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Emerald Casino

Surebleak Port

As holding cells went, the so-called waiting room wasn’t too bad, Miri thought. There were a couple good chairs, a table and a deck of cards. No window, o’ course, and a guard on the outside of the door. Still, she’d seen worse—and from the inside, too.

“How long do you think they’ll let us cool?” she asked.

Val Con had pulled one of the chairs out, and was fussing over its placement with regard to the door. “Not long. However, I fear that whoever is sent to deal with us may be somewhat irritable.”

He paused, considering the chair. Apparently satisfied, he stepped to her side and took her hand. “Cha’trez, you should sit.”

“I should, should I? Well, why not?”

She settled in, leaned her head back and smiled up at him.

“The view’s pretty, but I’m gonna get a crick in my neck unless you sit down, too.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

He perched on the arm of the chair, his hip companionably against her arm. His left hand rested flat on his thigh, putting Korval’s Ring on prominent display.

“Think they’re gonna come in shooting?” she asked interestedly.

“It is a possibility,” he admitted, turning his head to smile down at her, “though the odds are not particularly high.”

“Which is why you’re between me and the door.”

His smile softened.

“It harms no one to be prudent.”

“Now, the way I heard it . . .” she began, then stopped at the sound of voices outside the door.

One was the security guy—Jeremy—explaining to a lower, sterner voice how they hadn’t given him no trouble, which they hadn’t. Would’ve put a strain on the kin-bond to go breaking up Pat Rin’s gaming house and, besides, security’d only been doing their job.

The lower voice said something short and definitive and the door came open, sharp, just in case they were crowding it. Jeremy, the security guy, took point, followed by a man who was surely a pro, the gun showing on his belt more of a neighborly warning than a threat. The third man was—familiar. Yellow hair so light it just missed white, steel-rimmed spectacles, and a tough, wiry build. She knew this guy, she was sure of it, but she couldn’t quite bring to mind—

“See, Boss?” Jeremy said, jerking his head in their general direction. “No trouble, no chatter. Nothing. Sleet, he’s even naked.”

Inside her head, she saw the ripple of Val Con’s amusement. His head was turned away, but she knew as sure as if she’d seen it that the eyebrow had gone up.

The blond man’s smile was tight, but his voice was calm and even friendly.

“It’s what we say here, when somebody’s not carrying.”

“I thank you,” Val Con answered, “I was unaware of the usage.”

“Welcome. Now, we got some questions for the pair of you—”

The pattern clicked. Miri came to her feet, moving around to get a better look, registering Val Con falling in by her off-arm, but not paying much attention, because she had it now. By damn if it wasn’t—

“Penn Kalhoon—is that really you?”

He looked over to her, light sliding off his glasses, wary puzzlement in the set of his shoulders. His bodyguard shifted, a friendly reminder that he was on the job, that was all—and no worries; she wasn’t going to make a lunge for his boss. Penn Kalhoon. Now she had it, she could see the kid he’d been, back when she’d worked pickup at his father’s garage. He’d been her friend.

He wasn’t sharing her moment of clarity, though.

“C’mon, Penn, I changed so much since? I can still fit in the little places.”

His face cleared, stance going from baffled to disbelief.

Miri Robertson? What the sleet’re you doing, coming back here?”

She laughed. “Asked myself the same thing more times than you wanna know. You’re looking good—prosperous.”

“You’re looking the same,” he said cordially, but keeping one eye on Val Con, who hadn’t been explained yet. “Soldierin’ agreed with you.”

“It did. Mustered out with a captain’s chop on my sleeve.” She extended a hand, slow and easy out of consideration for the nerves of the man with the gun. “Penn, this is my partner, Val Con yos’Phelium. Val Con, here’s Penn Kalhoon. We was kids together, over on Hamilton Street—Latimer’s turf it was then.”

“Boss Kalhoon’s turf now,” the pro added.

Val Con nodded gravely. “Penn Kalhoon, I am pleased to meet you.”

“Pleasure,” Penn answered, which was maybe a little brief. He moved a hand, showing them the bodyguard. “This my ’hand, Joey Valish. You met Jeremy.”

“Indeed. Gun-sworn Valish, I am pleased to see you.”

The ’hand grinned, showing a sizable gap in the top row of his teeth. “Got that right.”

Penn frowned, like maybe he was getting a headache, which was possible, Miri thought. They seemed to have that effect on people.

“Interesting ring you got there.”

“It is a family heirloom,” Val Con said, raising his hand so Penn could see it better. “My kinsman wears one very like it.”

“You wanna expand on that?”

Miri heard rapid steps in the hall, saw a shadow at the open door and, that quick, Val Con had shifted, putting himself between her and a fast-moving, dark-haired woman, his empty hands held out, and her whole attention focusing instantly on his face.

She stopped, brows pulling together.

“The resemblance is not—”

“Some consider it marked,” Val Con interrupted. “But it was not the face that distressed the child, it was the Ring.”


“The sticks dealer.”

Her shoulders moved slightly. “Villy. Yes, he . . . has an attachment.”

Penn cleared his throat.

“Excuse me,” he said, when the newcomer turned her head to look at him. “You know each other?”

There was a small, charged silence.

“Indeed, no, we do not.” She turned back and bowed, sweet and solemn. Not a Liaden bow exactly, but it got the point across. “I ask that you forgive my lapse of manners, sir and lady. The report I received was . . . troubling in the extreme, and I fear that, in my haste, I overlooked proper behavior.” She bowed again. “Please allow me to welcome you to Surebleak.”

“Nothing to forgive,” Miri said. “And thanks for the welcome.” She stepped up to Val Con’s side and gave the woman a cordial nod. “Happens Penn and me go way back, and we’re introduced to Joey and Jeremy. Who’re you, exactly?”

She bowed again.

“I,” she said with a calm that sounded forced to Miri’s ear, “am called Natesa.”

Oh, she thought, Natesa. Also known as Inas Bhar. Also known as Juntavas Judge Natesa, gun-name Natesa the Assassin.

Pat Rin’s lifemate.

She inclined her head, catching Val Con’s intent half-breath before he spoke.

“I See you.”

Her coloring was a rich brown. It could’ve been that she paled. She did absolutely freeze, then swayed into a bow so smooth and deep a body might have doubted the moment of hesitation.

“Korval,” she said, and straightened.

“Boss Conrad was delayed at the far point of the road. I have instructions from him that the car is to proceed from the port with Boss Kalhoon representing the Surebleak Bosses. Boss Conrad will join the procession at Hamilton Street.” She paused. “Departure time approaches; the car awaits you at Portmaster Liu’s office.”

“We are, I believe, ready to leave very soon.” Val Con said, and looked to Miri. “Cha’trez?”

“I’m ready when you are,” she said. “We oughta make it right, first, since the kid’s so attached.”

“So we ought,” he agreed. “If Penn Kalhoon will grant us a moment’s grace before we assay the car?”

Penn glanced to Natesa, and got a nod.

“Take what you need,” he said.

“We will not be long. Natesa, of your kindness.”

“This way, please,” she said.

Miri slipped her hand into Val Con’s, gave Penn a grin and a nod, and the two of them followed Natesa out of the waiting room.

- - - - -

Villy sat in the chair Leeza had put him in, back in the office, staring at nothing in particular. Nobody had come to tell him what’d happened—why that man had the Boss’s ring. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Until he heard it, until somebody told him for sure—he could pretend that Boss Conrad wasn’t—that everything was all right, nobody’d gotten retired, or—

There was a step in the hall outside; the door opened.


Ms. Natesa. Villy ground his teeth together. Ms. Natesa’d tell him the truth, and suddenly he was very sure that the truth was the last thing he wanted to hear.

“Villy, here are some people you must meet. But first, I will tell you—the Boss has taken no injury.”

The world went kind of ragged at the edges, and Villy heard a roaring in his ears.

“I—” he began, then stopped, the words replaying in his head. He blinked, raised his head and looked into Ms. Natesa’s face. “He’s alive?”

She smiled and nodded. “I have only moments ago spoken to him myself.”

“But, the ring—”

“The ring,” said the soft voice of the man who had been with the red-haired woman—and there he was, just behind Ms. Natesa’s shoulder, and his partner, too. “The ring that Boss Conrad wears is a copy of this one, which is much older. You must, please, forgive me for having put you in such distress. I am Boss Conrad’s kinsman. My name is Val Con yos’Phelium.”

He put his hand out and pulled the red-haired woman forward. “This is my . . . you would say my wife, Miri Robertson, who grew up on what is now Boss Kalhoon’s territory. We—ourselves and our family—have signed a contract with the Bosses of Surebleak, to assist in holding open the Port Road.”

Villy blinked up at him, trying to understand it all, but only one thing seemed really important.

“There are two rings?”

“Precisely,” the man said gravely.

“And the Boss really ain’t been—Boss Conrad’s all right? Not hurt?”

Okay, two things.

“Boss Conrad is perfectly well, if a trifle annoyed at the moment,” Natesa said, touching his arm lightly.

A hundred years subtracted themselves from Villy’s age, and he took the first free breath he’d had in a hour.

“Thank you,” he said. He remembered then what the man had said, first off, and gave him a vigorous nod. “I forgive you,” he said.

Val Con yos’Phelium smiled gravely and inclined his head.

“Thank you, Villy. You do your boss great honor.”

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