“Lots of times. Whatever the Komizar didn’t want, we’d unload there. It’s huge, but nothing like the arena.”
I got down from my horse. “Here, let me help you.” I opened the gate while he drove his cart in and then I explained I had a visitor, a merchant from the jehendra who had a deal that seemed too good to be true. I was skeptical but still intrigued. It might give us the first inroads into trade with Venda, and she offered me a very good deal I at least had to investigate. “She claims that she runs the largest textile shop in the jehendra—”
Zane nodded. “I might know her. I always had some fabrics in my load. The Komizar liked to keep certain friends well dressed.”
“Good. I’d feel better if you’d eye her for me. Discreetly. Confirm she’s really who she says she is.”
I led him through the tunnel that ran to Darkcottage, saying that when I left she was walking in the gardens with Gunner and maybe she was still there. I watched him walk ahead of me on the cellar stairs, his steps heavy and confident, not the steps of a man who had anything to hide, his arms swinging as he walked. The detail I had ignored a hundred times was now all I could see—the mole on his wrist. When we reached the front drawing room, I opened the shutter and looked through the window. “There they are,” I said. “Over by the fountain.”
Her back was to us, but Gunner saw the signal of me opening the shutter and coaxed Kazi around to face us. The distance and reflection on the window would be enough to hide us from her view, but I was no longer watching Kazi. I only watched Zane. If he was really the one Kazi had seen, I doubted he could recognize her after all these years—but her mother was another matter, and I took a gamble that Kazi looked enough like her that she might spark some recognition.
He stared at Kazi, his head turning slightly to the side, as if he was confused. He studied her, and his expression went slack as though he were seeing a ghost. His mouth hung open, and he turned to me, his pupils pinpoints. He sensed a trick. “No, I don’t know her.”
But it was already too late. “You son of a bitch!” I grabbed him and slammed him up against the wall. Kazi had described him perfectly, right down to his onyx eyes. They were terrified no
w. He wanted me too, but couldn’t find me. The room around me spun, dark and furious. Zane pushed back, fighting against me, but I slammed him back again. “You filthy flesh trader!” I yelled and swung, my fist colliding with his jaw. He fell over a table, but jumped to his feet quickly, drawing a knife from his boot, but then he saw Mason, Titus, Drake, and Tiago enter the room. He dropped the knife, knowing it was useless. His eyes grew wide. Blood ran from his nose.
“I swear! I don’t know her!”
I shoved him toward Drake and Tiago. “I have to go meet Kazi. She’s waiting for me. When it’s clear, take him to the warehouse.”
Screams couldn’t be heard from there.
Zane would be answering our questions, if it took one fingernail—or fingertip—at a time.
Gunner was chatty. Not Gunner at all. He apologized for Jase being late and seemed distracted, like he didn’t want to be there. He fidgeted, then circled around to the other side of the fountain. I turned to face him.
“I think it’s clear that Jase isn’t coming,” I said. “I’ll talk to him later.”
“Give him five more minutes,” he answered, but just a short time later he left, saying he would go look for him.
It wasn’t that Jase and I didn’t have plenty to talk about, but it seemed strange that he’d want to speak out here in the gardens where raised voices would be easily heard. Smooth it over. With only hours to go, I knew Natiya’s advice was prudent, but Jase wasn’t an acquaintance like Gunner I could shrug off. Jase was—
I wasn’t sure what he was anymore.
I stared at the bubbling fountain.
Setting traps for the queen? An arsenal of weapons to dominate the other kingdoms? That wasn’t Jase. I still had a hard time reconciling it. Jase loved Hell’s Mouth. This was his whole world. His history. It was all he wanted. All he wanted to protect. But the evidence was plain. His lies, hiding fugitives, an enclave guarded by poisonous dogs, the weapons. Is that what those stacks of paper were? Plans for weapons? Formulas? And the workshops filled with supplies? I remembered the strange list of ingredients on Priya’s desk that Jase personally had to approve. Supplies for BI, not the Ballenger Inn but Captain Beaufort Illarion. What kind of weapons were they devising that could put all the kingdoms under their thumbs?
I looked around again. Where was he?
I dreaded speaking to him but found myself scanning the walkways between the houses, looking for a glimpse of his dark-blond hair, uncertain which direction he would come from. My anticipation grew and I finally turned away, frustration brimming inside. I was halfway through the long rose arbor when I heard footsteps. Running. I stopped and turned.
It was Jase.
He was at the end of the arbor. His steps slowed when he spotted me. He was breathless, as if he had run a long way. I didn’t move as he walked closer, bracing myself for whatever he had to say. His hair was unkempt, strands falling over his brow. He stopped in front of me and raked them back. His gaze flooded mine, washed into every corner of my mind.
The silence stretched, and I heard a chain that was no longer there, jingling. I felt Jase holding me in a river, keeping my head above the water. For what? The throb in my chest deepened. If he had been cruel back then, his lies now would hurt me less.
His voice was more than I could bear and I began to turn away, but he stopped me, gently turning me back to face him.
“Please, Kazi, hear me out. There’s so much we need to talk about. I’m sorry about losing my temper yesterday. I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through. My family’s made mistakes, I know, and I’m going to try to fix them, but right now something else needs to be said. I know you’ve never wanted to hear this, but after yesterday I have to say it…” He paused, swallowed, as if afraid. “I love you. I love you with every breath, with every thought that’s inside me. I’ve loved you from the first time I kissed you on that ledge. Even before that.”