It was the night before the ball and Clarice would not deny how anxious she had been.
She had been impatiently waiting for this day to come ever since Rettacus had told her about it.
At the thought of him Clarice frowned sadly, she had missed him. He was her best friend here and due to the fact that he had been locked up by the King, she could not see him.
She walked out of her room, no longer wanting to wallow in pity over past events that she could not change and shut the door behind her.
She eyed the hallway with no idea as to where she would go.
It was night time, way past dinner and she believed everyone had been asleep by now - but her.
She inhaled shakily before tightening the belt of her robe tighter around her small waist.
She made way towards the large staircase, she would take this opportunity as the time to investigate the rooms - or better yet, as the time to find the kitchen because she was craving a drink to quench her sudden thirst and hopefully make her drowsier.
She walked down the steps carefully, cringing when the wooden staircase creaked in protest every time her feet touched a new step.
Once she reached the bottom she nervously looked from side to side - as though she was crossing a road before nodding to herself reassuringly.
Oddly enough, no guards were around.
She walked towards the dining room area, she believed that the kitchen was surely in that area, or at least around it.
She inhaled the air deeply and was met with that familiar woodsy scent that always lingered in the castle.
The scent of her mate, however, it was distant and she was relieved - that meant that he was not around at the moment.
She saw the large opening to the dining area and walked past it, a little further down and she was met with another opening.
She slowly entered the dark room, and pressed herself closer to the wall - her hand stretching out and looking for the light switch.
When she finally felt something, she flicked it up and her eyes met with somebodies broad back unexpectedly making her crash into the wall in fear.
She held her chest and inhaled deeply to calm down before she growled, “a little warning would have been nice.” She muttered - mostly to herself.
She watched as Marcello turned around slowly with a light colored biscuit in his hand and an obvious smirk on his lips - Clarice scowled.
“I apologize. I had no intent on scaring you, I had assumed you saw me.” He stated before biting into the biscuit, Clarice chuckled dryly.
“Clearly not. The light was off, why were you standing in the dark so casually anyway?” She asked in confusion while walking towards the large marble island.
Marcello offered her a biscuit from the box and she politely accepted.
“Do you not have night vision?” Marcello asked with a chuckle - his mouth stuffed with crumbs of the biscuit he had been chewing.
Clarice could not help but shake her head at how childish he was.
“I do. But where is the fun in eating in the dark.” She stated softly before biting into the soft biscuit - her stomach rumbled in satisfaction and her cheeks burned.
Marcello grinned at her reaction before grabbing another biscuit, “whether it is in the dark, or broad daylight little one, I shall enjoy my food.”
Clarice stifled back a laugh due to her mouth being full and she found herself grabbing the round stool that was a couple feet away from her and bringing it to where she stood and plopping onto it.
“So, what brings you down here?” Marcello asked curiously, leaning his hip onto the edge of the island.
Clarice shrugged, “I had gotten awfully thirsty, but then I remembered that I had yet to locate the kitchen, so I spent some time looking for it, and here I am.”
Marcello chuckled, “ah yes, you have yet to venture the castle. Well, let me offer you something, after the ball, I will make it my duty to give you a proper tour of this place.”
Clarice furrowed her brows while swallowing back the rest of what was left of the biscuit in her mouth, Marcello grinned at the look of disbelief on her face.
“I thought you men despised even the thought of me, never mind my presence.” She stated in shock while raising a brow, Marcello instantly shook his head.
“Have you ever heard me say that? In fact, I remember acquainting myself with you when you had been hospitalized.” Marcello retorted while pointing his biscuit unequivocally at her.
She narrowed her eyes, “yes. I remember that too. But there must be a catch. You have never spoken to me after that, in fact you avoid speaking to me all together.”
“Incorrect once again little one. I never speak unless spoken to, I am the quietest one in this castle, you will never catch me starting a conversation unless someone else initiates it, and you my dear have failed to do that.”
Clarice tilted her head curiously while looking deeply into his eyes - he sent off the same aura that Rettacus had when she first met him and it made her heart skip a beat excitedly.
“Well, I apologize. I just assumed none of you would speak to me, well because... you know.” She trailed off while lowering her gaze, Marcello instantly understood and sighed.
“This is why you do not automatically assume little one. I, unlike the other men, would never lay a hand on a lady. Especially a young lady. Yes at first I had my own doubts about you but I would have never inflicted any harm upon you. It is not in my nature.”
Clarice instantly looked up at him with wide and innocent eyes and was shocked to see such an earnest smile on his face that made a small smile of her own appear on her face.
“I want you to know that just because Rettacus was the only one to instantly form a friendship with you, does not mean that he was the only one that had wanted to. I too wish to acquire a friendship bond with you, especially if you intend to stay here.”
She licked her suddenly dry lips before nodding, “of course. Thank you so much. However, I do not know how long I myself intend to stay here, I mean, I do have a life that I was taken from, and seeing as the ball is tomorrow-”
Marcello instantly cut her off with wide eyes, “but how will the King react to hearing this? You wanting to leave would be such a huge betrayal to him. I mean, I understand why you would want to, trust me I do and I do not judge you, but...” he trailed off and Clarice nodded at him reassuringly.
“I know.” She croaked out while leaning her chin into the palm of her hand.
“That is why I plan to stay as long as the King allows me to and as long as all the men finally put an end to tormenting me. Tomorrow I have an agenda to speak with my parents about what had happened and why, to at least give them the closure I know they are seeking because I can not just leave the King like this. It would be entirely unfair.... especially after everything..” she has whispered that last part to herself but Marcello had heard it, and even if he had not, the truth was easily spotted in her glowing green orbs.
“Also, it would pain me for you to leave as well. I must be honest little one, you have become a part of this castle even though nobody dares admit it. It would be odd to no longer have another woman in the castle, even if she is a minor.”
Clarice chuckled, “why are you men so against my age? Yes, I am seventeen, but I do not act like it. I am a mature young lady Marcello, that much is certain.”
Marcello let out a small hmm, “That is certain, however in the other mens eyes you are a pup simply because they do not allow themselves to believe that they will have a new person in the castle that holds a rank equal to the Kings. Especially that of a lady.”
Clarice scoffed, “I have noticed the lack of women. It is all men here, and do you mind me asking why?”
Marcello rubbed his chin before nodding his head, and that made her ears perk up in response.
“There has been a lack of women in this castle since the day I was initiated to be quite honest with you Clarice.” Marcello stated making her brows furrow in confusion.
“However I do believe that it has something to do with the King. I think he has something against keeping women where men reside. Especially where he has power.”
Those words made Clarice raise a brow in sudden revelation - she remembered when the King had insulted her by telling her that he should have known better than to believe the likes of her, it seemed as though he had something against women - a bad experience perhaps.
“But how would any of you stay here if you gain a mate?” She asked curiously and Marcello cleared his throat instantly.
“Well, as you know when you were brought here, it was by automobile and by a driver.”
Clarice nodded in understanding yet she was still confused, “I had fainted instantly and do not remember much, but I do remember the automobile, so please, do continue.”
Marcello nodded, “well, that driver resided in this castle in the past, however once he had found his mate, he was sent to live in a guest house nearby.”
Clarice shook her head in utter disbelief, how bad must the Kings experience with women be that he sent his men away the second they found their mates?
“That is so odd.” Clarice confessed while inhaling deeply.
“I am afraid that is how it is here Clarice and there is not much we can do it about it.”
Clarice scoffed, “yes well, it will change. Believe me, when I say that it will. I mean, I am still here, aren’t I?”
Marcello awkwardly cleared his throat, “well you are the Kings mate.”
Clarice smirked, “glad to see you men have finally come to terms with it.”
Marcello shook his head, “I was never against-”
Clarice let out a laugh, “I was just joking.”
Marcello exhaled in relief before shaking his head, his hand stretching out to reach for another biscuit but meeting with an empty box instead making him groan.
“And to get back to what you said about me being his mate.” Clarice stated, gaining his attention back almost instantly.
“With me will come many necessary changes. All this man power, and this iron fist ruling of his will go away. Mark my words, there will be more women in this castle, because there must be a balance. It is what all of us need.”
Marcello nodded, “I agree with you one-hundred percent little lady, and I will help you every step of the way because I too believe that there must be at least some change, otherwise we will just move in the same circle as always.”
Clarice nodded before standing up and walking towards the large grey fridge in the corner of the kitchen - now that she had a chance to take it in, she could not deny how huge it truly was, but why should she even be surprised? It was in a castle after all.
“The chef is a man, am I correct?” She asked whilst opening the fridge and pulling out a clear round pitcher of water.
Marcello chuckled, “that you are.”
She sighed before shutting the fridge and sending him a questioning look while raising the pitcher so it was in eye view, and he instantly understood what she was asking for without her even using words.
“To your top left. First cabinet.” He directed while pointing at the white cabinet that was located exactly where he said.
She nodded gratefully before walking towards it, she placed the pitcher on the counter before opening the top cabinet and pulling out two glasses.
She instantly filled them up before shutting the cabinet and walking back to where she had been earlier and handing Marcello a glass before plopping back onto the stool.
“Thank you.” He said before downing the glass like a man starved - Clarice chuckled but did not question him due to how many sweet biscuits he had practically inhaled during their talk.
“Now, are you excited for the ball?” Marcello asked once he put the empty glass on the island beside his forearm.
Clarice took a sip of water before turning her attention to him and nodding in response.
“Most definitely because your parents will be attending correct?” He asked and she smiled brightly before nodding once again.
He chuckled, “do you have any idea what you will be wearing to attend? I had overheard that Rettacus had ordered you some clothing but due to what had suddenly taken place I was unsure if it had reached you or not.”
Clarice instantly frowned and Marcello quickly sensed the change in her mood and the way her face fell.
“No, the clothing had not reached me. Or to be precise, the dresses had not reached me. I am unsure as to what I will wear.” She lied, the lie easily flying out of her mouth - but how could she tell him the truth?
That through blind jealousy the King had torn the expensive dresses Rettacus had brought her to shreds? No, she most certainly could not tell him that.
“Well, I will try to see if I can get you something last minute. If not I will speak to the King and-”
“No, no! No need to consult him about it, I shall figure things out myself...” she trailed off with a nervous look on her face, Marcello furrowed his brows in confusion but nodded nonetheless.
If only they had known that there was a broad shadow lurking right outside the kitchen that had been invisibly listening in to the entirety of their conversation.