"I know, right?" Barabas grinned.

Andrea leaned over. "Let me see. Not my type." She leaned over to show Aunt B. Aunt B raised her eyebrows.

The picture went from hand to hand until I finally got it. Radomil was pretty. There was no other word for it. His hair, a rich golden blond, lay in waves on his head, framing a perfectly symmetrical face. A generous mouth stretched in a happy smile showing white teeth, a touch of stubble on the chin, high cheekbones, and glass-bottle-green eyes, framed in dense, dark blond eyelashes.

Curran looked over my shoulder and studied it with a perfectly neutral expression.

"Radomil's older brother and sister pretty much run the pack," Barabas said. "We don't know very much about them. Look here." He lifted another photo. Two parents and two grown sons, both handsome, dark-haired, hazel-eyed, with narrow faces, short haircuts, and clean-shaven square jaws.

"Gerardo and Ignazio Lovari, sons of Isabella and Cosimo Lovari. We're interested in Gerardo."

"No, dear," Aunt B said. "We're interested in Isabella. I've met her before. That woman rules Belve Ravennati. All of the Wild Beasts of Ravenna answer to her including her two sons. They're a very disciplined pack. Mostly lupine and very acquisition-minded."

"Try to remember their faces. All these people will be there," Barabas said. "And that brings us to our lovely destination. We're actually going to Abkhazia. It's a disputed territory on the border between Russia and Georgia, and it's directly across the Black Sea for everyone involved. Once every fifty or sixty years, Russia and Georgia have a war over it and it changes hands. The local pack is a werejackal pack, not large, but enough people to slaughter the lot of us. We don't know anything about it. But we do know several things." Barabas held up a finger. "One, the alpha couple will be the most likely target."

Everyone looked in our direction. Curran smiled.

"That's how I would do it," Mahon said. "Split the alphas and you split the pack. If you do it right, the pack will turn on itself."

Being a target didn't thrill me, but it wouldn't be the first time.

Barabas held up two fingers. "Two, they'll try to reduce our numbers."

"Buddy system," Curran said. "Nobody goes anywhere without someone with them. Pick your buddy and stick with them."

"Three." Barabas raised three fingers. "Trust no one. I don't know where they'll put us, but we'll have no privacy. Even if your rooms are empty, you can be sure that someone is listening to you breathe. Don't discuss anything important unless you're outside and you can see a mile around you."

"And four," Curran said. "We will be provoked on every turn. Collectively the three packs want us there. Individually, they don't. The only reason they want an arbitration is that none of the packs is strong enough to take the other two. If two clans fight, the third will destroy the victor."

"So even if you win, you lose," Andrea said.

Curran nodded. "To them, we are collateral damage. The packs have made plans, and some of them hinge on provoking us to violence. No matter what is said to you, do not let yourself be goaded into throwing the first punch. Our behavior must be beyond reproach."

"This is going to be so much fun," George murmured in a voice usually reserved for lamenting extra work piled on your desk on the last minute of Friday.

"You said it." Raphael grinned. "This will be the best vacation ever."

"Boudas." George wrinkled her nose.

* * *

As long as the big tech turbines propelled the Rush forward, the ocean remained lifeless, but as soon as the noise disappeared, life gathered around the ship. Dolphins dashed in the water, launching themselves in the air. Often larger, rainbow-hued fishes joined them, spinning above the water as they leaped. Once an enormous, fish-shaped shadow, as long as the ship, slid quietly under us and went on its way. Glittering schools of fish zipped back and forth next to the vessel.

A week into the trip we saw a sea serpent as we were getting our use out of the helipad. The ocean was smooth as glass and suddenly a dragonlike head the size of a car rose above the water on a graceful neck. The silver scales sparkled in the sun. The serpent looked at us with turquoise eyes, as big as a tire, and dove underwater. Saiman said it was only a baby, or things would've been considerably more difficult.

On the morning of the seventeenth day, we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was less impressive than expected. A green shore stretched on one side for a while and then receded into the blue. The lack of drama was thoroughly disappointing.

We pressed on. Three days later, I climbed onto the deck to a beautiful day. Crystalline blue water spread as far as the eye could see. Here and there faint outlines of cliffs, the hints of distant islands, interrupted the blue. Gauzy veils of feathered clouds crossed the sky like thin spears of frost across a winter window. The magic was up, and the Rush slid across the water, a nimble steel bird.

I sat down with my coffee. Wind stirred my hair. Saiman came to stand near me.

"I never figured you for a sailor," I said.

"I never did either. I was seventeen when I happened to get on a crab fishing boat for reasons completely unrelated to fishing. I smelled the wet salt in the wind, felt the deck move, and didn't leave for three years. I was truly happy there. I do prefer cold seas. I like ice. It's the call of the blood, I suppose. Aesir or Jotun, take your pick."

"Why did you leave?"

Saiman shook his head. "It's not something I wish to share. Suffice to say, there are times when I think I should've stayed."

He leaned forward, scanning the horizon, and for the first time since we left port, his face was grim.


Saiman nodded at the endless water. "We've crossed into the Aegean."

"Are you worried senior citizens will start diving off the cliffs because our ship is flying the wrong sails?"

Barabas wandered out onto the deck and came to stand by us.

"I never understood the legend of Theseus," Saiman said. "Or rather, I understand his motivation for killing the minotaur in an effort to establish himself as a leader. I can't fathom the rationale behind Aegeus throwing himself into the sea."

"He thought his son failed to kill the minotaur and died," I said.

"So he decided to destabilize the country already paying tribute to a foreign power even further by killing himself and destroying the established royal dynasty?" Saiman shook his head. "I think it's clear what really occurred. Theseus led the invasion of Crete, destroyed their superweapon in the form of the minotaur, returned home, and made his bid for power by pushing his dear old father off a cliff. Everyone pretended it was a suicide, and Theseus went on to found Athens and unify Attica under its banner."

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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