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"Come look at these."
Jan, Kilian maneuvered through the morning workday crowd and joined Lucien Pascal at the shop window. The display proved typical for an establishment bordering Cabinet Row, quiet and opulent at the same time. The store specialized in fine tableware -- the cutlery and metal plate that filled the velvet-draped display niches seemed to glow in the Chicago morning sun.
"This is a very good thank-you gift for your better clients." Lucien pointed to a small silver bowl that had been shaped into a half-shell, then satin-polished until it appeared lit from within. "Not too expensive, but not cheap either. It implies that the document business is good, but you're too astute to throw money about without good reason. It just so happens that you consider the recipient to be a good reason." He bent closer to the window to get a better look, his whiteblond hair capturing the light like the silver. "Hand out a few of those, then sit back and watch the commissions pour in."
Jani examined the bowl. Lucien had acquired his eye under the tutelage of Exterior Minister Anais Ulanova -- his taste, as always, proved sound but expensive. "I already have more commissions than I can handle." She turned away from the window and continued down the walkway. "I should be home working on a few of them now instead of walking you to the train." She slipped her hand inside her trouser pocket, working her fingers through the assorted vend tokens and keycards until they closed around a slip of paper. The crisp, Cabinet-grade parchment crackled -- she jerked out her hand, then folded her arms andturned back to Lucien.
He stood in front of the window, watching her. He looked like a fairy tale soldier in his dress blue-greys, the steel-blue tunic cut on the diagonal with a black leather crossover belt, the grey trousers slashed along the sides with mainline red stripes. He'd set his brimmed lid with geometric precision. Even his red lieutenant's bars and expert marksman badges glittered like costume decoration.
Only the fully packed holster on his waistbelt belied the romantic image. That, and the light in his brown eyes, ascold as the metal on the other side of the glass. "Why are you so edgy?"
Jani forced a smile. "What makes you think I'm edgy?"
"Because you're answering my question with a question, for one thing."
"I do that all the time. You're not the only one who complains about it."
"But I'm the only one who knows what it means in this particular instance." Lucien strolled to her side. "At oh-six, you get a call from the lobby. It's your building manager, with an early morning documents delivery from Cabinet Archives. Nothing unusual in that -- you've gotten those before. You tumble out of bed, throw on some clothes, and godownstairs to retrieve them." He leaned close to her, bringing with him scents of soap and freshly washed hair. "Except you don't return right away, and when you finally do show up, you're snappish and distracted. You refuse to eat even breakfast, and you hustle me out the door before I've swallowed a cup of coffee." He drew even nearer, until he brushed against her arm. "John would be upset if he knew you didn't eat. You know that you can't afford to mistreat yourself, considering your condition."
Jani backed off a step so that she could look Lucien in the face. And what a face, the full mouth and strong bones still softened enough by youth to imply innocence. An angel, perched on the brink of damnation. Stayfocused. She knew he could distract her, then trap her with a question or an offhand comment. "I'm fine. It just hit me how much work I have to do. I've got that meeting at the idomeni embassy today, and if form holds true, it will run longer than expected. I've got three Treasury summaries due next week, and I haven't even looked at the data."
"So as you said, why waste the time playing escort now?" Lucien stood easily, arms at his sides, head cocked in artless curiosity. "Where are you going after you leave me at Union?"
"The only place I'm going after I leave you at Union is home." Jani turned her back on him and started to walk. Her weak right knee sagged with every step, the persistent reminder of an eventful summer. "I've found that the occasional break clears my head. Maybe I'll take another one late today, come back here and buy something for my best clients." She took a deep, steadying breath. The crisp fall air held a city melange of restaurant aromas, overheated skimmer batteries, and a whiff of pungent cologne from a passing pedestrian. "What time's your train?"
"Oh-seven and a half. Same as when you asked five minutes ago." Lucien moved up beside her, matching her stride for stride. "What's wrong?"
"How can I help you if you never tell me anything?"
"I don't need your help.
"Who are you meeting.
"I'm not meeting anybody."
As they continued up the walkway, Jani noted that people stepped aside for them. They glanced first at Lucien, then at her, their eyes questioning. Who are you, lady? A Family member on an early morning shopping spree with her officer boyfriend'? A colonial diplomat out for a stroll with her bodyguard? She knew she cut an imposing figure in her black trousers and crimson shirt-jacket. She matched Lucien in ranginess and almost matched him in height, her short black hair and brown skin serving as dark contrast to his brilliant blondness and paling summer tan. That's who I am-the soldier's shadow. Not the real thing so please don't make that mistake.Law of Survival. Copyright � by Kristine Smith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.