“I can’t believe this,” Arana sighed, pouting faintly. The small red-haired Japanese lady was now standing between some Triad guy and Wolf, mouth pulled into a frown as the other guard—male—kept a hand on the guy’s shoulder, tense against Wolf’s fury.
The idiot brat had to go demanding that Ruby work for him. And by the connotations, Arana knew that ‘work’ was a relative term.
“You?” the Triad’s voice twisted in mockery. “You are with her? What can you possibly offer?”
Ruby’s partner snarled and stepped forward, only to be yanked back by a tiny black gloved hand.
“I told you this already, Chang: I am not interested.” The sniper’s tone was flat, implacable as she pulled her partner in close to her side.
“That can change.”
“You fucker… Stay away from her.”
“Or what? You can’t do anything to me, but if you cross me, deny me, I can make your life so very difficult,” Chang purred.
“Can’t do much if you’re dead,” Wolf said with icy intent.
“Tiger, Baba. Need you here now,” Medic was hissing into his mic. Funny how the wires were a habit so ingrained, they had become part of the night’s outfitting without a thought otherwise.
“Five seconds, Medic.”
Arana sighed. “This is why children annoy me,” she muttered to her lover.
Drai patted her hand. “Best just to sit back and ignore them, Kitty.” He took a glass off a passing tray, nodding to the waiter, tasted it and passed it over.
She accepted it, her lips twisted in displeasure. “Yes, I suppose.” Sighing, she took her own sip.
Amaya frowned at the boy standing before her, but she really wanted to smack the one behind her. Men! And what was worse, the one in front of her had every right to want to tear off her employer’s head! She touched her earpiece and told Lucy to hightail it back, got an affirmative, bitched for a few seconds and then shook her head.
“Excuse me, Chang, I’m going to have to ask you to step back, please. Exacerbating the situation will not help matters at all,” she said, gritted out between her teeth. She really just wanted to give the ass to the poor boy in front of her, then stand back and laugh.
Narrowing his eyes, the Triad glared at the pair, the partners, the apparent couple. Ruby was glorious as always, spine straight and chin high. He sniffed at the pretty dress that she wore, its quality nowhere near what he had given her earlier. Throw enough gifts and attention her way, and it was a simple matter of biding his time, chipping at her resistance. No, the obstacle was more the muscle-bound freak that stood in Chang’s place by her side.
Footsteps rounded the corner, two older males coming into view and slowing their steps as they took in the situation. Chang knew exactly when recognition set in. However, instead of fear and respect, he saw weary frustration and irritation. They knew who he was, and didn’t care.
Hmm… Lifting his chin, he took two steps back and settled his shoulders. The situation had begun on a faulty assumption. When he had seen Ruby in a dress, he assumed Lee had been able to twist a deal from Baba. She was here after all, cleaned up and ready to attend a public event by his side as a woman and not a guard. He had walked straight into a wall made of men before he had been able to grab her hand. Then this exchange had developed.
He had assumed, and been proven wrong. Better to gracefully retreat and instigate a confrontation on his own grounds. He could wait. He could be patient.
“You can’t give her what I can,” he reminded his rival. “You know that.” His eyes slid over to Ruby, taking in her eyes, her expression. And ghosted lower to the pendant at her collarbone. Something personal, on display. He had seen a similar carved piece at her partner’s throat. “I acknowledge that you have her now, but I doubt that you will be able to keep her.”
He snapped his gaze back up to meet her red eyes and smirked. “Have a good evening, Ruby.” That said, he spun on his heel, and walked away, guards falling into place at his back and sides.
Several yards away, the blonde Dollie approached her partner and their Principal, and a glass shattered against the floor. Drai gave Arana a startled look. “Kitty?” He followed her wide-eyed gaze, eyes sweeping over the half-turned away figure. Then she glanced in their direction after a whispered conversation with the Japanese woman—well, more toward Ruby and Wolf than them—and Drai’s jaw dropped.
He had only ever seen a picture of Lucy once. It was after a shower with Arana, and the woman had been staring at the likeness painted into her locket. But Drai had memorized it, and now it stared back at them.
Surprise crossed those doll-like features, taking in Arana’s face in disbelief. She started to turn, but the woman beside her grabbed her arm. And was shook off, told to stay there. The blonde approached.
“Who are you?” she asked as she drew near.
Behind her, tilting his head, the Triad had stopped to watch, intrigued.
Arana just stared, for so long that the blonde in front of her actually started to frown. She lifted a hand and snapped her fingers in front of Arana’s face, and Drai automatically reached out, grabbing her wrist. She huffed and broke his grip, but didn’t move toward the woman again. “Did you hear me? Who are you? I should know you! But I don’t. I can’t remember where I’ve seen your face, but I know that you should be–” She stopped, had almost said dead. But that was impossible.
She perked as the conclusion came. “Oh! You must have a twin, right?”
Arana swallowed. “No.”
The blonde pouted, looking completely baffled. “But I thought…”
The brunette shook her head slowly. “Now… is neither the time… nor the place… Would you like to have lunch, sometime? We can speak then.”
The blonde’s expression cleared. “Um… Sure. But how will I contact you…?”
Off to the side, Svorak had grabbed Wolf; Christoph, Ruby, and both pairs were talking rapidly, tersely.
“Don’t rig his car,” the black merc said flatly and Simon scowled. “No. I don’t care. No. He spouted words, made things a little tense, but he cannot force her.”
“He’s trying to hire her for social reasons,” Wolf spat. “He could have any other woman–fucking china man–but he has to chase after Ruby? Well, he can’t have her.”
“Then believe that.” Svorak grabbed both Wolf’s shoulders and shook lightly. “She won’t go to him. Ruby is with you. So calm down, get yourself together, and be fucking here for her. Not charging off to kill an ass that thinks too much of himself.”
The American shook his head. “I can do that. I can. But, she’ll just get hired away again.”
“Svorak?” Wolf looked up, frown creasing his features.
“Yeah, you heard me. Blondie already said no once, he’ll do it again, and again, and again. Until that idiot learns.”
“But the pay.” I can’t hope. We’re mercenaries, this is our life.
“If not worth the aggravation,” his mentor growled, then turned the youth around by the shoulders and shoved him at Ruby, who was being given the same treatment. “Go give her a fucking hug and take Medic for a walk. The man looks like he’s going to light the goddamn building on fire.”
Arana drew a slow breath. “Um, I don’t have a phone…” she mumbled, embarrassed. She’d never bothered. Never tried to pretend to be a normal human being, not after everyone she knew was dead. Well, not until her Boys had come into her life.
“You have a pen?” Drai asked suddenly.
Lucy blinked, and shook her head, then paused. “One sec.” She turned on her heel and stalked over to the Japanese woman, they hissed at each other for half a beat, the woman gave her a marker and she trotted back over. “Here!”
Snorting, the Arab ripped a page out of his program, scrawling his cell number on it. “Just don’t run up my minutes with girly stuff.”
The blonde accepted the program, the marker and then looked at her. “Um, so we’ll talk later? And you’ll tell me why you look familiar…?”
Arana nodded slowly. “Yes… I will…”
Beaming brightly, the blonde spun on her heel and skipped off again.
Arana watched her go, hardly aware that one of her Boys had edged over.
Far above her, the sound of someone clearing their throat caught her attention. When she looked up, honey-brown eyes were watching Lucy bounce away. “Our hair is rather similar, isn’t it?” Christoph sighed. “And I’ve even worked with her and didn’t realise… I’m sorry.”
She sighed. “You’ve never even seen a picture of her. Why should you apologize? There are plenty of chirpy blondes in the world,” she said, and leaned slightly back into him, smiling faintly. “I don’t blame you.”
Rumbling softly, the man wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug and sighed again, looking to the side at Drai. “Yes, but how many chirpy blonde snipers are there in this city?” He grimaced. “However, you have found her. She does recognize you somehow, someway, and will be contacting you soon. Not bad for second contact.”
She chuckled softly. “Yes, especially since she shot me twice the first time,” she replied dryly, and finally pulled away. “Excuse me. I have to use the restroom…”
“Of course,” Christoph said with a smile. Svorak walked up to him as Lady left in a rustle of silk and lace. He nodded at his partner before reaching and halting Drai with a hand on the shoulder. “Give her a few minutes, then go after her,” the blond requested softly.
Drai frowned, but stopped and shook his head. “She’s just escaping,” he muttered.
Tossing one arm around the chemist’s shoulders, the other merc shrugged as they watched her walk away. “So? We’ve already told her what happens when she runs. We’ll just find her again.”
Drai chuckled softly. “Not that kind of escaping. I don’t think we could drag her out of here if we tried. She was way too happy for this night,” he said.
Shaking his head, the tall man in white disagreed. “This is the same, just on a smaller scale. She leaves, we follow. Lady has been alone for a long long time. She doesn’t realize that there are now people to turn to when she feels unsure.”
“We’re basically her support group,” Svorak snorted amused. “How the mighty have fallen.”
The Arab smirked at the thought. “Heh, hell, I’ve even seen Ruby forcing her to eat stuff. The other day, scowling all morning. Ruby was throwing apples at her,” he said, and shook his head. “I’m gonna go make sure she’s okay.”
The two mercs nodded as the assassin walked off after Lady and then the one in black turned to the one in white. “What did you way to Ruby anyway?” Secretly, Svorak was rather proud that they had timed the ends of their separate chats so well.
“What did you say to Wolf?” the blond countered smirking down at him.
Pulling his lover over to a spot on the wall between a painting of a garden and a mirror, the blue-eyed merc hummed as he slid an arm around the taller man’s waist. “Don’t go after Chang. Stay with your partner. Chill. Take Medic for a walk.”
“Before the place goes up in flames?” Christoph chuckled, leaning into him.
Honey-brown eyes closed as the chemist let his lips twist in a small grimace. “We don’t usually have this issue. Professionals, all of us.”
The other merc sighed. “Chang has a way of getting under everyone’s skin. Though, usually he doesn’t push.”
“No, that one likes to plot and plan and wait.”
“You think he’s going to be trouble?”
Christoph shrugged, holding up a pale hand and rocked it back and forth. “He was trouble tonight–” his partner snorted “–and yes, he walked away. I’ll think up a few contingencies, but I doubt it’ll be necessary. Ruby can take care of herself.”
“Huh.” Svorak looked at the fancy expensive clothing walking by on soft bodies. “What did you tell her?”
“The same thing.”