Biggs knows. Run. Run.
The vid-conference with Rhianna and Prince K’ev ended, and Helena beat a fast exit from the war room and ducked into the elevator. High in the corner, a tiny prying red eye glowed. Riding to the residential level of Bunker One, she wiped all expression from her face for fear of drawing attention to herself. If the sensor could analyze her emotion, Biggs might suspect what she planned.
It wasn’t the surveillance cameras she could see—and there were plenty of those—but the ones she couldn’t spot that could trip her up. Biggs had had her apartment bugged. After she’d destroyed them, others had replaced them by the next afternoon. So she’d left the bugs in place, but guarded every word she said. Not that there was anyone to speak to. Other than the maid who cleaned, Rhianna had been the only one to visit her, and she’d left on the Draconian ship three weeks ago.
The elevator opened, and she exited, nodding at a maintenance worker pushing a cart down the hall. Outside her door, a retinal scanner verified her identify before admitting her.
Inside, she slumped, expelling her breath in a silent whoosh. She couldn’t stay here; her apartment wasn’t safe, but she allowed herself a moment to celebrate the good news.
Rhianna was alive! Until the vid-con, she, along with everyone else, had believed her dead. Against the odds, she’d survived—had discovered the bomb in her communication device. Although happy with Prince K’ev with whom she’d bonded, she was fiercely, justifiably angry.
We betrayed her. I betrayed her. The fact she had managed to slip her a secret message warning her of the bomb did little to mitigate her culpability, even though sending Rhianna to Draco had offered the sole chance to save her life. If she hadn’t gone, Biggs would have had her killed. Helena didn’t doubt he would have followed through on his threat. She had racked her brain for a way to save Rhianna’s life, but could only come up with a long shot. Slip her message and pray she found it in time. She had, but now Biggs suspected Helena had warned Rhianna.
He’ll be coming for me. Telling her father wouldn’t do any good because even if he believed her, he couldn’t arrest Biggs on her say-so—there had to be evidence. It was her word against his. If the president took him into custody, the chief special advisor still could have her eliminated. His enforcers were everywhere.
There was no place on Earth he couldn’t reach. But Rhianna had provided Helena with an escape plan.
Her gaze snapped to the phone. Nobody used that line. In the past, she’d been summoned to emergency briefings in the middle of the night, but since being shut out of high-level discussions, that didn’t happen anymore.
Please, don’t let it be Biggs. She pressed a hand to her churning stomach and picked up the phone. “This is Helena.”
“This is Patsy.”
She sank into a chair. “Hi, Patsy. What’s going on?” She affected a cordial, but impersonal tone in case others were listening in.
“I called to say goodbye.”
“I’ve been terminated.”
“Terminated? What are you talking about?” Damnit! Damnit! She’d feared this might happen. Patsy had been slipping her tidbits of information and had been the one to alert her to the hail from Rhianna. If not for Patsy, she wouldn’t have attended the vid-con, might never have learned her friend had survived.
“I’ve been told my services are no longer required.”
“I’m so sorry.” She felt sick.
“They’re coming to escort Henry and me topside in few moments.”
“Your brother?” Henry Winslow worked for the Secret Service.
“Yes. He was fired, also.”
“Where will you go?” With the threat of immolation still a possibility, no place above ground could be considered safe. On the other hand, with Biggs in control, Bunker One was the most dangerous place on the planet.
“Henry owns a cabin in Montana. When relations with Draco started to unravel, he made plans.”
“I’m so sorry.” She and Patsy had become close, and the woman had been enormously helpful. I’m the kiss of death. Everybody who helps me gets drawn into the line of fire.
“It’s not your fault. It was my mistake. You’re the president’s daughter and a member of his strategic council; I assumed you should be notified of Rhianna’s call.”
To anyone listening in, the falsehood would sound plausible; however, Patsy had been aware of Helena’s marginalization. Back when they were free to talk, they had discussed the disturbing trend they’d seen forming.
“You believed you were following the rules,” Helena continued with the lie.
“Is Rhianna okay?”
“She’s healthy and safe,” she replied. There was so much more she wanted to say, but would never get the opportunity because communications were monitored, and tomorrow, she would leave Earth. Now an ex-staffer, Patsy had lost her security clearance. Revealing classified information would violate national security and incur the wrath of Jackson Biggs. However after the debacle with Rhianna, Helena wished to avoid repeating mistakes. The worst thing she’d ever done was not tell Rhianna the truth. She hated to allow Patsy, who’d be thrown topside, to live in fear of an imminent attack. Of course, anything could happen with Biggs at the helm—but, at least for the time being, a planet of nations had stepped back from the brink of annihilation.
Screw Biggs. I’ll be gone tomorrow. Rhianna had beaten the odds by going to Draco. Helena would roll the dice and hope she could get away before his enforcers picked her up.
“According to Rhianna, King K’rah has withdrawn the declaration of war, and instead, is demanding other concessions to demonstrate our commitment to peace.”
“That’s great news—uh, what kind of concessions?”
“He has given us the opportunity to send another woman to become the consort/concubine of another of his sons—Prince T’mar. A Draconian ship will arrive on Elementa in a week. The woman is supposed to rendezvous with the ship.”
“Is the president going to do it?”
“No. We’re continuing with colonization of Elementa. A ship leaves tomorrow with more settler and supplies.” She crossed her fingers Patsy would pick up on the slight emphasis—but their listeners would not—and would realize she planned to be on that spacecraft. She didn’t want Patsy to worry about her when she vanished.
“Did the president turn them down outright?”
“Rhianna and Prince K’ev disconnected the transmission before he could.”
“So when they find out we didn’t accede to their request, we could be back where we started—expecting an attack.”
“Unless somebody arrives on Elementa, I fear that will be the case.”
“I’m going to miss you,” Patsy said. “Will you be okay…here alone?”
Okay was their code word for safe. Had it been a casual question, she would have asked, will you be all right? After Biggs had isolated Helena, and the president’s assistant had begun sneaking her information, Patsy had suggested they develop a code system.
“Of course.” She faked a titter. “I won’t be alone. I have my father, and there are hundreds of staff and government officials in Bunker One. Don’t worry about me. If you think you’ll be okay at your brother’s place, go with him. Don’t waste time. The large threat posed by the dragons still exists, maybe worse than ever.” They’d both said way too much.
“I understand. And don’t you worry about me. I’ll be okay with my brother. In fact, he just arrived along with the escort,” she said.
Once terminated, ex-staffers weren’t allowed to roam unattended; they were treated as potential saboteurs. She felt relieved Patsy would be with her resourceful now ex-secret service agent brother, but she’d miss her. A lump formed in her throat with the realization they would never see each other again. “Take care,” she choked.
“Stop it. You’ll make me cry.”
“You’re right. We’re both going to get through these difficult times.”
“You bet we are! The sun will come out tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Orphan Annie.”
“Hey, all we need is a Daddy Warbucks.”
She tried to laugh but failed; the situation was far too dire. “I wish you all the best. If we never see each other again, please understand how much I value your friendship, how much it means to me.” She’d had two good friends, and she’d managed to hurt both of them.
Going to Elementa, then to Draco to become Prince T’mar’s concubine would be the best thing for her friends and family because it would remove her from Biggs’ reach. He’d be unable to use her as a pawn, and her father would be free to work toward a peace settlement.
“You have so much to offer the world. I’ve always respected and admired you for the way you speak your mind and take a stand against injustice. How could I not be your friend?”
The praise pierced like a barbed dart. She’d tried to take a stand, but failed to do enough. Her message had saved Rhianna’s life, but it was almost a little too little, a little too late.
“I don’t deserve your admiration, but thank you.” Helena said. “Be safe.”
“I will. You, too.”
* * * *
A maintenance worker stood on a ladder replacing a lightbulb when Helena emerged from her apartment the next day.
“Good morning, Ms. Marshfield!” he said cheerfully. “You’re up and around early.”
Was it a casual observation or did her behavior seem odd to him? Was he even a maintenance worker? Was it her imagination or had this hallway been subject to unusually dedicated maintenance? Somebody always seemed to be around—vacuuming, cleaning the carpet, touching up paint.
She often hit the Bunker One gym early, but never by 4 a.m. However, she had to be on the spacecraft before its 0:600 launch and had a stop to make beforehand.
“Got a lot of meetings today. Trying to get a jump on some work.” She tightened her grip on her handbag. “You’re working early.”
Every second she lingered gave Biggs’ men another second to apprehend her. Fear screamed at her to get out fast, but she forced herself to stop and chat. It would raise suspicion if she didn’t.
Even if she got out of Bunker One, she had no guarantee of safety. She could be waiting in line, and she’d feel a tap on her shoulder. Or, she’d get into a cab, and the windows and doors would seal…
“Normal shift, Ms. Marshfield,” he replied. “We get our work done off hours so we don’t get in the way of important stuff.”
“Everyone is doing important stuff,” she said. “We all contribute, we’re all working to make our planet safe again,” she offered a platitude expected of the first daughter.
“Thank you for that,” he said.
“Well, uh, have a good day,” she said.
Staying alive would make it a good day.
A few paces down the hall, she halted and peered over her shoulder. “Was that light out? I got in pretty late last night, and I don’t remember it being burned out.”
“We replace them on a regular schedule so they don’t burn out.”
“Ah! Got it. Well, carry on.”
Maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe this degree of maintenance was normal. She hadn’t given it much notice before, hadn’t checked out other resident areas to compare.
Cognizant of the worker’s scrutiny, she tried to walk normally, not hurry, but not dawdle. She prayed her clothing didn’t appear as out-of-place as it felt. Would he remark to his fellow workers, “Have you noticed how chunky the first daughter is getting these days?”
She hadn’t dared pack a suitcase because it would draw too much notice, so she’d donned as many articles as she could. Even the most lightweight fabrics bulked up when layered. Beneath her swirling skirt and belted floral blouse she wore a cotton/poly sheath dress, two pairs of moisture-wicking running pants and matching T-shirts, yoga shorts and a tank, five pairs of bikini panties, and two sports bras. She’d omitted all jewelry in case she set off the metal detector, which would result in a pat down. There could be no hiccups; the plan had to go smoothly.
She wished she could have worn athletic shoes, but those would have stood out, so she’d settled on black flats. She hoped to grab a pair of sneakers at the drugstore if they still had merchandise. She hadn’t been topside in months, but according to reports, stores were picked bare.
Her bag would be searched like everyone else’s when she exited Bunker One, so she couldn’t take anything signaling she wouldn’t be back. In her purse she carried a hairbrush, some feminine hygiene products, a little bit of makeup, a bottle of pain reliever, and a canister of tear gas and a pocket knife only allowed because she was the president’s daughter. She felt more secure for having the latter two items, although she was under no illusions they’d offer any protection against a fire-throwing dragon the size of a bus—or against Biggs’ trained, lethal enforcers.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, socks and the like, she hoped to acquire at the drugstore.
She’d printed out a hard copy photo of her father and an old one of her mother, which she’d taped into a small notebook. She had a lot of photos in her phone, but since the device could be used to track her, she would toss it as soon as possible.
Carrying a handbag broke with her usual routine, but few people were about. By the time anyone of import viewed the security feeds, she would be long-gone.
* * * *
Line of Fyre blurb
You know things are bad on Earth when you’re the president’s daughter and becoming a concubine to an alien dragon shifter seems like your best option…
Helena Marshfield made a big mistake. But making it right puts her life in danger. She’s forced to flee and become the concubine of the Draconian prince. She never expects to be attracted to the “dragon man,” and has no intention of making the relationship real.
Prince T’mar has no wish to consort with a human. Unfortunately, his father, the king, decrees he must accept her, his dragon mistakes her for their mate, and worse, the flame-haired female stirs his desires. Still, he intends to deposit her at the palace and fly away.
But when powers on Earth draw them back into the line of fire, will their unexpected, unwanted burning attraction be the one thing that can save them?
Line of Fyre (Alien Dragon Shifters 2) will be released in March 2020. To get notified of the release AND get a free book to read now (Married to the Cyborg), subscribe to my newsletter.