Two Days Later
Nikolai Aslanov had been true to his word. Even though I knew he was responsible for the attack at my Birthday Gala, he found evidence against Elena Halifax. This evidence cleared Viktor’s name, letting him finally come back to me.
I was unsure why Nikolai wanted to give Viktor and I a chance, but I didn’t argue with it. It was clear Nikolai expected Viktor and I to fail, hoping I would come to him after the fact. Nikolai Aslanov wanted a chance with me, yet he had a funny way of showing it. Trying to have me killed on my birthday wasn’t the best gesture.
Viktor was able to return with August in two days. Viktor had turned around the minute I gave the news. He was naturally suspicious of Nikolai Aslanov’s motives, not that I could blame him. I could feel Viktor’s jealousy for his younger brother as I told him that Nikolai wanted a chance with me. I told Viktor what Nikolai had told me, that they were brothers. I asked for no explanation, unsure I could handle one now.
With Elena Halifax potentially on the run, August was now able to return. He promised he could handle his sister, claiming she was nothing without Elena.
Viktor could feel my distress, the emotions weighing on me from what happened that night. Nightmares that had once starred my Mom being murdered, now featured Caroline and Uncle Jaspar. I was beating myself up over what happened to Caroline.
The necklace somewhat frightened me, acting on its own as I was in danger. I hadn’t wanted to kill Caroline, yet the necklace did that on its own. I wanted to tear it from my neck and stuff it somewhere safe, somewhere I’d never have to look at it. The problem was it was safest around my neck. Only I could remove it, something I would do for no one.
Dad spent as much time with me as he could. Uncle Jaspar’s betrayal was clearly eating at him, though he wasn’t as surprised as I thought he may be. He had placed me in bed the night everything happened, only returning early in the morning. I had told Viktor everything that happened, ending the mind-link as my eyes grew heavy. When my Dad returned in the morning, I had been awake for hours. I could tell Shannon had been awake as well, her own eyes staring into the dark.
Neither of us had said a word about what happened. Caroline had always been temperamental and somewhat shallow, but she had been our friend since we were toddlers.
My mom, Shannon’s Mom, and Caroline’s Mom had all been best friends for years. We were all raised together, and yet neither of us ever realized Caroline’s hatred. She had never given us an inclination through out the years, always maintaining the appearance of friend.
Dad knocked softly on my bedroom door the next morning. Neither Shannon nor I made a move to get the door. We stayed silent as we laid in the darkness. Dad cracked the door open, peaking his head inside.
“Bella?” His rough voice snapped me from my thoughts. I lifted my head to meet his eyes, an exhausted yawn tearing through my chest.
“We’re awake.” My eyes were sore from the lack of sleep, “You can turn the light on.”
Dad flicked the lights on. A sheepish smile formed on his face as Shannon and I groaned against the harsh light. I was stubborn and determined not to be treated as fragile. What happened was horrible, but I needed to stay strong, at least around others I did.
Dad walked over and sat on the edge of my bed, his face contorting uncomfortably. Pain flashed in his eyes, as though what he was saying physically hurt him.
“I sent someone to follow Nikolai Aslanov yesterday.” Dad cleared his throat, “Jaspar knew of my plans to send a spy. His behavior had been—questionable for quite some time, so I sent a second spy, one he had no knowledge of.”
Dad had piqued my interest, not that I minded the distraction. I needed to do something other than stare into the dark. The more time I had to think, the more upset I’d become.
“Nikolai Aslanov and Jaspar met.” Dad frowned, but his face remained hard. “The man I sent nearly died in the process but told me what he heard. Jaspar was under the impression he sold Nikolai Aslanov your necklace, but it was a fake.”
Dad shot me a small grin, his eyebrow lifting as he recounted my part in this.
“It was a good idea.” I shrugged, “He kept asking for the necklace, it just didn’t sit right.”
“If I had paid more attention— “Dad shook his head, “I should have known.”
“You couldn’t have.” I frowned at him, “Neither of us knew, but at least we found out before it was too late.”
My words hung in the air between us. We really had found out just in time. If neither of us had known, I wouldn’t have lived much longer.
“He will never see daylight again.” Dad glared down at his palms, “I will be speaking to Caroline’s Mother. I want to know what part she plays in all of this.”
“I think that’s a good idea.” I nodded, choking back the guilt that had risen in my throat.
“I’ll come to you if I learn anything, Bella.” Dad smiled softly, “I can’t keep leaving you in the dark.”
Dad had left my bedroom after requesting the two of us get some fresh air. He insisted the two of us grab some breakfast and head to the gardens. Whenever Mom had something troubling on her mind, that’s where she would head. She always said the sweet scents coupled with the sounds of buzzing insects helped clear her mind. Heading to the gazebo put a sour taste in my mouth, so I avoided it altogether.
Shannon and I walked in silence, yet it was a comfortable silence. I knew Shannon placed no blame on me, yet that couldn’t change the outcome of what happened. We had both lost a friend, regardless of what she had said or done.
“I keep tryin’ to think back, to remember if she ever let something slip through.” Shannon frowned, breaking the silence first.
“I do too.” I nodded, trailing my fingers over soft rose petals. “She had always been our best-friend. It seems she’s really good at acting.”
“It seems like it.” Shannon frowned, “I know you blame the necklace, Bella.”
My fingers had absentmindedly wandered up to my necklace, grazing against the cold metal on my skin. Shannon must’ve seen my grimace as I toyed with the necklace.
“I didn’t want to kill her.” I shook my head, my voice was strong, but my insides twisted painfully. “It was the same as my Birthday Gala, only I didn’t pass out.”
“The necklace was protecting you; Caroline was a threat.” Shannon frowned; her voice held the conviction I wish I had. “I have a theory on why you didn’t pass out.”
My attention was grabbed at Shannon’s words. It seemed I lingered on everything people said, wanting a distraction from my own thoughts. I would rather think about anything else, just to get the image of Caroline wiped from my mind.
“What’s that?” I murmured, watching a small beetle as it climbed the thick stem of a sunflower.
“Well at your Birthday Gala ten men lost their lives.” Shannon recounted, “And last night was one.”
“You think it has to do with the number of people I kill?” I couldn’t help the contempt that filled my words.
“I think it’s about the energy it takes to kill that many people, but it’s just a theory. I’m only making educated guesses.” Shannon shrugged, but her face turned serious. “Caroline was my friend too, Bella. But I’m telling you, you can’t blame yourself. Caroline was trying to kill you; the necklace did its job.”
I let Shannon’s words swirl in my head, and in truth I believed them. My belief didn’t force away the guilt that settled within me. The guilt was its own living force, reminding me of last night.
“I know.” I nodded, a frown on my face. “Why do I still feel guilty?”
“It makes you a good ruler.” Shannon frowned, “You don’t want to kill, but you still defend your life and family.”
“I think you should be the Alpha Queen, Shannon.” I chuckled softly, inhaling the sweet scents of the flowers.
“This Kingdom wouldn’t be able to handle me.” Shannon shook her head.
“You’re right.” I nodded, a genuine smile on my face. “Let me know if you ever want the job.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” Shannon laughed, her eyes focusing on something just a few feet away. “It seems your mate is back, Bella.”
Viktor stood a few feet away, a strange look on his face. It had been two days since I last saw him, but it had felt like years.
He looked the same as two days ago but covered in dirt. His strong face conveyed little emotion, but his eyes were cautious. He carried a constant thought with him, one that said he didn’t deserve me. What ever happened in his past made him view himself as a monster, one undeserving of a mate. He was waiting for me to change my mind, to open my eyes and see what I welcomed into my bed. I was determined not to let him have that. Someday he would understand, moving on from your past is possible.
I launched myself at Viktor, my arms wrapping around his neck. Viktor took a step back, but I clung to him for dear life.
I let my fingers tangle in his hair, marveling at how soft it felt. Viktor’s lips found my own, a cacophony of sparks shooting into me. Viktor’s presence eased some of the torment within me, unwinding the knot that had been forming in my stomach.
I pulled away breathless, lost in the darkness of his eyes. His arms were wrapped around my waist tightly, holding me close as though I might slip away. His eyes burned intensely, longing and love shining through.
“You get in a lot of trouble when I am gone.” Viktor frowned, his dark eyebrow lifting to look at my face. His thick accent coupled with the roughness of his voice made my heart stammer in my chest.
“It won’t happen again; I have my bodyguard back.” I chuckled, my fingers grazing across the stubble on his jaw.