Gideon by Nicole Riddley - GALATEA (2024)

GIDEON ARCHER

“Lord Archer!” I turn at the sound of my name.

Alistair Pembroke faces me, looking flushed and probably a little drunk.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he says like he’s trying to be cute. Or maybe just a prick.

Alistair is a social climber and a billionaire. He wants desperately to be my friend to get closer to the royal family. He’d sh*t his pants if he knew the crown prince was here in California.

He takes my hand and pounds me on the back while we shake, like we’re old pals. I can’t stand guys like him.

“Ms. Helen Aristophanes,” he says to my date, “the pleasure is mine.”

The f*cked-up part is I know he’s had sex with her. More than once. While she was mine.

“Mr. Pembroke.” Helen gives him one of her sultry and seductive smiles, offering him her hand. He scans her body and lifts her hand to his lips.

“So what brings the legendary Lord Archer here tonight?” he asks, holding her hand for way too long. “I never expected to see you among humans.” He finally lets her go.

I dig my hands into my pockets and glance around at the party. Let him wait for my response. The gala is in full swing; champagne, live music, men in thousand-dollar suits and women in designer dresses. The place is crawling with humans.

I’ve counted two other lycans here tonight. Pembroke probably brought them himself, part of his security detail. Possibly friends of his.

“I’m here the same reason we all are,” I say, “to support the charity.”

“Of course,” he says, sounding a little disappointed.

“There you are!” A woman sidles up next to Pembroke. “Alistair, honey, aren’t you going to introduce us?” She plants her eyes squarely on mine.

“Lord Archer, let me introduce you to my beautiful date, Ms. Juana Vega. Juana, this is Lord Archer and his stunning date, Ms. Helen Aristophanes.”

“His stunning partner,” Helen corrects him. She curls her fingers around my arm.

“Oh my, you’re Lord Archer,” Juana breaths. Her eyes brighten. She looks to Alistair. “You never told me you knew Lord Archer.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Vega.” I shake her hand.

She looks starstruck. She gushes, “The pleasure is all mine!”

Helen’s hand tightens around my biceps. Reflexively, I shake her off. She gasps, clearly upset by my flinching away, before storming off.

“If you’ll excuse me,” I say to Pembroke and Juana, following Helen into the house.

I made her my companion nearly five years ago, no promises about the future. She was entertaining back then. But even then I made it very clear that, if I ever found my erasthai, our relationship would be over. No bad feelings.

It’s not like we’ve even been all that close these last five years. She’s often away for months. Once, for nearly a year! She says she likes to spend time in Mykonos, where her parents live. I doubt that, but I don’t ask her where she goes and she doesn’t ask me where I go. That part of the relationship has always worked well.

She’s so irritating now. I can’t remember when exactly she stopped being entertaining but it was a long time ago. Perhaps our time together is close to ending. I’m not sure how many more outbursts like this one I can tolerate.

The last straw came recently, when she started getting flirty with the crown prince. I take my job very seriously. Messing with my job is the one thing I won’t tolerate. The crown prince is happily paired and that’s not going to end on my account.

My official job title is “Emissary to the King of Lycans and Werewolves,” but the king jokingly calls me his message delivery boy.

I call myself his most trusted message delivery boy.

I travel all over the world. Sometimes I’m a negotiator, sometimes I’m just given a command.

But even my extensive experience in diplomacy won’t help me diffuse the bomb that is Helen tonight.

Maybe I can sweeten her up with an expensive gift. She loves expensive gifts. That usually does the trick. Helen is rather superficial.

“Helen, please don’t cause a scene,” I urge, shuffling past some wait staff.

She turns to look at me and rolls her eyes, stomping upstairs.

I follow her to the end of a corridor and into a bedroom. I try to stay focussed on her, but an intoxicating scent fills my nostrils, sending me into a frenzy. It’s coming from the far corner of the room, by the bed.

“A–alright Helen, w–what do you want? A tennis bracelet? Shopping spree on Rodeo Drive?” I can barely stutter the words, the room is spinning.

She glares at me, then turns her head away, feigning dissatisfaction. It’s all an act.

“Fine,” she sighs. “I forgive you. Can we go home now?”

“Sure,” I say. “Give me a second to make a call. I’ll meet you in the car.”

She huffs one last time before leaving.

When I am certain that she is gone, I walk toward the scent. It leads me directly to a bag. Right on top of it is a superman bralette.

How odd.

All of a sudden I hear a buzzing noise from behind me. It’s coming from the closet.

I walk slowly toward it.

I can smell the scent here too.

Whose room is this? I ask myself as my hand reaches to open the closet door.

LAYLA

It’s not easy to get access to Los Angeles’s rich and famous, but tonight I will get a glimpse of their world. Rumor has it, the gala will be attended by a few British lords.

Dressed in our usual maids uniforms, Sarah and I wait by the service entrance at the back of a Hollywood Hills mansion.

“What were your names again?” the bouncer asks, consulting his list.

My heart races. This is not the sort of thing I usually do, but Sarah has roped me into her plans. I am relieved by the distraction. I need a break from the werewolf world, where I am constantly pestered about finding a mate. Tonight will be just about fun. I can forget about my world and pretend like I belong in this one.

Sick of being a cleaner, Sarah wants to marry rich. She thinks tonight’s gala is the perfect opportunity to meet her match.

“We’re replacing Judie and Laura,” Sarah replies. “They got sick at the last minute.”

I have no idea how she knows all this. She concocted the plan after hearing about this event at one of her maid postings. The things you overhear while working for the rich and famous can be quite useful.

“What’s in those bags?” the bouncer asks, glancing at our rucksacks.

“Cleaning supplies,” Sarah lies.

She had told me to stay quiet, that she would do all the talking, mostly because she knows I am a terrible liar and would blow our cover. The bags actually contain a change of clothes for the gala, so that we can blend right in.

The bouncer ushers us through the doors and directs us toward the staff changing rooms. He eyes us both apprehensively before returning to his post.

“Do you think he’s onto us?” I ask.

“Who cares,” Sarah waves me off. “We’re in now and that’s all that matters.”

“Should we get changed here?”

Sarah scans the room, strewn with other people’s things, staff members already working the party.

“No.” She shakes her head. “Let’s find somewhere a little more fitting for our alter egos.”

She grabs me by the arm and pulls me down the hall. I follow her till we reach a staircase.

“What are you two doing?” a stern voice asks from behind us.

When we turn around there is a tall woman dressed in all black, with dark hair slicked back into a tight bun. Her long limbs make her look like a praying mantis.

“Going upstairs,” Sarah answers without missing a beat. Her confidence is unwavering.

“Good.” The woman purses her lips. “The upstairs bathrooms are in desperate need of a touch up. Remember, only the most important guests are allowed upstairs, so make sure to give them that extra touch.”

“We have some special supplies right here,” I find myself saying, pointing to the bag on my shoulder. “They’re jasmine scented.”

“Excellent.” She nods, satisfied by my response. “Off you go then.”

That felt so unlike myself. I am actually enjoying playing pretend.

Before the woman can change her mind, Sarah and I rush upstairs.

The house is magnificent. The upstairs is silent, void of life. Our footsteps echo off the marble floor.

“Woah.” Sarah gazes out the window overlooking the back of the house. Below, the party is in full swing. Immaculately dressed people mingle, overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. The city twinkles in the distance like a cluster of stars.

“Our husbands are down there somewhere,” she announces, winking at me.

I look down, overwhelmed by the options.

We keep walking to the far end of the floor. We need to find a room no one will go into.

Finally, we settle for a large door at the end of the hall. On the other side of it is a large bedroom. The bed is perfectly made, with crisp white sheets. I almost want to crawl into it and fall asleep.

I shut the curtains before unpacking my bag. I have not yet looked at tonight’s dress. I entrusted Sarah to choose one for me. We borrowed them from her cousin, who worked at a fashion magazine. We have to return them first thing tomorrow morning, intact.

I pull out the garment bag and unzip it, the bright red material falling out. It is a delicate and silky floor-length gown.

Sliding into the dress carefully, I am thankful that it fits me just right. When I turn around to inspect my reflection in the mirror, I notice the dress is backless, revealing my superman bralette.

Sarah snorts when she spots it.

“What?” I say. “It’s a set.”

I flash her the matching underwear.

“You better take that bralette off right now.”

“Fine.” I toss it onto my bag. “What do we do with our stuff?”

“Let’s leave them here. Doubt anyone will be coming all the way here.”

Sarah fluffs my hair and adds some red lipstick to match my gown.

I hear a noise behind the door.

“What was that?”

“Probably nothing,” Sarah dismisses.

Another step, only now it’s closer.

“No seriously.” I push her hand off. “Did you hear that?”

The footsteps get closer. There seems to be two sets of them now, right outside the door.

“Quick,” Sarah whispers. “Get into the walk-in closet.”

“What about our stuff?” I mutter back.

“Forget the stuff,” she hisses.

We both tumble in, barely shutting the door behind us as two people storm in.

I can feel Sarah behind me, holding her breath.

Squinting through the crack, I try to make out what’s happening, but can barely see anything.

The two people, one man and a woman, yell at one another for a while.

I try to focus on what they’re saying, but find myself distracted by an intoxicating smell.

“What’s that smell?” I whisper to Sarah.

“What smell?” Sarah mutters back.

“Can’t you smell that?” I turn to look at Sarah.

She shakes her head, confused by my crazed expression.

Great, not only am I hiding in the closet at a party I wasn’t even invited to, I am also losing my mind.

The door slams shut.

“Are they gone?” Sarah asks.

“I’m not sure,” I reply, still mesmerized by the scent. “I think there is still someone there.”

Suddenly my phone buzzes.

sh*t.

It’s a text from my boss.

Before I can look at it, I sense a tall figure approaching the closet. The scent is so strong it makes me dizzy. I have to lean on Sarah for support.

We both hold our breath, bracing for the door to swing open.

Gideon by Nicole Riddley  - GALATEA (2024)

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