Updated: May 18
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Chapter 18: Even if Sabrina hadn’t been suspicious about Alex’s intentions, Kenneth flat-out refused to let her go after he heard what happened. And while Sabrina felt guilty knowing she was standing her ex up, the more she contemplated the various parts and pieces to his sudden appearance, the more she became certain her suspicions were dead-on accurate.
He had to be working with the HPAC. There was no other logical way to look at it.
Alex wasn’t the adventurous type, so she couldn’t see him paying money to go to a different country without good reason. Back when they had a healthy relationship, he would have gone with her had she asked, but that would have been to make her happy, not for his own sake.
The only thing that didn’t add up was that he was something of a wimp, a quality that had annoyed her more than once while they were dating. Alex avoided drama at all cost, whether it was physical, emotional or mental. If he wasn’t comfortable with something, then he shut down. So she couldn’t help but wonder why he would willingly work with a group that specialized in risks.
Cooped up again in the hotel room, Sabrina puzzled over that problem the whole day long. Their forced stay shouldn’t have been that bad, especially since Alistair somehow acquired a deck of cards and a full set of poker chips. On any normal day, she would have enjoyed trying her luck against Deanda and the two young men who were fast becoming important to her. But as seven o’clock drew closer and closer, Alex commandeered more of her brain.
Even when she gave up pretending to have fun and headed off to bed, her rest was interrupted again and again by her increasingly itchy back. Time ticked on, replacing that irritation with a pain that kept growing until it felt like her insides were trying to break out of her skin. Trying not to cry, Sabrina made her way into the bathroom, where she sat down on the floor and embraced her knees. Her head swam, and she had to wonder if she was going to throw up.
That sensation was a far cry from pleasant, yet it was nothing compared to the fiery aches emanating from around her spine. In a desperate attempt to alleviate it, she tore off her shirt so she could press her bare skin against the cool tile. It didn’t help nearly as much as she’d hoped it would. And once her body had warmed the floor, it didn’t help at all. As the minutes passed, the only changes that happened were for the worse.
Not wanting to wake anyone up, she swallowed her distress as best as she could; though every so often a whimper would escape her clamped lips.
Sabrina had no idea how much time went by before she felt her back pull apart like elastic. Sharp silk slid through and against her skin with agonizing slowness, and her body shivered uncontrollably despite the heat radiating off her.
And then it was over. The wrenching pain stopped, leaving her just sore and exhausted. Her fingers spanned the tile absently like she was getting ready to push herself up, yet her arms didn’t even tense in preparation. She was too spent.
The floor was anything but comfortable, and she could feel some kind of liquid dripping down her back to her side and beyond. Whether it was sweat, blood, pus or some disgusting combination of the three, she had no idea. Nor did she care. She would shower later. For now, she couldn’t move even if she wanted to.
Her eyes closed, and she must have passed out from sheer exhaustion. The next thing she knew, Deanda was crouched in front of her, shaking her shoulders and calling to her in tones that suggested Sabrina might get slapped if she didn’t respond.
“I’m awake,” she said groggily.
“You scared the hell out of me!” Deanda sat back into a kneeling position like she was about to give thanks to God. “You weren’t there when I woke up, and then I find you in here looking like you’re just about dead. And all I could think was that the HPAC got to you and you were dying or comatose for life, or who knows what!”
“So you’re saying you’d miss me?”
Sabrina recognized how she sounded drugged. She was trying to calm her roommate down but couldn’t seem to make her eyes stay open. Hardly reassuring.
Deanda held her palm to her forehead and closed her eyes for several seconds before opening them again to glare downward. “Why didn’t you tell me your wings were coming in? I would have given you half a bottle of aspirin or something.”
“I guess now I know for next time,” Sabrina slurred, thankful that there wasn’t going to be any next time. Once was more than enough.
It took her a little while before she could gather the energy to keep her eyes open. And moving into a sitting position brought all the aches in her back into sharp focus. But it also made her take notice of her new wings, which were rather squished against the wall. Ignoring the resulting discomfort, she flexed the muscles beneath her shoulders, instantly intrigued to feel a light breeze when the colorful expanses moved in response.
It made her want to see them.
Standing up, a wave of dizziness hit her hard, but Sabrina took several deep breaths and steadied herself against the sink. Moving her arms very carefully – though even that movement brought a certain amount of pain – she slid her bra off. It had already unhooked itself in the process of her wings emerging, and she let it slide to the floor.
It didn’t matter that it dropped into a small puddle of blood. She was too busy staring in awe and fascination at the two beautiful attachments stretching behind her. Turning first to one side and then to the other, Sabrina did her best to view her new wings from every angle possible. They arched upward in perfect unison, all intriguing curves and delicate contours that looked so touchable she actually shivered.
They were green like her brother’s and nephew’s, but the exact hue was uniquely her. On the outside, they were the same bright spring shade as her eyes, then blended into a brighter lime further in. Far from being retro, the color scheme somehow seemed an extension of her personality, conveying everything she felt she was.
Still standing a step behind her, Deanda smiled while Sabrina continued staring at herself. “They’re stunning.”
“They really are, aren’t they?” She tried to suppress the bout of extreme narcissism her wings had brought on. “When do you think yours are going to show up?”
Deanda sighed. “I appear to be an awkward preteen still waiting for puberty.”
Sabrina gave her friend a onceover. “Yeah. Sure. You’re so underdeveloped.”
Deanda laughed but switched the subject back to her friend. “Who cares about me right now. Yours look amazing.”
Sabrina preened some more. “I can’t get over how gorgeous they are!”
“So are you going to test out your theory?”
“Which one?” She asked absently, turning around all the way and swiveling her neck in an attempt to see her wings from yet another view.
It didn’t work very well.
“Whether these bad boys are good in bed,” Deanda explained wickedly. “You know you want to.”
“Yup,” Sabrina agreed. “Getting wings has turned me into a ginormous slut with no inhibitions. Oops! It’s not my fault; blame my pretty accessories.”
“Totally. What time is it anyway?”
Hearing that made her remember how exhausted she still was, and she stooped down to pick up her bra without thinking. But Deanda cleared her throat and looked at her pointedly.
“You sure about that?”
It took Sabrina a minute to realize what the problem was. She sighed when it dawned on her. “And so it begins.”
“We’ll get you a faerie tailor first thing tomorrow.” Realizing her mistake, Deanda grimaced. “I mean this afternoon.”
Sabrina yawned hugely. “So what am I supposed to do with these gorgeous pain in the necks?”
That description was way too literal, she thought, running her hand across her shoulder and collarbone. She needed a serious massage. That and a couple of painkillers.
Deanda studied her with a small frown. “First off, you really need to clean up.”
At that, Sabrina finally managed to take a critical look at herself. Except for the wings, she now recognized what a hot mess she was, with matted hair on one side of her head from falling asleep on the hard tile floor. The rest of it stuck up in random directions, and her eyes were bloodshot with bags underneath. Even her wings, she realized, had small blotches of red and some kind of clear mucus splattered on them.
It was rather gross, a realization that had her turning to the shower. Deanda waited until she finished with her hair before opening the curtain a bit.
“Turn around so I can get your backside.”
Sabrina obeyed, feeling ridiculous in the process. “Is there some way to do this on my own? Or am I destined to bathe like some Playboy fantasy forever?”
“There are quick tricks,” Deanda assured, running a wet washcloth over her aerial appendages. “Like you know those long sticks with the loofas attached? They sell well enough in the human world, but it was a faerie who invented them millennia ago.”
Sabrina nodded, her mind far more focused on her new nerve endings. Her wings seemed to be as sensitive as the rest of her skin. She could feel every move of the washcloth, the difference between the hot water and the cooler air, and the droplets cascading all over them.
She twitched them in thought, accidentally flicking water at her face in the process.
Other than a single laugh, Deanda didn’t acknowledge that, moving right along. “Also, wings are a lot like a second pair of arms, so you can use them by themselves for this kind of thing.”
“Interesting” was Sabrina’s single comment on that information, but she meant it.
“I’m going to go get you a shirt that you can slash up for your wings,” Deanda interrupted her musing, setting the tiny towel on the bathtub ledge and eyeing her friend thoughtfully. “Do you have any in particular that you want to cut up?”
Sabrina tried and failed to think of what she had. “Just grab any old t-shirt and bra.” She ended up drawing the last word into three syllables when she remembered that it wasn’t that simple. “What do faerie women do about bras?”
“I’m really sorry, Za.” Deanda looked supremely apologetic. “I haven’t thought about that kind of thing for so long, and your wings came in so fast.”
Sabrina sighed, feeling extremely insecure. “So I’m going to have to look like a hussy until then?”
“Until we can get you fitted for new ones,” Deanda confirmed. “Sorry, hun.”
She ducked out to get a t-shirt, and Sabrina tried not to let sheer crankiness take her over. Her pretty new wings were already proving what she’d known they would be: major inconveniences.
Deanda returned with a pile of clothing, including a tank top that she carefully eyed and measured against Sabrina’s body before she started cutting. Mercifully, the camisole had built-in support that made wearing a bra a non-necessity.
Sabrina had forgotten about it since making the purchase, and thanked God she’d bought it in the first place.
Five minutes later and with even more help from Deanda, she was fitted out in the sporty orange top and a pair of jeans. It had been a little difficult to get the elastic band up and over her wings, and her back was protesting the twisting and turning she’d had to do. But she was nevertheless dressed and ready to take on the world. It was amazing how being clothed gave her a dash of instant optimism.
Deanda, being Deanda, had already woken the boys. She claimed it was by accident, but Sabrina was quite sure her friend had done it on purpose, probably to play the matchmaker a little more than she already had.
Sabrina’s newfound positivity didn’t dwindle per se. It just made room for shyness, knowing she was about to step out for official critique by two people who knew their wings. She really did want to show hers off, but it wasn’t until Deanda called out for her in a too-sweet voice that she finally emerged.
Alistair’s brows went up at her entrance, and he smiled in obvious approval. That was nice to see. But it was Dallas’ opinion she was most interested in.
Even newly woken, he didn’t disappoint. Head jerking back not once but twice in surprise, his eyes got big and he blinked a few times. When he did manage to say something, one word was all he could get out.
As reactions went, Sabrina wasn’t going to object.
“How much time do you think it’ll take before he says something intelligible?” Alistair bent down to mutter at Deanda.
Sabrina didn’t think Dallas heard him, but he spoke up as if on cue. “You look nice.”
She could feel her wings flutter happily behind her. It didn’t really matter if he wasn’t the type to tell her she was absolutely ravishing; the look he was giving her said more than enough.
“So can you size-change too, Auntie Za?”
Sabrina gave her nephew a look that was part exasperation and part amusement. “I have no idea. How do you do that?”
According to Deanda and Alistair, it wasn’t all that difficult of a process, yet neither of them could give a decent how-to guide. The best she could get out of them was something about taking a deep breath and pulling one’s energy from the head downward. It didn’t make much sense to Sabrina, but both of them assured it would soon enough.
Dallas still hadn’t said anything particularly clever. Though to his credit, he was at least trying not to gape anymore.
Since she wasn’t about to try any such thing at the moment and risk having to put on her clothes all over again, Sabrina said she’d attempt it later. Besides, something told her she had a little ways to go still in that department, and she had no problem admitting as much.
“Yeah,” Deanda sighed glumly. “But at least you’re halfway there. My back hasn’t even really started itching yet.”
“Count your blessings,” Sabrina told her, shuddering in recollection. “Does size-changing hurt too?”
To her great relief, they all assured her that it wasn’t anything more than tiring. Not that she didn’t trust the boys, but she was happy that Deanda had once had the wings and capabilities of a regular faerie. For all she knew, Alistair and Dallas’ pain tolerance were much higher than hers. After living with her for the past five years, Deanda knew very well what Sabrina’s limits were.
She could also read her like a book, so when Sabrina rolled her shoulders irritably, her best friend spoke up right away.
“Let’s go get something to eat. And you guys do have aspirin over here, right? I’m all out.”
Alistair nodded. “There’s a Marks & Spencer down the street. They should have whatever you’re looking for.”
Deanda phoned their bodyguards while the boys got dressed. Sabrina couldn’t help but notice how Dallas got his shirt on without any help. If she was a suspicious woman, she would have thought he’d been using the other day as an excuse to get her close.
Simon, Gerard, Reggie and Martin were all waiting for them when they opened the door, as was Alistair’s entourage. And just like before, when they left the building, they broke up into groups, starting with four of the guards in front and ending with the other four in the back. The only difference was that Deanda paired off with Sabrina in a show of support.
They were discussing what pain medication would work best while they crossed the street, the signals giving every impression that they were safe taking the right of way. The two women were more than halfway to the other side when a vehicle resembling a white minivan raced around the corner. It nearly hit Deanda, who just barely leapt out of the way, and did manage to split the larger group in half.
“What the bloody –” Sabrina heard someone exclaim. The words weren’t fully out of his mouth before the passenger’s door opened and a hand reached out to grab her wrist.
Her guards were already moving toward her, but all she could focus on was her attacker’s unmovable grip. His familiar scent snaked its way through her nostrils, reminding her of things she didn’t ever want to be reminded of again.
Dragging her feet uselessly into the ground, Sabrina screamed in full-out panic, attracting the attention of other pedestrians. Most of them seemed frozen with indecision, taken aback by the violence and chaos of the scene unfolding before them. One person was activating her camera phone.
Gerard was so close to her by then that she could almost reach out and touch him. Reggie was a step behind, with her other two guards right on his heels. But they still weren’t fast enough.
Another smell, this time sickeningly sweet and spicy, permeated the general vicinity. With just two exceptions, the entire faerie party froze in their tracks, looking pained and disoriented. Alistair and even Dallas were nearly doubled over, and the guards were just barely managing to stay upright.
Sabrina felt the same effects, though not anywhere close to the same degree. She kept struggling, but her screams dulled in her own ears and she knew what little leverage she’d had was now reduced even more. Her body felt way too heavy, and her brain was working through a mental fog while her stomach twisted.
She recognized that she and the rest of her party were under some kind of chemical attack. She just couldn’t seem to do much about it.
Deanda was the only one unaffected by the cloying smell. Shrieking for help, she was pulling on Sabrina’s other wrist, locked in a dangerous game of tug-of-war with the HPAC. She even seemed to be winning the fight until someone came up behind her and clubbed her on the head.
The man holding onto Sabrina’s wrist held out a small can and sprayed it directly in her face, sending her into total darkness for several seconds. She could still feel herself pitch forward though, one more reason to feel like she might throw up. The next thing she knew, she was being unceremoniously dumped across two men’s laps, her wings pressed at odd angles against the roof and her feet jammed against the door. Tires squealed beneath her, taking off to places she knew she had no desire to go.
With what strength she had left, Sabrina tried to push away from her captors. But Mr. Smiley pressed her back down. She could tell it was him from his cologne, even though it was somewhat masked by whatever potion they’d used back there.
“Don’t try anything funny, Princess,” he told her in a tone that was more condescending than anything else. It was like he knew she didn’t have it in her anyway.
Her head spun unnaturally, her stomach remained in knots, and the rest of her body still felt far too weighted. Yet the sound of the deep American voice succeeded in sending her into hysterics, or the closest she could get to it in her current condition.
Despite her weakened state, her sluggish thrashing must have been enough to at least annoy the HPAC. She heard Mr. Smiley ask for a syringe and felt the needle slip into her skin a moment later.
After that, Sabrina’s last conscious movement was to twitch her arms in a final pointless but heartfelt attempt to get away. And the last thing she heard was his laugh.
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