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This story is rated 'spicy' and may contain racy or violent material. Click to read this content!
"Did you sleep with my brother?" Bai asked, not wanting to.Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite:
Ressa didn't attempt to deny it, only said simply, "Yes," and the floor seemed to fall away under Bai's feet.
He had never felt so confused and betrayed. Was Urti a dirty monitor and a blackmailer? Was Ressa a murderess? His world had ceased making sense; they couldn't both be telling the truth, and either story was madness. And somehow, worst of all, she'd slept with Rai. Of all the things that Urti had said, it had been the most unbelievable, and it was the one part she hadn't denied.
"It was ten, maybe fifteen, years ago," Ressa said quietly. "I was an apprentice with the Guild and he was a client. There was never anything more to it than that."
"You never told me." Bai clung to his glass, wishing it were big enough to drown in.
"What was I supposed to tell you?" Ressa asked sharply. "Should we chat about it over lunch, or will it be the topic of a Licensing Office meeting?"
"He should have told me," Bai said, feeling as sulky as a child.
"Do you discuss all of your brother's Carnal Guild hires with him? He didn't even know who I was until a few tendays ago, and by that point..." Ressa drew in a breath, nearly a sob. "I went by the old-fashioned version of my name, Resesa. He had no reason to think that Head of Files Ressa had anything to do with her."
"But you knew who he was," Bai insisted.
"There aren't that many blind men who could afford my services," Ressa said shortly. "Raivan, Rai - I figured it out pretty quickly."
Bai chewed over that like year-old meat jerky. "You didn't tell me," he repeated, feeling numb and stupid about the whole thing.
"It had nothing to do with you," Ressa said, sounding tired and beat down. "It has little enough to do with me, it was so long ago."
"What about the railcar drivers?" Bai asked, after an awkward silence.
That brought a spark of energy back to her. "Lies," she said fiercely. "I only knew Yeff, none of the others."
"Urti had a suspicion form..."
"Did you get it from him?"
Bai shook his head. He'd read it, reeling at the shock of it, but Urti had taken it back from him.
"Frass. I thought about it later, and wish I'd gotten the form number," Ressa said. She had her thoughtful look on, as if she were only puzzling over where to file a complicated form, or how to cross-reference an unusual license. "We could check that against the records and see if it was a number that was already in use. If it's a forgery, well, that's more information than we have now. Otherwise... maybe they've been blackmailing Taleffi. We were never close, but I didn't think she had any ill will towards me, to provide such a statement. And it's dangerous - I may not have any close friends at the guild anymore, but I know a few people who might remember me, and there's got to be a clerk we could find that would remember my forms. It's unusual to keep a license that long without using it - that will stick in someone's memory."
Bai nodded. "The form number might at least tell us how long this has been in motion," he agreed.
"I don't know how we'll get it from him now." A smile with no humor or warmth tilted the corners of Ressa's mouth. "Urti's not likely to offer any evidence into my hands at this point."
Bai frowned. "I have the authority to have the monitors search anyone's housing at any time. I don't even need an act of suspicion."
Ressa's smile vanished. "Is there a monitor you'd trust to take with you?"
"Yes." Urti had always been Bai's choice of a monitor of witness, but Bai knew a few others. Some of them hadn't gotten along well with Urti, he could pick among those. "I'll send one of them a card tomorrow. We'll get to the bottom of this."
"You... you believe me." If the house had not been silent, he never would have heard her whispered words.
Bai sighed. "I didn't want to believe either of you," he admitted. "But you've always been honest with me, even when it wasn't to your advantage. You could have lied about... sleeping with Rai." It still stung, saying it aloud, and Bai had to look away from her.
"He could have told you, if you'd asked," Ressa pointed out. "I might have known that lying wouldn't have done any good."
Bai smiled at his drink. "Like that," he said. "You didn't have to tell me that." He glanced over and saw that her eyes had filled with tears. Without meaning to, he reached out to her, and she flinched back.
"Don't touch me," she hissed, arms wrapped tight around her. She didn't meet his eyes.
If Urti had been there at that moment, Bai could cheerfully have earned the murder accusation the monitor had tried to pin on Ressa, and he would have strangled him with bare hands.
"Ressa," he started.
"I should go," she said firmly, wiping the tears from her face.
Bai let her go. They exchanged polite, ironic pleasantries as he walked her to the front door, and managed a parting so formal that the words seemed to clink together like fine crystal. When the door clicked shut behind her, Bai wandered back to the library in a daze and stared at nothing until he discovered he was still holding an untasted drink in his hand. Did he only believe her because he was so bewitched by her? He'd known Urti for years longer - why didn't that friendship trump unlicensed attraction to a beautiful woman?
When the bell announcing dinner rang, he downed the alcohol with one swallow, nearly coughing, but he'd come to a conclusion. He didn't trust Ressa because he loved her, he'd come to love her because he trusted her. Together, they would get to the bottom of this mess - even if they couldn't be together.
Jarl was in a black, black mood, and the report from his informant was not helping matters.
"... The blind brother said he ran into an old man at Alikara's party with young man reflexes, and they'll be looking for him. The license master said Urti vouched for him, but didn't sound so very convinced." Karii's speech was horrifically nasal and grating - the flat speech of someone who had lacked hearing at a key point in their life. That she passed as deaf, with the occasional help of wax earplugs, was a useful way to keep from drawing attention and getting her in positions to hear things, but it was irritating to Jarl's ears. He waved her silent.
He had underestimated the blind brother, and he'd underestimated the soft, spoiled license master. They'd figured out that Olarali was involved, and they'd identified him at Alikara's ball. And Urti, the fool, had overplayed his bounds and tried to dip into a little personal blackmail as part of his own vendetta. Bad enough that he was a clumsy criminal, but if he pointed back at Jarl... if he folded under the pressure that was going to be turned on him at this point...
Jarl curled his lips into a snarl and dismissed Karii with a gesture. It was time to clean up loose ends and cover the tracks that led back to him. The old man had been a useful disguise, but would be regretfully discarded now. The statements and false forms would have to be destroyed. And Urti himself? Jarl's hands flexed. The monitor was more trouble than he'd been worth.
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