I couldn't sleep.
My mind refused to allow me to rest and every time I closed my eyes, his face would be there, his magnificent golden eyes burning into me, his mouth twisted into that half smile he uses with such precision and care to tempt me and I'm sure many others like me. When I finally did fall unconscious, dreams took over. Vivid, realistic dreams that really made me question whether I was asleep or not.
I was standing in the courtyard, swathed in the moon's shimmery silver light. The grass was tainted with darkness, crystals glittered off the river's surface and there was a slight chill in the air, much too cold for the summer. It sent tingles down my spine and caused goosebumps to spread across my skin.
Something moved in my peripheral vision, much too fast for me to identify properly.
'You do not need to be afraid,' I murmured.
'No, but you should be,' a smooth, hypnotic voice told me.
'I am not afraid of you.' I took a step closer to the shadows. Golden eyes glowered back at me.
The figure laughed. 'Then you are foolish.'
Without warning, something stumbled out of the shadows. It wasn't the person I was expecting and the way they moved caused me to gasp, and my stomach to lurch. They slumped to the ground, a pool of red forming round their chest. I dropped my knees, turned them over. Eyes as dark as onyx stones stared at me blankly, lacking life. His lips were parted, a slight crease dented between his eyebrows. It was Harry. And his chest had been ripped open.
'Are you afraid now?' Brink questioned, raising an eyebrow.
I sat bolt upright, panting heavily. The sheets were damp with sweat and my heart was racing against my rib cage. I had to remind myself that it was just a dream, but a fist of ice cold fear clenched round my chest tried to tell me differently.
'Natalia?' Madeline whispered outside my door.
I blinked, disorientated. Was I still dreaming?
'Natalia!' she hissed.
'What?!' I half shouted.
'Are you okay? You were screaming.' She opened the door.
'I'm fine,' I told her. 'Just having a nightmare.'
'Yes,' I snapped. 'Now let me go to sleep.'
'Okay, sorry.' She backed out of the room. A pang of guilt shot through me. It wasn't her fault.
'Madeline. I'm sorry,' I sighed. 'It was just a scary dream, that's all.'
She smiled, coming to sit on my bed. 'I understand. Was it about mother?'
'Mother?' I repeated, dumbfounded.
'Maybe the nightmares of her are returning.'
'No,' I shook my head quickly. 'It definitely wasn't. It has been nearly eighteen years since her death.'
Madeline fell into solemnity. 'It is your birthday soon.'
'Two days precisely, seeing as it is now two in the morning.'
'You'll be eighteen.'
'Indeed I will.'
'Seems just yesterday you were five and I was nearly seven and we were playing with Rosa and Lucas. Do you remember them?'
'How could I forget?' I laughed. 'I hated them.'
'They were awful weren't they? They were so pretentious and spoiled. But I think father thought one of us would marry Lucas someday.'
'Until they all moved away to America.'
'Could you imagine marrying Lucas?' Madeline pulled a face.
I mirrored her distaste.
'Anyway,' she sighed. 'I suppose I should really sleep now. Are you sure you're going to be okay?'
I nodded, smiling. 'Thanks Madeline.'
'You are welcome,' she grinned. I watched her head outside, and this time when I fell asleep, it was peaceful and dreamless.
'Preparations are being made for your birthday Natalia,' my father informed me the next morning over a cup of tea. 'Tristan of course will be there. The Earl and his son will also be attending. Did you want Brink to be a part of it?'
I blushed furiously, thankful that my father wasn't looking at me. 'Sure, if he wants to.'
'I think it would be appropriate. He would be able to look after you should anything...happen.'
I knew exactly what my father was talking about. He was talking about the bodies that were mysteriously piling up. They still had no clue who the killer was and Brink had been assigned duty of looking after me and my sister, to make sure no harm was coming to us. But my father didn't know about everything in between.
'Where is your sister?'
'Right here,' Madeline appeared at the doorway. 'I am sorry I'm late.'
'That's alright. Sit down, I have something I need to tell you both.'
Madeline dropped into the seat beside mine.
'I am going away this afternoon and shall not be back until tomorrow morning.'
'Where are you going?' I questioned, curious.
'Just for some business. Things need to be sorted out. Meanwhile, Brink will be here to keep an eye on you both. You will be very safe, I assure you. And I will be back in time for your birthday Natalia.'
'Okay father.' I murmured. I was enthralled at the prospect of having Brink here, without the worry of my father discovering us both.
What I wasn't counting on though, was my sister feeling the exact same way. Although there was no possible way I could have known at the time.