When Shannon demanded something, she got it.
Shannon was clearly born to rule. It was evident in her voice, in the conviction she let shine into her words. Her Mom Sheila, was exactly the same way. It was hard resisting the two of them when they put their foot down.
“Bella, I might not be strong but I will pick you up and throw you into this bath.” Shannon grimaced, her hands on her hips as she watched me.
Shannon had spent the last half an hour running me a bath. She said she put ‘the works’ in it. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I could only assume.
“Don’t give me that look.” Shannon rolled her eyes, “You know I didn’t put no weird stuff in that bath.”
“Uh huh.” I nodded, giving the bubbling bath a skeptical look.
The smell coming off of the water was heavenly, but I wouldn’t admit that to Shannon. I enjoyed giving her a hard time, but she knew I meant well.
“I put some damn bath oils in.” Shannon rolled her eyes but quickly became serious. “I went into Viktor’s old room. The guards cleared the room of his stuff, but there was still some body wash and shampoo in the room. I put some of that in the bath. Figured it might help relax you.”
Realization dawned on me and my cheeks turned a light shade of pink. That was why the bath water smelled so amazing. It smelled like Viktor.
“Uh huh, and you thought I wouldn’t notice you sniffing the air like a damn hound.” Shannon shook her head, a smirk on her face.
“A hound?” I scoffed, snickering as Aela’s eyes widened. “My wolf is offended.”
“Tell your wolf to make you stop being so damn stubborn.” Shannon shrugged, “Then I wouldn’t have to offend the two of you.”
‘Stop being stubborn, Bella.’ Aela grumbled, ‘I’m not a damn hound.’
“Alright, I’ll get in the bath.” I chuckled.
“Good.” Shannon seemed pleased. “Now you need to not think of anything while you’re in here. Just think of Viktor, not all the stressful stuff.”
“Easier said than done.” I frowned.
“I know.” Shannon nodded, “Which is why I’m not expectin’ you to get this down right away. You got a couple days until August leaves. You better find a way to contact Viktor before then.”
“I’ll give it my all.” I promised her.
“Good.” Shannon sighed, brushing back a strand of her curly hair. “I’ll be out there.”
“Thank you, Shannon.” I smiled at her, “You’re the best.”
“I know I am.” Shannon cocked an eyebrow, her lips pulling up in a smile. “Remember that when you figure out my Christmas bonus.”
“Christmas bonus?” I gaped.
“Think happy thoughts!” She called out, closing the door behind her with a chuckle.
Once Shannon left, I slipped my clothes off and hopped into the bath. Shannon was right, as she often is. The water was scalding against my skin, but eased the tense muscles in my back. The scent swirled around me, lulling me. It smelled so similar to Viktor, but it was lacking something. Viktor’s scent was so much more than just a simple body wash. Unfortunately, this would have to do for now.
I positioned the waterproof pillow against my neck and let my head relax.
‘Think of Viktor.’ Aela urged me. ‘What it would be like to have him next to you.’
I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent deeply, letting it paint a clear image of Viktor in my mind. The image of Viktor was free of his mask and gloves. He was free to touch me in any way he pleased. I belonged to him, just as he belonged to me. His obsidian eyes were dark and alluring, his chocolate hair tousled perfectly. The muscles on his arms rippled, begging to be touched. I imagined him here in the tub with me, his arms wrapped around my bare torso as we both enjoyed the steaming water.
Something clicked audibly inside my head, and I swore I could feel a tugging sensation in my heart. Before I could focus on that feeling, another face popped into my mind.
Dark eyes, dark hair, sly smile.
It wasn’t Viktor sitting in the bath with me anymore, it was Nikolai Aslanov. His arms were wrapped around my bare torso, the feeling disgusting against my skin. He was whispering into my ear, his voice silky and cunning. Whispering how I needed to choose him, choose him to save my Dad and Kingdom. Disgusted and horrified, my eyes flung open. I couldn’t sit in the tub any longer, the feeling of the water only strengthened the image of Nikolai in my mind.
The bath water was freezing against my skin. The smell of Viktor’s body wash was beginning to fade from the bathroom. My toes and hands were all wrinkled, slick with the soap that lingered in the water. I rinsed my body quickly and dried off, slipping on my pajamas.
“Took you long enough.” Shannon huffed, sitting up from her spot on the couch.
“I was only in there for ten minutes.” I rolled my eyes, towel drying my wet hair.
“Ten minutes?” Shannon scoffed, “Try two hours.”
“Two hours?” My jaw dropped. It couldn’t possibly have been that long.
“Did you get anywhere?” Shannon frowned, waiting for my response.
Once my brain successfully caught up, I was able to answer her question.
“Almost. I swore I felt something but---” I sighed, “but Nikolai Aslanov popped into my mind and distracted me.”
“That creep, why him?” Shannon scowled.
“I have no idea.” I shrugged, “It could’ve been anyone, I suppose. I’m just lucky it wasn’t Bryton Duboi.”
“You’re right about that.” Shannon nodded, “Watch out though, Nikolai’s the biggest snake of them all.”
Shannon and I stayed up for most of the night, trying to come up with some solution for August. He was safe while he remained here. Even Elena wouldn’t be so stupid as to make an attempt on her sons life within another Kingdom. Once the Halifax family returned home, August was fair game.
We managed to snag just a few hours of sleep, waking when the sun was already in the sky. Even in my dreams, I had thought about Viktor. His face was in my dream the entire time, right in the center of my mind. Shannon woke with a grunt, startling me from sleep. We were both sprawled out on my bed, the covers still tucked neatly in place.
Shannon groaned as she looked down at her phone.
“Is it gonna be that kind of day?” I huffed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Caroline wants to have lunch with us---who am I kidding, she demands to have lunch with us.” Shannon scowled, “She’s been blowing my phone up. She says if were not here in ten minutes she’s coming up here.”
“It’s definitely going to be that kind of morning.” I sighed, falling back onto the bed. “We have ten minutes though, that’s good.”
“I got that text five minutes ago.” Shannon grumbled.
“Shit.” That was the only word that came from my mouth as I jumped up from bed.
Shannon and I rushed to get dressed, the two of us looking like complete messes. Shannon’s curls were a little more wild today. I smoothed down my hair as best I could and the two of us left my bedroom.
I ran into a hard chest as we turned the corner. For just a second my heart leaped, thinking of Viktor. If I closed my eyes, I could pretend he never left.
“Princess?” Beta Devin’s voice was startled.
I peeled myself off of him with a sigh. Placing a smile on my face, I looked at Dad’s Beta. I’m sure he could see the disappointment in his eyes, not that he’d understand where it was coming from.
“Your Dad instructed me to act as your body guard until a suitable replacement could be found.” Beta Devin gave me a sympathetic smile, no doubt thinking about how my old bodyguard tried to kill me.
“Fine.” I nodded, “But Viktor wasn’t behind the attack. We need to be on the same page if you’re gonna be protecting me. I don’t care what you’ve heard from anyone else. As your future Alpha Queen, I am telling you he did not do it.”
I knew it was unnecessary, but my patience was wearing thin. I was determined to tell anyone who would listen that Viktor was innocent. My own people needed to listen to me, needed to heed my words. I knew that wouldn’t stop the Halifax and Duboi family from wanting his head, but my own people would remain on my side.
“I believe you, Princess.” Beta Devin nodded, a tight smile on his face.
The power that had once been surrounding me faded from my voice, my eyes widening in surprise.
“Dad told you?” I asked, looking up at Beta Devin.
“No, Princess.” Beta Devin shook his head, “There are some things a King must keep to himself. I figured your Dad would have the entire army searching for the man who almost killed his daughter. So far, he has deployed no forces. The other Royal’s are chewing him out for not acting sooner.”
“He won’t be able to stay silent for long.” Shannon murmured, her golden eyes locked on me. “Sooner or later he’ll have to take action. The other Royal’s won’t let him sit by idle.”
“It seems your Dad hasn’t been feeling too well lately.” Beta Devin frowned, “Your Uncle says the stress is getting to him. Seems he needs a day off.”
“It seems so.” I frowned.
‘Have you been feeling alright?’, I mind-linked my Dad.
‘Just the stress, Bella.’ Dad’s voice came through instantly. I couldn’t help but notice how tired he sounded. ‘I’ll be back to normal in no time. Ruling isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.’
‘So far I’m beginning to agree.’ I murmured, ‘Get some rest today. No working.’
‘Bella, you know that’s impossible right?’ Dad sounded amused.
‘As your future Alpha Queen, I command you take a day off.’ I tried to keep my voice stern, but I could hear my Dad’s laughter on the other end.
‘Alright Alpha Queen, I’ll take a day off.’ Dad chuckled, ‘I guess Beta Devin arrived on time?’
‘He sure did.’ I chuckled, ‘Thanks for the replacement. I couldn’t have chosen better myself.’
I ended the mind-link with my Dad, meeting the eyes of Beta Devin.
“Dad’s taking the day off.” I smiled up at Beta Devin.
“Good, stubborn old man.” Beta Devin shook his head, a smile playing on his lips.
“Don’t let him hear you say that.” I chuckled, “I don’t think he’s against executing his Beta.”
“You have no idea how many times he’s threatened me with that one.” Beta Devin grinned, “Never quite got around to it though.”
“We’ll figure something out later on. We have enough to deal with at the moment.” I murmured to Shannon as Beta Devin followed us down the hall.
We made it to the gazebo with seconds to spare. Caroline was already standing from her chair, ready to come and hunt us down. Her blonde hair seemed lighter, but then again I hadn’t seen her in a few days.
“If you two knew how hard it was to get my Mom to let me go, you would’ve never been late.” Caroline scoffed, slumping down in her chair with a huff.
“Sorry Caroline.” The two of us mumbled our apologies and took our seats at the small table. On cue, two of the servants came out into the garden a serving tray rattling behind them.
Beta Devin stood off to the side, silent but observant. The sight only made me yearn for Viktor. I felt constantly on edge with him gone. The sight of Beta Devin taking his place only made my heart hurt. Viktor was meant to be by my side. My silent and somewhat brooding mate.
“You’re going to have to apologize at least four more times before I’m satisfied.” Caroline huffed, picking a strawberry from the food cart and plucking it in her mouth.
“So, I hear your Mom’s been keeping you on lockdown?” I questioned, shooting Shannon a sharp look.
“Oh my gosh, you’d never believe it.” Caroline shook her head, launching into the tirade I had anticipated. “She acts like those crazy assassins were after me of all people. I tried to tell her they wanted the damn future Alpha Queen. But did she believe me? Definitely not.”
Shannon and I sat in silence, letting Caroline get it all out of her system. She looked less disgruntled when she finished, letting out a sharp breath.
“Feel better?” I raised my eyebrow at her, chuckling as she rolled her eyes.
“I’ll feel better when she lets me out of the house without a game of twenty questions.” Caroline rolled her eyes again, something she did often.
“Get yourself a body guard, then she might not worry so much.” I chuckled, my eyes flickering over to Beta Devin.
Beta Devin wasn’t nearly as subtle as Viktor, making my heart ache with longing. The mate bond was there in my mind, but accessing it was the problem.
“Speaking of body guards.” Caroline pursed her lips. “It’s a shame what happened with Viktor. He was so delectable. I can’t believe he’d do something like that.”
“He didn’t.” I clenched my teeth together. How could she compliment and insult him all in one breath?
I couldn’t help it when the possessive jealousy flared. Viktor was mine--every bit of him was mine. As much as she pined for him, that would never change.
“He didn’t?” Caroline’s blue eyes narrowed, “Why do you say that? From what I hear, they have tons of proof.”
“A false confession isn’t proof.” I shook my head, my temper flaring.
“Who says it’s false?” Caroline frowned, her voice taking on a fake soothing tone. “I know you two were close, but I think it’s clouding your judgement. What he did was awful.”
“My judgement isn’t clouded.” I snapped, my anger growing. “I’m stating facts. The confession was forced, it was planned out. Viktor didn’t orchestrate anything. Someone else did.”
“Well then who did it?” Caroline grimaced, her tone urgent and pressing. She seemed far too interested for someone who simply wanted to know.
‘Now we sound paranoid.’ Aela groaned in my head.
‘We’re the future Alpha Queen. We have at least 2 Kingdom’s plotting our death. We can afford to be a little paranoid.’ I grimaced.
Something silly crossed my mind, something I had seen done in a movie. The main character had three friends, one of which was actually an enemy. She told the three friends a different rumor and waited to see who spilled. I didn’t see why I couldn’t do the same.
“Elena Halifax.” Her name was the first on my lips. “Elena Halifax is responsible for the coup.”