When I had gotten back to my room it had been redecorated. My walls were still light purple, but the children’s toys and decorations were long gone. The walls were replaced with large scenic paintings. I ran my fingers across the familiar brush strokes. I bit my lip, forcing myself to feel physical pain rather than the pain of a broken heart. I looked down at the bed. The twin-sized bed that was once there was now a king-sized bed. The pink floral print sheets that had been on it were now replaced with cream sheets with golden roses stitched into them.
I had gone through the closet, all the child’s clothing had been replaced with clothing I would fit into now. I had changed out of my simple washed jeans and sweater and into something darker. I pulled out a pair of black leggings, a black low cut blouse before I covered with a thick black cloak that hung in the back of the closet. I pulled on a pair of black leather boots and tucked my hair under the hood of my cloak.
I moved silently down the halls. I hid in the shadows of the walls while I made my way down the halls and stairs. The castle was still, the guards only at the front and back gates, unknowing that the princess planned to sneak out the empty kitchen doors.
I moved quickly through the door that leads to the kitchen. I slowed my pace down and tucked myself flush against the walls. I could hear the clanking of pots and pans and saw that the light was on that lead into the main cooking space. I could hear the loud steps of the person in the kitchen as they moved around. I was so distracted by the new obstacle in front of me that I didn’t feel the body press against my back. A hand moved around to cover my mouth, I jumped and let out a small scream.
“Shh, it’s me!” Grace’s voice was next to my ear. She pulled me back away from the door to the kitchen. She let go of my mouth once she realized who she was.
“You’re father will throw a fit if he catches you leaving the castle to go see Rupert.”
“How did you know?” I looked at her surprised.
“You just realized today that you’re his lifemate, he doesn’t know. Of course, you’re going to go see him.” She shook her head. “You’re just going the wrong way. How did you think you were going to sneak past the kitchen let alone the guards that man the doors on the other side of the gate?” She smiled. “Come with me.”
I let her grab my hand and I followed her back the way I had come. As we moved she kept in the shadows like I had. She took me towards the front of the castle before we made our way into the hallway filled with the family paintings. I felt my body warm with the memories that I had against the wall under the portrait of my Great-Great-Grandmother.
“There’s a hidden passage in the wall behind the large pillar on your left.” She whispered after letting go of my hand. She moved her fingers across the wall before she stopped.
“Here, feel this.” She moved to the side to let me feel where her hand was. I could feel the indent in the wall, the slightest uneven space in the wall.
“Press your hand against that,” She said. I did as she asked, the space in the wall that held the painting of Grace’s and Kallums formal wedding moved. It slowly cracked open to reveal a narrow, dark hallway.
“It’s a secret passage. We don’t use it often but it’s very handy.” She let out a small laugh. “Follow this hall all the way to the end. You’ll reach a door. Go through that and it will take you into the small pottery shop down the street from Nix’s house.” She reached out and gave my arm a small squeeze before she ushered me through the passage.
“Thank you,” I said as I turned back to look at her. I gave her a small smile, thankful for her help.
“Good luck.” She said quietly before she closed the door. Leaving me in complete darkness.
“Great,” I said to myself.
I stood there for a moment, while I contemplated if I should walk this hall blind or turn around and go back to my room. I rubbed my hands over my face and let out a small groan. I needed to do this, he needed to know and we needed to fix what I had broken.
I took a small step forward, wanting to move slow in this unknown territory. After taking a few steps the golden white light that I had seen so often slowly began to collect in a straight line on either side of the wall. The magic formed a tight stripe down the length of the hall. I smiled, thankful, and began to move quickly down the hall.
The walls that surrounded me were stone, they were cool to the touch. The heels of my boots echoed down the hall with each step. The air was cool in the tunnel, and every now and again I would spot the small bug moving into the dark corners of the hall to hide away from the light.
I kept my pace as I moved down the cool tunnel. After a short while, I saw the door at the end of the hall. I let out a breath of relief. I ran towards the door and slowly pulled it open, unsure of what could be meeting me on the other side. I poked my head through the small gap I had made and took a look around.
The pottery shop was dim. They had a few lowlights on to keep the store light. Shelves of pots lined the walls all of the different designs. I listened for the sound of anyone left in the store. I heard nothing, thankful that the shop owner didn’t stay for any late-night work. I slid through the door and made my way out of the shop.
The streets were quiet at this time of night. The street lamps cast a warm glow across the sidewalks. I hugged my arms around myself as I moved down the street. The air was crisp, and the wind was cold. Frost blanketed the ground, and the clouds above hid the moon and stars. We were well into fall, and winter would show it’s ugly face soon.
I moved off of the main street and cut down the side ally that leads me towards our house, Rupert’s house. I made my way up the front steps and stood in front of the door. I stood there for a few minutes, trying to calm my racing heart. I needed to collect my thoughts to figure out exactly what I was going to say to him.
Letting out a deep breath, I pulled my key out of my pocket and put it in the lock. I turned the key and heard the sound of the bolt clicking out of place. I smiled, thankful that he hadn’t changed the locks today. I moved into the house. All of the lights were turned off. The house was in total darkness, the first time I had ever seen it so. He almost always left at least one light on. I would always wake up in the middle of the night and turn it off.
Has he even been home? I thought to myself as I moved around the house. I moved through all of the rooms, he wasn’t there. I moved to the back of the house. I looked out the window of the back door and saw the distant glow of the lights from his cabin. I let out a thankful breath and pulled open the door.
I moved down the steps and onto the path that leads through the forest. The trees swayed in the wind, the last of their leaves were shedding. The ones that had already been lost crunched under my feet with each step. I walked quickly to try and get out of the brisk air, even though my stomach was in tight knots. I didn’t know what I would say to him, but I had a general idea.
I slowed my pace as I got closer to the cabin. I took in a deep breath as I stopped in front of the cabin. I could see his shadow in the window. He was sitting in front of a canvas. Each window was filled with light, it cast a small glow against the ground outside.
As I stood there watching his shadow move, I reached up and touched the mark on my chest. A small tingle moved down my spine, I shivered. My throat felt tight, my heart was racing as I tried to piece together the first thing I would say. As I stood there watching him, the sound of crunching leaves came from behind me.
I quickly spun. There was nothing there. The trees still swayed in the wind, the forest floor quiet. No animals were moving tonight.
“Hello?” I called as I turned in a full circle looking for any movement in the trees. “Anyone there?”
No sounds met my ears. I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I turned back towards the house and gathered the strength I needed to push my way through that door. I walked up to the door and wrapped my hand around the cold metal door handle.
The sound of rustling leaves came from behind me once again. I frowned and looked over my shoulder. A pair of large red snake eyes stared into my wide eyes. Large sharp teeth sneered at me before the creature pounced towards me. I let out a scream, that was quickly covered by the changeling’s large, clawed, hand covering my mouth. The creature pressed me against the door. He let out a soft hiss before he ripped my hood from my head.
I glared at him as I struggled against his hold. He pulled my head back and took a quick look at me. His skin was a yellowish red. It reminded me of a lizard. His body covered in scales. He let out a grunt as if he was approving of his catch before he began to pull me away from the house.
I screamed into the back of his hand. I kicked and clawed at him as he began to pull me down the steps and towards the trees. I dug my heels into the ground as I tried to escape him. I could feel my heart trying to push past the protection of my ribs. My stomach was in knots as panic shot through my body. I could feel the hot tears rim the bottom of my eyes before they began to spill down my cheeks.
The changeling picked me up and tossed me onto the ground. The moment his hand left my mouth I sucked in a deep breath and screamed for help. Praying that Rupert would hear me, praying that he didn’t have a record playing.
“You little bitch.” He hissed at me before his hands gripped my hair. He pulled me up from the ground and pressed me against a tree. His hand came back over my mouth before he smiled down at me.
“So the little Princess doesn’t want to follow the rules.” His voice was rough, I continued to try and free from his hold. “I’m only going to say this once,” He slammed my head back against the tree. I squeezed my eyes shut, as pain blew up at the back of my head.
He moved his face close to mine as he looked me in the eyes. “I will come after you. I will make your death slow and painful. I’ll make you watch as I cut and pull pieces off of your little lover boy before I move onto your family.” He spoke low beside my ear. I felt his wet tongue flick my lower ear. I tried to pull my head away, as I kicked out at him.
“The only way you can avoid this is if you go along with the contract that was created twenty-four years ago. You will marry Prince Valerian, and you will live, along with the rest of those that you love.” His tongue flicked my ear again before it travelled down the length of my neck.
“A part of me hopes you go against my warning. I would love to leave my own marks on your skin.” His hand came across my chest. He slashed his claws against my cloak, cutting the fabric of it and my shirt open. He pressed his sharp nail against the mark that Rupert had left.
I screamed against his hand, hot tears were pouring from eyes as dark spots blotted my vision. The pain was unbearable. My knees shook as the fire burned through my body.
“Ariella!” I blinked and looked over the shoulder of my attacker. I heard his voice before I saw him.
“Looks like our time is over Princess. Remember my words or I’ll find you again.” The man whispered in my ear before he gave my ear one last flick. He stepped away from me and disappeared into the darkness of the trees.
I fell to the ground, my body still humming with pain. My body shook as I tried to collect myself.
“Hey.” Rupert’s voice came to me in a rush. I snapped my head up to look at him.
He moved to the ground in front of me. I felt his hands come to the side of my arms. I felt myself looking at him as I tried to process that he was actually here before me.
“What happened?” His hands came to the side of my face as he assessed me. His eyes travelled down my body. He spotted my torn cloak, my bare skin showing the warm blood that slowly trickled out of the wound and caught by the fabric that was below it.
“Where is he?” He moved to stand up. I reached my arms out to stop him.
I shook my head. “He’s gone,” I whispered, my voice shaky.
I looked into his eyes, thankful that the lavender fields looked back at me. He reached out and brushed my hair away from my eyes.
“Let’s get you inside.” He moved to pick me up. I wrapped my arms around his neck as his arms came under my legs. My hands touched his bare shoulders, I looked down and realized that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. I tucked my head into his neck and took a deep breath. I welcomed his warmth as he took us into the cabin.
I felt him push open the door. The heat of the fire instantly warmed my skin. He moved me to the small cot that he had in the far corner of his studio. I groaned at the pain that stung the back of my head when rested my head against the pillow.
“I’ll be right back.” I heard him whisper. I followed him with my eyes as he moved to the other side of the room where the sink sat.
I pulled myself up into a sitting position. My body burned in protest at my movements. I released the clasp that was holding my cloak over my shoulders. I felt it fall away. I looked down at myself. My black low cut blouse was ripped and exposing my right shoulder and the top of my breast. The black lace teddy that I wore underneath was peaking through. I moved my left hand to try and pull the shirt back up to cover myself. I flinched as my fingers brushed against the cuts that my attacker had left.
“Here, let me.” Rupert was in front of me again. I looked at him, truly took my time looking over his body. He was barefoot and only in his ripped, washed-out jeans. I licked my lower lip as my eyes travelled over his dark money trail up his muscled stomach and over his bare chest.
As I looked at him his hands moved to my shirt. They moved to the bottom hem before he began to pull the shirt up. He helped me move my arms out of the sleeves before he tossed it to the side. I watched him as he hissed out a breath. His eyes travelled down my body. The lace teddy that I was wearing covered my breasts before going down into a point at my navel. The lace continued down the center of my stomach before it disappeared beneath the fabric of my black leggings.
“You kill me.” He said softly as his heated eyes took in every detail of my body.
His heated eyes flicked to mine before they moved to the wound on my shoulder. I heard a low growl came from his chest as he took in the damage that had been left. I flinched away from him as he pressed the wet towel against my shoulder.
I let out a soft groan in pain, I reached my hand up and grabbed his wrist to try and get him to stop.
“I need to clean it, love.” He whispered. My eyes shot to his in surprise.
“It hurts.” I cried as he pressed the cloth against it again. I tried to pull away from him. His free hand reached out and caught my hand.
“I’m sorry.” His eyes were filled with regret. “I have to. It’ll stop hurting soon.”
Just as quick as the pain came that pain began to fade with each wipe of the cloth. I felt my body beginning to warm at the touch of his hands. His free hand was resting on my thigh, his thumb softly tracing back and forth as he worked away at the cuts and bruises on my body. With each press, my body hissed with pain but then hummed with heat.
I watched him with hooded eyes as he moved onto the cot so he was sitting behind me. His legs came out so I was sitting between them. I instinctively leaned against his chest. I let out a soft sigh as the warmth of his body wrapped itself around mine. I felt him run his fingers through my tangled hair as he tried to find the spot that was lightly bleeding.
“Who did this?”
“I-I don’t know.” I stumbled over my words. “He was in his shifted form.”
“What did he want?” He asked as he pressed the cloth against my skull. I hissed in pain.
I sighed. “It’s okay, we can talk in the morning.” He said after noticing my hesitation.
I felt him shift behind me, he placed a soft kiss on the side of my neck before he moved off of the bed.
“Get some rest.” He looked down at me, as he tucked my hair behind my ear.
I looked at him slightly confused. I didn’t understand why he was being so kind and attentive. I slowly nodded my head and leaned back against the pillow. I guess this was a conversation for the morning. He moved to pull a blanket over my body. I snuggled into the soft warmth and closed my eyes.