Home > Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(9)

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(9)
Author: Faith Hunter

I strapped on a sleek harness around my waist, slightly to the right, inserting a tiny Walther PK .380 handgun into the soft leather holster. Kydex was nice, but not if I had to sit with the weapon cutting into me. The small gun would be easily available to me through the right pocket slit in my pants, and with a shirt that belled out around me slightly, and the scarf hanging to my hips, no one would ever know the gun was there. Scarves were dangerous in a fight and I didn’t wear them, but this one had caught my eye, gold and silver and copper silk. Onto the same waist harness, I strapped two blade sheaths and secured them to my upper thighs for right- and/or left-hand extraction. Into the sheaths, I secured short-bladed, silver-plated vamp-killers with six-inch blades. I pulled on and adjusted a brand-new tactical sports bra with built-in dual underarm holsters for the matching HK45s. I adjusted the cant of each weapon and made sure there were no rounds in the chambers, even at the expense of the time I’d use to ready the weapons in the event of a firefight. I might not start a small war, but I could finish one—unless I shot myself in the boob. That hadda hurt. So, safety first.

I pulled on the outer clothes and slid bare feet into my dancing shoes, securing the clasps. I looked like a businesswoman. No weapons visible. The men’s shirt appeared to have buttons but was closed with hidden snaps that I could rip through in a heartbeat to get to the H&Ks. Sometimes speed of draw is less of a factor than appearing to be unarmed.

However, my face still looked crappy. I put on makeup, that thick, pasty stuff that makes sleepless and pained under-eye bruises less noticeable. Then powder, blush, and mascara. A dab of gold shadow at the corners of my eyes. I still wasn’t good at putting on makeup, but I had learned a little.

On the outside of my clothes, I strapped on the Mughal blade my sweetcheeks had given me. It was ancient curved Damascene steel, fancy and decorative and sharp as death. And its scarlet-velvet-covered wooden sheath would draw attention from any bulges or other evidence of the real weapons. I wrapped the pretty scarf around my neck and adjusted the ends for more concealment. Rethought the scarf, which could be used as a handle to yank me around. Re-rethought it. Left it.

And . . . I was still wasting time.

I looked at the stack of protocol books on the table. There was one for each species, one for each social situation, one for dancing, and four that detailed different kinds of introductions. While the Sangre Duello used little that was contained in them, I knew I should use the exact wording and proper protocol to introduce Ayatas to Leo. But—nah. Crass was almost always better. I dialed the Mithran Council Chambers and got Scrappy. “Lee Williams Watts, Mr. Pellissier’s personal assistant. How may I help you? Oh. Sorry, Jane. I didn’t look at the screen. What’s up?”

“Hey, Scrappy. How’s the boss?”

“Pretty good. Though I have to say that taking dictation in his bathroom is new.”

I breathed out a laugh. “His bathroom?”

“He and Katie and Alesha Fonteneau were all in the tub together, making up and making out. Lots of bloody bubbles, thank God.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Picking up my jacket with a finger in the collar loop, I opened my bedroom door and entered the house proper. I dropped a shoulder against the wide cased opening into the living room, talking, listening, smelling, and watching. There were four men and a pudgy kid in the room, and three of the group looked distinctly uncomfortable, as if I’d walked into the middle of something that was about to be unpleasant. Eli was scowling, a partially unsheathed blade in one hand. Bruiser was standing angled to the other two as if he might be about to launch into some martial art move. Ayatas’s face wore an expression I’d call cop face—ready for anything. Clearly someone had done something to someone else and things had escalated.

I frowned at them, my expression saying, Really? Now?

Beast leaped to the forefront of my mind, peering out at the tableau. Littermates have steel claws. Littermates play-battle. Beast wants to play.

But Lee was still talking. “Right? There was lots of giggling and the presence of the bloody bubbles tells me they were having a good time. Way too good a time for a lowly human like me to want to be there for long.”

Alesha and Katie Fonteneau were sisters, and Katie had been—until very recently—Leo’s heir, while Alesha had been his Madam Spy and a traitor. Last I heard, they were both in the scion prison together, locked up for betraying Leo. Things in the vamp world changed at a glacial rate, one they called the long view. Until they changed fast. Then help the poor human or skinwalker who couldn’t keep up. As a joke, Alex had e-mailed me a flowchart. I’d kept it and used it.

“I don’t blame you,” I said.

“Anyway, what can I do for you?” Scrappy asked.

“Alex send you a message?”

Scrappy said, “A personal message. Yes.”

That said a world of important things in vamp hierarchy. “A nonhuman PsyLED agent named Ayatas FireWind wishes to parley with Leo. The Enforcer would like you to arrange a casual little tea with him, Grégoire, Katie, Bruiser, and my people. Tonight, early.”

After a silence that lasted a beat too long, Lee said, “Enforcer,” using my title. Making it formal. “We have an opening between seven thirty and eight.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Interesting mix of guests. Especially since Mr. Pellissier turned down a meeting with PsyLED multiple times this week.”

She was fishing for info. I let a small smile cross my face. “I think so too.”

Scrappy said, “Okay then. Do you need a car sent for you or your guest?”

“No. He’ll be riding over with us. However, he’ll need a place to stay. Would you make an arrangement with the Hotel Monteleone? One of the executive suites would do. Put it on Leo’s tab.”

“Consider it done. If that’s all, I’ll see the Enforcer and her guests in a bit.”

“Thank you, Lee.”

She hesitated at the use of her proper name and then said, “Thank you, Enforcer.” Enforcer. Not Jane. Making sure we were still not personal when doing vamp business. Got it.

She ended the call and I tucked the cell into my jacket pocket, slung it over my shoulder, and slouched some more, one hand in a faux pocket that was really a weapon slit. The men were still in precombat positions, ready to fight. Stupid men.

Beast wants to play with stupid men.

“I don’t see any blood yet,” I said. “Didn’t hear any shots fired. You want to tell me why my boyfriend, one of my partners, and my uninvited houseguest are looking like you’re about to rumble?”

“A misunderstanding,” Ayatas said.

“No misunderstanding.” In his best, most ticked-off British accent, Bruiser said, “One week ago, Special Agent Ayatas FireWind called me for an introduction to Leo. I refused. Now he’s in your home, claiming to be your long-lost baby brother, and he bloody well has not only an introduction but a casual little tea? That is, if I heard correctly the conversation that just ended.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “Yeah. He says he’s my brother.”

Bruiser shot me a look. “FireWind didn’t mention that he might be related to you.” He looked back at Ayatas. “However, yellow eyes and golden-copper skin are not a common combination. There is a familial resemblance.” Bruiser eased back a step, relaxing from attack mode into something more like high alert. My honeybunch was wearing black tonight: black suit, black silk shirt, no tie, his hair slicked back with something that held it in place and also made it look darker. He looked scrumptious, especially with all his feathers ruffled in a “protect the little woman” attitude, instincts left over from his upbringing in England back a century or so ago. It was a cute instinct but unnecessary.

Eli was in black too, but black jeans and a T-shirt with a jacket. He fully sheathed his blade but left his battle face on.

That left my supposed brother, who had pulled a weapon once today, and currently one hand was positioned to go for his service weapon. All very odd for a cop, with their proscribed grounds for anything involving a weapon. His expression was tight and cold, body bladed to the others, knees slightly bent in defensive position against multiple possible attackers. This man had seen combat, no doubt about it. Maybe not this century, but recently enough for the reflexes to still be honed. I said, “If you draw a weapon in my house again, you better be using it to save my people. Otherwise I’ll be shoving it up your ass and emptying the chamber.”

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