"It isn't as bad as you'd think. The concussion wasn't comfortable. Nor were the rope burns that removed layers of skin from my wrists." She says not meeting my eyes.
"But that is what could be seen." She nods and I have a feeling inside of me. So primal to protect her. I move closer to her with all the need of sexual desire gone. When she nuzzles her head into my shirt I stroke down her hair. "You don't have to tell me anything that causes you distress."
"It doesn't anymore. Not often anyway. They had a sack over my head. Even as the van drove over bumpy roads. For what felt like hours but was probably close to half an hour. They screamed threats of what they'd do to me. How they'd rape me and cut me. Mutilate my body and face so I would be a monster like my father. They hated him. They then began pouring water over my face. Gallons of it." Christ. I hold her closer to me wishing I could stop what had already happened. Knowing I cannot change the past. "I'd hold my breath. I'm good at that but only for so long. I thought I'd die. By drowning of all things and not in a lake or pool. But in the back of a van with water being continuously poured over me. Only Finn had known to have my lungs checked for damage. Once he saw I was soaking wet he guessed. He said it is a form of torture usually to get people to speak. With me it was to keep me silent. Not that I tried to reason with them. There was no point."
"Dio mio. I'm sorry you had to go through that Bella. I wish I could say something more. Something that would change it or take it away." My chest hurts and I feel tears prick at my eyes that I will not let fall. I have lived a comfortable life. One with freedom and safety. Whilst she has been through so much.
"Thank you. They were caught and will remain in prison for the rest of their life. Sometimes though the threat you know is better than the one you don't."
"But so many want you to become queen. Your country has cried out for it since you were sixteen."
"Yes but my father wouldn't agree. Even now with his diagnosis that is the only reason he is stepping down. Forcing a marriage whilst I'm still eighteen."
"His diagnosis?" Of course I'd heard rumours of the king being unwell but I assumed they were rumours.
"My father is dying. He has less than six months or so the doctors predict."
Then what about Bella? She will be all alone. I understand her father pushing for a marriage so she is not alone. Is that why he is doing it though? Or for control over his kingdom before he dies? Bella tied in a marriage she may not be happy with. I hold her so tightly as though she might break any moment. Yet I know she wont. Her strength is commendable. It is long after she falls asleep in my arms, her head on my bicep and to my chest. I watch her, stroking her silky curls and the soft skin of her cheeks. Kissing her forehead. Feeling a closeness, a tenderness for her I haven't ever felt before. Nothing I've felt compares to this protective instinct for her. I would lay my life down to stop her being hurt again. Even knowing she may choose another. The world needs more people like her and god knows I wish I could be half as decent as she is.
I wake up stretching out my muscles that feel so relaxed. I feel so fresh like I slept properly. Peacefully. Then I see him. Matteo asleep on top of my quilt. His chiselled jaw relaxed his defined cheekbones not taut. No lines of stress on his forehead or eyes. His brown hair swept neatly to one side. He is perfect even in his sleep. Is this me falling hard as Finn said I would? Last night with Matteo was confusing. Not the sexual side. That was human nature. Inevitable with how much we wanted one another. The part after. Him holding me for the whole night and me opening up to him. There is a knock at my door and I panic. With all my strength I push Matteo off the bed and onto the floor. Hoping Finn will not see him on the other side.
"Ouch. Morning to you …" Matteo grumbles as he lands with a loud thud. I throw a pillow at him shouting shush.
Just as the door opens and Finn walks into the room. A warm smile on his face.
"Good morning Bella. I hope you are feeling well this morning?"
"Yes. Great. Thank you."
"Good. The queen is asking if you'll have brunch with her. As both you and Matteo missed breakfast this morning. Though he hasn't returned home yet, it would seem." Finn's tone holds some sarcasm but I smile.
"Of course. That would give me some time to get ready. Would you mind telling her for me?"
"Of course not." He smiles and turns to the door. I let out a heavy breath just as he came to a stop. One large hand holding the handle. "O Prince Matteo. Your brother has been anxious to see you this morning." Finn says smiling.
Matteo sits up on the other side of the bed and I put my head in my hands. Completely embarrassed that Finn has caught him in here. Yet not ashamed.
"Er thanks." Matteo says standing up. The only blessing he is fully dressed apart from his shoes. Damn his shoes are on my side of the bed. Finn saw them.
"You'll have an hour and a half Bella. I'm sure that's enough for Matteo to sneak back into his own room, and you to get ready." Finn smiles and leaves the room closing the door with a firm deafening click behind him.
"Well I'm shocked. I thought he would kill me." Matteo says sitting down on my bed making the mattress dip towards him and me move with it.
"Finn isn't like that. As long as I am safe he is happy. My virtue isn't a means of his concern just who takes it. You're a prince and very unlikely to try to hurt me. It would be no gain anyway."
"Bella I'm sorry I fell asleep."
"Don't be. It isn't solely your fault but what about Alessandro? He is looking for you and you used your driver and guard to return I assume. Your mother, father and Alessandro know you are here."
He stands up. His face is not as sure as before. A deep line forming between his brows as though he is lost in thought. But then he looks at me giving a warm smile before his lips come down on my forehead. Lingering for a moment.
"Do not worry Bella. Thank you for trusting me enough to open up to me and for the rest. I'll go shower and jerk off again picturing you."
The cheeky sod. He puts his shoes on climbing out my window once more with a final wink. I smile unable to stop it. He may not be the only one jerking off this morning, I think as his broad shoulders and lean ass climb out my window. The damn handsome man made me hot and needy all over again.
I sit waiting in his room. When he climbs back in through his large open window. I've been waiting on his bed for him for the past hour. I'd half wanted to climb out his window and see if he was in her room. But I already knew the answer to that.
"Before you start. I'm taking a shower and getting changed. Then we will talk." Matteo demands. He looks frustrated and something about that makes me smile. Settles some of the unease that has been stirring up my stomach all morning.
Matteo doesn't linger. He grabs some clothes and stalks into the bathroom. I hear the showering running and try to sit still. I want answers but have to be patient. Which isn't something I am skilled at. After twenty minutes Matteo saunters out of the bathroom. Dressed in jeans and a dark green t-shirt.
"You spent the night in her room!" I stand up and show no restraint as the words of anger fall from me.
"Alessandro. We have discussed this nearly every night since her arrival. When you came to me speaking of your kiss. Did I blow off the handles?" He crosses his arms over his chest.
In fact when I'd told him about the kiss I'd hoped he would stop pursuing her. I'd been rendered speechless when he had been so mature and grown about the situation. The year between us has never felt like he was much older. Until that moment. He seemed older and wiser than me. I'd come to him with the attitude as though I possessed her like a toy. The concept of that feeling so far from the truth this morning.
"Did you sleep with her?"
"Is that all you are concerned about? To reassure you. No. We kissed." His stance and posture of feeling so good this morning. Would say they did more but not something he is willing to share. "I explained we have to draw a line Alessandro. This is why. Incidentally you didn't respect me enough to believe I wouldn't cross it. She is tempting. Beyond temptation but I will not sleep with the woman who may well one day, marry my brother. As I'd expect the same courtesy from you. If not for my sake then hers. She will not appreciate being torn between us and certainly not when she makes a choice. If we are to continue to pursue her because we both want her. Then we must understand this isn't to bed her but marry."
I run my hands through the waves on the top of my head. I was jealous. I don't get jealous and this is all so new. I already know that with Bella it will be a marriage not a small step but a huge one. The idea of her choosing Matteo is torture but then he would respect her and treat her well. The way she looks at him. I see it but the competitive side in me doesn't want to back down.
"I'm glad you didn't take advantage of her after she had been drinking. Not that I expected that of you." Maybe I'm annoyed that his room is on this side of the castle. That he can climb into her room. "This is all so new."
"I know. I think mum knew this was going to happen. In fact I think that's why she offered refuge for Bella. She has wanted us to settle down for some time."
"Just not with the same woman." I breathe out. Matteo comes over and we both sit down on the bed. His large warm hand comes down on my shoulder.
"Aren't all the women that are worth it a bit messy. Nothing about this is conventional but let us not argue about it. I know you'll continue to try to convince her you are better. Hell you may even be. But we are brothers and no princess. Even as special as Bella will get between that." He speaks with conviction yet I think we both know one of us, is coming out of this wounded. I don't want it to be either of us. So whichever she chooses leaves the other broken.
"When did you get so old?" I lighten the mood nudging him.
"Si. If I am old you are one foot towards it already." He ruffles my curls and tries to place me in a headlock. I manage to evade his arm but we grapple until we are both laughing and holding our sides from the few blows we have landed.
Matteo may have behaved like he is prepared for whatever decision Bella makes. But I am no fool. With each glimpse, smile or laugh we claim from her. Even more so with a kiss or touch of her silky skin. We both fall that bit deeper into the inevitable. Pain is coming for one of us and for her. A love triangle never ends well but with brothers and a woman as sweet and kind as her. Heartbreak is coming for us all.