“Nobody. A minor inconvenience. Someone from the party. I’m bringing her up with me.”
“All right, but hurry up,” Danforth said. “You’ve got two minutes before we have to switch off the security loop.”
Jeth ignored him as he pushed the girl forward, then spun her around with her back to the elevator door. He pointed the wrench at her. “Stay still.”
She nodded again, although he thought he detected that impishness from before in her eyes. She didn’t look frightened at all. He supposed to a wealthy aristocrat this might seem like a new and exciting game. He might’ve been inclined to feel the same if it hadn’t been for this being Lizzie’s first job.
Jeth shifted to the right, standing in front of the elevator’s control panel. He keyed in the passcode he’d been given and then leaned his right eye toward the retinal scanner. He held perfectly still, experience telling him that if there was too much movement, the scanner would detect the contact lens. Within seconds the access light turned green and the elevator door opened.
The girl stepped inside with no prompting from Jeth. He followed after her. The door closed automatically, and the elevator began to move upward. This was one of the emperor’s private elevators, and it had only one destination—the very top of the tower.
“Face the wall and don’t move,” Jeth said, pointing the wrench at the girl again. She turned around, then stood with her arms hanging loose at her sides. Disconcerted by her compliance, Jeth stooped and grabbed the hem of her silkwater dress, on the alert for any sudden movements.
“What are you doing?” the girl asked, alarmed as he tore off a strip of fabric.
Jeth regretted destroying something so valuable, but it wasn’t like he could steal the dress. Well, he could, but he wouldn’t.
“Got to have some way to keep you contained,” he said, standing up. “What were you doing down that hallway anyway?”
She tapped her foot. “I was following you, to my misfortune it seems.”
“So it would. Put your hands behind your back.”
“Is this really necessary?” she said, doing it anyway.
“Maybe not, but I’m not willing to bet you’ll keep playing nice.” He pulled her wrists together and then wound the torn fabric around them, tying the knot as tight as he could. Silkwater was delicate, but surprisingly strong, enough to be used in this manner.
“Why not?” she said, turning to face him as he finished. “I’ve done everything you’ve ordered so far.”
Jeth shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe because you’re rich?”
She narrowed her eyes on him. “Are you saying rich people can’t be trusted?”
“As a general rule, yes.”
“Oh, but I suppose thieves can?”
Jeth tapped the head of the wrench against his open palm. “Who said anything about thieves?”
“You don’t expect me to believe you’re a maintenance man in disguise, do you?”
“No, but I could be an assassin or a terrorist.”
The girl shook her head, her ringlets bouncing a little. “I don’t think so. If you’re anything other than a thief, I’d go with prostitute sent to be the emperor’s after-party dessert.”
Jeth wrinkled his nose, deciding it was time to change the subject. “You got a name?”
She hesitated, no doubt questioning the wisdom of sharing such information with someone in the middle of breaking into the emperor’s personal bedchambers.
“I could make one up for you, if you’d like,” Jeth offered. “I think ‘Trouble’ would fit nicely.”
“My name is Aileen.”
Jeth grinned. It suited her. He supposed if things were to go wrong on this job, at least trouble came with a pretty face.
“And what’s yours?”
Jeth cocked his head to the side. “You can call me whatever you like.”
“Hmmm, very well. I’ll go with ‘Peacock.’”
Jeth made a choking noise and was about to argue, when Danforth’s voice intruded, “I hate to bust up the romantic tension, but you really ought to focus on the task at hand. The elevator’s almost there.”
“Right,” Jeth said. “Where’s Little Hawk?”
“Stepped into the back for a minute. More trouble with that relay.”
“Oh,” Jeth said, ignoring Aileen’s curious look about his conversation with a person she couldn’t see or hear.
Seconds later they reached the top floor and the door swished open. Jeth motioned for Aileen to go first.
She smiled and walked past him, as unconcerned as ever. He stepped out after her and surveyed the suite, momentarily overwhelmed by the decadence. There was a wraparound sofa as big as a bed, a fireplace as big as a bathroom, and an in-floor water feature big enough to swim in.
And this was just the first room.
“That way.” Jeth pointed to a set of double doors in the distance. Aileen headed for them without a second glance. Jeth followed her into the bedroom. The same level of decadence continued on in here, but the glass vault across from the bed drew all his attention. It was big enough to enclose a dozen men, and at its center, set atop a wooden pedestal engraved in the likeness of two rearing dragons, was the Grakkian Ruby, the so-called Heart of the Universe. It glowed red beneath the display lights. The sight of that glow jogged Jeth’s memory. He needed something to cover his hands before he picked it up.