The Dragon King(9)

By: Candace Blevins

I took a sip of the coffee and my eyes went wide. I’d expected the normal bitter taste of coffee, but this was good.

His smile told me saw my surprise, and he chuckled. “Special treat, Soph. I’m going to enjoy introducing the big wide world to you.”

My heart warmed more than could be attributed to the coffee, and I said, “I’m happy I had you to come to, Aaron. Thanks for making the offer, so long ago.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m just glad you remembered.”

I put the coffee in the cup holder and leaned between the seats to look in the bags. Aaron shifted one open and I saw the brush and package of ponytail holders.

“Kind of strange that a ponytail will be a disguise,” I told him as I brushed my hair. “But no one except my governesses and hair people have ever seen me in one.” I took on the voice of the governess I had during the majority of my teen years and said, “Princesses don’t wear ponytails. You must always be put together with attention to the smallest detail.”

He smiled at me in the rear view mirror. “You’re a lighter shade of blonde than most, so I bought a hoodie. You should put it on and pull the hood up to hide your hair, as I’m sure the Eagles will be on the lookout for it.”

He handed me the hoodie and I slid into it, luxuriating in how soft it felt. I had pajamas and workout clothes this soft, but the idea of being seen in something this casual was so novel, it was almost like I was being asked to appear without clothes. Well, not quite, but still, my formal clothing had become who I was. Except for a few close guards and servants, I was never seen by anyone without them, and I was about to meet two strange men while wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a fleece jacket with a hood… with a ponytail and no makeup.

“I’m going to give these men the option of plausible deniability,” Aaron told me, “so I need you to wait in the car. The windows are tinted, so while you can see out, they won’t be able to see you as long as you stay in the back seat.”

I nodded and tried to conceal my disappointment. The logic made sense, but I wanted to be a part of the planning and strategy. I knew Aaron was good and I didn’t doubt his abilities, but I was so tired of decisions being made on my behalf…I suppose I’d hoped things would change once I escaped my father’s house.

Aaron looked in the rearview mirror as he turned into a graveled parking lot full of cars. He went to the back, near some woods, and backed into an empty spot between other cars as he said, “They’re in the woods, and we’ll be right behind the car talking. You should be able to hear us, and if we say something you don’t agree with then knock on the window and I’ll come talk to you, see what you have an issue with.”

I nodded and said, “Thanks for giving me some input. I know we haven’t had a chance to talk much, but I’ve never had power over my own life and I desperately need to feel as if I do now, after my escape.”

Aaron nodded and exited the car, and I turned to see a large, barrel chested man step out of the woods and back into them. Aaron faded into the dark as well, and I heard them greeting each other.

“How do you want to work this, gentlemen? I can put you both up in a vacation chalet I own, so there’ll be no paperwork and no record of you being there. I own a number of them, and you’ll likely have to move around to stay in one not already reserved. This will give you distance and a level of deniability. Or, if you aren’t worried about it and are all in, I have a storage facility where you can leave your bikes, and then we’ll all drive to my safe house together.”

One of the men answered, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re all in.”

The other one said, “Yeah, I’m invisible online, but if someone should tie into what I’m searching and following, it’ll be obvious why. Don’t like not having our bikes with us, though.”

“You’ll be less than five miles from them as the crow flies, but taking the bikes will draw too much attention.”

They must have nodded their assent because Aaron continued with, “Okay. Don’t make the mistake of thinking her naiveté in some areas translates into her not having a good head on her shoulders. This affects all of us — we’re at risk for helping her, but it’s huge to her, too. I don’t want her treated as a child who must be cared for. She gets a say. I have no idea how to tell you to address her, but I assume she’ll let you know her expectations. However, my instinct at this point is to not say her name or title in a public setting, even one this rural, just in case there’s something listening in and reporting on keywords heard.”

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