Oron Biernevich remained outside Zoë's door until the morning. It wasn't that he didn't trust her to stay in one place... it was that he didn't trust her to stay in one place. Which was why he was furious at himself when the sun rose and she was not in her room.
Her twin, Cleo, was just coming to bed after the long ball. "No, I haven't seen her since... Let me check, maybe she left me a message." She shut him out of their suite and emerged a few minutes later with a note. "She says not to worry, she'll call when she gets there. Wherever there might be." Cleo pressed her lips together, clearly troubled. She glanced up at Oron. "Did she tell you? About her...?"
"Her soldier boy," Oron supplied dryly. "No, she didn't."
"His unit's been sent to the border. She wouldn't tell me where."
"I did hear something about that, yes." Sometimes the emperor and his kin forgot how many others could hear when they argued. Zoë's furious expression flitted across Oron's consciousness.
Oron left Cleo holding the note and jogged down to the security office to see if anyone had spotted a certain princess leaving the palace. They had installed brand new cameras for the ball, but focused them all on the main entrance. No luck there.
While they skimmed the footage Oron thought through Zoë's other options. Commissioning her father's private plane would raise too many reg flags. Commercial flights were infrequent and booked weeks in advance. She could rent a car, but had barely passed her licensing test a few years ago. These princesses didn't drive, they were driven.
Which left the train.
Oron picked up the phone to make a few calls. His special clearance got him the intel that Devon Cavanaugh's unit was now stationed in Mattium, Lower Germania. He was patched through to the train station and informed that the only Germania-bound train of the day was leaving in half an hour. He hesitated only long enough to grab his emergency bag from his office and tap another guard to drive him. As soon as the car stopped outside the station he was out of it, duffel slung over his back and wallet in hand to present his badge to the crew. That train wasn't leaving until he'd found her.
He prowled through the crowded station, ignoring its sweeping columns and arched ceiling depicting the gods at work and play. That girl thought she could get away from him, and she was dead wrong.
Light flashed off a pair of sunglasses, arresting his walk. Beneath the sign announcing that the train was headed for the north a dark head of curling hair was topped with the glasses just before Zoë stepped onto the train.
Oron ducked onto the nearest car and strode down the aisle toward her.
He found her as she tucked her coat onto the overhead shelf. He stood in the aisle, blocking any escape, and glowered at her.
She turned around to pick up her purse and nearly leapt back into the wall. "Oron! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Babysitting, apparently." He dropped his duffel on top of her small suitcase without ceremony. "Move in."
Zoë eyed him for a moment—there were dark smudges under her eyes showing a lack of sleep—and then reluctantly made room for him to sit. "I don't need a babysitter."
"You always need a babysitter," he countered.
"You don't know me as well as you think you do," she said, folding her arms stubbornly. Oron had been assigned to cover her only three weeks ago when the family left for their holiday.
He had caught on to her tricks alarmingly quickly.
"I knew to find you here, didn't I?"
Zoë scoffed. "You're not seriously coming with me. You're just waiting for a chance to drag me off and humiliate me."
Oron sat and took a moment to make himself comfortable while he considered what to say next. It would likely set the tone for the rest of this trip. While he thought the announcement came over the speakers that the train was about to leave. "Sit down." She didn't, stubborn, and lurched along with the train when it began to move. Oron offered her an arm to steady herself. She took it then dropped into her seat and looked out the window, her lower lip jutting out like a child's.
The bodyguard held in his sigh. She was worse than his sister had ever been. An overgrown girl with too little discipline and too little freedom all at once. "As you can see, I'm not dragging you off the train." She tossed her hair over her shoulder, unimpressed. "When we get to Germania I will call in and smooth all the feathers you're ruffling by doing this."
Her head swung round and she narrowed her eyes at him. "You're helping me. Why?"
Because he knew what it was like to have a tyrant in your life. "You're headstrong. If I don't come with you now you'll find a way to go alone later. This saves us all trouble."
"You're not following me around Germania."
"I am, or you're getting locked in your room for the next six months."
Fury flashed across her face. "I am not the kind of princess you can lock inside a tower," she hissed.
The conductor entered the car and Oron held up a hand for her to wait. He offered the conductor his badge and the man moved on.
"I bought my ticket," Zoë fumed at him.
This was going to be an exhausting trip. Oron reached into his bag, hoping that—yes, he had come prepared. The stress of the long night was getting to him. He unwrapped a candy and popped it into his mouth, ignoring Zoë's suspicious looks. "No, you cannot have one."
"I didn't ask!"
"This is the best arrangement, Zoë. Don't question what benefits you."
She hmphed and looked out the window again.
Oron wait to be sure she was occupied, then allowed himself to stretch a bit in the cramped seat. This trip was going to take all his reserves to pull it off. Assuming no one, like the Emperor, decided to have him recalled and executed.
There was one bright side. Going to the edge of the empire meant they wouldn't be followed by vultures like that Minelli woman.