Font Size:  

Oh, you fussy baby.

"Not at all," Curran said. "I have no plans to pummel anyone this morning."

Shawn stepped into the room, bringing a platter with a pitcher of water, a decanter filled with amber-colored scotch, and three glasses. Curran took it from his hands and set it on the table. "Thank you."

Shawn left, and Curran poured water into two of the glasses and scotch into the third. "There is no reason we can't all be civil."

His tone was light, his face relaxed and friendly. The Beast Lord was in rare form. We really needed the ship.

Saiman sipped the amber liquid and held it in his mouth for a long moment. "So. You refuse my money, you serve me thirty-year-old Highland Park scotch, and we've been in the same room for approximately five minutes, yet none of my bones are broken. This leads me to believe that your back is against the wall and you desperately need me for something. I'm dying to know what that is."

In his place I'd be careful with my choice of words.

"I have a business proposal for you," Curran said. "I'd like to hire one of your shipping vessels to transport the two of us and ten of my people. We will pay you a reasonable rate."

"My reasonable or yours?" Saiman studied his drink.

"Ours. In turn, you will no longer owe the Pack and we will make your life less inconvenient. For example, we'll stop blocking your real estate purchases."

"You've been blocking his purchases?" I looked at Curran.

"Not me personally."

"The Pack and its many proxies." Saiman drained his glass and poured himself more. "If I choose to move on a project, the Pack will inevitably bid against me, drive up the price, and then abandon the bid, leaving me holding the purse strings. It's been most inconvenient."

I bet.

"You've always struck me as a man who enjoys attention," Curran said.

"That was completely unfair." Saiman pointed his index finger at him while still holding the glass. "Let's cut to the chase. I know that a delegation of shapeshifters disembarked in Charleston, I know that Desandra Kral, formerly of the Obluda pack, is having twins, and I know that you have been invited to act as her bodyguard and mediator of the inheritance dispute and that you will be paid in panacea to do so."

Saiman in a nutshell. I had no idea how he knew all of this, but he did.

"You need a ship. This vessel will have to be oceanworthy, will need an experienced crew, and will require cabin space for at least fifteen people. What's the destination?"

"Gagra on the northern coast of the Republic of Georgia."

Saiman blinked. "You mean the Black Sea? Do you really want to go to the Black Sea?"

"Yes," Curran said.

I nodded. "We do."

Saying things like We think this is a trap and We would rather cut off our left foot than go would endanger our ship acquisition and our badass image.

Saiman poured himself more scotch. "I can't help but point out that the three packs involved could've found someone in the immediate vicinity to act as a neutral fourth party."

"Your opinion is noted," Curran said.

"Have you ever tried to reverse engineer the panacea?" I asked.

"Yes, as a matter of fact I have," Saiman said. "I can give you the exact list of ingredients and quantities. The secret isn't in the chemical composition; it's in the process of preparation, which I'm unable to replicate. To put it plainly, they cook it with magic and I don't know the specifics. I'm also reasonably certain that the panacea is manufactured by a single entity or organization and then distributed throughout Europe."

"Why?" I asked.

"It's a well-known secret that five years ago your partner offered three hundred thousand dollars and Pack protection to anyone willing to sell him the recipe and demonstrate its preparation. If the panacea were manufactured by each pack individually, someone would've been desperate enough to take him up on his offer."

Curran grimaced. "It's five hundred thousand now."

"Still no takers?" Saiman arched his eyebrow.


Saiman swirled the whiskey in his glass. "Suppose I provide a vessel. Crossing the Atlantic is a dangerous venture. Between the hurricanes, the pirates, and the sea monsters, there is a very real possibility that your ship will sink and not at all in a metaphorical sense. I've been in shipping for over a decade and I still lose two to four ships per year. If you were to meet your untimely demise, your thugs would blame me."

"Most likely," Curran said.

"If you die-through no fault of my own, of course-the probability of my survival drops rather drastically. I'm expected to risk my ship, my crew, and my finances for some tenuous promise of possible goodwill. I'm looking for the silver lining and not finding any."

"You risk your ship, crew, and money, while we will be risking our lives," Curran said. "And since we're on the subject, I guarantee that if another vessel from your fleet pulls up next to out ship in the middle of the night and its crew attempts to murder us and scuttle our vessel to hide the evidence, you won't survive."

Saiman leaned back and laughed.

"What do you want?" I asked him.

"Friend of the Pack status," Saiman said. "Granted prior to departure."

Friend of the Pack would make him an ally. It guaranteed that shapeshifters would stay out of his business and protect him if one of them observed Saiman in imminent danger. It would also grant him the ability to visit the shapeshifter offices without being immediately detained.

"No," Curran said. "I won't give you that much access."

"Not only that, but if you become Friend of the Pack and then sink your ship with us on board, the shapeshifters can't come after you," I said.

"Do you really think I would drown you, Kate?"

"In a heartbeat," I told him. "You still owe me, Saiman."

"And I'm trying to work with you, but you must meet me halfway."

"No," I said. "You won't be getting Friend of the Pack status until we return."

Saiman smiled. "Then we're at an impasse."

We looked at each other.

"What if I come with you?"

"What?" I must've misheard.

"I'll join you on your wonderful adventure, Kate. That way, if our vessel does sink, I cannot be blamed, because I was on board."

"Why would you be doing this?" Curran asked.

"I'm overdue for a trip to the Mediterranean. I have business interests there."