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Margrit shot a compulsive look toward the west, as if the sun might have gone down and brought night to the city hours early. It hadnt, of course: it was white and hard in the sky above. She looked back to the empty rooftop, aware that a double take wouldnt prove that shed somehow missed two massive, stony gargoyles frozen in battle, but simply unable to comprehend what she saw.

Her body, less numbed than her mind, dialed the number Daisanid given her and lifted the phone to her ear. Silence preceded a burst of static, and then a connection went through, a mans cheerful voice saying, This is Bird One. Were coming in from the south. Turn around and youll be able to see us.

Margrit said, Abort, mechanically, intellect still not caught up with what she saw. The statues we were going to collect have already been removed. No sense in drawing attention here. Thanks for your time, guys.

Bird One aborting, the pilot said just as cheerfully. Maybe another time, maam. Margrit folded the phone closed, straining to hear the helicopters as they retreated, uncertain if she did, or if it was simply the roaring of her blood and too-hard beat of her heart. She wanted to burst into speed, as though a mad dash across the rooftop would somehow retrieve a pair of missing gargoyles.

Hank had been too angry at her reappearance and not guilty enough at taking the money to be responsible, she thought. She would confront him, but gut instinct said the building manager hadnt broken the gargoyles to pieces and dumped them. Gut instinct and a lack of dust or rubble, though those could be taken care of with a broom. But unless Daisani had double-crossed her, Margrit had no other explanation. Color rushed to her cheeks at the idea, her vision tunneling and expanding again. There was nothing she could do to the vampire if he had, but there were things he wanted she could withdraw from the table. It was better than nothing.

The rooftop doors knob nudged her hip, making her realize shed backed up without noticing. Margrit folded a hand around it, still staring blankly at the empty roof, then shook herself with deliberate violence and turned away. Whatever answers there were, they wouldnt be found by helpless inaction.

The building manager blanched so white Margrit had every confidence he hadnt been responsible for the gargoyles disappearance. She left him with his wad of cash and found a subway station, unwilling to wait on a taxi making its tedious way through traffic.

Her slow burn had lit to genuine, body-flushing anger by the time she reached Daisanis building. She didnt bother checking in, using her key card for the elevators with impunity, and stalked through what had been Vanessa Grays reception area to throw Daisanis private offices door open.

He wasnt there. A dry crack of laughter hurt Margrits throat as indignation deflated under the heavy weight of reality. Once in a while the world allowed itself to be set up for dramatic confrontations, but arbitrary disappointment was the more likely scenario at any given moment. She paused at Daisanis oversized desk to leave the envelope of cash on it, then stepped forward to lean against the plate-glass windows that overlooked the city. It looked serene from so far above, no hint that the lives taking place within it were chaotic and unpredictable.

The elevator in the front office dinged. Margrit straightened from the window, turning to find Daisani, looking as disheveled as shed ever seen him, at her side. Genuine concern wrinkled his forehead, and he offered a comforting hand. I came as quickly as I could.

Margrits eyebrows arched and a faint crease of humor warped the vampires mouth. I came as quickly as humanly possible, he amended. The pilot informed me theyd already been picked up. Who?

I dont know. I didnt know what else to tell him. They were just gone. I dont think it was the building manager. Margrit thinned her lips, eyeing Daisani. He caught the weight of accusation and rolled back onto his heels, giving her a brief, unexpected height advantage.

And now you suspect me. You promised me something I wanted in return for their safe rescue, Margrit. I rarely renege on scenarios which provide me with things I desire.

You know that bargains moot now. You didnt rescue them. Im not spilling secrets for noble attempts.

Pleasantry trickled out of Daisanis expression, leaving his dark eyes full of warning. Thats a dangerous choice. Are you sure you want to make it?

This is twice youve failed to come through, Eliseo. Hell, right now Im wondering why exactly it is I should come work for you. I promised I would in exchange for you keeping Malik alive. Hes dead. An image of flames burned Margrits eyes and she blinked it away as Daisanis countenance darkened. Sharp awareness that she should be afraid brightened Margrits focus, but no alarm triggered. Whether the vampires too-fast, alien nature had ceased to be a source of alarm, or if fatalism simply outweighed nerves, seemed irrelevant.

Youve become dangerously bold, Miss Knight.

I always have been. Ive just gotten to where Im not afraid of laying it out with your people, as well as mine. Oh, dont give me that look. She snapped away Daisanis expression of faint dismay. I wouldnt be any use to you if I was terrified. Vanessa couldnt have been.

Vanessa and I, Daisani said after a measured moment, had a very different relationship than you and I do. And terror has its uses.

So does boldness. If you didnt take them, who did? Margrit put the argument aside firmly, confident shed won.

Daisani gave her a long, hard look, speaking volumes about the game she played before he, too, set it aside. Even if he knew about their predicament, Janx no longer has the resources to move two gargoyles. Besides, he hasnt been seen in days. Its possible hes left the city.

Do you really think hed give up his territory that easily? The House of Cards had burned, selkies and djinn moving into the vacuum left by its fall. Janx had retreated underground to lick wounds both literal and figurative, but Margrit doubted hed readily walk away from the criminal empire hed created. Theres still a lot of upheaval going on at the docks. Cops have been down there nonstop since the raid and theyre still not keeping all the violence in check. The opportunity to take it all back is there for a strong enough leader.

Ah, yes, the docks. Speaking of which, hows your friend Detective Pulcella? Ive seen him on the news several nights a week since the House was raided. Hes a good-looking young man, isnt he?

Margrits hands curled into fists. Yes, he is. I havent really talked to him since the raid. Tony Pulcella was a homicide detective, though the bust that had given prosecutors Janxs financial books had put Tony on a fast track to promotion and a wider range of responsibilities. The clincher was Janxs arrest, and hed been working long hours toward that end, as evidenced by innumerable news-camera glimpses of him day and night. He was well outside his jurisdiction, but homicides linked to Janx cropped up all over the city, and Tony had long since been part of the team trying to bring the crimelord in. His determination to do so had helped tear apart his relationship with Margrit, and ironically, she was now far more deeply entangled in Janxs world than her ex-lover could ever have imagined.

Quite the proper hero, Daisani went on blithely. A pity for him that he cant see whats really going on.

How could he? Bitterness laced Margrits question. Youd kill him if he found out about you.

Newscasts didnt show the way the Old Races moved, too fluid and graceful, marking them as creatures unfettered by the bounds that held humanity in check. Margrit had learned, though, to look for other signs on the news: djinn with their jewel-bright gazes, selkies with their tremendously dark eyes, all pupil and blackness. The two races had forged a treaty to support each other, making natural enemies into one tremendous force, their numbers vastly greater than any others of the Old Races. The selkies had long since bred with humans to replenish their failing numbers, breaking one of the few dearly held laws that all five remaining races had in common. The insular, desert-bound djinn had supported the selkie petition to return to full standing amongst the Old Races in exchange for selkie help in taking over and running Janxs underworld empire.

Neither party appeared to be happy with the arrangement now that it was met. Clashes on the street had the feel and damage of gang warfare, leaving police bewildered when weapons were found abandoned at the waters edge, blood on the ground and no sign of embattled people in sight. One journalist was dead, his camera destroyed. Margrit had little doubt hed captured a selkie or djinn transforming, and paid the price for it.

Janx had run the House of Cards with an iron hand, unapologetic in his activities but keeping a sort of peace with his tactics. That was lost, leaving opportunistic humans with knowledge of how to control a troublesome empire to face two Old Races with ambition and a slippery pact just strong enough to unite them against outsiders. Even hyperbolic newscasters, always eager for a bad-news story, were becoming reluctant to dwell on the troubles at the docks and warehouses, as if ignoring them would make them disappear. But the city was suffering, and that was news, not sensationalized or dramatized. Goods were coming in and shipping out more slowly than they should; dockworkers were striking for fear of their lives and police were under verbal attack for failing to protect citizens and materials alike. That they were up against an enemy they literally couldnt comprehend didnt matter.

It was the worst scenario Margrit could have imagined springing from her attempt to make the Old Races reconsider their archaic laws and move into humanitys modern world, the consequence of her arrogant belief that her way was the right one. I wonder if talking to them would help, she said aloud, thoughts too far from the conversation shed been holding to follow through on it.

Daisani canted his head in curiosity. The police?

The selkies. The djinn. Somebodys got to do something to stop their fight, and Tonys not going to be able to do it. I set this ball rolling. Maybe I can

Negotiate a cease-fire?

Yeah, something like that. Margrit lifted a hand to her hair, ready to pull her ponytail out so she could scruff her fingers through it, and discovered she wore corkscrew curls in a tightly twisted knot. Stymied, she dropped her hand again and caught Daisanis amused smirk. I know, she muttered. Its a tell. Remind me not to play poker with you.

I very much doubt youd allow yourself such obvious divulgences in a poker game, Margrit. No more than you would in court. Were all allowed our little slipups in day-to-day life, however.

Even you?

Daisanis eyes lidded. Rarely, but once in a while even I have a lapse in judgment.

Yeah. Amusement quirked Margrits mouth. Ill tell my mother hello next time I talk to her.

Surprise shot over Daisanis face, ending in a rare laugh. Oh, well done. You see? I do have my tells. Do say hello, and I gather from that remark youre dismissing yourself. What will you do?

Margrit spread her hands. Find the gargoyles.

Her cell phone rang so promptly on Margrits departure that she turned back to eye Daisanis building suspiciously, as though the vampire might have waited until she was out the door to politely ask just how she expected to accomplish that. The building gave no sign of whether it was Daisani calling, and the phone, when she pulled it free of her purse, came up with a Legal Aid number. Wrist twisted up to check the time, she imagined another hour had been stripped from the notepad by her desk as she answered.

Margrit, this is Sam. The opening statements for the Davison trial have been moved up to this afternoon.

They were supposed to be Friday! Margrit overrode the receptionists apologies with her own. Sorry, its not your fault they moved it. Look, Jims prepared to take the case on alone. Ill come in as cocounselor, but this is his as of Monday anyway. She glanced at her watch again, promising shed be at the courthouse as soon as possible, then closed the phone with a snap and shot a second glare at the Daisani building.

The single best reason to work for the business mogul was that when Old Races complications cropped up in her life, she could at least explain the situation without causing impossible difficulties. Biting back a curse, she hailed a taxi and returned, with a growing degree of reluctance, to what she still thought of as her real life.

CHAPTER 3 | Hands of Flame | CHAPTER 5