SOUL 06 – 10

Chapter 6

Seven Days of Misery – DAY 1

Warning Given and Warning Received

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Vanness sat by the pool the next day. It was a bright sunny morning. The sea waves gently lapped against the ship as it rested, anchored near an island.

Half of the passengers had disembarked to do some sightseeing, but others were still around, enjoying the ship’s amenities.

Last night had been as bad as he’d thought it would be. They had been revealed as F4, and the crowd had dutifully applauded. Each had made their speeches regarding the event and the charities they would be contributing to.

Pace had stared at him quietly, witnessing all the attention he was getting. When he had gone up to make his speech about urging the guests to contribute even more, her eyes had widened in surprise.

He knew, because they had still been wide when he had returned to his seat.

She had behaved herself, and he had been grateful.

They had dutifully danced, and when other women had come to cut in, she had gladly given him away. Nothing he tried to say would keep her at his side.

He hadn’t had the protection his buddies did, and had suffered for it.

By the end of the night his feet had been hurting. That had never happened before. While it didn’t seem possible, his unveiling as a member of F4 had garnered him far more attention than he had ever received in his life. He could almost see the flames of greed rising in the eyes of all the women that had approached him.

It had reached a point that he had begged his buddies to help him get free. They had refused to help.

All he knew from last night was that Pace Wu was a woman of a different kind. And that his feet could really hurt.

But Pace made him forget that. Her different nature and her desire to run away from him attracted him. He wanted to peel away her layers to see the woman she was underneath. And to find the reason for her contempt.

Edward could be a problem though.

Sighing, he stared at his watch. He was waiting for Michelle to show up. She had told him she planned on disembarking, and he had come to see her off for the day. He heard footsteps behind him, and he turned to see her approach.

“I’m taking the first plane out from the island,” she told him abruptly, reaching him.

He looked at her in surprise.

“Don’t look so surprised,” she said mockingly. “I don’t like this cruise. I don’t like the people. And it seems that you don’t like me. A piece of advice, the next time you ask someone to go with you on a month long trip, make sure you like them. Don’t make them feel like they’re less than nothing,” she finished.

He stared at her quietly, shocked at the raw emotions pouring out. He had only ever seen her as a plastic doll. He had dated her because she was beautiful, and had never taken the time to know her. It was true they didn’t have much in common, but for the first time he felt embarrassed of the lifestyle he had chosen. For a moment he had reason to regret the path he had chosen to take so long ago. He regretted that his behavior had hurt Michelle.

But he regretted even more that his behavior had turned Pace off.

His eyes moved over her ensemble. He began to notice other things. She was dressed differently, more demurely. Her voice was different as well.

He looked at her questioningly.

“Yeah, I know. I’m different, right? Well, when I first started dating you, I researched your tastes and became all that you had dated in the past. My mistake. I’m tired of the act, and I’m tired of you. And in one night, I met a guy who makes me feel like I’m a human being who should be respected.”

Vanness was surprised. He hadn’t expected to get off this easily. Yes, he regretted his actions, but not enough to willingly suffer too much.

“Who,” he finally asked, pretending to show interest.

“Him,” she said, turning to point.

Vanness’s eyes followed her hand, and he was shocked to see the person she was pointing at.

He turned to look at her with incredulous eyes.

“I’m not joking. We were stuck in the infirmary last night. Don’t think I don’t know on who’s orders that happened. But he talked to me while I was going crazy with fear over my attacks of seasickness. And, when I stopped pushing him away, his words actually calmed me down. He understood that I had a phobia about being seasick. He soothed my headaches, and told me his cute little bunny story.

When he found out I was leaving, he decided to come with me. Maybe he’s had enough of the cruise, too. Maybe he thinks there’s something valuable about me. I judged him on his looks, and he didn’t judge me, not even when I was at my bitchiest. He’s a much better man than you for giving me a chance after the stuff I put him through yesterday. You never bothered to give me a chance at all,” she finally said.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not that bitter. I made a mistake, thinking that I could be the one for you. I’m not. Even I can see that now. And I have too much respect for myself to degrade myself anymore for you. A word of advice though, whatever you’re feeling right now. Whatever it is, be it lust, attraction, curiosity, anger . . . follow that feeling. For a long while I thought that you were incapable of feeling anything, but from the first moment you actually met that Pace woman, you were moved. You were acting pathetic. And I’ve never seen you lose your cool. God! Running over when Eddie became unconscious, and trying to stop her from leaving. I’ve never seen anything more funny. I would’ve been laughing my head off if I hadn’t fainted . . . Don’t let her escape. Because if you do, you might never feel again.”

Saying that, she turned to move toward an approaching Edward.

Vanness watched the guy awkwardly move forward. He was gangly. A pipsqueak. But two women, in two days, had chosen Edward over him.

Him. Vanness Wu. Something was seriously wrong.

He saw Michelle kiss Edward on the lips, and watched Eddie turn bright red. He noticed movement behind them, and saw Pace coming up.

“Bye Edward, it was lovely meeting you,” Pace said, smiling at the couple in front of her.

There were no hard feelings. Edward was a nice guy and he deserved something nice, and . . . she guessed Michelle was something nice.

“Here,” Edward said, pulling something out of his pack.

“What is it?” Pace asked curiously.

“Open it,” Michelle urged, smiling.

Pace opened the bag, and out came a little bunny rabbit. Her eyes widened when she realized who it was.

“Is this—,” she began.

“Yes! This is the newest bunny from our company, based on the popular children’s book’s character. We got the contract, and I heard that the writer would be on the ship. Since I didn’t get to meet her, I thought that I would give it to the next greatest person,” Edward said happily.

“You think the author is the greatest?” Pace asked.

“She writes great little stories about a great little bunny. How could she not be great?” Edward asked.

Pace smiled at him, and leaned forward to hug him.

Vanness watched her whisper something into Edward’s ears. He saw the nerd pull back in shock, scream in surprise, and lean forward for another hug.

A bigger hug.

More involved.

Longer.

Too long.

His hands clenched. How long was the damned hug going to last?

Just as he started moving forward, Michelle tugged at Edward. Edward released his hold on Pace, and pulled Michelle into the hug, whispering something into her ear.

Then there was another round of hugs.

Really. How long was this going to last?

Finally, the couple moved away, getting off the ship.

Pace finally noticed him standing there, his hands in his pockets. She stared, looked at a happily smiling Michelle in the boat, looked back at him and snickered.

He could see the naked glee in her eyes.

She turned to wave at the departing couple, oblivious to his plans.

An evil smile formed on his face.

As she waved to the disembarking couple, he walked over to stand next to her side.

She froze when she realized how close he was.

She turned to give him a wary look.

“Now it’s just you and me,” he said.

She gave him an “are you kidding look”.

“Don’t worry I won’t let you be all alone on this ship for a month,” he promised.

Her eyes widened.

It had just dawned on her that they would be the only unattached people on the ship.

“I’d rather be single,” she finally ground out.

“Being single is not an option. Prepare to be coupled,” he gloatingly said. Turning, he walked away, chuckling at the horror-stricken expression he had glimpsed on her face.

Pace watched him swagger away. She couldn’t believe this! Being stuck on a ship was bad enough, but with him. She just knew that something was going to go wrong. When had cruises ever been nice to her.

She sighed. It looked like she was going to spend a miserable day in her room, hiding again.

This time she wouldn’t open the door for anybody.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 7

Seven Days of Misery? – Day 2

Water Games

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Pace sat quietly in her room. It had been two days since her last encounter with Vanness, and she knew that she was afraid. Really, really afraid. She knew that if she wasn’t on guard, she could easily lose her heart to him.

He was arrogant.

He didn’t think twice about using his money and power to get his way.

He was also a womanizer.

And he didn’t think twice about dropping a woman once he had what he wanted.

But under all that, there were hints of a better man. Those glimpses seduced her and pulled at her to give him another chance. Not that she knew for sure that he wanted another chance. But that didn’t really matter when those glimpses reminded her of their shared moments and how she used to dream of what he would be like as a man.

They had been kids back then.

While he was nothing like the man she had thought he would become, there were hints that made her question his debauched reputation.

How he had come to help her with Edward.

How he was participating in this cruise for charity.

How lost he had looked as he had watched Michelle walk away. She had seen the regret in his eyes.

“Get out of my mind, Vanness Wu!!” she muttered, clutching at her hair, wanting to tear him out of her mind.

But he wouldn’t budge.

She sighed, as she stared outside. She wanted to feel the sea air. She wanted to breathe it in. She wanted to spend time with her friends. But she was too much of a coward. If she went out there, that would mean risking meeting him. That was something she couldn’t risk.

But she really did miss those three knuckleheads. She had begun to suspect that this had been a setup. She had seen how cozy the three couples had been, and she knew that kind of ease in another’s company didn’t come after one day.

They had all known each other for a while.

Which meant that this had all been a plan.

Matchmaking.

“Who would’ve thunk it?” Pace muttered as she thought about how they must’ve plotted to get her and Vanness together.

They had been her friends for so long. But they still didn’t know what her tastes ran to. Did they really think that she would fall for a man like Vanness?

Pace froze as she realized that maybe they knew her better than she had thought. She had never told them about her past. She had never told them that she had loved Vanness so much . . . so long ago. Even without that knowledge, they had sought to pair her off with him. The girls had thought that they would match.

. . . . . . . . . .

Maybe they knew her better than she had thought.

Forget that. She didn’t want to think about this. Yes, she had loved him, but he hadn’t loved her. That was all she needed to know.

Her stomach grumbled loudly in the silence of the room. Pace groaned, and covered her face in embarrassment. She was so hungry, but couldn’t go out there. She just couldn’t. Not even for food. Even though the kitchen had been serving the blandest and most disgusting food for the past few days. She sighed. She was sooooo hungry.

There was a light rap on the door.

“Who is it?” she asked, walking over.

“It’s us,” Barbie’s voice called out.

Pace opened the door and saw her three friends standing there.

“Aww, you guys came to keep me company,” she said, overcome with emotions. Here she had been thinking about them, and now they were here. This was what having friends was all about.

“Ei!” Barbie protested, “We’re not like you. Why would we want to spend the day inside when it’s so beautiful out? Stop moping, and let’s go out and have some fun.”

“Huh?” Pace asked confused.

“Pace, we want you to come out with us,” Winnie’s voice cut in. “It’s not like you to mope about. Just because Edward is gone, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. I mean, yes he was nice guy. But that doesn’t mean you have to go into mourning for him just because he’s gone. Just wish him happy,” she concluded seriously.

“Huh?!!! What are you talking about? Mourning? I’m not mourning!” she exclaimed, wondering what had put these thoughts into their heads.

“You’re not?” Rainie asked in surprise. “But Vanness said—,” she abruptly stopped.

“What?!! What did that idiot tell you guys?” Pace demanded, her hands coming up to rest on her waist as she waited for her sheepish friends to respond.

“I can’t believe that we actually believed him. We really didn’t think that this was like you, but Vanness insisted that he knew best because he had witnessed the whole thing,” Barbie explained.

“What exactly did he witness?” Pace ground out.

“Well, he was telling us about how as Michelle and Edward were leaving you made a last grab for Edward, trying to entice him with your hugs and the fact that you were the bunny writer he admires so much,” Winnie explained, in soothing tones.

“What the f—

“And—and he said that, once they left, there were tears in your eyes,” Rainie quickly interrupted.

Pace’s eyes narrowed in disbelief and anger.

“Vanness said he tried to comfort you, but you only mumbled something about how this had been your last chance and walked away in despair,” Barbie continued.

“When Vanness followed you, you blew him off. But before that you requested that he let us know that we keep away from you so that you could do your mourning in peace,” Winnie gently said.

“Wasn’t that sweet of him? He wanted to make sure that your wishes were carried out, so he personally stood guard outside your door so that no one could come see you. He made sure that you had only healthy foods like liver and boiled vegetables. He was taking care of you,” Rainie said enthusiastically.

“You mean . . . you mean. . . I’ve been bored out of my mind for the past two days because of him. You haven’t visited me because of him?!!! He told everyone I was mourning Edward? That I felt rejected. And I’ve been BARELY eating the most disgusting food in the world because of him?!!!” she ended in a near shout.

“Pace, cool it,” Barbie ordered.

“No,” Pace responded.

“Pace he was only trying to help you. Please, don’t be mad at him,” Winnie pleaded.

“I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this. I actually thought I was in danger of falling in love with that loser?” Pace mumbled, as she began to walk up and down the room.

“Pace, please he really thought he was helping,” Rainie said. “Why don’t you forget all that, and come out with us? Don’t you think you’ve been cooped up in here long enough? Why don’t we go swimming? It’ll be fun,” she quickly suggested.

“You’re damn right I’m coming out. I have nothing to worry about anymore, and see if that moron comes anywhere near me. Misery, huh? I’ll show him what it means to be miserable,” Pace declared.

She quickly ran to closet and grabbing the skimpy, black bikini her friends had forced on her, and ran into the bathroom to change.

There was silence in the room after the bathroom door had slammed shut.

Barbie looked at a quietly waiting Rainie and Winnie. Her eyes were twinkling with suppressed laughter.

Rainie giggled softly, thinking about the look on Pace’s face.

Winnie nodded quietly in satisfaction.

Mission Accomplished.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pace walked with her friends. Rather, she stomped along with her friends.

She was so angry. She couldn’t believe his nerve. How dare he make fun of her? He was the one who had gotten dumped; she hadn’t even been with Edward. The thought of him making fun of her behind her back made her blood boil.

She decided that she was no longer going to think about him. He had taken up enough of her time, thank you very much. It was time to move on. And she would move on. Even if it killed her.

She looked around, and noticed that not that many people were around. She quietly let out a sigh of relief. Although her figure wasn’t half bad, she still didn’t want half the world ogling her. It wouldn’t have been comfortable.

But she felt comfortable with her friends.

She lay down on a lounger by the pool, deciding to sunbathe first. Those two days in the room hadn’t done her pale skin any good.

Rainie lay down beside her, insisting that she would keep her company to make up for the last few days of loneliness.

In the silence, as the sea breeze glided across her skin, she gently dozed off.

Abruptly coming awake a few minutes later, she felt the sun’s warmth on her back.

“Rainie, could you put lotion on my back. I think I left a few spots uncovered. I don’t want to get sunburned,” she drowsily requested.

There was a brief silence, and then the cool lotion was gently spread across her back.

“Thanks,” she murmured, enjoying the sensation.

It felt so good.

“But when did Rainie’s hands get so big?” she thought to herself.

Shocked at the thought that had come into her mind, she turned her head to look at the person sitting next to her.

She had been right.

Without a word, she turned to get up. She wouldn’t stay another minute in this man’s company.

He grabbed her shoulder, and pushed her back down. Without a word being spoken.

“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded, “Let go.”

“No. Look, your friends are all busy and I’m the only one who can put the lotion on. Do you really want to pull them away from their better halves to come put it on you?” he asked in a reasonable tone.

“Well, then maybe I don’t need lotion. It’s not that important anyways,” she muttered.

“You’ve never had a sunburn? Let me tell you it’s not pleasant. I’m doing this,” he stated in an unyielding tone.

His hands came back and began to massage the lotion on to her bareback.

Pace froze as she felt his hands begin to move on her vulnerable body. And it was vulnerable. She just couldn’t seem to control her reaction to his hands. Her skin had begun to tighten, and she could feel an ache growing low in her belly.

His hands were large, warm, and kind of rough. But they were so gentle as they put on the lotion.

She couldn’t help but think that if things had worked out, they would have been together like this now. He would’ve touched her body, and she would’ve felt free to touch his. There would have been no boundaries between them.

But they weren’t like that. They would never be.

And it had been his choice.

There was no going back.

She placed her arms underneath her, braced them, and then pushed up against his hands.

“That’s enough Mr. Wu. I think I’ve had enough lotion,” she gritted out.

“What? No thank you?” he asked smilingly, getting up to stand next to her.

Her eyes narrowed in shock at his temerity.

“Thank you? You want me to thank you? Should I thank you for telling my friends and the entire ship that I was in tears over Edward? Or for keeping my friends away from me? Or should I thank you for the extremely bad food I’ve been eating for the past few days? And should I thank you for the touches you forced on me?” she shouted, moving closer and closer to him.

He moved back in shock. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Pace. I haven’t done any of those things. How could I tell your friends that you had been crying when you hadn’t been?” he hurriedly explained, not wanting to get her even more angry. He could see the sparks shooting out of her eyes.

“What?!!! Now you’re telling me my friends lied to me? They would never lie to me!!!” she ground out angrily, ignoring the fact that her friends would do anything if they felt that it was good for her.

“No, of course they didn’t lie to you. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding,” he explained gently, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders.

She froze.

It was those hands. Those sensations. The memory of those dreams. She couldn’t handle it a second more.

“Well, thank you very much, Mr. Wu,” she murmured, and, reaching out, placed her hands on his chest.

His eyes widened in surprise. And then they widened even more in understanding.

She gently pushed.

His precarious position made it easy for him to topple over into the pool.

“Oh, sh—,” his words were cut off by the loud splash of the water.

She began to walk away.

But . . . there was only silence behind her. No noise. No splashes.

She quickly turned around. He hadn’t come up. Her eyes searched frantically, and found him in the center of the pool.

Without a second thought, Pace was running to the pool. She quickly jumped in, and frantically swam over to his inert body.

“Vanness,” she cried out in fear. “Vanness, come on. Stop playing around. You have to get out of here.”

Her eyes frantically search around the pool area. No one was there. Her loyal friends had all abandoned her.

She pulled him up, trying to get him out of the water.

As she frantically moved over to the side of the pool, and to safety, his hands came up to wrap around her.

She looked down in surprise when she felt his arms.

He smiled at her mischievously.

“Vanness Wu, you bas—,” she began to breathe out in shock.

He quickly pulled her under.

Pace had never been a strong swimmer, and this was the stuff of nightmares.

She began to struggle against his hold, trying to get free. She couldn’t breathe. She knew that if she stayed in the water another moment, she would die. She could NOT breathe.

Vanness quickly realized that this was no game to Pace.

He quickly pulled her up out of the water.

Pace quickly pulled away from him, and stared at him in disbelief.

“How could you—

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I was just fooling around. I didn’t think.”

“That’s just it,” she said in frustration. “You never do. You never think about the consequences of your decisions. Or who they’ll hurt. Why would you do something like this?”

He was quiet. He looked down and froze.

Pace noticed the change in him immediately. How could she not, when she was so attuned to him?

She followed his gaze and froze when she saw that the scuffle hadn’t left her suit unscathed. The strapless bikini top was now around her waist. And she was naked to his very interested eyes.

Pace quickly paddled over to the side, trying to hide her body from Vanness’s view. She didn’t want to think about all he had seen in those few moments. She wanted to forget.

Pace finally reached the side of the pool, and clung to the ledge.

”Go away. Please, just go away,” she silently pleaded. There were no splashes behind her. She knew that he was still there. In the pool. A few feet away from her half naked body.

She finally heard movement, but it was moving toward her.

“Leave me alone,” she cried out. How much more embarrassment could she handle? How much more could she handle from this man?

“I can’t,” he said quietly. Moving up behind her, his hands came up to move her hair aside.

She froze as the heat from his body came to weave a sensual web around her. It called at her to lean back. To relax. To trust this man.

“I don’t know why, but I find that I can’t just leave you alone,” he said, as he pulled up her suit.

“I don’t know what this is. This thing that I feel when I’m around you. It’s new. It’s scary. But it’s also exhilarating,” he explained as he pulled the top into its proper place.

“For the first time in this lifetime I’ve become serious. I want to explore this. And I won’t let your fear hold us back,” he murmured into her ear.

His chest came to rest gently against her back, as he moved forward to gently kiss her cheek.

“Give us a chance,” he quietly said.

He suddenly moved, and was swimming away before she could respond.

“That’s just it, Vanness. I can’t give you another chance. You blew the first one. And no matter how much you may want me this time, I can’t let you break my heart again. I’m not that much of a fool,” she murmured achingly.

Levering herself out of the water, she began to walk to her room.

And if a few drops of water on her face were actually tears, no one would know that except for her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 8

Seven Days of Mis . . . – DAY 3

Sightseeing –

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pace stared out the window. It seemed that all she did was stay in this room and stare out this window.

She softly sighed.

But . . . she had finally succeeded in convincing herself that Vanness really hadn’t asked her for a chance together. That he hadn’t been serious.

He couldn’t be serious. The thought of a serious Vanness . . . seriously boggled the mind.

So . . . he couldn’t have meant it. It was just a joke, brought on . . . by the sight of her unclothed . . . body. She blushed, her cheeks firing up, when she remembered how she must have appeared to him. Her body had been cold from the water, but he might have thought . . . she didn’t want to think about it.

Pace turned away from the window.

It was time to stop obsessing about something that had merely been a joke.

It was time to get excited about today.

Today . . . finally, it was going to be a girls’ day out. The others would leave their boyfriends for her.

Yes, she knew now. It hadn’t been hard to figure out that there were much deeper connections between the couples than what could have been possible from just meeting and pairing up on this cruise.

Her friends had never been sluts.

So, when she had seen Ken sneaking out of Rainie’s room early one morning, she had suspected that something was going on. The fact that she had seen Winnie and Barbie making out with their respective partners had just made it more obvious.

She had never been an idiot.

Although . . . you couldn’t really call what Barbie and Jerry doing as making out . . . more like . . . they were fighting . . . would pause a bit to kiss and then go back to arguing.

Strange love. Go figure.

She had been angry at first, but they loved her too much. And she assumed that the guys loved Vanness, and had thought she and Vanness would fit perfectly together.

Love had blinded the idiots.

She had to accept that.

But today . . . today was theirs. They would finally be doing what she had thought this whole cruise was about. She couldn’t wait for some girl-only time.

Plus which . . . this was an island famous for it’s bunnies. It appeared that the natives worshipped a Bunny God, and the island was peppered with beautiful bunny statues and architecture.

She couldn’t wait to take pictures of herself with the bunny statues.

She knew that it would kill her friends with boredom.

But . . . they deserved it for setting her up.

They should be happy they were getting off so easily.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pace stepped off the gangway, and made her way to the waiting limo. It seemed that she was the first to arrive.

Hearing voices behind her, she turned to greet Winnie, Barbie and Rainie.

“You’re here already,” Barbie questioned. “We haven’t kept you waiting, have we?”

“No,” Pace replied, “I just got here. Let’s go,” she said, turning toward the limo doors. For some reason she felt this sudden urge to hurry up, otherwise they might not be able to spend some alone time together.

Just her . . . her friends . . . and the . . . bunnies. She sighed in anticipation.

Suddenly, she heard a squeal behind her.

Turning, she saw that Jerry had grabbed onto a very startled Barbie.

“Hey, where are you going?” he demanded.

“A girls-only trip. What are you doing?” Barbie demanded back.

“Mine!” he said, pulling a laughing, protesting Barbie away.

Pace sighed. It seemed like Jerry couldn’t spend one day without her.

“Looks like it’s just us three,” Winnie noted.

Running feet could be heard coming up behind them.

The girls crowded together.

Another one was yanked from their midst.

“Ken Zhu, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Pace shouted angrily.

“I would love to leave her with you. I would. But it’s our 1 monthiversary,” he said over his shoulder.

“But you started dating almost three months ago,” Pace protested.

“But we got married one month ago today!” he called back.

“Ken!!” Rainie protested.

“What?” Winnie and Pace asked in shock.

While the girls stood there gaping, Ken succeeded in pulling a pouting Rainie away.

“Just us two, huh?” Pace said, turning with Winnie to enter the waiting limo.

The two stopped dead at the sight of a smiling Vic standing at the door.

“I’d like to join you,” he said gently.

Pace looked at a suddenly sparkling Winnie, and silently nodded.

She saw Vic and Winnie get in, and then moved in to close the door.

“You guys go ahead. I’ll be fine alone,” she said, leaning against the open window.

“But Pace, we can’t just leave—,” Winnie began to protest.

“I don’t want to hear it. It seems like this is a belated honeymoon for Ken and Rainie. And I don’t even want to think about what Jerry and Barbie are up to . . . they’re just plain weird. So, why don’t you both go off together and do something crazy for once. Get married. You’ve probably been dating for years and are now secretly engaged. Am I right?” Pace asked, smirking at the silent couple.

They quietly nodded.

“Then, what are you waiting for? Go. Have fun, and we’ll meet up later to chat about our respective days,” Pace insisted.

Reluctantly the two left.

Pace watched them go.

“What about me?” she muttered.

“Don’t worry. I’m here,” a voice murmured in her ear, placing something over her eyes.

Then . . . there was only darkness.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Vanness Wu! I swear if you don’t take this off and let me go, I am going to kill you the next time I have you in my power, do you understand?” Pace shrieked.

They had been driving for a long time, and she was getting really, really frustrated.

“Just a little bit more to go,” he said, soothing her into silence once more.

Pace huffed in anger, and settled back in the seat. She knew they were in a car, and that they were going somewhere. She just didn’t know where they were going and THAT was really annoying.

The weird thing was . . .not for a moment did she think to worry for herself. After the first tense minutes, she had allowed herself to relax, knowing that there was nothing she could do. That could only mean that she had come to trust Vanness more than she had thought. She trusted him to keep her safe.

She . . . trusted him.

Now, that was scary.

He wasn’t worthy of her trust.

That had brought all the tension back. That had brought her frustrations back, and had her vowing vengeance on him upon her release.

Suddenly they stopped, and Vanness gently helped her out.

Finally, they were standing and there was only silence.

“Vanness?!” she shouted out.

“Okay, okay. Stop yelling,” he laughingly murmured, reaching up to take the blindfold off.

Pace blinked from the sunlight, and then froze when she noticed where they were.

“How . . . how did you . . . know?” she finally got out.

They were standing in front of the Bunny village, one of the many famous sites on this island. While the island had many bunny-related attractions, this was the first one she had wanted to visit above all else.

He just shook his head in silence, and pulled her to the ticket booth.

The next few hours were spent investigating every nook and cranny of the little village. Pace walked around in a feverish haze, eager to cover all this exciting territory.

And all throughout, Vanness was there. He was smilingly taking pictures of her with every statute.

Even her friends wouldn’t have been that patient.

From there they went to the petting zoo, and then the island gift shop, and then . . . it went on and on and on. Every place was exactly where she would have chosen to go, in that exact order. It was as if he had investigated her likes and dislikes, and had actually made the effort to think about what she wanted.

And . . . he never complained.

Finally, even Pace’s feet were complaining.

They sat down to rest, and she turned to look at him.

“Why are you being so nice? And how exactly did you know where I would want to go?” she finally asked, breaking the silence.

They hadn’t spoken much throughout the day. She had been too busy enjoying the sights, and he . . . she didn’t exactly know why he had been mostly silent. Maybe it was because he wanted to keep the peace between them. She didn’t mind that.

“I just asked around,” he finally said. “Your friends were surprisingly willing to help, and I took advantage.”

“Why? “ she demanded.

“Because I want to get close to you,” he admitted.

“What? Are you lusting after me that badly?” she asked.

“It’s not lust,” he retorted in anger.

She was silenced.

“It’s not lust,” he repeated. “Look, I know my reputation better than anyone else. I should if I was the one who so carefully cultivated it. I know that I’m a womanizer, but for the first time, in a long time, I’m feeling something for a woman. Something that goes beyond lust, and I want to give that a chance.”

He turned to look at her intently.

“I know that my reputation doesn’t inspire confidence, but I’m asking you to give ME a chance. I feel . . . different when you’re around,” he admitted softly.

“Why? What’s so special about me?” she asked, expecting some shallow answer. Maybe her eyes, or her voice. They hadn’t been together long enough for him to have formed a real connection to her.

“I . . . I don’t know,” he admitted, turning away. “I don’t know why I’m acting this way. I just know, intuitively, that it’s something important. And . . . I don’t want to let it go,” he ended.

“I . . .,” Pace looked away. She didn’t want to get distracted by his masculine beauty.

“I’ll think about it, but I can’t make any promises,” she finally said. “We come from different worlds, and I don’t think I could cope with your way of life. I don’t think I want to. A word of warning . . .,” she stared him straight in the eye, “I don’t do affairs. So, whatever you start with me, would have to be for keeps.”

He gulped, and nodded.

She smiled and got up.

“Let’s go,” she said, leading the way.

“Wait,” he said, grabbing her hand. “There is one more place we need to go.”

After a long ride, they finally reached their final destination of the day. It was a cave.

“Where are we?” Pace asked, shivering at the cold air coming from the cave opening.

“Let’s go,” he smilingly said, holding out his hand.

Pace looked at his hand, and then reluctantly grabbed on. He pulled her into the cave.

They entered the cave and moved to the back.

There were lighted candles everywhere, and an altar of some sort.

“What is this?” Pace finally asked in confusion.

“This is Rabunny,” Vanness answered. “She’s one of the smaller bunny goddesses of the island. There is a legend that if couples kiss here, under the shadow of the goddess, they will be together forever.”

“Really?” Pace asked, looking at him in speculation.

“Well, not just kiss. They also have to fall down. I’m not sure . . . what the order should be,” he finally said.

“Sounds painful,” Pace said, beginning to pull away.

He grabbed her arm, and gently reeled her in. They stood in the shadows, frozen, almost hidden from the world.

“Vanness,” she protested. “I haven’t agreed to anything yet.”

He put a finger against her lips, silencing her.

He stared into her eyes, and began to lean down.

As she stood there, unsure of what to do, she was hit from behind.

She shrieked, coming up against Vanness’s body.

He fell, unprepared.

She fell, his hands pulling her down with him. He had forgotten to let her go.

But . . . she didn’t fall against the hard, unrelenting earth. He cushioned her fall, and she wasn’t hurt. The fall hadn’t been as painful as she thought it would be.

They glanced over their shoulders, but they could only see the back of a very scrawny someone.

“I heard that if you kissed here, then you will be together forever,” a female voice could be heard saying.

“She got it wrong,” Vanness whispered into Pace’s ear.

“Hush,” she hissed back, not wanting to disturb the couple.

“Do you . . .,” a male voice asked, gulping, “do you want to kiss?”

“I don’t know, do you?” the female voice asked shyly.

There was silence.

“Yes,” the male voice whispered softly.

Pace looked into Vanness’s eyes. His arms were around her, and he was smiling at her.

There were soft noises behind them, evidence of the other couple and their kissing.

Pace blushed and quickly leaned down, intending to hide her face in Vanness’s shoulder.

He moved at the same time . . . and . . . somehow . . . they kissed.

His warm lips captured hers . . . and wouldn’t let go.

She didn’t want to let go.

His hand cupped her cheek, encouraging her to open her lips. To invite him in . . . to let him in.

There was a sound behind them.

It seemed that they had finally been noticed.

“Oh my god! Are you guys okay?” a female voice asked, worried.

“Oh my god!” the male voice exclaimed.

“Pace Wu?!”

“Vanness Wu?!” the voices exclaimed in unison.

Pace and Vanness turned to see Edward and Michelle standing over them.

“What are you doing here?” Vanness demanded, glaring at the pipsqueak.

“We were robbed on the way to this island,” Edward explained.

“The thieves took our passports too, so we’ve been stuck here for the past week. We found out about this Bunny Love Goddess, and thought we’d investigate,” Michelle replied.

Suddenly Michelle brightened, as she realized what the presence of this particular couple on the island meant.

Pace glared at Vanness when she heard the words “Bunny Love Goddess”. He sheepishly smiled back.

Edward and Michelle looked at each other and then back to the prone couple on the floor.

“Can we come back on the ship?” they asked eagerly.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 9

Seven Days of . . . – DAY 4

Competition

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Let’s join the cooking competition,” Rainie urged the others.

“Why? So you can rub our faces in the fact that you’re the only one with the talent in this otherwise talent-less bunch?” Barbie demanded.

“You have to admit that you’re the best cook amongst us, Rainie,” Winnie commented smilingly.

“I burn water,” Barbie admitted blushingly. She didn’t want Jerry finding out how she lacked in the domestic arts department. She knew that it was the 21st century, but even today a woman was made to feel guilty if she didn’t know how to cook. She knew that Jerry wouldn’t really care, but he would tease her mercilessly because he knew that she cared.

“And, while I can cook . . . it is nowhere near your level,” Winnie added. “I admit I don’t want to look anything less than perfect in Vic’s eyes.”

All eyes turned to look at Pace.

She immediately began to shake her head in refusal.

“Why?” they all demanded.

“While there is nobody that I have to worry about,” Pace began, ignoring the looks of skepticism coming at her from all directions, “You guys will take this opportunity to pair me up with Vanness. That’s something I don’t want to think about right now.”

Rainie, Winnie, and Barbie immediately protested against this unjust accusation.

“We have nothing like that in mind,” Winnie assured their justifiably skeptical friend.

“The guys wouldn’t have agreed, anyways,” Rainie interjected, smiling at the thought of Ken cooking. While he looked incredibly sexy in the kitchen, when it came to actual cooking, he was all thumbs.

“I doubt Jerry would do it. He’s too conscious about his macho image,” Barbie quickly put in. “If he doesn’t do it, the other three will certainly never agree. They like to follow him for some reason.”

Pace looked at her friends’ earnest faces. The truth was she did want to spend some time with them, and these were the kind of activities she had imagined doing when agreeing to the cruise. She quickly nodded, not giving herself the time to talk herself out of it.

“You promise?” they chorused.

“I promise. It sounds like fun,” Pace conceded.

The girls began to ready themselves for the busy, and most likely messy, day ahead.

Knock. Knock.

Pace went to open her door. Edward and Michelle stood on the other side. Both were smiling eagerly.

“Hi,” Pace said, looking at them questioningly.

“We’re going to join the exciting cooking contest. Would you like to join us?” Michelle asked excitedly.

“Yeah. It’s going to be lots of fun,” Edward added eagerly.

“Why would it be so exciting?” Pace asked in surprise. “It’s just a cooking contest.”

“F4 decided to join. All the women want to see them. They’re in no way deterred by the fact that the men can’t even boil water,” Michelle explained, her eyes sparkling at the idea that Vanness would be embarrassing himself. Although she no longer cared about Vanness in that way, not when she had her dear Eddie, but she had to admit it would be fun watching Vanness look like a fool.

The girls looked puzzled.

“It seems that they bet each other on who can cook the best,” Edward explained. “They were arguing over who was the most well-rounded man this morning. You know, who is the truly Renaissance man, and can do everything, including domestic chores. And I suggested that they join to contest to resolve the issue, you know, after asking them why they were wasting their time arguing over such a silly subject,” Edward finished.

“You know they gave me dirty looks when I said that,” he mused, scratching his head thoughtfully.

Pace began to back into the room.

She was NOT going.

“Uh uh, Pace. You promised,” Rainie insisted, and dragged her out of the room.

Winnie looked at Barbie.

Barbie shrugged.

“What? All I said was that no matter how bad I was, Jerry was probably much worse . . . probably the worst in all of F4. I just said that I was more “complete” as a person than him. Jerry took exception to that, but I wasn’t wiling to argue with him.”

Winnie began to smile.

“I guess he found someone to argue with,” Barbie concluded, walking out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The six walked into the ships huge kitchen, and Pace was faced with two surprises. One was the rule that mandated one had to have a partner to take part in the cooking competition. That wouldn’t have been an issue, but for the second requirement. The pairs had to be of opposite sex.

It looked like the ship staff wasn’t averse to some matchmaking of their own. She could just kill the idiot that had thought up this idea.

F4 stood in the corner of the ballroom, thunderclouds hanging over their heads. It was apparent they were very upset about something. The attendant standing in front them, wringing his hands, was certainly not providing the answers they wanted to hear.

“How can you say that we can’t participate?” Jerry demanded. “We’re F4. Don’t you know that?”

“I’m sorry sir, but the rules are very clear. If we show favoritism now, then how can the participants be sure that our judgment is absolutely unbiased when the judges decide on the winner of the contest later on?”

“But—,” Jerry began.

“Stop bugging the poor man,” Barbie demanded, coming up behind the group. “Don’t worry, I’ll be your partner.”

Jerry was silent.

“What?” Barbie demanded as the silence continued.

“Well, it’s not that I don’t love you,” he murmured, slowly moving away from her. “But I’ve tasted your cooking.”

“What the—,” Barbie’s eyes grew wide in shock.

They then narrowed in anger.

Jerry took off running a split second before Barbie’s hand reached out.

Barbie wasn’t too far behind.

“Well, they’re out,” Ken commented laughingly. “Jerry’s going to get a beating today. He won’t be showing his face for a while.”

“Come on, Ken, you can be my partner,” Rainie said excitedly. She wound her arm around his, and walked away.

Vic silently walked up to Winnie, and gently led her away.

As the couple moved away from the group, Winnie turned to Vic.

“I love how you made up the rules for the competition,” she said.

“Well, what’s the point of this silly game if we couldn’t force those two to pair up?” he replied. “They just need some more time together. I’m convinced that . . . there is something between them.”

“I agree,” she answered.

Vanness and Pace stood together in an awkward silence. Pace turned to look at Edward and Michelle, hoping for a reprieve, but it seemed the two had disappeared a while ago.

Pace turned to walk away. While she had agreed to give him a chance, this was much too soon. She needed to take her time about this.

She just needed . . . time.

“Don’t go,” Vanness said, reaching out to grab her arm.

Pace turned back to look at him.

“But—,” Pace began.

“Please.”

That was it. One word. All it took was one word from him and she was trapped. She couldn’t leave, and for the life of her she had no idea why she couldn’t fight this power over her.

“Okay, but I have to tell you, I’m not very good in the kitchen,” she warned.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything,” he promised confidently.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Vanness was amazing the kitchen. He was almost as good as Rainie.

His hands were mesmerizing as he mixed the ingredients, kneaded the dough, . . . or washed the carrots.

He was good.

The problem was that she wasn’t.

Pace was clumsy.

In this totally alien environment, she felt like an outsider. A very inept outsider. It wasn’t that she was usually this clumsy, but the environment, added on to the fact that she was working in close proximity with Vanness, made her that way.

The cramped space forced her to brush up against him. His hands slowly guided hers to make the pastry. He whispered directions into her ear.

Her concentration was totally shot.

She dropped the pans.

Vanness smiled, made a joke, and helped her to pick them up.

She burned the sauce.

Vanness smiled, but gently told her to go wash the pans.

She broke all the eggs they were allotted for the competition, forcing Vanness to think up another way to make the dish at hand.

He was curt.

When his apron caught on fire because of something else she had done, he exploded.

“What is wrong with you? Why can’t you get anything right?” he shouted in anger.

Pace froze. Everyone was silently staring.

She was the center of attention once more. And it wasn’t the good sort of attention.

This was somewhere she did not want to be.

And once again it was because of Vanness.

Her hands shook as she began to take off her apron. She couldn’t go through this again. She was fine the way she was, and she would not let his words make her feel otherwise.

Placing it on the counter, she turned and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Vanness shouted in frustration.

He had wanted to win to contest.

He wanted to win so that he could be a winner in Pace’s eyes.

But not only had the continued distractions caused him to lose his concentration and get 3rd degree burns, but they and the pain had caused him to lose his temper in front of the one person . . . on the one person . . . that he never wanted to hurt in that way. She had seen his dark side, and she was walking away.

. . . . . . . .

She was walking away.

His hands clenched. And then . . . he found himself saying the words that he never thought he would ever say again.

“Don’t abandon me,” he pleaded into the silence.

He saw Pace stop.

He waited with bated breath.

But then he saw her hands clench . . . her shoulders straighten.

And . . .

She walked away.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 10

Seven Days . . . – DAY 5

Uninvited Intrusion

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Pace lay groaning in her bed. It had been a terrible day. After so many days of untroubled cruising on the ship, she had become sick with the stomach flu.

It was not a comfortable state to be in.

She groaned as the motion of the boat made her stomach begin to do somersaults. She arose from her bed and ran to the bathroom, getting there in the nick of time.

Barbie, Winnie and Rainie had just left at her insistence. The three had kept her company, and had tried to make her comfortable all day. But it was nighttime, and they needed to be with their significant others. She wanted them to have fun after spending the whole day cooped up inside with her.

And they had left. With strong protests. But they had listened to her. Barbie had hinted that she wouldn’t be averse to sneaking back in to check on her.

Pace returned to bed, moaning. Hopefully it was just a 24 hour bug, but it just wasn’t pleasant while it lasted.

She sighed, turning on her side to stare at the porthole that let in a hint of sunshine.

She was lonely.

She hadn’t wanted her friends to leave.

She wanted someone to be with her, but she didn’t feel comfortable imposing on anyone too long. She had always had a hidden fear that if she asked too much of people, they would leave.

Pace had learned long ago to stop asking.

Luckily, she had the kind of friends who made it unnecessary to ask.

There was a knock at the door.

Pace turned to look at the door. Someone knocked again insistently.

Pace turned her back to the knocking. The door was too far away. And she didn’t want anyone else to see her like this.

It opened.

Her eyes widened in shock. She couldn’t believe that someone had dared to open the door without her permission. She quickly turned around to reprimand the person.

The quick motion unsettled her stomach to the point that she had to make another emergency trip to the bathroom.

Her hand covering her mouth, she ran past the individual that had entered her room.

Just as she began to heave, someone came up behind her to hold her hair back and support her.

Pace was too sick to put up even a token struggle.

As this episode ended, she slipped to the floor, too weak to even contemplate getting back into bed.

A hand came out to gently wash her face with a cool washcloth.

Pace moaned in relief, her face burying itself into the coolness.

The washcloth disappeared, and strong arms came out to pick her up and cradle her against a hard body.

“What are you doing?” Pace asked in shock.

“Taking you to bed,” Vanness replied.

She turned to look at him in shock.

“Don’t worry, my intentions are pure at the moment,” he assured her.

“Hmmph,” she muttered, turning her face into his neck. Contrarily, her body now wanted to burrow into his warmth.

Vanness gently settled her into bed, pulling the covers over her shivering body.

“What are you doing here?” Pace asked. “Isn’t there a fireworks party today? I would think you’d want to be there.”

“I was there,” he replied. “As a member of F4, I had to put in the requisite appearance. I went because I had to be there. Now I’m here. And it’s because I want to be here,” he murmured.

He sat down on the side of the body. The bed dipped.

Pace rolled into his side.

He made to get up, seeing her face scrunch up as the unplanned movement unsettled her stomach.

Her hand came out to grab his thigh.

“Don’t move,” she uttered feverishly. “If you move, and I move, I . . .”

Vanness patted her hand in understanding, and stretched out a hand to gently brush back her hair.

Pace looked up at him, and then turned her face away, remembering their last volatile exchange.

He had made her feel less than nothing.

And she had thought that no one could make her feel that way anymore. Not since her parents had died.

She sighed, her eyes staring at the wall.

His hand came out to touch her chin, forcing her to turn her head back to him.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Pace was silent in the face of that insincere apology.

“I’m sincerely sorry,” he repeated. “I went way over the line didn’t I?”

“You were quite rude,” Pace agreed.

“I didn’t mean to be. The competition and then the burns made me go berserk. I didn’t plan on shouting at you. It . . . just happened.”

“No one means to hurt anyone else,” Pace argued. “But you hurt me.”

“And I’m sorry for that. I wanted to win,” he explained.

“I got that,” Pace retorted dryly.

“But you don’t know why I wanted to win,” he asserted.

“Because you didn’t want to lose,” Pace muttered.

“No,” he said. “No. I wanted to win for you. I wanted to show YOU that there was more to me than my reputation as a playboy. I was more than just a womanizer. I wanted you to see . . .”

“See what?” Pace asked, intrigued.

“That I had hidden talents,” he explained in embarrassment.

Pace smiled as a blush appeared on his cheeks.

“Really?” she asked shyly.

“Really,” he answered.

Vanness smiled at her, and then leaned down suddenly to kiss her.

Pace’s eyes widened. Her hand came up to cover her mouth. She glared at him.

Pushing him aside, she sprang from the bed and ran to the bathroom, her stomach unsettled by his sudden movement.

“Damn you, Vanness,” she muttered, hanging over the toilet.

The whole process was repeated over again.

Vanness smiled at her sheepishly when she turned to glare at him again.

“I have to say that my impending kisses have never made anyone throw up before,” he offered.

Pace brushed her teeth, finally feeling up to it. She ignored the thought that it might be because Vanness was with her, and that brushing her teeth might be for the benefit of inviting his kisses.

Later, getting back into bed, she pointed to a chair near the bed.

“You sit over there,” she ordered balefully. “I don’t want you to be tempted by my proximity again.”

He smiled, and sat down. He quietly stared at her.

“What?” Pace demanded, getting embarrassed.

“You’re the most unique girl I’ve ever met,” he smilingly said.

“Really? There’s no one else as ‘unique’ as me?”

“N—,” he was silent. Finally, he took a deep breath, and looked at her with determination. He had come to some sort of decision.

“There was one girl,” he admitted. “But she rejected me. She ran away from me . . . she never gave us a chance.”

Pace looked at him quietly. She wondered if he was talking about his ex-fianc鮼P>Had he also suffered in life? Like her, had he lost the person he could’ve loved?

“How much did you love her?” she asked.

“I didn’t love her. At least, not what you would call love. But I did have feelings for her. Enough to know . . . enough to know that we would’ve been very happy together,” he admitted.

He looked at her quietly . . . almost sadly.

“We would’ve been happy together,” he repeated, “because she felt like the perfect fit for me.”

“I’m sorry,” she finally offered. Vanness’s confession had scared her.

He was becoming more and more of a person to her. At first, she had only allowed herself to think of him as a playboy, a cardboard cutout without any depth or emotion. But he had just revealed that he was capable of love. Of deep emotion. That he was only human. And that scared her because she was tempted to get close.

If he became something more in her eyes . . . if she became closer to him . . . that would mean she would have to forgive him. It would mean that she would have to forget the past.

She wasn’t ready.

Her life had changed so long ago, and she wasn’t ready to search for the innocent Pei Ci she used to be. She wasn’t ready to meet that person again. Because the past had hurt that Pei Ci, and in meeting her face-to-face, she would have face all the pain again.

She wasn’t ready.

She looked at his face. His beseeching eyes. He was staring quietly at her. Her eyes moved over his once beloved features, and she froze as she realized her heart was beginning to forget all the contempt and disgust she felt for him.

She wasn’t ready. Not now. Maybe not ever. She never wanted to face that pain again.

“Please leave,” she finally uttered, making her decision.

“What?” he asked in astonishment.

“I said get out. How many women have you told that lie too?”

“It’s not a lie,” he asserted.

“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe that you’re capable of that kind of emotion. I know your reputation, Vanness Wu. I don’t know why you’re telling me this. What you want from me. But I can’t give it to you. Just . . . get out.”

“Why? It’s not a lie. And I don’t know why I’m doing this . . . but I am trying to change. I’m trying to change for you. Can’t you see that?”

“Maybe . . . maybe I don’t want to,” she finally admitted.

He stared at her in frustration.

She stared quietly back.

Something in her eyes . . . maybe it was the fear and desperation . . . made him nod in resignation.

He turned.

He left.

Pace turned her face to wall and closed her eyes.

She hated this. She hated being this wishy washy Pace. She knew that she had agreed to give him a chance, but when it came right down to it, she wasn’t ready. She couldn’t risk her heart in that way.

She could live with fear. She could live with being a coward.

But she couldn’t live with the pain that he was capable of causing her.

If her heart broke . . .

If she fell apart again . . .

She just couldn’t risk it.

. . . . . . . . . . .

No one was here anymore to pick up the pieces.

Not like last time.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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