December 25. My calendar whispered, "Merry Christmas!" It was nearly twilight and I was prepping up and getting ready for a huge Christmas party at the Holyroodhouse Palace. According to Wikipedia, Holyroodhouse Palace is theof thein Scotland. Located at the bottom of thein , at the opposite end to , it had served as the principal residence of thesince the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining. Bryle told me that it will be a star-studded night because the richest families in Europe would come.
"Be at your best and always wear the prettiest smile on earth," Bryle had told me before we parted ways yesterday. He was so sweet and he reminded me of wearing the dress and the jewelry set he bought for me in Paris. That was the time when Crissa discovered her Sentinel ability.
Slowly, as if familiarizing every inch, I slipped the soft pink strapless dress around me. Studying myself in front of the ornate mirror, I could say that Bryle had an impeccable taste. It had been two days since our cruise settled on our final destination--Scotland. That was the reason why I grabbed the opportunity to shop for limited edition bags and shoes. Carefully, I put on the elegant Prada wedges.
I made a few strokes of blush-on on my cheeks then applied eye shadows, mascara, and lip gloss. I ironed my hair until it was perfectly straight. Lastly, I stared at Bryle's gift that was summoning my attention across the boudoir. Pink diamonds glittered against the reflection of the chandelier above me. The necklace's design was appalling. Dew-shaped diamonds formed an inverted tiara with crystals filling every space they created. The dangling earrings had a large pinkish diamond at the center that was very finely cut. With shaky hands, I touched the surface of the diamond ring and was surprised of its smoothness. Slowly, I slipped it in my finger and practically gawked at the brilliance it emanated. Likewise, I fastened the necklace and the earrings. To wrap everything up, I clipped a small crystal clamp at the back of my head to hold some unruly strands.
I paced around my room only to test if I was comfortable enough in my shoes. Feeling satisfied, I grabbed my LV clutch and waited for the butler to call me.
A few minutes later, several knocks were heard from outside. "Come in," I yelled.
"Miss Amy," the butler curtsied before continuing. "Sir Bryle said he would be waiting for you at the lobby."
"Alright." I took a final glance at my reflection then let myself be ushered by the uniformed servant.
While we were walking, a female voice stopped us short. "Excuse me. May I speak to Miss Amy for a while? Don't worry; I'll be the one to take her to Bryle."
I looked up from my phone and saw Madison standing tall in front of us. At that moment, I sensed danger. The butler turned to me with an inquiring gaze. I just nodded and smiled and he quickly understood. Half a second passed after he walked away and I hastily regretted I had signaled him to leave.
"What do you want?" I pushed my chin higher. "I'm not ready to wrestle as you can see."
""I know. And neither I." Madison rolled her eyes heavenward. "Those diamonds are pretty, by the way. But honestly, they don't suit you. Oh, let me rephrase. Diamonds don't suit monsters."
I felt one of my brows arched upward. "Tell me. Where is this conversation heading? I have no time for nonsense talks. Madison."
She stepped forward and I automatically drew back. "I figured out your secret, Ammica Clarence."
"What are you talking about?" Annoyance dominated my nerves.
"You're a monster," she said. "I saw you empty the swimming pool the other day with just your hands. I knew from the very beginning that you're hiding something."
Panic struck my senses like a lightning bolt. I struggled to keep my face calm. "You're crazy, Madison. How could I possibly do that? Do I look like some superhero?"
"You're not a superhero." She gritted her teeth. "You're a monster. And I'm gonna tell that to everyone. For sure, Bryle will be scared. And then he will leave you."
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. "Do you really think he will believe you?"
"Of course!" she retorted.
"And why is that so?" I challenged.
"Because he loves me and he can't forget about me." Her face was red with fury. "Can't you see, Amy? He still can't get over our split and if he knew your secret, he'll surely get crawling back to me."
I laughed out loud and successfully, I could see that she got irritated. "Do you really think so? FYI, eversince this cruise began, Bryle and I had been with one another. We travelled the most romantic cities on earth and enjoyed each other's company. We confessed our love right here and there. But all of a sudden, you came out of the blues and ruined a fairytale. Why are you doing this? Are you really that desperate?"
Heat was flaring on her nostrils and flame blazed in her eyes. "I'm not desperate!" She flung her hands in the air and I quickly looked away to save my face from her rushing palm.
"Don't you dare get your hands on my girlfriend if you still want to see the dawn."
As I slowly looked up and opened my eyes, I saw Bryle gripping tightly Madison's wrist.
"Let go of me, Bryle! You're hurting me!" Madison jerked her hands away with all her might and almost stumbled backwards. Then, she faced Bryle with tearful eyes. "What did you say?"
"Yes, Madison. You heard everything right." Bryle pulled me closer and placed his hand over the curve of my waist. "Amy's my girlfriend." He caught me by surprise when he kissed my left cheek then stared at me with such passion in his eyes. "Is there something wrong with that?"
"You, don't know what you're saying, Bryle." Madison clenched her fists. "This girl is a monster! She's a supernatural creature. She drained the whole swimming pool. I saw everything. Now tell me. Can you still call her your--your girlfriend?"
There was a short pause then Bryle bursted out laughing. "If Amy's a monster, she'd probably be the most beautiful monster in town. And I would love her no matter what. Monster or not."
"You're unbelievable." Squinting her eyes, Madison hissed as she tried to make her breathing even. "How can you drool over this--this bitch?!"
Bryle grew serious as his hold around me became tighter. "Another foul word for my girlfriend and I'm gonna wreck your neck."
"Argh! Damn you both!" Madison turned around ran through the halls like a banshee.
As Madison's shadow disappears, Bryle's kiss still lingered on my cheek. I turned to him as his hold around me loosened. "Um, what was that all about?"
"What?" He shrugged. "The butler told me you were with a blond girl so I assumed it was Madison and I decided to come to your rescue."
"No, not that," I said. "When you told Madison that I'm your girlfriend, um, what do you mean by that?"
He turned his face opposite to my gaze and started walking. "Why? Aren't you?"
Honestly, I didn't know what to say. The cat swallowed the canister would be a perfect idiom to describe me at that moment. God, what am I suppose to reply?
Sensing my reluctance, Bryle said, "Okay I'm sorry about the kiss and the embrace. I apologize if I surprised you or made you uncomfortable. But please tell me, what do you think about me? About us? We keep on telling each other we love each other. We're happy about everything and enjoy similar things, opinions and feelings. So Amy " He faced me. "Why can't we be together? I mean, why do I always get the feeling that you're hesitating every time? I know I haven't asked you about this butI feel that you don't want to be with me as--as my girlfriend." Sadness was apparent in his eyes. "Partly, I know it's my fault. I always lack the courage to ask you. Amy, you haven't answered me. Why can't we betogether?"
"Because " I grabbed his hands. "We're too young. We're not yet ready. Well, I am not yet ready. I love you but I'm sure it would hurt my parents if I act like I don't need them anymore. Certainly, your parents would also feel that way and we can never blame them. Besides, you always say that we are still keeping secrets from each other. A good relationship isn't just about love, Bryle. It's also about trust and loyalty. And for now, we're still working on those two things especially trust. Don't worry, Bryle, as long as we're happy together, nothing else matters. The perfect time will come for us to take another step. But for now, all we need to do is to wait until we're both ready to share all our personal secrets. Maybe, when that time comes, I would never be reluctant to give you all the joys you could possibly wish."
Bryle smiled. "You're the smartest girl I've ever known. Please know that seeing you alone makes every day of my existence complete." He touched my cheek with the back of his palms. "Don't get me wrong. I don't want to insist something we're not yet ready for. I promise you, I'll wait. And someday, I won't be such a pathetic and coward junk who keeps his stupid secrets from the most special girl in his life." He paused then assessed me for a while. "Anyway, you look ravishing."
As expected, redness dominated my complexion and I had to look away. "Thank you. But I think it's just the dress and the jewelries you gave me. Without them, I think I wouldn't be a bit attractive."
Bryle chuckled throatily. "You always say that. You always deny every compliment I tell you after thanking me. Actually, you're driving me crazy."
I laughed. "And seemingly, I quite enjoy doing that."
"You're mean." He pinched my cheeks before we raced to the waiting Cadillac outside the lobby.
The Great Stair in the south-west corner of the quadrangle of the Holyroodhouse Palace has a 17th-century Baroque ceiling featuring plaster angels holding the . The Italian paintings on the walls are fragments ofpainted1550 by , illustrating scenes from 's . They were bought by Prince Albert in 1856, and placed there in 1881. At the top of the stair is the Royal Dining Room, formerly part of the Queen's apartments. Thedecoration dates from around 1800, when it was part of the Duke of Hamilton's apartment.
Bryle and I entered the royal entourage hand in hand. As usual, he was very striking in a black suit and a straight black satin tie. Pardon me for describing my prince charming this late. It was just during that time that I had the opportunity to take a look at himOkay, enough of the fantasies. So we entered the Inner Court which was full of flamboyant decorations and obviously wealthy individuals.
"Merry Christmas, Amy," Bryle told me after the guards checked and double-checked our invitations.
"Merry Christmas." I fumbled for a small box inside my clutch. "Here, open this."
Bryle accepted my present and slowly untied the ribbon and opened the box. It revealed to him a black wristwatch I bought last week. "Wow, Amy! Thanks a lot!"
"You're welcome." I held the straps and fastened them carefully around his wrist. "This is Dad's favorite brand and I knew boys are really obsessed with their wristwatches. When I found this, I assumed you would like it."
"And you weren't wrong." He studied the item with a flattering expression then looked at me. "I love it."
"I'm so glad to hear that " Just before I could say something more, the sound of trumpets snatched the attention of everyone around the quadrangle.
"Please all rise to honor the presence of the Strauss family," the host announced behind the microphone.
"Who are they?" I whispered to Bryle.
"They are the wealthiest and most powerful family in Europe," he replied. "A long line of monarchs came from them. They own three palaces in France, five in Russia, while the other three are scattered in Germany, Norway and England."
"Amazing!" I gasped as I watched each one of them parade along the aisle.
Five kids led the whole family. A pretty girl in cream had a perfect pale blond hair. Pearls complemented her young skin very well. Her attractive eyes were pale blue--very European. Her beige shoes reflected grandeur and elegance.
"That kid in apricot is Ciji Strauss," Bryle said. "Beside her is her twin sister, Sena. But like your sisters, they don't look like one another at all"
I could see Bryle's point. I glanced at the equally beautiful girl beside Ciji. Her hair was brownish and it suited her almost-black eyes. She wore a strapless yellow dress with earth-toned jewels along the bodice. Her strappy sandals were sparkling underneath the bright incandescence of the hanging chandelier.
"They're pretty," I said. "And who's that girl with a black hair?"
Bryle roamed his gaze and recognized the girl I was pointing at. "Ah. That's Lexi."
Lexi had a very straight jet black hair. She looked like an angel in a white ruffled dress that accentuated her young, porcelain complexion. Her brown eyes were deep and expressive while her smile gave her a very approachable aura.
Two young boys followed the three girls. At very young ages of seven, they were already very dashing. I learned that the curly blond boy with a very wide grin was Blake Strauss. Next to him was a dark-haired boy with an almost expressionless face named Scott. When greeted by several guests, he just nodded and smiled faintly.
"That's a common quality among aristocrats," Bryle had told me when I verbalized my observations.
Two stunning ladies came in next. They were both fair-haired and pale-complexioned. "Who are they?" I asked while my gaze was still fixed on their attractive dresses and jewelry.
"The one in blue is Sasha Strauss while the one in green is her cousin, Molly," Bryle replied. "They are both models."
Sasha was an embodiment of a Barbie doll with a straight blond hair and full bangs. Her tube-topped dress had a heart-shaped neckline which emphasized her well-defined collarbones. She looked so sweet and gentle that I quickly long to get to know her.
Beside her strutted Molly with her chignon and jades. Her defiant jaws were stressed by the off-shoulder design of her dress. Her lean figure kept everyone staring as she flaunted it in a see-through bodice. She definitely looked more matured and liberated than her cousin but both of them possessed a radiant elegance.
Just before I thought the Strauss parade was over, I noticed the ladies around me and on the other side of the hall crane their necks and take several steps to the center. I suddenly remembered the first time I saw Bryle's family in Beverly Hills. The only difference was that the ladies back then were screaming their throats out while the girls in the palace were very discreet in showing their clandestine admirations.
"Who's coming?" I asked Bryle who was then looking very bored and uneasy.
"The men of the Strauss family," he replied. "They are known to be the most eligible bachelors in Europe but they also boast the title of being Casanova playboys and heartbreakers."
"Oh I see. Seems like you got similar titles," I teased.
"Good-looking maybe, but I'm not a playboy." Bryle smirked.
"Don't be self-righteous," I said. "You're a ruthless heartbreaker. In fact, they say you're a good-kisser. How could they possibly know that if you haven't practiced you skill on them?"
Bryle moved in front of me in a swift and sinuous motion and his height immediately intimidated me. "Don't make me prove that, Miss Clarence." His voice was husky and again, my heart skipped a beat.
I swallowed. "If you don't want me to get a heart attack, you better stop doing that."
Chuckling, he stepped aside to give me a clear view of what's happening. Five men towered everyone as they passed. They were not just good-looking. They were heart-stopping male species that could obstruct the earth's rotation with a glance.
Leading the cavalry of modern knights was Ario Strauss. His dark hair was wild and unruly and it gave him an appearance of a ruggedly handsome prince. According to Bryle, he played football for Real Madrid for a season then accepted endorsement offers of several sport brands. He's really a stunner and a lot of girls surely fantasize being with him.
Next to him was Chase Strauss. His name might give you a wrong impression because according to Bryle, he never chased a girl. Girls are the ones chasing him. He wore an endearing smile and anyone who looked straight into his green eyes will surely be enchanted.
Zebedy Strauss moved gracefully next in line. People call him Zev for short. He was wearing a white suit and his blond hair brought a fairytale's prince charming to life. Certainly, a lot are dreaming to be his Aurora.
The penultimate man of the Christmas evening was Nathaniel Strauss or simply Nate. His auburn hair and beautifully-chiseled facial contours and muscles made girls gawk. His smoldering gray eyes sent waves of chills inside the whole palace. His mere presence was just so fascinating
"Ahem!" Bryle noisily cleared his throat.
"What?" I faced him.
"You're making me jealous." He inserted his hands in his trouser's pockets and twitched his mouth in a lethal smirk.
"Huh? What did I do?" I asked innocently.
"You were staring and ogling at them," he pointed out.
"Oh really?" I laughed and touched my lips. "Don't take it personally. They're eye-catchers, we can't do anything."
"But they're playboys," he whispered smugly.
"You're so bitter!" I taunted playfully. "Okay, just tell me who that last guy is."
He made a sound of disgust before answering. "That is Theo Strauss. He's a genius. His intelligence is impeccable. Added with good looks and that black hair, he had the power to make every girl fall in love. So be careful. Well, he's also a musician but I think I'm way better."
I giggled. "Really quite jealous, aren't you?"
"Uh-huh." He held the small of my back and compelled me to face him. "Don't make me more jealous if you don't want to regret in the end."
"Um, excuse me Mr. Warbaux but I need to talk to Ms. Clarence for a short while." A girl almost as tall as me with a long blond hair entered in the middle of my conversation with Bryle.
With much hesitation in his expression, Bryle obliged. "Oh. Um, sure," he said.
I smiled before I let the mysterious girl lead me to the balcony. As I assessed her, I could see that she was very attractive. She had large lime green eyes and an angelic face. When we finally stopped, she looked at me with such familiarity.
"Um, who are you? Have I met you before?" I asked.
"I'm Shawie, for heaven's sake." She rolled her eyes.
"ErPardon. What did you say?" I looked at her with such confusion.
She stared beck with an exhausted expression. "I'm Shawie the cat! Meow!! Oh gosh Diamond Sentinel. Do you still need proof? Okay, look at my eyes and look at this jewel I always fastened on my forehead." There was an awkward pause. "What? Aren't you still satisfied? Okay, I met you and Crissa in Paris when Crissa discovered her ability as a head-turner and attention-catcher. Recently, you discovered your Sentinel ability which turned out to be elemental and--"
"Okay, shut up. I believe you now," I said. "Wait, why are youHow did you "
"Turned out that the cat spell had an expiration date." Her eyes twinkled. "Lord Zeus told me that a day after the Diamond Sentinel discovered her ability, I could go back to my body as a goddess. Oh God, I miss this awesome body so much!"
"I see. So why did you bring me here?"
"Sorry to interrupt the sweetest scenario on earth but I need you to know that we need the Strauss family to help us capture Hades," she replied.
"What?" Oh dear God, I can't comprehend what's happening
"You really don't know anything, do you?" When I shook my head, she sighed. "Okay, let me start with this. The Strauss family is a special family. They're not Sentinels but they're gifted with Sentinel abilities. Ciji is gifted with poison generation. Sena has sonic scream. Lexi can manipulate the probability of things. Blake is a wall-crawler--a modern Spiderman.Scott can manipulate time as well as time travel. Theo is gifted with omniscience. Sasha can disintegrate herself and the objects around her. Nate has a reality warping technique while Ario is gifted with vortex breath and summoning. Chase has ecological empathy. Molly has density control and Zev possesses both the abilities of omnipresence and teleportation."
I nodded. "A family with amazing abilitiesbut are not Sentinels. So why would we need them?"
"We need them as baits and temporary alliances," Shawie replied. "Hades' radar won't detect them because they're not Sentinels and they don't have the sun-shaped scars. We can use them as spies. Their abilities can also be a huge aid for all of us."
My brows met both in understanding and perplexity. "So what do I need to do?"
"You must be the one to talk to them to join our league. You're the Diamond Sentinel anyway." Shawie's gaze was penetrating. "An entire era had passed when the Strauss family refused to help the Sentinels and get involved in protecting the myth link. It had been a sad story of unfaithfulness. Zeus was the one who gave them their abilities yet they declined to do their responsibilities. Of course, Lord Zeus couldn't punish them because they're powerful and it could just result to war. Nobody wants that to happen. This is the right time to convince them to fulfill their duty and help us end evil once and for all "
"And I will be the one to convince them. And I have no choice." I concluded.
"Exactly," Shawie said.
Of course digesting everything was as difficult as lifting the earth with a finger. A lot of question flooded my mind but I could see Shawie's point. As a temporary alliance, the presence of the Strauss family with us could guarantee safety while the other Sentinels are yet to be discovered. But what really bothered me was the way I could possibly persuade them to join us.