The rooftop garden at Stinger Sound was transformed for the night. A long runway draped with purple satin ran the length of half the roof, ending in the fountain where lotus blossoms floated gently amid tea-lights like fireflies. The morning's rain had washed away the smog, and far above the bright glow of the city lights hung a scattering of stars.
Like all of Riot's gatherings, the party was thronged with celebrities. Actors, producers, designers and fellow musicians warily circled one another like predators, baring their teeth in smiles that never quite reached their eyes. At the centre of it all, Japanese fashion designer Yaki Tori held court. The models were behind a curtain, primped and sprayed and corseted as they waited for their cues. No-one was going to start the show until their host was there to witness it, in the hopes of catching his eye and possibly entering his orbit.
But Riot stood in his office, the sounds of the party shut out by the soundproofed doors as he regarded the velvet box resting in the centre of his desk. What a girl really wants is ice, to prove it's for real, Rochelle had said. Riot had taken her words to heart, choosing the best piece the jewellers had to offer as a perfect expression of his devotion.
A platinum bracelet lay nestled in the satin bed of the jewellery box, row after row of perfect 2 carat diamonds catching the light as if they were alive. It was extravagant, but he could afford it. As he had told his mother on her birthday, what was the point of having money, if not to shower those he cared about with gifts?
He closed the box with an audible snap just as his office door opened and Rapture sauntered in. Her long blonde hair was piled high atop her head, and her gold and white cocktail dress left little to the imagination. Her dark lipstick stood out against her pale skin, making her mouth seem cruel.
Rapture draped herself across the sofa against one wall, her long legs stretched out before her, ending in wicked-looking stiletto heels.
"Rapture, my dear, why aren't you enjoying our little soiree?"
"Everyone's just milling around like sheep. It's boring. Are you ever planning on coming out to liven things up?"
"In due time. Where's Minx?"
"I have no idea," Rapture said airily. "We left the studio separately. I haven't seen her all afternoon. Once she began hanging out with that creepy little geek, Techrat, she stopped returning Yaki's phonecalls. I'd be surprised even she even shows up tonight. She and Yaki split up, you know."
Riot shrugged. "Hardly surprising, given it is Minx after all." In all the years he'd known Ingrid, she had never had any serious affairs du coeurs. Merely enjoyed the chase—both as hunter and as prey. But her true thrill was the pursuit itself. Once she'd had what she wanted, she tired of lovers quickly. Since they had arrived in California, the only man who seemed immune to her considerable charms was Rio Pacheco. And even that was, given their last few encounters, debatable.
"I'm surprised you put up with Yaki, actually. He's such a wretched little sycophant, and his designs are so passé."
"Yaki serves his purpose. When I tire of him, I'm sure he will move on to other pursuits," Riot said with a slight shrug. Yaki wasn't big enough yet to unveil his couture line at Fashion Week in New York alongside designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld, and the Comtesse DuVoisin. But Yaki was considered one of Los Angeles luminaries—almost entirely due to Riot's influence. Every award and accolade the designer garnered brought Riot acclaim as his patron.
"But for tonight, we are to allow Yaki to dazzle us. He's causing quite the stir on the Paris fashion scene right now. It's good publicity for the Stingers."
"It's good publicity so long as we are still the only American rock group to wear Yaki Tori originals," Rapture pointed out. "You know he met with Eric last week about designing something for that little girl from Ephemeral for the Music Awards, don't you?"
Riot frowned. Usually such a thing would not have escaped his notice. Of course, he hadn't spoken face-to-face with Eric since they had renegotiated Stormer's contract. It would be just like Eric to try and get back at him through Yaki. Too cowardly to face me, he stoops to sway my underlings, Riot thought with a sigh. Eric Raymond had seemed for a moment, when they had first met, a true equal. But since, he had proven himself to be a mere opportunist who let Phyllis Gabor lead him around by the nose, little more than a dog on a leash.
"I'll have Rochelle schedule a lunch meeting with Raymond tomorrow," Riot said with an unconcerned shrug. "Go. Enjoy the party."
"It's your party. You can't hide in here forever, waiting for her to come to you. It's ridiculous."
"I don't know what you're—"
"Oh please. I know you already asked the valet downstairs to call when your precious Stormer gets here," Rapture said with a brittle laugh.
I am not bribing the staff well enough, if they cannot be discreet as well as obedient, Riot thought, but hid his displeasure as best he could with a false smile. "I merely wished to speak to her alone about recording the single. Preferably without the rest of the Misfits. They can be such a distraction, don't you agree?"
"It's a wonder you can get anything done, the way Pizzazz runs after you like a bitch in heat. Anyway, she's already here. With her entire entourage."
Riot schooled his expression, but slipped the velvet box into his desk drawer as surreptitiously as he could.
"Pizzazz looks like a street-walker, and is sucking down free champagne at the bar like there's no tomorrow," Rapture continued, getting up and smoothing her dress down over her hips. "Funny, I don't remember them being on the guest list."
"Nonsense. We're all one big happy Stinger Sound family."
"Maybe I should have invited Harriet Horn, then, to witness the festivities. Every game needs its spectators, after all."
Riot's smile was gone now, and his dark green eyes were cold. "You have no idea what the stakes are in this particular game."
"Don't tell me you actually are developing feelings for the girl?" Rapture put a hand to her heart melodramatically, her voice oozing false sentiment.
"My feelings, whatever they may be, are none of your concern." At the startled look on Rapture's face, he felt a slight twinge of regret at his harshness. "Join the party," he suggested, "Have fun. We'll discuss this at a more appropriate time, later."
"Anything you say, Riot." Rapture's tone dripped honey, but as the door closed behind her, Riot could tell a storm was brewing.
Stormer scanned the crowd, trying to pick out Riot among the throng. Behind her, Jetta had a hand on her lower back, keeping her in line and preventing her from making her escape. Judging by the throng gathering at the edge of the stage, Stormer guessed they hadn't missed the evening's main event. Or at least what most of the assembled guests would have considered the main event. As far as Pizzazz and the other Misfits were concerned, Yaki was just the pre-show. A warm up opening act that filled time until the true stars arrived.
The entire trip in the limo, Stormer had sat squeezed between Roxy and the passenger-side door. The second they pulled away from the Gabor mansion, Pizzazz started a steady stream of one-sided conversation. She asked her what she thought of her outfit, what she thought Riot would say when he saw her. Where Riot would spirit her off to, to make his declarations of love. And how much the wedding would cost, and where they should honeymoon.
The inside of Stormer's left arm was sore, from where Roxy had pinched her—hard—when she almost opened her mouth to answer.
In the end, Stormer had given up and just stared out the tinted window and watched the streetlamps flash by as they neared downtown. Jetta had kept up a stream of chatter, trying to deflect Pizzazz's attention, but it had been useless. Unless the sentenced started with "Riot" or ended with "you're right" it was as if the other Misfits simply didn't exist. It was a relief to step out into the muggy smog when they reached the kerb at Stinger Sound. However that breath of freedom had been short-lived.
Roxy had glared daggers at Stormer as they'd ridden the elevator up to the roof, and when the doors opened and Pizzazz made her grand entrance, Roxy held Stormer back. Her lacquered nails dug into her forearm.
"You gotta fix this, you hear me?" she hissed in Stormer's ear.
"Shaddup. I don't want to hear it. You made this mess—you clean it up. Tonight."
Pizzazz had made a bee-line for the bar, expecting as always for the other Misfits to follow in her wake. With one last glare in Stormer's direction, Roxy followed. Jetta's grey eyes flicked between Stormer and Roxy before she too headed to the open bar, leaving Stormer adrift in the sea of strangers.
Pizzazz didn't seem to notice Stormer hanging back. Tottering slightly on her platform heels, she elbowed Hollywood's latest starlet out of the way and demanded attention. And being Pizzazz, she got it. Instantly half the journalists on the rooftop had formed a semi-circle around her, hunting for juicy gossip. Stormer could hear her laughter carrying on the warm night air as she accepted flutes of champagne and drowned them like water. Watching her, Stormer felt trapped. Her stomach pitched and rolled like she was at sea, and she was on the verge of turning and bolting when the warmth of a hand on her lower back stayed her.
"So glad you could make it," Riot said, feigning courtesy but the words that fell from his lips didn't match the message she was getting from his dark green eyes as his touch lingered for just a fraction of a second too long on the exposed skin of her back, beneath her jacket.
"Riot, darling!" Pizzazz trilled from halfway across the roof, and Stormer flinched.
"I need to talk to you," she said so softly she worried he'd have to read her lips. "Alone."
The only outward sign that he'd heard was his hand tightening on her hip, before sliding away. Aware of Roxy and Jetta's eyes on them, she followed Riot to where Pizzazz was holding court, having cornered Yaki and his latest Brazilian model girlfriend next to the ice sculptures.
"Pizzazz, you look lovely." Riot made a show of kissing her hand, and Pizzazz beamed at him.
"It's a Yaki Tori original."
"Last year's collection," Yaki muttered over the rim of his champagne flute. "Prêt-à-porter."
"A timeless classic," Riot said smoothly, before her feathers could begin to ruffle. He kept the full focus of his attention on Pizzazz, who positively glowed in response. But whenever her bandmate's eyes strayed from Riot's, he would flick glances at Stormer that would have made blood rush to her cheeks had Jetta not been watching her so closely.
"Yeah. Our invitation must have got lost in the mail," Jetta added, not even attempting to keep the scorn from her voice.
"You're always welcome at Stinger Sound, you know that," Riot said smoothly.
Roxy's reply was to snag a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and down it in one swallow. "Swell party."
"Yeah, mate," Jetta added, flanking Pizzazz, arms crossed. "Rooftop never looked so good. It's funny—I never come up here. Too much bird shit, usually." Her eyes slid over Yaki and the model, her lips quirked in a smile. "You have to practically wade through the crap."
Stormer flinched. Riot may have had Pizzazz fooled by his flattery, but Jetta seemed to see right through him. But Riot's smile never wavered as he continued as if her words held no double meaning.
"Yes, it is amazing, how we've transformed this place for tonight's festivities, is it not?" Riot sipped champagne, green eyes dancing as he gestured to the milling crowd of the great and the good assembled beneath the partially full moon.
"You'd almost never remember what it was like," Rapture said as she sidled up to join them, "back in the old days when Harvey Gabor owned Misfits Music."
Pizzazz laughed, oblivious to Rapture's slight. "Oh, Daddy never did know what to do with this place. Eric nearly ran it into the ground." Pizzazz laid a hand on Riot's arm, batting her eyes. "Everything's so different, now that you're here. Everything."
"Oh, you have no idea," Rapture said with a smile, and Stormer saw Riot's hand tighten on the stem of the delicate champagne flute. She worried for a second it might crack, but then he was all smiles again.
"It has certainly been a year for changes. I was just telling Yaki how invigorating his designs are, compared to just a year ago."
Yaki gave a mock bow. "I am inspired by the company I keep."
"Wow, you must spend a lot of time in the Figueroa Corridor," Roxy said, jerking a thumb towards one of the impossibly tall models circulating among the guests and pausing every few seconds to pose for photographs.
Yaki flushed, and the girl on his arm snickered. Stormer had to admit, the Day-Glo orange wig and thigh-high vinyl boots did resemble a slice of "Urban Los Angeles" more likely to charge by the hour.
"I would love to stay, and catch up—but the show is about to start. And as gracious host, I can't be seen neglecting all my other guests." He turned to Pizzazz, who had sidled closer to him and was now practically leaning on his arm. "I insist you take a place of honour in the front row with Rapture, so you can truly marvel at Yaki's creativity close-up."
Stormer didn't miss Rapture's flash of teeth that bore only superficial resemblance to a smile when Riot all but unloaded Pizzazz on her. But blinded by his charm, Pizzazz seemed unaware she'd just been neatly manoeuvred into a position where it would have been impossible for her to notice, as the spotlights came up on the stage and the crowd began clapping, Riot slipping away from the crowd to disappear back into the building.
Jetta, however, didn't miss a trick, and mouthed Go! At Stormer, who backed away slowly. It wasn't hard to slip away—all eyes were trained on the stage as Yaki bounded to the centre of the stage, the sequins on his tuxedo lapels practically blinding as they caught the light.
"Welcome to the gala unveiling of the Yaki Tori Spring 1990 Couture collection..."
Stormer took the elevator down to the executive offices, and before she could even rap lightly on Riot's office door it swung inward. Before she could say a word, he had pulled her inside the darkened office, downtown Los Angeles shimmering in a sea of coloured lights beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.
"Yaki will keep them distracted for at least an hour," he said against her neck, before he pulled her into a hungry kiss.
"Riot—" she said against his mouth as his hands slid down to her waist, gripping her hips and pulling her flush against him. She felt light-headed as he backed her towards the mahogany desk.
"Couldn't wait to get me alone, could you—" he said against her mouth, his lips curved in a smile.
"Stop." She reached up and covered his mouth with his hand, and drew in a shaky breath. "Roxy and Jetta followed me last night to your place. They know. About us. They want me to end it tonight—before Pizzazz can find out. And Craig knows I spent the night with you—and we had this huge, huge fight this morning. I don't even think he's speaking to me."
Riot reached up and took her hand in his, pressing a kiss into the palm.
She frowned. "Are you even listening to me?"
"Riot, I don't know what to do. Everything is happening so fast."
"What do you want?" he asked, cupping her face in his hands. His smile was gone now, and she looked up into his dark green eyes.
"Forget Pizzazz and her ego. Forget Roxy and Jetta's threats. Forget your brother's disapproval. Forget everyone in your life who is telling you what you ought to desire. What do you want? For yourself. What do you want?"
Stormer bit her bottom lip.
If someone had asked her, a month ago, if she'd thought she'd ever have had the courage to face down Eric Raymond at his own game, should would have laughed in their face. If someone had asked her a year ago if she ever would have counted Kimber Benton as one of her best friends, she'd have laughed and spit in their eye. Four years ago, the idea of not just asking for, but demanding Pizzazz and Roxy treat her like an equal and a partner would have given her the shakes. And the fifteen year old baby sister Craig left behind when he went to Europe never would have dared to say half the things she had finally said that morning in her kitchen.
And never in her wildest dreams would she have thought a guy like Riot would ever be a part of her life.
Craig may have dismissed him as yet another in a lifetime's list of loser bad boys she'd fallen for, but she'd seen the man behind the ego. It had taken time, and she'd been as surprised as anyone by the Rory Llewelyn he rarely showed anyone else. He was arrogant, but he could also be tender. He didn't suffer fools gladly, but he also was dedicated to his music. He didn't settle for second best. If you wanted to be a part of his world, you had to bring your A-game. He demanded nothing less of everyone around him.
And he had chosen her.
When he looked at her, she felt wild, and strong, beautiful and invincible. He made her feel like she could do anything she set her mind to; like anything was possible. Unlike Roxy, he didn't ask her to choose between him and the Misfits. It wasn't all-or-nothing. Unlike Craig, he didn't expect her to be anyone other than who she was, whoever that may be, even if it didn't fit his idea of her. And even Kimber turned a blind eye to the side of Stormer who liked a little bit of chaos now and then, because she still liked to pretend to be "the good girl".
Riot wasn't just a little bit of chaos. He was a maelstrom. When he touched her, feelings she didn't know burned through her like a brushfire. She knew that was dangerous. She knew the smart thing—the sensible thing—would be to cut her losses, and run before she got in too deep.
But then, Stormer had never exactly been sensible.
She wasn't who she used to be. And she didn't want to be someone who couldn't stand up for herself, or fight for what she wanted. She'd come too far to back down now. She'd done too much to go back to letting her life be controlled by everyone else, and give up her say in her own future.
"You." Her eyes burned with sudden tears. "I want you."
He brushed her cheek with the pads of his fingers, smoothing her hair away from her face.
She leaned forward, meeting him halfway in a kiss. His hands slid down her shoulders, her jacket following to land on the floor soundlessly. Stormer gasped as his lips found the sensitive spot where her neck met her collarbone.
A shiver ran down her spine as she dragged his mouth back to hers hungrily. In a single fluid motion he lifted her onto the edge of the desk. He pulled away from her mouth just long enough to slide her jacket off her shoulders. She began unbuttoning his shirt, popping two of the buttons in her haste to get it open.
"This is an original Yaki Tori," he said, lips curved in a smile as the jet buttons clicked on the polished floor.
"Get him to make you a new one," she growled.
For right or wrong, this was what she wanted. And she wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything in her life.
As Yaki's finale took the stage—a white wedding dress with geometric cut-outs in strategic places, and a train covered in sequins—the press went crazy, and the flashes from their cameras made Roxy shield her eyes.
Pizzazz was staring it at, a dreamy smile on her face that made Roxy's stomach turn, since she was pretty sure their fearless leader was currently making up the guest list for the wedding of the century (and auctioning off the exclusive rights to the photos to the tabloids) in her head already.
"Maybe sending her after him wasn't such a good idea," Roxy whispered to Jetta as everyone except the Misfits and Rapture stood to give Tori a standing ovation. They drifted toward the back, where they wouldn't be overheard. "But maybe we shouda gone with her, you know? You know Stormer—she'll go in all good intentions. But the second that sleezeball lays on the charm, she'll go all mushy."
Jetta's grey eyes narrowed. "She's gotta choose, Rox. Him, or us. It's the only way."
"I know, I know, I just..." Roxy bit her lip. What if she doesn't choose us?
hung in the air between them. Roxy couldn't even say the words. If she said them, that might make it real. And she wasn't ready for it to be real.
"Look, Pizzazz hasn't noticed they're gone. Keep your head on straight." Jetta seemed relaxed and confident, and Roxy wished she could shake the dread that made her palms sweat and feel like she was going to toss her cookies in the koi pond. "With luck, she'll never even know what happened, and things will go right back to normal."
"Yeah. Normal." Roxy scowled. Jetta might blame Stormer falling for Riot for all the weirdness lately, but for Roxy it went a lot deeper than that. Things hadn't been "normal" since Stormer had first left the band and starting hanging out with Kimber Benton.
"C'mon—cheer up, mate. Stormer's a Misfit, right? Misfit to the core. Blokes come and go, but we've got history. She won't throw all that away. Even Pizzazz didn't, not when it really mattered. You'll see."
Roxy sighed. "Maybe if we get Pizzazz drunk enough, she'll pass out and this nightmare'll be over."
"Now you're talking!" Jetta winked at her, and they turned back to the milling crowds who had rushed the stage as all the models had come up to take their bows. "Hey, where is Pizzazz?"
Stormer stood in the executive bathroom, examining her reflection in the mirror as she tried to repair the damage their little tryst done to her make-up. Her cheeks were still flushed, her eyes bright. It wouldn't take much to guess what they'd been up to. Stormer decided for once, she didn't care. Roxy and Jetta were going to be angry—furious, even. But better they take Pizzazz aside tonight and end this charade, then allow them to continue to hold it over her.
That just left Craig. But right now, she felt as if she could handle anything. It wasn't as if her situation had changed at all—but she felt as if somehow, everything would be alright. Somehow. It was a renewed sense of hope that made her feel giddy and breathless, and she'd recovered some of her good humour of the morning at last.
"You look beautiful." Riot came up behind her, carefully affixing the rosebud in the curls behind her ear before sliding his arms around her waist. She leaned back against his chest, tilting her head to the slide so he could press a kiss to her neck.
"Careful," she hissed at the light pressure of his teeth. "It'll totally blow our cover if I leave your office with a hickey I didn't come in with."
"What if I want to mark you?" His voice was a low bass rumble against her skin. "What if I want every man here to know that no-one else is allowed to touch you. Not like this."
She gave a low, throaty laugh. "Wow, somehow you manage to make that sound totally sexy instead of creepy. How do you do that?"
"Practice," he said, nipping lightly again even as she swatted his shoulder playfully. "I have something for you."
"Oh really?" She raised a brow, and was delighted when she saw a flush creep up his neck.
"Brat." From his mouth, it was an endearment. Taking her by the hand, he brought her back over to the desk. He pulled open the drawer and with a flourish, handed her the black velvet box.
Puzzled, she opened it and gasped when she saw the tennis bracelet. "Oh my God. Are these real?"
"Of course they're real," he said with a chuckle. "I have it on very good authority that when a man wants a woman to know his feelings are genuine, diamonds are appropriate."
"Riot, it's beautiful. But I can't—"
"Yes. You can." He removed the bracelet from the box, fastened the clasp around her wrist. "Because I say you can."
He brought her hand to his lips, brushing a gentlemanly kiss across her knuckles. His gesture of Old World charm was completely lost on her, however, as she continued to gape at the string of 2 carat diamonds winking in the light.
"But it must have cost a fortune!"
"And worth every penny."
She had a guilty twinge when she thought about how the Misfits had tried to bribe her with expensive gifts, back when she and Kimber were working on Back 2 Back. But this was different—and she knew it. She remembered the joy Riot had taken in presenting his mother with the perfect birthday surprise. She saw that same gleam in his eyes now, as she turned her wrist this way and that, watching the yellow diamonds caught the light. It reminded her of Angus, when he'd given her her first orchid. Not so much bribery as wanting to impress her and make her feel special. And she had to admit, she was impressed.
"I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything." He slid his arms around her waist, and pulled her closer. She wound her arms around his neck, and smiled against his mouth, deciding showing her appreciation was going to make them even later to the party.
Unfortunately, that was when Pizzazz opened the door.
Pizzazz simply stared open-mouthed at Riot and Stormer, who flew apart like guilty teenagers.
"Oh look, here he is," Rapture said from behind Pizzazz, blue eyes wide in feigned innocence. "Riot, we've been looking absolutely everywhere for you."
"Riot?" Pizzazz said quietly, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. She looked back and forth between Stormer and Riot in shock and disbelief.
Stormer had expected fury. She'd expected screaming, and cursing, and to be thrown out of the Misfits for good this time. Or perhaps off the roof. What she hadn't expected was Pizzazz looking so lost and betrayed.
"Pizzazz, I can explain." Stormer glanced at Riot, who for the first time since she'd met him looked as shocked as she felt. She'd never seen him caught off-guard before, and somehow that made the entire situation that much worse.
However, he recovered quickly, deliberately reaching down and lacing his fingers through Stormer's.
"Stormer and I are seeing each other. We had planned to tell you after the party." Riot's dark green eyes were cold with a kind of anger she'd never seen before that made her flinch as he glared at Rapture. "When it would cause the least disruption."
"Ooops," Rapture said with a giggle. "Pizzazz was looking for you, and I offered to help, that's all. I had no idea you were... busy."
"You... and Stormer? " Pizzazz had gone pale beneath her garish make-up, and her bottom lip trembled. Then her face went still, and then she turned on her heel and storming out of Riot's office.
Stormer started after her, but Riot still held tightly to her hand.
"Riot, let me go." Stormer wrenched her wrist from his grasp. She stumbled out into the hallway just as the elevator doors slid shut. She could hear Riot calling her name as she pushed open the fire door to the stairs and took them two at a time up to the roof.
She came through the French doors leading to the garden just as Pizzazz marched up to Roxy and Jetta, and took their drinks out of their hands and slammed them down on the bar. "Grab your stuff—we're leaving."
Stormer caught up to her, reaching out to touch her shoulder. "Pizzazz, I was going to tell you—" she started, keeping her voice low so not to attract attention.
With no warning, Pizzazz's open hand caught Stormer across the cheek. The force of the blow spun her around, and she stumbled against a table, taking it down as she fell.
All the laughter and conversation on the rooftop stopped at the sound of glass breaking. Shards glittered in the light from the lanterns bobbing in the perfumed night air, and crunched beneath Pizzazz's feet as she advanced on Stormer.
"So this is how we stick together?" Pizzazz snarled. "This is your idea of one big happy family?"
Everyone stared at them, mouths hanging open in shock. Behind Pizzazz, Stormer could see Jetta and Roxy take uncertain steps toward her, only to freeze in their tracks when Riot grasped Pizzazz by the arm to pull her back. Stormer hadn't even seen him arrive from downstairs, but she realised he must have been right behind her.
"Don't you touch her!" Riot growled as he flung Pizzazz backwards.
As if in slow motion, Pizzazz's calves hit the edge of the fountain and she flailed backwards into the shallow water, tea lights sputtering out as she fell. She surfaced with a cry of rage, the ornamental chopsticks in her hair going flying as she shook her wet hair back from her face.
After a horrible moment of hushed silence, the partygoers began to laugh.
It started with nervous titters, and then built until it was gales of laughter, accompanied by the sound of flashbulbs popping as Pizzazz tugged crushed lilies from her hair and clothes, and struggled to her feet, the sopping wet kimono sleeves tangled around her arms.
Riot didn't seem to notice or care. He knelt at Stormer's side, cradling her face in his hands, and then gingerly helped her up. "Are you alright? Did she hurt you?"
She looked around at the horrible spectacle, and then at Riot, so concerned while behind them Roxy and Jetta helped Pizzazz out of the fountain.
The laughter continued, drowning out everything else, and Stormer stumbled backwards out of Riot's arms and turned and ran.
She could hear him calling her name, but people crowded around him, reporters with their microphones out, and all she wanted was to get out of there.
Riot fought his way through the crowds to the elevator and saw it was already headed toward street level. Rapture leaned against the wall as he pressed the call button three times in quick succession, as if that would summon the second lift that much faster.
"Wow. Minx is gonna be sorry she missed all the fun."
The doors finally slid apart with a "ding", and he pulled her into the elevator with him before the doors closed.
"Ow!" She rubbed her forearm where his fingers had closed around it, pouting. "What is with you tonight? God, you never used to be like this."
"Do you have any idea what you've done?" he snapped as he jabbed the lobby button angrily. "The damage you've caused—"
"The damage I've done? Are you serious? It's just a game, you said so yourself." Rapture said unapologetically. "One you used to enjoy. When Minx got it into her head to become a goody-goody, weren't you the one telling her to snap out of it? Since when do you care about other people's petty feelings, and miserable little mundane lives?"
"Perhaps I have changed."
"Don't be ridiculous," Rapture said dismissively. "Stormer's a flavour of the month—you'll have her, and you'll tire of her, and you'll find some new challenge. I know you, Riot. This isn't you talking. It's one thing, to chase after Jem. She at least is almost worthy of you—"
"Enough!" he said sharply. "You do not get to tell me who is worthy of me. That is my choice. And if you know what's good for you, you'll never show your face here again."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying you've gone too far this time. And I won't spend my life cleaning up your messes. It ends now. You're finished."
All the colour drained from Rapture's face. "You're kicking me out of the Stingers?"
"You did this to yourself, Rapture. I told you time and time again not to muddle in my affairs." The doors slid apart with a ding, revealing the steel and glass lobby. "You've defied me for the last time."
"But we're... we're closer than family. We're closer than blood," she said, a desperate edge to her voice as she followed him out of the lift. "We're meant to be together. It's destiny."
Disgusted, he scowled as he laid one hand against the security door leading to the street. "Rapture, you live in a dream world. And it's time you woke up. If I have a destiny, as you so charmingly put it, it does not involve you. Not any longer."
A light summer rain began to fall and the smell of wet asphalt filled the air as Riot scanned the streets in both directions, desperately searching for a glimpse of blue. There were few pedestrians on the streets as the rain began to fall, and he finally spotted her briskly walking along Olive, trying to wave down a taxi.
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know. Anywhere. Away from here."
"At least let me take you back to my place to get dry— "
"Riot, I can't."
"Nonsense. Of course you can."
"No, I can't." She waved frantically at a Yellow Cab. It flashed its lights, and pulled up to the kerb as she pushed her damp hair back from her face. "Pizzazz—"
"I don't care about Pizzazz—" he snapped, exasperated.
"But I do. Riot, she was completely humiliated. It'll be all over the tabloids and trades. Every trashy rag in town. And it's my fault. Because it didn't matter to me who I hurt, if I got what I wanted. If we got what we wanted. Everything's a game to you. But I don't play games with people's feelings."
She tried to turn away from him, but her caught her arm, gently taking her chin in his hand so she faced him.
"This isn't a game." He kissed her, tasting the rain as she trembled in his arms. When he pulled back, her blue eyes were brimming with tears. He looked down to see she had pressed the bracelet into his hand.
"You don't get to kiss me and make it all better. It doesn't work that way."
"How do you know, unless you let me try?"
She shook her head. "We went too fast—everything just happened too fast."
"So we'll slow down."
She shook her head. "We need to stop."
"Too many people are getting hurt—"
He frowned. "So you'll hurt me."
"Isn't it? You get a say in this relationship, but I don't, isn't that what you're saying? You get to make all the decisions, and I have to just sit back and take it?"
"You only want what you can't have!" she blurted out, unconsciously echoing Rapture's words from the lift.
"But you forget—I did have you," he snapped, and she slapped him hard across the face. It was so quick, neither of them seemed to realise what had happened until the cabbie leaned on his horn.
"Hey, lady—meter's running!" the cabbie called out the window.
"Stormer, wait. I didn't mean—"
"Good-bye, Riot." She got into the taxi. He watched the cab's tail lights until they disappeared into traffic, the diamond bracelet cutting into his palm as he made a fist around it.