“He’s a fuckin’ coont,” Mick said in his thick brogue. “Not worth the free drinks.”
“Don’t mind him,” Liam said, reaching us with the Jack and Coke. The Guinness sat under the tap, resting. Liam hooked a thumb Mick’s way. “He’s a fan of the ol’ gargles.” He shook his thumb at his mouth and leaned back like he was drinking.
“I’m a fan of the ol’ fecking whiskey.” Mick spread his hands wide, growing surlier by the moment. “I’m dyin’ of thirst. Any day, man.”
Liam thinned his lips, the effect giving him a dimple on his right cheek, before turning back.
“Young man, young man, young man,” Mick muttered, and though he’d randomly said it as long as I’d known him, I’d never figured out the context.
“Does Kieran know about this?” Bria asked, indicating the bar at large.
“Yes,” I said, remembering when I’d first seen him in this bar. He’d done his homework.
“You don’t…” Bria moved her finger back and forth above the bar. “You don’t still bump uglies with the owner, right?”
“No.” I huffed and smoothed my hair. “He’s just an ex-boyfriend who wants to lord his good fortune over the harlot who broke up with him. These are pity drinks, as far as he’s concerned.”
“Oooooh.” Bria grinned while nodding. “I get it. Because”—she leaned closer with a smirk—“Miles would be dead now if you were screwing both him and Kieran at the same time. Demigods don’t like to share their prized possessions.”
There was that word again. I scowled at her. “I’m no one’s possession.”
“Fuckin’ right,” Mick said.
Bria clucked her tongue. “I’ll admit it. I can’t believe Kieran knows you get free drinks from your ex and hasn’t pitched a fit. What dimension am I living in? Is this an alternate reality? I even mentioned this bar to him! He must’ve known I’d drag you here, and he said nary a word.” She huffed out a laugh. “I am tickled.”
I opened my mouth for a rebuttal I hadn’t quite thought of yet, but she held up her hand.
“No, no. Don’t say anything. Just let me soak in the shock for a moment. Somewhere, a pig is flapping its wings, taking to the sky. This is history, and I am witnessing it. Hark.”
“What is she on about?” Mick asked, looking over.
“I haven’t a clue.” I took a sip of my Guinness, barely sparing a glance for the woman who’d just walked in and looked around. This was clearly her first time in the bar, and Narnia had turned out a bit different than she’d expected. I’d seen the same expression—unsure and a little disgusted—a million times.
Bria studied the new arrival. “What’s her game? She’s in the wrong place.”
The new woman sat down at the other end of the bar and waited patiently for Liam to approach her. Her posture screamed confidence, from her slightly upturned chin to her glimmering eyes. Bria was right—this woman wasn’t at home in dive bars. This woman expected people to do things for her, and do them quickly. I could see it in her soft scowl as she waited. In her tapping fingers as Liam took his sweet time. She was used to being kowtowed to by underlings.
So what was she doing wearing an outfit that wouldn’t have looked out of place in my pre-Kieran wardrobe?
“Maybe she came here on business and is trying to dress like the clientele so as not to get mugged,” I muttered, answering myself.
“Those clothes fit her too well,” Bria said quietly, lowering her gaze to her drink. Something in her tone, plus the set of her suddenly stiff shoulders, set me on edge.
“How do clothes fit someone too well?” I asked, following her lead and lowering my gaze. “Some people are great shoppers.”
“Cheap clothes are made to fit a wide range of body types. They’re generic. That’s why, before Kieran fixed you up, you always wore high-water pants and your tops looked like second-hand acquisitions from a circus. You have a pretty standard body for someone who’s in moderately good shape, but you’re an Amazon. Nothing on the racks fit you well, let alone perfectly.
“This woman’s cheap-ass clothes mold to her body perfectly. Nothing is too loose, or too tight. Based on the size of those—very expensive—fake boobs, that is a damn miracle. No.” Bria shook her head and upended her glass, draining it dry. “She had those cheap-ass clothes tailored to fit her body. Odd, right? She probably spent more on the seamstress than she did the clothes. Hello, sore thumb.”
Surprised Bria had caught so much from a crappy outfit, I flicked my gaze back up, careful not to make eye contact or stare for too long. I didn’t want the woman to know I was checking her out.
Her durable yellow cotton shirt cinched in at the waist like on the mannequins in the stores. Except, as I’d learned the hard way many times, mannequins always have the excess material clipped in the back. The V-neck showed just enough cleavage of the woman’s large, perky breasts to be sexy while still practical. And the color, one that should fade quickly in the wash, was still a vibrant yellow. Bria was absolutely right. There was no way a top like that would fit this well. I’d always looked like a square.
“Her slacks are the same way,” Bria continued, staring at Liam as he picked his nail. “They end above cheap runners that will give her blisters if she intends on chasing us. Someone thinks we’re idiots.”
“Dressing the part…to chase us?”
“Yeah. Unless Mick has a big secret?” She glanced over at him.
“Feck off, that’s my secret,” he grumbled.
“That’s no secret, bud. It’s almost a shout.” Bria jiggled the ice in her glass, attracting Liam’s gaze. “She’s here for us, I’d bet my next drink on it.”
I licked my lips, fear tickling my gut. None of Kieran’s spies had heard a peep about the ghosts we’d freed—or the missing employees who’d kept them prisoner—since. But only a fool would think Valens hadn’t noticed. The silence was deafening.
“But still,” I said in a hush, lowering my gaze again, “maybe she’s just trying to fit in so she doesn’t get mugged.”
“What’s her magic level?” Bria asked, spinning ice cubes around her tumbler. Liam headed off to make a new one.
I bowed my head and closed my eyes for a brief moment, tapping into the ability I’d picked up from magically connecting souls with Kieran. Immediately, I felt the pulse of the woman’s magic. Strong and sure, fairly powerful—a solid class four or a little less. Not as strong as Bria, who was a class five, but strong. I said as much.
Bria nodded, accepting another drink from Liam. “What bullshit.” She took a large gulp. “I wanted to spend some quality time in here, getting hammered.”
“What do you think she does?” I asked quietly, hesitant to drink any more. If I needed to react quickly, alcohol would make things difficult.
I started at hearing Mick’s raspy voice.
He reached for his whiskey. “She thinks we’re daft.” His lip curled into a snarl as he lifted the whiskey to his mouth. “She works for Valens. Should have his bollocks cut off, duh coont.”
Sometimes it didn’t even sound like English.
“Do you know her?” That was the last thing I’d expected to come out of him. The absolute last.
“No, I don’t fecking know her.” His spit pummeled my face. “Don’t need to. You seen one, you seen ’em all.” Mick shot back his whiskey and slammed the glass down on the bar. “Ahhhhh,” he said, much too loudly, while looking aggressively at the woman down the way.
“We’re going to be great friends,” Bria said with a smile.
The woman’s eyes darted up at the noise, and stalled on Mick’s hostile-eyed stare. Her jaw set, and I could see her weighing and measuring her opponent. The Six did it all the time—even Mordecai and Daisy were starting to do it. No question about it. This was no civilian.
Her gaze flicked to us, hitting me for a fraction of a second before lingering on Bria. She then jerked her gaze down to her drink, slumping her shoulders as if submitting.
“It’s me she is interested in,” Bria said quietly, finishing her second drink in record time. “Let’s see if she’ll follow me. Come on, Alexis, drink up. Let’s reel in this fish.”
“Sir, I have eyes on the subject,” Flara said through the cellphone in a sultry voice.
With the phone against his ear, Valens glanced at his son, sitting across the expansive living room with his gaze rooted to the smear of vibrant colors streaking the evening sky through the darkening window.
“Oh yes?” Valens said, pushing up from his seat. The movement drew Kieran’s notice, a slight question in the depths of his eyes.
Despite Valens’s best efforts, the boy had turned out more like his mother. He dallied around all day setting up government aid for the sick and the poor, people who had no place in Valens’s city. He was even organizing a magical fair, of all things, dragging him into the squalor of the dual-society zone. If it wouldn’t severely strain their already tense relationship, Valens would have ended that accursed fair and demanded his son stay in the magical zone where he belonged, learning the ropes of government. He had plans for the boy.
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