faith in Henry, until he gives me a real reason not to. I’m not ready to give up on him yet and I tell my sister as much.

Penny sighs, her shoulders falling, reining in her inner drama queen. “You came here because of me—all of this is because of me. And if you end up hurt because of it, I’ll never forgive myself.”

I hug her.

“There would be nothing to forgive. I’m a big girl, Penny. I’m responsible for my own choices. No one else.”

And so is Henry.

I put “Hallelujah” by John Cale on repeat on my mobile and I sit in the nook, not reading, but gazing out the window. Waiting. A storm’s come in, the rain and wind pelting the castle and the ocean waves roaring against the rocks. Penny eventually falls asleep on the sofa. They canceled the evening filming. A crew member told my sister that they decided to take the boat farther off-shore, to wait out the storm instead of trying to make a run for the shore. Worry stabs at me as I watch the waves crashing, violent and angry. I hope he’s okay . . . please God, let them be all right.

And then I realize that I’ve prayed for “them” and suddenly a whole different kind of worry pierces me. Because Henry’s not on that boat alone. He’s with Laura—gorgeous and fun and truly a nice person, Laura. Despite what I’ve said to Penny, I’m not a fool.

He wasn’t supposed to be on that boat. He promised me. Why did he go?

As the lovely song repeats, I think about all the things that have happened the last few days. So many changes.

And I feel like I’m falling after all—like my wings have been clipped.

I’m afraid and unsure about everything. It’s not just about Henry. I miss my flat. I miss the library and the simple joy of my books. I miss the consistency and assurance of knowing how each day will begin and end. I crave it, deep inside, the way a tiny turtle craves the warm protection of its shell.

The night passes faster than I imagined. And when the sun has risen full above the horizon, and John Cale’s voice goes quiet, I wipe my tears and wash my face.

Big-girl knickers time.

WHAT A FUCKING NIGHT! An awful disaster of a night. On a boat. In a storm. With a food-poisoned, seasick puking woman, begging me to hold her hair and make it stop the whole damn time.

Move over, Stephen King—I’m the master of horror now.

As we drive up through the gate, all I can think about is a hot shower and that bloody perfect big bed, with Sarah, warm and naked, tucked up tight against me.

I help Laura from the car and into the castle; she’s weak-kneed and weary. But inside the castle door, it’s chaos. Crew members bustling and shouting, and . . . Willard.

Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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