The room felt unnaturally loud as raucous laughter from every corner of the ballroom rose above the orchestra music, creating a discordant cacophony of sounds. Even the smells of intersolar delicacies drifting onto the balcony made her want to puke. Faye shook her head to clear away the noise that threatened to envelop her. She backed up against the wall and into the shadows. She wanted a cigarette so badly that her hands were trembling, but she would not allow herself to ask.
She brushed a finger across her eye. She hated crying, especially in front of Spike, but it was all she seemed to be doing this evening. She hated him for bringing out this vulnerable side of her, losing control of her emotions. This never happened around Pierce; it was one of the reasons they got along so well. He didn’t demand much — dinner parties, casual conversation, laughter. She could play that role in her sleep. Spike, on the other hand, took up so much physical and emotional space. It was how they dealt with each other — constant push and shove to gain the upper hand. Though he declared himself the victor more often than not, at times she could hold her own, much to his annoyance.
She stole a glance at Spike, who was slouched against the opposite wall with his arms folded across his chest. The intensity in his face was almost frightening. It was as if he were afraid, a side of him that he rarely allowed anyone to see, especially her.
What was he so scared of?
Spike walked towards her and leaned down so they were eye to eye. “You want tell me why you won’t give me an answer?”
“What do you think?” she asked, staring back unabashedly. It pissed her off that he was trying to use his height advantage to intimidate her. “Isn’t my silence answer enough?”
He scowled and straightened his long body, casting a sideways glance at her as he fumbled in his suit jacket for a cigarette. Faye smirked, aware that she was making him uncomfortable.
A flurry of activity erupted from across the ballroom. Spike turned to look through the glass balcony doors, blocking her view. Faye clutched his jacket to squeeze around him, but he pushed her back abruptly.
“What’s happening?” she asked. Shots rang out and screams echoed through the ballroom as guests pushed away from the banquet tables, toppling chairs to the marble floor. A whizzing sound pierced the air as shots shattered the balcony doors. Spike blocked Faye with a grunt. Faye’s stomach flipped; Spike had just been shot.
Spike opened his eyes to Faye looking down at him with worry etched across her face.
“Yo,” he greeted her in a gravelly voice. He grimaced as he tried to sit up.
“Be still, idiot,” she said frowning. She pushed him back to the pillow. “You were shot. You shouldn’t be moving around.”
“I’ve been shot before.” He stared at her, trying to keep her face in focus. “Where are we?”
“Your apartment,” she answered. “It’s definitely an improvement over that other dump you called home.”
Spike grinned weakly. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I knew you would like it.”
The soft hum of the monitor next to the bed and Spike’s raspy breathing were the only sounds in the room, until Faye broke the silence. “What were you doing at that party, Spike?”
She knew he was playing dumb. All right, she’d play along. “Guns were going off everywhere,” she said. ” Roger Welborn and his wife were killed. A couple of people were shot, including you, just flesh wounds.”
So Reyna had finished the job. Spike moved to stretch the kinks from his neck, wincing as pain flared through his shoulder. He lay back down, breathless from the effort. “Did they … catch the … guy?”
Faye shook her head. “By the time the ISSP got there, it was crazy, people screaming and climbing over each other to get to the doors.” She paused. “I tried to reach Jet, but he wasn’t picking up his comm.”
Spike had no doubt that Reyna had slipped out unnoticed during the confusion.
“Why were you at that party, Spike?”
So she wasn’t going to give up. “Why do you want to know?” he asked warily.
“Because you don’t do anything without a reason,” Faye said curtly. “By the way, your girlfriend disappeared too.”
“Why aren’t you with your boyfriend?” He launched into a coughing fit and struggled to catch his breath.
Faye handed him the glass of water from the nightstand. Spike took it with trembling hands. Faye placed her hand over his to steady the glass as he raised it to his lips. She shook out two pills from the bottle on the nightstand. He swallowed them down, then took another sip from the glass before laying back down, exhausted.
“If you really want to know …” Faye began.
Spike looked up drowsily, suppressing a shiver.
“I couldn’t leave you there bleeding to death, now could I? Jet would kill me.”
He nodded. She leaned over to cover him with the sheet. “Besides, I reserve the right to kill you myself.”
Spike gave her a weak grin, then closed his eyes.
Faye’s expression softened when he dosed off. That man could fall asleep anywhere and any time. She was relieved— he was easier to deal with when he was unconscious. She watched him sleep, his thick lashes fluttering across his pale skin. Faye examined his bandaged shoulder. Blood had leaked from the bandage, staining it pink. It had been over eight hours since the doc had treated the bullet wound; she wondered when he would return to change the bandage.
After what she had said to Spike earlier, here she was again, keeping vigil while he recovered from yet another gunshot wound. She sighed. There was no way she would ever have peace, knowing that lunkhead would likely get shot again. Maybe he would think twice about chasing danger if she stayed around. Right?
Spike looked across the ballroom at Reyna, her face twisted with anger and jealousy. He looked down at the gun in her hand, pointed straight at Faye. Without hesitation, he shoved himself in front of Faye and grunted as the bullet entered his shoulder, the same shoulder that was barely healed from the last time he was shot. He struggled to stay on his feet.
You’re gonna owe me big for this, Valentine.
His eyes flew open and he looked around. He was no longer on the balcony at the Welborn estate, but in his bedroom at the Samora Crowne. There was a light pressure on his chest, and he looked down to see the purple haired annoyance laying there, a slender arm stretched across his torso. He wondered how long he had been knocked out. The last thing he remembered was Faye grilling him.
He concentrated his gaze on her small hand curled up against his chest, frowning at the sparkling diamond on her finger. Faye liked diamonds, he remembered. Shit, I can give her a better one. He paused. What was he thinking? A better one? He gazed down at her sleeping form and the strands of hair that fluttered across her cheek. He didn’t know if she hadn’t believed him before, or if the wench was being her usual stubborn self. It was clear that she cared about him; she wouldn’t be here now if she didn’t. That comment about him bleeding to death was bullshit. She had always watched out for him when he’d gotten hurt — changing bandages, feeding him pain pills — all done when he was semi-conscious. As soon as he was awake she’d revert to sarcasm, out to torment him every chance she got. He’d missed that. Not getting shot, but if that was what it took for her to show how much she cared, then he’d take it. He wasn’t going to lose her to a man like Riley. She might not have believed him, but he had to admit the truth to himself.
He loved her.
When she awoke, the events of the evening came flooding back — the party, the shock of seeing Spike there, with a woman, jealousy that she immediately suppressed, him telling her that he loved her …
For a second, she forgot where she was.
The deep voice rumbled against her ear, and she realized that she was lying on his chest. She lifted her head. “I fell asleep.”
Spike chuckled. “No shit, Sherlock.”
Faye sat up. “Taking care of you is exhausting,” she said. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “You should be thanking me for staying here with you.”
“You want the job?” he asked coolly. “It pays pretty well.”
Faye narrowed her eyes. “It should, as often as you get shot.” She decided to play along. “So, what are you offering?”
His eyes were intent on her. “Penthouse accommodations, all amenities included— dinners—steak, Ganymede lobster, fully stocked liquor cabinet. I’ll even throw in a wardrobe allowance, seeing as you enjoy shopping with other people’s money.”
Faye scoffed. “Is that all? I can get that anytime … from Pierce.” She laughed at his surly expression.
“I wasn’t finished,” Spike grumbled.
She waved her hand. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said sarcastically. “Please, continue.”
“Thank you,” he muttered with a roll of his eyes. “Where was I? Oh yeah. Shopping, a ring twice the size of that thing you’re wearing …”
Was he saying what she thought? Her heart pounded in her chest as conflicting emotions surged through her —disbelief, anger, uncertainty, hope. “Spike—”
“You need more?”
“No—yes,” she stuttered, at a loss for words. She frowned. “I mean, why?”
Spike kept his gaze on her. “What else do you want?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Faye threw her hands in the air. “How about, ‘geez Faye, I’m sorry I’ve been an asshole to you, and I want to make it up to you,’ or how about—”
Faye almost choked. He did not just ask that. Not after everything that had happened Not after …. “Why would you want to marry me?” she asked suspiciously. “So that Pierce can’t?”
He didn’t reply, but gave a wistful, half smile.
Faye stared down at the bed. The sheet had again slipped from Spike’s torso. She clenched then unclenched her hands and rubbed them across her dress. The room was cool and she worried about him catching a chill, but covering him up was out of the question now that he was awake. Why was she even worrying about him? He didn’t care about her. All he cared about—all he had ever cared about—was Julia and winning. Being top dog. So asking her to marry him was not about caring, it was about possession. She thought about her life with Pierce. Sure, he was a little dull sometimes, but he really did care about her. He didn’t pressure her about anything, not about spending money, shopping. She hadn’t even slept with him and he was okay with waiting until after they were married.
And now, Spike. At least she could say that life would not be boring around him. Dangerous, maybe, but definitely not boring. She sighed. The infuriating bastard was sending so many mixed messages that she was getting frustrated and annoyed. What did he expect her to say, that all was forgiven? Could they even live in the same space without her killing him?
He closed his eyes, listening to Faye’s uneven breathing. He would laugh at the situation if it wasn’t so pathetic. He had just asked her to … forget everything and move in with him. What was he thinking? And the worst part was, she hadn’t even bothered to give him an answer.
He shivered a little and fumbled for the sheet. His hand collided with Faye’s warm one.
“I got it,” she murmured.
She pulled the sheet over him and let her hand rest on his.
He inhaled softly, not daring to breathe, as if by doing so she would disappear like a wisp of smoke. “What?”
“I’ll do it.”
He could finally breathe again. “Why?”
Faye sighed and looked out the window, avoiding his eyes. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe then you would listen to someone for once in your life.”
Annie had said that to him once. Maybe it was about time to heed her words. “To you?” he asked.
“Duh,” she said sarcastically. “Who else are we talking about?”
He grinned. Faye would make him listen to her, or he would wind up with a bullet in his kneecap.
For so long I’ve had to carry
The weight of another love
But now that she and I are through,
I believe that I’ll fall for you