|The Hunt Prologue: Loosing the Hounds
Author: Guede Mazaka
Lancelot wiggled around till he could hook his legs over the back of the sofa without having to let his head dangle down. He’d never enjoyed the sensation of lightheadedness that accompanied the rush of blood to the head, and avoided it whenever possible. Especially when that meant he could crowd Guinevere into a smaller space of the couch. “The Pendragons breed eerily true, don’t they?”
She used her book to whap his knee away from her ear. “Superficial resemblance. He’s one cold fish, that one. And there’s something odd going on beneath his skin.”
“That would be true to blood,” Lancelot snorted, folding his hands under his head. He arched his back into a sumptuous stretch that was completely wasted on his bookworm audience, then whooshed back down. Couldn’t help grinning at the faint lines of annoyance that appeared between Guinevere’s brows. “Arthur’s the black sheep of the family, remember? So this—what, third cousin?—actually sounds more in line with tradition.”
Genealogy always distracted Guinevere for a moment; she put down her book and pressed a finger to her lips. “Robert Parks and Arthur shared a great-grandfather. Their grand-fathers were brothers, and Arthur’s became Holder while Robert’s disappeared. There was something funny about that part of the family records…”
“Robert’s grandfather never showed any signs of having any power—Lancelot?”
If Lancelot were a generous fool, he would’ve been thankful Arthur had such quick reflexes. But since he wasn’t, he was rather annoyed; the other man’s grabbing his ankle did prevent him from startling off the sofa, but it also sent him into an undignified jumble, whereas he could’ve turned a complete fall into a graceful somersault.
And Guinevere was tittering. Glaring at her, Lancelot pulled his ankle free of Arthur’s hand and painfully pulled himself back onto the couch. “You were saying?”
There was a faint smile touching the corners of Arthur’s mouth as well, but he managed to keep a straight face. His hand ran along the back of the sofa till it found Lancelot’s, then followed Lancelot’s arm to bury fingers in Lancelot’s hair. “Parks’ grandfather never manifested. He disappeared into everyday society, and no effort was ever made to track him down.”
“Until now.” Smooth as butter, Guinevere dropped her book on the side-table and pressed up to lay her head against Arthur’s shoulder. “Why’d you bother finding him?”
“It was nearly mutual, actually.” Arthur chucked Lancelot under the chin, but quickly returned to petting before Lancelot recovered enough to hit him back. “Parks has something. Not much, and it hasn’t made itself apparent yet, but enough for London to take notice when he arrived in town. And it seems he’s jobless at the moment.”
The next time Arthur’s fingers came near, Lancelot nipped them as a warning. “And so we’re sending a man you barely know to New Moon? We reconciled with Sparrow a year ago, but still…”
“It’s an exchange of favors,” Guinevere interrupted, tone as snooty as a duchess. “Parks is still blood, and Sparrow gets to have that around. In return, he takes a problem off our hands and settles it in America where hopefully, it won’t cause too much trouble.”
“He,” Arthur corrected. He was staring thoughtfully over Lancelot’s head, eyes faded inward to some inner communion.
If Lancelot really wanted to, he could will himself into that and find out what was going on, but he preferred to let Arthur tell him. After all, there was a reason Holders existed, and it was much more comfortable not to take over Arthur’s duties.
“I don’t know…” the other man finally said, dipping to nuzzle both of them. “The family blood does throw out the occasional oddity.”
“Well, you didn’t turn out so badly.” A shrug and a twist put Lancelot in an excellent position to nibble at Arthur’s jaw, so he did. “Anyway, there shouldn’t be a problem till he gets to New Moon.”
* * *
Budd was walking casual, easy like a man who knew there was a beer waiting for him no matter when he showed up, but nevertheless Owain had to double-time it to keep up. And the other man was somehow packing a book’s worth of information into his slow drawl. “So Sparrow’s man shows in town and gets recognized. Somebody’s smart enough to get him talking before they bundle him into the water. Seems that our fine delta compadres are getting real friendly with the Brits.”
“No surprise there. Change of regime in London, plus that Brit Sparrow took to consort.” Owain’s bags were loaded down with gear and the supplies he’d been in the process of picking up when Budd brought him in. When the straps weren’t digging into the bone, they were threatening to slide off and take his arm with it, so he was ever so grateful when the two of them rounded the corner and stepped into the garage.
“That’s about what Gaspar thinks. So when he hears London’s sending a gift Sparrow’s way, he sends a nice boy to go pick it up.” To judge from Budd’s ambling, the final destination appeared to be the biggest, blackest, most beautiful car Owain had seen in a long, long time. In fact, it looked so good that Owain instinctively did a glance around to make sure he wasn’t mistaken.
No, he wasn’t: the rest of the garage was completely empty. His gut started to feel bad.
“Gaspar’ll be down in New Moon end of this week to renegotiate trade terms with Sparrow. He’s too busy arranging that, plus Sparrow’s got eyes everywhere. Which is where we—or more like you—step in.” Pulling up short by the car, Budd slapped one hand against the side and trailed it across the steel, which looked silk-smooth. Then he turned to give Owain a broad, complacent grin that made Owain’s belly feel even more curdled. “You’ve got four days to get down to New Moon and find yourself a nice hideyhole till Gaspar decides he needs to play that chip. So that’s an easy two-day drive, maybe three if you’ve got to detour, plus a day to enjoy the city.”
Owain was mostly nodding his head and letting his mind take care of absorbing the details while his eyes took a walk. He got the keys from Budd and opened the back side door so he could stow his gear there. Some of it could go into the trunk, so he left that out. Shut the door—after letting himself whistle silently at the leather interior—and walked around to pop the trunk.
For a moment, he just stared. Then his wits whacked back into him and he aboutfaced to give Budd a hard stare. “You never mentioned people. I didn’t sign on for accessory to kidnapping.”
“Careful, cowboy,” Budd grinned, snake-oil slick. “It ain’t exactly in your favor to sound smart. Not in this part of the world.”
With an effort, Owain reined in his temper. No matter how much of a bastard Budd might be, he was a professional assassin. And he was the most amiable of the tightknit group the famous Bill hired out to crimelords like Gaspar. “I’m just saying—I move things. That don’t need to breathe and eat and shit.”
“You’re a quick one; you’ll learn.” Budd slapped Owain on the shoulder and wandered around to look down at the body. “Meet Robert Parks, offshoot of the Pendragons. I hear he’s something of a needler, but don’t mess him up too much.”
There just weren’t words enough. So Owain kept his opinion to himself.
Till Budd was out of hearing range, anyway. Then Owain snarled and stabbed his heel into the ground. “Fuck! Fucking goddamned fuck!”
“Welsh,” observed a cool, deep voice.
That spun Owain back around and nearly got Parks a bullet through the head. Not that the other man would’ve known, since by the time he finished jerking off his blindfold, Owain had hidden the gun and composed himself.
Robert Parks would be tall if he weren’t kneeling in a car trunk, and was broad-shouldered without being especially bulky about it. He had short dark hair, rather pretty green eyes, and an utterly bored expression, cuffed hands and bruised temple notwithstanding. His suit was conservative black, his shirt white, untucked and missing buttons and tie so his collar gaped open. “Though you’ve been here for a while.”
“And you sound like you’ve been living with a silver spoon rammed up your ass,” Owain muttered. He thought about the size of the backseat, the size of the trunk, and the size of the other man. Then he gritted his teeth and grabbed Robert’s cuffed hands, using that grip to lever Robert out. Whereupon he found that Robert’s ankles were also manacled.
At least Budd was helpful to that extent. Searching the keyring turned up the tiny ones to the cuffs just in time for Owain’s senses to twitch. He braced himself against the lunge and then pulled, using Robert’s momentum to send the other man crashing into a pillar.
The impact was mostly shoulders and sides, so it would’ve stunned more than done any real injury. And Robert certainly recovered fast; after a shocked moment, he arranged himself in a sitting position and refocused a dissecting gaze on Owain.
Well, Owain had better things to do that get into staring contests. Satisfied that the other man wasn’t moving for a bit, he started loading his things into the trunk. “That was stupid.”
“It was worth a try.” Robert shrugged and brushed himself off as best he could, given his limited mobility. “I’d rather not go to New Moon as Gaspar’s guest, whoever he is. His hospitality leaves something to be desired.”
And great, he did have a mouth on him. Owain shoved the last bag into the trunk, noted the single piece of luggage that had to be Robert’s vetted belongings, and turned around. “Look, maybe you got to play lord of the manor back home, but this isn’t your city.”
Something in that struck Robert as funny, though he restrained his amusement to only showing in his eyes. “My former profession—the only one I ever learned was how to attend to a gentleman’s needs. A personal valet, if you know what that is.”
“Does that include learning to be a bastard to someone that doesn’t mind hitting you?” This was going to be a grand trip, Owain savagely thought. And Budd should watch his damned back, because Bill’s power only went so far. “You’re a Pendragon. Don’t kid me.”
“I and my…cousin only found that out a few weeks ago. And I’m here and not in London. Which should tell you something about how important I am.” Very slowly, Robert straightened out his back. After a bit of thinking, Owain realized the other man was trying to assess the bruising without wincing in front of Owain. “I did mention that to the other men, but I’ve seen canaries with more brains.”
And…all right, that was true and funny, and Owain did smile at that. But that didn’t make him any better-disposed towards the other man. “You’re talking to the wrong person if you’re trying to talk yourself free.”
“Oh, yes. You only move things.” The biting tone in Robert’s voice was faint, but definitely there. And very, very deliberate, same as how he eyed Owain.
So when Owain yanked the other man up and into the front passenger seat, he didn’t feel any guilt whatsoever about banging knees and elbows. That at least elicited a few curses from Robert, which proved he wasn’t solid ice.
After testing its strength, Owain decided the inside door handle would do. He ground both of Robert’s wrists against the seat, then unlocked the cuffs just long enough to thread the chain around the handle. Then he recuffed the other man, closed the door, and walked around to the driver’s side.
Full tank of gas. And Owain had had a good afternoon nap and a decent dinner, so they might as well get started now. The sooner it was over, the better. “So, a few rules. No matter you heard Budd say, I will fuck you up if I have to. Don’t fight. Don’t attract attention. Actually—be sensible, and it might not be a bad two days.”
Then he twisted the key in the ignition, so whatever curt reply Robert made was completely drowned out. With a purring roar, the car glided out and turned beautifully into the deserted road. The stars were out, he was humming something low and jungle, and Robert had apparently decided to catch up on his sleep. Owain waited a good ten minutes till he was sure the other man was out, then slumped in his seat and sighed. Raked a hand through his hair, catching it on the curls, and wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into.