Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(8)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(8)
Author: Ilona Andrews

How old was he now? Kate was…thirty-eight, so he was forty-one. Is that what people looked like at forty-one?

He didn’t look weakened by age. If anything, it made him harder. Tall and broad-shouldered, his body conveyed harsh, sinewy strength. His cheekbones had grown more defined. He’d picked up a scar that crossed his left cheek, and his face radiated authority and stoic pessimism. If you catapulted him through time to the convoy of Crusaders with hollow eyes and worn-out armor cutting their way across the Holy Land after years of fighting, he would fit right in.

He motioned to me with his hand. “Let’s see it.”

I pulled the Tower out of my pocket and placed it on his desk. It was a metal badge about the size of a playing card with an image of the tower engraved on one side. Nick turned it over. The other side was embossed with number four. A signature ran underneath it, silvery and embedded in metal, as if someone had signed the badge with silver wire while the metal still cooled from the forge. Damian Angevin.

Nick picked up the badge and held it out. The female knight who’d escorted me in entered, took the Tower, and left.

Nick studied me with his pale eyes.

I had spent too much time with my grandmother. Technically, she was my adoptive grand-aunt, but we both agreed that “grandmother” was easier and shorter and better fit our relationship. Erra didn’t age. She was millennia old, but she looked perpetually about forty, and it was an awe-inspiring, regal forty. Nick was forty-one and he looked like he’d seen hell.

“Have you been well, Knight-Protector?” I shouldn’t have said that. It just slipped out.

Nick furrowed his eyebrows. “Do we know each other?”

“No.”

Magic surged through the world, saturating it in a single breathtaking instant. Suddenly I was lighter, stronger, sharper. My sensate ability kicked in, and vivid color bloomed in my field of vision. Faint swirls of blue in every shade slid over the furniture and floor—recent traces of human magic from the visitors to Nick’s office. A smudge of green from a shapeshifter, a hint of purple, old and fading—the foul track of a vampire—and Nick himself, an amalgam of azure and sapphire streaked with bright, electric yellow. I blinked to turn it off.

All living things emanated magic, and the intensity of the trail they left behind varied. A human mage walking down the street emanated very little, and that faint trail vanished within minutes. The same mage in a fight for her life would leave behind an explosion of blue that could persist for days, provided tech didn’t wipe it out. The visitors to Nick’s office had been under some pressure. Looking at his stone idol expression, I couldn’t imagine why. He worked so hard to put you at ease.

In the hallway a woman bit off a curse. The Tower realized that the hand holding it didn’t belong to its owner and activated. Asking the female knight if she needed some aloe for that burn wouldn’t be prudent, but it was very tempting.

The female knight returned and deposited the badge wrapped in a rag on the desk. “It checks out.” She turned and went back to her post by the door.

I picked up the badge. A tingle of magic shot through my fingertips and vanished, recognizing me. I slid it back into my pocket. The Tower granted me the right to call on the Order for aid and gave me authority equivalent to a Knight-Captain, which meant I outranked everyone in the office, except for Nick.

The Knight-Protectors oversaw regional offices, individual chapters of the Order, and their position came with a lot of autonomy. Only Grand Master of the Order and the Knight-Seneschal ranked higher. Technically the Tower constituted a direct order from the Grand Master to render whatever assistance I required. Practically, trying to strong-arm Nick would end in disaster. I needed his cooperation.

“To get a Tower you had to have performed a service of great value to the Order,” Nick said.

I had.

Nick waited. I kept my mouth shut.

“What’s your relationship with the Grand Master?” Nick asked.

“I’m not at liberty to answer.”

Erra liked to describe her relationship with the head of the Order as “complicated.” From my point of view, there was nothing complicated about it. Damian Angevin was desperately in love with my grandmother. After he granted her the first Tower, she gave it to me. He found out and presented her with another one, so she would have one of her own just in case. My grandmother liked him; however, her heart belonged to a man who’d died over two thousand years ago. Damian knew this, but he was never one to back down from a challenge.

Nick leaned back into his chair, doing an excellent impression of a granite boulder. “I’ve never heard of you, Ms. Ryder.”

“I’m not famous.”

“There are only four Towers in existence,” Nick said.

Five, but who was counting?

“I know all four recipients of the Tower.”

Great. Just my luck.

“Your Tower is registered to you, which means that one of the four granted you authority to use it. Who do you belong to, Ms. Ryder?”

I belonged to New Shinar and to my grandmother, the Plaguebringer, the City Eater, Rigmur Pana-Shinar—the Voice of the Old Kingdom. In the grand tradition of the royal line, I had earned my share of titles as well, the most famous of which was Dananu Edes-Shinar—the Strength of the New Shinar. Nick had actually heard of me. He just didn’t know it.

Mentioning any of this nonsense was out of the question because Nick hated my grandfather, my grandmother, and anything to do with Shinar with the passion of a thousand suns. The Tower compelled the Knight-Protector to comply, but if he knew who I was, he would make things as difficult as he could.

This required tact. Of the four Tower recipients, Nick would likely view Hannah Salazar as the lesser evil. A former officer, she ran a small private army in New Mexico, and her people had saved the local Order chapter during the last flare at great cost.

“I belong to someone who values discipline and accountability, Knight-Protector. I swore an oath to follow orders, and those orders require me to maintain confidentiality. I don’t enjoy the cloak-and-dagger act. I prefer simple missions where the enemy is clear, but this is the way my chain of command wants to play it, so I must do my best. I hope for your understanding.”

There you go, I am a mercenary with a military mindset. Don’t mind me. No deep dark secrets here.

Nick pondered me for a long moment. “Very well. What do you need?”

 

 

I leaned forward. “Three days ago, a man was murdered. I want to take over the investigation into his death.”

Nick sighed. “This is Atlanta, Ms. Ryder. Be more specific. Which of the seven murders on my desk would you like to play with?”

“Pastor Haywood’s.”

Nick thumbed through the stack of files on his desk, pulled one out, and offered it to me. “Fine. It’s all yours.”

Just like that. Huh.

Nick studied me. “Is something the matter?”

“I expected more resistance.”

“And you will have it. Just not from me. How much do you know about Atlanta?”

“Not as much as I’d like to.”

“Stay awhile and you’ll wish you knew less.”

Nick stood up and pulled at a cord hanging from a roll of plastic secured on the back wall. The plastic unrolled into a map of Atlanta with sections tinted with different colors.

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