13. Who's Been Sleeping With My Prince?

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At the end of a long morning and afternoon, Ashley's ladies-in-waiting helped her out of her gown, then prodded, clucked, fluffed, and tucked her into the soft, cool royal bed, leaving her with strict instructions to rest. But how could she rest when hosting a bevy of royals whose happiness could affect her entire future as a princess, wife, and, hopefully, mother?

In the end, her injuries caught up with her, and despite all the worry, Ashley's eyes grew heavy.

The last image that invaded her thoughts as they fluttered closed was that of Gerald behind her on Louis's back, his arms holding her tight against his body, his warm breath on her neck. She tried to replace Gerald with Charming but could not fight it. The dream swept her away.

It was just getting interesting when she was awakened with a bang, bang, bang.

"Go away," Ashley ordered. She covered her head with a pillow, anxious to get back to Dream Gerald. But it was like holding on to air. The dream receded into her subconscious, where it had been birthed.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

"Princess Ashley. Please," called a plaintive voice. One of her ladies. "It's a disaster. We need you."

Groaning, she threw aside the pillow and sat. A sheen of sweat clung to her skin, her hair stuck to the back of her neck. It felt like she'd been scrubbing her stepmonster's floors in her sleep.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

"Your Highness?"

"Yes," Ashley said, pulling down her chemise and smoothing her hair. "Enter."

Valeria tiptoed into the chamber, curtseying as she approached the foot of the bed. She smelled like fresh-cut roses. "I'm sorry to disturb your slumber, but we're having a bit of an issue in the antechamber and wondering if you might help."

"Is Scarletta back?"

"No," Valeria said, biting her lip and nodding at the door in a meaningful fashion. "It's the royals," she whispered.

"What time is it?" Ashley said.

"Past eleven, Your Highness."

Ashley leaped out of bed, a move her ankle didn't exactly like. "I slept through dinner? Why did no one wake me?" Missing dinner was a disaster in the protocol.

"We thought you needed your rest after what happened. You know. With the falling out of the sky and the crashing part. Mostly the crashing."

Valeria had a point. "I'll be right there."

Ashley grabbed her gold-velvet robe and limped into the antechamber.

She covered her ears; the din from the six squabbling royals was so intense. They were so focused on their arguing; no one noticed she'd entered the chamber. She made out snippets of their discussion ...

" ... haven't slept a wink," Sadira whined, "the water wouldn't stop running ...

"I had to run the water to try and wash it out," Tressa cried. "It was labeled lavender shampoo. But look. My hair is blue. Blue!" Indeed, her hair glowed indigo.

" ... bowl of apples on the bedside table," Blanche complained. "It's an outrage. And there wasn't enough space for my magic mirror ..."

Layyin shook a jar of peas. "Look at this!" she growled. "I'll be covered in bruises."

"I was hungry!" Derek said, coughed uncontrollably. "I ordered the peas and apples but ended up swallowing a fly ..." Cough. Cough. Cough.

"Peas are the devil's food," Layyin said, brandishing a knitting needle at him.

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