It was a small attic room in the Middle City, accessible only by a trapdoor from the servants’ hall of the grand Larue townhouse below or, if a person were cunning and strong, the window.
Shade was both cunning and strong.
He crouched on the slate roof outside that window under a thin moon, clad in only trousers and shirt; a small, dark shadow looking toward Riverside. Peaked roofs and the blocky whitewashed houses of the Middle City obscured his view of the island, though he knew, of course, it was there. Calling him home. For three days Shade had remained shuttered inside this attic with Florian Larue, pacing tight quarters, eating food filched from the family kitchens below, sleeping reluctantly, making love.
Laying low, Florian called it, but Shade knew: They were hiding. Running away. Slinking off like wounded animals.
A small sneer curled Shade’s pale nose. He would hide no longer, and if his pretty, gilded lover preferred waiting until the fire of danger had banked itself, that had never been Shade’s specialty. Besides, this quiet existence was not living: The only place to live was Riverside. Shade refused to be driven out by a foreign princess, too hot-tempered for her own good.
The ends of his long black hair flicked in a slight breeze, bringing with it predawn smells more pleasant than he preferred: baking bread, clean laundry, flowers. Where was the river-rot, where the sour wine, the sharp breath of moss and pine? He’d been born in Riverside, and never before spent so many hours away from it that the scent had a chance to seep out of his skin and blood. Florian once told him, You’re a dark, slinking shadow of Riverside, my Shade, and when I taste you I taste the soul of the island.
Florian had always been melodramatic with his compliments; it was part of the appeal.
When he’d first met Florian Larue it had been the bastard’s compelling mélange of vibrant Middle City shine with dangerous sensibilities that attracted Shade, as if Florian were a bright yellow lily blossoming out of the deepest Riverside gutter. Impossible, but perfect. Shade had never been more than one thing, and couldn’t get enough of his lover’s slippery masks and sharp, lying smiles.
Glancing into the open window, Shade peered through the dimly lit attic toward the low, messy bed where Florian sprawled naked. His white shoulders heaved slowly in very deep sleep, and one leg was wrapped in the faded red blanket. A bruise still scrawled down his hip, and the knife slash on his cheek was going to scar: a lovely, thin line, but a scar nonetheless. Rage, cold as snow, pricked along Shade’s spine. That Kinwiinik princess might’ve murdered Florian, and might still. Florian thought letting her temper calm could lead to a multiplicity of opportunities, but Shade had looked into the woman’s eyes: She was a killer, like him, and had chosen Florian as her enemy. She’d not stop without a very, very compelling reason.
Shade meant to give her one.
He’d spent the last hours of the night mulling the problem over.
Killing Ixkaab Balam would be difficult, and her connections in Riverside complicated the matter. If he assassinated her, Tess the Hand could make their lives difficult, with her myriad friends and clients, many of whom liked the Hand better than they liked Shade and Florian. Things were rough already, with a few of their side projects fizzling out thanks to that blasted forger gossiping about them. But that was Riverside politics, and Florian would charm them back around eventually. No, the best solution was to find a person the Kinwiinik princess cared for, and kill them in her place.
Not the Hand, obviously, and Shade suspected he’d never be able to penetrate the Kinwiinik compound; therefore it was unlikely he could reach her family.
But he did recall the ferocious protectiveness with which the Lady Chocolate had defended the little girl from the University in that card game at the Brown Dog several weeks ago.
What had the girl called herself? Micah.
The name shivered Shade’s skin into cool goosebumps. It felt right. A way to wound Ixkaab Balam, and nobody in Riverside would care that an errant student died.
Smiling very slightly, Shade climbed into the attic room for his boots and coat. He snuck to Florian’s side and kissed the air over his lover’s lips, feathering his fingers against Florian’s tangled blond waves, and wishing he could sink his teeth into the meat of Florian’s shoulder, to wake him up with lust. Anticipation was the only thing that put heat in Shade’s belly: anticipation of murder or of Florian’s wet mouth, it didn’t matter, and moments like this he longed sharply for both.
But no; if he woke Florian, this hunt would be delayed, because Florian would never agree to it.
Folding his patchwork coat around himself like a shield of cool, calm resolve, Shade slipped back out the window and climbed silently to the street below.
Diane de Tremontaine’s head throbbed in precise...