“Ted would never approve vampire deployment. He wants this to be solely the Order’s affair.” Andrea crossed her arms.
“You’re wasting your time,” Raphael said. “She won’t do anything to help you. It would endanger her career too much.”
“You’re an ass,” Andrea snarled.
Raphael executed a perfect bow. “Does the Beast Lord require my presence any longer?”
“No,” Curran said.
Raphael walked out.
Curran gave me a beautiful version of an “I told you so” look.
I turned to Andrea. “If you call Ghastek and tell him that Ted’s planning a showdown with the navigator of undead mages less than two miles from the Casino and doesn’t want the People involved, Ghastek will foam at the mouth.”
“Thanks for the tip.” Andrea grimaced. “Would’ve never thought of it on my own, being as I sit on my ass all day polishing my weapons.”
Curran rose. “The Pack thanks the Order for its continued cooperation and goodwill. We look forward to successful relationships in the future.”
That’s it, you’re done, go away now.
Andrea drew herself upright.
“I’m not done,” I said quietly.
Curran ignored me. “You and I have an understanding, Andrea. Don’t abuse it by insulting your friend and my mate.”
Andrea walked out.
I sighed. “You don’t get to decide when I’m finished talking to my friend.”
Curran perched on the edge of the table. “The conversation was going nowhere. They’re both hurt and neither of them was in the mood to listen.”
That didn’t change anything. “I thought this was a joint venture. Am I wrong?”
Curran fell silent for a long moment, obviously picking the right words. “Yes, it is. I know it goes against the grain, but please don’t contradict me again in public. You can scream and kick me in private, but in public we must present a united front. Always. Anything we do outside of those rooms upstairs will be scrutinized and people like B will exploit every rift to their advantage. When a decision is made, I need to know that you will support it.”
I tapped my fingernails on the table. “Even if the decision was made without my input?”
He exhaled slowly. “I’m not used to sharing. I’ve never had to do it before. If you cut me some slack, I promise I’ll do the same for you. I will attempt to always include you, but it won’t always be possible. You have to trust me.”
“Trust goes both ways.”
Curran leaned closer. “If she were one of mine, I would’ve had my claws on her throat. I permit her to insult you, because she is your friend and you don’t play by the same rules. I want some credit for that.”
This was going to be an uphill battle. I could see it in his eyes. “You permitted her to insult me because she is a knight of the Order and even you can’t murder them with impunity.”
“As long as you’re aware that I will make my own decisions and I will fight you if you attempt to interfere. I will make an effort to always include you, Your Majesty, but it won’t be always possible.”
Gold sparked in his eyes and vanished.
“I deserved that,” he said. “We’re even now. Peace?”
He watched me carefully. It was important to him. What I said would matter.
Curran was used to unquestioned obedience and I rejected all authority. He’d never shared his power before and I never had any. Both of us had to give and neither wanted to.
“Peace,” I said. “This is going to be really difficult for us.”
“Yes. But we’ll work it out, with enough time.”
If it got to be too much, there was always the gym.
We sat in silence for a long minute.
“What are you thinking?” I asked finally.
“Erra’s down to three undead: wind, animal, and the third one.”
“Gale, Beast, and Darkness. And nobody knows what Darkness does.”
Curran nodded. “Assuming that whatever trap the Order sets for her fails—”
“Which it will,” I added.
“—she’ll chase the crowd toward the Casino.”
“We have to keep her away from the crowd.” I pulled Slayer from the back sheath and put it on my lap. “There is no telling how many she will kill, if they panic.”
“Not that many,” Curran said. “Most of the deaths will be from people trampling each other.”
Thanks, Your Fuzziness, that makes me feel loads better. “Ted doesn’t care about the loss of life. He deals in large numbers: the welfare of many outweighs the lives of the few. I can’t do that.”
“I know.” Curran leaned back. “We’ll take a squad from each clan, female fighters only.”
I raised my eyebrows. “How many per squad?”
“Between five and ten. We position them along the roofs. You’ll wait on the street by the Casino. She’ll chase you. If you back away far enough, my . . . our people will swarm her undead helpers. You and I will key on her.”
As plans went, it was painfully simple, but anything else depended too much on Erra’s actions and she was unpredictable.
“It makes sense.” I played with my sword, running my hands along the blade. “You shouldn’t go to this fight. You’re male and a shapeshifter; that makes you twice as vulnerable to Erra.”
“I have to go. It’s in the job description.”
“It’s not a fight that you can win, Curran.”
“I don’t get to cherry-pick the battles I know I’ll win.”
A narrow smile curved his lips. He looked wicked and almost boyish at the same time. Something jabbed me right under the heart, where I stored my fears, and they surged through me all at once.
He was mine. He cared for me, he made me lose all sense, he didn’t give a damn about my father. He was what I wanted, because he made me happy. I wanted him like I’d never wanted anyone in my life.
I knew how this dance went—I’d gone through its paces before. As soon as I started to care about someone, death would snatch him from me.
Curran was going to die.
There was nothing I could do to prevent it. He would die, because that was what always happened.
My throat constricted. “Let me take care of it.”
“No. You aren’t strong enough on your own. You’ve fought her twice to a draw.”