The sword hummed a single perfect chime, like a silver bell. A thin line of red grew from the hilt down the blade, branching in curling shoots like an ornate vine until it finally reached the point. Beau turned pale.
“Enchanted blade. Never needs sharpening or oiling. I forgot to mention that part,” I said.
Beau tore his gaze from the schiavona. “Take them and make sure they don’t come back.”
TEN MINUTES LATER ANDREA, RAPHAEL, AND I stepped out of the jailhouse into a frigid overcast day. Both Raphael and Andrea wore the orange potato sacks that passed for Milton Jail uniforms.
“Assault.” I counted off on my fingers. “Assault with a deadly weapon. Conduct unbecoming a knight. Endangerment of civilians. Reckless use of a firearm in a public place. Resisting arrest. Drunk and disorderly.”
“I was neither drunk nor disorderly.” Andrea clenched her teeth.
“No, I’m sure you were drowning her in a completely calm and professional manner. Beau Clayton is a crack shot. You’re lucky he didn’t empty his clip into your head. You brought a gun to the hot tub. Who does that?”
Andrea folded her hands on her chest. “Don’t hassle me about my guns. You drag that sword everywhere. The whole thing was his idea. I wanted to go on a weekend.”
I looked at Raphael. He hit me with a dazzling smile. If I had any capacity for swooning, I would’ve hit the floor like a log. Some men were handsome. Some were sexy. Raphael was scorching hot. Not traditionally handsome, he had dark blue eyes, intense and heated from within by a fire that instantly made you think of sheets and skin. Coupled with his long black hair and the toned, supple body of a shapeshifter, the effect was shocking to all things female. Since he was my best friend’s honey bunny, I was pretty much immune to his evil powers, but once in a while he caught me off-guard.
“It was the only night that was available in the next six months,” he said, “and I had to call in a favor to get it.”
Andrea waved her hands around. “And we spent it in a jailhouse. Do you have any idea how hard it is to go out in public with him? We can’t go anywhere, we can’t do anything, because he gets hit on all the time. Sometimes women come up to him like I’m not even there!”
“I sympathize, but you can’t drown them, Andrea. You’re trained to kill and they aren’t. It’s not exactly a fair fight.”
“Fuck fair! Fuck you and fuck him, and whatever.”
She strode off.
Raphael was grinning ear to ear.
“Well, you’re taking it well.”
His eyes shone with a faint ruby sheen. “Mating frenzy.”
“When two shapeshifters become mated, we go crazy for a few weeks. It’s all about unreasonable aggression and irrational snarling at anyone who looks at your mate a second too long.”
“And you’re loving every moment of it.”
He bobbed his head up and down. “I’ve earned it.”
Andrea reversed her course and came up to us. “I’m sorry I was an ass. Thank you. I owe you one.”
“No big,” I told her.
She looked at Raphael. “I’d like to go home.”
He bowed with an exaggerated flourish. “Your wish is my command, my lady. We need to go back to the hotel, scale the wall, and steal our car back.”
“That sounds good.”
They walked off.
Mating frenzy. The world had gone completely insane on me. I sighed and went to get Marigold. I had an appointment with a sexual deviant and I didn’t want to be late.
WHEN I TOLD SAIMAN THAT I RECOGNIZED HIS eyes, I wasn’t lying. He looked at the world through a prism of intellect, arrogance, and subtle but smug contempt, and he was unable to hide it. It took me precisely two seconds to zero in on him in a half-deserted Guild Hall, but this time it wasn’t his eyes that did it.
Today he chose to appear as a lean male in his early thirties. When I entered, he stood with his face in profile, casually speaking to Bob, Ivera, Ken, and Juke seated at a table. Saiman’s black jacket showed a light Mandarin influence with a high collar and a formfitting cut that accentuated his narrow waist and the straight line of his shoulders. Dark pants hugged his legs, showcasing muscular thighs, but his was the smooth, long muscle of a fencer or a runner, not the bulk of a weightlifter or the crisp definition of a martial artist. His hair, the color of dark alder wood, fell down to his waist without a trace of a curl.
Saiman turned at my approach, presenting me with a well-defined oval of a face: crisp jawline, a wide nose with a shallow bridge, and almond-shaped, slightly hooded eyes with shockingly green irises. He oozed professionalism and expertise the way I sometimes emanated threat. Had I not known who he was and met him on the street, I would’ve thought him one of the high mages from the local college, the type who could decipher three-thousand-year-old runes, speak a half-dozen dead languages, and level a city block with a sweep of his hand. He stood out among the mercs present in the Hall like a professor of medieval studies in a bodybuilder bar.
Saiman smiled, showing even white teeth, and came toward me, gracefully stepping past a large wooden trunk.
“Kate,” he said, his voice a smooth tenor. “You look lovely. The cloak, in particular, is an intimidating touch.”
“I strive to menace,” I said.
“Do you like my working persona?” Saiman asked softly. “An aesthetically pleasing combination of intelligence and elegance, wouldn’t you say?”
Aren’t we pleased with ourselves. “Are you Chinese, Japanese, half-white? I can’t tell, your features are neither here nor there.”
“I’m inscrutable, mysterious, and intellectual.”
He forgot conceited. “Did you have any trouble getting that ego through the door?”
Saiman didn’t even blink. “Not in the least.”
“Have you been able to glean any information from the eyewitnesses using your mysterious intellect?”
“Not yet. They do seem ill at ease at the moment.”
The Four Horsemen looked like they wanted to be anywhere but here. I surveyed the hall. Out of the twenty or so calls I had made this morning, fourteen people showed up, including Mark, who stood leaning against the wall, a sour look on his face. A lot of familiar faces. The movers and shakers of the Guild had turned out to watch Saiman and me work.
I reached into my cloak and pulled out a plastic bag with a piece of parchment in it.