Updated: Apr 27, 2020
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Chapter 15: Sabrina glanced in the mirror after the door clicked, taking the moment by herself to contemplate the other subject her brother had broached.
So Dallas was a good guy. It was nice to know since he seemed to be a permanent part of her life, being best friends with her nephew. She found him annoying, but it could be in a way she might not altogether object to. Which might not be such a bad thing. She’d probably obsessed over Alex long enough.
There was a cautious knock on the door, and she strode over to get it. Thinking of the devil had apparently summoned him.
“Where’s Deanda?” She asked suspiciously.
“Over with Alistair.” He invited himself in. “I said I’d check on you.”
Sabrina was sure her roommate had jumped all over that offer, if not pushed it in the first place. For her part, however, she planned on exerting a little more caution. Plus, he had a way about him that automatically set her on snippy-mode.
“So sweet of you,” she stated. “And thanks for the help back there. I always wanted a knight in shining white armor.”
He looked rather confused for a short minute before comprehension dawned on his face. “It wasn’t my idea that you guys go out.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t give us any admonitions to not go. If you thought it was such a bad idea, why didn’t you say anything?”
“Would you have listened?”
“If you had told me it was dangerous and given me a good explanation as to why, then yes, I would have listened. You didn’t give me a chance though,” she accused, her hands on her hips. “You just assumed I was going to be… Well, what did you assume? That I was some spoiled American brat?”
In his defense, Dallas immediately looked chagrined. And while Sabrina felt an instant surge of victory at her valid point, it faded way too fast. With the arrogance drained from his face, he looked much more relatable.
“I’ll try not to make assumptions next time.” It wasn’t exactly an apology, but he looked like he meant it.
So of course she felt bad, like she’d just kicked a helpless baby animal. She had a tendency to forgive, or at least forget, too quickly. In her head, she cursed that trait even while she offered him an olive branch.
Really, she didn’t want to compliment him at all. But she figured he deserved a little praise for what he’d done before, not to mention that he’d probably end up thinking himself all that regardless of whether she said anything or not.
With that thought in mind, she tried to be pleasant. “Well, thanks for last night anyway.”
Dallas didn’t verbally express whatever thoughts her sincere statement elicited in his head. He didn’t need to when his face said it all.
Sabrina felt her cheeks flame up in embarrassment. That wasn’t what she had meant, and he knew it!
She gave him her best patronizing look despite how she was sure the virginal blush detracted from it. People typically didn’t blush if they didn’t care.
“That isn’t what I meant,” she informed him with all the haughtiness she could muster. “And you know it.”
“Maybe,” he countered, his reclaimed obnoxious air not faltering for a second.
“How would I know whether I should thank you for that or not?” She saw him open his mouth, anticipated what he was going to say, and countered before he could get so much as a syllable in. “Nor do I have any desire to find out.”
He continued smirking.
Glaring, she shook her head. “You’re very irritating. Did anyone ever tell you that?”
He pretended to think about it. “I think you might have last night. I just can’t remember whether it was before or after you got drunk and felt me up.
She gaped in outrage. “Nobody invited you along to see me drunk. And as for me ‘feeling you up,’ don’t think of yourself so highly because I would have done the same thing to anyone.”
Sabrina began congratulating herself for shooting him down so well, when she realized exactly what she’d said. She didn’t need his cheeky grin to clue her in that she’d labeled herself something very close to a slut. It made her wonder why she couldn’t say or do anything right around him.
That fact was possibly even more infuriating than he himself was.
She closed her eyes in frustration, though some part of her knew she’d laugh about the whole thing down the road. Worrying her lip to keep a small smile away even then, she took a few slow, calming breaths before she would look at him.
“Forget that, and let me try one more time.”
His polite nod told her he’d graciously grant her a second chance. His expression, however, assured there was no way he would let her live the original remark down.
Somehow, that thought made her a wee bit smug.
“I was acting out of purely scientific curiosity, as I seem to recall telling you last night,” she began. “Which is why I would have done the same thing to anyone. If I had known I was going to have such an effect on you, I would have kept my hands to myself. Next time, I’ll try to keep my feminine powers in mind so I don’t make you feel uncomfortable.”
Judging by the appreciative chuckle he gave, Sabrina had just scored a few points in the verbal self-defense department, even if she had failed big time in the first round. She smiled the knowing smile of the victor, not bothering with any amount of false modesty. That was for little leaguers. And clearly she was playing with the pros.
Sabrina was back in the game.
“What are you two smiling about?” Deanda marched into the room, another cup of coffee in one hand and her other so close to Alistair’s that they might as well have had their fingers intertwined.
For that matter, his right wing was dangerously close to brushing her shoulder.
“Oh, just that Dallas is beginning to acknowledge my amazing wit and wisdom,” Sabrina explained.
“Oh? Right. Of course.” Deanda grinned at Dallas. “She isn’t just a pretty face. It simply takes a bit to figure that out sometimes.”
“Thanks.” Sabrina rolled her eyes, but she was too high on her own cleverness to let anything short of the HPAC bring her down.
Her good mood lasted until about lunchtime, when the foursome decided to go out despite the sky showing a very strong tendency toward rain. Armed with a bevy of umbrellas, they trekked out, unsurprisingly breaking into sets. One group of bodyguards walked in front of them, Deanda and Alistair took up a second rung, with Dallas and Sabrina following behind, and her protective unit bringing up the rear.
Maybe it was Kenneth’s earlier chastisement replaying in her mind, or maybe it was the tempting and diverse storefronts they kept passing. Or maybe it was a mixture of several factors. But for some reason, it hit Sabrina hard just how much she would lose by fully embracing her faerie side.
To start out, there was the HPAC and all it entailed. Though she supposed, now that they knew who she was, she couldn’t avoid them even if she did renounce her wings. She could run and hide all she wanted, either aboveground or below it, but that danger would still be there in some shape or form.
It was a frightening thought. Yet it wasn’t the dangers she’d already faced or the ones she might still come up against that were disturbing her the most right then. It was the adjustments she knew she would have to make transitioning from human to faerie.
Everything would change, even the finite details that she usually ignored or the inconsequential activities she enjoyed without much thought. She wouldn’t be able to go out shopping again. Not really. Not in typical female style where she and her girlfriends would try on two dozen outfits and buy just one. Not in the human world, at least.
Her wings would get in the way. There was no way she could wear any of the tops she owned without adding appropriate slits. And she was certain the stores wouldn’t take too kindly to her slashing their clothing apart before purchasing them.
Had she voiced her concerns out loud, Sabrina knew she would have sounded worse than vapid. It was dumb to get mopey over the loss of shopping privileges when she had a family for the first time in her life.
A family she was thankful for too. She wouldn’t trade her brother for anything now that she knew he existed. It was just that there was something about being normal she didn’t want to give up. Whenever she ventured up into the human world, which she was still very much attached to, she’d have to hide what she was.
That idea simply wasn’t appealing.
“Are you okay?”
Sabrina startled at the question. It was the second time he’d asked her that since they woke up.
After a brief hesitation, she shrugged to indicate that it wasn’t a big deal, even though it felt exceedingly weighty on her mind. “I was thinking.”
“Looked like pretty serious thinking,” he pushed, though not in a pushy way, a seeming aberration from his usual attitude. “Anything I can help with?”
Sabrina hesitated again, not sure if she should disclose what was going on inside her head. She wasn’t even certain she wanted to. But he looked so sincere and hopeful that she found it very difficult to shut him out completely. So she phrased her concerns carefully. That way, she wasn’t disclosing anything too personal and therefore wasn’t risking too much.
“Do you ever not want to be a faerie?”
The question struck her as almost amusing when she realized how she had turned full circle from her harsh skepticism last week. Sure, that felt like a short eternity ago; but it really wasn’t.
“Maybe sometimes when the HPAC starts doing what it does best,” he pondered, his brows scrunched inward. “But I am one, so it’s a waste of time to wish I wasn’t.”
Sabrina felt her lips curve up into a sad little smile. It was such a masculine response, so not entirely helpful for the current situation. If she had asked Deanda, her friend would have followed up with a question of her own, prodding for details on what had motivated the musings in the first place.
The next two steps they took in silence. She assumed he was trying to give her space to think or to continue the conversation on her own terms. Since she still wasn’t positive how much she wanted to share, Sabrina had to admit she was grateful for the somewhat lengthy pause. She definitely did want to tell someone what was going on inside her head, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell Dallas in particular.
Then again, she realized, if she wanted to spill her guts anytime soon, this was probably the best opportunity she was going to get. Unless she wanted to have a group therapy session with her as the only patient.
“I suppose it’s all dawning on me,” she managed to articulate, planning on largely leaving it at that. He could ask a few basic questions, she’d give a few basic answers, and she wouldn’t have to worry about baring her fears to someone she wasn’t even close to being emotionally intimate with.
“You mean that you’re a faerie?” He waited for her nod to continue. “It isn’t so bad. You get pretty girls coming onto you and asking if they can touch your wings.”
Sabrina laughed, a genuine reaction to the verbal jab. “That might be a perk for you, but I’m straight, so I don’t think it’s going to quite cut it for me.”
“Alright,” he conceded with mock consideration. “Then you get to ask to touch hot male faeries’ wings.”
She felt her lips curve upward again, this time a little wickedly. It wasn’t that she was cured of her concerns, but she had to admit Dallas had a way of putting them on a back burner. Not to mention, of course, that he had called her “pretty.” Sure, he hadn’t said she was the most amazing woman he’d ever met in his life, but “pretty” was still a good start.
“You so have to get over that,” she laughed.
“If I say I will, will you do it again?”
Sabrina looked up at him, grinned and looked away before her blush could get too bad. “Maybe.”
“What would I have to do to make it a definite?” His voice was still teasing but it featured a slight quirk now, as if he might be a little bit serious.
“I’ll keep you updated,” she told him lightly, ignoring the uptick in her heartbeat.
Reaching the pub in time to avoid the rain, they lapsed into a silence heavy with flirtation. Dallas compounded it by making a big show of grabbing the door for her. It was a job she assumed normally went to one of her bodyguards, judging by the almost imperceptible, non-verbal exchange between them when Dallas made the move. It was also telling, though for different reasons, how Alistair’s guards all sat down at the same group of tables with him.
Her own paid protectors hung back until she waved them over. She hoped they wouldn’t think her rude if she didn’t repeat such friendly acts all the time. It was nothing against them. After growing up with limited finances, she didn’t think she had it in her to be classist. But it would be a little difficult to have a female-oriented chat with four guys at the table.
Sometimes a girl just needed same-sex company.
After reviewing the menu, they all ordered at the solid oak counter. Sabrina selected bangers and mash, a dish she was growing certain could play havoc on her figure if she ate too often. When they sat back down to wait for their food, the conversation flowed like they had been friends for ages, the topics ranging from Scottish cuisine to articles of clothing each gender found annoying. Naturally, it was ties for the men.
It got Sabrina wondering what Dallas would look like in a three-piece suit.
She studied him out of the corner of her eye for a minute, picturing him in a starched collar, an enjoyable mental image. Businessmen were most decidedly her type of guys. Businessmen with an edge were even more sexy. And businessmen with edges and very hot accents could be like winning the relationship lottery.
Sabrina had no idea whether she was holding the right ticket or not. Even if she was, she was far too distracted to focus on her attraction to Dallas for too long anyway. Her thoughts segued again, this time to wonder what faeries did for a living.
Her brother and sister-in-law were rulers, and it was obvious from the advisers she met that some faeries made careers in politics. But she had no idea if faerie life mirrored human life other than that. Whether there were businessmen and farmers and authors and scientists. There was so much about her new world she still needed to figure out.
Sabrina vowed to ask someone later, when there were fewer people around to pity her embarrassing lack of knowledge. Fortunately for her curiosity, that later came soon after they headed back to the house. Once in the living room, Alistair claimed space next to Deanda on the couch, leaving Sabrina to choose between sitting on his other side or on the loveseat.
She chose the loveseat.
So did Dallas.
Sabrina crossed her legs just for something to do. “So,” she started lamely. “What do you do when you’re not busy being a general nuisance?”
He grinned. “You mean other than rescuing princesses from un-kissable frogs?”
“I mean for work.” Raising both eyebrows, she went on. “Kenneth told me you weren’t a bodyguard.”
She tried not to stare at his wings, which looked especially nice against the plush green of the sofa. It was even more difficult not to imagine how they’d feel pressed against her.
“I’m in the Intelligence Department under Geoffrey.”
Still skeptical, she asked, “Then what in the world were you doing acting as Aileen’s nurse?”
“I thought we already had this conversation?”
“Maybe,” she informed him with mock haughtiness. “But if we did, it wasn’t in enough detail for my liking.”
“I guess you could say I came along for ‘educational purposes only,’” he teased right back. “Aileen told me I had to make myself useful if I wanted to come.”
“Which you really didn’t,” Sabrina pointed out.
“True. But I still got what I wanted. At least I think I might have.”
Sabrina hoped she looked half as cute as she felt when she answered, “And that would be?”
Dallas smiled with insufferable secrecy and held her gaze long enough to leave her few choices but to look away or kiss him.
She leaned back against the cushions. “So then, what is your job description?” She asked as casually as she could. “I mean, what do you do all day at work?”
He followed the new conversation path like he hadn’t felt the emotional electricity between them either. “I’m an HPAC specialist. I follow their moves and prevent them from following ours. In a lot of ways, we have the advantage over them. But they’re always learning and developing more highly-advanced technology, which keeps us on our toes.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I like them very much,” she said in an attempt to lighten the darker turn the conversation had taken.
“I heard about what happened.”
Sabrina couldn’t quite bring herself to shrug it off, so she looked over at Alistair and Deanda instead. Despite how the pair was so happily engrossed in their own conversation, she didn’t look away when she answered.
“It happens, I guess.”
“It shouldn’t have though, and it won’t happen again. Not on my watch.”
It was an obvious display of masculine bravado that she found irrationally comforting. She didn’t want to feel left out to dry with the HPAC, and so the more people she had on her side, the better. Even if Dallas was still mortal and could fail just as much as the next professional in his field, she had a hunch he’d do his absolute best to protect her.
“Thanks,” she said, looking back at him. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” he assured her. He seemed to mean it.
If his words and tone and body and beautiful, soft wings weren’t enough to sell her, that quiet confidence definitely was. She felt her insides liquefy a little. The sensation scared her a bit, if only because she felt that things were moving too fast between them.
To combat the spell, Sabrina went digging right back into the very topic she wanted to avoid. “They’re really afraid of us, aren’t they?”
Since she had already started, she figured she might as well finish. “I mean, at first I thought they were just big, bad tough guys out trying to make trouble for faeries. But I really looked at the one guy, the leader, and he was nervous. It made me think they might be acting out of more than pure sadism.”
The skeptical look on Dallas’ face prompted her to clarify. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that factors in too; but I also think they’re motivated by some deluded sense of self-defense.”
“That’s what they claim, anyway,” Dallas replied, still not looking fully convinced.
“Have you ever had direct contact with them before?” She asked.
He shook his head. “They haven’t been all that active since I started my job. Until now, I mean.”
Sabrina took the unspoken question in his tone as reason to continue. “Then trust me. They’re terrified. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know I’m on the little side physically. So the fact that I could inspire any amount of fear in a guy your size who was more than capable of drowning me without breaking so much as a sweat?” She half shrugged and half shuddered, the still-heated memory washing over her.
“I’m not excusing them,” she hurried on as much to clarify as to move past the subject of her near-death experience. “They’re repulsive. But I think there’s a reason they act the way they do.”
“I suppose.” He hesitated. “But I think you’re being far too generous. They’re ignorant scumbags who don’t bother to do any real research on what they’re afraid of.”
Sabrina was surprised by his bitter vehemence, though it was relieving too from a completely different angle. Caught up in such an emotionally charged intellectual conversation, she found it a lot easier to ignore their physical proximity.
“People rarely do research,” she pointed out. “They’d much rather stay in their happy, perfect little worlds than confront reality and the possibility that they might be wrong. I mean, I hate to admit it, but I know I could come up with examples where I’ve done that.”
“You’re quite the philosopher, aren’t you?” He asked, his voice and eyes filled with good-natured mockery but a decent touch of respect as well.
“Like Deanda said,” she joked back. “I’m not just a pretty face.”
Deanda glanced away from Alistair at the sound of her name, her eyes scrunching in curiosity.
Dallas either didn’t see the movement or didn’t care to interrupt their own conversation to acknowledge it. “So I can see.”
They were spared any awkward silences by the front door opening, and her redheaded guard walking in. He looked dead-serious. It was easy to guess why his jaw was set so resolutely when two of her nephew’s men followed right behind, their hands locked around the upper arms of a petrified young man who happened to be wearing a distinctly familiar pair of sunglasses.
He had on jeans and a t-shirt instead of the standard black suit, but the eyewear was still a dead giveaway.
One of the bodyguards reached up to take them off his face.
Sabrina got the very briefest of impressions when they escorted him through the living room and into one of the side rooms she had yet to explore. What was entirely obvious, however, was that he was anything but an expert at his craft. A professional would have better control over his terror, or at least the appearance of such.
Mr. Smiley had looked to be in his mid to late thirties. And his partners hadn’t struck her as being too much younger than that. Not the neophyte disappearing from her line of sight though.
His light blond hair was chopped close in a crew cut that didn’t made him look tough at all, and his baby-blue eyes were opened so wide. Then there was the way his face could almost be construed as chubby, further accentuating his youth. He couldn’t be older than twenty-one, and Sabrina wouldn’t be surprised if he was barely of legal European drinking age. He had to have gotten the job through good old-fashioned nepotism, since it was evident he was way out of his league.
Either that or he was a sacrificial lamb.
“We need to get you out of here. This place has been compromised.” It was her redhead who spoke, whatever his name was.
Sabrina was taken aback by the whole thing; but Alistair, Dallas and Deanda were all on their feet in a disturbingly short instant. Feeling completely foolish, she stood up as well, looking around the welcoming room with sudden distrust.
“Why the bloody hell are they so persistent all of a sudden?” Alistair asked, reaching for Deanda’s arm and pulling her behind him. It was the first time Sabrina had heard him use even slightly inappropriate language. “They’ve been pretty much dormant for what? A decade?”
As five more of the bodyguards strode in to form a loose protective ring around the four of them, Dallas pushed Sabrina toward Alistair and Deanda before angling himself between them and the front door.
It appeared that chivalry wasn’t dead among faeries.
“What happened?” He asked roughly.
“We caught him snooping around outside.” The man who answered was one of Alistair’s. He had one hand against his ear while he continued in a deep voice. “He tried passing himself off as a tradesmen, but you saw what he was wearing.”
Sabrina shivered noticeably enough for Deanda to link arms with her. While she appreciated the physical touch grounding her, it didn’t erase her fears by any stretch of the imagination.
“Can we grab our stuff, or do we need to leave this very second?” Deanda sounded calm despite the edge in her voice.
“You have time, but best to make it quick,” one of the guards replied.
Sabrina mentally cursed her inability to size-change. If she could just fit into Faeriedom, so many problems would be solved. “What about Alistair and Dallas? They should at least go underground, right?”
She expected her nephew to protest and pledge to stay beside his lady fair, but instead he just looked pained. Apparently that decision was in the process of being made for him, something she couldn’t help but feel bad about. He wasn’t in control of his life any more than she was of hers. Being royalty in direct line to the throne had to be difficult, and she once again couldn’t see how the perks made it worthwhile. Not for the life of her.
Neither of the girls said anything when they headed upstairs to their room. They hastily grabbed clothing out of dresser drawers and off of hangers to throw into their bags without any regard for wrinkles. While they did, Simon drew the curtains closed. Despite the ceiling light, which was still on, the move seemed to cast everything into eerie shades of gloom.
Sabrina wasn’t unhappy when he moved away to grab several of their bags and help them back down the stairs.
Deanda put her stuff over by the front door. “Is he talking?”
Nobody needed an explanation about who she meant; the person in question was on all their minds. Like her friend, Sabrina figured the remaining guards knew exactly what was going on in the backroom, since they all had their earpieces on, keeping them in contact with one another.
“Not yet,” one of Alistair’s men said, though it wasn’t at all evident whether he was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“Can I see him?”
The words came out of Sabrina’s mouth before she could formulate the complete thought. Yet the second she said them, she realized she really did want to meet one of her tormentors face to face when her side was in such overwhelming control. She wanted to ask him why he was doing what he was doing. Maybe some part of her considered venting a little rage and frustration while she was at it, but the majority of her just wanted answers to a few very basic questions.
The guards around them all hesitated.
Dallas did not. “No.”
That set her on immediate edge. “Why not?”
“Because it’s too dangerous, and because you need to leave.”
He folded his arms across his chest so that the only thing wavering about him was his wings. And those weren’t moving gently. It was more like a nervous tick: a way to express himself without shouting or breaking furniture.
“It’s not safe in there?” She pressed. “One captured human against how many big bad faeries?”
His scowl deepened, and he shook his head. “It’s not happening.”
But Alistair was shaking his head too, just much more thoughtfully. Turning to his two bodyguards, he asked whether the other room was secured. And when they assured him that it was, her nephew turned back to her.
“You really want to see him?”
Dallas sputtered in protest.
“Boys, you want to let her in,” Alistair directed more than asked with the quiet confidence of someone who expected to be obeyed. It wasn’t arrogant on him; more like second nature.
Dallas, of course, was a much different story. Without looking at anyone, much less her, he stalked out of the living room ahead of everyone else. Despite his bad attitude, Sabrina didn’t object to the added company. Regardless of what she’d said, one single HPAC villain was more than enough to make her nervous, no matter the odds.
She swallowed hard, forcing one foot in front of the other down a short hall with two doors on the right and one on the left. All three of them were shut and all three, standard though they were, looked just as ominous. So it didn’t matter a single bit when Simon opened up the one on the left and proceeded in.
Sabrina steeled herself as best as she could. And then she walked in as well.
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