Chapter 1. When Things Go South

3216 Words
Elene tried to hold her breath, ignoring her racing heart. Anything to make them not notice her. Although, for a werewolf and a Lycan, the couple in question was surprisingly oblivious to their surroundings. “Gideon! Not here—” Riannon gasped when her mate pushed her onto the little settee near the entrance of this dark room in the Eastern palace. Slowly, Elene moved her hand over her mouth to prevent her scent from spreading further. That’s impossible, and you know it. Bia, her wolf, noted, unimpressed. She didn’t like the situation they were stuck in, either. “I missed you!” Gideon growled, and a golden glow briefly illuminated the room. For some reason, it still stung her he couldn’t control his wolf near his wife. They’d been married for over two years, but the passion was still clearly there. Peeking from behind the curtain, Elene hoped there was a way for her to escape all this. The Lycan King of the West was kneeling before his wife, one of his hands sliding up her thigh and causing his Queen to arch her back in delight. When he leaned down and left a trail of kisses over her inner thigh, she let out a soft whimper and bit her lip to suppress another. “Eyes on me, Ria,” Gideon smirked and the woman tried to take her emotions under control. Elene was glad she had time to hide behind the curtain. When she saw them kissing in the corridor, she escaped here quickly, not wishing to meet them or even let them see her. Elene loved the Lycan King of the Western Kingdom for years. Purely and with all her heart. Once, she was ready to do anything for him, but he rejected her over and over, telling her he was waiting for his mate. Luckily for him, he was right because he found her, and she was perfect. More than anyAlpha could wish for. Now Riannon was his queen. She also had his name and his child, which only made Gideon love her more. Everyone admired their perfect family. Elene wished them well too. She really did. Only why did her heart clench so painfully every time she saw them together? Just like now. And how unlucky was she to be stuck here to unwillingly witness their outburst of passion? The wise thing would have been to let them know she was here, and they were not alone, but she couldn’t imagine this kind of humiliation. They might think she stalked them because, of course, her feelings were known to everyone. Back when she was younger, she didn’t know how to conceal her emotions. Every guest of today’s coronation probably knew she used to love Gideon. Many believed she still did. No, she braced herself to stick to this stupid plan until the end, hoping they would never notice her. Hopefully, they would be quick, and so infatuated with each other that they would leave before picking up her scent. “Goddess, Ria—you are so—” Gideon snarled, and she could swear she heard a chuckle. A male chuckle rumbled through the room once more, this time more pronounced. Every fibre of her tensed in response. Did someone walk in here? “Excuse me,” the intruder said, “I am pretty sure this room is designated for the Southern Lycan Republic delegation.” “And you could have been a gentleman and pretended you didn’t notice us,” Gideon seethed. Of course, he was angry to be interrupted even though technically he was the one in the wrong. As an Alpha, he was very protective of his wife and naturally didn’t want anyone to witness their intimate moments. “My apologies, King Stormhold,” the man sounded anything but apologetic, which piqued Elene’s curiosity. She could count people this daring on the fingers of one hand. “I have to make a few important private calls here. It’s very urgent. I am afraid I have to ask you to leave,” the Southerner stated, then after a brief pause added, “Now!” “You must be kidding me!” Gideon was ready for a confrontation. Even without looking at him Elene knew how he probably clenched his fists now and how he clenched his jaw. “My love,” Riannon tried to soothe him, and Elene knew that just these words alone would make her husband calmer. She always had this effect on him. “Forgive our intrusion, General Romero. We got—carried away. We’ll be on our way. We have a room too, after all.” The Queen of the West giggled, dissipating the tension in the room, and Elene heard a closing door. Elene breathed out in relief. Okay, this was better. Or was it? Did she say General Romero? The princess of the Northern Lycan Kingdom slowly lowered her hand from her face and inhaled the air as deep as she could without giving herself away, realising that the man was still there. His scent of peppermint and grapefruit lingered around her. Shoot. What was she to do now? Of course, it was better than watching the man she had loved all her life, having s*x with the woman he chose over her, but the Southerner was not leaving, which was making the situation more and more awkward each minute she didn’t walk out from behind the curtain. Just knock him out, her wolf, Bia suggested. You are helpful, as always. Elene rolled her eyes, but still took a peek to decide if it would be possible. “I know you are there,” the male’s voice sounded as if he was mocking her. “How long are you planning to hide behind that curtain?” Elene’s breathing hitched as she realised there was no choice anymore. She moved the thick fabric and gracefully walked from behind it to face Alpha Forrest Romero, the man who was here to negotiate the failure of her deal with the Eastern Kingdom. They would be at war if she failed, and he succeeded. After all, his country accused her kingdom of despicable things. This alone was making them enemies, but the mocking look he gave her was irking her even more. “General Romero,” she gave him a curt nod. “Princess Elene.” His grin widened. “What a surprise. Never in a million years would I have imagined that you— Never mind.” “What are you implying?” She raised her brow questioningly, offering him her most innocent gaze. “I never suspected that a northern royal may be interested in spying after other people’s intimate moments. Or maybe it’s some tradition I never heard of? I have heard you have quite a few that others may find odd.” “I wasn’t—” She almost lost it there and then, but remembered in time that he was simply provoking her. “I was standing at the window when they barged in. I hoped they would leave, and by the time I realised they had no plans to stop what they were doing, it was too late.” “So you stayed there to — what was your plan exactly?” “I was about to walk out when you arrived!” Elene narrowed her eyes. “Of course you were,” he was clearly teasing her. “There is no shame in voye.urism, you know? We all have kinks.” “I heard you are single, General Romero. Now I see why,” she countered, ready to end this conversation, but Forrest stood in her way, looking like a predator ready to pounce at his prey. “You were studying information about me.” A half-smile tugged on his lips and deep inside, she had to admit that the man was devilishly handsome. “I am flattered. And yes, I am single, but I am not looking for a commitment.” “Thanks to all the gods,” Elene huffed. “Now, why don’t you—" “I am open to casual — relations,” Forrest added lazily, scanning her with his eyes, “so maybe I can help you with your little problem. Especially since you chose to ‘study’ me.” “I only checked your file because I find you especially suspicious.” She blurted. She shouldn’t have said that. In fact, she should have left minutes ago, but his annoyingly arrogant attitude kept her there longer than it should have. “You probably meant intriguing.” The corners of the general’s lips quivered. “No, I mean shady,” she insisted, holding his gaze. She was ready to stand there for days if it meant he would look away first. “How so? I am an open book!” He gave up first and walked towards a massive wooden desk, hopping on top of it, which annoyed her even more. They were not close friends for him to feel that much at ease with her. He was so frivolous simply because he had caught her here. “Are you?” She moved closer, stopping before him with her chin raised defiantly, her icy blue gown rustling as she walked. “Someone blew up a bomb in the middle of your capital. Two members of your Alpha Convocation disappeared a day later. Coincidentally, both these men are dead now.” “Disappeared,” he corrected her. “Both these men have disappeared. Unless you know something I don’t know, Princess?” Elene gritted her teeth. He was clearly implying the Northern Lycan Kingdom was behind it all and trying to pin the blame on her country. When in reality, he must have planned it all along. After all, Forrest Romero was now the leading contender for the highest position in the Southern Republic—the High Chancellor. “I am afraid you are overestimating northern capabilities,” Elene retorted. She knew it was time to walk away and prepared herself to do just that. “Am I?” He tilted his head as if he was a cat playing with a mouse, and she absolutely loathed this approach. “A good portion of our capital is in ruins thanks to the explosion, and it was your flag that was projected over the remains when it happened. The North and the West are now officially full of the Changed Ones. We know that many of your warriors now have special powers. I can see how this power could be used to harm us. Don’t pretend it’s not possible.” “It’s not.” Elene folded her hands over her chest. “And do you know why?” “Why?” Forrest hopped off the desk, now towering over her. The damn man was too close for her liking, but once again, she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of seeing her stepping back. “Because we have honour!” she sneered at him. He stared at her for a few good seconds before throwing his head back and laughing. His laughter danced through the air like a melody, warm and infectious, inviting her to join despite the princess not finding his attitude amusing. She glared at him, waiting for this to be over, and only when he wiped the tears in his eyes did she add, “I think we are done here.” Elene turned on her heels, ready to leave the room, when the general said in disbelief, “You were serious?” She paused, darting another withering glance at him. “I don’t know why I expected a serious conversation from you!” “That’s not a serious conversation,” Forrest objected. “What do you expect me to do? Go to the Convocation and say the North is not behind the attack despite everything pointing to them and their army still standing on our borders? Why? Because they ‘said so’, and ‘they have honour’?” She pursed her lips. “Of course not. Start a war without a proper investigation because someone projected our flag in your city! And we can stand on our own border as much as we like! It’s our land! By the way, if you do start that war, let’s see how long it will take us to win, considering the West is with us, and you noticed yourself that our armies now consist of the Changed Ones.” General Romero opened his mouth to object, but the princess was already gone. Not wasting another second, he stormed after her, not wishing the conversation to end on a high note for her. Even though all his senses told him otherwise. “Ah, there you are!” the new King of East, Devoss Kit beamed at him, Elene’s hand already draped around his. The damn fox shifter was smooth, and Forrest caught himself not happy with this interruption to his conversation with the princess. “Your Majesty,” Romero offered a curt but respectful nod nonetheless. The King was a mystery to him. He came out of nowhere, was not related to the previous King of Rogues in any way and was too eccentric, too unpredictable for his liking. “You are going to miss it!” Devoss started walking, pulling Elene behind him and gesturing for the Southerner to follow them as well. “Miss what?” The princess asked fearfully, trying to keep up with the Eastern ruler. His coronation was already over the top with all the celebrations. Especially for such a small country. After all, it was the end of day five now, and it didn’t look like they were done. So far, they have seen the official Crowning part on the first day, elephant riding and dancing from all the local cultures, of which there were plenty, on the second day, then a day of throwing powdered paint and fireworks. Today the city of Solace was decorated with lanterns, each one different from the other. This, of course, included the feast from which Elene had escaped earlier. The food here was so delicious that she started to feel her dresses become tighter. She had to admit it. King Devoss established himself quickly. Not to mention that he paid homage to every culture that the once perished but now reborn Eastern Kingdom was built from. Rogues from the whole continent now came here for a second chance at life, followed by their loved ones. Once they proved their worth and intentions, they could stay. The gamble was clearly paying off because it now looked like the East was thriving. “Today is the best part!” Devoss grinned at them both. He was dressed in gold and red from head to toe, with a long flowing cape that was always flowing perfectly. As if by magic. Golden chains decorated his neck and chest, and many intricate rings adored his fingers. The previous King personally chose him as his replacement and Elene still couldn’t understand why. “Please, don’t find me rude, but I think it’s simply impossible to top off the previous days.” The princess smiled, trying to flatter the King. She had already studied him enough to know he loved flattery. “And yet, this is literally what I am going to do!” The fox smirked at her, brushing his hand through his silky hair. The hair that shone better than her own. There had to be a special routine behind it. “I can’t wait!” Elene lied. She was exhausted and did not feel like partying anymore. “And maybe we could speak privately on our way there?” “I have a few matters to discuss too,” Forrest chimed in, causing the princess of the North to shoot him another glare. “Business, business, business,” Devoss brushed them both off. “My country hasn’t seen a proper celebration in years! I am not taking that away from them. And your support will be greatly appreciated.” Elene and Forrest exchanged disparaging glares. The King took them outside. Tall date palms swayed gently in the warm breeze, casting dappled shadows over winding pathways of sandstone. Delicate jasmine vines weaved through intricately carved archways, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. At the centre of the garden, dozens of colourful hot air balloons stood tall and ready to take off, their vibrant hues contrasting against the golden sands that stretch endlessly beyond. Guests wandered through the tranquil garden, marvelling at the exotic flora and the anticipation of their upcoming adventure. “What is this?” Elene gasped, realising that the balloons were there for a reason. She was never a big fan of heights despite living in the mountains, so a chill crawled down her spine. “This is tonight’s entertainment and one of the best traditions of the East!” King Devoss looked as happy as a child who got an ice cream on a hot day. “This one is yours!” He pointed at a giant red hot-air balloon. A man standing next to it in a server’s uniform opened the little door for them, inviting them in. “Oh, no,” Elene shook her head. “I prefer to watch.” “We know,” Forrest smirked and hopped in first. A wave of annoyance rippled through her, and Elene followed him in the sudden rush of adrenalin. He offered her his hand, which she went out of her way not to use, even though it would have been much easier to do so. Her heels were killing her. “Have fun, kids!” Devoss waved at them, and only now did Elene realise he wasn’t going to join them. Which meant she would be stuck with Forrest and an unknown Omega high in the sky, for gods knew how long. “If you find out you are mates, you owe me a wedding invitation,” the king grinned at them as the servant locked the door, making Elene’s lips part. “Excuse me?” Her brows went up. “It’s what we do. You can’t sense your mate on the ground of Solace. It’s powerful ancient magic. This is why we go up in the sky to see if our other half is here. And you two have crazy chemistry! I wouldn’t be surprised, you know!” the King screamed while the Omega dropped off bags of sand, sending their hot air balloon up to the sky. “We do not!” Elene yelled back, shooting a nervous glance at the General. “This would be the worst match ever!” Forrest rolled his eyes, and she wanted to throw him overboard. He would have been the worst match for her, but he would definitely be mating up the ladder if it was the case. “Also fine!” Devoss yelled from the ground, giving them a thumbs up. “Rip that bandage off at once while you are there! YOU ARE WELCOME!” Elene watched as the earth moved further and further away, hoping that this was all a bad joke, when a loud growl emerged right next to her.
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