Updated: Jul 27
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Chapter 26: It was such an unexpected question that Sabrina had to practically process each word separately.
The problem was that, even if she managed to make it off the ground, Sabrina didn’t know how adept she’d be at landing. That was the part that scared her.
On the other side of the door, her brother must have taken her indecision as an indication that she was still mad at him. He gave her a small space of time to say something back, then tried again, completely failing to address the real reason for her hesitation.
“You’ve just got your wings,” he went on. “And it’s a beautiful day outside. Seems like a shame to waste that combination.”
Despite misreading her so badly, his words hit home. She needed a mere minute to ponder the possibilities after that. Flying seemed like an amazing alternative to dwelling on her status as a would-be murderess, and the complications brought about by certain members of the opposite gender. She stood up.
“Fine,” she said when she opened the door. “But I’m not promising to be any good at it.”
There was an element of relief in Kenneth’s smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to push you too hard.”
“You’d better not.” She fell into step with him down the hallway; Michael, Richard and four of her brother’s men following directly. “Because this is going to be like teaching a kid to ride a bike. The only differences being that you can’t bribe me with chocolate, and it’s a lot further to the ground if I fall.”
He shot her a glance rife with mock contemplation. “I bet I could bribe you with chocolate.”
“Just if it’s the really good stuff,” she disagreed with a solemn shake of her head. “I’m not going to make it that easy for you.”
“Finding ‘the really good stuff’ shouldn’t be difficult considering you’re used to Hershey,” he teased.
“Hey,” she warned with the start of what felt like a real grin. “Say what you want about Hershey, but they make a mean peanut butter cup.”
His skeptical silence indicated exactly what he thought of the creation.
Sabrina had long since noticed the appalling lack of peanut butter in Scotland, so she wasn’t surprised by his negative reaction. Nor did she bother trying to defend her tastes to him. It was clear from the way his lips were twisted that his opinion on the matter was set in stone.
Instead, she said the next thing that popped into her head. “So what did you do with Alex?”
She wondered right away whether she wanted to take the question back. But Kenneth’s immediate response was wry, not angry.
“I locked him in the Tower of London where he’ll wait until I decide whether or not to cut off his head.”
“Funny,” she chided, her stomach taking an unnatural twist at the small possibility that he might be serious. “Now for real.”
“Why do you care so much?” He asked with what seemed like genuine confusion.
“I wish I knew,” she muttered, more to herself than for his benefit. Then in normal tones: “And you’re avoiding the question.”
“You’re not going to try to break him out, are you?” He looked skeptical.
“That depends on where you’re keeping him,” she replied sternly. “And I am visiting him regardless.”
It was his turn to grumble at her. “I don’t suppose my opinion matters, does it?”
“Not in this,” she informed him. “You might be the big, bad faerie king of Scotland, but I’m your sister and a younger one at that. My job in life is to drive you crazy.”
“Everyone knows that,” she replied with a knowing air. Despite her limited experience with sibling relations, she was certain she was right. “So where is he?”
Kenneth acquiesced with a small but telling sigh. “He has a very nice suite complete with a bathroom, TV, movie and videogame collection, and monitored access to the internet. I think the little idiot will be fine.”
Sabrina would have replied, but they were stepping outside at that point. And what greeted her there left her unable to do much more than gape in appreciation.
On one side of the expansive lawn lay a tennis court; at the far end, a marked field with four opposing goals. What sport was supposed to be played on it, she had no idea. Nor did she care too much about that ignorance when there were winding lines of vibrant purple thistles and yellow and white tulips spread out in front of her. Along with a series of taller shrubs, the flowers bordered a series of pathways, two of which led to a smoky-veined marble fountain that happily spouted out water.
It all made for a beautiful picture, like something out of a storybook. She dared even Rappaccini’s daughter to cultivate such a plot of land.
“Do you like it?” Kenneth asked, his voice full of well-deserved pride and satisfaction.
“It’s gorgeous,” she breathed, her eyes roaming over the area, accepting it for the complex work of art it was.
“And safe.” Kenneth bent down a little to pick a beautiful purple flower off of the first enormous bush they walked by. “It’s not only in a remote area, but we have it shielded with so much Faetenin that even the most visually astute human with the best pair of special-issue sunglasses couldn’t detect it.”
That explained how she hadn’t been able to see it the night before. Which meant that her eyesight wasn’t entirely up to par yet after all.
“Isn’t that expensive?”
He nodded. “But necessary.”
Sabrina looked a bit doubtful, but opted not to voice her exact opinion. To her, it seemed like an admittedly exquisite extravagance.
“How often do you use this place?” She asked, trying to keep the judgment out of her voice.
“Only when we need to.”
Sabrina nodded like she understood, though in reality she thought the sweeping estate was rather unnecessary if used so little. Not wanting to dwell on disagreements, she concentrated on the beautiful surroundings instead while they crossed to the playing field.
Kenneth stopped when they were almost at its center. “So are you ready to learn?”
Nervous, Sabrina whet her lips and glanced over at the guards. Michael would laugh at her if she made an idiot out of herself. She was sure of it. Maybe not in any obvious or immediate manner considering how he was in the presence of his boss and everything, but he’d be entertained nonetheless.
“Do I get a safety harness or training wings or something?”
He shook his head. “No, but I’m not going to send you miles up. We’re going to take this slowly and easily.”
“Slow and easy,” she repeated to encourage herself, though it did little good. “You promise?”
Kenneth’s answer was confident and sincere, but it didn’t make her feel much better. The truth was that she did trust him. A lot. She just trusted in gravity more, not to mention her ability to royally screw things up.
“Now I’ve already seen you flex your wings, which is good,” Kenneth started. “They seem functional. And as wings go, yours are magnificent. I’d say it’s obvious you come from good stock.”
She flushed at the compliment. Even if he had turned it into a self-congratulatory statement, it was difficult not to smile right back at him.
“I want you to spread your wings out as far as you can,” he continued. “There are tricks you’ll master as you go along. But for now, always keep your wings fully extended before you attempt flight.”
“Yes, sir.” Sabrina snapped off a jaunty salute. The lighthearted gesture made her feel a bit better, and she did her best to focus on the giddy excitement in her head instead of the competing butterflies in her stomach.
He laughed, a warm rich sound. “There’s the spirit. Now you don’t want to beat them straight forward and backward. All that’ll do is create a powerful gust of wind that could knock something over.”
Wishing she had a pen and paper to take notes, she nodded, doing her best to tuck everything he said inside her retrievable memory.
“Your wings aren’t going to work like a bird’s simply because your body isn’t shaped like a bird’s. You go straight up and down instead of sloping outward into a tail.”
Thinking of her well-endowed derriere, Sabrina let out a little snort of amusement, which she hid by covering her mouth like she had a tickle in her throat. Kenneth didn’t have a clue, she was pretty sure.
A quick glance over at Michael, however, revealed a very subtle turn of his lips. Which didn’t surprise her.
She returned her attention to her brother.
“So you’re not going to be able to make your wings line up completely horizontally to the ground unless you’re horizontal as well.”
Sabrina rolled her shoulders in thought.
“Just for practice,” he pressed, “Spread and tilt them forward as much as you can. Be careful not to pull any muscles. Remember that they’re attached to your body and they can be hurt.”
She copied his motions, marveling at her wings even while she tensed her shoulders to unfurl them. It was still novel knowing she had additions to her anatomy that hadn’t existed too long ago. It was still paranormal to feel the currents of air she stirred when she stretched. Even so, she did notice how it was easy to tell when she’d moved them forward too much.
She wondered if it was pathetic that she couldn’t force them forward any further.
Sabrina frowned in heavy concentration as Kenneth continued to demonstrate what she should do. He moved his own wings slowly enough that he didn’t so much as lift a heel off the ground, and she watched intently. It wasn’t rocket science, but she didn’t want to mess it up all the same.
“Now you try it, just faster.”
Sabrina did, but it was a wimpy attempt and she knew it. She was attached to the ground both physically and psychologically, and it was simply difficult to think about leaving the nice, stable earth. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d gotten over her fear of flying in an airplane with millions of dollars in technology and research to hold her up. She definitely couldn’t boast the same of herself, which made what she was supposed to do that much more difficult to consider.
“That’s a good start,” Kenneth criticized, though with the nicest possible tone. “But you’re going to need to go faster than that.”
Sabrina obliged by stepping up the pace. Her wings moved forward and downward, creating an audible displacement of air. And when she moved them up and backward again, she could feel the power they held as they slid through the air around her.
She didn’t know if it was on an up or down-stroke that she felt her toes leave the ground, but the next thing she knew, she was hovering inches above it. In a moment of both panic and awe, she lost her concentration and froze, a mistake that sent her falling the miniscule distance back to earth.
Kenneth was smiling big like a proud father who’d instructed his child to do something terribly important.
Sabrina felt silly at the attention and, at the same time, pretty darn proud of herself. It was a small feat she’d accomplished, yet she had to acknowledge how good it felt. Without further prompting from her brother, she beat her wings again, this time to rise a full foot above the trimmed lawn.
The hair on her arms rose in delighted surprise. She felt almost drunk on the sensation of defying gravity.
“Easy there, Icarus,” her brother teased when she rose a bit higher. “Don’t get too close to the sun.”
“You’re way too intellectual.” She inched upward yet again. Her wings and back muscles had already begun burning a bit from the effort, but she wasn’t quite ready to come back down. “You’re thinking Greek mythology, and I have Peter Pan’s ‘We Can Fly’ stuck in my head.”
He laughed. “That’s probably more fitting anyway.”
Sabrina decided after several more strokes that the aches in her upper torso had reached the point where they outweighed the rush of the moment. But looking down showed she had risen a good five feet into the air. She knew she was being a coward for dreading the notion of falling such a short distance, but dread it she did. So she glanced at Kenneth for encouragement and instruction.
Fortunately, he seemed to understand her dilemma without asking.
“If you want to descend slowly, you have a couple of options,” he told her. “The first is to angle your wings so that they’re more perpendicular with the ground.”
She nodded and tilted them as directed. Within ten seconds of the tentative change, she’d dropped a foot.
“Or,” he added, “slow down how many times your wings are moving per minute.”
That idea made her very nervous for some reason, so she continued following the first piece of advice. Her feet touched the soft grass again, and she let her posture relax. She figured she was seriously out of shape if she could be so exhausted after such a very short time of flying.
“So how pathetic am I?”
“You looked beautiful up there,” he told her gallantly, then proceeded to regale her with stories of faeries who hadn’t done as well for various reasons, none of which matched her own.
Sabrina didn’t know how long they stayed out there, especially when she and Kenneth ended up ditching the flying lessons and just talking for quite some time. Like they were much younger and better acquainted, they made themselves comfortable on the grass, sitting and lounging as suited their changing whims.
She was pretty certain he was doing his best to keep the conversation steered away from what had happened to her at the hands of the HPAC, which was sweet of him. Sweet but ultimately pointless. So when an opening in the conversation came, she made herself take it.
He listened quietly at first, but she could tell he wasn’t so calm inside. When she got around to describing the electric shock part of her captivity, her already agitated brother couldn’t contain himself any longer. He got up to pace back and forth in front of her while she continued, his fists clenching and unclenching.
Whether it was her story that swayed him or whether he had been planning on taking her to Alex all along, she didn’t know. But without her even asking, Kenneth suggested a visit, an offer she didn’t refuse.
He didn’t lead her to a dank dungeon cell like she half expected despite his assurances from before. Not that her ex appeared very appreciative when she opened the door to his sizable holding space. Looking despondent, he was staring at the TV screen Kenneth had mentioned before, his fingers twitching manically on a wireless controller.
Alex startled to a hopeful sort of attention when she walked in, but got a lot more nervous when her brother followed behind. Sabrina couldn’t help but wonder exactly what had been said between the two of them after she’d left. Whatever it was, it had evidently made an impact on the younger man.
She turned to the faerie king. “Could I have a bit of time with him?”
He nodded, giving one single caveat. “The door stays open.”
“Done. And Kenneth?” Sabrina paused to make sure she had his full attention. “Thank you.”
He left with one last warning look at Alex and an audible word or two to the guards outside.
“Are you okay?” She began awkwardly.
“Well, this is the nicest prison a guy could ask for, right?” Her ex laughed, the sound bleak and depressing. “I don’t think anyone at the HPAC facility can say they have as many toys as I do.”
She picked up his remote control, just because it was something to do. “I’m not going to let you stay here forever.”
Alex glanced at the doorway with possibly justified paranoia. “I wouldn’t say stuff like that too loud.”
Sabrina made an exasperated noise. “I don’t mean I’m going to break you out. Like I could anyway.”
His concern made her feel a little jumpy herself, despite her innocent intentions.
“Yeah, well, you might not mean you’re going to set off explosives on a plane, but you still don’t yell ‘bomb’ in an airport.”
She cast him a skeptical glare. “Do you really want to start a fight right now?
Alex sighed. “No. I don’t.”
Looking out into the hallway, he eyed Michael and Richard’s angled shoulders with a whole lot of anxious suspicion. Sabrina followed the direction of his gaze.
“Are they going to hurt me if I hug you?” He lowered his voice significantly to ask the question.
“I’m sure they’ll want to,” she admitted. “But no, I think you’re safe.”
So he wrapped his arms around her and she laid her head on his shoulder to take what quiet comfort they could from each other. Sabrina only caught her security team frowning once. Though she might have seen more of it had she bothered to look more than twice.
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