Chapter Twenty-Two

She looked bewildered. Mouth agape, she looked, for better or worse, like a deer caught in headlights. But all the same, Tristan couldn't take his eyes off of her.

By the bright spotlight, he now realized that her hair was done in soft, wavy curls, half pinned up to the crown of her scalp, and her dress was a form-fitting strapless white gown that flowed down her body, ending in wispy, white layers around her ankles. A tiny diamond at the center of the gathered bodice gleamed amidst the creamy white fabric as she made an awkward turn and raised a shaking hand to her hair. A pang struck through him as Tristan realized that she must be searching for her familiar ponytail. The way her fingers wildly caught through her hair had him taking steps forward before he could process his thoughts.

Adel straightened her back and he could see, even from across the room, that she was on the verge of panicking. Her huge eyes skittered around the room wildly just a few seconds before she staggered forward on those heels of hers toward Calhoun.

Tristan's jaw tightened and he quickened his pace, shoving people aside without thinking.

"I –" Adel started. "I –" And then her eyes rolled skyward and she slumped over, swaying as she hit the ground.

The excitement in the room evaporated into alarm and Tristan redoubled his efforts, angling his body as he pushed through the crowd. But he wasn't fast enough. A few steps away from her, Calhoun sauntered forward and scooped the girl up in his arms. Turning with a rueful smile, the boy addressed the room, "I'm so sorry. I should have realized this might have been a tad overwhelming for her. If you'd excuse me, I think we need a private moment together …"

Titters broke out in the room as the boy carted his fiancée out of the room. Adel's hair fanned out loosely over Cal's arm and that was the last glimpse Tristan got of her before she disappeared out of the hall.

He stood there, blank, and then a hand was on his shoulder. "Tristan."

He couldn't help himself. He whirled around and barked, teeth gritted. "This was why you insisted on making me come as your date? So that you can wave the fact that she's someone's fiancée in my face?"

Stunned, Victoria took a step backward, lips parting. "What?"

"This is your party, Victoria," Tristan spat out. "Like he can possibly plan this whole display without your help." He glanced up at the spotlights pointedly. "Nice lightshow there."

Her eyes narrowed into slits, glittering darkly. "You think I planned this whole party just to give that girl some romantic proposal?" Revulsion twisted her lips in a sneer. "Please."

"Oh my god," Sammy clutched Vincent's arm.

"Oh my god," Carrie murmured in agreement, wringing her hands as she glanced over at her brother who was currently engaged in what looked like a heated argument with Victoria.

"Oh my god! Adel! It was Adel! Adel!" Will exclaimed, staggering toward them and throwing an arm around Vincent's shoulder drunkenly. "That was some powerful white fabric she had on."

Caine found them, his face grim. "What is she doing back here? With Calhoun? Did she even think about Tristan at all?"

"Even with the spotlight on her, her dress didn't even show the outline of her body. It must be like some triple, quadruple layers of that whiteness," Will slurred.

Vincent shoved the boy away and gave Sammy a look. "I thought she went back to China."

"I thought so, too," Sammy answered. "She must have come back." A hopeful look came across her face. "Maybe she came back to see Tristan?"

"Or maybe she came back to get hitched with that guy," Caine retorted. The scowl on his face darkened as he caught a glimpse of Vincent's sister making her way toward them. Tonight was not going well for him at all.

Will stared at the ground, hiccupping. "Usually, when I wear like a white T-shirt and I'm standing in bright sunlight, I think you can even see my nipples sometime. Like the outlines." His fingers came up to stroke his chest in circular motions and with a roll of his eyes, Vincent slapped his hands down.

Will's face crumpled. "What'd you hit me for? I'm emotionally fragile!"

"Are you sure it's not emotionally challenged?" Jack suggested. One of his hands clutched Carrie's and his thumb swept across her skin, trying to soothe the girl.

Will groaned and then he sat down on the ground, hunching over. He waved a hand up at them. "I'm not drunk. I never get drunk. I'm just momentarily disoriented."

Shrugging, Vincent gathered in closer, keeping a hand at Sammy's hip. They formed a circle around Will and continued to whisper over his head. Danielle finally made her way to them and she swept her bangs out of her eyes breathlessly. "Alright, who was that girl? Why does Tristan look like someone just ran over his puppy? For that matter, why is he even with Victoria?" She glanced down at Will and redirected her attention back to them. "And why is Will sitting on the floor?"

Directing his eyes at the older girl, Caine drew out his words in a lazy drawl, "So who's the new boy toy, Dani?"

Her eyes cut to him and she folded her arms, a wrinkle marring her forehead. "I don't believe you answered my questions, manwhore."

"Honey, I'm insulted." He clapped a hand to his chest and waggled his eyebrows. "I can fulfill all of your monogamous fantasies."

Danielle snorted, rolling her eyes. "Only you can make the word monogamous sound completely disdainful."

Calhoun headed up the steps to the second floor and down the hallway. Pausing in front of an open doorway, he ducked into the study and kicked the door shut.

"Adel?" he crooned to the girl in his arms.

She didn't respond and without another word, he unceremoniously dumped her on the carpeted floor.

Startled, Adel hit the floor with a thud and she cursed, rubbing her back. Her legs, clad in heels, skittered against the carpet and she was reminded of her struggle with skates at the rink. Carefully pressing her gown down, she clambered up to her feet. By the time she straightened herself, she'd realize that Calhoun had crossed the room to take a seat in the huge leather chair behind the desk. A lit desk lamp threw some paltry light over the room, but it was still too dark for her comfort.

"Did you have to throw me to the ground?" she hissed.

"I figured it can't hurt any more than the cold marble you just took a tumble to," he quipped.

She bristled. "You couldn't have just set me on a couch or something?"

"What's the point? Giving you a choice would mean you pretending to sleep the rest of the night away in this room."

Startled, she said, "What do you mean pretending?"

His eyes darted to her, cynical. "In your situation, I'd figured you'd have three options. One, you'd accept my proposal with false enthusiasm – which you won't do. Two, you'd refuse and run away from me – which you can't do. And three," His lips quirked in sardonic amusement, "You'd pick the cowardly path and faint on me." He shrugged.

Fury heated up her face and she growled, "You asshole. What right do you have to play games with me? You think it's funny?"

"As a matter of fact, I do."

Astounded, she could only stare at the boy. He had his back turned to her and seemed to be more interested in examining the spines of the books on the bookcases that lined the window. "You're sick," she declared.

A low chuckle shook his shoulders. "And you're annoying."

She turned around and headed for the door. Her hand closed around the knob and she yanked it furiously and the knob came with her. Stumbling back in her heels, she blinked dumbly at the yellow knob in her hand.

Turning slowly, she winced at the incredulous expression on Calhoun's face. "Jesus," he breathed. "No wonder my father wants me to marry you. With a freakish strength like that, no doubt you're in excellent breeding health." He flashed her thumbs up with a mocking smirk and she resisted the urge to hurl the knob at his head.

Gritting her teeth, she turned back to the door. "Hello! Is anyone out there? Someone let us out of here!" She rattled the doors, pounding on the wooden frame and slamming the useless knob against it for good measure.

"Relax. Someone's going to come find us sooner or later." Calhoun leaned against the table across the room, playing with a round, crystal paperweight that had green and yellow swirls within its core. He brought it up to his eyes, peering inside it.

Adel's back stiffened and she whipped her head away to face the door, glaring at the wooden carvings. "I would rather not have them find us together here." She kicked the door, redoubling her efforts.

"Why? Are you afraid of being alone with me?" His breath tickled the back of her neck and she jumped, spinning around to scowl at him.

He stared back at her, unperturbed. The dark shadows played across the panes of his face, highlighting the line of his nose.

"Ever heard of personal space?" She reared back, shooting him a nasty look.

"What's the big deal? We're a loving couple, aren't we?" Calhoun retorted with an insolent smile.

Adel's teeth gnashed. She must have the worst luck with guys. What was it about her that keeps attracting smartasses for fiancés? "What did I ever do to you?"


"I said, what did I ever do to you?" she snarled, taking a step forward. Her heel sank into the burgundy carpet. "I barely even talked to you before this whole mess, but you're acting like I ate your puppy."

"Ate … my puppy?" He appraised her weirdly.

She started and then grimaced. "Never mind." Embarrassed that she'd accidentally let one of her uncle's stupid Chinese jokes slip out, she waved a hand hastily. "Can we get back to the point?"

"Your point being … why I hate you?" Boredom smoothed his features. "I don't hate you. You don't rank that high in my books to deserve such strong emotion."

"The way you manage to insult me with every other line astounds me," she retorted with a tight smile.

He didn't offer a response, merely shrugging his shoulders with a nonchalance that infuriated her.

"You know, I thought Tristan got on my nerves, but you – you're a real piece of –" She couldn't even find the right words to convey her emotions and she decided to change the subject. "So what's the point of the proposal? Just to see me faint for you?"

His lips spread in a wide grin. "Perhaps. In any case, what's the big deal? Technically, you're my fiancée already. I'm just throwing in a diamond ring for you to sweeten the deal."

"You're not serious."

"I have a ring for you. I think that's pretty –"

"No!" She cut him off, furious. "We're not even – this is just a temporary engagement. We both know that we're not actually going to go through this."

"Why not? Your father seems to think you're more than willing." Calhoun raised an eyebrow at her.

"That was before –" She stopped short.

"Before what?" He threw her a knowing smirk.

Resigned, she glared at him. "You just like to mess with me, don't you?"

"Think of it as a small payback," he responded airily.

"Payback?" she retorted. "What did I ever do to you?"

"Not to me," he retorted. "To a friend."

"A friend? What mutual friend do we –" She stopped. "Justin?"

He glanced away from her, exasperated. "You think highly of yourself, don't you? Justin might have found you cute, but he wasn't that heartbroken about you and Tristan."

She hadn't exactly meant it that way, but embarrassment swept over her anyway and that only fueled her irritation. Any minute now, she was going to snap off her shoe and club him with it. "Then who?" Asshole.

He stared at her calmly and with some hesitation, he revealed, "You gave her a black eye."

For a minute there, she just stared at him and as she tried to recollect herself, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind, "Ew. You're in love with Victoria."

Something flickered in Calhoun's eyes and then he scoffed, eyeing her down with disgust. "Please, what fairytale are you living in?"

"Then –"

"How about we try 'in lust' first?"

"You would go to such efforts to get some stupid revenge on her behalf because you think she's hot?" It was her turn to stare him down, skepticism clear in her face.

"What can I say? I'm a sucker." He shrugged.

"Oh, you two deserve each other," she stated. "You –"

The door rattled then and as her head automatically turned to the sound, but with a smooth step sideways, he blocked her. His hands came up to clasp her face and she wrinkled her brows at him. "What are you –" His head dipped low, lips pressing insistently against hers.

She sucked in her breath, shocked, and she stared blindly back at his open eyes. Twisting away, she shoved her hands against his chest and wrenched her face from his. "What are you doing?"

There was silence in the room and with a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, her attention moved to the open door. Tristan stood there, features stony, with Victoria by his side. The girl's arms were folded loosely before her, hands cupping her elbows and she stared at them with blank eyes.

"Excuse me," Tristan said in a clipped tone and then with a curt nod, he stepped back and disappeared out of the doorway.

"Tristan!" His name tumbled from her lips and she started for the door in a panicked daze.

Adel paused as Victoria visibly gathered herself. Straightening up, the brunette cast a cool look in Adel's direction before murmuring serenely, "I suppose I should offer you my congratulations, Cal."

"Do you think I deserve them?" The boy responded lazily, spinning a pen between his fingers as he slouched back against the desk.

All of a sudden, Tristan reappeared in the doorway. Adel could only blink. She hadn't drank a whole lot, but it seemed like her senses were dulled this night. The look in his eyes was chilling and his hair looked a bit wild like he'd run his fingers through it one time too many. Jaw clenching, he crossed the room in three short steps. Adel flinched when he reached her, but he passed by her without a second glance and then he was before Calhoun.

Tristan's lips pulled back in a bitter smile and then he drew back his arm, punching the other boy squarely in the face. Cal stumbled sideways, catching himself against the table and he pressed the back of his hand against his mouth.

"Excuse me," Tristan repeated again and as he turned around, he caught hold of Adel's hand and tugged her along, sweeping out of the room in few, brisk steps again.

Victoria had taken a step forward to the fallen boy, but her composure quickly smoothed over. "Well." Her lips tightened and she swept her hair back with a brush of her hand. "Good show, Cal."

His tongue darted out tentatively over his bottom lip and he winced as he felt the sting. "I do try."

Her expression darkened. "I can't believe you proposed to that girl. Have you fallen so desperate?"

"What's it to you?"

"You wanted to ruin my party."

"Wrong." His tone was flippant, but when his eyes raised to hers, they were hooded and dark. "I wanted to ruin you."

Victoria tensed and her lips tightened. "Sick."

"So I've heard," he chuckled, pressing his knuckles against his lips.

Rolling her eyes, she strolled forward, pulling a tissue from the box on the side cabinet along the way, and he automatically sat back on the desk. Stepping in the space between his legs, she reached up to pat his bloody lip.

"I didn't know Tristan had it in him," he mumbled underneath her administrations.

"Yeah, well, you don't know many things, do you?"

"How this whole night must have disappointed you." He reached out to entwine one of her curls around his finger. "Your dear Tristan still can't forget the lovely Adel."

Victoria's fingers stilled and his hand crept up to caress the inside of her wrist. She held his look evenly and then she spat out, "Yes. I'm incredibly disillusioned."

"Technically, I could press charges. He did punch me without any proper reason," he pondered, his fingers inching down her bare arm. "Technically, I should go retrieve my fiancée from him."

"Yes," she agreed archly. "You should."

A lazy grin crept across his face. "But I don't want to."

She watched him with practiced artifice and her shoulders jerked up delicately. "Then don't."

Tristan tore down the hallway with Adel staggering behind him and when he finally stopped, he did so without warning and she crashed into his back. He didn't acknowledge her and tugged open a door to what looked like a darkened library. Drawing her into the room, he closed the door behind him and turned to face her.

She could barely see him in the dark, but the curtains were pulled back from the window and she could vaguely see the outline of his features by the moonlight. "Tristan?" She stammered, "Why did you punch him?"

That was the wrong thing to say.

"How could you let him kiss you?" His voice hissed at her. He stayed with his back to the door, not moving to take any step closer to her. "I didn't even –" He cut himself off and cursed.

"Even what?" she shot back.

"I didn't even punch him hard enough," he snapped. "I should have broken his nose. What's wrong with your judo moves? Can't bear to flip him over your shoulder this time?"

Speechless, she gazed at him. Then she snapped, "Uh, did you not see me pushing him away? I didn't let him do anything to me!"

"Whatever," he answered. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized that he'd turn his face from her, staring across her shoulder at the window. "It's not like it's any of my business, right?"

Her hands twitched at her sides, plucking at the fabric of her dress. Miserably, she sighed, "What do you want me to say?"

"What?" His laugh was a bitter sound that grated on her nerves. "Oh, we can't even talk now?"

Her throat closed up and she glanced away from him, rubbing her upper arms.

"Are you cold?" he suddenly spoke up.

"What? No." Her hands stilled and she crossed her arms.

Tristan opened his mouth and then closed it, glancing away as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Are you really getting married to him?" he continued.

She dropped her eyes to the floor. "There's nothing with Cal."

"Really? His proposal seemed incredibly romantic." Sarcasm dripped from every word.

"Yeah, right."

"You fainted," he stated. "Or at least, you tried to faint."

She gaped at him. "What? Did I not hit the floor properly or something? It really hurt!" A hand crept up to her back, rubbing her new bruises mournfully. "Does everyone know?"

Tristan smiled darkly, teeth flashing. "I seriously doubt the Adel I know will collapse just from sheer excitement."

She gave him a look. "Because I'm that strong."

"Oh yes, strong enough to not faint from a locker room brawl anyway."

"Yeah, well, the locker room fight was what got me this proposal in the first place," she muttered.

"What?" Tristan eyed her strangely.

"Cal," she mumbled. Something about announcing the fact that Cal had no real interest in her rankled her pride and the back of her neck burned hot. "He's just trying to make Victoria jealous."

That gave Tristan pause and when he finally spoke, he sounded oddly calm and nonchalant, "Interesting. So your date has the hots for my date. This is just getting more twisted by the hour, isn't it?"

She sent him a dark look beneath her lashes, trying to go for nonchalance even though she knew that she going to fail miserably. "Why the hell are you even with Victoria? I thought you couldn't stand her."

"Why do you care?"

She had no real answer, but being here before him bothered her more than she'd expected. Suddenly, she couldn't bear to stay in this darkened room with Tristan any longer. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward, desperate to get out of there. Trying to brush past him, she stumbled as he stepped in front of her and stopped her. "What are you doing?" His tone was abrupt, cold.

"Leaving," she informed him.

"So that's it? You're just going to run away again?"

Her eyes were starting to prickle suspiciously and she tried to physically push him away from the door when his arms came around her, encasing her tightly.

She froze. Her hands fumbled, clutching his arms. He held her tighter, a hand smoothing the back of her hair.

"Don't leave," he mumbled harshly in her hair. "Don't fight with me. Don't go."

Tears spilled over and she knew then that she was screwed. "You can't tell me what to – oh, damn it," she babbled. Sniffling distraughtly, she prayed that her nose wouldn't start running soon. Else, his pretty new suit was going to get pretty germy pretty soon. Romantic.

He chuckled hoarsely, a hand gently cupping the curve of her neck, and she instantly blurted out, "I didn't wipe my nose on your shoulder. Don't strangle me."

There was a long pause and she could just picture him furrowing his brows. Her cheeks turned hot.

Incredulous, he exclaimed, "Are you crying?" The vibration in his chest hummed against her body, sending shivers down her spine.

"No," she lied. "I have a cold."

He tried to pull away from her, but she latched on tight, throwing her arms around his neck frantically. He went still and then he burst out laughing. "You drive me crazy, Adel. You're completely insane and you never give me a straight answer, but for some reason, I … missed you."

Her heart flip flopped and she blinked, sending the tears that had pooled on her lashes down her cheeks. "Because I'm weird," she said, taking a swipe at her cheeks hastily.

"Because you're weird," he assented softly.

They stood there against the door for what felt like minutes, just holding each other and listening to the sound of their breathing. And Adel's sniffling. His hand brushed her back soothingly and he murmured, "You never cry."

She shrugged in his arms.

"Did something happen?" His tone was sharp.

"Uh uh," she mumbled and shook her head, messing up her hair against his neck.

Quietly, she admitted, "I kinda missed –"

The door flung open and Adel instantly broke away, shoving Tristan back. A dark figure appeared in the doorway, the hallway light shrouding him. A low frustrated growl actually escaped Tristan and Adel, still startled, couldn't quite ease her racing pulse.

"Justin?" Adel exclaimed.

From beside her, Tristan groaned underneath his breath. "Not him, too."

The expression on Justin's face was of relief and the boy sighed, "Thank goodness. I finally found you."

"Wh – what's wrong?"

"Uh –" Justin looked strangely discomfited, ruffling his hair uneasily.

"What?" Tristan bit out, so different from his usual polite tone, and Adel slipped him a scandalized look out of the corner of her eyes. He avoided her gawking, but a flush burned across his cheeks.

Justin jumped and his words tumbled out, "I'm so sorry. I – I didn't know that he'd -Calhoun left. With Victoria."

"So?" Tristan said.

"What?" Adel blurted out at the same time. "Wait. But – he's coming back, right?"

"I – I'm not too sure." Justin wouldn't meet her eyes and an uneasy feeling came over her.

"Don't tell me they're eloping and heading for Las Vegas," she said sharply.

"What? No, no, they're not that … crazy, but, um, they might not return … tonight, at least."

Adel was overwhelmed with a strange mixture of relief and panic. This weird juxtaposition didn't settle with her and she reached up, tucking her hair behind her ears and unraveling knots. "But – what about – what about me?" Her voice sounded small and pathetic and she winced.

Justin looked stricken. "That's why I was looking for you. Do you want me to go track him down or something?"

"No," Tristan answered for her. "It's okay."

Adel fumbled for her bag, only to realize that of course, she'd left it with the butler downstairs. "He just left me here. I can't believe he didn't even let me know - where am I going to stay? I'd have to call Lee to find someone to pick me up and –"

"Do you want to stay at my place?" Justin offered.

"No." Again, Tristan interrupted and this time, he sounded irritated. "It's okay now, Justin. Thanks for the info. Have a good night."

Adel headed for the door at the same time Justin backed out and Tristan, with an exasperated sigh, grabbed hold of her hand. "What are you doing?"

She stared at him. "Did you not hear me? I'm stranded at this place! I need to call –"

"Why don't you just come over to my house?"

She blinked. "What?"

His voice was quiet and the look he gave her sent her heart racing. By the soft light cascading through the open door, his light hair gleamed as tousled strands fell into those crystalline blue eyes. "You may have disappeared on me for months, but did you honestly think that I'd just abandon you by yourself like this?"

Her throat worked as her mouth went dry. "I –"

"It's really late now anyway so why don't you just crash for the night and you can arrange things tomorrow instead?" He explained in his quiet, composed manner. His eyes flickered up to her face, focusing on her with an unnerving intensity. "We have things to talk about anyway … don't we?"

Silence reigned in the room and despite the fact that they had an arm's width between them, the atmosphere felt oddly intimate. Letting her eyes fall away, she nodded. "Okay."

Author's Note

Thanks for the reviews, all! By the way, I thought it was kinda cute the way most of the reviews for Chapter 21 started out with either WTF!, OMG! or other variations with Oh!

Answers to some common questions are on the blog.

girlgamer112: :)

- Maeven

© Copyright 10/13/2008 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.