Updated: May 4
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Chapter 16: Stepping inside, Sabrina took in the details with a hurried onceover.
It wasn’t a very large room, so most of the remaining guards stayed in the hallway. Really, the space would have been inordinately comfortable and even soothing under different circumstances. Pale olive walls gave it a sense of tranquility, as did the light brown wood of the full hutch that stretched well up toward the ceiling. Its shelves were stocked primarily with books, and a closed laptop lay in the center. The rest of the room was taken up by a tan, polyester loveseat.
None of that captured her attention like the young man tied to the tan, cushioned desk chair. His wrists were secured firmly to its arms, and his legs tethered together so that he didn’t look threatening at all. Just terrified. His lower lip all but trembled and his eyes opened unnaturally wide when she entered the room, her small stature somehow alarming him more than any of the faerie men already towering over his head.
Sabrina took special note of that.
Ignoring Dallas, who loomed close behind her, she turned to the nearest bodyguard. “Can I talk to him?”
He hesitated. But the prisoner began shaking, as if her question and the possibility of a positive response could send him into an early grave. It was too dramatic a reaction to ignore.
She lowered her voice so that her guard had to lean down to hear her. “Do they think faerie women are more dangerous than faerie men?”
He nodded pensively. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should get too close to him.”
“That’s a no to interactin’ with him, little lady,” Dallas drawled in a poor imitation of a southern U.S. accent.
It appeared he’d watched one too many cowboy flicks.
She ignored him, still addressing her guard. “What if two of you stood on either side of him? It might be worth a try.”
He caved, though he looked supremely uncomfortable doing so. “If I say to step away, you’re going to have to listen to me, Princess.”
She nodded. “Fair enough.”
Even though Dallas hadn’t been the person to grant permission, he strode around her to take a glowering stance beside their prisoner. The human looked like he was tall enough in his own right, but seated and bound, his stature didn’t matter a bit.
“I’ve got it just fine,” Dallas assured crankily, waving off one of Alistair’s guards who had stepped forward. “Princess, you want to say whatever it is you want to say?”
It was blatantly obvious that he hadn’t employed the title with any respect, but Sabrina didn’t care enough to comment. Dallas was a mere distraction compared to the disgusted interest she felt compelled by. She stepped toward the prisoner, training her entire focus on him instead of her scowling, self-prescribed protector.
“How did you know we were here?” She began her interrogation, staring the prisoner straight in the eyes and adopting an air of clinical detachment.
Raised brows, crossed arms and her weight applied more on her right side: It was the best she could do when her own heart was hammering so hard. Despite the slow, steady breaths she deliberately took in and let out, her nerves were working double-time.
The captive tried pulling himself together and acting tough for a heartbeat or two. But it lasted only that long. When he met her gaze, he backed down in the very next instant, looking beyond her at the rest of the faeries. It was almost like he thought there was a chance they’d intervene and save him.
Sabrina didn’t look away. She knew he knew she was looking at him. And that was how she wanted it to be. Tilting her head to the side like she was considering her options, she watched little beads of sweat formed on his brow. His cheeks were white and his eyes nothing short of panicked, demonstrating that the HPAC really had sent a rookie.
Mr. Smiley never would have reacted like that.
Sabrina crouched down to put a hand on his arm, and his head snapped toward her with a force she found almost painful to watch. “You are going to cooperate, right?”
Apparently too intimidated to formulate any words, he shook his head no. But his eyes darted to her face for a split second, telling her everything she needed to know.
The hatred he felt for her kind radiated there. She was certain he would have killed her without hesitation if he could. She had gotten a similar impression from Mr. Smiley.
Yet there was a difference, and not just in the sadism she got from one and not the other. While the captive leaned as far away from her as possible, she was certain his loathing was born almost completely out of a selfish sort of fear. At least in that moment, he was terrified for his life alone, not for any greater good. So when he nervously licked his lips, she knew his attempt at martyrdom wouldn’t hold out for much longer.
With the intention of speeding that process up, she leaned in further toward him, eliminating all but the tiniest fraction of his personal space. Clearly believing he was inches from death, he shifted the direction of his big blue eyes, which widened further in watery panic.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t already been very well aware that he was terrified. She would have to be a blind simpleton not to recognize that. But with a jolt that sent her insides tumbling, Sabrina found herself identifying with the exact emotions written all over his face. Because he was looking at her with the same expression she knew she’d worn when she’d been the helpless captive.
Just like that, she had no appetite for playing the villain and rocked back on her heels to give both of them some much needed space.
“Why don’t you just cooperate and tell us what we want to know,” she asked simply, her voice reflecting her sudden exhaustion with the whole situation.
He stared at her like she’d gone nuts, which she didn’t blame him for thinking. Even then, her humanitarian side was struggling against her survival instincts. He didn’t deserve her sympathy; but at the same time, did she really want to turn into him? Yet it was a kill or be killed situation: survival of the fittest. Hadn’t Darwin laid it all out in black and white?
When it came down to it, however, life wasn’t so uncomplicated as that. So Darwin be damned; she was going to follow her conscience instead of her natural impulse to kick, claw, scratch and bite her way to peace of mind. There were times when those kind of actions were necessary, but she couldn’t justify them in this case.
Sabrina closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds and took one long, deep breath before striking a much more comfortable and less threatening position.
“Look. I’m not going to hurt you.” She kept her body still and her voice steady.
He didn’t say anything, just regarded her like she was a rabid dog. All the while, she could feel Dallas’ gaze practically burning holes through her forehead, while everyone else did the same to her back and neck. She did her best to ignore them, figuring that she could explain herself later.
“I’m going to ask you some questions, and I’m going to flat-out promise that I won’t do anything to you if you choose not to answer. But it would be really nice if you did.”
A tinge of color started returning to his complexion, indicating some change of emotion. Though what it was exactly wasn’t clear.
Sabrina just hoped it was in her favor. “How did you know we were here?”
He hesitated: a good sign, she supposed. If he had to think first, then he might be considering her position. Which meant there really was hope.
Sabrina sent a quick prayer heavenward for added help. Since she was ditching Darwin’s method, she had to rely on someone else.
“It’s rude not to answer a lady, even if she is insane,” Dallas interrupted the silence.
“Be quiet,” she told him, though without any real bite.
“You’re not going to get anything out of him,” he persisted, giving their captive a nasty glare. “They’re all self-righteous, egotistical, mindless fanatics who don’t want to consider anything but the idea that they’re saving mankind from the unthinkable terrors of faerie domination.”
“That was almost poetic,” Sabrina told him with mock politeness. “Now please shut up?” She returned as much of her attention as possible back to the captive. “Just ignore him.”
“Not likely,” Dallas stated.
Emotions on a roller coaster she found herself having little control over, Sabrina clenched and unclenched her hands. “You are so not being helpful right now.”
“Is she your sister or your bird?” Their captive asked in a thick Scottish accent, confusion clouding his face in place of his previously all-consuming terror.
Dallas’ instantaneous reply came out as a growl. “She is not my sister.”
Sabrina didn’t comment on either the original question or the subsequent statement. She had more than enough complications to sort through without adding potential romantic involvement with a ‘self-righteous, egotistical, mindless fanatic’ faerie.
If she was being completely honest with herself, she’d have to admit that the last two adjectives didn’t fit. But the first two definitely did, making Dallas two-fourths a hypocrite and one-hundred percent of an insufferable distraction.
“I don’t know what you’ve been told,” she brought her attention back to the pressing matter at hand. “But we’re people like you. It’s just that we have wings. We don’t kidnap babies. We don’t change the weather. We don’t steal crops or live for mischief.” Sabrina trailed off, trying to remember other findings from her research. “And if we are stupid and stubborn and ignorant, it’s at the same rate as humans.”
She shot a pointed look at Dallas.
He got the message loud and clear.
“She thinks I’m stupid and ignorant?” He said it to himself, the prisoner or the general room; it was unclear when he was looking at the ceiling. “This coming from the girl who nearly gets herself absconded by some frog?”
“I had the situation under control!” She felt her voice rising and didn’t do anything to stop it.
“I think you should just give her a good shag and be done with it, pal,” the captive informed Dallas with a knowing shake of his head. “Neither of you are going to be happy until you do.”
Someone in the room let out a particularly suspicious cough. Sabrina would have pegged Deanda as the perp, but it sounded too masculine, so she had to assume it was one of the bodyguards.
For her part, Sabrina wasn’t amused. And the way he glared in the general direction of the disguised laugh, Dallas didn’t appear to be either.
“Thanks so much for the advice,” he replied icily. “But aren’t you forgetting that you’re in evil faerie clutches, and we can reduce you to ash with just a thought?”
“She said she wouldn’t hurt me.” The man shrugged with perhaps too much faith in her change of heart. He was still relatively pale, even for a U.K. native, but at least he’d stopped shaking.
“True, but she’s just a wee thing now, isn’t she?” Dallas said nastily. “And I never said I wouldn’t hurt you.”
The captive swallowed hard in comprehension.
Deanda chose that moment to intervene, striding the short space across the room to their prisoner. She stood directly beside Sabrina, shooting her a quick apologetic look before she began. “Could you just tell her what she wants to know so that they shut up already? Let’s start with an easy one: What’s your name?”
The captive worried his lips. “George.”
“You’re lying,” she pointed out. “But whatever floats your boat. George it is.”
He looked surprised, as if she had read his mind.
“How did you find out where we were in the first place? Back in the U.S.” He opened his mouth, and she interrupted him. “And if you’re going to lie again, then please don’t say anything at all. You’ll just be wasting both of our time.”
He wavered yet again, but something softened in his countenance from nervous resolve to uncertainty, and he took a noticeable breath. “One of our members found her picture on the internet,” he admitted, nodding at Sabrina.
“Social media?” Sabrina guessed.
He shook his head no. “Dating site.”
She could feel her face heating up rapidly.
“A dating site?” Dallas repeated with a definite smirk.
“Not the point right now,” she snapped back.
“True,” he conceded with a smug smile and what she interpreted as a gleeful wave of his wings. “I’ll save it for later.”
It was Alistair’s turn to take over. “Dallas,” he said firmly with that same authority he’d displayed before. “Stop it. Now.”
It was amazing how her nephew was able to turn off his normally unassuming self and take on the mantle of responsibility with such ease. Or maybe it stemmed from years of knowing Dallas.
The friends glared at each other for a minute, though it was the larger man who gave in, albeit with a bad attitude.
“About time,” Sabrina muttered in a volume still loud enough for certain people to hear.
“Sabrina,” Deanda warned with the tone of a parent losing patience. She turned back to their prisoner. “So someone stumbled onto her photo. That date she went on with Eugene, right? He was one of yours?”
“You really didn’t pick a winner.” She put her hands on her hips, one eyebrow quirking doubtfully. “Was that intentional?”
The captive shrugged. “I think the lad might have been nervous.”
“Fair enough. So what was the plan?”
“He.” George stopped and licked his lips yet again. “He was supposed to establish a relationship. He didnae manage it, obviously, but he did fit her bag with a listening device.”
“That jerk!” Sabrina all but saw red remembering how she had put up with him so politely. See if she was nice next time.
Deanda shot her another warning look, the message clear. She’d had two strikes; one more and she’d be in trouble.
Like Dallas at Alistair’s command, Sabrina went quiet and let her friend keep going. It seemed the prudent thing to do when she was getting results.
Under her prodding, their captive continued spilling details. Like how the bug had only been a short-term device. The plan was for Eugene to supply a new one with each new date. But then when Sabrina had refused to respond in the way they wanted her to the next day, his superiors decided she had figured everything out.
Apparently, nobody had stopped to think that their inside man was just not that smooth.
The original listening device, however, worked exactly how it was supposed to. It picked up the girls talking about Florida, and then a later call between Deanda and her faerie contact, where he directed her to the Orlando airport. That had been while Sabrina slept, but the bug remained wide awake.
Mr. Smiley was told to capture them, scare them out of their minds and then let them escape. But not before tampering with their phones and adding one additional safety measure in Sabrina’s ear. In that, he and his team failed twice, since they only managed to slip Sabrina the one gadget, which hadn’t worked too well anyway. It turned on and off with no rhyme or reason for a day or two, allowing the HPAC to at least get the safe house’s address when Deanda told the taxi driver where to go. But then it had stopped altogether.
At that, Sabrina and Deanda shared knowing glances. Either Aileen had ruined the thing when she’d removed it, or she had deactivated it since.
“So they’ve known where we were ever since we got here? Why didn’t they just take us before?”
“They wanted to be certain they knew where at least one of your entrances was into Faeriedom. After last night though, they panicked and sent me to check out the place.”
“Why’d they panic?” Sabrina asked suspiciously, her arms once again crossed over her chest.
“They weren’t sure about your survival odds.”
Sabrina eyed him incredulously. “You mean because we went out dancing?”
He nodded, and she had to blink several times before she could wrap her head around that new fact.
Deanda looked skeptical too, but she transitioned on to the next question regardless. “Where’s your Scottish headquarters?”
This time, he shook his head though. “I’m not so sure you lot are quite as bad as they’d have us believe. But only a turncoat would give that away.” Brave words or not, he tensed up like he was preparing himself for an attack.
“I think you’ve been more than fair,” Deanda said. “So thank you for your cooperation. And no offense, but I really hope we don’t see each other ever again.”
That seemed to be the end of that, especially when Geoffrey and his team arrived to take over questioning. Looking serious as ever in a black suit and undershirt that looked rather devilish against his brick red wings, he shooed everyone out the front door after a brief discussion with Alistair and Dallas in the living room about some other safe house.
Sabrina got the impression the place was close to untraceable. Yet there also seemed to be some hesitation in utilizing it.
Dallas appeared torn between going with his friend and staying with his boss; but Geoffrey made the call for him, telling him to go with Alistair.
Sabrina wasn’t sure that was the answer he wanted, since his scowl didn’t slide an inch. But that was his problem, not hers. Ignoring him once again, she turned her attention to Alistair to ask what would happen to the HPAC spy. According to him, it wasn’t faerie policy to take interspecies prisoners of war.
Sabrina thought that odd even if she could see the logic. On the one hand, it wasn’t like they could keep them in Faeriedom, since humans quite simply didn’t fit into the tiny openings. But even their aboveground safe houses, which were apparently spread out across the width and length of the U.K., didn’t contain prisons. After the death of the king and queen two decades ago, they were reasonably paranoid about bringing humans anywhere they held dear.
Relieved that the boy wasn’t going to be imprisoned and tortured, Sabrina dutifully piled into one of the two waiting limos. It was drizzling outside when they left for the Marriott, where Geoffrey had already booked them three rooms, all next to each other. It seemed he had wanted four in a row, but that hadn’t been possible, so it seemed that the girls would once again be sharing a room with Dallas. Alistair too. Just with completely separate beds.
The bodyguards would occupy the other two suites to guarantee that nobody was snooping on the other side of their royals’ walls.
Since hotels in the U.K. turned out to be strict about their two people-per-room policy, Alistair and Deanda checked in first, while the bodyguards fanned out to scope out the stairways and such. Sabrina meandered in last with Dallas, neither of them acting like they enjoyed the other’s company.
In an effort to better ignore him, she took special notice of the hotel. While the outside of the building looked unimpressive despite its height and width, the inside literally shone, from the polished floors to the vases full of fresh yellow flowers. Somehow, between the tan and mahogany tiles, the matching concierge and check-in desks, and the high ceiling and wide, open space, the hotel lobby managed to convey professional snobbery and cheerful accommodation at the same time.
As for the suite itself, it had been designed with burnt umber walls, white trimming, and dark orange couches with lime green stripes: a surprisingly elegant blend. The single bedroom was set into a spacious alcove off to the left, and while there were no doors to hide it from the living room area, it still looked highly inviting.
She found herself very happy that she was a girl and could not only expect the boys to be gentlemen, but could also share a bed with another woman without fearing for her sexuality. Sometimes it was just hands-down preferable to be female.
Sabrina let out a sigh of contentment and dropped all her stuff on the floor by the door. Heading straight for the bed, she threw herself onto the mattress to bask in the silky thickness of the comforter that pressed against her skin. It was a soothing relief to just close her eyes and breathe.
“You look comfortable.”
She opened one eye and picked her head up the slightest bit to view the speaker. It had sounded a whole lot like Dallas, but that would mean he was trying to smooth things over with her. She doubted his ability to grow up in such a reasonable amount of time. Yet there he stood, looking rather sheepish, uncomfortable and perfectly gorgeous with his folded wings.
She forced herself not to stare.
“We should be safe here for a while at least,” he said awkwardly when she didn’t reply.
Sabrina thought about being a jerk for a few seconds, but discarded the inclination in the end. She didn’t have the heart for it. Or the energy.
Patting the bed, she looked up at him. “Sit down. You’re making me dizzy looking at you like that.”
He did, but he still looked stiff and nervous. She hated herself for what she was about to do, but now that she was calmer, she simply couldn’t stand to see him ill at ease. It wasn’t in her nature, and some part of her still liked some part of him. She couldn’t help but think about how well he had listened to her concerns before. It was just as much a part of him, she thought, as his less endearing side.
“I’m sorry for being a snippy little witch,” she said, offering the palm branch despite how she really thought he should extend it first.
“Apology accepted,” he said with marked solemnity, though with an obvious weight lifted off his shoulders. “I’m sorry for being a stupid sod.”
“That’s okay, but just because you sound kinda cute when you say ‘stupid sod,’” she informed him, her lips pressing together in amusement after that admission.
“Good to know,” he laughed. “Are there any other words you like me saying?”
Sabrina pretended to take the question very seriously. “Not that I can think of right now. Give it time.”
He smiled. “So we’re alright then?”
“Yeah.” She nodded firmly. “We’re alright.”
“Alright enough to let me share the nice comfy bed with you and kick Deanda out?”
It was Sabrina’s turn to snicker. “Not even close. Deanda might hurt me if I did that. She’s scary.”
He shot a critical look over at the person in question, where she lounged on the couch next to Alistair. “I think I could take her.”
Sabrina shook her head. “She’s got nails.”
“Since I can’t argue with that, I’m going to do the manly thing and change the subject,” he responded. “So what happened back there?”
Sabrina shook her head again, this time because she wasn’t sure how to proceed. “I had a plan A and then realized I couldn’t go through with it. So I switched to a plan B that I made up on the spot.”
“And Plan A was?” He asked skeptically.
“Bad cop routine, I suppose. But the way he looked at me.” She cut herself off, concentrating on the floor. “It just didn’t feel right.”
“He would have deserved it.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you.” She transferred her gaze from the carpet to the ceiling while she searched for the right words. “But I didn’t want to stoop to their level. If I do that, I’m afraid I’ll lose something of me, not to mention a good dose of self-respect. I mean, I doubt they started out as coldhearted as they are now. My guess? They probably justify themselves by demonizing us until they’re brainwashed into not caring anymore.”
Dallas grimaced. “Maybe. But the bottom line is still that they don’t play fair, and they don’t stop to think that they might be wrong. You don’t mess around with people like that. Faeries die when you do.”
He said it so gravely that Sabrina felt a chill go down her spine. She could only hope she would never find out which one of them was right.
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