~x~ Chapter 70 ~x~

"Excuse me?" I spluttered.

I'd expected a dozen other questions to come out of his mouth but definitely not that. I tried to lean back as his hand reached out towards my waist but soon realised my mistake. He'd set himself up perfectly so that I couldn't run away. He basically had me against the wall.

"Please?"

I was startled by the sincerity in his voice. He really wanted my permission for some reason and soon enough I realised the true meaning behind his words. He wasn't really asking if he could touch me. Not in a sensual way. No. He wanted a confirmation of his suspicions the same way that Drew had that time he burst into Martin's office.

Our eyes connected when I stared at his face. There was no judgement and no sense of menace. He simply wanted to know. But more than that, he wanted my permission to know. In our current position, he didn't have to ask for my permission. He could've easily pulled my shirt up and seen the Ivashkov mark. His earnest respect for my privacy in turn stirred my sense of respect towards him.

Axel wasn't forcing me to let him in on the secret. He was seeking permission and that spoke volumes of his maturity despite his ridiculously play-boyish personality. He didn't simply push me into affirming suspicions he already had, not like how Drew had done. As much as I respected Drew and knew that he was far more mature than most of the boys I had met, I didn't particularly appreciate the way that he found out about me. Eavesdropping, I could just about stomach, but he had lifted my top up without my permission back in Martin's office. Thinking about it more, I suddenly had the urge to deck him. Really, really hard.

Axel's emerald green eyes continued to gaze directly into my eyes. He didn't break eye contact with me at all. But he wasn't moving away either. His hand rested on my hip, his fingers at the hem of my shirt.

Eventually, I gave him a small nod.

Now that it got to this point I might as well let him know. There was no talking my way out of this one. I knew Axel wouldn't pressure me too much tonight considering the day we had both had but it really would be much easier to just get this out of the way since we both knew exactly what he suspected. This was nothing like with Drew where I was never fully certain just how much he had suspected.

A shiver slid down my spine when I felt his fingers on my skin as they slid beneath my shirt. Slowly, gradually, he pushed up the fabric. As he did this, his eyes still held mine. I breathed out a shuddery breath, feeling tension coil at the bottom of my spine. When his hand reached my waist, he finally looked down. I watched as the truth was confirmed and he had his answer. The light-blue metallic mark glistened under the light of the room.

Goosebumps broke out as a finger traced the perimeter of the Ivashkov insignia imprinted onto me not long after my birth. This was far more intimate than I had anticipated. Heat spread from his touch, scattering all across my body. My heart raced and my breath hitched. I squeezed my eyes closed and waited for the moment to pass. He stopped tracing the mark and rested his hand flat against my skin. I felt him move closer and I was startled as his other arm wrapped around my shoulders and he pulled me against him.

My head, tucked against his chest, I could hear the beat of his heart. Its steady beat calmed me a little. When his arm hooked around my waist and pulled me even closer against him, my breath hitched again.

"Axel…"

"Thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice without giving it a moment's thought when it is not your duty to," he whispered against the top of my head.

"I could never just watch you die." I murmured back. "Duty or not, it's the right thing to do."

"You are certainly much stronger than anyone gives you credit for, it seems."

"People give me too much credit, Axel." I scoffed.

"I doubt that, chick. You simply expect too much of yourself which can perhaps put you in danger at times. It's a good thing that you have someone who can help protect you."

"I'm not the one who needs protecting."

"Right now, maybe not. But there will be a day when you will whether you want to accept it or not."

"You're being absurd."

"Am I? You and I both know that I'm right. You will be safe, chick. I promise to do everything my royal power grants me to keep you safe."

"That's a pretty big promise you're committing to, mister charmer. Are you sure you can take this on?"

"For you? I'm sure it'll be worth it, chick."

I didn't reply for a moment. I simply mulled over his words. Even I couldn't deny that having him on my side would be good for when the secret eventually came out to the public. Having another person I can run to if I ever encountered trouble with the court or at the court would certainly never be a bad thing. Not to mention, said protection was another renowned prince who was well known and seemingly respected at court. If I had to be rational and political about it, this would be an undeniable advantage for me.

"Thank you, Axel. I appreciate you saying that."

"Someone's got to have your back considering how you have all of ours."

"I don't have all of yours. I'm not that self-sacrificing." I scoffed. "But yes, for the most part if it is someone I care about at all I would do what I can to protect them."

"Sounds like your family managed to ingrain the guardian mentality into your brain before you ran away."

I thought about my answer, trying to choose the right words before retorting to his comment.

"My family didn't give me this mentality. If anything, I actually find the whole system outdated and ridiculous. Even more so now that I've spent so much time away from it. On a rational level I can understand why it's in place but at the same time I still don't know if I can stand by it anymore. I know deep down that traditionally and historically us dhampir are meant to protect the Moroi. That's the way it's meant to be, but in my mind I just can't think of it that way anymore. I will protect who I want to, Moroi, dhampir or human. I'm not going to make distinctions between race and specie."

"And what about royalty?"

"Do I look like I really care? You guys are an exception just because I've gotten to know you and you're my friends. I'm not going to blindly choose a royal over an innocent dhampir unless there really was a difficult logical reason for it."

"You really are going to turn our entire world upside down it seems, little chick."

"If that's what it takes to get a peace of mind around here then that's a task I'm willing to take up." I commented dryly.

"Whatever you choose to do it's not going to be an easy path, that's for sure," he sighed. "You don't have to answer this but how many people know who you really are?"

"Do you know about my family unit?"

"You mean back at St. Vlad's?"

"Yeah."

"Vaguely but I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find out. Guardian Maxwell is part of that unit, right?"

"Yeah he is. Well, my family unit knows. Then there's Crispin -"

"You mean the guardian who came into the bar the other night and escorted you back to your room?"

"That's the one."

"Okay, who else?"

"Ozera and Lady Ozera both know."

He stared at me hard for a lengthy moment.

"Drew knows? As in the whole truth? Not just you're an odd case?"

"He knows. Apparently, he'd had his suspicions for days but then eventually things happened and he found out good and proper."

"That helps explain why he seems different around you," he whistled. "He'd always held the runaway princess in high regard. Did he behave himself when he found out?"

I couldn't help but laugh at his question. It was clearly no mystery to anyone who knew him how much he liked the runaway princess…

"He took it surprisingly well considering we'd actually had conversations about the Ivashkov princess before he found out the truth. I was fully expecting him to freak out about it but I think I panicked more than he did."

"Well, to think you would have the two of us on your side already. Not to mention Aunt Felicia. How did she know?"

"My aura. She knew it the instant I walked into the room when we had that dinner the other night. Somehow, when she found out it actually helped lift another weight off my shoulders. I think because I'd actually managed to achieve something and make a name for myself, not just as an Ivashkov, before the secret started coming out I feel like some people are going to be able to really see me for who I am and not just by my royal title."

"You're going to shock the entire royal court. There's no doubt about that."

"I know, don't remind me." I grumbled. "It's bad enough just thinking about how the students are going to be. I don't even want to think about the stupid royal politics right now… It'll probably drive me insane and tempt me too much into running away again."

"Now we certainly can't have that, can we?" he teased, trailing his fingertip lightly up my arm. "There's still so much for us to do, so much for me to teach you."

"Simmer down, mister charmer." I laughed, gently swiping his hand away. "I've got enough rumours going round about me already. I don't need anyone accidentally walking in and throw facts into the equation. The students will have a field day with the material they get to blow out of proportion."

"Fine," he sighed petulantly like I just took away his favourite toy. "I'll behave. Just for tonight."

"Much appreciated, mister charmer." I smiled. "Anyway, as much fun as this has been, I'm actually pretty tired from saving our asses today. So please go back to your oh-so-wonderful suite and let me sleep."

"That has got to be one of the most polite way of kicking someone out I've ever heard," he chuckled. "Alright, little knight, let me message Nathan and he'll come back with the cake. I told him to wait down the corridor to make sure he wouldn't be able to hear us."

"Thanks for the discretion, Axel."

"I'm a born and raised royal prince. I know all about discretion, chick," he assured me.

When Nathan knocked on the door, Axel gave me a sweet and gentle kiss on my forehead. His hands cupped my face as he stared into my eyes. "Thank you again for saving my life today and entrusting your secret to me."

"It seems that it was totally worth it, mister charmer." I breathed.

"Not yet, but I'll make sure you never have to regret your decision today."

"Not likely to happen. Really, I mean it. Yes, it's an important secret to me but you're a friend now, Axel. I never would've forgiven myself if I let fear of the secret escaping prevent me from saving your life."

Axel gave me a breath stealing smile and it was all I could do not to lean over and kiss him. It was a rugged sort of smile with almost no playfulness present. It was such a heartfelt smile that my heart couldn't help but melt at the sight of it. Clearly, my words meant more to him than I realised.

"Sleep well, chick. I hope you get to at least have sweet dreams tonight and rest well."

"Considering the students and the gossip I have to face tomorrow, so do I," I sighed. "Goodnight, Axel."

"Goodnight, chick."

I grumbled and pulled the covers up over my head when I felt someone gently shake me.

"Kai… Kai, wake up," a familiar voice called out.

"Sod off… leave me alone…" I growled.

I was tired.

My head hurt.

I was not in the mood to get up and face the world right now.

"I have pancakes and coffee." Joe drawled. I let out an intangible grumble. "With chocolate and strawberries."

I poked my head out from beneath the covers and peered up at him. "I hate you."

"Come on, Kai, there's still the rest of the camp."

"I hate that you still know how to get me out of bed, Joey." I grumbled as I sat up.

He handed me the coffee as soon as I was sat up properly and I gently blew across the top of the cup before taking a sip to test the temperature. When I was sure that it wouldn't burn my mouth I took a big gulp of it.

"So, I hear that we've pretty much got the day off." I asked.

"There's a compulsory run for the students on the guardian course but otherwise you are allowed to relax in specific designated safe zones."

"Has there been any progress with the investigation?"

"No leads yet," he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Don't you go asking questions, Kai. Just let us handle it. You getting involved will only make things more dangerous for you and more complicated for us."

"I can't just sit back and do nothing, Joey."

"You can and you will for this. I mean it. You're in unfamiliar territory here. There are too many guardians here who don't know you. You don't have the same protection here as you do back at the Academy. Don't go raising suspicions that'll lead to you being arrested."

"Wait… so it's serious? There are guardians here who genuinely believe that I'm a spy sent by the underworld?"

His face said it all. The severity in his eyes answered my question.

"You've got to be joking. I mean sure I know I'm an odd case and I don't make sense but in the whole history of the underworld existing, there's never been a case of a spy being sent in as a young student. Surely there's no way they could train a kid to become someone like me. I know you said that they've been growing at a dangerous rate these past few years but that would be ridiculous to assume that they're capable of sending a spy of this calibre."

"I don't believe it. I don't want to believe that they could be capable of something like this. What is a fact, Kai, is that there have been a lot more organised attacks and we know the underworld are involved. That is a fact and you are far too unfamiliar with how things have become since you left. You need to tone it down and keep a lower profile from now on. You've already attracted much more attention than you ought to, Kai."

I gulped down the rest of the coffee and got started on the food. I thought about his words for a long moment as I ate and he watched me as I mulled over what he'd just said.

Joe had a point. I was meant to keep a low profile right from the start. I didn't want to be found out. I really didn't. I didn't want to be found out as the Ivashkov princess anytime soon. But between fate throwing curve balls at me left, right and centre and my own damn pride, I was already exposed to five people.

Five in the space of just over half a month.

That was a disastrous statistic. If I didn't pull myself together I probably wouldn't even make it past the middle of the next academic year without the truth being exposed to the entire community. That would mean a year and a half of being known as the Ivashkov princess at the Academy.

I shuddered at the thought. That was not a scenario I wanted to become a reality.

"I got it."

"Do you?"

"I really do, Joey." I sighed and finished off the last bite. "I'll try my best to keep a lower profile. I can't promise anything if threatening stuff gets thrown my way though."

"At least be more aware, Kai, that's all we're asking."

"I got it." I nodded. "So, what's the plan for us students now?"

"You have free time to relax in the designated areas until after lunch. For now, most students are either in the dining hall finishing off their breakfast or in their rooms, I suspect."

"Alright, I'll just finished the food and go get another coffee before heading back to my room. Where am I, by the way? How do I get back?"

"I'll take you. It's quite tricky if you don't know the way to get from here back to the main guest block."

I hastily finished the breakfast Joe brought me and got out of bed. I'd slept in whatever clothes they'd changed me into when they brought me in last night. I really needed to go brush my teeth and shower before I faced the rest of the day, that's for sure.

I followed Joe back to the main building and kept my head held high and gave various students a small wave as we passed them. I let out a heavy sigh when I finally got back to the room. Considering it was empty, I had to guess that the girls were still at breakfast. Grabbing a change of clothes from my bag, I headed into the bathroom and jumped in the shower.

By the time I was done and ready to face the day, the girls were back and the three gave me a warm but worried smile as I came out of the bathroom.

"So, let me guess, the gossip got worse over night?" I drawled.

"How they don't realise that when there are that many rumours about one person then it means that most can't possibly be true I don't understand." Roxy grumbled.

"Someone's now spread the rumour that you're a blood whore, Kai. That's been floating around quite a lot at breakfast."

"Apparently no one saw Axel at the bar last night."

"Well they got part of that right, Axel was with me for a while." I told them simply.

"That's what Axel said," Els sighed.

"And of course that made everything worse." I groaned. "I'm gonna deck him. He really doesn't make things easy, that stupid charmer."

"If we were at the Academy this might be a little easier to deal with. At least at the Academy there are places where we can hide away and relax. Here? They seem to have this place on lock down almost."

"They've set up safe zones and we're not allowed to stray from those areas." Roxy filled in.

"Well that's just peachy." I scowled, my morning grumpiness returning in full force.

"Have you had breakfast?" Ingrid asked. "I reckon we should be allowed to at least go to the kitchen to get you some food."

"The guardians were actually kind enough to bring me a bit of food but I'm definitely not going to turn down getting something sweet to munch on. After what happened yesterday I think I deserve a fair amount of sugar today."

"Well then let's make sure you have plenty coffee!"

"The guardians didn't cancel the party tonight and we can't have you falling asleep on us for the one part of the trip we've all been waiting for."

"Speak for yourselves," I retorted. "I didn't even know about the ball until we got here. I just wanted to get away from the Academy for a few days."

I was startled when there was a splat sound coming from our balcony. My body tensed, poised to retaliate in case of an attack. Then confusion sunk in when I saw that there was a towel on the ground.

"HEY GIRLS!" Dan hollered down from their balcony above ours.

I strolled over and leaned back against the rail so that I was facing their balcony. "Geez, you don't have to yell you know? The doors were open, we can hear you just fine."

"Good to see you're looking a bit better, Kai." Jackson commented with a smile.

"A half decent night's rest tends to do that to a person." I drawled sarcastically.

"You sound like you haven't had nearly enough coffee," Drew chuckled.

"I haven't so I'm going to go raid the kitchen. Would someone mind showing the way? I would try and remember but that requires a bit too much mental energy than I would prefer right now."

"For you? I'd go anywhere, little knight." Axel piped up, his head suddenly appearing over the balcony banister.

"I'm going to kick your ass." I snapped at him. "Why did you have to go and make the rumours even worse?"

"They may be worse but at least they're bad in a less terrible way. They're not so convinced that you're a spy anymore."

"Like being a blood whore is any better!" I barked.

"Trust me, it's better than having them honestly suspect you of being a legitimate threat," he told me in that presumably rare serious tone of his.

I simmered down just a little and sighed. "Let's go get that coffee so I can calm down a little."

"See you at the stairs, chick."

"If you call me chick one more time before I drink at least 3 cups of coffee I'm throwing you out of a window." I grumbled.

"You can't throw one of the princes out of the window, Kai." Roxy giggled.

"No? Watch me." I retorted with a scoff.

We all made our way to the main staircase and found the boys had somehow beaten us to it. Axel gave me a show stopping smile that just about blinded the three girls and I sighed. Giving him a not so gentle nudge, I edged him towards the stairs.

"Coffee, or else none of you will like me very much for the rest of the trip." I warned them.

He casually draped an arm across my shoulder and steered us to the kitchen. The route we took wasn't that familiar to me and I wondered if perhaps Axel deliberate took a route where we could avoid the other students. He must have realised that if I encountered any of their stares and gossip right now I quite likely would have gotten myself into a mountain full of trouble. I couldn't imagine having to face any of that idiocy just yet. Not until I had some coffee to calm my already heightening tension. If I saw them right then I had no doubt that there would be multiple broken noses, Moroi or dhampir, boy or girl.

To say that I was feeling out of control would be an understatement.

But I knew that I had to calm myself and fast.

I couldn't hide away forever, after all. I would have to face the stupid rumours head on eventually.

Maybe just not at that precise moment.

At that moment, I felt like running away for just a little while.

Just a little while longer.

Until I got my coffee fix at least.

Surprisingly, the rest of that morning went by without drama.

The others knew where the designated zones were and I reckon they must have twisted the guardians' arm because where we hung out and relaxed didn't have any other students present. We seemed to have had a space all to ourselves and I couldn't help but find that odd unless the boys pulled some strings in some way.

Lunch was...

Well to put it bluntly lunch was borderline what I imagine something worse than Hell to be.

I was feeling on edge to begin with because whoever was responsible for letting those kidnappers in yesterday was still out there, somewhere. They could be right here at the resort for all we knew! Not knowing who was behind the kidnapping was slowly driving me mad. But Joe made me promise to keep a low-profile for the rest of the trip. And as much as I wanted to find out who was responsible, even I knew better than to provoke further suspicions of my identity. I was in the spot light way too much and if I wanted to pass at least the next few months in relative peace, I had to keep my head down.

So between the endless stares from almost all the students in the dining hall and even some guardians who were assigned to work the resort, I was feeling even tenser than I could recall ever feeling. There were too many pairs of eyes fixated on me. It was so bad that I lost my appetite and couldn't eat. Instead, I just kept drinking more and more coffee.

When we got outside for the only required task of the day for those of us on the guardian training course, I was surprised when someone pinched my side causing me to yelp. Before I could get angry and hit whoever it was, sweetness filled my mouth and I blinked in shock at Axel. I bit down onto the giant marshmallow and felt the tension gently lessen. He held up the bag and gave me a grin that was all cheek.

"You didn't have lunch so these are better than nothing," he simply said.

Before saying anything, I ate another two before letting out a huge sigh.

"Thanks for these." I smiled.

"If you're going on this run you need to get some of your energy back."

"I think I'm doing this run to get my energy back. All the staring is driving me mad and running will help calm me down. At least when I'm running I can get away from most of the staring."

"You're that bad with people looking at you?"

"On a day like today? Yes. It's not just the staring. It's the anxiety that whoever was responsible for yesterday's antics might well be staring right now. That's what gets to me." I sighed. "This was meant to be a relaxing trip but it's certainly turning out to be anything but."

It'll get better when everyone heads home for summer break."

"I'm counting on it." I scoffed. "I can't wait to have the Academy calm down a bit. I can walk around without all the stupid student attention."

"Considering what I've heard so far, I couldn't agree more," he nodded. "You're almost definitely going to finish the run way ahead of everyone else. Head to the kitchen when you complete the required distance."

"You're spoiling me just a little too much. If you're not careful I just might start getting used to it and always expect this sort of treatment from you."

"A spoiling of this level, you can expect it from me any time, little knight."

"Hm, I just might hold you to that." I grinned.

The guardians began to gather everyone together and I hastily stuffed as many marshmallows as I could into my mouth before handing the bag back to Axel. As I approached the other students, I found myself being stared at for a whole new reason.

Els took one look at me and couldn't contain her laughter.

"Why do you look like a chipmunk?" she giggled.

I tried to explain but all that came out were incomprehensible noises. That set Ingrid and Roxy off too. Seeing them laugh at my ridiculous look strangely calmed me down a little. By the time I took off running, most of the marshmallows were devoured properly and only the sweetness of them remained. As Axel anticipated, I was way ahead of everyone else and I absolutely paced it as fast as I could, allowing the adrenaline to fully take over.

All thoughts and worry faded from my mind as my attention focused on keeping steady on the uneven path while running as fast as my legs would allow. The sea breeze was almost biting since I was running so fast. My lungs burned in that oh-so-delightful way. I didn't stop running even when I passed the finish line. I just pointed at the main resort building when I passed Joe and he gave me a nod of acknowledgement.

I ran straight for the kitchen and in my haste I almost barrelled straight into a resort guest as I rounded a corner. I swivelled at the last minute to avoid him and lost my footing almost instantly.

A hand whipped out and firmly grabbed my upper arm to prevent my fall. I let out a sigh of relief and steadied myself before glancing up with apology.

"I'm sor- " I stopped mid-sentence.

There was something in the way that this Moroi stared at me. The simmering intensity in his eyes made me pause and my breath hitch. But this wasn't in the good way that Axel naturally did to most girls. No… there was something about this Moroi that simply didn't sit well with my instincts.

"Are you alright?" he asked with an unexpectedly mellow voice.

"Yes. I'm terribly sorry. I shouldn't have been running so fast around the corner like that."

"You seem to be rather agile. I'm impressed you managed to avoid collision."

"Thanks. The Academy has good teachers."

"From what I've heard, you are like this even without the guardian's training."

Unease heightened and wariness reared. Who was this man? I knew that news about me reached court. This Moroi wasn't royalty but he knew about me. He knew my face. I hadn't told him my name so he couldn't have known me as the mysterious student at St. Vlad's.

"Pardon me for being rude but how do you know that?"

"I work at court and you are quite the hot topic at court right now. I assumed since a normal student wouldn't have been able to prevent themselves from crashing into me just then."

"People need to find better things to talk about." I muttered under my breath.

He gave a strange smile then. I couldn't explain it even if I tried but his smile gave me the chills. An uneasy part of me became all too aware that this would not be the last I saw of this Moroi, whoever he was.

"I'm sorry but I'd better get going. Sorry again for almost bulldozing into you." I apologised and continued my hasty dash for the kitchen.

For now, I wanted to put as much distance as possible between that Moroi and me.

To say I was shocked when I walked through the kitchen doors would be one heck of an understatement. The chefs were all gone and on the centre counter there was a mouth-watering spread. A burgundy candlestick was centre stage along with a bright red rose.

"Welcome to our first date, little knight." Axel declared flamboyantly, his arms spreading wide, gesturing at the food.

I was so moved I couldn't find the words to refute that this was not a date. Since he made such an effort, it stole the breath from my lungs and the words out of my mouth.

"Oh Axel, honestly you really don't know how to meet someone halfway, do you? I joked somewhat breathlessly.

"It all depends on the person in question and whether or not they really want me to meeting them halfway or whether I could take my chances," he chuckled.

He stepped around the counted and tugged me towards the food.

"I don't really know what you like so I thought why not give you multiple options and I can find out this way?"

"So, it's basically a win-win situation for the both of us." I grinned. "Well, since you're spoiling me so much, I'll tell you a little bit about myself. You can't go wrong with cheese."

"Standard American cheese?" he balked.

"European. Blue is probably one of my favourites."

"I'll be sure to remember that. How as the run? Are you feeling any better?"

"Much." I admitted. "And seeing this has just about gotten me back to normal. Really though, Axel. Thank you so much for putting this together."

"This is nothing."

"Oh, I'll bet." I drawled cheekily.

I took a mouthful of what looked like cauliflower cheese and hummed in delight. I was incapable of talking for the next ten minutes and Axel seemed perfectly fine with that. If anything he seemed highly amused as he watched me try everything he's had the kitchen prepare. At least, I just assumed that he had the chefs prepare it.

"You pretty much eat anything, don't you?" he chuckled.

"I do. I kind of got a taste for all sorts of things since I cooked for myself. It's quite therapeutic experimenting with many different flavours. I don't eat very exotic things though. If you bring me frogs or insects, I'll shove them in your mouth."

"Warning heeded," he grimaced. "I prefer more… romantic ingredients."

"Let me guess, chocolate features rather high on the list of 'romantic ingredients'?" I scoffed.

"Perhaps. Personally, I'm more of a honey fan."

"Honey is certainly a delight. Honey lemon drops were a favourite. My parents used to bribe me with them."

"Do they still work effectively as a bribe?" he asked with a grin that was all cheek.

"Amongst other things." I grinned back. "Just honey lemon drops don't carry as much weight as they used to when I was just a kid."

"And they shouldn't. I'd like to think you've found and experienced things which carry more bribing power.

"Oh, you can be sure of that."

"I look forward to finding out what those things might be. This is definitely going to be a pleasurable venture for us both."

"You're going to bring more drama into my life, aren't you?"

"An unfortunate collateral being who I am in our society."

"A fact I seem to know all too well and one I'm sure to become annoyingly familiar with in due course." I sighed.

"And it will be one you get used to in no time with us around," he assured me. "Now I would feel a lot better if you ate some more. I'm guessing that if you don't have an appetite that's pretty much an 8 on a scale of one to ten of you worrying about something."

"Actually, I'd say that it's probably a 7… or a high 6?"

"Then what do we watch out for if you're at 8 or above?"

"8 is a combination of no appetite and insomnia. 9… 9 you wouldn't want to be anywhere near me and I'd say you don't need to worry about 10."

"Oh?"

"You wouldn't even see me coming at 10. I think I get so angry and blinded that I go on a violent rampage. At least at 9 I can sort of keep it together and not literally hit everything and anyone in sight with no regard of how much strength I'm putting in. if you're not too close you're usually safe. Me at 10 though? If I can see you, I can't promise you won't end up in the hospital with severe injuries."

"Is there any defence or way to calm you down from that?"

"Defence? Yeah, run the hell away. As for the calming down part… I guess when whatever I'm stressed about is resolved then I naturally calm down."

"That sounds tiring, little knight. For you, I mean."

"It's not fun and I'm not really proud of it, let's put it that way."

I ate some more of the amazing food and ferreted around the kitchen for some Tupperware to take some of the desserts with me. The rest, which actually wasn't too much since I really did eat a lot, I put into other boxes and into the fridge. After I cleared up a bit, despite Axel insisting that it was fine to leave it, we headed off to find the others. I went back to my room and Axel headed upstairs to the boys' room.

I wasn't sure why the girls' giddiness still managed to surprise me anymore.

Yet it did.

As soon as I stepped through the door I was faced with chaos.

Clothes were everywhere being flung all over. Something flew at my face and I lifted a hand to catch it. I let the door slam behind me and for a minute moment there was calm. A little like the moment of calm before a storm. Because the instant they spotted me, I was suddenly pulled into the centre of the chaos.

"Where have you been? We need to start preparing for tonight, Kai!" they seemed to yell all at the same time in perfect sync like some well rehearsed line.

"Okay, please calm down. I've only just calmed myself down so if you lovely girls could be wonderful and tone it down just a notch that would be much appreciated." I held my hands up in surrender.

The three stared at me for a lengthy moment and I gave them one of my stern expressions to let them know that I was dead serious.

"I know there's a party tonight. And yes, I'll agree to dressing up a little bit. But I object to freaking out over what to wear. In the grand scheme of things this is really low on my list of priorities and concerns right now."

"For you, clothes are nothing." Roxy agreed.

"Sorry for crowding you like this, Kai." Ingrid apologised.

"It's okay. I'm sorry for throwing a damper on things." I told them. "So, you three are freaking out over clothes?"

"Just a little."

"Alright, let's see what we've got to work with." I gestured at the mess that surrounded us.

The next couple of hours were spent primarily on the three girls trying multiple outfit combinations. It was more like try on, try something else, try the first one again and repeat all over. I knew pretty much right from the start what my outfit would be. It was on occasions like impromptu parties that long t-shirts really did become so handy.

Despite having spent all afternoon choosing outfits, we still somehow ended up turning up almost an hour into the party. It seemed like we arrived at just the right time though. The party seemed to be in full swing so there was none of that dreadful awkward vibe. As we walked into one of the room which had been set up for tonight's festivities, I mentally steeled myself.

Everything is fine. Don't let them get to you. Their opinions don't matter. I told myself.

I held my head high and focused on forcing the stupid stares to fade away into the background. Instead, I made a beeline for the food since I was hungry again. All that chaos with the clothes wore me out. It was nice to know my appetite was returning with full force though.

"Are you just wearing a t-shirt?" an amused voice asked.

I turned to face Axel with a full plate of food. "Well amongst other things that just might rock your world?" I retorted sultrily with a slow grin.

The sense of amusement deepened in his eyes. "You are going to rock my world in more ways than I can imagine, little knight."

"Oh I don't doubt that one bit." I smirked. "How was the rest of your afternoon?"

"I took a little nap but I've got a couple more songs I thought would work for the charity gala."

"Oh? That is amazing news. I can't wait to hear them!"

"Then perhaps tonight after hours you can sneak to the music room?"

"I'll see what I can do."

"You're not roping her into breaking rules are you, cousin?" Dan cut in before Axel could say anything more on the matter.

"I get the feeling she doesn't need much encouragement when it comes to breaking minor rules." Axel sent me a sideways glance and grinned.

"Which is beside the point considering how I'm supposed to be on my best behaviour from now until we got back to the Academy." I scoffed.

"So once you're back you've got free rein?"

I balked at how far from the truth that was.

As much as I loved my family, there were too many rules to be aware of. Not to mention I wanted to do some damage control and reduce the amount of attention currently fixed on me. I definitely needed to pour some water over the flames. I'd tested my luck and stoked the flames one too many times already and it was high time I did some damage control.

The party picked up more and more as the clock ticked.

Everyone actually behaved... well they actually finally relaxed and partied like normal kids from outside the vampire community. Evidently, the guardians were cutting us a lot of slack because alcoholic drinks were definitely being passed around.

Eventually, things got just a little bit too hot and rowdy for comfort so I stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the beach. I took a deep breath of the salty sea air and felt my muscles gradually unwind.

The tension slowly seeped away bit by bit and I actually began to feel a bit normal and more myself.

But I should have known better than to have let my guard down.

Especially when they hadn't caught the orchestrator of yesterday's attempted kidnapping.

The first thing I felt was confusion.

When I cause sight of what looked like Ingrid's show I was confused.

Then I thought maybe she'd gone for a stroll. I couldn't see her other shoe which was more than unnatural. Adding to that, I thought about how Ingrid would never walk off without having let us know and she would almost certainly not wander off on her own. Ingrid was the type who felt more comfortable with another person's presence.

Besides, who the heck would only take off one shoe and not the other on a sandy beach stroll?

Certainly not Ingrid.