Content warning: Nudity and sexual innuendo
“I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”
George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
To find out what happened to Shasta since she left her daughter in the “caring” hands of her Mother, we’ll have to go north, somewhere far from Moose Pass on the other side of the border in the Simlish Mountains…
After leaving the Cove in the middle of the night, Shasta took a night train headed straight to Hidden Springs. After having breakfast at Hogan’s, a taxi brought her down to the shore where the Vanderburg’s immense white mansion thrones on one of the most desired patches of land in the whole country.
Shasta takes in the luxurious surroundings; the expensive cars, the huge fountain, the well-kept garden… Renauld is rolling in it… She walks up the stairs and rings the bell. Even the chiming sounds expensive. A young, beautiful maid opens the door…
‘‘You must be Mrs. Looker from the Hidden Springs Herald,’ she gushes, ‘Her Royal Highness Mrs. Vanderburg is waiting for you in the study. Terrible business, the Princess disappearing like this. Personnally I think she’s been kidnapped, but Mrs. Vanderburg goes on and on about a fountain of youth. If you want my opinion, she’s having a breakdown. I mean, it can’t be easy with the little prince who’s not taking an interest in upholding the family values, and now Princess Francesca. Even if I think –it’s my opinion entirely- that the little prince is too charming to marry yet. He said to me the other day-’
‘Excuse me. I’m here to see Mr. Vanderburg.’
‘Have you got an appointment?’
‘Err… No. But we are old friends-’
Shasta looks at the closed door.
Uh-oh! She should have transformed the bitchy maid to a toad there and then – if only she knew how!
Shasta finally got her chance to approach her ancient love at a restaurant in town, but their encounter didn’t work out as she had hoped it would.
Renauld Vanderburg didn’t recognize the beautiful dark haired woman first, and it flattered his ego to be approached by such a beauty. Burt Alto discreetly left them alone, and Shasta had taken a seat, even unfolding a napkin.
‘Your face seems familiar, Miss… ?’
Surprised she looked him deep into his eyes. ‘I had trouble recognizing you,’ her eyes flicker to the top of his head, ‘but I don’t think I have changed that much.’ Self-consciously she rearranges her hair.
‘Oh… So I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting you, Miss…?’
‘Grey. Shasta Grey.’
Recognition dawns on his face, but he quickly rearranges his expression of dazed unbelief back to his usual stony countenance. Renauld Vanderburg is on the verge of becoming the District Attorney of Hidden Springs. Politically speaking he is a star on the rising, and he sure isn’t ready to jeopardize it all because of a mistake he made thirteen years ago… When she pronounced her name, his pleasant manners had changed in an eye blink.
‘What do you want? Money?’ he asks her icily, ‘You tricked me into believing you were 18, and thank God our relation didn’t go all the way…’ He continues lowering his voice, asking her not to come near him again or he would have a warrant issued…
Seething, Shasta is removed from the fancy restaurant by two bodyguards… How dare he! Just imagining I want his money! Well, it’s not entirely untrue… But to say it out loud like that. So… So… Vulgar! You better watch your back, Renauld! You’ll pay for humiliating me… Oh, yes. You will…
For six months now, she has been working as a receptionist at the Zephyr Health Spa resort in Hidden Springs, waiting for an opportunity to approach Renauld again, but he never seems to go out alone.
She’s been eating healthy food, working out, and plotting her revenge. She is regularly turning down propositions from the clients, as well as the proposals of free massage from her colleague, a former Russian catch queen (or was it KGB agent?) who likes her – a lot…
It’s too early in the season for the usual high class customers, so on their day off the staff is allowed to enjoy the crisp yet warm spring morning at the poolside. Irinka is napping, snoring lightly, and Shasta profits from her presence to avoid getting hit on constantly. She’s daydreaming and scheming…
I cannot call him – his number is not listed, and I can’t mail him. I can’t even throw a spell on him, because I don’t know how! If only I had shut my mouth, at least the maid would have let me in… And I could have told “her royal highness” what a philandering scoundrel her somewhat high profile husband is. Or were…
She sighs deeply. This is a dead end. Maybe if his aristocratic wife was a little more interested in her appearance, I could ask my catch queen friend here, to give her a thorough massage. Breaking one or two ribs… She smiles to herself, imagining the scene…
An athletic young man is getting out of the chilly water. He catches her smiling and winks, showing off his ripped stomach. She immediately shuts her eyes.
Dang, where did I put my sunglasses? She rummages through her bag until she remembers leaving them in her room. She glances at the blond man testing the spring board. He reminds me of someone…
She settles back comfortably and studies the young man through half-closed lids. He glances towards her and makes a show out of getting ready to dive. Shasta is discreetly watching, amused.
But the diving board is slippery, and he gets caught in his own game, making a fool out of himself for real. Waving his arms, he loses his balance…
Shasta has trouble keeping a straight face at the sight of the young man, red with shame, getting out of the water. He doesn’t even glance her way this time, but she can imagine how his stomach must hurt. It’s taking on an angry red color that competes with his cheeks.
Shasta watches him hang with his friends by the poolside. She doesn’t know what flew into her, but suddenly she’s getting out of her lounger and is heading for the diving board.
His friend snickers, ‘Hey! Watch out! It’s kind of slippery over there! I can help you-’
‘Lay it off, will you?’ The blond guy looks at her from under his shock of golden hair, ‘But he’s right, you know. It is kind of slippery.’
‘Thanks for warning me.’ Blondie seems to have recovered. Hmm. Nice abs’…
OK, let’s show that puppy how things are done by a woman! An adult 28 year old woman. Gosh, it is slippery!
Too late, she can’t back down now. She bends her knees, feeling the diving board yield and spring, giving her just the right impulsion to dive…
… and of course she hits the surface in a perfect angle, there’s hardly a splash when she cuts through the water. She might be a disaster spell wise, but she was on the swimming team in high school.
The young man’s smirk has turned into awe.
‘Well, don’t mind me, just let me die of shame in private…’ he mutters, making his friend laugh.
He follows her with his gaze as she swims back towards her lounger, admiring her trim figure as she gets out of the water, a self-satisfied smile on her lips…
‘Прекрасно, Shasta! (Well done)’ Irinka grins. ‘That will shut them up, huh?’
‘Thank you, Irinka.’
The young man lingers by the poolside with his friend, or bodyguard or whatever, waiting for her intimidating wrestling-queen-friend to leave. He immediately seizes the opportunity to approach her when she gets into the water to tan on an inflatable mattress.
Here he comes again, he’s not letting go… Shasta is annoyed, she’s doesn’t have time for romance, not when she has revenge on her mind. How old could he be? 18? 19? But somewhere deep inside, she’s also flattered by his attention.
‘Hi again!’ The young man threads water by Shasta’s side, checking her out close up.
‘Again?’ she says flatly, not opening her eyes.
The young man tries another approach. ‘Yeah, well, err… I’ve been watching you.’
‘I didn’t notice.’ Shasta’s clipped tone doesn’t scare this one away.
‘I’m Sebastian Vanderburg. And you are… ?’
Shasta doesn’t show with a flicker of a muscle she’s acknowledged him. Vanderburg! He must be Renauld’s son! Finally, here’s her chance to revenge… She holds her breath, must play this carefully…
‘I have never seen you around. It’s a pity I’m leaving tomorrow.’ Still no reaction from Shasta. ‘I just wondered if you’d-’
‘??? Err… Would you like to-’
‘-come with me-’
‘-in my private jet?’
Shasta doesn’t even open her eyes. ‘I’ll think about it.’
Flying in a private jet is a first you just can’t refuse and going to France is a step closer to her new goal. Sebastian Vanderburg tries his best to impress and seduce her, finding her reserve attractive, and Shasta basks in his attention.
Champs-les-Sims in May is a very romantic place and Shasta finally gives in. Young Sebastian Vanderburg can’t keep his hands off her and she finds his eagerness surprisingly likeable.
Kissing at dawn on a deserted bridge over the Seine…
Kissing in the streets, the museums, the restaurants, the bars and the hotel receptions…
Kissing and making love throughout the region’s quaint romantic chateaux and their surrounding wineyards…
Everything unfolds according to plan, and it doesn’t take long before the paparazzi smells a story. French people, in spite of their love of the Republic, are very fond of aristocracy and juicy VIP love stories. So, of course, they know the Vanderburg fairy tale.
How young Catarina Baroness von Beckenplitzen, Princess von Kampfberg, followed her heart and married ambitious American lawyer Renauld Vanderburg. Even if the Vanderburg’s are of German origin, they are only lesser noblemen and certainly not royalty. Their daughter’s union was thus condemned by her parents. But that didn’t stop the headstrong young woman, who to the Simlish population’s delight married her pauper and moved in with him in his home town Hidden Springs.
They have two children, a daughter, Francisca, and a son of 19, Sebastian, who his mother is desperately trying to stop philandering and settle down with a suitable aristocratic young lady… Her Royal Highness making a perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do”…
“Most eligible bachelor caught by cougar!” “The pauper gets her Prince!”
Sebastian’s Mother, HRH Catarina Vanderburg, throws a fit when their butler brings in the post.
‘Look at this, Renauld! Sebastian is in France! Sleeping around as usual!’
Mr. Vanderburg glances up from his newspaper, ‘Calm down, dear. He’s only nineteen. A boy needs to have some fun before marrying.’
‘Some fun!?! He’s… he’s sullying our family name! I can’t bear to witness our traditions be tarnished any further. We must do something! Renauld!’
‘Sue them. As usual…’ he mutters.
The maid glances over her mistress shoulder, ‘Oh! But I know her! She came over in November I think it was… Or was it October? Anyway, the gardener had broken the leaf blower and princess Fransessca had gone mis-’
‘Kathryn.’ Mrs. Vanderburg raises her eyebrows at the talkative maid. ‘Francesca is back and I don’t want to be reminded of that unfortunate episode.’
The maid lowers her gaze, ‘I’m sorry, Your Highness. She wanted to see Mr. Vanderburg, Your Highness. Of course I didn’t let her in as she didn’t have an appointment!’ Kathryn leans over and refills Renauld’s cup with smoking hot coffee, ‘She mustn’t have known the little prince wasn’t due back home until spring and-’
‘Thank you, Kathryn. You can dispose.’
Kathryn retreats with a curtsey.
‘That maid is talking far too much for her own good…’ Renauld mutters. Suddenly he gasps and blows coffee all over his newspaper. ‘I’ll be damned!’
‘Are you all right, dear?’
Angrily he shakes the newspaper in front of him, almost purple with rage, ‘We must stop this! It’s time he stops sowing his wild oats and settles down with someone appropriate! Dating Shasta Grey is not part of my plans of a suitable future for our son!’
‘That’s what I’ve said all the time, dear. If only you would listen…’
But the Vanderburg’s aren’t the only ones to irritably scrunch up the rags…
‘Cougar!?! Me? I’m only 28! Aaargh!’
Shasta plops down with the offending magazine on the bed, checking the shocking photos inside. She wanted this, to hurt Renauld, but she never thought she would appear in a bad light herself, being pictured like some common gold-digger!
‘Listen to this: “Major scandal has been reported that “little prince” Sebastian Vanderburg, playboy son of District Attorney Renauld Vanderburg and HRH Catarina Vanderburg Baroness von Beckenplitzen, Princess von Kampfberg- wow, they are really into titles aren’t they?- was seen WooHooing in public-’
‘Are there pictures?’ Sebastian interrupts excitedly.
‘Of course not…’ She turns the page. ‘OhMyGod!’
She stares at a glossy picture of her naked in the bath in one of the tiny hotels they’ve stayed in.
‘How on earth did they take that God awful picture? It was on the third floor… Do French paparazzi climb in trees?’
‘Let me see…’ Sebastian snaps the magazine out of her hands, ‘Nice boobs for an old lady like yourself…’
‘Old lady!?! Did you just call me old!?!’
‘Yeah, and I’m 20 today! That makes you kind of ancient. Come on, grandma’! Give me a birthday kiss!’
‘I hate it when you call me grandma…’ Shasta pouts.
‘Just kidding, baby.’ He trails soft kisses down her neck, ‘You’re the most beautiful, alluring, enticing, exciting, attractive…’
‘Go on…’ Shasta purrs…
‘Err… appealing, fascinating…’
‘Mmm… Don’t stop…’
Sebastian comes up for breath, ‘I’m sure you didn’t even know it was my birthday today…’
‘Ahem… I did.’
‘Sooo… where’s my present?’
‘I’m your birthday present! The best you’ve ever had… Now stop whining and come and get it…’
His mother doesn’t need to worry – Sebastian has no intention of making a decent woman of Shasta.
She’s beautiful. Check.
Annoying. Double check.
But so were all the girls he’s already bedded and he has been screwing around since he was 15 thanks to his irresistible boyish manner… and his fortune. This is the first time he has dated an “older woman”, though, and she might teach him something he didn’t already know…
‘Uhm… Have you closed the shutters?’
After paying their room at the old Chateau, Sebastian drags Shasta behind some wine crates and kisses her.
‘Stop it, Sebastian!’ She pushes him away, glancing nervously around her.
‘Why? There’s no one here to see us…’ He tries to kiss her again but she bends backwards.
‘I don’t know if I can take this much longer, being followed by journalists and paparazzi’s wherever we go. It sometimes feels like there’s paparazzi in the bedroom with us!’
‘Could be exciting.’ He wiggles his eyebrows and she swats at his arm.
‘Stop joking all the time. I’m serious. I don’t want to have my reputation destroyed!’
‘What reputation?’ Seeing Shasta’s expression he raises his hands in mock surrender, ‘OK-OK-OK.’
‘I think I know how to get rid of those paparazzi’s!’ He pulls out his cell, and walks away so she can’t overhear his conversation…
‘We should have rented a jeep,’ Shasta complains.
She stops and points to her high heels.
‘Well. You should have worn sneakers.’
She snorts and stalks away.
Sebastian shakes his head. Women… ‘Wait!’
He catches up with her and grabs her hand. ‘It’s not far to go. Just enjoy the countryside a little! Can you smell the fresh air?’
Shasta just looks at him. Impossibly optimistic… Gaah…
Sebastian loves the outdoors -he’s into extreme sports- so to flee the nosy paparazzi’s, it seemed like an excellent idea to take Shasta camping in the French countryside.
Camping! Shasta has never camped in her life, she doesn’t even know how to get into a tent, even less install one. Sebastian neither, but he thought it would be quite romantic. If only Shasta could try to be more pleasant…
His butler has it all set up by a little lake; strawberries with whipped cream on Sevrès porcelain, crystal champagne flutes and champagne on ice…
‘Don’t tell me your Butler carried all this on his back all the way here?’
‘No, of course not. I had it Heli-transported.’
‘Helicopter. So much faster, don’t you think?’
Shasta’s jaw drops, ‘A helicopter!?! And you made me walk for hours in Blahnik’s-’
He pulls her into his arms and silences her with a kiss. Shasta would be perfect if she could just stop complaining…
Some fresh sun-warm strawberries and a bottle of chilled champagne later, Shasta’s good mood is back, and giggling they decide to skinny dip in the little lake. The water is lukewarm at the surface, but chilly beneath. They soon warm up, making love in the water is a first for Shasta.
Exhausted by the trek and the warm sun, they fall asleep on their towels.
‘Sebastian! There are ants!’
‘Yeah, they live here. Outside. In the nature…’ Sebastian answers sleepily.
Shasta jumps up and shakes her towel. ‘I hate ants! And I hate nature!’
Sebastian sighs and rolls over on his back, Time to ply her with more champagne…
After dinner, they watch the stars like teenagers. To her surprise, Sebastian knows quite much about the constellations and tells her an amazing romantic story about Eros and Psyche. The normally shallow playboy puts a lot of emotion into the story about how love can only live where there is trust… Shasta is misty eyed when he finishes.
But the fact remains – they will actually sleep in a tent. On the ground. In sleeping bags.
On. The. Ground.
Did you say sleep? Living like an adventurer gives Sebastian unknown forces. Oh, how Shasta regrets a bed…
She sneaks out early the following morning, while Sebastian is still snoring, exhausted after his nightly performance. She straightens out her skirt and fastens one of her hair pins.
Enough is enough. I can’t sleep in a tent! Even just for a night… Even if he’s an aristocratic, very passionate, über-rich brat and I really enjoy getting my revenge on his old fart of a dad. Camp out like this isn’t my idea of a romantic weekend, and certainly not of comfort! I’m getting too old for this! Oups! Not too old… Too… Too… Snobbish. Perhaps!
Part I – End of Chapter 06