As I walk down the steep side of the mountain, I hear the sound of a car behind me. I step to the side of the road carefully trying not to step on the flowers growing there. I hear the car come to a stop I’m afraid to look.
I drop to my knees and tuck my chin into my chest. I try to tilt my head to the side, hiding my wounds from him.
“Noelle, what happened? You’re bleeding.”
I don’t know why I’m trying to hide it, he can smell it. He kneels down next to me and gently lifts my face in his hand.
“Who did this to you?” His voice is soft and full of concern.
I’m not going to answer that. It’s a trap. A human can’t just accuse high ranking vampires of things.
“Why are you kneeling? I told you earlier, don’t do this. Don’t bow, please.”
“I’m sorry, Your majesty.”
“Phoenix, please call me Phoenix . Ellie, who did this to you?”
When I don’t answer he stands, gently pulling me up with him. Holding my hand tightly, he takes me to the trolley. My skin tingles and I grip his hand tighter,
“Take us back up, please,” he tells Sloane.
“Right away, Sir.”
She quickly takes us back to the courtyard.
“You’re dismissed, Sloane” he says as he leads me to the leftmost pathway. He’s walking so quickly that I have to jog to keep up. We stop at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
“Come here,” he lifts me into a bridal carry and quickly jogs up the stairs. I want to protest but I can’t, the feeling of being in his arms is incredible. I don’t understand what’s happening, not only is he a vampire he’s the actual prince. Why the hell is he being so nice to me?
He sets me down in front of a large door at the top of the stairs. When he opens it I audibly gasp. This is the nicest home I’ve ever seen. The open layout is modern and elegant. It looks so much newer than the outside.
“This is my personal wing,” he grabs my hand again and leads me up the large staircase in the center of the room. I walk slowly, trying to look at all of the beautiful art and furniture. The floor to ceiling windows at the far end look out over the entire Kingdom. I bet it’s beautiful at night. He pulls me into a room.
“Sit down over there,” he says, pointing to some oversized chairs near the fireplace. I decide not to sit, I’ll get blood on his chairs. This room has floor to ceiling windows also, they overlook the forest.
“Come here, sit down,” his voice is soft behind me.
“I don’t want to ruin your chairs.”
He smiles “I really couldn’t care less about the chairs, please.”
I sit carefully, still trying to avoid making a mess.
He drops to his knees in front of me and pulls the top off of a small bottle, pouring some of the contents onto a white cloth. With a painstakingly soft touch, he wipes my wounds.
“Who did this to you? These are obviously from finger nails,” he gestures to my jaw, “but what did this?”
He looks intently at my face, rubbing his thumb softly across my uninjured cheek.
“A ring,” I whisper.
His jaw clenches “Was it the mother or the daughter?”
“Because of me?”
“No, because of me.”
“What could you have possibly done?”
“I angered her.”
“How? I think I angered her. I could see she wasn’t happy that I spoke to you. I shouldn’t have left you there.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I don’t want you to be alone with her again.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem. She fired me.”
He stands and paces in front of me for a moment.
“She can’t just injure you.”
“I mean..technically...yes, she can.”
He runs his hands through his hair, “come here.”
He pulls me outside onto a small terrace overlooking the forest. We stand together for a long time. I feel his hand gently touch mine before he links them together. I smile but keep looking forward.
“My mom wants her ashes spread there,” his voice is tight. I look up at him, he’s staring out into the forest, he looks lost. My heart aches in my chest, it’s like I can feel his pain and grief.
“It’s beautiful out there.”
“It is, we used to walk through those woods for hours when I was young.
Flooded with emotion I lift my free hand before I can overthink it, wrapping my arm around his body. He takes a sharp breath before relaxing into my embrace. He brings his free arm over my shoulder, pulling my into his chest, our hands still interlocked.
We stand like this for a long time. I never want to leave. I don’t want this moment to end. For the first time, possibly ever, I feel entirely safe and content. I know I shouldn’t. I’m making this situation so much worse, but I can’t help it. For a little while longer I want to stand here, feeling completely connected to another person. I want to have him look at me the way he looks at me, a way no one else ever has.
“You are extremely beautiful. Do you know that?”
I snort “sure.”
“I’m serious, Noelle. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Well... I... usually...”
“Usually vampires aren’t nice, you can say it.”
“Well, yeah. You, Celine and Sloane are the only nice ones I’ve ever met.”
He smiles “I’m glad Sloane’s been nice to you.”
“I wasn’t raised the same way most vamps are. My mother doesn’t believe in the system we have now.”
I’m too surprised to speak. I didn’t think he would feel comfortable freely talking about this kind of stuff. He must feel the same trust in me that I feel for him.
“There are more of us than you think, a lot more,” he whispers quietly.
We stand together, an unspoken understanding between us, both of us taking the comfort we need from the other.
“Do you know about the gala?” He asks suddenly.
“Yes, kind of.”
“I’m supposed to pick a wife.”
“How do you know who to pick? That you’re picking the right girl?”
“We have an instinct, vampires, I mean. When we meet our soulmate, we just know, we call it our most beloved.”
“Are you worried that you won’t find her? That she won’t be at the gala?”
“No, not everyone waits for theirs, not everyone has one. I’m not worried though, I know I’ll find her,” he smiles down at me.
Jealousy pings in my chest. I wish it were me. I wish the world worked differently and he could be mine. My wolf whines and it burns at the base of my skull. She’s sad too.
“I..uh..I have to go, I’m sorry. My aunt and uncle will worry.”
“A few more minutes, please?” He pouts a little bit and I can’t refuse.
He grabs me and pulls me into his chest again, leaning down slightly to set his chin on top of head.
“Spend the day with me tomorrow.”
“I can’t do that!”
“Why not? You’re not going to work! Come over. I want to do something with you, something special. Please?”
Shit. I really want to.
“What time do you normally go to work?”
“Seven every day but Saturday.”
“Ok. See you at the pedestrian entrance at seven. It’s settled.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Hey,” he laughs “don’t start that again. Phoenix, please.”
“It feels like I’ll get into trouble if I call you that.”
“You won’t, I promise.”
“I really have to go.”
“I know but I don’t want you to.”
He leans down and presses a kiss to my cheek, instead of pulling away, he lingers there, his lips pressed to my skin. It takes all of my strength to pull myself away, like my body is physically rebelling against me.
“I’ll drive you home, come on.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Not home like, home home. Just to the pedestrian entrance.”
“Do you not want me to know where you live?” He smiles mischievously.
“Honestly... no, absolutely not. You can’t know where I live.”
“Ellie, you don’t think I could find out if I wanted to?”
“I’m sure you can but I’m asking you not to. Please, Phoenix .”
He sighs “fine.”
Walking away he grumbles under his breath about “doe-eyed angel faces.”
He insists on carrying me down the long flight of stairs again, I’m sure I blush all the way down.
“Want to drive the trolley?”
“Yeah, if you want to.”
“I don’t know how but I want to!”
He laughs as I eagerly jump up and down, “come here, I’ll teach you.”
It takes us significantly longer to get to the gate than normal. We have to stop several times to laugh at how horrible I am at driving. When we passed the first security station I almost ran into a trolley they had parked beside it. Phoenix laughed until there were tears in his eyes, while I hid my face in embarrassment. When we passed the townhouses I thought I saw people looking out their windows at us, howling loudly with laughter at my snails pace.
“The hill is so steep, I’m just being cautious!” .
At one point he jumps out of the trolley and walks alongside it. It’s hard to focus on driving when your eyes are watering. When we reach the pedestrian entrance I come to an abrupt, lurching stop. The guards come out of the office. One of them looks like he is trying not to laugh while the other looks disgusted.
“Goodnight, Phoenix, ” I whisper quietly, not wanting them to hear me calling him that.
He holds me by the shoulders for a moment and I think he might kiss me. My heart is pounding. I want him to, so badly, but he’s about to find his most beloved and get married. I turn my head away and look at the floor. He leans down and kisses me below the cut on my cheek.
“Make sure you clean those again,” he says softly.
I walk home in a daze. Any minute I expect I’ll wake up to find this whole day was a dream. He is so sweet and fun and not at all like anyone I’ve ever met, vampire or otherwise. It’s going to break my heart when he gets married.
When I walk into the house my aunt and uncle are sitting at the table with Orin. Why doesn’t this guy just move in already?
“Noelle! What happened to your face?” My uncle asks, jumping up from his seat. Oh, so you can see me now, interesting.
“Um...something happened,” I tell them.
“Obviously...” my aunt starts but I stop her.
“No, not just this...something happened.”
It’s time I tell them what’s going on, I can’t keep lying.