Disclaimer: RH characters not mine. I HONESTLY have no idea where this is going, so if you don't like this chapter, blame the muses! LOL! If you do, however, please, please review! :)
They were settled on Sebastian's luxurious, private jet less than an hour later. It boasted wide leather seats that faced each other on one side, and a leather booth with a mahogany table between the seats on the other side. It also held a plush leather sofa and chair, opposite a large screen television.
"You look tired, Nigel," Their host commented as they strapped into wide comfortable leather seats that faced each other. The small side windows were tinted against the backlash of sunlight and boasted curtains instead of the standard shades. "There is a bedroom in the back, if you care to rest once we have lifted off?"
Nigel fastened his seatbelt and shook his head, he wasn't about to toddle off to sleep and leave Sydney alone with this man. No way. No how. "I'm fine."
"Would you care for a refreshment before we lift off, Mr. Shade?" the pretty stewardess inquired.
"Sydney?" Sebastian smiled as he crossed one leg over the other, comfortably. "An Irish coffee perhaps?"
Sydney had started to refuse, nothing tasted right today, but as his eyes held hers she found herself saying yes.
Nigel blinked at him. "Just water, please."
"Get him a house juice, Glenda," Sebastian requested. "And my usual. Thank you dear."
Nigel tried not to resent Shade's pushiness, but the man was quite overbearing. "We don't usually take people with us on a hunt," he said before he could stop himself. "It could be quite dangerous."
"I assure you, I can take care of myself." Sebastian turned his gaze to Sydney again. "And now, as we did not get the opportunity to talk very much when you were at my home, you must tell me about some of your adventures."
Sydney swallowed as those piercing blue eyes seemed to imbed themselves into her soul. "There really isn't much to tell," she hedged but felt herself wanting to tell him anything and everything he wanted to know. What the hell was wrong with her? It was Adrian Paul all over again, only worse!
"Your modesty is becoming, but quite unnecessary." Sebastian smiled as the girl returned with their drinks, a red wine for him, coffee for Sydney and a tropical colored juice for Nigel. "Do go strap in now, Glenda."
"Yes, Mr, Shade." The young woman disappeared behind a curtain towards the front and moments later the engines started up.
"I do not expect you to tell me any trade secrets," Sebastian continued as he sipped his wine. "Being a hunter myself, I simply find it interesting the different methods people use."
"We're not after killing some poor beast," Nigel quipped. "What we do is not any where near that sort of thing."
"But you are still hunters," Sebastian reasoned. "You simply track ancient relics instead of live prey." His eyes focused hard on Nigel as he sipped his wine. "Everyone has one of two instincts in them, Nigel, to be the predator, or to be the prey."
The feel of the plane lifting off and the intent stare of the blue-eyed man before him caused a vision of running, no flying through darkened woods to fill Nigel's mind. A distinct chatter of night-time birds, followed by the scent of four-legged predators, animals, seeking and stalking smaller prey.
He gasped and shook his head, breaking eye contact with Shade. Lifting his juice with a shaky hand he quickly drained it.
"Instead of using a weapon of violence," Shade continued turning his attention to Sydney. "Such as a sword, you use your minds to find that which you seek."
Nigel shifted in the chair, uncomfortable with the comparison as he set his empty glass in the cup-holder of the seat. Christ, he was hot, so incredibly hot all of a sudden, and tired.
"Are you okay, Nigel?"
He looked at Sydney and had trouble focusing on her. He could only shake his head.
Sydney frowned. Nigel was white as a sheet. "Maybe you should go lay down?"
He shook his head, and seemed to be incapable of speech. The drink? Had there been something in Shade's special juice? Had he been drugged? His eyes lifted accusingly to the older man, who seemed to be watching him with the same concern.
"I think perhaps you should take a rest, Nigel. It is several hours to our destination, plenty of time for a siesta."
Sydney unfastened her belt and rose. "Come on." She reached down and unstrapped Nigel's belt and tugged his arm. "Let's get you to bed."
He shook his head. There was something wrong. Something incredibly wrong and he couldn't leave her alone with Shade. Never leave her alone with Shade! "Syd…" he croaked as Sebastian rose and guided them to a windowless room in the back where a king sized bed sat waiting to be used.
"I'll bring you a cold cloth, Sydney;" Sebastian offered kindly as Sydney gently pulled Nigel toward the bed. "He looks to have a temperature."
"Thank you, Sebastian." She smiled at him, gratefully. "Sit, Nigel."
"Don't!" he began, gripping her hand hard and refusing to let go. "Syd. Some…thing's wrong."
"Lay down, Nigel." Sydney touched his forehead and confirmed that he was burning up. "Come on, legs up."
Nigel was too weak to argue and pulled his legs up on the bed. "Please…" His stomach cramped painfully and he almost arched off the bed. "Shade…don't trust…"
Sydney untied Nigel's boots, her hands less than steady as she pulled them off. She'd never seen Nigel so ill and if she found out Sebastian had anything to do with it, she'd kill the smug bastard with her bare hands. "It's okay, just rest."
His hand shot out again and caught hers. "Don't…leave…"
"I'm right here, Nigel," she assured as Sebastian entered with a bowl of cool water and a soft cloth, along with an older man that Sydney had not noticed earlier.
"This is Samuel, he has medical training and can tend to Nigel," Sebastian stated as Sydney settled on the bed and dipped the cloth in the water.
"I'll tend to him," Sydney assured, Nigel's suspicions immediately coming front and center at the idea that Shade conveniently had a medic on board for a sudden illness. What the hell had they gotten themselves into? They were thousands of feet up in a private jet over the ocean, no where to go. She decided to play it cool, for now. "Thanks anyway."
Sebastian frowned, obviously not use to being contradicted. He paused, walked over and caught her chin, so she would look up at him. "You look pale as well. Are you feeling ill Sydney?"
"Not right now." Sydney considered how she had felt yesterday and suddenly wondered if it might have been a twenty-four-hour-thing. "I was feeling off yesterday, so Nigel may have what I had."
"Indeed." Sebastian nodded and continued to look into her eyes. "However, if he will be ill, it may be better to leave him in solitude. Some men do not care to show weakness in front of a lady."
Sydney sense, rather than saw Nigel tense in panic, for she could not pull her gaze away from Sebastian's. He had the most alluring blue eyes she had ever seen. "I…" Maybe she should leave Nigel alone. She wouldn't have wanted him to see her with her head in the toilet either. "We've both been…" Slade's finger slid from her chin to her cheek and she lost her voice, appalled at how she leaned into his touch. He had soft hands, the hands of a king rather than the hands of a laborer.
"Let Samuel take care of him," Sebastian whispered, kindly. "You will rest in the outer cabin."
"No, I…" His voice was like silk, liquid silk that burned her skin in the sweetest of heat and turned her insides to Jello. She was tired, maybe a nap would do her good. Sebastian had someone here to take care of Nigel. "Oh-kay."
Nigel reached for Sydney, even as she started to rise, but then a horrible wave of nausea hit him and he curled into himself in retaliation. Christ Jesus! He felt like his heart was going to rip from his chest, taking with it his stomach, liver and intestines. He curled tighter, trying to block out the pain but that seemed to focus it even more.
Sebastian guided Sydney out of the room and nodded to Samuel who closed the bedroom door quietly behind them.
"God!" Nigel cried, his eyes flying open as his body expanded outwards and upwards, leaving him twisted and rigid in agony. "Sydney!"
A pair of hands touched him, soothed him. A voice. He didn't recognize the voice, but it too was soothing and then…Pain! Dear God what kind of madness was this? Burning, stabbing, crawling, consuming pain everywhere!
He was going to be ill. He was going to throw up. No, he wasn't, because there was nothing in his stomach. He could feel the emptiness, the pitted barrenness inside of him with horrific clarity. Nigel curled again into himself, pulled his hands to his face and in this action, his eyes focused upon the veins beneath his skin, his knuckles and over his wrists. He stared, horrified as the contour of his veins seemed to stretch and widen beneath his flesh, then felt the pressure through his entire body, pumping blood faster, harder.
The pounding in his ears grew to a raging cacophony of sound, a coliseum of roman gladiators, a jungle of lions screamed and roared and shouted at him with an intensity that would surely shatter his fragile skull; but it didn't and the noise went on and on, forever. He could no longer hear his own voice, or the voice of the man trying to help him. All he could hear was the terrible, blood-thirsty cries of the damned.
He couldn't think, couldn't move beyond what agony provoked, yet he felt a tear slide down his cheek; a sharp, wet and wicked slicing against impossibly sensitive flesh and it burned and clotted, stemmed and flowed all at once.
He was so bloody thirsty. He was dying of thirst! His mouth was dry, full of sand or cotton, his lips felt cracked and sore. A tightness in his lungs, no air! His kidneys…were they shrinking? Dear God what was happening to him?
Nigel screamed as his eyes rolled white and he felt a hand placed on either side of his face, then muttering. Chanting. Drooling. Drinking. Crying. Laughing. Dying….Madness! This was all madness and he couldn't get free. His mind screamed for her, dreamed of her, wept for her, but she was gone. His life, his love, his salvation was taken away and all that was left was darkness.
Sydney awoke suddenly and it took her a moment to get her bearings. Her ears felt funny, and then she remembered that she was on an airplane. She slowly sat up on the leather sofa; allowed the afghan that had been thrown over her to slide off her shoulders as her feet dropped to the floor.
She didn't remember falling asleep. She shook her head and cracked her jaw to get her ears to pop. How had she gotten out here, in the main cabin? The last thing she remembered was…She bolted up and hurried towards the back of the plane, stumbling slightly as a wave of dizziness hit her from moving to quickly.
She pushed open the door to the bedroom, spotted the still form in the middle of the bed and felt a wave of panic. She hurried over and dropped down beside Nigel, who was stretched out on his back, his eyes closed.
"Nigel?" She shook his shoulder gently at first, and when that didn't get a response she shook him harder. "Nigel!"
Slowly, reluctantly, his eyes opened and he turned his head to look at her. "Hey." His mouth felt like dust. "Are we there?"
Sydney scowled. "No, I don't think so." She put her hand to his forehead, relieved that his skin was cool. "You had a fever, remember? How do you feel?" Better yet, how come she hadn't been with him while he was sick? She remembered him being ill, and Sebastian bringing her a cloth…then, nothing.
Carefully he sat up and ran his hands over his face. "I feel better, just thirsty," he admitted, quietly. "I must have just needed to sleep."
Sydney didn't think his symptoms had anything to do with exhaustion, but she'd deal with that later. "Did you get sick?"
Nigel glanced around and tried to remember. "I…I don't know. I don't think so." Something, something was tapping at his brain, but he couldn't grasp it. "It must have been a bug."
Sydney gave into the urge to hug him. "You scared the hell out of me, Nigel!"
He rubbed her back. "Sorry, Syd."
"You are looking much better, Nigel."
The pair glanced back at Sebastian Shade, smiling in the doorway.
"Perhaps enough to manage some dinner?"
Nigel shook his head. "I'm not very hungry."
"You should eat something, Nigel."
He shrugged as Sydney stood and let him slide off the bed. "Just some water. I'm very thirsty." He paused. "Or, maybe that juice I had earlier?"
Sebastian nodded. "Absolutely. I shall have a fresh batch prepared." He moved away and left Sydney and Nigel alone in the room.
"Are you sure you're okay?" she demanded looking him in the eyes, finding no trace of the exhaustion or the fear she had seen earlier.
"I'm a little disoriented," he admitted. "And thirsty, but otherwise I feel okay."
She placed her palm against his face again, just to be sure. "You feel better, anyway."
Nigel closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. "That feels nice."
Sydney snatched her hand back, startled, but when he opened his eyes again and looked at her, slightly dazed, she chalked it up to how he was feeling. "Come on then, let's get you something to drink."
Nigel followed her out to the main cabin area where the booth table had been set for two. He glanced at Sebastian as he slid in to the booth opposite Sydney. "Aren't you eating?"
"I had a little something an hour ago." Sebastian settled in the one of the leather chairs, turned to face them and lifted his half full wine glass towards them in a toast. "Please, enjoy."
Sydney pulled the cover off her dish and tried to hide her delight at the baked chicken and vegetables. "Looks lovely," she offered politely. She was still suspicious of what happened earlier and searched her memory for a cause.
Nigel stared down at his plate and felt his stomach revolt. He covered it again. "I…I can't."
"Perhaps some soup?" Sebastian touched a button on the console of his chair and a tall, good looking man in a pilot's shirt and trousers stepped inside. "See if there is some soup in the galley for Mr. Bailey, would you Andrew?"
"Certainly, Mr. Shade."
Nigel picked up his glass of water and downed it in several large gulps. His throat was incredibly dry.
"And some tropical juice, as well," Sebastian added smiling.
"Yes, Sir." Andrew disappeared towards the front of the plane.
"Where's Glenda?" Sydney asked as she cut into her chicken.
"She's resting. How is the chicken?"
"Delicious, thank you." She speared a small portion of white meat on her fork and held it out to Nigel. "Want to try a bite?"
Again, the very idea set his stomach churning and he made a face. "No, really, Syd. I couldn't."
She nodded, remembering how she had been yesterday when she had tried to eat. Now, however she was fine. Perhaps it had been a bug they had both caught. Perhaps they were simply letting the strange circumstances surrounding their meeting of Shade taint their judgment. After all, he was flying them to Israel to look for a new relic, and he did seem genuinely interested in history.
Andrew returned with a bowl of creamy tomato soup and a pitcher of tropical juice for Nigel. Nigel hesitantly tried a spoonful of the soup and was relieved when it slid down his throat without any ramifications from his stomach. Plus, it tasted amazing.
"Is that better, Nigel?" Sebastian asked, sipping his wine.
"Very, thank you, Sebastian." Nigel offered him a grateful smile and when Sebastian returned it he felt an unusual flair of what could be labeled attraction. What the hell! He quickly looked away and concentrated on his soup.
"How far away from Israel are we?" Sydney asked.
"Only about another hour or so."
Nigel's eyes widened. "What?" It was easily an eleven hour flight! How long had he been sleeping? He glanced at Sydney, who was equally surprised. "We only just lifted off!"
"You and Sydney must have been very tired, you both slept through most of it."
Sydney's eyes narrowed and she carefully set her fork down. "We didn't have any help in that sleep did we?" she demanded suddenly.
Sebastian laughed, a deep, musical rumble from his chest that was a delight to hear. "Oh my. Such suspicion, my dear Professor." He grinned. "Are you are asking if I drugged you and your assistant for nefarious purposes?"
"Did you?" Nigel asked, following Sydney's lead.
"How am I to answer such a charge?" Sebastian's blue eyes danced in amusement. "If I say no, you would not believe me and you would continue to be suspicious. If I say yes…" His smile slid slowly, wickedly across his lips. "Well, we are thousands of feet up and any resistance or attack upon my person would be detrimental to your own safety."
Nigel felt an uneasy shiver crawl up his spine as he set his spoon to the side of his bowl. "You did drug us."
Sebastian shook his head. "No, I did not. You both seem to have overlooked the obvious cause for your loss of time. Exhaustion. I could see it when we met in your office. Sydney, you mentioned you had been ill yesterday, and then it seems that Nigel also became ill, perhaps with the same virus? The only thing that put you to sleep my darlings, was your own bodies shutting down."
Sydney could understand the reason behind his words, but couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. It made sense. They ahd been caught out in the storm, Nigel especially had suffered blood loss, and then she'd been exhausted and later ill at home. Nigel mentioned he'd had trouble sleeping and became ill on the plane. It all made perfect sense. And yet…
"It is good you had took some rest," Sebastian offered mildly. "When we land we can start out right away, now, without any delays." He smiled at Nigel. "Do finish your soup, I promise you there is nothing but good things in there and you will feel better for it." When neither Nigel or Sydney moved to finish their meal he sighed. "You will need your energy for the hunt. Come now, as seasoned professionals, you both know this."
Nigel looked at Sydney and, because they had discussed at length her time with Tslarov, knew how similar the situation must seem for her.
Tsalraov had wanted to build Sydney's strength so that he could later hunt her down and kill her. He remembered the feeling of loss when the bastard had told him that Sydney was dead, and then as he watched the members of their team being led up the stairs and out of the cellar, never to return. It had been a bleak, terrifying moment in their history, but they got through it; they survived.
He held her gaze with the same determination, the same understanding of what was happening and what they would need to do. They would need their strength, and while Sebastian could be hiding something, or flat out lying, they could do little until they land; but they would survive. They always did.
Finally, he picked up the spoon and dipped it in his soup, meeting Sydney's gaze over the bowl.
She scowled and stabbed a green bean with her fork, a little more viciously than was necessary, and tossed it in her mouth.
"Perhaps you could regale me with some of the antiquities you've procured?"
"We don't discuss the relics we find," Nigel rebuked. "It's that type of bragging that can lead to theft."
"Ah, yes, of course." Sebastian touched one long finger to his lips, thoughtfully. "However most of your finds are published in the Archeological Journal, so many would already know about them, would they not?
Sydney shared another glance with Nigel, then, because they couldn't do much about their current situation, she put on her game face. She told herself that this man was their host and were helping them find a relic as well. While she was uneasy about her attraction to Sebastian Shade, and the 'power nap' she and Nigel had been coerced into, she had no proof of wrong doing. Shade had been nothing but helpful and charming.
"What Nigel means is we simply have to be careful of…regaling anyone, as it has led to difficulties later on."
"I can certainly understand the need for secrecy. I have many of my own and am, at most, a deeply private man. I know of some of your exploits, I read up on you after your visit to my home. I did not want to trust this find to just anyone, so I had to be sure you were the right ones for the job."
"And we appreciate that."
"Do you have family, Sebastian?" Nigel asked, trying to change the subject, and then finding himself actually interested in the other man's response.
"Alas, no. I have been unlucky to find the right person that I would wish to spend my life with." He lifted his wine glass to his lips, his eyes caught Sydney's over the rim, playfully. "However, my prospects have taken a turn for the better recently. So there is still hope."
Sydney felt herself flush at his deliberate appraisal and was appalled. "We all should have hope," she muttered.
"Indeed." Sebastian glanced at Nigel, whose eyes had started to grow heavy again, despite his long sleep. "Drink your juice, Nigel. I assure you it will perk you right up."
Nigel sipped the juice, surprised at how tasty it was. "What's in it?"
"A bit of this, a bit of that." He grinned. "Drink it up, there's a good lad."
"I'm not a bloody child," Nigel muttered, but took another sip of the juice, anyway. It was really quite good and he found it was slaking his earlier thirst.
"Does Dashwood not travel with you?"
Sebastian laughed. "I couldn't get Dashwood out of my house with a stick of dynamite and the threat of cholera," he assured, amused. "He is very, very set to it."
"How long have you known him?" Sydney asked.
"It seems like forever. He can be hard to digest for some, but he is very good at taking care of things I need done, so I put up with his bad temper."
"Thank you for the rental car, by the way, and the tow to the garage. You'll have to let me know how much it cost, and I'll pay you back." When Sydney had gone to pick up her jeep, she'd been told that the bill for repair had been paid in full, and remarkably, the garage had repaired all of the damage done by the crash.
"Nonsense, it was a pittance to me and my pleasure to do for you."
Nigel was startled when the plane suddenly shook violently, and his eyes widened. "What was that?"
"Just turbulence," Sebastian assured, but then the plane shook again, and he watched several of Sydney's remaining vegetables spill off her plate He scowled and flipped a switch on the arm of his chair. "Is there a problem, Captain?"
"Sir, you may wish to come up here."
Sebastian's eyebrows lifted, perplexed, and then he was and setting his wine on the window shelf. "I shall return in a moment." He disappeared behind the cockpit curtain.
"This isn't good, Syd."
"I'm sure it's just weather, Nigel."
"That didn't feel like bad weather, Sydney. It felt like something bloody hit us."
"We're thousands of feet in the air. What would have hit us?"
"I've no idea, but I've got a very bad feel…" Nigel looked up as Sebastian returned and settled back into his seat.
"Is there a problem?" Sydney asked as the plane shuttered once more.
Sebastian picked up his wine, which had somehow managed not to spill and sipped it calmly. "It appears we are about to crash."