Truce

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Chapter 23

Kaia

“Where are we going?” I’d asked this question well over twenty times since we got in Jacob’s Audi R8 Spyder. Yes, it was his Audi, and it was magnificent. Sleek and black, it shot through the mountainous countryside in the morning light, taking the corners better and faster and smoother than I’d ever seen.

“Patience, grasshopper,” Jacob grinned, but I think it was more because of what he was driving rather than my incessant nagging. He was surely speeding, not caring that we were surrounded by tall trees and thick forests or that the road was dusted with snow.

I settled back into my seat and enjoyed the feel of the leather on my legs, despite them being padded with two layers of clothes; thermals and jeans. After Jacob woke me up this morning by getting out of bed, he instructed me to get into the warmest clothes I brought which were those, along with a long sleeve thermal top, a power white woollen sweater, Jacob’s black snow jacket at my feet.

My cheeks flushed as my mind went back to this morning, waking up tangled in Jacob’s sheets with him standing at his wardrobe, in only his boxers. His back was to me and that indentation that ran down his spine was defined, and just as daring as his abdomen after he turned around. I didn’t want to be affected by him, but it was impossible not to be.

“Are we there yet?” I pestered and he shook his head, my annoyance not affecting him in the least. I knew if I was in control of this car it wouldn’t either. There was something he wasn’t telling me, something that I needed to figure out. His family had always been one of money, of wealth, but coming here, it felt like there was another factor. They had maids, butlers, cooks and the most surprising; security guards. We ran into one on the way to the basement garage this morning who greeted Jacob in German in a form of the utmost respect. Jacob’s eyes flitted to me with a mixture of concern and anticipation, and that expression stayed imprinted in my mind.

His family were important, important enough to be protected by military looking men. That meant Jacob was important, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

I let it go for the moment, focusing on the music drifting through the speakers so that I wouldn’t be tempted to ask any stupid questions.

Ten minutes later, we were at the end of an open dirt road in a field, a thick of trees off a short dirt path. He turned the keys and pulled them out, turning to me with an excited smirk.

“Shall we?”

I nodded and followed him out of the car, grabbing the jacket and sliding it on after I closed my door. The wind bit at my face and neck, so I pulled my beanie down to cover more of my forehead and my ears, my hair covering my neck. Jacob stood in front of his car pulling his black beanie on. I didn’t know what it was about guys in beanies, or maybe it was just Jacob in beanie’s, but I was glad the wind was a distinguishable excuse for my cheeks to be flushed.

He took my hand and led me down of the path, the stones crunching under our feet. The edge of the forest loomed a few metres ahead; expansive and dark and intimidating. I hesitated. It was beautiful, with the snow complementing the dark green with its pretty powder, but I couldn’t bring myself to take another step forward.

“Come on,” Jacob prompted, tugging at my hand I forgot he was still holding. It was radiating warmth and strength and belief into me, and I didn’t want to let go. I just nodded and allowed my feet to move again, allowing Jacob to lead me into the thick.

My eyes had to adjust to the darkness, with only the rare patches of sky visible above, but when they did I audibly gasped. Among the branches and tree trunks the forest was buzzing with life. Birds you couldn’t hear before now whistling their tune, their eyes shining from high up branches that towered over us. Creatures on the ground too; eyes white and bodies dark and invisible in the shadows of the overgrowth. I could feel their energy, that we were not alone. It was something I’d never could have expected was possible.

Since my parents, I’d always felt alone. Even with my siblings, there was something inside me that could not be filled. Jacob was the first who managed to do so, to make me feel something again. Feel alive. These animals, this forest, it was the same. Their energy transferred to me and I felt like skipping, jumping, running, singing, but also staying quiet, observing, peaceful, content.

It’s different experience to experience things alone. When you’re with someone, you tend to talk, to take attention away from the beauty of what is right in front of you. It was common. Ordinary. To that extent, Jacob wasn’t normal. His eyes had been drifting between myself and the wonders of this place but his lips had stayed sealed, letting me immerse myself.

“Thanks for not talking,” I whispered later, when we were coming to the end of the path. It was getting lighter with every step and I was sad at the reality of almost being out, but also relieved to be in the daylight once more.

His chuckle mixed with the sounds of nature, twirling together like leaves in the wind. It was such an earthly sound, yet it soared over the trees, lifting my spirits with it. “Why do you say that?”

“Talking diminishes the effect of living.”

“Talking is a distracton,” he agreed and I was a mixture of disbelief that he understood and impressed that he could. He wasn’t the boy I thought he was, and the thought made me smile. “Do you like my forest?”

“Yours?” I asked, turning to him with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s called Jacob Forst, named after some royal,” he scoffed a laugh, rolling his eyes at some incomprehensible comedy. “It’s my name too, and coincidentally my favourite place on earth. So I adopted it as mine.”

There was something about the way he was talking that made me suspicious, enough to make me wonder who this royal Jacob was. For a split second I considered Jacob, my Jacob, but it didn’t seem logical. Then again, it fit perfectly. The guards, castle, so on so forth.

Was Jacob a part of the royal family of Celti?

It seemed too odd, too possible, too real. He might have been, but I wasn’t about to ask.

We had returned to the car and it made me sad, sad that we were going to leave after such a deceptively short walk. But I was frozen to the core, my feet feeling like ice blocks in dire need of melting.

“Where to from here?” We emerged from the edge of the forest, his car yet again in full view. I paused to look behind at the place I wanted to stay forever.

“Kaffee und kuchen?”

He laughed at the way my eyes lit up at the mention of coffee, leaning against the hood of his car with me standing in front of him.

“Perfect. I need something warm for my insides to thaw.”

I watched his eyes deviate from angel to devil in a millisecond, his hands reaching for my hips to pull me closer. I was not expecting that. Neither was my heart. “What? I’m not hot enough for you?”

Leaning against his Audi his face was level with mine, getting closer than I should have wanted it to. I forced a laugh, albeit shaky, and shook my head. “You can’t make my tummy warm.”

“I’m sure I could make it do tricks though.” He made his voice purposefully low, husky, his fingers teasing my hips and his breath tickling my lips. My stomach flipped like an acrobat at the circus, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it.

I took a breath, whispering, “dream on,” then stepped away, putting distance between us that I didn’t care if he knew I needed. My lungs could work, but my heart couldn’t, not with the damned smile he had lighting his insufferably happy face.

“You’re doing all the dreaming for me,” he winked, sliding off the hood with malicious slowness and strolling to the driver’s side.

What was happening to me?

Jacob

Taking Kaia to my forest had been the best mistake I’d made. It was a mistake because I cared about her so much that when she informed me she didn’t feel the same I wouldn't be able to go back there without the memories that would be painful. But it was definitely the best, because she loved it nearly as much as I did and the look on her face as we wandered along the paths would be worth the pain.

I pulled into a parking space on the side of the cobblestone main street. Despite the snow which clung to every piece of the old town, the street was vibrant with locals meandering their way along the footpaths and buskers spread at intervals with guitar cases or hats in front of them.

It’s one thing I loved about my country; the community atmosphere my home in Australia was sorely lacking. Being able to show Kaia this was much the same as the forest, but better because we were headed to Corner Coffee, a small coffee shop of which we would not be freezing.

I held the door open for Kaia, showing her where to hang her jacket on the already full rack by the door. The shop wasn’t as busy as it often happened to be, which sped up the process of obtaining our drinks.

The baristas all looked near twenty, and I couldn’t help but notice how they reacted when they saw me. Whether they were staring was because they knew who I was in this country or because I was here with Kaia or for some other reason I had no idea of, but it brought the unsettling feeling to my stomach that would be a constant presence if I were to become the king.

So I sat with Kaia on the green couches as we chatted, drinking our hot drinks and revelling in the warmth that would be the outside temperature in a few not-so short hours.

It was after our third and last drink that Coen waltzed through the doors, in his typical confident fashion. He spotted us once he had collected his coffee and joined us, without asking to do so before hand.

“Hallo,” he greeted, dipping his head towards Kaia who was looking at him in a way that I didn’t want to see. She looked him up and down and then showed him her best smile, a contrast to her reaction the night before. A bad feeling settled in the pit of my stomach, like angry mutant butterflies that I couldn’t shake. I had the urge to ask Coen to leave, but I couldn’t put a reason as to why.

“Hallo. Was tust du?” I was being polite, partially because it was my job to but mostly because he was my family friend and I shouldn’t be feeling resentment towards him.

He responded that he was just coming in to get coffee but that Kaia had caught his eye. Upon hearing her name her eyes brightened. She sat a little straighter, her smile a little wider, her presence a little more notable. And of course, Coen noticed.

He said it was lucky she was my girlfriend and he was chasing after the model otherwise he would be attempting to take her for himself. Then he stood and left, and the fall in Kaia’s face was the last straw. I wanted to go home.

“I don’t know why but I found him so much more bearable today.” She sighed, a resting smile on her lips that I wanted to be the one causing.

Then it hit me; I was jealous. Jealous because she showed the slightest bit of interest towards a guy who wasn’t me when she had spent the last who knows how long with me. I had no right to be jealous, yet here I was.

“Let’s just go.” I sighed as I stood, following Coen’s lead but waiting for the girl I liked far more than I should have. By her sudden frown she knew something was up, but she didn’t broach the subject all day, until we were packing before our plane.

I was in my room throwing clothes into my suitcase more aggressively than I usually would. She had been in her room until then, where she knocked tentatively on my door.

“Yeah?”

The door pushed open and there she stood, looking almost nervous. I’d seen her go through a lot, that meant a lot of emotions. I’d seen her sad and angry and hurt and in shock but never nervous. It wasn’t in her character.

“What’s up?” I didn’t bother to look up.

“Are you angry with me?”

I quit packing and turned to her, a frown deep in my face. “What makes you come to that conclusion?”

“Hmm, I don’t know.” Her sarcasm was layered on thick. “Maybe the fact that you haven’t spoken to me since the coffee shop?”

“I’m not.”

“No? Then what was that?”

I contemplated telling her. My lips formed the words I’m jealous and I tried. Once. Twice. On the third time, I heard them, and so did Kaia.

“Jealous? Of what?”

“Of who,” I corrected. I was about to admit that it was Coen that made me jealous, but Pauline was at the door.

“I’m sorry to interrupt but your father has asked to see you before you return home.” She spoke in German with a tone of regret for a matter of which she could not help. I told her I would be there in a minute to which she left us alone.

“I have to go speak with my father,” I explained, trying to step around her to get out the door. She held her ground with her arms crossed tight, her eyes daring me to take one more step.

“Who were you jealous of?”

“If I tell you will you let the matter drop?”

“Will the answer cause more questions?”

“Probably.”

“Then probably not.”

“Kaia…” I groaned, running a hand through my hair. My father was a busy man with things to do and people to see and I did not want to be scolded again for making him late.

“Who are you jealous of?”

She was so stubborn, with her heels dug into the ground and her narrowed eyes and her crossed arms. She wasn’t going to let up until I told her.

“I was jealous of Coen. Now I’m not.”

I took her stunned silence as my opportunity to get around her, and in the next minute I was knocking on the door to my father’s study. Rich mahogany featured as his door his desk and any other wood furnishing incorporated into the room. It wasn’t because he was King that he had those luxuries, more for personal taste.

He sat at his desk on a chair that resembled a throne, the irony almost laughable.

“You asked for me?” I took a seat on the chair opposing him, as he closed the book he was getting stuck into. It was one of the many thick hardbacks he had lining these walls, the covers all black blue or maroon.

“Yes,” he nodded, speaking a mix of German and English through the conversation like we did every time we spoke. “But I don’t have much time so I must unfortunately make this brief.”

“I expected as such.” This made my father chuckle as he stood up, pacing up and back across the length of the room.

“I wanted to know how serious you and Miss Kaia are.”

Here it goes. The question I had been waiting for. The sole reason I had anything to do with the girl who almost was my enemy. I didn’t want to become King, and it all came down to that moment.

“I don’t know, Dad,” I shrugged, attempting to act nervous but try to look casual. “She’s the first girl I’ve ever loved, you know? It started when we were young and it just happened to turn into something real when I got back.”

He was happy for me, and proud, and slightly mocking as any Beck was when another admitted their feelings. Emotions weren’t a strong suit for the men of my family or people of German heritage in general. But his firm pat on the back and his articulate “I'm happy for you” was as emotional as he was going to get.

We made small talk for a minute until he had to leave, and I was left with a feeling of incompleteness. That conversation was unexpectedly easy, with no difficult negotiations or stressful deceit that I had imagined. He believed me, and I hoped it was enough that he would choose another of my brothers to be his successor.

I snuck back into my room without Kaia noticing, managing to pack the rest of my bag until it was time for us to leave. She didn’t say anything when I told her we were leaving, not until we got to the airport and had boarded the plane.

“You’re not going to tell me why you were jealous, are you?” She sat opposite me, her legs crossed with her dark hair falling down her back. The last time we were on this plane she was grieving her parents, and now she was completely opposite, almost teasing me about my jealousy. It was strange to think what a couple of days could do to someone’s mindset. I just hoped she would remain this way once she got home.

As much as I hated denying her anything – because quite frankly I wanted to give her everything she wanted and more – but I wasn’t going to explain myself. It would lead to more unnecessary questioning that I wasn’t prepared to provide answers for.

So I shook my head and she let it drop, and not long after she let her consciousness drop too.


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