THREE YEARS AGO
Reza woke sprawled across the low mattress. Alone. He’d not fallen asleep that way.
A lazy smile pulled at his mouth. He breathed in the smells of jasmine and juniper incense, sweat, down pillows, and sword oil. The prince rolled over, noting the tender spots where bruises bloomed from last night’s intense midnight spar, and the pulled muscle in his left shoulder—that one not from the duel, but the lovemaking after. Reza laughed to himself, a rich, satisfied chuckle. Whatever dark spirit had claimed Vincent was one he should welcome more often. Though perhaps not too often. Reza wasn’t as young as he used to be.
He got up, rinsed his mouth in the shallow basin of lime water on the table beside the tall window lattice of his bedchamber. Then, twisting his heavy hair into a knot, he called for a bath. It was too bad Vincent had abandoned their bed so early, though that was a soldier’s duty. He had probably already joined the rest of the men on the practice grounds.
Happy, Reza stretched as he waited for his bath and coffee. He recited to himself one of his favorite poems.
The fish in the reeds sees the sun
a blur of bright water
Hours passed before Reza even began to suspect something was wrong.
Florian Larue had never been so popular.
Currently, the rogue was being followed by three separate parties.
First, Erik and Risal Cocom trailed indolently in Florian’s wake, angry and eager to find an unguarded moment to threaten their old friend into keeping his mouth shut. They were in plenty of trouble for putting the Cocom in a situation where shame might fall on the family due to their childish recklessness and involvement in thievery. If the inspector heard of this, and if Florian Larue confessed to anybody that these boys had aided him in stealing from the Balam warehouses, the best case scenario for Erik and Risal would be that they’d be tied up like goats and tossed on the next boat back to Binkiinha.
Second, the Watch corporal David Rook casually wandered back and forth across Florian’s known paths, keeping track of the bastard’s comings and goings, his associates and habits, gathering information into a bouquet for his spy-mistress.
Third, a rough man from Riverside, his coat lined with knives.
Florian had rather lowered his guard in the months since being banished from that garish island, and it took him several days to notice his tails. At first, the sensation of being followed comforted him. It reminded him of Shade, that dangerous slip of a man, always sliding between shadows, making Florian’s breath speed up, his heart beat wild, the hairs on his neck lift in tension and desire.
But Shade was dead. If Florian was being followed now, it was by no friend.
Not that Florian had very many friends.
Ixkaab Balam settled back onto the rickety stool in David Rook’s tiny room over the Chel pastry and chocolate shop and pulled apart one of the sugary confections on the plate before her to get at the tart fruit hidden inside. If she had to transition from the excitement of direct spy work to the tedium of receiving regular reports, at least she could do so with dessert.
Recently she’d upped her meetings with Rook to twice a week, hoping to get the drop on the Cocom, to be sure they didn’t outmaneuver her. Tomorrow night Kaab would be having dinner at Tremontaine House—the duchess had followed up on her promise to host the inspector on the Balam family’s behalf—and she did not need any surprises before then.
If those Cocom boys didn’t act soon, though, Kaab would have to design a way to nudge them just slightly harder. Based on his correspondence, the inspector was dear friends with the Batab’s currently favored wife. And Kaab was responsible for the death of his cousin, who was also a Cocom. She couldn’t be certain...