Chapter 16


Jade.

It was unmistakably her. The impertinent curve of her sharp, little nose, her thin, narrow lips, her high cheekbones, the proud arch of her eyebrows, and her ash-gray skin, paler than he had ever seen it.

He breathed out slowly, trying to calm himself, to ignore the blood that dribbled down her cheek from the deep gash above her eye like a constant stream of crimson tears.

He checked her pulse, and found it impossible to ignore the relief that swept through him like a tidal wave. Still alive, still waiting to be saved.

I won't let you die. He was startled by his vehemence, but barely registered it in the urgency of the situation. Rule of emergency: never move the body. But if he knew anything that was going on, she needed help right away.

He gently lifted her unconscious form, and ran, not for fun as he had earlier, but for urgency, the landscape blurring into one brown haze. He reached the post where he had tied his horse within fractions of a second.

He hesitated, wincing at the thought of putting her on a horse, whose rocking movements would jar her injuries painfully, but he had no choice. How would the others think he carried her to them so quickly? He carefully lifted her onto the horse, and pulled himself up super speed, insuring she wouldn't have time to fall off. He positioned her so that she would lean against him, and immediately moved the stallion into a full-on sprint toward the ranch house.

Mara's eyes had widened in shock as the bachelor had burst through the doors of the ranch house cradling Jade in his arms. The impossible had happened. He had found her. Her chest felt tight with unspeakable fury, as her plan had been thwarted. Jade was alive, Jade would get better, and studying the bachelor's haggard expression, she worried that she had helped make Jade an even bigger rival than she was before. Her eyes smoldered as she realized she had erred. She should have listened to Mother after all, and taken care of the problem herself.

"Call 911!" She heard him bellow. "She's dying!" The woman at the desk nodded in shock, her hand already reaching for the phone.

His worry - perhaps natural - only served to increase her rage, which was compounded by every OMIGOD! Sharon racketed out at the top of her lungs.

"OMIGOD! OMIGOD-OMIGOD-OMIGOD-OMIGOD!" The last of the omigods ended in a shriek of horror as Sharon stood, one hand stretched out towards Jade, the other fluttering around her mouth as if getting ready to stifle a scream. "Mm-m-I-I-" Her stutters of disbelief stopped abruptly. Her eyes that swung toward Mara in accusation, immediately swung away sensing the danger Mara radiated. "She-she…" Sharon couldn't say anything more; she was struck dumb.

The sound of sirens. The swoosh of air as Wally ran past. The slam of the ambulance doors as Jade was carried away. Away from the vengeance of Mara.

Impossible, Mara thought. To find her that fast, it's impossible. It was supposed to be impossible!" She glanced at the bachelor who was watching the ambulance speed away, his brow creased with apprehension.

The bachelor eventually forced on a smile, his white teeth flashing charmingly, despite the sirens that were still audible in the distance. He turned to the other two ladies.

"Ladies, despite the circumstances today, there still has been no change in our plans."

"Really?" Mara asked incredulously.

"Really?" Sharon echoed. "So I get that dinner date?"

"The group date is officially over with the collection of the ribbons, and as for the dinner date, I'm sorry, Miss Sharon, but I believe Jade Hex has won with a total number of seven lucky ribbons."

"What?" Mara asked, more to herself than anyone else. Impossible.

"She got seven!" Sharon threw up her hands. "Omigod. I can't believe this Wally!"

"I'm sorry, Sharon." He said, trying to extract himself from her octopus-like arms. "I really am." Wally struggled. "So, if you would please let go…Sharon, I'm sorry about this too, but if only you would…!" Wally valiantly tried to assuage her, but failed, as she clamped onto him tighter, and wailed in disappointment.

"Walleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

"Ah! There's our ride!" He looked down at the girl. "Sharon…I kinda need my arms free if you want me to help you into the limo…" Sharon sniffled and finally let go.

Impossible. Mara thought as a limousine pulled up to take them back to the bachelorette pad. That meant Jade had gotten seven ribbons before she had attacked. Impossible. She thought as Wally helped them both in. How could it happen? She thought, imagining herself gripping chunks of pink hair and ripping them out of the unfortunate scalp. Impossible. She thought again as she got down out of the limo, and kissed Wally good-night.

Impossible. Hatred clutched her heart.

"Mr. West, Miss Hex has regained consciousness, and is in stable condition. She should be fine enough to be checked out of the hospital in a few days."

"Thank you, doctor."

"Is she your girlfriend, Mr. West?"

"Sort of." Wally grinned, thinking of the six other girls on the show.

"You're a lucky man."

"Thank you, sir." He said, grinning even more broadly.

He walked into Jade's room, and had to stifle his laughter at the sight that greeted him. A glaring Jade covered in more bandages and gauze than there were ornaments on a Christmas tree, trying to look dignified.

"Your girlfriend?" She accused, immediately asking a barrage of questions before receiving an answer.

"Why are you laughing?" Eyes narrowing. "What's that?" Indicating toward the silver cart he had brought.
"What are you doing here?" Eyes widening as more laughter threatened to leak out.

"Get - out!" Eyes flashing pink as the bachelor dodged.

Boom! Her attack hit the cart instead. Silver cutlery flew everywhere, accompanied by the long sigh exhaled by the bachelor.

"That," He said pointing to the ruined chicken marsala on the floor, "was our dinner." Jade paused, considering that. She flopped back onto the pillows, surprised.

"I won the dinner date? Really?" Wally shrugged, and concentrated on salvaging what he could from the cart. "With only three ribbons?"

"What happened out there anyway?" He said quickly. Well, he had been meaning to ask.

"None of your business." She snapped irritably.

"It sort of is. I saved your life, you know." He grinned as she froze.

"You. You did?" She asked incredulously. He made a mental note to ask about what happened to her later. The important thing was that she was all right, and...that she had stopped questioning him about the dinner date."Anyway, the only thing you didn't destroy…is dessert." He noticed her eyes light up with undisguised delight when he presented the dish. "Strawberries and cream."

She licked her lips absently, staring at the dessert. "Mmm." Wally caught himself staring at her, and looked away in a rush, and he could hardly believe himself when he couldn't resist the temptation to sneak a glance towards her again; she was looking at the spoon, then back at the dessert hungrily, then back at the spoon. Her arms and body were strapped down onto the hospital bed.

Wally's eyes suddenly sparkled mischievously.

"So why are you strapped down on the hospital bed?"

"Oh. That." Jade shrugged. "They put that on me after I tried escaping. Didn't work."

"You can't use your powers?"

"Not without risking discovery." Jade said slowly. "Surely you know that."

"You just attacked me now." He explained patiently.

"You're a different case." He considered that.

"But you can't move."

"No…" She said impatiently. "You know I can't."

"Want me to feed you?" He asked slyly.

"No." He expected that.

"Strawberries and cream…" he held the dish tantalizingly under her proud little nose.

"No!" She tried to turn away from the delectable smell of cream and strawberries. "Rachel and Ahn are coming soon; they can help me eat it. " She added, trying to deter him.

What! Wally thought in alarm. And ruin all my fun? He grabbed a spoon and loaded it with cream...

"What are you doing?"...and added a small and juicy strawberry..."I'm warning you!..." He moved the spoon toward her mouth. She pressed her lips closed, clamping her mouth shut, refusing to be fed. He grinned, unable to stop his glee from finding an outlet.

Because he had expected that.

He moved forward, tapping the cream-loaded spoon against her mouth, and pulled back. Her lips were covered with cream. Rich delicious cream with a hint of strawberries. Jade swallowed hard, and she felt her mouth start to water.

She found him staring. Eyes that regarded her with an unreadable expression. Her cheeks pinkened slightly as she reluctantly opened her mouth, and licked the cream. Delicious. She glanced at the bachelor's face quickly. Blue eyes shined with laughter as red began to stain her cheeks.

"Shut up."

The spoon moved forward again, loaded. Instinctively Jade clamped her mouth shut, then thought better of it. She opened her mouth, letting him feed her spoon after spoon of strawberries and cream.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" The bachelor smirked.

"What do you think?"

"You are." Jade glowered.

"I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one."

"You think I'm enjoying this?" Jade shrieked at the top of her lungs. Partly because he had guessed the truth. Partly because she desperately wanted to deny it.

"Yes." He said evenly. "Look me straight in the eyes and tell me that you hate me. I bet you can't." He said, making a gamble.

"I hate you." She said immediately, looking straight into his eyes. She had planned on glaring as well, but that ended up failing miserably. She found herself staring into his piercing blue eyes instead. "I saved your life, you know." With his eyes that remained fixed on hers, she was unable to look away. Her heart thumped erratically of its own accord; her pulse began to race. Jade was terrified that any second now, she would find herself melting into puddles at his feet.

His blue eyes suddenly looked away, and Jade breathed an inward sigh of relief - until she followed his gaze, toward the monitors.

"Your pulse rate is extremely high." He mentioned casually, amusement tinged his voice. "It almost makes me think you like me." He laughed as she flushed an extraordinary shade of red.

"Don't flatter yourself," she said scornfully, the effect somewhat dampened as he watched her pulse rate soar higher on the screen. Traitorous heart.

"Mm hm." He responded with an all-knowing smile that said that he thought otherwise. Jade's temper skyrocketed out of control.

"Get. Out." She seethed.

"You sure you want me to go?" Wally dimpled. Jade glowered. "All right, all right." He said good-humoredly. Jade bit her lip, and sank back into her pillows, as she watched him leave the room. Great. Now she owed him out of all people for saving her life.

"Hi, Ahn! Hey Rachel!" She heard him greet her friends. "Jade's being her usual sarcastic, cruel, bossy, rude, sadistic self." Jade gritted her teeth.

"Wow…that's quite a list." Ahn commented.

"Thank you, Wally." Rachel said, dryly. The two entered the room, and shut the door. Ahn attached one of her special devices that guaranteed that eavesdroppers would be noticed immediately.

"Jade, what the heck happened out there?"

"Aren't you even going to ask if I'm okay?" Jade asked, a little put out.

"..." Rachel looked at her with an expression that said, you look perfectly fine to me, Jade.

"Okay, okay! Mara happened." Jade muttered.

"What do you mean?" Purple eyes bore into her. "You mean she attacked you?" Jade gave a single nod.

"I really didn't expect it of her." Jade admitted.

"What? Her?" Ahn asked belatedly, coming out of her shock. "She managed to beat you up?"

"Yes…" Jade gritted out. "That's the reason I'm in a hospital. Remember?"

"Hmm." Ahn's eyes seemed to cloud over. Calculating. Cold.

"She called herself Gemini. She's Madame Rouge's daughter."

"Her reason?" Rachel asked, already guessing the answer.

"She wanted to eliminate the competition." Jade turned her pink eyes toward Ahn. "Ahn, I'd watch out, if I were you." Ahn gave Jade a crooked smile.

"She'll have a hard time getting rid of me. I've never been out of training. Remember?"

"Yeah..." Jade gave her a sidelong glance. "You haven't assassinated anyone recently, have you?"

"Actually, I tested a couple of my new moves on someone today. It wasn't an assassination job," Ahn mused. "but it was still pretty fun."

Later, his friends found the ex-archer's barely conscious body hanging helplessly on the wall.

"What the heck happened to you, Roy?!"

"She found me," he croaked. "And she wasn't happy."

"Dude." Gar stared at Roy. "That has got to be the understatement of the year."


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