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   Chapter 5 Pilot

Pilot: Book One of the Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 9391

Updated: 2018-02-02 12:59

Elena hugged her grandfather, and deeply inhaled. To her, he always smelled of the sea just before a storm. It was the scent of home. She let him go and unlocked the front door.

"You've cut your hair, " he said as they entered the apartment.

"It's actually grown out quite a bit, " She told him, absently running her hand through her chin length hair. "There was no reason to keep it long enough to tie back any more." A look of sadness crossed her grandfather's face at her words. She wished she had the power to pull the words back down her own throat. "Um, you are looking well, " She said with a bit of a wan smile. He smiled brightly back at her.

"I feel well, " he said. "And the family sends their best. Therese says hello." Elena swallowed the sharp retort, reminding herself to keep things pleasant. Her cousin Therese was never her favorite person and took great delight in the fact Elena left. Therese was more likely to send a swift kick to Elena's head than a polite hello, but heading down that particular pathway would do no one any good.

"I hope she is well, " Elena said. Her grandfather settled himself on the couch while Elena locked the door behind them and settled into her favorite chair. Her heart was beating as fast as a rabbit hiding from a coursing hound. Manners dictated the polite small talk, but they both knew the reason he was here.

"I stopped by your store today, " he said. Elena's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"I didn't see you, " she said.

"No, you were very busy and I just wanted a quick peek around. Calabrese Imports, " he spoke the name and Elena felt a sense of pride in the words. She smiled. Naming her store with the family name she did partially for herself, partially to irk Therese and mainly because she knew it would be a sign to her grandfather that she had not completely left the family behind. Ceasing to pilot did not make her any less a Calabrese, regardless of Therese.

"It is a nice space, " he continued. "Elegant, charming." Elena felt a warm glow of pride, which she tried, without success to tell herself was foolish. "Imports?" he said with a laugh behind the words.

"Imports, " she repeated, the same amusement in her voice. "It is in the blood." He nodded.

"It certainly is. You seem to be doing well with it."

"It was slow getting started, but things have been picking up now that we are a bit more established."

"Your father was always good with the business end of things, got that from his mother, God rest them both. I could never make anything but a mess of it. It is good that you inherited that as well as her smile. I'd like to see a bit more of the place if there is time."

"I'd like that." She said. "If we have time." Elena took a deep breath as silence fell between them. The unacknowledged elephant in the room had just reared its head. Deciding that enough small talk passed that courtesy was served, Elena decided to move matters along.

"I didn't expect an in-person visit, " She started. "I thought you might call me back."

"Yes, " her grandfather said slowly. "The Council is feeling a bit edgy based on the players in our current drama." He leaned forward and his eyes met hers. She realized that he was no longer her grandfather, but a representative of the Council. This was no longer a family conversation, but a Family one.

"I can see that, " she said carefully. He nodded, realizing she had noted the change.

"Because you have left the Guild there are some things you are not privy to." Elena swallowed, surprised to find the words stung. Such a sentiment she would have expected of Therese, but not of her grandfather.

"I understand, " she said, carefully keeping her tone neutral. She saw a flash of pain in his eyes before they hardened, Council sharp.

"By bringing this information to our attention without promise of personal gain you have been named as Friend to the Guild. This does allow us some freedom in discussion." Elena nodded although privately she had to admit that not having the Council suspect her of treason and hold her accountable would be a substantial personal gain in her books.

"It was not known that Ian was working with the military. He left the Guild approximately three years ago. As you are well aware this matter would be between him and the head of his family and not a public concern. However, once he left the Guild he disappeared." He stopped and watched Elena, judging her reaction to his words.

She blinked hard and took a deep breath. The Council was harder to shake than the IRS. They always knew where those carrying the bloodline were. That they lost Ian meant he was very

careful or had substantial help. Thinking of Smith and Macmillan she was betting on the latter as the more likely possibility.

She knew the Families knew where she was and what she was doing. She was hardly hiding when she used the family name in the name of her business. Foot high letters were not generally viewed as subtle. Unless it became a matter of public importance, why he left the guild would be no one's business but his and his blood, just like it had been with her. So Ian had left and was involved with the military on a large enough scale that two ships were built without council knowledge.

"Good, " her grandfather continued. "I see you understand. The Council is pleased that you have brought this information to our attention and assures you that you are in no danger of reprisal at this time." Elena raised an eyebrow at the phrasing of the sentence and sensed a giant however looming around the corner.

"The information you provided was, due to the manner in which it was conveyed, rather lacking in details. We would like to hear all of the information you have on this matter. The entire Council would like to question you first-hand. Obviously, there is too much danger involved for the entire Council to appear here, so transportation has been arranged to convey us to a more secure location." Elena stared at her grandfather, wondering if she had the right to say no. Somehow she doubted it.

"I see, " she said. Her brain was working fast. "And when would we need to leave?"

"Shortly, " he responded.

"You do realize it is the beginning of my busiest season?"

"We understand the complications." Elena sighed and ran a hand through her hair.

"How long will I need to be gone?"

"Three days should prove sufficient."

"Three days." Elena tapped her finger against her lips. "I'll need to make arrangements." She stood up. "Please make yourself comfortable, " she told him. "There should be some drinks in the fridge if you are interested."

"Thank you, " he replied. Elena pulled her phone out of her purse. She walked back into the bedroom so that she could pack as she talked. She dialed Susan's number then pulled a small duffle bag from the floor of her closet. Susan usually managed the store when Elena left on buying trips and she fervently hoped she was up for a three-day stint. Elena tossed a few of her clean clothes into the bag and once again bemoaned the lack of clean underwear. She would have to stop somewhere along the way and buy a few new pairs since there was certainly no time to do laundry now.

Susan picked up the phone on the third ring and to Elena's relief was more than happy to fill in. Elena promised to leave instructions at the counter before she left town then quickly arranged for two of her seasonal employees to begin work so the place would not be swamped.

By the time she zipped her bag closed, all of the arrangements were made. She returned to the living room and found her grandfather staring at one of the few personal photos she kept out. She didn't have to see it to know it showed her and her Grandfather on the deck of his ship, the Wind Dancer. She cleared her throat as she entered the room and he hastily placed the framed picture back down on the table and turned around.

"Everything set?" he asked.

"Yeah, " she said. "I just need to stop by the store before we leave." He nodded and pulled out his cell phone. He flipped it open and dialed a number from memory. It was answered almost immediately.

"We are ready." He said and flipped the phone closed again, cutting off any possible reply. A knock sounded at the door and Elena opened it to find Marcus filling the doorframe with his bulk. Marcus had been her grandfather's muscular shadow for all of Elena's memory. She had not expected him to appear here because she didn't consider her home dangerous. He nodded at her greeting and reached down to pick up her duffle bag.

"Marcus will take your things so it does not appear to anyone watching that you are going out for anything more than the evening."

"Ah, " she responded, not certain what else to say. Marcus turned and disappeared down the corridor. No doubt he already found the back staircase. She shook her head realizing that she had been away from much more than the ship in the time she had been gone.

"Let us now go see your store, " her grandfather prompted her.

"Sure, " she said ushering him out into the hallway and locking the door behind them. Elena wondered when exactly her life had catapulted itself into a spy movie. 'Just my luck to get one without the dangerously attractive leading man, ' she thought.

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