When I left the castle the next morning, to meet Darius in my old apartment, Amie was still soundly asleep in her rooms, which were adjoined to my accommodation in the castle.
I was glad, that Malachy had not contacted me, to ask why I was meeting with Darius in Atonia.
Obviously, it was enough for him, that Andre had excused me.
Maybe he just didn’t care what I did or with whom I did it...
The thought of that, made me shake my head, as I pulled onto the highway.
What did I actually want? Should Malachy be interested in me now, or better not?
I was completely confused.
After my phone call with Darius yesterday, I was at least partially convinced, that Malachy did care for me.
But after Andre had informed me about Daina, who is supposed to be one of my trainers, that spark of hope has gone.
Andre seemed genuinely proud and satisfied with the choice of my coaches. I didn’t believe him to play a double game - Malachy on the other side...
To distract myself from my thoughts, which just dragged me down and spoiled my mood, I turned the radio a little louder and forced myself to concentrate on the traffic.
Half an hour later, I arrived in front of Amie’s and my shared apartment.
I saw Darius, who was already leaning against his SUV, casually dressed and with dark sunglasses on his nose.
When he saw me, he pointed with his hand to the parking lot, next to him and moved a little to the side, to make room for me.
As soon as I switched off my engine, he opened my driver’s door.
“Good morning, Sis!”
I took my handbag from the passenger seat and got out of the MINI.
“Good morning!” I replied, slightly grumpy.
Darius smiled sympathetically.
I nodded at him and suddenly blinked away my tears.
“As to be expected, considering the circumstances.”
I muttered, looking down at the street, knowing that, if I saw his pitying look, I would start crying immediately.
“Hey, that bad?”
He closed the car’s door and stepped up to me. Then he took me in his arms.
I put my head on his shoulder and leaned against him. Now there was no holding back the tears...
Darius stroked my head carefully.
“Let’s go to your apartment first. Then, you’ll tell me what exactly happened - without leaving anything out. After that, you will feel better and if James misbehaved, I’ll have a serious word with him.”
He kissed my hairline and slowly pulled away from me.
“Do you have the key with you?”
I nodded and rummaged in my purse.
As soon as I had the key in hand, I gave it to Darius - a symbol that he should take control from that point on.
He nodded in agreement and we entered the apartment complex.
When we got to my apartment, we could still see traces of the burglary on the front door.
Apparently the craftsmen, Malachy wanted to send, had not yet arrived.
Thank God! This way, they couldn’t accidentally step on the vial or throw it in the trash without thinking...
Darius and I entered the hallway and Darius closed the door behind us, with a loud bang.
He shrugged apologetically at the rather loud sound. “Sorry, the door frame seems to have warped, due to the forced opening and now the door is stuck...”
I looked around the completely shattered apartment, where until recently, I felt very safe and happy.
Again horrified by the extent of the destruction, I shook my head and mumbled: “The chaos here fits well with my current life. If only I had never agreed to Niklas’ plan, to officially become part of the Aristocracy...”
Darius protectively put his hand on my shoulder.
“Who knows what other disasters would have happened, then. You won’t be able to escape your blue blood-serum, as much as you might want to. But you are not alone, Sis. I will always be there for you. ”
I put my hand over his.
“Thank you, Darius! That means a lot to me!”
He gave my shoulder a light squeeze and addressed the uncomfortable subject that stood in the room like a pink elephant.
“What happened between you and James at the castle? The last time I saw you, everything seemed fine, according to Amie, even more than fine.
She told me about how James reacted after the break-in.
His reaction has calmed her down and she is convinced that James feels something for you. ”
I slowly released his hand from my shoulder and went into the living room.
There was still some space on the small coffee table, where I could sit on.
Shortly after the police were here to record the break-in, I had cleared the table to give Amie a place to sit.
Now I took it myself.
“I acted like a stupid, simple-minded cow when I ran James over the mouth, in front of the assembled Clan Romanov.
To make things worse, I humiliated him and made him look like an idiot, who dances completely to my tune.
I noticed my mistake as soon as I had said the words, but by then, it was too late.”
Now, Darius came over to me and crouched on the floor in front of me.
He nodded at me, to make me understand, that I should continue.
“When he left the room with Daina, because he was supposed to have a meeting, I knew it was just an excuse. I knew he definitely had no more appointments that day.
As soon as you left, Amie persuaded me to go to him and apologize. I wanted to do that, too...”
The ugly scene between me and Daina, in front of Malachy’s private rooms, was repeated in my mind’s eye.
In vain, I pressed my lips together until they were almost white, to keep the tears from running down my cheeks, again.
“When I stood unannounced in front of the door, which separated his private rooms from the rest of the castle, Daina unexpectedly ripped open the door and almost ran into me - deranged, with an open blouse, disheveled hair and swollen lips...”
Darius frowned at my words, to show his confusion and put his hands on my knees.
He took a deep breath to reply, but I went on with my description.
“To make matters worse, James stepped out of his living room, shirtless and with an open waistband and looked rather embarrassed when he saw me...”
Now, Darius was tearing his hair.
If he was just trying to defend James, he didn’t seem to like the idea that much, anymore.
Instead, he asked: “How did you react?”
“I didn’t - I couldn’t and after Daina made it more than clear to me, that she has had an intimate relationship with James for a long time and that she intends to maintain it, I was speechless... and hurt.”
I awkwardly wiped the tears from my cheek with the palm of my hand.
“I was hurt, not just my heart, but also my pride. I didn’t want to give Daina and James the satisfaction, of breaking into tears in front of them, so I put all my strength together, didn’t say anything, turned around and slowly walked back to my rooms.”
Now Darius looked at me flabbergasted and with wide eyes.
“I don’t know what to say.
I feel like slapping James, but that doesn’t solve your problems either. I don’t understand his contradicting behavior...”
Lost in thought, he stared right through me.
“What I can assure you with, is: He cares about you.
James and I have known each other for a long time, even before he became regent.
He definitely knew how to enjoy himself, but never has he ever treated a woman like you - special.
He didn’t seem indifferent to you, as was the norm with so many women.”
“If I am ‘something special’ to him, or have been, why does he act like that?”
“I can only think of one thing. If I had been in his place and you had preferred your ex over me in front of Clan Romanov, I would have been incredibly offended.
Men with hurt pride tend to do stupid things.”
I ironically raised my eyebrows. “Stupid things?”“Maggie, I don’t want to defend him, I’m just trying to give you a plausible explanation for his behavior. Please explain to me, why you reacted this way at the meeting and please, be honest with yourself.
Is there a chance that you still feel something for Adrian, after all?”
I didn’t have to think twice.
“No! The thing with Adrian and me is long over.
The morning I came back to Ignis, for the first time after our breakup, to discuss the preparations for the debutants ball with you, Adrian intercepted me.
We had a private conversation, in which I made it clear to him, that it was over between us and that I was moving on.
Little did I know then, that I would meet Malachy - I mean James , again. To me, the Adrian topic was done for good.”
“If you don’t feel anything for him anymore, why did you act like that?”
“Because I didn’t understand why James was so exaggeratingly harsh with Adrian.
The James I gave my heart to, was not the type to kick someone, who is already on the ground and especially not, when his advisor asks him to do so with a wave of her hand.”
My words caused Darius to close his eyes and put his hand on his forehead.
Then, he shook his head and groaned an agonized “I get it”.
I frowned at him.
“What do you get? I don’t get anything!”
“My ass he doesn’t feel anything for you! Jealousy makes men do stupid things.
Adrian is probably the best example of this.
You two have to talk to each other and sort this out!
You are about to get married - a political showcase marriage, bloody hell... The way things are now, you won’t survive your honeymoon...”
I looked at him like he had gone mad.
“Talk? With James? Yes, good idea! ”I replied snippily.
“We did that at breakfast, yesterday morning.
I honestly apologized for my misconduct and his reaction was, to patronize me and force me to complete a training session on courtly etiquette and the applicable protocol, so my inadequacies would be reduced.
Plus, to guide my emotions in a sensible direction, I can take care of the renovation of our shared rooms in the castle.
And yes, that’s exactly what James said. Later, Andre proudly announced, that Daina would be my trainer for the skills of the ‘House of Seers’.”
“Calm down, Maggie! May I remind you of my words, from our last phone call? Bitchiness doesn’t help at this point.”
He gave me a challenging grin.
At first I wanted to make a cutting remark, but then realized, that Darius had intended exactly that.
I interlaced my fingers and took a few deep breaths to calm myself down, before I replied.
“You are right! My bitchiness doesn’t get me anywhere at this point. James and I have to find a way to get along with each other.
I’m assuming that I can’t get out of the the marriage anymore, right?”
Darius nodded in agreement.
“You can rightly assume that, Sis. Even if it’s very difficult at the moment, try to keep a cool head. And concerning Daina: I’ll have a serious talk with James.”
Now he got up and gave me his hand - an invitation for me to do the same.
“Don’t worry, Sis! We are going to make it right, again. You are not alone.
Amie and I are always there for you. Speaking of which: did you talk to her about this?
She is better than me with this girl stuff.”
With these words he stuck out his tongue cheekily.
“No, I haven’t gotten around to talk to her, yet. Her working hours and my appointments have ensured, that we have not seen each other for the past two days.”
“Then you should make up for that as soon as possible. But now we urgently need to look for your blood-serum vial.”
I took his hand and let him pull me off the small coffee table.
“You’re right! Please let the little vial be here somewhere...”
We immediately started looking.
We didn’t leave a stone unturned - it couldn’t make it look any worse in the apartment, if we tried.
Two and a half hours later, we turned everything inside out and had no idea where to look any further.
The fear that the blood serum vial had also been stolen, seemed to have been turned into a fact.
Completely frustrated, Darius replied: “Okay. Let’s get some food first. I can’t concentrate at all, when my stomach is rumbling like that.
As soon as we have strengthened ourselves, we go through the whole place a second time.
If we still haven’t found anything by then, we have to deal with a very unpleasant fact: namely that someone stole your vial...”
We agreed on a cozy Italian for lunch, which was situated in Atonia’s pedestrian zone.