Updated: Aug 24, 2020
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Chapter 29: The next morning, Sabrina felt like she had a rotten hangover with nothing to show for it from the night before.
A glance in the mirror confirmed that she looked as horrible as she felt. Strands of hair stuck out at every direction, like she’d tossed and turned the night away into one giant mass of static electricity. She couldn’t completely open up either eye since her lashes were caked in crusted tears. And even if they hadn’t been, she was still sure she’d have little control over the muscles in her face.
Sabrina licked her chapped lips and regarded her haggard appearance with utter distaste. It was definitely time for a shower.
Someone had very thoughtfully put out new towels and washcloths, but the gesture just made her feel like she was in a hotel rather than at home. She found herself craving the familiarity of her old apartment back in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Scotland had lost its charm at least a few days ago, and she wanted nothing more than to drive down a stretch of highway that was listed as a route instead of a motorway, or see American flags flying high above businesses.
When Richard knocked on her door a little while later, Sabrina was more than ready for a distraction. But his and Michael’s solemn expressions indicated clearly that she wasn’t in store for such pleasantness. Apparently, Kenneth wanted to see her right away in the library.
Checking her phone, which she’d long since set on silent, she could see that she had three missed calls from him.
By the time Sabrina made it down there, everyone was already assembled. Both her brother and Geoffrey sat in the same spots she’d last seen them, looking grave and weary. Alistair and Deanda occupied the couch straight across from Kenneth, and Dallas was standing slightly caddy-corner to the prince.
Deanda patted the spot beside her, despite how wings would make the three-cushioned sofa a lot less roomy. When she complied, Sabrina made sure to drape hers over her lap despite how she’d much rather wrap them around her torso and not let go.
His body tilted forward a bit with apparent intensity, Kenneth gave her just enough time to get situated before he started filling them in. “We’ve been questioning Alex and, admittedly, haven’t been able to extract too much information from him so far.”
Sabrina must have noticeably winced at her brother’s choice of words, because both Deanda and Alistair shot her sympathetic looks.
Dallas’ fists clenched at his side.
If Kenneth saw any of it, he didn’t give any indication. “He did tell us that there are two warring factions within the HPAC with two very different ideas about how best to handle you, Sabrina.”
She did more than flinch then, digging her fingernails into her palm to stay grounded. For a politician, her brother wasn’t being very careful with his words.
“One was to simply bring you in,” Kenneth continued, “and the other was to wait until you’d led them to an opening to Faeriedom. Alex is concerned they might still be trying to use you for that second reason, especially when they were experimenting with various tracking devices while he was with them. We’ve already seen the one they placed in your ear at the Orlando airport, and that was lightweight and well-concealed.”
He didn’t pause between sentences, managing to get more serious with every syllable. “This was a risk we were already aware of, but considering what Alex was able to describe, I’m no longer willing to take the chance the Committee has developed something else we’ve overlooked.”
His wings were still and solemn behind him. “This place is too isolated. If they were able to find it, they could storm it without worrying about attracting outside attention. But if Sabrina and Deanda were in a more public place, it would complicate any moves they might make.”
Nobody mentioned how she had been kidnapped out on an open street once already. She had to assume her brother and Geoffrey had already taken that kind of problem into consideration. Perhaps she wouldn’t be allowed to go out during certain times; after all, the HPAC had struck last during a fairly early hour of the morning when there was a lot less foot traffic.
Kenneth paused, his lips twisted while he searched for the right phrasing. “I’ve never seen them this persistent before. It’s time we started anticipating their moves instead of simply reacting to them.”
And there was the fact that Sabrina had seen Dallas get captured, she thought, though she didn’t say it out loud. Her brother had already made it perfectly clear what he thought about her somewhat suitor. She was sure her vision, or whatever it was, factored into the royal decision regardless of whether he admitted it.
“Sabrina and Deanda, you two will be staying with one of those holiday groups that tour the country. You’ll be meeting up with them tonight. Geoffrey’s already booked everything, and I’ve gone and contacted your back-up security teams.”
Sabrina glanced over at Geoffrey. If possible, he looked more solemn than ever. The way his eyes didn’t stay on Kenneth for more than a few seconds at a time scared her even more than she already was. Because whenever he looked away, it would be either at the door leading back into the hallway or down at his watch.
Clearly he thought time was of the essence.
“Ladies.” Kenneth’s shifted his gaze from his sister to her best friend. “I need you to go pack a single bag each. Be back here in fifteen minutes.”
Torn between the urge to get more information from her brother and the instinctive need to protect herself by any means possible, Sabrina didn’t stand until Deanda got up.
Her friend’s hand lingered in Alistair’s for only the space of a breath.
Following her down the hallway back to their rooms, Sabrina had a sudden panic attack that this would be the last time she saw her brother. There were no flash-forwards to back her fears up this time. Just a strong premonition that something bad was going to happen.
Michael and Richard walking so gravely behind her didn’t help.
She’d much rather stay in the perceived security of the hidden estate, regardless of whether or not it was really safe. At least she’d be with everyone she cared about that way, including Alex. Yet she didn’t protest one bit, following Deanda out of the room to do what Kenneth had ordered.
Sabrina couldn’t help but dwell on how she was becoming something of an expert at packing up and leaving in a moment’s notice.
When they stepped back into the enchanting room, Sabrina still found her eyes drawn to the faerie art despite everything. It was actually a welcome distraction when Kenneth was in what seemed to be a secretive and serious conversation with Geoffrey off in the corner. Jon and Charlie, meanwhile, stood off to the side next to her brother’s bodyguards.
The boys walked in less than a minute later, this time accompanied by Lauren. The siblings seemed to be in the middle of some argument that had the younger faerie’s lower lip trembling and Dallas’ face scrunched unhappily.
Looking discontented himself, Alistair moved closer to Deanda to tell her something in a low volume. It seemed too intimate a moment to watch, so Sabrina made it a point to look away, avoiding Dallas’ general direction in the process.
It appeared she was the lone wheel in the room, the art her only companions.
Kenneth ended his conversation soon enough, saving her from any further discomfort. Noticing that change, Dallas leaned down to tell Lauren something that made her scowl and clam up. The two lovebirds, on the other hand, drew back only when the king crossed the room to them.
“You’ll be going to Wales.” Her brother looked at Sabrina specifically when he went on. “Geoffrey will relocate Alex somewhere else. Where he’ll be safe, I promise. And I’m going to make my way to London.”
With her problematic ex’s safety ensured, her thoughts shifted exclusively to Kenneth’s. “Are you going alone? What if they find you?”
He smiled at her. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine, and no, I won’t be traveling alone.” Turning next to the youngest member in the room, his expression softened even more. “Lauren, you’ll be going back to Faeriedom right away.”
Her lower lip already trembling, the girl spoke a single word. “Why?”
“Because it’s too dangerous,” he replied. “Sabrina is automatically a target, and Deanda needs to get out of here too since neither of them can size-change yet. As for your brother, he’s made a very good case for going with them. But you and Alistair are going back down now. Without arguments.”
Lauren looked like she wanted nothing more than to fight him on that, but all she did was shoot Dallas a poignant stare like he might speak up and somehow change the king’s mind.
Sabrina figured that’s what they had been arguing about in the first place, because Dallas appeared as unmovable a force as Kenneth on the subject. She could see that easily, but she could also tell that Lauren was on the verge of an all-out panic attack at the thought of leaving her brother to very uncertain fates.
“What about this place?” Alistair asked. His face gave away how much it cost him not to dispute his father’s decision, but he managed to keep it out of his voice.
“We’re going to have it watched closely,” Kenneth said in a grim tone and matching expression. “Now it’s time for you to go.” He shifted his attention again. “Charlie, you know where to drive, correct?”
The bodyguard in question nodded gravely. “Outside of Caerleon.”
“Good. Take the Fords. They’ll blend in best.”
Somewhere in an unimportant corner of her brain, Sabrina found it odd that they even had Fords outside the U.S. The manufacturer always made her think of rugged rednecks wearing plaid and wading through ankle-deep mud; so anything but the stereotype she had when she thought of Europe.
The thought slid out of her mind as fast as it had entered. It meant nothing when she was taking such an indefinite leave from people she was growing to love.
The goodbyes were somewhat strained since nobody wanted to make them, and there was an almost palpable fear that certain people wouldn’t be saying hello again for a while. None of them said as much, but it was a reality they were all aware of regardless.
Sabrina definitely had it on her mind, especially since there was one notable person she wasn’t saying goodbye to. Knowing it was a doomed attempt, she didn’t bother driving Alex from her mind. Instead she set him as far back as possible in her growing list of worries.
Luggage in hand, the somber trio and their armed escorts followed several hallways to the far left of the house, which just happened to feature an expansive garage. Not only were the four-wheelers they’d ridden stashed there, but so were seven cars in varying shapes, sizes and colors.
There were two classic vehicles with their larger and boxier shapes, and a sleek silver model that any modern-day James Bond would have looked right driving. With its hard top, elongated nose and almost menacing front lights, it looked like the perfect car to escape in.
Sabrina was certain it could win its fair share of races if put to the test. But she didn’t get the chance to find out. Her party passed it altogether to stop at two much more sensible vehicles, which seemed to be the Scottish cross between an SUV and a minivan, just much more compact.
Both grey, their shiny surfaces and sliding sunroofs didn’t detract from their obvious family appeal. Between the two of them, there was more than enough room for everything and everyone. All of the luggage could have actually fit easily in just one of the trunks, but the men still divided them up while Sabrina and Deanda slid into the closest backseat. Covered in light grey leather, the interior allowed them to stretch their wings out a bit.
After everything was loaded, Dallas took the wheel and Michael the passenger’s seat, while Richard, Charlie and Jon took the lead in the other car. Nobody spoke much for a while, whether from nerves or an inability to think of appropriate conversation topics. The girls had gleaned that it was going to be a seven-hour trip, for which neither of them were thrilled. The darkening sky with its threat of rain didn’t add to their enthusiasm at all.
Sabrina was rather skeptical that the seemingly small island even had seven hours of travel to it. Yet when the time kept stretching onward, bringing them from the sloping greenery of the Scottish countryside, through various metropolitan and suburban sprawls, and out into the seemingly endless farmers’ fields of England, she found herself very, very convinced.
They stopped at a gas station, a trivial experience that still threw her for a psychological loop. Maybe it was the way the rest stop looked so British that made her miss America so very much. Maybe it was Dallas’ mistrust of everything and everyone around him while he filled up the tank. Or maybe it was how Michael, Richard and Jon felt the need to follow her and Deanda on their quick trip to the restrooms.
Sabrina found herself unwittingly mimicking them by regarding everyone with supreme suspicion, both on her way into the building and walking back to the car.
She was trying to convince herself to slide back into the backseat again when Dallas came toward her, his steps too purposeful. That alone was almost impossible not to notice, and the same thing went for the awkward way he held himself. And when he cleared his throat a few times, Sabrina decided to help him out since he was clearly trying to work up the nerve to say something.
“What’s up?” She didn’t mean to sound flippant.
He crossed his arms in what she assumed he meant as a confident pose. “You know what you saw happen?”
Sabrina refrained from mentioning that the image was permanently burned into her brain. She just nodded.
“I want you to know that what I told you then was true. About it not being your fault.” His eyes were solemn and deep. “If anything happens to me, I don’t want you to blame yourself.”
Sabrina remained silent, knowing full well how she would feel guilty until the day she died if he was harmed during the trip.
“Really, Sabrina.” The nervous twitch of his wings stilled. “I mean it. None of this is your fault, and I don’t want you to think it is. No matter what.”
“Dallas.” It was her turn to search for words. “Please be careful?”
He studied her without saying another word. For what exact reason, she wasn’t sure. Then he inclined his head in what seemed to be a promise. It was a somber moment that could have stretched out a while longer if Michael hadn’t inadvertently interrupted by opening up the driver’s door and getting behind the wheel.
With an inward sigh, Sabrina climbed in too, buckling her seatbelt and doing her best to mentally prepare for another several hours of stilted talks and unfettered thoughts.
They made it into Wales without much fanfare and were at Caerleon before the day’s light could fade. It was a quaint little town, bordered on one side by a somewhat sizable and beautiful river. The bridge they had to cross to get over it, however, wasn’t nearly so impressive. With puny guardrails and tight lanes, it gave way too easily to a five-story drop below.
Sabrina was very glad when they were over it.
“So are we almost there?” She asked when Michael navigated the Ford away from the town’s center back into more countryside.
He shook his head. “It’s still a good forty-five minutes away.”
She fought back the urge to groan. So close and yet still so far away.
Sabrina massaged first her right leg and then her left in an effort to stimulate the not-quite-numb nerves. They tingled painfully as she brought her circulation back into full play. But that sensation paled in comparison to the apprehension that hit when she noticed Dallas glancing back several times in the side-view mirror.
“I think we’ve got someone behind us,” he admitted grimly when he realized she was watching him.
Sabrina almost gave herself whiplash turning around to view the black car coming up on them. Dallas was already opening his mobile, presumably to communicate with the rest of their party, so it was Michael who responded.
“Hold on tight.”
As if to reinforce his words, the other vehicle kept moving closer until it was tapping their bumper. The car shuddered once with the obvious warning: Surrender without a fuss, or things were going to get rough.
Sabrina looked outside at their few fellow commuters, who didn’t appear to take any notice of the hostile situation in front of them. In New York City or some other big American metropolis, she might have expected people to mind their own business while their fellow beings were attacked, but this was rural Wales. She would think – she desperately hoped – that country folk were supposed to care about their fellow human beings.
The vehicle behind them shot forward, thereby boxing Sabrina’s two-car caravan off from the side, with traffic coming in the opposite direction. Michael stayed right on Charlie’s tail so that the hostile driver couldn’t cut between them, but both faerie vehicles had to veer off on the next roundabout regardless to prevent a head-on collision.
Nobody had to tell Sabrina they’d done exactly what the HPAC wanted them to do.
Another car barreled up behind them, going at some insane speed. Seeing what was about to happen, Michael stepped on the gas too. But it was too late. The second vehicle inched past him at a steady pace, forcing them once again to take a turn they all knew wouldn’t end well.
Sabrina felt the Ford’s walls close around her like a prison. All she knew was that she couldn’t take being in HPAC custody again. Her left hand gripped the door release and her arm tensed, ready for any reason to open it. She’d prefer taking her chances with the roadside and the spinning wheels than with their doctors again.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” She cried like it could do some good.
White-faced herself, Deanda put a reassuring hand on her arm. “He’s going as fast as he can, Sabrina.”
She gripped Deanda right back. “I am not going back there. I can’t go back there!”
“Don’t worry; you’re not,” Dallas said with a resolve she could have taken comfort in at any other moment.
The four cars were now racing along much greener pastures, going further and further into the middle of nowhere, careening around curves and leaving tracks off and on the road. Lush grassy hills, which should have been so picturesque, surrounded them everywhere she turned. And suddenly, Sabrina realized with absolute certainty that things were going to get a lot worse.
One of the HPAC cars had once again taken up the lane for oncoming traffic, and she watched helplessly while the front passenger’s window rolled down and someone leaned out of it, brandishing a large gun.
Up ahead, Charlie tried to speed up, but to no avail. There was a sharp round of popping noises, and then his car was flipping over itself. One second, it was upright like it was supposed to be. The next, it was twisting through the air to land with a sickening crunch on its roof on the side of the road.
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