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Nothing was more amusing at these Christmas parties than watching the games that sprung up unexpectedly. It started so innocently really, at least to the view of an outsider. A small group of single girls was seeing how many boys they could catch under the mistletoe. They were playing smart though; staying away from any male with a temper or those who were taken, officially or not.

Adaline knew for a fact that Ryker and Ani had planned on so many bunches of mistletoe on purpose so the game wasn’t so innocent to her. She was positive that Ryker had planted the idea in one of the girls heads and were cracking up in some corner with Ani over the whole situation.

Giggling into her cup, she couldn’t say she wasn’t enjoying the sight either. There was one single male left for them to catch and whoever did manage to catch him would be the winner of the little game. Unfortunately for them, someone had warned their prey and he was expertly avoiding them.

A wicked smile curved her lips as Marlon turned sharply down another hall. He wanted no part in the little game but apparently hadn’t gotten fed up enough to leave just yet. That or he knew that he’d get crap for months over it if he left before the gifts were passed around. It was the first Christmas party that included everyone who had escaped the wretched island, not just their little group that kept close together.

It wasn’t long until the pack of females regrouped in the main room and looked to be discussing a new plan. If Adaline wasn’t avoiding being caught under the small little branches herself, she would have loved to get closer and find out what exactly it was they were planning. However, it wasn’t long until they disappeared again and she was left to giggle into her cup as they hunted for the elusive Kestrel.

Now, she and Marlon had never really spent much time together. They’d been like oil and water when they were working towards the escape and it was only recently that they figured out their mutual interests in coding and games. Even though they weren’t constantly at each other’s throats in the same way they had been didn’t really mean that she couldn’t enjoy watching him be tortured a little bit.

On his fifth pass by her a little over a half hour later, her amusement had waned though. She felt a little bad as he seemed to get more and more frustrated with the whole thing. It didn’t matter what he or anyone had to say about the little game, the other girls had turned into determined bloodhounds. Marlon was the only guy at the whole party at this point who hadn’t been caught under the mistletoe at least once.

Hell, even Tucker hadn’t been exempt from the stupid tradition. It had been one of the highlights to watch the way Winny had turned red as she shyly kissed Tucker’s cheek. It was so sickeningly cute she almost wanted to gag.

Making up her mind, Adaline strolled towards the kitchen. By now, Marlon had found a pattern that the girls hadn’t and she knew his next pass would be through the back hallway to avoid the crowd where the girls were lurking.

True to the pattern, he appeared at the end of the hall and she grabbed his arm before he could pass by.

“Adaline, I’m not in the mood for this right now.”

“So you prefer to keep running around all night? By all means, continue then.” Her fingers let go of his sleeve and she shrugged nonchalantly as she continued towards the kitchen. When she heard him sigh behind her, she grinned. After all their fights, she knew that sigh anywhere and knew it meant he wasn’t happy about it but he was going to see what she wanted anyway.

“You’ve known about the game?” Marlon’s tone was accusatory, like she should have told him hours ago about the whole thing. Maybe she should have but it would have ruined all of the fun she had watching it. They’d even gotten Ben through some fascinating moves.

“Of course,” she laughed, making herself another drink and holding out one for him. Between the two of them, he probably needed it more than she did. “You’re the last one on the list, the metaphorical jewel in the crown. At least three of them are tied so they’re using you as the winner take all.”

“Well, don’t I feel special,” Marlon grumbled, sipping from the cup and looking around suspiciously. Since most of the food was in the dining room, the kitchen stayed relatively empty for most of the night. That didn’t mean the ones doing the chasing wouldn’t be coming around soon.

“There is a way to make them stop,” she pointed out, her eyes twinkling in amusement when his suspicious gaze landed on her. So her ideas didn’t always go as planned but at least this time she knew exactly what needed to be done to get him out of his predicament. “Just something to think on as you run away from them again.”

As if on cue, the raised voices of the girls came echoing down the hall. She raised her cup in a mock salute as he tensed. If he wanted to be a brat then she would just go back to watching him run. Maybe she would even give hints on his patterns to group. It was the least she could do when he was making it so difficult for them.

A hand closed around her wrist though and she found herself being tugged along for the ride. Her drink left behind on the counter, probably on its side from the surprise force that Marlon used to bring her along, she was tugged down another hallway and past other party goers that had no clue as to what was going on.

“Marlon,” she tugged on her wrist slightly, narrowing her eyes when his grip only got tighter. Repeating his name again, with a bit more force behind her tug, she frowned up at him when he finally stopped. “I don’t really appreciate being dragged around. They aren’t after me.”

“How do I make them stop?”

The question came so suddenly that she paused mid-rant to stare up at him. Though she had offered it, she never expected him to actually take her up on it. Regardless of the fact they were getting along better than they had before, she didn’t think he would even entertain the notion of her helping him.

“Do you trust me?” The question spilled out of her mouth before she could fully stop it but she didn’t let him avoid it either. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist in return to keep him from escaping. All she needed was one little sign and then she’d worry less about his reaction after she was done.

The small nod he gave her was good enough and she turned into the one tugging him along. This time, it was in the direction of his pursuers though. However, they weren’t her main concern just yet. She needed the right spot for this little plan to work. When she did find it though, she didn’t have to wait long.

“You don’t get to be mad at me later,” she warned, turning to face him again. There was a noise off to the side, down at the other end of the hall. Once she was sure the whole pack was there, she reached up to fist her hand in the front of his shirt and pull him down.

Their lips met in a hard kiss. It wasn’t sweet or anything like that but it was something. As his hand came to rest on her hip and he leaned into it, the kiss deepened to something she hadn’t quite planned. There was something behind it, at least that she felt, and it surprised her more than his sudden participation did.

Whether or not she was going to explore it was not a thought she was prepared to entertain right at that moment. Adaline did linger longer than needed to take Marlon out of the game, pressing closer to him. When she finally did pull away, she didn’t get very far at first.

“Merry Christmas, Marlon,” she murmured against his lips, pulling back further to smile up at him. She had something to think about now, and her own needs that needed answering. “And you’re welcome.”

That being said, she released and smoothed out his shirt again before pointing up to the tiny little branch of mistletoe above their head with a laugh. Now that he’d been caught under one, he was no eligible to be part of their game.

To make sure they really did stop, she pulled away from him completely and started down the hall towards the stunned group. Though she tried to fight the urge, she couldn’t keep from glancing back and giving him a little wave with her hand.

“Looks like I win, ladies,” she cooed as she strolled by them, giggling at the deflated looks of defeat. As much as she enjoyed the way they groaned about it, her mind was elsewhere. Back on the boy she left standing underneath the mistletoe and the mysterious things he evoked within her.

She couldn’t shake it but she wasn’t sure she wanted to either. Maybe it was just because of the season or there were things she had refused to acknowledge years ago, but she and Marlon were probably going to need to have a small conversation later.