Chloe let out a gasp as Alek nibbled on that spot on her shoulder. God, he was good at that. She heard a ding echo from beside her and out of the corner of her eye she noticed a webcam request pop up on her computer.
“Ignore it,” Alek mumbled as his mouth moved lower toward her breast. “I guarantee I’m much more entertaining.”
Chloe lightly pushed him off. “It might be important,” she said. Things were still tense after she’d revealed to her friends that Whitley Rezza had recognized her as the Uniter. Chloe grinned down at Alek’s pouting face as she reached over for her computer where it perched precariously on her bedside table. Figuring it was just one of the boys, she didn’t bother putting any clothes on. Chase and Reid had both been known to webcam with her while they were bored in class.
She accepted the request and grinned widely, “Heeeeeeyyyyyyy,” she drew out the words as her eyes widened in shock. It was not the boys. “Mom!” she shrieked, pulling her bed covers up over her chest to her neck. Alek let out a choked sound behind her either in amusement or shock, she wasn’t sure.
“Chloe,” Elizabeth Simms scolded. “I know that you are not skipping school and that is not a naked boy in your bed.”
“Uhm.” Chloe hesitated, not sure how to respond. “Why are you webcam-ing me when I’m supposed to be in school?” she asked instead.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “It’s supposed to be your lunch break. I haven’t talked to you in weeks. I wanted to catch up.”
“What’s up?” the girl asked hesitantly.
“Why don’t we start with that boy in your bed?” Elizabeth smirked.
Chloe winced. “Mom, this is Alek. Alek… this is my mom.”
“Hello.” Alek gave a small awkward wave over Chloe’s shoulder. Elizabeth just gave him a raised eyebrow before turning the look back to her daughter. “Explanations?” she asked.
Chloe gave a small sigh and brought the computer to her lap, careful to keep the blanket to her chest and leave Alek out of the frame. Taking the cue that she wanted some privacy, he slipped out of bed and headed for shower so that she could talk to her mother alone. “So the kids at my school found out who I really was.”
Elizabeth immediately turned sympathetic. “Oh, sweetie,” she cooed remorsefully. “How are things going? Are they not going well?”
The strawberry blonde gave a very put upon sigh as she considered the situation. “I don’t know. I guess they’re going as well as can be expected. Every time I go to school I get mobbed. I mean, so far I don’t think anyone’s called the media to report that I’ve moved, but who knows how long that will last? The paparazzi could be knocking down my door any minute.”
“Is that why you’re not in school right now?” Elizabeth asked intuitively.
Chloe made a face. “Caught,” she admitted.
The brunette woman gave a small sigh as she looked away in thought. It was moments like this that made it easy to see that Elizabeth Simms was Tyler’s mother. They both shared deep black hair and piercing blue eyes. Even their mannerisms were the same. The only thing Tyler inherited from his father was his jaw line. “I don’t condone you skipping school,” Elizabeth finally said. “But I do understand the need for a break. Promise you’ll go back to school tomorrow?”
Chloe nodded. “Promise.” She had intended on returning tomorrow anyway so it wasn’t as though her promise was a hardship. She still wanted to graduate, after all. “So why did you call?” she asked.
Elizabeth looked startled for a minute before smiling in excitement. “Oh! Sam’s baby kicked me today! It was so cute!” she squealed.
“Aw.” Chloe pouted. “I’m missing out on so much,” she said with a hint of sad wistfulness.
“You’re doing good work out in California,” Elizabeth said, trying to cheer her adoptive daughter up. “It’s important. We know how much you wanted to be here, but it wasn’t in the cards.” Seeing that her words had little effect, Elizabeth tried for humor. “Besides, knowing Sam, she’ll be pregnant again soon enough.”
Chloe burst out into laughter. “That’s true,” she snickered. Sam Garwin was currently on Baby #5 and was determined to keep going until she got another son. Given her success rate, that seemed unlikely to happen anytime soon, but thanks to the fertility potions she had asked her son to brew her several years ago, Samantha was still capable of popping out babies like she was twenty despite really being forty-two already. “So what else is new back home?”
“Hmm.” Elizabeth paused to give it some consideration. “Your Uncle Reynold has a new girlfriend.” The two rolled their eyes at that. Ever since his divorce from his wife Victoria seven years ago, Reynold had a new girlfriend on a weekly basis that all seemed to be getting younger and younger. Everyone knew that he only did it to get back at his ex. Victoria, despite being divorced from the Covenant, was still welcomed like family. Evelyn Danvers had even named her daughter, Caleb’s sister, after her to prove that she was still one of them.
“Okay, anything else?” Chloe asked.
Elizabeth made an exaggerated thinking face. “Let’s see… baby kicked, new girlfriend… No, I think that’s it.” She smiled.
“I see I’m missing some riveting stuff back home,” Chloe teased back. “What about the girls?”
“Ooh!” Elizabeth grew giddy, as she always did when talking about the girls of their group, especially the babies. “Well, Victoria just won her science fair-”
“There are science fairs in the second grade?” the strawberry blonde asked incredulously. Her mom just shrugged.
“Apparently. Justice is having a dance recital next week,” Elizabeth continued on.
Chloe nodded. “Yeah, Reid told me about that. His parents promised to record it and upload it to him so we can all watch.”
“Oh, dear.” Elizabeth frowned. “Better hope Scott does it. You know how Samantha gets around technology. I swear, if I didn’t know any better I’d say that woman’s cursed.” She shook her head apathetically. “Speaking of which, Honor got into some more trouble at school last week.”
“Ugh.” Chloe rolled her eyes. Honor was a sweet girl, but worshipped her brother like a god. As much as Chloe loved Reid, he did not make for a good role model. Especially not for a 12 year old girl. “What happened?”
“Apparently some boy took a liking to her and asked her out a little bit forcefully. She punched him.” Chloe’s face contorted as she tried to keep her laughter in. “Yes, that was my reaction as well,” Elizabeth admitted. “You know it’s not just Reid, right?” Chloe looked at her mother oddly. “It’s you too. She loves you too. She acts like a combination of you and him.”
Chloe blinked in surprise before a fond smile crossed her lips. “Yeah, that does sound like something I’d do,” she admitted. It was flattering that Honor looked up to her so much. Reid had already told her that Honor wanted to be a singer and actress like Chloe so it probably shouldn’t surprise her that Honor also liked to mimic her – including some less than stellar personality aspects.
“I’ll tell you one thing. It makes the other moms and I dread you and Reid ever having a child together,” Elizabeth half teased, half admitted.
Chloe blinked before snorting in laughter. Soon that snort turned into hysterics as she tried to picture it. “Oh god, oh god,” she chanted as she tried to catch her breath. After a minute, she finally caught her breath. “Yeah, that would be a rollercoaster.” All of the families knew how close she and Reid were and while intellectually, they also knew about Alek, Reid was the only serious boy they had ever seen her with.
Elizabeth let out a small bell like laugh as well. “Who else is left?” she wondered, unsure of who she had already talked about.
“I think just Essence and Rebecca.” Chloe said, settling down. “Pogue told me Rebecca’s been having some trouble at work?”
Elizabeth gave a small sigh and a nod. “Yes. Actually, she quit her job.”
“What?” Chloe gasped in complete shock. “What happened? Pogue didn’t really mention what the problems she’d been having were.”
“Some of the upper level management was harassing her. Sexually. She reported the incidents but it’s not exactly something you can prove. It became their word against hers and since they were her bosses, they began to make work very difficult for her.”
“Is she okay?” Chloe asked worriedly.
“Oh, yeah. No, she’s fine. It was mostly just words. Remarks about wanting to sleep with her, offering her a promotion for sexual favors, that sort of thing,” Elizabeth reassured, not that the truth was any better. “Still, she held out as long as she could. She hoped that someone would do something, but after a month, she realized nobody would. And the worst part is they were still harassing her. So she quit.”
“God,” Chloe breathed out. “She loved that job. What’s she going to do now?”
“She’s looking for another job but since that was the biggest newspaper in Toronto, it looks like she’s going to be moving,” Elizabeth replied.
“Aw, man.” Chloe gave another sigh. “She liked Toronto. She was finally getting settled in there. Where is she thinking of going?”
“Well, she likes Canada, so I think she plans on staying there. And obviously, big newspapers mean big cities, so maybe Vancouver or Montreal?” Elizabeth guessed.
“Damn.” Chloe raked a hand through her hair. “What about Essence? Tell me she’s been having a better time of it.”
Elizabeth gave a laugh. “Oh, yeah. She’s still in school, but it looks like she’s already getting a job lined up as a translator for the UN. I think one of her professors at Oxford is helping her with it.”
“So one sister loses a job and the other one gets one,” Chloe summarized.
“Sounds like.” Elizabeth studied Chloe more closely. “What about you? I know we talked about the kids at your school, but is there anything else you want to tell me?”
Chloe froze. Now would be a great time to tell her mom about how she got made by the Order and how it was only a matter of time before they sent assassins after her. But she didn’t. She didn’t want her family to worry about her and she knew that the boys felt the same. That’s why no one had mentioned a word of it to their families. “Well, Alek and I got back together,” she said instead.
Elizabeth gave a small smirk. “Yes, I noticed that.”
“Caleb is dating my friend Jasmine,” Chloe continued to list.
“I believe Evelyn mentioned something about a young Mai girl.” The brunette woman nodded.
“Pogue and Mimi are still trying to figure things out.”
Elizabeth gave a sharp look. “Yes, I heard quite a bit about that from Victoria. Mimi is Alek’s ex-girlfriend, yes? And he used her to anger you after you two broke up, yes? Even though he knew she was dating Pogue, yes?” she asked despite obviously already knowing the answers.
“Yes?” Chloe replied awkwardly.
“And Pogue took her back after going back to Alek?”
Chloe shook her head, curls flying. “No, it wasn’t like that. Alek flirted with Mimi but they weren’t together. He was just trying to piss me off and Mimi got caught it the middle. Pogue didn’t like it, but they talked about it and it really wasn’t Mimi’s fault.”
“So it was Alek’s. The boy you forgave.” She gave her daughter a piercing look.
“Well he’s no Harry Potter,” Chloe tried to pull a joke using her mother’s words, but fell flat. “He apologized and he explained what he was thinking. He gets one more shot and that’s it.”
Elizabeth continued to look at her searchingly. “Alright, but be careful. If he broke your heart once, chances are he’ll do it again,” she cautioned.
“I love you too, mom.” Chloe smiled before signing off. Once her mother’s face left her computer screen, she collapsed into her bed with a groan. Well, that wasn’t awkward at all.
“Yo, Alek!” a random boy greeted as the Mai boy walked down the hall. Alek gave a smirk and a head nod back. That continued multiple times as he finally made his way to his girlfriend’s locker.
“Hello,” he purred in her ear before swooping down for a thorough kiss.
Chloe pushed him away after a minute. “Alek. We’re in public,” she reminded when he started getting a little bit too into it.
“Oh?” he retured. “Are you having a little trouble keeping your hands to yourself?” he teased. “You’re totally wet for me right now, aren’t you?” Alek smirked, looking down at his girlfriend with a devilish gleam in his eye.
Chloe merely raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think that?” she asked, acting unimpressed.
“Please.” Alek scoffed. “All the girls fall for my panty-dropping grin.”
Chloe let out a smirk and an internal crow of victory. She knew she had this little game in the bag. She reached up and trailed her finger down his chest. “Now, what makes you think I’m wearing any panties?” Chloe internally laughed as she pulled away from the wall of lockers and out from under her boyfriend and sauntered down the hall. The look on Alek’s face had been priceless. He was going to be standing in the corner getting himself under control for a while yet.
“That’s not very nice!” he yelled behind him, but made no move to leave yet. Chloe just laughed harder. It would serve him right. He’d been acting weird ever since the school found out that she was famous. At first she thought that he would get over it, but it’s been almost a month and he was still acting off.
In the end, it was Jasmine who pointed out what the problem was. “God,” she said, looking down at her cousin and his basketball friends in disgust. “It’s like you’re a trophy or something.”
Chloe blinked as she too looked down at the boys. They were taking a quick break during their practice and the entire team was crowded around Alek, teasing and rough housing, but none of their eyes ever strayed from Chloe. It was like they were trying to put on a show for her. She’d seen plenty of guys hitting on her to know when boys were trying to impress her. But what really bothered her was Alek’s arrogant smirk as he talked. His eyes didn’t leave her either. It suddenly occurred to her that his popularity had increased exponentially since people found out he’d been dating a star.
Jasmine was right. The boys were thinking about her like a trophy; something that could be won. She was used to that, but what bothered her was that Alek was starting to act like that too. As though he had won her and now was bragging to all of his friends.
She didn’t like that at all.
“Hey, what are you thinking about?” Alek asked, sitting down next to her. Apparently practice was over. And yet, there was a group of boys still standing at the bottom of the bleachers waiting for Alek.
Chloe considered telling him the truth, but she didn’t want to start a fight. Her fame was still new as was Alek’s extreme popularity. Perhaps the whole thing would still blow over. “Nothing,” she returned with a smile.
“Alright.” Alek nodded, accepting this easily. “I’ll be out in a minute,” he said before leaning down for a kiss. The minute their lips touched his friends began hooting and hollering, causing them to break apart.
Chloe scowled at the boys, but Alek just smirked knowingly and walked down the bleachers to join them. A boy put a teasing arm around the Mai’s neck and dragged him into the showers.
“Are you okay?” Jasmine asked the still annoyed strawberry blonde.
Chloe hesitated before opting to tell the truth. What was the point in having a girlfriend if you didn’t go to them for boy advice? “Do you think Alek’s been a little… Does it seem like Alek’s… It feels like I’ve stopped being Alek’s girlfriend and started being his prize,” Chloe finally said honestly.
Jasmine blinked in surprise before she contemplated her friend’s words. “Alek’s a pretty popular guy. And he likes that. Dating you had increased his popularity so I have noticed him treating you differently, but I know that he cares about you. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to treat you that way. Just give it a bit more time and things will settle down,” Jasmine advised.
Chloe nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought too,” she agreed. It was nice to see that it wasn’t all just in her head, though. Jasmine saw that Alek was acting different too.
The three teens went outside to meet Amy, Paul and Mimi before climbing into their cars and heading toward Chloe’s house. Things were still weird between Mimi and the others, especially after Alek flirted with her, but they were still friendly and Chloe was trying hard to make her part of their group. Mimi mostly went along with it in order to see Pogue who was her sort-of-but-not-quite boyfriend.
“Hey, what’s that?” Amy asked as the group made its way toward Chloe’s front door.
“Hmm?” Chloe asked, looking up. Spotting a package on her doorstep, she picked it up while simultaneously opening the door. “Oh, it’s from Aunt Samantha and Uncle Scott,” she stated after reading the label. She made her way to the kitchen to put it on top of a pile of unopened packages.
“Woah,” Paul said, impressed. “What’s up with all of the boxes?”
“Huh?” Chloe asked in distraction, her head already deep in the refrigerator as she searched for something to eat. “Oh, they’re presents that came early.”
“Presents?” Alek asked carefully.
“Mhmm. For my birthday next week,” Chloe replied around a mouthful of cold pizza causing the others to stare at her in surprise. They had no idea it was her birthday. “I’m gonna put my stuff away,” she said, lifting her bag with one hand, the other still holding her slice of pizza.
The minute Chloe was gone, they all began speaking. “Did you know-” “No, I had no idea.” “What are we going-” “I need to go shopping.” “I feel so bad-”
“What about a party?” Jasmine interrupted their ramblings.
“Ooh! Like a surprise party!” Amy squealed.
Jasmine looked at the girl warily. “No, I pretty much meant like a normal party.” Amy pouted in response but before she could say anything, a voice came from behind her.
“Did I hear the word ‘party’?” Reid asked as he came through the garage door, the others right behind him.
Jasmine smiled when Caleb immediately came up to her and gave him a sweet kiss. “Aww, Cay’s got a girlfriend,” Reid teased with a coo. He began making kissing sounds, the other three soon joining him.
“What are you? Four?” Caleb asked, drawing away from his girlfriend.
“Dude,” Tyler responded. “We’re a very mature four and a half.” Even Caleb cracked a smile at that response. “So what’s this about a party?” Tyler asked, bringing the subject back around.
“We just found out it’s Chloe’s birthday next week and we want to throw a party,” Amy explained.
The five boys froze. “Oh, no,” Caleb said immediately. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Alek frowned. “Why not?”
“It’s her eighteenth,” Pogue replied, his arm around Mimi’s shoulders.
“So? All the more reason to throw her one since eighteen’s such a big deal,” Paul said, looking completely confused.
Caleb shook his head. “The eighteenth birthday is a really big deal for a witch. It’s the day that their powers fully mature; their Ascension.”
“I think I remember Chloe telling us something about that.” Jasmine frowned as she tried to recall the memory.
Caleb nodded. “The eighteenth birthday is traditionally spent with close family only; those who know about our magic. But the exact birthday – the exact time Chloe was born – will be spent with the five of us. That exact moment is when she Ascends. It’s a right of passage that traditionally is only shared with those of her coven.”
“So is your family flying out?” Mimi asked.
Caleb shook his head. “Nah, it’s usually just whoever’s already there. For our birthdays, it was just our parents and our little sisters. Our older siblings didn’t come home. The only reason we’d fly out is if it was one of us. Like if we were going to school back home and Chloe was here, we’d fly here to be with her or fly her home. Other wise, there’s no point since the Ascension is just going to be the six of us anyway. Our families have been sending her gifts all week though.”
“Well, we know your secret. Why don’t we have a party with just us?” Amy offered.
Caleb looked at his brothers who all looked back at him before he nodded his head. “Okay. What did you have in mind?”
Chloe perused the rack of clothing in front of her, nothing really catching her eye. The press had finally found out that Chloe had moved to San Francisco and were now dogging her every move. So now she was trying to keep a low profile. She wore flip flops, boot cut blue jeans and an old band t-shirt she stole from Reid when she was like 13. Her hair was up in a bun and hidden under a backwards baseball cap and she wore big, black sunglasses that were currently sitting on top of her cap since she was indoors.
Flipping through another rack, she picked up a pink sundress and held it up to her body, turning to look in the mirror. She cocked her head to the side to inspect herself when a flash of movement behind her caught her eye.
In the department over stood a man dressed in black jeans and a dark polo. Chloe blinked as she realized that the man looked familiar. He had also been in the jewelry store she was in earlier and now that she was thinking about it, she saw him in line behind her at Starbucks too.
Realizing that this could be no mere coincidence, Chloe grew wary. It could simply be a creepy fan. It could also be an Order assassin.
Either way, Chloe kept her cool and pretended that she noticed nothing. She picked up the dress and made her way to the changing rooms. If he was an assassin, he wouldn't be able to resist the chance to get her alone.
As she slowly made her way there, she took out her phone and casually began texting, not letting on that she was really telling Chase and Caleb what was going on just to let them know what was up, in case. Caleb didn't reply immediately but Chase quickly sent her a text back saying that he'd be there in two minutes.
Chloe slipped into the dressing room and immediately pressed herself to the wall. That way he wouldn't immediately see her when he came in. Her phone vibrated silently in her hand, prompting her to look down. It was just Caleb promising to be there soon as well.
Chloe waited patiently, but seconds turned into minutes and she began to wonder if she was merely being paranoid. Perhaps it really was just a fan stalking her. It wouldn't be the first time.
She waited several more minutes, but no one else came in. Finally deciding she was safe, she moved away from the wall, looking down at her phone to begin texting the boys the false alarm.
Suddenly she felt a whoosh of air behind her as a man grabbed her tight, encasing her arms and forcing her to drop her phone. Unable to move, Chloe was forced to stare ahead and what she saw made her want to slap herself. Along the far wall was a long row of mirrors that she hadn't noticed before. The reason that the man didn't come in immediately was because he could see her waiting for him.
Her eyes turned black as she attempted to Use, but the man squeezed her tighter. Her vision grew foggy as she fought to breathe, her eyes going back to their usual blue. The Power took energy and concentration and she was quickly losing both. She couldn't even get enough air into her lungs to scream. She tried to fight; to kick, but quickly stopped when she realized that it was doing no good and only ended up wasting her precious air and energy.
Her eyes drooped low as she fought to stay conscious. Her ribs ached something fierce and she wondered if a couple weren't broken, but even the pain wasn't enough to keep her eyes open. Her body began to relax as she lost consciousness.
"Chloe," a familiar voice called to her. "Baby Girl, you gotta wake up."
"Reid?" she slurred as she struggled to open her eyelids. It took a minute, but she quickly recognized her surroundings. She was back home splayed out on the couch in the living room. "W'happened?"
"Oh thank god," Tyler muttered, the relief tangible in his voice. He leaned down to nestle his face into her hair. "I thought I lost you," he murmured into the strawberry blonde curls.
The four brothers exchanged looks behind Tyler's back. Most of the time, Tyler's unhealthy love for his 'sister' was easily ignored and forgotten. Other times… well, let's just say it was a wonder that Chloe never figured it out.
"I'm fine, Ty," Chloe replied as she slowly tried to sit up on the couch. Tyler quickly tried to help her while simultaneously putting a pillow behind her back so that she'd be more comfortable. "Stop mothering me," she muttered with a small scowl. Tyler reluctantly backed off to join the other boys. "So what happened?" she asked again.
"When I got there, that guy was standing over your body, choking you. You'd already passed out by then, but I swear… I thought you were dead," Chase said, his face pale as he recalled walking into that dressing room. "I flew into a rage," he confessed. "I didn't even bother Using. I just started pounding on the guy."
"That's where I came in," Caleb added in. "I walked in to find Chase beating the guy and you on the floor. I… you didn't look good," he stated uncomfortably, looking away. It was easy to see what he was reluctant to say. He too thought she was dead. "But I checked your pulse and found it. I'd already texted the boys to meet us. When I turned around, Pogue had pulled Chase off the assassin, but the minute Reid turned up and saw you lying there, he started going at the guy too. Then Tyler showed up. We thought he'd pull Reid off…" Tyler was the one who typically handled Reid's moods. It wouldn't have been the first time that Tyler had pulled Reid out of a fight.
"What?" Chloe asked, realizing that she was missing something. "What happened then?" The five boys exchanged looks. "Tell me!" she demanded.
"Instead of pulling Reid off, I killed the guy," Tyler confessed coolly, not a hint of remorse on his face. "He hurt you so I killed him."
His cold expression caused the other four boys to exchange looks. Out of all six of them, Chase was the only one who had ever killed anyone before and even then it was when he was at his most crazed with addiction. Tyler was the youngest, not including Chloe, and also the sweetest. For him to kill someone… And not just that, but for him to be so alright with having killed someone… It didn't take a genius to realize that there was something very wrong there.
Pogue bet that Tyler was in shock and would probably break down about it later. Right now he had laser focus, however, and it was targeted entirely on Chloe.
Chloe could easily read the others' uneasy looks and it wasn't hard to figure out the cause, but she had no idea what she was supposed to say or do in this situation. Intellectually, they all knew that they would probably have to kill in this war against the Order and even if they didn't have assassins after their blood, the Covenant had in the past killed anyone who had found out their secret. They were raised with the concept that sometimes there was no option but to take a life.
But knowing it and doing it were two totally different things.
"Then what happened?" she asked, avoiding discussing Tyler's revelation.
"We took you home," Caleb replied. "You've only been out for about a half hour."
Chloe hesitated to ask, but knew that she must. "And are we sure… are we sure that I didn't die?"
The five boys exchanged looks. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Chloe was the Uniter and that she was born with the gift of nine lives. She had already lost a life as a child in the Order raids against her village in Ukraine which meant she only had eight lives left. Along with the gift of life, was also the curse of death, for each life of hers that was taken would be more painful than the last.
"We don't know," Pogue confessed. "Reid's got the Book but we haven't checked yet." The Book in question was a magical book that recorded the details of Chloe's life, even if she didn't know those details herself. It was how they found out that she died in Ukraine and it would be how they found out whether she died today.
Chloe reached out to accept the book from the blond boy. Reid reluctantly relinquished it. On the one hand he knew that he was too chicken shit to open the book himself, on the other, he didn't want Chloe to either. If it was possible to live in ignorance, he would prefer that than to accept that Chloe had died. But that wasn't possible. Each and every life of Chloe's needed to be carefully recorded and kept track, even if only so that they knew when her final life was up.
Chloe carefully cracked open the book and was unsurprised when it magically began flipping its pages to the correct spot. Hunching over, she began to silently read. Her eyebrows furrowed as she read an in depth and scarily accurate of her attack and rescue. Finally she got to the important part. Re-reading the section twice, Chloe finally closed the book shut.
"Well, it looks like I'm down to seven," she said, looking up with a frown.
Pogue muttered a denial as Caleb groaned and Reid began swearing. Tyler was scowling rather heavily and it was easy to tell that Chase was wishing that Tyler hadn't killed that assassin so that he could make the man first live in pain before finally having the peace death brought.
"At least now I know why I feel okay," Chloe said, trying to lighten the mood. Her ribs were sore and likely bruised, but they didn't feel broken the way she had feared they would. If she had died then she would have woken mostly healed, so it would make sense that her pain was minimal.
After a moment of silence, Caleb spoke up. "We need to up the schedule." The others looked at him in confusion. "Of the negotiations," he clarified. "We need to get this done quicker. We need more back up, more protection and we can't get that until there's peace."
Chloe nodded, at first with reluctance but then with gradual acceptance. "I'll call the factions," she said standing up. Suddenly she paused. "Has anyone called the Mai?" she asked in curiosity.
"Mom?" Jasmine asked hesitantly as she walked into her mother's study. "I just got a call from Caleb."
"Ah, yes." Valentina raised an eyebrow. "Your witch boyfriend," she said with disapproval. Jasmine wasn't sure if her mother disapproved of her having a boyfriend who wasn't a Mai or of her having a boyfriend at all. Valentina had a lot of expectations for her daughter and worked Jasmine hard so that she could reach them. Valentina was not a fan of distractions.
"Something happened today," Jasmine said instead. "Chloe was out shopping and she was attacked."
"What?" Valentina said, standing up in angered surprise. "Where were you?" she asked.
Jasmine winced. "It was a public store," she tried to defend. "And Chloe wanted to be by herself. She said that she would be okay."
"But clearly she was not," Valentina hissed, pacing angrily.
There was silence for a moment before Jasmine reluctantly spoke again. "It gets worse." Noticing her mother's full attention back on her, Jasmine winced before squaring her shoulders. This was her fault; she would take this with dignity. "Chloe died. She lost another life."
Valentina snarled, positively animalistic with her Mai claws released. Next to her, a vase fell to pieces where she sliced through it in anger. "I trusted you to protect the Uniter! And you're telling me that not only did you fail, but that Chloe lost a life too?" she asked rhetorically.
Never the less, Jasmine answered. "Yes. I'm sorry."
Valentina took a calming breath, her claws retracting and her cool demeanor returning. "I'm very disappointed in you," she said simply, sitting back behind her desk in an effective dismissal.
Jasmine bit her lip but left her mother alone. Valentina gave a small sigh and wondered if she was putting too much on her daughter. She reached over to pick up her phone, dialing her right hand man within the Mai. "Jacob? Yes, I need you to schedule a Mai watch over the Uniter… I know what we agreed on with the Covenant, but the Order is picking up their activity and we need to be more vigilant. She lost a life tonight… No, add the kids into the rotation, but explicitly warn them not to tell her. They're both close with the Uniter, even Mimi, and might tell her about our break in agreement. I don't want the Uniter knowing we're protecting her unless we absolutely have to. It's best that we postpone that fight as long as possible."
Chloe raced from her last class and darted through the hallway. Ever since the school found out her real identity, she'd been stared at non-stop like a freak sideshow.
"Hey, Chloe!" a random girl greeted her.
Chloe gave a tense smile back. That was another thing. People she'd never so much as spoken to were suddenly acting like they were her best friends. She was used to popularity; even before they found out the truth, she had still been pretty well liked. But this behavior was similar to what it was like back at Spencer when she'd been the most popular girl in school. Everyone wanted to be her friend; wanted to suck up to her. The difference was, those people were people she'd known practically her whole life whereas these people were all total strangers.
"What's up, Chloe?" a cute boy asked her with a flirtatious grin.
Before Chloe could respond, Alek appeared. "Nothing," he growled out, scowling until the other boy left. Alek wrapped an arm tight around Chloe's shoulders and began to lead her to her locker.
He'd been doing that a lot lately.
Alek had always been pretty touchy feely. It probably had something to do with his feline Mai DNA. But that had been cute. Now it was overkill.
All he seemed to do when he was around her was wrap an arm around her or kiss her in public. It was like he was marking his territory, which google had informed her was a cat thing as well as a dog thing, so it was very possible that he was indeed doing that. The only problem was that it was suffocating Chloe.
He hadn't been like this before and the only thing different was that people knew the truth. He was being over possessive and she wasn't sure if it was jealousy or a way to show off. Sometimes, like right now, it seemed like jealousy. But other times, he positively strut down the hall when Chloe was with him.
Shaking her thoughts off, Chloe gave a sigh once she got to her locker. She had promised to give Alek time to get used to all the attention and she would. Hopefully he would calm down soon, because Chloe didn't know how much more of this she could take. Her whole life she'd had the freedom and means to do anything and be anyone. She didn't do well being boxed in.
"Hey, Chloe!" Amy waved ecstatically as she and Paul came up to the couple. "How was it today?"
"Oh, you know. Creepy," Chloe replied honestly. The kids were still staring at her all the time. She couldn't even go to the bathroom – one boy actually followed her in! "I need a break."
"How about the beach?" Jasmine suggested as she and Mimi came up to the group. "It's getting to be chilly out, so the water will probably be to cold to swim in, but we can still hang in the sand, maybe build a bonfire."
"Oh my god, yes." Chloe jumped on the offer. "That sounds so awesome. We used to have bonfire parties all the time back home."
"Cool. I'll call Caleb and have the boys meet us after their classes," Jasmine offered, reaching into her pocket to pull out her phone.
The group headed for the doors and walked outside only to be bombarded by flashes.
"Chloe!" "Ms. King!" "Look over here, Chloe!" "What are you doing in San Francisco?" "Chloe, Chloe!" "You're so pretty!" "Is it true you got kicked out of your boarding school and this was the only school that would take you? A public on the other side of the country?"
Chloe covered her eyes against the flares and forced her way through the mountain of paparazzi, Alek and Jasmine helping by shoving reporters out of the way. They made it to her Audi and Chloe and Alek climbed in while Jasmine joined Mimi, Amy and Paul in Amy's Bug. The other teens had easily gone around the mob when it became obvious that the reporters only had eyes for Chloe.
Luckily the reporters didn't follow Chloe to the beach and they were saved even if it was only for a little while. They all piled out and picked a spot. It was mostly deserted given the fact that it was nearing winter. There were a couple of surfers in wetsuits nearby however.
"I didn't know you could surf here," Chloe commented as they all sat down.
"You can't really. The swells are nice, but it's freezing and of course, there's the huge population of sharks," Jasmine explained. "Only hardcore, experienced surfers will catch waves here."
"I don't care how experienced you are, you would have to be dumb as fuck to do that," Reid chimed in as he and Tyler came up behind the group. Reid had a cooler and it didn't take a genius to figure they were filled with beers. Tyler however was carrying a bunch of beach towels. "Caleb, Chase and Pogue still have classes," Reid said as he sat down next to Chloe, planting the cooler in front of them. He looked around and spotting no one, he quickly Used his powers to create a small unlit bonfire at the center of their circle.
Tyler threw the towels down and everyone reached out to grab one to sit on. The towels were laid out sideways since no one was planning on laying out to sunbathe. This allowed two people to share a towel. Chloe sat on Alek's while Reid and Tyler shared next to her.
She reached out and grabbed a beer, taking a long pull. She needed the alcohol after the day she'd had – hell, the week, she'd been having.
"Long day, Baby Girl?" Reid asked as he too took a sip of his drink. He and Chloe were the only ones who took any of the offered beers, the others sticking to soda.
"I don't want to talk about it," she muttered, hiding her face into her arms which lay crossed over her bent knees. There was silence for half a beat before she finally turned her head to look at the blond and caved in. "Okay, actually, it's like New York or LA." Reid winced while Tyler muttered an 'ouch'. Those two cities are where Chloe tended to get paparazzi stalked the most. "I don't want to talk about it," she muttered again.
"Let's play a game," Amy suggested. "To get your mind off of it."
"Ooh! How about truth or dare?" Paul asked excitedly.
"You just want to ask us more Mai/Witch questions," Chloe teased.
Paul shrugged unapologetically. "It's still a game."
"I'm down," Reid agreed.
"Then you're first." Chloe turned her head to face him, a small smirk on her lips. "Truth or dare?"
Reid cocked his head to the side. "I don't trust that smirk, Baby Girl. Truth."
Her smirk widened. She'd been counting on that. "Did you Use to make my bikini top come undone at Kira's party my freshman year?"
Reid groaned while Tyler chuckled knowingly beside him. "Aw, man. Haven't you forgotten about that yet?" the blond asked instead.
"Answer the question, Garwin," Chloe instructed.
"Yeah, answer the question, man," Tyler smirked, laying a friendly teasing arm around Reid's neck.
"Yes, okay," Reid confessed. "And it was hysterical. I have no regrets," he said as he leered down Chloe's top.
The strawberry blonde rolled her eyes, ignoring the way her boyfriend scowled at Reid's teasing. "You're such a jerk." She reached out to shove Reid hard on the arm, causing him to crash into Tyler. "Aaron stalked me for a month after that little incident."
"Yeah, I know." Reid half grimaced, half smirked. "We had to have a little talk with him after we caught him trying to spy on you outside the girls' locker room." Chloe grimaced in response. She wouldn't put it past Aaron. The guy was a creep.
"Okay, Jasmine." Reid turned to look at the tan girl. "Truth or dare?"
"Truth," Jasmine replied. She didn't know Reid that well, but even she knew that he could not be trusted with a dare.
"How is Caleb in bed? Really?"
Chloe spat out her beer as she tried to control her laughter. Tyler didn't fair any better either. "Dude, why would you ask that?" the brunet questioned incredulously.
"I'm tired of some people," here Reid glared at Chloe meaningfully, "implying that Caleb is the best fucking lay in the world. I bet he's got to be crap in bed." He turned to look at Jasmine. "He is, right?"
"Sorry," Jasmine shrugged, a blush on her cheeks. "I wouldn't know. We haven't gotten that far yet."
"But you guys have been dating for weeks," Reid said in confusion.
"Some people don't put out on the first date," Chloe teased.
Tyler couldn't resist joining in on the ribbing. "Yeah, man. Some people have class."
"Who has class?" Pogue asked as he, Caleb and Chase showed up behind them.
"No one, nothing, shut up," Reid scowled. He hated it when his family ganged up to tease him. He did the teasing, not the other way around. "Where you been?" he asked instead.
Pogue held up the bundle of blankets in his arms as he sat down next to Mimi. "It's getting dark out so we went to the house to grab blankets and some food."
"Who wants pizza?" Chase chimed in as he set down the boxes he was carrying.
"Ooh, yes, please." Chloe reached over to grab a slice. "I've missed this," she confessed.
"What?" Caleb asked. He had sat down next to Jasmine and had wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they snuggled under a blanket.
"Just hanging, chilling. No Order, no assassins, no fame, no fortune," Chloe replied as she snuggled under her own blanket and leaned into Alek.
"We have been kinda caught up lately, haven't we?" Chase asked rhetorically.
The mood turned kind of melancholy before Reid unexpectedly snorted, causing everyone to look at him oddly. "Dude, we are not having another Trivial Pursuit night."
Suddenly Caleb, Tyler and Pogue roared with laughter while Chloe started hitting Reid with her blanket, an angry blush on her cheeks. "Shut up! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"
"What's going on?" Amy asked. Even Chase looked confused.
"When we were, what, thirteen? We'd just gotten our powers and Chloe decided that we needed to have a game night because we'd been so busy studying the Books that we hadn't had a chance to just hang out. Well, the only game we could agree on was Trivial Pursuit. Chloe lost epically. I mean it was sad," Reid explained in between blanket beatings. "Ever since then Chloe has banned the game Trivial Pursuit."
The entire group burst out laughing while Chloe just pouted. "I hate you all," she announced dramatically. Internally, however, she was smiling. It had been a while since they'd all been together, laughing and relaxing. She really had missed this. And she knew that with the Order coming and the Negotiations quickly approaching, that they may not have another chance to relax like this for a long while.
"How did you manage to talk my brothers into this?" Chloe wondered as she and Jasmine crept down the empty hallway.
"It was surprisingly easy," Jasmine replied. "At least it was after we mentioned the pool part."
"Ah." Chloe nodded in understanding. "The boys do love to swim," she conceded as they finally stepped inside their destination.
"Surprise!" Amy cheered once Chloe walked in, despite the fact that it was not, in fact, a surprise. It was the middle of the night and they had just broken into their high school's pool to throw Chloe her birthday party. "Have some cake." Amy shoved a piece into Chloe's hands.
Alek smirked as he walked up to Chloe. "Happy birthday," he whispered as he leaned down for a chaste, yet meaningful kiss. He wrapped his arm around her and tucked her into his side comfortably while she ate her cake.
"Happy birthday, Baby Girl!" Reid cheered from the water. He and the other boys had already jumped in, not bothering to wait for Chloe to arrive to her own party.
"Thanks." Chloe gave a smirk. "So nice of you to wait for me before enjoying yourself." Reid just gave a casual shrug in reply as if to say 'what can you do'.
There was music playing softly in the background as Chloe talked with her friends. Finally, the boys left the pool in favor of drinks and food… and the birthday girl, of course.
Chloe walked toward the edge of the pool and was just about to comment, well, tease the boys about how they ignored her when she heard the sound of rolling thunder. She froze in recognition. That sound proved to be the only warning she got.
Clouds quickly began to roll in, the earth began to rumble and a storm began to brew. Amy let out a heart stopping scream catching everyone's attention as Chloe was struck viciously by lightning.
"Chloe!" Alek yelled out running toward the girl before Jasmine caught his arm to prevent him from getting too close. "What is going on?" he asked hysterically as he was forced to watch Chloe scream in pain.
"It can't be," Reid muttered, staring with a furrowed brow, catching Amy, Paul, Alek and Jasmine's attention.
"What can't be?" Jasmine asked before Alek could get even more upset.
"This is what we were telling you about. The Ascension," Tyler explained, looking worried for his sister.
"But it's too soon," Reid added, not taking his eyes off the girl as a wave of pure power radiated out of her like a shockwave. The force of the power caused Jasmine and Alek to take a step back in order to keep balanced, but Amy and Paul were blown backwards, falling to the floor unconscious. The Covenant didn't even flinch. "Her birthday isn't for another 3 hours."
Chase was silent for a moment before his face turned solemn in realization. "We're forgetting one important thing. We're in California."
The other boys plus Jasmine and Alek looked at him in confusion, wondering why he'd choose to bring up something so blatantly obvious and equally unimportant before suddenly, Caleb's eyes widened with understanding. "Shit," he muttered causing everyone to turn to face him questioningly, wondering what he seemed to understand from Chase's words that they didn't. "It's 12.04 in Massachusetts."
Tyler, Pogue and Reid's eyes all widened as they too understood what they had missed. Reid let out a curse as he realized their stupidity whereas Tyler chose to let out his anger by kicking the wall. Pogue did neither of those things. Nothing could be done about it now. All they could do was be there for their sister as she Ascended.
"But Chloe's from Ukraine," Pogue mentioned. "So, that would mean that her birthday had been converted beforehand to what it would have been in Massachusetts."
"Probably by her dad." Caleb nodded. "It sounds like something Mr. King would've done." They had never met Jonathon King, but the man had been meticulous in setting up protections for his daughter. He certainly would have been the type to convert the time Chloe was born to the time it would have been in Massachusetts in preparation for her Ascension. He would've had no way of knowing that they would move to California, thus screwing up his calculations.
Alek couldn't take his eyes off his girlfriend. The lightning bolts had stopped, but there were still sparks across her skin; bursts of electricity that made the hair on his skin stand on end. The bursts seemed to occur faster and faster, causing Chloe to scream louder until finally, she was bathed in a bright light of electricity. Her body liquefied as she dropped to her knees before the water reformed into her body.
After ones' Ascension, the Power becomes their life; the body becomes capable of channeling so much more power than before. The liquefaction and reformation of her body is what allows the Power to entwine more deeply. It's what allowed for the Covenant's strength, but it's also what caused the aging.
"Chloe!" Alek rushed forward, but Caleb quickly got in his way.
"Not yet," he cautioned the blond Mai. "She's not ready yet." They turn to watch to Chloe. The room was silent save for her ragged breathing. She reached out a shaking hand and pressed it against the floor, using it to help push herself up. She stood unsteadily, leaning back heavily against the wall before forcing herself away, standing using her own willpower. Finally, she looked up to meet their gaze.
"Chlo!" Reid cried out as he was instantly by her side, Tyler not far behind him. In seconds she was surrounded by her family who were all hugging her and checking her over to make sure she was okay.
Alek scowled at the scene but Jasmine's gentle hand on his arm cautioned him against making a scene. Like it or not, he knew that these men were Chloe's family and because of that, they would always take priority with her.
The boys led Chloe out, not giving Alek a second glance. Caleb turned around as the others exited the room. "We're bringing her home. You can wake Amy and Paul up and meet us there if you want," he instructed distractedly. His eyes kept wandering to the hallway that Chloe was going down. It was easy to see that his thoughts still lingered with his baby sister. Once he finished, he quickly left, not even sparing a glance to his girlfriend.
It stung at Jasmine's pride a little bit but she understood. She quickly went to Amy to gently wake the girl. "Alek," she growled when Alek made to follow Caleb. "Wake Paul first," she ordered.
He scowled back at her, unhappy with her orders. He wanted to check on Chloe. Regardless, he reached down to shove Paul's shoulder. "Wake up," he demanded of the Korean boy.
Paul's eyes fluttered open. "What happened?" he asked blearily.
"You fainted," Alek answered while getting up.
Jasmine rolled her eyes. "Chloe ascended," she reminded gently as Amy began waking up as well. "The boys took her back home. When you feel up to it, we'll follow them."
Alek scowled at the clause Jasmine had added. Why did they have to wait for the humans to 'feel up to it'? Why couldn't they just shove them in the car and drive? Who knows how long it would take them to recover-
"Let's go!" Amy demanded, sitting up. Her legs quickly gave out on her causing her to collapse into Jasmine's arms. Stubbornly, she let go of Jasmine and tried to stand on her own again, this time succeeding. "Chloe needs us." She strode determinately towards the door, clearly expecting everyone to follow her.
Alek gave a small smirk before doing so. Alright, maybe the humans weren't that bad after all.
In bed, Chloe turned onto her side to get more comfortable. It was early in the morning and she had been watched over all night by her friends. Even now she could make out Reid asleep in her chair, facing the bed and she could feel Alek's eyes on her from the other side of the room. It was nice to know she was this loved.
Of course the boring of eyes into her back made it difficult to sleep.
Awake, Chloe had no choice but to think about what had happened. This was it. She was officially eighteen and ascended. The power she had before was nothing compared to what she could feel running through her veins now. It felt so easy, like another arm. It would take barely a conscious thought to Use.
And it was seductive.
She had heard the others talking about how tempting the power was and the hardship it took to keep from getting addicted. But there was a difference in hearing about it and actually experiencing it. She had thought that her powers before were seductive, but now… Now she realized how naïve that thought had really been.
And the worst part is that she knew what the consequences were and she still wanted to do it. She still wanted to Use.
It was there, buzzing under her skin, wanting to get out, tempting her to let it out.
But she couldn't. Because listening to the power was the easiest way to lose your head in the magic; in the addiction.
She could still remember Uncle William. The man that he was. The man that he died as.
He used to be so energetic; so full of life. And then he began to use. He loved the power more than his own wife and child. And he also began to age. Age until he was a decrepit old man at the ripe age of 40.
A shiver went down her spine. She could never allow herself to become addicted because she could never live with herself if she did that to her own family. The aging was bad enough, but breaking the hearts of everyone she loved? That she could never do.
With a small sigh, she sat up, tossing the covers away from her body. The sound startled Reid from sleep while Alek moved forward to the bed.
"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly. It was still extremely early in the morning.
Chloe gave him a smile. This was the first time in a while that he'd acted like the Alek she knew; the one she had agreed to go out with and not the possessive jerk she'd started to grow accustomed too. "I'm okay," she replied. "Just energized."
Reid nodded knowingly. He understood. After the Ascension, it took a while to get used to the power buzzing underneath the skin. It tended to lead to quite a few sleepless nights in the beginning. "Breakfast?" he offered.
Chloe nodded and led the way downstairs. She was unsurprised to find the rest of her brothers in the kitchen waiting for her. They too remembered the sleeplessness. "Jasmine, Amy and Paul are still sleeping," Caleb said without needing to be asked. He handed her a cup of coffee.
"How are you?" Pogue asked.
Chloe gave it some thought. "Okay," she finally settled on. "Though I realize that its probably only going to get worse."
"But then it'll get better," Tyler comforted. The first couple of days were the hardest as Chloe's body got used to the new sensations. It was like a blind person suddenly being able to see. It took a while for things to fall into place the way they were before.
There was a silence as they all got lost in their individual thoughts and memories of their own Ascensions. Alek looked around broodingly. He realized that he was the odd duck out. This wasn't something he could help Chloe with because it wasn't something he had experienced before. Only the Covenant could support Chloe in this new chapter of her life.
He scoffed lightly. Nothing would be changing there then. The Covenant had always been the one to support Chloe. She never relied on Alek the way she relied on her family. On Reid.
Amy, Paul and Jasmine wandered into the room, probably having been woken up by their voices. As the three grabbed a cup of coffee, Chase spoke. "Oh, it's almost seven," he said as he reached out to flip the radio on.
"And here's the moment you've all been waiting for," the radio host announced. "The very first single from her debut album 'Notorious', this is Chloe King with 'Work'!"
Hearing the familiar beat start, Chloe's face gained a happy smile as she reached out to give Reid a high five. Amy gave an excited squeal as she heard her friend's voice over the radio. She quickly crossed the kitchen to give Chloe an excited hug.
As Chloe was quickly swarmed with excited congratulations, she smiled warmly. This was how her birthday should be spent. Not with fear of her powers, but instead surrounded by her loved ones.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Caleb asked in concern. He was currently spread out, lounging on Chloe’s bed as she moved around her room packing a brown and cream Louis Vuitton suitcase and matching carry on and a checkered cream and beige Burberry tote purse.
“I’m Ascended, not disabled,” Chloe replied with a small scowl. “Besides, I already agreed to do this months ago. I can’t back out now.” She looked around her room wondering if she missed anything but couldn’t think of anything. She had her toiletries, her iPod, iPad, a book and two textbooks. Now all she needed to do was pack her clothes.
She grabbed her suitcase and wheeled it into the closet.
“I know, I’m just worried,” Caleb said, following her inside. “You only ascended a couple of days ago and don’t try and tell me you don’t still have the jitters.”
Chloe refused to meet his eyes. “I’ll be fine,” she said instead, not answering his accusations. The truth was that she did still have them. It felt like she was going to crawl right out of her skin, but there was nothing she could do about it. Sitting at home wouldn’t help her get used to the sensation anymore than working would. “I need Reid,” she muttered changing the subject, her eyes wandering her closet. She had no idea what to bring with her.
“Bring whatever,” Caleb waved off. “I’m sure you’ll return with more clothes than you started with,” he said with a sigh.
“Well duh,” Chloe replied. “It’s Fashion Week.” Still, she reached out to grab a couple of light day dresses that would be sure to take up minimal amounts of space. Then she went to her more formal dresses. “I don’t remember being this popular last time.”
“It’s because of your new album and your recent reveal in San Francisco,” Caleb replied, idly looking through his phone at their itinerary. “You’re more popular so you’ve booked more shows. Just do what we always do. Figure out which shows you’re going to the first couple of days in New York and then we’ll buy more dresses as we go along.”
Chloe nodded. It was traditional that when someone goes to a designer’s show, they wear that designer. However with people going to multiple shows, it could get tricky since not everyone had time to change their clothes in between. Plus, she was also working shows in between so she didn’t have a lot of time. “What shows am I going to in the first couple of days?” she asked. Caleb was the one who would be accompanying her to New York and he was the one with the schedule.
“You’re working Steven Alan first thing in the morning, then you’ll probably run to the Helios & Luna show right after. Then you’ll have a couple hours free before working Rachel Comey. Then I’m sure you’ll want to run to Heart Truth because I know how you feel about the cause though you should know it’s at the same time as Veda’s show and you love their jackets.”
Chloe nodded. It was true, she really did love Veda but Heart Truth came first. It was more important to support a worthy cause than to buy a couple of jackets that she could find later anyway. “Okay, so I need to bring a Helios & Luna dress, preferably one in red,” she muttered to herself, flipping through her closet. “What about the next day?”
“You’re attending Nicholas K in the morning and working BCBGMAXAZRIA after that. You’ve got a couple hours free for lunch until you work Honor. And then you attend Tadashi Shoji, which I know is one of your favorites. Then you’re done for the day.”
An excited smile crossed the blonde’s lips. She ran over to where she knew her Tadashi dresses were kept and excitedly looked through. That really was one of her favorite brands. “So we’ll have plenty of time to shop for the rest of fashion week during those first few days.”
“Yep,” Caleb replied. “And as usual, we’ll ship all the dresses you already wore back here at the end so that you don’t end up lugging them with you when you go through Europe.”
“Great!” Chloe squealed as she simultaneously pulled out a vibrant asymmetrical Tadashi dress to bring to New York. “Okay, I’m officially all packed,” she announced as she carefully put the dress in a bag and folded it into her luggage. She rolled her luggage out into the main room and set her carry on on top and slung her bag over her shoulder before wheeling it out the door. When she reached the stairs, she hesitated. It was never a good idea to Use magic while still riding the high of Ascension. Her body was still adjusting and if she Used, it would just make it worse and increase the likelihood of addiction.
She gave a small sigh and picked up her carry on. She then tried to pick up her suitcase, but her other two bags got in the way. She set the luggage case down with an annoyed groan and walked down the stairs to put her bags by the door next to Caleb’s already packed black Mulberry suitcase and his Mulberry laptop case. She turned around to go back for her suitcase but found Caleb already lifting it and walking down the stairs.
“Thanks, Cay,” she said with a grateful smile.
He gave a small shrug. “I’m proud of you for not Using,” he said instead making Chloe realize that he had been watching her and her internal struggle on whether to use magic. She frowned in light annoyance, but was internally happy at his approval.
A light knock echoed on the door. Chloe turned to open it since she was right next to it. “Alek,” she greeted with a happy smile. Since her birthday it had seemed like she got her old boyfriend back. He had been sweet and attentive and hadn’t tried to show her off to his jock friends once.
“Hey,” he replied with a smirk as he leaned down to give her a kiss, but aborted when he spotted all the bags. “Are you going somewhere?” he asked.
Chloe blinked in surprise. “Haven’t we mentioned it?” she asked, half turning to Caleb in wonder. Caleb shrugged. He wasn’t sure either. “I’m working.”
“Working?” Alek asked.
“Fashion Week,” Chloe responded. “I’ll be gone for the month. I’ve already arranged to do my schoolwork by email and-”
“Wait, what?” Alek asked in angered surprise. “You’re leaving for a month and you didn’t tell me?”
Chloe paused, immediately wary again. This was the same reaction Alek had when he found out she was ‘dating’ Brian. She didn’t want to cause another fight. “I thought I already had,” she said calmly.
“You didn’t,” Alek replied in a flat tone. Clearly her calm approach backfired and had only served to make him angrier. “Isn’t Fashion Week only a week?”
“It’s a week per city. I’m going to five cities,” Chloe answered hesitantly, wondering if he was going to explode again.
“And you’re going by yourself? With the Order now knowing who you are and coming after you?” he asked incredulously.
“I’m going with the boys,” she stated, pointing out the other luggage. “New York with Caleb, London with Reid, Milan with Pogue, Paris with Tyler and Tokyo with Chase.”
Alek grit his teeth. ‘With the boys.’ Of course. Since when did Chloe do anything without the boys? Still, he didn’t want to fight; not when they only just got over their last one. Through clenched teeth, he stated only, “I wish you would have told me.”
“I’m sorry, I thought I already had,” Chloe repeated. She was still hesitant but she could see that Alek was trying to let it go so she put in the effort to let it go as well.
Suddenly a thought came to Alek. “Have you told Valentina about this?”
Chloe blinked in confusion and behind her Caleb, who had stayed to witness the fight after recalling the aftermath of their first one, did as well. “No, why would we?” Caleb answered.
“Because you agreed to let us protect Chloe,” Alek replied, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the older man. He was really starting to dislike the entire Covenant – Chloe’s boys.
“Yeah, while I’m in San Francisco,” Chloe replied. “But I’ll be in New York.”
Alek shrugged but still pulled out his cell phone to talk to his Aunt. After spending a few minutes explaining the situation to Valentina, he turned back to Chloe. “She wants me and Jasmine to come with you. She wants to know when you leave and what your flight number is so that she can book us with you.”
Caleb gave a small annoyed huff that Chloe only heard because she felt the puff of air on the back of her head. He obligingly gave the information over but she could tell that he was beginning to get annoyed. It had been the Covenant by themselves for so long and while she enjoyed having friends and a boyfriend outside her circle, she was quickly getting irritated by the Mai’s constant smothering.
“This is ridiculous,” Chloe grunted as she pointedly ignored the glares of flashing lights from half a block down. It was definitely better than in America, but it was still annoying. “I seriously don’t remember being this popular.”
“Your song only just came out in Italy,” Pogue replied in explanation as he sipped at his espresso. It was actually rather comical to see the buff man sipping from such a tiny cup.
Chloe blinked in surprise. In all the commotion of her death, her Ascension and now working Fashion Week, she’d mostly forgotten about her single. “How’s it doing?” she asked in curiosity.
Pogue shrugged. “Not bad. It’s gaining popularity as a club song in Europe and it’s debuting nicely on the radio charts in America. Critics are giving mostly positive reviews about it. For your first song, it’s doing pretty well.”
The strawberry blonde hummed in thought. She hadn’t really wanted to get into music in the beginning, but she’d found that she’d oddly liked recording. Either way, she still wanted to succeed. On the one hand, she wasn’t wildly popular which, which had been an unlikely, but still plausible fantasy. On the other hand, she also hadn’t tanked. Chloe shrugged. She’d take what she could get. “Where’s Alek and Jasmine?” she asked, changing on the subject.
“On the roof,” he replied, finishing off the last of his coffee. “Ever since your shopping incident,” he refused to call it her death, “they’ve been taking their protector duties more seriously.”
Chloe hummed in reply, unsure how she felt about that. It was sweet that they cared about her so much that they’d camp out on rooftops for her. On the other hand, the feeling of being stifled was only increasing. She knew they were only doing it because they cared, but still… a girl’s gotta breathe.
She was used to freedom; the ability to go anywhere at anytime with no one to answer to. She didn’t like the sensation of constantly being followed and watched; being told where she could go and when. It did not make for a very happy Chloe and she could tell that her brothers were beginning to feel claustrophobic too. She’d nearly had to pry Reid and Alek apart in London when Reid suggested that he and Chloe go somewhere without her Mai protectors.
She’d tried to talk to them about giving her some space but they wouldn’t hear of it. Even Jasmine was remaining stubborn on this. Whenever Chloe brought it up, a glint would appear in the Mai girl’s eyes. It made Chloe wonder what was pressuring her friend so much that she wouldn’t even hear about compromising.
“Are you Chloe King?” a heavily accented voice asker, interrupting Chloe’s thoughts.
Blinking, Chloe directed her attention to two cute teenage boys around her age. Pasting a smile on, she nodded.
“Can we have your autograph?” the taller one asked, thrusting out a pad of paper and a pen.
“Of course,” Chloe replied congenially. “Who should I make it out to?”
“Roberto and Tomas,” the tall one said. He had been the one doing all the talking. Chloe tried to catch the shorter boy’s eye but he just blushed and looked away. Apparently he was the shy type.
Chloe quickly scrawled out a message and signed her name with the date and city. She liked adding that last bit of information just to help keep track of her real autographs and also for fans who asked for her autograph more than once.
“Thank you and welcome to Italy,” the boy said as he and his silent companion left.
“Cute,” she mentioned the minute they were out of hearing range.
“As in cute kid or as in ‘if I didn’t have a boyfriend’ cute?” Pogue asked idly, sipping at the new coffee a waitress had given him.
Chloe hummed in thought. Before she could answer, she heard a scoff come from behind her. Craning her head she spotted Alek just as he came up to sit next to her. “Obviously she meant as a kid,” Alek said. “Look at him. He was a scrawny little thing.”
Chloe and Pogue shared a look. The boy hadn’t been scrawny. He may not have been built, but he wasn’t as unattractive as Alek was making him out to be. Clearly, Alek was just jealous.
The strawberry blonde pursed her lips. Their first break up had been about his jealousy issues over Brian. Alek had promised to get better about it and while he had… sort of… it was clearly rearing its ugly head again.
Although, now that Chloe thought about it, Alek’s jealousy issue hadn’t really gotten better at all. He had simply gotten more possessive. Instead of getting jealous, he got aggressive; showing other men that Chloe was his and his alone.
All of their current issues circled back to their first problem.
“Chloe?” Jasmine asked, attracting Chloe’s attention. She must have seriously zoned out because she hadn’t even noticed the Mai girl show up. “It’s time for your show,” the brunette reminded.
The group stood up and went to Chloe’s last show. Well used to the routine by now, the three waited for almost an hour for hair and make up to get the girl ready. Pogue had a reserved seat which had been set up months in advance. Since the two Mai had joined last minute, they were forced to stand in the back for the duration of the show. The Mai didn’t seem to mind this as it gave them a better vantage to watch out for Chloe.
An hour later, Chloe was finally finished for the day. They returned to their hotel room and immediately separated. Alek and Chloe had been rooming together while Pogue and Jasmine had their own separate rooms.
Chloe immediately collapsed into bed, utterly exhausted. She loved fashion week and had already spent probably almost a hundred grand shopping, but it was still a tiring event; running around attending some shows, working others.
It left very little time for anything else.
That’s why Alek was unsurprised to walk into their room to find her already passed out asleep in bed. With a small smile, he reached out to remove her shoes and to tuck her under the covers. This wasn’t the first time he’d found her like this and he doubted it would be the last.
He shook his head in adoring exasperation before heading into the bathroom to shower.
He knew that things were still tense. He could feel it in the air between them. They were both walking on eggshells. She was terrified of upsetting him again and he was terrified that she’d get fed up with him and leave.
All in all, it did not make for a good situation.
He let his forehead rest against the cool tile of the shower. He wished he could figure out a way to smooth things over. He wanted them to work past this, but it didn’t seem like they could. His fear of her leaving caused him to get jealous and possessive, which angered her, but since she didn’t want to fight with him, she instead bottled it up or complained to her brothers about it which just served to exacerbate his fear of her leaving even more. It was a never ending cycle that they couldn’t seem to get out of.
A startled cry instantly caught his attention. Running out of the shower, he barely had time to put on boxers over his soaking wet body as he rushed into the main room.
What he saw made him gag in disgust and fear.
Chloe’s eyes were wide open in fear and glazed over in death. Her hand was still clenched around the knife in her chest as though she had tried to pull it out before dying. Her body was still in bed, wrapped under the covers where Alek had left her. It was clear that she had been startled in her sleep and attacked immediately before she could fight back.
The sharp sound of running immediately caught Alek’s attention as he ripped his gaze away from the horrifying sight. Knowing that Jasmine and Pogue had both heard Chloe’s cry and were coming, Alek felt safe leaving Chloe’s body in order to chase after the assassin who killed her.
And to be honest, he didn’t want to spend one second longer in that room than he had to. Seeing Chloe’s dead body like that…
Don’t think about it. Find the assassin. Kill him. Alek trained his thoughts away from his girlfriend and onto the task at hand. He jumped out the window that the assassin used before pausing to train his hearing. Immediately he turned left and began to follow the footsteps he could hear pounding on the rooftop.
Don’t think about it. Find the assassin. Kill him.
Alek pushed as much speed as possible into his legs as he fought to catch up with the man.
There! A flash of blond two rooftops away.
Don’t think about Chloe. Just find the assassin. Kill him.
Alek leapt through the air and tackled the figure in black hard into the roof below them. Shingles broke off in a spray of fragments beneath the force.
With a growl, Alek pulled the assassin around, claws already ready to kill when his eyes widened in surprise.
The assassin was a girl; a small little blonde thing with big blue eyes that looked up at him in fear. She couldn’t be more than twenty five and that was estimating generously. The Order was sending kids to do their killing now?
The girl took Alek’s hesitation and used it to her advantage. She shoved him off of her, causing him to roll down the slanted roof. He reached out and gripped onto a drainage pipe, using it to slow himself down enough to land softly.
He quickly reached out his senses to try and find the girl again, but got nothing. She got away.
“Shit,” Pogue gasped the minute he ran into the room. He threw himself onto the ground in front of Chloe and shakily reached out a hand before withdrawing it. “What do we do?” he asked behind him.
Jasmine blinked in surprise that he was asking her, but she was too shaken to answer. It was one thing to know that Chloe died, it was another to see it. She took a shaky step forward and then another, but was ultimately unable to go any further. Out of the back corner of her mind came the question of where Alek was, but it was ultimately dismissed as unimportant compared to the enormity of Chloe’s death.
“Do we pull it out?” Pogue asked, hand once more hesitating over the blade. “I read somewhere that you should never pull a blade out when it’s like this because the blade actually keeps the blood in and stops the victim from dying of blood loss.” Victim. Not Chloe. He had to disassociate from the situation. But he couldn’t. He’d seen Chloe dead before, but that was different. He was one of the last ones to show up at the mall. He hadn’t seen the attacker on Chloe, he’d just seen her pale body.
But Chloe was cursed to die over and over again and each death was meant to be more violent than the last. Gunshot wound, strangulation, now a knife wound.
“She’s already dead,” Jasmine whispered, half whimpered. Chloe was her best friend; the first girlfriend she’d ever had. Seeing her like this… Jasmine held back the bile that continued to creep up the back of her throat. Not until Chloe was back. She refused to break down until after Chloe was okay. God, her mother was going to kill her for this. “She probably can’t heal with the knife in her heart,” Jasmine stated logically.
Pogue nodded his head agreeably. That made sense to him too. He reached out his hand, but once again hesitated. He gently pried Chloe’s hand off the blade, wincing at the feel of her cooling dead body. He was just lucky rigor hadn’t set in or he’d have been forced to pull out the blade with his hands wrapped around Chloe’s dead ones.
Pogue shook his head. It was best not to think about it.
He gripped the blade and winced. He really didn’t want to have to do this. Why couldn’t the assassin have come while she was in Tokyo? Chase was so much better at doing the nitty gritty needs-to-be-done things.
With a deep breath, he used all of his strength and ripped the blade out. He almost hurled at the sound of squelching blood and torn flesh.
Jasmine raced to the bathroom. She did.
After a couple of minutes, she flushed the toilet and washed her mouth out with water before warily returning to the main room. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t throw up until after she was sure Chloe was okay, but it looked like she wasn’t able to keep that promise. She’d add that to the list.
The list included promising her mother to be strong, to protect Chloe and to keep Chloe from dying. Maybe Jasmine should just stop making promises all together.
She’d been trained for this her whole life, but this was so much more real. Assassins she could handle. She could fight, she could even kill if needed. But seeing her dead friend lying in her own bed? That she couldn’t handle.
“How does she look?” she asked Pogue who had gently taken Chloe’s hand in his own. Apparently he’d gotten over his aversion to touching Chloe.
“She feels warmer.” he replied. “I think she feels warmer,” he corrected. “That means she’s healing.”
Jasmine nodded but didn’t dare reach out to feel Chloe’s skin for herself. She knew that doing so would just set off another trip to the bathroom. A thump to her right had her on her feet and ready to fight, but she quickly relaxed when she realized it was just Alek.
“How is she?” he asked immediately, barely noticing the way he was shivering. It was the middle of fall and he had just spent the last half hour jumping off rooftops in the middle of the night, soaking wet in his boxers.
That was dedication, Jasmine had to admit.
“Healing,” she answered.
Pogue reached into his pocket and threw his cell phone in their general direction. Alek barely caught it. “Call the others. They need to know.”
Alek scowled before handing the phone to Jasmine. She knew very well how much he disliked the Covenant, so she accepted the phone. And maybe she was a little grateful for the chance to leave the room.
“Did you catch the guy who did this?” Pogue asked the second Jasmine was gone. The Mai girl put up a good front, but he could tell that she was terrified. She always seemed so in control, so powerful. It was hard to remember that she was just a teenage girl. She had too much on her shoulders, he didn’t want to add to it.
Alek hesitated. “Girl,” he corrected. “And yeah. But she got away.”
Pogue looked up enough to glare at the Mai before returning his gaze to Chloe. He couldn’t judge Alek. He hadn’t been there. For all he knew, Alek did his very best to get the assassin and just ultimately failed.
Still. It felt like Alek’s fault.
Chloe’s death didn’t last this long last time, Pogue realized. Then again, maybe it was because of the knife. Maybe the healing didn’t start until after the knife was pulled out. Or maybe the knife was laced with poison. God, he hoped it wasn’t laced with poision.
“Get her computer,” Pogue said thickly.
“What?” Alek asked in confusion.
“Get her computer!” the man yelled, angry with having to ask again, angry with Alek for letting the assassin escape, angry at the whole goddamn situation.
Alek grit his teeth, but did as asked. “What now?” he asked.
“Login and ask to video chat Reid. He can do a sketch of the woman you saw. We’ll ID her and then we’ll track her down,” Pogue said. The last of his statement trailed off darkly. The ‘and we’ll kill her’ part was unspoken but easily understood.
Alek turned on her computer to do as told. As much as he disliked Reid, he knew that he wanted to find Chloe’s killer more. “What’s her password?” he asked.
Pogue raised an eyebrow in speculation. Chloe hadn’t told her boyfriend her password? It was a good think his back was to Alek because if the boy could see Pogue’s face, he would not be happy. “Nickys. N-I-C-K-Y-S,” he answered.
Alek typed the word in with a scowl. “Who is Nicky?”
“It’s a bar back home. Chloe worked there a while,” Pogue answered dismissively.
Satisfied, Alek went through the motions and asked Reid for a video request. Immediately Reid accepted and his face showed up. “What’s going on?” the blond demanded over the computer. “How is she?”
“Not good, man,” Pogue replied over his shoulder. “Alek saw the chick that did this. Grab your pad and pencils.”
As Alek began describing the girl to Reid, Pogue allowed his full attention to focus on Chloe once more. He took stock of her temperature. She was warmer. Much warmer actually.
He carefully looked at her face and smiled when he saw her eyeballs moving under her eyelids. She was no longer dead. She was just sleeping now. This was what happened last time as well. And any minute now, she’d-
Chloe woke with a small gasp, her eyes flicking open in an instant. She looked as though she’d been startled, not dead.
“Chloe!” Alek exclaimed, coming up to hug her immediately.
Hearing the exclamation, Jasmine quickly ran into the room. Seeing her friend alive and well, Jasmine smiled and gave the girl a hug as well.
Chloe’s eyes began to flicker back and forth between them, in confusion. Pogue could see Chloe getting overwhelmed.
“Okay, back up. Give her a second to breathe,” Pogue ordered. Alek looked unwilling to move, so Pogue grabbed his shoulder and forcefully turned him. “Go finish the sketch,” he ordered quietly.
Alek scowled but recognized the importance of finishing the sketch. With one last sidelong look at his girlfriend, he returned to the computer.
Pogue watched Chloe’s eyes carefully. He wasn’t sure what she remembered or even if she remembered anything at all. She hadn’t remembered her first death, though she’d been a child then so that was understandable. She also didn’t remember being suffocated, but since she passed out first, that was also brushed aside. Now though… now she’d been awake and coherent… and afraid.
Pogue shuddered as he remembered seeing her glazed fear stricken eyes.
“I was stabbed…” Chloe said softly, fingertips gently prodding at a shrinking red line above her heart. “It was a girl, I think. She wore a ski mask.”
Pogue nodded. “Alek’s talking with Reid who’s making a sketch.” He watched as she continued to gently prod at her wound. “Let’s get you in the shower,” he said, unable to stand the sight of her covered in dried blood.
He helped her to her feet and gently waved off Jasmine’s offer of help. He brought her into the shower and turned it scalding hot, the way Chloe liked it. He gently helped her out of her dress from earlier in the day which she apparently hadn’t changed out of before bed. Then he helped her into the shower.
He stayed in the bathroom just in case she needed him, but said nothing.
“They’re getting worse,” Chloe whispered after several minutes of silent thought. “They’ll never stop. Not until I’m dead. Really dead.”
Pogue’s jaw clenched but he said nothing. He knew it was true.
“Have Caleb schedule the Negotiations immediately. I want to hold them the weekend after I get back to America.” Her voice started as a whisper but grew into a definite statement as she gained confidence in her decision. “We need to end this. Now.”
Chloe sighed as she packed away the last of her new clothes into her closet. Fashion Week, as per usual, had been a fun, but utterly exhausting blast. It was good to be home.
A thump from outside her room distracted her and had her rolling her eyes. This was getting ridiculous. Ever since The Italian Incident, Alek had been on her like glue. To be honest, it was a miracle he was allowing her to go to the bathroom by herself since then.
She knew that she had really scared them, but that was no excuse for smothering her. The Order wanted to kill her. It was a fact of life. Nothing they could do would change that and hovering over her shoulder every second of every day was not going to help in any way.
She needed a break. She needed to let loose and blow off some steam; preferably without her stalker boyfriend.
Chloe nibbled on her lip as she considered on the best way to ditch Alek. Maybe she and the boys could go out clubbing. They hadn't done that in ages and she knew that she wasn't the only one reaching the end of her patience with the Mai.
A ringing sound interrupted her thoughts and she reached out to answer her phone without checking the ID. "Hello?" she asked, still contemplating her escape plan.
"Chloe? Hey, it's Brian."
Chloe blinked. It had been a while since she'd thought of let alone talked to Brian. Not since he found out that she was back together with Alek. Not since his father made her out as the Uniter. "Hey, Brian," she greeted, not allowing any of her hesitance to creep into her voice. "What's up?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to grab a cup of coffee?" he asked tentatively. "I know we haven't talked in a while and I just wanted to catch up."
Chloe blinked. On one hand, she had promised herself after meeting Whitley that she would stay away from Brian. On the other hand, she was just saying that she needed something to relax and blow off steam… "Sure. Our usual place in half an hour?"
"Great!" he replied excitedly. "I'll see you there!"
Chloe put down her phone only to look up at an angry Mai, glowering down at her.
"Are you out of your mind?" Alek growled angrily. "His father is the one who did this to you!" he remarked, pointing at the small scar over her heart, revealed by her low cut top.
"Yes. His father. As in not him," Chloe retorted, standing up to fetch a light jacket.
"He's a Rezza!" Alek replied. "It's in his blood to hunt us down and kill us."
The strawberry blonde sighed. That was true. "We are who we choose to be," she said instead, though not entirely sure if she meant it. Did she think Brian would end up escaping his family's legacy? It was hard to say.
"You've lost it." Alek nodded decisively as though it were fact. "You're not going."
"Sorry, dad," she sneered, "but I am."
Alek crossed his arms over his body. "I forbid it."
Chloe blinked as though shocked by his words. Who was he to forbid her to do anything? In a moment of anger, black bled through to her eyes and before she realized what she was doing, she had already Used, pinning Alek to her floor with magic. "You do not own me," she hissed like an angry animal. "You do not control me. You are not my master. I do what I want when I want it." She was sick and tired of having to report her actions to them. Sick of being followed around, being told what was and wasn't 'safe'. She was done.
With a forceful stomp in her step, she left her room, leaving her boyfriend trapped for someone else to deal with.
Still seething, Chloe made it to the coffee shop in less than thirty minutes, but lucky for her, Brian was there early as well. "Hey." She smiled in greeting as she sat down next to him. "It's been a while."
Brian winced lightly, knowing that their distance was on him. "Yeah. Sorry," he replied. "I was just… you know what, it doesn't even matter. I'm sorry."
Chloe shrugged with a small smile on her lips. "It's okay." She took a moment to flag down a waitress and order a cup of coffee before turning back to the older boy. "So what's new with you? What have I missed?"
"Not much," Brian answered as he took a sip of coffee. "I, uh, actually started working for my dad."
The strawberry blonde froze in surprise. "Really?" she choked out lightly, terrified that this was some sort of trap and that she was about to lose yet another life. Inwardly, she cursed herself. She was pissed off at Alek, but that didn't mean she should have been so careless. She should have told one of her brothers where she was and who she'd be with. It was just that she wanted some time away and what was the point in leaving Alek behind if someone else was just going to follow her in his place? "I thought you didn't get along with your father."
Brian shrugged with a grimace. "I don't really. But he gave me no choice really. He wanted me to go back to school and I wanted to stay here." For a second, his eyes gazed at her a little too deeply and Chloe wondered if she was one of the reasons he wanted to stay. She quickly brushed the notion off. They barely knew each other; there was no way that she could possibly factor into his decisions. "So I made a deal. I'd work under him at the company; I'd be the prodigal son he's always wanted. In exchange, I get to stay."
"Well, it's good that you managed to find a way to compromise," Chloe offered, nibbling on her lip as she tried to figure out what she was supposed to say. "And it's good that you're finding out more about your company, right? I mean, it will belong to you one day, won't it?"
"Maybe." Again, Brian shrugged. "One day. Not one day soon." He took a sip from his coffee before returning his attention to her. "What about you? I think I read somewhere that your family's pretty well off as well. Any company training you have to go through one day?" he asked, wondering if this was something they'd have in common.
Chloe shook her head. "Not really. My dad's a big time hedge fund manager." She smiled at Brian's small wince. "I know, I know. Not a very popular career with the people after the big Downturn, but…" She trailed off with a shrug. "He's taught me a bit. My older brother Tyler's always taken to it like a duck in water. He'll probably be a businessman too. But no, our fortune's an inherited family fortune brought over from Europe. Sure, we add to it with whatever career we choose, but we don't have a family company."
"What did you do in Europe?" Brian asked curiously. This was the most he had ever heard Chloe talk about herself.
The strawberry blonde laughed. "Not much. We ruled and married into wealth and royalty."
"Royalty? Wow." Brian blinked in surprise.
"It's not as glamorous as whatever you're thinking. This was back when quite a bit of Europe consisted of small states and self-proclaimed royalty. Anyone who could fight for it, could own land," Chloe explained. "My ancestor, Charles, was English living under King James II's rule. He married a German princess from the main land and then, deciding that there was too much unrest in Europe, asked permission from the King and moved to America with his four best friends and started a colony in Massachusetts devoted to the Crown." Chloe hid the part about where they only left because of the rise in the European Witch Hunt. The families had hoped to escape it by leaving, but the hunt for witchcraft made it even to the Americas.
"Intense family history," Brian said, looking impressed by the story. "You mentioned something about a brother?"
Chloe nodded. "Tyler."
"I don't think you've ever mentioned any siblings." Brian paused as he tried to recall before turning his attention back to her. "Tell me about him."
The witch paused as she debated what to say. If Brian knew about the Order then he might just be trying to gather information on her and the Covenant. If he didn't, then he might just be curious. That's why she'd been misleading so far. She had been talking about her adoptive family as though they were her biological family because she didn't want to get into Ukraine and Jonathon King in case he was part of the Order after all. "Don't know what to say. He's almost a year older than me and in college. We have four best friends that we grew up with and we all live together."
"You all live together? That's nice; you guys must be really close. What's it like living with all of them?"
Again, Chloe hesitated. She hated having to double check her words and check for hidden meanings. "It's great. We're all really close but since we all know each other so well, we also know when to give each other space," she replied vaguely, but seeing Brian's expectant look, she caved and gave more detail. "They're really my best friends. We're like family. There's Caleb, the responsible big brother and Chase the irresponsible one. Pogue is the wild child and Reid's the bad boy. Tyler and I are the babies." She rolled her eyes teasingly.
Brian made an odd face. "You live with five guys?" he asked. "What about your parents?"
Chloe shrugged. "They're back home in Massachusetts. The boys came out here to go to school and I came to be with them." Which was a complete lie. She came out to San Francisco to work and the boys came to be with her. She gave an internal sigh of annoyance at having to lie to someone she considered a friend.
"And they don't mind you living with all guys?" Brian sounded incredulous and just a bit jealous. "They don't worry about you?" he asked hesitantly, not wanting to offend his cruch.
The strawberry blonde shrugged. "Like I said, we grew up together so our families all know each other. They're fine with it. As for worrying about me, they're probably hoping something happens. I know that my mother, for one, is rooting for me to get back together with Reid whereas my Aunt Evie has some sort of delusional hope about me and Caleb," she replied honestly, although it was possible that there was too much honesty in her response.
Brian scowled. "You dated them?" he asked with more than a bit of judgment in his voice.
Chloe folded her arms in annoyance. She came out today to relax and get away from the stress of her life. But so far, all she'd done was watch her words, double guess everything and lie. She was not happy.
"Yeah," she replied simply, standing up. Now it was her turn to leave angrily.
Brian seemed to realize he'd gone too far because he too stood up. "Chloe… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"
"I know and I get it," she said, cutting him off. "But I don't think this is a good idea. Goodbye, Brian." Something in her tone got through to the brunet and he seemed to realize that she wasn't just talking about their meeting; that this goodbye was final.
Chloe turned on her heel and left. She liked Brian, but she didn't think she'd ever talk to him again. Things were just too complicated between them. She didn't like having to watch her words or wonder if he was going to betray her. And call her crazy, but she just didn't like lying to her friends.
"Miss Simms?" a feminine voice called behind Chloe as she walked through the halls of her high school. "Miss King!" the voice tried again.
Chloe turned around in confusion. She didn't recognize the voice and no one she knew would be calling her 'Miss King' or 'Miss Simms'. Behind her there was a young blonde in her mid-twenties, smiling happily. "I'm Miss Carver, your guidance counselor. May I have a minute?" the woman asked, nodding her head toward her office.
Chloe gave an uncertain nod and followed Miss Carver inside. She looked around the cramped office as she tried to figure out what she was doing there. Miss Carver waved an arm in the direction of one of the chairs and Chloe hastily sat, eager to get whatever business this was, over with.
"Now, you may be wondering why I called you in here," the blonde started as she flipped through the manila file on her desk quickly.
"Uhm, yes," Chloe replied hesitantly, her leg nervously bouncing.
The guidance counselor looked up from the file, apparently finished with her skimming. "You're in all AP classes and with one exception, you are ready to graduate at the end of this year. I'm here to talk about your options."
"My… options…" the teen repeated as she processed what this meeting was going to be about. "Okay. What are my options?" she asked more solidly, getting curious.
"Well, the first option, and obviously most favorable, is that you choose to take an art elective next semester on top of your course load. You have the option of taking it during 9th period as an extracurricular or you could choose to give up one of your study halls to sit in on one of the other classes. That decision is up to you.
Of course, if for whatever reason you believe you will be unable to handle taking an extra class next semester or simply don't want to, then we can certainly work around that too. Next year, you will be here at the high school as a senior taking art and then you will take the rest of your classes at the local college." The look the woman gave made it clear that she considered this option was the lesser of the two and that Chloe would have to be an idiot to take it. "But given your stellar academic performance," here the woman gestured down at the file she had been reading, which was clearly Chloe's record, "I highly doubt you'll have any problems taking an extra art class."
Chloe agreed, but still she hesitated. Did she really want to graduate early? She had finally made friends in Paul and Amy and she didn't particularly want to give them up. On the other hand, if she did the supplemental art class, she could graduate together with Alek and Jasmine. And if she graduated, she could start working in a matter of months doing the things she wanted to do. She could finally dive head first into acting the way she'd been wanting to for years. In addition, the boys would no longer be tethered to San Francisco and would have the freedom to transfer into the universities they actually wanted to go to instead of being forced to attend Stanford purely for her sake. But what about the supernaturals? She came to San Francisco for a reason…
"Can I think about this?" Chloe asked instead of replying right away.
Miss Carver blinked in surprise but nodded agreeably, if confusedly. "Sure. Take as long as you need. The deadline to sign up for new classes is at the end of the week. Just let me know by then."
Chloe smiled in thanks before leaving the office, her mind still lost in possibility.
"Chloe," Alek called out softly as he dropped out of a nearby tree and approached his girlfriend.
The strawberry blonde gave a small sigh before finishing to unlock her front door. Only then did she turn around to face Alek. She had spent the afternoon after school wandering around the city. She did some light shopping as illustrated by the two shopping bags at her feet, but mostly she sat in coffee shops and cafes and thought. She was pretty sure about what she would decide to do, but at the same time, she wasn't a hundred percent certain.
"Hi," she said softly. She was tired. It had been a hard day and she didn't want to add more problems on top of it, but it didn't seem like she was going to be getting a choice in the matter. Maybe it was better this way. If she could resolve this problem, maybe her other one would fall into place as well.
"So, I guess we need to talk." Alek leaned against one of the columns on her front porch. He didn't seem angry which was good. She had used her magic on him in a moment of anger and once the rage had drained out of her, she had regretting going to such extreme measures. To be honest, she had thought that he would be furious and that they would end up having another one of their drag-out screaming matches.
"I guess we do," she replied simply. There was an awkward moment of silence before she gave a small sigh and finally came out with it. "I'm not sorry," she confessed seriously.
"Well, neither am I," he returned, a sliver of anger in his voice. "Just because something didn't happen yesterday, doesn't mean that something couldn't have happened at all."
"Brian is not-!" Chloe forcefully cut herself off. "I guess we just have to disagree on that," Chloe said instead through grit teeth. This was what she was talking about! This was her problem! Alek was always hovering over her, making her decisions for her like he knew better. She wasn't a little kid; she was an adult and she was free to do what she wanted!
Alek's lips twitched slightly into a sneer, but he held his tongue, clearly sensing the fire brewing underneath. This wasn't just a fight between them and they both knew it.
"I think we need a break." Chloe had to choke out the last word, but she said it. Quickly, she continued on, "We've done nothing but fight. We need space. We need to-" There were tears in her voice now, but she ploughed through, "We need to figure out if this is something we both still want."
Alek swallowed harshly. Every fiber of his being screamed at him to fight; to reject her words. But he couldn't. She was right and there was no way to fight that. "Are we over?" he asked instead, his voice wavering slightly as though afraid of the answer.
Chloe looked up at him, meeting his eyes for the first time all day. "No! No, we're not over…" She shook her head in denial. She watched with a small smile as Alek appeared visibly relieved. "We're just taking a break, okay?"
"A break." Alek sounded it out before nodding head resolutely. He could deal with that.
"We just need some time to figure it all out," Chloe murmured, reaching out to gently rub his arm. "I…" She hesitated, unsure if this was the right time. In fact, she was certain that it wasn't, but she needed to say it. "I love you."
Alek blinked in surprise, a half smile on his lips before he even realized it. "I love you too."
Chloe gave him a smile, but the edges were still brittle. It still didn't change things, but it was nice to say them out loud. She gave him a small wave before entering her house. She closed the door behind her and quickly leaned back against it, a heavy sigh escaping her lips.
One problem was solved, or at least it was on its way to being resolved. But she still had one more to go. And she was right earlier. In solving one problem, her other one fell into focus. She had been over thinking the situation way too much and now that she was utterly exhausted, she could see the solution that much clearer.
Chloe dug into her pocket and withdrew her cell phone. She quickly scanned her contacts and made a call.
"Veronica?" Chloe asked into the phone. Hearing her agent confirm her identity, Chloe nodded resolutely and firmly stated her request. "I'd like you to start finding me some movie auditions. I want to get into acting more now that I'm almost done with school."
"Guys?" Chloe said as she walked into the kitchen that night. The boys were all in various states of relaxation as they gathered around the island, eating dinner. "I need to talk to you for a second."
Five pairs of eyes suddenly focused on her, unnerving her a bit. "What's up, Baby Girl?" Caleb asked, putting down his banana. At the moment, he was pondering his Forensic Chemistry paper for school, but Chloe sounded serious and he knew he had to give her his full attention.
"This morning, my guidance counselor pulled me aside to talk to me," the strawberry blonde started. "She said that because I was so far ahead of their curriculum, I had the option that if I took an extra art elective, I could graduate this year. I've decided to go for it."
All the boys raised impressed eyebrows and in seconds were crowding around the girl, giving hugs and congratulatory pats on the back. Chloe grinned widely at how excited her brothers were for her. "That's great, Chlo." Caleb smiled down at her, the last one to give her a hug. "Are you thinking about applying to college? Where are you heading?"
Chloe gave a small wince. Out of all of them, Caleb was the most academically inclined. Admittedly, there were all smart. Caleb worked hard and was valedictorian. Reid barely tried and would have been salutatorian if he hadn't turned it down (apparently being brainy didn't go with his bad boy image). Tyler and Chase were neck and neck senior year to be in the top five. Tyler won, but that was through sheer determination as Chase tended to be smarter, but lazier. Pogue's placement as eighth was a compromise between his utter apathy toward school and his mother's intense need for him to do well. So out of the five, only Caleb and Tyler cared and of the two, only Caleb would be upset about her plan. With Reid for a best friend, Tyler had learned that not everyone planned on going through life the same way.
"I'm not planning on going to college," Chloe finally blurted out. The other four all looked unsurprised but Caleb looked like someone had run over his puppy.
"What? Why not?" he asked in surprise.
"I want to focus on my career," she replied. "You know how much I've been looking forward to the freedom to pursue acting."
"Well, yeah, but…" Caleb seemed at a loss for words. Clearly he hadn't put together her interest in acting with a lack of time to go to school. "Can't you do both?"
Chloe shrugged. "I was thinking I might apply and defer for a year or maybe hold off on applying all together until I've explored my options more. I want to talk it over with mom and dad first," she admitted honestly.
Caleb still looked heartbroken.
"This is a good thing, Cay!" Chloe reached out to soothingly stroke his arm. "You came out to Stanford because of me, right? Well, now you can transfer into Harvard like you always dreamed." She turned to the others. "You all can transfer to the schools you wanted."
Caleb shook his head. "It's not that simple. We came out here because you have a duty."
Chloe nodded her head agreeably. "Exactly. We came out here to make ties with the supernatural community – which we have – and to create a treaty of peace between all races. Because I had two years of school left, we had originally planned on one year of getting to know the races and then deciding on concessions and agreements for the treaty the following year. But because of the Order's assassin attempts, we've had to push up our time table considerably. The Negotiations are in two days," Chloe stressed. "After we come to an agreement, I am no longer tied to San Francisco. In fact, it would be my duty to continue travelling the world as I have been and meeting new tribes and prides. It's lucky that I'm finishing school actually because otherwise I would have been stuck in San Francisco for a year with nothing to do," she pointed out.
"Okay," Caleb nodded, conceding. "That's true, but-"
"No buts!" Chloe interrupted hastily. "This is perfect. I'll mediate the Negotiations, graduate and start acting. In doing so, I will travel the world and meet supernaturals from everywhere." Caleb still looked hesitant so she reached out to clasp his hand, looking into his eyes beseechingly, willing him to understand. "This is what I was meant to do."
Caleb closed his eyes in obvious defeat, gaining a smile from his sister. "Okay, but you still need protection. That's why we came out to San Francisco to be with you and why we follow you everywhere while you work," he pointed out logically.
Chloe blinked, not having thought about that part yet. "We'll come up with something when we get there," she said instead.
Caleb looked ready to argue, but the other four boys finally butt in. "Knock it off, Cay," Pogue said, wrapping an arm around his best friend's shoulders. "We should be celebrating, not interrogating her."
The brunet winced at the reprimand before looking at Chloe in apology. "Sorry, Baby Girl. He's right. We should be celebrating. Where do you wanna go?" Caleb asked.
Chloe and Reid shared a split second look before identical Cheshire grins overtook their faces. "Well…"
"I can't believe you talked me into that," Caleb groaned the next morning. Normally, he wasn't much of a morning person anyway, let alone talking to him before 10am, but hungover, he was even worse.
"I didn't talk you into anything," Chloe replied, bleary eyed, but otherwise fine. "You asked me how I wanted to celebrate, so I told you. You agreed."
Caleb just groaned pathetically. Reid chuckled in amusement at his older brother's pain. "What are you laughing at, Chuckles? I know this was your idea too," Caleb scowled.
Reid shrugged, not even bothering to deny it, but Chloe pouted and lightly slapped Caleb's arm. "Don't blame Reid. We haven't done anything together in a while. My friends, as much as I love them, have been butting in since we got here. It was nice to do something just us. I've missed you guys."
Chase smirked and wrapped an arm around the strawberry blonde. "And we've missed you too," he said, leaning down to give her a kiss on the crown of her head. "I know I've definitely missed the partying."
This was true. In Spencer, there had been a party every week. One of the advantages of going to a boarding school and being rich and bored. Since getting to California, they had been a lot more low key. At first it was because they didn't want the paparazzi catching wind of Chloe moving but then it was because of the danger the Order presented. It had been a while since they had all had a chance to go out and relax without having to worry or be stressed. It was nice.
"What I haven't missed is this pounding headache after a night of alcohol, dehydration and sleep deprivation," Tyler muttered, his eyes shut. He'd been walking around all morning without opening his eyes. It was a miracle he hadn't run into anything.
"Take a Tylenol and get ready for school, you pussies," Pogue laughed, already dressed for his morning classes. Out of all of them, he was the least affected by last night's partying.
"Speaking of…" Chloe made for the back door, waving at her brothers as she drove to school. The first thing she did upon walking in was beeline for the guidance counselor's office.
Chloe knocked on the door and walked inside after gaining permission. "Ah, Miss King," the blonde greeted as she waved at the chair in a clear invitation to sit
"Miss Carver." The teen remained standing. "I just wanted to stop by really quick to tell you that I've made a decision regarding next year. I'm going to take an extra art next semester. I want to graduate early."
Miss Carver smiled knowingly. "Yes, I suspected you might," she stated in an obvious tone. "I've already filled out the necessary paperwork. If you could just sign this agreeing that you'd like to be considered for early graduation, you'll be all set."
Chloe leaned over and signed the paperwork, fighting a smile of excitement as she did so.
"Congratulations," Miss Carver said, picking up the papers. "You're officially about six months away from finishing high school."
Chloe looked up from her book in surprise when she heard a knock on her bedroom door. Usually the boys just waltzed in. The only other people who would come to her bedroom were Mai and tended to use her balcony. "Come in?" she called out uncertainly.
She was even more surprised when the door swung open and there stood Reid. "Hey," he greeted.
"Did you just knock?" she asked, a smile twitching on her lips. Reid was the worst offender when it came to other people's privacy. He frequently would just walk into someone's room regardless of what the other person was doing or even their state of undress.
Knowing her thoughts, the blond rolled his eyes, but an amused smirk on his lips gave away his true feelings. He walked into her room and sat across from her on her bed. "What's up?" he asked.
Chloe raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You came in here to ask me how I am?" she questioned.
Reid knew he'd been caught, not that it was very difficult. He had been rather transparent. "Let me paraphrase. What I really meant is: you nervous?"
Chloe took a deep breath in surprise, but quickly let it out. She didn't know why she was surprised. Reid always knew her too well. That had been part of their problem while they were together. It was scary to know someone that well; to love someone that much. "Terrified," she admitted unnecessarily. He already knew how she was feeling or he wouldn't have come up to her room to talk to her.
True enough, he nodded knowingly. "Wanna take your mind off it?"
The strawberry blonde's lips spread into a smile. In contrast, that was one of the things she loved most about him. It came with the territory of knowing her too well, because he always knew what to do to make her feel better. "Hell yes."
Reid smirked and grabbed her hand, dragging her from her room down to the basement. They stepped into the recording studio and shut the door, locking it so that the others would know they were working and not to disturb them.
Chloe looked at him in curiosity. As far as she was aware, she had finished her album, so what were they doing in the recording room?
Knowing her thoughts, Reid purposely slowed down to comical speeds, drawing out the suspense. Chloe gave a startled laugh at his joke before punching him in the arm. Reid laughed too as he playfully rubbed his 'wounded' arm, but returned to normal speed. He sat in his usual place behind the sound board and held up an unsealed mail package. He turned to face her so that he could see her reaction as he simultaneously reached his hand inside and withdrew the object within.
Chloe's eyes followed his movements before widening in surprise. She let out an excited squeal and reached out and hugged the boy, despite the physical awkwardness caused by his sitting and her standing. "My album!" she cried out in his ear.
Reid winced at the volume, but forgave it given the occasion. "Brand spankin' new, just got in this morning," he laughed as he hugged her back.
Chloe let out another squeal as she retreated. She quickly grabbed the CD out of Reid's hand and looked at it. Since it was her first album, she didn't have the necessary backing to pick out her album cover. She'd done a couple photo shoots and the label picked what they liked and did the graphics. It was actually surprisingly simple: just a close up of her face with the album title and her name. She remembered that shoot, too.
She had worn a rather uncomfortable, if pretty yellow floral dress, not that anyone could see much of it from the photo. Her makeup had been done extravagantly with crazy silver blue eyeshadow cat eyes. Her hair had been done in a messy ponytail that was thrown over one shoulder. The tilt of her face in the photo emphasized her model-famous rounded cheekbones and right next to her face was her album title in black: Notorious. All in all, Chloe was rather happy with the photo they'd chosen to use for her cover. It made sense that the label would choose to use her face instead of a graphic since her face was what made her famous. Everyone recognized the model Chloe King, which tied in with her album title as well.
"So, are you just going to stand there looking at a picture of yourself or do you want to hear the album?" Reid asked teasingly.
Chloe drew her eyes away from the CD to give him a halfhearted glare, but obligingly handed it over. He put it inside of a player, unplugged a pair of headphones and turned the volume up.
"Huh, that's weird," Caleb commented as he knocked on Chloe's door once more. "She should be in there," he muttered before turning the knob and poking his head inside. "Chloe? You in there?" Caleb waited a moment, but retreated when he didn't hear a response. "Looks like she's not in her room."
"Then where is she?" Alek asked, his hands stuffed into his jean pockets.
"Not sure," Caleb replied as he tilted his head in consideration. "Her car's still here so she should still be inside the house. I suppose she might have gone for a run…" he trailed off in thought. "Well, let's check the sound room first. If she's not in there, then I suggest waiting for her in the living room since she can't be far."
The two men made their way down to the basement and into the back corner. Caleb tried to open the door to the sound room, but blinked in surprise to find it locked. "Huh," he said, taking a peak into the small door window. "Yep, they're definitely in there." He stepped back to allow Alek a chance to peak inside to see Chloe and Reid. They were both inside the sound booth instead of the recording area, which meant that they were listening to something. Chloe was leaned back up against the soundboard with Reid standing next to her, leaning his hip as he faced her. "They must be listening to something in private," Caleb commented. "They closed and locked the door, so they obviously wanted privacy. The booth is soundproof when you do that," he clarified.
"What do they need to talk about in private?" Alek asked with a small scowl. It was easy to see that he was unhappy to see Chloe alone with Reid. He was probably jealous at the thought of his girlfriend with her ex-boyfriend.
Caleb gave a chuckle. "I can tell you why the old recording studio back home was sound proof," he joked. "And let's just say there's more than one reason why they needed the room to muffle sound," he snickered before realizing that Alek was un-amused. Caleb gave an awkward cough as he realized that telling a dirty joke about Chloe and Reid's past relationship to Chloe's current boyfriend might not be a good idea. So, Caleb shrugged. "They're in the studio, so my guess is they're listening to tracks from her album." He waved a bored hand. "Go ahead and stay here until they come out. I'm heading back upstairs."
Alek continued to peer into the tiny peephole window. He watched for several minutes as the two talked, but after a moment, soon realized that they weren't talking… they were singing. The two were clearly singing along to what ever they were listening to.
He watched with undisguised jealousy as the two continued to laugh and sing to each other. His jaw clenched and he felt a vein throb as he watched as Reid's hand settled on her own and began to caress her knuckles.
Alek turned on his heel and left. He'd seen enough.
"Oh, I'm so excited!" Chloe grinned as they finished listening to the last track. Her entire body glowed with excitement as she fought to hold in her internal joy. "I'm so proud of Notorious. I hope it does well."
"It'll do great," Reid smiled back, his hand reaching out to caress her own.
Chloe looked down at the familiar touch. "Reid," she warned softly, her heart thumping in her chest. She looked up at him, her eyes wider than usual as she tried to ignore the fluttering in her stomach. It had been a while since the two had been close like this. They normally had three brothers between them as buffers.
Reid looked down at her lips. He ached to lean down and cover them with his own. He wondered if they still tasted like ripe mangoes. To be honest, he hadn't gone this long without Chloe for over three years. Even when they weren't dating, they tended to hook up when in between significant others. Chloe was Reid's most serious and long lasting relationship.
Giving into instinct, he leaned down and gently took her pouty bottom lip in between his own. Chloe reached up and put her hands on his chest to push him away, but hesitated as she fell into the familiar motions of kissing Reid. Soon, her hands found their way into his blond hair as he moved to pin her against the soundboard. As their bodies fit together, it was like no time had passed between them. It always felt like that between them; they knew each other too well – mind and body. Chloe's arms wrapped tight around his shoulders before digging back into his hair as her leg automatically lifted to wrap around Reid's hip, drawing their bodies even closer; so close that even a piece of paper wouldn't have fit.
Reid let out a groan at the familiar feel of her pert breasts pressed hard against his chest and her hips putting just the right amount of pressure on his groin. He reached down to tug the hem of her shirt up. The feel of his chilled fingers on her stomach jolted Chloe out of her haze. She drew her head back sharply, eyes wide in surprise. "I can't," she stuttered out. Reid looked betrayed by her response, but she had never done something like this before. She didn't believe in cheating and while one could argue that a kiss hardly counted, it was the feeling behind it that mattered. "I still love you," she breathed, the realization knocking her flat. She had thought that she had long gotten over Reid. Sure they still hooked up, but they hadn't dated in years. She had thought the deeply emotional component of their relationship was gone, but obviously it had simply been buried under the surface.
Reid blinked in shock at her 180 from 'I can't' to 'I love you'. But a gently fond smile crossed his lips and he reached out to gently tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, his hand lingering to cup her cheek and his thumb caressing her lower lip. Reid didn't like to get overly gushy or emotional and so he rarely said the words 'I love you' for anything other than jokes or perhaps said platonically to his family. In fact Chloe could count on one hand the amount of times he said the words to her during their relationship. But she had never needed them because it was written all over his face at times like these. It was in the way that he looked at her, in the way that he held her and the way that he smiled at her. Even if he didn't say it, she could always hear it.
He leaned back in for another kiss, secure in the realization that she felt the same, but frowned when she stopped him. "I can't do this to Alek," she murmured, still completely shocked by her own emotional revelation. "I… I'm sorry," Chloe muttered as she quickly extricated herself from his grasp and fled the room.
Chloe stared into her closet with a hard look, glaring at everything she set her eyes on.
"I don't know what your clothes did to you, but I'm sure they're very sorry," Tyler teased as he came up behind her. He was already sporting dark jeans and a blue button up shirt that matched his eyes. He also wore navy blazer over it completing his casually preppy look. Today was the big day. They would be completing the final negotiations between the supernatural world and they all needed to look their best.
Hence Chloe's dilemma.
See, Reid was giving her space. Or at least as much space as possible given that they lived together. Still, she appreciated the gesture. And she knew that some of that gesture was him waiting for her to figure things out. But Reid wasn't typically one for patience. So she also knew that most of the gesture was him trying not to stress her before her big day. Which was surprisingly considerate. But just because that was his intention didn't mean that it was working. Because she couldn't just ignore what had taken place less than twenty-four hours ago.
"You know me," Chloe said, finally acknowledging her older brother.
"Since the day you were dropped on the Danvers doorstep," Tyler replied, looking at her in curiosity. He wondered where she was going with this.
"Have you ever…" She trailed off, not sure how to finish that sentence. "You know how I like to dress up?" she asked, trying again.
"Nope. I totally missed the whirlwind of all your fancy dresses and high heels," Tyler quipped with a straight face.
Chloe turned her head, taking her eyes off her closet for the first time to look at him. Tyler, while on occasion was certainly funny, he wasn't typically the type to crack joke after joke. In fact the only time he liked to act like a jokester was when he was nervous.
Chloe's eyes widened in surprised realization. It hadn't occurred to her that any of the boys would be nervous for Negotiation Day either.
Blinking, her eyes returned to the closet. Tyler clearly sought her out to help with his nerves so she was just going to have to act natural for him. Which meant continuing her conversation. "Well cute dresses are normal for me. They're old and comfortable. But this is sort of like a business deal, so I was thinking I might wear something more professional. I have quite a few business outfits that I wear for meetings with directors, labels, brands… I like my new business wardrobe, but I also like my dresses. And I saw this old dress that I used to really love and have you ever seen something you used to love a long time ago? You just sort of get nostalgic and want to hang onto it and…" Suddenly Chloe realized that she may no longer be talking about her clothes. "How do you know if you love something because you love something or if it's because you're feeling sentimental?" she asked. "Maybe its time to put on a new suit…" Chloe finished off with a murmur, looking down in thought. Either way, someone was going to get hurt in this. And she was terrified of what would happen if it was Reid. They were best friends and they only got over their first break up because it was mutual. What would happen this time, if she chose Alek instead?
Sensing that Chloe was not in fact talking about her wardrobe, Tyler asked, "Is there something you're trying to tell me?"
Chloe pouted a little. She was sort of hoping that he would just know what she was talking about. Then again, despite being Reid's best friend, she doubted the blond would have said anything to Tyler and she knew that she hadn't. Still, was it too much to ask from a big brother to be able to read his little sister's mind once and a while? "No," she blatantly lied.
Easily discerning the lie, Tyler shook his head in annoyance. "Right," he drawled. How was he supposed to give her advice if he didn't understand the problem? "So, you're asking which is better? Old and comfortable or new and interesting?" he clarified, hoping that this was the crux of her wardrobe metaphor.
Chloe shrugged. "Yep. But I love them both," she was quick to add.
Tyler rested a hand on her back. "It's okay to love something for a long time. It's okay to feel nostalgic. But you can't live in the past, Chloe. Things are always changing and you'll always love new things. Move forward. Don't allow sentimentality to cloud your judgment."
Sound advice. She wondered if he had the slightest clue that he just told her to date Alek over Reid.
Nodding in thanks, she sent her brother off but the second he was out the door, she was right back at her closet. The advice was nice but… her feelings for Reid were more than sentimentality. She still loved him. She knew that deep in her soul. There was still something there.
The question was whether those long buried feelings were enough to override her current feelings.
She took a seat on the circular white couch in her closet as she stared between the two sections of her closet. Dressy or professional?
Well, professional could be cocky. And stifling. And jealous. And-
"Baby girl?" Pogue called from the front door.
"In here!" she called back.
Soon, two of her brothers appeared at the door to her closet. "Still not dressed yet?" Chase asked as he casually ran his fingers over a couple of her jackets before making his way in front of her. "Tyler said you needed us?"
Chloe blinked in surprise. She had no idea what she needed them for. Suddenly it hit her. Tyler clearly had no idea if his response was the right one and had sent in her other brothers to go make sure.
So, Chloe told them her dilemma. Metaphorically, of course.
"That's easy," Chase said. "New."
At the same time, Pogue answered, "Old," causing the two brothers to look at each other in surprise. "New?" Pogue asked Chase incredulously.
"Old?" Chase asked right back.
Sensing a fight about to brew and having no time to put it out, Chloe stood up, bracing her hands in front of each boy. "Alright, thank you for your opinions. I'll take them into consideration." The two boys still refused to move. "Bye," she stated forcefully as finally the two men left her closet.
So that was two for Alek and one for Reid. Not that anyone had a clue what she was really asking.
Back to her list: dressy was arrogant, a troublemaker, a player, a-
"Chlo?" a voice asked from behind her. Chloe gave an annoyed sigh as she craned her neck, but she smiled at seeing her oldest brother.
"Cay," she greeted as he sat down beside her. "What's up?"
"You're getting late and Tyler said you might need my help with something," he replied as he wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. He probably thought she was nervous about the big meeting, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. She just couldn't focus on the supernatural community when all she could think about was Reid or Alek. Alek or Reid.
So, she told Caleb the same metaphor she told Tyler and Chase and Pogue waited for his response.
Caleb paused, turning to look at her seriously. There was something in his eyes that said that he understood what she was really asking. He then turned to survey her clothes, as if playing along. "Today's a big day. You should wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Don't wear something that will make you second guess yourself. Your focus should be on your future and what will ultimately make you stronger." He laid a comforting hand on her shoulder before getting up and leaving.
Tally one more for Reid then. Great, four brothers and she came up with a tie.
"Chloe?" Reid asked as he soon entered her closet, which at the rate things were going, was soon going to be a train stop with the amount of traffic it was getting.
Chloe whirled around, her eyes wide. Did he come for an answer? Had he run out of patience? She didn't know her answer yet, damnit!
Knowing what she was thinking, Reid smiled and held out his hands in surrender. "Tyler said you needed my help?"
Oh. Right. Tyler was sending in all her brothers and he had no way of knowing that her question was about Reid. "I've been asking them their opinion on us," she replied.
This time it was Reid's turn to be surprised. "What?"
"Don't worry, I used a metaphor. They have no idea what I'm really asking." At least she didn't think so. Caleb might but she had no idea how he had figured it out.
"Oh." He gave a relieved sigh. "How's the tally coming?" he asked in morbid curiosity.
"Tie," she replied.
Reid nodded, relieved that he wasn't completely out of the race. "I doubt my vote matters," he said. Chloe nodded in agreement. "But still, you know what I'm rooting for." Chloe gave a small smile and nodded again. Yeah, she knew what Reid wanted.
With nothing left to say, Reid exited the closet, leaving Chloe with her decisions and her clothes once more.
"Ready?" Chloe asked as she finally walked down the last few steps. Various voices replied that they were and they all headed out the door. Caleb hung back as he took her in.
"You picked the dress," he murmured.
"You told me to," she shrugged, trying not to make a big deal out of it.
"No, I told you to wear what made you feel powerful. You were the one who decided that you felt great in a dress."
Chloe sighed as she smoothed down the non-existent wrinkles in her black Badgley Mischka dress (IMAGE). It was knee length with black spaghetti straps. The top was embroidered with gold, emphasizing her breasts and below that was a strip of black sheer fabric to showcase the slimmest portion of her waist. The rest flowed into a plain black skirt. Her shoes consisted of a pair of Louboutin black and gold heels. (IMAGE)
"Nervous?" Caleb asked. He was sitting next to her in the driver's seat while the rest of the boys were piled into the back of the SUV.
"What? No," Chloe replied lamely. The truth was, she wasn't even thinking about the Negotiations. She knew that she had to get her head in the game, but her mind was still on Alek and Reid.
Her brothers had been no help on that front, their opinions ending in a tie. She had gone with the dress aka Reid, but she was still uncertain. Was she making the right decision? Ever since her secret had come out, Alek had been like a totally different person. It was like he was posturing in front of his friends and instead of acting like she was his girlfriend, he was acting like she was his trophy. Like he won her or something. She had hoped that, given time, he'd calm down and let his jealousy and possessiveness go, but he hadn't. It had been months and things were still the same and she could admit that she was unhappy.
But things used to be good between them. They used to be really good actually. He'd made her so happy and he was the first guy she was willing to take a chance on after her fiasco of a relationship with Chase. She wished that Alek could go back to being that guy and she wondered if they weren't in some sort of rough patch or if this was really it.
And then there was Reid. They had been amazing together, if she was being honest. He knew all of her secrets and never once judged her for anything she'd done or wanted to do. They understood each other in a way most people only dreamed of, capable of communicating only with a look or a smile. But there had been something missing in their relationship and they had both felt it. Neither knew what it was, but they knew that they didn't have it. And in the end, they mutually decided to end it.
But how was now going to be any different? What had changed in three years that he felt they should give it another shot? Her feelings were still there, she realized that now. But what happened if there were still missing 'it'? Or what happened if something else happened and they broke up? Last time had been mutual and that's how they managed to stay so close. But what if this time it didn't end mutually? How was she meant to still be around Reid then?
There were a lot of pros and cons for both Reid and Alek. Earlier, she had chosen Reid, but she couldn't help but fear that she had made the wrong decision. Should she stay with Alek? Work on whatever rough patch they were going through? It was decidedly less scary than wondering what would happen if things ended badly with Reid.
What should she do? Who should she choose?
"Chloe?" Caleb asked, startling her out of her thoughts. "We're here." At her questioning look, he nodded out the window to the large building they were parked in front of. The others had already climbed out of the car and were all lingering outside waiting for Caleb and Chloe to come out so that they could head up to the meeting place. "Where's your head at, Baby Girl?" Caleb questioned.
Chloe shook her head. "Not here," she confessed.
Caleb nodded his head knowingly. "Understandable." There was a moment's pause before he spoke again. "I thought you picked Reid?"
"I did. I do. I dunno," Chloe muttered. She had picked him, she just wasn't sure if she could stick to her decision or if she'd change her mind. Her head was filled with 'what if' scenarios and images of regret.
The brunet nodded his head again. "I understand, but you've gotta get it out of your head." Chloe snorted derisively. Yeah, like that was going to happen. "I know it's going to be hard, but you're more than just Chloe King right now." Chloe looked at her brother questioningly. "You're the Uniter," Caleb reminded. "And up there," he nodded his head toward the building, "there are a lot of supernaturals who are waiting for you to come and lead them; to bring them to a new era of peace." Chloe turned to look up at the building. He was right. She wondered how many people were at those windows right now, looking out, watching for her to arrive.
"Sorry, Cay," she murmured regretfully. She hadn't meant to let her personal problems get in the way of her leadership. Her face became resolved as she finally began to focus on the task at hand; uniting her people.
She slipped out of the car, garnering all of the boys' attention. She firmly began walking toward the building, the guys forming their usual guard around her in situations like this. Caleb, Chase and Reid made up her front guard as Pogue and Tyler took up the rear.
She took a brief second to wonder what normal teenage girls did on their Saturday nights before promptly tucking that thought away and entering the building. Soon, they were all squished into the elevator. It was extremely similar to a scene from several months prior when they were going to meet the Mai. That night seemed like ages ago, though.
They exploded out of the elevator car and quickly made their way down the hall. They were already a bit late, although given they were the ones hosting, things could hardly go on without them. They stopped in front of two large wooden doors – the meeting room that they had booked for this night.
"Are you ready?" Caleb asked, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder.
Chloe nodded sharply. Her head was in the game. She was focused, stubborn and ready for a fight. "Damn straight," she replied with a smirk, earning chuckles.
Reid and Chase each pushed open one of the doors allowing Chloe and Caleb to walk in with Tyler and Pogue right behind them. Every eye in the room was drawn to the group immediate and those that were sitting were soon standing. Chloe felt like a Queen and knew that the title wasn't that far off. These people were trusting her with their well-being and their future. She had spent her entire life getting ready for this moment.
She quickly made her way to the head of the large conference table and took her seat in the plush chair. Caleb and Chase took the seats on either side of her while the other three took up guard behind them. Looking around, she spotted leaders and representatives from all the major factions in the northern hemisphere. Her gaze paused for a moment on Valentina, or more accurately on Jasmine and Alek standing behind her. Chloe nipped on her lower lip as she met the gaze of her boyfriend, but quickly forced herself to move on.
"Welcome," she finally said after a moment of silent contemplation on each of the individuals in attendance. "Tonight is a night like no other. This night will go down in the history books for centuries to come. I thank you for being apart of it." She paused to give her words a moment to soak in. "Now, let's begin, shall we?"
Almost three hours later, Chloe's composure was gone, as was most everyone else's. The Mai and the Jackals had been sniping with each other over the new territory lines for the last twenty minutes. Even the ever graceful and serene Avia were looking worn and haggard.
"Enough!" Chloe commanded, but no one was listening. "I said – oh forget it," she muttered, slumping back down into her seat. Chase tapped her hand to let her know that he could use magic to get their attention, but she waved him off. This meeting had been going on for what felt like eternity.
Getting up, she quietly left the meeting hall, needing to take a breather. She waved off Pogue who made a motion to go with her. She was only planning on heading into the hallway outside and she was perfectly capable of protecting herself at the moment.
She walked into the cool hall, grateful for the reprieve from the shouting and threats. Chloe supposed she should just be grateful that there had been no physical harm done. Yet.
"Hey," a familiar British voice said softly as Alek slipped out of the meeting hall too.
"Hi," she murmured back, eyes sad.
There was a moment of silence before Alek finally broke it. "I saw you and Reid in the sound studio. Caleb brought me down there and we saw you." Chloe blinked in surprise. So that was how Caleb knew. Then she winced. How much did Alek see? She hoped he didn't see the kiss, although she had a feeling he hadn't or he would be a great deal angrier.
"I'm sorry," she murmured instead. "I love you but I can't keep doing this..." Chloe paused to look up at Alek's face. He was sad, but resigned. He knew what was coming too. "This is it, isn't it?" Chloe asked, her lower lip trembling slightly as she fought the urge to cry.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is." Alek frowned. It was easy to see he was upset but there was nothing either of them could do. They had been trying so hard for so long to keep their relationship together and even Alek could admit that neither of them were happy anymore.
"Goodbye, Alek," she murmured as one of those tears finally made its way down her cheek.
"Goodbye, Chloe," he replied in a sad, resigned tone. He soon left to return to the negotiations, his jaw clenched tight in pain.
Chloe stayed out in the hall for a moment longer, fighting to get her emotions under control. She wished things didn't have to end like this. She cared about Alek, but she had to move on. She and Reid might have their issues, but when they were together, there wasn't a moment, not one second, where she was unhappy. And in the end, that said it all.
Taking a deep, controlling breath, Chloe braced herself before returning to the room. Seeing the Mai and the Jackals still fighting, she went to her seat and, still standing, slammed her hands down on the table. "Enough!" she yelled ferociously, finally finding her feet once again. The entire room silenced as they turned to look at her.
Now that her mind and heart were no longer cluttered by thoughts of Alek and Reid, she felt like a new person. A lighter person. A person who had their second wind.
"We are all adults here," she muttered dangerously. "And we will act like it. There will be no more raised voices, no more threats. Everyone, sit down." She glared especially hard at the two supernaturals arguing. Everyone moved to sit, but they were slow and hesitant, eyes still drawn on her. "Now!" she ordered and everyone hastily dropped to their seats. "The Jackals will have their full five miles," she declared, ending the argument. The Mai were only arguing to be petty. They didn't need the extra territory; they had enough money that they could build up, which they tended to prefer anyway. The Mai inherited the cat's love for heights. "If there is even one raised voice from now on, I will have my right hand," here she motioned toward Caleb, "magically dangle you outside this building until you see things my way."
Caleb let out a small choked sound at her threat. "I really wish you'd tell me these things before you go and just announce them to everyone," he muttered lowly into her ear, but obligingly glared menacingly so that no one would doubt the honesty of her words.
Chloe ignored her brother as she continued to focus on the matter at hand. "If the pettiness is over, let us continue these negotiations," she concluded, sitting down regally as she overlooked her subjects. If she was going to be considered a Queen by these people than they better damn well act like it.
END BOOK 2