After several rings, he answered his phone with a bad tempered “Yes”, which was an unusual behaviour for him. I remembered, that he also behaved quite unusual throughout yesterday’s entire evening, by ignoring me completely.
“Adrian! Am I disturbing you right now?” His voice became notably friendlier: “No, of course not. What can I do for you, love?”
I hesitated for a short while, trying to find a proper beginning for the conversation, without blurting it straight out.
“Are you still there?” I heard him ask through the phone.
“Yes, I am still here. Listen, Adrian. I need to tell you something.”
“Is everything okay with you?” Now his voice sounded worried.
“Yeah, yeah. I am okay. It is just… right now I am on my way to James.”
He replied promptly “Which James?”
“James Stuart. From yesterday. You do know him. I am going to stay at his estate for a few days.”
The other side of the line fell still. “Adrian?”
“I am still here.” Then he continued to speak in an unusually aggressive tone. “What do you want there? You are a Romanov and belong here.”
Good question. What was I supposed to reply to that? Malachy and I had agreed to remain silent and I intended to keep my word. Taken literally, I already broke my word, by telling Amie about the plan. But I could trust her and one person needed to know, what really went on, in case I needed someone to get me out of there, when everything went down the drain.
I decided to act as the naïve, careless girl: “He invited me, to introduce me to the history of Clan ‘Fleur de Lys’. I have the unique chance to find out something about my birth mother and I am grateful for it…”
“And why exactly do you think, that we wouldn’t be able to help you with that? If that is the only reason, Darius and I are pleased to help.” He stopped for a moment, before going on. “You seem a little confused, after yesterday’s events. Come home, Maggie.”
At that moment I noticed a long brick wall, which repeatedly had inlays of the lily cross in several places, meandering alongside the street. This had to be James’ manor.
“Listen, Adrian! I am almost there. Let us talk about this another time, okay?”
“Maggie!” he almost shouted through the phone.
“Adrian!” I inhaled deeply. The reply was supposed to steal Adrian’s thunder. “It is not only about my maternal origin. I am looking forward to getting to know James better.” After that, there was dead silence at the other end of the line. “I am already there. Let us talk again in the next few days, okay? And could you please inform Darius about my whereabouts as well? Thank you!”
I heard his furious snorts. “Whatever you want! I have to continue to work as well. See you.” Then he ended the call.
Wow. This plan worked better, than expected. I had rarely seen Adrian so angry. He probably wouldn’t contact me for the next couple of days. Good, then he wouldn’t be in the firing line.
I put my mobile back into my purse.
In the meantime, the limousine turned off the main road onto a smaller one, that was caged-in by high brick walls. At the end of the road was a large iron gate. When we passed the security at the gate, we drove towards a stately castle.
Of course – Malachy was the regent, a simple manor wouldn’t do the trick. Slowly but surely I became a nervous wreck.
When the limousine came to a halt, a butler opened my door, greeting me friendly: “Good Morning, Lady Romanov! I am delighted about your arrival and I hope that you had a good journey.”
“Thank you!” I replied and got out of the car. The butler closed the door behind me and asked me to follow him.
“Sir Stuart is already expecting you, to join him for breakfast, on the terrace of the small salon.”
I nodded and followed him in silence. My way to the small salon, led me through a long hallway with several turns to the backside of the domicile. While I followed the butler, admiring the beautifully designed interior, I noticed the curious looks of the staff. Apparently the gossip of yesterday’s event, had already travelled to this place.
We barely entered the room, when I could see Malachy thought the floor-to-ceiling, French windows, sitting on an opulently laid breakfast table. He held a newspaper in front of him, in which he seemed to be immersed.
The butler cleared his throat lightly to announce our arrival. When he noticed us, he put his newspaper next to his cutlery, stood up and turned into our direction.
“Margarete! What a surprise!” He grinned mischievously. “I am glad to see you. I hope you are hungry. I had a little something prepared for us.”
I curtsied, as required by Aristocratic etiquette. “Thank you, Sir Stuart! I am happy and thankful for your hospitality.”
He pointed at the chair opposite him. I sat myself down and the butler dutifully helped me with the seating. Mal… James sat himself opposite me and dismissed the butler with a thank you. When the butler was out of ear’s reach, James turned to me. “I really am happy to see you. You have kept your word.”
I retorted: “I will have kept my word no sooner than the doctor has taken my blood.” James raised his eyebrows questioningly. I quickly added: “Don’t worry! I will not refuse the procedure, even if I am not a big fan of needles. This was supposed to be a witty counter.”
He replied with a simple “Fine”, thereby implying that he was bored. Then he took the coffee pot from the table. “Can I offer you some coffee?”
As tired as I was, I could have used the whole pot. “Sure” I replied almost euphorically.
The coffee tasted like heaven and I wasn’t able to resist some strawberries and a croissant, either. The night had been very long and I was hungry. I relished the delicacies while noticing quite well, that James was watching me curiously.
While chewing, I noticed that by now, I had almost stopped to refer to him as Malachy, my beautiful and generous lover. Instead I looked at him more as the person, which he actually was: Regent James Stuart.
The tense atmosphere had just started to become bearable, when the butler came back unexpectedly, announcing a surprise guest. Daina, his advisor, had decided to show up for a brief visit. It seemed that news about my arrival had travelled fast to Clan Arone as well.
James stood up from his stool and walked around the table towards me. Then he bent down to me, slowly put a long strand of hair behind my ear and whispered: “Showtime, Love! We don’t want to endanger our mutual agreement, don’t we?”
Then he turned to the two other people, which had just arrived at the terrace. “Good Morning Daina! To what do I owe the pleasure of such an early visit from you, right after a very long ball night?”
Daina ignored him. Instead, she gave instructions to the butler. “Andre, please be so kind as to fetch another chair and plate for me?”
The butler nodded dutifully and hurried to leave the terrace.
Daina looked at me suspiciously, then greeted Malachy, only. “James! What a beautiful morning it is today! Maybe I can persuade you to join me for a short walk through your park, soon?”
He smiled at her friendly and replied: “Maybe later. Right now, I want to enjoy the company of both of my beautiful ladies.”
His statement put her into a really bad mood and I had to resist the urge to grin. Yesterday as well, I had noticed her hostile looks towards me. My guess was, that she wanted more from James, than an employment relationship. Her current behaviour confirmed my assumption.
I thought back to my night with Malachy at the Collosseum’s private room, gloatingly, while almost pitying her for what she seemed to miss out on. These thoughts were mean, I know, but what was I supposed to do? I am just a girl…
The butler came back, carrying a wicker chair and bringing a maid to assist him. The latter had just started to put the plate on the table between Malachy and me, when he stopped her. “Please seat Ms. Romanov between Ms. Arone and myself.” While speaking these words, a diabolical smile appeared on his face.
If he was looking for a possibility to get me killed fast, he just found a good one. Obviously Daina wasn’t in the position to protest, but I should be very attentive towards her, so I would notice when she tried to put some poison into my coffee.
When the sitting situation had been cleared, Daina got James deep into a conversation about all the necessary things, that had to be done, after his announcement at yesterday’s debutant-ball. I sat on the table as a silent listener and kept to myself.
Approximately one hour later, Daina was successful in persuading James to go for a walk though the park with her. Obviously there were more important things to be talked about, that were not intended for my ears.
Glad, to get away from the hostile atmosphere, I used the opportunity, to excuse myself. I would take advantage of that time and let myself be shown my rooms, where I would stay and unpack my suitcases.
Malachy nodded at me and gave a sign for the butler to come fetch me and lead me to my accommodations.