A little later we were sitting in Malachy’s car and driving the serpentines back through the forest with Atonia being our destination.
By now it was late afternoon and there was no way we would arrive before evening.
I could see the first foothills of Ignis. So we were almost halfway there.
My gaze kept wandering back to Malachy. Our stay together in the chalet ‘Eleonore’ had brought us much closer. Now there was no doubt about his intentions left, or secrets that stood between us.
I fervently hoped that it would stay that way.
No sooner had we left Ignis behind, than Malachy called Andre and announced our arrival for about 8 pm. Andre was to see to it, that our dinner was prepared in the large dining room as soon as we arrived at the castle. Thus it was clear, that we were officially back.
After Malachy had finished the phone call, he put a hand on my leg.
“You just rest a little longer, love. We have a drive of less than two hours ahead of us. I’ll wake you when we get there.”
I grabbed his hand and entwined my fingers with his. Then I nodded, adjusted my seat back a little and sank a little deeper into the seat to get more comfortable.
I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but the truth was I was nervous about coming back to the castle. Malachy and I had gotten closer, but that wouldn’t change the hostility some people had towards me.
Malachy had promised me he would do everything in his power to protect me, but could he really do that?
The only flaw I had before, according to the fine ladies and gentlemen of the Aristocracy, was me being a Fleur de Lys and thus being above them - unheard of.
Now, however, there was a dark secret that could be my undoing.
Even if Malachy had Daina under control and I could rely on Darius’ help and silence, there was still an unknown factor that could hurt me: Adrian.
He also knew the truth behind Soraya’s death and he had disappeared off the face of the earth. According to Malachy, he must have had help from an influential royal house, how else would he have managed his escape, or even worse: how else could he have learned the martial art of ‘anti-healing’?
Whatever royal house was in cahoots with him, one could assume that it had already planted its spies in the castle.
As wonderful and necessary as the time out with Malachy was, it also gave our enemies a head start.
After a while I snorted in resignation and put my back again in an upright position. Sleep was out of the question.
“Are you all right, love?” asked Malachy, slightly concerned.
“Yes, I’m just a little nervous about coming back to the castle. Who knows who, or what, awaits us there. I’m almost expecting the next disaster.”
My comment made Malachy laugh.
With an amused undertone, he replied, “Welcome to life at the top of society. Everything is a disaster when it comes to the problems of the royal houses. But don’t worry, you’ll learn to deal with it.”
Nervously, I kept sliding my fingers together only to untangle them a moment later, while pondering.
“How do you do it? How do you deal with the constant pressure on you and the eternally curious glances that are constantly directed at you? How do you bear it?”
His hand wandered to me again, seeking mine, then he intertwined his fingers with mine.
“The first thing you should know is that you get used to life as Regent, or one’s partner, and many things eventually seem perfectly normal to you. Unlike you, I grew up in the highest, aristocratic circles and I don’t question my position. Neither should you.”
He pulled my hand over to him and tenderly kissed my fingers while keeping his eyes straight on the road.
“Don’t worry so much, Maggie. You’ve got me and Darius and once the fine society gets to know you a little better, they’ll be at your feet.”
He laughed mischievously and added, “And if they’re coy, I’ll make sure they bow to you, anyway.”
I looked at him and smiled confidently as a breathed ‘thank you’ crossed my lips.
I knew he would protect me, but I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that he would always succeed - at least not anymore. By now I had learned that there were battles that had to be fought alone.
And especially at the beginning of my imposed, rapid rise to the top of the Aristocracy, there would be plenty.
But there was also a ray of hope. My position as the Regent’s wife allowed me to make demands and, at least on a small scale, I would also use this instrument of power.
An idea came to me. I squeezed Malachy’s hand a little tighter to get his attention.
“Promise me regular time-outs just for the two of us when things get too much for me to handle. We could follow Sophia’s tradition and make Chalet ‘Eleonore’ our own private retreat. What do you think of that?”
Malachy considered for a moment, then agreed.
“Well, that’s an excellent idea. We should schedule fixed, shared downtime in our calendars, then we’ll have something to look forward to. But our retreat doesn’t have to be Chalet ‘Eleonore’. It can be any other place, or several places in this world, that you choose. Don’t feel compelled to continue old traditions.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
However, I was pretty sure that my first idea of converting Chalet ‘Eleonore’ into our chalet would win the day. The location, the town of Norha and everything around it were just too perfect.
As soon as we arrived in front of the castle’s main entrance, a whole armada of staff, who obviously seemed to be waiting for us, could already be seen.
As soon as Malachy had switched off the Audi’s engine, the doors were already being held open so that we could get out. Several butlers set to work clearing out the boot and back seat and carrying our belongings into the castle.
When a young butler tried to take the small trolley containing the bag with our bloodstained clothes, Malachy held him back with the words: “I’ll take the suitcase myself. Thank you, you can move the car instead.”
He thrust the car keys into the young butler’s hand and then turned to me. I could see the butler’s wide grin as he stared at the car key and looked downright blissfully at the car. What was it with men and cars?
Malachy called Andre over and asked him to take the trolley to his private study and wait for us there. We would follow in a moment.
Then he offered me his arm. I hooked my arm with his and said with a mischievous grin in the young butler’s direction, “Well, you’ve made someone really happy with the task of re-parking your car.”
Malachy laughed and led me by his arm through the castle’s main entrance into the grand foyer. When we were halfway through, he replied, “I’d taken his job away from him, so I had to keep him busy elsewhere.”
Completely unexpectedly, he stopped, turned to me and took me in his arms before kissing me in front of the assembled staff.
I could literally feel the wide eyes and disbelieving, probing looks of the staff on my skin and also hear the soft giggles and whispers.
This was a statement Malachy was making here.