My head wasdizzy as I stared into the mirror in the corner of the bedroom that formerly belonged to my parents. For most of the past twelve years of my life, this right here was my worst nightmare. Even though I didn’t favor one parent over the other, it almost made it worse having both of them stare back at me from my own reflection.
Distant memories and laughter filled my head. The last time I stood right here was just a few nights before they died. My uncle had orchestrated a plan to kill my parents and me. However, I escaped death that night, at the tender age of six, with my father and mother’s personal security guards. For the past twelve years, they both had raised me and became my family.
“Are you okay?” Mason’s deep voice tore me out of the memory.
“No, but I will be.” I glanced at the elegant black dress that I wore for my presentation to the supernatural world as their queen. My blue eyes were the exact same shade as my father’s, and my vibrant dark red hair a gift from my mother. “The last time I was here, I was so upset. I hated wearing dresses.”
“So not much has changed?” My mate chuckled as he walked up behind me. His handsome face reflected right next to mine.
“Nope.” A laugh did manage to escape me, and I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or afraid. Some of the pain was beginning to heal with Mason and his sister, Ella, by my side, but I worried that might mean I’d lose memories of my parents now that I was finding happiness.
“Don’t worry.” He leaned down and tenderly kissed my neck right where the faint scar of his bite marks were from completing our bond. “I’ll be getting you out of it as soon as this thing is over.”
“Promises, promises.” I turned toward him and took a deep breath of his earthy scent.
His hair was still short, and his emerald eyes glowed. He was a couple of inches taller than my five-foot-ten frame, and somehow his designer black suit emphasized all his muscles in the sexiest way possible. “You clean up nice.”
“Only for you.” He leaned down, capturing my lips between his teeth.
A moan left me, and I curled my arms around his neck.
“Oh my God!” Ella’s voice was raised for dramatics. “The past week, every time I walk in here you guys are kissing or moaning.”
Mason pulled back and huffed. “It’s our bedroom. What the hell do you expect?”
“You knew I’d come in here before the dinner party.” She entered the room, proving her lack of boundaries.
He turned toward her and arched an eyebrow. “If you come in after the party, be ready to see my naked ass.”
“Seriously?” It was true, but not something I wanted to share with her. You probably encouraged her to do just that.
True.He grimaced as he glanced at me.
“You look beautiful.” Ella sashayed over to me in her skin-tight red dress. Her blonde hair cascaded down her back, and her hazel eyes popped with her dark eyeshadow.
“So do you.” I wrapped my arms around her.
“Watch the hair.” She snorted as she carefully hugged me back. “Oh, you decided to wear it down too?”
“Mom always wore her hair up.” Since the car crash, I’d done everything I could to not cry when I looked in the mirror.
“Got it.” Ella frowned and glanced at her brother. “You look weird. Like you might even be able to pass as a gentleman.”
“Don’t worry.” Mason smirked. “I’m still not a gentleman to anyone except Elena.”
“Won’t you have to change now?” She tilted her head and pursed her lips.
“Nope, he sure doesn’t.” That had been one of my dad’s strengths. He wanted everyone to be who they were, politics be damned. It caused him to have many loyal followers and the same number of enemies.
“Well, good.” Ella looked at me and raised a hand to block Mason from seeing her lips. “Because that would be awkward when he couldn’t do it.”
“You know I can still hear you?” Mason shook his head, and his brow furrowed. “What was even the point of that?”
“Dramatics.” Ella turned toward him. “You should know I won’t say anything about you behind your back. I wanted to make sure you heard what I said while still trying to be discreet and polite.”
Oh dear. When these two got going there was no telling when it would end. “As fun as this is, King Adelmo and his wife are downstairs waiting.”
A knock at the door interrupted me. “Come in.”
Kassie and Mona walked into the room. They both were wearing suits as were the rest of the guards that were working that night. That way they could run in a fight if needed and not worry about a dress or something of that nature obstructing their movements.
Other than that, they didn’t look anything alike. Kassie’s short dark hair stopped just shy of her shoulders, and she had an intimidating presence, unlike Mona. Though her amber eyes always glowed when she was angry.
Mona’s long blonde hair was twisted into a bun, and her chocolate brown eyes were warm. She came off as sweet and caring, but at the first sign of any threat, she could be just as intimidating as Kassie.
“King Adelmo is downstairs and growing impatient,” Kassie growled the words.
“Didn’t they just get here a few minutes ago?” Right before Ella came in, I had been taking one last look before heading down.
“Yes, but apparently they are not supposed to be the ones waiting.” Mona rolled her eyes. “Maybe you should take longer.”
I just had my official coronation last week; the worst thing I could do was start off on the wrong foot with Europe. “No, let’s go ahead and get this over with.”
“You're telling me.” Mason pulled at his tie. “I feel as if I’m choking in this stupid thing.”
“To be honest, it is his first time ever wearing one, so he has some breaking in to do.” Ella snorted and shook her head.
“Really?” That surprised me. “You didn’t go to prom or something?” Even for shifters, prom was a big deal. Hell, we were half-human after all.
His nose wrinkled in disgust. “Oh, hell no.” He shook his head. “Whoever you took would want to put labels on it. Besides, I never wanted to be tied down until I met you.”
He was being sincere, but I had to give him a hard time. “You’re going for cheesy?”
“What?” His forehead lined, and he narrowed his eyes. “No. I meant that.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when my brother, the all-elusive bad boy Mason, would get whipped.” Ella placed her hand on her heart for extra emphasis.
“I haven’t been whipped.” He looked over at me and winked. “Yet.”
“Okay, that’s enough.” Kassie waved her hand in the direction of the door. “I don’t want to hear anything kinky related to Elena. I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that and move on.”
“In all fairness, I agree with her.” Mona placed her arm around my waist and smiled. “Now, let’s go see this impatient king.”
“You do realize I’m still not happy with you two.” I looped my arm into Mason’s as we headed toward the door. “Both of you are my family. It’s ridiculous for you to be part of the security team. The two of you raised me.”
“We appreciate that. We do.” She dropped her hand from my waist and squeezed my shoulder. “But we don’t trust anyone better than ourselves, and this is an easy way to get paid while still being around you. So it’ll feel like retirement, in a way.”
“Except you’re always scanning the room, waiting for someone to attack.” Mason placed his free hand on top of mine.
God, I loved the man. He knew how important these two women were in my life. “That doesn’t sound like a relaxing job.”
“Ha, no job is ever relaxing.” She waited a second and began walking with Ella. “That antique store was more stressful than this job.”
“Oh?” Ella tilted her head and followed us down the stairs. “Why?”
“Those damn witches.” She shook her head. “That particular supernatural race is ruthless when it comes to bargaining. If it’s something they wanted and it became obvious that I wasn’t willing to go that way, they would start threatening to put spells on me.”
“Are you serious?” Ella’s mouth dropped open.
“Yeah. Luckily, I was educated enough to know what the cost for some of those spells were, and they usually didn’t have the essential components on hand.” Mona adjusted her jacket and ran her hand along the railing.
“And you had wanted me to work there?” I was surprised by this little revelation.
“We knew you’d say no.” Kassie glanced at me over her shoulder as she began walking down the stairs.
“But you both acted like you weren’t happy with my decision.” I took a deep breath in and straightened my shoulders. By the time we reached the bottom of the stairs, King Adelmo would have been waiting for a few minutes now, so I needed to hurry.
“It’s called reverse psychology.” Ella popped out.
Sometimes I can’t believe we’re related. Mason cut his eyes to me and smiled.
I can.All right, I needed to get settled. I had a very important part to play here.
Hey, it’ll be okay.Mason’s strong arm helped me keep my balance while going down the stairs.
I didn’t want to wear a dress and heels, but Kassie and Mona had talked me into it for this occasion. I’d always be a ‘jeans and t-shirt’ kind of girl. If this doesn’t go well, then we’re going to run into problems. I hadn’t wanted to put unwarranted stress on Mason for this meeting, but it was a big fucking deal.
I thought this was just formalities. His gaze stayed on the stairs, but his shoulders tensed. What are you not telling me?
It’s just that I need to get his blessing in order to strengthen my role as Queen. When I thought of everything I didn’t know, it made my stomach queasy. I’d purposely stayed out of alpha politics the past twelve years and only remembered a few things from when I was a child.
Was that why you were in the library, drooling over some book titled The Wolf History of the United Kingdom.
Yeah. I had tried to stay awake, but I lost the war. I kind of messed it up too, with my drool.
I could’ve helped you.
To be honest, you’ve had to deal with a lot. Not only had he moved here with me, but he had been thrown into this life, and it wasn’t as easy as most people thought.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and turned so we were facing opposite of the door in the foyer. The walls in the New York City house were very sleek and contemporary. A white-gray color made the house feel modern, and once past the foyer, there were mostly large windows in the halls. There were two ways to the elevator that served as the main door. The basement was for the residents to park. There were assigned parking spots for our unit, and we were able to pull a car up to the elevator door when we were coming and going. The other main way into the house was from a large lobby that housed a front desk receptionist. They checked IDs and ensured that the visitors were expected. It was so formal and one of the main reasons the Hampton house was still my favorite, but this is where we’d be staying most of the time.
As my eyes landed on King Adelmo, I realized he wasn’t at all like I remembered him.
He wasn’t quite as tall as I expected. Granted, the last time I’d seen him, I was quite young at only six years old. His short blond hair probably hid most of his gray, and his silver eyes locked with mine. He had to be about Mason’s height and wore his suit well.
Beside him was his mate, Elizabeth. She was a few inches shorter than I, and her hair was a shade darker than the king’s. She wore a designer black dress that had cap sleeves adorned with rows of vertical beads. Her mouth sat in a frown.
A young man, who couldn’t be older than Mason, stood beside the king with an unmistakable scowl. His hair was a medium blond, a mid-shade between the king and his mate, and his gray eyes landed on me.
Kassie turned around and arched an eyebrow.
Crap. They were my guests. “Hello, King Adelmo.” I pulled my hand from Mason’s arm and curtseyed.
“Queen Elena.” He bowed toward me. “Those are words I never expected to say.”
“Who is that man beside you?” Elizabeth growled as she pointed to Mason.
“Oh, this is my mate.” She acted as if I wasn’t going to introduce my party. “Mason.”
“You have a mate?” King Adelmo stared hard at Mason. “I wasn’t informed of this.”
“I didn’t realize that was a requirement.” This was already off to a great start.
“Well, it is when you’re betrothed to our son.” He pointed at the young guy beside him.
“What?” That made no sense.
“Look at you, Elena.” Ella laughed. “Mated to my brother and engaged to some rando.”
She needs to shut up. I was sure I’d find this funny tomorrow, but right now this meeting was not going well. Can you get her to shut up?
I’m not sure. Mason growled in my head. Right now, I’m focusing on the guy who appears to be eager to put a ring on your finger or something.
Even if he tries, you should know nothing would happen. I got him being upset over this new information. Hell, I was too.
The King frowned at Ella, obviously not finding any humor in her comment.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about.” I had to remain polite.
“It was an agreement that King Corey and I came up with when you were born only a few years after Louis.”
“Well, I wasn’t aware of that promise, but I found my fated mate.” Fated mates trumped any chosen union. “So that would be impossible.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you’d pick your own happiness over the health and well-being of your people?” He took a step forward in a way that could be perceived as threatening.
This was not even close to how I had expected this meeting to go, especially right away. “I’d only be the best queen possible with my fated mate by my side.”
“You see, that’s the problem with you and your uncle.” King Adelmo lifted his head and puffed out his chest. “You won’t do what’s best for your people. I’d hoped that maybe after hiding all these years, you’d be ready to stand up and do what was right. However, I was obviously wrong, and we wasted our time coming here.”
“No, not at all.” I had to salvage this. “It’s just that Dad never told me about that agreement.”
“Let me make it clear, she’s mine.” Mason’s voice was deep with a hint of violence.
“You can force the bond with my son.” King Adelmo pointed at Louis. “Then, the problem will be solved.”
“That option is off the table.” There was no way I’d ever leave Mason. I’d walk away from the crown if I had too. “How about we head to the dining room and continue this conversation over food.” I hope they’re just hangry.
That better damn well be the problem. Mason’s eyes stayed locked with the King’s.
Somehow, I had to recover this night, or my first act as Queen would be an utter failure.