Val walked up to the old Victorian house, and the gun-carrying man by the door nodded at her as she went inside.
The interior looked the same as always: old-fashioned patterned wallpaper, decorative molding on the ceiling, and useless stuff everywhere. Fancy chairs that no one sat on were placed next to side tables holding vases of flowers. An antique cabinet of polished wood displayed knick-knacks of porcelain, stone, and glass. Oil paintings of scenes from the Civil War hung beside antique photographs and mirrors in gilded frames. You’d think the place looked exactly the same as it had a hundred years ago, and in fact, Val only remembered one thing in it ever changing. The old burgundy carpet had been replaced with hardwood floors. Probably because it was easier to clean up bloodstains that way.
Val found a maid engaged in dusting, which was probably a full-time job. “Where’s he at?”
“Out back, ma’am.”
Val went out the back door to the patio and pool. The landscaping made it look like a tropical rainforest was encroaching, and the pool itself was an enormous affair complete with a fake stone waterfall and a little bridge that led to a small island. Val had no idea why her father had it. He never went swimming. Maybe he liked the smell of chlorine.
His wheelchair was parked next to a table under a large umbrella, situating him in his own private shadow. He was dressed in the most casual, summery outfit he ever wore: a button-up white shirt, crisp khaki pants, and a vintage hat. A glass of iced tea sat on a coaster on the table, and his right-hand man, Joey Giordano, lurked only a few yards away.
He glanced up from the book he’d been reading when Val approached. “Val. Have a seat. It’s a lovely day outside.”
Val pulled up a chair. Her father opened a hairline crack in the steel walls around his mind, letting her hear his thoughts—or at least the thoughts he wanted her to.
I trust you noticed the new neighbors, he thought.
Hard to miss, she replied.
She’d sensed the thoughts of the DSA agents in the house across the street as she’d driven up. They were doing surveillance, hence the reason this conversation was happening telepathically and not vocally.
I’m going to be under increased scrutiny leading up to the trial. He turned the page of his book, still reading. It necessitates I curtail certain activities.
Sure would be a shame if you led the DSA straight to Blueblood and the Fox Woman.
Our little fellowship will implode eventually. He felt completely unconcerned about the fact. But I won’t ruin it by clumsy accident. I’d prefer to slice it apart surgically.
I’m not bad with a scalpel. She raised her eyebrows suggestively.
You’re not bad with a switchblade or a butcher’s knife. Whether you have precision and subtlety remains to be seen.
The put-down didn’t even merit him looking up from his book. Val barely managed not to scowl.
And I’ll be getting a chance to prove myself when?
Immediately. The next meeting is tomorrow night. You’ll represent me.
The giddiness started slowly, a small ball of pleasure in her stomach that warmed and spread throughout her body. Outwardly, she remained calm and composed, but in the privacy of her own mind, she was doing a fist pump and hissing “yesssssss.”
Don’t celebrate yet, he said, as if he could see her mental image. Celebrate when you succeed. Both Rafael and Evelyn are extremely dangerous, but in very different ways. Every underling you bring, every weapon you use will prove your strength to them, but it also gives them something to exploit. You’ll have a constant balancing act to maintain, and you’ll have to keep a watchful eye on a hundred different angles at once. Falter, and they’ll pounce on you like hyenas.
He looked up from his book, apparently getting to the important part. This is an opportunity to show me what you’re capable of. It’s also an incredible risk. Don’t make me regret choosing you and not Sonia.
The only thing you’ll regret is not giving me a chance like this sooner, Val promised.
He went back to reading. And you’re taking Joseph with you.
Joey Giordano stood at attention behind them, unaware he was the subject of conversation. He was a burly man in a slick gray suit, with a chiseled face, bushy eyebrows, and a thin, barely-noticeable scar that went down his left cheek. Oh, and he had the hots for her. It was annoying, really. Now, if he was head-over-heels in love with her and willing to throw over her father and his job for her sake, that would be different. That would be useful. But he couldn’t be any more loyal to her father if he was a puppy who’d been rescued from the pound by him, so he just pined after Val, all silent and noble and suffering.
I want someone with you whom I can rely upon, her father thought.
He wanted someone there to report on her and stop her if she did something he didn’t like. Val hadn’t been expecting his trust, but she’d been hoping for free reign. This would make things tricky, because she had no way of knowing what she’d be allowed to do. It was like being in an invisible cage: she couldn’t find the bars until she pushed out and collided with them.
Spending time with Joseph won’t be too bad, will it? her father asked.
Val retreated from her father’s mind so he wouldn’t sense her disgust. The fact that her father approved of him was the final nail in the coffin of any interest she might have had in Joey. Not that he’d had much of a chance anyway. He was handsome enough, but lately, Val had been involuntarily comparing every man she met to a certain someone with rugged good looks and the ability to bench press a car.
It had been four months since she’d kissed Dave, four months during which she should have moved on. And she’d tried. She’d gone through a handful of bed-warmers, but none of them had managed to pull from her even a fraction of the feeling he had in a single kiss. Maybe it was because he’d rejected her. Val had always been the type of person who wanted something more when she was told no. That probably explained a lot about her psychology and her chosen profession. A ruby necklace in a jewelry store was never as appealing as one in a museum.
But it was more than that with him. It was how he could be caring and polite but never once appear weak; it was his determination and sense of humor; it was those muscular arms and chiseled jaw. He was the whole package, and Val couldn’t have any of it. But that was for the best, really. A little rejection was good for her. She didn’t get to experience it often. Besides, a love affair with White Knight wouldn’t do much for her reputation. People would think she was going soft, that she’d been swayed to the side of angels by his heroism and handsomeness. And there was no way she’d let that happen. She’d worked too hard to achieve infamy and be known as something more than just Mr. Lucifer’s daughter.
“Well, look at the time.” She glanced at her nonexistent watch and stood. “You coming, Joey? We’ve got places to be.”
And another new episode begins! Who is David Puebla and why is it important he not die? Stop by next Monday to find out.
Happy President’s Day to all my readers in the US. I hope you’ve got the day off from work like I do. I plan to make some major headway in writing Almost Invincible today, so wish me luck~