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They set about making breakfast, exchanging small talk but not much else. They ate on the patio overlooking the lake. Chad hadn’t said if there were recording devices out here, so they didn’t talk about anything substantial.

After breakfast, Tristan realized this would be a very, very long day. If he and Jennifer couldn’t talk, and she was keeping her distance from him because she either thought he was a player or was too worried about her parents, it was almost as miserable as being apart from her. He had her right here, and he couldn’t do anything about it.

They cleaned up breakfast and looked at each other. What to do that wouldn’t tip William off? He was hopeful for a knock on the door and a note telling them what William wanted next. The anticipation was always worse than the action.

“Thank you for being with me,” Jennifer said sweetly. If only he knew if it was for William’s recording devices or genuine.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” he said.

“Oh … it seemed you quite enjoyed thedancinglast night.” Her eyes sparked a warning at him.

“I didn’t, actually.” He eased in closer. “It’s much more exciting to be here with you.”

“I can imagine.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Let’s do something really exciting, then.”

“Oh?” His nerves thrummed with excitement. They couldn’t talk through deep issues right now, but they could certainly kiss the time away while they waited for that note.

“Phase 10,” she declared.

“Phase 10?” His forehead wrinkled in confusion.

“The card game.” She gave him an impertinent glare and tossed her golden-brown curls as she stomped to the cupboard, grabbed the game, and returned to the table.

“Phase 10,” he muttered.

It was a very poor substitute for kissing, but they did relax a fraction and laugh and tease while they played. Their hands brushed often and set off tingly warmth on his flesh. He also caught her gazing longingly at him often. She still cared deeply for him. He could see it in her eyes. They were in a weird limbo today, but he had to believe they could work everything out.

Between William listening in and the unresolved issues between them, there was an underlying edge to everything they said. How long would they have to keep this farce up? What did William expect of her? Tristan wouldn’t put it past him to be toying with both of them.

Time passed slowly as they played card games and then made sandwiches for lunch. After lunch, he wanted to get outside, maybe walk around the lake and talk freely. He didn’t dare suggest it if she wanted to be here waiting for that note and instructions from William.

They agreed to watch a show after lunch. Tristan couldn’t think of the last time he’d wasted time like this. He would’ve been thrilled to waste time with Jennifer, if it wasn’t for the recording devices and awkward tension between them. How could he convince her he wasn’t a player and wouldn’t have looked once at any other woman if she hadn’t left him? He knew now that wasn’t her fault, but the fact that he’d gone on some shallow dates for events, after her dad had said she couldn’t love him any longer and wasn’t returning, in no way meant he didn’t still love her. Maybe she thought so, though. They’d had true love and now it felt like she’d given up on that.

As they tried to look through the myriad of channels for an interesting movie, entertainment news was playing on a small screen in the corner. Tristan stealthily edged closer to her on the couch, wondering if the movie would be a good excuse to turn the volume up loud, snuggle close, and whisper to each other.

“And the dashing Prince Tristan August is, of course, surrounded by women at Prince Derek and the Adorkable Boston Beauty’s lavish and well-attended wedding.”

Tristan froze as he stared at the screen, his gut turning over. There were pics of him with the crowd of women surrounding him, the blonde glued to his side, different angles that made it look like he relished the attention. Then it switched to a pic of the blond woman’s arms around him from behind. It definitely looked like he was enjoying her touch as he’d truly been trying to get into the castle and to Jenn. He felt a smidgeon of pride for how good he was at acting the crown prince part, but mostly sick dread at how Jennifer was going to react to those pictures.

“Jenn,” he began.

“I think I’ll lie down in my room and have a nap,” she burst out, jumping from the couch and running up the stairs.

Tristan had to explain. He dashed up the stairs after her.

Jennifer hurried into her room and swung the door closed. He caught it before it latched and pushed it back open.

“Jenn, please—”

She shook her head, her dark eyes bright with unshed tears and yet cold, far too cold as she looked at him. Was all the love she’d felt for him buried underneath eight months of separation and her misguided jealousy?

“I need to rest.”

Tristan pushed out a breath and let her close the door in his face. He walked back downstairs with heavy steps. He spent some time pacing and texting on his phone with most of his family members—no answers, just philosophizing about William and his plan. He lay down for a bit but couldn’t sleep.

When evening arrived, he went to the kitchen and cooked. He was not a great cook—hadn’t had much opportunity to practice—but he found one of Leslie’s recipe books for chicken broccoli casserole and they had all the ingredients in the fridge and pantry, so he assembled the casserole and put it in the oven. Then he chopped up veggies and got out some ranch dressing, snacking on cauliflower, celery, carrots, and snap peas while he waited for Jennifer to come down the stairs or the casserole timer to beep.

He was going a bit nuts. He was a doer by nature and his busy role as crown prince had his schedule booked morning to night.

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