Mulradin Grant himself was MIA, since it was Ghastek’s turn to participate in the Conclave, but his wife, Claire, was in attendance. She was in her late thirties, blond, well-groomed, with an average build and a toned figure. Her pantsuit looked expensive and her hair spoke of pampering and many salon visits.
Ryan droned on. He supported Mulradin and he would’ve loved nothing more than to create some sort of problem between the Pack and the People and then dump it in Ghastek’s lap. Unfortunately for him, nothing potentially problematic had happened, and so he was forced to make a mountain out of a molehill. He knew it, everyone else knew it, and now we were all collectively bored to death by it. Out of convenience, the People and the Pack had divided the city into imaginary territories, with each party patrolling their own imaginary borders, and Raphael’s reclamation business happened to have bought a building on the border.
Claire tugged at the metal bracelet on her wrist. All of the People wore one today, and knowing them, the new jewelry was a corporate fashion statement.
“. . . we object to the Pack’s continued disregard for . . .”
The double doors separating the private dining room from the rest of Bernard’s swung open. A tall broad-shouldered body filled the doorway. Hugh d’Ambray strode into the room.
For a moment my mind struggled to digest the fact that Hugh was there, and then every cell in my body went on full alert, as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on me and then shocked me with a live wire.
My memory shot me back to last summer. I heard the crunch of his back snapping as Curran broke his body over the stone parapet. I smelled the smoke of the stone-melting conjured fire that devoured Castle Megobari and watched Hugh fall into the flames down below. Yet here he was, wearing jeans and a leather jacket over a black T-shirt. He seemed no worse for wear, the bastard. No limp. No stiffness. Even his hair, dark, almost black, was the same length, falling to his shoulders. Same fist-breaking chin, same hard, square jaw, same stubble. Over six feet tall, he was corded with hard, supple muscle and he moved with a swordsman’s grace, perfectly balanced, sure, and adroit in his control.
How could this be?
He was broken. He was broken, damn it. His bones had been crushed. His face had been battered. Curran had snapped his spine like a toothpick, and here he was casually strolling in, like it was nothing. His face showed no signs of the broken bones. His skin had no burn marks. The scar on his cheek was missing. He looked . . . younger. Less carved up by fighting. Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe it was Saiman wearing Hugh’s skin, or . . .
Hugh met my gaze. Icy blue eyes laughed at me.
The hair on the back of my neck rose. It was him. Hugh was in those eyes and I would know him anywhere.
I had no idea what my father had done, but he had somehow fixed his favorite human wrecking ball. Dear God, how much magic did it take? How . . . ?
It meant Roland knew. I’d been trying to pretend that Hugh had died and I’d almost managed to convince myself that Roland didn’t know about me, but Hugh’s continued existence just ripped right through my denial. Roland had healed him. They had talked. My father knew. My father was coming for me.
Jim smiled, showing his teeth. Next to him, Barabas froze.
A small hysterical voice inside my head screamed, Run! Run!
I quashed it. I had no sword. None of us had any weapons. Now wasn’t the time to panic.
We were on the third floor. There were only two exits, the front door leading out and the back door, which wasn’t an exit but an entrance to a narrow hallway that led to a sunroom. I would have to go through Hugh to get to the front door. Hugh outweighed me by sixty-five pounds and I had experienced what his body could do. I wouldn’t get past him without a sword. The back door was our only option for retreating with minimal casualties. I had to get my people out of here in one piece. I could freak out about all of this later.
The journeymen gaped at Hugh. Most of them probably didn’t recognize him. Ghastek’s face went white. So did Ryan’s. They knew exactly who he was and what he was capable of.
Ghastek recovered first and stood up. “We didn’t expect you, Commander.”
Translation: What the hell are you doing here?
Hugh moved to stand next to Ghastek. Ghastek was tall. Hugh dwarfed him. “My fault. I should’ve called ahead.”
Hugh smiled. He was wearing his affable, pleasant disguise. No need to bother, I’m just one of the guys. I topple governments, reap a harvest of death, and revel in violence, but please don’t get up on my account.
This would end badly.
Hugh waited. Ghastek woke up and stepped aside. “Please sit down.”
“You should introduce me,” Hugh told him and took a seat.
Ghastek chewed on that for a second. This is my colleague, a nearly immortal psychotic warlord . . .
“Please welcome Hugh d’Ambray,” Ghastek said. “He is a representative of our main office and he has sweeping executive powers.”
“Let’s not be so formal,” Hugh said. “Please carry on with your business. I’ll just sit here quietly and observe.”
Ghastek and I looked at each other.
“Please,” Hugh invited. “I believe there was something about a building?”
Ryan Kelly’s mouth remained firmly shut. Everyone looked at me. Apparently I was supposed to say something.
“The building in question is a ruin that Medrano Reclamations is going to pull apart. They’ll salvage the materials, sell them off, and move on.”
“I’m aware of how the reclamation process works,” Ryan said, his voice carefully neutral. “The reclamation isn’t the issue. It’s the location of the building. We object to the Pack playing fast and loose with our city border.”
Fast and loose? Somebody had renewed his subscription to Catchphrase Monthly. “Are you aware of where the border lies?”
“Of course I’m aware.”
“Then you do acknowledge that the building is on our side of it?”
“Yes, but the building, as you yourself have indicated, is a ruin. It is partially on our side and according to our agreement, the Pack can’t purchase property within our territory.”
“You’re right.” I raised my hand and Barabas put a paper into it. “An independent appraisal done by the city shows approximately four hundred fifty-five cubic yards of debris on your side of the border, of which seventy-five percent is defined as loose concrete and magic-reduced powder, fifteen percent as wood, and ten percent as assorted metal, all of it valued at approximately fifteen hundred dollars. Which is why we have prepared this grant. As a show of good faith toward the continued cooperation and friendly relations between our two factions, the Pack hereby gifts the value of said debris to the People to do with as they please.”