"What are you eating?" a shrill voice demanded.
Adeline cringed, her eardrums nearly shattering from the unpleasant noise. It resembled nails on a blackboard tone froze her fingers. She had barely taken a third bite when the plate disappeared from her grasp.
"You're supposed to be on a diet, Adeline," Aunt Eleanor scolded.
Aunt Eleanor had worked so hard to get the young woman into the dress. It would only take a few mouthfuls of food for the corset to burst and the clips to open! How embarrassing would that be?
In a ballroom of women with hourglass figures and thin, yet elegant bodies, Adeline stood out like a sore thumb. In Aunt Eleanor's eyes, Adeline should not be eating. At all. For the next few weeks. A woman should eat no more than what a bird consumed.
"Goodness, look at your belly, it's protruding like your lips. What did I say about pouting like this?" Aunt Eleanor nagged on.
Aunt Eleanor placed a hand on Adeline's shoulder and another behind her back to straighten the young woman's spine.
"Stand up taller," Aunt Eleanor ordered. "It's because you're behaving like this that no man has danced with you."
Adeline stiffened. "Auntie, what are you talking about? I was just—"
"Viscountess Eleanor, surely Adeline can let herself go for one night? She has already begun eating the tart. It is impolite to not finish her plate," Asher immediately came to her rescue.
Asher had witnessed how swiftly sunshine could become a storm. Especially with her glum stare and lowered shoulders.
"Absolutely not. Adeline has eaten enough bites for the night," Aunt Eleanor asserted. It was her duty to marry Adeline off. But if Eleanor couldn't control something as simple as an appetite, how else was she going to control the rebellious woman?
Adeline was still confused. "Auntie, what did you mean when you said I wasn't dancing—"
"Adeline," Asher interrupted. "Aunt Eleanor is right," he agreed slowly, almost convinced of the same thing.
In an instant, her face fell, her happiness gone. "But—"
"It seems the ball is coming to an end," Aunt Eleanor exasperated. She released a loud, disappointed sigh. "Yet another wasted dress. What's the point of dolling you up if no one dances with you?"
Adeline was absolutely floored. What exactly was going on?! She was dancing with someone! For quite a long time, too. Her foot was hurting from that dance. He was slow, but rough with her, pulling and molding her to the way he wanted. Everyone should have witnessed that.
"Oh, nevermind!" Aunt Eleanor huffed. She waved her hand, as if shooing away a pet. "Servant, bring her to the car and make sure she doesn't wander off. I will be out soon."
Asher's expression darkened at the title. Servant. For Adeline's sake, he kept his mouth shut. Pivoting on his heels, he nodded in her direction.
"Come, Princess," Asher seethed.
Adeline noticed his taut shoulders, they were firmer than usual. His hands were curled into fists two shades lighter than his tanned skin. He was furious and her heart raced with fear. Not because of him.
"Alright," Adeline whispered, her voice a ghost of an echo. He didn't hear her.
Adeline walked off with Asher directly alongside her. The whole time, she kept her head low and hands tucked. She did not wish to give Aunt Eleanor another excuse to lecture her. Surely, she would receive a harsh slap on the mouth for eating.
The hallways resonated with high heeled shoes and polished leather. There was a low hum in the background. Whilst Adeline strode past, the whispers grew louder. Albeit only for a select few, with keen eyes that had seen beyond the facade.
- - - - -
"Asher," Adeline shakily murmured his name. It almost sounded forbidden on her tongue, although she had called it many times as a kid. However, her memories were distorted now, for years had passed since then.
"Y-you saw me dancing with that man, right?" Adeline questioned.
Adeline was standing beside the sleek black car that had brought her to the ball. It was a large van, similar to the ones high-class Hybrid celebrities drove in.
The most popular actors and actresses were Vampires. It would explain why they were so stunning and beautiful. Humans could never compare to them.
A hundred human celebrities did not equate to a single hair on the head of the dazzling Vampires. Who would dare to outshine the superior species?
"Are you cold?" Asher asked, concern lacing his warm, adoring voice.
The moon stalked over them, casting a pale light upon her creamy white skin. He saw the goosebumps speckled across her collarbone, the valley of her chest, and her thin, slender arms.
"You're too delicate to be wearing just a dress in the middle of winter," Asher added on. He slipped off his black suit-jacket.
"What was Viscountess Eleanor thinking when she didn't give you a shawl?" Asher huffed.
With ease, Asher slid the jacket over her trembling shoulders and tried not to smile. She looked like a child wearing her father's clothes. It was adorable.
Asher could not take his eyes off of her. Usually, he couldn't anyway, but seeing her in his jacket was an entirely different story. Carefully, he buttoned up the suit, so that she would be properly covered.
Adeline stiffened and looked down at his jacket. She parted her mouth to speak, but he didn't want her to say anymore,
"I apologize for calling you Princess back there," Asher stated, his voice becoming more serious and sincere. "I was a bit irritated, though I don't have the right to be."
"Why were you mad?" Adeline asked. Seeing as he did not want to answer her previous question, she decided to change the topic to more important matters. Such as his own well-being.
Witnessing him in pain also hurt her. His sadness was her melancholy.
"I wasn't angry with you."
Adeline didn't say he was.
"I was angry at myself," he declared.
Adeline couldn't help but think he was still annoyed with her. Why else would he ignore her pressing question? Despite that, he had offered his jacket to her. Did that mean his frustration had lessened?
His kind features were twisted with dissatisfaction. He exhaled deliberately and tugged on the shoulder of his jacket. He had adjusted it to conceal her neck.
With this many disgusting, blood-sucking creatures lurking around, Asher would prefer it if they didn't gawk ather like fresh meat. Many Vampires breezed past them, and every single onecast her an intrusive stare. Some sneered at her, others simply blinked.
"Forget about it," Asher gritted.
Adeline frowned. Did he have an internal argument with himself and lose? Asher was usually not this short tempered. What happened? He was more patient and welcoming than this.
His full lips were screwed into a scow, his chocolate brown eyes were as dark as bitter cacao. She wanted to compel him for more answers, but knew he would only dismiss her again.
Their dynamic was strange. It was nothing like bodyguard and master. She couldn't describe their relationship—even though he made it clear they were just friends.
"Alright," Adeline sullenly said. She didn't want to cross the line and sour his mood further. Besides, it was not like he was being rude, or anything.
Asher was in a bad mood. That was all.
Without warning, Asher thrust his hand out.
Adeline flinched and squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for a blow that never came. Her heart drummed against her ribcage, blood thundered in her ears. She sucked in a trembling breath.
Asher was not going to hit her. He never had and never will.
"I'm sorry, did I frighten you?" Asher whispered. "I just wanted to adjust the collar of the suit, so your neck would be properly covered."
Adeline unsteadily nodded her head. She intertwined her fingers together to stop them from quivering like a brittle leaf during winter. As he fixed the collar of his jacket, she caught sight of Aunt Eleanor.
Subconsciously, Adeline hugged her stomach.
Adeline watched as Aunt Eleanor exchanged words with a gentleman near the enormous doors of the castle entrance. Pillars held up a marble arch that bore an emblem of the Noble House of Highmore.
"What is it?" Asher asked. What could've captured her attention for that long?
Suddenly, a chill crawled down his spine. His head snapped around, searching for the source of evil. He could sense it, a deep, rooted hatred and bloodlust.
Who was it? And why was it directed towards naive, little Adeline?