The way Lennox flipped out on me last night played over in my head. When I finally did get to sleep, it was nothing but fitful dreams about the hurt in her eyes. To say she affected me in an unhealthy way would have been putting it lightly. As I got out of bed, I heard my door open and the air turned icy cold… Valentina. She was early today.
“I really do wish you would let me decorate this room, Elias. It’s so plain,” she said, climbing into bed with me. For a second, I remembered how amazing she used to feel on my chest, but I pushed that thought out immediately and got up out of bed.
“I like simple. It reminds me of who I am,” I snapped.
“Yes, you are simply... simply boring. What happened to you, Elias? You used to be so much more fun than this.” She made her way off the bed and over to me.
“You turned into a bitch that has done nothing but deny the truth. Go away, your highness. I am sure you have somewhere better to be.”
“You are right, I do, but this isn’t over. Mark my words, Li... you will love me again.” She slammed the door and I scoffed. There wasn’t a snowball's chance in hell I would ever love her again. I grabbed my towel and hopped in the shower. I needed to get the feeling of her touch off of me, and I hoped the hot water would burn all that away. As I finished, I wrapped my towel around my waist and walked back into my room where I was met with the most beautiful sight I had ever laid eyes on.
Lennox wore her dark hair down today, and she wore normal clothes. Unlike her armor she adorned yesterday, her black jeans were tight and hugged her every curve. Her gray shirt held black lace in the back and through it, I could see the makings of a tattoo. She wore boots that came to mid-calf and made her stand much taller than before. I could have stood there watching her all day.
“Yeah, I will meet you there Ari. Okay, bye babe,” she said, hanging up the phone. Babe? Who was she talking to and why on earth did she snap at me last night if she had someone?
“Who was that?” I questioned angrily.
“I don't really think that matters,” she retorted, turning around. Her eyes grew big the second she noticed I was practically naked. I inwardly smirked as her eyes trailed all the way down my body. I cleared my throat after a few seconds to sadly bring her focus to the conversation at hand. She quickly came to and turned around, embarrassed. “Can you please at least put some damn pants on?” She huffed.
“As soon as you answer my question,” I taunted. “Who were you talking to?”
“Look, put clothes on, don't put clothes on... I don't care. My personal life is my personal life and doesn't affect you at all.” She snapped, her words almost as harsh as the night before. Clearly she was still mad.
“Except that phone call was made on my time, so tell me or report to Valentina.” I knew using this over her was wrong, but it was the only way to get her to tell me.
“Every fucking time... I swear to god,” she practically yelled. “I was talking to Arina, and quite frankly, if this is how it is going to be, then I prefer to be dead. Now tell me what you need me to do this morning so I can be on my way and free of you for at least a couple of hours.” Arina... that's who she was talking to. It pissed me off that she was talking to me like that, but more importantly, it pissed me off that she was calling Arina babe and not me.
“Go find me Jackson and get out of my face. Make sure the next time you enter this room, you carry a little more respect in your voice. I may not have much say in anything anymore but I am still the king, and you will not talk to me like that. Have I made myself clear?” I demanded.
“Yes, your highness,” she spat and walked out of the room. So many thoughts ran through my head. How long had she and Arina been a thing, and why Arina? I needed to know everything. As if on cue, Jackson walked in.
“You summoned me, sir?” Jackson questioned, standing to attention in front of me.
“I need you to look into something for me, and being as you are the only one I trust this whole bloody fortress, I really hope you don’t say no.”
“Whatever you need, Sir, I will do.”
“Very good. My newest guard is seeing one of Valentina’s spies. Find out everything you can about those two.”
“Is the guard a threat, my king?“ he questioned, concerned.
“No, she isn’t. It's the girlfriend I am worried about. This is time-sensitive, so please make this your only priority.”
“As you command, sir.” He took his leave and I got dressed and headed down the kitchen to receive my breakfast like always. Lennox was stuck on my mind, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of a way to rectify the situation. I was at a loss for the first time in my life.
I found Jackson pretty quickly and sent him to Elias’s chamber. I couldn’t believe that Elias had gotten so angry at me for talking to Arina before my shift. Who did he think he was? He had no right to treat me the way he did, especially because we weren’t together. What did it matter to him who I spent my time off the clock with? I stormed around for the better part of the morning, fuming at our interaction, and just when I thought it couldn’t get worse… Valentina approached me while I was in the middle of sweeping the courtyard.
“Seems like we’ve found the perfect job for our newest guard.” Her tone only infuriated me more. I’d had just about enough of the royals and the way they treated me. I wasn’t about to voice my opinion, though, since it was either this or death by dismemberment.
“Thanks,” I replied. “It beats pointless searches for things I would never be able to find.”
“Oh, Elias’s little initiation. If I were him, I would have reamed you a new one, but the old man’s grown soft in his age. All the better of me to love him through,” Valentina said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. My grip tightened on the broom handle. She assessed me for a moment before speaking again. “I don’t know why you’re dressed like that, considering you’re guarding my husband. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you wore it to try to get his attention.” I swallowed hard. I had worn it for that, and also because it was more comfortable than the armor the queen insisted we wear. Still, after our fight the other day, I figured some payback was in order. I thought it would work well until Elias one-upped me by coming out this morning in nothing but a towel. Remembering that sight made my heart beat faster until Valentina got right up in my face.
“Listen to me very closely, because I’ll only say this once. If I ever see you dressed like this for your shift again, it’ll be the last one you ever work. The last thing the king needs while he tries to work is a guard dressed like a cheap whore distracting him.” She grinned as her words slapped me in the face. She pushed past me and it took everything in me not to break the broom handle in half and hurl the pointy end at her heart.
Thankfully, I held my anger in until she was out of sight. I continued my day, doing the crap work around the mansion, waiting for Elias to summon me, but he never did. In fact, he took days to get around to talking to me for more than to hand me my daily tasks, and it confused me. I spent my mornings doing my work and my evenings with Arina, trying to get Elias off my mind.
It wasn’t until the near end of my shift a few days later that I realized I’d seen the same guy hanging around for days. I snuck a quick peek at him while shelving books in the library when I realized that it was Jackson, the guard Elias had me find earlier that week. I wondered what he’d been doing at all the places I was at all week, and then it hit me. Furious, I finished shelving my books and stormed off to Elias’s chamber. I threw open the door without even knocking, surprising Elias, who was hunched over his desk.
“Are you having me followed?“ I shouted, glaring at him. He seemed so surprised that I almost felt like I was wrong. One thing I’d learned though in all my years is that my intuition rarely led me astray.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he denied, standing up straight.
“Stop lying to me! Why was Jackson everywhere I was this week? He was there when I was cleaning in the kitchen, he was there when your oh so lovely wife yelled at me while I swept, and he was there when I was reshelving books in the library. Why are you having him tail me?”
“Maybe he was just doing errands and it’s a coincidence? You're sounding paranoid, not to mention disrespectful.”
“Cut the crap, Elias. Just be honest with me, for once.” It was pissing me off that he was blatantly lying to me. But before he could speak, Jackson walked through the door.
“Sir, I bring news.” He immediately dropped his words the second he saw me.
“Don’t stop on my account. What news do you have for the royal pain in the ass?”
“Watch your tone,” Elias spat. “What he has to say is none of your concern. You are a guard, nothing more. The information he has is not for your little nosy ears. Go stand outside the door until I am done here and then I will continue to listen to your little rant about how crazy you truly are.” I threw my arms up in the air and complied. A part of me realized it was only because of what those eyes could do just by looking at me. After what seemed like centuries, Jackson emerged from the door.
“You may go back to the room again.” He winked. Woah... Jackson had emotions... that was new.
“You said my wife threatened you earlier?” He questioned as I entered. He was now sitting on the front of his desk with a very playful look in his eyes.
“Yes... she said if it ever dressed like I did earlier this week while working again, it would be the last time I worked. That you didn't need to be distracted by a cheap whore.” Flashes of my old life surfaced and tears began to well up.
“Hey, none of that.” He said, standing and sauntering towards me. “Valentina is a bitch, take it from me. You didn’t look like a whore, so fuck what she says.”
“It's not just what she said. I shouldn't even be here. I am going to go.” I wiped the tears away and went to turn around, but his hand caught my arm, spinning me around.
“Don’t go, not yet at least.” There was a softness in his voice that made me feel like this is where I belonged forever, just him and I, but I knew that would never happen. I quickly glanced at the clock behind me. It was 8 pm. I was supposed to meet Arina half an hour ago.
“I have to go... Arina is expecting me and I am already late,” I whispered. He pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around my waist.
“I could always make you stay,” His eyes grew dark and dangerous. “For work purposes.”
“You better make it a damn good reason. One week and I’m already fucking this relationship up.”
“Would you rather be there with her or right here in my arms? If it's with her, then I won’t stop you. Go,” he said, removing his arms and taking a step back. “But... if you want to be with me…” He filled in the gap he just made. “Then just know you won't be leaving this room anytime soon.” A wicked smile flashed across his face. Before I could answer, a banging came from the other side of the door.
“King Elias, Valentina requests your presence in the throne room immediately,” someone shouted. I watched his eyes well up with dread before he rested his forehead on mine.
“Apparently the fates have decided for us,” he groaned hurtfully. “Until tomorrow, Formosa.” He exited the room, leaving me breathless. What the hell just happened? And why did it tear me apart to see him walk away?
I cursed under my breath when I was sure I was out of Lennox’s earshot. Whoever had called me away from her had better have had a damned good reason, or I wouldn’t hesitate to rip their throat out. With the information Jackson had delivered, I needed to stay near Lennox and try to mend what damage I’d already done. Being called away from her was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. Holding her so close in my arms felt like heaven, and it killed me to have to leave her, even if I’d never admit it. I had no idea why I felt like this for her, especially because I was only working with half a heart and the world’s worst wife, but Lennox did something to me I’d never felt before. She made me feel things I never wanted to stop feeling.
I rounded the corner into the throne room and felt disgusted when I saw Valentina perched on her throne. It was a good spot for her, but I’d lost my place beside her eons ago. I wasn’t a king here anymore, only a prisoner in a loveless marriage to an evil woman. She gave me a look meant to entice me, but it only ruined my vibe I’d gotten from Lennox earlier.
“There you are, Li. I thought you’d got lost on the way. What took you so long?”
“Just trying to minimize every second I have to spend with you,” I hissed, and Valentina gave me a ‘knock it off’ look.
“You’re so funny,” she said with a fake laugh, and I wondered what kind of trick she was pulling. “I just called you here because you didn’t tell me you were going to have a visitor.” I gave her a questioning look, but before she could respond, my brother entered the room with a woman on his arm.
“Niall! What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised. I hadn’t seen him in years.
“Sorry to drop by unannounced… but I wanted to introduce you to my fiance, Ramsey.” Fiancee? This was new information to me.
“Valentina, would you mind giving us the room?” Niall asked, giving her a warm smile.
“Anything for my darling’s brother,” she said sweetly, kissing me on the cheek before leaving. I wiped my cheek with disgust the second she was out of sight, and Niall laughed.
“She still has no clue that I know who she really is?” He asked incredulously, and I smiled at him.
“You know it’s all about appearances around here. Speaking of which, why didn’t you tell me you got engaged?”
“I didn’t get engaged,” Niall replied with a smirk. “This is Ramsey. She works with me. She’s got skills in acquiring information. I brought her with me because we’ve got news for you… about a new heart.” For a second, I couldn’t breathe.
“The good news is that there is away. Ramsey already knows that you have half a heart and that Valentina has the other half, which means you’re bound to her, for better or worse. She’s actually the one who did the research.”
“I’m afraid it’s not all good news, though,” Ramsey said, and I assessed her. She stood about five and a half feet tall, with flaming red curls down to her mid-back, and gray eyes that seemed wise. She was beautiful in a kind of nonconventional way. I could see why Niall kept her around. “There are only three witches in the world that I know of, that can make this kind of spell work. Two aren’t even named, with no possible way to divine their locations. Which leaves us, one witch, to work with. And that’s not even the worst part. The items needed for the spell are obtained through a set of specific, rigorous tasks, and how they’re accomplished determines whether the heart is good or bad. So even if you’re able to pass all the tests, you still might not get the witch to do the spell… considering who the witch is.” I felt dizzy.
“Carmina...” Niall said softly, and I felt the blood leave my face. Of course, it had to be Valentina’s estranged sister. Of freaking course. I felt like the end was so close, just to find out that I was only a fifth of the way to the finish line. Still, that fifth mattered more than I could express. Having this information meant that my situation wasn’t completely hopeless.
“Can you ask Carmina for a meeting?” I asked Ramsey, and she nodded.
“If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to stay here, to look for more information in your library. You’ve got some books that I think could help.”
“Anything,” I replied, turning to Niall. “So now we need a story for why Ramsey is staying.”
“Just tell Valentina that you want to get to know her better since she’s about to be part of the family. And if she asks why Ramsey is tearing through the library, just tell her she’s an avid reader and that you guys have the best collection. I can stay for a few days, but I’ve got to get back to my area. I’ve got work to do if we’re gonna get this done for you.”
I nodded and hugged him before leaving the room to head to my room. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I knew that my redemption would be far off, but at least it wasn’t all hopeless. I hoped to see Lennox when I returned to my room, but instead, Valentina lay on my bed, waiting for me to return. I sighed, and she frowned.
“Don’t be like that, Li.”
“Why are you here? You have your own bedroom.”
“True, but it lacks a certain body warmth that I could only get from you. Won’t you join me?” She asked, patting the bed next to her.
“You bring a whole new meaning to jumping into bed with the devil,” I replied, staying where I was.
“You don’t have to be so cruel,” Valentina pouted, getting up to stand next to me. “I’ll make you love me again if it’s the last thing I do. Are they staying?” she asked, referring to Niall and Ramsey.
“Niall is staying for a few days, and Ramsey is staying longer. I want to get to know her before she joins the family. Plus, she needs to know what you are before she decides to join this crazy town.”
“On, please,” she said, patting my shoulder. “You haven’t seen anything yet.” She brushed past me, and it took all of my self-control not to curse her. Once she was gone, I sighed a breath of relief and laid down alone. Lennox’s beautiful face crept into my head and all I wanted at that moment was her beside me, breathing in tandem with me, curled in my arms. I fell asleep to that image, and I slept better than I had in a very long time.