Penguin.com (usa)

Blood Kin

A Novel of the Half-Light City

M.J. Scott - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101586693 | 336 pages | 05 Jun 2012 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
Additional Formats:
Summary of Blood Kin Summary of Blood Kin Reviews for Blood Kin An Excerpt from Blood Kin
Imagine a city divided. A city where human and Fae magic rests uneasily next to the vampire Blood and the shapeshifting Beasts. A city where a fragile peace is brokered by a treaty that set the laws for all four races…a treaty that is faltering day by day.
 
I didn’t plan on becoming a thief and a spy. But options are limited for the half-breed daughter of a Fae lord. My father abandoned me but at least I inherited some of his magic, and my skills with charms and glamours mean that few are as good at uncovering secrets others wish to hide. Right now the city has many secrets. And those who seek them pay so well…
 
I never expected to stumble across a Templar Knight in my part of the city. Guy DuCaine is sworn to duty and honor and loyalty—all the things I’m not. I may have aroused more than his suspicion but he belongs to the Order and the human world. So when treachery and violence spill threaten both our worlds, learning to trust each other might be the only thing that saves us.
 
But even if a spy and a holy knight can work together, finding the key to peace is never going to be easy…



Chapter One

Holly

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 can’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 the 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 door frame 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, they would be wrapped in extra clothing, muttering imprecations at whoever 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 whilst 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.

Finally.

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 amongst the four races. No one wanted to be caught doing something not exactly legal under the treaty 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. She would pay even better for knowledge of what was said.

That was the plan. A damned good one.

Or it would 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. So can instincts. Despite the invisibility charm, 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 weather vane. And whilst the chimney pot was solidly built, the weather vane 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 toward 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 gods–damned 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. “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 he 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 return to my rooms.”

Or 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—weather vane 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 farther 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. 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.

“Good.”

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, heartbeat speeding as I made the stupid comment about inspecting me all night. That could 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 toward the roof again. “Did you fix it? Your noisy weather vane?”

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 don’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 get inside, 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. Mostly young ladies don’t wear mottled dark green and gray, 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 come out so it would 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 weather vane 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 sorts 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.”

Damn.

“That’s very kind of you,” I said. I could 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 and 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 weather vane, 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, as she departed.

“Hello, lovely,” Fen said, bowing over my hand extravagantly. His eyes gleamed as green as the extravagant embroidery that twined over the black velvet of his coat as he smiled up at me.

I smiled back, 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 yourbusiness? 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 acommission?” The Gilt is the biggest theater 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.





To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication

Please alert me via email when:


The author releases another book