"What brings you to our table, gentlemen?" Saiman's voice was relaxed. Not a shadow of anxiety. I had to give it to him - Saiman had balls.
The tattooed man crossed his arms. His frame was lanky, his limbs very long in proportion to his body. Definition showed on his arms, but his muscle was long rather than thick. He fixed Saiman with an unblinking stare.
"You will lose." He pronounced the words very distinctly, his deep voice tinted with an accent I couldn't place.
I reached over slowly to touch Mart's face. He grabbed my hand. I barely saw his hand move and then my fingers were clamped in his. Grip like a steel vise. Fast, too. Possibly faster than me. This should be interesting. I kept my fingers limp. "Oh, you're strong." He was strong.
He also left himself wide open. I wondered if he would be fast enough to block a champagne glass if I broke it and shoved it into his throat. That would be a very tempting theory to test.
"Mart!" Saiman's voice snapped like a whip. "You break her, you buy her."
Mart swiveled his head toward him. It was a very odd gesture: only his head turned. Like an owl. Or possibly a cat. He released my fingers. He had probably discounted me because I was a woman in a brightly colored dress.
A dark-haired woman entered the deck. She was young, barely eighteen if that. Her features would've made her at home on the streets of Delhi: deep dark eyes, round, full face, sensuous lips, dark hair that streamed behind her. She wore plain jeans and a dark long-sleeved shirt, but the way she walked, rolling her hips slightly, shoulders held back a little to showcase her breasts, made me want to picture her in a sari. An exotic Indian princess. Men watched her move. Three to one, this was Livie, the intended recipient of Derek's note. I had no trouble seeing how she would inspire a young male werewolf to lose all common sense.
She reached our table and halted a couple of feet away, keeping her gaze down. "Asaan," she murmured to Mart. "Mistress wants you."
The tattooed man bared his teeth. She had interrupted their intimidation routine.
The woman bowed her head in submission.
In a moment the Reapers would leave and my chance to pass Derek's note would leave with them. What to do?
Across from me two women excused themselves and headed to the corner of the room, where a small sign pointed toward bathrooms.
"I need to go to the ladies' room!" I announced a bit too loudly, got up, and stared at the dark-haired woman. "Come with me. I don't want to go by myself."
She looked at me as if I were speaking Chinese. You stupid idiot girl.
"I don't want to go by myself," I repeated. "There might be weirdoes in there."
The tattooed man jerked his head toward the bathroom and she sighed. "Okay."
As we departed, I heard the tattooed man's voice. "When you die, your woman will scream."
"Is that a threat?" Saiman chuckled.
We stepped into the bathroom. The moment the heavy door closed behind us, she turned around. "There you go, all set. Unless you want me to hold your hand until you sit on the toilet, I've got to go."
"Are you Livie?"
She blinked. "Yes."
"I'm Derek's friend," I said.
The name hit her like a punch. She reeled back. "You know Derek?"
I pulled the note from the wrist guard. "For you."
She snatched it from my hand and read it. Her eyes widened. She crumpled the note and dropped it into the circular hole in the marble counter.
"Are you in trouble?"
"I have to go. I'll be punished if I stay too long."
"Wait." I grabbed her by the forearm. "I can help. Tell me what's going on."
"You can do nothing! You're just a slut." Livie jerked her arm out of my hand, ripping her sleeve, punched the door open, and took off.
There are times when strenuous mental conditioning comes in handy. It helps you to keep going when you're wading through the sewers up to your thighs in human excrement hacking at an endlessly regenerating Impala worm. It also keeps you from screaming when two young idiots intend to commit suicide by Reapers and resist all attempts to be saved.
The note. She'd thrown the note away. I gave my word I wouldn't read the note before giving it to her, but since she had read it and tossed it into the garbage, the note was now the property of the public. I was Jane Public, so technically I could read the note.
The two women I had seen enter the bathroom earlier exited the stalls, carrying on a conversation about somebody's biceps. They walked past me and proceeded to touch up their already perfect makeup before the mirror.
I ran through my reasoning in my head. It was a bit thin, but I was past the point of caring.
I stepped up to the counter and stuck my arm into the hole. My fingers grazed clumps of wet paper towels.
The ladies stared at me as if I had sprouted a chandelier on my head.
I gave them a nice smile, withdrew my hand, and looked into the hole. A short, wide trash can full of discarded tissue. I could fish all day and not get the note. The counter was marble, but the cabinet under it was metal. A small door allowed access to the trash can. I grabbed the handle. Locked.
The ladies determined that ignoring me was the most prudent course of action and resumed their biceps-related discussion.
I looked at the lock. Lock picking wasn't my forte. Busting things, on the other hand, was right up my alley.
I backed up to give myself a bit of room. It was good that the counter was relatively high.
Hard to place a low kick with enough power. I stepped forward and hammered a side kick to the door. Metal boomed like a drum. The door buckled under my foot but held.
The women froze.
I sank a front kick into the dent. Boom.
Good door. Boom.
The door shuddered, slid down, and crashed to the floor with a thud. I smiled at the horrified ladies. "Dropped my engagement ring down there. You know how it is. A girl will do
anything for a diamond."
I pulled the trash can out and dug through it. Paper towel, paper towel, used tampon . . . Ugh.
Who put used tampons into the paper towel wastebasket? There it was.
I unrolled the crumpled note. "By the Red Roof Inn, same time, tonight."
Pieces began to line up in my head. A breathtakingly beautiful girl, seemingly the property of a team of lethal, possibly not human, gladiators. A young male werewolf with an overdeveloped protective instinct. Derek was in love - nothing less would cause him to break Curran's laws - and he was planning to rescue her. He was also in the fast lane to getting his balls chopped off.