Unless she slipped away from him again.
Or believed he was a player.
Or they didn’t beat William.
Or her parents got hurt or killed.
Or a hundred other things that could go wrong.
He should just kiss her and savor the moment. Who knew what might come at them next?
If only Jennifer and Tristan hadn’t been interrupted. Again. But her parents’ safety had to be her priority, followed by the safety of her own heart. He’d shoved her defenses and safety net out of the way with his tender look and touch and flirtations. She had to be stronger.
The general, the police chief, and the king all came into Tristan’s suite and pulled up chairs facing the couch she and Tristan were sitting on. The king gave her a brief, fatherly hug, making her miss her dad more than ever. Jensen greeted her warmly with a handshake and a side hug. As Ray’s best friend, Jensen had spent as much time at the castle as teenagers and young adults as she had. They’d all been close friends at one point. Tristan’s best friend, the suave Major Chad, had been a constant in her life as well. Now everything felt less stable or easygoing, as she’d expect with the danger her parents were in and Tristan’s family had been in for a while now.
Jennifer recounted everything that had happened since her mum, William, and Naomi had come to the village. She finished by describing the note and the picture left on the doorstep earlier today, and anything else she could think of that might be helpful. They listened and then asked questions, trying to surmise what William was up to now.
“Why did you leave in the first place?” Ray asked.
Jennifer exchanged a look with Tristan, wishing she could talk this through with him alone. She’d refused to tell him this morning, but now everything was coming out. The secrets needed to be exposed so they could move past them and deal with the Rindlesbachers.
She swallowed and then admitted, “My dad forced me to. He said I was in mortal danger and promised I could come back when he ‘fixed’ it. He made me say goodbye to Tristan the day after the queen died and didn’t let me take my phone with me. I thought it would just be a short humanitarian trip like my others, but then the months stretched on and my dad kept saying ‘soon’ but soon never came.”
Tristan nodded to her, obviously wanting to talk through the pain of their separation. What would he say when she told him after she found out he was engaged she had no desire to come home any longer?
“Why the day after Mum died?” Ray asked King Nolan.
The king’s blue eyes looked troubled and full of pain. That hurt Jennifer. The king and Queen Anne had been loving and accepting of her. Neither of them had ever acted uppity or privileged. She’d never wanted to hurt either of them.
“The timing is definitely suspicious,” Jensen inserted.
“What do you mean?” she asked. Nobody responded for a beat, and her mind spun to worst-case accusations from these accomplished men. “No matter what you’re thinking, my father is not in league with William, or a traitor, and he definitely didn’t kill the queen.”
The king’s eyes widened. “None of us ever said Henry killed Anne.”
His loyalty touched her, but she could see he was concerned for her dad and maybe didn’t trust him any longer.
“I’m eighty percent certain it was William,” Jensen said.
“Who would you accuse with the other twenty percent?” Tristan asked.
“Naomi.” Jensen smirked at them.
Jennifer felt reassured that the impressive chief of police wasn’t pointing fingers at her dad, but she couldn’t help but look at Ray. She wanted to know his thoughts on the matter.
Ray shrugged and lifted both hands, palms up. “Macey and I did a lot of research into Mum’s murder. William is brilliant, but we’ve looked into every angle of him or Naomi being the murderer. I don’t know that even he could cover his tracks that well.”
Jennifer’s neck tightened and her cheeks went hot. King Nolan was loyal to his close friend and seemed to not have even thought of foul play with his prime minister. Jensen blamed William and Naomi. Ray was level-headed and research minded, but sometimes you had to go with your gut, not the cold, hard facts.
Was it only her devotion to her parents screaming they were innocent? No! Her mum and dad had both loved Queen Anne like a sister. Her dad had dated Anne in college and as she thought about it, her mum had made some snarky comments to her dad about the queen’s beauty or sweetness. But … no. It wasn’t possible.
Tristan reached over and wrapped his hand around hers. “Nobody thinks your dad would hurt my mum. We all love him like family. There are just too many questions and not enough answers.”
His show of support and his logical answer, so similar to what she hoped was true, calmed her.
“Thank you,” she managed, her throat thick.