Monty, Gordon, and Chris each took a turn throwing darts at the balloon board; Not only did Gordon only hit two balloons, he accidentally punctured holes in the board with his superhuman strength. His score added up to a hundred, so he and Cassidy were going through the prize basket while the porter took his turn. Chris managed to hit just one balloon, but it was worth eighty points, so he was able to win a pair of foam swords. He and Alexa were parrying blows back and forth when Monty stepped up to the stall. He made two attempts at the bullseye–only one of which was close enough to count toward the points–and his third dart hit a balloon in the sixty points ring. He rummaged through the bin before he chose his prize: a cute, plush alpaca.
“For you,” he offered the adorable toy to Lizzie. She gasped and accepted it happily, her lips stretched in a wide smile from ear to ear. She hugged the alpaca’s long, soft neck and glanced up to thank him–
Monty’s head was lowered to hers, and his cheeks were the shade of strawberries as his emerald eyes widened. “Oh! Uh, I–”
He must have been trying to kiss the top of my head or something, she realized. Alexa confirmed her suspicion with a swift nod and a wink; heat flooded Lizzie’s cheeks. Oh.
Not wanting him to feel out of place, Lizzie reached up with her hand and cradled his face, met his gaze, and stood on her tip-toes.
He leaned down the rest of the way, and as their lips met, a tingling sensation ran up Lizzie’s spine and abdomen. It was like electricity shot up through her to create a spark between them; their lips molded together in a gentle kiss, and for just that one moment, Lizzie forgot about everything. The halfway house, the kids in her care, her troubled past, her family left behind. All were gone, swallowed along with her fear.
There was only Monty.
Their moment was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. The two broke away, embarrassed, only to find that the young man who had made the impatient sound was not of their group.
“Tony!” Monty grinned. “You made it, cuz. Where’s Vince?”
From what Lizzie could recall, the royal advisor was only a year younger than her. His eyes were a similar vibrant green to Monty’s, but they seemed to darken as they regarded her. His black hair was chin-length and slicked back. He wore a navy shirt and black gym shorts, and he appeared slender compared to the muscular prince.
“He’s not feeling good, so he stayed home,” Tony shrugged. “I just came to check things out, then I’m heading back.”
“C’mon, stick around for a while,” Monty insisted.
“The skate show’s about to start, if you’re interested,” Lizzie offered the teenager.
“The what?” he asked, as if the very notion seemed ridiculous. Lizzie fought the urge to frown. What’s his problem?
“Skate show. A few of my kids have been practicing some skateboarding tricks, and they wanted to show them off.”
“Sounds fun!” Gordon remarked, just as Cassie gasped, “Cool!”
“Aw, man! You should’ve told me, Liz!” Chris whined as their group made their way across the lot. The carnival was packed with families from the colony, but as far as Lizzie could tell, the volunteers were handling the volume well. “I would’ve brought my board and showed ‘em how it’s done!”
“Maybe next weekend,” Lizzie offered. “We’re thinking of doing this every weekend in May.”
“Nice!” the porter shouted as he shot both fists in the air in celebration. Alexa laughed at his outburst and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow.
Monty had taken Lizzie’s hand again as they meandered through the crowd after their friends. “Your kids, huh?”
The human blushed. “Yeah, I know how it sounds… But I’ve already grown attached to all of them. I’m used to having a big family and younger siblings. If I can give these kids even a fraction of what Clint gave me, then I’ll take in as many as I can.”
Monty’s hand squeezed hers at the mention of her older brother. “If you could go back to Jesup for your other siblings, would you?”
She met his uncertain expression with a fire in her eyes. “Yes.”
The skate show went off without a hitch. Aubrey and Angel started off the event, showing off their tricks one after the other. They hopped off the ramp just as Gavin and Tyler took their places, and the two were faster and more daring, narrowly missing one another as they zoomed past. It wasn’t until Ali’s set began that Monty’s hand tensed in Lizzie’s grip.
She glanced up; his green eyes were unfocused, staring off at nothing in particular. She shot a look at Alexa, who appeared just as puzzled. Alexa, if you can hear me–is he talking to you?
The psychic shook her head and pulled out her phone. While she missed Tawni, it was good to know that her friend kept busy fixing up old electronics. The entire court had been gifted phones courtesy of the teenager, which made it simple for Alexa to text Lizzie her response:
Territory check. We have trespassers.
Lizzie’s eyes were wide as her head shot back up to Alexa, only to find her eyes flashing violet. Chris and Tony were also looking toward Monty, gauging his reaction as well as awaiting his orders.
When Monty finally refocused on his surroundings and turned his attention to Lizzie, he was apologetic. His aura, which had been flooded with an abundance of pink throughout their date, was now smeared with lemon yellow. A new color emerged from within the fruity shade that she had never seen on him: a vibrant red-orange. “Hey, I’m sorry. I need you to cut the carnival short.”
“O-Okay,” she stammered. “What ha–?”
“Now,” he insisted in a stern tone. Lizzie was taken aback; the man who stood before her was no longer her boyfriend, or her first love. He was royalty, a leader. My superior.
She nodded and pulled her hand away from his, intimidated. “Yeah, okay.”
Then she pushed through the crowd surrounding the skate show, climbed the ladder that led up the backside of one of the ramps, and she informed the kids that they needed to stop the show and head back home. The cheering audience had already dissolved into befuddled whispers when she announced:
“Everyone, there’s been an emergency, and the angels are asking that we cut the carnival short for today. Just head back home as quickly and as safely as you can, and if everything goes well we can resume tomorrow.”
It didn’t take much to disperse the crowd; the angels who were among them joined the older teens in funneling the colonists out of the area and back to their cars. Lizzie had Gavin run to inform everyone at the café, and she busied herself with gathering the volunteers and mentally checking off names in her head.
Ruben, Zara, Arthur, Eliseo…
“I can’t find Gabby!” Gavin shrieked as he sprinted toward Lizzie and the other tenants. “She wasn’t at the café or in our apartment.”
Lizzie couldn’t believe her ears. “What do you mean? I told her to stay there until I came with the next shift at noon! I-I told her–”
“Mona says that she left with Benji like five minutes before you shut everything down,” Gavin huffed out between breaths. “Something about Koji needing to talk to them.”
Lizzie wanted to be furious, but she knew the rage would do nothing for their situation. “Okay, calm down, Gav. You, Kaine, and Ruben are in charge of getting everyone back to their apartments. On your way there, tell Mona to head this way. We’ll find her.”
Gavin swallowed over the lump in his throat and nodded. “O-Okay. Thanks, Lizzie.”
The sophomore began carrying out her orders as Lizzie spun around to face Monty and the angels in the middle of the street. Ricky, Natalie, Frankie, Sal, Connor, and Sam had joined their leaders after Alexa had summoned them. “Is this everyone?”
“Cici and Remiel are making sure all the colonists are in their homes,” Monty said, distracted. A bolt of lightning struck the asphalt behind the younger angels, leaving a group of their elders in its wake. “Go help the kids, Lizzie. We can take it from here.”
Her brow furrowed. “Hold on a minute, Monty! Gabby, Benji, and Koji are still out there somewhere. We need to find them–”
“Lizzie,” Monty’s tone was stern as his eyes refocused on her. “My job is to protect the colony. You’re a colonist, so you need to go back to the complex.”
“My job is to protect all these kids,” Lizzie argued. “You can differentiate between insiders and outsiders, right? Just point me in the direction of the three people who aren’t inside a home, and I’ll gladly drag all three of them to my complex by the ears until you’ve taken care of the issue.”
Monty shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that, baby. I can differentiate between spirits, humans, and animals within my territory. I can tell you how many humans are out of their homes, but I can’t figure out which of them are colonists and which are outsiders.”
Mona had joined them just as Lizzie rebuked, “Then point me in the direction of the humans who are still outside!”
“Lizzie, I think we should get back,” Mona whispered. Her eyes were on the council members–particularly the man who stepped forward.
“Montague, send your girlfriend home so we can come up with a plan,” barked Matteo Alagona. His aura was almost entirely red-orange, and his moss-green eyes softened a little as they met Mona’s, though Lizzie couldn’t discern any change in his grim expression and tone. “Mona, take her home, now.”
“Lizzie–” Mona took hold of Lizzie’s arm, only for the teen to wrench her arm away.
“No!” Lizzie shouted. “I’m not going home until I find Gabby. If none of you will help me, then I’ll track her down myself.”