Chapter 3

The moment Sylvia’s driver picked us up from the airport, I was determined to soak everything in.

We drove through a bustling city, where the buildings were towers plucked from story books, so high that they kissed the clouds that surrounded them. People walked on pristine sidewalks free of cracks or holes, most with briefcases or cellphones pressed to their ears.

Traffic thickened and thinned, becoming smoother when the two lanes we drove down opened up into four. It was at this point the trees began to multiply into densely packed forests, and the magnificent buildings grew scarce. During the drive I snagged Elijah’s phone and looked at the first map I could get my hands on.

The Nightfall pack was named for the starry sky that overlooked the bowl-shaped valley it rested in, and was known for its Redwood trees, which stood taller than any other in the world.

We drifted into a town where the buildings looked shiny and new. There were plenty of expensive looking boutiques, restaurants, and little cafes. Workers climbed ladders to hang wreaths wrapped with ribbon on the light posts spaced every twenty feet. We hit a rough patch of traffic and slowed as we neared a crosswalk full of people.

I leaned forward, positioning myself in between the front seats when I caught a glimpse of the small crowd crossing the road. Most had backpacks sagging with books, or purses clutched in their hands. Sprinkled in between them were a few men and women closer to Elijah’s age.

My eyes traveled to where they were coming from, widening as I took in the castle hundreds of feet across a giant lawn. It wasn’t exactly a castle, but the hundreds of windows, gable roofs, and stone exterior, made it look like something plucked right out of a fantasy novel. Shaped like a giant ‘U,’ it wrapped around a courtyard sprawling with pathways, benches, and flower speckled bushes.

“Darkling University.” The driver said, his unidentifiable accent thick as he tipped his head in the direction of the castle. “The best in the country. The families here in town spend many years training their children for Darkling. Everyone else pays an arm and a leg to get in—even the humans.”

There was this odd sensation in my stomach as I watched a group of girls exit through an ancient wooden door, their heels clicking against the cobblestone as they walked one of the many winding paths. The one at the lead, whose hair cascaded down her back in caramel waves, nudged another with her elbow. I couldn’t make out what was said, but it had both girls erupting in laughter.

The crossing guard, who was a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair, openly gawked at the trickle of young women dressed in plaid skirts and crisp blazers. He waved a few cars forwards until ours scooted up to the bold white line.

As the group of she-wolves I’d been staring at crossed, I was able to make out more of their features. The one with the caramel waves, who also had the longest legs I’d ever seen, was clearly the head of the group. The one by her side whose ribcage she nudged with her elbow, was second-in-command.

As though she could feel a set of probing eyes on her face, the girl at the lead turned her head and stared straight through the windshield of our car. I sucked in a harsh breath and turned my head, but the feel of her eyes remained on my face until the crossing guard waved us forwards and we drove out of sight.

As Sylvia’s driver spoke of the little boutiques and luxury restaurants that served as the crowned jewels of Darkling Street, I stared out the window and let the vibrant colors and coolness of the glass lull my anxious mind. We followed the road, which served as one of the arteries leading to the heart of town and slowed as we approached an intersection.

To our left and right sat gated communities with large wrought iron fences. Positioned out front where everyone on the main road could see, were signs with elegant cursive giving names to the pristine cul-de-sacs. The houses in each were shrouded by the bushy trees that served as the first line of defense, but I could make out a few private swimming pools and what looked to be a golf course.

Hidden Hills was the name of the neighborhood Sylvia lived in. We pulled up to a guard shack, where the lanky man inside slid open the glass window to peer at Sylvia’s driver before waving him forward.

In the background I could hear Elijah talking, but I couldn’t tear my attention away from the houses—if that’s what they were even called. I’d read about countless mansions, sprawling estates, and decrepit castles, but seeing one in person was a different experience entirely.

There was a thread of sadness within the tapestry of excitement and hope I’d spent the last week weaving. The people here lived in luxury, drowning in money and riches most of the world would never see. I couldn’t imagine having so much while others had so little. There was something about it that didn’t sit right with me, but I also wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The soothing hum of lawnmowers filled the air, still out even though back home the snow would soon be starting. The scent of freshly cut grass mingled with the sweetness of flowers, from the gardeners who were pruning the rose bushes around the driveway.

The outside of the house was made of various tan brick, with arched windows that took up most of the walls. Four columns lead to a set of double doors, with hazy glass that gave just a glimpse inside. Attached to the side was a four-car garage, sparkly and new.

I held back an eager giggle when I heard someone jump into a swimming pool. The subtle scent of chlorine hung in the air, giving me this hopeful optimism that tickled my insides.

“What do you think?” Elijah murmured, a smile twitching on his face even though he kept his voice low.

“This place is beautiful. It’s so warm here, and all of the flowers--” I grinned, eyeing the windows that covered the house head to toe. “Can you imagine how much natural sunlight this place gets?”

Natural light, it was the one and only thing I couldn’t live without. I needed it more than I needed working the bar, which I’d have to find a substitution for eventually. There was something about the harsh fluorescent lights that made me feel trapped—claustrophobic.

Elijah steered me away from the car, laughing as I almost barreled into a middle-aged man wearing a dark colored suit. His salt and pepper hair was cropped short, combed over his head. I had opened my mouth in surprise and protest when he began pulling our bags from the trunk, not realizing he worked for Sylvia.

“You didn’t mention she was rich.” I glanced up at Elijah.

“The Nightfall pack’s been around a long time. A lot of the families in town come from old money, so you’ll notice they’ve been raised a certain way.” He said with a kind smile, but his tone held a note of warning. “Slyvia’s always wanted a daughter, but I think you’ll find her a bit different than the mothers in your books. She’s not the most sensitive at times, but I promise you she means well.”

I couldn’t let him see my hesitation. Not when that sparkle of happiness danced in his eyes, and certainly not with that smile plastered onto his face. I smothered those negative emotions, bottling them deep as I always had, and glanced at the front doors.

“Can we go inside?” I asked, matching his grin with one of my own.

I was open-mouthed by the exterior of the house but was rendered speechless as we walked inside. Another older gentleman in a dark colored suit opened the door for us, escorting us into the foyer.

As the soles of my beat-up sneakers tapped against the spotless floors, I tilted my head upwards to stare at the massive light fixture hanging from the ceiling. The chandelier was dotted with thousands of obsidian-colored crystals, cascading down a golden frame that was twisted and molded to look like branches. A wide, curved staircase sat a few feet away, revealing a glimpse of the second floor.

“Madam had a suite furnished for you. If you please, I can escort you there.” The older gentleman met my eyes unflinchingly, never once glancing at the thick scar along my neck, just inches below my chin.

Elijah glanced down at his phone before giving me an encouraging smile, “Go on. Sylvia’s on her way back from a meeting, she’s just run into a bit of traffic. We’re going to have dinner together when she gets back.”

I opened my mouth, but Elijah cut me off with a knowing grin.

“Don’t even think about sneaking off to the kitchen. Sylvia’s cook is making dinner tonight, and I heard she’s amazing.”

I sighed dramatically, “I suppose I could take the day off.”

The hallways weren’t too hard to navigate, not with the golden framed paintings hung every few feet. An older man or woman posed on the canvas, their hands clasped and face stern. Sconces sat in between each painting, lighting the halls and their sharp turns. Vases of blossoming flowers released a sugary sweet scent into the air that was easy enough to follow.

A left and a right, five doors down, then stop. I was confident I could at least find my way to my bedroom, which brought me a sense of comfort. I turned to the middle-aged man who had so kindly escorted me all this way and smiled.

“Thank you, uh—”

“Horace.” He nodded, his voice like gritty sandpaper. Still meeting my eyes, he smiled. “You’re welcome, miss. Madam hopes the décor is up to your standards, she picked everything herself. Dinner will be announced shortly after she arrives.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll love it.” I replied genuinely, my eyed widening as I opened the door and stepped inside.

I swore I heard Horace chuckle under his breath as he walked away, leaving me to my own devices.

The suite itself was incredible and was a kitchen short of being a small apartment. I threw my purse onto the small leather sofa, which sat in front of a white brick fireplace, and let my eyes absorb the plethora of color and fabric around me.

‘You can definitely tell she wanted a daughter.’ I hushed my wolf’s snarky comment, even though no one could hear.

The pink curtains that were cinched back from the arched windows with golden pins, were sheer and ruffled. They matched the decorative pillows that were scattered along the bed, couch, and various armchairs. The shag carpet in the small living area was pure white, matching the crisp sheets that lined the canopied bed. The pink comforter was the softest material I had ever felt and followed the pastel theme that Sylvia had been going for.

I squealed when I opened a set of double doors, revealing a bathroom I knew I could spend the rest of my life in. Long showers and baths were something I had indulged in since I were a kid. There was something about the warm water and sweet-smelling bubbles that gave me laser focus, making it all too easy to lose myself in a book.

My suitcases and boxes were brought up a few minutes later, and I set to unpacking everything. I realized how little I actually had when I placed my five favorite books on the nightstand beside the bed, stuffed my clothes in the gilded dresser, and turned to find myself with nothing left to do.

Elijah always joked that I got into the most trouble when I was bored, which is exactly what I tried not to think about as I slipped from the bedroom and wandered down the hall.

‘He can’t really expect us to sit still. Not when we’re in a mansion that needs exploring.’ Lacey said, ever the bad influence.

Once I found the curved staircase that led to the foyer, it was all too easy to make my way to the kitchens. I passed a wide entryway that led into a large dining room. Two bronze chandeliers, positioned above a long table, bathed the room in a warm glow.

It was through a set of swinging double doors, the same kind you’d find in a restaurant, that I found the kitchens. I let out a sound of excitement as I eyed the open pantry, stacked ovens, and prep tables full of appliances begging to be used.

I homed in on the hearty scent of meat and spices and spotted a covered pot boiling away on the stove. Now that I was here, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. The sound of something crinkling startled me, and I jumped back from where I stood against the prep tables.

Past the pantry’s open doors was a kid, his eyes locked on my own. A mop of curly brown hair sat on his head, the ends twisting in front of his hazel eyes. I had been so eager to use everything in the kitchen that I had scanned passed the pantry without looking any further. The kid in question stared at me with confused eyes, and if it weren’t for the cookie in his mouth, I’m sure he would’ve started off by asking who I was.

‘That’s the look of someone trying not to get caught.’ Lacey snickered, forcing me to swallow my laugh or else the kid would think I were crazy.

“I swear if I catch that boy in this kitchen…” The stern sound of a woman’s voice floated through the kitchen doors. She huffed and muttered, “…tells me to stop giving him cookies. I’m not the one giving them to him!”

“Go. I’ll cover for you.” I whispered, nodding towards a single door, one that was probably used by Sylvia’s house staff.

Wiping the chocolate off his mouth with the back of his hand, he gave me a messy grin and darted out of sight. The woman who had been muttering to herself came through the main doors just seconds later, her head bent low as she fumbled with the strings on her apron.

“I can help you with that, if you’d like.” I offered, feeling bad when she yelped and placed a hand against her chest.

“You just about scared me to death.” She sighed and brushed back the grey strands of hair that had fallen from her bun. Her expression was soft, but I could hear her backbone in the way she talked. She reminded me of Twyla, using her words as weapons. “You’re Violet, Elijah’s daughter.”

“That’s me.” I nodded, only a little red in the face.

No one had ever called me Elijah’s daughter before, only the kid he had taken in.

Since the woman was a good foot shorter than me, her eyes skimmed past the scar on my neck, while also taking in the one along my shoulder. I didn’t stiffen or react, but instead waited until she drew her own conclusions.

“It’s nice to meet you. You can call me Norma.” I held in my relief when she gave me a quick smile. “You see a little boy run up in here? About this high…” She raised her hand to shoulder height, “…probably had a mouthful of cookies.”

I shook my head, confusion playing across my face. “There was no one in here when I came in.” 

Norma paused and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you start coverin’ for that kid. Last thing he needs is another person in on his schemes. Already got that brother of his cleaning up his messes.” She snapped her lips shut like she had said too much and glanced down at the watch on her wrist. “Go on to the dining hall now, they should be coming down any minute.”

On cue I heard the rich and woodsy sound of Elijah’s laughter, followed by a feminine giggle.

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