For two days, Kiara had been confined to her room with only Tania for company. Then, two hours ago, her blonde best friend's name had been called over the intercom and she'd left.
Now, it was Kiara's turn.
She was standing in front of the office door, trying to gather her courage. With a last steadying breath, she went inside.
The room smelled like cigar smoke, the detailed wooden panels on the walls boring a suspicious resemblance to prison bars. The heavy wooden desk took up is place with authority, a wall of paintings to its left and a bookcase to its right.
And behind it sat Nathan Houghs, his grey-haired head resting in his hands. He was rubbing his temples.
Next to him stood another man, with dark brown hair and round glasses over grey eyes. Masculum's Headmaster Colton.
Riley was at her side of the desk, rigid in one of the two uncomfortable-looking chairs.
At her entrance, all three of them looked up. It was Houghs who broke the unnerving silence. "Ah, the woman of the hour. Miss Westwin, please take a seat." Every word was soaked in sarcasm, which only increased Kiara's dread.
She obeyed and collapsed into the open chair, which turned out to be just as incommodious as it appeared. She tried to make eye-contact with Riley, but he avoided her gaze.
Nathan cleared his throat, hands folded in front of him, and started, "Let's take a look at your crimes, shall we? Feel free to interject if any of them are false. Received information from the outside world. Left Insulam autem Custodes without permission. Convinced three of our most valuable Guardians, my own daughter included, to join you on a potentially life-threatening crusade. You led a group with no basis for your authority. And you took eleven Guardians into battle without orders to do so… This is quite an impressive list, Miss Westwin. I assume that you also know that three girls died in Alexandria."
Kiara gulped and turned her eyes to the floor. "I am aware of that, yes. And I accept full responsibility for their deaths."
Headmaster Colton snorted audibly. "You don't know what the word 'responsibility' means."
"Even one of those crimes in punishable by exile," Nathan stated.
She held her breath in anticipation, preparing for the blow. It never came.
"But you did save the world and kill a hell of a lot of supernaturals while doing it. So, the punishment will be less severe. No Congregata or free weekends for three months."
Relief flooded over her like a wave and she nodded. "Thank you."
"There is still another matter for us to discuss," Houghs continued. "The unique way in which you dispatched Tiberius…"
Kiara felt betrayal twist in her heart like a knife and spun to look at Riley with daggers in her eyes. His cheeks were flushed and his expression a pleading apology.
She shook her head at him, tears threatening to escape. But she pulled herself together and turned back to face the headmasters. "Yes?"
"It has never happened in the history of the Guardians. We don't know why it's happening. Or even what is happening exactly. So, we'd like to keep you under observation."
She cocked an eyebrow. "Observation? Are you going to put me in a cage like a guinea pig?"
"No. We are going to place you under house arrest. No missions until we understand your… situation better."
A muscle feathered in her jaw. "Well, as soon as you figure out my situation, please enlighten me as well."
Her chair scraped against the wooden floor as she shot up, stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind her.
Halfway down the corridor, she spun to face Riley, who had followed her out of the headmaster's office.
"I don't want to talk, Riley," she said through gritted teeth.
He drew a hand through his dark blonde hair nervously. "Please hear me out."
She shook her head. "No. I won't hear you out. I am so disappointed in you. So disappointed. I asked you to keep this a secret and I trusted you to do that. But then you turn around and tell the worst person you could possibly tell."
He came closer, his palms held out in a wordless surrender. "You have to understand. I think it's better for you this way."
Her eyes widened incredulously. "Better for me? Then you obviously don't know me at all."
His golden eyes were so gorgeous and warm that she almost gave in. But then he spoke and her resolve strengthened again. "I just thought it would be safer for everyone if you took a break from missions for a while…"
Her heart broke. The one person she'd had faith in had proven her wrong. When she spoke, her voice cracked with emotion. "Safer for me? Or safer for the Guardians around me? I get it now. You're scared of me. You don't trust me to go on missions. What do you think is going to happen; I'm going to transform into a monster?"
"I didn't say that," he pleaded. "I care about you and the headmasters can help you."
"I don't need help, Riley! I'm not a freak."
His usually smooth tone turn ragged as he said, "Kiara, that's not what I-''
Kiara stepped up until they were face to face. "I saved your life." She shoved at his chest until he stumbled back. "I saved the world. I deserve some respect."
She spun on her heel and marched to her room.
Xavier Carlisle was sitting on the edge of Kiara's bed and Tania was nowhere to be seen.
Xavier's jet black hair was messy and his smile sincere. He was wearing beige chinos and a black sweater that complemented his sapphire portal-eyes and tan skin stunningly.
Seeing the tears welled up in her eyes, he shot up and wrapped his arms around her waist. He pulled her close and asked, "Why this sadness?"
She sniffed and shook her head. "Houghs put me under house arrest."
He scowled. "That is absurd." But his grin soon returned. "You are a hero. I am colossally proud of you. The headmaster should mount a picture of you in Feminam's foyer. Statues should be erected in your honour. Kiara Westwin – champion of the Guardians. You ought to be worshipped."
She giggled up at him. "Since when are you such a comedian?"
"My tone may imply humour, but my words are spoken in earnest."
"Thank you, Xav. This is exactly what I needed right now."
He leaned his forehead against hers. "I'll always be exactly what you need me to be."
Their lips met and her heart swelled. Riley's betrayal had been all she needed to finally give Xavier her entire heart.
So, she kissed him with total abandonment. Her hands twined into his hair. He pressed her body up against hers and let out a slow growl. She groaned in response. She lost herself in his spice-cologne smell. His powerful arms. His warm skin. His dark chocolate taste.
When he pulled away, he chuckled. "How are we supposed to be equals in a relationship when you are the world's saviour? How do I match that?"
She stepped out of his embrace and sighed. "Too bad I'm stuck here."
A mischievous smile played on his distracting lips. "Not necessarily."
Kiara looked up and frowned suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "I am a teacher. I am allowed to assign missions and I am prepared to assist you in escaping off Insulam."
"You'd do that to me?"
He stepped into a sun spot and his hair gleamed like a dark horse's mane. She suddenly thought of the Latin word for 'stallion'.
"Of course," he answered. "Besides, how shall we solve the mystery of your attempted captor if you are pent up in the College?"
She stood up. "You want to help me with that?"
He nodded and beamed irresistibly. "Let's go find out who's trying to kidnap you."