End of story.
I looked at Andrea. "The Midnight Games."
Andrea nodded. "One of my mentors was in it. The Games are held in the Arena, a bunker of some kind. It's run by the House, which always consists of seven members. They make most of their money off betting on fighters. There are individual bouts, but the big banana is their team tournament. It's held once a year. Fourteen teams participate. Each team consists of seven fighters, all with specific roles."
"They enjoy the number seven, don't they?" I chewed my food. Seven had some mystic significance. Not quite as much as the number three, but plenty: seven wise men of Greece, seven wonders of the world, seven days of the week, seven-league boots, seven poets of Moallakat . . . No clue as to what it meant, if anything. Perhaps the creators of the tournament simply wanted to ground it in numerology.
"My mentor fought as a shoote . . ." Andrea glanced at the street and fell silent. Her eyes narrowed. She looked completely focused, like a hawk sighting a plump pigeon. If she'd had a rifle in her hands, I'd have been worried she was about to snipe somebody.
"Can you believe it?"
I looked in the direction of her stare and saw Raphael. The werehyena loitered across the street, a tall man with coal-black hair, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. His hands were thrust in his pockets and he shouldered a backpack. He saw us looking at him and froze.
That's right - you're so busted.
"I think he's stalking me." Andrea glared.
I waved at Raphael and motioned him over.
"What are you doing?" Andrea ground out through clenched teeth. Her face went pale, and I could almost see the faint outlines of spots on her arms.
Raphael attempted a weak smile and headed toward us, zeroing in on Parthenon's doors.
"I want to find out if he knows anything about the Midnight Games. He'll tell me anything if you let him sit with us. I think he really likes you."
An understatement of the year. Raphael carried a huge torch for Andrea. During the flare, when she nearly died, he had bent over backward to take care of her.
"Yeah." Andrea loaded so much scorn into one word, I actually paused.
This was one of those thin-ice areas of friendship, which had a great potential for dumping me into freezing water. "You really don't like him?"
A shadow crossed Andrea's face. "I don't want to be his TWT-IHFB."
"What does that mean?"
"That Weird Thing I Haven't Fucked Before."
I choked on a bite of gyro.
Raphael chose that moment to emerge from the door. Pissed or not pissed, Andrea watched him as he walked toward us and so did I. I practically dislocated my shoulder twisting in my seat so I could catch a glimpse. He moved with an easy shapeshifter grace, a kind of inborn elegance usually reserved for highly trained dancers and martial artists. His black hair, worn down to his shoulders, moved as he walked, absorbing the sunlight. His skin was tan, and his face . . . There was something so interesting about him. Taken by themselves, his features were unremarkable, but put together they somehow combined into an intensely attractive face.
He wasn't handsome, but he drew your gaze like a magnet, and his eyes, deep, piercing blue, were positively smoldering.
You looked at Raphael and thought sex. He wasn't even my type and I couldn't help it.
Raphael stopped a few feet from our table, not sure what to do next. "Hello. Andrea. Kate.
Didn't expect to see you here."
I turned back to the table and heard my back pop. That would teach me.
"Sit down," Andrea hissed.
Raphael gently lowered his backpack with one hand, took the only remaining free chair, and sat, looking a bit on edge. Andrea stared at the street. Together they looked like complete opposites: Andrea was five-two tops, with short blond hair and lightly tanned skin, while Raphael was about six feet tall, with skin the color of coffee with lots of cream, black hair, and intense eyes.
"So what's in the backpack?" I asked. Small talker. That's me.
"Portable m-scanner," Raphael said. "Picked it up from the shop. Been in there ever since the flare - they couldn't test to see if it worked until a magic wave hit."
When it came to m-scanners, "portable" was a relative word. The smallest weighed about eighty pounds. It was good to be a werehyena.
Andrea got up. "I'm going to get some dessert. Kate, you want anything?"
"No," I said.
"No, thank you," Raphael said.
She marched away.
Raphael looked at me. "What am I doing wrong?"
I paused with a piece of pita bread in my hand. "You're asking me?"
"I don't have anybody else to ask. You know her. You're friends."
"Raphael, I've never had a steady boyfriend in my entire life. It's been over a year since I've had sex. And you know how well my last attempt at a love life turned out. I think you were there, weren't you?"
"Yeah. I was the one with the shotgun."
I nodded. "I think we can agree that I'm the worst person you could ask about how to fix a romantic relationship. I don't know what to tell you."
"You know Andrea."
"Not that well."
Raphael looked crestfallen. "It's never taken me this long," he said quietly.
I sympathized. He had pined after Andrea for two months now. For a werehyena, or bouda as they were called, a courtship that long was unheard of. Boudas were adventurous. They enjoyed sex, a lot of it and with a variety of partners. Women dominated the bouda pack, and from what I understood, Raphael was rather popular, both because of his patience and his status as the son of Aunt B, the boudas' alpha. And his looks guaranteed that he wouldn't have to chase nonshapeshifter women for too long before they took him for a test-drive.
Unfortunately, Andrea was not a nonshapeshifter woman, nor was she a bouda. Lyc-V, the virus responsible for the shapeshifter phenomenon, affected animals as well as humans. In very rare cases, the resulting creature was an animal-were, a being who started its life as an animal and gained the ability to turn into a human. Most animal-weres turned out to be sterile, mentally retarded, and violent, but occasionally one could function in a human society well enough not to be killed outright. And even more occasionally they could procreate.
Andrea was a beastkin, a child of a hyenawere and a bouda. She hid it from everyone: from the shapeshifters, because some would kill her owing to an ancient deep-seated prejudice, and from the Order, because the moment they realized she was a shapeshifter, they would jettison her from the ranks. Technically, as a shapeshifter, Andrea was subject to Curran's power, and the Order demanded absolute loyalty. So far Curran hadn't pressed the issue, but he could change his mind any moment.