Chapter Twenty-Three

Sunlight slips through the leaves and she raises a hand to her eyes.

"Hey! Are you going to get the kite or not?"

Turning her head, she finds Tristan hovering, waiting amidst a shadowy copse of elm trees. His features were unreadable, the light too dim for her to see his face clearly.

"I'm going!" Irritated, she flapped a hand in his direction. A cool breeze encloses around her, sweeping down her shirt, chilling her.

"Won't you tell me truth?" His soft voice seeps around her, abrupt, too close. The wind carries his words closer to her, stringing them around her. "You like me, don't you?"

Something about this whole situation should feel wrong, but all she seems to be able to process is panic and suddenly, she's up in the tree, scrambling higher and higher, hand grasping for the next branch.

"Adel!" She ignores Tristan's calls. Her fingers touch the scratchy bark, nails digging in.

"Adeline!" A roar makes her freeze. "What do you think you're doing?"

She tips her head to the ground, peering down from her perch up on a sturdy branch, and suddenly, she's an eight year old kid again. Tristan has vanished and she's staring down at her father. The man glares up at her from the ground, shielding his eyes from the sun with a hand. "Adeline, you better climb back down right this minute."

Her stomach rolls in fear, but a sneer twists her lips. Rage takes over as she screams down at him, "What do you care? You hate me anyway!"

His face is mottled red and he seethes, "Get. Down."

"No!" She turns her face into the bark. Even though it scratches her, anything's more comforting than staring down her father when he's angry. "Just leave me alone! I'm going to find my mother and I'll never live with you again!"

His expression doesn't alter much, but when she peeks at him, she notices the tightening in his lips and the way his eyes dart around him as if too furious to remain still. Alarm skitters through her, but she holds on to her anger. She hugs the tree, scooting closer to it.

"Adeline," he finally says. "Your mother is gone. Now come down before you hurt yourself."

"Why did she leave?"

Her father stares up at her and she meets his gaze defiantly. His lips part without a sound. He only repeats, "Adeline."

"Did she leave because of you? Because you were mean to her?" She demanded. "Did you make her leave? She must have hated you!"

Her father flinches and he twists away from her. She watches his taut back as he stares off into the distance where kites flutter in the sky. His hands dangle loosely by his sides. By the time he turns back to her, she's half-scared that he will stride off without another word and really abandon her here.

He looks up at her again and the sunlight catches on his dark chestnut hair. With three steps, he walks up to her tree and places his hands flat against the bark as if trying to tame it. Then he proceeded to climb up, clumsily but efficiently maneuvering himself closer to his daughter.

She yells, "What are you doing?"

"If you're not coming down, then I'm coming up." He warns her. "And when I get my hands on you, Adeline …"

She scampers up, grabbing hold of another branch, but he's gaining on her and with a muffled yelp, she scoots over on the wooden limb, trying to get out of reach.

The branch snaps and as her stomach wrenches upside down, she plummets.

Tristan, she thinks. Tristan. Tristan will save her.

But someone has already grabbed hold of her and with her face smothered tight against the erratic sound of a beating heart, they land on the ground and she hears a horrific crack.

Her father's face is a ghastly white and as she scrambles out of his arms, scuttling backward through the grass, her heart thuds in anticipation of her father's wrath. But his body remains prone on the ground and with a low groan, he makes some weak gesture at her. She gets up to her feet and stumbles further away from him.

Only a few steps away, she realizes that he isn't chasing her. Hesitantly, she ventures forward and peers at him. His eyes are closed, but he's trying to sit up. "Adeline, where –" Cradling his left arm, he wearily turns his head to her and mutters, "Are you okay?" Horrified, she now sees that his left arm looks funny, elbow turned at some awkward angle and she begins to panic, a scream erupting from her.

He grimaces, jerking his face away. "Quiet, Adeline."

She stands up and bounces up and down on her heels, searching the distance for any sign of Lee or her father's help. "Help! Help! Help!"

She woke up with a jolt. Heart still racing, she tried to collect her breath as she swiped a hand across her forehead, beaded with sweat. It was one of those bad mornings where everything felt immediately wrong. The queasy feeling lolled in the pit of the stomach and, disoriented, her head lolled sideways as she licked her lips, clearing her throat.

Her blank eyes roamed over the ceiling, her hands folded loosely over her covers. To this day, despite his coldness toward her, she remained devoted to her father. It wasn't entirely due to guilt over the way he had broken his arm just to save her, but more because of how he had actually shown a side of him that … cared. And it made her wonder and dream of how he used to be, what his smile might have looked like, what their family could have been before her mother had ruined everything.

She glanced around the modest guest room, adorned with pale striped yellow wallpaper and linked to its own attached bathroom. Tristan had steered her out of Victoria's house last night without another word, bypassing the grand hall completely, after he'd left a brief note with one of the servants for his sister. They'd paused in front of the house as one of the valets went to get Tristan's car and in the brisk night air, they had waited next to each other in complete silence, barely touching except for that one time when Tristan's hand accidentally grazed the back of hers.

Another couple had waited with them for their valet and the lady, dressed in a glossy black mink fur, kept casting curious looks in her direction. And why wouldn't she? After all, Adel was the one who had just received a proposal from one guy and ended up leaving the party with another.

The ride back to his place was both awkward and somehow too short at the same time. She'd panicked at the doorway and just as Tristan started to turn to her inside the foyer, that was when Rosie sleepily shuffled in, wrapped in a thick plaid shawl. After that, it was just minutes before the housekeeper shoved a reluctant Tristan off in the direction of his room while she helped usher Adel off to her own respective room all the way at the opposite end of the house.

Even as she drifted off to sleep, she had the uneasy notion that Tristan might break into her room to finally get his answers. This might be one of the reasons why she felt like crap this morning. That, or the jarring racket out in the hallway.

Apparently just outside her door, Tristan's quiet voice filtered through and her heartbeat faltered. "I'm warning you one last time. Go downstairs before you wake her up."

Scrambling up, she sat up against the headboard of her bed, clutching her covers. Confusion registered drowsily on her face as she combed her fingers through her hair. Who was he talking to? Her body flushed hot with panic as she thought of her father here, doing battle with Tristan, and -

Then an unmistakably familiar voice cried out, "Unfair! I want to see Adel too!"

A low, menacing growl from Tristan: "Will …"

"Okay, okay. I promise …" The other boy's tone turned cajoling. "I'll only watch. I won't touch."

There was a long period of silence and then Will let out a suffering sigh. "Fine, be that way. I will succumb to your icy cold stare and refrain from tackling you through the door …" The last bit turned up liltingly as if Will had just started contemplating the idea.

"Downstairs." She heard Tristan command.

Two sets of footsteps padded away from her doorway and she realized that Tristan must be steering the boy away. Still, Will's voice resonated back, "Did Rosie make waffles?"

Adel didn't have anything to wear. Last night, Rosie had offered a set of Carrie's pajamas for her to sleep in, but now, she had nothing to put on except for her gown from last night and she'd rather not show up for breakfast in the fancy thing. Except with Carrie's smaller build, the girl's pajamas weren't exactly perfect attire either. The pink flannel sweatpants ended loosely just a few inches above Adel's ankles and whenever she took a step, it felt like she was trying to hitch her pants up to her knees. The faded pink T-shirt, labeled with a white, cursive "Sweet Dreams" across the chest, was pulled tight over her torso, bunching up under her armpits and when she raised her arms, her bellybutton peeked out. She felt like the jolly pink giant.

Resigned, she slowly crept down the steps anyway, her bare feet quickly turning to ice at the touch of the cold marble. The faster she finds Rosie, the quicker she can get her hands on more suitable clothes. Hearing noises at the end of the house through the doorway next to the stairs, she made her way through the hallway.

There seemed to be light everywhere coming through the round segmented windows that scattered across the ceiling, but the brightest point lay in front of her. Sunlight splashed through the open doorway, casting warm light across the opposite wall. Voices echoed from there and she recognized snatches of Will's chattering: "Fuzzy Navel … not drunk … Adel … sleeping? … Tristan … oh baby … together!"

She stopped short, gritting her teeth as her cheeks flushed. Whatever the kid was saying, she already knew that she didn't like it. Sending one more regretful glance down at her attire, she heaved a sigh and pressed forward, trailing her hands against the wall as she peeked into the room hesitantly.

It was a kitchen with a set of four rectangular skylights set into the sloped ceiling over the skin. The sky was incredibly blue with airy clumps of clouds and she now knew why the room was so bright. Nothing could beat the natural lighting of the room and though the room was painted a subdued yellow, the sunshine seemed to make the whole room glow.

Rosie stood at the stove, piling a plate high with scrambled eggs, while Will sat at the wooden table in the center of the room, already working on a plateful of pancakes drowned in maple syrup. Sitting next to him, to her surprise, was Caine. He sported a pair of dark sunglasses and sat completely immobile, with his arms crossed before him and his face fixed forward.

Tristan was missing though. She didn't quite know how she felt about that.

Will, mumbling around a mouthful, continued what he was saying to Rosie. "Vincent and Sammy are stopping by later. They're on their way to visit Sammy's brother. Jack took Carrie out to see a movie and Danielle –" He stopped short, managing to send a wily smile in Caine's direction even with his cheeks packed full with food. He swallowed, "Danielle's out on a date."

Caine didn't move at all, save for a barely perceptible tightening of his lips.

Rosie made a noncommittal humming sound and sauntered over, settling the plate of eggs before them. Will leaned forward to fork a mouthful straight from the platter and as he sat back, his eyes swept over the doorway. He did a double-take and then, brandishing the fork in the air and sending a yellow glob flying across the room, yelped, "Adel!"

Holding up a hand in an awkward wave, she smiled weakly. "Hey, everyone. Long time no see."

"Long time is right! Come eat!" Will demanded, flapping his hand at her. Now that he'd straightened away from the table, she could see that he was wearing a grey T-shirt with two arrows printed on his chest pointing out toward his biceps and the words If You Like My Guns, Then You'd Love My Rocket. Beneath, a third arrow jabbed downward.

She averted her eyes. "I actually wanted to ask if …" Reluctantly, she stepped forward in front of the doorway. "… if Rosie had any extra clothes I could borrow. That might fit me."

Speechless, they gaped at her. Well, Will did the gawking. She still wasn't sure where Caine was looking at with those dark shades of his and Rosie tried her best to cover her smile. Will whispered reverently, "You're hot."

"I look like I had a growth spurt in the middle of the night, Will," she remarked dryly.

"Yeah, but it's okay. Puberty comes at different times for everyone." He held his hands to her, palms outstretched in an almost benevolent manner. "You are now … a swan."

Caine finally said something then, his voice abnormally hoarse and gruff. "More like a flamingo. You're wearing Carrie's clothes, aren't you? That girl always had an unhealthy obsession with pink."

Sheepishly, Rosie shook her head. "I'm so sorry. I should have realized that Carrie's clothes wouldn't fit you. You're nearly as tall as Tristan –"

"True!" Will exclaimed. "You should totally wear Tristan's clothes instead. Boyfriend looks are hot these days." Sagely, he nodded. "Like fire engine hot."

"It's fire engine red, stupid," In a clipped tone, Caine cut in. "And they're not going out. She cut off contact for months, remember?"

It was true and she deserved his words, but Adel couldn't help feeling like she'd been slapped. She pulled at the hem of her too-short shirt and looked away from Caine.

"Whatever, it's a happy reunion now," Will declared. "They will make pretty babies now."

"You're an idiot," Caine muttered.

"At least I'm not the one who got punched last night," Will retorted breezily and to Adel's shock, Caine actually fell silent.

Catching Adel's look, Will explained with an unhealthy enthusiasm, "Boy isn't welcomed at the Grenfords anymore."

"What? What happened?"

Caine slouched forward in his seat, refolding his arms before him again.

Will shrugged. "He had one too many drinks after you guys left and then when Danielle – oh, that's Vincent's sister - introduced her date to us, Caine totally went ballistic –"

"I didn't go ballistic," Caine growled. "I merely asked him some questions."

"You interrogated him about his education, his jobs, his past girlfriends and then his sexual history and when the guy took offense, you punched him."

Caine shrugged. "Something was fishy about him. Way too evasive and it's so obvious that he was lying about something -"

"Really? You still remember your conversation? I thought between the drinks and getting your lights punched out, you'd be gone."

Adel's eyes flitted between the two boys. "So you got into a fight with Vincent's sister's date then?"

Will snorted. "Nah, he got into a brawl with Danielle."

She gasped. "You hit a girl?"

"I didn't hit her!" Caine snarled. With a hint of bitterness, he quieted down with a mumble, "She hit me."

Will had thrown his head back, sniggering up to the clouds through the skylights, and then with a swipe of his hand, he grabbed Caine's glasses. "Look it!" Caine, taken back, tried to grab back his sunglasses and hands flew between the two boys in an incredible flurry of rapid slapping.

Adel's mouth fell open. A nasty bruise swallowed up Caine's right eye. His eye was in a slit and the color was a lurid plum blue outlined by jaundiced yellow. "Damn," she breathed. "Is she a boxer?"

Caine all but shoved Will and the latter toppled off his chair. The sunglasses had cracked, but Caine hastily shoved it back over his eyes anyway. Pushing away from the table, he stood up and made a beeline for the door. "I'm going back to my room."

Will, still sprawled on the floor, rubbed his back with a scowl. He yelled after his friend, "No wonder she hit you!"

Without missing a beat, Caine threw up his middle finger over his shoulder as he left the room.

Rosie beckoned at her. "What would you like for breakfast, dear?"

Adel shook her head. "It's okay. I'm not too hungry in the mornings."

Rosie made a disapproving sound, but gave in. "Fine, but I'm stuffing you later at lunch. No escape." The woman wiped her hands on her checkered apron. "Would you like a set of clothes to change in then?"

"Yeah," Will babbled as he stuffed his mouth with eggs. He'd already picked himself off from the floor and was busy demolishing everything in sight. "Just go find Tristan's room and help yourself to his closet."

She coughed, uncomfortable and sent the amused Rosie an apologetic smile. Then she hissed at Will, "Not funny."

"What?" His head turned. Blinking at her, he plucked at the collar of his shirt. "Do you want my clothes?" And he made a motion to shimmy out of his T-shirt.

"No thanks," she hurried to answer just as he pulled up his shirt over his face.

Tufts of his wavy dark hair peeked out from the collar and his muffled voice responded, "Why? I don't mind going naked."

"But I do," she retorted. "And I don't think I can work your shirt's statement as well as you do. I don't have proper guns." She coughed. "Or a rocket, for that matter."

Fortunately, Rosie intervened then. With a hint of smile playing on her lips, the woman suggested, "I think we have some of Mrs. Harland's old clothes in the attic, if you don't mind. She was a bit taller than Carrie."

Adel gnawed on her bottom lip. "Um, but would you – or, uh, Tristan mind?" Where is Tristan anyway? She couldn't bring herself to ask though, not with Will hanging around.

Rosie's features gentled, but she didn't answer Adel's unspoken question. "We keep her stuff for memories, but she had so many clothes, some of them haven't even been worn before. If we hadn't had room to stash them away in the attic, we might have prepared some of them for Goodwill." She gestured up. "Do you want me to show you to the attic?"

"Oh, it's okay. I think I can find my way," Adel replied, feeling guilty for adding enough burdens to the housekeeper's work.

"Oh." Rosie nodded slowly. "Alright then, if that's what you want. The door to the attic is on the second floor directly at the end of the hallway. If you get lost though, feel free to ask any of the help wandering about."

She climbed the steps to the second floor, pausing at the landing. A wide area with separate corridors leading off to either side, she wasn't certain where to go.

A maid cradling a stack of china plates came out from the corridor to her left and stopped short. Blinking behind a pair of oval eyeglasses, the girl offered a tentative smile. "Can I help you?"

"I'm trying to find the attic."

"Oh. Is there something you need?"

"I just wanted to find some clothes –"

"And Rosie knows?"

"Yes," Adel said, slightly bewildered by all the questions.

The girl turned and jerked her chin in the direction she had come from. "The attic's all the way down there. The door's ajar so you can't miss it." The maid gave her one last polite smile before shifting the plates in her arms and making her way down the stairs.

"Thanks," Adel called after her. The left corridor didn't have windows, but it was still brightly lit with crystal wall light fixtures shaped in the design of lilies and the light dissolved off the transparent petals like liquid gold. True to the maid's words, the door all the way at the end of the hall was open. Peeking in, she realized that it was a set of shadowy stairs, but she could see shafts of sunbeams threading through the railing near the top steps.

Gingerly, she climbed the stairs and as she reached the top, she peeked between the wooden slats of balustrade. Her heart lodged in her throat.

No wonder no one had mentioned where Tristan had went. The man himself was in the attic all along.

Standing with his back to her, Tristan crossed his arms and cocked his head, surveying a stack of cardboard boxes that were propped up against the wall by the circular windows. He bent over, his blue shirt pulling taut across his shoulders as he reached out for a box. She hovered on the verge of fleeing as the memory of being in his arms yesterday night flitted forth in her mind. The way he had tugged her to him, the way his warmth had overwhelmed her, the way his words had come out of him, painstakingly, through gritted teeth …

"Don't leave. Don't fight with me."

"Don't go."

Her cheeks reddened, but before she could chicken out, she took the remaining steps and stood gawkily on the top step with her hand on the wooden banister. Thumb brushing the smooth surface, she tried out a nonchalant, "Hey."

He didn't seem to hear her, head bowed as he rummaged through a box.

"Hi." She waited. "Hi hi."

He didn't turn around and she took a step forward, wondering if she should touch his arm or maybe pound a fist into his shoulder. That's friendly, isn't it?

"Hey! You there!" She bellowed.

He jumped, fumbling with the box as he jerked around with a shocked and slightly annoyed expression. "Jesus."

She froze. Way to go, Adel. Major style points right there. Sure. "Hi. Good morning."

His momentary bewilderment had faded and now he was preoccupied, eyes raking up and down her body. His eyebrows climbed. "Wow … pink."

She wanted to hold her hands in front of her and maybe bend over low, hiding her clothes, but she figured he'd only ask if she needed to go to the bathroom or something. So she shifted uneasily and then blustered with a shrug, "Yeah, Carrie's clothes. Rosie said I could check here and see if I could find some of … your mother's clothes to borrow."

"Oh. Yeah, sure." He waved a hand over at some boxes in the right corner. "I think they should be there." As he glanced back at her, their eyes meant and an indiscernible expression flickered across his face. Hastily, he turned back to his own box as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm trying to find the rest of the china for Rosie. Thank goodness Hannah uncovered the plates for me."


"The new maid." Brows knitted, he closed the cardboard flaps with a sigh and set aside the box, reaching for the next one in the stack.

"Oh. Right." She nodded, heading over to search through the boxes in the corner. The first box she picked up was a box of toys though so she thought she must have gone too far to the right and shifted left to look through the next stack. A long period of silence passed between them with each of them in their respective spaces, rummaging through boxes.

After failing to find whatever he was trying to find though, she realized that Tristan had stopped. She didn't look over at him, but she could feel his eyes upon her. Swallowing hard, she bent her head low and shifted items around in the box blindly. She registered that they were some more plastic toy cars and not the clothes she needed, but she couldn't quite focus her attention.

He didn't make a move to interrupt her though and after some time, she casually slipped him a look out of the corner of her eyes. Propped against a large dusty armoire next to all the boxes, his posture was relaxed with his thumbs twined through his jeans' belt loops, his hands slipped into the pockets. Still, his eyes followed her.

She aimed her attention solely on the next box and found dolls instead. Picking one up, she fluffed its hair and then placed it back down with a small smile. Fascinated, she ran a finger along its red velvet dress with white lacy bows. She never really had a doll of her own when she was a child. She'd gotten teddy bears and these robot models (well, the latter belonged more to Lee actually), but she never got a real doll to dress up and have tea parties with. Not that she probably would have. Tea to her was more along the lines of going out for dim sum than sipping Earl Grey.

She jumped when a hand closed around the edge of the box and she glanced up, startled, into Tristan's blue eyes. A small smile formed on his lips. "Are you a fan of dolls?"

"What? No. No." She quickly flipped the flaps over and as she grasped the edges of the box, her hand brushed against his. Her pulse quickened and she jerked her hand back as if scalded, quickly turning her face away as she made a show of putting the box back into its original position, carefully aligning the corners.

Damn it. He was studying her again.

Uncomfortable, she tried to make small talk, "So where's your father?"

"Still in China," he answered without a hitch. "He'll come back for New Year's Eve." Now that she had apparently started up a conversation, he took it as an indication that she wanted to talk now. He started off with a pleasant, "Did you sleep well last night?"

"Oh. Yeah. Thanks."

"And have you been sleeping well these past few months?" His tone was still ever so congenial. "You know, wherever you have been."

Damn him. He was good.

"Quite well, thank you," she replied. She grabbed hold of the first box in the next stack and this time when she opened it, there were definitely a set of floral patterned sleeveless dresses in them. Eureka. But as she lifted up the first shirt to see the clothes buried underneath, her fingers came in contact with something smooth and papery.

"Why did you have to leave?" Tristan asked, serious now.

But she couldn't speak. Her grip on the fabric loosened as she dug out the photos. Dresses abandoned, she uncovered the photos of a young woman with long shoulder-length black hair modified with loose bangs cropped across her eyebrows. With a broad grin, she leaned against a dark-haired man whose eyes squinted at the camera as if he was reluctantly amused.

"Are you thinking up some story for me?" Tristan asked warily, impatient.

She didn't turn to him. All she seemed to be able to see are colors blurring in a kaleidoscope of marred pigments and the more she flipped through the photos, the higher her pulse spiked. Back stiffened, shoulders tensed, she'd never felt this strung tight before. On the verge of a breakdown, she forced herself to get a grip on the pictures and that's when she realized that her hands were shaking.

"Is this some joke?" Her whisper was so low, she was surprised she'd even voiced the words out loud.


She gazed at him. "Did you know all along?"

He looked lost, but when he took a step toward her, she stumbled back, drawing up close against the edge of the boxes behind her. His steps halted. "What are you talking about?" he exclaimed, confusion evident on his face.

She held the pictures out and bewildered, he accepted them. Glancing down at the old wrinkled photos, he quickly shuffled through them and he slipped her a look beneath his lashes. "I don't get it."

"You've never seen those pictures before?" Her voice was hollow.

His forehead wrinkled and he shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. I don't really remember. My mother had a ton of old pictures."

"Then why are these buried underneath some clothes instead of in albums?"

Taken back at her curt tone, he blinked. Annoyance flitted briefly across his face and then he retorted equally in kind, "I don't know. Maybe someone misplaced them or something during the packing."

"And you know absolutely nothing."

"Why are you acting so strange?" he snapped. "Don't think you can change the subject again. How hard is it to be honest and answer my questions –"

She pointed at the pictures in his hand. "That woman is my mother."

That gave him pause and his eyes passed over the pictures again with longer scrutiny. "They're your parents?"

"No." Blood roared distantly in her ears. "That's my mother and the man she ran away with."

There was no sound in the attic, save for the scratching of branches against the walls outside. Dust motes danced through the rays of sunshine and they stood in silence, her breath tightening in her chest. Tristan's eyes lifted to hers, a striking cerulean, hooded and cautious. "Why … would my mom have pictures of your mother and …" He trailed off.

Her jaw tightened and she stared back at him evenly. "You tell me."

"Adel …"

"You wanted to know why I was called back so quickly. You wanted to know why I was forced to cut off all contact with you." Her words tumbled out faster and faster until her breath heaved out in short gasps. "It's because your mother was the one who helped my mother abandon our family. It's with her help that my dad is the person he is today!"

Blinded, she looked away from him and tried to storm away. She almost made it to the stairs, but Tristan grabbed her, wrenching her around to meet him. His eyes searched hers and then he shook his head. "You're lying."

That only fueled her fury. "Why the hell would I lie about this?" she spat out.

"My mother wouldn't –" He shook his head. "How do you even know?"

"The letter that we were supposed to get from the lawyers after we satisfied our mothers' engagement plans for us. My father managed to get a copy because he was that eager to hear from my mom again."

Tristan watched her warily. "Get a copy? What's that supposed to mean? Did your dad have someone break into the lawyers' safe?"

That made her jerk in surprise, but she recollected herself again. "That's not any of your business. Nor is it the point." Her face was stony. "It wasn't a letter from my mother as we thought. It was a letter from yours – an apology. She wanted to say that she was sorry for helping my mom run away with some guy. She knew what she had done and she wanted to apologize to my dad and me for ruining our family!" She wrenched her arm free from Tristan and he dropped the pictures, the photos scattering to the ground in a fan of images.

Tears stung her eyes, threatening to spill over, but she held her stance and seethed, "Our engagement wasn't anything more than your mother trying to make herself feel better. Your mother sent you in her place to try to make amends. But did she honestly care? She left pictures of my mother here everywhere. And to think, I didn't want to tell you anything because I didn't want to ruin the memory of your mother!"

"She probably didn't mean for this to happen!" He erupted, face pale.

She ignored him, raging on blankly, "I didn't want to believe it, but every time I think of your mother offering her help … what did she do? Did your mom sneak money, help buy a new house, plane tickets for my mom while her children slept? Did she even think about the consequences? Your mother is the most deceitful woman I've ever –"

His face twisted in pain and anger. "Don't push this all on my mom. If you want to blame someone, blame your mother. She was the one who chose this and since my mom was her - was her friend, she stood by her. Naturally." He nodded to himself as if trying to convince them both. "It doesn't make this right, but your family shouldn't hate my mom for what yours did."

She felt slapped. "Can't you even understand where my dad is coming from …"

He continued, tone even and sharp. "For that matter, perhaps your mother had her own reasons. You were young. You don't know what her marriage was like. Maybe your father was horrible to her and she felt the need to run away –"

With all her strength, Adel shoved Tristan. He tripped over a box and ended up half sprawled against crumpled cardboard. Things fell in a thunderous clatter, but she was deafened, unable to gather her thoughts clearly.

"I was wrong about you," she stated. Bitterness and a hint of sadness tinted her broken voice. "Lee said I shouldn't tell you because you wouldn't understand. He knew that you'd take your mother's side. But I - I always thought you would see reason. I was wrong." She repeated. "I was wrong. For your mother, you'd blame the whole world before you'd admit she made a mistake."

A crack appeared in his granite expression and his features twisted in agony. "Adel," he breathed. "I didn't mean it that way. I wanted you to see – to see that there could be another side to the story too. Our mothers probably had their reasons –"

"So many reasons that your mom felt the need to send an apology to us after her death?" she interrupted flatly.

He went quiet. And her heart cracked.

"My mother destroyed our family," she murmured. "And yours helped. For this reason alone, my father will never forgive the Harlands." Adel watched a jolt run through Tristan and as he gazed at her, pupils so dilated that they seemed like darkened cyan, she finished, "I was wrong to come here. We should never have met. We should never meet again."

She sucked in a deep, quivering breath. "I'm sorry, Tristan. It was never your fault."

She turned to leave and somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered where she should wait until she could get someone to come pick her up. Would Lee come personally? Would she wait in the cold on some street corner, still dressed in her too small, baby pink pajamas? Dear lord, she was going to cry.

But before she could take one more step, something latched around her ankle and she nearly tumbled headfirst. But Tristan switched tactics and grabbed the back of her shirt, tugging her backward and she dropped backward into his arms, her breath leaving her. He twisted his body around so that one hand came around her shoulders and the other curved around her waist as he propped her head against his shoulder.

She blinked up at him as he snarled, "No."

"Excuse me?" she choked out.

She tried to sit up, but he bent over her and snapped through gritted teeth, "This isn't our problem. Why should we let something our parents did affect us?"

Something in his voice and his expression made her stomach do pirouettes and she responded in a slightly uneven voice, "Affect us? What?"

"You like me, don't you?" he said it so abruptly, it sounded almost like a statement. It felt so much like her dream, she was momentarily disoriented.

Adel could feel her face flushing and she hedged, "What are you talking about?"

"If you like me, you shouldn't let your dad affect you," he said.

She stared up at him. "Boy, you're arrogant."

He blinked, but even as the tips of his ears turned red, he cleared his throat in a perfunctory matter. "If he really cares about you, he would want you to be happy."

"He'd have a heart attack if he knew I was even talking to you," she declared darkly.

Frustration lined his forehead and he muttered, "Damn it, why are you such a slave to your father?"

That sobered her up. "I'd rather not discuss my loyalty to my father when you're so insistent that our mothers had good reasons for adultery."

"Can't you just picture that maybe your mother left because she couldn't stand your dad's mind games?"

She was starting to see red, but she kept her tone calm. "What?"

"It's obvious that he lords over you. He makes you jump through hoops. He asks you to try out an engagement with someone, you have no complaints. He tells you to stop seeing me, you fly off to the other side of the world. Don't you think he has a problem –"

She punched him. Startled, his grip on her loosened and she pulled away from him. He wasn't too hurt, but he cupped his chin, touching his jaw. "You –"

"Don't you ever think that the only reason my dad is so cold today is because of what my mother did to him? I'm his daughter," she bit off. "And he cares about me more than anyone in the world even if he doesn't show it all the time. I trust him."

"So much so that you'd give up on us?" Iciness lodged in his words.

Her voice matched the frosty tone. "Was there ever an us?"

At her words, the fierce look in his eyes instantly dulled and she could almost see him gathering pieces of himself, withdrawing back to that subdued Tristan he liked to present to the world. She couldn't bear it.

She made to scramble up to her feet but it was like some trigger for him and just as quickly, a battle broke out. With a muttered curse, Tristan shoved away the now mangled, bent boxes and reached for her. Instinctively, she resisted, tearing her hand out of his grip. His hands grabbed for her again and in the struggle, they kicked down five more boxes. One of them slammed into Tristan's shoulder and crashed to the ground with the sound of shattered glass, but he ignored it and literally dragged Adel across the floor back to him, trying to get her stay still. He grunted as her elbow jammed into his gut and he started to ponder the practicalities of somehow burying her in place with boxes stacked around her as a makeshift cage.

He slung his arms clear around her, holding her against him as she grappled with him. She squeaked, "The hell are you doing –"

"You're acting like an idiot," he barked.

"I'm not the one who's trying to beat up a girl! God, you're worse than Caine!"

"I'm not hurting you!" he gasped as he ducked the back of her head before it collided with his nose. "Just stop moving!"

"I could yell for help," she threatened.

"Then why don't you?" he dared and she bared her teeth at him. He continued to lecture her, "You let things blind you. You take the easy way out. You never give me a chance -"

"A chance for what!" She got her hands free and her right hand lashed out, clipping one of his ears. He immediately let her go, wincing as his eyes watered. He touched his earlobe, shaking his head slightly as if dazed.

She sat back heavily and watched with apprehension. "Are you okay? Did I kill your eardrums?" Ashen, she hovered over him. "I told you not to fight with me!" she practically wailed.

His hands shot out to grab both her ankles and he yanked hard, knocking her flat on her back. She hit the floor with a stifled squawk and as he tried to pin her down, she twisted her head and sank her teeth into his right wrist.

He reared back, clutching his hand, and she bucked, kicking him off of her. She scrambled for the stairs, but he was on top of her again, twisting her around. "You bit me," he snarled, disbelief evident on his face.

"So?" she retorted, glaring up at him. "Your girlfriend bit me. Now we're even."

"What girlfriend?"

"Victoria," she snapped.

"She's not my girlfriend." He rolled his eyes. "Did you forget the whole running off with Calhoun thing?"

"But you agreed to be her date in the first place." She was grasping at straws now, but she couldn't seem to be able to stop her mouth.

"Why do you care?" he hissed between gritted teeth.

Ouch. Flinching, she tried to jerk her face to one side, but his hands came up to her face. She thrashed underneath him, trying to bump him off of her, but she stilled as his touch gentled. So unlike his usual attitude, his hands tentatively cupped her cheeks as if he was afraid he'd hurt her. She couldn't move, but she kept her eyes averted.

Quiet and yielding, his voice held a touch of vulnerability that she'd never heard before. Slowly, he rephrased his words, "Why?" His fingers carded through her hair, cradling her face between his hands. "Do you care?"

A knife twisted in her heart. She felt like she was on the brink of betraying her father, but she couldn't think clearly anymore. Her voice broke. "Do you?"


She finally dared to look him in the eyes. His eyes were bright blue and they cut her deep, leaving her breathless.

"Adel." Tense, he stared down at her with such controlled distress as if he was trying desperately to smooth his features back into some semblance of composure. "I told you yesterday that you drive me absolutely crazy. I do care." An expression of pain flickered across his face. "Very much. Too much." He swept her hair away from her faces, the back of his knuckles gingerly brushing against her cheek. "I'm tired of games, Adel."

Her teeth sank into her bottom lip, checking her emotions. "Me too."

"And you actually punch quite hard." His tone softened, eyes crinkling. "I'd rather not get into fights with you again either."

"I didn't really mean to." Her voice was small. "I just wanted to … stun you."

His smile was minute, but indulgent. "You tend to do a good job at leaving me stunned, Adel, even without flipping me onto my back or shoving me into bushes or socking me in the face."

"Good stunned? Or bad stunned?" she hesitated to ask.

"Oh," he murmured, breath ghosting against her cheek. Her heart slammed against her ribcages, but it wasn't all bad. Everything felt strangely pleasant and lethargic to her, especially the way his thumb kept moving in slow, circular momentums along the spot right beneath her earlobe. His eyes were hooded, ash blonde locks falling into them, as he inclined his head, drawing his face closer to hers. "Well, yeah, mostly bad."

"What?" she exclaimed with a dark frown.

"But," he amended. "I've learned to like you anyway."

And before she could react, he kissed her. One second, he was smiling teasingly down at her and the next, he'd pressed his lips against hers. It happened so fast, as if the guy was half afraid someone was going to pop in and interrupt them again, her breath caught in her throat.

His eyes were closed, taupe lashes fanning out, and still shocked, she lay rigid beneath him as his warm lips molded to hers. Her eyelids gave way, falling shut, when his short hair brushed against her forehead, tickling her. As he deepened the kiss, his fingers trailed over her wrists, caressing the lines of her palms, bringing her hands up to his neck.

He broke off briefly to run his lips against her cheek, murmuring in her ear with mild amusement, "Try not to strangle me, yeah?" He kissed her ear, his hot breath sending a shiver through her body and she smacked his shoulder even as she entangled her hands around him, bringing him closer.

He dragged his mouth back to hers, feeling the curve of her smile against his.

Will's voice floated in, "Damn, are you guys killing each other in –" His mop of wavy hair popped into view and his words broke off.

They couldn't get away from each other fast enough. Tristan straightened up, grim and expressionless even though his ears were bright red, and Adel went rigid, arms dropping away from Tristan with a heavy thud. Her whole body felt lobster red.

Without a word, Will slowly edged back down the steps backward and when his head disappeared from view, they heard the thunderous bang of the door.

Then the door eased open again and the steps creaked as Will slinked back up, hands padding sneakily against the steps.

"I know you're there, Will," Tristan said dryly, though his voice was still a tad out of breath.

Will's eyes came back into view, peering over the landing. "I see no bicycle. So you're not tumbling around because of bicycle lessons." His eyes turned into slits. "No lies. I know everything," he bared his teeth.

They refused to answer him. She couldn't even meet Tristan's eyes, let alone speak.

"Now carry on!" Will commanded. With a maniacal crow, the boy all but rolled back down the steps and slammed the door shut.

Will kept glancing over his shoulder at the door longingly as he headed down the hall. Caine appeared at the end of the hallway, brows furrowed. "What the hell happened? It sounded like an earthquake."

"They were wrestling." Will beamed.

"Wrestling?" Caine choked, casting a concerned glance up at the ceiling.

"Yah, but no worries. It's more ooh, baby than bring it, bitch!" Will glanced up at the heavens, clasping his hands together in gratitude. "Finally." He bobbed his head with a cheerful grin that quickly morphed into a sly smirk when his attention cut to Caine. "Which is more than what I can say about you and Danielle."

Caine's expression darkened. "That's not funny."

"It is to me. HA HA HA!" Will pumped his hands in the air, tearing off down the corridor at a dead run.

"Crazy bastard," Caine muttered underneath his breath as he sent one last curious look back at the attic door and then followed his friend away.

Author's Note

Hope everyone had a lovely Halloween yesterday! And Happy NaNoWriMoing to those who are participating! Nineteen page chapter – it nearly killed me, but I hope you like it. Once again, thanks for reading and reviewing!

By the way, Will's T-shirt saying was actually inspired by a friend's real shirt so all props and credits goes to the hilarious designer.

A few readers have sent some lovely character pictures which I've posted up in my blog for any curious viewers. If you want to send images of your own, please feel free to do so by leaving a comment on the blog. (I can't get working links through fictionpress.) For more information and inquiries, once again, please address the blog since FAQs are generally found there. Thanks!

- Maeven

© Copyright 11/01/2008 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.