Chapter 12: The Engagement Party
THE night of the engagement party finally arrived on Saturday evening. A big gathering at the Lopez Hotel, a 5-star hotel with a Michelin-starred dining experience in the centre of the town.
Limousines were seen lining up outside of the hotel, rapidly filled up both of the outside and underground of the parking lots. In fact, the Hotel was fully booked and reserved just for the guests attending the party.
Most of the guests attending the party, were top VIPs, family members and friends from the couple’s sides.
Anya’s eyes nearly popped out from their sockets while helping out with the preparation weeks ago, when she viewed the long Guest List, especially the VIPs listing.
“But it’s just an Engagement Party! Why do you have to invite so many people anyway?” Anya asked Emma who was busily wrapping the thank you gifts along with the help of her relatives.
“Steve’s dad insisted on inviting them over. He said that it’s a good opportunity for Steve to be familiarised with the members of the Company’s Board, Stakeholders and it’s associates.”
Guests were dressing up to look their best in formal attire. Light drinks were being served by the friendly waiters the moment they stepped into the spacious banquet hall.
While most of the guest looked forward to seeing the newly engaged couple, one of them, however, tried his best to not looked uncomfortable with all the attention while he stood at the foyer with a glass of champagne in one hand.
With his hair gelled to one side, Aidan looked absolutely dashingly handsome in a navy blue tuxedo suit. He smiled and politely refused to attend to the women who surrounded him and persistently asking him with questions.
Despite his calm and collected mask as he continuously rejected to answers any of their enquiries,, the butler silently cursed Anya Romans for making him attend the party alone.
It was because of this reason alone that he had willing to be her escort. Never did he expect that someone else might have asked her earlier on. Which irritated him greatly, though Aidan shook that thought away. He didn’t know why the annoyance feeling still lingered until now after the young woman had declined his offer yesterday.
Sighed softly, Aidan took a sip of the glass in his hand when he heard someone calling his name.
Prince Duke of Excalibell waved his hand all too cheerfully. He wore a white tailored tuxedo with his curtained brown hair being gelled all the way to the back.
He too looked devilish handsome and caught most of the ladies’ attention as soon as he walked in, occupied by his lovely fiancée, Marian, who dotted in a semi-formal white lace dress. She had her hair up in a braided bun. She had applied a little bit of light make-up to enchant her looks even more.
“Your Highness. Milady,” Aidan lowered his head courteously. “It’s a pleasure seeing you two again. My, don’t you both look sharp and elegant this evening.”
“Thank you, Aidan. You look rather handsome as well in that tuxedo,” Marian smiled graciously.
“I thank you for your kind words, Milady.”
“I don’t see Miss Anya around anywhere. She hasn’t arrived yet?” The Prince asked, concernedly.
“I’m afraid I haven’t seen her, Your Highness,” Aidan answered, finishing the last drink in his glass.
While Duke continued to look worried, Marian quickly assured him that it was still early before the party begins and they should wait for her at their table. While Duke agreed, Aidan decided to stay for a little while.
As Duke made his way to the round table covered with white lace cloak where his love was waiting, Aidan decided to take another drink.
One of the guests, a voluptuous beauty was swaying her hips as she walked toward him, with a glass of white wine.
Despite denying it often, Aidan was a still a man with honour who would never rudely turn down a lady for a conversation. After all, it wasn’t his fault that women seemed to have found him mysteriously attractive. And so, while he was in the midst of communicating with the lovely lady, who stood within his comfort zone, when all the sudden, Aidan saw someone at the hall’s entrance that instantly caught his eyes.
“THIS is stupid!”
“Will you just shut up?”
Joshua Campbell readjusted the bow-tie on his neck and he cracked his neck left and right, before looking at to the passenger’s seat on his left.
Muffled chuckles at first, he could not contain his laughter any further before it burst into a full-grown laughter.
“Stop laughing!” A firm punched hit his arm, caused Josh to groan painfully.
“Okay, will you stop that? This is like, the twelve times you’ve hit me on the same spot!” Josh snapped annoyingly while nursing his now sore arm.
“This is a nightmare,” Anya Romans murmured. Mascara smudged and her eyes were red and puffy from crying too much. All of the efforts that the make-up artist had put on earlier were deliberately ruined.
Josh in the meanwhile who was dotted in a dark purple suit tuxedo, had his hair in the same retro hairstyle that he was so fond and proud of. The only thing that was missing was the famous red lens sunglasses which he took great liking and pride of wearing it whenever he went.
Just for tonight, Josh Campbell would allow himself to enjoy the sight of beautiful single ladies freely without having to cover behind his dark shades.
...Or at least that was what he had in mind before he was being rudely awakened earlier in the morning.
Earlier in the day, while Josh had enjoyed sleeping in during one of his rare off days, all the sudden, he was awakened by a phone call with Anya’s name written on the screen.
Now, Josh knew he had every excuse not to pick up his phone. As much as he adored his niece endlessly, little Anya had a way to get under his skin at times. Even so, she would have respected and known how much Josh treasured his precious time sleeping in on his rare off days. She would have just text him if there were anything.
So when her name suddenly popped out on the screen at six o’clock in the morning, Josh had thought something bad must have happened to her and Rosy.
As soon as he picked up the phone, he regretted immediately every second of it.
“Will you just let it go already? The deed has already been done, Anya. You can’t change it back to the way it was. So just let it go. Okay?”
His only replied was the increased sound of her crying.
Losing any patients he has left, Josh looked at his niece sharply before quickly unbuckled her seat belt.
“All right, that’s it. Move out. C’mon!”
Anya gave him a horrifying look. “No! No way in HELL am I going out looking like this!”
“You look fine. Now get out!”
“No! I’m not gettin’ out. Drive me back. Take me home! Steve and Emma can beat the hell out of me later! C’mon, drive!”
“I am not driving you anywhere ― you look FINE!”
“Fine isn’t good enough! The hairstylist totally ruined my hair! Drive me back home NOW!”
“Anya, I did not spend my entire day, time, gas and money OFF to the other side of the city just so you could get your hair done like that model ― whatshername ― in the magazine!”
“IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE HERS!” Anya pointed at her hair, “This isn’t even close to the hairstyle that I wanted! I’m outta here! Reverse!”
“Stop it. We’re not going home. You’re being ridiculous! I didn’t spend a fortune just so―”
“It’s your damn fault for losing the bet in the first place! Now drive me home!”
“MY FAULT?! I’ve been a very good and generous uncle to you! I’d paid for your hair, dress AND make-up! It wasn’t cheap, Anya and it cost me a fortune!” Josh opened the passage’s door and attempted to push her off.
“We’re not going home. Your mother is probably worried sick and wondering where the hell you are right now. Get your butt off that chair NOW!”
After a couple of minutes of arguing and struggling, Josh successfully dragged her out of her seat and away from the car.
Prior mentioned by Josh earlier, Anya did look her best, although not as drop-dead gorgeous as some of the guests, she certainly wasn’t the worse of them either. Her once waist-long chestnut hair had been chopped off, layered and styled into a short bob haircut.
The tips of her hair now reached the end of her earlobes. Her bangs were parted to the left, keeping it away from her eyes, and on top of her head, was a simple crystal band - giving the young woman a very feminine look.
For her dress, Anya wore a sleeveless knee-length, dark blue Taffeta Bateau evening dress with a big rose around the waist. Normally, Anya wouldn’t be into dresses, but the dress itself looked decent and surprisingly, reasonably cheap.
Josh had wanted her to wear a sexy dress, something that would make all heads turn to her and would show off her skin. He’d even willing to pay an expensive yet horrible skimpy dress that was put on display at the shop just for her.
Unfortunately for him, Anya had threatened to break his precious red sunglasses and his jaws if he ended up buying her that stupid dress.
Before they stepped into the banquet hall, Josh had kindly reapplied Anya’s make up. Surprisingly, he had done very well on the job ― at least she didn’t look like she’s just coming from a circus.
Taking a long deep breath, Anya swallowed a gulp and forced herself not to stare down on the marble floor as she made her way into the ballroom, one arm wrapped securely around Josh.
Soon as they stepped into the hall, Anya could feel all eyes were on her. Some of which, she recognised were Steve’s close relatives.
Nodded her head at them, Anya searched for the Excalibell Prince at their seats when a familiar voice called out her name.
Rebecca Wilson approached them with a gleefully smile. She wore a black strapless gown that showed most of her figure.
“Anya Romans, check you out, girl!” Whistled wolfish with a wide grin, Rebecca continued to tease. “I thought I saw Ethan somewhere inside.”
“Quit it. I’m not dressing for him tonight!” Anya hissed, despite her face quickly turned to deep shades of red.
“Whatever you say, girl,” Rebecca playfully rolled her eyes. Her gaze then met with the young detective.
“Hi there, handsome. Off-duty and babysitting?”
“Hello there, pretty lady,” Josh bowed his head and smiled flirtatiously. “Fortunately, I am available.”
Immediately, Josh pulled Anya’s arms away from him, while ignored the offended look on his niece’s face and offered it to Rebecca instead. “May I have your company for the night, pretty lady?”
Rebecca smiled smugly back and took his offer while whispering ‘sorry’ to Anya before the two of them quickly took off faster than the youngest Romans could utter a word.
“Great,” Anya sighed. She barely took a step forward when a cold hand touched her bare shoulders that nearly made her yelped.
Turning around, Anya was surprised, if not, relieved to see who it was.
“You look quite lovely tonight, Miss Romans. To be quite honest, I almost didn’t recognise you had it wasn’t for Mr Campbell,” Aidan smiled.
“T-Thanks. You look handsome yourself.”
Without any signs of warning, Aidan gently took her left hand and brought it over to his lips. He kissed at the back of her hand, all the while never leaving his gaze on her. Aidan’s lips broke into a wicked grin when he saw the surprised look on her face.
The whole gesture happened for a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime when Anya was able to breathe again.
Quickly pulling her hand from him, Anya turned to face the other way, all the while, she prayed hard that her face would just stop turning deep shades of red!
“Shall we, Milady?” Aidan offered his arm to her.
ESCORTING his lady companion to where their table in silence, Aidan recalled back earlier when he saw Anya walked into the banquet hall with her date.
Aidan had completely turned to deaf ears at what his supposedly female companion was saying. When he couldn’t take it, anyone, Aidan politely told the woman that although he felt flattered that she was interested in getting to know him, Aidan had other business to attend to. He bid her farewell and then never looked back as he made his way toward Anya who had been left alone and ditched by her date.
“Miss Anya! Over here!” Duke waved his hand rapidly in the air when he saw Anya and Aidan from where he and his beloved were seated.
“My, you look absolutely stunning!”
“T-Thanks. It didn’t turn out the way that I’d wanted it to be. Do I look okay, though?”
“You look beautiful. The dress matches you too. Come over here and have a seat!”
Anya took a seat beside Marian and greeted her with kisses on the cheeks and a hug.
“You look wonderful, Marian!”
“Thank you. You too! I love the new haircut.”
While the two women continued with their chatters, all the sudden, there was a loud roar follow up cheers at the entrance.
Anya and Marian both stood from their seats. What she saw nearly brought tears to her eyes.
Standing at the entrance of the hall, were her two best friends in the whole world, smiling and giggling as they walked into the banquet hall, holding hands while soft romantic music played in the air.
Steve Aaron walked down the hall towards the stage wearing a white tuxedo suit while his lovely fiancee dotted in a strapless pale gold long dress.
Soon, the long-awaiting speech began.
“Emma and I would like to thank each and every one of you who travelled all the way here and share this joyful and memorable night with the rest of our families and friends.”
There were clapping and whistling heads nodding.
“To begin with, Emma and I have known and been together since our high school days. Emma is my first love. The day that I’d met her, I knew what a very special person she is. It started with a normal crush, every boy in the school had a crush on her one way or another, no doubt for her beauty and brain. As I’ve gotten to know more about her, I felt a strong attraction and connection towards her and eventually, found myself falling hard and deeply for Emma. Like any other boys at my age then, I’d tried very hard to impress her. From attempting to exercise and building up muscles to looking cool up to a point where I’d almost lost myself. My identity. It took a very special and good friend who snapped me out of it and brought me back to reality. A friend who’d once told me that I am loved and cherished just the way I am. That the need to change must come from within. And that the person who loves me must be able to accept me for who I am.”
Steve glanced up and looked straight at Anya who smiled back at him.
“Anya, it was because of you that I managed to gather my courage and confessed to Emma that leads us to where we are now. You are my best supporter, my miracle and a great friend. I love you sincerely and will always and forever cherish our friendship. Ladies and Gentlemen, the one and only, Anya Romans.”
The hall was echoing with clapping and the crowd went wild. All eyes set on Anya who covered her mouth with both hands, looking at her best friends through tearful eyes.
SOON after the couple’s heartfelt speech and a couple more speeches from their family and close friends, the band hired for the evening began to play their songs and the hall was lively with people dancing and simply having fun on the open dance floor. Some of the VIPs have gathered on a large table, chatting and discussing with Steve’s father.
The Excalibell Prince was no exception to the exciting. As soon as the band started playing soft and ballad, he took Marian’s hands for a waltz, joining the newly engaged couple.
While her families and friends were having a good time dancing, Anya Romans decided to leave the hall to get some fresh air. Unknown to her, someone had quickly got up from his seat and followed her before a swan of ladies could trap him into asking one of them for a dance.
Anya walked into the courtyard with a permanent smile on her face. After Steve’s emotional speech, with Marian’s help, the youngest Romans managed to clean up her makeup after a short cry.
Stretching her arms upwards, Anya was thankful that tonight celebration had turned out very well after months of planning. Just as she was about to head back inside, she heard the sound of footsteps behind her and promptly turned around.
The man had removed his jacket and was carrying it on his arm as he stood at the entrance of the courtyard.
“The party went very well. I’m truly impressed.”
Anya grinned widely. “Of course! Who did you think helped out with the planning?”
“Ah. I should have known better than to ask such a question. Forgive me for underestimating your ability, Milady,” Aidan made a bowing gesture which caused Anya to chuckle lightly and shook her head.
Looking around, Anya just realised the whole garden was covered with various types of flowers. From roses to hibiscuses, water-lilies and even the rare flowers like the Night Bloomers were surrounded the courtyard. Some were even planted in between the trees.
Walking around while silently admiring the beautiful scene, Anya stumbled a stone bench and sat down. Resting her head against the backrest, she failed to notice that the butler was already standing beside her.
Mutely, Anya nodded and the man took his seat beside her. His knee touched her just briefly that sent her heart into a speed rate. Suddenly, everything became so awkward. With lanterns decorations ― the courtyard was a perfect romantic place for couples who want a little privacy.
Anya felt very aware of her surroundings; including her own heart beating rapidly.
“Miss Romans,” Aidan spoke calmly. “I haven’t been quite honest with you and myself lately. I believe now is the time for me to make that confession,” Aidan cleared his throat, glanced at her from the corner of his eyes.
Meanwhile, Anya stared back at him with eyes widened.
A confession? Don’t tell me that...
“That night when the Gorgon had kidnapped you before I came to your rescue, there was a particular incident that took place to ensure your safe went smoothly and secured properly. Because the Gorgons were under the ruling of the Demon King, hence, there were protocols needed to be taken in order to avoid the kingdom of Excalibell clashes with other territorial, especially with our nemesis, the Demon King.”
“What are you saying?”
Aidan cleared his throat again.
“The news of your kidnapping came so suddenly and caught us unprepared. Since the Gorgons were under the ruling of the Demon King, the best procedure to deal with this matter was to have an audience with him. Only the Demon King has the powers to give out orders or punish those beneath him. However, upon further discussing, His Highness the Prince had thought it would be unwise to seek after the Demon King especially when tensions were intensively high between the two kingdoms. So, instead of approaching the Demon King, His Highness had once again broken the rules of the Castle and I sought help from the only person who could help us within the short amount of time that we had to rescue you.”
Anya gasped, one hand reached out to cover her mouth when she realised where he was heading with the story:
“It was the only choice available that His Highness could think of at the moment. In a way, we were quite lucky that Zenon had decided to make the town of Hillview as his domain in the Modern World.”
“Wait. So, you’ve made a deal with the Devil in order to save me?”
Aidan’s expression suddenly darkened. His voice grew deepened when he spoke.
“It was a deal with a huge risk, especially when dealing with such devil as Zenon. In exchange for your safety, we need to give up on that was mostly something precious to us. In the end, we decided that for the next few months, I would lose seventy-five per cent of my abilities to use any Offensive and Destructive magic.”
“What?!” Anya raised her voice.
“There’s more. Since Zenon had such liking of you, he swore he would not let any more of his underlings to cause harms to you, his precious property. However, he couldn’t guarantee the same for your family or friends.”
Anya gritted her teeth and clenched her fists.
“You may be wondering why would His Highness entrusted you to me despite my lack of abilities to perform any magic. However, I’d like to assure you that I am capable of protecting you still. For example...”
It happened so fast that Anya was at loss of words when Aidan suddenly lurched toward her and carried her in his arms in the air, just in time to avoid being hit by a huge spiked ball where they had been sitting a while ago.
Landed graciously on his feet, Aidan turned his body around with eyes narrowed sharply as he held her close to him while his other hand gripped tightly on a dagger.
A loud eerie chuckles came from a silhouetted figure stood in further away in front of them.
“My, my. I am truly impressed. The rumour that the Gran Mago has lost his abilities proven to be true after all.”
Dressed in a full black spandex suit with a pair of wings that looked a lot like a giant version of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, was a man wearing a red and violet Buckeye Butterfly mask.
“Mister Motýl ― an infamous man in Excalibell known to use the butterflies as his own personal army. How nice to see you again,” Aidan explained to Anya without waiting for her to ask him.
“Is that how you greet an old acquaintance, Aiddy? And what a lovely lady you got there,” Motýl grinned cheekily. “I came here to invite you to my exclusive theatre that is happening tonight! The stage has already been set, and the characters have been cast, all it needs is a big ‘bang’ of applause! Isn’t that exciting, Aiddy?” Motýl chuckled.
“What are you talking about? What theatre?” Anya shouted.
“That’s a surprise, of course. The theatre will begin within two hours. Better get the front seats!”
As soon as Motýl disappeared in the darkness, Anya quickly released herself from Aidan’s strong arms and demanded an explanation.
“I’ll explain everything along the way. Right now, we need to figure out how to get everybody out of the hotel and we need to do it fast before the bomb explodes,” Aidan walked hastily toward the exit.
“Wha ― a BOMB?!”
“Motýl is a trickster and prefers to attacks his opponents directly. The ‘stage’ that he referred to is the hotel, the ‘cast’ is the people and finally, the big applause is, of course, the bomb,” Aidan explained calmly, now while running through the hallway toward the banquet hall with Anya keeping up the speed besides him.
“You weren’t able to detect his presence earlier?”
“Rather I did not detect his presence throughout the night until now. My guessing is that he had planted the bomb days earlier, in order to avoid being detected.”
“So, what’s the plan? Please tell me you have a plan in mind already!”
“Fortunately, I do. But for now, I will need you to stay in the banquet hall while I escort the area. Can you do that for me, Miss Romans?”
Anya nodded. For once, she did not feel like arguing with him while their lives were on stake.