Whitney and the other aid worker walked in his direction and Henry’s stomach fluttered. The man’s eyes were friendly and scanned back and forth between Aaron and Henry. He smiled at Felicia then extended his hand to Henry first.
Henry reassessed the man with his confident, firm handshake and realized almost immediately that he was not one of the aid workers; he was the man in charge of the whole operation.
“Greetings, gentlemen”—the man nodded regally to Felicia, and continued the conversation in Spanish— “And senora. Welcome to Operation Freedom Warriors. Thank you for your willingness to be of service. My name is Xavier Fulton. I’m the director of operations here.”
“And founder of the non-profit if I remember correctly,” Henry said. “I’ve seen you on television.”
“I do show my face on television occasionally.” Xavier’s eyes flickered over to Aaron and he pursed his lips as if suppressing a smirk. “That’s one of the reasons I’m the director rather than one of the undercover operatives. Some of us are too well-known to blend in with society. Wouldn’t you agree?” Xavier patted Aaron on the shoulder, and the young prince with the playboy reputation cleared his throat and lowered his eyes.
“I would agree,” Aaron mumbled with humility. Henry found it hard to feel sorry for the kid since he was only compelled to be humble after a tragic accident that nearly took the life of his younger brother’s best friend, Henry’s cousin, Alex. Still, Aaron seemed to have changed his ways and Henry needed to be more forgiving.
Henry also reminded himself that moments ago Aaron had pledged a small fortune to help the cause, as well as encouraged his young bride to devote her time exclusively to helping find the missing girls.
“Have you ever participated in donating large sums of money to any philanthropic ventures?” Xavier asked Aaron.
“No, sir.” Aaron shook his head just slightly. “I’m sure our attorney can help us get some funds transferred to your organization. How much do you need right away? A couple million? I can get more. Heck, my wife’s wedding ring’s worth more than that.” Aaron chuckled nervously.
“W-what?” All eyes were drawn to Felicia’s left hand, which she held in front of her in shock. “I thought this was your grandmother’s ring.”
“Uh, well, my great-grandmother, actually. Princess Lyla Sayid. She found the ring at a jewelry bazaar in Dubai and tried to have it appraised in New York City.” Aaron paused and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Tried?” Henry asked, waiting for Aaron to explain.
“Apparently it’s one of only a few surviving Le Vian diamond rings crafted in Persia in the late seventeen hundreds.” Aaron spoke quickly as if not wanting to admit the truth.
“And…” Henry prompted. All of their eyes darted back and forth between the ring and Aaron’s nervous fidgeting.
“And… the jeweler said the value is inestimable.” Again, Aaron spoke very fast, then pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and glanced sheepishly at his wife. “Might not want to lose that.”
“I can’t wear this, Aaron!” Felicia slipped the ring from her hand and tried to give it back to her husband. “Donate the money to the organization.”
“No, no, darling, you keep the ring. I’ll get cash for the organization. Lots of it. Way more than the ring is worth. I promise.” Aaron took the ring from her and tried to hold her hand to slip the priceless antique adornment back on her finger.
Felicia tucked her hands behind her back and shook her head like a child refusing to eat her broccoli.
“Darn it. I never should have told you,” Aaron grumbled, then pleaded with his bride. “My mother wanted you to have this. The Princess Lyla would have wanted you to have this. Do you want the ring to sit in a safe or a museum? Xavier, tell her you don’t want the ring. I’ll transfer millions of dollars to your organization. Just tell Felicia you don’t want the ring.”
“Felicia, honey, I don’t want the ring,” Xavier said. “What would I do with a ring? I need money. Your husband’s going to give me money. The ring belongs on your finger.”
“We—we could s-sell the ring and do good things with the money.” Tears ran down her face.
“My love, we are doing good things with my money. I will give away every penny of my money if you want me to. But please don’t ask me to give away, or sell, this ring.” Aaron held up the simplistic little diamond. “This has been passed down in my family for generations. I want us to pass it down to our children. And our children’s children. Please? Will you please wear my great-grandmother’s ring?”
“You promise you’ll do good things with the rest of your money?” Felicia asked in a squeaky little-girl voice.
“I promise.” Aaron turned to Xavier. “You’ll help me do good things with my money, right?” Aaron nodded his head up and down as if the imply Xavier better answer in the affirmative.
“Of course.” Xavier nodded back with enthusiasm. “We will be able to rescue many, many girls with your husband’s money.”
“Like these Mayan girls we’re trying to find,” Aaron pointed out. “They’re waiting for us to rescue them right now and the longer we stand here talking about this ring, the longer they have to wait. Now, please, let me put the ring back on your finger, and let’s go rescue those girls.” Aaron held up the ring again.
“Okay,” Felicia whispered. She held out her hand and Aaron visibly relaxed as he slipped the ring back on his wife’s hand then pulled her into a hug.
While they were hugging, Felicia’s phone rang with a video chat call. She pulled back and glanced down at the screen. “It’s my aunt Kisa.” Felicia swiped her phone to turn on the chat window.
Before any of them had a chance to say hello, Kisa cried into the phone. “Two of the girls escaped! They ran through the woods from where the kidnappers have their basecamp. They said the men are Americans and the girls can lead us back to rescue the other girls! I’m already in the car, heading there now.”
Henry glanced at his watch, then met Whitney’s eyes and then Aaron’s. “How long will it take to get to the reservation from here?”
“I have no idea!” Aaron said, holding up his hands as if in surrender.
Joab, Aaron’s personal driver shook his head. “I’m not a local.”
“I don’t have a driver’s license,” Felicia said, shrugging.
“Where is this reservation?” Xavier asked.
“El Pilar,” Felicia said.
“The archaeology site?” Xavier asked as he pulled up a map on his phone.
“Yes,” Felicia answered. “The reservation is in the woods all around the archaeology site. They are well hidden.”
Henry grumbled, “Not hidden enough apparently if their daughters have been kidnapped.”
“We’re only about two and a half hours from there,” Xavier said. “We can take my Jeep.”
“We’ll follow you in my Highlander,” Joab said, holding up his keys.
Whitney put her hand on Henry’s arm. “Captain, would you like to ride with Xavier and me, you know, so we can brief you about procedure.”
“I would love that,” Henry said, then cleared his throat, trying to hide the fact that her touch made his heart race. “Let’s go rescue some girls.”