Half an hour later, we’re in the hangar. Cadmar walks around the outside of the plane, checking the engines, the wings, making sure everything is in order and nothing has been tampered with. When he’s done with his inspection, he opens the door and lets down the stairs. He goes up first, heading straight for the cockpit. I let Conner go in ahead of me then follow in behind him. I put my backpack and case into the overhead bins then watch Conner as he looks around the inside of the plane with wild eyes.
“Go ahead and pick a seat.” I gesture toward the many chairs. “I’m going to go help Cadmar take off.”
“Wait, you know how to fly this?” he asks, and if it’s possible, his eyes grow even wider.
I give him another reassuring smile and nod. “Yeah, I can fly this.” I leave him standing there, shaking his head.
When I get into the cockpit, Cadmar already has everything turned on. I sit in the seat next to him, putting my headset on. The sun is at its peak in the west; shining right on us as we take off down the tarmac. “Cadmar, what are we going to do with Conner?” I ask once we’re in the air. “I don’t want to walk with him into the house. Even if Scarlet isn’t there, she might have Bryn and Eva on guard. I don’t want to risk him getting hurt. He handled himself okay with that agent, but I have the feeling he’d be hesitant about hurting a girl.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he agrees, looking at me from the corner of his eye. “I think we’ll have him stay on the plane, until we’re sure everything is settled down. Really, he could stay in here for a few days if he needs to; there’s plenty to eat and drink and a comfortable bed.”
I picture Conner having to live on the plane for a few days. It doesn’t seem too bad, but I’d hate for him to be stuck in it for more than a few hours. “I don’t want it to have to come to that.” I shake my head. “I don’t know how all of this is going to go down, but I don’t want him stuck in the plane for too long.”
“We’ll come up with something,” he says, frustrated now. I can tell he’s exhausted and he’s about to go another night without sleep.
“Hey, why don’t you go get some rest? I got plenty of sleep last night, so I’ll be fine for a while.”
“You’re right,” he says in defeat, as if needing sleep is a weakness. “Only a couple hours, though. You need to get some rest, too. We both need to be ready for whatever might happen.” He takes his headset off and leaves the cockpit.
I take over the controls, basking in the beauty of soaring through the sky. I can’t describe how amazing it is to have total control of a flying object, breezing through the clouds. It’s euphoric. After only a few minutes of being alone, Conner comes into the cockpit, sits in Cadmar’s seat and puts the headset on.
He watches me for a few silent moments with a wry smile. “You know, you look pretty hot flying a plane.”
I can’t help but smile back, trying to ignore the blood rushing over my cheeks. “Why, thank you,” I laugh then get serious, giving him a concerned look. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m all right.” He shrugs. “This is all so much. I’m still trying to get over my dad leaving me, but I don’t want to be mad at him, because he might be dead the next time I see him. And with what happened last night…I might reach my breaking point pretty soon.”
I understand this, especially feeling like he’s going to reach his breaking point, because I might reach mine soon, as well. And I get him not wanting his last feeling toward his dad to be anger. I still can’t believe his dad just left him. “So, is it really that simple for your dad to think you ran off with some random girl?”
“It’s not really simple.” He shakes his head. “He’s always felt I’m irresponsible and lack what it takes to be an adult. He also thinks I make dangerous decisions, like with the fake IDs and the fighting; those things piss him off. But I’ve never wanted to listen to any of his shit, because I don’t think he cares. He’s never tried to get to know the real me; he’s only tried to turn me into him.” He pauses, rubs his hands over his face, then looks back at me. “I guess it was easy for him to believe I ran off with you because he’s always thought I was reckless and stupid, but I never thought he would leave me like that.”
“I’m so sorry, Conner,” I say, staring out at the sky. “Everything that’s happened to you has been one hundred percent my fault, and I’m sorry for that. I wish there was something I could do to make it all right, but I can’t, so I’m going to do my best to make sure you don’t get hurt anymore.”
“Seriously, Payton?” He looks at me sharply. “I’ve already told you I would much rather be doing something with you than be with my dad. Besides, I am an adult, so I can do what I want. I do believe we were planning to run off together anyways.”
I laugh at the thought of that conversation. It feels like it was weeks, maybe months ago, but it has only been roughly forty-eight hours. “Well, it might make me a little crazy.” I sigh. “But I’m glad you’re stuck with me.”
“If it makes you crazy, it makes me crazier.” He gives me that crooked smile I’m pretty sure I’m in love with.
We continue to talk about unimportant things and laugh until Cadmar comes back into the cockpit three hours later, when the sun is at its highest. He orders both of us to go back and try to get some sleep. I show Conner the rest of the plane, and he’s impressed by the flat-screen TV and the kitchen. We grab some snacks and sodas from the stockpile and head back to the cabin. Sitting on one of the beds, we lean against the wall, eating our snacks.
“I still can’t believe you guys have a private jet.” Conner shakes his head then takes a sip of his soda. “But I think that’s more believable than the fact you can fly it.”
“It’s not that tough to do.” I smirk. “Not after you’ve had extremely-extensive training, that is.”
“Ah, yes, the training.” He laughs. “What all are you trained to do? Obviously you’re trained to kill, which is insane in itself, but are you trained for, like, survival and other crazy stuff.”
“Well, yeah.” I shrug. “Remember when I told you about that whole winter I spent in Alaska?” I pause and he nods. “That was me being dropped off in the wilderness and being told to do whatever I had to in order to survive. We have to train in all different terrains, all different weather conditions, so we’re prepared for anything if we’re ever stranded somewhere.”
“You were dropped into Alaska for the entire winter and told to do whatever it took to stay alive?” He stares deep into my eyes and I nod. “I’m finding out, every day, just how amazing you really are.” He looks at me in awe, which makes me want to squirm. There’s nothing amazing about the stuff I’ve done. Nothing.
“I’m not amazing. I just do what I have to do to survive this life, but I’ve been sucking at it lately.”
“Whatever. I think you’re amazing.” Leaning over, he kisses my forehead then lingers for a long second before pulling back. “If you sucked, we wouldn’t be alive right now. You did what you had to do to keep us alive last night.”
“Speaking of, I was really surprised at how well you handled yourself.” I want to switch the topic away from me. “I was surprised you didn’t freak out. You kept your cool.”
“My fighting helped in that area. If I were paying better attention, I wouldn’t have gotten knocked out in the first place. He caught me off-guard.”
“He caught both of us off-guard.”
“What am I going to do when we get back to your house?” He switches tracks quickly, and I’m glad because I would much rather forget last night ever happened.
“Well, Cadmar and I were talking about it.” I shift so I can look directly at him. “We want you to stay on the plane until we’re sure the house is safe. Once we check it out, I can come get you.”
“I don’t want to sit like a duck on the plane.” His eyebrows knit together. “I could come in with you guys. I could help.”
“No,” I grit through my teeth. “You don’t understand how dangerous it could be. Scarlet wants to kill you, Conner. Even if she isn’t there, Bryn and Eva will probably be helping her, and they’ll be all too willing to kill you for her.”
He stares off into space for a second then looks back at me, his gaze intense. “So, it’s okay for you to put yourself in danger, but I can’t do the same? Sounds pretty stupid. I don’t care if they can kill me. If they want me dead, they’re probably willing to hurt you to get to me. I won’t willingly allow that to happen.”
“I can handle myself, as you clearly saw last night. I can kick both their asses easily.” I pause for a second and grab his hand, holding it tightly. “I want you to be safe. It would ease my mind if you stayed on the plane.”
“Fine,” he says, his tone flat, after a long pause. “We should get some sleep. Cadmar will be pissed if I don’t let you rest.”
I nod in agreement. I don’t want to fight, and there’s no reason to argue over protecting each other. We both shift around on the bed so he’s wrapped around my back. I can’t believe how comfortable I am sleeping with someone else in my bed, after having slept by myself for the last seventeen years. But the comfort of his arms wrapped tightly around me makes me fall asleep easily.