Wild Lavender, Chapter 1
This is a new type of story for me and pushes me out of my comfort zone in several ways. Hopefully, it will help me grow as a writer. Either way, I really love this story and hope you will too!
Pairing: Liam x Melina (OC), Drake x Riley
Rating: PG, but this, series will contain adult content
Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the taglist .
Disclaimer: I do not own TRR characters, They belong to Pixelberry
"Clink, clank, clink clank."
The jars clanged gently together as Melina made her way through the woods. She shifted the heavy basket to the other hand, feeling the pull on her muscles move from one side to the other. Her hand was sore from the weight of the wicker pressing against her palm and deep indentations shown where it lay a moment before. She opened and closed her hand attempting to ease the strain. Her spine curved to the right now, trying to balance the weight in her hand but it didn't help. So instead, she tried to distract herself, looking around her.
It was spring and the trees were responding, doing their assigned duty by slowly propelling their leaves forward and unfurling. This left a fresh, earthy smell to the air; one of growth and new life.
All the good things that Melina ever remembers happening in her life, happened in spring. It was a time she always looked forward to. It was also a busy time for her closest and most loyal friends, the bees. She looked down at the jars of honey in the basket, smiling proudly at the work they had achieved, like a mother would beam at the fingerpainting her toddler lovingly created, pouring every ounce of effort into it.
Melina took no credit, she hadn't made the honey, only harvested it. It was the purple thyme blossoms, yellow irises, the sage and wild lavender that were responsible. They did the hard work of growing, while the bees flew on tired wings to find and collect the nectar and bring it back to the hive, passing it along to the house bees to store. And of course there's the queen to oversee her workers. Melina was the last step in this intricate process, collecting and extracting the honey and carefully placing it into jars.
She shifted the basket once again. Spring trips were always the most difficult. By summer, her arms would be tanned and strong, toned muscles easily bearing the weight of the basket. Her feet, too, would be so accustomed to the trek to the great house, she could do it in her sleep. But for now, she watched the way carefully. The dirt path overgrown in areas from lack of use and her memory not quite as sharp as in the fall, after months of walking the trail.
The sky was showing her the lateness of the hour, the pink hues flirting with the blues and she sped up, worried she might be too late to make her delivery.
This was an important year for Melina and although her family had provided honey to the great house for long before she was born, the new Duke and Duchess had moved in with their baby, only recently. She didn't know their names, she never had a television or a radio in their old shack in the woods. She only heard the odd bit of information in passing, on her trips to the market to fetch the few things she couldn't grow in her garden. That and the note from the cook she received last week asking that she make her delivery early, told her the house was once again occupied and she was glad for it.
She heaved the basket to the other arm again, wiping the beads of sweat from her brow that appeared from her hurried pace. The path was wet in spots, last night's rain pooling in dips in the trail where the foliage from the leaves blocked the sun from drinking it up. She was working hard to avoid these spots in her haste but felt the cool wet mud splash up onto her ankles on more than one occasion. Her sandals, brown and worn were her only pair and the mud darkened the tan leather, soaking her soles.
"Dammit", she breathed as her foot landed squarely in a puddle, splashing up and soaking the hem of the blue floral dress she wore. She set down the basket and tried to catch her breath, the light amber strands of her long hair sticking to her face. She spotted a piece of long grass growing beside a nearby pond and walked over, swiftly breaking it off. She held the grass between her teeth as she pushed the hair back off her face and folded it into a braid, wrapping the grass around the end until it was secure. Then she lifted the bottom of her skirt up and tied it in a knot, keeping it away from the mud. Her mother would not approve, but neither would she be pleased about her daughter showing up covered in mud. Besides, she was no longer on this earth to reprimand her for her tomboy ways.
Melina picked the basket up once again and hurried toward her delivery.
Drake and Riley smiled, sleepily as they joined Liam in the sunroom of Valtoria.
"We're so glad you came to visit, Liam," Riley greeted.
Drake yawned loudly and Riley subtly jabbed him in the ribs.
"Sorry," he murmured.
Liam chuckled, "You two look exhausted. Is my niece that much trouble?"
"No...no. She's wonderful." Drake and Riley grasped hands and smiled warmly at one another. "She just hates sleep," they chuckled.
"Perhaps you should employ a nanny to help. At least with overnights?"
Riley shook her head. "I know we could, but I just don't want to miss any of it."
Drake nodded, "I feel like a zombie, and I'm not sure half the time if I'm dreaming or awake, but then I hold her and..." he shrugged as they once again shared a look that communicated such love and understanding, it was perfectly clear that they both felt exactly the same. She was worth it.
Liam urged them to get some rest while the baby was sleeping and once they had reluctantly agreed, Liam went to his room and slipped into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It was early, far too early for him to go to bed, and he did not want to give into the temptation to work.
This trip to Valtoria to visit Drake and Riley had been planned as an escape for him. The social season had ended with Liam ascending to the throne, but without a wife. He had planned to choose Riley, but while he was focused on figuring out a way to fit her into the role of queen, Drake and Riley had been building a relationship and unbeknownst to either of them, falling in love.
This came as a surprise to Liam, certainly, but in hindsight, he never loved Riley or really even knew her. He had loved the idea of her, of having someone in his life that was unlike other nobles and could keep him tethered to reality...not so different from Drake, in fact. Which is why it made such sense they would find each other. They both existed in a different world.
Liam was happy for them both and it brought him true joy to see his best friend in love and happy. But, it also left Liam alone, with the rope that both Drake and Riley had each held at one time, keeping him grounded, now blowing freely in the breeze.
Liam felt the impact in recent months, as he settled into a routine on his own. He rose early, exercised, worked until the sun went down, taking his meals in his office or over hurried business dinners. At night he retired alone to his suite, his eyes tired and mind exhausted.
He didn't mind the empty bed, so much. There were plenty of ways for a man like him to have a warm body beside him, if he chose, but what he longed for most was someone to occupy his thoughts. It was in the absence of yearning that he felt most alone. And as he wandered through the gardens surrounding Valtoria in the early evening, it was this he was thinking about.
Melina arrived at the back door to the grand house at dusk. She wasn't sure what time it was, she had never owned a watch and wouldn't remember how to tell the time now, anyhow. She simply judged the time by the sky. Noting the position of the sun on the horizon, the brilliant pink and orange hues now overtaking the blue, she knew it was much later than she had intended to arrive.
She hesitantly knocked on the heavy wooden door at the back of the house, the one that led to the kitchens. There was shuffling inside and she could hear the stairs creak as someone made their way down to the back door.
Melina had never been beyond the stairs that lay behind the door. The goods were stored in a large room just off the landing, but on more than one occasion, when she made this trip with her mother, she could hear the clang of pots and pans and the smells that made her mouth water wafting down those stairs.
She assumed the kitchen must lie at the top and as a girl, she would fantasize about what it must look like up there and what sort of food they must be cooking to make such unfamiliar but delectable smells.
Melina's shack in the woods held a wood burning stove, a cast iron skillet and an old metal pot. Her mother had always managed to make a meal from what they had in the garden or what she could trade for the honey. She appreciated the meals, especially now that she had to cook for herself and could never quite get them to taste the way they did when her mother made them. But even with mama's extra touch of love, she had never tasted anything that could belong to the smells she had smelled at the great house.
The door strained to slowly open, as the petite woman inside battled with the weight of it. Finally, when it was open the woman she recognized as Gladys stood before her. Melina averted her eyes, speaking meekly. She had met Gladys before and it's not that she was mean, but she had a sharpness to her that made Melina feel like a schoolgirl being reprimanded by her teacher.
"Hello ma'am. I'm Melina, here with the honey you requested."
Gladys huffed, "I know who you are, girl. And you were supposed to be here earlier. Cook has already left for the day."
Melina was not surprised that Gladys had called her girl. She was no longer a girl, in fact she had not been for several years, celebrating her twenty second birthday last October. But to people like Gladys, Melina appeared childlike, unsophisticated and stupid. It said little about Melina's age but was meant as an insult, a way to make certain Melina knew that Gladys was high above her in rank. As if a woman that lived in a shack in the woods needed reminding of her station.
"I am sorry ma'am. The trip took longer than expected."
Gladys looked Melina up and down and she hurriedly tugged at the knot in her dress, realizing she'd forgotten to undo it in her haste.
"Well, cook left instructions that you would be coming. He seemed confident you would be here despite the hour. You can put the goods in here." Gladys stepped aside and allowed Melina to enter before leading her into the storage room.
When Gladys flipped the switch, Melina smiled in wonderment at the sites before her. She had been in this room before, but this time it was filled with brightly colored jars, cans, packages and boxes. She had never seen anything like it and she wondered what the cook could be using all these treasures for.
Gladys pointed to an empty spot on a shelf and Melina walked over, sliding the jars of honey, one by one onto the shelf. The strange labels and bright colors pulled her eyes in every direction and she giggled to herself as she imagined the kitchen, a bright rainbow of colors, with cook flipping boxes upside-down until they were empty, pouring the contents of cans and emptying jars into massive pots.
And then, "crash...crash crash."
Melina gasped, looking down at three jars of honey that lay broken at her feet. Tears filled her eyes as she watched the tireless work of the bees, oozing across the dark cement floor.
How had she been so careless with their creation?
Then she felt her eyes on her.
"Don't just stand there and watch it! Clean it up, girl."
Melina shook her head, bending down and carefully scooping the shards of glass back into her basket. Gladys handed her a rag and Melina stared for one more long moment, her heart breaking for the loss, before she wiped it away.
Liam was standing on the veranda looking out at the sky. It was startling the colors that he could see when he really looked. There was orange and yellow, but red, pink and purple too. He couldn't remember the last time he had really watched the sky at dusk and he wasn't even sure what had compelled him to do so this time. But when he heard the screech of the old back door open, his eyes easily left the sky to study the woman exiting.
She was wearing a long flowing dress and he could see that she was thin but strong. Her hair was strawberry blonde and pulled back into a braid, although several strands had escaped and were flying wildly around her as an evening breeze blew in.
Liam was mesmerized by her, watching her walk purposefully across the gardens and towards the forest. He had not even seen her face, but with each step she took away from him, a feeling of panic began to rise in his chest. He stared, fighting the urge to call out or run after her, to somehow stop her. But no words came, so he simply watched, until she was gone, disappearing into the trees.
Liam exhaled, realizing he had been holding his breath. He instinctively clapped his large hand over his chest, feeling his heart wake up, like a bear hibernating for a long winter and suddenly coming alive with the spring. It confused him, having such a reaction to the sight of a woman that he merely watched from a distance, but there was no denying it.
Once Liam found his footing, he stepped inside the Walker estate and found Drake sitting at a small table in the sunroom. A smile pulled on Liam's lips as he took him in. There were two glasses of whiskey poured on the table, untouched, and Drake’s head rested against the hard wood as he snored loudly, the noise echoing through the room. Drake had clearly come down to have a drink with his friend but the pull of sleep overtook him.
"Drake," Liam gently nudged his friend, trying to wake him without success. "Drake!" He tried again, and was answered with a snort. Liam sighed, realizing he was going to need help.
The house was quiet, the staff minimal and Liam wandered through the halls looking for someone, preferably Bastien, who had agreed to stay quiet and out of the way this trip. Liam was met, however, with a face eager to help.
"Gladys," Liam smiled as he spotted the majordomo.
"Your Majesty," she curtsied, ``what can I do for you?"
"Do you happen to know where Bastien is? I could use his help with something," he paused, "an extraction of sorts."
Gladys sighed, "Oh goodness, the Duke fell asleep again, didn't he?"
Liam chucked, "I'm afraid you are correct."
Gladys shook her head, "Why those two won't get a nanny to help is something I do not understand. They are wearing themselves ragged."
"They certainly are, but they seem to be enjoying it."
Gladys offered a soft smile, her voice lowering like she was about to tell a secret. "I've never seen two people so in love with a baby. It's like they are afraid that if they sleep they'll wake up and she'll be grown, and they will have missed it all." She shook her head with a sigh, "Bless them for loving her."
Gladys caught herself smiling and quickly corrected her grin. "I'll get Mr. Lykel for you, Your Majesty. Is there anything else?"
Liam shook his head and then stopped. "Actually yes, there is one thing. On my walk earlier I noticed a woman leaving through the back door."
"That's right," Gladys nodded, "she was making a delivery."
"May I ask what she was delivering?"
Gladys tried to hide her initial response, but a look of odd curiosity slipped through as she stared at the king.
"She delivered honey for the cook."
"I see," Liam rubbed his chin, contemplating. He had so many questions buzzing around in his head. He wanted to ask her name, where she lives, how he could find her, when she would be back? But he knew none of these were appropriate, so instead he nodded, thoughtfully.
"I think I might like to try some of that honey with a biscuit tomorrow morning."
Gladys grinned, "Certainly Your Majesty. Now let me get someone to help the Duke to bed."
That night, while Liam lay in bed, for the first time in a long time, his mind was not on his work or his country and he didn't collapse into a restless sleep. Instead, he folded his strong arms behind his head, a smile playing on his lips as his mind swarmed with questions, about the woman with the honey.
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Besties: Mandy’s Blind Date (2/5)
Coming up soon – it’s too early to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY ******* so I’ll keep it a secret … but my boo knows.
If you are new to Besties, this is basically an AU where Drake and Liam are super best buds and kinda almost too involved in each others’ lives in the most adorable, naive way you can imagine.
Summary: Liam and Drake are going out of their way to make Mandy’s birthday dreams come true. When an unfortunate mistake needs to be corrected, a friend’s kindness gives them an idea. Mandy decides to take a chance on Liam and Drake’s match and go on a blind date.
This is Part 2 of a special birthday series. Catch up via the masterlist. Thanks to @burnsoslow for team birthday excellence and @dcbbw for making it extra nasty. Liam and Drake belong to Pixelberry, and I wonder what they would think if they saw what I did to them. 🤔
Part 2: When Liam and Drake Took Mandy to the Movies
Drake sauntered up to the ticket window. “Hey, Jan,” he said before glancing around and lowering his voice. “I need four you know whats.”
Jan scrunched up her face. “Were you and Liam drinking the popcorn butter again?”
“No, but that’s a good idea. I mean, you know …. I work here …. Liam works here … wink wink.”
Jan giggled. “I think you are supposed to wink, not say wink wink.” She pulled out four passes and pushed them through the window. “You know the drill -- tell Peter what you want to see, and he’ll mark them.”
Drake gave her a subtle, solemn nod. “Thanks for giving me these permission slips to use the bathroom inside.”
“What are you talking about?” Jan asked.
She shook her head. “You know, you can just ask for movie passes. Perk of the job. If someone overhears, just tell them you work here.”
Drake watched her, his head tipped to the side, as he processed her words. “Okay. Jan, I need movie passes because I work here.”
Jan pointed to his hand. “You are holding four. Now skadoodle -- you’re holding up my line.”
Drake turned and saw several people in line behind him. Some rolled their eyes. Others shook their heads in annoyance. He decided to forgo the secret fist bump and jogged back to his friends. “Okay, I got us some tickets.”
The boys led the group inside for their favorite part of the movie experience -- concessions! Mandy and Cassie looked over the snack options while the boys waved at their friends who were working.
“And now, m’ladies, refreshments. Popcorn and soda are free, and we get half off anything else you want to eat!” Liam said as he pulled out his wallet. “So, what can we order for you?”
Cassie looked down from checking out the menu board. “Wait, is that Robin’s credit card?”
Liam quickly put it behind his back. “She took mine away after the whole SnapDrug situation.”
Drake patted his back. “Cassie took mine away too.”
“It’s because you spent all my money on pregnancy tests!”
“But we know Nina is in a family way now,” Drake said as he cradled an imaginary belly with his hands. “We’re going to be dads.”
Mandy scrunched her nose and shook her head. “That’s not how it works --”
“Just roll with it,” Cassie whispered. “We’ve explained to them several times that they are not related to the baby even though they bought the pregnancy test that informed Nina she was pregnant. They think that that made her pregnant.”
Cassie turned towards the boys to see them looking at the menu.
Liam turned around and grinned. “So, what do you want to drink? Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Butter Pepsi--”
“What the hell?!” Mandy said. “I thought they had Coke products here?”
Drake shrugged. “They all taste the same to me.”
“No. They. Don’t --”
“Hold up, Mandy. We will figure out the Coke situation in a bit. Liam, what on God’s green Earth is Butter Pepsi?”
Drake laughed. “Oh, Cassiebear. It’s a secret menu item. You have to ask for it by name.”
Liam nodded. “It’s Pepsi with a pump of popcorn butter. Has to be regular Pepsi -- Diet just tastes weird.”
“I think it’s because they don’t make diet butter,” Drake offered.
“No one wants your secret menu butter drink. We want Diet Coke!” Mandy said. “How else can I enjoy my birthday movie?”
“Oh, right -- I forgot! Both of you hold out your hands and close your eyes because we’ve got a BIG surprise,” Drake said as he shifted Cassie’s bag to his other shoulder. “We’ll be right back.”
The women stood in the middle of the lobby with their eyes closed and hands out. The softening of the boys’ voices and giggles let them know they were out of earshot.
“What is going on?” Mandy asked. “It better not involve Butter Pepsi.”
“Oh, they would get you Diet Butter Pepsi,” Cassie giggled.
Mandy snorted. “If I die today, I’m taking you with me.”
“If we die, our ghosts need to go pick up Robin’s ass and bring her along. Half of this clown car is her boy.”
“What about Robin?” Liam asked.
“Nothing,” the women replied in unison.
“Oh, okay. Hold out your hands for your first surprise.”
Liam nodded to Drake, who was holding two jumbo drink cups filled with ice. He set them in the women’s hands and grinned as surprised looks came to their faces. He then opened Cassie’s bag and pulled out a large bottle.
“Open up!” Liam said.
The women opened their eyes and looked at the cups of ice in their hands, each other, and then the guys. The boys stood, grinning like fools, as Drake thrust the large bottle of Diet Coke triumphantly in the air. “Surprise!”
“You two!” Mandy exclaimed. “You snuck Diet Coke in just for me!”
The boys nodded as Cassie stepped forward and kissed Drake on the cheek. “You two are full of surprises today, aren’t you?”
The boys giggled.
“And now, time for the Diet Coke to flow!” Drake said as he went to twist off the lid.
Cassie’s heart stopped as she remembered that Drake had been waving the bottle around, inadvertently shaking it up.
“Drake, no --”
“Oh, no! Liam, get your mouth on it!”
“It’s too much -- ugh, I can’t swallow it all!”
“Let me try,” Drake said as he stuck the bottle in his mouth.
Cassie stepped over, took the bottle, and twisted the lid on. She then took in the wet mess the boys had made on themselves and the floor.
“Nobody panic!” Drake yelled to no one in particular. “I am trained for fall and slip incidents.” He turned before looking over his shoulder at Liam. “Make sure no one slips and falls. I’ll be right back.”
Liam’s lip quivered as Drake walked away. “Don’t be a hero!”
“It’s too late!”
Liam picked up the soda and held it up to the ladies. “Diet Coke, anyone?”
Ten minutes later, the floor was clean, and the boys had changed into the only dry clothes they could find: work uniforms. Liam checked his watch and frowned. “Their movie starts in 20 minutes. We need to get snacks and Diet Coke!”
“It’s fine, guys. I appreciate that you snuck some in, but I don’t want anyone to miss their movie. I’ll just get some ice water --”
“No!” Drake said, holding up his hand. “I’ve seen Air Bud like a million times. Liam and I are going to make sure you get into your movie, and then we are going to go find Diet Cokes for both of you.”
Cassie smiled and patted his shoulder. “That’s sweet, but you --”
“We insist!” Liam said. “Now, let’s get you some snacks!” he said as he nodded towards the menu.
“Ohh, would you like to hear all of our secret menu items?” Drake said. “Guaranteed to make your day better!”
Mandy nodded. “I am hungry. What kind of food do you have? I didn’t have lunch.”
“Our wieners are really popular. The owner likes to buy local, so we get all our meat from Ralph’s butcher shop.”
“I don’t usually care for Ralph’s wieners, but they sound good for some reason. Are they the big fat wieners? Because I’m really at a point in my life where I just need one good one to be satisfied.”
“Oh, they are big and juicy. I mean, like you need both hands and a napkin to clean up afterward.”
“Yes -- I need one of those with ketchup and mustard. Oh, and popcorn.”
“What kind -- plain, salt, butter, cheese ….”
“Butter. Light butter.”
“You got it!” Liam said. “What do you want, Cassie?”
“Oh, cheese popcorn!” Cassie exclaimed. “Is that new?”
Drake nodded. “It is! And it is terrific and cheesy.” He turned back to the concessions and groaned. “Oh, man, the line is too long.”
“I can go back there and make everything. Speed stuff up!”
As he stepped forward, a tall woman with an assistant manager pin on her shirt called them. “Drake, Liam, I need you on concessions.”
The boys looked at each other and shrugged before joining their teammates behind the counter. Mandy nudged Cassie. “So … are they working now? What about the movie?”
“I have the passes,” Cassie replied. “It’s the dumb shirts -- I’ll go clear things up.”
Mandy waited while Cassie went to tell the manager that the boys were not on the clock and only sporting uniforms because of a situation involving a shaken bottle of Diet Coke. Her eyes then shifted to the counter, where it appeared Drake and Liam were doing backup support for the cashiers. Drake was filling sodas while Liam was making popcorn. Unable to think of what kind of trouble those tasks could get them into, she waited for something to go wrong. However, their teamwork paid off; the patrons quickly received their orders, and the lobby cleared.
The boys waved before pointing to the clock and quickly making the girls’ orders. After a couple of minutes, Drake brought out the food while Liam fought with the register to pay for the hotdog.
“Here you go! One hotdog and light butter popcorn,” he said, passing them to Mandy.
She smiled as the buttery scent of the fresh popcorn filled her senses. “Oh, this smells good!”
“It is good!” Drake said before holding out Cassie’s popcorn. “And one cheesy popcorn for you.”
Cassie raised a brow as she took the bucket of popcorn covered in nacho cheese sauce. She knew she had asked for cheesy popcorn, but she wasn’t expecting a congealed ball of soggy nacho-flavored popcorn. “Oh, this looks fun.”
Drake nodded. “You have to eat it fast, or it turns into a big lump of …” He frowned when Cassie tipped the bucket towards him to show how the popcorn had gone south. “Oh, Cassiebear. Let me make you a fresh one!”
Cassie shook her head. “You know, Mandy’s light butter popcorn smells soo good. Can I have that instead?”
“You got it, Cassiebear,” he replied before turning to the registers, where it appeared Liam had won the battle. “Hey, Li, can you make Cassie a large pop, light butter?”
“Does she want Regular or Diet Pepsi?” he replied.
“No, popcorn!” Cassie and Mandy yelled.
He gave them a thumbs-up before completing the order, jumping the counter, and jogging back to them. “We need to get you into your seats -- I heard the previews start!”
The men escorted the women into the theater, which was surprisingly empty for a Friday afternoon show. After getting them settled in their seats and fussing over them for a few minutes, the boys crawled out of the aisle.
“We’ll be right back -- it’s Operation Diet Coke time,” Drake said before giving an awkward salute. Liam giggled and gave them an even more awkward one.
The women watched the boys scamper out of the theater before leaning back in their seats. “We’re never going to see them again, are we?” Mandy asked.
“It’s more like 20/80. I always believe anything is possible with them.”
Drake and Liam set off down the block in search of Diet Coke. First, they stopped at SnapDrug, where they learned that they had no money due to changing their clothes and Cassie confiscating Robin’s credit card from Liam.
They crossed the street to Cordonia First National Bank or, as they called it, the “place that has our money.” They went inside to withdraw funds, but they didn’t have their ATM cards. They went to the window to see if a teller could help them but, without identification, they were turned away.
Despite this, they left happy because the teller had a big bowl of chewy candies, which the boys filled their pockets with when she went to find a manager.
Drake held the door as Liam worked to unwrap candies for them. “Open up,” Liam said before carefully placing the candy inside Drake’s mouth.
The only thing they knew to be true is that they could not return to the theater without two Diet Cokes for the girls. They walked down Main Street while brainstorming ideas.
“What if we sing and dance?” Liam said, pointing to a street performer.
“But people will want us to give them popcorn,” Drake sighed, tugging on his uniform shirt. “And we don’t have a hat to collect money in.”
They continued down the street before reaching a park and taking a seat. They figured The Thinker statue was sitting, so it might be worth a shot. Drake placed his finger on his chin as he leaned forward to brainstorm.
“Ohh, look at all the flowers,” Liam said. “I see butterflies!”
“Liam, we need to think about how we are gonna get some Diet Coke.”
Liam continued to stare out into the gardens, his mind absorbed in a butterfly and flower daydream. Drake punched his arm.
“Ouch!” Liam squealed. “I was just wondering who makes the garden so pretty. I mean, have you ever seen so many purple and white flowers before in your life?”
Drake shrugged. “Maybe we can sneak into McDermots. They have Diet Coke.”
“Maybe we can trade them some Diet Pepsi.”
“Do you think that would work?” Drake asked. “People haven’t always been down to trade with us before. Remember the time with the --”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Liam said. Then, a rainbow flag caught his attention. “I know what to do!”
Drake turned to look at where Liam was pointing. “The pet groomer? They have Diet Coke?”
“No, silly,” Liam teased before playfully swatting his arm. “The gym. I bet Carl would help us out … give us a little loan. Tomorrow is chest day, so we can pay him back.”
Drake smiled before offering Liam a fist bump. “Rys, you are a GENIUS, and the only thing you did was look at flowers!”
Liam laughed. “Sometimes good things happen when you don’t think too hard.”
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Ch. 16 IN BETWEEN
this chapter picks up from Lily being drug out or the ballroom Coronation night, from Drake’s perspective. It covers what he and Liam were up to the two months of down time
all chapters can be found under attached hashtag summersnightdream
“Let him go, he won’t catch her now.” Bastien’s growl rang in Drake’s head as he struggled against the two guards holding him.
On his command the guards released their holds on Drake’s arms and took a reflexive step back looking away from him. Shouldering past them Drake bolted for the back door, he shoved past unmoving nobles who were still clamoring over the articles on their phones, ignoring their comments and glares. He didn’t care what they had to say, he didn’t care what they thought, he only cared about getting to Lily.
Outside he could see the car at the gate, Liam’s car, he pushed himself to run faster to catch it before it took off.
“Lily!” He could only hope Quinton would hear him and wait for him.
When he reached the fountain in the middle of the yard the car pulled away from the gate, the guard who had drug Lily out of the palace made no effort to stop Drake when he rushed past. He already knew what Drake wasn’t willing to accept, there was no way he was going to catch that car.
Passing the gate Drake slid into a turn to continue running down the road, chasing the tail lights as they quickly pulled further away. He used his momentum to lengthen his strides as he started down the hill, his lungs seared from the effort to keep up. His body wasn’t use to running, he didn’t even like to run but at the moment that was all he could do so he pushed through the discomfort.
His steps echoed through the still night air as he neared the bottom of the hill, he had to get his eyes back on the car before it hit the fork in the road. If he could just see which way it went at the fork he would know if she was headed to the airport, Ramsford or somewhere in town. Rounding the bend at the bottom of the hill he slowed to a stop, the fork laid a couple hundred meters ahead empty, the car was gone. Lily was gone. Panting heavily he ran his hands through his hair, stopping them on the crown of his head, wide eyes scanning down each road as far as he could see. Nothing.
The suit jacket pulled tight across his shoulders further agitating him, constricting him. He ripped it off growling then threw it towards the palace cursing the wretched thing before crouching down with his head in his hands. His heart continued to pound in his ears as his mind raced.
If he had known that their moment in the alcove was going to be the last time he got to see her, he would have never let her walk away. He was prepared to lose her to Liam, he had steeled himself to see her with his best friend.
As long as she was happy and he could be around her and talk to her he would be okay, he had convinced himself of that at least. He knew something like this could happen, that the nobles wouldn’t accept her and would do something to get rid of her.
‘She knew...’ he groaned scrubbing his face as he stood up.
She asked him to get her out of there, begged him, pleading with her eyes and her body language and he just stood there. He had promised her time and time again that he would keep her safe, he’d protect her from court, and when it came down to it he didn’t do anything.
‘She’s gone and it’s my fault...’
He stared at her questioning her instead of making a path through the bodies to get her outside like she asked. He could have found everything out once he had her somewhere safe. He could have waited five minutes to get his answers, but he wouldn’t get any answers now.
‘Drake... I’m so sorry...’ she sounded so defeated, just like Savannah. He had failed again, just like with his sister, he failed to protect her from this place. He failed to read the signs of someone he thought he knew inside and out.
Drake begrudgingly picked up his jacket and slung it over his shoulder as he made his way back to the palace. Glancing up the hill he saw someone watching him from the shadows by the gate, he couldn’t tell who it was yet but he had a feeling he knew. As he topped the hill he saw he had guessed right as Bastien stepped forward into the light of the nearest lamp post.
“You know that was pointless right?” Bastien huffed once Drake got within a few meters, “You only made a fool of yourself in front of the whole court.”
“I don’t really care what any of them think, or what you think for that matter.” Drake snapped back as he walked past him without giving him a second glance.
“Your father would be ashamed of you right now.”
Drake paused narrowing his eyes as he clenched his fists, “Matter of opinion, because I think he’d be ashamed of you. Dragging an innocent girl out like that... humiliating her... traumatizing her...”
“She’s not innocent Drake, you saw the photos.” Bastien came up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder, “I know you and her were close, but look at the evidence.”
“What evidence? A picture? Didn’t we just put an end to misleading pictures of her and Liam not long ago?” Drake jerked away from the older man’s touch furrowing his brows, “She was set up, Tariq attacked her. If I hadn’t been ther-“
“If she was attacked why doesn’t anyone know about it?” Bastien cut him off sharply, “Why don’t I know about it? Why are you, of all people, the only one who does know something about it? Why wouldn’t you tell me or the king?”
“It wasn’t my business to tell Bastien, you should appreciate that.” Drake whipped around to glower down at him. “If you wouldn’t have drug her out of there like that she would have explained it to Liam.”
Bastien let out a sigh, his face softening, “You don’t understand son, I-”
“Don’t call me that, I’m not your goddam son. My dad would have never done that to her.”
“You think Jackson Walker wouldn’t have carried out orders given to him by the king?” Bastien sneered shaking his head, “He might not have liked it, but he would have done exactly what I’ve done.”
“Which king? Liam or Constantine?”
“I said the king not king father...”
Drake’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “Liam...”
Clenching his jaws Drake looked away from the Kings Guard. There was no way Liam would believe Lily would do something like that, but she almost had. She had almost gone past the point of no return with him, the only thing that stopped them each time was his guilt over Liam. If he had been a lesser man that wouldn’t have stopped him, if he had been a better man he wouldn’t have even put her in that position in the first place.
‘She shouldn’t have been compromised at all, she should be engaged to Liam right now...’
“It’s for the best Drake.” Bastien said after a moment of silence, “Even if Tariq was a set up, she’s not innocent.”
“What are you talking about?” Drake grumbled.
“You know what I’m talking about. I saw the two of you earlier out here.”
Drake furrowed his brows to keep from giving anything away, “You saw us having a drink. What’s the big deal?”
“I also saw her drag you over to that alcove.” Bastien pointed towards the hidden place where Drake spent his last moment with Lily. “I don’t know what happened in there, I don’t want to know either. All I know is the two of you went back there and twenty minutes later she came out all flustered with messy hair, and we didn’t see you again until right at coronation time.”
Drake shrugged his jacket back on frowning, “Nothing happened. If she left looking all weird it was probably because she was nervous about Liam picking her, which he was going to do by the way.”
“You’re confident in that? Confident enough that we could take this to the king and it would go over well?”
“Are you threatening me?” Drake scowled at Bastien who stared at him placidly.
“No, I’m warning you.”
“Do whatever you want Bastien, we both know that’s what’s going to happen regardless of what I say. You’re just trying to catch me up in something.”
“I’m trying to protect you!” Bastien growled through gritted teeth.
Scoffing Drake shoved his hands in his pockets and headed to the side door. He wasn’t sure if anyone was still in the ball room but he didn’t want to find out. Someone in that room was the cause of the scandal and he wasn’t in the mood to play nice. He knew all it would take at that point was the wrong comment and he would blow up on everyone, something neither Lily or Liam needed at the moment.
“Drake, don’t go and do anything stupid.” Bastien called after him, trailing behind him. “I know how you think kid, leave this alone.”
Ignoring anything else Bastien had to say, Drake pushed through the door into the quiet hallway. He glanced around curiously before pulling his phone out to check the time.
“Damn...” he shook his head seeing how late it was before shoving his phone back in his pocket and heading up the stairs. He thought he had only spent a few minutes recollecting at the bottom of the hill, but he had been gone from the palace for over an hour.
As he turned down the hall where Lily’s room was he checked behind him to see if Bastien was still following him. Once he was sure he didn’t still have a tail he stopped in front of Lily’s door, his chest tightening again. His hand hovered over the door knob a split second before he opened it and walked inside.
Hana sat at the head of Lily’s bed, staring blankly at the bare nightstand, Liam stood on the other side of the room, hands on the dresser with his head hung. At the sound of the door Hana looked up, Liam cut his eyes but made no effort to turn.
“Drake...” Hana sniffled meeting his eyes.
“I thought I’d find you here...” he sighed studying her face before turning to Liam, “Have you heard anything? Please tell me you have some good news...”
Liam shook his head before slowly turning around, “The security team packed her things and took her to the airport...”
“This isn’t right. All of this is so wrong...” Hana gripped the sheets beside her glancing at the empty closet behind her.
“I know...” Liam scrubbed his face shaking his head, “They took her away and there was nothing I could do to stop it... dammit!”
Drake raised his eyebrows when Liam turned and punched the dresser top, glaring at his reflection.
“We have to think clearly right now. Getting mad isn’t going to help her.”
Hana jumped up and rushed to Liam’s side to check his hand, she looked over her shoulder at Drake in worry, “How can you be so calm right now? You’re the one I thought would be beating up inanimate objects...”
“Because I knew something like this would happen. It was only a matter of time. Believe me Hana...” he balled his fists in his pockets, “I’m not happy, not in the least, I’m just not surprised either. Court is a vicious place, it would have been a miracle for Starke to get out of here without being attacked one way or another... but twice...”
He shook his head dropping his eyes, “We have to stay level headed, for her. We can’t help her if we’re all wrapped up in our feelings. What matters is how we react, everyone is going to look at Liam to see what he does next.”
“What do you mean twice?” Liam faced Drake, meeting his eyes for the first time.
“You said it would be a miracle if she got out without being attacked, but twice...”
Drake scrubbed his face with a sharp exhale before dropping his hands and returning Liam’s hard gaze.
“Tariq attacked her. Those pictures aren’t of her being disloyal Liam, they’re of her assault.”
Liam flinched as Drake gritted his teeth remembering how scared and shut down Lily had been that night, “If I hadn’t got there when I did... the pictures could have been a hell of a lot worse, and she would still be portrayed as the villain when she’s been the victim all along.”
“I had no idea... Hana did you know about this?” Liam glanced at Hana who was staring at Drake.
“No.” She shook her head not taking her eyes from Drake, “She never said anything.”
“She didn’t want to bother you.” Drake growled, “I asked her to tell one of you. Any of you, hell I even begged her to tell Bertrand... She insisted since all he did was grope her that it was pointless for it to travel past the two of us, she didn’t want to have to relive it every time she told someone. She’s been dealing with it all on her own, I’ve gave support when I could but honestly it’s way out of my league.”
“So that’s why she was so out of it at Ramsford...” Hana looked at the ground, her face darkening.
“I’d say so.” Drake folded his arms across his chest as Liam stepped towards him.
“Thank you Drake. You were there to protect her when I couldn’t. And tonight you tried to protect her again while I-“
“While you were ordering her to be drug out of here like a common whore?”
Liam froze narrowing his eyes, Drake returned his cold glare as he tried to keep himself under control. Losing his temper wouldn’t help the situation, if anything it might make it worse, but he had to confront Liam for sending Lily away like that. He wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he didn’t stand up for her.
“What else was I suppose to do?”
“I don’t know man, maybe hear what she had to say!” Drake scowled, “Not act like you believed the tabloids! You didn’t believe them, did you? I want to believe you sent her out to protect her from what everyone was saying about her but you’re not doing a good job convincing me of that.”
“Yes, I did Drake.” Liam looked away covering his face, “I believed it...”
“Why? I thought you knew her, if you knew anything about her-“
“I believed it because not even ten minutes prior she was telling me to pick someone else, that she was falling for someone besides me.” Liam cut him off glaring down at his balled up fist, “I believed it because on the night I was going to propose to her, as I proposed to her she turned me down, then the article released and I saw the pictures of her with Tariq all over her... his hands on her body, and I just... got mad...”
Drake’s anger faltered as his heart skipped a beat, she had really told Liam no. With Liam’s eyes not on him, he risked a surprised glance at Hana. She was sitting on the bench at the foot of the bed, her wide eyes darting between the men, when their eyes met she shook her head.
“I don’t know anything about all that, but either way, how could you believe she’d sleep with someone before talking to you?” He took a step towards Liam, his brows furrowing the more he thought about everything. “How can you say you know her and think she’d do something like that? That she could be that kind of person?”
“Because Drake, I’m a man,” Liam snapped, “and I was hurt! It might seem hard to believe but I’m not without faults! I make mistakes, and I made one tonight, probably more than one... You wouldn’t understand, you’ve never been in love before.”
“That’s besides the point! I don’t have to understand love to know Starke wouldn’t do something like that!” He scoffed shaking his head, “I know who she is as a person. I thought you knew her too, but I guess you don’t.”
Liam licked his lips throwing his hands in the air in exasperation, “She told me she’s in love with someone else then I saw a picture of her with another guy! What else was I suppose to think at the time? Anyone would have put the two together and came to the same conclusion, even you if it were in my shoes. Hell, the court didn’t even hear what she said to me and they still believed the article!”
“That doesn’t make what you did okay! Don’t try to justify yourself to me, you know I’m not the one to let you slide when you fuck up. There’s a difference in falling in love with someone and going to bed with them Liam!”
Liam nodded smugly while quirking an eyebrow, “I guess you would know something about that at least, wouldn’t you?”
“You condescending moth-“
“Guys!” Hana jumped up to step between them, putting her hands on their chests.
It was only then, with Hana pushing them apart, that Drake realized he and Liam had been inching closer throughout their argument. Their argument that grew out of nowhere, each lashing out at the person they felt safest to attack in their wounded state. It roared and swelled around them like a wildfire, ready to consume and take over them at the next trigger. What would have happened if they had closed that distance and Hana hadn’t intervened? What would have happened if Hana hadn’t been in the room with them at all?
Assessing himself and Liam he knew what would have happened, their brows both furrowed, fists and jaws clenched in anger under steeled eyes, they were seconds from exchanging physical blows. They stood on opposite sides of the trench, building barricades against each other instead of bridges to come together in their common goal. In that moment they were blind to each other’s hearts and intentions, it didn’t matter that they were fighting for the same thing, they couldn’t see past their own pain, they had to lash out at something. So why not their closest confidant? Over twenty years of friendship with their only fights being petty arguments that resolved just as fast as they erupted, and now they were inches away from attacking one another over a girl. Not just any girl though, Lily, the only girl who was amazing enough for Drake to fall in love with. The only person who knew him better than Liam, who knew him inside and out.
Drake hated every second of this, of being mad at everyone and everything. He hated being mad at Liam for a natural human reaction to rejection. He hated Bastien for taking Lily away and holding him back from her. He hated Quinton for driving off with her knowing the driver most likely heard him calling out for her. He hated every person at court who ran with a photo and took to condemning her within seconds. He hated Tariq for being so full of himself to think Lily would want him, and then pushing himself on her when she was saying no over and over again. Drake was so full of hate he didn’t think he’d be able to come back from it, he was going to boil over and take everything out on Liam, Liam who needed him.
‘She’d be so mad at us right now... at me... this isn’t Liam’s fault...’
As the thought crossed his mind, he finally looked into Liam’s eyes instead of at them. He saw his friend’s soul, hurt and hiding behind the caged off spheres of deep sea water. He knew the man standing in front of him, he knew his king better than he knew himself lately. Liam wasn’t indifferent, he was hurting too, if not more than Drake. If it hurt Drake this much to have her ripped away from his side, he couldn’t imagine what Liam was feeling. To pour his heart out to her, expecting her to accept it just to have her say no then ripped away before she could explain why. Of course Liam was hurting.
Breathing heavily Drake lowered his eyes to Hana’s, she was worried. He could see it written all over her face, she thought they were about to fight even with her standing between them. Before he saw Liam’s pain he didn’t know that they would have stopped for her, she was so tiny in comparison to them she would have just got hurt in the cross fire.
“Isn’t this exactly what you were talking about Drake? Not getting caught up in emotions.” Hana pleaded pushing against his chest again, “We can all work out how we feel later, right now we need a plan... we don’t need to turn on each other.”
Drake took a step back and turned away from them rubbing his forehead. Hana was right, as always, they had to work together not against each other. Casting blame wouldn’t help Lily, it wouldn’t bring her home. After taking a moment to pull himself together he turned back around, his face softened. Hana was back on the bench rubbing Liam’s back, he beside her with his head in his hands.
“You’re right.” Drake cleared his throat sitting on Hana’s other side, “I’m sorry Liam... This isn’t your fault, it’s just easier to blame you... safer.”
“I know...” Liam sighed sitting up to meet Drake’s eyes, “It’s okay, I blame myself too. I should have known better. Somehow you still know her better than I do...”
“So what’s next Liam?” Hana came to the rescue again, rubbing Liam’s shoulder.
Sighing, Liam’s shoulders dropped as he leaned back against the foot of the bed.
“We have to play this carefully. There’s a lot at stake here, and we still don’t know who was plotting against Lily. We don’t know how deep this treachery runs.” He ran a hand through his hair in thought, “Olivia also left under duress earlier tonight. It’s possible someone was working against the both of them to ensure I’d choose Madeleine.”
“So you played into their plan...” Hana shook her head looking at her lap.
“I had to give them the illusion of a win.”
“Thats smart.” Drake nodded crossing his arms.
“Truth be told, I was already out of options, they just didn’t know. I wasn’t going to pick Lily against her will.” Liam grumbled glancing over at him.
“I feel so helpless right now.” Hana whispered, “I can’t even be here. My parents have sent for me to leave in the matter of hours.”
“There’s no way around it?” Liam asked.
“They’re my parents. I don’t know how I’d be able to convince them to let me stay.” Hana looked up at him shrugging, “They’d have to believe that there’s some sort of chance to advance my social station, or a potential marriage.”
“Hana...” Drake shook his head thinking about Maxwell, Hana turned to meet his eyes.
“I know... like I said, I feel so helpless...”
“Leave it to me.” Liam grabbed her shoulder, she turned back to face him.
“What can you do?”
“I’m the king of Cordonia. I’m sure Madeleine knows if she wants to keep our engagement she’ll have to give me something.” He shrugged, the corners of his lips twitching. “She can give me you. Perhaps I can convince her to make you part of her court.”
“You would do that for me? Really?”
“Of course, if you want, that is.”
“Yes!” Hana threw her arms around Liam, he grinned and hugged her back after a split second of surprise.
“My parents would be thrilled! They’d have to let me return! Not only will I be able to promise them to advance my station, being part of Madeleine’s court would make me well placed for a match.”
“Hana...” Drake sighed looking down.
“Then it’s decided. I’ll talk to Madeleine tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you want to go through all that trouble for me?”
Liam smiled softly at her as they pulled apart, “Of course. You are Lily’s closest friend, and you’ve proven yourself to be a true and loyal friend to myself and Drake as well. Also, you’ll be able to see Lily when I cannot, I know you’ll look out for her.”
“Of course! Always! As much as I can I mean.” Hana nodded.
Liam’s eyes lifted from Hana to Drake, Drake quirked an eyebrow at him.
“I know I can count on you to help Lily too.”
“Help Starke? Is that even a question? I care about her too, I’ll do anything to help. I’ll be on the next flight to New York if that’s what it takes.” Drake stood up to emphasize he meant what he said.
“As much as I wish I could send you after her, you are known to be my best friend.” Liam shook his head frowning, “We have to be careful, if you’re seen with her too soon it could stir rumors I’m reaching out to her through you. That would put her in danger.”
“So... stay away... got it...” Drake slunk back onto the bench beside Hana to look down at his dress shoes.
“At least until she returns to court. She’ll have the Beaumonts with her for now, they’ll protect her while we can’t.”
“You’d trust those two to protect her?” Drake shook his head scoffing, Liam tried to bite back a smirk but failed.
“Bertrand won’t let a member of his house be harmed twice.”
“And Maxwell would throw himself in front of a bus for her.” Hana added.
“Guess we don’t have much of a choice do we?”
“Sadly no, but once she’s back I’d like you to continue keeping an eye on her. If that’s not too much to ask.”
Drake looked back at Liam, “Looking after her has kinda become second nature. I’m not going to know what to do with myself for two months, not having to pull her out of danger’s way every other day.”
Hana started giggling into her hands, she looked up at Drake with twinkling eyes as the giggle turned into a laugh. Liam’s infectious smile started to spread across his face as Hana’s laughter lifted his spirits. Soon they were all laughing at the many memories of Lily wiping out, or almost, over the past few months and how exasperated Drake had been saving her each time.
“I think it’s time I go to bed, I’ll have to be up early to head home.” Hana sighed standing up, “Drake, will you walk me?”
“Huh? Yeah, of course.” He climbed to his feet as Hana hugged Liam.
“See you soon Lady Hana.”
“Not soon enough Your Majesty.” Hana grinned as she curtsied.
In the hallway Drake shoved his hands in his pockets as Hana played with the sleeve of his jacket. He glanced down at her to see she was frowning and slowly withdrawing into herself.
“You gonna be okay going home?” He asked softly, she blinked up at him in surprise.
“I suppose so. I’m just worried about how my parents are going to react to the scandal. They might forbid me from talking to Lily or Maxwell.”
“You’re an adult Hana, you can decide who you’re friends with.”
“Heh...You sound like Lily.” She smiled up at him. “But unlike her, you know it’s never that simple. You know how life works for the children of political figure heads, our lives are not our own. Not truly...”
He nodded slowly, he had seen it too many times to count. “You got to get out from under them.”
“That’s why I mentioned the marriage prospects to Liam... if I get married I won’t need my parents’ money to stay here. I know that sounds bad to you but-“
“No I get it... but I’m more concerned about you and Maxwell.”
Hana stopped walking, pulling Drake to a halt.
“I wish things were different Drake... I wish we could all find our happily ever after together, but that’s not how life works.” She sighed before beginning to walk again, pulling Drake along with her.
“I guess I just don’t see what’s holding you two apart now that the social season is over.”
“Even if my parents would be happy with me marrying a lord, which they would not be, they said nothing below a viscount... Maxwell won’t marry until Bertrand does and...” she grimaced.
“I guess you could always marry Bertrand for face value and have Maxwell behind closed doors.” He smirked making her laugh.
“Oh no, could you imagine! My parents would be happy, I’d be a duchess... but I don’t want all that, I just want him.”
They stopped outside her door, Hana plucked at his sleeve before turning to face him. She rubbed his arms with a sad smile then wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Don’t worry about me Drake. I can pretend to court bachelors if it allows me to be here. Just focus on bringing Lily home, we’ll figure everything else out later.”
Furrowing his brows Drake hugged her back tightly, he closed his eyes allowing himself a second to imagine she was Lily.
“We’ll get her back. Nothing makes as much sense as you two together.”
Drake nodded as he pulled away from her and stuffed his hands back in his pockets.
“Should I tell Liam she was talking about me?”
Hana chewed on her lip in thought before shaking her head, “No, that’s their conversation to have. You and him will have another conversation after, probably a lot more intense if earlier was any preview to you two getting worked up... but it’s not your place to finish her conversation with him for her.”
“Even though it’s about me? What if he asks if I know something again?”
“As bad as it sounds, keep denying. In truth, you don’t know how she feels, right? What has she told you?”
He shook his head shuffling his feet, “All she’s said is she’s going to tell Liam she can’t marry him.”
“Then that’s all you know.” She shrugged hugging herself, “I don’t think it will happen, but she could decide this life is too much for her and go home once her name is cleared. You don’t want to risk ruining your friendship with the king if she does that. I don’t think she’s going anywhere without you...” she shook her head looking up at him reassuringly, “but she is her own person, we don’t know how she’s handling all of this, or how us not reaching out to her will affect her. She could come back different... I don’t believe that will happen, it’s just a possibility we have to be prepared for.”
She mulled over her thoughts for a moment, “I don’t have all the answers, and I won’t pretend to know what’s best. Somethings just land better coming from certain people, and I think this... this will land better with Liam if it comes from Lily.”
Drake looked at the ground nodding, “Yeah, okay. I’ve already been lying to him for a long time now, few more months won’t make much of a difference... I’m really going to miss you Hana.”
“I’m going to miss you too Drake.”
Two weeks later Drake had taken Lonestar on a long ride, he didn’t mean to but it had turned into a four day ride. He had loaded his horse up to go off in the woods to decompress when he found he was about to break and call Lily. Going out in the wilderness where he had no signal was the only way he was able to stop himself from hitting the call button. Every day he caught himself staring at her name on the screen, and every day his finger got closer to hitting the word he wasn’t allowed to hit. So he did what he did best, he reclused.
He watched Lonestar graze as he leaned back against his saddle crossing his arms behind his head. They were somewhere around the Stormholt/Valtoria border, where the land was filled with lush rolling hills as the mountains from Lythikos waned down to the coast. He had parked the truck and trailer in Stormholt, but it was possible they had crossed into the smaller duchy by now.
He should be enjoying himself, normally he would be in heaven under a big oak tree watching his horse graze happily. He did find a sense of peace in the quiet away from the city and all the hustle and bustle of the palace, but he was not enjoying himself, not like he would have last year. Without the haze of drama and politics that he couldn’t wait to get as far away from as possible, all he could think about was Lily. Even when he wasn’t trying to think about her his mind went back to her, like now.
Wrapped in his air of melancholy he took a long drink from the bottle of his “in case of emergencies” whiskey he drug on the long ride with him. The bottle he had been so sparing with was now almost empty, every sip putting it closer to its end but he couldn’t stop. The bottle of whiskey his dad had bought before he died and told Drake they’d share it on his twenty first, the only thing his mom left him of his dad’s when she took off.
‘This is an emergency.’ He’d tell himself every time he took a drink.
He laughed lightly with closed eyes as he remembered Lily’s reaction to learning about his emergency whiskey. He had to break it out on one of their outings during the down time between the regatta and Applewood, like so many other fond memories with her. She had teased him about the price, how he was such a cheapskate but had a bottle of alcohol that cost a couple grand. Then when he told her the part about his dad buying it, she went quiet and hugged him until he pulled away.
“Where are you taking me?” Lily asked hugging Drake’s arm to her chest as he led her down a quiet street towards the sea.
“To see a different view of the sea. You’ve seen it from the grand pier and the VIP beach, but you haven’t seen the side of it most of the Cordonians get to see.”
“At night?” She cocked her head up at him, he smirked at her nodding.
“Are you bringing me out here to kill me Drake?”
“Damn, you caught me Starke.” He sighed shaking his head, “Guess I can’t get rid of you today...”
“Hey!” She shook his arm laughing, “You came to me this time!”
“I know, I’m kidding anyways. If I wanted you dead I could have just let the horse trample you,” he grinned squeezing her hand, “or not warned you on the boat or about the branch you still wiped out on, or let you crack your head when you decided to fake faint, or let you fall when you jumped out a fucking window, or-“
“Okay, okay, I get it. Stop. You’ve saved me a lot, I know.” She rolled her eyes as they started down a deserted dock.
The dock was dark, all the fishing boats turned off and unmanned until work began when the sun rose on the horizon. The smell of sea salt and fish scales filled the air, but Lily didn’t cringe away from it like he expected. The boats rocked with the soft lapping waves that rolled in with each new breeze, the waves hitting the sides and the shore behind them the only sound in the dead of night at the end of the long dock.
At the end of the dock he sat down and started taking his shoes off silently, Lily watched him for a second before joining him. Once his pants were rolled up Drake dipped his feet in the water and leaned back on his hands to watch Lily as she stared out at the moon’s reflection against the sleeping sea. The warm lazy waves caressed their feet, rejuvenating the tired joints with each pass.
“We forgot something to drink.” She spoke barely above a whisper, not wanting to disrupt the night’s melody.
“I got my ‘in case of emergency’ whiskey with me.” He pulled the flask out of his back pocket with a raised eyebrow, “It’s dangerous though.”
“It’s just whiskey Drake, I’m not afraid of a drink.” She rolled her eyes playfully at him reaching for the flask.
“Ahtatah.” He pulled it from her reach shaking his head, “This is my special stuff, I don’t let just anyone partake in my secret stash.”
“Then why bring it up? Sharing is caring remember...” She bit her lip stretching across him trying to grab it again, he continued to evade her hand.
“Well, maybe I want something in return.”
When Lily froze halfway across his lap he thought he had gone too far. Everyone had a line, and he knew he just found hers and crossed it in one breath. He knew she was going to jump up and demand he take her back to the palace. But, like so many other times, she proved him wrong. She turned her head to meet his eyes while batting hers, her lip still caught between her teeth. Despite the moon and a soft glow from town behind them being their only source of light, he could see how she slightly reddened at his words. Swallowing jaggedly, he held her eyes as he quirked an eyebrow and broke into a smirk.
“Drake...” his smirk faltered hearing her rasp his name so close to his face, “What do you want?”
‘You.’ He wanted to say, but at the time they still had so much uncharted territory between them so he settled on something much safer, “First drink.”
Breaking into a grin she sat back and gestured to the flask, “Well hurry up. I have to try it.”
Drake shook his head uncapping the flask and taking a small sip, letting the liquor swirl around his mouth before swallowing. Leering at her, he hesitated in handing over the flask until her fingers brushed his on the metal.
“Easy, it’s smooth and delicious. But it’ll kick your ass in about ten minutes.” He warned as she put it to her lips.
“I can handle it.” She took a drink, closing her eyes with a hum as she savored it. “Besides, you’ll take care of me if I overdo it.” She opened her eyes to wink at him.
“What am I? Your babysitter?” He grumbled taking the flask back for another drink.
“That is good, tell me about it.” She ignored his jabs, lightly kicking her feet in the water.
“What do you want to know? It’s good expensive whiskey.” He shrugged passing the flask back.
“Ooh, how much was it?”
He shrugged again scratching his head, “I’m not good with the currency exchange math but probably something like thirty grand in your US dollars.”
“Woah, wait, what.” She laughed crinkling her nose at him, “You paid that much for a bottle of whiskey? Mr. I’ll wear the same five shirts until they are rags?”
“Haha, laugh it up. I have more than five shirts by the way.” He rolled his eyes biting back a smile that tried to creep out.
“I’m sorry,” she got out between trying to stifle her laughter, “I’m just picturing you having a stroke over a wardrobe change then turning around and paying that for alcohol. I mean, I’m not surprised, you do like your whiskey.” She tipped the flask up before handing it back.
Drake shrugged looking at the flask, hesitant on diving into the past. He tipped it up watching her out of the corner of his eye. She leaned forward to look at their feet in the water, gripping the edge of the dock to hold her balance.
“Easy, you’ll fall in if you keep going.” He warned tapping her shoulder with the flask.
She sat back with a sigh, “You wouldn’t jump in to save me?”
“No.” He scoffed shoving the flask into her hand, “I’d reach over and pull you out though.”
“So sweet.” She poked his cheek before taking another sip, “This is amazing, I see how it can be dangerous. I could chug this whole thing right now.”
“Let’s not.” He took the flask and capped it, “Save it for another rainy day.”
“Aww, okay.” Lily leaned back on her hands, tipping her head up to look at the stars. “Why do you like whiskey so much?”
Rolling a shoulder Drake leaned back on his elbows, “Why do you?”
“I asked you first.” She looked back at him narrowing her eyes.
“Yeah, but sharing is caring right? I already shared, now it’s your turn. This isn’t a one sided relationship here.”
“So we’re in a relationship are we?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she teased him.
“Er, no, I mean...” he looked away scratching his neck, “Friend? Friendship? Friendships are relationships.”
“Oh yeah? You sure? You don’t sound too sure.” She teased.
“Are you going to spill or what?” He huffed avoiding her jabs..
“Fine. I don’t just like whiskey, I like all alcohol. It kind of, I don’t know,” she shrugged looking back out at the water, “makes some things easier to cope with. Your turn.”
“Okay, I picked it up from my dad.”
“But he died when you were, what twelve? You just stowed away the memory of him sipping whiskey on his down time for nine years?”
Drake sighed sitting back up and cocking his head at her, “No, we can drink at eighteen here... and I didn’t stew on him drinking whiskey all those years. I had his bottle, the one we just drank from. He bought it a few months before he died, it was a limited edition release or something. I guess he bought a shot and wanted that to be my first taste of manhood so he bought a bottle.”
He turned his head to gaze up at the stars above the sea, “When he died and my mom left, she took everything of his. Everything but that bottle, I don’t know if she couldn’t find it or felt bad enough taking everything else of his, but I found it a few days later.” He ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. “So I held onto it until I turned eighteen and it was my first taste of alcohol like he wanted. I didn’t want to drink it all, because I’m never spending that kind of money on one bottle... so I made it my ‘in case of emergency’ whiskey. In all these years I’ve drank maybe an eighth of the bottle... it’s usually just a ‘wet my whistle’ type of thing, ya’know just to put a little in my bloodstream... this has been the most I’ve drank it at once.”
Drake couldn’t figure out why he wanted to tell her all this. Just like in Lythikos, she asked him a simple question and he dove head first into details. He could have summed everything up in a sentence or two, but he made the conscious decision not to. He wanted her to know the details of his past, the parts of him that most people didn’t even get a glimpse of unless they had been there. He wanted her to know what he liked and didn’t like, what his quirks were and the reason behind them. When he did something he didn’t want her to think ‘just Drake being Drake’ like so many others thought, he wanted her to know why. He wanted to let her know him the way she let him know her, all the way down to the “dark and dirty bits” as she had called it.
“Drake...” there she went saying his name again, like she was tasting the way it rolled off her lips.
Raising an eyebrow he cocked his head at her, “Yeah?”
She bit her lip before meeting his eyes, “Can I hug you?”
“Since when do you ask?”
“Well, I just... I don’t know if you’re in a mood right now... I don’t want to force you...”
“I’m always in a mood Starke...” he shrugged, “But, your hugs aren’t the worst.”
He expected her to snuggle into him the way she normally would, bury her face into his skin and breathe him in. She caught him by surprise when she wrapped her arm around his neck and pulled him to her. It was uncomfortable being bent over far enough for his head to lay on her chest, but he didn’t fight it. Truthfully he sort of liked being the one held for once, it was nice not having to be the one taking care of somebody. He relaxed into her embrace as she slid her arm down around his shoulders and trailed her fingers across his shoulder.
“I’m sorry if I messed up your whiskey...” Lily whispered into his hair after a few minutes of silence.
“Hmm... s’okay. It was an emergency, we can’t exactly hang out without drinking now can we?”
She giggled lightly, the vibrations of it shook Drake’s head making him smile to himself.
“It does make it funner... but I wouldn’t mind hanging out with you without alcohol.”
He hesitated in pulling away, only because it would feel weird to lay his head back on her once he moved. He wanted to look at her, to lose himself in her eyes again, and his back was starting to hurt. Instead he closed his eyes against the urge to move and breathed her scent in deeply.
“Something’s got to be wrong with you.” He grumbled.
“Why do you say that?”
“Nobody likes me stone sober.” He shrugged, “Even Liam prefers me with a few shots in me. Softens my edges he says.”
“Well I’m a special case. Your pointy bits don’t scare me Drake. Haven’t you figured that out by now? I enjoy all our time together, drunk or sober. I like who you are.”
He pulled away from her enough to run his eyes over her face with furrowed brows, “What is it about you...”
The empty bottle stared up at Drake from beside the saddle, it’s open mouth gapped ominously against the otherwise beautiful day. Turning his back to the bottle he leaned one hand against the ancient oak, his fingertips gripping into the crevices that ran through the bark. His searching eyes came to rest on the pattern before him, chaotic like the cracks in parched summer earth. The tiny rocks under his boots were as noisy as the static in his head, he knew the sound but couldn’t register what it was or where it came from. Nothing was making sense anymore, not even the trees he once found solace in.
He had been so consumed by anger until that point to even notice his other emotions that were tearing away at his walls, screaming for release from their prison in his mind. It wasn’t until he stared at the empty bottle that he allowed himself to feel anything besides the rage and determination that fueled everything he did in the past two weeks. Lifting his free hand shakily to his face, the tears came. The sadness drained through him rather than washed over him, it filtered through him to his fingertips then into the tree that accepted it heedlessly. The unwavering tree absorbed his emotions as if they were fresh rain after a long drought, sucked them up hungrily and refused to let him have anything back.
He willed the world to dissolve around him, to just melt away, yet he could still feel the rough bark and the warm lazy breeze that refused to reflect the pain that tore through his body. He could hear the birds singing around the valley, the creek off in the distance and Lonestar’s contented snorts behind him, the leaves rustling in the wind overhead. Nothing was stopping except for him, the world kept turning, kept living unaware of what he was going through, uncaring. Nature had no time for the frivolous emotions of any man, especially not Drake.
Lily was gone and he couldn’t even talk to her, she was half a day’s drive away and he couldn’t go to her even as his body ached to make the drive. He had ignored the advice he gave her, and Liam years ago. He had been poisoning himself with his bitter feelings he had no right to cling onto, he should have let everything out that first night. But he had been so mad, too mad to feel anything else at the time. Now, alone with nothing but his thoughts, he couldn’t stop the cup from overflowing and pouring out of him.
As his emotions flowed out of him, they were replaced by a sense of healing. The more he let out the calmer he felt, the clearer his head became. This was why he didn’t let people close to him, why he always had walls up. The one time he decided to say okay and let someone in, court ripped her away with it’s drama and lies. The only two women he’d ever gave a damn about were both gone because he failed them.
He couldn’t talk to anyone about Savannah, Lily was the only one he felt safe enough with to open that door. While Hana knew something was going on between him and Lily, she didn’t know much at all from his view point. Even though she never replied he had continued to email Savannah weekly, updating her about everything happening at court and with him. His last had been the night before the coronation, that email had been so happy, he had kissed Lily and she kissed him back, more than once. How was he suppose to follow that up with him not being able to save her? He couldn’t, so he stopped sending his emails all together. He knew she would see the article, the whole world had seen it by now as it circulated over and over, same pictures new insults and assumptions. He could only hope Savannah knew what was really going on, if she even cared.
Slowly his cup emptied, he stopped shaking and the tears quit flowing. Wiping his face he stepped away from the tree and glanced around in shame. Lonestar was still grazing with his back to the tree, the birds still singing, the creek still flowing. One good thing about nature not caring about emotions was at least it wouldn’t taunt you at the end of your spell.
Three weeks later Madeleine had all but moved into the palace and Drake hated every second of it. She wasn’t even trying to be subtle as she took over and Liam simply allowed it. He spent most of his days in the library if he wasn’t holding a meeting or interview, he stayed holed up allowing Madeleine to run the palace as she saw fit. She altered his schedule every other day making it harder for Drake and him to have any time together, all by design. She had already changed the location of the welcome party for their engagement tour from the palace to her own estate in her county in Krona. Just to show it off since court hardly ever ventured into Fydoria when it traveled through Krona. Her estate wasn’t even big enough to house all of the court, a lot of the lesser nobles and Drake would have to stay at nearby hotels.
While they had made amends the same night they had their argument, tension remained high between Drake and Liam. He knew Liam still had something inside he wanted to get off his chest, but he was hesitant. Drake wasn’t sure if Liam had put the pieces together and knew, or if he only suspected Drake was who Lily had been talking about. He dreaded the thought that Bastien had told Liam what he saw the night of the coronation, but he figured Liam would have confronted him over that at least.
He stood staring at the library door, it hung slightly ajar, low light filtered through with the soft sound of classical music. Knocking once he stepped through the crack before shutting the door behind him. Liam sat at his desk, brows meeting in the center of his forehead as he read from a file in his hands. Hearing the knock he lifted his eyes, once he registered it was Drake they slid back to the file. Drake crossed the room and sunk into the leather chair across from the desk and studied him.
“Any news yet?”
Liam pursed his lips shaking his head before setting the file down and looking up.
“No, Bastien hasn’t been able to get any of them to talk. They’re holding a strong line and since they all published the article at the same time we can’t really narrow down who it originated from without someone saying.” He leaned forward on his elbows, rubbing his temples. “This was a well formulated attack. Not only did they supply the photos, but they also paid each of the original news outlets hush money, and apparently a large sum of it.”
“Can’t you at least make them stop making new articles every other day? Or pull the photos?”
Liam shook his head, “Sadly, no. Controlling the media is the first step to tyranny, I can’t start my reign like that. I want to fix the damage done by my father, not further it along. If I start doing what he did, even if it’s for a good reason, I’m no better a king than he was. I won’t be that kind of ruler.”
“Nobody thinks your father was a tyrant.”
“Correction, nobody says it because they are afraid of him.”
Drake furrowed his brows shaking his head, “The people love him, they love you.”
“If they loved him then why did they kill my mother and your father trying to kill him? Sure, he had devoted subjects, but he was hated... still is...”
“You didn’t repeal that law he made though, can’t you run with it just to find out then do away with it? Repeal it as an apology for enforcing it?”
Drake scratched at his beard wishing he had paid more attention to the political science classes he snuck into to mess with Liam as a kid.
“It wasn’t a law, it just a rule they all abided by in fear of the wrath of the king. Once I became king all his silly rules went in the garbage. That’s why they didn’t release it until after I was given this...” Liam fidgeted with the signet ring on his hand, “It’s already so heavy...”
“So what’s the plan now?”
“We continue to play our roles until the welcome party. I’ve been talking to Bertrand via trusted disguised couriers, they will be there with Lily. Hopefully whoever is a part of this will falter in some way from seeing her there.”
“You’re going to use her as bait?”
Liam stood and rounded the desk to prop against it in front of Drake, “I don’t know what else there is to do. Nobody is willing to help us, we’re on our own here.”
“Okay... You know they’re going to eat her alive right?”
“I know they’re going to try. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?” Drake crossed his arms shaking his head.
“With you next to her we can at least subdue what is said around her by the nobles. We might not be able to control the press, but we can control the bullying.”
“They won’t stop because of me, I’ll just add fuel to the fire. None of them respect me or even see me as human.”
Liam leaned forward to put his hands on Drake’s shoulders with a sigh, Drake took in the difference of the man before him. His blue eyes lacked their usual fire, bags under them gave evidence of his lack of sleep, blonde stubble covered his hardened jaws, a worry line was already starting to etch its way across his forehead. He only had the crown for a few weeks and it had already aged him by years. No, not the crown, Madeleine. He didn’t start changing until Madeleine moved in.
“They are afraid of you Drake. Behind any amount of fear lies respect. Fear isn’t something I have the luxury of using right now, but you can.”
Drake’s face screwed in confusion as he shook his head, “What? Nobody is afraid of me Liam. You need to get some rest man, you aren’t thinking straight.”
“I don’t need to rest! I need you to listen to me!” Liam’s grip on his shoulders tightened, “They’ve always feared you, your father was Jackson Walker, a legend that will be talked about as long as Kenna.”
“He’s only a legend because of what he did, the way he died. Nobody thought anything of him before he died, he was just a guard.”
“A child’s interpretation Drake.”
Liam released his shoulders to cross the library where he scanned a row of leather bound books. “Jackson did a lot more for my parents than he told you. If I could just find it- Ah, here we are.”
Drake watched with furrowed brows as Liam pulled a book from the shelf and carried it back over to the desk. Standing back in front of him, the king held the book out in offering to him. It wasn’t a big book, more like an old journal, an inch or so thick and held closed by a strap of leather. Drake took it, turned it over in his hands before shaking his head at Liam.
“And this is?”
“Everything your father did for my parents. My father, as you know, was a firm believer is secrecy.” Liam leaned back against the desk crossing his arms, “Well my mother took it upon herself to record the things he wouldn’t let into light, specifically of her friend Jackson. The note on the first page explains it, she didn’t want him to fade away in history after everything he’d done. He deserved to be recognized as much as Dominic.”
Drake stared at the leather cover before shoving the book back at Liam, “I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to know what he was busy doing for your family while he wasn’t with mine. I’m sorry, but I don’t want this, I like my memory of him the way it is. This book... will only taint what few good memories I have.”
“Fine.” Liam took the book with a frown and set it on the desk pausing.
“Maybe some other time... but as I was saying, you carry your father’s legacy as the most loyal Kings Guard in history. You’re my best friend, you’re huge,” he gestured to Drake’s chest, “in all sense of the word, you tower over half the court and those who can look you straight in the eye are still small in comparison... you don’t care about status or titles, you say what’s on your mind regardless of who’s around. They have nothing they can use against you. You scare them, all of them, and you can use that. You don’t have to try to intimidate them, your presence alone does that for you.” Liam smirked shaking his head lightly, “And after what happened at the coronation... They’d have to be pretty arrogant to try anything.”
“I still don’t understand,” Drake shook his head, “Okay I’m a big guy, so what? I’ve been berated left and right all season.”
“By Olivia. Who else besides the girl who grew up with you?”
Drake shrugged licking his lips, “It’s not like I keep track, I just ignore them.”
“Well,” Liam chuckled, “I heard the murmurs after you ran out of the ballroom, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble on this tour.”
“What do you mean? Bastien said I looked like an idiot.”
“You fought off four guards. That’s impressive, especially to nobles who only know how to fence... I’m just saying if you stay close to Lily, nobody will dare try to belittle her.”
Drake stood up to pace the room, he couldn’t think sitting still any longer, his body had to move to help his brain process.
“So... you wanted me to stay away from her, but now you want me to be her body guard again? I gotta be honest, you’re losing me man. You keep talking circles an-“
“I didn’t mean stay away from her forever. Just no texting or calling, but with her coming on the engagement tour you can talk in person.” Liam shook his head watching Drake pace the room. “I wouldn’t get in the way of your friendship with her. I know how hard it is for you to open up to people.”
“If talking in person is okay why couldn’t I go visit her? Why have I been here worrying every day about how she’s doing, when I could have taken a day or two and gone to see her?”
“Why would you want to go all the way to Ramsford?”
Drake stopped facing the sleeping fireplace and cut his eyes over to Liam.
“The same reason I tried to chase your car down, to make sure she was okay after what happened. I told you I care about her, I meant it.”
“Ah, well if it brings you any peace, Bertrand said she’s handling it okay. It was a bit touch and go for a while but Maxwell pulled her through. She’s ready to clear her name.”
Scratching his head Drake nodded slowly, “Yeah, okay, that does help.”
A week before the welcome party Drake found himself dealing with intense never ending cycle of inner turmoil as he sat in the stables brushing Lonestar. He spent the last few weeks watching Liam withdraw more and more into himself, leaving the library only for hygiene and conference purposes. They weren’t even married yet and they were already starting to look like Queen Madeleine and her husband Liam.
Liam didn’t deserve to live a life with a loveless marriage, which was all he would have with Madeleine. They would have an heir or two and that would be the end of their frazzled physical relationship. Being the type of person that he was, Liam would never get a divorce, he would skirt through his miserable life with the occasional fling. Even if he managed to find love along the way, he would stick to his vows and stay with Madeleine until one of them perished.
Liam was the kindest person Drake had ever known, so selfless and genuine in everything he did or said. He cared about everyone so passionately, the same as his mother before him, he would look every Cordonian in the eye with the same level of love and respect as any member of court. He deserved someone who would love him more than anything else in the world, who would love him as freely and purely as he loved. He deserved to be happy every day of his life, laughing and making amazing memories with someone he wanted to spend every second with. He deserved the person he wanted, he deserved Lily.
But Drake loved Lily, and from what he had gathered she loved him. He had thought at one point there was a reason she was the first person he loved, some prewritten destiny they couldn’t control drawing them together from across the world. Then Liam made his feelings clear and that only muddied Drake’s mind even more. He didn’t even know when it had happened, perhaps it was always there from the moment she handed him the bottle of scotch.
There had been something in those green eyes that spoke to him, made him feel safe and warm which scared him. So he threw up his walls and made the decision to hate her, but the more he got to know her the quicker it became more apparent he couldn’t escape the feeling brewing inside. The first time they talked, really talked just the two of them in Lythikos it had been so easy and familiar despite his anguish over Savannah.
She made it easy, she made all of it easy. Opening himself to her, smiling and laughing like he was a different person, which around her he was a completely different person. He could see himself in the future with her when before he only cared about he present. The past and future didn’t matter before Lily, but now he daydreamed about a life with her.
He didn’t even realize he was falling for her until he was too far gone, it didn’t feel like falling. Maybe that was because he didn’t fall, he simply woke up. The Drake before was nothing but a shell walking around going through the motions of his life, and his soul was asleep tucked away hidden deep inside. As he got to know her and spent more time with her it fought him to wake up, every time it would poke through his exterior he had pushed it down trying to ignore it, afraid of it. He tried to fight it, he tried so hard not to care about the girl Liam liked, but how do you fight your own soul? How do you tell your soul it made a mistake, even when it doesn’t feel like one?
“Everyone out! Now!” Drake jumped at Liam’s voice as it boomed across the stables. The king strutted towards him, an eager smile on his face.
Bastien quickly wrangled everyone out of the stables and closed the doors with a nod to Liam, leaving the friends alone. Drake tried not to let his paranoia run wild, Liam wouldn’t be smiling if he knew the truth. The king stopped on Lonestar’s opposite side, his grin never faltering. The fire was back in his eyes, maybe he came with good news.
“What’s up? You seem awfully chipper.” Drake casually bent to pick up one of the horse’s feet to clean the mud out of his shoe with a pick.
“I talked to Madeleine and I think we’ve come to an understanding.” He could hear the excitement in Liam’s voice but it seemed foreign when mixed with the blonde’s name.
“Lily. If I end up actually marrying Madeleine, even if we never get to the bottom of the scandal, I can be with Lily. If she’ll have me, that is.”
Drake froze with the pick halfway to the hood in his hand, “What?”
“She doesn’t care if I carry out a relationship with Lily. She just wants control of the country and the obligatory heir, but that’s a frivolous detail. I can do right by my country and still get the girl I love Drake!”
Furrowing his brows Drake began picking the hoof in his hand, “I thought she turned you down.”
“She said she couldn’t be queen. If Madeleine is queen then she’s free to be whoever she wants, and still be with me.”
“And what about the whole she’s falling for someone else thing?” He slowly stood after finishing one hoof and moved to Lonestar’s back leg.
“I don’t really care. I just want her. She can be with whoever she wants, I’d technically be married to Madeleine. Why couldn’t she have someone else too?”
Biting back a snarl Drake scowled as he scrapped the pick around Lonestar’s frog, “Liam, not technically, you’d literally be married to Madeleine... Madeleine! And you know, you would be the someone else, not whoever she wants to be with. Starke’s not going to like you asking that of her.”
“Why do you say that like you know for a fact?”
Drake set the horses hoof down and stood erect sighing. He crossed his arms over Lonestar’s back, the horse leaned into him with a snort.
“Because I do. You’ve said it yourself, I know her better than you do. Besides, Starke is American, their customs are different. Taking two lovers isn’t exactly customary, and even if it was she wouldn’t do it.”
Liam studied him as he twirled the hoof pick then held the handle out to the king.
“Now are you just going to stand there or are you going to pick the other side?”
Liam cocked his head with narrowed eyes before he grabbed the pick smirking, “You’re lucky I love you.”
“Yeah, yeah, love you too Your Majesty. Get to work.”
Drake watched Liam dip down to start picking at the front hoof. If only all the nobles who snubbed him could see the king picking his horse’s hooves for him, but Drake wouldn’t even mention it to anyone outside the stables. He didn’t abuse his friendship with Liam.
“What if there isn’t really another person? She wouldn’t tell me a name, maybe she just said that because I couldn’t understand her not wanting to be queen?”
Drake pinched the bridge of his nose rolling his eyes, “I don’t know Liam, I don’t have all the answers. You’re doing a lot of ‘if we can’t clear her name’ talk. Why don’t we just focus on clearing her name? Then none of this will matter right? She’ll be free to do what she wants with whoever she wants.”
Standing back up Liam nodded scratching his cheek, “You’re right. Clearing her name is more important than anything else.”
No longer being dotted on Lonestar turned and nudged Drake in the side, Drake reached out to absentmindedly scratch him between the eyes.
“You really going to marry Madeleine?”
“I don’t see any other choice unless Lily will have me once she’s cleared. I have to be married, you know that.”
“But Madeleine?” Drake raised his eyebrow at Liam, “She’s already micromanaging your life, imagine how it’ll be in a few years... Plus you really want your wife’s first to be your brother?”
Liam shrugged tossing the pick back into the bucket of brushes, “I don’t care about the past. I’m not exactly a virgin either, far be it off me to judge her.”
“That’s rational of you. Don’t thinking could be with someone who slept with my sibling.”
“Well,” Liam chuckled, “Even if Savannah swung that way I don’t think you’d have to worry about that.”
“True, but being into girls wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.”
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“What?” Drake laughed, “I could watch. Just not with my sister. You trying to tell me if Madeleine came to it and said she wanted to bring a girl in the bedroom with you, you’d say no?”
Liam raised his eyebrows in thought, “I mean...” he shrugged grinning, “I wouldn’t complain.”
Drake pointed at him with a smug smile, “Exactly.”
Liam passed Drake a curry comb and they fell into a comfortable silence as they brushed Lonestar. The happy bay sighed contently and dropped his head licking his lips, Drake patted his shoulder. Watching Liam brush his horse carefree, Drake couldn’t help but miss the simpler days. He missed the light air around Liam as he only worried about the one thing in front of him and not the country riding on his shoulders. It was nice having a full uninterrupted moment with his best friend, genuinely just the two of them.
To anyone who might have looked in they would have just seen an out of place man in a suit brushing a horse with a disheveled man, but it was more than that. They were mending their bond through rubber fur and dirt, brushing away any unspoken grievances from their earlier fight. There was no need for talking, they talked all the time. Their friendship didn’t need words, Drake didn’t like talking a whole lot anyways despite the way Lily turned him into a blabbering idiot. They strengthened their bond in the purest way two people could, they let their hearts do the talking.
The day of the welcome party Drake couldn’t bring himself to be there when the Beaumonts arrived. Liam made sure nobody outside of himself, Madeleine, Drake and Bastien knew Lily would be accompanying them. Drake didn’t like the idea of Madeleine knowing but Liam insisted he couldn’t start their relationship with a lie, no matter how much he didn’t want the relationship. She had been gracious enough to allow him to pursue Lily, he had to grant her the same courtesy over Lily coming back to court. As badly as Liam wanted him there the first night, Drake couldn’t bear to hear the whispers or watch the necks snapping to look at her. So he stayed in his hotel room a few miles from the estate, he would go for day two once everybody had time to digest her return.
His chest felt tighter with every minute that ticked by, proving to him that the reason he told himself he was hesitant was only partly true. If Liam was correct in his assessment of his court members, nobody would say anything with Drake around but they would look. He could handle people looking, he was use to side eyes and glares. In truth, he was worried to find out if whatever Lily felt had died down in his absence. He didn’t know if she had sat at Ramsford and thought about everything Liam was offering her, and comparing it to what Drake had to offer.
There was no comparison, a king and his kingdom with a giant palace and anything she could think to want, versus Drake with an old horse and two old vehicles. That was all he had to his name outside of his clothes, three old modes of transportation and alcoholism. Sure he had his love to offer too, but Liam also loved her and could provide her with everything she could ever dream of.
He had never been anxious to see someone before, but Lily brought out all kinds of things in him he didn’t know he was capable of. He couldn’t sit still, pacing the room to the point he thought he’d wear a groove into the carpet. Every time he’d look at the door thinking about going, he’d freeze and scowl at his reflection in the dresser mirror. His body ached to see her again, just knowing she was right down the road ripped at him more than not being able to call her for months.
As the second day rolled around he found himself putting off going to the estate again. That evening he knew he couldn’t keep avoiding the situation, Lily needed him. But still he sat in his jeep staring blankly at the steering wheel to build the will power to go inside. Listening to Liam go on and on about her was bad enough, he wasn’t ready to go back to acting like it didn’t bother him when Liam fawned after her like a love sick puppy.
Once the sun had settled over the mountains and he could hear most of the party had dissipated from the courtyard he climbed out of the jeep and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He made his way around the house to the deserted courtyard, as night took over the nobles had all retreated back into the comfort of the indoors or left for their hotel. There wouldn’t be many left inside, with the Royal Family taking half a dozen rooms not many court members were privileged enough to stay at the estate. Nobody below a Duke was given a room, and even then Madeleine chose which ones could stay.
He stopped next to the raised circular fire pit, the fire was dwindling down from the lack of attention to it. Picking up a few logs off the stack set to the side he got to work rebuilding the fire. The dying fire licked at the wood hungrily, growing from a heap of small sputtering embers to bright orange flames that towered into the night. The cool late September breeze behind him and the warmth of the fire to his front had Drake feeling nostalgic. He wanted s’mores, a little comfort food before the bomb dropped on him.
After making sure the fire wouldn’t die while he was gone he headed up the hedge rimmed path to the back door of the grand house. The packed dirt path, while unusual for nobility, worked perfectly for Drake as it absorbed the sound of footfall. Other than the fire crackling behind him the air was quiet as he tipped his head up to look at the stars trying to settle his thoughts.
He could try and prepare himself for the worst endlessly, none of it would do any good if his fears were enlivened. Throughout the day sitting in his jeep staring at nothing and everything on the estate he realized what he truly feared most of all. He was afraid of losing her in any way, but at least if she became queen he could see her and if she left Cordonia she’d be gone forever. But if Liam asked Lily to have a secret side relationship with him and they let Madeleine be queen and she said yes, he didn’t think he could survive that. How could he live if she chose to be a side piece to Liam instead of his everything?
Drake ambled around a bend in the path with his hands in his pockets, eyes tracing the constellations above when suddenly someone crashed into him. His hands reacted first, shooting out to catch whoever had run into him and he knew before he lowered his eyes that it was her. He knew from the familiarity of her body against his, the way her shoulders fit in his hands and the delicate scent of her shampoo that drifted up to him with the breeze. With his heart in his throat he slowly lowered his gaze to meet the wide green eyes he had grown to love, and suddenly his worries were gone, at least for a moment.
She was darker, her sun kissed skin glowed as if she had spent weeks out in the sun absorbing it’s radiance. Her makeup artist really threw out all the stops for this party, gently highlighting her cheekbones and the ridge of her nose, soft pink lipstick, winged smokey pink eyeshadow and thick mascara. He had no doubt she fought them every step of the way over false lashes, he knew she hated them but the nobles and artists loved them. All of it strategically chosen to compliment her tight dusty pink cocktail dress.
“Starke.” he gripped her shoulders as if afraid she was just a figment of his imagination and would drift away if he let her go.
All the cosmetics aside she looked the same as the last time they were together, yet still different. He could feel the weight of the scandal bearing down on her, her shoulders tense beneath his fingers, her eyes heavy from how tired she was having to perform this circus act. She hadn’t even been a part of his world for a year and it was already drowning her, he wanted to take her away from all of it. He wanted to free her from the shackles bound to her by the conspirators, to pull her out of the unforgiving rapids of court. The only thing he could do until they found the person responsible was keep her head above the waterline as they tread through the currents together.
When it was all over and she was free be with him, if she somehow still wanted to choose him, he would go wherever she wanted to go. He would be happy in an apartment in some city or in a camper in the woods as long as he was with her. His home was in her eyes, her embrace and tender smile. He had thought she was missing from his life the whole time they were apart, it wasn’t until she stood before him staring up at him with her intoxicating green eyes that he knew, he was the one who had been lost.
“Drake...” his eyes flicked down to her lips as his name rolled off her tongue but as soon as his name was out his eyes were back on hers.
“I’m so glad to see you.” Her eyes lit up as a smile spread across her lips.
Realizing he was still holding her shoulders he dropped his hands quickly, heat rising up his neck.
“Are you honestly going to tell me you didn’t miss me?” She cocked her head pursing her lips, Drake scratched the back of his head.
“I didn’t say that.”
“So... what are you saying?”
“You’re a sight for sore eyes okay? Happy now?”
“Yes.” She grinned up at him, the corner of his lips twitched up in a half smile.
“It’s good to see you smiling Starke.”
“Have you been avoiding me? I didn’t see you yesterday, and thought I wouldn’t see you today either. But here you are.” When her eyes dropped Drake wanted to touch her, but someone could be watching so he stopped himself.
“I’d never avoid you. I just didn’t want to interrupt the mingling amoungst nobles.”
“Believe me, with most of those conversations... I’d have welcomed an interruption or two...” she lifted her eyes back to his, her lips still smiled but it wasn’t reaching her eyes.
“Noted. I’ll remember that for next time. But you looked like you were handling yourself pretty well in there.”
He didn’t know why he lied, he hadn’t seen anything that happened inside. She just looked like she needed a pick me up and he hoped his little white lie would give her a confidence boost.
“I know it must’ve been hard on you to be in there with everyone after what happened.” The urge to reach for her hit him again so he pocketed his hands quickly, “If there’s anything I can do to help, just say the word. I want to do it.”
“Okay, thanks... but what about us?” She looked away tucking her hair behind her ear, “I mean, you’ll help but...” her eyes met his again stopping his breath in his throat, “Is that all?”
Drake dug the toe of his boot into the dirt, “You know how I feel about you Starke.”
“Yeah...” her soft voice lacked its usual flirtatious nature, “You asked me to run away with you before... so why don’t you take me away from all of this nonsense now?”
“Believe me, I want to... desperately. I want you Lily. I want you so bad,” he furrowed his brows looking at one of the hedges beside him, “But not like this.”
Lily dropped her head frowning as she wrapped her arms around herself, closing up. Drake kicked himself for leaving her to the wolves by herself, what had been said in there?
“What do you mean by that Drake?”
“This conspiracy, the plot against you and Liam...” he shook his head, “It’s not right to ask you to choose right now. And if you wanted me over Liam...” he licked his lips looking back at her, “I’m not sure I could believe it, even if there wasn’t anything hanging over your head keeping you from Liam.”
“Why is it so hard for you to believe? After everything that’s happened, you still don’t want to accept it.” As she lifted her eyes to meet his her hand came up to rest on her shoulder, he watched her thumb play along her collar bone like his once did.
“My whole life I’ve grown up in Liam’s shadow. As kids he was the one everyone adored and fell over backwards to serve. When we got older he was the one all the girls chased.” He ran a hand through his hair with a huff, “Some part of me can’t believe that anyone would be interested in me with Liam around. Especially not someone like you.
I’m not blind Starke, he’s literally offering you an entire kingdom.” He gestured around for emphasis, “I can’t compete with that, I don’t have anything to offer you but old cars and alcohol.”
Drake took a step closer to her, every fiber of his being screamed to close the distance between them. “And if by some miracle, you do actually want me over him, I don’t want you to ever regret it. I don’t want you to choose me now because you can’t be with him due to this scandal... if you choose me at the end of all of this, I want to know that it’s because you actually want me, not because you can’t have him. I don’t want to think that you’re only with me because of this damn thing keeping you and Liam apart.”
He ran a hand down his face before dropping it back to his side, “Besides, if we were together publicly right now, it would cause an even bigger mess. We can’t hurt Liam like that on top of everything else. It would’ve been hard enough before all this, but now after everything he’s done to try to find the source, how tirelessly he’s worked for you... We can’t just throw this,” he gestured between them, “in his face. And you know,” he looked away from her, his cheeks burning as he rambled on under her gaze, “You’d be a hell of a better queen than Madeleine, she’s actually insane. She micromanages every day to the minute, who lives like that? Who could expect Liam to live like that? Cordonia deserves you as it’s queen, Liam deserves you, you’re perfect.”
She rolled her eyes, “I’m not perfect.”
“See? Anyone else here would have bragged about it. But you, you don’t even see how amazing you are. You’re compassionate, adventurous, humble, caring, charismatic, warm, loving, gorgeous, I could go on all night about you if you wanted me too... but me?”
He swallowed hard before meeting her eyes again biting his lip with a shrug, “I’m a sour nobody. I’m never going to be good enough for you.”
Lily shook her head frowning, “Drake, don’t say that.”
Fighting the urge to grab her, Drake put his hands on top of his head, digging his fingers into his hair as he stared at her, “Aw hell, I’m sorry Starke.. I’m always disappointing you, aren’t I?”
“No!” She started to reach towards him but stopped and hugged herself again, “That’s not what I meant in the least. Last time we were together I thought we were on the same page. I told Liam-“
“I know, he told me. That’s why I said everything I just told you.”
“If you know then why do you still not believe me Drake?”
“I want to, god how I want to...” he pocketed his hands chewing on the inside of his lip, “Let’s just clear your name first then we’ll talk about it again if that’s really how you feel.”
“What if we don’t? What if we never find out anything?”
“Don’t say that. You can’t go into it thinking we’re going to fail.”
Lily sighed shaking her head, “I don’t, I’m just asking. You won’t believe me unless my name is clear, but what if it never gets cleared?”
“Then we’ll cut and dye your hair and I’ll take you wherever you want to go. But we have to try, you deserve it. You deserve Cordonia, and Liam...”
Drake dropped his head hearing her say his name again, “You gotta stop saying my name like that. This is hard enough as it is.”
“This is all a big mess isn’t it?”
“Yeah it is... but not because of you. Because of this conspiracy against you.”
Lily scowled shaking her head, “When I catch whoever’s responsible...”
“Believe me, they’re going to have a lot to answer to.” Drake gritted his teeth. “It makes me furious this has happened to you two.”
If it wasn’t for the scandal Lily would be happy. Drake wasn’t convinced she would be happy with him instead of with Liam, but at least she would be happy.
“I don’t even know how many people are involved. It’s so hard playing nice with all of them when any of them could be the reason for all of this.”
“Don’t get discouraged Starke.” He gave her a lopsided smile, “You got me. And Maxwell, Bertrand and Hana on your side. Not to mention Liam. I know it might not have seemed like it right after the ball-“
“Yeah, actually it seemed like everyone abandoned me...”
“I know it may have looked that way but Liam said it was the only way to keep you safe.”
“Well, would it have killed you text me at least? So I could have known you didn’t just give up.”
Drake sighed licking his lips, “It almost killed me not texting you, going to see you... But Liam said if any of us reached out to you it could have gotten YOU killed. He takes your safety very seriously, we all do. I almost texted you every day, but if you had gotten hurt because of it... I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
“Aww Drake.” She smiled lightly.
“You should have seen us that night after the coronation. Then you wouldn’t have any doubts.”
“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime. Maybe on one of our rendezvous.”
“Anytime, just say the word.” He nodded rubbing his neck, “But you look like you could use some cheering up now.”
Drake glanced back at the fire that was still going strong before smiling at her softly, “I was actually headed in to get supplies for some s’mores. I know you probably ate during the party but if you want some dessert, can’t beat homemade s’mores... how about that?” He raised an eyebrow at her, “I’ll make you the best s’mores of your life and tell you about everything you missed.”
Lily smiled sweetly biting her lip, “You’re lucky I just happen to love s’mores.”
“Thought you’d say that. Go wait by the fire pit and I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, don’t leave me waiting too long.”
Drake subtly ran his knuckles down her arm as he stepped past her, “You know I wouldn’t do that.”