The day had come. The day of the gala. Taeyeon sat on the chair, still as a log while the makeup artist painted her face. Tiffany had already brought her to a nail shop and gotten her nails painted. This would be the last stop before attending the gala but Taeyeon was already tired out and ready to go home. The gala was going to be a huge pain to endure.
Taeyeon turned to the voice. Oh holy mama. Tiffany. Her eyes fixed on the woman wrapped in a form-fitting, wine-red, sleeveless dress of lace and all sorts of curves. The makeup on the woman’s face was simple but brought out the best in her features. And her silky black hair. Pulled back into a simple yet elegant ponytail, it brought understated class to plate as well.
“How do I look?” the woman asked, spinning around to present a full view of herself to Taeyeon.
Oh holy naked back. There it was again. Tiffany’s naked back. Memories of the night she saw Tiffany’s naked back in the mirror came flooding into her mind. Memories, all sorts of memories. Memories she didn’t want to remember. Memories she had tucked away in a corner of her mind.
“Why aren’t you saying anything? Do I look bad?”
Taeyeon shook her head. “No, you don’t look bad.”
“Well? What then?”
Meeting Tiffany’s twinkling eyes, Taeyeon smiled. “You look beautiful.”
Tiffany giggled. “Really?”
“Will I be the hottest woman at the gala?”
Smiling indulgently, Taeyeon replied, “I will be second to no one else but you.”
More giggles. “You sweet talker.” Then, her face straightened up. “You’re not trying to get out of something, are you?”
“No. I’m just being honest.”
Tiffany skipped to Taeyeon, much to the amusement of the stylists surrounding them, and took Taeyeon’s hand. “I can’t wait for tonight.”
Taeyeon winced at the thought. “I can’t wait.” For tonight to be over.
Taeyeon arrived at the hotel with Tiffany, in a car driven by one of Mr. Hwang’s security personnel. Attending the gala as Tiffany’s friend meant that the door was opened for her by a valet. It was different. It would take a while to get used to.
“Ready?” asked Tiffany.
“Ready or not, I’m ready.”
Tiffany took Taeyeon’s hand. “Tonight, it’s my turn to protect you. Come on.”
With her hand in Tiffany’s, Taeyeon followed the woman she was supposed to protect into the hotel. The venue was full of people milling about, chatting over drinks and nuts. Taeyeon stayed by Tiffany’s side the entire time, smiling and talking only when necessary. When asked about her work, she smoothed over it, telling them she managed the security for Mr. Hwang’s company infrastructure. Most people nodded and moved on, as expected. Group after group, Tiffany led the way and covered a good quarter of the crowd. Then, it was time to find their seats.
Amidst the sea of tables in the ballroom, Taeyeon spotted the table they were assigned to and tugged on Tiffany’s hand.
“Lead the way, partner,” said Tiffany, her voice softer and huskier than usual.
Maintaining the stoic expression on her face, Taeyeon simply walked to the table and took a seat. Tiffany took the seat beside her, wearing a mystifying grin on her face and looked around at the other tables. She educated Taeyeon about the people nearby until a couple joined their table. It was a husband and wife pair, the man being a member of the board of directors, and Tiffany introduced them to each other. Gradually, the table was filled and the dinner event started.
Taeyeon was bored out of her wits even before the opening address was done. How was she going to get through this gala?
“Bored already?” Tiffany whispered in her ear, sending a curious shiver through her head, down to her neck.
“I’m not here to be interested,” Taeyeon whispered back.
The grin spreading across Tiffany’s lips was devilish. “I have a plan.”
“I brought a little bottle of something to help us get through all the speeches we’re gonna have to sit through tonight.”
Taeyeon didn’t like the sound of that. “Not a good plan.”
“You can’t stop me.”
Fixing a glare at Tiffany didn’t work. Taeyeon knew that once this spoilt Daddy’s girl got started on an idea, she wasn’t going to relent until it was realised. It was both an admirable and undesirable trait of hers. But in this case, more of the latter.
As the second address about altruism came to an end, Taeyeon grew more and more tensed. Tiffany was constantly casting winks in her direction, hinting at the devious plan she had in store ahead, and the last thing Taeyeon wanted was unnecessary trouble.
“My dear, what are you whispering to Miss Kim about?” asked Mr. Hwang.
Taeyeon smiled inwardly. Mr. Hwang would be a deterrent to Tiffany.
“Daddy, I’m bored. I wanna go out and take a walk.”
Mr. Hwang smiled. “Sure.” Taeyeon’s inner smile died an instant death. “Just make sure you bring Miss Kim with you.”
Tiffany’s grin was brilliant like a high-grade diamond. “That’s what I was talking to Taeyeon about.”
“Alright. But don’t be too long. Come back before the auction is over.”
“Got it, Daddy. We’ll be back soon.” With a glint in her eyes, Tiffany turned to Taeyeon and said, “Let’s go.”
Taeyeon had no choice but to go.
With heels clicking against the marble flooring and hair streaming in the draft, the ladies walked down the corridor. Tiffany was familiar with this hotel and went straight for the areas accessible to her.
“Fancy a sauna?” she asked the bodyguard in jest, her spirits flying high now that she had gotten herself out of the dreary speeches. She had every intention of returning when the auctions began—the thrill of bidding was akin to shopping for her.
“You must be joking.”
Tiffany looked at the bodyguard’s ever so stoic expression and sighed. “I know you’re on duty but can you lighten up a little? Come on, let’s hide in here.” She took the bodyguard’s hand and led her to the indoor swimming pool.
“You need a pass to get into this area,” said the bodyguard.
Tiffany simply smirked and pulled an access card from her clutch purse, flashing it in the bodyguard’s face. “Not a problem,” she snickered and tapped her card on the security panel. With a soft beep, the door was unlocked. Tiffany grinned as she stepped in. The empty world inside was theirs to conquer.
“What do you want to do in here?” the bodyguard asked.
“Let’s play a game and get to know each other better.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re gonna play rock paper scissors and the loser has to answer a question.”
The bodyguard grimaced. “I’m not good at rock paper scissors.”
Tiffany’s grin widened. “All the better for me then.” She stopped at a cushioned lounge chair on the long side of the pool. It was wide enough for four. “Get on,” she instructed, pointing at the middle. The bodyguard looked as though she was about to refuse but lifted a slender leg and crawled to the middle. Tiffany sat at the side and shifted in beside her, her dress riding up due to her movement. She made no move to pull her dress back into place, choosing to leave most of her leg bare as she settled in. Would the bodyguard notice and reach as she had, back at the stylist’s?
The bodyguard made no show of noticing it, however. Instead, she put on a solemn expression. “Let’s set a limit. Five rounds and we’re going back.”
“Only five rounds?” Tiffany pouted. “Ten.”
“Who’s the boss here?”
“My father’s not here. Anyway, all I have to do is ask and my father will say yes. You’re a smart cookie. You should know this by now.”
“Miss Hwang, I am not obliged to play this game with you. My duty is to protect you from harm.”
“But you will play with me. Fine, five rounds. Rock, paper, scissors!” Tiffany threw her fist out and cheered when the bodyguard pulled out two fingers to form a pair of scissors. “I win! I get to ask you a question. But first,” Tiffany pulled out a tiny canister from her clutch purse and handed it to the bodyguard, “drink up.”
“Is it alcohol?”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Would I bother to put water and bring it all the way here? Of course it’s alcohol.”
“I can’t drink when I’m on duty.”
“Taeyeon, we’re at a gala. Nothing is going to happen to me.”
The bodyguard shook her head, refusing the canister again. “No, please don’t make me drink.”
Tiffany sighed. This bodyguard could be as stubborn as a mule when it came to her job. “If you won’t drink, you’ll have to answer a question and do a dare.”
“You’re no fun at all,” Tiffany grumbled.
“Yes, I’m no fun. You’re better off back at the ballroom.”
“I’m asking you the question no matter what.” Tiffany grabbed the bodyguard’s hand just in case she was going to run. “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“I have an elder brother and a younger sister.”
“Aha. You’re the middle child. That makes sense.”
“What makes sense?”
“That’s a question. You have to win to get an answer.”
With glee in her eyes, Tiffany shrugged. “Rock, paper, scissors!” She grinned when her ‘paper’ met with the bodyguard’s ‘rock’. “I win.” Tiffany rubbed her hands with a smirk. “Where did you have your first kiss? Be specific.”
The bodyguard snorted through her nose. “My school gate.”
“In front of all your friends?”
The bodyguard grinned. “That’s a question.”
Tiffany rock, Taeyeon scissors. Tiffany lifted her arms in victory while the bodyguard groaned.
“What was the most daring, crazy thing you’ve ever done?”
The bodyguard frowned. “Mmm . . .” She scratched her chin. “I bungee jumped once. At Yuldong Park.”
“That’s . . . not as wild as I thought you would be, being an ex-gangster and all.”
“Were you expecting to hear stories of my fights?”
“Or stories of your exciting days as the gang leader’s girlfriend.”
“Why are you interested to know?”
Tiffany tried to look as nonchalant as she could. “It’s not every day a person gets to know a girl who dated a gang leader.”
“It’s not really something I want to talk about.”
“Was it unpleasant?”
“I would prefer to leave those things in the past.” The bodyguard made to move. “It’s time to go back.”
Tiffany inched closer and wrapped her arms around the bodyguard’s arm. “I wanna stay here a little longer. And we have two more rounds.”
The bodyguard stopped moving. “Did you hear something?” she whispered.
Tiffany stilled and listened but all she could hear was her heart thumping. “No.”
“I’ll check it out. Stay here.”
A stab of fear pierced Tiffany’s chest. “I’ll follow you.”
The bodyguard patted her arm. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.” She got off the lounge chair in record time and moved to the door. “Stay right there.”
Taeyeon peeped out into the corridor but there was no one there. She was certain she had heard the racking of a semi-automatic pistol just a moment ago. It was a distinctive sound and hard to miss but where had it come from?
“Did you see anything?” a voice that Taeyeon knew to be Tiffany’s whispered from behind.
Taeyeon whirled around to face the woman. “We need to go now,” she said urgently, grabbing Tiffany’s hand.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Taeyeon froze. The deep voice came from behind and it was anything but friendly.
“If you don’t want to be shot, put your hands behind your back and keep your mouth shut.”
Taeyeon fixed her eyes on Tiffany’s trying to calm the woman who had gone pale. She obeyed the instructions and willed Tiffany to do the same but the woman seemed to have been shocked into inaction. She could feel a restraint going around her wrists and stiffened when a blindfold covered her eyes but managed not to make a sound. Another pair of footsteps approached them. How many abductors were there? Taeyeon needed to know.
“Do it. Now,” said the second voice, gruffer than the first.
A sharp point pricked her arm. And that was the last bit of consciousness she could remember.