Con & conjure, p.34
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       Con & Conjure, p.34

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 34

 

  I froze. A man smelling of wild roses.

  Oh mother of hell.

  That girl had changed into a man—into the assassin. Mago and I had comforted the killer right there outside the room.

  A master glamourer. Very rare, but not unknown. Able to instantly morph from one form into another, one sex to another. Even with the Saghred’s power, I needed time, concentration, and an exact image to work from. The assassin didn’t need any of those.

  He or she could literally be anyone. Anywhere.

  Here.

  Chapter 15

  Imala sent her two most trusted agents to the citadel with the message for Mychael, with the explicit instructions to deliver it to Mychael and no one else.

  All I could do was wait.

  I usually wasn’t good at waiting.

  Unless I was taking a much-needed soak in a tub of steaming water. My predator impersonation had been a success, so I didn’t have to stalk around the embassy anymore in burned clothes. As to waiting, as long as the water stayed hot and no one broke down the door with the intention of killing me, I could probably wait forever.

  I sighed and leaned back. I didn’t go so far as to close my eyes. The trust of a naked elf in a goblin embassy only went so far. There was a master glamourer on the loose, not to mention the walls of my room probably still had eyes. In fact, once word got around that Imala had ordered a tub and hot water brought to my room, I imagine there were a few more pairs of eyes watching. I didn’t care. I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of, and I was too exhausted to go around the room, poking my fingers into everything that might be a spy hole for goblin Peeping Toms. If they wanted to see a naked elf, let ’em look.

  And if anyone should make the mistake of trying anything more hands-on, Tam had provided a pair of sleek, curved goblin swords and enough daggers to make me feel warm and cozy almost anywhere. Imala had found clothes for me.

  Those did not make me feel warm and cozy.

  It was a goblin secret service uniform. Imala had a number of female agents among her people, and one of them was just my size. Lucky me. I glanced over at the sleek black leather ensemble on the bed. I had to hand it to Imala; she knew how to dress her agents. Carnades would love to see me wearing that. To him, it’d be the proof of everything he’d been claiming since I’d set foot on Mid—that I was not only a goblin sympathizer, but I was working for them. And if I set foot outside of the embassy wearing that, I’d be putting the last nail in my coffin.

  I wasn’t taking one step outside the embassy’s front doors. If I did, I not only wouldn’t be wearing a goblin uniform, I wouldn’t be wearing my own skin. The assassin wasn’t the only one who found it easier to roam around town incognito.

  I wasn’t the only one lying low. I could feel the Saghred’s presence inside of me like a rock on my chest. Solid, immovable, but for the moment, quiet. Through me it had killed nine firemages. The rock was used to destroying, but not on an empty stomach, or whatever the Saghred had. It had expended a hell of a lot of strength in the streets outside that hotel, and it hadn’t gotten any souls to replenish itself. No wonder the thing damned near killed me to get at the souls fleeing the bodies of the dying in the hotel. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Saghred had known about the firemages, and what the two of us would have to do to stop them.

  At that cheerful thought, I sank down farther in the water and added it to the list of my other potentially fatal problems.

  Someone glamoured as a girl in the Satyr’s Grove to kill Chatar. Had the killer also morphed into Chatar to try to assassinate the prince, then had to kill the mage to cover his tracks? Until I learned otherwise, that convoluted mess sounded not only plausible, but highly likely.

  There were reliable witnesses who confirmed that Chatar had been near the stern of the yacht when the assassination attempt had taken place. I’d seen him myself after Tam had fished Chigaru out of the harbor. He didn’t act like a man who’d had his evil plan foiled. He was pissed at me for interfering with his attempt to keep the pilot boats from ramming the yacht. I’d felt his magic; it was strong. He’d used every last bit of his strength against those boats. He didn’t suddenly stop doing that, run to the bow, shoot the prince, and then threaten to vaporize me for ruining both attempts.

  I glanced over at the glove that I’d been carrying around under Symon’s doublet and then mine. It was on the bed with the uniform.

  I had no doubt in my mind that I’d seen Rache in that window overlooking Embassy Row. He’d let me see him after he’d taken a shot at Mychael. He wanted me to see him.

  Now I knew why. It hadn’t been Rache. He’d never been there, but his competition had—glamoured as Rache.

  The unknown assassin had glamoured as Chatar to try to kill Chigaru, and had morphed into Rache to take a shot at Mychael. Then the nimble little minx had changed into a working girl at the Satyr’s Grove to poison Chatar—that is after they’d had some kinky fun. A man who’d turned into a woman to have sex with another man, kill him, then turn back into a man to hang his victim to make it look like a suicide.

  This guy was a real go-getter in every sense of the word, no wonder Sarad Nukpana hired him.

  Rache said he knew he had competition; competition he referred to as a bastard, not a bitch. I knew Rache well enough that if a woman was trying to steal his hit, he definitely wouldn’t hesitate to call her a bitch. That meant the assassin was a man.

  The question I had now was did Rache know his name?

  My best bet for finding that name was to find Rache. Though I knew I’d never get either one unless I got some sleep. I didn’t have time for it, but I had even less time to screw this up. When I was in the same room with Rache again, I couldn’t be anything but at the top of my game. If that meant a couple of hours spent studying the insides of my eyelids, so be it.

  If it had been the goblin assassin who’d taken that shot at Mychael, why would he want to frame Rache? Rache was an assassin. Why would someone glamour as Rache and try to kill people? Though not just people. Mychael. If Nukpana hired this guy, why would he want him to go after Mychael? Unless the assassin wanted what was happening right now—every law officer on the island was hunting for Rache Kai. If Rache got arrested, the assassin would get rid of his competition. And by killing Chatar, the assassin killed someone who may have been able to identify him. I was seeing a pattern here, sick and twisted, but still a pattern.

  I resisted the urge to slide down underneath the water. This was getting way too complicated.

  I must have dozed off. You don’t jerk, gasp, and choke on bathwater unless you’d been asleep. I also wasn’t alone. My hands went over the sides of the tub, grabbed the swords, and I came to my feet with much splashing and sloshing.

  “Now that’s a vision I haven’t seen lately—last time you had a dagger and a towel. ”

  Mychael was in uniform. I wasn’t in anything except a tub. After more splashing and sloshing, I’d ditched the swords and jumped into his arms.

  His sea blue eyes had a naughty gleam. “But I was about to join you. ”

  “We have an audience. ”

  Mychael grinned. “I could fix that. ”

  “I know you could, but right now goblins are the only people on this island who almost like me. ”

  “I like you. ”

  I smiled and shifted against him. “Yeah, I kind of got that feeling. ”

  I stepped back and looked Mychael up and down. While the scenery was more than nice, that he was wearing his formal uniform was not.

  “Let me guess,” I said, switching to mindspeak. “Carnades likes his death warrant signings formal. ” I didn’t mind goblins seeing me naked, but I wasn’t about to let them know the rest of my business.

  Mychael’s next words echoed with tense fury in my mind. “Justinius has two votes. I have one. ”

  My heart stopped for a few beats. “Carnades
bought all the votes he needed. ”

  The look on Mychael’s face told me that Carnades had a lot more.

  “How many?” I asked.

  “The rest of the Seat of Twelve voted unanimously. ”

  My mouth fell open. “What!” I said out loud. I dropped my voice to a whisper. “All of them? But you and Justinius—”

  “Were the only ones who voted against them. It didn’t matter that you saved hundreds of lives. They believe you’re out of control. ”

  “I only killed firemages. ” But that didn’t matter; none of it mattered. The Twelve would see me taken into custody and then they would see me executed.

  “They claim it’s for the safety of the citizens and for your own protection. ”

  “I bet Carnades added that last part. ” I stood very still. “Are you here to bring me in?”

  “You know I’m not. ”

  “That’s treason. ”

  Mychael smiled fiercely. “Yeah, it is. ”

  “You know how I feel about you putting yourself in danger because of me. ”

  “I love you and I’ve sworn to do everything in my power to get you out of this, and if that means taking you off this island and running for the rest of our lives, then that’s what I’ll do. ” He handed me a towel. “And as much as it pains me to have you cover up, you might want to do it before some of the men behind your walls hyperventilate and pass out. ”

  I tossed the towel aside. “Let ’em pass out. ” I ran my hands up his chest and laced my fingers behind his head, pulling him down to me. I kissed him hard, with a passion born of the fear of losing him—first in the fire and now by choosing sides and choosing me.

  In one swift move, Mychael tightened his arms around me and lifted me off my feet. I wrapped my arms around his neck, deepening the kiss, my mouth demanding, taking. Mychael’s breathing had a ragged edge as he held me hard against him with one arm while his other hand ran down my body and back again with some gasp-inducing detours.

  Our lips parted and I looked into his eyes as we stood pressed together, breathing fast, our hearts beating faster.
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