Chapter 19: Fall in Line
When the sunlight streaming in the window the morning of Damien’s faux funeral, I was tempted now more than ever to sink into my silk sheets and disappear forever. Incessant knocking at my door caused me to peel my eyes out from under the covers, still pulling up the covers to my nose.
“What,” I mumbled.
I half expected the door to swing open and see Lyon with a signature witty comment, but I found myself disappointed at the sight of Xander holding my long black gown. Lyon had been there through every fight I had with Damien, but it wasn’t the same this time, and my heart knew that.
“I kept the styling team at bay until you wake up,” he said. As he cleared the threshold, I saw a cart of fluffy pancakes roll in behind him. “I figured it was safe to let that through though.”
I sent him a half-glare, half-smirk as I pulled myself upright in the bed to reach over to the plate of food, completely ignoring the dress he hung beside my vanity. I had no interest in looking at it or wearing it.
“Can’t I just say that I’m too deep in mourning?”
“To go to your own husband’s funeral?” He frowned at my words, and waited for me to realize their stupidity.
“He’s not dead, Xander,” I hissed.
“I know, I know,” he put his hands up in defeat. “That reminds me, Adonis wants to speak with you after the funeral.”
“Oh, great,” I rolled my eyes with a mouth half stuffed with chocolate chip pancakes.
“Needless to say, he isn’t very pleased about your…breach yesterday.”
“You mean Ella isn’t pleased,” I raised an eyebrow.
“Lyon manipulated his own mate, but that’s a whole other ethical matter entirely. I know that you just wanted to see him, Cyan, but do you know what that looked like to Adonis? He thought you were trying to break him out.”
“I don’t want to be the bad guy here, but if word got out that he was still alive, I wouldn’t be allowed to take the throne. You can be upset and kick and scream all you want, but once you put my livelihood at stake, I put my foot down. You’re not to see him again.”
“You can’t seriously mean that,” I felt the fury building up in my chest.
“You can’t live a double life, you need to focus on the one that you’ll actually be living after today, and that’s the life you’ll be living at my side.”
I placed my fork down onto the platter and pushed the food away from me. I felt my appetite disappear.
“You’re starting to sound like him,” vomit teased at the back of my throat.
“I don’t want to be him. I want to be someone you actually like,”
I glared, cutting him off.
“I did more than just like him.”
“I know you loved him, or at least you wanted to.”
I didn’t even try to re-buttle that statement. It would take a heap of therapists and then some to dissect the year plus that was me and Damien’s relationship. He placed himself on the side of the bed, taking my hand into his. He wouldn’t break from looking at me until I would meet him with my gaze.
“I have to send the stylists in now, okay?” For a moment, it sounded like he was actually looking for my permission. “One last thing. Adonis wants us to look like a united front, so I’m to be the one to comfort you today.”
I could read between the lines. I knew that he meant that Lyon couldn’t be the one to comfort me. I stayed silent while the stylists worked on me, watching them coat my nails in black polish, place the black veil over my head, and slip on the dress. They helped me put on one shoe, then the other, and when I looked in the mirror, nervous laughter bubbled from my throat. I looked absolutely ridiculous.
“I told him the veil might have been a little over the top,” Xander admitted from the lounge chair in the corner of the room.
He went to open his mouth again, but the sounding of the bells signaled that the service would be starting soon. I knew that Alessia would be there to serve as Patron of the Moon Goddess, and I could only imagine her reaction to this getup. I had been informed by the stylists that I was supposed to be the last to enter; I would enter with the empty casket. They had told the public that it would be closed at my request. I knew that falsifying the tears wouldn’t be a problem; that casket felt plenty full to me. I had signed away the end of his life, so to speak. Adonis would keep him locked away in that cell for eternity if he deemed it as an appropriate punishment.
Most of it felt blurry. Xander took my hand as we entered the room, his fingers firmly laced with mine. He was clutching it harder than necessary, and I knew he was trying not to cry. I had neglected to realize what this must have felt like for him, if he was reliving his parents’ funerals.
Alessia said a lot of pretty words, and performed part of the burial ceremony, and then we began to move outside. Only those closest to him was allowed into the mausoleum, which left Xander, Alessia, Lyon, and myself. To my surprise, even Adonis respected this. Once the door closed, I ripped the veil off my face.
“Cyan,” Alessia hissed, looking out the sliver glass windows at the crowd.
“They’re in prayer for a man who isn’t even dead,” I spat back.
“Don’t lash out at her,” Lyon scolded.
I turned to look for Xander as a backup, but when I turned around he was kneeling ahead at his mother’s shrine. I think that every once in a while the groundskeeper brought in the flowers that were left outside. Glistening candles and fresh flowers lined her side of the mausoleum, and all the while his father’s side remained empty. I could see stains from scrubbed paint that someone had probably broken in and painted.
“I always thought I would end up like my father, you know,” he said. “Not in the sense of the anger issues; Damien inherited that. I thought I’d be buried and have my grave stone painted on. I didn’t even think I’d be buried inside the mausoleum. It kept me going.”
“Why did it keep you going?”
“If I stuck around long enough, maybe I could do some good, maybe I could be remembered like my mother.”
I kneeled beside him, and to everyone outside, if they could see, it looked like we were in prayer together.
“Is that why you did it?” I asked. “Is that why you tried to get all of the rogues back into the city?”
“I said that it was, but maybe that was just me trying to hide my pride. I was bitter that Damien had everything I wanted.”
He glanced over at me, running a hand through the curls that swept so carefully over my shoulders. The stylists had done everything within their power to make it look like I was a delicate china doll that could break at any moment.
“They’re leaving,” Alessia noted, peering out the window.
“Adonis will want to see you,” Xander snapped out of his momentary softness and rose gracefully to his feet. He held a hand out, and pulled me up, this time pulling me a little closer to his chest than necessary.
We walked in mostly silence as we made our way back down to the palace. Some of the crowd had dissipated to visit graves of their loved ones, but the veil hid my face from any emotion other than sadness. I hoped that I had played the part to Adonis’ wishes, but I was about to find out. My stomach churned at the thought of him sitting in the same office that once belonged to Damien, so when Xander turned us down a separate hallway, I was surprised. He knocked twice, we heard a grunt, and he opened the door but didn’t follow me inside. I felt the warmth and confidence of him beside me dissipate into the cold air that seemed to linger around Adonis like a cloud.
Adonis was sitting composed at the desk, eyeing me up like a meal. Cutting the theatrics, I removed the veil from my head once more and chucked it on the desk in front of him.
“You no longer make fashion choices for me,” I stated.
I knew the power that Adonis held, or at least, I thought I did. He was a big influencer, and in more specific terms, a big influencer of royals. Despite that, I wanted him to remember that I was one of them now.
“Agreed, that was a pretty horrid touch,” he chuckled.
“Xander said you requested to see me?” I felt the rigidity in my own voice.
“I wanted to get to know you,” he shrugged.
“You’re a lot of things, Adonis, but you aren’t the type of man to bother himself with pleasantries like trying to get to know someone.”
I could tell that both Adonis and myself were shocked by my blunt responses. At first, he just stared me down, and I felt those emerald eyes pierce through the tough outer layer I had built up over the past year. I was uneasy that someone could just undo me with a glance. Maybe I wasn’t giving Adonis the credit he deserved.
“I wanted to talk about the beginnings of you going public with Xander, and how the next couple of months are going to look.”
“Before my husband’s empty coffin is cold,” I felt the words drip sickly from my tongue.
“When you had Xander propose that little arrangement to keep your husband alive, I agreed happily. The last thing I need is the other royals getting anxious about me. As you can see, I clearly have something nice going for me here.”
“How long before you push me out in front of the palace with Xander, a week?”
He sat up, pacing around the wood of the grandiose desk before leaning against the front of it.
“I mean this in the nicest way possible, your majesty, but you lack…a poker face. Anyone outside of these palace walls who took one look at you would realize that this was a crafted façade. Damien was the first Averell in a dynasty to have a closed casket funeral. The only thing selling this is you.”
“So what’s your point?” I frowned, because although I didn’t know the direction that this conversation was going in, I knew one thing; I didn’t like it. He ran a hand through his obnoxiously styled hair, and stared down at me once more.
“My point is that in order for you and Xander to look like you’ve gotten close and in order for the people to see a budding relationship that will save the lineage of the Averell family, it needs to actually happen.”
“So you didn’t order me here to threaten me?”
“I’m not your former husband, my dear,” he stated simply. “All I ask is that you spend time with him, and get over the prior issues your love triangle created.”
“There was no such—” I began.
“A man with the intelligence of a pigeon could see how smitten Xander was with you from day one. You’re dismissed.”
I felt my face grow hot and red, and turned with what was left of my dignity as I headed out the door. When the door closed behind me, I looked up, startled to see Xander waiting on the bench outside. He rose immediately, assessing me for any emotional turmoil Adonis may have caused. There was no indication on his face that he had heard Adonis’ words through the maple door, so I made no effort to address it.
“What did he say?” He asked, anticipating my answer.
“He wants me to…take my time.”
“It’s smart, when you think about it. He really has to sell Damien’s death to avoid suspicion.”
“Who would suspect him? Couldn’t he kill anyone who did so much as make fun of the way he dresses?”
Xander’s eyes darted around the hallway, as if I wasn’t supposed to say that aloud. After giving me a daring look, he started back towards his room. I gripped at his wrist in an effort to pull him back, looking for an answer.
“What did I say?” I asked.
“I didn’t think that you were that sheltered from the werewolf world, Cyan,” he whispered. “If you think that Adonis is the most dangerous man around, you’re fooling yourself.”
“Who could be more—”
“We won’t discuss this again, am I clear?” he warned.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of Adonis’ men creeping a little closer. I knew I was being watched, but not like this. The glint in Xander’s eye told me not to mess with the subject.