I let Viktor’s voice lull me to sleep, staying connected to him until the darkness had taken me over.
‘Goodnight, little Princess.’ Viktor murmured, the last thing I heard before sleep claimed me.
I shot up in bed as my Dad’s voice flooded through my mind.
‘Bella, are you awake?’ Dad’s voice rang out.
‘I am now.’ I grumbled, wiping the sleep from my eyes. Shannon was still curled up on the couch, only her mess of curls visible from underneath the blanket.
‘Geoff Halifax has decided to hold a funeral pyre for his son.’ My Dad informed me, ‘This should be easy enough to complete. We will be holding it tomorrow night. The Royal’s will stay leave after its completion.’
‘And are we prepared for our dinner tonight.’ I winced at the harsh light streaming through my curtains.
‘Everything is prepared.’ Dad nodded, ‘I felt the need to inform you, Bryton Duboi left last night.’
‘What?’ I frowned, ‘Why did you let him leave?’
‘We have interrogated him fully, learning nothing in the process.’ Dad’s voice was irritated, ‘Though that does not mean there is nothing to find.’
‘Bryton Duboi is mixed in with all of this crap.’ I shook my head, ‘It’ll be harder to get to him now that he went back to his own Kingdom.’
‘I disagree.’ Dad shook his head, ‘Bryton Duboi feels comfortable now, believing the suspicion to be removed. People make mistakes when they are comfortable, Bella.’
‘I see.’ My eyebrow lifted, ‘But were not in Bryton’s Kingdom. We won’t know if he’s doing anything wrong.’
‘On the contrary.’ Dad smirked, ‘I have people around the world too, Bella.’
’Keep me updated, will you?” I smiled softly, pulling myself from bed.
‘Of course, Bella.’ Dad sighed through the mind-link. ‘As much as I detest your involvement, it was bound to happen sooner or later.’
‘Sorry Dad.’ I chuckled.
* * * * *
I didn’t bother pulling Shannon from bed for another hour. I had opened the link between Viktor and I, already missing the sound of his voice.
Viktor had made it out of the Adair Kingdom and was now traveling North. The two of them were heading to open territory situated East of Erik’s Kingdom. They would be safe in open territory, but that posed its own dangers.
While they would be better hided from other Royals, open territory didn’t follow the rules of the Kingdom. Anyone could send an assassin into open territory; it was much harder to go undetected in a Royal’s Kingdom. It was a risk Viktor was willing to take. If they had to leave neutral territory, the safest place would be Erik’s Kingdom. I would have to tell yet another person the truth, but it would keep them safe.
I hopped in the shower to give Shannon some time to wake up. The steaming water helped make the sleep fade from my eyes. By the time I finished and changed Shannon had fully woken up.
Shannon and I eventually walked down to the kitchen’s, giving her Mom some help for dinner tonight. The cooks were going all out, preparing a four-course dinner. Nikolai Aslanov would expect no less, I’m sure.
* * * * *
The tension in the house grew as six in the afternoon neared closer. Shannon and I changed our clothes, wearing something nice yet not too formal.
I slipped on a simple thigh length dress, set with pockets and a nice pair of sandals. I gave Shannon a dress from my closet, one she took with reluctance. Shannon felt she shouldn’t come tonight, that it wasn’t her place. I disagreed; she had surpassed the title of my ‘assistant’ for a week now. I was unsure what to call her, what title would be fitting of someone who had helped me so much. I knew one thing without a doubt, Shannon belonged at my side.
One choice I struggled with was whether I should wear my necklace. Uncle Jaspar would see it right away, knowing I had given him a fake. He would see the truth in my eyes, that I knew he was a traitor.
‘I think we should wear it.’ Aela murmured.
‘We don’t even know what it does.’ I pointed out, ‘Is it really worth the risk.’
“Wear the necklace.” Shannon murmured, her eyes flickering down to the piece of jewelry in my hands. “It’s better off on you than not, and your Uncle was bound to find out eventually.”
I slipped the necklace around my throat, making sure the clasp was secure. A flood of warmth washed over me, starting at my neck and radiating to the rest of my body. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the sensation. The necklace sent harmless tingles down my skin, as though it were welcoming a lost friend.
The next step was my mark. My dress was low cut in the front, exposing my smooth shoulders and collar bones. The necklace would be on full display, as would my healing mark. My mark had finished scabbing over, the wound now fully closed. Within a day or two it would be fully healed, revealing Viktor’s unique mark on my skin.
Shannon helped as we worked to cover my mark. She used a white base on my skin, blending it into my deep colored mark. My stomach turned and my irritation flared. It was against our nature to cover up a mark. It was something to be proud of, not hide. Shannon dabbed a light-colored concealer over my neck, blending it better than I would’ve. By the time she was finished, my mark was hidden under the makeup. If you looked closely, you could see the slight difference in my skin tone. No one would know what to look for, missing the sight all together.
Dad mind-linked me and told the two of us to come downstairs. We would meet Nikolai Aslanov at the front door, as it was polite to welcome a guest into your home.
Shannon and I walked downstairs to where Dad and Uncle Jaspar were already standing. The two of them stood in the foyer, under the dazzling chandelier that hung from the ceiling. They were both dressed the same, clean cut clothes yet not too formal.
After descending the stairs, I stood beside my Dad. Shannon stood off to my left. My skin warmed as Uncle Jaspar’s eyes burned into me. I could feel their intensity without needing to look. My dress was lower cut, showing off my smooth shoulders and collar bones. The necklace was on full display for any who wanted to see.
I turned my head and met Uncle Jaspar’s eyes. Dad was staring ahead, his eyes locked on our front door. His brows were furrowed together in irritation. Uncle Jaspar’s eyes burned into my own, bright with surprise and knowledge. I let my face reveal nothing, keeping my features even as his eyes darkened. I was positive Uncle Jaspar had smelled the change in my scent. The look on his face filled me with relief, it seemed he couldn’t identify the mystery man who was my mate.
Our eyes were torn away from each other when the front door began to open. Nikolai Aslanov stood in the entry way, looking prouder than ever. He had a tall man by his side, a huge build and a mean face. Nikolai was dressed to impress. The large muscles on his arms pressed against the fabric of his black button-down shirt. His large legs strained against his dark slacks. His dark hair was styled perfectly, a mask of friendliness on his face.
“Welcome Nikolai Aslanov.” Dad murmured; his eyes hard as he regarded the other Royal.
“What a pleasure to meet the Adair family once again.” Nikolai grinned, flashing me with a wide grin.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation.” I nodded at Nikolai Aslanov, my face a relaxed mask. I spoke the words first, knowing my Dad wasn’t going to say anything.
“Do not mind the man at my side.” Nikolai Aslanov grinned, gesturing to the large man who walked into the house at his side. “I’m afraid I got the idea from you. Having a personal bodyguard has been incredibly helpful.”
Nikolai’s grin irritated me, as did the polite mask he wore on his face. No matter how strong the mask, he could never cover up his cockiness.
“Dinner will be this way.” I nodded to the two of them, turning to make sure they followed.
Dad took his place at the head of the table, Shannon and I sitting on his left side. Uncle Jaspar took a seat at Dad’s right while Nikolai Aslanov sat at the other end of the table. Nikolai’s silent bodyguard stood against the far wall, his intelligent eyes roaming every inch of the room.
“Has an attempt been made on your life, Nikolai?” I questioned, my eyes burning into his own.
Nikolai’s lips twitched, turning up in a mischievous smirk.
“There has been one attempt.” Nikolai’s eyes danced with excitement. He enjoyed the fact that an attempt had been made on his life. He enjoyed the game. “One can never be too safe in these times.”
“How unfortunate.” I murmured; my eyes still locked on his own. Dad let out a cough but stifled it as it lifted a glass of water to his lips. Uncle Jaspar sat quietly, keeping his eyes hard as he looked between Nikolai and me.
‘He’s trying to play his part.’ Aela scoffed, ‘Pretending to care about his own family. Him and Nikolai were working together.’
‘I’m sure they met today.’ I murmured back to Aela, ‘I trust Dad was smart enough to send someone to follow Nikolai.’
‘I don’t know.’ Aela frowned, ‘Dad seems to still trust Uncle Jaspar.’
‘There’s always more than what meets the eye with Dad.’ I responded, turning my attention back to dinner.
The servants brought out our first course, a small round of appetizers. Every so often, Uncle Jaspar’s eyes would flash down to the piece of jewelry around my neck. Each time I would meet his eyes, giving him a knowing look.
Dad did his best to ignore Nikolai Aslanov, keeping the conversation light and scares. Nikolai Aslanov seemed to be targeting me tonight, directing most of the conversation my way.
Nikolai Aslanov was an expert at hiding his thoughts and emotions. For just a fraction of a second, his eyes flickered down to my necklace. I could feel its familiar heat against my skin, a warning. Before anyone else noticed, Nikolai’s eyes were elsewhere.
“It was a shame hearing about your bodyguard, Princess.” Nikolai Aslanov shook his head, his eyes glowing with sympathy. “To trust someone with something so precious—a horrible thing.”
I could feel my entire body begin to stiffen, anger coursing through me at his words. Aela snarled in my head, angry that someone would dare talk about her mate that way. I could see Shannon’s warning glance from the corner of my eye. I relaxed my body, concealing the anger that formed on my face.
“It is a terrible thing.” I nodded honestly, “Yet I have learned evidence can be fabricated, even from most reputable sources.”
Nikolai Aslanov’s eyes widened in mock surprise, “You think your bodyguard is innocent, then?”
“I never claimed that.” I shrugged indifferently, “I’ve just learned not to trust everything I hear.”
“A valuable lesson.” Dad grunted, nodding in approval.
“It most certainly is.” Nikolai’s eyes flashed, his lips turning up in a tight smile. “Is this the assistant I had the pleasure of meeting?”
Nikolai Aslanov’s gaze turned to Shannon. If there was one person as equally skilled in shielding their emotions, it was Shannon. Her gaze was blank as she looked into Nikolai Aslanov’s eyes. Not a hint of distaste or reluctance shined through.
“This is.” I nodded, giving Shannon a smile. “Though I think she deserves more than the title of assistant.”
“Pardon my curiosity.” Nikolai Aslanov smiled cheekily, “But how does a human become such a high rank in the largest Werewolf Kingdom?”
“Shannon has the full trust of my daughter.” Dad grunted, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Nikolai Aslanov. “She has proved herself on countless occasions. My daughter is capable of making her own decisions, and I support this one whole-heartedly.”
The tension was thick in the dining room, mostly Dad’s tension. Nikolai was skilled at hiding his own distaste for my Dad. Dad was skilled at making masks of his own but seemed to come short around Nikolai Aslanov. They both had a shared history, one Dad refused to tell me.
Nikolai Aslanov was the perfect guest. He was charming and funny when need be. He knew when to smile, to frown and when to hide his emotions. Everything he said seemed to have some underlying meaning, making me question every word that fell from his lips.
Perhaps if I had been anyone else, I would’ve fell for his antics. He was a good looking, charismatic man. His words grabbed your attention, his smile quickening your heartbeat. Nikolai’s gaze reminded me of Viktor’s. Their eyes were so dark, almost nearing black.