This was a stupid and dangerous idea. Sneaking through a hole in the airport fence with a hulking news camera was not one of Zelda Minelli's better notions.
But Reinard had loved it. And what the editor wanted, the editor got.
Zelda eased through the hole in the chain link fencing, suspicious of every loose wire. She was wearing one of her best outfits for the occasion, and there was no way a rusty old fence was going to ruin it right before her film debut.
Lars, her camera man, had no such worries and shoved the expensive equipment bag through without a worry for the sound of wire on nylon.
"What happened to being careful?" Zelda demanded. The camera office had given her a lengthy lecture on treating this, their brand new, state of the art film camera, like it was a gift from the gods. Which, in a way, it was. The publishing gods.
Lars shook his pant leg free of the fence and picked up the bag again. "You want speed or you want careful?"
She checked her watch. "Speed. The landing strip is this way."
They crept out from behind the building shielding the hole from the rest of the airport and made their way west to the runways. The hard dirt of the unpaved lawns turned into dust as they walked, and Zelda suppressed a groan for her cream colored shoes. They wouldn't be cream anymore by the time the Zeolis landed. "You said you only film from the waist up?"
A luggage cart gave them shelter while they watched the sky for the incoming plane. Lars unpacked the camera and checked it over, doing Zelda knew not what to it. So long as it worked she didn't care. The Roma Affiliated Presscorps needed more footage for the newsreels, and she intended to provide. She was done playing the glorified gossip columnist.
The buzz of an incoming plane caught her ear and they both looked up to see a small jet turning into the wind to take aim at the runway. This was it. Lars dumped the protective bag and Zelda ran her fingers through her hair, wishing she had thought to bring a mirror, and a comb, and a gigantic bottle of hair spray. She hadn't realized it would be so windy out here. December was for fools. "Ready?"
"I'll count down from three," Lars said, balancing the camera on a tripod. "Three. Two. One, go!" The camera whirred to life, trained on the plane as it came in to land.
Zelda took a breath to speak, and froze. Men in the uniform of the Protectores Imperari Nostri, Our Emperor's Guards, descended on them. A hand covered the camera's lens and Zelda's microphone was snatched from her.
"That's expensive equipment!"
"I don't give a damn," said the largest of the cadre of Protectores. Zelda had to tilt her head back to see all of him. He loomed over her as though he would block out the sun. Eyes as gray as her own fixated on the press badge clipped to the bottom of her jacket. "You're press?" he demanded, rolling his R ever so slightly.
"RAP," Zelda said, grabbing the badge and unclipping it so she could hold it up for him. Her heart thudded against her blouse as the great bear of a man took the ID card to scrutinize it. "We're on assignment. We have a right to be here."
The Protector's steely gaze met hers. "You're Zelda Minelli."
Was it her imagination or had all the guards just turned cold on her? The chill traveled down her spine, a worse sensation than the heartless winter wind. She glanced to the men holding Lars and the camera, then back to the bear. "I am."
He snapped her press badge in half with one hand. "Your privileges are officially revoked."
Zelda's jaw went slack. "You can't—only Public Relations can—"
"I am in charge now, Miss Minellli. The formalities can be seen to later. Take your cameraman and go."
The guards released their tight grip on Lars, and he scrambled to put the camera away. Zelda watched him, feeling helpless. The plane had landed while they spoke and the imperial family was disembarking right now! They were missing their shot completely, and today's effort was a waste. Worse than a waste. She had to call the PR office, make sure her press badge was inviolable.
Anger, a hot sweep of it, filled Zelda from the toes up. How dare this man break her badge?
She thrust out her hand. "That belongs to the RAP."
"It has an imperial seal on it."
"That's just a sticker. The press badge is mine. Only my editor can rescind it," she said, the words tart.
He eyed her for a long moment before proffering the broken card. She didn't miss the way large muscles moved beneath the sleeve of his coat.
Hells, if he could snap the card with one hand, he could do far worse to her.
She took the card and placed it in her pocket with her chin held high. The dignity of the moment was somewhat ruined as a lock of honey-blonde hair escaped her pins to smack into her mouth.
If she hadn't imagined the upward twitch of the bear's mouth, she would smack him.
Zelda peeled the hair back from her face and looked him in the eye. "Thank you. We'll be going now."
"Not just yet. How did you get in?"
"There's a hole in the fence," Lars said before Zelda could think of an evasion. She glared at the camera man but he ignored her, going on to tell the Protectores exactly where to look.
The plane's passengers had all gone inside. They missed the moment, completely. Her chance to prove she could report on more than high society dinners gone.
Their job—to stop her—done, the guards split into two groups, one to investigate the hole. The others took up position on either side of the bear.
"We'll escort you off the premises," he rumbled.
Zelda harrumphed and let them surround her and Lars. As though they were prisoners! She fumed to herself, too angry to bother looking for her targets. They were probably on their way to the palace by now anyway.
As they neared the exit, the bear stepped up beside her. "Don't look so upset," he murmured, his accent—Arrussian, perhaps?—tickling her ear. Zelda shivered. "Better to get used to it now. The rules have changed."
"On whose orders?" She wasn't going to let any information slide by her now. Has the orders come from PR, security, or the imperial house?
"And you are?"
Zelda stepped over the line in the concrete that marked the division between the airport and the outside sidewalk. The large man put a hand on the fence, barring her from going back in. "You may call me Protector Biernevich. And I will call you nothing, because this is the last time you'll come chasing her." Before Zelda could think up a retort he and the other two guards turned away, heading back into the airport.
"That was scary as shit," Lars muttered before dropping to the ground to double-check that the camera wasn't hurt.
It was scary, but hell if she was going to admit that. Humiliation made her cheeks burn. She needed to say something. To Biernevich's retreating back she shouted, "I could ruin her!"
He stopped to look back at her over his shoulder. "You already have."
He kept on walking.
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