Jeb thought back to something the Consort had told him after they had reformed the Royal Army and he became an officer. "Worry about the days when you feel that you are earning these stripes." This must be one of those days the Consort had meant. Here he was about to jump into the travel storm called up by the Princess who nearly an annual ago didn't even know she could do magic, leaving behind his seething father who was trying hard not to take the seething out on anyone.
Speaking of, Jeb faced his father as the older man strode toward him. Wyatt Cain pushed down his anger and let his concern show. "Be careful over there. And... and take care of her." His glance at DG said all the words his mouth couldn't.
"I will." Jeb flung his arms around his father and the fedora was nearly lost to the growing stronger winds, but he was glad he had given into the impulse once he joined DG's side. The magic flung them into the air.
His feet landed on grass and his gaze scanned the landscape for danger while the storm quieted. A single sun floated above the distant horizon. Closer was a white-washed cottage nestled among a stand of trees.
"How many times will I have to use those damn things before I stop landing on my butt?" DG stood up and brushed off her backside. "Welcome to Kansas."
"That's where you grew up?" He gestured at the cottage. She nodded. "It's not what I had pictured."
"We won't stay, just long enough for me to find my cellphone, some money, and clothes to blend in better."
Jeb followed her lead across the overgrown lawn to the cottage. "We need to establish some things, Princess."
"I know your father thinks I make trouble by breathing, but I'm not that bad. And nobody wants to kill me here, so all you have to do is pretend nothing surprises you. Oh, and not call me Princess in public."
"That's not it." He wanted to pretend the possibility didn't exist, but he also wanted to guard his own neck from all dangers, and the way his father had acted at being left behind was a danger signal. "I don't want to be in the middle of something between you and my father."
She skidded to a stop in the grass and faced him with a blank mask of an expression, triggering his alarm bells. "What do you think is between your father and me?"
And Glitch complains that DG wasn't learning any diplomacy. Jeb downplayed his suspicions, but continued with the point he wanted to stress. "I don't want to be in the middle if you two are fighting."
She relaxed and started for the cottage again. "We're not fighting. He's always a cranky paranoid and I don't have time to humor him. With any luck, he'll put the fear of the revolver into the Council and they won't argue with me for hours unending when we get back."
"You've never left him behind before."
"Oh so we must be fighting? Mentioning the Other Side makes your father twitchy." DG spun around and pantomimed Wyatt Cain in hyper-vigilant mode, including fingers wrapped around an imaginary holstered gun. Jeb grinned despite wanting to keep the conversation serious. "The only people that trigger happy here are soldiers in combat and criminals."
They reached the cottage and she dropped to her knees beside the steps up to the porch. Her hands disappeared into the scraggly remains of a flowerbed and the overgrown grass. Jeb figured it was probably best to spit it out while she was distracted. "Do you love my father?"
She reared back and her guilty expression was answer enough before she hid it away. "We're friends, Jeb. He has neverů I sure haven'tů Your motherů."
"I'm not interfering, disapproving, cutting off all ties with my father, or whatever it is you're afraid of." He ran his hand through his hair. This wouldn't be so hard if she didn't look terrified. "I just wanted you to know it's okay. With me."
She turned back to whatever she was hunting for. "I'm glad my unrequited feelings for your father are fine by you. Now can we never talk about it again?"
"He is still married to your mother." She pulled out a rock that opened, depositing a key into her hand. "Now let's get this mission started."