Since Merry didn’t know her either except in passing, why was the woman so nervous? Maybe the Rihlander had heard about Surreal’s former professions and didn’t want to rent a room to a whore—or an assassin? If that was the case, she wanted to know before she unpacked her trunks.
“Do you have a problem with me staying here?” Surreal asked.
“Oh, no,” Merry replied quickly. “I just wanted you to know there are other options.” She hesitated, clearly debating if she should say anything more. Then she sighed. “Look. Lucivar is a good man, and Briggs and I count ourselves fortunate to call him a friend. But he can be single-minded at times. Lucivar likes The Tavern, but it’s not to everyone’s taste, and I don’t think he considered that you might prefer something a bit fancier.”
Which confirmed that Merry had more than a passing knowledge of the man who was the second most powerful male in the Realm of Kaeleer. Despite coming from the most aristo family in the Realm, there was nothing aristo about Lucivar’s tastes or preferences.
But Lucivar could be single-minded about a good many things, and that tickled a suspicion about the real reason for his choice of accommodations.
“He comes in here fairly often?” Surreal asked.
“Every day when he’s home,” Merry replied. “Sometimes he stops to have a mug of coffee just after we open. Other days he stops in for a bowl of soup or stew. He will have a glass of ale while he talks to the men and waits for me to pack up a steak pie or something else he’s bringing home for dinner. But that’s not every day.”
“Uh-huh.” Hell’s fire. You know the man, but you still haven’t figured out how a Warlord Prince’s mind works, have you, sugar?
The Tavern was a local gathering place where people could have a drink or a meal, and it did a good business. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, Merry had a pretty face and a nicely curved body that would tweak plenty of men’s interest. Her Tiger Eye Jewel, being a lighter Jewel, might dampen the interest of stronger males—or it might heighten the interest of a predator who preferred females who weren’t strong enough to fight back. Briggs was a Summer-sky Warlord. Since he wasn’t trained to fight, maybe that wasn’t enough power to protect his wife and their livelihood.
Unless, of course, that Summer-sky Warlord was quietly backed by an Eyrien Warlord Prince who wore Ebon-gray Jewels, and had a vicious, violent temper and centuries of training as a warrior.
There were predators and there were Predators—and even among the Predators, Lucivar Yaslana was a law unto himself.
Surreal looked at the room again, turning over possibilities of why Lucivar had chosen this place as her home-away-from-home. Then she put those thoughts aside before Merry became too anxious about her being here—or began to wonder why she was here.
She opened a door and found the bathroom. Her gold-green eyes narrowed as she considered the bathroom’s second door. “I’m sharing?”
“With the Warlord Prince who’s also coming in for the training,” Merry said.
She nodded. “Rainier. He’s a friend, even if he does pee through a pipe. Well, I can try to live with sharing a bathroom with him.” She gave Merry a wicked smile. “And if I have reason to complain about his aim, he can just try to live.”
Merry blinked, started to say something, then changed her mind—a couple of times. Finally she said, “I can provide you with the midday and evening meals, but we aren’t open early in the morning, so I don’t usually prepare breakfast.”
“That’s all right,” Surreal said. “We’re expected at the eyrie for breakfast.”
So much sympathy in one little word. But it was the humor laced in the sympathy that caught Surreal’s attention.
“You’ve met Lucivar’s son,” Surreal said.
“I have, yes.”
Surreal watched Merry weighing and measuring loyalties and obligations.
“There’s a coffee shop two blocks from here,” Merry said. “And there’s a bakery. The two businesses converted the store in between into a dining area used by both. You wouldn’t get a full breakfast there—just coffee and baked goods—but it would be a peaceful one. Or you’re welcome to warm up whatever soup or stew is left from the previous day.”
Giving up your own breakfast? Surreal wondered. “Thanks. We’re expected at Lucivar’s eyrie tomorrow morning, but I, at least, will take advantage of the coffee shop and bakery most of the time after that.”
“Well, then,” Merry said. “I’ll let you get settled in.”
“One other thing,” Surreal said before Merry had a chance to escape. Because that was what the other woman clearly had in mind—bolting before this last detail was mentioned. “How do you want me to pay for the food and lodging? By the day or week?”
“That’s not necessary,” Merry said, her eyes looking bigger and darker in a rapidly paling face.
“Yes, it is,” Surreal countered politely.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Damn him, I told him I was going to pick up the tab for my own lodging. So you’ll give the bill to me.”
“No. Uh-uh. If you want to argue with Prince Yaslana about this, you go right ahead. But he was very clear about what he expected from me.”
Of course he was. The prick. And wasn’t it interesting where the line got drawn between Lucivar the friend and Prince Yaslana the ruler of Ebon Rih?
“All right, fine,” Surreal grumbled. “I’ll deal with him in my own way.”
Merry made a sound that might have been a squeak, and the next thing Surreal heard was the woman clattering down the stairs.
“Don’t be such a bitch,” she scolded herself. “You know what it’s like trying to deal with your male relatives. You wear the Gray and they roll right over you. How do you expect Tiger Eye to face down someone like Lucivar?”
No recourse. Daemon would tell her not to be an ass about who paid for what, since the SaDiablo family as a whole was not only the most powerful family in Kaeleer; they were also the wealthiest. Lucivar wasn’t going to feel pinched by the tab for her lodgings, but that wasn’t the point. Paying for it herself wouldn’t pinch her pocket either.
On the other hand, whenever she had accepted a job as an assassin, her client sometimes paid for her expenses as well as her fee.
Which circled back to the question of why she really was staying at The Tavern.