Prince of Spies
By Bianca D'Arc
Samhain Publishing, Ltd. Copyright © 2007 Bianca D'Arc
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-1-59998-425-4
"This is a fine blade," Nico nodded at Drake. "Good choice."
Drake nodded, passing a set of knives to Nico. "Try these. There's a fairly good swordsmith in town, willing to work quietly and not ask any questions."
"Ah, the best kind," Nico agreed, testing the weight of each of the blades with a critical eye. "These are fine too. Your smith is a good one. Did you manage to get anything for Riki?"
Drake grinned broadly and with a flourish, produced a bright red dress with yellow trim and enough frills to make Riki blink twice. It had a wide, tiered skirt, and a neckline that would scoop low over her breasts, but the sleeves would probably come all the way to the middle of her forearms, hiding the worst of her scars and providing some warmth. It was flamboyant, but beautiful, and Riki could barely believe it was meant for her.
Nico took it from Drake with gentle hands and walked over to the bed, sitting at her side. He draped the dress over her legs. "I want you to wear this, sweetheart. I know it's a little bright, but we're posing as Drake's cousins from the Jinn. Most of the Jinn women dress in very bright colors and it will help to camouflage you."
It touched her that he would worry over whether she liked the dress or not, but he didn't truly understand her apprehension. Somehow, she needed to make him understand.
"It's a beautiful dress, Nico," she said softly. "Neither the color nor style bothers me. It's just ... I've never worn something so pretty. Or so new."
Nico reached out and pulled her into his arms, rocking her close to his solid chest. "You will have rooms of new dresses and gowns when I get you home to Draconia. I'll see to it myself. Nothing is too good for you, Riki." His fervently whispered words brought tears to her eyes as he rocked her ever so gently. "Put on the dress, sweetheart. Let's begin your new life with this small step."
He pulled back slowly and unwrapped the blanket from her shoulders. She let him. Tugging her old dress up, he pulled it over her head, but the light in his eyes was only partly sexual. No, his heat was tempered with care, gentleness and something she couldn't quite name, but the flavor of it humbled her. Holding her gaze, Nico dropped the new dress over her head and tugged it down over her breasts and against her waist.
"Stand up, sweetheart." Gingerly, she got to her feet at the side of the bed, allowing the material to swish down around her legs. The dress fell nearly all the way to the floor, swirling around her ankles, delicate as moth's wings. Nico moved behind her to tie the sash that would fit the dress around her waist snugly and for the first time in her life, Riki felt feminine and pretty in the soft red dress. She spun and the voluminous, light skirt trailed a few seconds behind her movement. Experimentally, she tried moving a bit more and delighted in the swish of the silky material.
"It's so beautiful."
"You're beautiful," Nico breathed, watching her. Her eyes flew to his and she read hunger in his gaze-hunger and admiration that set her knees to wobbling.
"I agree." Drake spoke from behind her, breaking the spell. "You look like a Jinn princess. It's a perfect disguise. All it needs is this around your beautiful hair." Drake produced a matching red, patterned scarf with lovely long fringe all around. He moved close to place it in her hand and Riki sighed at the whisper soft material that met her touch. "Silk, from the eastern shores, for the Jinn princess, and golden bangles for your arms." Drake produced three gold bracelets and held them up before her with a devilish smile.
"They're perfect, Drake." Nico stepped forward to examine the jewelry, holding out his hands for more. "What else did you get?"
Drake handed Nico a few other items but Riki couldn't see what they were and she was too entranced by her new dress to really care. The men were the experts at this spy game, she was just a new player who must work hard to keep up.
Nico turned and captured her hand, surprising her for a moment. Gently, he slid the bangles onto her arms, then placed a plain gold band around her finger, holding her gaze all the while. She knew in some lands, such rings were meant as mating gifts and it touched her that he would place such a mark on her finger. She noticed then, looking down to admire the ring, that he wore a matching band on his own finger.
"We're mated," he said shortly. "Nick and Ari from the tribes of the Jinn, come to visit and travel with our cousin Drake."
"Wouldn't it be safer just to stay hidden?"
"It's always better to hide in plain sight," Nico assured her, caressing her hand before letting go. "And I far prefer being your husband."
"But we're only pretending."
"For now." He agreed, but his eyes held a deeper message she was almost afraid to read.
"What do you know of the Jinn?" Nico tried to coach Riki-or Ari, as he should call her while they wore these roles-about the part she'd be playing. He'd be with her every step of the way, of course, but Nico believed in preparation for all contingencies.
"I know very little, I'm ashamed to admit. I think many of them make their living telling stories and playing music. Lucan had some of them entertain him every now and again until his ... change became too great. I liked their songs."
"We are nomadic," Drake continued taking items from his satchel and placing them on the table as he spoke. "We go where life leads us and prefer to remain a mystery for the most part, which will serve your purpose well."
"We?" she asked, uncertainty on her face.
"I was adopted by one of the Jinn clans after performing a ... service for the head family."
Nico was still amazed by some of the things Drake had gotten involved in during his time abroad. Few men could claim adoption by the secretive Jinn. Though Drake had never divulged the details of what he'd done to earn the rare honor, Nico had spent not a little time trying to puzzle it out. But this was one secret even the Spymaster of Draconia hadn't learned. Still, he knew Drake's contacts among the Jinn could be vital in their escape from this Mother-forsaken land.
Nico took the colorful silk scarf from Riki's hands and showed her the way Jinn women traditionally folded their headscarves. Luckily, he'd undressed his share of fiery Jinn wenches in his time and knew well how they assembled their clothing. This he taught to Riki, pleased when she proved to be a quick study.
He tied the scarf at a jaunty angle. The tendrils of fringe framed Riki's beautiful features. Her luminous eyes looked even bigger, if such a thing were possible, and Nico wanted nothing more than to take her back to bed and claim her fully as his own.
But he couldn't. Not yet. Not 'til she came to him freely. Nico was a patient man, but the dragon in him seethed, wanting its mate.
Excerpted from Prince of Spies by Bianca D'Arc Copyright © 2007 by Bianca D'Arc. Excerpted by permission.
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