As much as Asher wanted the world to be a happy, kind place without war or conflict of any kind, it never seemed to work out that way. Humans were interesting creatures, able to fight over the smallest of details and hold onto grudges for what could potentially be the rest of their short lives. It wasn't that elves were without that kind of history. He had certainly known a few who were rather angry in some scenarios. But generally, they were able to work things out civilly and amicably and move on with their lives. That being said, he couldn't deny the sorts of histories he had with his brothers. At one point in time, they had all been incredibly close. The Four Brothers of the Four Seasons, or whatever their mother had deemed them. While they opposed each other in some ways, they were all incredibly alike in many others. Asher distinctly remembered them running around together when they were younger, getting into trouble and just having a good time. But as they grew older, went through loss after loss, heartbreak, again and again, they all grew cynical in one way or another.
And so, as time went on, they grew apart. Asher still tries to connect with his brothers, given them advice when he thinks they need it. With Adrian, it seems to go in one ear and right out the other. Arthur counteracts what he says. And Alarick... Well, it's hard to even get Alarick in the same room, let alone talk to him about feelings and emotions. Asher knows they all have things they need to work out, the culmination of building trauma over the years of eternity. Where his output is painting, a few of his brothers have far less helpful outlets, if any at all. It wasn't to say the Elf King dealt with his feelings properly because he really didn't. But he at least tried on most occasions. History is a fickle beast. He wanted to ask about Carina's with Tori. There was obviously some sort of tension there, grudges that neither one of them seemed to want to work through with the other. Had they been friends before and something ruined it? Or were they both strangers caught up in a mess, and their first impressions of one another were tainted by it? The latter would certainly be harder to get over, but it wasn't impossible. At least, he didn't think so.
"Tori is just...very angry," Carina's words pulled Ash from his thoughts, and he nodded. He could tell that much. He wanted to press, but the tears threatening to fall down her cheeks kept his words at bay. "Don't be sorry. As far as I can tell, no one was at fault," the brunette king answered, a grin lighting up his features as he felt the soft skin of her hands against his. The connection immediately sent tingles up his arms and Asher couldn't believe how adorable she was. He had loved all of his previous wives, but there was something different about Cari. She stood out from the rest, captured his heart like they couldn't or just didn't. He wanted her to where his jewels, to preside next to him over the Elven Kingdom whether she wanted to or not. Did that make him selfish? Maybe. But it's hard to be anything but when you're immortal. "It would be my honor to escort you to the ball, believe me," Ash answered, content that the offer had made her happier, potentially taken her mind of the recent interaction with Tori. It seemed to mean a lot to her, and that meant it meant a lot to him as well.
Letting go of one of her hands, he kept the fingers of the other intertwined with his as they continued their trek through the festival. "Haunted houses? I've been to a few, though it was quite some time ago," he answered, pondering the question. He remembered when they were first created a couple hundred years before, though they were more like museums of gory wax figures at that time. At that time, he found them sad, just more representations of humans killing each other. But, from what he understood, over the years they became more commercialized and fun rather than depressing. He had yet to go to one of those, and Carina seemed to be interested. They passed by a few stalls selling clothing items, and Ash was reminded of the pink sticky substance on Cari's top. "Did you potentially want to change? We could go visit a haunted house after. Pick out anything you'd like, my treat."
The last time Marissa had been on a ferris wheel, she'd been seated next to James, watching him intently as he soaked in the view from the top of the ride. For the last time. For a while, it seemed to be Mari's last time too, but now, here she was, seated by a man who was drastically different than James. Perhaps that's what made it easier to be with him. Adrian didn't really remind the blonde of her late husband at all. At least physically. James had been tall, but slenderly built, with dark eyes and even darker hair, but fair skin. Unlike the tatted man, the only markings on James's skin had been the almost out of place scattering of freckles on his nose and cheeks that always made him look younger than he was. Meanwhile, Adrian was very much a man. A man that had Marissa's undivided attention at the moment and was keeping any guilt that she'd usually have at bay.
With Adrian's arm around her slim shoulders, Marissa was tucked against his side, rather enjoying how petite he made her feel and how well she fit there. He inquired about any tattoos she had, and she noticed his eyes light up when she revealed that she did. There was an element of satisfaction in his reaction, which emboldened Mari to add that she'd show him hers if he showed her all of his. This time though Adrian's blue eyes widened with shock, and the blonde feared perhaps she'd been too bold with her offer. She bit her lip for a moment, trying to figure out how to backtrack, before he spoke again. Might take a while, but I wouldn't complain. Adrian's grip around her shoulders tightened, and Marissa relaxed once more, releasing her lip as she offered a pleased, albeit impish, smile.
They'd reached the bottom of the wheel and Adrian offered a wink, letting her know he was highly interested after she'd echoed his earlier words. Marissa's stomach fluttered a little, reminding her again that she was more invested in this man than usual. His arm left her shoulders, and even though it was a hot day, she felt the absence of his warmth immediately. Taking Adrian's offered hand, she allowed him to help her out of the cart and guide her away from the ferris wheel. You do realize we went up there to people watch, right? And we didn't watch anyone but each other...Not that I'm complaining, of course. Marissa glanced up at Adrian, instinctively wanting to deny that she'd been as caught up in him as she was, but his arm wrapped around her waist and her words disappeared before they were formed. "Oops..." She replied simply with a teasing smile.
The pair walked through the booths, and Marissa was just starting to think that everything was going well, when Adrian spoke again. I know I have to let you go at some point tonight so you can return to your home, but... I do hope you'll find me tomorrow. "Tomorrow?" Marissa asked before she could stop herself, a frown forming on her face as she realized today's not-date was also going to be a not-hookup. She'd ignored all the other rules she'd broken today with Adrian, but one of her biggest was not to see a guy more than once. Before she could contemplate much more, Adrian sped up some and moved in front of her to block the path. Marissa stopped abruptly when his hands found her hips and he closed the distance between them. Her furrowed brows softened as he gazed down at her, and her concern over the rules dissipated once more as her head tipped back some so she could look up at him at such a close proximity.
Adrian was saying something about her eyes, but Marissa could hardly focus on anything other than trying not to completely melt where she stood. Or rather, once stood. Suddenly Adrian grinned and Marissa found herself lifted from the ground as he spun her around. The blonde let out a surprised Oh! as her eyes widened and her hands found his shoulders reflexively. Her feet barely had time to touch the ground once more before Adrian's lips found hers and-
Adrian's kiss felt like jumping into the ocean. At first there was the initial shock, like that of the cold water when you plunge into the waves. Marissa's pulse quickened with adrenaline and her eyes widened for a moment as the sensation of his lips on hers washed over her. Then came that beautiful moment of peace and silence as one recovered from the shock and was suspended in the water away from the rest of the world. Marissa's eyes fluttered shut as she returned Adrian's kiss, leaning into the large man as her fingers curled around the fabric of his shirt where she still held his shoulders. She forgot all about the fair, and her rules, and the past for a moment, lost in this delicious moment. And finally, came the realization that air was still a necessity as one made their way back to the surface, breaking free of the watery world that was both dangerous and beautiful. Mari pulled away from Adrian's mouth only when her lungs began to burn a little, reminding her that she had't had time to breathe properly before diving into the kiss.
Her blue eyes opened once more as she looked up at him, feeling half dazed and more alive than she'd felt in a while. Her head nodded nearly imperceptibly, as Mari heard herself say, "Okay, tomorrow..." She lingered where she was for a moment longer, before releasing Adrian's shirt and letting her hands slide back down his chest. Her heart was beating fast and she hardly recognized herself but she felt... good. Great even. And that was terrifying. But not terrifying enough to keep her from agreeing to whatever Adrian asked of her. And if that was to meet tomorrow, then tomorrow it was. "When? Where?" She asked, the questions almost seeming too rational for the moment. "Or will I just run into you again?" She added, half teasing, half serious. Something about Adrian made things like making plans feel out of place. Nothing about today had gone to plan, and Adrian was to blame/thank for that.
Patience was a virtue that had a loose relationship with the Spring King. He could be patient when it suited him, but right now, he wanted to be anything but patient with the sultry blonde that had brought him back to her apartment. Still, he had to get her to agree to attend the festival ball with him, and so he breached the subject while he had her otherwise distracted. The wolf had tipped Jolene's chin up to look at him, and backed her up against the wall as he all but told her that she should be his date at the end of the week. Wanting to chase any objections Jo might have to the proposition, Al leaned down and captured her lips with his before she could answer.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he was vaguely aware that she'd released the wolf plush in surprise, and soon both her hands found their way up to wrap around his neck. Jolene kissed him back without hesitation, and Al smirked into the kiss, deepening it even more. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted the blonde to be his wife. Yes, it had only been a couple hours, but after finding bride after bride after bride, Al could tell when something just worked. When Jo pulled away, Alarick was initially disappointed, taking in and letting out a deep breath as his head still leaned down over hers. She too was breathing heavily, but still managed to give her answer. Yes, I'll go to the ball with you.
While Alarick hadn't been terribly worried, yet, about Jolene refusing to go to the ball with him, a wave of relief did wash over him that she'd accepted so easily. The blonde had no idea what all she was agreeing to by being Al's date to the ball, and were the werewolf not so excited about having found his future bride, then the guilt would have eaten at him terribly. He grinned, his eyes finding Jo's hazel ones for a moment as she pressed her hand against his chest. "Wonderful..." He uttered, watching her as she pushed against him softly to create enough space between them for her to slip away back to the door.
This time Al did not interfere with Jo unlocking her door, and watched as she walked in and dropped her purse on the table. A moment later she returned to him, taking his hands and pulling him into her apartment. His gaze flicked around the apartment, more so out of habit of being aware of his surroundings, than being terribly interested in the decor. There was no reason to get attached to this apartment, as he'd soon be stealing Jo away from it. Besides, right now the blonde had his attention. The locked clicked behind him, and Al glanced back at Jo as she moved away from the door and towards him. The space between them quickly disappeared once more as Jo came to a stop right in front of him.
Before he even had time to react, it was as if the blonde read his mind and her hands directed his to her hips. A low growl-like noise escaped Al as Jo's hands slid up his chest, and his grip on her hips tightened a little. His breathing deepened as the beautiful woman before him leaned up, bringing her lips millimeters from his, whispering Now, where were we? Grinning darkly, Alarick leaned in ever so slightly, brushing his lips against hers. "Oh, I think you remember..." He murmured, lingering there for a moment longer, teasing Jo... and himself. Closing his eyes though, he pulled Jo tightly against him, his mouth capturing hers once more. This time though, Al was not satisfied with only tasting her lips, and after a few moments his mouth began tracing its way along the soft skin of her jaw, before finding the flesh of her neck.
Love might not have been present in this pending marriage yet, but lust certainly would not be an issue. One of his hands slid from Jolene's hips to the small of her back, sliding up her spine until it disappeared beneath her shirt. Her skin was hot, just like his breath on her neck as he toed the line of control and instinct. He couldn't scare her away by showing his primal side, not yet, but it was hard to keep from sinking his teeth into her tempting skin, just a bit. Slowly, but with purpose, Alarick began moving them deeper into the studio apartment towards Jolene's bed. Stopping at the edge of the bed when the back of the blonde's legs met the mattress, the rugged man pulled away from her just enough so his eyes could find hers. Watching her steadily as he caught his breath a little, Alarick arched a brow slightly, silently making sure that this was what Jo wanted before he proceed any further. It was bad enough that he had to take this woman from her home without her consent, but he would not take her without it.
One might certainly say that Carina had a childish view of the world. And one might even be right. She was getting older but being deprived of the world’s pleasures for most of her life, it was hard not to attempt to try everything at once. Her playful nature fed the kid in her soul and while she was twenty-six already, her mind worked like she never grew past her teenage years. The world was one big playground for her and since the group home never allowed her to explore it, she needed to make up for all that lost time now. Her bucket list was way longer as the one she was carrying around here at the fair and sometimes, the redhead wished she had that nifty little time turner Hermione owned so she could be at several places at once. Alas, there was no such thing as magic, right? It was all just stuff of books, no matter how much Cari wanted a few things to be real.
Until the drama with Dean and Tori, Carina never truly realized how much pain there was in the world. She was living in her little pink happy bubble, wore Dean’s ring with pride and believed she had found that big fairy tale love of her life. But nothing hurt more than finding out Dean was fooling around with the Mayor’s daughter. Rumors were rumors, Cari didn’t believe everything she heard because some of that news were way too preposterous but it was enough for her to know something happened, especially after Dean admitted what he had done. Looking at Tori, Cari definitely felt at disadvantage there. Tori was younger, seemed to know the world way more, she was more realistic and overall, it looked like she had way more to offer than Cari. Finding out the truth was like having her heart stabbed with a searing knife. Something Carina never wanted to feel again.
Feeling Asher’s hand touch hers sent a series of tingling shivers down her spine and brought her mind out of the worrisome trance. A part of her was incredibly grateful to him for not inquiring about the whole incident and history with the fiery blonde. Cari was not ready to tell that story to anyone. It was enough to realize that besides Marissa Locke, Cari had basically no close friend in this town. Reality was slowly beginning to down on her but then Ash mentioned the ball, offered to go with her and the gray clouds over her head disappeared and the sun came up again, placing a bright wide smile on Cari’s face. She started another of her rants, stopping herself in the middle when a soft rouge blush covered her cheeks. And once it was settled that they were going to the ball together, Cari tried to change the topic, bringing up the haunted house.
Their hands remained woven together as they wandered deeper into the fair. The air was filled with chipper sounds of laughter and children’s screams even more now and walking around hand in hand with a stranger never felt more comfortable. There was something in those chocolate eyes of his that filled Cari with peace and serenity which she never wanted to let go of. The haunted house was rather close now, they just needed to pass by the clothes stalls and it was then when Ash pointed out her dirty clothes. Cari stopped and looked down at the pink stickiness covered top and bit her lower lip. “You’re right, I should. Damn, I really liked this t-shirt.” she sighed and headed to the racks. “It will only take a minute, I promise.” she smiled and started to go through the racks, grabbing a few items to go and try on. As promised, she was out in almost no time, hesitating for a bit too long when she threw her ruined top into the trash can. With the new clothes on, she approached the cash register, looking at Asher sheepishly. “You really don’t have to pay for me though. It wasn’t even your fault.”
Finding the right girl was always rather painful for the centuries old vampire. He was not as open to new women as Adrian, definitely didn’t have that smooth easy-going nature as Asher and lacked that raw yet alluring drive Alarick possessed. Out of the four brothers, he could very well be described as the boring one, when it came to first impressions. But it all arose from who he was before becoming a vampire. Nothing more than just another Greek lad who wanted to make the world a better place by joining the ancient Greek army back when the world was young. He was a dreamer, full of ideals and values, who thought that he could stop the evil spreading its limbs across the world. And then he died…
When he was turned into the creature of the night, all his human features were strengthened. He became even more righteous but his need for peace turned into an obsession and when it came to that, he could be a truly vicious beast who held no mercy for those who wronged him or those he cared about. For now, those were mostly his brothers and even some of his wives. He kind of loved them all or at least cared about them deeply. And while not all of them returned his affections, Art would walk to the edge of the world for them all and would never let anyone and anything harm them. But there was none of his former wives that brought such an emotion inside him as this young blonde did.
Even the dead heart in his chest fluttered a little upon seeing her fair features and Art immediately knew that this girl was the future Queen of Winter. One way or another, she was going to wear his jewels and become bound to him. The only thing left was to somehow convince her to go to that ball with him but it proved to be easier than Art would ever imagine. In a way, the drama between Tori and the girl Ash was with was good for something. After the final insults were thrown, leaving the redhead with the last words, Art and Tori walked away, trying to get to her car. Even though she was walking with her back to him, Art could imagine her face and heard her heard pounding in her chest. His senses could not be lied to and since she was more than flustered, Art turned her to face him and offered to be her date for the ball. The gentleman in him would never allow him to simply lean over and kiss her like he craved. At least not immediately. But his lips did find their way to the smooth skin of her hand and he asked if there was something he could do.
Not expecting such a cordial reaction, Art was taken by surprise when she pressed her small form onto his body. There was so much trust in that small gesture that his hands automatically rested on her back and he returned the hug, offering as much comfort as he could. Well, yes, he might have been stoic and reserved but it did not mean he was carved of a block of ice. Ignoring the fact that his white shirt now bore pieces of pink sticky stuff, he offered Tori a small smile when she suddenly pulled away. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t like this shirt anyway.” he told her reassuringly. “And I will gladly accompany you to the ball. It will be my greatest honor to do so. If…” he lifted his index finger in the air, wanting to strike while the iron was hot. “…if you do me a little favor and wear a token of mine to the ball.” Was it risky? Probably. Was it a signature move for Art? Not at all. But this seemed like a good chance to offer his favor to the girl and maybe, just maybe, she would agree. “Will you? It would bring me great joy if you could.” he took her hand in his again, covering it with the other one, not telling her what it was just yet. Maybe he was mysterious after all.
When Tori had returned to Maple Grove, she had done so with her tail tucked between her legs and the expectation that nothing would have changed. And to a degree, she was right. The town hadn't changed, nor had the people in it. For the yearly celebration of the town, Tori had expected the same thing as all the years passed. Her father even suckered her into helping with the promise that he would let her perform in the show and even possibly during the ball on the last night, but really all he'd wanted was someone to do his bitch work. She found that out quickly, but she should have been prepared for it. A small part of her still wanted the man's approval, but she was quickly slipping back into not caring. In fact, that feeling started creeping back in the first day of the festival, if not before.
But then she'd met Art. The man was older, but that didn't deter her from flirting with him and accepting his invitation to come with him. So after dropping off her headset, she'd left the work behind and spent that day and the two after with him as well. She was falling hard for the man, and while falling hard for someone wasn't unlike her, it did terrify her some. But it also excited her, and the days they spent together were amazing. They did more things around the fair and even the town itself. Hell, they'd even gone out to one of the clubs in Maple Grove, which wasn't anything compared to the nightlife in Vegas or somewhere like Malibu or Hollywood, but it was something. Art obviously wasn't in his element, but he tried to enjoy it for Tori. And then there was the whole issue with the guy who tried to grab her and dance with her. She still got shivers thinking of Art's voice when he stepped between them.
But yesterday, the day before the ball, her father had roped her into helping out again. He guilted her into it, and one task turned into another and before she knew it the whole day was gone and she hadn't been able to see Art. Carrying herself to bed that night, she'd been surprised to see a box on her bed. Upon opening it, she found the most beautiful necklace inside and a note from Art. She'd gone to bed with it on the other pillow, and then spent all of the next day shopping for the perfect dress and accessories. It wasn't until she was about to leave for the ball that her father made his appearance, blocking her path to the front door. He told her that he knew about the older man she'd been spending her time with, and that he wasn't going to allow his daughter to make a fool out of him by getting taken advantage of.
Well, that had gone over about as well as ice in Iceland. Tori had exploded, and that led to a nasty fight between father and daughter. At first, Tori hadn't even heard the knock on the door over the sound of yelling and her knocking over a lamp. She was dressed to impress and ready to go meet Art; her heart had even been fluttering as she made her way down the stairs. But her father was ruining her mood and making her not even want to go. She was ready to run again, but then the knock sounded on the door, more urgently. They both turned their heads towards the sound, but it was her father who went to answer the door. Tori just crossed her arms, her back to the entryway. Expecting it to be someone from the town just needing something from the major, imagine her surprise when she heard footsteps and turned, seeing Art approaching with her father.
"Art." Her eyes widened, her expression shifting to one of surprise as he came into view. He looked amazing, and her eyes drank him in as he stepped into the room. She ignored her father as he passed her, moving to pour himself a glass of whatever liquor was currently in his decanter. With a small smile on her face, she closed the distance between them, stopping right in front of him. "You came here." She whispered, reaching up to place her hands flat on his chest. Her father cleared his throat from behind her, and a scowl immediately presented itself on her face as she turned to look at him. "You're not stopping me from going." She told the man, who had turned to look at them both. "I will not have it, Victoria. This man knows what he's doing, and I am not going to let him take advantage of us."
Kissing Mari had been completely spontaneous, but that was exactly how Adrian lived his life. His long, long life. He was probably the most spontaneous of his brothers, but that was completely alright with him. He wasn't sure how their wife hunt was going, but by the end of that first day, Adrian was convinced that he'd gotten lucky this time and found his right away. He already felt deep emotions for the blonde, and he had been around long enough to know that she felt something for him, too. He wasn't naïve enough to think that she was head over heels in love with him already, but the base for that was there, he was sure. That much was evident by her reaction to his kiss, and the fact that she kissed him back.
Before they parted ways that day, Adrian asked her about the ball, and to his delight she said she would go with him. He'd spun her around yet again before kissing her forehead, and then he watched her go. It was painful to watch her leave, but he told himself everything would be okay the next day when they met up. They'd set up a time and place, and he went back to the home he was sharing with his brothers with a huge grin on his face. He could hardly sleep from the excitement of the day and knowing that he would see Mari again. He could still feel her small, soft body under his touch and he wanted so badly to just go get her and take her back home then and there. But he knew he had to be patient and wait the rest of the week, just like his brothers were doing and like he'd done in the past.
The next day came and went, though, and Mari never showed. Adrian walked around the fair at least a thousand times, looking for the beautiful blonde but he couldn't find her. He even went to her booth, the one they'd gone to the day before to drop off her pamphlets. But her assistant said she hadn't seen her, though Adrian wasn't sure that was the truth. He didn't press the poor girl though, just nodded and left the booth to continue looking for Mari elsewhere. The day was gone, though, and no sign of her. He went to bed that night still not able to sleep, though it was more from anxieties and worries this time rather than excitement. It was obvious that he was down, but he woke the next day with a brighter outlook on things. Maybe yesterday had been a fluke; maybe she'd been busy.
But when this whole day came and went as well with no sign of her, Adrian realized that he understood what she was saying. She was scared, he'd been able to read that on her face when they were together. But she had also been excited to be with him, almost as excited as he was to be with her, so he didn't understand. At least not completely. He was back and forth with how to feel. The day before the ball, he realized though that Mari was still the one he chose. So he put his necklace into a box with a fancy ribbon, and went by Mari's work. Not the booth, but her actual job. The woman at the desk said that Mari wasn't there, so he just sighed and asked her to deliver the package to Mari. She promised she would, and even though it was a risk, Adrian left the box there with the necklace inside for her to get and make her decision.
Now it was the night of the ball, and it was in full swing behind him. He held a bouquet of baby blue roses in his hands, the nerves hitting him fully now as he glanced at the watch he wore once again. It was reaching the time he'd asked her to meet him in the note, and she hadn't shown up yet. Blowing out a sharp breath, he tilted his head back and stared up at the sky, his grip on the roses tightening. If she didn't show up tonight, he knew he would have to pick someone else, and that would break his heart. He wanted Mari, but if she didn't want him, that was something he would have to learn to live with. He lowered his head, looking at his watch again and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. It was now five minutes past the time, and slowly, he lowered the roses to his side, hanging his head as his heart cracked.
If Jolene was being honest, she wasn't quite sure why she had agreed to go to the ball in the first place. Sure, it was an extravagant gala with women in fancy dresses and men in tuxedos and suits. There was most likely free food and an open bar, dancing and conversation. But were all those really things that the blonde bartender enjoyed? Not entirely, no. Jo didn't like being stuck in crowds, especially when the societal norm was that she makes small talk with strangers. She could appreciate the free booze and snacks, but she could honestly get those at home. In her eyes, there were two redeeming factors. One, Jolene was able to go out shopping and by herself a dress nicer than anything she had ever owned before. And two, Alarick.
Everything about him attracted her in ways that Jo couldn't quite understand, let alone explain. He was brooding and mysterious, yet charming and intelligent. He knew when to pull her in and he knew when to hold back. That much was certain the first night they met. Jolene had been more than willing to take him to bed with her. Hell, she pulled him into the sheets with her. But despite all of that, only a few bases were crossed that evening. She could still taste his lips on hers, feel the sparks of his touch against her skin. It was intoxicating, and Jo couldn't help but want more. Since then, they had kept things fairly casual, which was exactly the way the blonde bartender liked it. It wasn't beyond her that Alarick would be gone after the ball, and she would likely never see him again. So why not have some fun while she still had the chance?
So, as she stood in her room, peering at herself in the full-length mirror tucked away into a corner, Jo was actually excited for the evening despite being unsure. Her black ball gown was made of the softest silk under a twirl of chiffon. Lace appliques made up with the bust with a cut neckline to her waist. Her hair was slicked back into a perfect bun, accentuating her facial features. In an attempt to appear more glamorous than she felt, Jo added to the drama with a smoky eye and a dark burgundy lipstick. Her emerald stilettos sat by the door, ready for her to slip into them once she was ready to leave. The blonde bounty hunter, despite knowing that this was a distraction from her true mission being in town, for the first time in a long time felt beautiful. She certainly felt hot a lot, even sexy at times. But this was different, this was showstopping, perfectly put together beauty.
Taking one last look in the mirror, Jolene grabbed her clutch purse filled with the necessities: her lipstick, her wallet, a compact, a knife, a pen, and a mini-notebook. She slipped into her heels, before venturing out to the car waiting on the streets below to take her to the gala. Jo had been to the town hall plenty of times, though usually because she was collecting her paychecks from smaller bounties. But she had never been through the front foyer and into the ballroom. The traditional architecture of its exterior was gorgeous, but nothing could compare to the perfectly paired marble and gold accents of the interior. Servers milled about in pressed uniforms carrying gold trays of drinks and appetizers. The attendees were dressed to the nines in their best attire, and Jolene couldn't help but wonder if she had dressed up enough. Not seeing any familiar faces, she made her way over to the one place she knew she could be comfortable: the bar. Leaning over the counter, she sent her signature smirk towards the bartender. "Bourbon on the rocks, please."
Over the past few days, Asher could honestly say that he had spent more time in the earthly realm than he had in his own. Usually, in previous marriages, he would come and go as he pleased, meeting new people in the hopes of finding a woman to return home with. It was very rare that he found that person so early on, and even more rare that he spent as much time with them as he had with Carina. The more he learned about her, either through inadvertent body language or things she directly told him, the more intrigued he was. They spent the week checking more and more things off of her bucket list, something that she didn't seem to have written down but knew by heart. Or, something that she kept adding to as she found more things she wanted to do. Whatever the case, Ash didn't mind. He enjoyed spending more and more time with her, regardless of the reason behind it.
Asher was more than excited to go to the ball with Carina that evening. So much so that he went and bought a new tuxedo, something that was actually of this century and not the previous. He had talked with his brothers, trying to get them to help him choose. But Alarick and Art were largely uninterested, and Adrian didn't even want to wear a full tux himself. So, in the end, it was a solo run. Ash, nevertheless, was happy with the outcome of his choices. The navy blue jacket and vest first perfectly over the top of his white button-down, and perfectly accented by black pants, shoes, and a bow tie. He was dressed to impress, and that's exactly what Asher hoped that he did. At the end of the day, he knew that he wasn't giving Carina a choice, that she would be coming back with him to the Elven kingdom regardless of her wishes. But, he wanted her to like him, wanted her to at least go into it with some sort of baseline where the change wasn't that terrible.
In prompt Asher fashion, he was one of the first people at the gala. Over the years, the town hall had been built, broken down, rebuilt, added on, extended, and remodeled so many times that he wasn't quite sure what to expect 100 years since his last visit. But he was pleasantly surprised to see the luxury and expense the ballroom exuded. A small orchestra was perched in the corner, already playing a classical concerto that he recognized from the Renaissance period. An area was set aside for a dance floor, and Asher briefly wondered how many modern humans actually knew how to ballroom dance. He certainly hoped Cari did, or at least would let him lead her in a dance at some point. A few people milled about, most were servers in preparation of their trays. But none were his date. He hadn't seen her since the night before when he had given her the necklace. Carina had been excited to wear it, and Ash couldn't wait to see it around her neck. Little did she know how much it actually meant.
The rest of the day after her time with Adrian, Marissa's thoughts were consumed by the tattooed man and the kiss they'd shared. Even while she let her nephew drag her around the fairgrounds later that night while she babysat for her sister, she couldn't help but smile to herself lost in thought. It had been a long time since a man had left her with any lingering feelings... and this was the problem. Mari had felt the pain of heartbreak once, rather still felt it every time she reached over into the empty space on James' side of the bed, and was determined to never feel such pain again. Adrian was dangerous because he lit something inside her, and if she let it burn for too long, it would only hurt that much more when it was snuffed out again. The blonde had naively convinced herself that she could separate her desire for a hookup with Adrian from any real feelings, even agreeing to attend the ball with him at the end of the week... But when she both went to bed and woke up the next morning thinking of him, she knew that she had to stop things.
Rather than meeting Adrian where they'd agreed upon, Marissa stood him up. It was harder than she thought to work instead of meeting him for another day of fun, but that was nothing compared to how hard it was to hide from Adrian when he came to her real estate booth at the fair looking for her. Marissa had coerced her assistant into saying she wasn't around, as she hid beneath the table, concealed by the long tablecloth. It hurt to hear the disappointment in Adrian's voice, but that only proved that Mari was doing the right thing. If it hurt this much not to spend time with Adrian now, it would only hurt even more when he left after the festival if she got to know him better.
Thinking that her flaking on their plans and avoidance of Adrian the rest of the week would absolve Marissa of her promise to go to the festival with him, the blonde was surprised to find the box he left at her work. This time Marissa truly had been out of the office. Had she been there to receive the necklace, she would have given it back right away. After having her co-workers confirm that the aquamarine stones were indeed real, Marissa had little choice but to attend the festival now. There was no way she could keep such an expensive gift, especially after the way she'd treated Adrian. And so, she'd asked her sister if she could borrow a dress for the ball, imagining that she'd be lent one of her many bridesmaids dresses. Unfortunately, in the small town word had made its way to Mari's sister that she had a suitor who'd left a beautiful necklace for her to wear at the festival, and Mari's sister purchased a dress worthy of the jewelry instead. Afterall, it wasn't every day that Marissa had a beau.
Much to her discomfort, Marissa now found herself at the ball, dressed in a gown more beautiful than even the simple wedding dress she'd worn to marry James. It hadn't been very hard to find Adrian in the crowd of people, but rather than approach him as soon as she spotted him, Marissa found herself frozen a few meters away just watching him. He looked so handsome in his suit, though Mari noted that she could see even less of his ink now, and a beautiful bouquet of blue roses to match the necklace was gripped in his hand. It was just past the time that she was supposed to meet him, but the blonde still couldn't make herself move. Adrian glanced up at the sky for a moment, before he checked his watch. Seeing how late his date was, the tall man must have given up hope, because the roses lowered to his side and his head followed suit, hanging low at her lack of arrival.
Marissa's stomach tightened seeing Adrian the way he looked now, and her heart beat quickly knowing that she was the one to blame. She hated it. The sudden urge to run over and console the handsome man washed over the bonde, and she glanced down at the aquamarine necklace she was holding in her hand, prepared to return to Adrian. There was no way she could bring herself to return his gift now, she couldn't bear to hurt him anymore than she already had, so she draped the necklace around her neck and clasped it in the back. She would just sneak the jewelry piece into his pocket at the end of the night, or... if the ball went the way she'd prefer, she could just leave it with him in the morning. Taking a deep breath, Marissa walked over to Adrian quickly, wanting to erase his disappointment as soon as possible.
"Adrian... I'm so sorry I'm late..." Marissa greeted, sweeping over to him from behind and placing a hand reflexively on his arm in comfort. She didn't even wait for him to fully turn to her before the words continued to spill from her painted lips. "Though, really I owe you a few apologies for this past week..." The blonde continued, her eyes cast down in remorse. "I... I..." Mari stuttered a little, wanting to try to explain herself, but not wanting to ruin the night. Seeing Adrian once again was bringing back all those desires from the first day and she really did want to enjoy the evening with him now that she was here by his side. "I will explain later." Mari concluded, finally raising her blue eyes to meet Adrian's as she nervously tucked a stray hair back into her updo. "If you don't hate me already."
This century's festival was definitely one of the more enjoyable weeks he'd spent in Maple Grove, if not the most, and it was all thanks to the blonde bounty hunter. Rather than stressing over finding the perfect bride all week, the werewolf had pretty much decided that Jo would be the next Queen of Spring that first night. She was witty, independent and wildly attractive. Love might not have come into play yet, but lust definitely had. Even if the pair never shared a connection on a deeper, more emotional level, Alarick was confident that their physical relationship would be very satisfying. He'd leave searching for those warm, fuzzy feelings to his brother Asher, whose EQ was considerably higher than Al's.
All in all, it seemed like his brothers had also found an unusual level of quick success this year too. Well, he wasn't entirely sure about Adrian, who'd started the week in high spirits but had looked less confident than usual when he parted ways that night. But Asher, and even Art, looked happy when going off to meet their respective brides-to-be. Alarick had planned to meet Jolene at the ball, so he'd gone off to locate his blonde beauty in the crowd. After stalking through the other guests, his mouth quirked up into a devilish grin as he glanced over at the bar. There, putting all the other elegantly dressed women to shame, was his future wife- an absolute vision in black. He should have guessed that's where he'd find her.
Approaching the bar, Alarick slid his hand along the small of Jolene's back as he leaned against the bar beside her. "Make that two..." He told the bartender, ordering the same drink as his date. Turning his gaze to Jolene, Al smiled at her, using the hand on her back to draw her closer. "You are breathtaking..." He uttered, drinking in her features. “I do wonder how many weapons you have concealed under this dress of yours though…” He added teasingly, mirth in his expression as he let his eyes trail down her revealing bodice to the full skirt of black fabric.
The bartender placed two bourbons on the counter in front of the pair, and Alarick picked his up with his free hand. “To the past, present and future…” He toasted, clinking his glass against Jo’s. “… May you remember time fondly, enjoy it thoroughly, and anticipate it with excitement.” He added, before raising his glass to his lips and taking a healthy sip, his eyes remaining on Jolene’s throughout. As he swallowed, he set his glass back down and slipped his hand into his pocket, considering his next words for a moment before he spoke.
“Do you trust me enough to close your eyes for a moment…?” Alarick asked, withdrawing his hand from her back and holding it up in the air like a Boy Scout. “I give you permission to throw me over the bar if I do anything untoward…” He added seriously but with a small smirk. “Though I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t enjoy that.” He joked.
The fair went well. No, that was definitely an understatement. Carina went there in expectation of fun and enjoying things she had never been allowed to enjoy before. Her bucket list was endless and the one she stored at home was not a list but actually a book. But never in a million years would she expect to find someone who would be eager to cross off the individual items of her list. Not like Asher was anyway. Her days with Dean were exciting and the man had shown her many things Cari thoroughly enjoyed but there were also many occasions he called her desires childish and definitely not fitting her age. It always brought a sad smile to her face. A smile which accepted that some things were just not meant to happen. Dean made Cari believe that she already missed her chance for way too many things and it wasn’t until she met Asher at the fair that she realized it was never too late and she was never too old for anything.
Days with her new friend were never long enough for the redhead. From the very first moment they rode the roller coaster together and shared a cotton candy, he instilled this strange feeling inside Carina which she had not a sufficient vocabulary to describe. It was definitely not unpleasant and every time his hand touched hers, Cari’s heart fluttered as if several flocks of butterflies burst out of it at the same time. They were like two children exploring the world out there, the word no did not exist for them and every time she had to say goodbye to the man, she felt sad and wished for at least one more hour they could spend together.
The ring kept sitting on the shelf where she had put it on the first day of fair and she never intended to put it back on again. Events of the fair only confirmed it to her. Dean was not the one. He was not the man Cari wanted to spend her life with. Was it Asher? She wouldn’t know. What she did know was that Dean never, not even at the beginning, made her feel as amazing as Ash did. Carina could be herself around him, no matter how childish and quirky she got. Unlike her ex fiancé, Ash seemed to enjoy that side of her. No wonder the two enjoyed the hell out of their week whether it was back at the fair, during their little brunches or picnics in the park. Cari’s world seemed complete.
The night of the ball was here and Carina was nervous as never before. She herself had no idea why and kept repeating to herself that this was nothing but another experience, that she was going to have an amazing time with Asher. And yet, the idea of his arms around her while whirling in a dance made her knees weak. Her fingers touched the beautiful piece of jewelry around her neck and she gave herself one more look in the hallway mirror before she was ready. In a way, she felt like a princess. Like Cinderella when she arrived at the ball and the doors opened for her. Cari took a long, shaky breath and entered the room littered with people. There were all kinds of ladies dressed in more than amazing dresses, elegant gentlemen in tuxedos. But her eyes were interested in one specific person she was trying to locate in the crowd. It took her a moment and she even started to generate paranoid thoughts like what if he stood her up? But then she found him, elegant and handsome. This being the first ball Cari had ever attended, she had no idea how people usually went around starting a conversation. She was sure she looked the part. The dress was flowy, airy, it hugged her figure just right, making her look almost ethereal. Her short hair were pinned up over her left ear and the rest of it fell on her neck in soft locks. Her lips were covered in glittering transparent lip gloss and her makeup was equally simple. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting,” she chirped, approaching Asher from the side. “It took me a bit longer to get ready than I thought. What have I missed?”
If there was one thing Art never saw himself doing, it was visiting a nightclub. And yet, during the week, he still found himself in one. It was a result of spending time with charming Victoria. After their first meeting at the fair, he was sure that this was the girl who was going to become the next Queen of Winter, whether she liked it or not. Not that the girls ever had much of a say in this matter. Art was convinced he had found the right woman and spent his days with the Mayor’s daughter. They walked around the fair, tried a few more attractions, he took her out for a few formal dinners and in return, Tori decided it was time for the ancient vampire to see her kind of life. That was how his centuries-old ass got into the nightclub.
Music was obnoxious, way too loud and people were dancing literally on each other, rubbing bodies with everyone around them. Life was certainly different than a hundred years ago. Art already missed the speakeasies and illegal booze, jazz music, flapper dresses and feathers in ladies’ updos. This place was just way too much and it invaded his personal space which made him wary of everything and everyone around him and most of all around Tori. But he was doing it for her, he could definitely give her that much, considering he was about to take her freedom away from her. Until one of the men thought it was alright to flirt with Art’s girl. That was the proverbial last drop and Art grabbed Tori, leading her out after he had explained to the lad where his place was.
What was most curious though, the day before the ball, Tori went silent. Art was a little bit confused as he thought they generally had a good time. She didn’t pick her phone up, didn’t reply to his texts, nothing. On the day of the ball, the same silent treatment. But since she never returned his necklace, Art assumed she was still going with him just as they had agreed and so he got dressed like a proper gentleman and left his place, heading straight to the Mayor’s house. No one, absolutely nobody, was going to stand in his way to take his girl to the ball and then away to his kingdom. The plan was clear, now he needed to execute it.
His fingers met with the sturdy wood of the door and he knocked but there was no answer. He knocked again, a bit louder, but this time, his sensitive hearing listened for sounds from inside more intently and he heard the argument. The door opened and the Mayor himself was standing there. “Good evening, Sir,” Art nodded his head politely but it was more than obvious the man was not pleased to see him. “I came to pick your daughter up for the ball.” His gaze then fell upon Tori and his breathing positively stopped. She looked beautiful, all clad in red and neck wrapped in rubies. For a moment, English betrayed the vampire and when her hands touched his chest, warming it up through his clothes, his arm automatically found its way around her waist. “Of course, I did. You haven’t picked up my calls. I had to make sure you haven’t reconsidered,” he explained and it was only the statement coming from the Mayor that willed his eyes to look up. “With all due respect, Sir, your daughter is old enough to choose the companion on her own. I came here to pick her up for the dance and we shall be going now. I bid you goodnight, Sir,” Art spoke in calm and yet resolute tone, turning around to the door. His arm remained firmly on Tori’s waist as he led her away, ignoring whatever the good Mayor had to say. “I suggest we go, my dear,” he hummed to Tori and closed the door behind them.
After spending so much time with Art, that day and a little over of not being able to see him or talk to him was really hurting her soul. Maybe it was her age showing, her immaturity or being dramatic, but Art had made it clear that he was as wrapped up in her as she was him. A small part of her was afraid that if she left him alone for too long, he would find somebody else and she'd be left dateless to the ball. But even though she told herself it was just about the ball, she knew that it was much, much deeper than that. She'd given some thought to what might happen after tonight, but usually those thoughts just turned dark and she shoved them aside. She didn't want to think about a life without Art.
The biggest obstacle in her way currently was her own father, who was demanding in his typical 'I-am-mayor-hear-me-roar' way that she wasn't going. But to the blonde's surprise, a knock sounded at the door and it was none other than Art himself, looking dashingly handsome in his suit. She didn't miss how his eyes found hers immediately, nor his reaction to her, which nearly caused her to stop breathing as well. She moved closer to him, his words causing a small smile to grow on her perfectly glossed lips. But before either of them could say more, her father interjected, and Tori sent him a snarky response. But she was surprised again when Art added his two cents, and her head swiveled back towards him. Nobody ever stood up to her father; he was the mayor, and that alone gave him a certain amount of respect from people.
Tori loved that Art wasn't afraid of the man, and when Art turned towards the door and placed his hand on the small of her back she just nodded, happy to go with him. She could hear her father calling for her, but she didn't stop, just looked over at Art when he suggested they go. "I second and third that." She told him, leaning her head on his shoulder as they headed down the steps that led up to the extravagant house. She let him lead her to the car, sliding into the seat of the door he held open for her. The ride to the town hall wasn't a long one, and soon enough they were back out and heading up to the main entrance. She paused, staring up at the fancy lights and décor on the exterior of the building, a wry smile touching her lips as she slid her gaze over to Art. "It never amazes me, the lengths my father will go to to make sure this town appears perfect."
Slipping her hand into his, the pair started inside, where the decorations only got fancier. There was a hired orchestra in the corner, a full bar, dance floor and mingling area and that was just the main part of the hall. There would definitely be places that were closed off to everyone, doors that were locked, but almost the entirety of the downstairs was open for the townsfolk to enjoy. Tori drank everything in, pulling herself up a little taller, feeling as though it made her more elegant. She didn't feel like a nineteen year old girl anymore; she felt like a grown woman, which was something she'd been seeking for ages now. The man beside her definitely helped, and she looked at him again. "This seems a little more your style, I think. As opposed to the club from the other night." She teased him, moving to stand in front of him, her fingers splaying out on his chest. "Care to show me how a real man dances?"
Adrian was an emotional guy, maybe even the most emotional of his brothers. That didn't mean that he went around crying all the time or blowing shit up (even if the thought did cross his mind) when something irritated him, but he did wear his heart on his sleeve. Especially when it came to how he felt about people. He could be civil to someone he didn't like unless they really pushed him, but that only came with his age and being around for so many years. But when he fell for someone, he fell hard, and he could tell by the way his heart was breaking now that he'd already fallen hard for Marissa. He clutched the stems of the thornless roses by his side as he hung his head, a few strands of hair that had fallen out of his bun falling down to frame his face.
She wasn't coming, and he had to accept that. There were countless other women at the ball who he could find to take with him as his wife, but none of them were Mari. He knew that earlier, back at home with his brothers, he hadn't been his usual energetic self. Maybe a small part of him knew that this would happen, that she wouldn't show. After all, it'd been a few days now and no sign of her, even though he'd gone looking. He'd even left her a gift, and nothing. Heaving a sigh, Adrian was a millisecond away from throwing the roses on the ground and stomping on them as he left before he heard it. Footsteps, hurried ones, and then a familiar voice that caused his heart to leap into his throat. His head shot up and he grinned as he felt her hand land on his arm, looking over at the girl.
"Wow..." He breathed, his own hands automatically moving to her arms so he could push her back. Before he could say a word, though, more words fell from her lips but that smile never faded from his face. He let her try to finish, and finally she looked back up to him, telling him she'd explain later. At her last comment, though, his expression grew confused. "Hate you?" He breathed, realizing he was still holding her back by the shoulders. "I could never hate you." He told her, bringing her closer so that he could whisper into her ear as his arms wrapped around her. "You look stunning. Absolutely breathtaking." He told her, kissing the arch of her ear before he pulled back, only enough so that he could look her in the eyes again. "I'm so glad you came, Mari. You have no idea..."
Suddenly his eyes dropped to the jewelry draped around her neck, and his words died in his throat. The implications of the necklace were obvious-- but only to him. He drew in a shaky breath, his hands sliding down to her waist as he gripped her there, holding her in front of him. "You're wearing it." He finally forced out, moving one hand from her waist to gently touch the jewels. "My favorite gemstone." He admitted, a slightly sheepish tone to his voice as his eyes met hers again. Dropping the gems, he gently placed a hand on Mari's cheek, brushing his thumb lightly over the skin there. He was just so happy that she was here, he'd forgotten all about the ball going on in the town hall. Hearing the music now, though, brought him back and his eyes flicked in that direction. "Care to join me?" He asked her, straightening and offering her his arm. "I believe I owe you a good night tonight."
Jolene had never been to a party like that before. There was classical music playing in the background, the idle chatter amalgamated into a blur of unidentifiable noise. Glasses clinked against one another in toasts, commemorating the end of the festivities for the week. It all seemed so high class, the opposite of Jolene and how she was raised. Despite her discomfort, however, the blonde bounty hunter knew she would just do what she did best: fit in. It was in her training as well as her best interest in her line of work to be a chameleon, to blend into the background, and be both invisible and memorable at the same time. She was a complicated mix of seduction and justice, and that was the way she liked it. That's what made her particularly good at her job, despite not focusing on said job for the past week. But who could blame her? She had a much more interesting target, one that she didn't have to turn into the police, at least not that she knew of.
Her particularly good instincts and hearing meant she knew he was coming before she felt his hand on the small of her back. Her smirk never faltered as she turned her body to face him, immediately enticed by his presence. She let him pull her closer, nearly chest to chest, and she inhaled his intoxicating scent. "Why thank you," Jo answered, sliding a hand up his chest to rest on his shoulder. She let out a light laugh at his following statement, and leaned up on her toes to whisper in his ear, "Just enough to make things interesting." Jo pressed a kiss to his cheek before settling back down onto her heels. The bartender placed their liquor in front of them, and the blonde was quick to wrap her fingers around the glass. She raised it, tapping it against Alarick's as he made his toast. There may have been a hidden meaning behind his words, but Jolene was pretty much oblivious to it. To her, she just assumed he referred to their dwindling time left together. Even if he did stick around in town, it was only a matter of time before she made her mark and moved off to another town in pursuit of another criminal. Either way, they would be split up eventually. Or so she thought.
"Cheers," Jolene responded with a grin, taking a sip of her own bourbon before setting her glad down alongside his. Glancing back up, she met his gaze and found something there that sparked her interest. He looked to be considering something and, whatever it was, it seemed important to him. She tilted her head curiously, unsure how she felt about his question. Did she trust him? Not completely. She didn't trust anyone like that. At least, not anyone who was still alive. But did she trust him enough to close her eyes? She had weapons hidden in close enough places that if he tried anything nefarious, she could definitely respond. Not that she thought he was going to, but just in case. "Fine. But one false move and your goose is cooked," Jolene responded, her signature southern accent tinging her words. Trailing her fingertips back down his chest, she parted her lips slightly and and closed her hazel eyes.
As more and more people began to file into the grand ballroom, the party began to liven up. Amber champagne in crystal flutes were passed around along with the appetizers that might just be the fanciest food that small town had ever seen. It was as if they were trying to throw themselves back into historic times, where lavish and luxury spared no expense. He wondered how much of the town budget was spent on this party and couldn't help but think that despite their attempts, the galas in his kingdom were better. The elves quite loved to party, with avant grade fashion, history's best music, and hours upon hours of feasting and dancing. The castle was decorated with the flowers of the season and gilded art pieces. It was like something out of a human's fairy tale, a dream world that was his actual life. Sometimes their parties would last through the night, maybe even a few days on end. Those were the best days of his life, mostly following the deaths of each wife and subsequent periods of mourning. But now, he had something better to look forward to.
"Thank you," Asher said, taking the champagne flute from a server as they passed. He nodded to them before taking a sip from the glass, savoring the strong bubbly liquid. His dark brown eyes scanned the area again, flowing across the unfamiliar faces and finding a few familiar ones as well. And then he found the beautiful face of his weeklong festival partner approaching from the side. He wasn't quite sure how she had done it, but she dressed exactly how an Elven queen should. Her gown and accessories perfectly encompassed a woman of flora and fauna, and his jaw partially dropped in awe. Certainly, he was the luckiest man alive. And there, perfectly draped around her neck, was the jewels he had sent to her. She made everything look so delicate and perfect that he was so excited he had chosen her to be his next bride. The thought that she might not be the One he was searching for, his eternal bride, briefly crossed his mind. But Asher had learned to push those thoughts away as quickly as they came. There was no use worrying about what might happen in the future.
"Carina," the brunette man murmured, a smile turning up the corners of his lips. He grabbed a champagne glass from a passing server's tray and held it out to her. "No, not at all. Besides, I would happily wait all night for you" Taking another sip from his flute, his eyes trailed down to the necklace. "I'm glad you like the necklace, it looks wonderful on you. You haven't missed much, just a few songs and a lot of small talk. Two things that aren't necessarily that interesting. Not as interesting as you anyway." Ash reached out to take her hand, spinning her so she could show off the gown and so that he could see it. His heart began to race with excitement, knowing that after that night, they would be spending the majority of their time together in his kingdom. And after the past week where they had done practically that, he was more than thrilled to start their lives together. "You looking absolutely beautiful, I must say. Now, anything gala-related on your bucket list tonight?"