How could she be so excited? She helped Jade pick out a dress well several dresses for her wedding and coronation. This should be child’s play, but her palms were sweaty, and her heart was racing with excitement. Her lips spread wide when she saw Jade and Em. They were dressed for business. Comfortable jeans that didn’t hug, a tee that gave them room to move and shoes they could run in if needed. They were dressed like her and they were sneaking. The king, Jaydel or the guards were nowhere to be seen.

Jade led them to a different car. “We could take mine,” Em told them.

“We need room for the gifts,” Jade said as Em slid into the driver’s seat.

“Hey, I was driving,” Jade placed a hand on a hip bouncing.

“Over my dead body,” Em muttered and closed the door.

“She makes it hard for me to believe I am a queen,” Jade snarked getting into the passenger seat. Red slid into the back shaking her head at the two of them.

“All I am going to say is that a certain queen has road rage. The less she drives the safer America is.”

“Damn, I’m not that bad,” Jade choked on her laughter.

Road rage Em mouthed before taking off.

“Won’t the males be upset?” Red knew the correct terminology was male since the guys weren’t considered men. As far as she thought if you walked like one, looked like one, and had a penis well… She kept that opinion to herself.

Darn it, she was still using church approved words in her head. Cock, cock, cock, beautiful cock. Eww nasty dirty cock that was used to hurt her.

“Red?” Jade called her.

“Sorry, I was thinking.”

“Want to share with the class?” Jade asked.

“Not really. Actually, yes, do you call it a penis, dick, or a cock?”

Em coughed and Jade laughed like she might be slightly touched.

“I got this,” Em said. “Imagine you meet a guy you like. Let’s say Norquay.” Red’s cheeks heated but she nodded. “You’re kissing and he’s touching you watching to see if you’re giving him the green signal and you decide you want to see what the fuss is about downstairs. Can you imagine yourself saying, Oh Norquay that feels so good please take your penis out so I can see it?”

There was no sound in the car as the three of them tried to breathe through what Em said.

“My God, Em. Warn a sister next time.” Jade slid down in the seat laughing.

“So, penis is out,” Red said.

“That leaves you with dick or cock,” Jade told her. “Really it’s up to you. Some women use dick as a description of a man’s attitude and some men are named dick, or Richard which can be shortened to dick. Then there’s cock, unless you have a rooster around no one wonders what you’re talking about when you say it.”

“Cock,” Red tried the word out loud feeling like a teen. “Did that sound like a dumb question. It’s not like I’m eighteen.”

“That’s the world, Red. They expect everyone to be alike, look alike, do whatever neighbor A is doing. Did you know that there are people who believe that no one over the age of twenty-one is a virgin? They also believe people, men and women don’t save themselves for marriage. It would be funny if it wasn’t true. You get to be you no matter what someone else thinks. So, no, I don’t find it dumb. Ask anything you want. You’ll never know how many nights we sat and dished about sex.”

“Oh, speaking of attitude there’s a reason a dick pic is called that and not a cock pic.” Em gave Red a wink.

They spent the rest of the ride talking about men and sex as well as singing Christmas songs that Red begrudgingly approved since they were going Black Friday shopping.

“The mall?” Red asked when they pulled into the parking lot.

“Best place to be on Black Friday. So many choices and no driving until you decide to get breakfast,” Em told her.

“Or lunch,” Jade added.

“Alright, but we do this together. The three amigos. One of us has to pee we all have to pee,” Red told them.

“Have my guards been talking to you?” Jade demanded.

“Did you think General Murray sent me to you because I was pretty?” Red checked the gun she had holstered under the jacket she was wearing.

“I forget Red is a badass. You should see her driving a car like it’s the Indy 500.” Em got out the car waiting for them. “I cross my heart and hope not to die, that I will only pee with my sister wives.”

Jade snorted “Count me in.”

“Then let’s buy things.” Red whistled a Christmas tune as they walked to the mall.

There was Christmas music playing, teens with too much energy running in and out of stores. There were parents and older adults dragging themselves from store to store looking for the perfect discounted buy for their loved ones. It was beautiful and Red was caught up in the joy of the season she stopped celebrating long ago.

“I thought we were shopping for our loved one,” Red gave the item in Em’s hand a look. “Unless Jaydel is fond of nighties.”

“As a matter of fact, he is. When I wear this on Christmas Eve, he is going to thank God and the archangels and then wonder why I didn’t buy it in different colors. Thanks Red,” Em picked up two more. “I really do need this in different colors.”

“Maybe you should buy one Red. That black one with your Red hair and your pale skin would look amazing,” Jade held up the one she was talking about.

“I don’t think so. I like sleeping in my hoodie and my yoga pants.” Jade and Em looked at her with wide eyes.

“I thought I was the only one that did that,” Em said softly. “When I left my ex, I always bundled up. If I could have kept from sleeping, I would have.”

Red nodded comforted by the thought that she wasn’t the only one. When she slept that’s when her shields dropped, and memories came back to her. That’s when she felt weak and unable to fight. It didn’t help that she lived with the knowledge that the man who did this to her was walking around enjoying life and probably hurting someone else. Never before this, had she wanted to go vigilante on someone’s ass.

“Sleep in whatever makes you happy,” Jade told her placing the gown back on the rack.

Red eyed it, her wallet burning with the unspent money from a year of being sick. Her mind burning with the knowledge that she had slept in a hoodie and a pair of yoga pants long before she had been raped. Her chest tightened at the word. She knew she needed to face what happened to her, pretending it was anything else was a one-way ticket to a padded room. She was so weak, but that didn’t stop her hand for reaching for the nightgown. The road to recovery started with her. Then because she had no plans to flounce around in a hot as hell nightgown, she bought other ones.

“Red did you just take the last sleeping beauty nightgown?” Em glowered at her.

“Umm no?” She stuck it in the bottom of her cart.

“You did. Good job!” Jade high fived her.

“Next year, I’m coming alone,” Em muttered.

“When did this store get carts?” Red asked.

“They only bring them out on Black Friday. Look around you they feed into the frenzy of getting a good deal.

Jade was right. They got into a line that felt like it would take a year to clear. When they were finally done, they walked to the SUV over-burdened with packages.

“Guys, I hate to tell you this, but that’s the sun.” Jade and Em laughed. “Seriously, we shopped for hours.”

“What did you think about it?” Em asked.

Red put a finger to her lips as she thought. Her feet hurt, her legs and arms felt like overdone noodles and she was starving. There was laughter, companionship, and good-natured ribbing. She felt like she was safe and with friends.

“I love it. Sign me up for next year.”

“So much for my solo trip next year,” Em groaned then chuckled.

“Now we need food. Let’s find a place before they get full.” Jade got in the passenger seat.

“I’ll drive,” Red took the keys from Em. Her hands were twitching.

“Everything alright,” Em asked when they took off.

“Bad feeling.”

“Like cold suddenly walked up your spine?” Jade asked.

“Did you feel it too?”

“I did when we were pulling off. I didn’t see anything.” Jade had looked feeling like they were being watched.

“Should we go home?” Em let her senses out calling on byema-Em to look around. “I’m not feeling anything.”

“Let’s go get food. I’m probably over-sensitive.” Jade and Em agreed to food not wanting to cut their time short.

“Here good?” Red pulled into the parking lot of Bob Evans.

Jade’s stomach grumbled. It had been a good minute since she ate here.

“Looks good to me,” Em told them as they got out of the car. There was a wait, but it wasn’t too long. Soon they were seated with plates in front of them.

They ate laughing about the shopping and the people they met who had to make sure they got the best deal. When they walked outside the sky was a gorgeous blue with just a little chill in the air.

“I have no idea why I spent so much time up north when I could live here,” Jade told them as they walked to the SUV.

“I would have killed for snow when I was growing up,” Red told them before she spread her arms preventing them from getting closer to the vehicle. “Stop. Move back.”

Red advanced slowly walking around the vehicle before she dropped to the ground looking underneath the chassis. Not finding anything she stood up.

“I don’t know, something doesn’t feel right.” How was she supposed to explain the feeling she got that said everything was about to explode? There was a time she put it off, believing that it made her weird to think about things like that. The one thing she vowed when she knew she was going to live was that she would never ignore what that invisible sensation was telling her again.

She looked back to see both Jade and Em on their phones. She didn’t blame them if she had someone to call, she’d be on the phone too. Norquay’s name went through her mind, but she ignored it for her sanity. Carefully she opened the door to the SUV air whooshing out in a breath she didn’t know she was holding when it didn’t blow up taking her with it.

A careful search of the car found nothing out of place. She reached down and pulled the lever for the hood. She wasn’t a mechanic but knew enough to know if something was out of place. After searching the engine, she knew they were good to go.

“Let’s get out of here.” Em and Jade piled into the vehicle.

“Lyrek is on his way and he’s bringing the guards.” Jade told her.

“Jaydel is riding shotgun,” Em added.

Red gave a shaky smile glad that her friends were in love with their male’s. She would examine that little spark of jealousy she felt later. Right now, she just wanted to get back to the compound where they would be safe. The city was up and awake now. There would be no changing to hover mode until they were past where they could be spotted.

“Sorry,” she muttered as she escaped the city as fast as possible. Her senses were all over the place crying danger. “It’s probably nothing. I have this bad feeling that something is headed our way.”

“I feel the same way,” Jade told her.

“You do?”

“Yes, I didn’t feel it as soon as you did. When I got closer to the car it was there, a cold cloying feeling.”

“That’s it.”

Em closed her eyes and allowed her senses to look for anything that didn’t seem right. Byema-Em do you feel anything? The reply was negative.

“I don’t sense anything, but I agree with both of you. There’s a feeling like danger clinging to my back. When can we go into hover mode?” Em asked.

“Once we round that bend,” Red told them just before the car swirled out of control.  She fought with the wheel applying the brakes gently to try to keep them from spinning out or stopping so hard she hurt them all. When the brakes went feeling like concrete underneath her foot, she headed off-road hoping the rockier terrain would help slow down the car. It stopped just before they hit a tree.

“Is everyone okay?” Red asked before she jumped out of the car. She went around the car and stopped at the back on the passenger side. “The tire is destroyed this was no simple blowout.” Blowouts weren’t simple they were dangerous, but the tire hadn’t blown it had been tampered with.

“Someone did this, it was deliberate. Whoever did it was good. There was no evidence of tampering with the tire when I gave it a visual inspection. We didn’t crash but we won’t be able to go to hover mode the stabilizer on that side of the car is gone.” Red sat on the rocky terrain not worried about her clothes or the rocks digging into her rear.

“We have to move,” Jade told them.

Red stood looking around. “Staying on the road is foolish. It’s like an invitation to be picked off one by one. Our best bet is to make it through the trees and hope for help.”

“You think someone is watching us?” Em looked around letting her senses come out.

“Would you go through all this trouble and not be watching?” Red asked before she bent down and retrieved her gun.

“You carry a gun strapped to your calf?” Jade was wide-eyed.

Red reached back and pulled a second gun.

“Shit, woman you’re not playing.” Em Gawked.

“Let’s move we’re too much of a target here.” Red took the rear as they moved into the trees. “Can either of you shoot a gun?”

“I can.”

“You can?” Em turned to look at Jade before going on. “Since when?”

“Since I learned that bounty hunters were after Lyrek and I was acceptable collateral damage.”

“I feel like I learn something new every day. Red are you keeping secrets?”

“I filled a couple of diaries, and I’m looking for a new one,” Red told her.

Em cussed eloquently. They stopped to take a break when all three of their phones rang.

“Hello?” Red walked away to answer her phone.

“Where are you?” Norquay spit out.

“I’m on my way to grandma’s house.”

“What?”

“You know over the hills and through the dale… You don’t know.” Em told him about the SUV.

“We’re standing by the vehicle.”

“We?”

“Teak is here with me.”

“Someone is trailing us. We’re in the woods trying to keep a low profile. I can’t see him, but I know what it feels like to be hunted and he is hunting us.”

“How do you know it’s a he?” Norquay was on his way into the woods following the footprints that were obscured. The dry grass was disturbed where they had hidden their passage.

“It may sound sexist, but it’s a feeling. I just know.”

“Find a place to lie low we’re on our way. Teak says good job hiding your trail only a tracker would be able to follow you. Leave the line open and hide.”

“Norquay and Teak are at the car. Norquay wants us to hide and wait for them. I hope you really know how to use this.” Red passed her second gun off to Jade as they disappeared deeper into the forest. She stopped listening to her surroundings as she used her sixth sense to tell her if they were being followed. Placing a finger to her mouth she directed them behind an abandoned shed.

When Red was sure they were safe, she left them and approached the shed opening the door to make it look like they were inside or had stopped inside. Erasing all tracks, she went back to hide with the others. It didn’t take long for that feeling in the middle of her shoulder blades to swamp her. Someone was coming. A quick peek showed her a man in a mask. She didn’t have time to wonder about the mask as the gun in his hand was her focus.

He crept up to the shack throwing the door open shooting before it was fully opened. Whoever it was planned to kill them. He stepped inside when he realized it was empty, he came out armed with two guns searching the surrounding area.

If he started shooting, there was no way he was going to miss them. Red crouched moving closer to the man. The rocks under her foot moved making enough noise to draw his attention. She stood and fired before he took aim. One shot in the heart the other in the forehead. He dropped getting a few shots in as his body seized.

There was shouting as two males came from the trees. She turned to shoot when Norquay shouted at her. She held her fire, then stepped towards the man that would have killed them. His body dissolved leaving nothing but a pile of sludge. Not even bones were left.

“What the hell?” Her eyes were wide as she watched Norquay walk up to her and take her in his arms.

“Welcome to the world of aliens,” he whispered, before she came apart in his arms.

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