Everything was perfect.
Julia had obviously put all her talent into this party – and everyone else, for that matter. My eyes took in all the tables, covered it elegant white lace tablecloths, small glowing lights, and the long table supporting different sorts of food.
At the head of the table was a tall white cake, beautifully crafted with several roses made of creamy-looking frosting. Lanna's speakers were placed around the Island at regular intervals, and soft music was emitting from them at the perfect volume.
At times like this, it was so easy to believe that everyone on these Islands were family. Everyone scatted immediately, chatting and laughing happily. Pierre led us over to the table and went over his cake, point by point.
"The roses are a little difficult to craft," he admitted, "but the end result is worth it, don't you think?"
"Yes." I smiled. "It's marvelous, Pierre – thank you." I nudged Vaughn.
He sighed, and managed a small smile at the childish chef. "Yeah, thanks."
Pierre grinned, and then looked over my shoulder.
"This is a wedding reception, Pierre – not a cooking class." Natalie came up from behind us and smiled fondly at him.
"I know." He frowned, and the expression made him look like an agitated toddler.
"It's alright, Natalie. Everything is so perfect." Joy was evident in my voice, in my face, in my everything.
"Don't you think, Vaughn?" I asked.
Natalie raised an eyebrow at him expectantly. "Watcha think cowboy?"
He grimaced at her. "It's . . . great," he muttered.
His eyes stayed on Natalie's, like he was trying to beat her in a staring contest. I wondered if there would always be this competitiveness between them. Reluctantly, Natalie looked away and took Pierre's hand.
"Let's go linger," she said, slipping away with him.
I chuckled, and stood on my toes to kiss Vaughn.
"You're not exactly the life of the party, you know," I said.
"I don't really care what they think," he grumbled, pulling me closer, "This is supposed to be about us."
"Yes," I agreed softly.
The way he kissed me then was not exactly courteous in a crowd of people – his mouth opened against mine, and his tongue stroked mine. I pushed him back, my cheeks filling up with blood.
"There's people here, Vaughn. Watching us."
I rolled my eyes, and took his hand. "Hold it together long enough for us to go thank your cousin."
We found Julia with Elliot – predictably – sitting at one of the tables, a flickering candle illuminating their faces. I hugged Julia without even saying hello first.
"Thanks so much, Jules," I said in her ear.
She shrugged. "It's no big deal."
I laughed. "It is. You didn't have to do so much . . ."
A mischievous glint came into her eyes, and suspicion welled up inside me.
"If you think that this was too much," Julia said, gesturing around the party, "Then you'll really hate me when you find out what else I did." V
aughn groaned. "What did you do, Julia?"
She stuck her tongue out at him, and then focused back on me. She smiled, and opened a little purse I hadn't noticed lying on the table. "I – well, we – got you both a present."
"Who's we?" Vaughn asked, sounding – like me – suspicious.
"We as in, pretty much everyone on the Islands." She handed me a creased white sheet of paper, clearly proud of whatever she'd done.
I studied the page she'd given me, my eyes scanning the words until I got the general meaning behind them.
"You bought us . . . mini bars?" I asked, my eyebrows furrowing together. The sentences were all so professional, and that was the only word that made much sense.
Julia rolled her eyes, and Elliot snickered.
"They're confirmation papers," he explained, "From a high-class hotel in the city."
"What are they confirming?" I asked, my voice low.
"Reservations," Julia replied happily, "For a whole week."
My eyes widened. "Julia, that's too long! And you didn't . . . I mean, it wasn't necessary" – My words sounded like incoherent babble.
Vaughn smiled, his eyes scanning the paper over my shoulder. "Sounds good," he murmured.
"Good?" My tone was reproachful, but inside, my heart was fluttering. A week away in the city with Vaughn . . . not having to work, just being together.
Well, said a little voice in my head, obviously you'll be doing something.
I blushed and looked away, hoping the others wouldn't notice, continuing my previous half-hearted rant.
"Vaughn, you're cousin's took good. I've done nothing in my life to deserve my best friend."
"Neither have I," Elliot laughed, squeezing Julia's hand.
"Oh, hush." Julia smiled at him, her eyes loving and tender.
Vaughn snorted. "She's certainly something."
I pretended to scowl at him, but Julia spoke before I could. She reached out with her free hand, and took her cousin's.
Her expression was an odd mix of adoration and annoyance. "You know you love me, Vaughn. And my Mom, too."
Vaughn blushed a little, and cleared his throat. "Erm . . ." He didn't know what to say to that.
I decided to rescue him from this little awkward moment. "Julia, you didn't" –
"Oh, shut it, Chelsea." Julia rolled her eyes. "Have a good time. That's how you can repay me. Alright?"
I was about to let her have it again, but I was too joyful to hide it any longer.
"Okay," I said, caving gracefully.
Vaughn pulled me away from the after we said our goodbyes – and found out we had to check in at the hotel around noon – so we could dance. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and breathed deeply in contentment.
"I love you," I said quietly.
He kissed my forehead. "I love you, too."
"Good to know." I smiled.
A short, comfortable silence fell over us before he broke it, his voice still soft. "We don't have to go on the trip if you don't want to, you know."
Disappointment sprang into my heart, but I made my voice light and teasing. "Ditching me already?"
He chuckled. "You didn't seem to care for the idea."
"I have to pretend, don't I? It's only polite."
"Polite." He said the word like it left a bad taste in his mouth.
I laughed. "I know you're not too familiar with the concept."
Vaughn shrugged. "I was apparently polite enough for you to marry me."
"Maybe I married you because you look good," I whispered, kissing his jaw.
He rolled his eyes. "Oh well."
We continued to dance, and then afterwards we had cake. We were congratulated by everyone – including Will. He came up to us both towards the end of the party and shook my hand.
I smiled. "Thank you, Will."
Vaughn nodded at him once, barely bothering to conceal his irritation.
I nudged him. "Be nice," I whispered.
Will didn't take offense. Lily was lingering behind him, but she didn't approach. Honestly, the treasure-hunter and I had never really connected. The party died down after that, and people began to depart.
"You should probably board the boat that leaves at ten this evening, Chelsea. You can check a little early at the hotel," Julia said before she left.
"You'll look after my ranch, right?" I asked.
"Of course. My mom and Elliot will help." She hugged me tightly, and then she was gone.
Vaughn and I sped back to Vendure Island, went to my house and Mirabelle's to change and pack, and headed to Sprout to wait on the dock, hand in hand.
The boat ride to the city was relatively quiet.
Vaughn held me tightly on the little couch in the observation room with thoughtful eyes. I would have tried to make conversation, but the silence was so peaceful and comfortable. I must have fallen asleep on his shoulder, because the next thing I knew he was waking me up, and we were traveling down the city streets, blinded by the lights and almost deafened by the noise, even though it was late.
The directions to the hotel were on the back of the paper Julia had given us, so we got there fairly easily. The woman behind the counter was finely dressed and professional, but she looked tired. We confirmed out reservations, signed the necessary papers, and received our key – our room was on the third floor.
When we walked into the elevator, a little ball of nervousness I didn't understand made itself known in the pit of my stomach. It wasn't until we actually entered the magnificent room that I actually realized the reason behind it.
For the moment, I pushed it away to examine my surroundings more closely – because if I didn't I would surely worry myself to death. I tried to look everywhere but at the bed – a king-sized, so much bigger and probably more comfortable than my small twin back home.
I stared at the sleek black plasma TV mounted on the wall, at the mini bar next to the bathroom door, at the huge reclining chair in the corner. A long silence feel between us – this one wasn't nearly as comfortable as the one before.
I hurried over to the window and stared out at the city, pretending like I was absorbed in the flashy lights and impressive buildings. I'd only been standing there for a few minutes before I felt Vaughn behind me.
"What are you looking at?" he asked quietly, kissing my ear.
I shrugged, and tried to remember how to speak. "Nothing," I replied.
He kissed my temple, my neck, my cheek.
"Are you tired?" I wondered, my breathing irregular.
"No," he whispered, "Are you?"
I took a deep breath. It probably wasn't irrational to be nervous now. He loved me, I loved him, and I knew that I wanted to . . .
"No," I murmured, leaning my head back on his shoulder, "I'm just fine."
His lips were on mine almost as soon as I'd spoken the words. His hands held my hips, turning me so I was facing him. My arms reached up to wrap around his neck as he deepened the kiss. His body was so warm, and his kisses were so intoxicating.
I pushed my nervousness away – for the moment – and tried to think of nothing else but breathing. This was going to be fine. I just had to trust him. And I did. So I was not too anxious when he picked me up and carried me towards the bed.
"Is this trip turning out as well as you hoped?" he asked.
The morning light was restricted by the dark curtains pulled over the window, but it seeped in through the cracks, illuminating the room.
I yawned and smiled. "Better."
It was the nicest feeling in the world, waking up in Vaughn's arms. It had happened a few times before, but this time I didn't have to feel guilty or awkward about it. Of course, last night could also be contributing to my happiness . . .
He kissed my shoulder. "Good."
I sighed. "I wish we could stay here forever."
"We could . . . for another six days."
I smiled. "Yes," I agreed, "But wouldn't you rather go out and enjoy the city?"
He looked at me like I was a nut.
I laughed, and ran my hand down his chest, his stomach. "I know a few other shops we didn't visit last time," I snickered.
His glare was teasingly dark. "I don't think so."
"Well." My voice was dramatic. "What else could we possibly do for all that time?"
"I have no idea." His hands caressed my body.
"Oh wait," he said quietly after a moment, "Maybe I do."
I laughed, and kissed him, deeply and passionately. When we were both gasping, I managed to murmur for the thousandth time, "I love you so much."
"Love you, too," he murmured into my throat.
I smiled to myself. I had what I wanted. The future was bright with possibilities. I was so hopelessly and completely in love – and, ironically, it had come from hate. I had long since stopped caring about that, but it still sometimes left me amazed and wondering. He kissed me again, long and hard. I had one last coherent thought before all reasonableness left me completely.
The line between love and hate is sometimes thinner than you think it is.
A/N: Thank you to everyone who read and/or reviewed my story. I can't tell you how much you are appreciated.