The forest was burning again. Coughing, I tore my way through the smoldering underbrush, searching for Andreas. I cried out for him, trying to get him out of the blaze before it was too late. Burning branches crashed around me. I tried dodging to avoid them, but I couldn’t breathe, and a spasm of coughing overtook me, and then I, too, was burning.
I awoke with a start, crying out.
I was lying in the hotel room. Aislinn was still gone. Andreas’ arm was around me holding me tight. “Shh, it’s all right,” he whispered in my ear. I was a bundle of tension. He stroked my hair. “It was only a dream. I felt you burning, but it was only a dream. You’re safe,” he murmured.
My tension flowed out of me, and I rolled over, burying my face in his soft tee shirt, inhaling the scent of angel, masculine and magical, willing myself to relax. I was exhausted, and drained. I was sick of feeling unsafe. I was tired of being chased. A tear escaped from the corner of my eye and I let out a silent sob.
Andreas wrapped his arms around me and held me tight, stroking my hair with his free hand. “Oh Rhiannon,” he whispered. “Please don’t cry, you’re breaking my heart.”
I gasped a ragged breath of air, too exhausted to control my emotions any longer. “Why me?” I choked.
“Shh,” he said comfortingly. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, I promise.”
“But you almost died,” I gasped, looking into his eyes miserably.
He looked as miserable as I felt, and I saw my own pain reflected in his eyes. He brushed a hand on my cheek, wiping away my tears with his thumb. “But I didn’t die, did I? And you weren’t hurt. They’ve tried to catch you, and blow you up, and burn you down, but you’re still here, aren’t you? You’re alive and free, and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to change that,” he whispered intently. He tilted my face up delicately with his hand and kissed me, soft and gentle, and the touch of his lips upon mine shocked the self-pity right out of me.
At first I drew back, and then I realized I wanted to kiss him back, this sweet, impossible, protective, overbearing creature. I leaned forward and kissed him back with fervor, pulling him closer. Just when I was starting to enjoy things, it was his turn to pull back. He disentangled himself. I sat up swiftly. “Sorry,” I apologized. “You’re probably just mixing up my emotions with yours,” I stammered, embarrassed. “This isn’t real.”
I climbed up off the bed, confused.
He let out a little growl. “Can’t you just – ”
He was cut off as Aislinn popped in through the doorway, as fresh as a rainbow, bearing shopping bags and a grin. “Did you miss me?” she said cheerfully. “I have new faces and names for you, and a plan to get you out of town.”
“This isn’t over,” he glowered at me.
We busied ourselves getting made over under the watchful gaze of Aislinn. Apparently she was not only an infiltration expert, but a master of disguises, too. She tossed me a box of hair dye, while busying herself clipping Andreas. When all was said and done, and we’d slipped into our new clothes, I just stared in the mirror in disgust.
“What’s wrong?” Aislinn asked, running hair gel through Andreas’ newly shortened black locks, spiking them on end.
I barely recognized the girl in the mirror staring back at me. She had long, straight bleached blonde hair. Her face was framed with a fringe of bangs. She wore dark red lipstick, heavy purple eye shadow, and deep rose blush across the apples of her cheeks. Her green eyes were lined thickly in black, and fake eyelashes batted coquettishly, despite her disgusted expression. Her outfit, what little of it there was, left virtually nothing to the imagination. She wore a pleated red and black plaid micro miniskirt, knee high white socks, stiletto black patent mary janes, and a skin tight red bustier. I stuck my tongue out at my reflection. The only saving grace was the shiny vinyl jacket that cinched tightly around the waist, giving me some semblance of modesty. I spun around and glared at her. “What’s wrong with this outfit? I look like a godamned whore!” I shouted. “I can’t go out like this.” I flounced over to the bed and plopped down to sulk.
She finished Andreas’ hair, and he stood up, smirking at me. “I don’t know, I rather like it.” He grinned exaggeratedly. He looked nothing like himself. He still hadn’t fully recovered from the explosion. His short spiky pitch black hair was offset by his wan complexion, and the shadows underneath his eyes gave him a rather broody, sexy appeal. He wasn’t dressed like a whore, oh no. He got to dress like a rock star, in black leather pants, an iridescent royal blue satin button-down shirt – which was unbuttoned deliciously almost to his navel, allowing his fabulous pectoral muscles to peek through from time to time – a heavy steel studded belt, and fantastic leather motorcycle boots. His wallet in his back pocket was attached to a front belt loop by a long chain, and he wore a matching chain around his neck. He looked flamboyantly fantastic, but nothing like the Andreas I knew.
“Why thank you, Andreas,” I said, dripping sarcasm. “I didn’t know you liked the whore look.” I rolled my eyes.
He shrugged. “I was thinking more of the porn star look.” I flipped him off. He grinned, and covered his bright blue eyes with a pair of dark sunglasses.
Aislinn just looked at both of us and beamed. “You are both perfect! My philosophy has always been that the best place to hide is in plain sight, and you two are going to be the most visible characters, no one will think twice. What person in their right mind would choose these as disguises, after all?” She finished with a smile so big it nearly split her face in two. She was obviously proud of herself. I was tempted to flip her off as well, but refrained.
I had to admit, she had a point. “Now for the final touches,” she said, handing us each new identities.
Mine was an American passport, with a photo of me that had been doctored to match. I read it briefly, then looked up at Aislinn incredulously. “Poppy Lowenstein?” I declared, drawing the name out slowly. “Where the hell did you get that name from? Nobody’s named Poppy Lowenstein!”
Andreas laughed. “I’m Eddie Savage from Liverpool, love,” he said with a grin, adopting an accent and slamming close his British passport.
“At least you get to be somebody cool,” I muttered.
“I didn’t have much of a choice in the names,” she said defensively. “This was what was available on short notice. Andreas can pull of British, but I didn’t think you could, so deal with it.” She crossed her arms tightly across her chest. “I did the best I could. It was either Poppy the wild child or Ethel the grandmother. Next time I’ll give him more notice and you can be the fairy queen herself, if you like.”
The passport seemed real enough to me, I thought, flipping through it. Apparently I had been to Great Britain, Iceland, and Argentina. Too bad I remembered none of those trips. “Where did you get these?”
“Don’t ask about an elf’s resources,” she said to me stiffly. “They are a closely guarded secret.”
“Is your source confidential?” asked Andreas, slipping his new passport into his pocket.
She looked offended. “I’d trust him with my life!” she barked.
Andreas sighed patiently. “Yes, but can you guarantee he hasn’t been compromised?”
Aislinn tossed her hands up in the air. “After all I’ve done for you! What is it with all the distrust you people have towards the fae?” she asked him accusingly. “If you don’t want my help, you’re welcome to try and survive on your own, and god help you if you do!”
“No no,” I said hurriedly. “Andreas didn’t mean anything by that, Aislinn, honestly! We are very grateful for all your help, and our disguises are perfect, really they are,” I assured her. “We would have been lost without you.”
She calmed down. “Now, maybe you can fill us in on your escape plan?” I said, smiling and batting my overgrown fake lashes.
Aislinn was more than happy to. Seeing as how Andreas was still recovering and couldn’t teleport, and I wasn’t rested enough to, either, she had booked us a crazy mad return flight under our new names in order to throw people off our scent. She, on the other hand, would be flying direct to Seattle, hoping to draw any attention away from us.
She wasn’t understating our crazy return flight, either. We were flying out of Chicago, straight to Atlanta, and then on to New Orleans, Kansas City, Phoenix, L.A., and then finally landing in Portland at midnight Friday night. I sighed, imagining the long day I had in front of me. This would be a solid day of nothing but airports and airplanes. “I don’t dare fly you directly into Seattle,” she said apologetically.
I smiled gratefully. “Portland is close enough. I know someone who can meet us there.” I pulled my cell phone out of my purse, but Aislinn stopped me.
“Don’t trust your phone,” she cautioned, handing me a disposable pre-paid phone. I shut mine off and stuffed it back into my new purse, and then stepped into the bathroom to call Lucas, hoping he would be up. It was early evening here, and two hours earlier in Seattle.
He answered on the fifth ring. “Who the hell is this, and you better make it good,” his grumpy voice answered.
I winced. “Sorry, did I wake you up?”
“Rhiannon?” he sounded surprised, but less grumpy. I could hear sheets rustling in the background. I really did wake him up. Right then bed sounded nice. Not his bed! Just the sleeping portion.
“The one and only,” I quipped, forcing cheer into my tired voice. “I was hoping you could do me a favor.”
“For a nominal fee,” he said slyly.
I pursed my lips in annoyance at the vampire’s inability to take anything seriously. I couldn’t decide whether I liked him or whether he terrified me. It was a bit of both. “Whatever. Can you pick us up at the Portland airport tomorrow night at midnight? Don’t tell anyone where you’re going, and we’ll be in disguise.”
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Someone tried to blow me up, then burn me down,” I muttered. “I’ll explain when I see you, can you just be there? Please?” I said desperately.
“Sure,” he yawned. “Can I get back to sleep now?” He hung up.
I stepped out of the room. I decided it was best not to tell Andreas who was picking us up in Portland. He would find out soon enough, anyway, and I had a feeling he would be royally pissed. I just couldn’t think of anyone else whose discretion I trusted with the means and the availability to do drop everything and get us from point A to point B in the middle of the night. Honesty might have been the best policy, but as they say, ignorance is bliss.
Andreas and I nervously parted ways with Aislinn and took a taxi to the Midway Airport. We nervously made our way to the ticket counter. I was nervous for multiple reasons. I felt incredibly exposed, dressed as I was. I was worried our forged IDs would be spotted as fakes. I was afraid somebody watching would recognize us, and the game would be up. I tightened the belt of my jacket, trying to find some semblance of comfortable modesty while we waited in line. I darted my eyes left and right, trying to see if anyone was watching us too much.
“Might I make a suggestion?” Andreas whispered as we waited in line, wrapping an arm casually around my shoulder, adopting an air of languid relaxation.
“What?” I whispered fiercely, clenching my jaw.
“Loosen up, relax. You’re wound so tight you look like someone who has something to hide.” He slipped behind me and began to rub my shoulders, trying to work out all the knots I was holding. “Now think of this as an adventure,” he murmured, “A chance to be someone completely different. We’re a flamboyant, fast-living couple, off on a little jaunt, riding first class all the way. Try and act the part, ok?” With that, he slapped my ass. “Come on, love,” he said loudly, flashing me a crooked grin, and stepped up to the ticket counter.
My jaw dropped with shock, but I swiftly recovered, realizing he was right, and snapped my mouth it closed. This was just acting, right? A performance to throw people off our trail. I sashayed forward, with an exaggerated sigh, and leaned casually against the counter. “I want a window seat, Eddie,” I pouted, rubbing my hand on his chest, and batting my fake lashes at him. I slapped my fake passport on the counter, not even giving the ticket counter agent a glance. “You know how I get claustrophobic if I can’t see the clouds,” I said petulantly. I slid my arm around Andreas, running my hand slowly across his satin-clad back. I reached up and kissed the hollow of his neck, which was as high as I could reach in these tall shoes. “Please?” If he wanted me to ham it up, he got it. I turned and looked at the ticket counter agent, resting my head against Andreas’ chest, and smiled at the young man coyly. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, ogling me like I was a piece of meat.
Andreas pulled off his sunglasses, slapping them down on the counter. “You hear that?” he drawled in his British accent. “My girl wants a window seat.”
I got my window seat. I jumped up and down and squealed when he finally handed us our boarding passes. “Thank you!” I gushed. Andreas pulled me away from the counter, and I blew the ticket agent a kiss as we left.
“I think you made his day,” Andreas laughed. He slipped an arm around my waist, and I slipped an exaggerated swing in my hips, and we sauntered our way to security.
I slipped my jacket off and tossed it casually over my shoulder, acting for all the world like a brainless blonde bimbo. The only thing that was missing to make my act complete was a pair of giant fake tits, but my tight red bustier did a good job giving me distracting cleavage. I could feel eyes watching me, but Andreas assured me with a hand on my rear and his hot breath in my ear that it was just the admiring glances of men wanting to be in his shoes. I felt my face flush at that.
We managed to escape through security unscathed, although the TSA officers did insist on searching through my purse – an oversized shiny black vinyl tote bag Aislinn provided that matched my jacket. They confiscated a pair of pink fuzzy handcuffs, while I, blushing beet red, protested and stammered, insisting that I had no idea how they got in there. Mentally I was cursing Aislinn, imagining she was having quite the laugh about this. Andreas certainly was.
“Why Poppy, dear,” he said, poking me in the ribs. “You are such a little minx!” He ruffled my hair playfully while I gave him a baleful stare, shooting daggers with my eyes.
I rescued my bag, and my shoes, and sat down to buckle them back onto my feet. I had to spend an entire day in these shoes. I hope Aislinn packed blister bandaids in my purse along with the handcuffs. Andreas sat down next to me with his shoes in tow. I caught him staring at my legs as I slipped my feet into my shoes, and smiled at him, saccharinely sweet. I slipped my scantily clad leg onto his lap, wiggled my ankle, and gave him the sweetest most innocent look I could muster. “Eddie, darling, would you buckle me up?” I batted my lashes.
He deftly buckled my shoe, and his eyes traveled slowly up from my legs to finally catch my eyes, and my breath caught in my throat at the smoldering look he gave me. Without taking his eyes off of mine, he reached down and grabbed my other foot, fastening my other shoe firmly.
My heart sped up a little. I stood up swiftly, flustered. I just didn’t know how to react to this playful side of Andreas. He jumped up, and tossed his arm across my shoulder. “Come on, love, we have a plane to catch!”
Andreas got me a Starbucks latte, which did a lot to boost my tired and flustered spirits, and I was shortly back to being perky flirty Poppy, hanging on his arm like eye candy. We went to wait at the gate, and I perched myself right on his knee where he sat, and nuzzled my face in his neck, stroking his chest.
“What are you doing?” he whispered in my ear, as I squirmed up closer onto his lap. I liked the feel of his satin shirt as it slipped across my skin.
“Poppy likes public displays of affection,” I whispered playfully in his ear. “And she just adores her Eddie.” I nipped his earlobe with my teeth, feeling daring.
“That’s good,” he murmured, casually slipping his hand up my back and pulling me closer, “Because I think somebody here is looking for us.”
I gasped and instantly stiffened in his lap. “Where?”
“Relax, love,” he breathed. “We don’t want to make him suspicious. He’s behind you.” He threaded his fingers through my bleach blonde locks and brushed his lips across my jaw, acting for any who watched like nothing more than a randy young man with the object of his interest sitting in his lap. “Gentleman in a suit, no baggage, obviously looking for someone.” His lips reached my ear, and his hot breath gave me goose bumps, despite my anxiety. “He’s placed three phone calls since we got here, each about ten seconds in length, and keeps pulling a picture out of his breast pocket to look at.” I shivered, but not because someone was hunting for us, but because he had one hand pulling my hair, another on my hip, and his lips were on my neck. “We passed two men just like him on our way here.” I clenched my jaw. “Shh, calm down.” He stroked my hair soothingly, only it was anything but. “No one has suspected us, we’re just two lovebirds off on a holiday,” he said in his accent.
“Quit trying to distract me,” I groaned, squirming in his lap.
He pulled his lips away from my neck and twisted my head by my hair until he was staring me right in the eyes, his brilliant blues tearing into my well painted greens. “I like you distracted,” he said simply, and kissed me. God help me, I wanted him to. Maybe it was just the clothes we were wearing, or the affected roles we were playing, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I relished in the feel of his lips on mine, his mouth exploring me. My heart raced, my stomach fluttered, and all my anxiety flew right out the window. I was putty in his hands. I held him close, not wanting this to end, but it was to no avail. He broke off the kiss, leaving me breathless, confused, and in wonder, feeling like my lips had been bruised.
“Well,” I finally said, “If you wanted me distracted, you definitely succeeded.”
He kissed the tip of my nose. “And the gentleman in question has wandered on.”
By the time our plane to Atlanta boarded I was feeling calm, cool, and collected again, and was actually enjoying our roles. I flopped into my seat with a giggle, enjoying my first trip in first-class. “Ooh, Eddie,” I cooed as soon as Andreas took his seat, “You take me to the finest places!”
He grabbed my hand in his, and brought it up to his lips, brushing my knuckles with a kiss. “Nothing but the best for you, love,” he quipped.
I must confess that I remembered very little of the first leg of our trip. As soon as the plane was in the air, Andreas wrapped an arm around me, and I curled up in the crook of his shoulder and fell fast asleep. The landing of the plane in Atlanta jarred me awake. I stretched and yawned and stumbled out of the plane behind the angel to await our next flight.
No suspicious faces appeared at the Atlanta airport, and our trip to New Orleans was uneventful. Slowly but surely we hopped across the country. New Orleans led to Kansas City; Kansas City led to Phoenix, then to Los Angeles, and then finally we boarded the last flight to Portland. We had both cat napped on the plane rides, but an entire night and day of flying and waiting had left us both feeling rather weary, although color had started to sneak back into Andreas’ face, and the shadows underneath his eyes had finally faded.
As soon as we entered the Portland terminal I pulled out the pre-paid phone and called Lucas again. “It’s about time you got here,” his velvety baritone voice poured into my ear. “You know where to find me.”
I grabbed Andreas’ hand. “Come on,” I said, and lead him to the private terminal Lucas had used when he flew me here.
“Who’s picking us up, Rhiannon,” he finally asked, his voice soft and low, as we arrived at the gate. Lucas’ plane sat waiting on the tarmac for us. He warily allowed me to lead him down the ramp.
I gritted my teeth. “The only person I know with the resources to fetch us in the middle of the night who isn’t likely to be followed,” I told him, equally softly.
He stopped in his tracks just before we reached the door to the plane. “That damned vampire,” he scowled. “I cannot believe you called him!” he said furiously.
I stopped and turned to him. “I happen to trust that vampire, Andreas,” I hissed. “And like it or not, he’s here, and if you want to get back tonight, you might as well avail yourself of his generosity, otherwise I’ll see you tomorrow,” I snapped.
Speak of the devil: Lucas popped out of the door. “My stars, Rhiannon, you look good enough to eat,” he winked lewdly.
I gave him a shrewish look. “Enjoy it while you can, it’s not going to last.” I slipped past him and stalked up the stairs, leaving the two men to work it out. I was feeling like a piece of meat being fought over by two rutting moose, and I was somewhat disgusted about it.