“Your seaplane should arrive any moment now,” Marie assured Liv.
They were standing on the path leading to the shore where the seaplanes and boats usually dropped and picked up guests. Christian stood a few feet away, focused on his phone, his fingers tip-tapping in record speed.
Liv’s face looked calm and composed, but her voice lacked determination when she said “I’ve had my dream come true, haven’t I? Now it’s time to face the music and be who I am supposed to be.”
Marie’s gaze flickered to Christian and back to her new friend. Neither of them showed any signs that they would reveal their real identity to her, and it hurt.
Telling herself not to be foolish, Marie plastered her professional smile on her face. Lack of sleep didn’t make it any easier for her to hold it together. She should be in bed now, catching some rest before her next night shift, but she wanted to see them off in person.
Liv pushed her sunglasses back onto her head and took Marie’s hands in hers. “You’ve been wonderful. I’d never have had this chance without you. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to pay back my debt.”
A stab of guilt prodded Marie. Yeah, she’d been wonderful, throwing herself at her friend’s brother…
“Now don’t say anybody would have done it, I know that’s not true,” Liv went on. “You went out of your way to make me happy, and I will never forget it.”
Marie smiled uneasily. “Don’t make me blush. I had a great time too. And I’ll certainly not forget the moments we shared either. Will you…will you stay in touch?”
Liv’s gaze slid to her brother and back, and this time her voice sounded firmer and more like her. “I will. But leave it up to me how and when, will you?”
Marie nodded. Both Olivia and Christian had donned the clothes they’d arrived in, looking formal and detached.
The sound of the seaplane broke the awkward silence. Impulsively, she leaned forward and embraced Liv, and after not even a second of hesitance, the young woman returned the hug and even kissed her on both cheeks.
“You’ve given me memories to cherish and strength to go through with what comes next, Marie. I hope one day I can be there for you when you need me.”
They smiled sadly at each other. “Take care,” Marie said, for want of something more meaningful to say because she suddenly felt as if they were strangers again. The more time ticked by, the more Liv seemed to grow back into whoever she was, not connected to this place and this life.
“Christian,” she called over her shoulder. “Come and say farewell to our friend.”
Her brother lifted his head from his phone, and for a moment, their gazes met. Marie swallowed when his polite mask wavered to show…what? Confusion? Reluctance? Guilt?
He put his phone into his pocket and strode over, holding out his hand. It reminded her of the evening they’d met, when he hadn’t shaken her hand. So something small had changed after all…
“Let me express my thanks as well,” he said, formally and softly, as if nothing had happened between them.
She nodded and forced another smile. “You’re most welcome.”
“Excuse me?” A voice interrupted them, making all three of them turn.
A short, chubby lady with curly white hair and bright, youthful eyes in a wrinkled, sunburnt face beamed at them. “I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, and I don’t mean to be rude, but…Are you by chance the Crown Prince and Princess of Taragonia?”
The look of shock on the siblings’ faces was answer enough.
Marie took an involuntary step back. Royals? They were goddamn royals from somewhere she’d never heard before?
Lord have mercy, what had she gotten herself into?!
While Marie battled mortification and disappointment—Couldn’t they have told her? At least hinted at it? Some nice friends they were!—the two inclined their heads to the exuberant lady from Europa, judging by her accent, from England. Polite to a fault, they inquired about her holiday, gently declined a photo request, and bestowed their blessings.
The seaplane arrived, and Marie continued to watch, frozen to the spot. Liv and her brother—the princess and prince, for Christ’s sake—boarded, the former shooting her an apologetic glance over her shoulder. Marie waved weakly back when she raised a hand in farewell, her mind drawing a blank.
Oh Lord, she had kissed a Crown Prince incognito!
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