Shannon and I stayed in my bedroom until well in the afternoon. One of the servants brought the dinner cart, leaving us in silence.
We talked about many things, all in our hushed tones. Beta Devin had taken up temporary residency in Viktor’s old bedroom, a fact that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like how easily Viktor was replaced. It was easy for everyone else; he was just a faceless bodyguard. I couldn’t imagine someone else taking Viktor’s place.
Where I had once loathed the idea of a bodyguard, I would do anything to get Viktor back. I owed that to him.
Shannon and I were dealing with one of our many problems, finding proof against Nikolai Aslanov.
“How are we going to get proof when he’s thousands of miles away.” Shannon groaned, falling back on my bed.
“I have no idea.” I shook my head, “It’s not like I can just call him up and invite him over to dinner. Dad would have my head.”
Shannon was quiet for a few moments, prompting me to look her way. Her golden eyes were glinting slyly as she chewed on her lip.
“I mean—you very well could do that.” Shannon shrugged, giving me an innocent look.
“Dad would kill me.” I shook my head, “Plus I doubt he would even agree. Nikolai Aslanov would certainly be suspicious.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Shannon shrugged, “Sure, he’d be suspicious. Have you seen the guy? A walking manipulator. But he wouldn’t be able to say no. I only met the family once, but I could already tell he likes to be in the middle of all this drama.”
“Okay—so say I invite him over for dinner, how would I contact him?” I grimaced, “I don’t think Dad has his phone number lying around.”
“You’re going to have to go to someone you know is working with him.” Shannon frowned, not wanting to tell me the answer.
“Elena.” I groaned as the pieces fit together in my head.
I would have to go to the last person I liked with a favor. Just what I needed.
“Do we have to?” I groaned, pinching the bridge of my nose. A headache was beginning to form.
’A headache named Elena Halifax.” Aela grumbled in my head.
“Come with me?” I grinned sheepishly, my grin widening as Shannon’s eyebrow cocked up.
“Like I’d let you do this alone.” Shannon scoffed, “That woman would have you in her sticky spider web in a second.”
The two of us went to the other wing of the mansion. Dad had put the Royals in the other side of the building, making sure to keep their bedrooms far from my own.
Beta Devin trailed behind us the entire way. I stopped halfway down the hall, turning to face him.
“You have to let us go in alone.” I frowned at my Dad’s Beta, knowing what he would say.
“Not a chance, Princess.” Beta Devin shook his head, his thick eyebrows furrowing together.
“Look, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.” I frowned, “Wait just outside the door. I will mind-link you directly if there is any trouble.”
“Don’t let your Dad hear about this, Arabella.” Beta Devin frowned, “This is risky, even for you.”
“I know.” I nodded, “But they won’t hurt me in my own home. That much I know.”
“You put too much trust in these Royals.” Beta Devin shook his head, “They are capable of more than you know.”
“I’m sure they are.” I nodded, “But this needs to be done in private. The less people who know, the better.”
“Princess?” Beta Devin’s voice was concerned.
“Yes, Beta Devin?” I turned, looking into his worried eyes.
“Just to clear an old man’s head, you’re not planning anything—unbecoming with the Halifax family, are you?” I could see how uncomfortable this question made Beta Devin.
I wanted to be angry, but in truth I understood. He was worried for me. He had watched me grow up by Dad’s side, he too saw me as a little girl when I was anything but.
“I would never.” I shook my head, “I only work with those I trust.”
“Thank you, Princess.” Beta Devin nodded, looking more at ease.
I knocked on the double suite door a few times, waiting as I heard shuffling coming from within.
Beta Devin stiffened from behind us, clearly reluctant to let us go in alone.
August’s father opened the door. A large man with fiery hair like his kids, only August’s father looked much friendlier than the bunch of them. I wondered if August would look the same, were it not for the threat of death.
“Princess Arabella!” August’s Dad grinned, “What brings you here?”
“Hello, Mr. Halifax.” I smiled politely, realizing I never had an actual conversation with the man.
“Call me Geoff, Princess.” Geoff Halifax smiled, taking my outstretched hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.
“I was just here to speak with Elena, if you don’t mind.” I smiled up at him, watching as confusion filled his gaze.
“Elena?” Geoff frowned.
As though she had been listening the entire time, Elena Halifax swept into the room. She was wearing a knee length dress, one that clung tightly to her feminine curves.
“Ah dear, you’re late.” Elena frowned, giving me a disapproving glance.
“You were expecting the Princess?” Geoff turned to his wife; his fiery eyebrow raised.
It seemed Geoff Halifax wasn’t as useless as Elena made him out to be. Maybe he knew something was going on.
“Of course, I was.” Elena scoffed, waving at her husband. “I invited her over for tea yesterday, she had to reschedule. Not to worry Princess, the tea hasn’t been started yet.”
“Thank you, Elena.” I smiled tightly, trying to hide my displeasure with her lying. “I do apologize for running late. I’ve been making some alterations to my bedroom.”
I held back how those alterations were due to Shannon staying with me from now on. I didn’t think Elena needed to know that little bit of information.
“You must tell me all about it!” Elena beamed, showing her perfect smile. The smile took me off guard. She was dazzling when she smiled. It hid what lurked within perfectly. She was a master at picking and choosing emotions. “I tend to be quite the interior designer, you know. You must visit our Kingdom sometime; we have countless antiques.”
Elena led me away from her husband and over to one of the many rooms. The Halifax’s suite was basically a large apartment. When you first walked in the door there was a huge living room. They had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and their own private lounge. Elena led us to the lounge, her friendly façade gone from her face the moment she shut the door.
“What brings you here, Princess?” Elena Halifax lifted her eyebrow at me, “You couldn’t possibly have come here for some tea.”
Elena ignored Shannon completely, but gave her one look of pure distaste before she turned her attention to me. The way she treated Shannon angered me. She treated her as below us. I couldn’t tell if that was because Shannon was human or not a Royal.
“Clearly.” I smiled dryly, shifting in my seat uncomfortably.
The lounge was cloaked in shades of white and some light cream colors. The windows let streams of fading light in, giving it a relaxed feel. Only I felt anything but relaxed. I was attempting to handle a poisonous snake while not getting bit.
“Then tell me, Princess.” Elena Halifax smirked, taking a seat in the center of the silk sofa. “What can I do for you?”
‘Might as well just say it.’ Aela rolled her eyes, ‘We don’t need to be here longer than necessary.’
“I need a way to contact Nikolai Aslanov.” I pursed my lips, searching Elena’s eyes for her reaction.
She conveyed interest, but nothing more.
“Nikolai Aslanov.” Elena mused, placing a finger against her chin. “Now what would your father think if he knew you were trying to contact Nikolai Aslanov?”
“I think we’re both well aware I’m the future Alpha Queen.” I pointed out, my tone stern. “I must do what I believe is best.”
“And so, you must.” Elena smiled, “What makes you think I have a way of contacting Nikolai Aslanov? We’re not exactly friends if you haven’t noticed.”
“Let’s both drop the pretenses.” I grimaced, “I know you have a way to contact him. You’re resourceful, there’s no way you wouldn’t.”
“It seems you pay more attention than I thought.” Elena nodded appreciatively, “Fine, but I want something in return.”
‘Knew it.’ Aela mumbled.
“Depends on what you want.” I clenched my teeth together, fighting the urge to get up and leave.
“I’m guessing you want his contact for a reason.” Elena mused, “You don’t just want it for safekeeping.”
“You are correct.” I forced the words through gritted teeth.
‘Relax.’ Aela murmured, ‘Just see what she wants.’
I softened my jaw, letting some of my irritation leave me. I needed to come off as grateful, not angry.
“My favor is this.” Elena began, “When you speak with Nikolai Aslanov, hear him out.”
“Hear him out?” I frowned, “That’s it?”
It was the last thing I was expecting. I could feel Shannon stiffen beside me, most likely thinking the same thing. Her golden eyes remained on Elena, even if she paid no mind.
“That’s it.” Elena laughed, “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything—distasteful. Simply here what he has to say and listen closely. Think about all of your options, the future of your Kingdom.”
“I will hear him out.” I promised, “But I can make no promises on what I choose to do afterwards.”
“I understand, Princess.” Elena nodded, taking a sip of something from a coffee cup. “Keep an open mind though, will you?”
“I will.” I nodded.
Elena stood and walked over to a desk at the back of the room. She slipped a paper from the drawer and scribbled a number.
The paper sat in my hands, my eyes running over Elena’s elegant scrawl.
“Memorize the number and burn it.” Elena resumed her position on the couch, “Nikolai Aslanov is a man who appreciates privacy. That is his personal phone number.”
“Thank you, Elena.” I turned and thanked the snake of a woman.
I couldn’t help but wonder what made her that way. People weren’t born bad, nor were they born with a penchant for murder and betrayal. What happened in her life that turned her into this?
“No.” Elena shook her head, a smile gracing her lips. “Thank you, Princess.”
Shannon and I retreated to my bedroom, and Beta Devin returned to his own.
“That woman is skilled at keeping her emotions in check, I’ll give her that.” Shannon nodded in appreciation, her lips falling into a sour frown.
“Unfortunately, I still need some work.” I grimaced.
“That’ll come with time.” Shannon shrugged, “Now let’s get this done with.”
I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and typed the number Elena had given me. I read the page repeatedly until the numbers were seared into the back of my mind. Once I memorized the numbers, I handed the note to Shannon. She tossed it in the fireplace, watching the flames crackle and eat away at the paper.
The phone rang once—twice—then clicked.
“And who might this be?” The voice was silky smooth with just a hint of roughness around the edges.
I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice lodged itself in my throat. After stifling the urge to cough, I replied.
“This is Princess Arabella Adair.” I tried to keep my voice even, but not too light. He needed to know I wasn’t afraid of him, but I also wasn’t comfortable in his presence.
“Princess Arabella Adair.” Nikolai chuckled; the roughness of his voice reminded me of Viktor. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I wanted to invite you over for dinner.” I blurted out, realizing I hadn’t prepared what I was going to say.
Nikolai Aslanov didn’t skip a beat. He didn’t seem surprised nor reluctant, just amused. I found the amusement slightly irritating.
“Are you plotting my death, sweet Princess?” Nikolai Aslanov chuckled.
“Of course not.” I scolded, sounding much more like myself. “It’s bad manners to murder a guest.”
“Mm, then it seems most have terrible manners.” Nikolai chuckled, his laughter sounding like music.
“It’s only dinner.” I paused, scrambling for what to say next. “We hadn’t talked much at my Birthday Gala. I figured we might try again—under less strenuous circumstances.”
“It seemed your mind had been made up when we last spoken.” Nikolai mused, “Has your mind changed, little Princess?”
“No, it hasn’t.” I shook my head, feeling as though I needed to add something more. “But I could be swayed.”
“Such tempting bait you’ve thrown.” Nikolai chuckled darkly. “What would your father think?”
“It will only be one evening.” I grimaced, “My Father will control his—distaste.”
Nikolai Aslanov chuckled, “Name the time and date, little Princess.”
“Three days from now, six in the afternoon.” I counted the days in my head. The other Royals would be leaving the morning after.
As bad as it sounded, I wanted all our enemies in one house. It made it easier to keep an eye on them.
“I look forward to seeing you again, little Princess.” Nikolai’s voice glided over me like silk. “Perhaps I can change your mind. I could use someone like you on my side.”