I rushed back to king Elias’s room, his lunch on a platter in my hand. I felt so nervous coming back because I didn’t know if we’d feel that spark again… if he even felt it at all. I was nervous that I’d make some mistake and the queen would literally rip my head off and use it as a book stop. At least I’d found out the spy’s name. Arina and I had chatted for a while as I enlisted her help in finding the book. That reminded me that it was one mistake I’d already made: I couldn’t find any first editions of his book. I’d searched high and low in that massive repository, but it was nowhere to be seen. Arina wasn’t able to find it either, and so we had to settle for a second edition.
I stopped outside the door, nearly shaking in my boots. I didn’t know what Elias would say or what would become of me, but it would only get worse if I let his lunch get cold while I stood here pondering it. I took the paper from the door and read it quickly. Two words adorned the page, in beautiful artistic writing: “Come in”. For a brief second, all I could think about were love letters penned between us, reading and memorizing his neat writing, and his loving words. As if that could ever happen between us… I snapped out of my wishful thinking and knocked on the door after putting his note in my pocket.
“Enter,” Elias said, that delicious English accent of his making me melt. It warmed me enough to obey and go in. He sat on the couch, sprawled out. I just about drooled at the sight, but I had to keep it professional. I brought his platter to the table near him and turned around to see him standing. He was quicker and quieter than I’d imagined, but I guess that came with age.
“Your first day on the job… and you manage to completely screw up your first task.” The words stung me to the core, no longer warm. “I specifically asked for a first edition… Are you illiterate and can’t read that this says second edition?” I could feel my cheeks flare.
“N-no. I can read…”
“Then why did you bring me this… this trash?” He shouted, throwing the book to the floor. I jumped, startled at the way he was speaking to me. He was nothing like I’d been told. If anything, he made Valentina seem like a puppy dog. “Answer me.” He closed the distance between us, and I could feel his eyes drilling holes in mine.
“There were none in the library; I checked every shelf. This was the best I could do…” He leaned into me and I could swear he could feel my heart beating out of my chest and onto his. He was so close I could see the blood thrumming in his neck. If he wasn’t screaming at me two seconds earlier, I would have been in heaven, being so close to him. I wondered what he was doing when I heard the platter covering clatter onto the wood behind me. He sighed deeply, and my heart froze. He backed up just far enough to look into my eyes, sending chills down my spine.
“What… is that?” I could barely breathe as he asked me. When I didn’t answer, he took in a deep breath. “What. Is. That?” He enunciated, and I watched every move of his lips as if they were a sunrise. Unfortunately, I watched it too long. I forgot how to breathe and how to speak. He leaned in so close I could feel his breath on my lips. “What’s your name?”
“Lennox,” I managed, not even sure about anything anymore other than the fact that he was so close that one gust of air would be enough to push his lips to mine. My head swam and I felt like I was going to faint.
“Lennox…” he breathed, and I felt my heart explode into a million fragments. The way he said my name, as if he’d just made love to me, made me so weak that I gripped the table behind me for support. It was the only thing keeping me from melting into a puddle at his feet. Just the image of being so low looking up at him sent another wave of heat through me. I could swear he knew what he was doing to me, as he smirked and pulled back.
“Looks good,” he said, turning away from me. “And don’t worry about the book… I have a copy in here somewhere.” I gripped the table so hard I thought I’d break it. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. After what he’d done to me, I couldn’t think about anything other than all the wrong things I wanted to do. After a moment, I let out the breath I was holding, and then it hit me.
“Wait, you what?”
“Oh, yeah. I have a first edition somewhere in here… All the first editions are kept in here. I like to read,” Elias said as if we were having a natural conversation and not as if he’d just practically made love to me after reaming me out. I felt anger bubble up inside me.
“I spent forever looking for that,” I seethed, and Elias chuckled as he turned to me.
“You are dedicated, and I’m glad to know it. Thanks for everything. You can go now,” he said, coming over to me to grab his food. If he were anyone else, I would have killed him right about now, but he was the king, and he could do whatever he wanted, including leading me on a wild goose chase. That didn’t mean I’d like it, though. Still, after what he did to me… I would almost play that game with him forever if it meant getting to be that close to him. I left the room, feeling Elias’s eyes on me as I walked away.
My stomach rumbled, and I knew where I’d go next. I headed down to the mess hall, relieved to see Arina there. It meant I wouldn’t have to sit alone. I grabbed some food and sat down next to her. She smiled sweetly at me and then laughed.
“You look like you just ran a mile with your face all red like that,” she commented, and I pressed my cold hands to my cheeks.
“I feel like it,” I replied, and she giggled.
“So what did the king say to make you all flustered?”
“He yelled at me because the book I brought him was second edition, not first.”
“We checked every single shelf,” Arina said, frowning.
“I know,” I said, and she leaned over to hug me.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Arina commented, squeezing me tight. “Let me, instead,” she said with a wink. She turned me to face her and stared at me. “You’re very pretty. If you’re not busy after this… maybe we could get to know each other a little better…”
“Maybe we should actually get to know each other first,” I joked, and she faked a pout.
“I guess you’re right,” she agreed. “So when did you get here?”
“Ten years ago.”
“You were in the reformation project, weren’t you?” I cursed in my mind. Arina knew about how the queen would take criminals and have them work for her. Then again, she was a spy. What didn’t she know?
“What for?” Arina questioned, and I sighed.
“I needed money, and I found a good gig, or so I thought… I was told it would be a clean fight, one on one. Prize money worth 20k. But then when the gates slammed down, the guy came at me for blood. I only realized then that it was a deathmatch. It was my life or his… so I killed him. Turned out to be the king’s guard, Uriah. The queen sent her guards to capture me, and I was put in the program to train as his replacement.”
“Yikes,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze as a sign of solidarity. “I was wondering why I was working that lame shift. I’ve been a spy for the queen for as long as I can remember. I get to go to all kinds of interesting places, see all kinds of people… and sometimes I get to kill them,” Arina commented, and I pulled away, giving her a look. She busted out laughing. “Just kidding. I just do the spy work. She has assassins for the real dirty work.” I gulped, wondering when Valentina would send one of them after me if she ever found out what happened between the king and I earlier. “It’s good work, though. There’s nothing I’d rather do.” She beamed. I noticed how it reached her eyes and finally stopped to admire her features fully. I did her no justice. I stared way too long though it would seem because the next thing I knew, she spoke again. “You are more than welcome to continue to look at me like that, for as long as you want... as long as you never let that light die out.” My cheeks flushed.
“ I... uhh... I am sorry. I didn't mean to do that,” I whispered.
“So about that date. After you are done with your shift and the king finally sets you free, would you like to go stargazing with me?” She inquired.
“Please don't take this the wrong way, because honestly, I find you very attractive and normally I would be all over this in a heartbeat... but the queen already wants me dead and if I mess up, that’ll be the end. I just don't think getting involved with someone right now is the way to go. I am sorry.” I didn't know how else to put it.
“I get it, the queen is intimidating, but if you change your mind, meet me on the east side of the roof. And remember what I said about the king; trust me, he's not as bad as he seems.” She smiled and got up and walked away. I hadn’t realized how much time was spent with her and soon it was time to report back to the king for my nightly duties before he retired for bed. As I arrived at the strong wood door for what seemed like the millionth time tonight, I pondered what would come of our final meeting tonight. So far this beautiful adonis had made me feel incompetent, lovesick, and completely infuriated. I was dreading what was to come. Still, I knocked, expecting another cold demand for my presence.
“Ahh Lennox,” he smiled dangerously, opening the door to my shock. “I was wondering if you would be a typical woman and show up late or not,” he jabbed. “But alas here you are, and early at that. You may just be my best guard yet. Won't you please come in?” There was something different about him but I couldn’t quite place it. As I stepped in, it became clear to me what it was. She stood with her back to me, zipping up her elegant black dress. Her blonde hair fell sleek but messy. As I looked back at Elias, I noticed for the first time that his hair was tousled more than normal and his shirt was practically unbuttoned, leaving me both breathless and broken all at the same time. “Until next time, Lenore.” He kissed her cheek as she walked up to him without even looking in my direction. She slid past me and left us alone.
As he walked toward the bed, I turned and closed the door, my face hot with a million emotions. I wanted so badly to say something, anything, but I knew that all it would take was one argument for me to head to the chopping block, literally. Elias straightened his sheets as I watched, and then gave me a cocky smirk that sent me over the edge. It was one thing for him to commit such sins, but it was another entirely to rub it in my face.
“If I had known you were going to have company, I would have waited. I didn’t need to see that.”
“What, like you’ve never had a tryst before? You seem like you could use one.” Elias’s tone was arrogant.
“The difference is that I’m not married and you are. You have a wife. And no morals, apparently.” The grin dropped from Elias’s face as he approached me.
“You have the nerve to speak to me about morals when you kill my guard and then half-ass your duties on your first day? You’re lucky I don’t report you to Valentina.” I could barely hold back my anger at him. His emerald eyes flared with genuine anger and it took everything in me not to reach out and slap him across the face.
“Are we done here? Do you need me to change your sex sheets, or can I go now that you’ve held the only card you have against me over my head?” He looked taken aback at my words and motioned to the door. I turned without another word and stormed out, heading for anywhere but that god awful room. I was halfway to the barracks when I remembered Arina’s offer from earlier. I changed course and headed up to the roof, relieved when I saw her sitting near the edge. For some reason, her presence calmed me down.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Arina quipped, giving me a small smile. “Thought I’d be staring at the stars all by myself tonight.”
“I’m sorry about before. I thought that if I let myself get close to anyone, I’d get hurt. Turns out that applied to someone else, not you. I needed fresh air, and you were kind enough to help me look for the book earlier, so the least I could do is spend some time with you… if you still want me here, that is.”
“Take a seat, beautiful,” she replied, and I settled down next to her. The stars were amazingly visible from up here, even though the mansion was bright. Thousands upon thousands of stars littered the night sky, their light contrasting brilliantly against the darkness. We sat in silence for a while, just taking in the sight, but it wasn’t long before one of us had to speak.
“What did you mean when you said that it applied to someone else?” Arina asked, her beautiful brown eyes looking right into mine.
“I’d rather not discuss it.. please. Let’s talk about something else. Anything else.” Arina nodded and looked back to the stars.
“Hmm. How about we get to know each other a little better? Why don’t you tell me about your creation?” I winced, and I knew she noticed by her next statement. “Do you have any stories you can tell me that aren’t bad?”
“I’ll tell you. It’s just that I’ve led a pretty terrible life, even before I was turned. I don’t want to upset you or anything.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Arina said, but I shook my head.
“No… I’ve got to start talking about it sometime… and I trust you. My mother sold me into slavery at a very young age, to be able to afford her habits. I worked as a housemaid until I was fourteen when my master Ronah decided that I’d get him more money as a whore. That’s where I met Braddock. He was working as a stable boy for one of the clients, and he and I became fast friends. I almost looked forward to going to that client, just so I could see Braddock. Years passed and he and I got closer… until we fell in love. That was when he showed me his side profession: hunting monsters of the night, immortal creatures who would drain the blood of humans without a care. I admired him for it.
“One night, Braddock came to me with a plan. He’d had enough of my master’s treatment of me and so he planned to kill Ronah and run away with me. I was all for that plan until we showed up and Ronah beat Braddock to the point of death. I barely got us out in time. I tried that entire night to save him, but it wasn’t working. I realized only one thing would help. I sought out a vampire and paid him to turn Braddock, to save his life. Braddock slept for days and I had to return to work. When I did, Ronah came at me, trying to kill me. But Braddock showed up just in time and killed him. He took me home and we made love.
“In the middle of it, I began to drift to sleep, not knowing why. I’m still regaining my memories of that night. I fell asleep and when I woke, Braddock was nowhere to be seen, and I was hungrier than I had ever been. Confused, I went to steal some food from the market, but it wasn’t food I needed, not anymore. I could smell the blood inside the people, delicious and mouth-watering. I didn’t know that was what I was smelling until two people got into a fight over prices or something, and one of them wound up with a broken nose. The blood poured from his face, and I couldn’t help myself. I lured him into an alley and before I knew it, I was feeding on him. I drained him completely, right then and there. And that’s when I knew that Braddock had changed me.
“I was furious. I felt betrayed and alone. Braddock never came back, and I never heard from him or about him again. And so for years, I drank on whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn’t care. I would kill just because I could. No matter how much I drank, this hole inside me never seemed to fill. It took me half a century to come to my senses.”
She sat for a moment, soaking in the words I’d just told her. She didn’t display anything on her face, and I was worried she was upset with me until she spoke.
“You’re not the only one with a tragic creation story, it seems,” Arina said softly, and I gave her a questioning look. “I was born a vampire, to human parents. They didn’t know how it happened, but they found out soon enough when my mother would try to milk me and I’d bite her, drawing blood. She couldn’t feed me the way I needed. The years passed and they hated me more and more, and it became increasingly apparent. And then one night, when I got home from school, my father threw my things outside and told me if I ever stepped foot in his home again, he’d kill me himself. I was so young, maybe seven or eight years old. I grew up really quickly after that. I trained myself to fight, to feed only as much as I needed, and I tried to blend in with society. It’s not an easy task, though. Eventually, Valentina found me and showed me that there was more than just existing. She gave me a purpose, a reason to live, by employing me as a spy. She gave me the skills, tools, and training I needed to become someone. And here I am.”
“How could they not love you?” I asked, tears falling down my face. I couldn’t believe that someone could just abandon their child at such a young age and that they didn’t even try to help her. Arina was so kind-hearted and sweet and helpful, and I felt a deep sadness hearing that someone had shown her anything other than the love she deserved. Arina turned to me, wiping the tears from my cheeks.
“Don’t cry for me, beautiful. It’s in the past. I got where I am today because of them, and that’s a wonderful thing, especially because I got to meet you. If they’d kept me, I wouldn’t be sitting here on this roof with the most amazing girl I’ve ever known… I wouldn’t be wanting to do this.” Before I knew what was happening, Arina pressed her soft, warm lips to mine with a gentleness I’d never felt before. She kissed me slowly as if asking for permission without speaking. I returned the kiss, wrapping my arms around her neck to pull her in. When we stopped kissing, we were both panting.
“You sure know how to lay one on a girl,” Arina laughed, giving me a wink.
“You started that,” I laughed in reply, and we laid down, cuddled up to one another to gaze at the stars.