Amanda woke up early the next morning feeling refreshed. With her night clothes on, she stood up and neared the French door of the balcony. The outside showed the cheerful sky of light blue and yellow-orange. She inhaled deeply and smiled.
She maybe in the witness protection program, but that didn’t mean she can’t tour the castle grounds freely.
Taking an early bath was the first step to it so she did that in a classy bathroom accessible just a few strides away from the bed. By the time she finished and exited with a towel wrapped around her body, breakfast was already laid in the coffee table, the bedroom door was open, the thick curtains were drawn to the sides, and the early morning light shone through.
There was a new maid busily fixing her bedding, but she seemed to be immersed with the rock music in her headphones.
“Uh, good morning?” Amanda stated, standing near the bathroom door and looking at the maid with brows drawn up.
The young lady in a clean ponytail didn’t respond.
Amanda tried again but this time, she neared the maid and waved her hands.
The maid, wide eyed, almost immediately pulled her headphones out. “Oh shhi...eez, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you Madame O’Malley. Good morning too.”
She lowered her head and attempted an ill-timed, unpracticed curtsy.
Amanda just smiled at her and tilted her head. “Just call me Caitlin please and don’t be formal. I prefer you to act normal Miss...”
Amanda raised her hand for a handshake to which the latter accepted, albeit hesitantly.
“Don’t be stiff. Loosen up. I’m no guest in this castle.”
“Uh, you are Miss Caitlin, ” Arissa stated, “As per Sir Jerome’s words.”
Amanda crossed the space and went to her luggage lying on the floor next to the vanity mirror. She squatted and opened it, careful not to spill the contents.
“Yes, speaking of him, where is he by the way?”
The maid seemed taken aback. “Oh? He didn’t tell you?”
Amanda cocked a brow at her. “No. Why? Where is he?”
But then a knock on the door sounded catching both of their attention.
“Good morning Madame O’Malley, ” greeted a pixie-haired woman wearing a below-the-knee pencil skirt, printed blouse with ruffles and a thin-framed reading glass. She had visible wrinkles in her eyes, most likely of old age, but she didn’t look senile at all. She admitted herself in the room and bent her head by the time she was a couple of paces away from Amanda.
“Uh, good morning too, ” Amanda replied after standing up. “But please, do call me Caitlin.”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot do that Madame. You are, as per Jerome’s instructions, a special guest of the Family. I am permitted only to be formal with you.”
Amanda sighed. “I see. May I know your name please?”
“Lady Varsha Granger, at your service.” She bent her head again.
To Amanda, this submissive action could only mean one thing: the woman maybe the next-in-command, second to the Head Majordomo. Her overall aura actually was a giveaway clue for it.
“Jerome isn’t available for the time being, so I’ll be the one to supervise your stay here, ” Lady Granger informed. “Since Master Cord failed to brief you about the rules of the house last night, he ordered me to tell you now. He said that you maybe his guest here, but you are still expected to respect and follow the rules.”
Amanda crossed her arms over her chest. She was still in her bathrobe, her hair still damp and she literally had no knickers on, but to get it over with, she sat at the edge of the bed and said, “Enumerate them then.”
Lady Granger gazed at her from head to bare feet and said, “I suggest you change first Madame. I can tell you then while you’re eating breakfast.”
This produced a wide, relieved smile from Amanda. “Thank you.”
She pulled out a comfortable get-up to wear from her luggage: a denim shirt, black jeans and black ankle boots and for ten minutes, she readied herself inside a walk-in closet connected to the bathroom. She applied light make-up and tied her hair up in a high ponytail for a clean look - something that she had been accustomed to doing on normal days.
She settled in front of the coffee table for her breakfast and the governess didn’t waste time on enumerating all that she needed to discuss with her.
“Like the Master mentioned, he forbids you to roam around unaccompanied.” Lady Granger stood up straight in front of Amanda, no note in hand, only a mental list of the rules of the castle having known it by heart.
Amanda quietly drank her cranberry juice.
“You are not allowed to enter the Family wing and that is the North wing of this castle Madame. You shan’t wander around the castle at night. You shan’t wander in the gardens at night too. Basically, stay in your chamber at night unless summoned by the Master.”
Amanda’s brow drew up. What does she mean by that? Another daunting dinner with him perhaps?
“When you need something, call for your maid-in-waiting, ” the governess continued and then gestured for the one mentioned standing close behind them.
“This is Arissa, your new companion, as Dayana is...indisposed of as of the moment.”
“Hmm? Why? What happened to her?” Finally, Amanda broke her silence. She had just met the sweet girl yesterday night yet she already felt a strong sisterly connection with her.
Lady Granger shook her head and pulled a firm expression. “That’s also one of the rules Madame. You aren’t allowed to question the comes and goings of the people here. As much as possible, keep your observations to yourself.”
Amanda wasn’t let down with the warning. “I just want to know if she is fine.”
“She is fine, ” was the latter’s only answer.
“Oh, then that is a relief to hear.” Amanda felt rudely cut-off, but didn’t linger on it. She diverted her sights on the fresh bowl of blueberries, picking one and then slipping it inside her mouth.
The governess smiled, contented that Amanda didn’t push through with the Dayana topic.
“Anyway, I will leave Arissa to take care of you. Do you have anything else you need from me Madame?”
Amanda looked up and smiled at her. “Nothing at all Lady Granger, but I want to ask if I can tour the interior of this castle and its gardens? It would be a great way of killing the time since, you know, I’m practically imprisoned here.”
Lady Granger bent her head. “No problem at all Madame. Arissa here will accompany you.”
“Right, ” Amanda nodded on the maid’s way.
The governess left thereafter. Amanda finished her breakfast and after checking her cellphone for messages or miscalls, she left with the maid by her side. Matteo texted her informing about his intent on talking with Chief Moretti. Amanda only replied a good morning and a thumbs up icon on him. Noman also texted, but only greeted her a good morning and a heart emoticon. She sent him back the same.
“I work here as a part-time maid, day-shift. I needed the money for my college fees soon, ” Arissa answered when Amanda asked about her employment status inside the castle. They strolled out of the second floor hallway and into the grand staircase, intending to reach the main foyer where they will start their tour. “Actually, all staff you will see today are day-shift employees of the castle. We have night-shift maids too, chefs and utility personnel. They take care of the castle matters during the night.”
“During the night? What do you mean by that?” Amanda cocked a brow.
Arissa stared side to side, looking cautious before replying, “The Vitalis Family seems to prefer doing their activities in the evening, Miss Cait. They don’t like the sun. My co-workers said they are allergic to it.”
Amanda released a quick amused breath. “Allergic?” she parroted.
Arissa drew her brows up. “Yeah, weird right? Maybe that’s one of those diseases most people of royal blood gets like hemophilia.”
“Maybe, ” Amanda answered, noting the word that the maid just used. “So you think they are royals huh?”
Arissa instantly nodded. “Yes, I’m one hundred percent sure of that Miss Cait. I haven’t really seen all of the family members but the ones that I had a lucky chance of catching a glimpse like Master Cord, Master Calvin, Master Trace, Mistresses Heather and Pamela are extremely beautiful people. They have faces that only those of royal blood have.”
“Wow, ” Amanda stopped and looked at her playfully, “Are you a royal fanatic perhaps?”
“Ah, no, ” the latter shook her head. “I believe that there are many things more important than looks and popularity Miss Cait. I’m just a little bit awed by this family since I started working here four months ago.”
“Mhm, I see, ” Amanda replied and then went to divert her attention on the grand staircase. “So, where are you going to tour me first?”
“What are you interested in Miss Cait?” Arissa fired back.
Amanda contemplated for a moment. “Books, ” she answered initially, “I like reading books. Thrillers and Sci-Fi specifically. I also love extreme sports. Mountain climbing, skiing, kayaking to name a few. I do some fencing too. I enjoy eating more than cooking, but I’m at my giddiest when inside a kitchen. But why are you asking me this Ris?”
“Well, it’s my way of evaluating where I will take you first, ” Arissa replied with a chuckle. “As you can see already, the castle is surrounded by mountains. A few miles away from here, there’s a raging river, so I can take you there when we have the time since you like kayaking. With regards to fencing, we have a gym in the first basement where you can try different kinds of sports. We have a basketball court, a tennis and badminton court too and of course, the fencing ground.”
Amanda blinked, surprised of how the maid became a lively chatterbox.
“I can take you to the grand library in the third floor later, but since you mentioned the kitchen, I can show you the state-of-the-art kitchen that this castle boasts!”
She grabbed Amanda’s elbow and then pulled her towards another hallway of the second floor — the thought of going to the main foyer forgotten.
“Where are we going Ris?” Amanda shouted in her front.
“I’ll show you the best kitchen ever. It is located at the back of the throne room, ” Arissa replied as she continued to walk, her face looking ecstatic.
Amanda’s mouth dropped. “There is a throne room here?”
But of course, there would be. This is a castle for heaven’s sake.
“Yes, there is, ” Arissa informed in her carefree voice, ” One that Master Cord always stays.”
By the mere mention of the Master’s name, Amanda stiffened. Since last night, she concluded that it was better to avoid the man as much as possible, but by going straight into the throne room, there was a big possibility she’d be running straight into him.
“I...I think we shouldn’t go there, ” she murmured as the pace of her steps slowed.
The maid just shrugged her shoulders and continued to pull her by the arm. “Don’t worry Miss Cait, it is not prohibited at all.”
“Er, that’s not my concern. I think it is better we go to the library first.”
But it was already too late. Arissa released her arm and skipped playfully to stand in front of two imposing doors.
“Here we are!” she announced, smiling from ear to ear.
Amanda gaped at the sight of it and felt the beginnings of heat in her face.
The maid turned and grabbed the doorknob intending to open it, but she frowned.
“Oh, it is locked. Weird.”
Amanda grabbed this chance. “How about we—”
“Let’s try the servant’s passage Miss Cait, ” Arissa interjected. She hastily grabbed her arm again and said, “Come!”
There must be a good reason why the maid was this persistent of bringing her in the throne room kitchen, so Amanda just sighed and decided to let herself get dragged along.
They passed by a spacious corridor lined with picture frames on the wall. Oddly enough, for a servant passage, there wasn’t anyone present.
By the time they entered the kitchen, Amanda was quick on expressing her admiration.
She scanned the whole space of the room, examined the efficient, functional and high-tech appliance readily available and traced the corners of the luxury granite and marble countertops.
“See? Isn’t this kitchen A-MA-ZING!” Arissa exclaimed behind her.
Amanda smiled and nodded on her way.
“Yes, it is, but where are the staff?” she asked, finally having the commonsense to bring the subject up.
“Oh, them?” Arissa leaned against one of the wall-mounted fridge, picked a walnut from a basket full of it behind her and popped it inside her mouth. “Only the night-shift maids, the chef, and Sir Jerome gets to come here. Master Cord only comes in the throne room at night. It is morning, so they aren’t here. Oh! Do you like some juice Miss Cait?”
While chomping the nut, she speedily turned around and opened the fridge she had leaned earlier.
“Ah, no, no. Thank you.” Amanda shook her head, ultimately dismissing the thought of the Vitalis Master and how he was currently in a different place other than the throne room. She stared at the contents inside the fridge and caught sight of something weirdly different from the rest of the bottled liquids.
“Wait. What’s that?” she asked, pointing her eyes straight into the perspiring hourglass-shaped container.
Arissa went to look at it and scrutinized its contents.
“I don’t know, ” she shrugged her shoulders. “A semi-liquid filling perhaps?”
“It is crimson red, ” Amanda pointed, remembering how the Vitalis Master used to mention the color in their second meeting days ago.
“Yeah, speaking of which, ” Arissa straightened and then closed the fridge. “The Family loves the color red. Almost all interior of the rooms here have that shade of color.”
It sure looks like it, Amanda voiced in her thoughts. From the carpet, to most of the wall painting, and to every piece of furniture, the red shade was ever present.
“That’s probably their Family color, ” she surmised audibly to the maid.
“I think so. I still have a lot to learn actually. They are one very secretive family if you ask me.”
Amanda smiled at her and decided to scan the room again.
“What’s that door for?” she said when her eyes fell on the heavy-looking black wood.
“Oh, that?” Arissa stepped forward. “That’s the door to the throne hall.”
Amanda couldn’t help but stare at the inanimate object more. Something was pulling her there. She just didn’t know what it was.
“Can I? I mean, if it’s not against the rules.”
Arissa waved a hand.
“You’re silly Miss Cait. Of course not! Here, come!” she urged her forward, smiling.
When she opened the black intricately carved door, she let Amanda step in first.
They admitted themselves inside amidst the lack of lighting save from the small dots of soft sunlight piercing through the stained glass windows. There were colossal chandeliers of the best workmanship hanging in the ceiling, unlighted. Due to this, almost all corners of the hall were dark including the audience side of it and the dais.
Most especially the dais.
Still with this, Amanda and the maid went forward. They stopped beside one of the hall’s massive pillars and continued to gawk.
“Magnificent isn’t it?” Arissa asked.
“Yeah, like a real throne hall, ” Amanda whispered. There was so much pride in the maid’s eyes that she could easily see and understand. This castle really was one-of-a-kind.
“It is a real throne hall, Miss Cait, ” the maid corrected. “Master Cord just doesn’t admit audiences in here except for his family. It is a shame he doesn’t hold parties in here.”
“This would be more beautiful if sunlight touches the floor. This place needs that as it is too gloomy looking, ” Amanda commented.
“Maybe you can suggest that to Master Cord, Miss Cait.”
“Huh, ” Amanda released an airy laugh. “I’d rather not. The man’s too uptight with his preferences.”
And then there was a loud clearing of a throat successfully catching both of the women’s attention.
“Didn’t I tell you about choosing your words carefully Amanda?” From the shadow-consumed dais, Cord’s voice sounded.
Both Amanda and Arissa turned with a start.
As if magic, the shadow dispersed and a beam of sunlight shot through directly towards the dais spotlighting the one who sat in the throne seat.
“Oh sheeznits, ” muttered Arissa, feeling embarrassed and at the same time frightened after seeing her Master.
She attempted a curtsy quickly, looking at Amanda in the corner of her eyes hoping she would do the same but she didn’t.
Amanda just stood stiff on the spot. Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes locked on his grand state.
“Leave Arissa, ” Cord ordered to which the maid speedily granted after mumbling an ‘excuse me’ on Amanda’s way.
Silence was the first thing that greeted the two occupants after Arissa closed the door.
After inhaling a good amount of air, Amanda was able to get the courage to ask him.
“You’ve been here all along?”
Cord, still sitting comfortably in his throne, placed a finger under his clean-shaven chin.
“I was sleeping until your voices woke me up, ” he informed, partly annoyed.
Where? Where was he sleeping? The thought crossed Amanda’s mind. She couldn’t believe that he was asleep in his chair. She couldn’t even believe that he was present inside the throne room when in fact she didn’t notice him at all earlier.
But even so, she knew that she was the trespasser, so there was no other way she could do than to be polite.
“My apologies, ” she said, bowing her head even though she hadn’t done it ever in her life to anyone. “I’ll leave too so that you can resume your sleep.”
She stepped to the side, aiming to exit the hall was soon as possible, but Cord stopped her.
“No, stay, ” he said, his voice giving off authority.
Amanda had no choice but to oblige. She was still after all his guest.
“I’m awake now. I’d like for a morning drink of something honeysuckle sweet if you may.”
The corner of her eyes flinched upon hearing it. It was almost a demand.
“I’m not your servant, ” she announced. “You know I can’t fetch that Mister Vitalis. Do you want me to tell Arissa instead?”
“No, you don’t need to, ” Cord stated and then ran his finger along his mouth’s opening lightly touching something there. Something hidden. Something white and pointed. “Because what I want to drink is here in front of me, ” he added without a thought as his gaze fell on the length of Amanda’s neck. “I want to drink you Amanda.”
“E-excuse me?” Amanda’s voice stammered. She lifted a brow, showing her feisty self, but deep inside, her nerves trembled. What did he just say again? Surely, she heard it correctly. Surely she did!
Cord cleared his throat subtly. Instead of repeating what his stupid, stupid, traitorous mouth had just blurted out, he decided to admonish her. “You, woman, are threading on dangerous grounds. Had Lady Granger already told you about my castle rules?”
Amanda narrowed her eyes at him, calculating him. She heaved a breath and shoved his earlier words at the back of her mind. “Yes, she did, but she didn’t mention about not touring the throne hall.”
Cord sighed and closed his eyes briefly.
“Yes, of course. I should probably add that in the list.”
Amanda released an amused short laugh. “So I’m right. You really are an uptight person.”
Cord cocked a brow, his blindfolded eyes trained on her and her alone. “What else do you think I am?”
“You’re a recluse.”
“Hmmhh...” He gestured his hand for her to go on and Amanda did, having the courage to be frank.
“You like keeping info to yourself. You are a secretive guy.”
“That’s a given. It runs in the family, Sweetness. What else?”
This time, he stood up and even without the support of his cane, he was able to manage nearing her with fluid, sure strides.
Amanda, for some reason, didn’t move. She felt her feet nailed on the floor.
“You-you have a ridiculous taste for pets. Hey! By the way, where is that panther?”
A curve of what looked like a smile appeared in Cord’s mouth.
“Hunting. Hungry like his Master, ” Cord replied. “What else Amanda? What else do you think of me?”
He continued closing in on her.
“And a ridiculous taste for clothes, ” she went on, voice in the borderline of trembling.
“I’d be willing to strip naked if that’s what you want, ” he suggested nonchalantly. “Maybe when you see what I look like under this coat, you’ll find it more...pleasing to the eye.”
Amanda immediately shook her head and blinked many times. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“I know, ” Cord whispered.
When he was just inches away from her, she didn’t move. He didn’t know where she stood. He could always pass her by and walk straight towards the massive pillar behind her.
But to her surprise, his right hand shot straight to her back and stayed there firmly as he pushed her against his chest.
Her breath hitched.
“Take your hand off me, Mister Vitalis, and step away, ” she ordered without missing a beat despite the hammering of her heart. Her hands remained in the sides, rigid, afraid to push him back. Afraid to touch him.
The muscles of Cord’s jaw tensed. Shit. The contact of their skin brought bolts of delightful electricity throughout his entire body. It fucked up his senses.
Could she feel this too? A thought crossed his mind.
Their eyes locked in an unblinking duel — or at least only on Amanda’s side for she was without blindfold. She could feel his orbs trained straight on her though and this created so much unwelcomed emotions no man of proper eyes had ever done before.
He inhaled and exhaled, the warmth of his breath tickling Amanda’s face. She shuddered because of it.
He inhaled again, this time moving his nose a little towards her exposed neck. Shit. To him, the torment was unbelievably real.
He opened his mouth but it was not to welcome his stretching fangs. It was to respond with clarity, “I will, but promise me next time, please let your hair down. Cover that bewitching neck of yours.”
As quick as his hand came to slip around her back, it was the same when he released her. He turned around and urged himself back to the safety of his seat.
Amanda felt relief immediately wash through her, but she asked, “Why? What’s wrong with my neck?” genuinely innocent, and this made Cord pause abruptly from his walk.
“It’ll be the cause of someone’s downfall Amanda, of insanity, of all things fucked up, ” he answered over his shoulder.
“Oh, you love to speak in riddles huh?” she stated, taken aback by his choice of words. What did he mean by those, she didn’t know and she had no plan on finding out.
She watched him climbed up his regal seat as if it was normal for him. As if he wasn’t even blind at all.
“Go, Amanda...” he paused, - before I lose myself - “Before I tie you up against one of this hall’s pillars as punishment, ” he continued after choosing his words correctly.
She felt the burn in her cheeks then.
How could he say that?!
This time, as promised, he wasn’t acting rude, but he was threatening her like any Master would do to his subjects.
This got her all riled up.
With a huff, she stomped her foot and turned around. “No. Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out, ” she said without looking at his way.
Cord listened to her quick footsteps as she retreated. By the time the door of the servants’ kitchen slammed shut, he released a breath. A long, deep one.
As what his hands had been aching to do, he finally touched the woman for the first time.
For the very first time. And fuck, it felt so good.
His fangs extended, cutting his bottom lip twice. Blood trickled and he licked it clean without delay.
He palmed his face, his blindfold, his mouth and cursed under his breath, “Shit. Why did I touch her?”