Tangled Games Bonus Chapter
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I hope you enjoy this bonus scene with Nora and Anderson, as well as all the other characters you met throughout the Dating Games series!
“How are you holding up?” Anderson whispers into my ear as I sit in the back seat of a large SUV, our driver navigating the streets of Manhattan with ease.
I haven’t lived here in nearly twenty years.
Despite the passing of time, not much has changed.
The city still has a pulse, an energy you can’t find anywhere else.
The sidewalks still crawl with a mixture of tourists and locals hurrying to their next destination.
And moving trucks still fight for parking space this last week of August, the traditional college move-in time.
When I lived here, I never thought much about the hoards of college-age kids who descended upon this city this time of year.
But now that I have a son who’s one of those kids, I do.
I meet Anderson’s blue eyes, then steal a glance at Hunter sitting opposite him. It feels like it was just yesterday I learned I was pregnant with him. That I struggled with whether I was ready to go through another pregnancy. That I feared the worst. But that all changed the second Hunter was born and I heard his cries.
I didn’t think my heart could love anyone more than I did Anderson.
I was wrong.
A mother’s love is a unique thing, something you can’t properly put into words.
I felt it the first time I held Hunter in my arms. And I still feel it now, although he’s now an eighteen-year-old young man. His age is inconsequential. He’ll always be my baby.
I force a smile, doing my best to keep my emotions in check. “Great,” I reply.
“He’ll be fine. It’s really the best thing for him. My father allowed me to come over to the states for my college and graduate school. It gave me a dose of the real world. It’s important for him to go somewhere he can learn, not be treated as the future king.”
I draw in a shaky breath. I know Anderson’s right. We promised we’d make sure Hunter had as normal of a life as possible, despite being the future monarch. It was easier when he was younger. But as he grew older, people in our country began treating him differently. Not a bad different, but it wasn’t what we wanted for him.
So much like Anderson’s father ordered the Royal Guard to develop an alternate identity for Anderson so he could attend college over here, we did the same for Hunter. Now he can have the college experience all young people deserve to have.
“I’ll be fine, Mum,” Hunter says, his accent similar to his father’s — British with a hint of an American intonation.
I turn my attention to my baby boy, who isn’t a baby anymore. I can’t help but marvel how closely he resembles Anderson. Same brown hair with shades of copper and blonde, although Anderson’s now sports a bit more gray. Same mesmerizing blue eyes. Same enigmatic smile. Same tall height. It’s like being given a time machine, allowing me to see what Anderson looked like when he was Hunter’s age.
“It’s not like I’ll be alone. I’ll be rooming with Easton. And Eloise and Amelia will be right across the hall. It’ll be like our own version of that American show you always watch. What’s it called again?”
“You mean Friends?”
“See, gorgeous,” Anderson says, slinging an arm around my shoulder and kissing my temple. “He’ll be fine. With friends. Not to mention, him being here will give you a reason to come to New York more.” He chuckles under his breath. “As if the girls haven’t been enough reason.”
“True.” I smirk.
“But you better not be a helicopter mum or any of that,” Hunter interjects. “You allowed me to come to America so I could have the normal college experience.”
“You do understand that means doing your own laundry and dishes,” I remind him. “There won’t be a maid or butler to pick up after you.”
A wide grin crawls across his face. Whereas most teenagers would love the idea of having an entire household of staff to cater to his every need, Hunter grew up always having someone picking up after him. Like Anderson, he wants this taste of normalcy. He wants to live in a tiny New York apartment. Wants to deal with noisy neighbors.
Wants to be somewhere nobody knows who or what he is.
“That sounds like heaven, mum.”
I can’t help but laugh as I turn my gaze back to Anderson. “He truly is your son.”
“Yes he is.”
After a few more minutes of crawling through heavy traffic, our SUV finally comes to a stop in front of a familiar brick building in Chelsea.
While we wanted Hunter to have a typical college experience, there are some things we had to consider. Like the fact that he still has to have some sort of security. So instead of a run-down apartment with a water heater that only works on the second Thursday of every month, like where I lived after first moving to the city, Hunter will actually be living in the same building where Lincoln and Chloe lived before they moved out of the city. Across the hall, to be precise, while Eloise and Amelia, Evie and Julian’s daughter, will be living in Chloe and Lincoln’s old apartment.
The driver barely has a second to put the SUV in park before Hunter throws open the door and barrels onto the sidewalk. To say he’s been excited about this next stage of his life would be an understatement.
“Come on, guys.”
“Guys?” Anderson looks at me. “He’s been in America for all of two hours and it’s no longer sir and ma’am, but guys?”
“He is your son,” I remind him, brushing my lips against his. “You never were one to follow the rules, were you?”
“It brought me to you.”
“It sure did.” I melt into his kiss. It doesn’t matter the years we’ve been together now. Each one of his kisses still feels like the first one. And with each kiss, I still fall in love with him a little more.
“Come on already,” Hunter groans.
“He may be my son,” Anderson murmurs against my lips. “But I think he gets his impatience from you.”
I pull back. “Impatient? Me? I have all the patience in the world.” I pause. “Unless it’s something I really want.”
“Exactly.” He leaves me with a kiss on my nose, then starts to get out of the car.
Hunter’s chief protection officer, Captain Fritz, is quick to help Anderson as he gets his footing, using his cane to support him.
While he’s largely been able to control his MS, some symptoms have gotten worse over the past several decades, requiring him to use a cane more often than not. But if that’s the worst of it, we’ll count ourselves as lucky. We count ourselves as lucky regardless of any symptoms or flareups he experiences. After twenty years, they’re now simply a part of life.
Once Anderson is out of the SUV, he turns toward me and helps me down. The second my heels hit the sidewalk, I inhale a deep breath, the familiar scent of New York City surrounding me. A wave of nostalgia washes over me as I recall the years I spent living in this city. All the heartache, all the frustration, yet at the same time all the hope I experienced. The friendships that helped me through some of the hardest times in my life. I can only hope Hunter forms the same bonds with his friends as I did with mine.
My arm looped through Anderson’s, I follow Hunter into the lobby, Captain Fritz close on our heels. We all ride up in the elevator, memories of that fateful day all those years ago rushing back. How I rode this same elevator up to Chloe and Lincoln’s apartment after my divorce to Jeremy had been finalized. How surprised I was when I opened the door to see my girls had thrown me a Ding Dong Divorced party.
How that night they encouraged me to set out on an adventure that would change my entire life.
It’s amazing to think that if one thing were different, I wouldn’t be here right now. Hunter wouldn’t be here. And despite the challenges this life gives us, there’s no where else I’d rather be.
A ding rips through the space, announcing our arrival on the top floor. The door barely slides open before we’re assaulted with excited screams.
“You’re here! You’re here! You’re really fucking here!”
“Eloise!” Chloe chastises as her daughter barrels toward the elevator, throwing her arms around Hunter. “Language, for crying out loud.”
My heart warms as the two friends hug. It’s a far cry from the normal greeting Hunter gets from people back home, who all bow or curtsey to him. Who never initiate any contact with him until he does. It’ll be good for him to be around people who treat him like a human being, not someone who just so happens to be the future king.
“She is your daughter,” I tease as I follow Eloise and Hunter out of the elevator and into the hallway that looks more akin to a war zone, boxes pilled high as movers bring them into the two apartments.
“Don’t remind me,” she replies as we hug.
I laugh, content to be with my oldest friend once more.
“No. Seriously. Don’t. Because I remember how I was in college…”
I place my hand on Chloe’s elbow, placating her. “She’ll be fine. She’ll have her friends to look out for her. Just like we’ve always looked out for each other.”
She turns, watching as Eloise drags Hunter into what’s to be his apartment, the two acting as if it hasn’t been months since they’ve last seen each other, falling back into the familiar friendship they’ve enjoyed since birth.
“How did this happen?” she comments softly. “I swear all I did was blink and she’s now this young woman about to start her life. There are times I feel like I haven’t even started my life.”
“I think we all feel the same way.” I give her a reassuring smile as Anderson approaches, placing a hand on the small of my back.
“I can’t believe we’re all so…old,” she jokes.
“Speak for yourself!” Evie chimes in, making her way out of the girls’ apartment, Izzy following. “I’m still thirty. Give or take a few years.”
“If give or take a few years means twenty,” Julian says, pulling her close. “And we’re giving them, not taking them away.”
She playfully punches him. “Don’t you know it’s rude to discuss a lady’s age?”
“True, but in my eyes, you get more and more beautiful every year that passes.” He leans down and kisses her sweetly.
“Good save, darling,” she murmurs before turning her attention to me, wrapping me in a hug.
“You’re here!” Izzy says hurrying out of the boys’ apartment, somewhat breathless, Asher beside her.
She wraps me in her arms, squeezing tightly. “I’ve missed you.”
“Missed you, too.”
When she pulls back, she grabs my hand. “Come on. I’ll show you the boys’ apartment.”
“We’re not boys,” a voice says from the girls’ apartment. Then a mess of dark hair peeks into the hallway, Izzy and Asher’s son, Easton, smirking. His features closely resemble Asher’s with a dark complexion, thanks to Izzy’s Latin heritage. “We’re men.”
Asher rolls his eyes, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “You’re eighteen. You’ve got a long way to go until you’re a man, son.” He approaches Easton and muses up his hair.
“Enough, Dad,” Easton swats his father away, slinking back into the apartment.
We follow Izzy and Asher across the hall, while Easton, Amelia, Hunter, and Eloise all hang out in the girl’s apartment.
“This is a lot different from my freshman dorm room,” I remark under my breath as I walk into the open living area, floor-to-ceiling windows providing the picturesque backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
“You’re telling me,” Chloe remarks. “These kids won’t be fighting over who gets the bottom bunk.”
“Or be annoyed when their roommate brings a guy home,” Evie adds.
“Please don’t bring that up,” Julian says, expression pinched. “I don’t want to think about any guys in that apartment at all, apart from Hunter and Easton. It’s not making this any easier.”
“You’ll be right down the street. It’s not like you’ll be halfway around the world like Nora and Anderson,” Evie replies.
“Gee, thanks,” Anderson retorts. “That’s making me feel great about this, especially considering I was in his shoes at one point. So I know exactly what kind of trouble he wants to get into.”
“At least you have a boy,” Chloe remarks. “Only one penis to worry about. Not one million.”
Julian squeezes his eyes shut. “Not helping, Chloe.”
“She’ll be fine,” Evie assures him, kissing his cheek. “Look. They all have each other. You can’t put a price on strong friendships. Trust me. They’ll keep each other in check.” She glances around at the rest of us, meeting our gazes with a smile. “Just like we all did for each other. Like when Trevor broke up with me and I was willing to change who I was just to get him back.” She meets Julian's gaze, the same affection they’ve always shared evident within. “They convinced me that love doesn’t always go according to plan.”
“And when I just so happened to fall in love with my college professor, but I pushed him away because I didn’t think I was worth the risk to his career,” Chloe begins, smiling up at Lincoln. “They convinced me I was worth the risk.”
He brushes his lips against hers. “Damn straight you were. Still are, pixie.”
You can physically see her melt into him at his old nickname for her.
“And when tried to keep my distance from Asher because I didn’t want to come between his relationship with his brother, they convinced me to finally come clean with the truth.” Sh lifts her eyes to meet Asher’s. “That I loved you before I ever knew your brother.” She laughs under her breath. “That love’s like a boomerang. You can run from it all you want, but it will still find you.” She pauses. “Okay, that last bit might have been more something Grams convinced me of, but the girls agreed with her wholeheartedly.”
“She was certainly a wise woman,” Asher murmurs, treating Izzy to a soft kiss.
“She certainly was.”
They pull away, several pairs of expectant eyes looking my way.
“And when I tried to pretend everything in my life was okay, you called me out on it and made me finally say goodbye to the ghosts of my pasts I’d been clinging to.” I touch my hands to Anderson’s crisp suit. “And in doing so, finally found my future.”
He sighs, lowering his lips to mine. “I love you.”
“And I love you.” I lose myself in his beautiful kiss, then pull back.
“See?” Evie says as we all face the open doorway, watching our kids’ easy interactions. “As long as they have each other, they can get through anything.”
“Yes they can,” Chloe agrees, wrapping her arm around Evie’s shoulder.
“There’s nothing like a friendship that can survive years and miles,” I add, joining them, Chloe pulling me to her.
“It’s the strongest bond there is,” Izzy states, completing our chain.
After I lost Hunter in that car accident, I didn’t think I’d ever find happiness again. But through my darkest of moments when I questioned whether I even wanted to carry on, I had my friends. I had these three amazing women.
Throughout all the trials and struggles I've faced, they’ve been by my side. I love Anderson with everything I have, but it’s a different love. My love for these three women is something so few people get to experience.
We may not share blood or DNA, but these women are my family. Not out of obligation, but by choice.
If you ask me, that’s a love worth celebrating.
Thank you so much for reading this extra little bonus of Anderson, Nora, and the rest of the girls you met in the Dating Games series!
Wondering if Anderson's protection officer, Creed, and his sister, Esme, will ever find their happily ever after, despite all the rules forbidding their love? Find out today in ROYAL CREED!
All my life, every decision has been made for me. What to say. How to dress. And now, who I’m to marry. When you’re second in line to the throne, it’s just how things are. I’ve always gone along with it.
I may not have a say in who I marry, but I refuse to let someone dictate who I give my v-card to.
So I offer it to the only man I trust not to go to the paparazzi.
Body of an Adonis.
Strength of a warrior.
And my brother’s best friend.
It was only supposed to be one night. After all, we could never be together. To the outside world, I’m supposed to be in love with someone else. And Creed’s about to be sworn in as a member of the Royal Guard.
That doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about what could be. About ignoring our duty and following our hearts.
But when the consequences of our secret tryst become much more dangerous than either of us originally bargained for, can I find the courage to fight for what I want? Or will I always remain a pawn in the palace’s deadly game?