"He wanted these." Saiman offered me the papers. I looked at them without touching. They were blood-red.
Heavy gold lettering spelled out MIDNIGHT GAMES across the parchment surface.
"What are the Midnight Games?"
"An invitation-only preternatural tournament."
Oh boy. "I take it the tournament is illegal."
"Extremely. In addition, I believe the Beast Lord expressly forbade attendance and participation in the tournament to Pack members."
First, Derek broke into Saiman's apartment. Second, he did it with the intent to steal. Third, he tried to steal tickets to an illegal gladiatorial tournament in direct violation of Pack Law.
Curran would skin Derek alive and that might not be just a figure of speech. Was there any possible way this mess could get worse?
"Okay. How can we fix this?"
"I'm prepared to let him go and forget he was ever here," Saiman said. "Provided you accompany me to the Games tomorrow night."
Never ask that question.
"No," Derek said.
I studied the glittering crystal glass in my hand, playing for time. A large crest had been painstakingly cut into the glass, a flame encircled by a serpent. The light of the electric lamp set the cut design aglow, and the crystal scales of the serpent sparkled with fiery colors.
"Riedel. Hand-cut. A very limited series, only two made."
"Why do you want my company?"
"My reasons are twofold: first, I require your professional opinion. I find myself in need of a fighter expert."
I arched my eyebrows.
"I would like you to evaluate one of the teams at the Games." Saiman permitted himself a small smile.
Okay. I could do that. "And second?"
Saiman studied the glass in his hand for a long moment and smashed it against the table. It shattered with a pure chime, showering the carpet with a spray of glittering crystal shards. In the cage Derek snarled.
I killed the desire to roll my eyes at all the drama and nodded at the stub of crystal. "If you're planning to cut me with that, you're out of luck. A bottle works much better for this kind of thing."
Delight sparkled in Saiman's eyes. "No, actually, I was planning on making a philosophical point. The glass you now hold in your fingers is the only glass of its kind in existence. It's the ultimate luxury - there is nothing else like it."
The flesh around his wrist swelled, flowing like molten wax. My stomach lurched and tried to crawl sideways. Here we go again. He stored magic like a battery, but I really thought with the technology as strong as it was right now, he wouldn't be able to metamorphose. Live and learn.
Saiman's shoulders widened. His neck, chest, and thighs thickened, straining his sweatshirt.
Crisp muscle showed on his forearms. The bones under the skin of his face shivered and I nearly vomited my water.
A new face looked at me: handsome, strong, sensuous, with a square jaw, defined cheekbones, and hooded green eyes under reddish eyebrows. Thick blond hair spilled from his head to fall in a glossy wave onto his newly massive shoulders.
"For most people, I'm the ultimate luxury," he said.
The man collapsed, thinning, flowing, twisting, but the eyes never changed. I stared into those eyes, using them as an anchor. Even when their corners sank, their irises darkened, and a velvet fringe of dark eyelashes sheathed them, I could still tell it was Saiman.
"What I offer is much greater than sex," a Hispanic woman of startling beauty said. "I offer wish fulfillment. Anything you want. Anyone you want. I can give you your fantasy. And more, I can give you the forbidden."
His face shifted again. Derek. A very reasonable facsimile, good enough to fool me in a bad light. The body still remained female, however. He was getting tired. He must've chugged a gallon of nutrients in anticipation of my arrival to be able to pull this show off.
"I can give you a friend." Saiman-Derek grinned. "Guilt-free. Nobody would ever know. All the secret faces you picture when you pleasure yourself? I can give them to you in the flesh."
Derek just stared, speechless, an expression of utter disgust stamped on his face.
"Is there a point to this demonstration, besides upsetting my stomach?"
Saiman sighed. "You refuse everything I offer, Kate. It hurts my pride."
I crossed my arms. "I refuse because no matter what shape you wear, I know it's you. And you don't really want me for who I am. You want me because I said no."
He considered it. "Perhaps. But the fact remains: by refusing me, you are now my ultimate luxury. That one thing I can't have. You won't see me. You don't return my phone calls. All my attempts to apologize for my behavior during the flare have gone unanswered. It's very difficult to seduce a woman when she refuses to acknowledge your existence. I'm looking forward to having you to myself for an entire night."
"Fucking pervert." Derek finally found adequate words to express his take on the situation.
"I prefer the term 'sexual deviant' myself," Saiman said.
"When I get out . . ."
I raised my hand, halting Derek's promises of very painful and highly illegal things he would have liked to inflict on Saiman. "I'll come with you to the Games." Even if I would rather clean an outhouse. "In return, you acknowledge that Derek never broke into your apartment and you'll surrender all evidence of him ever being present here. Don't plan on a date. There will be no wooing, no seduction, and no sex. That's my best offer and it's not open to negotiation. If you choose to accept it, keep in mind that I'm still a representative of the Order, attending a highly illegal event. Don't put me into the position where I feel compelled to do something about it."
Saiman rose, walked over to the room that served as his lab, and returned with a stack of digital printouts showing Derek in the cage in all his glory. He handed me the pictures, turned on a digital camera, and wiped the memory card clean.
Derek's mask slipped and beyond it I saw guilt. Good. I planned on cashing in on that guilt to get him talking.
Saiman raised a remote, pressed a button, and the cage door fell open. Derek surged up and I stepped between him and Saiman before he could add murder to his list of transgressions.
"I'll pick you up at your apartment at ten," Saiman said.
THE GLASS DOORS OF THE LOBBY SHUT BEHIND US and I let out a breath. The sunrise was still a long way off, and the parking lot lay steeped in darkness, the night breeze cool and cleansing after the perfumed atmosphere of the high-rise.