| Theory Prologue: School of Hard Knocks
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Because you’re a sloppy bastard that doesn’t know his subpoena from his snatch!” Running and pivoting that fast on three-inch heels wasn’t precisely a good idea, but Guinevere was damned if she was letting him out the door. She got in just before him and flipped about to slam the door closed with her hip. Then she tilted her face up towards his irked one and smiled. “Lancelot. Just admit it. You can’t possibly handle this one yourself.”
He started to answer, but cut himself off. Instead, he rocked back on his heels so he could rest his elbows against the door, on either side of her head. “Oh. Really,” he murmured, voice dropping to a hissing threat. “Well, you’re a cunt that doesn’t seem to realize when her throat’s not large enough. You’re supposed to leave some room for swallowing.”
“You prick.” Fuck professionalism—they were in her office, the walls were soundproofed, and he had just crossed the line. Throwing crude insults at her only made him look immature, but implying that she didn’t know what she was doing? That was an entirely different matter.
Her hand swung around and just touched his cheek when fingers slammed around her wrist, stopping it dead in the air. As slender and lightweight as Lancelot appeared, he certainly wasn’t lacking in the area of physical strength. Which made it all the more likely that he was lacking in the area of mental capability.
She snarled and yanked at her hand, trying to draw his attention there while she brought up her knee. But Lancelot deflected her leg with a quick shove and then pinned them both against the door, too close for her to strike. But not too close for her to lunge at his mouth and sink her teeth in his lip.
He gargled a ‘bitch!’ and stumbled back, dragging her with him; Guinevere’s stiletto heel finally wrenched and she lost her balance. Of course, she wasn’t going to fall without taking him as well. One arm around his neck, one around his waist and he was locked to her. That did mean their tongues were more or less forced into each others’ mouths, but sacrifices had to be made.
“Ow! Shit, Guin—the suit’s fucking Italian!” Lancelot whined, sucking on her bottom lip. His hand had swept up beneath her skirt and was expressing his annoyance with quick, rough finger twists that had her underwear out of the way and her body rocking into his palm within a few seconds.
“So get it out of the way, idiot.” And just so he couldn’t call her on hypocrisy, she whipped off her own expensive jacket and had her blouse untucked so he could nuzzle into the neckline without straining the fabric. His teeth dipped low enough to graze a nipple, and even though it was through her bra, her spine shivered her whole body.
Grumbling some more, Lancelot worked off his jacket and tie while Guinevere attended to his trousers. Though that certainly wasn’t out of any desire to help him, and so she didn’t wait for him to free his arms before she shoved herself down on his cock.
“God—” Lancelot fell back on his elbows, which were forced into strange angles by the coat still sheathing them, and stared up at her with fuzzed eyes. It was the only time she ever could understand why people—women particularly—applied the word ‘adorable’ to him.
Her underwear was rucked up around one thigh and the elastic was digging painfully into her skin, but that was a small thing compared to the harsh, electric stretch-snap-stretch of adjusting to the sudden fullness inside. She looked up at the ceiling to hide her moment of weakness and concentrated on breathing from her gut.
Palms slid up and down her thighs, and then curved to abruptly yank her over and down. Grin firmly in place, Lancelot used their momentum to power his first thrust. “Red’s a nice color on you. Better than that disgusting brown thing you wore when you almost fucked up the Ghiradelli case.”
“I didn’t ‘almost fuck’ that one up—now, what you did with the Davies case was fucking up. The housekeeper? Please.” Guinevere lashed out, caught a few of his curls and yanked down his head to gnaw that fucking smile off his face. Her legs snapped around him and squeezed till it was she who was directing the pace, and he that was panting to keep up. Snot-nosed bastard--
Five minutes later, she was carefully swiping between her legs with a tissue while, with an equal degree of care, Lancelot tucked his shirt back into his pants. His fingers smoothed precise folds into the fabric before he swung on his coat and shook out the wrinkles in it.
“It’s so funny watching you primp,” Guinevere snorted. She dropped the soaked tissue in an ashtray, lighted it off the same match she used on her cigarette, and watched it burn while she straightened out her underwear and bra. Her blouse had a few large wrinkles that wouldn’t go away, so she folded those back to where her coat jacket would cover them.
“And it’s funny how when you do it, it’s maintaining a professional appearance, but when I do, it’s girly primping.” Confidence dented not in the least, Lancelot swiveled to check his hair in a wall mirror. He frowned, studying the problem, and then mussed it from a telling tangle to a stylish tousle. “Look, Guin—I’ve got more experience than you when it comes to ex-paramilitary.”
The scorch of nicotine down her lungs helped keep her temper in check. “And you have shit experience when it comes to the antiquities black market. You were working drugs up till two months ago.”
“Drugs, Degas—they can’t be that different. Buyer and seller, transportation the trickiest part…whereas ex-military’s not anything like the con-men you’re used to.” Lancelot did up his tie and spent far too long centering it.
After a count of five, Guinevere elbowed him aside so she could fix her own hair. The bun was completely wrecked and she didn’t have time to redo it, so she simply pulled out the whole thing and finger-curled some of the waves to properly frame her face. “Don’t be a jackass. Oh, I forget—you were born one, so you can’t help it.”
“I don’t know why I even bother having sex with you,” Lancelot retorted, spinning on his heel and heading for the door. “It damn well doesn’t improve your temper any.”
His footsteps came to an abrupt stop. The skin on the back of Guinevere’s neck suddenly prickled; she checked the mirror’s reflection and then stifled a groan as she turned.
Pellew looked disapproving. If she could ever figure out how that man managed to radiate a wilting aura of censure, then she’d be set for running an Interpol regional office. As it was, Guinevere was having a hard time resisting the urge to pout and hang her head.
“I see neither of you received the memo I tucked into the casefile,” he said. A file flipped into view and then began rapping a no-nonsense rhythm against the doorframe. “You both received the case because you’re working together on it. Not competing. Understand?”
There was only one possible response to that. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Some of the storminess in Pellew’s face lifted. “I believe you’ll complement each other very well. Good hunting to you.”
And the way he said that made it clear he wanted his belief to become fact, and one had to be much more stupid than Guinevere—or Lancelot, she grudgingly admitted—to cross Pellew’s desires. Damn.
Lancelot shot her a commiserating look, momentarily cooperating. Then he produced his car keys from his pocket.
“No. You are not driving, you careless maniac.” Guinevere flicked hers out and stalked through the door. First.
* * *
In actual fact, Lancelot hadn’t even read the casefile past the line where it’d listed all Interpol agents working on it. So he supposed he should be grateful that Guinevere had brought her copy to the car, but frankly, he didn’t feel like giving that bitch an inch she didn’t fuck out of him.
All right. That had been a highlight of the day…though sooner or later, they’d have to decide whether they could actually screw without having to argue up to it. The whole thing was not only not healthy, it was hell on the furniture in their apartment.
“Your turn to pay the electricity,” Guinevere said. She wasn’t reading his mind; they just always discussed personal finances while driving somewhere. It was about the only thing they could both speak calmly about, since concrete numbers made it harder to unfairly distribute responsibility, and neither of them wanted to crash another car.
Though she could’ve made that yellow light without risking a hair on her pretty head, Lancelot muttered to himself. He flipped through more of the file, scanning and committing details to memory. “Fine. You’re cooking this week. And—a college professor?”
“It’s the only specific name and number in the intercepted courier’s papers that could be deciphered. Codes says that maybe they’ll have more by the end of next week, but whichever idiots did the apprehending brought the courier down in a fucking puddle. So everything’s blurry and coded.” She hung a left and flipped off the enraged bicyclist she’d just cut off, but completely failed to grab the hole that had opened up right in front of them.
“I can read, Guin. And Christ, if you’re going to let those semis push you around…”
The look she shot him was venom incarnate, albeit in a form that was easy on the eyes. Lancelot attempted to remember why they were living together…right, because when they’d started, it had been saving them money and no one else had wanted to take the gorgeous Welsh girl. Well, now he knew why.
“Given the rates of your car insurance, I’m sure you know better than I do, Lance.” They shot forward into an off-road, and within seconds were zooming through past nondescript buildings marked with the Avalon College emblem. Guin flipped her hair out of her face and threw a smile at a cluster of gaping male students.
Rolling his eyes, Lancelot returned to skimming. Customs caught a courier coming through JFK carrying fifty thousand in uncut diamonds and an ugly little stone figurine that was apparently worth twice as much. Courier was also carrying contact info, enough of which was readable to show that the money earned was intended to fund a nasty little group of mercenaries currently reigning in the New York underworld. Local law enforcement supposedly could handle the mercenaries, but they couldn’t trace and cut off the hitmen’s source of funding, which was where Lancelot and Guin came in. But…a college professor?
“And Introduction to Philosophy, no less,” Guin observed once they were inside the lecture hall. The auditorium was predictably large and ill-lit, but not so much so that Lancelot couldn’t note the unusually large number of students. The overwhelming majority was women, all dressed to flaunt and wearing far too much make-up, but many of the males were also…
Guinevere was staring at one excruciatingly obvious type, who had his hand flapping like a fish out of water and his hipbones thrusting up from very tight, very ugly purple-leather pants. “You know, I don’t remember philosophy being so popular in my college…”
Lancelot shrugged and tried to make himself comfortable in his seat, which was of dubious sturdiness and was set too close to the row before him, so his knees were shoved into his chest. He belatedly regretted letting Guinevere have the aisle seat, and his regret only increased when he glanced at the fluttering-eyed girl sitting next to him. On second thought, maybe he should’ve just let Guin have this one.
Then the professor walked in. Maybe the lighting was bad, but it wasn’t bad enough to hide the obvious. “Good morning.”
“Hello, Professor Pendragon,” Guin purred, sliding down a little. Her tongue flicked over her lips, and she absently began rearranging her hair.
“Definitely not your type,” Lancelot muttered. When he did the same, he discovered that at the new angle, his view of the man’s arse was greatly improved. “An academic? Guin, you get bored just waiting for a file to upload. What he probably does for fun is pick out the typos in encyclopedias. I bet he’s a terrible dancer and he can’t hold his liquor, either. He’ll embarrass you at every office party.”
Today’s lecture was something about Descartes, but Lancelot was having trouble figuring out what because he kept getting distracted by the voice. Textbook-pronunciation and grammar combined with a rich huskiness. And a British accent, and it’d been forever since he’d heard one besides Pellew’s and his own.
“In that case, he’s not your type either.” Now Guin had a fingertip pressed to her lips, and she was starting to bite at it, much to the distraction of a male student sitting across the aisle. “He’s big enough to properly get you on your back.”
Lancelot sank his teeth into his lip and slouched lower, trying not to embarrass himself. She was going to pay for that. After they’d interviewed Professor Arthur Pendragon about his possible connections to—God, that was a nice arse.