Chapter Twenty-One

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"Lets get one thing straight; there is no way in Hell that I'm staying at anywhere other than Seth's," Noah grunted grumpily as we gradually descended the metal stairway leading from the gigantic airplane we boarded and towards the bus that will be taking us to the terminal.

I scoffed mockingly. "Oh, really? How else are you supposed to receive the protection you're practically begging Xavier for?"

Noah snapped his head to my direction, sending me the deadliest glare he could muster. I knew an equally bad response was just on the tip of his tongue but he held himself back since we were surrounded by strangers.

Sleep deprivation was beginning to take a toll on my life, impacting both my physical and mental well-being. My eyes felt like they were getting poked at repeatedly by a heated fork, the pain extending towards my head into an intolerable migraine. I had spent the first hour of our flight writing and sending emails to my boss, claiming I had a family emergency that required extending my vacation - and then texting my parents that I'd extended my vacation stay at Indiana with my friends. Afterwards, no matter how hard I'd tried to silence my running, wild thoughts with a nap during the remaining two hours on flight, I'd failed miserably and reopened my eyes feeling twice as frustrated. Eventually, I'd given up completely and ended up watching a movie on my laptop.

"Will anyone be picking us up?" Ariel asked as soon as the bus started moving. I gripped tightly onto the seat to my right while miserably trying to balance myself and also keep a firm grip on my suitcase that was rolling over strangers' feet. I kept offering apologetic smiles, mumbling a "sorry" every few seconds.

"Seth should be waiting outside," Elliot replied. Bella was hunched over by his side, her cheek resting on his shoulder and her eyes closed as she tried to control her breathing. She looked paler than usual. Flights often did that to her, she wasn't a huge fan of flying.

I pointed my chin towards her, "is she okay?"

Elliot glanced down at her, his eyes hardening from witnessing her weakened state. "She will be."

I felt another wave of guilt washing over me like a bucket of ice-cold water. I shivered.

Even if this wasn't completely my fault, I still felt responsible for the bigger part. I shouldn't have gone out with Xavier; those men shouldn't have seen me with him. If I had just kept to myself the way I had been for years, I would be at home right now preparing to go back to work in a few days, and my friends would all be doing the same - each preparing to continue on with their usual smooth daily-routine, instead of having to move away to a different state with no previous preparation, asking for protection from a man we've known for only a couple of weeks.

"Nora!" Ariel's distant voice called out for me, and I was snapped out of the haze my thoughts had formed. I searched for her in the now nearly-vacant bus, noticing that it had stopped at the terminal and everyone was stepping off. I grabbed my suitcase and followed behind an elderly man, rushing out towards where my friends waited for me.

After nearly fifteen minutes spent finishing all the procedures, we reached the gates of the airport and walked out into the bright afternoon sun. My eyes instantly began to ache from the blinding rays, and I squinted hard trying to soothe the pounding in my head. I was in desperate need of sleep, but I doubted I would be getting any proper rest before this whole ordeal was over with.

"Yo!" Someone to our left called out loudly, attracting the attention of plenty of passersby. We all turned to the source of the voice and saw Seth waving us over from across the parking lot, standing beside his car with the driver's door open.

We strolled over to where his Jeep parked, and I eyed his car skeptically. "Is this our only ride?"

Seth glanced over his car and shrugged. "It was a last minute call, I couldn't find a bigger ride. You will have to squeeze in somehow."

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