Con & conjure, p.28
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       Con & Conjure, p.28

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 28

 

  “Long time, no see, sweetie pie,” I told Rache. I glanced at the girl. “It’s like looking in a mirror. ”

  Rache sat frozen for a moment, then his eyes widened in recognition. The corner of his lips turned up in that crooked grin that used to get me every time. Now it just pissed me off.

  “You’re not here to talk about old times,” Rache said.

  “The past should stay where it belongs. ” I lowered my voice further. “So should you. ”

  “A man’s got to work. ”

  “Do it somewhere else. ”

  “I go where the money is. Because you know I’m nothing but a low-life bastard who murders for pay, with no conscience and no regret. Wasn’t that what you said?”

  Damn, over a dozen years ago and Rache remembered it word for word. He wasn’t just carrying a grudge; he was nursing it like a newborn. Great, just what I never needed.

  “Meant it then, mean it now,” I said. “You lied to me. Nothing you ever said was the truth. You probably even lied when you said you loved me. ”

  The girl froze, eyes wide, sheet now clutched to her ample chest, looking from me to Rache and back again. “Uh, I don’t want to get in the middle of . . . whatever this is. ”

  Rache’s shoulders shook in silent laughter. “And now you’re here to ruin my reputation,” he told me.

  “You’ve missed twice since you got here. I think you’re doing a fine job by yourself. ”

  “Twice? I missed once, and that was your fault. ”

  “Mine?”

  “Try nailing someone who—”

  The redhead jumped out of bed and pulled on a robe. “I’ll just step outside until you two . . . ah . . . settle things. ”

  Rache reached for her. “Kara. ”

  She stepped nimbly out of his reach. “I don’t do threesomes, and I don’t get in the middle of lovers’ spats. ”

  Rache blinked. “Lovers? Is that what you think this—”

  “There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just not my thing. ” She quickly gathered her undergarments, such as they were. “There are girls here who specialize in this sort of thing, really like it. I can let Madam Camille know your new preferences and—”

  Rache raised his hands in protest. “No, no. You think that he and I . . . because he said—”

  The girl stepped back to the bed and placed a finger on Rache’s lips. “You don’t have to explain a thing. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just . . . ” She looked me up and down, and gave me a look that I’m sure Symon had plenty of experience getting from women. “He’s just not who I’d expect you to be with. ” And she left. Fast. There was no surprised squeal from her when she stepped out into the hall, so Mago must have ducked back into our room until she’d gone.

  Rache glared at me, and lowered his hands.

  “Don’t go for the dagger under the mattress or under the pillow,” I told him.

  Rache smiled. “You don’t trust me. ”

  “Not as far as I can throw you. ”

  “You may not be able to throw me, but you were always good for a wrestle. ”

  I gave him my best eat-shit-and-die look.

  Rache put his thin-bladed knife on the bedside table and slid his long legs over the side of the bed and stood. Naturally, he made no effort to cover himself. I made an effort not to look.

  “Afraid you’ll like what you see?” he asked.

  I barked a small, harsh laugh. “No, I’m afraid Symon will. I’m finding he doesn’t have much control. ”

  Rache just stood there, naked. His crossbow at his right hand, and the knife at his left. He made no move toward either—or toward the trousers that were on the floor at his feet.

  “Why are you here, Raine?”

  “For starters, Mychael Eiliesor. ”

  “Ah, yes. ” There was a world of meaning in those two little words.

  “Ah, yes, you tried to kill him. Did you get paid for it—or is it personal?”

  “Darling, I must honestly say that I don’t know what you’re talking about. Though you’d like for me to say it’s personal, wouldn’t you?”

  “I don’t have that much of an ego, Rache. I don’t need to have men wanting me years after we parted ways. ”

  “There hasn’t been anyone else since us. ”

  I could say the same thing, but demons with pitchforks couldn’t poke it out of me. I’d gotten burned by Rache. Badly. I hadn’t exactly gotten in line for seconds after that. In fact, I stayed far from anything that could be remotely called a relationship. You could say I had a few commitment issues. That and trust and abandonment. Yep, thanks to Rache Kai, I was a veritable bundle of neuroses.

  “Rache, I want Mychael alive and I want you gone. At the same time, I have no reason to want you dead. ”

  His eyebrows lifted in surprise.

  “Did someone pay you to use Mychael for target practice?” I asked.

  “I’m here for a job, but that job isn’t Mychael Eiliesor. ”

  “I saw you on the third floor of the building across from the elven embassy. You took a shot at Mychael. Fortunately you missed. ”

  “That wasn’t me. ”

  “Prove it. ”

  “I don’t miss. ”

  “You’re lying. ”

  “Which one? That I tried to kill him, or that I don’t miss?”

  I’d never heard of Rache missing before, but there was a first time for everything. Though this definitely wouldn’t be the first time that Rache had lied to me.

  “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes,” I told him. “I know who I saw. ”

  “You saw me. ”

  “I believe I just said that. ”

  “That’s your proof right there. ” Rache took a step forward, so that his body was all too visible in the flickering firelight. “I know I have competition. Whoever hits the prince first gets paid; the poor bastard who doesn’t hit the mark doesn’t get the money. No one ever sees me unless I want to be seen. That wasn’t me, ducky. ”

  “Just like that wasn’t you trying to assassinate Prince Chigaru Mal’Salin on the waterfront. ”

  “Oh, that was definitely me. ”

  “You admit it. ”

  “Of course. And thanks to your interference, I hit my target, but I didn’t kill him. By the way, very impressive work on your part. I didn’t know you had it in you. ” He indicated the glamour. “Or that, either. ” He chuckled. “If you ever wanted to be a man, he wouldn’t be it. ”

  “You won’t tell me your business, I won’t tell you mine. ”

  “Raine, you know that the identity of my clients is strictly confidential. If I went around spouting off who hired me, I wouldn’t have any clients left. ”

  “And that would be such a calamity. ”

  Rache shrugged. “I’m a jack-of-one-trade, Raine. I am what I am, and I’m not going to apologize for it. And you know that I only take one hit at a time. I’m here to bag a goblin, not a paladin. I like to give a hit my full attention, and my clients their money’s worth. ”

  “You’re a sweetheart. ”

  Rache may not be bothered much by morals, but he did have professional standards. Those were sacred. He wasn’t going to reveal the name of his client.

  “Okay, fine. I wouldn’t want you to compromise your ethics on account of killing the goblin or the elf who can keep the seven kingdoms from literally going to hell in a handbasket. ” I leaned forward and dropped my voice to a quick, hissing whisper. “And if said kingdoms do end up in said handbasket, you’ll be out of a job. People will be killing each other for free. War is like that. ”

  I glared at him. He glowered at me.

  “I deliver results, Raine. Not refunds. ”

  “There’s a first time for everything. ”

  “Not this time. My pockets haven’t been this well lined in years. ”

  “What if you found
out that your client couldn’t pay the rest of your fee? What if he suddenly went broke? Would you finish the job?”

  Rache laughed. “What do you think?”

  I think I’d just gotten new motivation to fleece Taltek Balmorlan. I couldn’t see his client being anyone else now.

  I smiled. “I think—”

  Glass shattered out in the hall, and the screaming started.

  Chapter 12

  I ran to the doorway.

  A broken bottle of wine and a pair of shattered glasses were on the floor at the feet of the source of the screaming.

  A girl wearing a robe so sheer she shouldn’t have bothered was standing in front of the open door to a bedroom, hands that had been holding the wine and glasses now clenched in front of her mouth. The screams had died to whimpers.

  Mago came up behind the girl, took one look at what was in that room and swore.

  Rache took one look, saw Mago, shoved me out into the hall, slammed the door behind me, and threw the deadbolts. A few seconds later came the sound of a window being wrenched open.

  Dammit.

  I turned and pounded on the door. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, but I did it anyway. I’d rather have been pounding on Rache. Those deadbolts could only be opened with a key. And Madam Camille would be the only one who had them. I wasn’t even going to bother trying to get them.

  Rache was gone, and I didn’t know much more now than I did before, other than he’d taken one shot at Chigaru, and taken no shots at Mychael. I believed him on both counts. I didn’t think Rache was lying, at least not this time. So basically the only thing I’d gotten from all that was one more question without an answer. Who was trying to kill Mychael?

  “You’d better look at this,” Mago called down the hall.

  I did, and what I saw was something I really didn’t want to see.

  A dead goblin. A mage. Chatar. Previously under suspicion for trying to poison Chigaru Mal’Salin. Presently dangling from a small iron chandelier set in a ceiling beam, a chair kicked out of the way beneath his gently swaying legs. He was naked.
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