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       Poison, p.2

           Adrienne Woods
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  “Unless they were paid a lot of money, Becky.” I looked at her. “These people have all the money in the world to do whatever they want.”

  She looked at me for a short while. I knew she thought about Elena, and that whatever they had been thinking could be wrong. She took a deep breath, the hurt replaced with anger. “You want to tell me that they are holding my friend captive because of what she has to learn?” Her voice rose slightly.

  “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

  She shook her head and got up just as Rosa came back with the coffee. “I need to phone George. This Stan guy is going to regret that he ever took her away under false pretenses and really, he’s going to regret everything he has ever done.” She ran up the stairs.

  I took a deep breath trying to calm my own anger. Becky might only be eighteen, but with those dark eyes and set mind, Stan was going to remember her for years to come.

  “Have you told Sammy yet? She was really upset about tonight and I can’t recall her ever feeling so hurt.”

  “Not yet, I came directly here after I spoke to Helmut.”

  She blew out a breath. “Good, one royal on our side could get this sorted out as civilized as possible. I was imagining thunder and acid destroying a hotel to get her out of there.”

  I started to laugh but it disappeared just as fast. I looked her in the eyes. “It will come to that if Helmut doesn’t get her out, Lucille. I should’ve never let her out of my sight.”

  “Robert, they promised that she could come home if it got to be too much. None of us knew that they would deceive us like this.”

  “Still, I should’ve kept my promise.”

  “Don’t worry, tomorrow is her birthday and she’ll be back with us. Being a normal teenager again.” Lucille touched my arm softly.

  A knock on the door made both of us jump and Becky stormed down the stairs and opened it up.

  “What about Elena, and who do we need to free?”

  George asked sleepily.

  The boy was fast.

  “Elena, they are holding her against her will. We were invited but Stan douchebag didn’t send us the invites because we are not important.” Becky spoke fast, angry, and her hands were up in the air. “If I get my hands on him,” she mumbled.

  “Calm down, Becky.” George grabbed her and pulled her into his chest. “We will get her out of there.”

  It always amazes me how she never had to fully explain herself to him. He just got whatever she was going through and would do anything in his power to fix it.

  They came over to sit at the table. He greeted me with an outstretched hand and gave Lucille two kisses on the cheek.

  “Blake came back,” Becky told him

  “He’s here?” he asked and looked around to see if there was any sign of him.

  “No, he left again. He just told me about Elena—”

  “He feels her, doesn’t he?” George interrupted.

  “You feel me too?” Becky asked him with awe written all over her face.

  “Not like that, but yes. When you are upset about something, I can sense it if we are not together. I was woken up from it tonight, a second before my Cammy rang.”

  “Frawsome!” she yelled and we all chuckled.

  “I don’t understand. This only happened a short while ago with us. How did Blake—”

  “Their bond is strong,” Lucille said, “and I guess in some way that is the thing that scares him the most. He can feel what she is going through already. He doesn’t want to succumb to that.”

  “It’s exactly that,” I agreed.

  “They are lucky they haven’t dented yet,” George said and we all gave him a confused look. “Cause they are going to have to deal with us, instead of him.”

  We got what he said, and smiled. This would’ve never happened if Blake had succumbed earlier, if Elena had grown up in Paegeia and knew that she was Blake’s rider. What that would have been like, we would never know.

  “We need to keep this from Elena for now. She has a lot to deal with, she doesn’t need to know about all of this and what Blake feels, about their connection.”

  FELT A FLY on my face. I shooed it away in my sleep and a couple of seconds later it was back. I opened my eyes and found Becky right next to my bed with a feather in her hand.

  “Happy birthday!” She smiled.

  I felt like crying, good tears though, tears of relief. This nightmare was finally over. I grabbed her around the neck. “Where the hell were you?”

  “I was being an idiot, thought you loved your new royal status and had forgotten about us,” she whispered softly.

  When she said us, I let go of her and found Sammy standing at the edge of my bed. My arms opened and she came rushing toward me. The hug felt good. “Why didn’t you come yesterday?”

  “Stan didn’t think we were important enough,” Becky said.

  I closed my eyes and clutched my head. My jaw clenched. “That’s it.” I climbed out of bed and stepped into my slippers. “I’ve had it with all of this.”

  “Calm down, Elena. It’s over.” Sir Robert’s voice came from the door and I rushed over to him. He folded his arms around me.

  I didn’t care if he was my stupid dragon’s father. He was one of the few people in this world I could trust, apart from my real friends who’d finally come to take me back to my normal routine. “I should never have left you, I’m sorry.”

  “How did you find out?”

  His face froze for a short while and I looked around. Becky and Sammy looked at one another.

  The door opened and Queen Margerite’s voice filled the room. “It is over. This was not the arrangement Stan.”

  “With all do respect, your majesty…”

  “Majesty my ass. It’s over, I don’t care for anything coming out of that deceitful mouth of yours. The princess is unhappy and with God as my witness Stan, if you ever cross me again like that, I will set my husband’s dragon on you. Now get out of my sight.” She shut the door in his face and mumbled a couple of other things I couldn’t ever imagine thinking, not to mention saying out loud.

  When she saw me her face fell and her eyes grew softer. She opened her arms for me and I ran into them. Her lips caressed the top of my head softly. “I’m so sorry about all of this, Elena. Please forgive me.”

  “It’s okay, you are here now, and on my birthday. Guess wishes that you make when you blow out your candles really do come true.”

  She giggled. “Still, I should’ve never trusted any of these lowlife, greedy, scumbags.” She pushed me away and looked at me with a soft expression. “Whatever you need to learn about being a princess, you can learn from me, and damn whoever stands in my way,” she said in a motherly tone. “Now go pack your bags.”

  ECKY AND SAMMY helped me as we discussed my two-and-a-half weeks of hell. Stanley and his team had done so many makeovers on me, that I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, scared that I might find a second Arianna or Nichole.

  They’d made me go to boring events and functions, told me how to sit. How to think twice before I opened my mouth to speak, sometimes even a third time.

  It wasn’t me at all and it sure wasn’t the way my father and mother were either. I had to admit, the only place I did enjoy myself was when we visited the hospitals.

  I would constantly find myself playing with the sick children. They weren’t kidding when they said a Swallow Annex couldn’t heal children, but they could care for them.

  Children were fragile and small, and the Swallow Annex healing was a bit too much for their bodies to handle. So there were plenty of children, sick children who needed either transplants or medicine to heal them the old fashioned way.

  Hospitals were filled with Swallow Annexes and every time I went to one, I searched desperately for Constance. But she was never there.

  The political stuff they tried to teach me was my worst nightmare. Lucian hadn’t been joking when he said he used to fall asleep. It was boring an
d only when they started to clash heads and have words with one another did I actually learn something.

  The Minister of Wealth, Conrad Divalgo, was hard headed. I guessed he had to be in order to work with Paegeia’s finances. He was constantly stopping me as I left, begging to work with mine.

  Understandably, I declined as I really didn’t like how he handled his personal finances The Minister of Health, who wasn’t Constance, but a short fat guy with a name I couldn’t even pronounce, always wanted money to fix areas that had issues with public health.

  Things didn’t make sense to me during these conversations, as I know Queen Margerite had fund raisers for this type of funding.

  There were two advisers, Philip Seymore and Henry Vladimir, both had many different degrees that were as long as my arms, and the words coming out of their mouths were foreign, most of the time I had no idea what they meant and they were using English words, at least I think they were English.

  When I thought about how on earth I was going to get all of this stuff into my head, understand what they mean and work out how to deal with the problems, it always boiled to one thing. I should’ve never made that promise to my dad.

  He was born to be a king. Me, I had no idea how to even speak my mind, let alone make decisions about ruling a country.

  I wondered if my mother struggled like this too when my father chose her to be his queen.

  At night, I would silently scream for help. For someone to hear me and to get me out of here. I felt so trapped and more than half of me didn’t want to be a princess. I wasn’t cut out to be one.

  I missed my old life, even if death was constantly chasing me. I missed my friends.

  The worst was last night, at my so-called birthday party, which hadn’t even been held on my birthday. It was yet another makeover session that took up almost my entire day, and at night most of the time I was surrounded by girls I didn’t even know.

  They were the children of some important figures in Paegeia, forced to be my friends. They spoke about shallow things, mostly surrounding my dragon who was still MIA.

  When I saw Queen Margerite, I thought the nightmare would end, but when I saw Stanley close by, I couldn’t even tell her what kind of hell I was in.

  He’d threatened me on numerous occasions, saying that if I didn’t learn these things, I wouldn’t get one cent of the money that was in my father’s vault. I still had to prove I was their child, that I was the princess, my blood wasn’t enough.

  And this morning, I’d woken up on my birthday and found Becky. Now I was going back to the known. Back to what was normal.

  “When we saw those pictures of you having fun, we thought that you’d forgotten about all of us.”

  “Sammy.” I looked at her. “You are my friends, and those pictures, I was praying that you guys would notice that I was asking for help. I didn’t know what else I could do other than to act the complete opposite of a princess.” I looked at her, thinking of the hurt she must have felt. “Nothing would ever break up our friendship, nothing. It’s us three with our other halves, well the two of your other halves, against the world. That’s never going to change, no matter what these idiots say. You must never doubt that.”

  Sammy grabbed me tightly around the neck, and pulled me in for a hug. I felt Becky getting pulled in too and for the first time in a long time, I felt like Elena Watkins, Malone, Squire, or whatever my name was supposed to be now.

  Becky pushed both of us away and held us at elbow length with a stern look in her eyes. “Then today we make a pact, speak to you first before we believe anything else.” She looked at me for agreement.

  “Deal,” I said.

  “Works for me,” Sammy seconded. “We wanted to see you when we were in Tith, but that blonde biatch told us in her sweetest tone and most beautiful smile that you had a new life now. A princess are surrounded by cool kids. Blugh.”

  “They are so evil.”

  “If you ask me, all of this has one man written all over it. King Caleb,” Sammy said angrily.

  We both looked at her.

  “You must see that? I mean he has been trying to strip you of your title even before all of us knew about the vault.”

  “He can take it,” I said solemnly. “If this is what it takes to be a princess, then I don’t want it.”

  Becky gasped. “Elena you don’t mean that.”

  “Yes, Becky. I do. I have everything I need right here. I don’t need all of Paegeia, or my father’s money.”

  “You seriously believed that idiot?” Becky scolded. “They can’t take away what is yours, Elena. That’s called stealing.”

  All of us laughed at her reply.

  “Like I said, I’m too vulnerable to be a princess. I’m not like Arianna, and I’m definitely not like my mother. I’ve been reading her journals. She was amazing since the day she was born. In the beginning she actually hated my father.”

  “What!” both of them said and I giggled.

  I started to tell them the story of my royal grandmother and the balls that she’d forced my father to attend. My father was betrothed to another with the surname of Longbottom. They gasped at that which made me giggle. The woman was horrible and had been a thorn in my mom’s butt ever since they were little, but this one particular masked ball change all of it.

  My grandmother actually held a lottery, the prize being two sets of tickets for this ball, and let everyone in Paegeia participate.

  Queen Margerite, who was my mother’s best friend, won one set and dragged my mom along with.

  Everyone helped them to get there, my grandmother altered her wedding dress and made my mother look like a fairy princess, my grandfather, who was sick at the time made her beautiful wings and a beautiful mask that covered half her face. I guessed it was from him that I got my love of art. I remembered my mother speaking a lot about his health and how she and my mother had to work extra hard to keep her five other siblings fed and warm.

  She described herself as beautiful in her journal, which was odd because my mother never thought of herself as beautiful, even though she was.

  Sammy and Becky listened with huge eyes and broad smiles as I told them a different version of a Cinderella story, a real-life one, but she didn’t want to get Prince Charming. She actually wanted to scold him because of what they’d done to their people. Raising taxes on a monthly basis, killing them slowly because they couldn’t afford food or to pay for restorations on their small houses, unable to prepare them for the winter.

  She was ready to confront the prince but before things even started a stranger pretended to be her brother, apologized on her behalf to the prince as she poked him, and he led her out the ballroom into a beautiful garden.

  My mother was so furious at the guy, but realized later that he’d done her a favor. If they were to hang her or lock her up for confronting the Prince of Paegeia, her family would suffer.

  She’d given this stranger a piece of her mind though, and told him exactly what she thought about the prince, and somehow in a couple of hours she fell in love with him without her knowing who he was because of the masks.

  She described a kiss they’d shared in one of those mazes Lucian had showed me. The ones that kept changing their paths in the full moon, and before they got out, one separated my mom from her mystery guy. Then the clock struck twelve.

  Sammy and Becky shrieked.

  “You got to be shitting me!”

  “I swear, it reads like a fairy tale novel,” I replied and carried on with my mother’s story, of how she was forced to say goodbye and ran back to the castle to find Queen Margerite who was looking for her everywhere. One of their friends was a coachman for a very wealthy man in their village and he had to get back before two, in order to be on time for his master, that’s why they couldn’t stay longer. But twelve o’clock was also the revealing of the masks and when this guy ran into the building taking off his mask, my mom realized it was the real prince and not just some random guy.

>   “The Prince pretended to be someone else just for the night, and that is how they met without knowing who each of them were?”

  “No wonder he loved her so much,” Sammy said in a dreamy voice.

  “I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there to see it, remember.”

  Becky stroked my arm.

  “The journals help though. I get to meet my mom before she was a royal and see my father and what type of a guy he was through her eyes.”

  “What happened afterwards?”

  “I haven’t read further than that. But I’m dying to pick it up again. It was the only thing that kept me sane through all this mess.”

  “Well, we can read a chapter every night if you don’t mind,” Becky said.

  “Yes, that would be nice,” I whispered and smiled.

  “I still struggle believing Queen Catherine and Queen Margerite weren’t born royalty,” Sammy said.

  “Their friendship reminds me a lot of the one we share,” I said.

  “They were BFF’s too?”

  I nodded.

  “Then we will be best friends forever,” Sammy exclaimed.

  “Forever and ever,” Becky agreed. She let go of me with another gasp. “Before I forget, open your present.” She shoved a small box into my hand.

  “You know I don’t need anything.”

  “It’s your birthday, and you’re welcome. This is something you need desperately.”

  I untied the ribbon as I looked at her with my eyebrows knitted together and a skeptical smile. I opened the box. Inside was a pair of huge CQ sunglasses. I lifted them up and they dangled from my fingers. “I don’t understand. You said I needed it desperately?”

  “If you are going to rebel against all of this, you need to do it in style,” Becky said, “and a pair of shades to hide those eye rolls and raised eyebrows…in my opinion, is needing it desperately.”

  Sammy and I laughed and Becky joined in.

  “I missed you guys so much. I haven’t laughed in weeks.”

  “Well, the nightmare is over now. King Helmut had a meeting with the Ancients this morning, he wasn’t very happy about any of this, and they’ve decided on a different technique,” Sammy explained. “Besides, Queen Margerite is one tough queen. You’ll learn a lot from her, Elena.”

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