Kiara saw red. Blood was pounding in her ears and rage boiled up in her heart. She stormed into the headmaster’s office with a force, slamming the door behind her.
Her silver-green eyes shot lightning, her hands were balled into tight fists and her jaw was clenched to the point where it hurt.
She headed straight for Houghs and banged her hands down on his mahogany desk.
“Show me the letter. Now.”
Nathan Houghs looked up at her, concern and stress hidden in his cold blue eyes. “Miss Westwin, I was wondering when you’d turn up here.”
She snarled. “Cut the bullshit and show it to me.”
He smiled sadly, lifted a piece of paper off the desk and held it out to her. “Headmaster Colton received this about half an hour ago and he sent someone to bring it to me immediately. We just got off the phone discussing a solution.”
Kiara grabbed the letter out of his hands and read it with eyes full of panic.
I have Riley Stern as my prisoner. Give me Kiara Westwin and I will release him. Keep in mind that I easily lose my patience.
She let the sheet of paper fall to the floor. Her breathing came out harsh. “Where is he?”
“A small town in Greece called Githeio. We assume he is in Rodas Gianakos’s house.”
She collapsed into a chair and became aware of Tania’s comforting hand on her shoulder. “You said you were discussing a solution with Headmaster Colton. Do you have a plan yet?”
Headmaster Houghs wrung his hands together. “I’ve been pondering an idea, but it involves…”
Kiara cocked an eyebrow. “Involves what?”
“Giving him exactly what he wants.”
Kiara’s mouth fell open. “You want to trade hostages?”
“Now, I didn’t say that.”
For the first time since becoming a Guardian, she didn’t stumble when stepping out of the portal. She was prepared for the impact and her tanned features were set in feral determination.
She was armed to the teeth and suited in black leather armour. There was a fire lighter in her breast pocket, two Cross-shaped swords were strapped to her back, three silver knives were hidden in her boots and four daggers rested in her belt.
If the situation had been less dire, Kiara would have admired the quaint little bookstore, which was sure to harbour a few classic jewels.
But she didn’t have time to browse books today. Today, she was out for blood.
She took slow, deliberate steps; the louder the better. The idea was to attract attention, after all.
And it did.
After only a few paces, a flash of deep purple smoke appeared at the other side of the room. A man rose out of it; a wicked grin dominated his face.
He was dressed like a middle-aged man, but had the looks of a twenty-year-old. Like all warlocks, he was tall and lean with green cat-eyes that he didn’t bother to conceal in front of her.
Her twin swords were out of their scabbards and held ready at her sides in an instant.
He lifted his arms as if greeting a friend. “Kiara, you came.”
She clenched her jaw and tightened her grip on the weapons. “Well, you do have my Achilles’ heel down there.”
His eyes gleamed like a snake’s when spotting a mouse and it sent shivers down her spine. “Why are you so convinced he’s still alive?”
Kiara’s eyes widened and her heart dropped. No. No. He can’t be dead. That wasn’t the deal.
Stop it! He’s just trying to get into your head.
“Why do you want me here? Why would you exchange Riley for me?”
Rodas chuckled cruelly, smugly. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“What do I not know? Why are all these supernaturals after me?”
“Because you are the one, Kiara. The one who will change everything. Now, let’s get on with business, shall we? Judging by your blades, I take it you won’t come with me without a fight.”
She brought her swords up and smirked despicably. “I don’t do anything without a fight.”
Then she attacked, aiming straight for his gut. He stepped to the right just before the blow landed and she slashed into his upper arm instead.
He flinched, but recovered quickly and his hands shot up. An invisible magical power seized her and slammed her into a bookcase repeatedly until she fell down.
She was back on her feet almost immediately, one sword still clutched in her left hand. She used her right to fling a dagger at the man, but he caught it inches from his face. The dagger clattered to the floor.
The invisible force took her again. It gripped her throat and lifted her off the ground. Her toes scraped against the floor, but she couldn’t find stability.
How am I going to beat him? He has magic – powerful magic.
He dropped her and she crashed down, thankful that she was unable to feel pain.
Before she could get up, he knelt down next to her. “You little fool. I am a warlock. I could use any number of spells and kill you without lifting a finger.”
“But you won’t. You need me alive.”
“Maybe. But I know things that will make even a Guardian experience torture.”
Ready to cast black magic, Gianakos opened his hands. Kiara felt something unknown shift inside of her. Purple sparks appeared at his fingers. The smell of spells filled the room. Kiara held her breath…
But nothing happened.
Kiara opened her eyes, which had been scrunched shut, and saw that Rodas’s face was full of confusion and effort. Magic was seeping from his hands, but it couldn’t reach her.
It was like a transparent shield had been placed between them. She frowned and got up cautiously. He was using all the power he possessed, but the magic could not break through to her.
He let out a frustrated scream and used more force. The results remained the same and he shook his head fervently. “No. This is impossible. You’re not supposed to be able to use them already.”
She didn’t ask questions. She lifted her remaining sword and punched it into Rodas Gianakos’s heart. Kiara twisted the blade and grimaced as dark blood spattered against her gear. Then she pulled the weapon back and wiped it clean on her sleeve. She looked down at the dying warlock.
“Go back to where you came from.”
Riley listened to the commotion coming from above intently. Gianakos had left as soon as the footsteps started and Riley now recognised Kiara’s voice amidst the noise. He cocked his head to the side in an attempt to identify what they were saying.
Then his head shot up as two people suddenly fell into the room. Tania and Savanna.
They boasted sleek ponytails, tight black armour and an entire arsenal of weapons. The two zombies guarding him were dispatched within seconds.
Savanna sheathed her blade and grinned at him. “Looks like you’re in trouble, Headboy. Need a couple of girls to save you, now do you?”
He shrugged. “You know me: the eternal feminist.”
Tania rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Yeah. We’re all very badass and witty, but we need to get you untied and go help Kiara.”
Both girls knelt down and started working on breaking his bounds, which consisted of cable ties. “Wait. Kiara is alone up there? Are you insane? Rodas will butcher her in under a minute.” He started to struggle. “Please just go help her. Please.”
Tania took both his shoulders in her hands and steadied him. “We have a plan, Riley. So shut up and stay still.”
He obeyed and was released in a few moments. He jumped up and bounded up two sets of stairs until he reached the bookstore. The two girls followed.
Three bookcases had collapsed, their contents spilled out on the wooden floorboards. Thick, dark blood was spattered against the left wall and the air reeked of black magic.
Only a pile of ash remained of Rodas Gianakos.
Riley’s attention went straight to Kiara. She was staring at the floor, an expression of blood thirst on her features and a sword in her left hand. Her dark brown curls were arranged around her olive-skinned face and neck wildly. The silver in her green eyes reminded him of lightning, her sharp cheekbones of a feline huntress. She was absolutely stunning.
Hearing their footsteps, Kiara looked up. Relief flooded over her features when she saw Riley and she threw her arms around him, discarding her weapon in the process.
“Riley. Oh, thank God you’re safe. I was so worried about you.”
Tania and Savanna cleared their throats simultaneously and the redhead said, “So, we’re going to portal to Insulam so long. You guys come when you’re ready.”
Riley returned Kiara’s embrace. “Thank you for coming. Did you just kill a warlock by yourself?”
She pulled back and placed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I guess I did.”
And then he remembered what had been bothering him since the moment of his capture. “Kiara, what’s going on?”
She scowled. “What do you mean?”
“Why are all these supernaturals so obsessed with you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know-’’
He balled his hands into fists. “Don’t sell me the same nonsense you do Houghs. I’m sorry, Kiara, but I just got tied up because of whatever is happening with you. I think I deserve to know.”
Kiara stared at him incredulously. “Gianakos wanting me is the only reason you’re alive right now. I thought you’d be grateful when I saved you and instead you’re hostile.”
Riley’s next words shocked even him. “Rodas said that everyone in the supernatural world knows you. Are you in league with them? Are you a traitor?”
The hurt in her eyes was all the answer he needed and he felt horrible for even thinking it.
“Riley, it’s nothing like that. I received a threatening letter a while back; someone is trying to capture me. I don’t know who and I don’t know why.”
“Why are you keeping it a secret?”
“I was afraid Headmaster Houghs would kick me off the Island. After Gianakos’s letter he knows anyway. He does have every right to expel me. I put his students in danger. Look at what happened to you-’’
He took her hands in his to silence her. “I would never allow him to exile you. And if it helps, I won’t tell him about the threatening letter. But I would appreciate your complete trust and honesty from now on.”
Kiara nodded and beamed affectionately. “Except for my mother, I have never trusted anyone more.”
After Rodas Gianakos’s death, everything changed.
Kiara had been chosen for three missions in one week and on two of them, unexpected supernaturals had shown up in pursuit of her.
She was now the female Guardian, not just because of her talent, but because Nathan Houghs believed that she could increase the number of supernatural deaths.
He was using her as bait. And she let him, because she wasn’t afraid anymore. She was a good fighter and she’d proven that. At least the target on her back could contribute something.
But, lying on her bed on a Friday afternoon, she couldn’t get the threat off her mind. She still had no idea as to who was looking for her and the mystery just continued to deepen.
“Rodas said that everyone in the supernatural world knows you.”
That was absurd, but it certainly seemed to correspond with the facts:
A zombie had attacked her and her mother.
A threatening letter had been sent to her with magic.
Vampires had tried to kidnap her.
Rodas Gianakos had tried to take her hostage.
And nearly all the supernatural species had hunted her ever since.
But why? Why were these creatures after her? Why was she being singled out? Why was she so special? Why? Why? Why?
“Because you are the one, Kiara. The one who will change everything.”
What was everything? What would she change? And how would she change it?
The bedroom door swung open and Tania came in, a Nine West handbag slung over her shoulder. “Why aren’t you ready?”
Kiara shook her head to clear her thoughts. “What?”
“In the clouds today, are we?”
“Sorry, I’m just a bit preoccupied… What is it I’m supposed to get ready for?”
Tania tried to cock her eyebrows, but failed once again. “The free weekend.”
“What’s a free weekend?”
Her blonde roommate rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, I forgot that if I don’t tell you stuff, no one does.” She sighed. “Every month, we get a free weekend. We can go anywhere-’’
Kiara jumped up. “Anywhere?! I can go home. I can see my mom.”
“Slow down, sport. Anywhere on the Island. And you and I are going to Masculum. Aaron and Riley are waiting.
Masculum Collegii Custos was a majestic building and it reminded Kiara of the Ivy League Universities in movies. The walls were cream-coloured stone, dozens of stairs led to the marble front porch and four giant pillars guarded the ornamented entrance.
The front lawn was as green as golf courses on a HD TV screen, luscious trees providing spots of shade.
Kiara saw Riley almost immediately. He was lounging on the fourth step, his dark blonde hair shocking in the brilliant sunlight. He looked gorgeous in a red-and-blue football jacket, fitted beige chinos and white Converse sneakers. When he saw her, his honey eyes lit up and he beamed beautifully. Those irresistible dimples sent her heart fluttering.
He stood up and she found herself quickening her pace to get to him. How is it possible that someone so perfect exists?
They finally reached each other and greeted with a lengthy embrace. “Hey.” His voice was warm and had that element of compassion that always accompanied Riley.
She leaned back, arms still hooked around the back of his neck. “Hi.”
“How are you doing?”
She played with a few strands of his hair and said, “I’m great now. And you.”
“I’ve just been worried about you going on all these missions.” He used his right thumb to caress her cheek.
She leaned into his touch. “You don’t have to be concerned. I can take care of myself. I think I’ve proven that.”
“I know you’re competent. That doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
Kiara took a deep breath and smiled. “I’ve never seen the Island so alive. Everyone is so happy and full of energy.”
He nodded. “Every bit of freedom we get is a treasure.”
“So, what do you have planned for us?”
He pulled away from the hug, but intertwined the fingers of his left hand with those of her right. Then he motioned towards the college. “I thought I could show you around a bit and then we can just see where the day takes us.”
She squeezed his hand gently. “Sounds perfect.”
Tania sighed irritably and crossed her arms over her chest. She tapped her foot on the marble floor of Masculum’s front porch restlessly.
She had arranged to meet Aaron her and now he was nowhere to be seen. He’d better have a very good excuse.
A scrawny, redheaded boy with glasses and acne came up the stairs. Before entering the college, he turned to look at her. “Hello, Tania.”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek in frustration. “Hey, Bart.”
“You look like you’re waiting for someone.”
She bit back on her anger and hissed, “Aaron.”
Bart frowned, his bushy eyebrows knotting together. “How long have you been waiting?”
It’s just an innocent question, Tania. Keep calm.
“About an hour.”
“Are you sure he’s coming?
Okay, listen, kid, you have no idea how close I am to snapping your windpipe.
Instead, she said, “Yes, he’s coming.”
Bart gave her a sympathetic glance and entered the stone building. It sent her blood boiling. Imagine that, Bart feeling sorry for her. She didn’t need this. She could get another guy.
Just when she made to leave, someone’s arms came around her from behind, the person’s hands covering her eyes. The skin was warm and calloused.
She recognised the deep voice and British accent instantly. Aaron.
So she snapped her elbow back. It buried in his gut and he was shoved away. Then she spun around to face him, not really seeing him in her rage.
“Guess who? Okay, let me guess. The guy who failed to meet me when he was supposed to? The guy who left me waiting for an hour? The guy who stood me up and ruined what was supposed to be a great day? Yeah, I think you might be that guy.”
His eyes widened. “Tania, I-’’
“Oh, save it for someone who cares. I’m going back to Feminam.”
Tania swivelled away and started stomping down the steps. Aaron hurried after her and grabbed hold of her wrist. “Tania, please. I – I planned a surprise and it ended up taking longer to set up that I anticipated. I’m sorry that I kept you waiting. I should have sent you a message on the letter pad. But please don’t leave.”
She exhaled loudly and turned to look at him. Her anger washed away. His dark hair cascaded down on his olive-skinned features in gentle perfection. He was wearing a dark green t-shirt that accentuated his powerful shoulders irresistibly. But it was the ever-present sadness in his almost-black eyes that melted her heart.
She couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “Fine…” Then she pointed her index finger at him. “But whatever you have planned had better be worth my time.”
The corners of his mouth lifted in a crooked grin. “One can only hope.”
He took her hand – a display of affection that was unlike Aaron- and led her down the staircase. All around, groups of people were lounging in the shade, enjoying the hot day.
As the two of them strolled across the lawns, Tania asked, “So, what’s the surprise?”
He shook his head. “Telling you would defy the purpose.”
“It’s just that I like to be in control of the situation.” They left Masculum’s garden and entered Insulam’s forest. “And now I’m getting worried. Where are we going?”
As the foliage thickened, it got darker and darker. Tania looked around with nervous eyes and Aaron chuckled inwardly.” Just trust me.”
It was now black as night and Tania heard instrumental music coming from somewhere up ahead. The tree trunks thinned out to form a natural clearing next to a stream.
The serene music was coming from a small battery-powered CD player. There were camping lanterns hung up in the branches and a chequered red blanket had been placed a few steps from the running water. And there was a single picnic basket on top of it.
She beamed from ear to ear. “You did all of this?”
Aaron shrugged. “I wanted your day to be perfect… So, are you still mad at me for being late?”
She grinned cheekily and placed her hands on her hips. “That depends on whether there’s biltong in that basket or not.”
“Who takes South African girl on a picnic and doesn’t pack biltong?”
Riley’s bedroom reminded her of a posh beach house. The floor and ceiling consisted of light wooden panels, matching the bedside tables and dressers. There were two blue-quilted double beds and a giant white piano in the leftmost corner.
There was also a scrawny, but tall boy standing in the centre of the room. He had a mop of curly black hair, dark blue eyes and caramel-coloured skin.
When Kiara and Riley entered, the boy lifted his hand in a greeting.
“Hi. Ego sum Naveed.”
Hi. I’m Naveed.
“He’s my roommate. His English is borderline, so he just communicates in Latin,” Riley explained.
Kiara smiled politely. “Kiara. Ego sum placuit quod ad vos, Naveed. Quo abis?”
Pleased to meet you. Where are you headed?
“A me costitutum est vacation. Ego visito familiae.”
It’s my vacation. I’m going to visit my family.
“Fortunatus es,” she answered.
He headed towards the door and nodded before exiting. “Vale.”
“He seems nice,” she remarked.
Riley nodded. “He is. And the kid’s like a modern Albert Einstein. Well, this is my room and now you’ve seen everything Masculum has to offer.”
She did a slow turn to take everything in. “It’s beautiful. The piano Naveed’s?”
He beamed and walked across the space to slide in behind the instrument. “Actually, it’s mine.”
He patted the seat next to him and she obeyed. “You never told me you could play.”
Those gorgeous shoulders went up in a shrug. “It never came up.”
Then his slender hands travelled across the keys expertly and a flawless melody sprang into the air. She recognised John Legend’s All of Me almost immediately.
A little gasp escaped from her lips when a warm, smooth-toned voice blended with the notes. Riley was singing and it was absolutely breath-taking.
“Cause all of me
loves all of you.
Love your curves
and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections.
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you.
You’re my end
and my beginning.
Even when I lose I’m winning.
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you.
Give me all of you.”
Kiara didn’t realise her own emotion until a tear rolled down her cheek. The music stopped and Riley’s hand came up to caress the side of her face. “Why are you crying?” The tenderness in those words only obliterated her further.
She looked up into his honey-brown eyes and found herself speechless. So she didn’t talk. She just leaned into him. His full lips parted slowly and he came closer.
This was it. This would be their first kiss. She closed her eyes and felt his hot breath on her skin…
But their lips never met.
Riley sat back and cleared his throat. “How are things with you and Xavier?”
Kiara sighed in disappointment and frustration. “I do not want to talk about Xavier Carlisle. Things between us are finished and all I can say is: ‘good riddance’.”
He cocked a blonde eyebrow. “When did that happen?”
“The day you were kidnapped.”
He rose from the piano stool and revealed his dimples in a grin. “I hope you brought a dress, because there’s a party at Congregata tonight… And this time, there’s no curfew.”
The mischievous anticipation in his eyes sent her pulse racing.
Congregata’s dance floor was packed and modern music blared from the giant speakers in the room’s corners. The Guardians were partying like it was the end of the world.
And Riley and Kiara were slow-dancing.
Her head rested against his chest, arms draped around his neck. He held her as close as he possibly could and took in everything about her.
Riley was reminded of the first night, when he’d first realised that in his arms was where Kiara belonged. The world just seemed to make sense when she was around.
He leaned down to say, “Can I tell you a secret?”
She looked up, her silver-green eyes nearly taking his breath away, and nodded.
His forehead came down to rest against hers. “I have a huge crush on you.”
She giggled and the glee it held touched him in his soul. “Can I tell you a secret…? I kind of have a huge crush on you too.”
After the party, Kiara and Riley strolled through one of the college’s corridors. When they reached his bedroom, Riley went inside, but Kiara halted in the doorway. She leaned against the frame and admired how good he looked in his black waistcoat.
“I should probably get back to Feminam.”
He turned to face her, a strange expression on his beige features. “Kiara, it’s the middle of the night…”
An odd tingle ran down her spine. “And what do you propose I do?”
Kiara’s eyes widened. “Riley, I-’’
“You can choose whichever bed you want and I will sleep in the other one.”
She shook her head with great difficulty. “I don’t even have pyjamas here.”
He shrugged and she couldn’t help but notice the hard muscle in his shoulders. “You could always borrow one of my shirts.”
“That’s – uh – kind of intimate.”
Riley came closer and her heart rate quickened. His dark blonde hair was messy, his eyes alive. Why does he have to be so damn handsome?
He wrapped his arms around her waist and she gulped. God, help me.
His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “It is. But tell me you don’t find the prospect thrilling.”
Her last bit of resolve crumbled and she grinned up at him. “I’ll take your bed, then.”
Aaron finally decided to show Tania his bedroom, which had the same layout and colour scheme as the others at the college, the next day.
She headed straight for the white bookcase that formed the right wall. It was packed.
He nodded cautiously.
Her eyes lit up as they travelled across the volumes. “Princess Diaries. PS. I love you. The Lucky One. Aaron, you read romance novels?”
His broad shoulders lifted and dropped in a shy shrug. “What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.”
She couldn’t resist a grin. “Read me something.”
He frowned, his dark brows knitting together. “What?”
“Read me a passage from one of the books. Something you think is special.”
He hesitated for a few seconds, and then sighed, taking The Longest Ride by Nicholas Spark off the shelf. His calloused hands flipped through the pages until he found the right one. A deep voice filled the room and she was transported to a place of complete tranquillity.
“I wish I had the talent to paint the way I feel about you, for my words always feel inadequate. I imagine using red for your passion and pale blue for your kindness; forest green to reflect the depth of your empathy and bright yellow for your unflagging optimism. And still I wonder: can even an artist’s palette capture the full range of what you mean to me?”
He closed the book and put it away. She expected him to smile. Instead, the sorrow in his eyes was too much to bear. And it broke her heart.
She placed a gentle hand on his arm and said, “Tell me.”
He gulped down the emotion that rose up in his throat. “Tell you what?”
“Aaron, there’s a story of tragedy always present in your eyes. I want to know that story.”
He sighed heavily and then was silent for some time, staring at the floorboards. When he spoke, his answer came out in a hoarse whisper:
“I killed them.”
Her blood turned to ice and she froze. “Who?”
“My parents and my sister.”
It was as if everything inside him collapsed at the confession and he sagged down on the end of the nearest bed.
Tania took a seat next to him. “Tell me what happened.”
He wasn’t listening to her. His eyes were darting from side to side with fervour; his hands clenched and unclenched rapidly and his breath came out in jagged gusts.
“It’s all my fault. I killed them. I’m a murderer.”
She put her hands on top of his to still them. He finally looked at her. “Tell me what happened,” she repeated.
His breathing slowed and he closed his eyes. “It happened four years ago… Joey was only twelve. My dad and I had been arguing about something – I can’t even remember about what – and I decided to run away.” His breath caught, but he continued. “I was only planning to go for a few hours. But they all got in the car, scouring Oxford’s streets… I got home at midnight to find policemen at my house. They tried to explain the accident, but I just kept on crying out. Not even weeping, just screaming at the top of my lungs.”
He was weeping now, sobs tearing through his body. She wiped a tear from his olive-skinned cheek. “Aaron, you didn’t kill them. It was an accident.”
“If it wasn’t for me, they’d still be alive. That constitutes murder.”
“You can’t blame yourself for something you had no control over. Promise me that whenever you feel guilty or just down, you’ll talk to me.”
He sniffed once and then nodded. “Okay… How can you even stand me after knowing what I’ve done?”
She chuckled gently. “You’re gonna have to try a lot harder than that to get rid of me.”
He kissed her.
A million volts of electricity shot through her veins. She brought her hands up to tangle them in his hair. All her senses blended together until all she saw was red. All she felt was warmth. All she smelled was his Armani cologne. All she tasted was the saltiness of tears on his lips. And all she heard was her own heart pumping, instead of blood, affection.
Tania pulled away. When their eyes met, the only emotion in his was bliss. She rested her head against his shoulder. “I never want to see sadness in your eyes again.”
“And you never will, as long as I’m looking at you.”
“Wait. You haven’t even kissed yet?”
Tania’s disbelief was apparent in her gape. It was Sunday evening and the girls were sitting on their beds, reflecting on the weekend’s events.
Kiara bit down on her lower lip and shook her head.
“But you stayed with Riley overnight?”
The brunette raised an eyebrow. “And you just assumed that we had sex? I just didn’t want to walk all the way here in the dark. Nothing happened between us. Although, I was pretty tempted to throw myself at him at one point.” Her heart rate increased at the mere thought.
Tania rolled her grey-blue eyes and gesticulated widely. “No surprise there. The chemistry between the two of you is as clear as the zit of the tip of Stella Jones’s nose.”
Kiara’s raucous giggle filled the room. “He is great, but Riley and I are just friends for now. How’s Aaron?”
The blonde girl fell back against her pillows dramatically. “Incredible. Unlike some people, we did get our romance on.”
“I take it he’s a good kisser.”
“Yes! But it’s more than that. Being with him just feels right… Gosh, I sound like one of those girls I mock all the time.”
Kiara shrugged. “Love makes you do strange things.”
Then she chuckled mockingly and got a pillow to the face. Tania cackled and she joined in. “But the thing is, I am totally falling for Riley.”
Ten o’ clock. Monday night. Kiara was alone in her bedroom. A knock sounded at her door.
She got up from her bed and padded across the floor in her pink slippers. When she saw who was at the other side of the door, her smile faded.
His portal-eyes were swirling with intense emotion, his jet-black hair messy and glistening. He was wearing a tight grey sweater and dark chinos. Despite their last encounter, her heart gave a little leap at the sight of him.
“Kiara.” Even his voice was beautiful – coarse and low.
She managed to steel herself against his charm with some effort. “What part of ‘don’t speak to me ever again’ is unclear to you?”
“May we go converse in the teacher’s quarters? It is more private.”
She crossed her arms over her chest to defend herself against her own emotions. “Why would I go with you? What is so important that it has to be said now?”
He took a step forward – a step closer. “I love you.”
Her eyes widened, she gulped in shock and then she nodded quickly. “Okay, let’s go talk.”
They made their way to the seventh floor in silence. Kiara’s blood was pounding in her ears, along with her thoughts.
Don’t let him get to you. Don’t look at him.
Oh, but he’s so nice to look at-
No. He’s just going to play with your feelings again.
But he said he loves me.
Xavier’s room was all monochrome furniture and clean lines. The grey walls were only one shade darker than the carpet; there was a wooden dresser in the far corner. An abstract painting hung above it and a standing lamp’s white light was reflected in the giant mirror against the opposite wall. Her eyes continually flicked to the neatly made-up, black-covered double bed that occupied the centre of the room. The air smelled of his spicy cologne, which only served in drawing her in further.
He shut the door behind them.
Her back was turned to him and he was suddenly right behind her, breath hot on her neck. “I found a copy of Feminam Collegii Custos’s rules. There is no restriction prohibiting a relationship between a student and a teacher.”
Her heart contracted gleefully. Her head protested loudly.
“What about the taboo of the situation?”
“I do not care about anything except being with you. I love you, Kiara.” His tone was too sincere to bear.
She spun around, desperately trying to control her desires. “How can I believe you?”
He swept the hair away from her neck with a gentle hand and her breath caught in her throat. His lips came up against her ear and he whispered, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”
She emitted a small gasp. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
He nodded, his hair brushing against her skin. “That is the first Victorian novel you were acquainted with, if I remember correctly.”
He looked at her. His eyes were dark now, like raging whirlpools ready to take her in their grasp. She didn’t say anything. She just kissed him.
They collided like waves in a storm and everything else became insignificant. He pulled her against him and she dug her fingers into the hard muscle of his upper back to haul herself even closer. They were curled into each other, but it was never enough. It was like they wanted to climb into a hidden place in the other person’s chest – be one being, share one heartbeat. She never wanted it to stop.
They later shifted to the bed, where the kiss continued until Kiara eventually fell into a serene state of sleep.
Her heart had won.
Kiara’s eyes opened slowly and she found Xavier smiling at her. She stretched out on the white sheets and returned the grin. “What are you looking at?”
He reached out to caress her cheek and half-whispered, “You.”
She giggled and then a sudden thought struck her. “It’s a school day. What time is it?”
“There is no reason for concern. It is only six o’ clock.”
She sighed with relief and sank back against the pillows. “Thank goodness. Besides, dating a teacher probably gives me a free pass for everything.”
He chuckled lightly. “That we shall have to discuss… There is a question I have been meaning to ask you.”
She propped herself up on an elbow and frowned. “And what is that?”
He cleared his throat. “I was raised in quite an old-fashioned manner, which is why I formally want to ask you if you would do me the honour of becoming my girlfriend.”
What about Riley? You’re falling in love with Riley.
Kiara ignored that part of her.
“You’re right; that’s very old-fashioned. But I like it.” She leaned forward and kissed him, letting her lips linger on his for a moment.
His sapphire portals lit up. “I’ll assume that as a yes.”
“It’s a definite yes.”
Virginia admired the steady precision of Nathan’s arm as he flung the dagger at the target against the wall. She applauded when the blade struck the bull’s eye.
“Well done, Nate. Are you sneaking in extra practice behind my back?”
He stalked forward and yanked the knife from its resting place by the hilt. His beige-coloured face was set in that expression of earnest he always bore; his sky blue eyes were hard, his light brown hair cropped short.
He clenched his jaw. “Where were you last night?”
Her heart dropped. He was too close to her secret for comfort. She scowled, feigning innocence. “What are you talking about?”
“I sent you a message and you didn’t reply. You always have your letter pad with you. So you must’ve gone off the Island.”
He can’t be that smart. He can’t figure this out.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
He turned to face her and she was put under the scrutiny of those eyes – the eyes that so easily saw through her. “This wasn’t the first time you went. How do you even get off Insulam?”
I can’t tell you, because you’d hate me if you knew.
Virginia smiled sweetly. “Nate, listen to me. I didn’t go anywhere last night. I just went to bed early, which is why I didn’t get your message. And I definitely haven’t left the Island, except for missions.”
He raised a sceptic eyebrow, but gave in and grinned after a while. “Fine. Your turn.”
She giggled and readied herself to release the dagger in her hand. It landed just a bit left of the centre.