Footsteps sounded behind me. I turned to look, but my movements were sluggish. Nicholas was beside
me before I ever saw him arrive.
Something warm draped over my shoulders. I looked down and found a thick, waterproof coat wrapped
Come on. I’ll help you inside.” He took me by the elbows and began to lift me.
I weakly pushed him away. “No. I won’t give up.”
I shook my head as fiercely as I could, until I was dizzy. “They want me to quit. I can’t give up.”
“To hell with them. Piper, look at me.” He touched my cheek with his palm and physically turned my face.
I’m glad he did. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it on my own. I was so very tired.
His golden eyes were fierce, fiery with anger. Even the flecks of green burned like a forest fire.
Was he mad at me? Why? I had trouble thinking clearly. But I couldn’t give up. For Elva, I had to…
“Piper, who will take care of Elva if you get pneumonia and die?”
His words were a shock to my system. Pneumonia? Death?
“You can’t leave her alone, Piper. She can’t lose you like this.”
Desperation was thick in his voice, despite the determination hard in his eyes.
He was worried for Elva. That made sense. And he was right. I could feel the chill in the depths of my
bones. If I stayed out here for much longer, I might not make it through.
I tried to speak, but no words came out at first. I tried again, and it came out a whisper.
“Please help… me.
Wrapping his arms around my waist, he helped me to my feet. I leaned heavily into him as we shuffled
together to the door.
Lens and Joseph both glared at us as we passed them.
The Queen will hear of this,” Lena said behind us.
Nicholas ignored her, and I was too tired to do much else but follow him.
He led me all the way to my bedroom, where my maids waited with clean, dry clothes.
“Where’s Elva?” A shot of panic struck through me.
“She’s in Susie’s room, which faces the other side of the building.” Nicholas said. “Mark is standing
Relief washed away the fear quickly. Too quickly, probably. I
When we reached the bed, I plopped down onto the side of it.
d even to remain upright.
111 leave you in the care of your maids,” Nicholas said, unwinding his arm from around my waist..
I snatched his wrist before he could fully pull away. “Don’t leave.”
The words came out unbidden. I didn’t know why I said them. Maybe it was lingering fear. Maybe I was
too tired to hold myself back from what I really wanted.
Either way, I couldn’t take it back.
As he looked at me, the fire in his eyes softened to a warm glow. “You need to change out of those wet
clothes.” He glanced at the door, then back to me. “I will return when you are dressed.”
His soft heart, it seemed, did not only extend to the children.
With his assurances, I released his wrist and he promptly left the room.
The maids helped me undress. One patted my body with a towel while the other blow–dried
was far too exhausted to do anything for myself.
my hair. I
When I was mostly dry, they helped me into a pair of warm flannel pajamas. Then they guided me further
up the bed and under the covers
“Prince Nicholas?” I asked the quiet maid before they could move too far away.
“He’s probably gone,” said the other one.
Til check,” the quiet maid said and went to the door. “She’s decent now.”
“Thank you.” Nicholas entered. He must have been waiting just outside the door.
As he walked toward me in the bed, I could now see his own breach with decorum. His hair was damp.
clinging down onto his forehead. His suit coat was missing. His white shirt was soaked, revealing the lean
yet solid torso beneath.
But I had no time to admire him.
When he reached my bedside, he said, “I think you should withdraw from the competition.”