I owned only one formal gown. I bought it a few years back, and my guardian’s ex-wife, Anna, helped me choose it. The dress waited for me in the closet. I pulled it out, wrapped in plastic, and put it on the bed. Thin silk shimmered in the light of the electric lamp. An odd shade, neither yellow nor gold, with a hint of peach. A touch too yellow and it would be bordering on lemon, a touch too gold, and it would’ve been gaudy. As it was, it looked radiantly beautiful.
I slipped it on. Artfully draped, the front of the dress clung to my breasts, cascading down into a V before twisting at my waist and falling to the floor in a waterfall of fabric. The layered silk added softness to my body, tricking the eye into seeing curves rather than muscle. The sunlight gown, Anna had called it. It still fit, a little more snugly than it used to, which wasn’t a bad thing. Thanks to the Order, I didn’t starve as much.
The last time I had worn the gown, I was going on a date with Max Crest. Now I would wear it to go with Saiman. Just once I would’ve loved to wear it for a man I actually wanted to see it.
I pulled my hair back from my temples. It made my face look hideous and showed a scar near my left ear. Two for the price of one, yay. I settled for brushing all the tangles out and massaging it in place with styling gel. It hung over my back in a long glossy wave. I’d never pierced my ears—I’d ripped enough earrings out of people’s ears to know how much pain that could deliver. I didn’t own any jewelry, but I did have a pair of shoes that matched the dress, narrow, yellow, and equipped with small stilts instead of heels. I’d bought the shoes for the dress. Looking at them hurt. Walking in them was comparable to Chinese water torture.
They would have to do.
In the past year, I’d had a chance to put on makeup exactly twice, so the higher levels of the art were way out of my reach. I brushed on blush, darkened my eyelids with brown shadow, and put on mascara. No matter what shade I chose, mascara always catapulted me into exotic territory. I brushed on pink lipstick and put the war paint away.
No sword. No place to hide my needles. It should’ve worried me, but it didn’t. The biggest threat would come with the magic wave, and magic rarely hit twice in a twenty-four-hour period. Anything else I was willing to take on with my bare hands. In fact, hurting someone with my fists might prove therapeutic, considering my current state of mind.
At four minutes to eight a knock echoed through my apartment, sending the attack poodle into hysterics. I put him in the bathroom, where he could cause minimal damage, and opened the door.
Saiman wore a suit and an updated version of Thomas Durand. The original Durand, the one who owned one seventh of the Midnight Games, was in his fifties. This version was in his thirties, wide in the shoulder, masculine, and perfectly groomed. Just as before, the aura of wealth emanated from him, from his expensive shoes to his patrician profile and artfully cut dark blond hair. He looked like the favorite son of his former self.
He opened his mouth and simply stopped, as if someone had thrown a switch.
Earth to Saiman. “Hi.”
He blinked. “Good evening. May I come in?”
No. “Sure.” I stepped aside and he walked into my apartment. He took a long moment to survey my residence. His gaze lingered on my bed.
“You sleep in your living room?”
Because I had inherited the apartment from Greg, my guardian. He’d turned the only bedroom of the apartment into a makeshift library/storage room and slept there, surrounded by his books and artifacts. Greg was murdered less than a year ago. Sleeping in his bed was out of the question, so I bought a daybed and put it in the living room. I slept there, with the door to the real bedroom firmly closed. And when Julie came along, I gave it to her.
Explaining all of this was tedious and unnecessary. I shrugged. “It’s a habit.”
Saiman looked like he wanted to ask something else but changed his mind.
I slipped on my shoes, wrapped a crocheted shawl around myself, and picked up Slayer. “I’m ready.”
Saiman didn’t look like he wanted to leave. I opened the door and stepped out onto the landing.
He followed me. I locked the door. He offered me his arm and I rested my fingers on his sleeve. It was covered by our agreement after all. We descended the grimy stairs. Outside, the cold bit at me. Small white flurries drifted from the night sky. Saiman raised his face to the sky and smiled. “Winter,” he said softly. When he turned to me, his eyes luminesced, like two chunks of ice lit by a fire from within.
He opened the car door for me with a deep nod that resembled a bow. I got in and put the saber across my lap. He shut the door and slid into the driver’s seat, producing a carved wooden box. “I brought these for you,” he said. “But you don’t need them. You look divine.”
I opened the box. A yellow topaz bracelet, earrings, and a necklace lay on the green velvet. The necklace was by far the most stunning—an elegant thin chain crowned with a fiery drop of a stone. “Looks like the Wolf Diamond,” I said.
“Indeed. It’s a yellow topaz. I felt it was fitting, but your naked neck is shocking. You’re welcome to them, of course.”
I closed the box. “I better not.”
Saiman pulled away into the night. The city slid by. Ruined buildings stared at me with the black holes of their windows.
“Do you like winter, Kate?”
“The kid in me likes the snow.”
“And the adult?”
“The adult says: high heating bills, people freezing to death, burst water pipes, and clogged roads. What’s not to love?”
“I find you so immensely entertaining.” Saiman glanced at me.
“Why do you persist with this nonsense? I made it clear that I don’t like you romantically and never will.”
He shrugged. “I don’t like to lose. Besides, I’m not interested in a fling. What I offer is infinitely more stable: a partnership. Infatuation is fleeting, but a relationship based on mutual benefit would survive years. I offer stability, loyalty, my resources, and myself. I’ll never bore you, Kate. I’ll never betray you.”
“Unless it suits your interests.”
He shrugged. “Of course. But the gains would have to outweigh the risks. Having you on my side would have a lot of value to me. If I did find something more valuable, I would have to make sure you never found out about the cancellation of our arrangement. You’re a very violent woman, after all.”