I had a total of five seconds to access the chaos around me.
Viktor was knelt on the floor, a mere ten feet away. His full lips were turned down in an incredulous frown as he gazed at me with his obsidian eyes.
The men that had surrounded him had collapsed to the floor simultaneously, each one laying in an unnerving heap on the floor.
Blood splatter stained the porcelain floor in random locations, and I distantly worried there had been innocent lives lost today.
The necklace that had once seared my skin, felt ice cold. My vision quickly became spotty and before I could register my legs crumbling from underneath me, my world was engulfed into darkness.
I woke to the feel of a cool hand against my head, along with a familiar shrill voice. I kept my eyes shut, listening in on what the people in the room were saying.
"Is she gonna be alright?" Caroline's shrill voice pierced the air, followed by a sob.
I could hear someone's feet shuffling against the floor, and a cool hand placed against my head.
Relief flooded through me at Caroline's voice. She was being over dramatic which meant she wasn't hurt or too emotionally scarred from my horrific birthday.
"She's gonna be fine, Caroline." Shannon's exasperated voice filled the air, "The doctor checked her out already. He said she collapsed from exhaustion."
Shannon's voice was practically music to my ears. While Shannon sounded calm, I could hear the underlying tone of fear in her voice. While Caroline was a pro at shaking these kinds of things off, Shannon was definitely stressed. Not that I blamed her in the slightest.
Exhaustion crept over my eyelids and I fell back into darkness.
I was in that blissful state of sleep, bordering on consciousness. The kind of feeling where you can hear everything around you, but the energy to open your eyes isn't yet present.
"Take it." A quiet voice hissed.
"You heard what he said." Another one replied lowly, this time much closer to me. "It wont work."
My heart hammered in my chest, but I couldn't seem to discern if this was occurring in real life or not. Faces flashed through my head, ones I had seen at my birthday gala.
"What does he know?" The voice farther away growled, louder this time. "He only wants it for himself."
"Quiet, fool." The other voice growled, "Do you want to wake her?"
"We should just kill her and be done with this." The voice that was farther away growled.
"We can't" Another hiss, "The boss isn't done with her yet."
"Fine." Another low growl, "Don't say I didn't warn you."
I fought the urge to jostle myself out of sleep, and instead I remained completely still.
Hazy, sleep filled questions ran through my brain in a confusing tornado.
Who was this boss and what did he want with me? What were they trying to take from me? Who were they? Was this happening in my head?
Two of my questions were answered when I felt rough fingers graze my collarbone, trailing closer to the necklace I was wearing.
"She's such a pretty little thing. She would have never existed in the old days." The one touching me murmured nastily.
"Enough." The other voice hissed, "We don't have time for that. Someone could be here any minute to check on her."
The one touching my neck let out a low growl, making contact with the necklace Dad gave me.
Something strange happened the moment his fingers wrapped around the necklace.
A loud shriek left the man's mouth, followed by the rancid smell of burning flesh.
The necklace lay against my neck, cool as can be.
"Quiet, quiet!" The other man growled.
"I told you this wouldn't work!" The burning man hissed in pain. "Stupid fucking thing burnt me."
Low and heavy footsteps sounded from the room next to me, and the men scrambled.
I heard the sound of a door creaking open silently, and prayed more men hadn't come to their aid.
Time's like these I desperately missed Aela. She was deep in the back of my head, still unconscious from the events of my birthday.
I kept my entire body still, waiting for the person who entered to make themselves known.
Instead of hearing anything, I felt something.
A strange sensation ran down my face, and it took me a few moments to realize it was someone's finger.
It didn't feel like human skin though. It was something thicker and much more smooth.
The thought had clicked in my head the moment I thought of him. I could feel him drag his gloved hand down the side of my cheek, and I instantly relaxed into the pillows.
I wasn't sure how long he stood there, simply running his hand down the side of my face. Before I knew it, I had drifted back into the darkness.
When I finally opened my eyes, the light was blinding.
Bright sunlight poured through the curtains in hues or orange and white, instantly making me shut my eyes. It took me a few minutes blinking back the tears, until I could finally see straight.
My mouth felt horribly dry, while my body ached with the memory of my birthday and how horribly things went wrong.
The first face my eyes settled on were my Dad's. His silver eyes were clouded with many emotions. Worry, relief, fear and happiness were the most prominent emotions lingering on his aging face.
"Dad?" The word left my lips in a hoarse whisper.
The simple word seemed to bring him to life as he rushed over to the side of the bed. He lifted a glass of water from the table and set it gently in my hands.
I gulped the glass down greedily, shifting my legs to the side so Dad could sit on the bed.
"You had me terrified y'know." Dad shook his head, his eyes refusing to leave my face.
I gave him a weak smile, "I told you I didn't want a party."
An exhausted chuckle left his lips, "Good, you still have your humor intact."
"Dad, what the hell happened?" I frowned, the forced humor draining from my system.
Dad's face fell and I took in how exhausted he looked. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Things aren't as safe here as they should be." Dad sighed, his weary gaze flickering to Viktor.
It was then I noticed Viktor standing across the room, and my heart leaped at the sight of him.
My mind went back to last night where I had a hazy memory of his hand against my face.
He stood against the wall completely dressed in black. His black mask and gloves were right where I remembered them to be.
The memories from my birthday gala had been a little fuzzy, but I clearly remembered a maskless Viktor. His face had been as flawless as I imagined.
My heart continued to hammer as I remembered him on his knee's, seconds away from death. Why does the thought of Viktor's death chill me so much?
"This is the biggest Kingdom in the world, though." I frowned, "How could it not be safe?"
"Living in the biggest Kingdom means more subjects, more people able to betray you." Dad sighed, "I've known for awhile that some weren't loyal to me, but I never could have anticipated this."
"This isn't your fault, Dad." I shook my head stubbornly, "Why would people be disloyal to you? You've been nothing but a kind and caring ruler."
"I have only used cruelty and violence when absolutely necessary, but there will always be those who place their loyalties elsewhere." Dad pursed his lips, and I struggled to understand.
Why betray a Kingdom that cares for each person?
Something about his words made me think to last night, when the two men had come into my room.
"Dad, what are the old days?" I blurted out, driven by the intense urge to know.
There was a quick change in the room, as if someone had turned out the lights. Dad's eyes flickered to Viktor for just a fraction of a second. If I had been looking anywhere other than Dad, I would've missed the action entirely.
Viktor's obsidian gaze was locked on my own, something unknown and ancient swirling in their depths.
"Where have you heard that term, Bella?" Dad's fought to keep his voice calm, but I could feel the deadly aura of power swirling around him.
I shrugged, pretending it wasn't important. "I think I heard it from one of the masked guys at my birthday gala."
While I knew I could trust my Dad with anything, something told me to keep my mouth shut about the men in my room. At least until I understood more. It was clear Dad was still trying to protect me, so I knew he wouldn't give me any information that would put me in danger.
"It isn't something we speak about." Dad shook his head solemnly, and I sighed.
I knew from his reaction he wouldn't say anything, but that didn't mean I couldn't hope for answers.
"Where's my wolf, Dad?" I frowned, feeling that Aela was still completely unconscious.
"Your wolf's energy was completely drained, as was yours." Dad frowned, "She's gonna be unreachable for a couple days. It was one stressful night, wasn't it?"
"It was." I frowned, "Did anyone die at my gala?"
It was going to be a rough few days without Aela. I wouldn't be able to smell normally or hear things the way a typical Lycan could. That also meant I couldn't defend myself if need be.
I still had heightened strength, but my senses and ability to shift were on pause for the time being.
Dad paused for a few moments, making my heart thud in my chest, "There were a few lives lost, yes."
I could feel the tears threaten to form in my eyes, and I forced them down furiously. Now wasn't the time to cry.
"I want us to pay for their funerals." My voice was hard, weighed with the grief I felt for the ones who died and their families. "And we will make sure their families are taken care of. It is the least we can do."
Even in my weakened state I could feel something fluttering through the air. It felt strong and unique, power intertwined with will and the right to rule through blood.
"Of course." Dad nodded, a strange look clouding his eyes. "It is incredible how much you've changed these few days."
"Don't worry, I still feel completely lost most of the time." I chuckled humorlessly.
Dad stayed for as long as he could, telling me about the new security details that were going into place tomorrow.
For the time being Viktor and I had changed bedrooms to another wing of the mansion entirely. This wing was much more secure.
Dad was shipping out more guards from the surrounding towns and cities he ruled over. Many were being called to the capital to aid us in this time of need.
Once Dad left, another familiar face stepped into the room.
Beta Devin stepped into the room, a smile on his face as he saw me sitting up.
"Good to see you up, Princess!" Beta Devin shot me a huge grin as he came into the room.
Beta Devin had been a close family friend for many years. His own mate died ten years back and he finally remarried only two short years ago. It had taken him a lot of time and thinking before he finally decided to remarry. His new wife Ramona, was a nice woman.
While my Dad had a hard time understanding how Beta Devin could remarry after his mate passed, Dad gave him his blessing for the marriage.
"I heard you had quite the birthday." Beta Devin chuckled, but I could see the seriousness in his eyes.
Beta Devin had always been like a second father to me, much like Uncle Jaspar.
Beta Devin was quite the frightening man if you went by appearances alone.
His built was that of a typical Lycan; Huge and muscular.
Beta Devin had once been a formidable warrior, helping him build his size with ease. While he hated politics, he was glad my Dad gave him this position.
"That's an understatement." I huffed, a smile playing at my own lips.
"Any luck on finding your mate?" Beta Devin smiled wistfully, and my heart ached at the sight.
"Unfortunately, no." I shook my head, "But it'll happen in time. How's your life been?"
Beta Devin gave me an understanding smile and launched into how his vacation went. Devin and his new wife had gone on a month long vacation, a late honeymoon of sorts.
After chatting with Beta Devin for quite some time, I was left alone with Viktor. The servants had brought in the dinner cart, and I munched quietly.
"How are you feeling, Princess?" Jules gave me a small smile as she pulled the dinner cart up to the bed.
"I've been better, Jules." I sighed, "At least I'm alive!"
Jules giggled showing a set of gleaming teeth, "That is a blessing for sure, Princess."
Once the servants left, the air thickened with unspoken words around me and Viktor.
I wasn't quite sure what to say.
Hey, I'm glad you didn't die? I'm super relieved you're alive because I have some weird attraction to you?
None of those would work. I was beginning to see how much I relied on Aela, she truly was my closest companion.
I ate my food quietly, trying to figure out the right words to say. Aela would know what to do, what to say to bring Viktor closer to me.
"It's so quiet without my wolf." I broke the silence first, squirming under Viktor's intense gaze.
It was already dark outside, and my energy was beginning to wane. I felt like a battery that couldn't charge properly.
"She will come back." Viktor's rough voice filled the silent room, and I found myself holding onto every syllable. "Go to sleep, little Princess."
My eyes were already beginning to flutter when Viktor moved the food cart from the side of my bed.
'Little Princess' had ran circles in my head for quite some time once Viktor left for his own room.
I remembered clearly the way it felt when Nikolai called me 'little Princess'. Nikolai had made me feel like an incompetent child, trying to play a game for adults.
The way Viktor said it felt much different. It felt like a compliment, like I was a prize above the rest.
Something strange had stirred me from my bed. It wasn't a sound or a smell, but more of a feeling. Something in my head was telling me to get up.
That same something was telling me to leave my bedroom.
I pulled my legs over the side of the bed and staggered slightly as my feet hit the cold floor.
I was wearing an old t-shirt and a pair of shorts, but the chill in the house sent goosebumps rushing my skin.
I wasn't surprised when Viktor emerged from his room, his mask and gloves fully in place. He was dressed in a black tank-top and a loose pair of shorts.
I didn't need Aela's coercion to let my eyes roam up and down his body. His broad shoulders were chiseled and defined as they led down to his large arms.
Viktor cleared his throat quietly, and I peeled my eyes away from his body.
One of his dark eyebrows raised questioningly, and I put a finger to my lips to silence him.
"Quiet." I mouthed, turning my back on him and creeping down the hallway.
I had no clue where I was going, but something was driving me forward. It was like my body was on autopilot. I made random turns down the halls, and only stopped when the sound of hushed voices filled my ears.
Viktor and I stood at the end of the hallway, and I peaked my head around the corner.
At the very end of the hall was a large balcony. What was concerning, were the two shrouded figures standing under the moonlight.
Both covered by a hood, and whispering under their breath.
My human eyesight and hearing gave me no help, and I turned to Viktor.
"What are they saying?" I spoke lowly, bringing my head as close as I could to Viktor.
I ignored it when he moved away from me. For once, touching him was the least of my concerns.
"They are speaking of you." Viktor's voice was so low I struggled to make out his rough words.
"What about me?" I whispered back, desperately wanting to inch my way forward.
Something in my gut was telling me to pay attention. It wasn't giving me any indication that the conversation was good or bad, it was simply telling me to listen.
"Ten men dead, they do not know the cause." Viktor murmured under his breath, his thick accent twisting the words.
My mind went back to the night of my birthday gala. The strange heat that radiated from the necklace, and the burst of sheer power that exploded from within me. There was no way I was responsible for killing those men, right? The thought alone nearly made me sick. I wasn't capable of that, of mass murder.
"They say your necklace has power." Viktor murmured, his obsidian eyes locked on my own.
I pursed my lips, wondering if Viktor was truly someone I could trust.
My Dad's voice was clear in my head, warning me that people would want the necklace for themselves.
"They would be right." I murmured back, my own eyes reflected in Viktor's.
For whatever reason, that feeling deep in my gut gave no warning bells when it came to Viktor. It was as though he was the one exception.
"They suspect someone is listening." Viktor murmured, "We must leave."
Viktor's thick accent played in my head as he quickly escorted me back to my bedroom.
As much as I tried to sleep, my mind was turning in circles.
"I miss you, Aela." I murmured into the nothingness, Aela's slumbering soul in the back of my head.