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Freestyle: Chapter 27

Present Day

“Good luck,” Clancy says, squeezing my hand as I hover in the hallway outside studio nine, wishing I was taking krumping lessons with her instead of bachata lessons under Xeno’s tutelage.

“I’m going to need a lot more than luck,” I mutter, knowing that this lesson is going to be a special kind of torture.

Since my phone call with David, I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep Lena safe. I even considered running away with her, but both David and Jeb’s reach is too far, and they’d catch up with us eventually. Running isn’t an option, it never was, and neither is begging Madame Tuillard to switch my classes, not if I’m going to keep my sister safe. There is no alternative but to make the Breakers love me again, or at least trust me enough to tell me what Jeb’s up to so that I can feed the information back to David. Whilst I’m not foolish enough to believe that will happen at the drop of a hat, I know that our friendship was once built on our mutual love of dance. It’s the only logical place to start.

Giving Clancy a quick hug and forcing aside the gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach at what I must do, I head inside the studio. The space is already filled with students, mostly girls, all of whom are starry-eyed over Xeno. Right now an attractive blonde girl is talking to him. She keeps touching his arm and laughing at what he’s saying. I hold back my sudden urge to go storming over there and yank her backwards by her hair, instead I hang up my gym bag and find an empty spot in the room and start warming up like the rest of the students.

After a couple of minutes, Xeno looks at his watch, and indicates for the blonde to join the rest of us. She saunters off, but not before squeezing his forearm and sashaying away sexily. I roll my eyes, gritting my jaw to prevent myself from saying something I shouldn’t.

“You know, you really don’t stand a chance, street rat.”

I bark out a laugh, looking over my shoulder at Tiffany. She’s like a fucking wasp buzzing around my head, irritating the fuck out of me, and waiting for the perfect moment to inject me with her venom.

“And I suppose you do? I’m not sure that pretty blonde thinks the same, not to mention every other female in this school and a few of the men. Just face it, Tiffany, the competition’s steep, so why don’t you just give up and go back to fucking rando’s you pick up in clubs.”

Tiffany’s scowl deepens, her mouth popping open, but Xeno coughs to get our attention, preventing her from coming back with a suitably cutting remark. I look at him in the afternoon sunlight as it filters through the windows. He’s doused in a glow that makes his black hair chocolate and his tawny skin golden, a mythical god with angry eyes and a defined jaw that’s sharp enough to cut glass. Just like every other girl here, I imagine running my finger against the stubbled edge and losing blood just for the pleasure. Xeno’s always had the ability to make me bleed. My heart hasn’t stopped dripping blood since that night he refused to kiss me and asked me to choose. I wonder if he’s ever regretted that decision.

“Last week was just the taster session. Today, we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of the dance. You’re all here because you love bachata. It intrigues you, right?”

The class murmurs in agreement but I smirk, unable to keep my derision in. Yeah, right. The majority of the people are here because they want to fuck Xeno. He’s everything you could possibly want; fit, beautiful to look at, an expert in his speciality, and edged in danger. I’m betting most of the girls in here are already fucking wet.

“This week I want you paired up, because this isn’t a dance that can easily be taught without a partner. Steps can be learnt individually, but the feeling of this dance, it’s truth, comes in the arms of another. The connection between dance partners is as important as the steps. More so.” He looks at me again, and for a split second I swear he’s trying to tell me something.

“Did you hear that, street rat, the connection is more important. Xeno chose me to dance with him last week. Tell me that doesn’t mean something,” Tiffany snarls under her breath.

I flinch, not wanting to give credence to her words, but knowing from experience that she’s probably right. Xeno never chose me as his partner.

Never.

Except last week when he’d held me against his body and pressed his thumb in the middle of my back. It hadn’t lasted long, but the connection I’d felt, the charge between us had been electric. He’d have to be dead not to notice.

Maybe that’s the problem… He notices. He’s always noticed. I remember those words he said to me back when I was fifteen, the night I admitted my feelings to the Breakers.

“I’m not going to kiss you, Tiny. Not because I don’t want to, but because someone has to keep their head tonight, and I guess that someone is going to be me.”

No matter the circumstance when we were kids, he never stepped over the boundary he drew between us, never acting on any feelings because of some deep sense of responsibility that I’ve never really understood. Yet last week he kissed me at Rocks in front of the whole damn nightclub, knowing my situation with Jeb. He kissed me understanding that it would get back to his boss, back to David. The question is why?

“You can’t deny it can you? You saw how we danced together,” Tiffany continues, her words making tiny cuts in my armour, scarring me, no matter how much I wish they didn’t.

“You’re deluded,” I growl.

“He practically fucked me. You can look at him like all you wanna do is ride his cock, street rat, but we all know that someone like him would never choose someone like you,” she growls into my ear.

Without knowing it, Tiffany has hit a nerve and I react. Stepping backwards I slam my heel onto her foot. “Fuck you, Tiffany.”

“Ow! You bitch!” she yells, lifting her foot and hopping on one leg. Good. I hope I’ve broken a few toes.

“Oops,” I respond, lifting my hand to cover my mouth in mock horror. “I’m so sorry, it was an accident.”

“You fucking liar!”

Xeno strides over and looks between us. He grinds his teeth together on the cusp of doing something that could get him fired. He’s pissed. Well, what does he expect? It’s bad enough I have to put up with Tiffany making a claim on him, let alone the rest of the fucking academy. A girl can only take so much. I’ve been telling myself for years I hate him, but I’ve only been lying to myself. I still feel that throat squeezing kind of possession when it comes to Xeno. I want to do bad things to anyone who steps near him. I want him to do bad things to me. Swallowing the bitter stones in my throat, I try to put a lid on my feelings.

Dropping to the floor in front of Tiffany, I watch as he wraps his hands around her ankle and gently presses his thumbs over her foot. “Wiggle your toes,” he says.

Tiffany does as he asks, giving me a satisfied smile the whole time. Fucking bitch.

Xeno stands, addressing Tiffany. “I don’t think anything’s broken, but you might want to sit this lesson out.”

“I’m not sure I can walk on it right now,” Tiffany wheedles, milking this for all its worth. I should’ve stomped harder. Next time.

“Pen, pair up with Niall,” he states, wrapping an arm around Tiffany’s waist and helping her over to the front of the studio. The smile she shoots over her shoulder at me makes my blood boil. I’m about two steps away from losing my head. If it wasn’t for Niall distracting me, I might have.

“You’re not going to stand on my foot if I piss you off, are you?” Niall asks, only half-joking.

“It was an accident,” I respond with a shrug.

He looks at me warily with pretty cornflower blue eyes and dimples in both cheeks that I would’ve found cute if I wasn’t completely distracted by the fact that Xeno has yet again cast me aside in favour of another girl, just like he always did when we were kids. The pretty blonde who was flirting with him earlier is now up the front of the class standing next to him, looking smug as fuck. Me and Tiffany aren’t the only ones scowling now.

“As I mentioned last week, bachata has a basic four step timing,” Xeno begins, motioning for the pretty blonde to come closer. He doesn’t hold her close like he did with me that morning in the dance studio, or like he did with Tiffany the other day. Instead he holds her hands in the open dance position with their bodies arm’s length apart.

“Like this, one, two, three, tap. Five, six, seven, tap. It can be danced in the open position as we’re doing now,” he explains, keeping space between himself and the blonde as they continue to showcase the steps. “Or in the closed position, like this.” Xeno draws the blonde against his chest, placing his thigh between hers, holding her right hand in his whilst his other hand rests on the middle of her back.

I watch with fascination at the way his hips sway and the muscles in his arm tense and release with every step. There’s a fierce concentration on his face, as he guides his partner in a sensual, slow dance, that not only brings a flush to my cheeks, but to everyone else’s in the studio. God, this dance is so beautiful. He’s beautiful.

“Fuck sake,” I mutter, drawing attention from Niall who frowns. I ignore him. I don’t need to explain my reaction to anyone, let alone someone I’ve only just met.

“Over the years the dance has evolved, mixing in tango and salsa steps but never letting go of its origins,” Xeno continues, still moving with the blonde. “The music is just as important as the dance, and often tells the dramatic story of love…” Xeno steps to the side, moving his partner so that her back is to the class now. He catches my eye just at the point he pulls her tighter against his chest, and drops her backwards, “And heartbreak.”

The blonde giggles as he sweeps her back up and drags his gaze from mine, schooling his features into an emotionless state.


By the time the class finishes, I’m about ready to murder a bitch. The blonde, Saskia, has well and truly thrown herself at Xeno and I swear to fuck there’s a damp patch blooming in the crotch of her strawberry red leggings. In fact, there’s a distinct smell of arousal mixed with sweat and pheromones as though all the women in the room and a couple of the blokes have wet underwear too.

It pisses me the fuck off.

Especially since Xeno made his way around the studio and danced with every single one of the girls during the lesson bar me. Never fucking me.

Anger bubbles dangerously inside like a volcano ready to spew lava and hot rocks. I know I should be figuring out ways to get back into the Breakers good graces again, but right now all I can think about is giving Xeno a piece of my mind.

Shoving my sweatshirt into my gym bag and growling at Niall when he says goodbye, I plonk myself onto the bench at the back of the class and wait for the thirsty bitches to leave. Tiffany and Saskia are the last to go, both of them lingering to get Xeno’s attention. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction when he ignores their attempts at flirting. Eventually they get the picture and leave but not before throwing daggers my way.

“The class is over,” Xeno says, not bothering to even look up.

There’s a tautness around his shoulders and stiffness in the way he moves, but still he refuses to engage further which is ironic given he forced me to attend this class. When he pulls off his t-shirt, wiping away at the sweat on his face before spraying some deodorant under his arms. It’s such a simple, every day act, but it reminds me so much of those blissful few days I spent at his house when we were kids after that awful confrontation with David. Spending time with the Breakers and playing happy family, even if it was only for a short time, was one of my happiest memories, actually. Not that I ever told him that.

Perhaps now’s the time.

“Xeno…” I begin, losing some of the anger on the back of those sweet memories.

“What do you want, Pen?” he growls, grabbing a clean, black t-shirt from his gym bag and pulling it on over his head. I bite down on my lip at his sheer masculinity. He’s broad-shouldered, not as wide as Dax but bigger than York and Zayn, and has a slim waist with strong arms. When I look at his reflection in the mirror, my mouth dries at his defined six pack and beautiful v-muscle.

“What do you want, Pen?” he repeats.

I flick my gaze upwards. I want you to dance with me. I want you to forgive me. I want you to fucking fight for me… That’s what I want to say. Instead, I ask him something else.

“Do you remember that time when I stayed at your house?”

Spinning on his feet so he faces me, he narrows his eyes. I ignore the harshness of his stare, and the sharp glint in his emerald orbs, reminding me of the broken bottle he’d once used to cut a kid who wronged him. “Where’s this going?”

“Stop answering every question with another question. Do you remember or not?” I repeat.

“Yes, of course I fucking remember.” He swings his bag up onto his shoulder and strides towards the door. I rush forward, getting there before he does, kicking it shut and blocking his way. If he can do it, then why the fuck can’t I?

“It was one of the happiest times of my life…”

“What’s the point of all this?” he asks, running his gaze up and down my length, feigning boredom when really I see the restless, baying beast just beneath the surface. When we were kids that beast would come out in a number of ways, aggression when dancing, sarcasm in a serious conversation, humour to disguise desire, withdrawal when everything got too much. I wonder, if pushed, what it would look like now.

“What is the point?” I muse out loud, laughing a little. “Christ, I don’t know Xeno. I suppose I was trying to work out who the man is that stands before me now. I’m trying to work out if the boy I loved is still there within him.”

“Well, I can help you with that. That boy is fucking gone.” He hunches over, nostrils flaring like a bull ready to impale its tormentor. I nod, wishing he’d just let out his anger in dance like the others did. Except that’s never been Xeno’s style. There’s always been something that holds him back from really sharing himself with me.

“Why are you here, Xeno?” I wish he would just tell me the truth and save us both the heartache.

Tell me what David wants to know. Tell me so I can keep Lena safe.

For a moment I actually consider being truthful, completely truthful, then I’m reminded that Jeb would kill me and Lena for it before David could even get his hands on me. So I swallow down my truths and push a little harder.

“Why are you here, Xeno?” I repeat.

He scoffs, shaking his head. “I thought I made that clear at Rocks.”

“So you want to punish me, is that it?”

“That would imply that I actually give a shit about you. That any of us do.”

“Yet, you’re all here at Stardom Academy. Every night I wonder if I’m going to find another one of you lying on my bed waiting to fucking pounce.”

“What are you talking about?”

“York broke into my flat last Friday, just to fucking mess with me…”

“He did what?” Xeno snaps, but I don’t explain further, he can go ask York himself.

“You’ve coerced me into attending these bachata lessons,” I continue. “Today I’ve had to endure watching you dance with every fucking girl bar me, just like when we were kids. You forced me to battle Dax knowing what that would do to me, and then paired me up with him just to dig the fucking knife in. You kissed me at Rocks knowing that would get back to Jeb.

Why, if not to punish me?”

“I told you, we’re here to reclaim what’s ours…” he answers automatically, as though that vague, bullshit response is enough of an explanation.

“Reclaim what’s yours?” I push, cocking my head to the side as I rest my hand on his chest. Could he mean me? Or is that just wishful, desperate thinking on my part? Xeno stiffens at my touch, but he doesn’t step away. In fact, he steps closer, crowding me. His gym bag drops to the floor as he lifts his hands and slams them against the door on either side of my head.

“Oh, I see. You think we’re back to reclaim you, Pen.” He barks out a laugh. “Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t want you back when we were kids, and I sure as fuck don’t want you now.” Shadows flitter across his face in his attempt to dissolve our memories into charcoal and dust, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I remind him of the fire that was always there between us.

“Bullshit! I have a good memory, Xeno. I remember what you’d said to me. I remember how you looked at me when you didn’t think I noticed. I remember the jealousy in your eyes when York, Zayn and Dax kissed me. I’m not a fool. You loved me too. Maybe not now, but back then you did.”

“Back then I told you what you wanted to hear because you were my friend, because I felt sorry for you, nothing more.”

“And now?” I ask, humouring him because I know that’s crap.

“Now,” he leans over, pressing his lips against my ear. “You mean shit to me.”

“That kiss told me otherwise,” I retort, grinding my teeth and swallowing the bitter taste of rejection and the sharp shards of his hate.

“That kiss was a fucking warning, Pen.”

“A warning?”

“Yes, a warning,” he hisses, sending my blood boiling.

“Kissing me was a bad fucking idea. You of all people should know that.”

“Oh, you think Jeb didn’t know?” Tipping his head back, Xeno laughs cruelly. “He’s the one who ordered me to do it.”

“What? Why?”

“It was a test, Pen.” He slams his mouth shut, yanking back his hands, and stepping away from me.

“A test?” I press, stepping into his space, not letting him off so easily.

Xeno scrapes a hand over his face, schooling his features into a mask. “This conversation is over. Get the fuck out of my way.”

He’s shaking now, visibly trembling, and I don’t understand it at all. Not one for letting anything go and throwing caution to the wind, I line my body up against his. “What test, Xeno?” I ask, tipping my head back to look up at him.

For a moment he just stares down at me, and all I see is conflict burning brightly in his green orbs. When his hands come up to grip my face in his palms, a cool kind of calm seems to wash over him, like the current of a salt water lake caressing a stone on its banks.

“I was the only one who never kissed you. Never crossed the fucking line. Jeb believes it was because I cared too much.”

“He was right…”

“No, he was wrong. Just like you are now.”

“That’s bullshit. Tell yourself what you need to if it makes you feel any better, but I know how you felt about me. How you still feel about me. It’s so obvious now.”

“You’re delusional.” He glares at me, his fingers gripping my face harshly. “I kissed you because you mean nothing to me. To prove to Jeb that I don’t give a shit. Kiss you, don’t kiss you. Mess with you, don’t mess with you. We’re here for one thing and one thing only and it has fuck all to do with you! You can fight me on it all you like, but it won’t change the fact that you’re insignificant, Pen.”

“So insignificant that you threatened to kill Frederico if he came near me again when we were kids? So insignificant that when you caught Zayn and me making out on your bed when we were younger you watched us both with fucking love and lust in your eyes? So insignificant that you couldn’t keep your hands off me in the dance studio last week? So insignificant that you’re full of rage right now? Stop lying to yourself.”

“Frederico was a thorn in the Skin’s side and was dealt with accordingly, it really had shit all to do with you. There might’ve been lust in my eyes when I watched you and Zayn, but it was the equivalent of watching a porno. I was a boy and it was a good show. As for dancing with you last week, it was nothing more than me fucking with your head…”

“And the anger? If you really don’t give a shit about me, why so goddamn angry?”

I’m full of rage because you’re in my damn way.”

He lets me go with a shove and a well of anger rises up within me because I know. I know he’s lying. You don’t get to love someone as long as I have and not know when they’re lying to you. What’s that saying: he doth protest too much? Right now Xeno is full of shit. He fucking reeks of it. Reaching for him as he tries to sidestep around me, my fingers curl into his t-shirt, scrunching the material in my hands.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe what you like, Pen. You could offer yourself up to Zayn, York and Dax, and I wouldn’t give a shit,” he snaps, a cruel smile carving across his face.

“Be careful what you wish for, Xeno,” I warn, before slamming my lips against his and kissing him with all the hurt, anger, hate, lust, and love I can muster. This is me fighting back. This is me showing him what he missed out on when we were kids, and what the other Breakers experienced when he was too fucking stubborn to do the same.

He steps back, trying to pull away, but I chase him, grasping the back of his head and forcing my kiss on him, forcing my tongue inside his mouth. Just like he did to me at Rocks, I’m stealing a kiss now. I don’t care if he wants it or not. I don’t care if he’s disgusted, pissed off, indifferent, angry. He needs to know that I’m not to be fucked with. I refuse to let him pretend that I meant nothing, that I mean nothing now.

refuse.

When his lips finally respond, when his arms wrap around my back and his fingers dig painfully into my hips as he clings on tightly, like he never, ever wants to let me go, I break the kiss even though it’s the last thing I want to do. Releasing him, I step back, my lips as bruised as my heart.

“Maybe you should have accepted what I was offering back when we were kids. Maybe if you had kissed me like the others did then none of this would’ve happened.”

I realise how stupid that sounds, that I’m suggesting we’d all be together now if only he’d given in and kissed me, but it’s always felt like he was the missing link. That if he’d allowed himself to fall like the others had before it was too late, then we wouldn’t be where we are now. That together we could’ve dealt with my brother and Jeb, somehow.

“A kiss wouldn’t have changed a thing. This kiss doesn’t change a damn thing. You’re still…”

“Don’t! Don’t ever say that what we shared was insignificant,” I cut in, refusing to let him say that damn word one more time. “Because one day, Xeno, you’re going to kiss me with love and when that day comes, we’ll both be fucked and there won’t be a damn thing I can do about it.”

Turning on my feet, I storm out of the studio, leaving him with the one truth I want to run from. This isn’t going to end well for the Breakers or for me, but I have no fucking choice. Lena’s life is under threat and I won’t allow her to be David’s next victim. I won’t.


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