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“Philippe and Henry would never betray the crown,” the king said, standing straight and giving Philippe a look that made him squirm.

“My apologies, sir.” Philippe actually sounded apologetic. “I couldn’t resist the pay raise, and future-King William offered a retirement package complete with dental coverage. You understand.”

It sounded like a joke Tristan might have made with Henry or his father. How many times had Philippe listened in, smiling indulgently at them as they’d teased? Now he looked uncomfortable but resolute in his choice.

“How long have you been a traitor?” Tristan asked.

“Not long, only a few days actually, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with both of you.” He tilted his head respectfully to Tristan and the king in turn. “But I am getting ready to retire, you see. Once the new regime is installed in Augustine and the people trust their new leaders, I will transition to living full time in Bora Bora with my wife. Giselle and I will live quite comfortably with what we’ve invested over the years and the additional ten million dollar bonus the new king has promised me.”

“You can’t trust William,” King Nolan said.

Philippe simply shrugged, pushing the gun harder into Jennifer’s temple. She winced.

Every muscle in Tristan’s body tensed. He couldn’t stand seeing Jennifer in their power.

“It’s a better offer than you’ve ever given me, King Nolan, and the money’s already been transferred. I do apologize. I was happy working with you, and I truly wanted to find the cure, but plans had to change. Now if you’ll indulge me, I need the queen’s wedding ring.”

King Nolan glared at Phillipe, but he pulled the four-karat diamond out of his pocket. Tristan hadn’t even realized his dad had removed it from the safe and brought it along. He remembered now Philippe saying the queen’s wedding ring and he and his dad were all needed. It made complete sense now. Needed to betray them to William.

His dad hurled the ring at Philippe. It bounced off the traitor’s arm and landed on the cave floor. Philippe calmly said to Jennifer, “Pick the ring up, please.”

She scooped low and picked it up. For some reason, Tristan felt better with his mum’s ring in her hands.

“Put it on,” William instructed her.

She frowned at him, but obeyed. As Jennifer turned her hand, the overhead lights caught the sparkling pink-hued diamond and reflected it. Tristan could feel the rightness of her wearing that ring even from here. Could it somehow protect her like the ring was fabled to have done for other royal women in the past? Jennifer wasn’t in the family yet, but he wanted her to be.

Sadly, the ring had not protected his mum.

“Beautiful,” William said. “Keep it on for safekeeping. Wouldn’t want to lose that heirloom and my proof that King Nolan turned the kingdom over to me, the rightful successor, before he was killed in a cave explosion. Tragic.”

Tristan and his brothers had philosophized whether William was growing more insane after his crazy stunt trying to force Malik to kill Tristan, the king, and Henry with a bomb several weeks ago. This confirmed it. The man was an international criminal and thought he could take over Augustine without any repercussions from the United Nations, Interpol, the European Union, or their other allies.

“You pretended to be interested in the cure to set this all up?” Aliya asked Philippe.

“The cure has been a fascination of mine for some time, and I thought it might also bring me great wealth. I hate to let that dream go, but I think living on a tropical island will be a healing balm. I’ve enjoyed my time exploring with you, but yes, I did forge the map and the message.” Phillipe smiled, obviously very proud of himself.

“And this was much easier than leaving another note and instructions for Jennifer and having General Raymond and all his trusted troops lurking in the shadows,” William added. Then he cackled like a hyena. “Though of course I could have outwitted them, as I did when we framed Hattie Ballard for that weasel Franz Wengreen’s murder.”

“Henry will never support you,” the king said, his head tilted regally, his pistol pointed at William. Tristan felt a burst of pride for his father. King Nolan looked every bit the king and in charge of the situation. Though Tristan had no idea how they’d prevail against William this time.

Their guards were too far away to hear them and he doubted very much they could send an SOS on their phones from this cave. He was a fabulous shot. His dad and Curt were great too, but they would have to be perfect to take out Philippe, William, and William’s cronies, and they’d need a plan for who would shoot who. With Henry and Jennifer straight in harm’s way with guns to their heads, and Aliya in danger also, their odds of success and keeping everyone safe were close to zero.

Henry looked at King Nolan. These two men were lifelong friends and had worked so well together to help and lift the people of Augustine, creating an almost utopian society before William and Naomi had disrupted everything.

William had lied, cheated, manipulated, bribed, and killed to accomplish his diabolical plans. He’d come between the king and the prime minister for his own selfish purposes.

Henry looked absolutely miserable, but he said nothing.

“And neither will my people,” the king continued.

“Well, people are fickle, you know that, but it won’t matter much when Philippe’s well-disciplined troops, trained admirably by General Raymond—I have to give him credit there—are patrolling the streets and villages, slaughtering any rebellious parties on the spot.”

Tristan’s stomach turned over. This man would kill his own countrymen to achieve his evil purposes. Would Ray’s troops really perform such tasks?

“As for Henry supporting us, we not only have his wife and daughter in our possession, but Henry has a little secret he’s been hiding for eight months now. He’s proven to be reasonably compliant to keep his family safe and his wife from being prosecuted. Leslie is terrified of prison, and Henry is terrified of his wife or daughter being cut into little pieces. Pathetic.”

“Dad?” Jennifer squeaked. “Mum?”

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