The Queen in Shadows

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Chapter 9

“Are you looking for Milli?” He asks me, his voice wrapping me in silk. His eyes are like crystal clear, blue water. I stare at him, willing my brain to work, trying to speak but my mouth won’t move.

“Are you here for Milli?” He asks again, smiling his perfect smile even wider now.

“I...yes...this” I fumble. My cheeks burn bright red as I hold the note forward to him.

Instead of taking it he lightly grabs my wrist and pulls me forward, inside. My skin breaks into goosebumps as we touch. I try to distract myself by looking around. The warmth from the room feels good against my chilled skin, I focus on that.

“Milli, Celine sent you a message. I’m placing it on your desk,” he yells out as he gently takes the paper from my hand.

“Ok, thanks!” I hear her muffled reply, it sounds like she’s far away.

I stand there, frozen for a second. This feels really anticlimactic. I journeyed up a mountain, I walked and walked and this is it? Hmm, ok. I turn to leave, needing to get out of this room. The freakishly good looking man lightly grabs my arm again.

“What’s your name?”

“N-Noelle.”

“Noelle,” he says, like he’s testing it out. The room is chaotic, there are mannequins and large rolls of fabric everywhere, drawings of dresses are scattered all around. I should run from the room but I like whatever this strange feeling is, the feeling of being near him. I feel a strange sense of calm.

In a small seating area, on a tray, a platter of pastries is under a glass cloche. My eyes only linger on it for a second while I look around the room, trying to distract myself.

“Please, help yourself to one, or several.”

“Oh, thank you, but I couldn’t.”

“Of course you can. Please. I was just about to have something.”

He pulls the glass top off and grabs a flaky looking pastry that’s shaped like a heart.

“Please don’t make me eat alone. Have something.”

I haven’t eaten anything since my break, hours ago. I can smell the sweetness in the air.

“I’ll have the same thing you’re having, please.”

“Good choice, it’s called a palmier” He says, handing me one.

I’ve seen these in the pastry case on Saturday mornings. I’ve never eaten anything like this. Wolves can’t afford things like that, even if we were permitted to shop at those businesses. I’m nervous to try it. All these years of seeing but never trying have built up an expectation in my mind.

“If you don’t like it you can try something else.”

Can he read my mind? I try to clear my thoughts, just in case. I take a hesitant bite. My eyes go wide. I take another, larger bite.

He chuckles “try this one.” He pulls out a long bar shaped pastry covered in chocolate.

“This is an éclair.”

He hands it to me. My mouth waters. Taking a bite I have to stop myself from shoving the whole thing in my mouth. He eats an éclair too. He leans back in his chair, watching me. I’m looking at the floor in front of me but I can feel his eyes on me. I need to go, this is stupid and dangerous.

I stand quickly and notice that he does too, “thank you so much they were delicious. I should go.”

“Let me walk you out,” he places his hand on the small of my back and I shiver involuntarily. Each time we touch it's like a bolt of lighting shoots through my spine.

He’s wearing a black shirt and black pants. I wonder what his job is, I’ve never seen black uniforms. He towers over me, the lean muscles of his arm flex as he opens the door for me.

“I’ve never seen you around here before.”

“Um, yeah, I am just here on an errand for my boss.”

“Who do you work for?”

“The Vicioso family.”

“I know them,” he smiles down at me, “do you enjoy working for them?”

Is he for real? I wouldn’t say I “enjoy” it but I know it could be worse.

“They are a good family” is how I chose to answer. They are indifferent towards me. I would pick that over cruel any day. He’s still smiling at me. All the smiles are making me uncomfortable. I realize that we are halfway down the path to the courtyard. Why is he walking me all the way back?

“Have you been going to the Queens trial?” He asks.

“Yes,” I sigh, great, the most beautiful person in the world wants to gossip about the Queen. He had seemed so nice up to this point, too.

“What do you think?”

“About what?”

“About the trial.”

I stop and stare at him. I don’t know what to say. If I tell him what I really think I’ll likely be charged with treason. I’m not going to repeat gossip and rumors.

“Well...I... honestly, I... I think she’s innocent,” I blurt out. I cringe and cover my mouth with my hands. What the hell is wrong with me? His face is still relaxed, he’s still smiling down at me.

“That’s a brave thing to say, Noelle,” his voice is soft, thoughtful.

I snort “yeah, brave. Or stupid.”

“Not stupid, I agree with you,” he says quietly. I try to make out the look on his face but the flowers are thick here, blocking out the moonlight. We step out from under the arbors into the open courtyard. The driver of the trolley perks up slightly as we approach.

“Hey, mind if I drive this back?”

“Of course not!” the girl says quickly, jumping out of the seat, giving me a strange look, not unpleasant, just...strange.

“Um... do you actually have to be somewhere or are you just taking me back?”

“I’m just taking you back," his face illuminated by the moon. “Where are you going from here?”

“Home. You didn’t have to waste your time on this, I don’t mind walking.”

“I know I didn’t have to. I want to.”

We’re whizzing past the townhouses now.

“This is much faster than walking, ” I turn to look at him, hoping that he won’t notice. He has high cheekbones and a well defined jaw. His hair is sort of dirty blonde, it reaches almost to his shoulders and he runs his hand through it often, pulling it back, away from his face. I think he will be the standard by which I judge beauty going forward. His soft lips are slightly parted, he looks like he’s deep in thought.

“What gate did you come in?”

“The pedestrian entrance.”

He turns to me and smiles “there are four pedestrian entrances, Noelle.”

“Oh, um...”

“Did you come from High Street?”

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” for the first time the lie tastes bitter in my mouth.

Foolish girl. This vamp would turn me into the guard in a heartbeat. My heart flutters. I can’t explain it but I get the feeling he wouldn’t. Something about him feels different. I don’t feel the same fear and trepidation I usually feel in their presence. I can’t let my guard down, especially with a guy I met twenty minutes ago. Idiot. He is only treating me like this because he thinks I’m human. If he knew what I really was he wouldn’t have been kind. He paid attention to me and fed me a pastry, apparently that’s all it takes to make me act like a damn fool. I can’t trust him no matter how sweet his eyes are, or how nice he’s being to me.

“I’m nineteen,” he says casually. There is something about him that I can’t place. He seems so... calm.

Everything about him is relaxed and leisurely, the way he walks, the way he drives, his smile. It’s weird to see. I’m used to my uncle with his tense, hunched shoulders and furrowed brow. This boy’s face doesn’t look like it’s ever frowned. I suddenly realize, I don’t know his name. I’m not going to ask. It feels like knowing his name will make things worse. We pull up to the gate and I quickly step off of the trolley. I need to get home, now.

“Noelle, wait,” he grabs my hand, tenderly “it was nice to meet you today. Thank you for letting me walk with you.”

He bends down and presses a soft kiss to my forehead. My heart doesn’t know if it should pound right out of my chest or stop beating altogether. He leans in so close that I can feel his lips lightly graze my ear “I hope I see you again, soon.”

As if he didn’t just melt my brain, with his casual, ambling strides, he gets back in the trolley and drives away. The guards at the gate look like they are malfunctioning, I’m sure my expression is similar.

For at least a minute, the three of us stand there, silent, mouths open, completely still. Vampire-human relationships aren’t unheard of but they aren’t commonly seen.

These guards must have never seen a vampire treating a human like that. One of them clears his throat. When I turn to look at him, he looks down at the ground.

“Goodnight.”

“Oh, goodnight.”

These guards are nicer than the ones working here earlier.

As I walk home my mind is racing. I’ve never met a kind vampire. Today I met two. I’ve never seen a vampire treat a nonvampire with respect, talking or walking with them.

Obviously, this doesn’t change anything, but I can’t help but feel a glimmer of hope. Maybe there are more vamps out there like him and Celine. If they could be that kind to a human, maybe they could be that kind to a wolf.

As I step into the house I’m met with six sets of shocked eyes. The room is silent, everyone staring at me. After a second my aunt jumps up and pulls me into her.

“Where the hell have you been, Elle?” Her voice thick with worry.

“I’m so sorry. I had to run an errand for the lady of the house. I did it as fast as I could.”

“We were so worried.”

“I’m sorry. I knew you would be.”

“What kind of errand?” My uncle asks.

“Oh...umm...I just had to bring some things to a seamstress. Then the seamstress needed me to get a message to her assistant.”

I know I should tell them. I don’t know why I can’t, I don’t want to. I know that they will taint it. I want to remember the nameless boy just the way he was.

“I’m really sorry I worried you. I’m fine, I promise.” I try to give them a small smile but everyone looks mad at me. This wasn’t my fault.

“I need to shower and get some sleep” I tell them, quickly climbing the stairs before anyone can question me further.

After a quick shower I lay in my bed. His blue eyes and silky hair are swirling around in my mind. I touch my forehead, for the fiftieth time. He kissed me. It wasn’t romantic or anything but it was the first time a boy has ever kissed me.

I know I’m going to dream about his lips and the taste of sugar tonight.

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