She burst out laughing. “I’ll never forget the look on your face when I asked you. You went from shocked to ‘let’s do it’ in about five seconds.”
“Three. I was trying not to look too eager.”
“God, we were something.” She took my free hand and laced our fingers together. “Sometimes I miss those days. Life was a lot simpler back then.”
“Are you being nostalgic, or is something going on?”
“I’m great, just a little weary, I guess. I’ve been on the road for almost a year. You know how it is.”
“I usually get back to Westhorne every month or two.”
The life of a warrior often took you away from home for long periods, unless you were mated. Mated couples tended to stay closer to home, at least for the first few years. I couldn’t stay in one place for a long time. Neither could Viv, which was one of the reasons both of us were happily unmated, much to our mothers’ mutual despair.
She swirled the amber liquid in her glass. “I was surprised to hear you no longer work solo, and that you and Chris have been partnering on a lot of jobs.”
“Yes. It keeps the Council off my back. Well, almost.”
The Council of Seven was the ruling body for our people, and most of them had their own ideas about how things should be run in the field. They liked everyone to work in teams, and it annoyed them when someone didn’t follow their protocols. I wasn’t on their list of favorite people, and I didn’t lose any sleep over it.
“So where is your partner tonight?” she asked with a smile that said she could already guess what Chris was up to.
She laughed. “Let me guess, not your thing?”
“You could say that. And I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see you.”
Her eyes softened. “You always say the sweetest things, Nikolas Danshov.”
I finished my drink and gave her a small smile. “Keep that to yourself. I have a reputation to protect.”
She grinned. “I’m well aware of your reputation, and I’ll do what I can to keep it safe. But it’s going to cost you.”
“What’s it going to cost?”
She stood and took my glass, setting it on the coffee table with hers. Then she reached for my hands and tugged me to my feet.
She turned to the bedroom. “I’m sure I can think of something.”
* * *
“She’s good, isn’t she?” Chris inclined his head toward the small group of trainees practicing their swordplay. Most of them were skilled with the weapon, but the blonde moved with a lethal grace that I’d seen only in more experienced warriors. Next to her, the other trainees looked like children with toy swords.
I watched the girl’s opponent lunge at her. At the last second, she parried and slipped her blade behind his, sending his weapon flying away from him.
I nodded. “She’ll make a fine warrior.”
The boy she’d disarmed retrieved his sword and turned to say something to her. He noticed us watching them and flushed. The other trainees stopped their practice and turned to see what their friend was staring at.
I inclined my head at them in acknowledgement.
Chris smirked. “Your adoring fans. Maybe you should give them a lesson while we’re here.”
“I’ll leave that to the real trainers.” I shouldered my bag and resumed my walk to the main building. Some people were cut out for teaching; I was not one of them. I had neither the patience nor the inclination toward that vocation, though I had a ton of admiration for those who did. There were few jobs more important than molding our youth into warriors capable of defending themselves when they went out into the world.
A grinning red-haired warrior left the building as we neared it. “About time you two showed your mugs around here. How long are you back for this time?”
“Couple of days,” Chris said. “Thought you and Niall were still in Ireland.”
“Nah. Got back last week.” Seamus’s eyes gleamed. “Brought back a couple of bottles of good Irish whiskey. Stop by later and we’ll catch up.”
“Sounds good.” Anything that involved Seamus, his twin, and a bottle of whiskey promised to be entertaining.
Chris and I entered the building and went directly to the south wing. People greeted us as we passed, but we didn’t stop to talk. I said good-bye to him at his door and stepped into my own apartment, dropping my bag on the floor. After a month away, it was nice to be back in my own place.
My gaze swept over the living room, taking in the dark colors and the simple yet comfortable décor. Aside from the portrait of my parents, there was no art on the walls. My collection of antique swords hung on one wall, and above the mantle was a pair of Flintlock pistols that had belonged to Alexander II – a gift from my sire who had received them from the emperor. There was a full bookcase and a state of the art audio system, but no television. I preferred it that way.
Kicking off my boots, I tossed my jacket on the back of the leather couch and headed for the shower to wash off the grime of the road. Ten minutes later, I emerged with a towel around my hips and put on my favorite sixties rock mix.
I was tempted to drop the towel and crash on the bed for a few hours, but I knew Tristan would be by when he got word we were here. I pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweats, grabbed my Slaughterhouse-Five paperback, and stretched out on the couch to read until he dropped in.
A little over an hour later, a knock came on the door. I called out for him to enter, and Tristan walked in wearing a wide smile.
“Heard you were back,” he said, sitting in the leather chair across from me.
I sat up and laid my book on the couch beside me. “You’re getting slow. I expected you half an hour ago.”
He laughed and settled back in his chair. “Council business. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t, and I’m happy that way.”
Like any government, the Council spent half their time embroiled in debates and wrapped up in meetings. Some days, Tristan spent more time talking to the Council than he did running the affairs at Westhorne. Where he got the patience to handle them day after day was beyond me.
“Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that we were discussing your latest job. They aren’t happy you and Chris went into that nest in New Orleans without backup.”