Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X, #1)(10)

“Don’t f*cking waste my time. Did you think you could get away with that? You think you could just take advantage of my sister like that?”

The odds, it would seem, were not good.

Tell him she wasn’t that unwilling, Horatio suggested. Justin ignored him.

“There’s some mistake,” he told Paolo. “I’d never do anything to Blanca.”

“That’s not what she told Dora Ramirez,” growled Miguel.

Dora? And Ana? How many people had Blanca talked to? Justin at least hoped she’d been complimentary about that night.

He also wondered where the hell Cristobal’s security was. The outsides of his establishments were usually crawling with henchmen, and Justin speculated on whether the Jessup brothers had bribed them. He couldn’t imagine Cristobal would be happy about the untimely demise of his favorite houseguest…or would he? Cristobal would certainly get a lot of mileage out of the tragic tale. Justin could practically hear the big man already: He was like a brother to me….

Miguel took a few menacing steps forward, snarling like one of Cristobal’s badly trained dogs. He kind of smelled like one too. “I’m going to rip you apart!” he yelled.

I don’t think Blanca was worth it, Horatio told him. She wasn’t even that good.

Magnus’s comment was more enigmatic: Your Valkyrie.

Miguel’s advance was put on hold as the door opened and a woman stepped outside. Not just any woman. Her. The blonde from earlier. Everyone froze for the space of a heartbeat, and then, with impossible speed, she suddenly put herself between Justin and the Jessups, her stance protective and dangerous. A fighter’s stance. Huan’s words came back to him: She’s military, whoever she is. She made no other moves, but there was a tension in her that said she was a lioness that could strike at any moment.

You know, remarked Magnus conversationally, lionesses do all the work while lions sit around.

“Stay back,” she told Justin, her words verifying that she was indeed Gemman. There were only a few inches between them, and he became acutely aware of the neck and shoulders he’d admired earlier, as well as the way the silk wrapped her body. A few wayward strands of hair blew around her face, and the faintest whiff of what smelled like apple blossoms drifted over him.

The Jessups recovered themselves, and Paolo smirked. “Nice trade,” he said. “You f*cked one of our women, now we’ll get one of yours. If you’re lucky, we’ll leave you conscious to watch.”

The others laughed, and Paolo, with death in his eyes, took two steps forward. Unfortunately for him, he never got any farther.

[page]CHAPTER 3


Whatever lingering hopes Mae had clung to of finding glory in Panama had been shattered when Gan had explained her assignment in detail. She wasn’t going to thwart an assassination attempt. She wasn’t even going to cause an assassination. Instead, all of her elite training and military technology would be used to accompany a couple of bureaucrats from the Ministry of Internal Security on their trip to retrieve an exiled servitor.

Neither of them had impressed Mae very much. The woman, with the unfortunate name of Cornelia Kimora, was a supervisor in Internal Security’s SCI division: Sect and Cult Investigation. She was in her fifties, with bobbed hair dyed an orange-ish color that bore a disturbing resemblance to an apricot. Every accessory and article of clothing Cornelia wore was beige, and she had one of the coldest personalities Mae had ever encountered—which was saying something, in light of Mae’s upbringing. At least in the Nordic caste, that kind of cool and supercilious attitude was usually paired with the ability to put on a smiling face and act like you cared. Cornelia possessed no such niceties and made her indifference clear to the world.

Her companion, Francis Kyle, was her opposite. He was similar in age but had a scattered and much sunnier—almost overwhelmingly so—attitude. That enthusiasm especially seemed to grate on Cornelia, but he held a higher title than her in Internal Security, meaning there wasn’t much she could do but grind her teeth. His bubbliness was a little over-the-top, but at least he was always polite to Mae.

Cornelia and Francis also held wildly different views of their task, which made for a long nine-hour flight. Cornelia thought the trip was a waste of time and was clearly opposed to their objective. Francis, on the other hand, could barely contain his excitement as they drew closer and closer to their destination.

“I’m so looking forward to this,” he told Cornelia at one point. She looked up from her reader with a grimace and waited impatiently for him to continue. “I’ve wanted to meet Dr. March for such a long time now. His work is outstanding.”

“Was outstanding,” corrected Cornelia. “And don’t confuse the work with the man.”

Francis looked pleasantly surprised at the clarification. “Oh? I’d think they’re one and the same.”

“Hardly.” Cornelia snorted unattractively. “Just wait until you meet him.”

“He’s brilliant,” Francis insisted.

“Yes.” Her words came grudgingly, and she held up a hand to enumerate points on her fingers. “Also arrogant, impertinent, and manipulative.”

Francis remained undaunted. “Those aren’t necessarily bad things in his line of work.”

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