I winced. Even the thought of being infatuated with Tony was enough to make me slightly sick. “Can it be removed?”
“By the person who originated it, certainly.”
“No, without him.”
Casanova shook his head. “I couldn’t do it, and I’m very good,
.” He gave me an arch look. “Of course, if I knew more about who we’re discussing, it might help. Perhaps one of my contacts . . .”
I didn’t want to tell him. Tony was his immediate boss, but Mircea was Tony’s master. He therefore had a claim to anything Tony had and to anyone who owed him loyalty. There was normally a certain amount of maneuvering that had to be done before a senior master could simply take one of his underling’s possessions, at least if that subordinate had reached third-level master status, as Tony had. But since Tony was now in open defiance of both Mircea and the Senate, everything he owned had reverted to his master’s control. Which was a roundabout way of saying that Mircea was Casanova’s master. The incubus was unlikely to defy him, but he obviously wasn’t going to give me any help without more information.
I sighed. I didn’t like being backed into a corner, but who else was I going to ask? “Mircea,” I said, after checking to make sure we weren’t being overheard.
Casanova looked blank for a moment, then jumped up as if someone had given him a hotfoot. “You might have mentioned that earlier, Cassie!” he hissed in an alarmed whisper. “Getting this body skinned alive is
on my daily agenda!”
“Sit down,” I told him in irritation. “Tell me how I get rid of this thing.”
“You don’t. Take some advice,
,” he said seriously. “Go home to the nice master vampire, beg forgiveness for causing him any inconvenience and do whatever he tells you. You do not want this one angry with you.”
“I’ve seen Mircea pissed off,” I said. That was true, although so far it had never been at me. I nudged Casanova’s chair with my foot. “Sit down. People are starting to stare.”
“Yes, they are,” Casanova agreed, “which is why I’m going straight to my office, picking up the phone and giving the big boss a call. If you don’t want him to find you, I suggest you use the time between now and then to run like hell. Not that it will do you any good.”
“You’re afraid of him!”
“Let me think,” he said sarcastically. “Yes! As you should be.”
I stared up at him in confusion. The vamp I knew wasn’t someone to be trifled with, but I’d never seen him do anything that would explain why an ancient demon would be shaking in his designer shoes. “We’re talking about Mircea, right?”
Casanova glanced around, then slid into the seat next to me, looking almost comically grave. “Listen to me, little girl, and pay attention, because I am never saying this again. Mircea is the greatest manipulator I’ve ever known. There’s a reason he’s the Senate’s chief negotiator—he always gets what he wants. My advice: make it easy on him, and perhaps he’ll go easy on you.”
I grabbed his tie to keep him from running for the phone and jerked his face close to mine. I’m not normally the violent type—I saw too much of it growing up to want any part of it—but at the moment I was too mad to care. “You’ve had your speech, now listen to mine. I know all about manipulation. I haven’t lived a day when someone wasn’t pulling my strings. Even this whole Pythia gig wasn’t my idea. But you know what? It does change things, doesn’t it? Mircea doesn’t own me, no matter what he thinks. No one does. And anyone who tries to jerk me around from now on is going to find that I make a very bad enemy. Do you get it?”
Casanova pantomimed choking and I released him. He fell back in his chair, looking more amused than frightened. “If you’re so powerful, why do you need my help?” he asked archly. “Why not remove the
yourself, and rain down your wrath on Antonio while you’re at it?”
“It doesn’t work quite like that,” I said dryly. “And what is so damn funny?”
The grin that Casanova had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to restrain broke over his face. “Inside joke,” he chortled. “You’d have to be an incubus to understand.”
“Give me the condensed version.”
He looked coy. The expression should have appeared odd on his strong-featured face, but he pulled it off. “Anticipation, you might say. Like looking forward to the next heavyweight championship match. In this corner,” he said, his voice taking on the cadence of a veteran ringside announcer, “we have Lord Mircea, never defeated in five hundred years of political and social maneuvering. And in this corner, his opponent, the deceptively sweet-looking Cassandra, newly elevated to the Pythia’s throne.” He grinned even wider. “You have to understand, Cassie. For an incubus, it doesn’t get much better than this. If I wasn’t so protective of this body, I’d be wrangling for a ringside seat.”
“You’re babbling,” I said in disgust. “Tell me something I can use!”
“Why don’t you tell
something for a change?” he countered. “What, precisely, do you think you’re going to do if you find Tony? He’s been around for a long time. He isn’t going to be easy to kill. Why not relax and let Mircea handle him? He’ll find him sooner or later and then you and I are both—”
“Mircea can’t deal with Myra!” I couldn’t believe Casanova still didn’t get it. “He might be able to protect me in the here and now, but it isn’t the present that worries me.” Myra had been Agnes’ heir until she fell in with some very bad company and was disinherited. But her fall hadn’t taken away her abilities, meaning that she could slip into the past and attack me long before I even knew who she was. She could even kill one of my parents, insuring I was never born. And Mircea couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
“But if Antonio is protecting her, how do you expect—”
“I have a few surprises for Tony. What I need from you—”
“Is likely to cost me greatly. You cannot believe—” He broke off at my expression. “What is it?” I jumped to my feet, wobbling a little in the heels, and stared over his head at the sight barreling in the bar’s entrance.
My least favorite war mage was heading across the lobby at a dead run. His short blond hair looked like it had been hacked at by a machete, and his icy green eyes were angry. Not that that was unusual: I’d never seen him smile, and normally considered it a good day if he wasn’t trying to kill me. Considering that he was wearing his usual knee-length leather coat, the one that bulged with concealed weapons, it didn’t look like today would be one of those.
“ Is that who I think it is?” Casanova gave a panicked glance at the mage, whose coat had blown open to reveal enough firepower to take out a platoon. Even vamps are cautious around war mages—wizards and witches who have been trained in human and magical combat techniques by the Circle. They have the
Shoot first, ask questions if you feel like it later
mentality that human law enforcement left behind with the Wild West. Of course, police officers don’t have to face the kind of surprises the mages frequently get.
I’d already seen as much of this particular mage as I wanted, and apparently Casanova felt the same. Without waiting for me to answer, he let go of dignity and dove under the table. I was wondering whether it was worth the effort to try to run, when Enyo hopped down from her bar stool and jogged over. She gestured at the mage and raised bushy eyebrows that in her case protected only empty folds of skin. I’m not sure how I knew what she was thinking, because she didn’t say a word, but the point came across. I shook my head emphatically. I wasn’t actually sure what he was, but “friend” didn’t sound right.
Enyo whirled to face the mage, who was only a couple of tables away. He stopped dead in his tracks and a second later I realized why. The three sisters weren’t pretty by anyone’s standards, but they looked harmless enough. Enyo’s squashed face—containing so many folds that the absence of eyes wasn’t all that noticeable—toothless mouth and straggling hair normally made her resemble a particularly homely bag lady. But she didn’t look that way now.
My mythological knowledge is not great, composed mainly of bits and pieces left over from long-ago lessons with Eugenie, my old governess. This was one of those times I wished I’d paid more attention. Where a diminutive old lady had been, a towering Amazon stood, clad only in matted ankle-length hair and a lot of blood. Enyo’s transformation was so quick that I hadn’t seen it take place, but Pritkin’s face, which had shut down to the pale, closed look he gets when truly terrified, told me there was more to her story than I recalled. I decided I didn’t want to know.
I have never claimed to be a hero. Besides, Casanova had started to crawl away, using the tables as cover, and I still didn’t know where Tony was. I dropped to the floor and followed on his heels. The next second, it sounded like all hell had broken loose behind us, but I wasn’t crazy enough to look around. I’ve had lots of practice running away, and I’ve learned that it’s best to keep your mind on the goal.
Half of a black lacquered chair flew over my head, but I just ducked lower and crawled faster. Casanova appeared to be heading for a blank stretch of wall, but I knew better. This was one of Tony’s places, and he never built anything that didn’t have at least a dozen emergency exits. I was pretty sure that somewhere up ahead was a door hidden by a glamour, so when the top half of Casanova’s body disappeared into the red Chinese wallpaper, I wasn’t surprised. I grabbed a handful of his suit coat, scrunched up my eyes and followed. I opened them again to find that we were in a utilitarian corridor with industrial fluorescent lighting.
Casanova tried to pull away, but I held on for dear life. It wasn’t easy since the impromptu escape had left me with a serious wedgie and he was stronger than I was. But he was my best link to Tony and I wasn’t about to lose him. “Oh, all right!” he said, dragging me to my feet. “This way!”
We raced to a door that led to a much more luxurious corridor carpeted in thick scarlet plush. The gold brocade wallpaper boasted a line of salacious prints and reeked of musky perfume. I gasped, but Casanova was too busy punching the elevator call button a dozen times to notice. It finally came just as I was about to give up on the idea of breathing altogether, and we jumped on board. Casanova hit the button for the fifth floor and I managed to choke out a protest. “Shouldn’t we be heading down, to the parking level? If we stay in the building, he’ll find us.”
He shot me a look. “Do you really think he came alone?” I shrugged. I’d never seen Pritkin work with other mages, so it seemed possible. He did enough mayhem all on his own. “He almost certainly has backup,” Casanova informed me, running shaking hands down his slightly rumpled suit. “Let the internal defenses deal with them.”
The elevator let out into a spacious office that looked a lot like a boudoir. There were mirrors and fat chaises everywhere, and a bar almost as big as the one downstairs lined one wall. A good-looking secretary, who was probably going to be recruited by the incubi if he hadn’t been already, tried to offer us refreshments, but Casanova waved him off.
We barreled through a set of doors to a plush inner office.
Casanova ignored the huge four-poster bed sitting incongruously in the corner and the two scantily clad women reclining on it. He stepped through a multicolored modernist painting that covered most of one wall and I followed, ignoring the scowls the girls sent my way. On the other side was a narrow room that was bare except for a table, a chair and a large mirror hanging on the wall. He waved a hand over the mirror’s surface and it shimmered like a mirage in the desert. I figured out that this was his way of checking on his employees.
I’d seen similar devices before. Tony had never been able to use security cameras, since anything run on electricity doesn’t do well around powerful wards and his Philadelphia stronghold had bristled with them. I’d had to learn about his surveillance equipment in order to elude it when up to things I preferred him not to know about, like stealing his personal files and setting him up with the Feds. Not that that had worked out too well, but at least I hadn’t been caught during the preparations. I’d discovered that any reflective surface could be spelled to act as a monitor linked to other shiny exteriors within a certain radius. Considering the number of mirrors and all the polished marble around the place, Casanova could probably check on anything within the spa.
He muttered a word, and an image of the bar appeared. I wondered about the distortion until I realized that he was using the large Chinese gong behind the bar as his spy hole. It was convex, so the image was, too, along with being tinted faintly bronze. I saw the backs of three people whom I identified as war mages by the amount of hardware they were wearing. I didn’t see Pritkin and was slightly worried that Enyo had eaten him.
She certainly looked capable of it. The vague old woman had been replaced by a blood-covered savage whose head brushed the edge of the fringed lanterns that swung from the central chandelier. Her hair was still gray, but the body had gotten a definite upgrade and she now had a full compliment of teeth and eyes. The former were longer and sharper than a vamp’s and the latter were yellow and slitted like a cat’s. She looked pissed off, maybe because she was encased in a magical web, courtesy of the mages. She slashed at it with four-inch-long talons and it ripped like paper, but before she could move, the slender cords reknitted themselves, holding her fast.
It looked to me like a standoff, and I wondered why her sisters, who were still lounging at the bar, didn’t intervene. I’d barely had the thought before Pemphredo glanced up at the gong. Since it was her turn with the eye, she was able to wink at me before cutting loose.
I remembered that, when I’d looked up some information on the sisters after they dropped in, Pemphredo had been called “the master of alarming surprises.” I hadn’t been sure what that meant, but since the three had been given the task of protecting the Gorgons, I assumed they each had some kind of warlike talent. Considering what had happened to Medusa, though, it didn’t seem like they’d been too effective.