Bound by duty, p.27
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       Bound by Duty, p.27
 

           Stormy Smith

  Chapter 26

  I counted the days by the meals. It had been three days. Micah brought me a tray three times a day. We would have short conversations but he wouldn’t say much and flat out refused to answer my questions. On the third day, I asked him if Cole knew where I was. “Yes. He knows. Your father has made quite a scene at the club a few times now trying to secure your release.”

  That came as a shock. The last I had heard from Rynna my father hadn’t been well.

  “Is he okay? My father?” I asked.

  Micah nodded. “Yes. Luckily, my mother found it humorous that he would go to such lengths.” Micah started to leave and stopped at the door. “Amelia, I’ll be back soon with a dress and some make-up. You and Bethany will be coming to dinner. Please be on your best behavior. If you are, there is a chance she will let Bethany go. So, please, Amelia?” His eyes were pleading with more emotion than I had assumed he held for Bethany.

  “Fine, Micah. But it’s for her, not for you,” I said indignantly. He nodded, his relief obvious, and was gone again. I wanted to trust him, but at this point I didn’t think I could trust anyone.

  I went into the small bathroom to take a shower. They had brought me sweats and T-shirts the first day but nothing else. I had been confined to this room for three days and the prospect of getting out was more exciting than I had thought it would be. And, if I could just keep it together, at least Bethany could leave. Hopefully. I smiled for the first time since waking up that first day and started the water.

  When I came out, the dress was waiting. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but a full-length, white, gauzy dress fit for a Roman goddess, wasn’t it. The dress was one-shouldered and had a thick, ropey silver belt around the waist. It was beautiful and set off my dark hair. My eyes were their normal hazel since I was devoid of power, but I could only imagine what they would look like once I had my magic back.

  I used the hair dryer and curling iron and was sliding on the gladiator sandals I’d found on the floor when Micah knocked. I told him to come in and was happy to see the surprise when he took in my appearance.

  It felt good to laugh at little at his sputtering before he finally spit out, “You look lovely, Amelia. Please, come with me.” I expected him to get Bethany as well but he gestured me in the other direction. I stopped in front of her door and gave him a quizzical look. “She’s already been taken to the dining room,” he said. That brought on a pout. I had hoped to get just a minute alone with her.

  Sullen, I took Micah’s offered arm and let him lead me down the hallway and into a massive dining hall. This wasn’t a “room”, this was a ballroom. Queen Julia sat in a tall, silver chair at the end of the table. Hunters were stationed around the room and Bethany was trying to hide her shaking with rigid posture. She wore a similar gown to mine and looked breathtaking. I was relieved when Micah led me to the chair next to hers. As soon as I was seated, she grasped my hand. We entwined our fingers and gave each other a quick look before focusing back on the table in front of us. Micah had been specific that we shouldn’t look the queen in the eyes and that we should be as quiet as possible.

  I kept waiting for that familiar feeling of my magic to come back, but it still wasn’t happening. I thought Micah had said just that room? Inwardly sighing, I realized that was a question for later.

  The room was quiet as the four of us sat without speaking, Micah sitting just to the left of his mother. Then, the main doors opened. They were at least ten feet tall and similar to the doors I had pushed through days ago to try to make the speech that should have changed everything. So much for that great plan.

  I was mentally berating myself again when shock took over as Cole and my father walked in. Both were in similar tuxes to Micah’s. Cole’s hair was smoothed back and he looked relieved to see Bethany and me next to each other. It had been months since I’d last seen my father, but he looked as if he had aged ten years. What I remembered to be salt and pepper was now purely silver hair. His eyes were tired and his steps were carefully taken. Cole saw my concern and returned it with a troubled look of his own. I had so much I wanted to say to my father; instead, I just sat and stared into his eyes, trying to apologize for all of the things I never knew and everything he chose not to share. He wore a pained expression, like it physically hurt him to be in the room with me.

  Cole and my father had taken seats next to Micah after murmuring their respectful “thank you’s” to Julia for being invited to dinner. The queen nodded and kept us all in awkward silence for another minute or so.

  “I believe it’s clear to everyone why we are all here. Nathaniel, your daughter has proven to be quite willful and very disrespectful. You know I don’t take well to either of those.” Her gloating sneer made me think there was more to those words than I understood.

  My father merely nodded and began apologizing. “Your grace, I don’t know where those traits grew from. I’ve always taught Amelia proper etiquette and impressed upon her the benevolence of our queen.”

  I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing. I opened my mouth and was kicked from under the table. Cole had been seated across from me and was glaring. Oh. I was being a moron again. Of course, he was just saying what needed to be said.

  I endured an agonizing conversation for the next five minutes, the queen deconstructing me and my father apologizing for every fault she listed. Finally, Julia got to the point. “I don’t feel that her human friend has a part to play in all of this, Nathaniel. If your daughter will agree to stop fighting our arrangement and embrace her role as my son’s fiancée, then I see no reason to continue to hold the human.”

  I started to nod enthusiastically when she dropped the next bomb. “Of course, given the circumstances, I do believe that the dates will have to be adjusted. Due to what my Hunter has reported and the display in my chamber a few days ago, she clearly has more power than we even hoped. I will expect her to leave with us immediately.”

  My nodding stopped as the queen’s words sunk in and my panicked eyes met the pure delight in hers. This time though, Bethany beat me to the punch.

  “She will not! She will not be your little magic puppet! How dare you think you can treat people this way? You…you…BITCH!” Bethany slammed her hand down on the table as she yelled that last word. If I weren’t so scared for what would happen, I would have laughed at the red that flooded Julia’s face. Micah jumped to his feet at the same time Cole shoved back his chair.

  “Mother. I’m sorry, Mother,” Micah rushed out. “She doesn’t understand who you are. She’s just a simple human. Please, excuse her ignorance. Let’s just get her out of here so that Amelia and I can focus on ourselves.”

  I hated Micah in that moment. I realized exactly what he was doing and how he was protecting Bethany, but I hated him for the pain that flooded her eyes and the tears that filled them just seconds later. She fell back in her chair and I could see the emotion that pulled her down.

  I heard Derreck’s words in my mind. Your people will always come first. Always.

  It dawned on me suddenly that Bethany was my people. She had stood by me, accepted me, been kidnapped for me. I didn’t give a damn if she was Immortal or not. She was mine.

  Before I fully knew what I was saying, the words tumbled from my mouth. “Please, your majesty. Please just let her leave with my family. I’ll do it. I’ll do what you want. I’ll marry Prince Mikail and go now.”

  My words were quiet and my eyes were down. I couldn’t keep watching the pain I inflicted on everyone around me. I had known this was my path for eighteen years; I just had to accept it. At least for now, I had to make the choices that would keep my people safe.

  When I looked up, the shock on Micah, Cole, and my father’s faces was no match for the anger I found in Bethany’s. She was livid. Her eyes said what her lips couldn’t. The same word I had just thrown at Micah. Traitor.

   

   

  I paced the bedroom for the millionth time. It had taken some
extra pleading from everyone at the table, but Julia finally allowed Bethany to leave with Cole.

  She had taken me in a hard hug and I barely caught the words, “I won’t let this happen. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.”

  I quietly responded with, “You have to,” and sat back down.

  I didn’t look at her, Cole, or my father as they left. My eyes stayed on my plate until I was also dismissed and Micah walked me to the bedroom. We had never even eaten dinner. Before he closed the door, his last words were, “Thank you, Amelia. And, I’m sorry, but we leave in two days.”

  Based on sleeping and meals, it had to be late the next afternoon. I wasn’t expecting anyone when a light knock came through the door. “Come in,” I answered. I was sitting on the bed, flipping through the same book for the third time when Micah slipped in. He looked back out into the hallway as he quietly shut the door.

  “What’s going on?” I asked. “You know I volunteered for this. You don’t have to act like we aren’t stuck together.”

  He set a small duffel bag on the bed, not acknowledging my snarky comments. “I’m coming back for you later, once everyone is asleep. Make sure you’re wearing all of this and your hair is up.” With those few words, he was back out the door again.

  I lunged for the bag and was confused to find my own black jeans, a black Henley, and a black zip hoodie. In the bottom, I found my favorite black tennis shoes. As I dug around, I found a small zip pocket and in it held the true treasure. Mom’s bracelet. Only Cole knew that I kept our mother’s infinity bracelet in my top drawer in a small velvet pouch. I never wore it for fear of losing it, but it was the only thing I had of hers and I loved it more than anything. I hadn’t even opened the pouch in years because it hurt too much.

  As I slipped it out, I grazed my fingertips over the symbols that coated the cuff bracelet. Instantly, there was a measure of peace in holding something that had been my mother’s favorite. I’d asked my father once to explain the symbols to me and he had told me he would explain when I was older. Thanks, Dad, I thought sarcastically.

  After changing into the clothes in the duffel as Micah had directed, I laid back on the bed. I continued rubbing back and forth over the cuff, wishing I could find even a spark of my power and wondering how I was going to get myself out of my current mess. My impulsive decisions had surely gotten me in deeper than I’d ever thought possible.

  I stared off into space, once again searching every corner of myself for my power. I clutched the cuff as I hunted. Where was it? Who was I without it? COME BACK! I screamed inside my head. Without warning, a jolt shot through me and I felt it. I was back. She was back. We were back!

  But, how? I stared down at the bracelet and sent up a prayer of thanks to my mother, wherever she was. I heard a light knock and quickly shoved the bracelet into its pouch and then my hoodie pocket. I tamped down my ecstatic power so that Micah hopefully wouldn’t realize what had happened.

  I didn’t have to worry though because he wasn’t there for chit chat. Micah wasted no time beckoning me out into the hallway. He was dressed similarly and had a dark beanie covering the majority of his bright blond hair. We hardly made a sound as we sprinted through the halls and up what I guessed were back stairs. It wasn’t until we had actually made it outside and into his waiting Acura, that I finally took a deep breath and started badgering him with questions.

  “What’s going on, Micah? Where are we going? Why are you doing this?” I couldn’t bring myself to fully trust him. “Are you letting me go?” The last question was much more eager than the first three and I grasped his arm as I asked. He had been smiling during my initial inquisition, but it faded.

  “I’m sorry, Amelia. I can’t let you go,” he said, the guilt and pity evident in his drawn features and quiet words. “There would be severe consequences involved for everyone. Me. You. Your family. Bethany. I can’t take that chance. But, I don’t agree with what my mother has done, so I’m trying to give you a small measure of happiness before we leave. I know I am not who you wanted.”

   

   

  I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say so many things. I wanted to keep asking questions. I wanted to scream at him about how unfair it all was. But, he was right. Damn it, he was right. I had to stop making snap decisions that did nothing but hurt everyone. So, instead of saying anything, I just sat silently and watched as the side streets of Brighton passed me by, probably for the last time.

  We drove for quite a while down the coast and I realized that the scenery was one I recognized. As we pulled into the same secluded parking lot I had been in with Aidan months before, the day we ditched, I could only stare at Micah. He half-smiled and gestured for me to get out. “He’s there, just off in the trees. I asked him to stay hidden in case we were followed, but I don’t see anyone. Go, Amelia. Say your goodbyes.”

 
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