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"Show some respect," Mahon said. "She is the heir to Ice Fury."

George arched her eyebrows at him. "Really, Dad?"

On the pier, Curran reached the procession. The woman in blue bowed. Lorelei stepped forward, her arms raised for a hug, then stopped abruptly, as if catching herself, and also bowed. Curran said something. She smiled again.

I touched Slayer's hilt just to make sure it was there.

"Diplomatic, Kate," Barabas suggested quietly. "Diplomatic."

I leaned close to him. "Find out who invited her, what are her attachments, and if she has strings, who is pulling."

He nodded.

I went down the gangplank. The rough concrete was dry under my feet. I managed a slow, deliberate march and the pier seemed to last forever. Did it need to be this long? Were they going to park a carrier here?

I finally got within hearing range.

"You grew up," Curran was saying.

"It's been ten years." Lorelei's voice had a light trace of an accent. Not quite French, not quite Italian. "I just turned twenty-one."

I closed in on them. Lorelei had striking eyes, large and pale blue, framed in dense eyelashes. High cheekbones, softened by smooth skin and just a touch of roundness that came from being young; a narrow, petite nose, a full pink mouth. Her hair, a rich brown, fell down her shoulders in relaxed waves. She radiated youth, beauty, and health. She looked . . . fresh. I was only five years older than her, but standing next to her, I suddenly felt old.

Curran was looking at her. Not in the same way he looked at me, but he was looking. An odd feeling flared in me, hot and angry, prickling my throat from the inside with hot sharp needles, and I realized it was jealousy. I guess there was a first time for everything.

"Have you seen my father?" Lorelei asked. "How is he?"

"I saw him last year," Curran said. "He's the same as always: tough and ornery."

I came to stand next to him.

Lorelei raised her eyebrows. Her eyes widened, and a sheen of pale green rolled over her irises. "You must be the human Consort."

Yes, that's me, the human invalid. "My name is Kate."

"Kate," she repeated, as if tasting the word. "It is an honor to meet you."

Curran was smiling at her, that handsome hot smile that usually made my day better. Pushing Lorelei into the ocean wouldn't be diplomatic, even if I really wanted to do it. "Likewise."

"I've heard so much about you. But where are my manners? You must be hungry and tired."

The woman in blue stepped forward, moving with a shapeshifter's grace. Her eyes flashed green, catching the light from the ship. So these were the local werejackals Barabas had mentioned. Her eyes told me she'd been there and done that, and got a bloody T-shirt for her trouble.

The woman in blue bowed. "My name is Hibla. I'm here to be your guide." She indicated the men next to her. "We are Djigits of Gagra."

I had read up on Abkhazia. "Djigit" meant a skilled rider or a fierce warrior. The djigits looked back at me, the light of the evening sun catching their eyes. Yep, everyone was a shapeshifter except for me.

"We will escort you to your quarters when you are ready," Hibla said.

Curran waved at the ship. Our small pack began its descent down to the pier. A few moments and they stood behind us.

Lorelei bowed to Mahon. "Greetings to the Kodiak of Atlanta."

Mahon grinned into his beard. "What happened? Last time I saw you, you were this big." He held out his arm at his waist level.

Lorelei smiled. "I wasn't that short."

Mahon chuckled.

Aunt B was next, smiling so bright, I needed shades. Her voice was sweet enough to spread on toast. "So you are Mike Wilson's daughter. He must be so proud. What a beautiful girl you are."

"Thank you." Lorelei almost glowed.

Oh, you naive thing. When a bouda smiles at you, that's not a good sign. Especially that particular bouda.

"On behalf of Gagra, I'm here to extend the hospitality of my beautiful city to you," Hibla said. "Gagra welcomes you with all of its warmth, its lakes and waterfalls, its beaches and orchards. But be forewarned, if you come here with violent intentions, we will leave your corpses for the crows. We have no problem murdering every single one of you."

"Awesome speech," Keira told her. Jim's sister was smiling, and it didn't look friendly.

"Thank you. I worked hard on it. Please, follow me."

We trailed her down the pier and onto the road paved with stone. Hibla kept a brisk pace, reciting in a throaty, lightly accented voice. "Welcome to Abkhazia. The city of Gagra is the warmest place on the Black Sea. We have a wonderful microclimate with warm winters and pleasant summers. You will find the most exquisite landmarks here."

It was like she was reading an invisible travel guide.

Curran was looking at Lorelei as we walked.

"We grow a variety of fruit: peaches, persimmons, apricots, pomegranates, tangerines, lemons, and grapes. Our region is famous for its wines."

That's nice. Maybe I could find a wine bottle hard enough to hit Curran over the head and knock some sense into him.

"What pack do you serve?" Barabas asked.

"The Djigits of Gagra are not affiliated with any of our guests. Our allegiance is to the local pack and to the lord of the castle."

It was as if I had stepped into a different world. Across the ocean there were crumbling skyscrapers. Here there were castles and lords. Well, technically the Keep was kind of a castle and people did call Curran lord, but at home shapeshifters said it with simple efficiency, the way one would say sir. Here it was said with a solemn reverence.

"Is the lord of the castle a shapeshifter?" Curran asked.

"No, he's a human," Lorelei said.

"Lord Megobari is a friend," Hibla said. "Our economy was always driven by tourism. After the Shift, the region collapsed. We had been battered by natural disasters and war. Our city and our lives were in ruins. The Megobari family helped us. They built hospitals, they restored our roads, and they brought business to us. They don't ask anything in return except for our protection, which is freely and gladly given."

Okay. The Megobari family were clearly saints, and the local jackal pack would die to keep them breathing. Considering how the men glared at us, we had to make sure not to offend the host, because these djigit shapeshifters took their duties deadly seriously.

We all followed Hibla through the town. The feylanterns in Gagra glowed pale lavender, turning the solid stone of the buildings into a faint mirage. Magic flowed down the narrow, curving roads. Neat little streets, some cobbled, some still bearing crumbling pavement, ran along the side of the mountain, all sloping up, bordered by houses of all shapes and sizes. Persian, Greek, and modern architecture collided, like wakes from three different ships.