It had been my fault ten men were dead. While I felt shaken to my core, regret was one emotion I was lacking.
The men had infiltrated my birthday Gala and threatened the lives of innocent- and not so innocent people. As far as I was concerned they were fair game.
Aela was stunned into silence for the next half hour.
"That's why I was gone, isn't it?" Aela frowned, "I felt so drained after everything happened."
"I did too." I nodded, "But what if our energy was drained due to our intentions?"
"Well..What were you thinking of when it happened?" Aela replied.
"Just.. protecting Viktor." I frowned, that was one moment I remembered clearly, "He was about to die, and I couldn't let that happen."
"I don't see how those intention's weren't pure." Aela shrugged, "You weren't trying to kill them."
I searched around the grounds for Shannon, hoping she would have some insight on what Uncle Jaspar and I had talked about.
He wanted the necklace, to keep me safe. I trusted Uncle Jaspar with my life, certainly I could trust him with the necklace.
Shannon was nowhere to be found, so I headed down to the kitchens to find Sheila.
Sheila told me Shannon had picked up an extra shift at the cafe, but she wouldn't meet my eyes as she said the words. If I didn't already have enough on my mind, I would've thought Sheila was hiding something from me.
I gave up on Shannon and searched for August, coming short on that front as well.
I wandered aimlessly, finding myself in the gardens. Mom had always loved the gardens and it's peaceful aroma's. The gardens with their multitude of colorful and blossoming flowers offered no insight or peace this time. The thoughts in my head were simply too erratic to calm.
The gazebo was where Caroline had found me. A servant trailed behind Caroline, the silver handles of the lunch cart in her hands.
"There you are." Caroline huffed, sitting down beside me. "I was looking everywhere for you."
Guilt ran through me. I hadn't seen Caroline since the night of my birthday Gala. While she was looking for me, I wasn't looking for her. I felt like a terrible friend. Even with all of the crap going on, I should still make time for her.
"Sorry." I frowned, "Just have a lot on my mind."
I glanced down at the food and frowned. My appetite was simply lacking, the stress filling my stomach instead of food.
"I understand that." Caroline frowned, picking at the food on the cart, "Are you feeling better? You had us all worried for awhile there."
I nodded, "Feeling as well as I can after everything that happened."
"Your Dad will find out what happened," Caroline nodded. "I'm sure of it."
"I'm sorry." I sighed, "I haven't even asked how you were holding up. I couldn't find you anywhere that night."
"I'm dealing." Caroline frowned, "I managed to escape through the doors right after your Dad. His guards were insane. Ushered him out before he could even turn to look for you."
"Dad got out?" I frowned. Uncle Jaspar led August and I further into the ballroom when I demanded he bring me to my Dad.
"He did, even though he really didn't want to." Caroline shook her head, "The poor guy was nearly going crazy, shouting your name and all that. I thought he was about to kill his own guards."
"I didn't know that." I frowned.
"None of that stuff matters anymore." Caroline huffed, giving me a small smile. "You're alive, your Dad's alive and so are the rest of us."
"You're right." I nodded, but my mind couldn't help but wander to those who lost their lives that night.
Sure, my family and friends were alive but the deaths of those people still mattered.
The rest of the day passed by in an uneventful blur. Dad and Uncle Jaspar were overloaded with work, unable to make time for another visit.
Out of all the Royal's in our home, I only managed to run into the ones I liked the least.
It was nearing midnight when I crept from my room for something to eat. Viktor followed, of course, somehow alerted by the smallest bit of noise I made.
I nearly toppled into a flustered looking August. My heart clenched at the sight of him as I read the alarm in his eyes.
"Arabella, just who I was looking for." August huffed.
His eyes were wide with what looked like fear and suspicion.
"I've been looking for you all day." I huffed, giving him a pointed look.
"That's not important." August shook his head, "I need to talk to you about something."
August's words came out in a rush, and his eyes flickered warily to Viktor.
"You can trust him." I nodded, "Anything you say will stay between us."
August paused for a moment, his haunted stare lingering on Viktor before it returned to my face.
"You can never be to careful, Arabella." August's voice was filled with so much suspicion and torment that I nearly flinched.
"He looks terrified." Aela murmured.
"Can you blame him?" I frowned,"After meeting his Mom and sister, I can see why he's terrified."
"He doesn't even have his Dad on his side." Aela shook her head, "His Dad's just another pawn."
Before I could respond, August leaned in close. I felt Viktor tense beside me, ready in case August tried to hurt me.
August was close enough to give me a good whiff of his scent. Fresh leaves and a hint of something spicy. Instead of trying to hurt me, August spoke low and fast.
"In case something happens to me, you need to know-" August murmured fast, his eyes burning into my own.
"August, there you are." A voice I was beginning to loathe called out.
Elena Halifax strolled down the hall. By the strange glint in her eyes, she knew she interrupted something important.
August pulled away from me quickly, his eyes burning with the importance of what he was going to say.
"Come now, August." Elena sniffed, "Your Father is asking for you, and you musn't keep him waiting."
"Yes, Mother." August replied in a dead tone, his eyes locked on mine.
August turned and walked down the hall, shooting me one last wide-eyed glance when he was out of Elena's line of sight.
"Princess Arabella." Elena murmured in what might've looked like a polite fashion, "Having trouble sleeping?"
"On the contrary, I enjoy the night." I responded, a stiff smile forming on my face. "Gives plenty of time to think."
Elena's face lit up in a skillful manner, she was a master at controlling her emotions.
"Ah, so you've thought over my offer?" Elena grinned, looking years younger when a smile adorned her face.
Her pale hair was pulled back in a tight braid that hung down to her waist. She was dressed casual yet regal.
"I have thought it over." I nodded, "You intend for Annalise to rule?"
Elena's beaming smile turned wary, her eyes glinting with some hidden emotion.
"My son is in line for the throne, Princess." Elena remained poised and innocent, "That is common knowledge."
"He is." I nodded, "But as you said, women can do things men cannot."
Something flickered in Elena's eyes, and for just a moment I knew I had her.
"Very smart for your age, Princess." Elena smirked, "You are correct after all. Men are distracted by pretty faces. They believe brute force to be the true source of power. Would you like a bit of advice, Princess?"
"Yes, Elena." I nodded, letting interest pour into my gaze.
"The true source of power does not lie with brute force. True power is given to those who work quietly behind the scenes, simply waiting for the right moment to strike."
Elena's eyes were a wealth of hidden knowledge and I knew without a doubt she could teach me much, but I knew we were separate sides of the same coin.
Power is rarely given to those who want it.
"Goodnight, Princess." Elena murmured, turning to walk down the hall. "It appears you have much to think about tonight."
"Goodnight, Elena." I nodded.
I retreated back to my bedroom, relinquishing the hunger that churned in my stomach.
While Elena's words were cryptic and sounded unhelpful, I had learned one thing tonight.
August had every right to be afraid.
I didn't open my mouth to speak until Viktor and I were safely in my room. I kept my voice low, fearing someone would be listening in on us.
I had been doing my best to pull away from Viktor since the night my mate had visited. It felt wrong to give into the strange connection I had with my bodyguard when my mate was out there longing for me.
"What do you make of Elena, Viktor?" I murmured, watching the emotion form in his dark eyes.
He seemed surprised, but it was hard to tell. Maybe he hadn't expected me to ask his opinion. One thing I knew to be certain, the quiet ones noticed the most.
"She is a snake." Viktor replied quickly, his voice thick with the strange guttural accent.
I nodded, "I think August is in danger."
"August and many others." Viktor responded, his dark eyes were burning into my skin. His gaze warmed me, and helped ease the turmoil in my mind.
"I don't know what to do." I huffed, plopping down on the edge of my bed. "Elena isn't the only snake here. I don't know where to begin."
Viktor paused for just a moment, his obsidian eyes were observing me carefully.
"You cannot kill every snake at one time." Viktor finally responded, and I was hopelessly enamored with the words that fell from his masked lips and the thick accent that cocooned them. "You kill them one by one."
"One by one." I murmured to myself, the makings of a plan forming in my head.
I looked up at Viktor with bright eyes. This plan wouldn't solve all of my problems, but it might just give me some insight.
"I need a favor."