A day later, I stood in front of the old mirror hanging on my bedroom wall with a crack on the top that always made my face look weird but at least I managed to check my outfit for any disgusting stains before heading out. Except now I wished for a disgusting stain to appear on my clothes so I could wear something else. I was going to Italy today, dressed in a tight, black, plain dress with a silver zip in the back and equally black, equally plain heels that made me even more tall. The dress ended right past my knees, hugging every curve and leaving nothing to the imagination. I hated it. Really hated it. Maybe I would've worn this dress when I was in a mood of making bad decisions and wanted to tempt someone I had a crush on. But to a Drakhenae country under the guise of a friendly-totally not stealing from you-meeting? No way.
My red hair was pulled back in a bun, makeup covered my freckles and thick mascara made my already big eyes seem even bigger. I missed my freckles and long hair tumbling past my shoulders. Right now, I resembled those spoiled businesswomen and politicians.
I sighed. I already tried dressing in something else, but my stepmom would have none of it, and said I needed to keep appearances up. Apparently, if I dressed in jeans and a sweater, I would attract too much attention. I was pretty sure I'd attract more attention in a dress this tight. Well, I might as well as get this over with. There was no point in delaying the inevitable. I pulled my suitcase down from the bed, already packed with everything I'd need to pull this off and headed out, wobbling in the heels.
At least she wasn't making someone chaperone me to the airport and I could drive there in my rusty, old car that always smelled of vanilla and bacon. A weird combination but it was familiar and comforting.
At the airport, my stepmother and Brandon were already waiting. Another downside to the whole thing, Brandon was coming along since he was the ambassador after all.
"Good day to you too, Elizabeth." I knew she hated it whenever I called her by her first name.
She didn't reply and stalked off to her car, content that I didn't decide to just not show up. Another downside to the dress, Brandon was staring. I stifled a groan and went inside, cursing the heels under my breath the entire time.
For us, there was no security check, just the baggage drop off and then straight to the private government plane. Inside, Brandon grabbed my arm and kept me from taking a seat in the way back of the small plane, far away from him. He held up his hands when he saw my expression.
"Your mom just wanted me to give this to you, in case things go south."
He pulled out a small gun and handed it to me. Immediately I knew it was powered with the deadly bio fuel they cooked up in the labs and not bullets. One shot and a person was paralyzed instantly, two and they were dead. Well this was a sign that she didn't want me dead. Good to know.
"Please don't," I sighed.
I knew that if he gave me a reason, any reason believable, I would probably pull him down with me on the first class seats and kiss him for the rest of the plane ride. Anything to forget that if I didn't do this heist right, I was never coming back.
He grabbed my shoulders roughly. "You think I would do that? Have you and then let you walk away because you saw me doing something I didn't want to? Something I hated doing but had to, and not even for my job, but for you?"
"Oh that's rich. You did it for me."
"You don't understand. Your stepmom-"
"I knew this was her! Why didn't you say so? And what was she going to do anyway to me? She didn't make you do anything!"
"This has nothing to do with that Cerise! It's more than that, so much more. I just hope you make it out."
"What are you saying?" I asked, exasperated. He was making no sense. "Make it out? What does this have to do with my new job?"
"Will you stop being so cryptic and just answer the question with a straight answer!" I practically screeched. "What does this have to do with us?"
"We need their help. Switzerland's help, its the only way to make sure it works, that whatever hellhole your stepmom's brewing won't kill you too. God, what did I get dragged into?"
He ran a hand over his hair, mussing it further and he looked so anguished and so lost that I wanted to wrap my arms around him. My curiosity and need for answers was more.
"What is going on? And don't tell me you're talking about me stealing some information because this sure as hell is way more than that."
"I'm sorry, I can't. Not because I don't want to, or won't, but because I don't know. I only know what I needed to, and I already told you all that. I had to do that. You have to believe me. And I would do it again, because with whatever's going on...I love you, you know that? Always will."
I let out a strangled screech because this was all making so sense. He silenced it with a kiss, and another, prying my mouth open with his tongue and plunging in, rough and urgent, he pushed me against the reclined seats and cupped my face. He kissed me like he loved me, and even though I rarely cared what others thought of me, I swallowed the affection like a sponge. To forget that he just told me that the stakes were higher. So much higher. Enough that they needed another country's help. I just wish I knew for what.
It was very hard not to stare. Very. Hard. Once we landed, it took two hours to get past security and immigration. In the baggage claim, our bags came last, and the hired chauffeur was late. I didn't mind one bit. It gave me more time to subtly look at the Drakhenae without staring. We were at the capitol, and Julian was right about them hating humans. Any time I got caught staring, they scowled and schoved past me. But they were beautiful, that was the only way to put it, or at least their wings and scales were. Everything else about them was normal. They had wings of all sizes and colors. Some were sandy green violet, and countless other colors. One of them seemed to have wings of gold. But no matter what color they were, the scales on their wings and cheekbones shone in the light, shimmering and seeming iridescent.
"Stop staring and get in the car," Brandon told me before adding a "Please".
I tore my gaze away from the Drakhenae and climbed in after him into the back seat of the sleek black car. The entire car ride to whatever building we were heading to, I kept my eyes glued on the world outside. From what I remember, the country was divided into twenty provinces, and each one had a military base of sorts with an elected member who ran the province. There was no police, just soldiers in each military base who made sure the citizens of the province were following the laws. The capitol province also had a military base, with twice as many soldiers, who-if I were to guess- were also twice as deadly. But whoever ran that base was appointed specifically by the Commander, and was his second in command.
When we arrived, there was no time to use the bathroom or take a nap and refresh. Someone took our bags to whatever rooms we were to stay and then someone took us to the Commander. The first thing I noticed was that the place was crawling with soldiers. All dressed in green cargo pants and fitted black shirts with scary looking guns in their hands. We weren't even at a military base and I already spotted at least thirty soldiers. Outside only. For the first time in my life, I was nervous and scared to be stealing something. Our guide never gave us his name, so I was calling him Green Wings, because his wings were a shade so green they almost looked black.
Green Wings led us down random hallways, to two ebony black doors. Wordlessly, he knocked and then pushed them open before leaving. Inside, there was a long table, brown in color with black, swivel chairs tucked inside. At the head of the table stood who I assumed was the Commander. He was formidable looking, with close cut salt and pepper hair and a close trimmed beard. His wings were black, completely black, the scales gleaming. The scales on his cheekbones only made the angles of his face more defined and sharper. His eyes reminded me of a shark's and instantly I swallowed. This was the man I was going to steal from, and I really didn't want to know what he did to people who got in his way.
I turned my attention away from him. Lining the wall behind him were more soldiers. I repressed my shiver. I noticed that someone was standing directly behind him, to his right. He seemed young, maybe a few years older than me. He had one of those scary looking guns in his hand, but he definitely wasn't an ordinary soldier. He wore a black shirt like the rest of them, but there was a silver insignia stitched above his heart. If I was being honest, I was wondering what he was doing here and not at a model show. He had sandy brown hair, brushed away from his face with a few erratic waves covering his forehead. With his high cheekbones, blue-green eyes and jawline he seemed out of place. His wings were a purple-black, almost resembling the Commander's.
I snapped my attention back to the Commander, who was walking around the table and towards us. He reached Brandon first, and shook his hands. They exchanged names, even though I'm pretty sure they already knew them and Brandon launched into why he was here and how soon they could start plans for the trade arrangement and another alliance. I didn't even pay attention to the reasons we were supposedly here when my stepmom was explaining, just remembered the lines she told me to pipe in now and then so I didn't seem like a dumb and deaf person tagging along.
The Commander cut off whatever Brandon was saying and turned his attention to me, extending his hand. Immediately, I smelled the sharp tang of his cologne when he stepped closer. It smelled of pepper and spices. I took his hand and he shook it, firmly, his callouses scraping against my skin, his hand was cold. As soon as he let go, I dropped it and refrained myself from taking a step back. I noticed that Brandon was staring at the soldier who stood out, with aubergine wings and the strange silver signia. The Commander followed his line of sight.
"My second in command," he said, by way of explanation.
Brandon looked at him and then his second in command.
"You two look alike."
The Commander smiled as if he loved to be reminded of that fact. The smile, as expected, was chilling.
"He's my nephew."
I looked back to his nephew. Now that Brandon mentioned it, they did look alike, having the same straight noses and coloring. But that's where the similarities ended. If the Commander was day, then his nephew was night.
Unbidden, my eyes went back to the soldiers lining the wall. Most of them seemed to stare ahead, face impassive and neutral, while few were glaring at me and Brandon. Too late, I noticed one of them was staring at me. He was attractive in the rugged kind of way, with stubble on his cheeks and black hair rumpled. Everything about him, from the way he was standing to the way his fingers drummed on the gun exuded disinterest. He was actually leaning against the wall, seemingly lazy but I had a feeling he could spring into action at any moment. When I met his gaze, he smirked. I stopped myself from glaring. In my experience, those who smirked at me before they met me judged me for my face, or my body.
I looked back to the Commander and Brandon, who were deep in a conversation I wasn't paying attention to. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost eight, and I was exhausted, the bun was biting into my scalp, becoming heavier and tighter by the minute, and the soles of my feet ached from the heels. There was no way they were discussing everything about whatever alliance and trade deals tonight. The Commander didn't even have his advisors or council with him, and the other members of the government weren't even here.
Brandon took one look at me and told the Commander something else. At this point I couldn't even hear them anymore and focused entirely on making sure I didn't look sleepy and tired. And then finally, finally, he went to the wall and rang a bell and Green Wings came back and led us away.
He stopped in front of the elevator and pressed a button on the wall. When it let out a ding and the silver doors opened, we stepped in, the silence awkward. Brandon reached over and grabbed my hand. Green Wings tracked the movement and lifted a brow. I refrained from dropping Brandon's hand.
Of course they played music in the elevator, the kind that made the silence even more awkward. Or maybe it was just me.
I watched the numbers increase on top of the metal doors. When it reached six, we stopped and the doors opened. But I already knew the entire layout of the building from when I'd hacked into their system on the plane ride and found the blueprints. Green Wings led us down a corridor with closed doors, all beige in color and exactly the same. I was expecting us to stay in a hotel for the night, not here. But I was actually relieved because it would make this so much easier. Then Green Wings stopped, pointed at one door, and murmured, "This is for the miss." He pointed at the one across. "This is for you," and thrust two keys in Brandon's hand.
Brandon pocketed one, gave me the other and followed me into the room. I already couldn't wait to get out of this place. Inside, the room was small, almost cozy looking. Propped against the wall was a four poster bed with a small armoire beside it and a fluffy carpet covered most of the floor. Brandon left to get his suitcase from the room they gave him.
I kicked off my shoes and barely managed to change out of the dress before I collapsed on the bed, the makeup still on my face.