I stayed in the ballroom but traveled closer to one of the arched windows. The red velvet curtains helped in shielding me from some of the guests.
I simply needed a moment to breathe and collect my thoughts. Playing a ditsy, carefree princess wasn't my ideal role.
"You're playing a dangerous game." Viktor's thick accent filled my ears.
I turned my head and looked into his dark eyes. Knowledge flashed deep within them, and I reminded myself that I didn't truly know Viktor.
"The game was started long before I was born, it's about time I joined. Don't you think?" I frowned at him.
It was no secret most Royal's did what they could to attain and maintain power. There were loads of scandals throughout my lifetime. Children from affairs, political schemes, even vague death's.
Being a Royal was a game of cunning. Knowing who to trust and playing your cards right, never giving someone the upper-hand.
My Mom was very open about the game Royal's played, explaining how dangerous they could be. She explained how they dug for dirt on anyone, and they always had other meanings to their words.
"Be careful." Viktor's dark eyes were locked on my own.
I sighed, the butterflies swirling in my stomach at Viktor's words.
"Arabella, finally!" Shannon's voice called out and I whipped my head around to meet her.
She had walked through the crowd towards me, standing just a few feet away from the window I lingered in front of.
Shannon's golden gaze flickered from Viktor to me as she opened her mouth to speak.
"I've been looking everywhere for you." She sighed, shaking her head.
I frowned, "I tried to look for you, but I couldn't catch a break."
Shannon grimaced and shook her head, "I don't know how you're tolerating this. Being dangled like a piece of meat."
"Trust me, I hate it." I replied in a hushed tone.
"Arabella!" An old friend's voice called out.
My mouth dropped when Erik and his little brother came into view.
Erik had always been completely gorgeous. He had dark hair that fell to the side, in that typical superman hairstyle. His eyes were an icy shade of blue, while his teeth gleamed through full lips.
Erik's little brother Max, was like a mini version of Erik, only his face was much rounder with a cute set of dimples.
"Erik!" I grinned, picking my jaw from the floor.
Erik had just turned nineteen and finally took over his parent's smaller Kingdom.
I had last met Erik a year ago, right before my Mom died.
Back then he was shorter and much more lanky. It was like he hit some strange growth spurt in the time he had been gone. His form was no longer lanky, but full of rippling muscles. His face was much more chiseled, and he had even grown a few inches in height.
"I couldn't find you anywhere." Erik chuckled, his face pulling back in a silly grin. "These guys already tearing you apart?"
Erik looked good- really good in his dark suit. His die was flecked with baby blue, matching the intense color of his eyes.
"You don't know the half of it." I chuckled, shaking my head.
Erik was a moment away from taking my hand when he noticed Viktor's dominating presence.
"Uh, whose that Bella?" Erik and Max glanced at Viktor warily.
Erik's eyes narrowed a bit as he looked between Viktor and I, along with the close proximity we were standing.
"He's my body guard." I nodded, glancing once at Viktor's dark eyes.
Viktor had a strange look lingering in his eyes as he practically glowered at Erik.
Shannon cleared her throat, "Um, could I talk to Bella in private for a minute?"
Erik peeled his eyes away from Viktor and gave Shannon and I a grin, "Only if I get a turn when you're done. I have an entire year to catch up on."
Shannon glanced at me, a strange sense of urgency lit up her honey eyes.
"Deal." I grinned at Erik.
He gave me a soft smile and left with a small wave.
"I think Max is into you." I smirked at Shannon.
Max has really filled out as well, and if my math was correct he'd be turning eighteen in just a few short months.
Shannon rolled her eyes, "I'm not trying to meet any guys here. Their all here for you anyhow."
I frowned at her, "Max hardly even glanced at me. He was however looking at you."
Shannon rolled her eyes, but I could see the light blush springing up on her cheeks. "Whatever, that is not what I need to talk to you about."
"Lay it on me. This night has been interesting enough." I frowned, taking a seat on the thick windowsill.
Shannon sat down beside me and glanced at Viktor.
"You can trust him." I frowned. It was almost humorous how I was willing to stand up for Viktor, given I don't know a thing about the guy.
Shannon frowned, "I know."
I wanted to ask her more, but Viktor's obsidian gaze kept the words lodged in my throat.
"We shouldn't even be talkin' about this here, but I need to tell you." Shannon huffed and shook her head making her chocolate curls bounce.
Shannon always had a knact for worrying me, something she was doing at this very moment.
"What do you mean?" I huffed. I was tired of the cryptic answers.
Shannon's golden eyes flickered around at the other guests. Many were dancing, chatting, or enjoying the food and wine. Some stood off to the side in small groups. Occasionally a pair of eyes would flicker in our direction.
"We're definitely being watched here." Shannon shook her head.
I frowned, it made sense after all. All of these Royal's, strangers, and rich families.
"Just say what you can." I sighed, "We'll talk about the rest later."
Shannon nodded, "A Royal family arrived five minutes ago. I don't know who they are, but they're important."
"I wonder who it could be." I frowned. I had only met two Royal families tonight. One being Bryton Duboi, the second being Erik.
Shannon shrugged, "I don't know any names, but I do know your Dad was pissed when they showed up."
"Wait, what?" I frowned, my own voice clouded with worry. "Why would he be mad?"
"I don't know." Shannon shrugged, "He was telling them they had no right to be here. One guy in the family told your Dad you deserved to know if one of them was your mate."
"Stay with me the rest of the night?" I frowned, feeling stranger than ever.
I knew Dad didn't always care for the other Royals, but being openly disrespectful wasn't something he did. I knew he must've had a good reason for not liking this family. It was simply another thing I didn't know. Something else I was kept in the dark about.
"After that mess, I'm not leaving your side." Shannon shook her head.
I sighed and looked towards Viktor. His obsidian eyes were clouded, like his mind wasn't quite here.
"I appreciate that." I sighed.
"Erik, you can come back here now." Shannon grumbled, and a sheepish Erik poked his head from behind the curtains.
"Did he hear our conversation?" I mumbled to Shannon.
"No, lover boy has more sense than that." She whispered back at me.
I rolled my eyes and ignored her comment, grinning at Erik as he came into view.
"Where'd Max go?" I frowned, glancing at Shannon.
Erik shrugged, "Mom needed him for something. Their really excited to see you again y'know."
I smiled, "I missed them a lot."
Shannon and I stood from the windowsill and chatted with Erik.
The entire time I was both anxious and dreading the moment where we'd finally touch. Years of rumors and friendship had all built up to this moment. The moment where I'd find out if my childhood crush would be my soulmate.
"I never got the chance to say it, but I'm sorry about your Mom." Erik frowned, his hand rubbing the back of his head. The action was cute, and would normally send butterflies tumbling in my stomach.
I sighed and gave him a small smile, "Thanks for that. It was rough, but we're doing better now."
Erik nodded, "Good, good. We would've come visit, but your Dad kinda closed everything off after it happened."
"Yeah. He didn't really have a choice though. He couldn't risk losing me too." I frowned.
"I totally understand, but I would've liked to be there for you after it happened." Erik sighed, and a small flutter formed in my stomach.
Erik and I had never done anything more than hold hands, but he was someone who quickly became special to me. His Mom was best friends with my own, and would constantly visit with a little Erik in tow.
Erik was the epitome of good manners. He never pressured me for anything other than sweet words and hand holding. He was everything a ruler should be. Kind, compassionate, strong yet understanding. It was no wonder my family and his got along so well.
I knew without a doubt, Erik would always be an ally regardless if we were mates or not. He was someone I didn't have to pretend around, not that my clueless facade would work around him.
"So, you've got a body guard now?" Erik let out a weary chuckle. It was strange to me how strongly Viktor affected others. While I could feel his intimidating aura, it never made me want to run away. I wonder how it made Erik feel.
I nodded and glanced at Viktor, noticing his gaze was locked on Erik. "Sure do. Dad hired him after the attacks started."
"I heard about those." Erik grimaced, "Did they ever figure out who caused them?"
I shook my head, "Not yet, but my Dad will figure it out. He's too hardheaded to give up on something like that."
"You're right about that. I'm sure he's already talked to my Dad about it." Erik chuckled, "Just keep an eye out tonight, Bella. Not all of the faces here are friendly."
I grimaced, so Erik noticed it too. "Duly noted."
Shannon's golden eyes flickered from Erik to myself, "I'm going to give you two a minute. I won't be far."
Shannon gave me a knocking look and walked over to the service table.
Erik shuffled on his feet, giving Viktor another weary look.
"Mind if I get a minute alone with her?" Erik turned and asked Viktor.
I felt my face turn up in curiosity, but I already knew Viktor's answer.
"No." Viktor's deep voice rumbled, "King's orders."
While I was grateful Viktor wasn't a complete ass to Erik, his voice had a lasting affect on me.
It was like the more I heard his voice, the harder it was to distance myself from him.
Erik sighed and ran a hand through his superman hair.
"I'm sure you've gotten this all night." Erik chuckled, looking somewhat flustered. "This isn't how I wanted it to go."
I gave him an understanding smile, "After everything our families have said about us, I think we owe it to ourselves to find out."
I stepped closer to Erik and let his hand drift up to cup my face. The action was completely different from how Bryton touched me.
This touch was one of familiarity and comfort. Even so, Erik's touch was wildly different from Viktor's.
Viktor's touch was one of silent passion and desire.
I looked into Erik's blue eyes and wondered what a future with him might look like.
It would be simple; effortless. We wouldn't even have to try. There would be no conflict, no boundaries or obstacles.
There would also be no mystery, no passion. There would be no overwhelming desire, no sensual touches that seared the skin and mind.
Erik Hale was not my mate.