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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2320451
In which Pepper shows Kai what happens in a VIP room.
Instead of going back to the main room, Pepper takes a sharp left down another hallway not easily noticed by the casual eye. It helps that the hallway is next to the garnish table, in case someone did wander down the wrong hallway, their eyes could be distracted by the ice buckets and bowls of fruit and herbs that cover the table during the nightclub’s operational hours.
Two elaborately decorated doors, paneled in dark wood, stand on either side of the hallway. Gold plated plaques clearly labeled “VIP” leave no doubt what the purpose of these rooms are. A small black fob reader is positioned just to the right of the door frame, its blinking red light serving a warning to anyone trying to get into places they don’t belong.
“We can each check one,” Pepper pulls a key fob out of her pocket, holding it against the reader until the light blinks green. There is a faint click, and she props the door open before holding the fob out to Kai. “Just see if the room is empty. It usually is, but Bel and Kam want to make sure no one is left here overnight by accident. That could lead to a potential lawsuit if someone feels like making trouble.”
Kai nods, and presses the fob up against the reader as Pepper goes into the first room. The lock clicks as the light turns green, and Kai pushes the door open. The room is empty, but that’s not what makes his jaw drop.
LED lighting that matches the lights in the main room, bathes this room in a dimmer gold and purple glow. Plush velvet L-shaped sofas the color of merlot wrap around three corners of the room, with low slung tables in front of each, so that whatever edibles the VIPs have selected are within easy reach. Ice buckets line the sideboard on the fourth wall, currently empty, but sure to contain bottles of the guests’ drink of choice when in use.
Kai glances behind him to make sure that the hallway is empty before moving toward one of the sofas. The velvet offers gentle resistance as his hand glides over the back, then molds perfectly around him as he sinks into the cushions. The silence in the room is equally comforting, allowing his body to completely relax for the first time that day. It’s so much easier to push all that guilt to the back of his head in a place like this.
There’s another beep from the fob reader, and Pepper pokes her head through the doorway, smiling when she sees Kai on one of the sofas. “You like it, huh?”
“What do you think?” Kai looks up at her. There’s a certain warmth to the cushions around him--not the sticky humidity of outside, but soothing and almost cozy, daring him to move. “What do I have to do to become a VIP?”
“Know the right people.” Pepper’s answer is logical, but a little deflating.
Kai raises an eyebrow at her. “Bel and Kam don’t count as ‘the right people’?”
Pepper matches Kai eyebrow for eyebrow, and comes the rest of the way into the room, closing the door behind her. “I guess that depends on who you ask.”
“I’m asking you.” The words come out a little faster than Kai wants them to. The golden and purple lights of the LED panels give her skin a glow that makes him swallow hard, and he keeps talking to avoid any potential awkward silences. “Why is this room purple?”
“Purple and gold are Kam’s favorite colors.” Pepper comes and sits next to him on the sofa. That citrus and mint scent of her tickles Kai’s nostrils. “Bel’s are blue and green, so that’s what the other room is decorated in.”
Kai cocks his head. “So this room looks like that Prince song and the other one looks like it belongs ‘Under the Sea’?”
Pepper gives him an amused look. “Don’t let either of them hear you say that.”
“What,” Kai is enjoying himself. “They don’t like Disney or 80s Pop music?”
“They don’t like it when their interior design is criticized.” Pepper clarifies.
“It’s not a criticism!” Kai protests. “Disney and Prince are iconic! They should be thanking me or anyone else who makes that reference.”
“You should tell them that, next time you see them.” Pepper deadpans, but she’s smiling at him. “Maybe when they see your enthusiasm they’ll give these rooms names--The Disney Room and The Prince Room.”
Kai rolls his eyes. “Hilarious.”
“They could do it if they like you enough,” Pepper points out. “You never know. All you have to do is ask.”
Kai’s smile fades. “Nah, I'll just appreciate the rooms as they are. Wouldn't want the latest ‘adoptive Manirat’ to get disowned over a decoration critique, right?”
“None of them are that petty,” Pepper reassures him. “Bel and Kam called you family today. That’s not a word they just toss around. When they say you’re an adoptive Manirat, they mean it literally.”
“I know.” But hearing that doesn’t make Kai feel any better.
“You know,” Pepper pushes. “But you don’t believe me?”
Kai’s head snaps up. “I never said that.”
“Not out loud.” Pepper moves a little closer to him. “You’ve been acting weird all night. Are you ok?”
There are so many ways to answer that question. Kai takes the easiest route and just shakes his head.
Pepper waits for him to say something, but when he doesn’t she speaks instead. “Is it because you saw my brother at the gym today?”
“Yes,” The pressure of Pepper’s knee against his is doing funny things to Kai’s pulse rate. He forces his brain to focus on Pepper’s question, rather than the blood flow to places he doesn’t want to think about. “But that’s only part of it.”
“I saw you arguing with Jet earlier,” Pepper’s voice is quiet. She’s not going to force Kai to say anything he doesn’t want to. Well, not enough that he’ll notice. “Is that the rest of it?”
Kai’s expression becomes defensive. “I told you Jet can’t tell me what to do.”
“Is that what you told him?” The question is rhetorical, but Pepper asks it anyway. “Kai, your brother has every right to be worried about you.”
“Took him a long ass time to figure that out.” Kai mutters.
Pepper looks confused. “I thought things were getting better between you two.”
“They are, I just--” Kai hesitates. “I’m used to doing things on my own. It’s what I’ve always done, and that’s always worked for me. But now--”
“You don’t like change,” Pepper finishes for him. “Nobody does, any more than they like asking for help. Running and hiding and figuring things out on your own isn’t helpful to anybody; and don’t tell me that’s not what you’re doing.”
Kai’s lips quirk. “You really think you know me that well?”
“I want to.” Pepper’s eyes lock with his.
Kai’s mouth goes completely dry, and the room seems to shrink. “You want to…what?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Pepper’s fingertips skim along Kai’s thigh. “I told you, I’ll be there when everything blows up in your face. I don’t say that to just anybody.”
Kai’s throat closes up, and he’s not sure why. His blood pounds so hard in his ears he’s surprised Pepper can’t hear it. Her scent curls around in his head as his lips mold carefully to hers. He can’t tell if the sparks exploding in front of his eyes come from the LED panels or inside his head. That’s not important.
What’s important is that Pepper doesn't pull back from his kiss.
She leans into it.
Every one of Pepper’s nerves comes to vibrating life. The sharp tang of basil, mint, and something else she can’t quite name makes her tongue tingle. The cushions sag obligingly beneath them, and Kai’s muscles tense as her hands trace up his arms until her fingers tangle in his hair, syncing his breath with hers. Luca’s words echo in the back of her head:
“Kai’s into you. So act on it. Or you’ll lose him.”
Kai’s own hands are tentative at first, but his touch on her skin sends a thrill through Pepper’s blood. His fingertips grow more confident, intent on memorizing every curve of her body. Pepper coaxes a further response from him, skimming her fingertips back down the nape of his neck and along his spine, stroking and exploring. She squeaks as his hands lock around her waist, pulling her up against him.
Kai figures out how to prolong the kiss by pulling her lower lip into his mouth, teasing her lips further apart. Pepper’s arms and legs lock right around him. Her tongue flicks against his before allowing them to tangle together. Pepper doesn’t just smell like citrus and mint. She tastes like that too—sweet, heady, and a little spicy, like her name.
Somehow, his shirt and hers have ended up on the floor. Both shiver as the air from the AC makes contact with bare skin. Hazel eyes meet dark brown ones. Two pairs of lips are equally swollen and skin glows under tangled hair.
“Has this ever happened in this room before?” is all Kai can think to say.
“Probably,” Pepper raises her eyebrows, but her eyes are full of amusement and something else. “I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘this’ wasn’t a regular occurrence.”
Kai’s own eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “Are you serious?”
“Of course,” Pepper is grinning. “Why else do you think these rooms are soundproof?”
“They’re—what?” Kai isn’t sure if that information makes him feel better or worse. One thing he does know is that he’s glad that he and Pepper are the only ones left at Nightshade.
Right?
“Kai,” Pepper is doing that thing where she reads his thoughts again. “The other room is empty. We can stay here as long as we like.”
Before Kai can say anything, an odd buzzing sound fills the room. Not the sound of a trapped insect, but more persistent and mechanical. Pepper slides off his lap as the buzzing sounds a second time. Apparently, not only had Kai’s shirt ended up on the floor, but his phone as well. There’s a single notification on the screen.
BEL: Got your LINE from Zone. Thanks for tonight. If you ever need anything, let me know.
“What did I tell you?” Pepper’s voice sounds from over his shoulder. “You’re officially an adoptive Manirat.”
Kai turns to look at her. She’s fully clothed again, and doesn’t look at all irritated by the interruption. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. That means he cares about you, and you should take him up on his offer.” Pepper runs her fingers through her hair in an effort to pull the tangles out. “About what’s on your phone.”
“It’s just a LINE from Bel,” Kai slides the phone into his pocket, then pulls on his shirt. “No big deal.”
“I’m talking about the OmniVentures information--”
“Don’t start.” Kai stops her before she can finish that sentence. “I’m not deleting anything.”
“I was going to ask you if you knew what it meant.” Pepper clarifies.
“Luca explained it a little bit, remember?” Kai pulls out his phone and stares down at the photo of his hand drawn infographic: a financial timeline of OmniVentures business rise, holdings and assets, with “SP’ and “where” and the question marks still written next to certain names and dates. He knows it won’t change no matter how many times he looks at it. “If I can find more financial records to explain what this even means, that would be great.”
Pepper’s eyebrows rise. “You drew it, and you don’t know what it means?”
“It’s from a file I found in the company archives.” Kai looks a little embarrassed. “Just because I can perfectly copy financial records and graphs doesn’t mean I can interpret them.”
“I can interpret them for you.” Pepper offers.


"20. Deception

Read from beginning "1. Ignored
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