“My name is Whitney Olson. I’m the director of the aftercare program for Operation Freedom Warriors here in Belize. I understand you have some questions. How can I be of assistance?”
Henry was immediately tongue-tied, meeting the gaze of the beautiful, young humanitarian aid worker. Her tired eyes sat beneath a messy bun with strands of hair that had escaped and curled into natural tendrils haphazardly around her face. He wanted to tuck one of those stray hairs behind her ear, wrap his arms around her and take all the pains of the world off her shoulders.
His distant cousin, and the expedition’s financier, Prince Aaron Sayid, nudged his shoulder, waking him from his stupor.
“Hello Ms. Olson, I’m Captain Henry Stephenson, U.S. Army.” The minute Henry took Whitney’s hand in his, a current of warmth travelled up his arm and he couldn’t let go.
Whitney must have felt the current also because her jaw dropped, and her gaze lowered to their adjoined hands. Then she pulled her hand away suddenly and shook out her hand as if she’d experienced mild electrocution. She visibly gulped and directed her eyes elsewhere. “How can I help you, Captain?”
“We, actually, wanted to know how we can help you.” Henry shook off his temporary daze. “We’re trying to rescue the girls from the Mayan tribe at El Pilar.” He wasn’t sure if Whitney would even know where El Pilar was located. Heck, he had never been there either. He, Aaron, and Felicia had flown a private jet directly from New York to Belize City, where the Operation Freedom Warriors makeshift headquarters was located.
Dozens of other humanitarian aid workers milled about, leaning over large maps and schematics, talking on cell phones, planning something. Henry only knew a little about the organization, just that they rescued kids from child trafficking and may have insight into the missing girls from the reservation.
“Captain, we assist hundreds of girls and women who have been trafficked. I couldn’t possibly tell where all of them are from.”
“Is there anyone who can?” Aaron butted in. “Someone has to talk to the girls after they’re rescued, right? Don’t you have to figure out where they were stolen from so that they can be returned to their families?”
“Many of the girls were sold into slavery by their families,” Whitney explained. “We have to get them to safety first, treat any medical conditions they may have, get them cleaned up, fed, clothed, a safe place to sleep for the night, and then the process begins of figuring out where they’re from.”
“Can we talk to some of them? See if any of them are from El Pilar? Their families are terribly worried about them.” Henry felt his hope diminishing.
“Two American men? Not a chance!” Whitney took a step back with disdane. “You are the enemy. White American men are the primary purchasers of sex slaves. Bringing one of you into our safe houses would be the opposite of helpful.”
Aaron’s bride, Felicia, stepped forward and spoke in Spanish, “What about me? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Maybe.” Whitney nodded, sizing her up and transitioning seamlessly to Spanish. “What is your nationality? Who are you?”
“I am Felicia Cohen-Sayid, married to Prince Aaron Sayid, a citizen of Guatemala, and descendant of Nicholas Cohen.” Felicia was pulling out all the name recognition she could.
“Never heard of him.” Whitney was not impressed. “How are you involved in all this?”
“I am sympathetic to the Mayan tribe who has been forced to live on a reservation these past years while dealing with the civil war between Belize and Guatemala.” Felicia’s impassioned speech showed her dedication to the cause. “When their women and children were stolen, I was among those who blamed the people of Belize. Finding out they were stolen by human traffickers was even more horrific than I could have imagined. I want to help rescue these girls.”
“Ms. Olson, I’m Aaron Sayid, her husband. Felicia will work tirelessly to find these girls. Let her help you.”
“Okay.” Whitney nodded. “I’ll see what I can do to get you involved. But you have to understand these things take time. This won’t happen overnight.”
“I understand.” Felicia held her head high.
“And you’re prepared to come with me right now?”
“Yes…” Felicia glanced back at her husband.
Aaron gripped her hand and nodded, encouraging her.
“Do you have identification with you? Including your passport?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why would she need her passport?” Aaron asked, his brow creased.
“We often get called upon to cross international boundaries, Mr. Sayid,” Whitney said. “We go wherever we’re needed.”
Henry found it strange to hear anyone with the last name Sayid being called with the prefix Mister. All his life the royal family had been referred to with their titles.
Just in the past few months since Aaron renounced his title and stepped down as crown prince and heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Madain Saleh, he had also insisted that people stop calling him Your Highness.
“Is there anything we can do to help with the rescue operations, Ms. Olson?” Henry asked, referring to himself and Aaron.
“As long as you’re wearing that uniform, not likely, Captain.” Whitney nodded toward him with longing in her eyes almost as if wishing he wasn’t. He technically wasn’t wearing a uniform right that minute. More like jeans and an Army T-shirt with dog tags around his neck.
“Why?” He gulped. “Since when is wearing a United States Army uniform a detriment to a humanitarian rescue?”
“You’re limited by jurisdiction,” she explained. “The sting operations we conduct are more than just rescuing refugees. We’re taking down the criminals in the process. We work with local government jurisdictions within country. These people have their own laws and as long as you’re representing the United States of America, you’re bound by your oath.”
“Doesn’t that include all enemies foreign and domestic?” he challenged.
“Within your jurisdiction,” she acknowledged. “You’re on Belize soil now and you’re not sanctioned to be here.”
“She’s got a point, Henry, I mean Captain.” Aaron cringed. “Sorry. Old habits die hard. You’ll always be Henry to me. Alex’s cousin.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Henry said. “I mean, Aaron. Sorry, you’ll always be Crown Prince of Madain Saleh to me.”
“Touché.” Aaron held up a fist and they bumped knuckles.
“You know, you could help out a lot, Aaron,” Henry said. “Physically and financially. Not only do you have friends in some pretty high places, you have billions of dollars at your disposal.”
“Is that what you need?” Aaron turned to Whitney like a puppy dog wagging his tail. “Do you need money? I have money. A lot of money. I can help.”
“Are you for real?” Whitney’s jaw dropped.
“I’m a billionaire prince without a throne or a purpose in life, except to make love to my wife and she’s probably getting bored of me by now.” Aaron winked at Felicia. “Put me to work.”
Henry fought back a coughing fit trying not to laugh as Felicia smacked Aaron in the stomach and growled the words, “Bored of you?” She smacked him again.
“Let me get this straight, you’re offering me a willing volunteer to help identify our survivors, funding resources, friends in high places, and a newlywed willing to give up his wife to help?”
“Plus, an Army Captain willing to step down from his command if it means I can rescue these girls.” Henry’s voice grew husky as he lifted his chin to Whitney’s gaze with a passion he didn’t realize was inside him.
“Don’t give up your commission too hastily, Captain,” Whitney said with compassion in her voice. “We may need you right where you are.”
Henry gulped and lowered his eyes, vulnerability entering his heart from the intensity of her gaze. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
“Good to know.” Her compassion shifted to something else. Anticipation, perhaps. Whitney turned to Felicia. “Say goodbye to your groom. I can’t guarantee how soon you’ll have the opportunity to… become bored with one another again.”
Whitney winked at Henry as she turned and strode away. He kept his eyes on her on the other side of the room where she was talking to another aid worker and pointing in their direction.
Focusing on Whitney kept Henry from gagging at the sickly way Aaron and Felicia were kissing each other goodbye.
Bored. Henry chuckled to himself. Maybe someday Whitney would like to get bored with him.