It disgusted her to do so but Jura chose to return to the palace through the same sewage passages she’d used earlier in her escape. It was better that no one see her sneak back to her rooms and she silenced the guard’s questioning stare with narrowed eyes and a quick shake to her head. She was getting good at glaring. Must have been all her practice from her night out with Tylak. Her scowl deepened as she replayed the events of the evening. Once again, she’d been successful at screwing everything up. The palace had never captured a known Shadow Dancer before and she let one escape. No, she’d led him to his freedom. He’d been so smug. And why shouldn’t he be? He’d convinced the most powerful family in the Republic to do his bidding. Sandstorms but if he was here now Jura would strangle him with her whip. Well, she would try to in any case.
She was still lost in her dark thoughts so she didn’t notice the arm snake around the corner and grab her wrist before she was propelled into the strong arms of Markhim.
She immediately recognized his scent, sandalwood and leather, so she didn’t cry out and instead rested her head on his chest.
He wrinkled his nose. “You smell as though you–”
“I did.” Her face was buried in his chest so the words were muffled but Markhim let out a quick bark of laughter in reply.
“What are you doing down here?” She pushed away from him so she could stare up into his handsome face. Markhim had skin the color of espresso and warm brown eyes to match. His shiny black hair was ever in need of a hair cut and hung into his eyes giving him a rakish look. He grinned down at her and a familiar dimple appeared in his left cheek.
His eyes roved over her body and his smile deepened. “You’re filthy.”
She rolled her eyes and shoved his chest. “You would be too if you’d just crawled through the palace latrine.”
“How did it go?”
“Will you spare me the ‘I told you so’s’ if I tell you what the Prince of Shadows looks like?”
“No. You saw him? In the flesh?”
Jura nodded, trying to keep her face from appearing overly smug. There was at least one thing to be proud of. “I did. Very young, very creepy. He wore a mask made out of colored glass. And then he disappeared into thin air.”
Markhim whistled low between his perfect teeth. “And the slave? A man like that is dangerous. Barom said he just appeared beside him, holding the sputtering torch. We still can’t figure out how he got inside the palace.”
“I don’t want to talk about him.” Jura snorted in disgust and once again twisted her lips into a scowl. “The point is the Prince of Shadows says he will help me so long as I provide him with information on the Thirteen.”
Markhim nodded. “I figured it wouldn’t come free. Well at least that’s easily done.”
“Easy? Spying on a network of families who don’t trust anyone in a society where information is power? Yes, you’re right. And while I’m at it I might decide to join the Arena and slaughter a dragon.” She sighed. “I can’t do this. I’ll just have to find some other way to help my father. Maybe if I call a meeting of the Thirteen…”
“No, definitely not. Jura, I’m not even a member of the Thirteen and I know that’s a terrible idea. You said yourself, no one can be trusted. Besides, you don’t owe them anything. So what if you do a little spying and disclose some secrets. It’s not like they don’t deserve it.”
As always, his tone was bitter when discussing the Thirteen. It was part of the reason Jura had kept their relationship a secret from even Amira. Markhim thought Amira was vapid and selfish and Jura’s friendship with her had been the source of more than one ongoing argument between the two of them. Another reason Jura kept their relationship a secret was that Jura had yet to understand the boundaries of their relationship herself. Markhim was her friend but how could she show him that she wanted to be more than friends? Surely he thought of her as something more? She sighed. Markhim hated the Thirteen and she was a member of its First family. Flames, but her life was complicated.
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. In any case, I have to figure out something. I can’t explain my father’s disappearance for much longer. There has to be something I’ve missed. I found an entire history on the forging of the Tri-Alliance. I bet there are answers there.”
Markhim grinned. “That’s the Jura I love, confident that all of life’s questions can be found answered in a book.”
The heat rushed into her face and she looked down at her soiled slippers. He said love!
“…about your mother?”
“Hmm?” She snapped her attention back up to his face and tried to focus on what he said.
“I asked if you questioned the Shadow Dancer about your mother? You know, about the–”
“No, I didn’t. There wasn’t much time before he, well, disappeared. But I have a feeling I won’t be getting any information for free. I should get going. I’m exhausted and I still have some reading to do and tomorrow I have to try and be a spy and I don’t even know the first thing about getting people to talk.”
“Let me know how I can help. I’m here for you, whatever you need.” Markhim reached down and pushed a stray tendril of her hair back from her face. His hand lingered on her cheek and Jura leaned into it ever so slightly.
“Thank you. You have no idea what it means to me to be able to talk to someone about all of this. I just feel so alone.”
“You’re not. I’m with you.” He leaned forward and Jura closed her eyes. This was it, he was about to kiss her. She dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand to keep her hands from shaking.
“Flames, but you stink.”
The moment gone she smacked his chest and turned sharply on her heel. “That’s it. I’m going to take a bath, right now.”
“Thank the Everflame.”
She narrowed her eyes and tossed her braid over her shoulder. “I don’t have to take this. I’m going to my chambers.”
“Will I see you tomorrow?” His eyes danced and his grin was doing something to her insides.
“If you’re lucky.” She replied saucily.
His grin deepened. “If I’m lucky you’ll have bathed by then.”
“Go ride a dragon.” She stomped away and his laughter followed her down the stone hall.