The clock in my head ticked the seconds too fast. Not literally—the precision of that inner countdown was a hard-won skill—but I was running out of time. It had been nearly ten minutes since I’d let myself into this tiny room and I still had another two charms to place before I could leave. Trouble was, hiding places were scarce.
The room was small to begin with and mostly empty. I’d already tucked a charm into the base of the sole lantern hanging on the wall, hidden another under a creaky floorboard—not ideal for a hear-me but beggars couldn’t be choosers—and a third into a hole in the wall I’d discovered behind some peeling wallpaper.
Which left few options for the last two. Some would call five charms overkill but I didn’t like leaving things to chance. Particularly not when I had to use charms I’d activated a day earlier, to allow the tiny drops of blood I used to coax them to life to lose their fresh scent. Unfortunately that also meant that they lost power. More charms meant more chance of them working as I needed them to.
Taking another inventory of the room, I made up my mind. There were two chairs in the room, one upholstered in badly faded cheap cotton and the other plain wood. Flicking open my cutthroat, I dropped to my knees and tipped the chair up, slicing a neat seam in the bottom of the upholstery and stuffing the charm inside. Hopefully the fabric would hold.
I used the other chair, plain wood, to reach to top of the window that grudgingly let moonlight through its grimy panes and laid the fifth charm along the top of the frame, behind the decaying curtains. It was a risk…if anyone drew the curtains, then it might fall, but I’d layered the hear-me charms with as many layers of protections and ignore-me and fading glamour as I could force into them and it was just going to have to do.
It took another minute to make sure the room was exactly as I’d found it and then I let myself back out after triggering yet another charm to deaden my scent behind me. An expensive night but then my client was paying me well.
The first part of my night’s work achieved, I set off for the vantage point I’d selected earlier to settle down and wait and see what happened next.
An hour later I was wishing that I’d chosen a different profession as I slowly froze solid on the rooftop of the building across from the one that held the room I’d charmed.
I was secure in my little niche next to one of the chimney stacks, yet another charm rendering me safely invisible. But invisibility is sometimes a curse rather than a blessing. For one thing, turning invisible can confound your sense of where you are in space and time. You reach for something and miss, or walk too close to a doorframe and blacken an eye. And for another, it doesn’t protect you from the elements.
As the current lack of feeling in my chilled-to-the-bone fingertips attested to.
I blew silently on my fingers and huddled closer to the chimney pot beside me, hoping it would somehow magically begin to block more the unseasonably icy wind. Not surprisingly it didn’t. The brick wasn’t even warm. After all, it was summer and not supposed to be so cold. No one who lived in the ramshackle building below the roof I was currently skulking on, had money to spare for extra firewood or coal for something as luxurious as heating in summer.
No, indeed, they would be wrapped in extra clothing, muttering imprecations at whomever their choice of deity might be and hoping for a return to more seasonal weather, much as I was. I wondered if the grating screeches of the ancient weather vane spinning slowly atop the useless chimney pot annoyed them as much as it was annoying me.
If I spent much longer on this roof I would be both frozen and deafened. The only benefit of the chill was that the wind whistling around my ears and finding every gap in my clothing didn’t smell quite so strongly of rot and garbage as it usually did in Seven Harbors. But that was little comfort as I huddled deeper into my clothes and glared in the direction of the building opposite as the muscle in my right calf started to cramp.
Normally I wouldn’t have needed to wait so long but not only had I needed to leave enough time for the charm to erase my scent from the room, I’d also had the misfortune of being tasked to watch for two people who had apparently been detained elsewhere this evening.
One of them had finally arrived about ten minutes ago and the room I was observing was now bright with lantern light. Through the dirty window, I had a perfect view of Henri Favreau, one of the senior guerriers in the Favreau pack pacing the floorboards. Not known for his patience, he was starting to look as annoyed as I felt.
Rightly so. The person he was supposed to be meeting was late. Almost thirty minutes had passed since their rendezvous had been due to start. Thirty minutes of icy immobility. My calf tightened further, the pain more piercing and I gritted my teeth.
Time to move.
I gripped the chimney pot and rose cautiously. I wasn’t worried about being spotted. My invisibility charm was freshly triggered with a drop of my blood and it would hold. My charms always hold when I use them on myself. Not being full Fae, they tend to be unpredictable when it comes to working for anyone else. A pity, really. If I could spend my days spinning charms for the wealthy, I wouldn’t need to earn money sneaking about on rooftops.
But wishing for what might be never changed anything. For now I was rendered safely invisible by the charm tucked through my belt. A useful thing for a spy.
The slate tiles were damp and slick beneath my feet as I straightened one leg then the other, stretching to ease the cramp. Moving made the blood flow somewhat faster, warming me a little. Not much. I would be grateful when I could return to my room above The Swallow’s Heart and fill my belly with tea and toast. A hot bath would be even better but there wouldn’t be time for that.
A flicker of movement caught my eye and I turned my attention back to the window.
Henri had been joined by his tardy companion. Ignatius Grey. One of the Blood Lords currently battling in the nasty tangle of scheming and violence that was Blood Court politics since Lord Lucius had unexpectedly disappeared six weeks earlier. Ignatius wasn’t amongst the highest ranks of the Blood but he had a reputation for viciousness and had been ruthlessly making his way up in the Court even before Lucius died.
It seemed he intended to keep rising.
It also seemed that Henri Favreau was an unhappy Beast who might have decided to rise with him. Maybe Henri was getting tired of being several rungs too low in his pack hierarchy to ever have a real shot at leading. Christophe Favreau, the current Alpha, was no friend to Ignatius. Henri was risking a lot being here.
The shift and flow of alliances and power plays since Lucius had vanished was making life very interesting in the Night World. Everyone assumed Lucius was dead. No one knew how. And no one knew who to trust, not that anyone in the Night World really ever trusted anyone else. Everyone wanted information. Hence my unpleasant rooftop sojourn this evening.
Information is what I deal in. Well, mostly. I’m not above retrieving objects as well but information is generally easier to fence.
And my employer tonight was paying dearly to have confirmation that Henri was talking to Ignatius. I was happy to take the money. It was likely that jobs would dry up for a while soon. The treaty negotiations were getting closer and traditionally the lead up to the negotiations brought a kind of cease fire between the four races. No one wanted to be caught doing something not exactly legal under the Treaties and be the cause of their own kind losing any of their privileges.
The treaty set the terms of the peace in the City and governed other things to keep balance. Rations of iron and silver, rules of conduct for the Blood and Beasts and Fae outside their own territories. Breaking the treaty, and being found out, could bring serious repercussions.
Of course, bending it a little was business as usual here in the Night World.
I set my feet, seeking purchase on the tiles, finding my balance in readiness to resume my uncomfortable crouch and watch and wait. Hopefully the hear-mes would be doing their job as well, recording the words of the vampire and the werewolf but just in case, I would wait and watch, reading lips if I could.
My employer would pay well for confirmation of this meeting. They would pay even better for knowledge of what was said.
That was the plan. A damned good one.
Or it wouldn’t have been if not for the fact that, as I started to crouch, a deep voice bellowed “You there, halt!” from the street below.
Split seconds can be deadly. Invisible or not, the accusing tone of that voice was commanding enough to make the deepest reaches of my brain think “Discovered. Caught. Flee”. My head whipped around to see who had found me and the movement was enough to send one of my feet slipping, just a fraction.
A fraction too far.
I overbalanced, grabbed for the chimney pot and missed. Instead my hand fastened around the weathervane. And whilst the chimney pot was solidly built, the weathervane was not. It had succumbed to rust and decay like half the things in this benighted borough.
It snapped with a dull twang and I tumbled forward. There was a jerking tear as my invisibility charm caught on the edge of the chimney pot and tore free. My arms blinked into visibility as I tipped over the edge of the roof. I grasped hopelessly for the gutter—missing it by a margin of inches—then my head twisted towards the street four stories below. The only other thing I noticed was a man on a horse. He looked up, shock flashing across his face as I screamed.
Lady knew what good screaming would do. Four stories is high. I was about to die.
But I didn’t die. Instead, somehow, the man on the horse hurled himself off its back and caught me. I landed in his arms with a thump that knocked the wind out of me. He staggered a little under the impact but kept his feet. I stared up at him, gasping like a gutted fish, unable to believe what he’d done. Tears sprang to my eyes as twin bands of pain burst across my back where it had connected with his arms.
He stared down at me, pale eyes–blue, perhaps–looking as shocked as I felt. How in seven hells had he gotten off his horse and caught me?
“Are you all right?” he said in a deep rumble of a voice.
My lungs finally remembered how to work and I sucked in a huge breath. The oxygen must have reached my brain because I suddenly realized that the reason my back hurt so badly was that my rescuer wore chain mail. And there was only one sort of person who rode the streets of the City wearing chain mail.
I’d fallen off the roof into the arms of a godsdamned Templar.
A Templar who was now looking from me, to the roof, and back again, with a little too much interest for my comfort.
“Yes. Put me down please.”
I tried not to look guilty as his gaze fixed on me. Very nice eyes—definitely blue I decided, despite the muddying effect of the flickering yellow light from the streetlamps—but they looked damned suspicious right now.
Lords of hell. I bit back a curse, mind racing. For a moment I considered trying to glamour him. I could still him for a moment, make him forget he’d ever seen me. The last thing I needed was a Templar poking around in my business. But my success rate with casting a true glamour on others was hardly impressive. Too risky. I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. “Down?” I repeated.
His arms tightened. His grip didn’t make the pain in my back worse but it was strong. Too strong for me to break. Apparently I wasn’t going anywhere just yet. Any other man and I would’ve tried for my cutthroat but trying to fight free of a Templar could only be foolhardy.
“What were you doing up there?” he asked.
I thought fast. “Um. Checking the weather vane. It was making a dreadful racket. Keeping me awake.” I followed the words with what I hoped was a suitably dull-witted grateful smile.
The Templar raised pale eyebrows. He wasn’t wearing a helm, just the mail and a white-with-red-cross Templar tunic. His hair was light too, even if the gaslight made it difficult to determine exactly what shade it might be.
“In the middle of the night?”
It was barely eleven o’clock. Hardly the middle of the night. But I didn’t quibble with his definition. “It was either that or lie awake all night.”
“So you thought you’d climb up there and fix it? Very…enterprising.” His tone suggested stupid was a more appropriate term. Or perhaps it was suggesting that it didn’t believe a word of my story.
I tried to remember exactly what bits and pieces were hidden amongst my clothes. Another invisibility charm and a hear-me, if they’d survived the fall. Though the charms resembled metal pendants more than anything, nothing overtly incriminating. True, there was my cutthroat tucked in my boot but not many people walked around Seven Harbors completely unarmed. The gold chain around my neck gave a clue to my heritage but being a half-breed wasn’t illegal either.
I stifled the surge of relief, focusing on projecting innocence instead. “Yes, that’s me. My mother always said not to put things off until tomorrow that I can do today.”
Actually, these days, my mother didn’t say much at all. Mostly she smiled vaguely and listened when I went to visit her. My father on the other hand…
“Does your mother know you climb around on the roof so late at night?”
“My mother is away just now. Besides, I’m five and twenty. Old enough to direct my own activities.”
“So I see.” He peered up at the roof again. “You’re lucky to be alive.”
I nodded vigorously, hoping to draw his eyes down to me, rather than the roof, which could only keep rousing his suspicions. I was quite cognizant of my good fortune in not being a bloody mess on the cobblestones. “Yes. Thank you, sir. I’m very grateful to you. Don’t you have to get on with your patrol. Catch some miscreants?”
His eyes returned to mine and I resisted the urge to flutter my eyelashes. That might be pushing the innocent young damsel in distress thing a little too far. Which was a pity, because his face was just as nice as his eyes if you liked big strong males with rough hewn angles to jaw and cheek and chin.
Which I did. But this was a Templar, I reminded myself. Fluttering eyelashes would be wasted on him.
“I seemed to have already caught someone,” he said, still not loosening his grip. His mouth lifted slightly but I didn’t dare assume it was a joke.
“I’m nobody a Templar would be interested in. You were chasing someone, I heard you call out. That’s why I fell, you startled me.” I said, trying to deflect his attention into guilt.
“My squad will be dealing with that,” he said. His expression didn’t seem at all remorseful. It stayed alert with a hint of suspicion.
“That’s a relief,” I said. “We appreciate the work you do, keeping the streets safe,” I lied. Dodging Templars made my life harder, not easier. Particularly over the last few weeks with so much unrest. They seemed to be everywhere, but I hadn’t expected them in Seven Harbors. It was technically a border borough but it was more Night World than anything else these days. “Now, if you’d let me down,” I continued, eager to be gone. “I’ll take return to my rooms.”
Or at least, see if I could gain another vantage point to observe the meeting. It was probably too late now but I could at least retrieve the hear-mes and, Lady willing, get some notion of what they’d talked about. “Unless I’ve broken some law by falling off the roof. I promise, I wasn’t trying to do myself an injury. The dam—I mean, cursed—weathervane broke.”
His eyebrow—the scarred one—rose at my unladylike language and I tried again for a look of girlish innocence. Not really my forte. I berated myself inwardly for mentioning the law. Stupid, Holly girl.
He was no fool, this warrior whose shoulders practically blotted out the light of the gas lamp above us. He suspected I was up to something. But he didn’t have a hair of proof and it wasn’t as though I were covered in blood or anything else that would suggest wrongdoing.
From the further down the street, there came the sounds of a scuffle. He turned to listen but the noise died away. When he faced me again, he frowned, looking torn. “Are you sure you’re unhurt?”
“I expect I’ll be a little bruised tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound responsible. “If it’s anything more than that, I’ll take myself off to a healer.”
“See that you do. Young ladies aren’t built for flitting around the sky like owls.”
I stiffened abruptly. The Owl was one of my aliases. Was the warrior fishing? Did he know who I was? Or suspect? “Yes, sir,” I said, trying to sound as innocent and ladylike as I knew how, given I’m neither. “I’m quite cured of heights for the foreseeable future.” Another lie but I would make sure to use some of the rope in the supply bag I’d stashed on my way up to the roof to secure myself once I got back up there.
He made no move to put me down. Indeed, his expression was reluctant as he glanced once more time at the roof then back at me.
“Are you going to put me down or inspect me all night? I assure you, I’m unworthy of study.” I spoke too quickly, speeding as I made the stupid comment about inspecting me all night. That could definitely be interpreted in entirely the wrong way. He was handsome, this knight, but a Templar was no one I’d be taking to my bed, no matter how solid his arms might feel around me or how distracting the firm curve of his mouth.
His eyes angled towards the roof again. “Did you fix it? Your noisy weathervane?”
Was he offering help or still testing me? “It snapped,” I said, hoping to deter him from either option. “Neatly solving the problem. Please put me down.” I was starting to feel a little too comfortable in his arms, breathing in his odd scent of horse and man and leather and iron. Luckily iron doesn’t bother me as it does some half-breeds. I didn’t have as strong magic as some of them but that was traded for increased tolerance. In my line of work, being comfortable around iron comes in handy.
The Templar finally complied, setting me on my feet on the dampened cobbles. My back throbbed as I straightened but I concealed the resulting wince. I didn’t want him dragging me off to St. Giles or Merciful James or some other hospital. That would take far too much time. I needed to get to the charms before their power faded.
Behind us the horse snorted softly and the Templar turned and clucked a half-soothing, half-stern sound at it. The horse–a massive gray thing–flicked its ears irritably but quieted. My rescuer returned his attention to me. “Let me escort you to your lodgings. The streets are dangerous nowadays.”
I shook my head. “It’s a matter of feet to the front door.” I pointed at the door in question. Not my front door as it happens but I would be able to gain entrance, having buggered the lock earlier. Hopefully my hairpins and the lock picks they concealed hadn’t come loose in the fall. I could hardly reach up to check. If the Templar insisted on escorting me then I’d have trouble explaining why I lacked a key to any of the apartments within. “I’ll be perfectly all right,” I said, trying for that innocent tone again. “Perhaps you could wait here until I get inside? That would make me feel safer.”
Playing to his protective streak—I was assuming that someone who’d chosen Templar as a profession had a protective streak—would hopefully get me off the hook.
The Templar looked skeptical. I realized, a little too late that my clothing was hardly that of a young lady safely tucked up in bed for the night. Most young ladies don’t wear trousers for a start, or hooded tunics. Most young ladies don’t wear mottled dark green and grey, though I was hoping that the gaslight would make it difficult for him to determine the color of my clothing.
I’d glamoured my hair before I’d came out so it look plain old dark brown. When I remove the glamour, it’s a richer reddish brown with lighter streaks that sometimes seem copper and sometimes bronze. Almost truly metallic. Not human. Another legacy of my not-so-dear father. I would’ve preferred a modicum more talent and less distinctive hair. Distinctive features are a drawback in my trade. Which is why I spend a lot of time making charms to alter my appearance and renewing glamours. A full Fae can hold a glamour effortlessly but for me, it takes work.
The Templar’s eyebrow lifted as his eyes traveled down my body to my trousers and boots.
“I didn’t think it wise to climb on the roof in a skirt,” I said before he could question me. “So I borrowed my brother’s trousers.” Now I was inventing siblings. Unwise. The more complicated the lie, the harder it is to sell convincingly. I needed to stop babbling and get inside. Something about this man made me nervous.
“Why didn’t you send your brother up on the roof to fix the weathervane himself?”
“Oh, he’s out gaming,” I said, trying to sound disapproving. “I try to stop him but he doesn’t listen.”
“Young men can be difficult,” he said.
So could older ones. He wasn’t old, this knight, but no one looking at his face would call him young. The scar bisecting his eyebrow had the look of having been there for some years and there were lines at the edges of his eyes and grooving the corners of his mouth. But it was mostly the weight of his gaze that gave the impression of experience, of survival and solidity. Those eyes had seen things. The sort of things that make you older than you are.
I shivered suddenly, the night’s chill registering again now that the adrenaline rush was finally starting to die away. “I really must go,” I said. “Thank you again for, um, rescuing me.”
He looked from me to the door. “I’ll stay and watch until you’re safe inside.”
“That’s very kind of you,” I said. I could hang around the corridors for a bit, wait until he’d left before sneaking out again. It would delay my evening slightly but better than being caught by the Templar for a second time. I had the feeling he wouldn’t let me go so easily if I gave him reason not to.
Still, I found myself hesitating, not entirely certain I was ready to leave him behind. Heaven knew I didn’t need a man to protect me but there was something undeniably attractive about him. Not just the physical but something about the man himself.
But the likes of him were not for the likes of me so the sooner I was on my way, the better. I ducked a quick curtsey at him and headed across the street, hoping he wouldn’t come after me.
I needn’t have worried. There was a clatter of hooves from down the street and someone called “Sir? Are you still down here? Someone raised the alarm over in Mickleskin.”
The Templar swore and strode to his horse, swinging himself up with one easy move. As he wheeled the horse around our eyes met for a moment and something strange crossed his face before he nodded at me then looked away. He didn’t look back as he rode off.
And I tried to ignore the fact that I stood there for too long wishing that maybe, just maybe, he would.
By the time I regained my perch on the roof, having triggered my second invisibility charm—and that was a costly waste—Henri and Ignatius were gone. I swore to myself, a steady stream of curses aimed at my clumsiness, the weathervane, Templars and the capricious whims of the Lady, as I climbed down, crossed to the other building and snuck into the room they’d used to collect my hear-mes.
Hopefully they had stayed and talked rather than being spooked by the Templars in the street. Hopefully they hadn’t noticed me falling off the roof. The charms would tell me either way once I got home to the Swallow and triggered them.
As I stepped into the street again, the sounds of a fight–metal clashing and men yelling and one sharp shrieking squeal from an angered horse–drifted from the west. Several streets over if I were any judge.
Luckily it was in the opposite direction to the Swallow but still I found myself glancing over my shoulder, hoping my rescuer was not in danger. Then I came to my senses and headed for home at a rapid pace, glad for the charm keeping me safely unseen in the streets.
When I reached the alley behind the Swallow twenty minutes or so later, I paused to let my breath steady. My back ached, two solid bars of pain reminding me what had happened. I wondered if they’d show the imprint of chain mail if I looked.
Bloody hell, a Templar.
Close call indeed, Holly girl.
I shook off the unsettling memory of searching blue eyes. I’m not adverse to taking a lover and I hadn’t taken up with anyone new since my last gentleman caller had been inconsiderate enough to fall in love with somebody else and excuse himself from our arrangement two months ago but a Templar was hardly a good candidate for his replacement.
I took another deep breath, ignoring my aching back. Time to forget the knight and focus on the work at hand. I had a client to meet, provided I had information to give her. I touched the invisibility charm to turn it off, still unhappy I’d had to use two in one night. I’d have to spend time and money working new ones and I was short on the former lately.
The door creaked as it always did but between the clatter of the kitchen and the sheer volume of the patrons in the rooms beyond, I knew no one would notice me. Not that anyone frequenting the rear halls of the Swallow cared much as to my hours or the company I kept. That was a large part of the reason I roomed here.
It took a few minutes to change my clothes but soon enough I was descending the stairs, dressed in black with my hair glamoured to match. The dress—women don’t wear trousers to a Blood Assembly—felt restrictive as it always did after a job, the skirts and petticoats too heavy, the bodice too tight. The cloak I carried was heavy and awkward and I longed to be tucked up in my room with a hot brick, tea and a good book.
But my work wasn’t yet done and the Swallow wasn’t the sort of place my client frequented. So I would go to her.
The sounds of the assembled drinkers hit me with a roar as I emerged into the main bar. The Swallow, being attached as it is to the rear of the Dove’s Rest, one of Brightown’s swankier brothels, is a level or two above the standard drinking hell around here. Which meant nicer furnishings, a somewhat wealthier clientele, and gin and beer not quite so likely to send you blind at first swallow as some of the rotgut served in lesser places.
Madame Figg, who with her husband, runs both the Dove and the Swallow, thinks she has superior taste in decorating. Granted, she resisted repeating the Dove’s extravagant red, gold and black theme but the Swallow still runs to swooping drapes and swirling paper on the walls and gilt-edged mirrors. All in shades of deep blue and green and bronze. To my mind it looks as though a peacock met with an unfortunate accident but the clients never seem to mind.
Across the room, I spotted Fen, holding court at his usual table, grinning at some tartily dressed blonde in pink. He caught my eye and raised a hand to beckon me over. The sleeve of his velvet frock coat fell back, revealing the fine iron chain doubled around his wrist. I winced. The chain meant the visions were bad tonight.
I made my way through the crowd, murmuring hellos to regulars. When I arrived at Fen’s table, he shooed the blonde away. She looked disappointed, deep red lips pouting.
“Hello, lovely,” Fen said, bowing over my hand extravagantly. His eyes gleamed as green as the elaborate embroidery that twined over the black velvet of his coat as he smiled up at me.
I smiled at him, a little warily. The decanter of brandy on his table was half empty. I wondered if it had been full at the beginning of the evening. “How’s business?”
He flicked his hand dismissively and held out a chair for me. “Nothing to complain of. Plenty of gulls wanting to know their sparkling futures.”
Fen exercised only enough of the powers he hated so much to provide his clients with vague hints of what lay in store for them. Innocuous yet accurate enough that he had quite the reputation amongst those who indulge in that sort of thing. They paid well for his obfuscations. He always said if they knew most of what he really saw they would pay even more for him not to tell them.
I never knew whether that was the truth. But I did know that more and more he preferred the pain of the iron circling his wrist to facing his visions, so they couldn’t be anything pleasant.
His smile broadened as he looked me over, ridiculously attractive, as always, when he exercised himself to charm. His black hair was rakishly rumpled and a chipped green gem swung from the gold hoop in his right ear. A pretty package but I liked him too well to sleep with him. Both of us have few real friends and plenty of offers to warm our beds. We wouldn’t risk the former for the temporary pleasures of the latter.
“The more relevant question, my dear spiky one,” he continued, “is how’s your business? Heading out again?” His gaze took in the stark black of my outfit and darkened a little. He didn’t approve of me going to Assemblies alone. “You should be careful.”
I frowned. “Did you see something?”
His head tilted, smile vanishing as rapidly as it had appeared. He reached for the brandy and refilled his glass. “No. Should I have?”
Blue eyes flashed again in my head. “No.” I shook my head firmly, banishing the Templar yet again. “No, definitely not.”
The smile stretched back into life. “Why, Holly, you’re blushing. I think there’s a story here somewhere.”
I tried to look discouraging. “Is there a reason you called me over?”
He tilted his glass at me. “Got wind of a commission at The Gilt. Thought you might be interested.” Half the brandy vanished in one gulp and he didn’t set the glass down. Bad night, indeed.
I hid my concern. In this mood, he wouldn’t thank me for it. “A commission or a ‘commission‘?” The Gilt is the biggest theatre hall in Brightown. Both a hub for gossip and a fairly insatiable consumer of costumes. Sewing is how most of the world thinks I make my living–the ones who don’t suspect I have a patron– that is. I need some apparent source of income, even though I earn far more from my runs than I could as a modiste.
“A dress for the new diva,” Fen said with a shrug. Another swallow. “Or so I hear.”
Excellent. The Gilt was even in the direction I needed to go. Their evening show would be winding up soon. Perfect timing.
“I’ll look into it,” I said, standing. “Thank you.” I leaned across the table and brushed a kiss on his cheek. “Be good,” I whispered before I straightened.
Fen blinked at me, expression suddenly shuttered, and reached for the brandy. The look of concentrated determination to reach the bottom of the decanter as he tipped the amber fluid into his glass told me he had no intention of heeding my advice.
But there was nothing I could do for him other than make sure he was poured home safely at the end of the evening. To that end, I had a word in the ear of Junker, one of the bouncers, and tipped him a half crown. Then I headed into the night for the next part of my evening.
We were halfway out of Mickleskin when the Beasts attacked.
There was a second’s warning when Gray squealed an enraged alarm and then bucked beneath me, lashing out with his back feet. Around me, I heard the swift shouts of my patrol mingling with the snarls of Beasts.
I turned in the saddle, trying to see how many attackers there were. We’d only had a few minutes respite since the last melee, which had left one of the novices with a nasty gash in his arm and more of us sporting bruises and lumps. We’d driven that band of humans back squealing to wherever they’d come from—leaving two of their number dead in the street—and I’d only just finished detailing men to carry the dead and my wounded man back to the Brother House and now this.
Hell’s fucking balls.
It was too quick. Too soon. Almost as though the attacks were coordinated. But I would have to worry about that later. Gray squealed again and spun as I drew my sword, ignoring the dull ache in my arms from where I’d caught the girl—and that was another part of the night I didn’t like at all—and sighting the Beast Gray was objecting too as we circled.
It was in hybrid form, six feet or more of muscle, fangs and clawed hands. More than able to do damage with the sword it was swinging. Behind it I glimpsed several more Beasts including a few in full Beast form.
In Beast form, Beasts can take out a horse with one swipe of their claws and they were too low to the ground to reach from horseback anyway. Cursing under my breath, I launched myself from Gray’s back, knowing that he would continue to follow his training and do his best to stomp anyone coming near him into oblivion.
The Beast in hybrid form obviously hadn’t been expecting that particular move. His eyes widened but he only had time to get his sword halfway into position to meet my attack by the time I landed. I used the momentum of my leap to carry me forward, thrusting my broadsword ahead of me and spitted him like a pig.
Normally we tried to take prisoners but when facing an unprovoked ambush, our orders were to protect ourselves and ask questions later.
I yanked my sword free of the Beast, who sank to his knees and toppled over with a dying snarl, and headed for the nearest wolf.
It has seen what I had done to its pack brother and had obviously learned from the experience. Before I could fully close the distance, it feinted right and sprang past me, out of reach of my sword. I spun, trying to follow the path of its movement but it was fast. Inhumanly fast.
But I was used to fighting inhumanly fast and I was ready as it sprang again before I had fully turned. I dropped to my knees and slashed at it as it sailed over me. The Beast twisted in the air, almost somersaulting. My sword connected but so did its swiping front claws. But it hit my mail, not my flesh and tumbled past me.
I struck again as it hit the ground and this time it howled in rage as my sword bit deeper.
I struck again as blood gushed from the Beast’s side and this time, managed the killing blow. The Beast slumped to the ground and I twisted to look for the next opponent.
But around me, my squad had done their job. There were several more dead Beasts in wolf and hybrid forms and the others had fled. My knights were regrouping quickly, gathering horses and wiping weapons clean on the dead Beasts’ coats. I strode across to where Gavin, my squad leader was bent over one of the fallen Beasts, searching through the man’s clothing with efficient movements.
“Anything?” I asked.
Gavin looked up at me. He’d caught a blow on the side of the face earlier and his cheek was turning purple under the blood spatters. “Nothing.”
“Hell’s balls.” I swore softly, bent down and struck a match, trying to figure out the color of the man’s eyes. Beast packs tend to run true to type, though of course, there are exceptions. And there are those who operate outside the pack structures. The dead man had light brown hair and gray eyes. Two of the three dead wolves were brown too and the third was darker, almost black.
“What do you think?” Gavin asked.
“The black is most likely a Krueger. The brown could be a few packs. I don’t recognize this one.” I brushed my fingertips over the man’s eyelids, shutting away the dead staring eyes.
“With the gray eyes…Favreau, perhaps?”
“Maybe.” There was no way to prove it if no one came to claim the bodies. “Favreaus usually stay out of things.”
“Christophe Favreau used to, under Lucius. He was content with his bite of the gin dens. But things can change.”
I bit down the desire to swear again. Many things had changed since Lucius left. The former Blood Lord had been ruthless and twisted but there had been some degree of stability in the Night World under his iron rule. I had agreed he’d needed killing—the secret he’d discovered had been too dangerous, not to mention that he’d been targeting my brother Simon—but I’d hoped his death would be the end of the City’s troubles, not the beginning of new ones.
It had become increasingly obvious over the last few weeks that that had been wishful thinking.
Which meant I had to try again to convince Simon and Lily that they could well be in danger. My brother and his fiancée had met when Lucius sent Lily to kill Simon. Instead—and I still wasn’t sure how it had happened—they had fallen in love. And then they’d teamed up to kill Lucius to save Lily’s life and to keep the secret of the powers her wraith blood could bestow on a vampire. They’d been convinced that would be the end of things.
I wasn’t so sure. For some reason, Lucius had wanted Simon dead. There might be other Blood Lords who felt the same way, not to mention many who had grudges against Lily. The unrest in the City might just provide a tempting cover for someone who wanted to try again.
I straightened, shaking my head. Worrying about Simon and Lily had to wait, as would trying to work out what was driving my growing sense that they were in danger. “We’ll take the bodies back to the Brother House then head back out.” If no one claimed the dead, they’d be buried in the common graves maintained by the Order. Hardly a glorious fate. But the likelihood of a pack coming to claim these particular dead was small. “Anyone hurt?”
Gavin looked around, counting heads. “Nothing serious.”
“Good.” As I spoke, I heard the faint tolls of the Cathedral bells sounding one am. Still three hours to go before our patrol was over. People called the damned City Half-Light but lately I felt like I lived only in darkness, guarding the streets while the sun—and the humans we protected–slept. I scrubbed my face, wiping it clean of Beast blood and sweat, and wished desperately for coffee. Tonight was going to be another very long night.
I pulled Gray’s saddle from his back, wishing for a shorter horse, food and anything resembling a bed.
None of which were going to appear any time soon. I blew out a breath, trying to ignore the ache in my arms and shoulders, and hoisted the saddle across the stall door to the waiting groom.
Gray’s head drooped. I knew how he felt. The first hints of dawn were starting to lighten the sky—we’d stayed out an extra hour— and the rest of our patrol had been busy. Nothing like the ambush but more than the usual quota of fights and disturbances in the border boroughs. Hell only knew what was going on deeper into the Night World boroughs. We had no jurisdiction there, so had to content ourselves to doing what we could on the borders.
I rolled my shoulders again, feeling the bruises where the Beast had hit my shoulder. Once upon a time, I could’ve patrolled all night, slept for an hour and set out again after breakfast. But I was no longer twenty one and foolish.
Not even close.
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up patrolling, even if the Abbott-General had been dropping some broad hints about promoting me upwards again. Upwards and inwards that would mean. Strategizing and politicking and administrating. All of which were important but about as appealing as a Beast sinking his claws through my guts.
Turning to Gray, I picked up a brush and set to work. Tack I would delegate, but my horse, never. Gray made a half-hearted “where’s breakfast” snap at my hands before he settled and relaxed under the strokes.
Around us, the sounds of the rest of the patrol seeing to their horses rose and fell in a familiar low babble, mingling with the smells of horses and hay and stables. Soothing in a strange way. I blinked as my eyes drooped and snapped to a straighter pose. Which made my shoulders ache more.
Nothing I could do about that right now. Nothing I could do about being tired either. There was much to do before I could sleep. I needed to check on the status of the wounded and report to Father Cho.
The City’s mood was ugly, restless as a nest of vengeful hornets as the Night World shifted and scrapped and attempted to regain some sort of balance in the wake of Lucius’ death. Personally, I’d be happy for the lot of them to kill each other and drag themselves down to hell. Problem was they’d take a lot of innocent bystanders with them in the process. And protecting those innocent bystanders was my job.
Hell’s balls, I even protected the not quite innocent.
Like my brother Simon and his fiancée, Lily. The ones who killed Lucius in the first place. That was knowledge that needed to be kept to as few people as possible for as long as possible.
Killing Lucius was a damned good idea but if the truth that it had been an assassination ever came to light, it had the potential to cause a rain of shit such as the City hadn’t seen a good long while.
Everyone was keyed up, on edge. Quick to flare into violence. And of course, you had the criminal elements—if anyone in the Night World could be considered non-criminal elements—taking advantage of the power vacuum to attempt to gain something for themselves.
And I needed to speak to Simon and Lily again about returning to the Brother House.
I finished brushing Gray, filled his feed bin and left him to rest.
He was the lucky one. No one was filling my feed bin and sending me off to sleep.
The patrol room buzzed with low conversation when I walked through the door. Too low. Everyone was tired. Pushed too hard. And there wasn’t necessarily an end in sight. We were just going to have to bull it out.
I scanned the room, assessing the damage for the night. Apart from the wounded we’d sent to St. Giles, Isaac had a nasty looking bruise blooming across his left cheek and Sun-Lee’s left hand was roughly wrapped with a blood-stained bandage but everyone was relatively intact. I counted off twenty four from the other two patrols. No fatalities tonight then. Relief lightened my mood slightly as I dropped into the nearest chair.
The move jarred my back and I bit down a curse. Beneath the ache, stiffness was setting in. Add a hot bath to the things I needed before I could sleep.
Because of her.
That girl—woman—whoever the hell she was.
And whatever the hell she’d been up to.
Her face floated in front of my eyes for a moment, sharp lines set off with unexpected curves. Big eyes—maybe green maybe brown—looking up at me, shocked at first, then wary under her charade of politeness. Her eyes tilted slightly, suggested she had some sort of exotic heritage, whether it be an ancestor from the Silk Provinces or even a Fae. She hadn’t been heavy, though she’d curved nicely into my arms-
I shook my head. There was a thought almost as crazy as feeling nostalgic for Lucius. She was from the border boroughs, if she wasn’t a Night Worlder in truth. She’d been up to something. And I had no time for anything resembling a woman even if she’d been a virtuous flower from one of the finest human families. The ones my mother gave me regular damned updates on.
Simon pairing off should’ve assuaged her maternal urge to marry all her children—except Hannah who was still too young– off but it hadn’t.
But she’d have to stay disappointed. My path didn’t include a wife and children. Not while I could still swing a sword.
“Attention,” Isaac bellowed and we all swung to our feet as Father Cho entered the room.
He, as always, waved us to our seats. Not the sort of general who would put the respect due his rank ahead of the needs of tired men.
As we sat, he moved briskly to the front of the room, the silver patches in his close cropped dark hair looking as though he’d walked through a snowstorm. But it was the rest of us, out there every night walking through the storm. There was too much happening too fast in the Night World. Alliances shifting, players taken off the board and replaced overnight. It made trying to predict where trouble might flare near impossible.
Half the injuries we’d incurred were because of stumbling onto unexpected trouble spots, too small squads and patrols split up encountering more than we could take on. And now it seemed, we might have even more players entering the fray.
Hells, if those Beasts had been Favreaus…I rubbed my chin again, not wanting to think about what would happen if more and more factions in the Night World became involved.
We never backed down, but we were paying the price.
And increasingly, we seemed to be just a few steps behind. Tonight’s Beast attack must have been planned. It was unlikely a random group of Beasts would decide to attack a Templar patrol just for the hell of it. Question was, what were they up to?
We needed better information. The kind they seemed to have. But the informants we worked with were clamming up—waiting to see which way the dice fell in the power struggles no doubt.
Somehow we had to find some new sources. And soon.
There was no answer when I knocked on Simon’s front door, so I let myself in, intent on raiding his kitchen if he and Lily truly weren’t home. I was starving and in desperate need of something to stave off my longing for sleep.
I pushed the door shut behind me carefully. My arms and shoulders still ached. Which summoned her again. The girl. Damned lucky neither of us had broken anything, though I had only her word that she hadn’t.
The weathervane story was a blatant lie but we Templars were charged with keeping the peace in the streets, not policing small crimes. Detaining everyone who raised our suspicions in the border boroughs would be a full time job, not to mention act like a match to kindling on the City’s mood right now.
No one wanted that.
“Simon?” I called down the hallway. There was no answer but the sudden sound of breaking glass from the rear of the house burned away my fatigue with a burst of adrenaline. I broke into a run, drawing my pistol as I pelted down the long hallway.
“Simon!” I shouted again.
There was another thumping crash, a snarl and a cut-off yowl. I reached the sunroom at the rear of the house. Just in time to see Lily pulling her dagger free from the throat of yet another dead Beast.
“What exactly is going on here?” I demanded.
Simon was crouched by the body of the Beast, his expression an odd mix of satisfaction and regret.
Lily looked up at me, wiped her dagger clean and sheathed it by her hip. “Hello, Guy.”
“I asked a question,” I said, trying to keep a rein on my temper.
Simon nodded towards the body. “He broke in, he attacked us. We took steps.”
“So I see.” I didn’t let the string of curses bubbling in my throat free. My gut crawled as I stared down at the Beast. Light brown fur. Like the one we’d killed earlier. “Fuck.” I’d never liked coincidences. “Couldn’t you have just knocked him out?”
“Dead is safer,” Lily said with a shrug.
“But less useful,” I countered. “Now we don’t know what he wanted.”
“I’d say either Lily or me,” Simon said.
“Me,” Lily said, her voice still calm. “He came for me first.”
“He might have just been trying to get you out of the way,” Simon countered.
“We’ll never know,” I said sourly. “I don’t suppose you recognize him?” I directed the question at Lily. She had far more intimate knowledge of the Night World and its denizens than either Simon or me.
“Looks like a Favreau,” Lily said. “Maybe a Broussard. Hard to tell.”
And in hybrid form, the Beast wasn’t carrying any useful forms of identification.
Hell’s fucking balls. In the back of my mind, I’d been half trying to convince myself that I was being overly concerned to worry that Lily and Simon were still targets. But apparently the suspicious paranoid part of me had been correct.
“I take it this is the first time this has happened?” I said.
Simon nodded. “Yes. I would have told you.”
This earned him a skeptical look. My little brother tended to be pigheaded about his abilities to defend himself.
And now I had to convince him otherwise.
“We need to clean this up.” There was a pool of blood under the corpse but it wasn’t spreading. Together we rolled the body up in one of Simon’s rugs and mopped up blood. It didn’t take long. What that said about our collective experience with dealing with death and mayhem was something I didn’t want to think too hard about.
Simon threw an extra ward across the shattered window and we retreated to the kitchen. Lily made coffee and, praise God, took the trouble to add chicory. Maybe that would keep me upright a few more hours.
Simon passed me a mug and I was about to gulp a mouthful when I felt a brush of pressure across my shins.
I sighed, put down the cup and bent to peer under the table.
Lily’s kitten stared up me and leaned harder into my leg.
“Do not claw my boots, catling,” I told her sternly.
She blinked, green eyes huge in a gray fluffy face.
“You might as well pick her up,” Lily said, entering through the other door to the room. “She’ll sit there until you do. And she’ll meow.”
I scooped up the kitten with one hand and deposited her onto my lap. She curled up into a ball practically smaller than my fist. “You’re not getting any of my coffee.” The kitten blinked again and commenced to purr at a volume far louder than such a small thing should be capable of.
“Rondel doesn’t drink coffee,” Lily said with a grin.
“Then explain why the damn thing feels the need to climb all over me every time I drink a cup?”
“Maybe she sees the softer you inside.”
I rolled my eyes. “If you wanted a cat who’s concerned with people’s softer sides, you shouldn’t have named her after a knife.” As if to emphasize my point, the kitten spread her claws and attempted to dig them through my trouser leg. Luckily I still wore riding leathers.
Lily’s grin widened. “It will remind people she has teeth and claws as she grows.”
I looked down at the kitten, mostly fluff and purr. “If you say so.” Lily had claws herself, even if she kept them mostly sheathed these days. “Tell me more about the Beast.”
“There’s not much too tell. We were in the sunroom, having breakfast. He came through the window.”
I glanced at the kitchen window, where the pale morning sun was just starting to climb over the tree. I didn’t think it was an accident that the attack had taken place after sunrise. Daylight was when Lily was at her weakest.
“You can’t stay here,” I said. No point beating around the bush.
“We’re not returning to the Brother House,” Simon said in a determined voice. “We’re safe here. We’re warded.”
“So well warded a Beast can come through your window?”
“The ward was down. I was going to move some plants around that wall later. He wouldn’t have gotten through otherwise.”
“So you assume. Or maybe they’re watching you and know when you do stupid things like drop your wards.”
“Doesn’t hiding us away make it seem as though we have something to hide?” Lily said. “I thought the idea was to make it look as though we’re just going on with our lives, like people with nothing to do with what happened to Lucius.”
“Obviously that ploy isn’t working.” Surely they weren’t going to play dumb? They had to know what was going on, as I did.
“You don’t know that. This could be revenge for someone I killed or general trouble making,” Lily said.
“You’re not that naive,” I snapped. “This is serious.” My mind raced through the implications. If Simon and Lily were under attack then that was another duty for Templars to handle. Another strain on our forces. And my loyalties.
My jaw tightened. I loved my brother and he’d done the right thing in killing Lucius but the cost was proving high. If he and Lily were safe in the Brother House, it was one less thing to to take my focus off keeping the City safe. I’d done what I could to make sure my parent’s home was well protected and Saskia, oldest of our sisters, was safe enough behind the walls of the Guild of Metalmages. But Saskia and my parents weren’t likely to be direct targets. Nor was our youngest sister, Hannah, who was only fifteen.
Simon and Lily, on the other hand, were. And I’d be damned if I was going to lose another family member to the Night World. The Blood had taken Edwina from us. Her death had almost broken our family. Losing Simon would finish the job. “It would only be temporary,” I began.
“No,” Lily said immediately. Her voice was even steelier than Simon’s. “Not again. I’m not letting them anyone control my life again.”
Beside her, Simon nodded. “I agree. We can’t hide every time there’s trouble in the City.”
“You won’t have to hide if you’re dead,” I said bluntly. Simon’s face stilled but he shook his head.
“I’m not leaving you unprotected.”
“Hells fucking balls, Simon, this isn’t a game. Someone is trying to kill one of you. You need protection.”
“Then we’ll think of something else,” Simon said. “We’re not going.”
“You’ll–“ I bit back the words before I could say something stupid. Picking a fight, as appealing as hitting something might be right now, was not going to solve the problem. I forced myself to take another swallow of coffee.
“How was patrol?” Lily asked, expression bland as she changed the subject. “Does anybody seem to be gaining the upper hand?” Her tone was casual but I knew her interest in the answer wasn’t. She’d been enslaved by the last Lord of the Blood. She knew better than any of us what the consequences of the wrong person gaining control of the Blood Courts might be.
“Not that we’ve heard but the mood out there is ugly. Most of our informants are clamming up.” I met her gaze. “Unless you can think of anyone who might talk to us?”
She shook her head, red braid bouncing. “No one’s going to talk to me. Unless it’s to try and torture information from me.”
“You must know some names?”
“Every Blood lord and Beast Alpha has their own network of spies and informants. There are some who work for anyone who’ll pay but they tend to guard their identities closely and work through intermediaries. And, if they work mainly in the Night World, they’re not going to want to risk talking to the Templars.”
Nothing I didn’t know. The Night World usually had plenty of people who’d be willing to snitch a little for some ready cash. But now, with things so chancy, snitching could be fatal. Most people when faced with the choice of their money or their life, chose the latter.
Which meant we’d have to keep doing what we were doing. Riding into the border boroughs each night hampered by a lack of good information. Might as well ride out with one hand tied behind our backs. We couldn’t be sure where to target our efforts or who to keep under watch.
I drained my coffee and put the cup down, tapping its thin rim restlessly. I had the ultimate spy right in front of me. Lily was a wraith, able to turn incorporeal at will. Undetectable and untouchable. The sensible thing would be to put her to work.
So why hadn’t I?
Simon interrupted my thoughts with a refill then leaned down to kiss Lily, who turned up her face, smiling at him.
And that was my answer, I thought, dropping my gaze to the kitten on my lap. Lily and Simon were happy now. They’d earned their happiness. They’d risked their lives to kill Lucius and end the biggest threat to the City’s peace we’d known.
I couldn’t ask Lily to put herself in danger, though I doubted she would refuse. The Night World had enslaved and used her all her life. She’d be more than willing to help us deliver a little justice to them.
But risking Lily meant risking Simon’s happiness. I couldn’t do that. Couldn’t destroy the life he was building. After all, I was already in danger most nights. There had to be someone who could carry on the DuCaine name if worst came to worst.
“Any ideas why the Favreaus might be getting involved?” I asked Lily.
“With Lucius gone, the packs will be going for either influence or money. An assassination attempt suggests the latter.”
I imagined that Lily’s head would fetch a pretty price.
“If he was a Favreau,” Lily added.
“We crossed paths with some others who looked like that one on patrol,” I admitted.
“Well, some packs have always been muscle for hire for the Blood,” Lily said.
“Not the Favreaus, though. They have other interests.”
“Historically. But right now, I’d guess there’s more money to be made in fighting than gin. Who knows, it might even be some rogue youngsters, looking to break away.”
“That’s all we need.” Pack wars to add to all the general mayhem. Right now I’d give my right ball for someone who had a line on what the hell was going on in the Night World. I drained the last of the coffee and handed the kitten to Simon. I wasn’t in the mood for hours of arguing right now and I needed to report this latest unpleasant development to the Abbott General.
“This discussion isn’t over. We’ll talk when I get back.”
“Where are you going?” Simon asked.
“To talk to Father Cho. And to get someone to help you move the body.”
“I thought you’d be asleep,” Father Cho said, looking up from the map spread on his desk. His face was drawn, the lines etched into his skin making him look as tired as I felt.
“So did I, sir. But I still have things to do.” I stood politely at attention.
He gestured towards the chair besides me. “Sit,” then added “Things?” after I did. He glanced at the map, scribbled a few notes on a paper beside it. I took that to mean ‘start talking’.
“I had breakfast with Simon and Lily.”
Father Cho’s hand stilled, he looked up, black eyes sharp. “How are they?”
“Better than the Beast they killed this morning, sir.”
Father Cho sighed. One hand lifted, rubbed the deep wrinkle between his eyebrows. Maybe his head ached too.
“Any particular reason they’re killing Beast Kind?” he asked.
“He tried to break into their house.”
“Hard to say. They didn’t exactly stop to question him.” I tried to keep the disapproval out of my tone but wasn’t sure I succeeded. Simon’s coffee churned uneasily in my empty stomach, warring with the fatigue and adrenaline stew.
The wrinkle deepened. “I see.”
I rolled my shoulders. “This is getting worse. We’re losing ground.”
“We’ll regain it.”
He sounded certain. In his position, he had to. But in my position, I had to tell him I thought he was wrong. “I hope you’re right, sir. But if things keep going the way they are now, I’m not so sure we will. Not without paying the price.”
“It’s getting that bad out there? We knew there would be unrest with the Blood having their…change of government.”
That was a tactful way of saying “after we assassinated their leader”. I was fairly sure I’d never be the Abbott-General because I didn’t like calling things pretty names. Death was death and no matter how much Lucius deserved it, the fact was that we humans had killed him. “The Blood have had squabbles before. They didn’t escalate to this level.”
“A squabble is different to the death of their Lord.”
“Still,” I rolled my shoulders again, not sure what I was trying to say. “This is different.”
“Different, how exactly?”
“It feels like…more”
“Purposeful. These aren’t random fights breaking out. “
“You think they’re organized?”
“They’re not forming ranks and taking up arms. But they are organizing. We were ambushed tonight. By Beasts with the same coloring as the one sent to attack Lily and Simon. That’s not something I’m willing to write off as a coincidence. Things should be calming down now that everyone can see the Blood aren’t imploding. But they’re getting worse.”
“And why is that, do you think?”
That was the question that had been playing on my mind. “I’m not sure, Sir. But, if I had to guess, I would say that someone is trying to stir up trouble. This close to the treaty negotiations, that makes me nervous. Especially when you add in a Beast attacking Simon and Lily.” Father Cho didn’t know the true secret of the value of Lily’s blood to a vampire—that drinking wraith blood gave them wraith like powers, including the ability to shadow and pass unseen, which gave them the ability to go anywhere and get to anyone. But he knew Simon was a target.
Father Cho’s brown eyes were intent. “Well, I have a healthy respect for your instincts, Guy. But what good does stirring up trouble do? It would take more than a few brawls to derail the negotiations.”
“A city wide riot might do it though. Or someone doing something that breaks the treaty.”
“You think someone is trying to disrupt the negotiations? Or stop them?”
I nodded unhappily. “We both know there are factions within the Night World and the Veiled World who’d be happy with a return to the old ways, sir. And that wouldn’t be good.”
“I agree. But stopping it is difficult when we lack proof that anything is even happening. You said yourself it’s hard enough for us to work out where to patrol.”
“We need better information,” I said, half to myself. We were drifting off topic. I was here to see to Simon and Lily’s safety. “People are at risk.” I leaned forward. Best to get my request over with. “Sir, I’m requesting-“
He cut me off with a gesture. “No.”
“You were going to ask for protection for Simon and Lily, weren’t you?”
I nodded, jaw clenched.
“Then no. They are welcome, of course, to stay in here in the Brother House but we can’t afford the men for a separate detail, Guy. You know that.”
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I can’t treat your family any differently than anyone else’s.”
“Even though they—“
“Yes. I won’t say that killing Lucius wasn’t a good thing, but we’re paying the price now.”
“Due respect, sir, but Simon and Lily are a special case. They’re being specifically targeted. Whatever Lucius was doing, we haven’t seen the end of it. And whoever was working with him has to want Lily and Simon out of the way.” Or under their control. That was the alternative I didn’t want to let myself think about.
“I can’t disagree, Guy.” He spread his hands. “But I don’t have the men. Unless-“
“Sir?” I didn’t like the sudden speculative gleam in his eyes.
“You said it yourself, Guy. We need better information. If we had that, we could be more focused and I might be able to spare a detail. Lily is uniquely suited to-“
It was my turn to cut the conversation short. This was not the way I’d wanted this to go. “No,” I said flatly. “No. I’m not asking her to put her life on the line. She’s paid enough.”
“But you want us to put our lives on the line for her.”
“That’s what we do, sir.”
He looked grim. “I’m sorry. My decision stands. As long as we’re stretched so thin, I can’t spare anybody.”
“I see.” There was no point arguing. He’d made up his mind. Which left Lily and Simon exposed if I couldn’t convince them to move to the Brother House. Short of drugging them and dragging them here by force, I didn’t like my chances.
Hell’s balls. I couldn’t leave them at risk. I wouldn’t lose any more of my family to the Night World. Father Cho wanted information. I was going to find a way to get it.