Sitting on a barrel in Del’s tavern, Nic tossed the paper in the fire. Another royal job. One after another had rolled in after she’d returned the vial to Marcel. The Crown seemed to be through trying to win over the Houses with logic and bribes, and instead, coin flowed like blood into the Black Rose’s coffers.
Nothing to complain about, but there was only so many times she could make an assassination look like an accident before it strained believability. But when an offer came in to take out one of the realm’s most abusive lords, the only answer was yes. And perhaps an ale to celebrate.
Ale later. She headed down the tight hallway to her room near the back. Inside, she suited up. No sense in waiting around. The sooner she got to Kirn and started gathering intelligence, the better.
“Nic,” Brigitte’s deep voice called from the hallway as she knocked. “You got a visitor.”
“Who?” she called back, but was only answered by fading footsteps.
With a grimace and a sigh, she sheathed her blades, checked for her recondite satchel, and threw her cloak about her. Brigitte knew her sisters and her parents by name, so it had to be someone else. Maybe one of Marcel’s lackeys, checking to see if she’d taken the job.
She locked her room and headed out to the tavern, full for the evening dinner rush. All the regulars were here.
But at the bar sat a man with snow-white hair and a gaze like ethereal fire. Falken.
Blinking, she couldn’t turn away. What was he doing here? It had been—
He stood and approached her, brow furrowed, mouth a tight line. Barely a foot from her, he stopped, his palm brushing down her upper arm, trailing goosebumps in its wake. “Nic,” he breathed, low but astonished, as if he were surprised to see her. “That night, you left.”
“You didn’t return,” she replied, eyeing their surroundings.
“You didn’t wait,” he shot back.
She leaned in. “You left me!” she hissed.
His eyes widened for a moment before he dropped his gaze, eyebrows drawn together.
Why had she said it? They’d both agreed. Revealing himself in the chambers of the Grand Divinus would have been a death sentence, and afterwards, in the bailey, he’d been with his people. He couldn’t have left them to come to her.
He… No, he’d chosen not to.
When he looked up, his gaze burned, smoldered like bright embers in the fire. “I didn’t want to leave you. But my people, so many lives, and… the heir to my clan. And my sisters—”
“Your sisters?” She shook her head. His sisters had been among the prisoners?
“I’d wanted to ensure their safety before returning to you,” he explained, in that sharply accented voice of his. “We couldn’t all go to the Frozen Cello like an army of light-elves, and—” He heaved a breath. “When I got there, you were gone.”
Behind the bar, Del cleaned an ale stein. Cleaned it very intently. His pretending-not-to-listen type of cleaning.
“Come.” She grabbed Falken by the arm—a very well-muscled arm—and dragged him out the door with her as she headed for the carriage house. “Too many curious ears in the tavern.” She eyed him inquisitively.
Did he remember that kiss in Divinity Castle? The one in the quiet, in hiding, that had stolen her breath away?
Was he here for her? Had he come all this way to be with her?
He came to a stop just before the carriage house, lightly pulling her hand. As horses and passers-by moved past them in the street, she faced him. He held out his palm to her, and in it, the ring of invisibility.
“I tried to pay Signora Contarini for it, but she refused to accept payment. She said you’d already settled the account, so I thought it only fair to return this to you.” He gave it to her and closed her hand around it.
The ring? She frowned, then couldn’t help a smirk.
A glimmer shone in his eyes as he searched hers. She reached for his face, her fingertips smoothing over familiar features etched in her memory, as if they knew every plane and angle. Perhaps they soon would. “Is that all, Falken?”
He tugged her to him, and she let herself fall against his chest, be swept into his embrace.
“Not even remotely,” he whispered to her ear, sending shivers stroking down her body. “There’s that fondness for human things, Nic.”
“I was so hoping you’d say that,” she said with a grin, and yanked him into the carriage house.
To be continued in The Dragon King, coming this March!