Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X, #1)(7)

Wonderful. Justin’s last encounter with Blanca had involved bad judgment and even worse tequila. Definitely not one of his finer moments. At least Blanca wasn’t married, but her brothers bore the same obsessively protective—and occasionally violent—attitude toward their women that was so common among the Old Money upper classes. He wondered what exactly “so much” entailed and if Ana was hoping for a similar experience. This party didn’t have enough alcohol for that.

He cleared his throat and groped for a subject change. “This is Huan Korokov. He’s from the EA.”

Huan wasn’t a bad-looking guy, and Justin hoped she might shift her attention. No such luck. She gave Huan the barest of glances and murmured a polite greeting before turning back to Justin. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Huan working to keep a straight face. This was probably the highlight of his trip.

She leaned forward on the table, giving her cleavage amplification that it most certainly didn’t need. “Blanca said you were some kind of witch hunter?”

He heard that a lot around here. Sometimes they called him a “priest killer.” “Nothing so exciting. I used to investigate religious groups for the government. Had to make sure they weren’t dangerous.”

“Doesn’t the RUNA think all religions are dangerous?” she asked.

Ha, maybe she’s not as vapid as she seems, said Horatio.

If you were of any use to me, you’d magically appear and get me another drink, Justin told him.

She’d be happy to get you a drink back at your place, said Magnus helpfully.

Justin placed another bet, noticing that his stack of money was growing smaller and smaller. “It’s a little more complicated than that. Do you know the Gemman charter?” No, of course she didn’t. “‘Belief in fictitious entities is a threat to the fabric of society and must be assessed and regulated for the well-being of all citizens.’” He could recite it in his sleep.

I almost believe you, Horatio said.

“I’d love to hear more,” Ana cooed. She moved even closer. “Perhaps we could go somewhere quieter to talk.”

Not on your life, Justin thought. Huan came to the rescue.

“Justin doesn’t like to talk about his past,” he said, looking award-winningly grave. “Too many painful memories. Justin, you should tell her the story of why you left.”

A few players standing nearby perked up. Cristobal’s pet Gemman was a topic of great interest around here, as was his shadowy exile.

Justin averted his eyes and put on the tortured look he’d perfected for this story. “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to discuss…besides, I don’t want to burden you with my personal drama.”

“I’m sure Se?ora Santiago wouldn’t mind. She seems like a great listener.” Huan was playing a good supporting role. Maybe Justin could work him into the act more often.

“I am,” she said, nodding eagerly.

“I can tell.” Justin gave her a small smile. “It’s in your eyes, you know. That kind of understanding and kindness…it shines out from the soul.” Huan cleared his throat and had to look away.

“People say that all the time,” Ana replied, moving even closer. “Now, please. Tell me what happened.”

Justin took a deep breath. “Not much to tell. You see…there was this girl….”

“I thought so.” Ana squeezed his hand with hers. It was sweaty. “As soon as I saw you, I thought, ‘He’s a hopeless romantic.’”

“People say that all the time,” he said, echoing her.

I’m impressed you said that with a straight face, Horatio remarked.

Shut up, Justin told him.

“Anyway, when I met her, it was love at first sight. I’m sure it was the same way for you and your husband.”

Ana’s face suggested otherwise. “What was her name?”

“Phoebe,” he said promptly.

“I thought it was Pamela,” Huan interrupted.

Justin shot him a warning look. “Phoebe. I’ve never felt so connected to another person. It was like we were made for each other, perfectly matched in every way. Every moment with her was like living in a dream. I knew we had to be together forever, so I finally proposed to her on a beach at sunset. There were doves flying in the sky. I can still see the way her face glowed in the light when she said yes.”

“What happened next?” Ana asked breathlessly.

He sighed and looked down again, fully aware that half the table was listening now. “Oh, the usual. We began making plans for the wedding. It was going to be in this amazing arbor. The greenest place you’ve ever seen, filled with flowers and butterflies. We were going to have a cellist and a choir of children to sing wedding songs.”

“Don’t forget the horse,” said Huan. “Pamela was going to ride in on a horse.”

“Phoebe was going to ride in on a horse,” Justin corrected.

“A white one?” asked Ana.

“Yes, of course.” He never mentioned the horse’s color when he told this story, but women always guessed white. “Everything was perfect. Then, a few days before the ceremony, we had our compatibility test. You know what that is?”

“They force you to do it to get married,” she said promptly.

Richelle Mead's Books