Tempt the Stars
would have liquefied in relief, if it hadn’t been busy being pulled out of my body.
It had to be Jonas; one of Tony’s guys would have ripped me in two by now. Not that it didn’t feel like he was trying. And worst of all, he was making it hard to concentrate on what the vamps were saying.
And I wanted to hear this.
“How many gifts,” Marlowe asked, over the sound of grinding rock, “have you given through the years? How many visits have you made?”
“Not enough, apparently.” The tone was dry. “We remain as estranged from the seat of power as ever. If the consul would give up a bit of that stiff-necked pride and pay a visit herself, it might do more than any gift—”
“Do not take me for a fool, Mircea!” Marlowe said, striding forward and bending down, slapping his hands on both arms of Mircea’s chair. “I’ve known you too long! You’re the best ambassador among the senates. No one is questioning that. But you didn’t go in your senate capacity, did you? You went alone, quietly, with no retinue and with no mention in the senate records. You went for
, not for us, and I want to know—”
“And what I want,” Mircea said, his voice suddenly going flat, “is to know how you manage to run your department when all of your efforts appear to be occupied following me.”
“What do you expect?” Marlowe demanded, but he backed off slightly. “You’re her most powerful servant. Of course she is concerned at the thought of you allying yourself with a possible Pythia. It’s the sort of move that could put you in an inviolable position.” He hesitated, and then came out with it. “It’s the sort of move that could allow you to make a bid to replace her.”
“I have no such ambition,” Mircea said, more evenly.
“And if you did?” Marlowe asked pointedly. “What would you say then?”
“If you have already made up your mind to doubt me, why ask?”
“To give you a chance to explain.”
“Which I have done. You simply refuse to accept anything I say.”
“Because it doesn’t make sense! Do you really expect—”
I lost the thread of conversation again, because the stone around me suddenly heated up, and not like a rock on a sunny day. More like lava. Jonas gave a tremendous, wrenching jerk, and it felt almost like the bricks liquefied for a split second—
And then suddenly hardened again, leaving me trapped worse than before.
Way worse. Now my head and shoulders were sticking out, but my hands were stuck by my head like I’d been thrown into the stocks, and my chest was compressed to the point that it was hard to breathe. The stones went back to their former grind a second later, louder than ever, being right in my ear. And allowed me to catch a breath only when the ones directly underneath my chest turned just so.
Which they did about half as much as I needed.
“Urk,” I said, staring desperately at the sliver of Marlowe I could still see through the screen.
Hurry up, I thought, but not at Jonas. I could breathe, sort of. I was okay. I was going to be okay. Probably. And I wanted to hear—
“—control what you believe,” Mircea was saying. “I see many important people, including the leaders of other senates—”
Pythia,” Marlowe said doggedly. “Before she was even crowned, in one case, receives a visit, and not in an official capacity—”
“Official visits are cold and formal. I do my best work in a more relaxed setting. I cannot charm anyone on behalf of the consul if I do not even know them.”
“And yet these visits do not appear to be working,” Marlowe pointed out.
“Do not appear to be working yet,” Mircea said, finishing his drink. “Every Pythia is different—”
“Including the one you visited before joining the senate?”
Unlike Marlowe’s other comments, it was said mildly, almost diffidently, a rapier strike instead of a bludgeon. And unlike the others, it landed. Mircea’s eyes flashed amber, bright enough to rival the lightning outside, and Marlowe took a quick step back.
“You have been busy,” Mircea hissed.
Marlowe blinked at him, as if he wasn’t used to hearing that tone, either. But he recovered fast. “You have to admit, it looks suspicious—”
“It would not have, had you not gone looking for it!”
“It’s my job to look for it. And I have a credible witness who saw you—”
“Paying a legitimate visit in broad daylight! Else you would have had no witness to worry
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