Luke sat down with Stellan in the men’s parlor, salty llama in hand.
“You’ve certainly got your hands full with these ladies,” Luke laughed, taking a deep swig of his drink.
Stellan snorted in amusement. “That’s putting it nicely.”
“I suppose you could use a break then,” Luke grinned, leaning back into the plush chair.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Let me take them off your hands,” Luke said. “For the afternoon. I’ve already set up a little…party of sorts. Give you some time to relax, take a load off.”
Stellan’s eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know about this, Luke.”
“Oh, come on!” He nagged, kicking a foot at his friend. “Let them cut loose for a couple hours. They’ll be fine!”
“It’s not them I’m worried about,” Stellan said, flashing Luke a pointed look.
Luke threw his hands up in surrender. “Look, if it makes you feel better, I’ll be on my best behavior.”
Stellan sighed deeply. “It doesn’t.”
“Plum’s away!” Ming shouted, wrapping her arms around her legs as she cannon-balled into the pool.
Water splashed all over the girls. Raina squealed in delight as Shirley splashed water from the fountains onto her head.
“This music rocks!” Lyric shouted, eyeing the radio in the corner with excitement. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Even Kara laughed as she sipped her drink at the bar, talking with Luke. London was in a foul mood as she trudged into the room, letting her tears fall freely. Luke hopped off the barstool and made his way over to her.
“No tears here, babe!” He winked, handing her a long-stemmed red rose.
Shirley’s eyebrows creased. Where did he pull that from?
“It’s beautiful,” London cooed, inhaling it’s sweet scent.
From that moment on, everyone had a wonderful time. With no Stellan to impress, the girls could really relax and just have fun. They all got to know each other a little bit better, and felt the bonds between them tighten. As the number of girls in the house dwindled, the closer everyone became. No longer were they competition – they were just friends.
“Hey!” Shirley called above the din of the room. “Whoever wins, can we all agree that we’ll invite the rest of us to the wedding?”
“Yeah!” Lyric cheered, falling off her bar stool with drink in hand.
The girls laughed at the sight before agreeing.
However, two girls definitely weren’t enjoying themselves as much as the others. Klavdiya and Alexandria sat in silence in the Redemption Room. The tension in the air was stifling, and Alexandria almost cried with relief when Simcess walked into the room.
“Ladies, I have the results.”
Klavdiya and Alex looked at each other as they stood up side-by-side.
“Klavdiya, I’m sorry to say that you’ll be leaving us today.” Simcess said solemnly.
The beautiful Russian’s eyes widened.
“Stellan is waiting for you in the foyer.”
“No?” Simcess repeated.
“No! I will not dignify some boy prince with my platitudes for a goodbye! I was supposed to win. I was supposed to marry him!”
Alex backed away into the corner as Klavdiya picked up a flower vase and smashed it on the wall, letting the shards of glass fly all over. She had managed to keep her anger in check for Stellan’s sake, but that all went out the window. She continued to spew some colourful words as two guards hustled in to take her away. A maid scurried in to clean up the glass as Alex and Simcess stared at each other.
“Well then.” Simcess said.
Alex was at a loss for words. The shock of staying in the house combined with Klavdiya’s outburst had rendered her speechless.
“You’ll find the other girls in the poolhouse with Luke.”
“Who’s Luke?” Alex asked.
“Oh! I forgot you haven’t met him. He’s a friend from Stellan’s childhood. Quite the flirt.” Simcess looked around, making sure no one was listening. “Watch out for him – I think he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.”
Alex nodded, tucking that bit of information away for future reference. She made her way out of the room and into the poolhouse, where the girls turned to her and cheered.
“Alex!” Ming shouted, giving her friend a huge hug. “You’re back!”
The girls took turns embracing Alex. They were all giddy with excitement and the juice coursing through their bodies.
Alex didn’t have much time to enjoy the party. Only a few minutes later, Stellan entered the room. His sour demeanor sobered up the girls immediately. They looked at each other, seeing their own puzzled expressions mirrored back. Only Alex could guess what caused Stellan’s dour mood. He must have found out about Klavdiya’s…theatrical exit.
“Ladies, it’s time for another challenge,” He announced without his usual vigor. “Please follow me.”
The bright, airy interior of the poolhouse gave way to dark hues of mahogany wood. Seven chairs were spaced evenly apart, and a book was placed in front of each. Simcess was already in the room, perched on the edge of a loveseat.
“Please take a book and sit down,” Simcess said.
“Today you will be undergoing a speed reading challenge,” Simcess explained. “You’ll all start reading the same book at the same time, and whoever finishes first wins a date with Stellan. The two who finish last will go to the RR for another fan vote.”
On Simcess’ mark, the girls began reading with little fanfare. Some of them were in a bad mood, and it was reflected plain as day on their faces.
Hours passed as they flipped through the pages. They were forced to read an etiquette book filled with information on what forks to use, what to wear to dinner, how to greet guests of different ranks…boring things not all of them cared about. Shirley yawned as she began the seventh chapter on what wine to serve with dinner.
Raina devoured the book. She was used to reading all kinds of novels, and this particular one brought her back to her childhood. She recalled her tutor again, teaching her all kinds of things and sneaking books underneath her mattress. Raina recognized all the rules within the book – she had lived them once, after all. The banquets, balls, and formal wear had all been her normal once. Could she really go back to that life? Even if it was with someone as amazing as Stellan?
Without even realzing it, Raina finished the book and set it down. She barely heard the congratulatory murmurs from Simcess and the others. She was too lost in her own thoughts of her childhood. She knew she had a date with Stellan coming up, and knew she’d have to tell him her fears.
Soon after Raina, Ming and Lyric finished reading their own copies. Ming leaned back and rubbed her eyes. An entire chapter on the violin had rendered her exhausted.
Eventually it came down to Shirley, London, and Alexandria. Alex felt icy tendrils of fear climb up her spine. She didn’t want to go back to the Redemption Room – not now, not ever.
In a flash, London snapped her book shut. She clutched it in her hand, hardly believing the fact that she had finished it. London tossed the book on the ground and took a deep breath.
“Shirley, Alex, I’m so sorry to say that you’ll both be headed to the Redemption Room.” Simcess said, standing up.
Tears rolled down Alex’s cheeks as she met Stellan’s eyes. With a gentle nudge from Shirley, she headed back to the Redemption Room.
Back to her prison.
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