Riley turned his head to frown at Aaron. “Hannah Montana? Dude, where’d you get that from?”
Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know. The ears-thing could be Disney Channel.”
Tania was standing in the centre of the living room, desperately attempting to play charades. Her blonde hair was tied back and she made wide gestures. After a few more minutes, she finally gave up. “Guys, it’s obviously Dumbo. Come on.”
Kiara clenched her teeth together and shot up from her position on the couch, chocolate brown curls billowing. “That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. We’ve played Cluedo, watched a bunch of crap old movies and now this. I can’t sit ait around here anymore.”
Riley shot up to comfort her. She couldn’t help but notice how his black t-shirt complemented his blonde hair. “We’re all a bit frustrated, but we need to stay here to be safe. It’s only for one more day.”
He’s so gentle and nice. And smart. And handsome… Stop it!
He tried to place a hand on her shoulder, but she jerked away. “What’s the point? It’s dangerous where we’re going anyway. The world needs us and we’re sitting around trying to guess Dumbo.”
Tania plopped down on the couch and crossed her arms over her chest. “In my defence, I think I explained that quite clearly.”
“Let’s not do anything impulsive. We can last one more day.” This came from Aaron, who was leaning against the door to the balcony.
Kiara sighed exasperatedly. “Fine. We’ll wait before going to Alexandria. But I’m not spending any more time cooped up in this apartment. Tonight, we’re going out.”
Kiara looked stunning.
The tall slimness of her body was emphasised by the tight fit of her long-sleeved black lace dress. She had her dark curls pinned back messily, leaving her golden face open. Riley marvelled at the way her features fit together so perfectly.
The slant of her sharp nose. Those high cheekbones. The natural downward curve of her upper lip. And those supernatural eyes of green and silver.
The entire subway ride from the apartment to the destination’d had Riley openly staring. Even now, standing in front of the nightclub’s entrance, his eyes were trained on her. She didn’t seem to mind.
Kiara had a broad grin on her face as she motioned toward the club. “Welcome to the hottest spot in the Big Apple.”
Riley looked around. They were on Tenth Avenue, across from Chelsea Park. The fluorescent sign above his head read Marquee in giant letters.
He scowled. “Aren’t we a bit young for a nightclub?”
Tania rolled her eyes dramatically. “Forget about that, Headboy. This is THE Marquee. You have to be super rich and have made a booking like a year ago to get in here.”
The blonde was wearing one of her roommate’s red cocktail dresses. It was a little too tight and a little too long, but the colour complemented her light complexion.
Kiara smiled smugly. “No, you have to do all of that. All I have to do is this…”
She approached the bouncer, a massive black man who had as much flab as he had muscle. Riley automatically followed, a protective hand resting on her upper back.
She didn’t need any protection.
Kiara simply stepped forward and said, “Dwayne. Hi. How’s it going?”
The bouncer’s face lit up when he saw her. “Kiara! Haven’t seen you around here in a while. We missed you.”
She giggled and put a casual hand on his lower arm. “I missed you guys too. You think there’s room inside for me and my friends?”
Dwayne nodded. “For you, there’s always room.”
Kiara kissed the air next to the man’s left cheek. “Thank you, Dwayne. Say hi to Andi and the kids for me, will you?”
The velvet rope was lifted and they went through the door. Tania’s mouth fell open. She looked at Aaron beside her incredulously and then turned her gaze to her best friend. “How did you do that?”
Kiara shrugged. “Before I was a Guardian, I was actually popular.”
And then they entered.
Riley was hit with a sense of awe. The place was pulsing with life like a heart on an adrenaline rush. Dance music boomed into every inch of the room, the bass sending vibrations through Riley’s bones.
Five rows of lights ran along the ceiling, expensive speakers lined the walls and a DJ occupied the leftmost corner. There were large posters and a small, light-framed stage at the opposite side of the club. Every aspect of the decoration contributed to the feel of wealth and extravagance.
Hundreds of young people were bouncing up and down on the central dance floor, losing themselves in the common mood. A giant disco ball encased in a dazzling steel contraption kept watch over all of it.
The Marquee was obviously the place to be.
Kiara had already started to sway to the rhythm, her every move mesmerising Riley. “Alright, guys, go crazy. Just no drinking. I’m also friends with the bartender, which means he knows I’m under aged. Have fun.” She winked then. This had a very strong effect on Riley’s pulse.
Tania immediately hauled Aaron into the mass of dancers, beaming like a kid in Toys ‘R Us. Kiara chuckled and turned to Riley. “The floor’s always been too crowded for me. Come on, I know somewhere a bit more private.”
She took his hand and led him up a hidden staircase, which ended in an inward balcony. The gallery bore three black leather sofas, a mini bar and a glass coffee table. It was abandoned.
Kiara grabbed two sodas from the bar, tossed one to Riley and sat down on the middle couch. He positioned himself next to her.
She sighed contentedly and flashed him a smile. “I missed New York.”
He nodded. “It looks like you had a great life before all the supernatural stuff.”
“Yeah, it does look that way and it’s nice to be back. But the truth is, everything was fake. I’m not really this person – this party girl. It’s not my personality. I didn’t even like any of my ‘friends’. Despite the lethal situations, I’m much happier now. I’ve finally found friends I can trust.”
He chortled. “That’s good to hear.”
She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I’m glad we’re getting this time to talk alone. We haven’t in a long time. You’re the person in the world I have the easiest conversations with.”
“Well, I would’ve talked politics on the boat, but…
She guffawed softly. “Shame, you were really miserable. I felt so sorry for you.”
“I can tell you; I think seasickness is worse that dying. I would do a lot of things for you, but I am not going on a boat trip ever again.”
Suddenly, a high-pitched female voice squealed through the air. “OMG! Kiara, is that you?”
Riley looked up to see a teenage girl with blue-tipped ash blonde hair, a tight peplum skirt, severely made up hazel eyes and hot pink nail polish.
Kiara got up, a clearly forced grin plastered onto her features. “Britney, hey.”
The gossip girl stepped forward. “OMG. Where did you disappear to?” They exchanged kissed and Britney continued. “Your mom said you went to like some posh boarding school or something. Is that true?”
Kiara nodded. “Yeah. Boarding school. I’m just on vacation for a few days.”
“Why would you like do that? Aren’t boarding schools like totally strict and stuff?” She gasped melodramatically. “Do you have to wear those hideous uniforms? Oh, you poor thing.”
Seeing Kiara’s irritation, Riley stepped forward and extended a hand. “Hi. I’m Riley.”
Britney’s eyelashes suddenly seemed to become sunbird’s wings. “Is this the new beau, Kiar? He’s totally gorgs. Matt is totes going to be jelling.”
He was about to shake his head, when Kiara answered, “Yeah, this is my boyfriend.”
The blue-tip blonde looked like she was undressing him in her thoughts. It made him uncomfortable. “If all the guys look like this at boarding school, sign me up.” She giggled annoyingly and Kiara pretended to join in. “Anyway, K, I should totally get back to the girls. Amazeballs to see you.” She shifted her gaze to Riley. “And meeting you.” She departed with a wink.
Riley spun to face Kiara with an amused expression on his face. “OMG! Is it just me or was that like totes an episode of Rich Kids of Beverly Hills?”
Kiara broke out laughing and punched him on the chest playfully. “Shut up. Besides, you’re the one who’s from there.”
He beamed at her happiness. He wanted her to be happy all the time. “Two questions. Who’s Matt? And why pretend we’re together?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Matt’s my ex. Complete jerk. And I just thought that saying we’re a couple would be easier than explaining the actual situation.”
He held up his index finger. “I have another theory.”
“Oh, and what is that?”
Riley felt himself grin mischievously. “I think you like it when people associate us with each other, because I’m what your heart really wants.”
He saw the truth of his statement in her eyes, even though she dismissed it. “Come on, Dr Phil, let’s dance.”
Kiara was lost in another world, a world she never wanted to leave. The music was loud and upbeat, but they had been slow-dancing for what felt like a few minutes yet simultaneously like eternity.
Riley’s arms were wrapped low around her waist and his cheek rested on the top of her head, which she was leaning against the wall of his chest. Everywhere they touched, her skin was tingling.
Her eyes were closed in serenity and she focused on the steady sound of his heartbeat. Affection and content warmed her from the inside.
And she knew that he felt the same. They didn’t need to speak to share their thoughts. It was only with Riley that she could get this feeling.
Only with Riley. See, you should be with him.
He hooked a calloused finger under her chin and made her look at him – look straight into those honey eyes. She gulped.
Oh, why is he so hot? It’s agonising.
He smiled warmly, his dimples sending a wave of desire through her. “Do you remember the last time we danced?”
She nodded. “You told me you had a crush on me.”
Riley leaned down until his lips brushed her ear. She shuddered. His voice came out in a smooth whisper, “I want you to know that my feelings haven’t changed.”
She looked up at him as he cupped her face in one hand. He came closer slowly. She closed her eyes and got up on her toes to lessen the distance. Her heart attacked her ribcage with lust.
They were so close that she could breathe him in. Their lips were millimetres apart.
“Guys, I just saw Savanna.” Aaron’s voice cut through the room and she was shocked out of her trance.
Kiara and Riley looked up with dazed expressions, drunk on emotions. Aaron was at the other side of the gallery. His dark eyes were alert.
Tania popped up beside him. She was petite next to her boyfriend. “The Guardians found
Kiara shook her head to clear her mind and stepped out of the circle of Riley’s arms. “Right. We should get out as quickly and discreetly as possible. The apartment is the only safe place. If Naru’s right, this will be their final attempt at finding us.”
The other couple nodded and immediately headed for the exit. Riley and Kiara shared a longing glance before following.
Immediately after arriving at home, Kiara and Riley had disappeared into her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind them.
Presently, they were in each other’s arms, breathing harshly. They hadn’t kissed yet and it nearly drove Kiara to insanity.
Her senses were alert, taking in everything about the boy in front of her. She remembered describing him as a Calvin Klein model on first sight, but he was more muscular. The bare skin of his arms was hot and smooth under her fingers. He smelled like perspiration and ocean-scented cologne.
She couldn’t help but wonder what his kisses would taste like.
He brought his moth level with hers and whispered, “Dominus, auxilium me. Ego perdidi meum cor.”
Lord, help me. I have lost my heart.
Their lips finally met. And everything exploded.
The kisses started out slow and thorough, and then turned quick and desperately passionate. She was pressed up against him and every inch of her body reacted to his touch.
Desire and love burned deep in the caverns of her heart, devouring every conservation or doubt that could possibly have been there. Even her head, which always screamed at her to stop wanting him so much, seemed to have given in. No part of her could resist him. She was finding some long-lost part of herself.
It was absolutely exhilarating.
His hands travelled up and down her back and then started to tug at her dress’s zipper. Her breath caught and she pushed him away with great difficulty. It took all of her self-control not to start kissing him again.
She was panting and shaking her head. “What are we doing?”
He grinned, adrenaline turning the colour of his eyes to that of molten gold. “I thought that was pretty clear.”
Kiara stepped further away from him, not trusting herself. “I can’t do this.”
His expression transformed into tenderness. “Kiara, it’s fine. We don’t have to do anything. We stop whenever you want to.”
“It’s not that.”
A coldness she had never seen on his face made its appearance. “Are you going to tell me that you don’t have feelings for me again? Because both of us know that that’s not true.”
She let out a frustrated sob. “What do you want me to say? Yes, Riley, I’m in love with you. Do you feel better know? I don’t.” She flopped down on the edge of her bed, feeling like an abandoned ragdoll.
The coldness disappeared and he sat down next to her. “You’re in love with me?” His voice was so gentle that it only broke her heart further.
She sniffed once, still battling not to shed a tear. “Yes.”
“Then why do you keep resisting? Why aren’t we together?”
Kiara finally allowed herself to look at him. “Honestly, I think that if I’d met you first, we would be. But I didn’t. Unfortunately, when we got close, my heart already belonged to someone else.”
Riley clenched his jaw. “Xavier.”
She nodded. “I’m so sorry, Riley.”
Probably hearing the sorrow in her voice, he enveloped her in a friendly hug. He stroked her hair comfortingly. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. You just be happy and I’ll be fine.”
She pulled away and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “You’re such a great guy.”
He chuckled softly. “So I’ve been told. I just wish that I had someone else too. So I could stop being so hung up on you.”
She pointed a finger at him jokingly. “As long as the girl gets my approval first.”
“Oh no, you gave up that privilege, dear.” Their laughter died down after a while and was replaced by silence. He intertwined their fingers and caressed the back of her hand with his thumb. “I still think you’re making a mistake, but I accept it. From now on, I’m that friend you share everything with. Okay?”
She smiled at him fondly. “Okay.”
“Tell me something about you that I don’t know,” Aaron requested.
It was a quiet night – as quiet as New York would ever be – and the sky was filled with stars. He and Tania were lounging on one of the living room couches. Her head rested on his shoulder and his arm was draped around her waist.
She chuckled at him. He loved the sound of it – like chimes in a breeze. “From where the sudden need for enlightenment?”
He placed a strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s not sudden. We just haven’t had peaceful time alone yet. Do I get the idea that you’re avoiding the subject?”
“Of course I’m not. I love talking about myself.” the sarcastic tone in her voice was evident and she giggled again. “Here’s something you didn’t know: before I became a Guardian, I dreamed of being a veterinarian.”
He smiled. “Really? Why?”
“I love animals and I wanted to help them. Plus, my step-dad does it for a living. I grew up assisting him. He was my hero, always managing to save even the direst of situations. He was gentle, but strong when he needed to be…” She drifted off.
Aaron hugged her a bit tighter. “You really miss home, don’t you?”
Tania sniffed once and nodded. “And now, instead of the family who loves me, I have to see Nathan Houghs every day.”
“He is your father. And he does love you.”
She cleared her throat to dismiss her emotions. “Your turn.”
His brows furrowed. “What?”
“To tell me something about you.”
The moment of truth.
He gulped, his heart rate quickening. “There is a confession I’ve been meaning to make for a while now.”
“What is it?”
“I – uh – I’m…”
This could ruin everything. It has before.
“Just don’t freak out, okay?” he continued.
Tania sat up and the directness of her gaze worsened his nerves. “Please don’t be breaking up with me.” Her voice was tinged with fear, echoing his own feelings.
“No. No. Of course not. It’s just not easy to-’’
Just do it. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid.
“Tania, I’m bisexual.”
There. It’s out.
She stayed quiet, her features set in shock. His breath came out harsh and uneven. “Please say something.”
He scrunched his eyes shut and waited. Waited for her to yell at him. Waited for her expression of disgust. Waited for another disapproval.
Instead, she just said, “Okay.”
Aaron’s eyes opened slowly – disbelievingly. “Okay? That’s it? You don’t have a problem with this?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “Why would I have a problem? As long as you love only me while we’re in a relationship, I don’t care about anything else.”
His heart soared. “Are you serious?”
She beamed irresistibly. “Yes, Aaron, I’m serious.”
The absolute joy that flooded over him was overwhelming and unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He threw both arms around Tania, cradling her like she was the most precious thing in the world.
“You are so amazing. You are perfect and I love you so much. Words can’t even begin to describe… Oh, Tania, I love you.”
She kissed his cheek and whispered, “I love you too.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
Kiara was standing by the front door, ready to leave. She was wearing gear and had a bag slung over her right shoulder.
Aaron and Riley groaned groggily and buried their heads in the couches’ cushions, still attempting to wake up.
Tania stumbled out of the bedroom, stretching. Her pink pyjamas were twisted around her and her hair stood up like spun sugar. “Jeez, Kiara, it’s five in the morning. What’s the rush?”
Kiara cocked her eyebrows incredulously. “What’s the rush? The world is ending; that’s the rush. Am I the only one who gets the importance of this mission? We needed to stay here for three days. We did. Now we need to get going. Come on.”
After a protest-filled hour, the group was finally lined up and ready to portal to Alexandria.
Virginia hugged Tania briefly, shook hands with the boys and then embraced her daughter. “Don’t get yourself killed, okay? I wouldn’t be able to handle that.”
Kiara nodded, fighting against tears. “I’ll try my best.”
When all the goodbyes had been said, Kiara grinned at her comrades. “Let’s go stop an apocalypse.”
The fiery-haired young woman looked down at the baby with a concerned expression. The infant had big green eyes and was giggling. She had never cried in her two months of life.
The woman shifted her gaze to her husband. “We don’t even know what she is. What she could become. She could be a monster.”
But there was a smile on the man’s face as he stroked his daughter’s hair, which was the same brown as his own. “No. She’s absolutely perfect, Virginia. She’s everything I always wanted.”