Updated: May 11, 2020
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Chapter 17: Spending all of Monday evening cooped up in their hotel room didn’t do much for Sabrina’s mood. By the time Tuesday rolled around, she was out-and-out depressed and antsy. So instead of dealing with reality, she decided to do herself a favor and buy a book, hoping to find some sort of fiction that was even crazier than her own life. Losing herself in someone else’s problems, fake or not, seemed like a better idea than contemplating what she had in front of her.
She climbed out of bed, doing her best not to disturb Deanda, which wasn’t all that difficult an undertaking. The girl slept like the dead, which meant that grabbing her clothing out of their still-packed suitcase wasn’t much of a risk either. But since Sabrina didn’t know how lightly the boys slept, she did her best to make it to the bathroom quietly, pausing just once halfway there to study them.
Her eyes drifted over Alistair, who was sprawled on his back across the couch, one wing draped over the back cushions and the other covering his t-shirted chest. Then there was Dallas, who apparently wasn’t so shy. Bare to the waist, he was lying on his side on the other sofa, facing outward with his wings folded behind him.
Sabrina didn’t know what it was about him that kept driving her crazy, but she couldn’t manage to get him out of her head. It wasn’t just his looks, because she’d known prettier men than Dallas who didn’t make her feel so gaga. Sure, he was physically attractive with his wide shoulders and casual six-pack abs that made her fingers twitch to get closer. But she’d never been the kind of girl to focus on just appearances.
Sabrina bit her lower lip and stared for a few seconds longer.
Tearing her physical attention away from him, she completed her trip to the bathroom, shutting the door and throwing her clothes onto the closed toilet seat. The hot shower wasn’t soothing enough though. She could still see his smoky green wings in her head. And seeing them like that made her think of how exotic they’d felt.
She thought she could be perfectly content running her hands over them for hours.
As if to remind her that she’d soon have a pair of her own, her back protested its emerging accessories with a series of sharp itches. They had her twisting her body unnaturally so she could attack the problem patches with her nails.
Her wings had better be stunning works of art, she thought; otherwise she was going to be royally ticked off. She understood the concept of “no pain, no gain,” but this was ridiculous.
The irritating sensations didn’t fade, detracting from both the shower and her thoughts about certain hot faeries slumbering in the next room. So as soon as she was out, she slathered some more cream on, knowing full well that it would last a mere hour or two before she’d have to apply it again.
Turning naked in front of the mirror, Sabrina pushed damp strands of hair over her shoulder, craning her neck to look at her back. It wasn’t a pretty sight. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought she’d been slashed down her shoulder blades with a machete. The skin was raised and reddish, and the areas around the two protruding lines were somehow both blotchy and bruised.
Stupidly, the sight made her lower lip tremble.
Woefully regarding her reflection, it resonated misery right back at her. Yet ultimately, there seemed nothing to do but brush her teeth and finish preparing for the day as best as she could. So that’s what she did, with a vengeance not unknown to wronged heroes in Greek tragedies. She was sure that, if they could have, her teeth would have run away screaming for mercy. Since they couldn’t, they just bled in pitiful silence.
Sabrina rinsed and spat her opinion of faerie life into the sink.
She wished she could rid herself of the itching that easily. The irritation was already receding, but it was still present enough to annoy her while she pulled on a white, cotton tank top and an olive green, short-sleeved button down. Casual and light khaki pants, comfortable brown sandals and simple brown hoops completed her outfit. A glance in the mirror confirmed that she at least looked put together, which was a small comfort.
She was going to step over to the next room where her four bodyguards were spending the night. But when she left the bathroom, Dallas was not only awake but getting in his morning stretch. Unlike her, he looked great just waking up.
She hated him. Big time.
“Morning.” It came out a lot more sullen than she meant it to sound.
On the positive side, her less than pleasant tone made it seem like she didn’t want to jump him. She wouldn’t have gone through with it anyway, but her imagination had her playing the leading lady in a homemade film all the same.
“Morning,” he responded without a hint of unease. “How are you feeling?”
Her shoulders slumped, noticeably, she was sure. And she didn’t care. She was done with caring. Which meant that she didn’t care that she’d probably start caring again within the next twenty-four hour period. Most likely sooner than later.
If Dallas thought her answer short, he didn’t say so. Instead, he cast her a not-so-subtle look that was one part condescension at her obvious lie, and three parts invitation to continue talking.
It was an invitation she ignored.
He tried again. “You’re all dressed.”
“I was thinking about going to a bookstore. Getting dressed seemed like a good first step, unless trends in Scotland are a lot different than the States and I should go out naked.” Sarcasm: It might not be the most mature or necessary option, but it still felt better than nothing.
This time, the pointed look he shot her didn’t hold any arrogance. Startling, his eyes flickered up and down her form. It was done very quickly, but she saw it anyway.
“No, most people wear clothing here too,” he stated calmly, like he hadn’t just thought about her undressed. “You weren’t planning on going out alone, were you?”
“I’m not that stupid,” she told him. “I was going to knock on my guards’ door.”
“I can come with you if you’d like.”
She looked up at him, surprised by the offer and pathetically pleased at the same time, even while she was sure it was a bad idea. Spending time with Dallas was dangerous, since she was already certain they’d kill each other if they ever did try to date. It’d be a lot easier to just stop thinking about him in that capacity and move on.
Life, of course, was not that easy. It was complicated, a factor that sometimes made it exceptionally worthwhile and sometimes drove her nuts.
She shrugged. “If you want to.”
“Since I’m up.” His tone was just as casual. “Write Al and Deanda a note while I get ready. It’ll just take a minute.”
Ignoring how he had issued orders instead of politely asking, she went over to the little gift packet the hotel provided and sat down to write the note. It took a mere minute to scribble out a message, promising to be back by ten at the latest. She figured that would be enough time, but looked up to ask Dallas his opinion on the subject.
She immediately looked away again.
He was standing there in nothing but his underwear. And they weren’t boxers either, but form-fitting and white.
Sabrina could feel her cheeks flush up and hoped he wouldn’t notice. She snuck a second peek just to see whether he’d seen her look in the first place, but he seemed preoccupied with pulling his jeans up. Which meant she got yet another intimate look at his practically naked body.
Her mind raced to justify what had just happened. She hadn’t intended to go for a second appraisal. She hadn’t even intentionally gone for a first!
“Would you mind helping me with my wings?”
Dallas’ voice interrupted her desperate and ridiculous attempts at excusing herself of crimes she’d innocently committed, leaving her to struggle at reorienting herself. “What?”
“Would you help me get my shirt on? This one gets caught on my wings sometimes.”
He was just topless now. Topless and barefoot, which somehow made him look sexier. Sabrina was not in any way attracted to feet, but she couldn’t help but think Dallas looked more rugged without socks and shoes on.
“Right, of course,” she said, still far too flustered. “Let me just call the guys to let them know we’re coming over.”
She turned away so she could do that, using the moment to collect herself. Which didn’t work any better than she’d expected it to. When she put her phone back down and turned toward him again, she didn’t feel nearly sensible enough.
“You’re going to have to show me how to do this,” she informed him. “I don’t want to break anything.”
“That makes two of us,” he laughed. “I’ll tell you what to do. Your job is just to follow what I say and be careful.”
“If that’s my job, do I get paid for it?” She asked lightly.
“Yup,” was his prompt reply, which he threw over his shoulder at her. “You get to bask in my presence.”
“Oh, aren’t I the lucky one.” She regarded the silky expanses doubtfully. “Okay, so what should I do?”
“Start out with the right one,” he directed.
Once she was touching his wings, it was hard not to just bury her face in them and rub her cheeks against their softness. She wondered briefly if angels’ wings felt so nice. Then she wondered if she believed in angels at all, before telling herself that it was rather odd to believe in faeries and not angels. Judging from the tangible evidence in front of her, not to mention her own itchy back, supernatural creatures did exist.
And self-control stunk.
“Just slip it straight over,” he told her. “It’s easier that way.”
She did so with as much care as she could manage. His wings weren’t heavy per se; what they were was cumbersome. Not to mention the fact that she was too short to really perform the job well without causing her arm muscles to ache. It didn’t take her long to admit temporary defeat and re-maneuver him near his couch. Climbing up on it, the extra height helped a lot and she had him dressed much more quickly that way.
“Not bad,” he informed her, giving his shirt one final tug in the back.
Nearby, Alistair stretched in his sleep and made a little noise before going still again. It was a reminder that they weren’t the only ones in the room after all.
“Shocked?” She teased, stepping back down to the carpet.
“No. I always knew you’d make a good faerie.”
She looked up at that, surprised by the sincerity and smidgen of vulnerability in his tone. Their gazes locked melodramatically for the space of three or four very long seconds before Sabrina looked away.
“Well, thanks. I’m glad one of us has confidence in my abilities.”
She started walking toward the door, and he strode over to his duffel-bag to grab deodorant. The activities made it a little less awkward. Still, neither of them spoke again until they were out in the hallway.
Simon, Gerard, Reggie and Martin were waiting outside, and they nodded polite good mornings, which she echoed.
“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” Dallas informed her as they began walking toward the elevator, picking up the conversation where they’d left off. “I mean you’re irrational and stubborn, but –”
“Well thanks,” she interrupted dryly.
“No, I mean,” he tried a second time, easily keeping pace with what for her were long strides.
“That I’m irrational and stubborn?” She finished for him with raised eyebrows.
Dallas began looking trapped. “This isn’t coming out right.”
“Is there a good way to tell someone that?”
Despite giving him a hard time, she was beginning to feel bad. Perhaps not enough to stop, but just enough to feel twinges of remorse for being difficult. He really did seem to be trying to convey something encouraging. She just wasn’t sure what it was.
“Maybe now’s a good time to change the subject.”
“The weather’s nice,” Sabrina told him helpfully, a smile beginning to turn her lips upward even while she fought to repress it.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” He accused.
“A little,” she admitted. “But you’ve got to admit it’s my turn.”
He shrugged, but his typical, obnoxious grin settled on his face all the same. “I suppose so.”
Even if it was at her expense, she liked seeing him smile. It was so cute and flirtatious and incorrigible, promising that if she could just somehow work past her certainty that they wouldn’t work out, it would be a fun ride. And not just in a sensual way, despite how her hormones did like reminding her that he was sexy. Despite being extremely full of his own good opinion, he was making her laugh and think, and just be.
She had been before, evidenced by the last twenty-four years of her life, but it was a slightly different kind of being. She’d been happy before, and she’d felt fulfilled before. It wasn’t as if she’d ever woken up in the middle of the night specifically thinking, “I am Dallas-less.” But now that she was aware of his existence, it was difficult thinking about going back to the way she had been.
They went on in companionable silence until they got to the nearest bookstore, where hot chocolate at the conjoined cafe was first on her priority list. Apparently not addicted to the finer things in life the way she was, Dallas chose to linger in the sci-fi section toward the back of the crowded store. Sabrina watched him walk away out of the corner of her eye, sufficiently distracted enough that the barista behind the counter had to call out twice to get her attention.
She ordered and then moved off to the side to wait, her thoughts slipping right back to her fellow faerie. They stayed there too, even after her drink was ready and she’d picked it up to start meandering toward an area of the store that Dallas was not in. She didn’t want to seem like a stalker, after all.
In a noble effort to banish thoughts of him altogether, she distracted herself by picking up a random book in the literature section. The cover caught her attention, though the description on the back had her returning it to its spot within mere seconds to move on to the next possibility.
Unfortunately, her search was problematic at best. The selection was disappointing, she recognized few of the authors, and she found herself ultimately unimpressed with most of what she did decide to peruse. Giving up, she wandered over to the sci-fi area after all, where she found her absent escort looking mildly intrigued by a book he was holding.
“Eh.” He said, putting the novel back with one final glance. “You?”
“Nope. I thought maybe you could introduce me to something from your geeky world.” Sabrina didn’t mention that she read her fair share of the genre herself.
Dallas looked down his nose at her, his wings arching upward in what she interpreted as mock affront. “Not everyone who reads sci-fi is a geek.”
“No,” she conceded with a smirk. “You’re right.”
He crossed his arms, his wings relaxing downward as he did. “But?”
“There are only four kinds of people who read this kind of stuff,” Sabrina explained with a continuing grin. “Starting with teenage boys who wish there was an alternative universe where they could score hot chicks.”
He tried not to laugh. “Number two?”
“Number two,” she proceeded, her own expression growing a bit more wicked when she caught sight of the perfect example to illustrate her words. “Grown women who like it kinky.” Sabrina picked up a novel with a woman holding a whip and wearing skin-tight black leather. “Case-in-point.”
Dallas nearly went into a choking fit at that. When he had caught his breath, he rolled his right wrist out, an invitation to go on.
So she did. “Number three: Men and women who really do believe in aliens and unicorns. And faeries. And category four is filled with the girlfriends of boys who read sci-fi/fantasy novels. So they do it just to impress their boyfriends.”
She knew that’s how she had started out. Alex had been a huge fantasy fan. Which some people might say was ironic.
“So there are four categories?” He asked. “That’s it?”
She could tell he was scheming from the controlled but cunning expression he wore. She went along gamely anyway.
“Then if I recommend a book to you and you start reading it, which category would you fall into?”
“I like it kinky,” she replied, sliding one hand up to her hip and all but daring him to comment.
He got a good laugh at that.
Sabrina felt herself smiling too, enjoying her own wit as much as his reaction to it. She watched as Dallas switched his gaze to the rows of bookshelves behind her, his eyes roving them. It took him just a moment to find what he was looking for, and he stepped to the left, his hand stretching out to grab a relatively short but thick paperback.
Sabrina accepted it when he held it out to her, regarding the front cover with some doubt. It featured a muscular man wearing a wolf pelt and an oppressively large sword, with a scantily clad pixie creature hovering above him.
“Well, you could take that instead.” Dallas pointed to a hardback featuring a front cover that was dripping with a ridiculous amount of sensuality.
“Fair enough,” she acquiesced with a skeptical twist of her lips. “I’ll stick with this one.”
Another aggravating smile touched both his lips and eyes. “You sure? This looks like it might be more your style, kinky girl.”
Sabrina already knew she was red from her previous comment, but she played it cool otherwise. “This will do. For now.”
Not giving him a chance to respond, she turned to exit the aisle, sidestepping to move past one of her guards, who was pretending to scan a book. He put it back down like he was just another shopper, but only after Dallas had followed her out from the section.
Risking a glance back, Sabrina met Dallas’ gaze, and he grinned back at her. Stepping up to pay for her novel, she shook her head in amusement, very aware of his presence just behind her both there and all the way to the door.
When he held it open for her, she felt her heart flutter like she was a teenager with a high school crush. But the sensation stopped dead at the sight of someone whose features she knew much more intimately, from his short brown hair to his light brown eyes.
The person in front of her was about five-foot seven, with a nose that was a bit too big for his still endearing face. He was far from physically perfect, but that had never mattered before when he’d teased her or held her tight or took her hand when they were walking.
Sabrina’s world, which had been somewhat revolving around Dallas, took a sudden and sharp turn to spiral downward at a nauseating pace.
Noticing her at the same time she did him, Alex swallowed nervously. “Sabrina? What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” It came out more harshly than she intended it to, but she was too flustered to apologize for her tone. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m on vacation,” he said hesitatingly, like he had every right to be in Glasgow and was wondering why she’d think otherwise. But there was something strained in his voice too.
“Oh.” She processed that information, taking a few seconds longer than she really should have. “Yeah. Right. Me too.”
“Who’s your friend?” He asked with a little too much curiosity.
Her “friend” didn’t wait for her to introduce him. “I’m Dallas.”
He offered his hand, though it was obvious from the tension practically crackling in the air that the action was more to test grips than for courtesy’s sake. His accent was unusually thick too, Sabrina noticed somewhere in the back of her brain.
She tried to snap out of her mental fog, a difficult task when both her mind and her emotions were making erratic and sickening circles. “Oh yeah. Sorry. Dallas, this is Alex. Alex, this is Dallas.”
“Hey,” Alex said in what could have been construed as polite acknowledgement if he hadn’t turned back to Sabrina so fast. “Look, I have to go, but can we meet up later today. Just for old time’s sake? You know, catch up and everything?”
She found herself hesitating instead of telling him “no” like she should have. “I don’t know what my plans are for tonight yet.”
Sabrina knew she shouldn’t want to “catch up and everything” with him after he’d broken her heart and left her pining. But the situation wasn’t nearly so simple.
“Just for a cup of coffee,” he persisted. “We could meet up right here at say, seven?”
“Well,” she stalled, wanting to want to say something suitably dismissive. Yet the words that came out of her mouth were, “I suppose for a little while.”
Immediately, she regretted them, calling herself all kinds of nasty names in her head. Why she couldn’t just say no, she wasn’t sure. It was a simple word. Just one syllable and universally understood, which meant that Alex would have been able to comprehend it even being dense as he was.
“So I’ll meet you here?”
“Sure.” She stated it with a lot less enthusiasm than he probably wanted to hear, which suited her just fine. If she got lucky, maybe he’d take the hint and go away. Or maybe she’d grow a spine and tell him to go away. “I’ll see you then.”
“Okay. See you later.” He faltered like he wanted to say something else, then nodded at Dallas and walked off.
Sabrina watched him go, feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu. He was leaving her yet again. And she had no idea how she was supposed to feel about it.
“Who was that?” Dallas interrupted her thoughts. “An old lover?”
“Old boyfriend,” she clarified, somehow needing to make the distinction.
His jaw tightened regardless.
She’d fast-learned that Dallas wasn’t a very subtle man, so she wasn’t surprised when he offered to act as backup if she was going to keep her appointment with Alex. He probably thought he was being smooth by offering Alistair and Deanda’s attendance as well.
Since Sabrina didn’t even know if she wanted to go in the first place, she didn’t decline the offer. She didn’t say much of anything while they walked back through the crowded streets, too trapped in her thoughts to care much about the chemistry she’d just been feeling with Dallas.
She hadn’t cuddled with Dallas, whiling away lazy Saturday afternoons with him. She hadn’t planned out her life with him, or wasted countless hours and thoughts and plans on him, thinking that there was assuredly a future.
It was hard not to be angry with Alex for intruding on her life, uninvited and undesired when she was in a place where she could move on. With each thought, her steps became more and more rigid, and her eyes grew more moist. It was stupid to care about him, but she didn’t know how to stop.
Back at the hotel room, Sabrina didn’t bother to greet Alistair and his faerie queen, who were looking quite comfortable together on the one couch, watching TV. Instead, she walked straight into the bathroom, kicking a stray used towel to the side and dropping the toilet seat down to sit on. Covering her face with her hands, she let her semi-composed façade disappear. She wanted to go to bed and not wake up for a very long time. It was unnerving how exhausting the brief encounter had been and still continued to be.
Through the door, she could hear the murmur of a conversation ensuing. It was muted enough that she couldn’t make out the words, but she knew they were talking about her anyway.
There was a knock at the door. Since she automatically knew who it was, Sabrina called out permission to come in. Sure enough, Deanda stepped in and immediately shut the door behind her.
“How are you?”
“You don’t look furious,” Deanda observed with quiet compassion. “You look like you’re going to throw up.”
Sabrina didn’t respond right away. It was impossible to when a sick, twisted thought was forming inside her mind, one she didn’t bother pushing to the side. It was too realistic a possibility to wave away so easily. In fact, she considered it so carefully that Deanda had to ask her what she was thinking. And even then, Sabrina had to contemplate it for another several seconds before she replied.
“You don’t think he’s with the HPAC, do you?” She asked, her heart breaking at the possibility.
At first, Deanda’s face contorted into the beginnings of incredulity. Then it turned into a pained thoughtfulness. She didn’t say a word.
She didn’t need to.
Sabrina’s already skeptical nature was working double-time anyway. She couldn’t believe that Alex would want to get back together with her all of a sudden; not after he’d forced her out of his life so thoroughly. At the same time, if he did work for the enemies of faeriekind, he should have kept dating her. The HPAC had tried using Eugene in a similar way, so obviously it wasn’t against stooping to such low levels.
She had to wonder whether George had been lying when they questioned him. Perhaps her enemies hadn’t found her online at all. Maybe they had found her through Alex. For all she knew, their whole relationship had been a lie, right from the day they met.
The more she thought about it, the more none of it made sense. Yet she couldn’t escape the recognition that Alex hadn’t seemed surprised to see her. Disturbed, yes, but not really surprised. Or if he had been taken aback, he’d done an absolutely brilliant job of covering it. And if she remembered her ex-boyfriend at all, he wasn’t very good at acting.
Seeing how much the very possibility was hurting her friend, Deanda tried to offer a few plausible counter-arguments that didn’t convince either of them. It seemed fairly clear that, whatever Alex was doing in Scotland, it was something less than innocent. No matter how much Sabrina wished otherwise.
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