Xander's Curse (A Cursed Novel)

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Chapter 8: Love Letters

The following morning was met with endless cups of coffee and carbs in an effort to cure the hangover. As always, Lyon and Alessia were hangover-free because of the werewolf gene, and I was left in a cocoon of blankets with my handy bottle of Tylenol. Admittedly, I was awfully quiet that morning, because my brain kept mulling over the news from Ace the night before. It felt strange now every time I looked at Alessia, because I knew that Ace was somewhere in the room too. It was like I had to filter what I said around her now. This much was clear: neither of them could know about my conversation with Ace last night. If I whispered even a word, they would have checked my room for hallucinogenic drugs.

“Last night really knocked you out, didn’t it?” Alessia chuckled.

“I think the last time I drank was my wedding.”

“I guess you’ll have to build up your tolerance this week,” she shrugged.

“It’s supposed to be a vacation, not a torture session,” Lyon rolled his eyes. “Remind me why I agreed to two weeks with two women?”

“Because you’re avoiding the love of your life like an idiot,” Alessia sing-songed.

“Let’s go back, right now,” Lyon challenged.

Their banter continued back and forth, and eventually, I left the couch to re-enter my studio. Only a few months had passed since I had painted last, but if I lifted a paint brush, I felt like I wouldn’t know how to use it. They try and tell you that talent is innate, but in all honesty, if you don’t use it you lose it.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the sketchbook that I always kept with me, but rarely used. Paging through it, my eyes landed on the picture of Xander that I drew when he held me hostage in his mansion once upon a time. I had caught him shirtless in the kitchen, and documented it. Even though that was considerably the most complicated time of my life, it felt a lot simpler than this. Anything is more simple than a civil war.

I panned through the rest of the drawings; images of Damien and I at the wedding, images of us on our extended honeymoon. He had taken me to some bungalow that he had made on Bora Bora just for the two of us. I asked him over and over again if he owned the island, but he insisted that I ‘stopped worrying about it’. He was more of a Lion King type of man, where he owned everything that the light touched.

“Are you one of those people who’s deep in thought when they’re hung-over?” Lyon observed.

“I am strolling down memory lane again, yes,” I confirmed as I shut the sketchbook. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, I think I’m allowed.”

“You’re definitely lighter here; more carefree.” He let his sentence trail off as he went about observing the paintings.

“When I’m here, it’s easy to pretend that none of it matters, that I’m not really the leader of an entire species.” The words felt strange dripping off my tongue.

“You need your art now more than every, Cy. I don’t understand why you stopped.”

“Lost my spark, I guess,” I murmured, rubbing my arm.

“As a wise man once said, imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality,” he smiled softly.

After his brief intrusion, he left me to my thoughts again, and I flopped down on the worn out couch. It was a habit that everyone around me fell into after I was crowned. They told me what I needed to make it through, what I needed to heal, what I needed to be the leader that they needed. I knew that it didn’t affect Damien the way that it affected me. He spent his entire life being told who he should be, what he needed. He got more help than I did and he wasn’t even supposed to be King in the first place.

Even the brothers’ guidance was limited. With a cruel father and an absence of their mother, most of their training came from other figures. The more I thought about it, the more that I realized they didn’t talk about it. I stretched my arm across the couch to grab my phone on the side table, and rang Damien’s number. He answered after the first ring, and I chuckled at his attentiveness.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I just wanted to hear your voice,” I chuckled. “Are you busy? I can call back later.”

“No, no, I’m never too busy for you,” he assured. Despite what he said, I could hear footsteps in the background, and I knew that he had just cleared the office for this phone call. “How’s the cottage?”

“One drunken night in so far.”

“Sometimes I forget how young you are.” I sensed judgment in his voice, but Damien wasn’t the type to let loose. He only drank when he was upset; never for fun.

“Excuse you, but your 26-year-old right hand man was drinking like a freshman at a frat party,” I shot back.

“Your feistiness is returning in rehab,” I could hear the grin in his voice. “I miss you,” he added softly.

“I told you that you were crazy for sending me away for two weeks,” I reminded.

“I was smart, but I might go crazy in the process. I don’t think I’ve ever been away from you this long.”

“Well, you lasted for the first 25 years of your life,” I teased.

“I can’t stop thinking about the night before you left,” he sighed. “I just want you back here.”

“I know.”

“Focus on having fun, and stay safe, okay? I have a meeting with the Council today, and I have to compensate for you being gone. They haven’t been the most understanding.”

“Call me when it’s over, okay? I love you.”

“I love you too, my Queen.”

He disconnected the call, and I rested the phone on the cushion beside me. It was going to be a long two weeks.

The majority of the next two weeks were meant to be spent inside the cottage, but when Lyon would go on his ridiculously long runs during the day, Alessia and I would escape to the cliff and hike through the woods. We convinced him to break protocol and take us to the beach one day, but as soon as I was identified, we were hurried home. There were movie marathons and half a dozen more bottles of alcohol, and by the end of all our fun adventures, it was nearly the full moon. There were only three days left, and Lyon’s tensions were rising.

He was on the phone with Damien in my parent’s old office, and I felt sweat starting to bead on my skin. They never had their meetings on the phone for this long; had something happened? Was Damien hurt?

When he finally emerged, Alessia and I stood from the couch in anticipation. He wiped the fingerprints off his phone as he stuffed it back into his pocket, looking to the both of us with unease.

“Hi,” he said simply.

“That’s all you have to say? What was that two-hour phone call about?” The words exploded from my lips.

“I need you to sit, Cyan.”

“I will sit when I know what the phone call was about,” I said firmly, resting my hands on my hips. I was acting like a defiant teenager right now, and in my own defense, I wasn’t 20 for another couple of months, so this was allowed.

“They found a mole in the castle. It was Ethan.”

“He’s a rogue? How? He’s so nervous all the time.”

“You act like all rogues are spewing venom and itching to get into battle,” Lyon frowned. “Damien found him snooping through his notes and interrogated him. As you can probably guess, it didn’t take that long to find out who he was working for.”

“It’s that bitch Ella, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but they can’t find her right now. Damien is worried that she’s coming after you because he found out where you had been taken. Our location has been compromised. Damien is ordering us all back to the palace.”

“Didn’t he send me here for safety in the first place? If one of his guards, his own bodyguard, was a rogue, how can we trust any of the others?”

“They’ve been doing background checks on all the others, and the ones that Damien has cleared are inside the castle, the rest are all forced outside the palace walls. He’s getting too nervous, and you as well as I know that when he’s nervous, his anger gets out of control. We need to go, now.”

That was the first time that he made it obvious that going back wasn’t an option. It felt like when he first came to the cottage to retrieve me for the palace, only worse. The town car was there in under an hour, and we stuffed our things into it as Alessia and I sat side by side. She could feel the fear that was starting to bubble in my chest, because she wrapped her hand around mine.

The security surrounding the palace now was out of this world. Despite knowing who we were, we had to present identification at the gate, and wait for us to clear them. Our bags were taken at the entrance in order to be searched. If I was much snobbier than I actually was, I probably would have been insulted by their order to search me, but I was just itching to see Damien in all honesty. I got word from one of the other guards that he was in the training room, and I followed him anxiously.

When I walked in, he was boxing it out with a punching bag. Floor to ceiling mirrors lined the back of the training room, and when he looked up coated in sweat, but his eyes softened at the sight of me. He whirled around like a girl on prom night, and crossed the room. He wrapped his arms around me without a care, and I felt his sweat clinging to my shirt. I peeled back, searching his eyes as I tried to read his mood.

“Why did you call me back? It’s not safe here.”

“It’s safer than there, unprotected,” he stated firmly, running his fingers through my hair. He didn’t speak any further, just continued to study me.

“It’s coming,” I breathed the words. He said nothing, but he pressed a kiss against my temple.

The full moon was coming. With a limited number of guards that we could trust, that meant that Xander’s mansion would be undefended. That left room for another fatal mistake. I saw that fact register in his eyes, but he made no sign of weakness. He simply wrapped the towel from his machine around his neck, and locked his fingers with mine while we walked back to the bedroom.

“You don’t have to worry about that. You’ll be safe.”

“It’s not me that I’m worried about, Damien,” I reminded. “What if another fifteen-year-old girl walks into that mansion thinking she can save Xander from himself?”

“No one can save my brother,” Damien said.

I gripped his shoulder, spinning him around to face me.

“What if that girl was me? What if I was locked in that mansion with him?”

“You won’t be,” I heard the tension in his voice increase.

“That’s how we should be treating this. We need to be treating it like it’s our necks on the line, because it is. If something happens to another one of our people, they’ll turn on us, and then it won’t just be the rogues we have to worry about—”

“Breathe,” Damien said, resting his hands on my shoulders. “You’re spiraling, Cyan.”

“I’m trying to lead,” I corrected.

“You keep trying to think that everyone can be saved,” he cooed, looking at me with a pure gaze of adoration. “You need to accept that my brother will never be free from that mansion, and that more of his people will get hurt in the process. I am not responsible for the rogues; I am only responsible for you. You need to remember what your duties are, and what they’re not.”

I let my gaze fall, dropping the subject as I pulled away from him. He excused himself to go shower, and I pulled my sketchbook from my bag in the bedroom to the garden, sitting near the edge railing as I sat. Halfway through the drawing, I looked up to study the trees, and saw a girl standing in the clearing. Goosebumps rippled over my arms as I realized that she was staring straight at me.

I stood, gripping the sketchbook as I leaned on the railing. She stood her ground, staring at me, before turning to walk away. It was Ella. As I went to close the sketchbook, a paper fell out. Figuring it was one of my loose drawings I tucked in the back, I lifted it up and nearly screamed at the sight.

Blood covered the piece of paper, but it was dried. There was rough writing on it that was slightly difficult to make out.

Come alone. –X

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