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“Not a bad option either,” a brunette agreed. “Though I don’t really like my men all scarred up. Could you beg him to always keep his right side turned to you?”

They all laughed at that. Except for Livvy and Shelby.

“It’s disappointing to be sure. He was so tantalizingly hot before the bombing,” Jaylene agreed.

Livvy’s stomach twisted. Prince Tristan had been scarred by a senseless bombing. He was a selfless and witty man, still incredibly handsome despite the scarring. He did not deserve to be disparaged.

“Still, he’s the last unclaimed prince, and to be queen someday,” Jaylene licked her lips and tossed her long, blond hair. “And if the ‘Adorkable Boston Beauty’ can land a handsome, younger prince. I’m sure I can easily get the deformed Crown Prince to fall for me. I’ll force him to get plastic surgery so he’s as pretty as me.”

Several of the women laughed but a few others, including Shelby seemed to be growing uncomfortable with Jaylene taking shots at not only the crown prince but their friend Ellery.

“He is not deformed, he’s an impressive and kind prince,” Livvy exploded with the words, unable to remain quiet any longer.

Shelby gave her an approving glance.

“You just don’t want another American stealing another one of your hot princes,” Jaylene shot back at her.

The other women’s eyes widened. Livvy recognized that Jaylene had put on a nice face at first, but she was definitely the snarky one of the bunch. She’d made fun of Ellery, who was supposedly her friend and the crown prince in the same sentence.

“That’s far from true,” Livvy countered. “Princess Ellery, Princess Aliya, Princess Macey, and Princess Hattie are all very welcome. They each are as kind and gracious as they are beautiful and accomplished, they love their husbands, and will be a great blessing to our country. What we Augustinians don’t want is a snarky, underhanded, self-serving Americandeceivingone of our ‘hot princes’ and only being interested in his title not in what type of man he is. A great man, my future king, who has my allegiance and deserves your respect.”

The table went quiet. Some of the women exchanged glances, some of them looked at her in shock, some in approval.

“Well spoken.” Shelby nodded to her.

“Well I never.” Jaylene glowered and folded her arms across her chest. Amazingly she didn’t counter but looked down at her untouched dessert.

A clinking of silver on crystal drew everyone’s attention to the head table. Livvy sat with her hands folded in her lap, her back straight, her head held high, and her cheeks on fire as she listened to the speeches and toasts and tried not to feel the animosity of some of the women she’d offended at this table. She was out of practice in social situations, this being her first experience in years, but she felt justified sticking up for Prince Tristan and all the royals. She was proud of her country and the royal family. Though they were independently wealthy, lived in this insanely gorgeous castle, and were well, royal, they didn’t put on airs. The August family were classy and put the people of Augustine first. She’d especially admired Queen Anne, who horrifically had drowned in the lake last January.

As soon as the toasts, kissing, and cheering were done and the dancing announced she quietly excused herself and pushed away from the table. The women were quietly talking amongst themselves.

“Pardon me,” she murmured.

“Thank you for sitting with us,” Shelby said graciously.

“Thank you.” She nodded to her one ally.

She glanced around, maybe she should just disappear. She’d sort-of accomplished what she’d come to do—getting out into public and not being afraid, talking to Sophie, bravely standing up for Prince Tristan, and … okay, she hadn’t spoken to Jensen and that had been priority number one.

But all in all she’d done pretty well. She couldn’t see Jensen anyway and after getting to know Shelby a little bit she wondered if the gorgeous redhead wasn’t like the American princesses—a breath of fresh air and a great addition to Augustine.

Disappointment filled her, thinking of Jensen with anyone but her. That was selfish. She needed to act and think better. She also needed to get out of here. Holding her chin high, as if she were walking onto the stage to perform in the Philharmonie de Paris, she walked slowly through the tables. She’d a lauded success once upon a time, she could exit a wedding without breaking down into tears at the missed opportunity to talk to Jensen.

Easing away from the wedding crowd as everyone lined up to watch the first dances she doubted the shuttles would be taking people down to their cars right now. What kind of a lousy wedding guest wanted to run away before the dancing even started? Her unfortunately. She’d reached her limit with that snarky blonde. Maybe in a few more years she’d try another event.

She made it to the massive open gates to the castle and glanced around. Shuttles were lined up but the drivers weren’t in them. Shoot. She’d have to walk down the steep, narrow road. Normally she liked walking as she rarely allowed herself the luxury unless her dad or brother went with her to scare away any man who wanted to whisper, “Treven’s coming” to her, but in spike heels it wouldn’t be too enjoyable. At least the view was gorgeous.

The dancing and music was going on behind her as the scheduled wedding dances started. Soon everyone would be able to dance. Disappointment tasted bitter on her tongue. Should she go back? Ask Jensen to dance? Fight that kind and beautiful American redhead for him? If the woman was a ninja warrior she was probably tough, but Livvy had been trained by ‘Cap’ and he was an incredible fighter. She worked on her fighting moves every day. Maybe she could win.

She shook her head. Silly thoughts. She wasn’t going to pick a fight with some woman. Especially the woman who’d been her friend and agreed with her at the table. If Jensen wasn’t interested in Livvy, she’d have to deal with that. It seemed that was a high probability. Why had she tricked herself into believing he cared? The times he’d come to check on her he’d been caring and looked deeply at her, as if he were interested. He probably treated everyone that way.

“Livvy,” the male voice came from behind her.

She whirled around and anticipation shot through her, a surge of endorphins stronger than the applause of thousands of people.

“Jensen,” she breathed out, wishing there was something to lean against. It would be telling if she eased over to the castle wall or one of the shuttle vans for support.

His handsome face split in a welcoming smile. “You’re not leaving. Not without dancing with me first.”

It was a statement and a question combined. He confidently didn’t think she’d leave and knew she’d longed to dance with him. Yet he was asking, making certain she’d give him a dance or two, because he was a gentleman and knew what she’d been through.

How to respond? She had to show that she was strong and independent, not the wuss who cowered in her own home, but it wouldn’t be out of line to let him know how very interested she was in him. Shelby was great, but that didn’t mean Livvy had to turn her dream man over to the lady.

Looking him over, she felt her knees weaken and her stomach flip flop. He was too enticing for her to resist, and he’d come for her. She barely resisted clapping her hands in joy. Maybe all her long-held dreams about Chief Jensen were about to come true.

* * *

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