I hadn’t bothered waiting around for Elias. I was already wicked late meeting Arina. I wondered why Elias had been so forward with me, why he seemed to want me. I couldn’t tell if it was a diversion tactic to throw me off the fact that he’d sent Jackson to spy on me, or if I’d fallen into some alternate universe where he actually wanted me and didn’t care that his wife could easily end my life if she ever found out. I went to the roof, where we said we’d meet, but Arina wasn’t there. I cursed, knowing she’d think I blew her off. I could always tell her that Elias had kept me busy, even if it was a lie. At least that way, I’d have a logical excuse. Maybe she’d buy it. Since our date was ruined, I’d have the whole night to myself. I decided to head down to the library, to relax, read a book, and try to get Elias off my mind.
When I got there, I saw a girl I’d never seen before reaching for a book on a high shelf. I ran up to her and easily grabbed the book she’d been struggling to get. She smiled as I handed her the book.
“You’re a lifesaver,” she said, flipping the book over in her hand. “I’d never have been able to get this if you hadn’t shown up to the rescue.”
“It’s no big deal... Are you new here? I haven’t seen you around before.” She gave me a wary look.
“Yeah, I am. I’m visiting here with Niall, the king’s brother.” Elias had a brother? I wondered why he’d never told me, although it wasn’t odd, considering we’d had very little time together and what he did have, we’d spent either screaming at each other or being dangerously close to breaking all the rules.
“I didn’t know vampires kept close company with humans,” I remarked, and the girl froze, flustered.
“Well Niall and I are engaged, and he thought that Elias and I should spend some time together before we got married, to get to know each other,” she said, extending her left hand to show me a small but beautiful engagement ring. On her middle finger was a strange ring, a gray glass eye surrounded by silver teeth. Something about it seemed familiar, but she withdrew her hand before I could get a closer look.
“Congratulations….” I paused, not knowing her name.
“Ramsey,” she supplied, giving me a nervous smile. “I know it’s all so sudden for everyone, and not very customary, but Niall is a great guy, and any friend of his or Elias is a friend of mine. You are?”
“Lennox,” I replied. “I’m a guard for Elias.”
“Ahhh. That must be… fun.” I chuckled at her assessment.
“It’s the best,” I replied sarcastically, causing her to giggle. Ramsey seemed like a wonderful girl. I felt bad that soon, she’d be brought into the insanity that was Elias’s family. “How long will you be here?” I asked her, and she gave me a smile.
“I’m not too sure. I know Niall is leaving in a few days, but I might be here a while. You guys have a massive collection of books, and I love to read. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get some new reading done.”
“Just let me know if you need any first editions of any books,” I commented. “You won’t find them here. Elias keeps them hidden in his room. I found that out the hard way.”
“Yikes,” Ramsey winced. “Thanks for the tip.”
“So tell me what the king’s brother is like. Is he a pain in the ass like Elias? Because if he is, I feel sorry for you.”
“Niall and Elias are opposites. Niall is a big kid at heart and likes to keep things fun. Elias grew up too fast, so he takes everything a tad more serious. But I foresee great things from him so cut him a little slack.”
“I cut him more slack than I should, and if he wasn't so goddamn attractive I think I would be able to hate him.”
“Does someone have a crush?” Ramsey snickered.
“Shh, the queen has eyes everywhere.” I interfered. Her eyes told me she already knew and was very aware of the monster under the crown. “I should probably head back to the barracks for the night. Maybe I will see you soon?”
“I will be here. Well... probably not like the whole time, but you know what I mean.” She smiled sincerely. “Oh and Lennox?” She stopped me right before I walked out of the room “Be careful. People aren’t always what they seem.” I nodded and walked out, heading to my room. What an odd thing to say to someone you just met. I knew that she was right, but for her to say that to me when I was dealing with that exact problem… it felt weird. I finally got to my room and collapsed onto my cot, trying to make a mental note to find Arina tomorrow and apologize. I hoped she would understand.
The next morning, I awoke bright and early to go get breakfast. When I got to the kitchen, Arina sat at our usual table, already eating. I approached cautiously.
“I am so sorry about last night,” I said, taking a seat beside her. “Elias held me later than I expected and I tried to ask him to let me go so I could see you, but he wouldn’t.”
“That seems like a convenient excuse. I waited up there for half an hour for you, and you never showed.”
“What more can I say? I’m sorry. I wish he would have let me leave but I can’t change the past, Arina.”
“I guess you’re right… just please don’t make a habit of it. I don’t really appreciate being stood up.” I felt relieved that Arina had finally forgiven me, but still terrible for ever letting her down in the first place. When breakfast was finished, I quickly scurried off to Elias’s room to begin my daily tasks for him. I entered with a smile to see him hunched over his desk like usual, only today, he didn’t greet me.
“Good morning,” I tried, and still nothing. “You didn’t tell me you had a brother.”
“I do,” he replied, not looking at me. I felt like I was getting the cold shoulder, and it hurt, especially since the last interaction we had was him promising me a wickedly happy evening if I agreed to stay. I frowned, approaching him.
“Any tasks for me this morning?”
“I left a list on the couch.” Another short reply with no eye contact. I felt like a plant withering in the desert.
“Okay… I’ll get them done and head back to you after,” I said, and he didn’t reply. I wanted to believe that he was just engrossed in his research or whatever, but deep down, I knew better. I barely held back the tears as I grabbed the list and left to start on it.
Lennox slipped out quietly, and I sighed. I hated having to be so curt with her, but I had no idea if I could trust her yet, and I didn’t want to bring her in the middle of my heart transplant business because that could get out of hand real quick if the wrong people overheard. Hopefully, the list I left her would keep her occupied for a few hours, just long enough for me to think of what to do next. I was about to start pacing when Ramsey walked in.
“I’ve got news for you on your first task,” she said, and I almost cried with joy.
“What is it?”
“I sat down with my ring last night and after half an hour of searching through my mother’s cousin’s best friend’s husband’s sister’s grimoire, I finally found the task. ‘If you want to play it good, then you’ve got to play it fair: from whom the heart must separate, retrieve a lock of hair.’ I don’t know what it is with witches and rhymes, but I’m guessing all the tasks will be phrased like this… Good thing this one seems fairly simple. Guess you’ve got to get some of Valentina’s hair.”
I could think of a million ways of doing it, but I wasn’t sure what would be considered the right way. I knew the easiest, though, and I hoped it would suffice.
“Thank you, Ramsey. Any word from Camrina?”
“She agreed to a meet. She said when you have all the items, she’ll send me a location.”
I would have kissed her on the mouth if it had been Lennox delivering the news. Instead, I hugged Ramsey while thanking her, and quickly headed to Valentina’s chambers. It was the middle of the morning, and at this time, Valentina was usually eating. I entered her room and closed the door quietly behind me. I thought I was alone until I saw something move in my peripheral. I turned to see Valentina sit straight up in bed, along with a guy. I would have loved to say the sight shocked me, but I knew my wife. She couldn’t go two seconds without spreading her legs for anything that breathed. I cleared my throat and the man in her bed jumped at the sound.
“Don’t get up on my account,” I said as Valentina began to cover herself up.
“Well isn’t this a surprise... here I thought I would never be able to get you into this room again. To what do I owe this pleasure, my love?” I almost threw up in my mouth at the words.
“I figured I would save us both the time and come to see you instead of waiting for you to turn my peaceful asylum into another episode of ‘Valentina Knows Best’.” I walked over to her vanity and sat down placing my elbow on her hair brush.
“You think so little of me, my love, and must you say things like that in front of my entertainment?” She sighed.
“Look, let's get this over with so I don't have to look at you for the rest of the day. I still don’t love you. And now you say your part.” I pushed my elbow across the vanity, knocking the brush to the floor. She sat quietly. “Fine I will say it for you: ‘Mark my words Elias, you will love me again.’ See? Doesn't that feel good to get off our chests?” I picked up her brush and looked at it with disgust. “Val, babe... you should really clean your hair out of this from time to time. This is just gross.” I pulled the hair out and set the brush down before walking over to the trash can and pretending to throw it away.
“Are you done with this little performance? Have anything else you want to say?” She snapped.
“Actually, there is one more thing: Lennox is my guard, and while you maybe the queen, I am still the king. She works for me. Imagine my surprise when I hear that you threatened her because she was wearing what I allowed her to wear. You have no control over her, so stop telling her you will kill her. Only I get to do that. I swear to you, Valentina, one more word from her about your treatment and you will regret it. She didn’t kill your guard, she killed mine and if I can get over it, then you can too.”
“If I didn’t know any better Elias, I would say you have developed feelings for this girl,” she scoffed.
“And if I didn’t know any better, I would think that all these threats were because you were jealous. But I know better and so do you. Leave her alone.”
“As you wish, my darling.” She winked and I stormed out, slamming the door behind me. I hurried back to my chamber, Valentina’s hair sitting in my pocket. I couldn’t believe it was so easy to get. Then again, Valentina was easily distracted by arguments. She jumped at every chance she got to yell at people. I entered my room to find it empty. I put the hair in a ziplock baggie and hid it for safekeeping. I spent the next few hours wondering what the next few tasks were, and when Ramsey would bring them to me. I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Lennox enter the room until she spoke behind me, scaring the daylights out of me.
“I finished the list,” she said, causing me to jump.
“Jesus… you scared me.”
“Sorry,” she said, with no real enthusiasm.
“I had a talk with Val about her treatment of you. She won’t be speaking to you that way anymore.”
“You did what?” She asked, her eyes squinting the way they did when she got mad. “I never asked you to do that.”
“You didn’t have to. It’s not right for her to be treating anyone that way, especially you.” Her eyes regarded me cautiously. “I know things have been rough for you here since you started working for me, and I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s mostly the whiplash I’m getting from being around you, because one minute you’re colder than ice, and the next minute you’re practically dry humping me while reaching for your food. You tell me to leave but then get angry when I go and spend time with other people.”
“I’m sorry, Lennox. You’ve got to understand… I haven’t done this for centuries, since before you were turned.”
“Done what?” She asked, her eyes narrowing.
“This… you know? Having to be around someone all the time that makes me feel the things you make me feel.” Her eyes widened, and a blush crept across her face. “I don’t mean to give you whiplash or be so inconsistent. I’m just having difficulty adjusting to you, that’s all.” I gave her a smile, and she smiled back. It warmed my heart to see her smile. “Anyway, that’s all the tasks I had for you today, so if you don’t mind, you can take the rest of the evening off. You can even spend it however you want with whomever you want, and I won’t throw too much of a fit about it.” That joke got her to laugh a little. she headed for the door, and her attire reminded me of the conversation I’d had with Val earlier. “Lennox?” I called, and she paused at the door. “You can wear whatever you want from now on. The armor is a bit antiquated for my tastes, and pointless, as we’ve never been attacked. So whatever you feel like wearing is okay with me.” She gave me one more smile before leaving.
I walked over to my window to look out at the courtyard when I heard the door open again.
“Did you forget something, Lennox?” I asked, and to my surprise, it wasn’t her voice that answered me.
“Only forgot to tell you how handsome you are,” Ramsey said in a sing-song tone.
“Sorry… thought you were someone else,” I murmured, meeting her in the middle of the room.
“I’ve met her, you know. She rescued me the other night. You too, in a way. She got a book for me off a high shelf, one that pointed toward the first task. She seems really kind and trustworthy. Genuine, too. I don’t know how you got so lucky to have her as your guard. She thinks highly of you… when you’re not being a, and I quote, ‘pain in the ass’.” Her comment made me smile. That definitely sounded like something Lennox would say. “I should have the second task by the end of the night. I just stopped by to tell you that Niall left. He was called away on an emergency. He sends his apologies and says he’ll be back to pick me up when we’re done here.”
Lennox invaded my thoughts once again as Ramsey took her leave, but not like she had before. This time, I wondered if I could trust her with all of this and soon my feet and head were in agreement to find out as they took control and went out to find her. I asked around the barracks, but no one had seen her. Finally, I found a guard who told me he’d seen her head out to the gardens, so I quickly made my way there, hoping I wasn’t too late to catch her.
I found her sitting on the edge of the fountain amidst the topiary, the sunset reflecting in the crystal clear water. She seemed to sense me as I approached, and she turned to assess me, not giving anything away on her face.
“May I?” I asked, referring to taking a seat beside her. She nodded in agreement, dragging a stick through the water to create ripples. I sat, resting my elbows on my knees. I had no idea how to start this whole conversation or how she’d take it all. I could only pray that telling her wouldn’t ruin whatever it was we’d started between us.
“You seem lost in thought,” Lennox said, and I nodded.
“I’ve got so much to say but I don’t know where to begin or how you’ll take it all,” I confessed, and she turned to me, her blue eyes deep as the sea.
“I’m a pretty understanding person if given a chance to be. Let me surprise you.”
“My brother is here because he’s helping me to free myself of Valentina. It’s a long story, but basically, we met a very long time ago and we were in love once. But the power got to her and I saw it changing her into someone I couldn’t love anymore. She sensed that, and she became possessive and enraged. She didn’t want to lose me, so she tore her heart out and ripped it in half. She came to me, the thing still bleeding in her hand. She didn’t say a word, just reached into me and took my heart out, replacing it with the half she held. ‘If I cannot have you, no one will. Without a heart of your own, you will only love me, from now until the end.’ Those were her words as she stormed out.” We sat in silence as she took all of it in. “I know you’ve got questions, so I’ll answer a few obvious ones now. It works the same as a whole heart, physically anyway. Pumps blood and all. That’s the thing about us supernatural creatures and magic. It’s got an odd way of working. My old heart… it’s gone. I can’t ever get it back. And she was right. As long as her half is inside of me, I can’t love another, even if I want to. Even if I try as hard as I can. It’s why everything between you and I has been so rough. I want to… to feel those things for you, but I can’t.”
“You said your brother was helping you. How?”
“Ramsey isn’t really his fiancee. She’s his augur. She can… see things. Not just the past or the future, but other things as well. She found a way to create a new heart for me, so I’ll finally be free to love whoever I want. It’s complicated, though. There are trials that have to be completed, and how they’re completed determines if it’s a good heart or an evil one. I don’t want to become what Valentina is, so I’m trying my hardest to do this right, but it’s difficult, especially when the trials are in rhymes and not super specific on what qualifies as what. The witch who has to perform the spell is Valentina’s estranged sister, which is iffy, but she’s the only one who can do it. So now all that’s left is to do the trials and meet her, all while keeping this whole thing hidden from Valentina. If she found out… She’d massacre us all, even me. The years between us have turned her bitter and I’m afraid this would be the last straw for her.”
“Elias… I want to help.” Her words surprised me. “Even if we get to the end and I’m not the one you choose to love… I want to help you be free.” I looked into her eyes and I knew that every word she’d said was the truth. It only proved that she was the one. “What can I do?”
“For now? Keep everything top secret. Tell no one. Be careful where you go and who you speak to about anything here. Valentina has spies everywhere, inside and outside this place. She won’t hesitate to silence anything she perceives to be a threat. I’m receiving the tasks one at a time from Ramsey, and she said she’d have the second one tonight. Depending on what it is, we’ll decide if there’s a way for you to help.” As I finished, Ramsey came flying down the stairs toward us, a paper in her hand. She stopped when she saw Lennox, and I motioned her forward.
“She knows,” I affirmed, and Ramsey smiled.
“Good. I didn’t want to have to lie to her anymore. It was hard enough the first time. I have the second task! Again, in rhymes, and again, with a hint for the right track. ‘Time, distance, and arguments have estranged them from you. Retrieve an item from the past, and begin the bond anew.’ Don’t know who the task is referring to, so you might have some searching to do, but at least we have progress.”
“Actually… I think I might know who it’s talking about. I haven’t been there since… since Valentina and I were married. It’s been centuries… Do you ladies feel like an impromptu flight halfway around the world?” They both shot me questioning looks. “I’ve got to go to my father’s house. Ramsey, if you come, you can help me patch things up with him and explain everything we’re doing. And Lennox… I want you to meet him, at least once.” Her cheeks turned red, and it made me smile. “We’d have to leave right now, though. Pack for a few days and meet me at the front gate. Be quick and very quiet. We’ll have to avoid detection because Valentina won’t let us go if she finds out we’re leaving for any reason.” The girls nodded and ran off to gather their things. I made my way to my room, packing lightly before heading to get a car out of the garage. I called the airport and arranged for our private plane to be brought out, and then pulled up to the front gate to wait for Ramsey and Lennox.