Papa told me never to trust a pirate. Made sense considering he’d married one, and she’d left him for the skies. I don’t have any recollection of her, but when Papa died, I followed in her footsteps. It was better than living on the streets of Scyava. Only the Crews took in underage lasses and paid them five ariavats a month. I didn’t have a choice.
Captain Eline’s scar clear across her nose and cheeks made me trust her all the more. Facing death and coming out the victor, she’d taught me to brandish a short sword and dress the part of a courtier. Always said I had the face for that. Said it was good for cons in the bigger Floaters, sky-bound cities even larger than Scyava where the nobility ruled with iron fists.
She didn’t know I’d been one of those once, but Papa’s family never got over the fact he’d married a pirate, so they’d kicked us out when I was twelve. Why they waited so long was beyond me. He said he’d never minded, but I knew better. And it was why I went along with Eline’s schemes.
I’d done these cons a hundred times in the six years with Eline’s crew. At twenty-two, the corset was my second skin, the drops in my ears a remembered dream. This would be our biggest yet. I cracked my neck with a practiced hand and patted my pinned, dark curls as I entered the courthouse proper.
The dusty electric bulbs hanging in draped sconces along the walls cast a sickly glow in the cathedral-like foyer, but the stiletto dagger tucked under my skirts kept me focused. The room might be forbidding to some, but I had a purpose. And that was the Chief Magistrate. He’d sentenced too many of our own to early deaths, and Eline refused to stand for it any longer.
The heels of my boots beat out a rhythm upon the marbled floor as I approached the men guarding the entrance to the Magistrate’s private study. Eline said he’d be there sure as an airsnake trapped in a cloud. She was right.
She was always right.
My voice was strong and hid the soft quiver there might have been if I hadn’t remembered to clip my vowels like the upper class. “The Hunze family sends me to discuss specifics of Sir Ido’s case with the Chief Magistrate.”
The name Hunze would get me in the door, but it was a calculated guess it would get me further than that. But Eline’s calculated guesses were hardly ever wrong.
“You must be the solicitor they sent? Good stars, you’re all getting younger and prettier with every case,” the guard said with a rakish grin.
If the stiletto hadn’t been meant for the Magistrate, I might have gutted the man right then and there. But Eline had trained me well. My smile was sickly sweet, my blush like the summer sunset on the cloud’s waves. “Indeed, good sir. Doesn’t mean I take my duties lightly.”
“Course not, love. After you finish with the Magistrate, we’ll talk.” His curling mustache rustled with each word.
I tried my best to hide the scowl threatening to spill over my calm mask. Disgusting man.
The straight-backed guard with severe cheekbones on Mustache’s other side rolled his eyes. “Shut it, Jochem, and let the fine lady do her job in peace. Or I’ll report you to the Captain.”
Mustachioed Jochem groaned but let me pass. A smile hung on my face like a forgotten portrait as I opened the door and stepped into the study. The ceiling was miles away and the walls stocked full of books I wished I could read. Besides the stained-glass window, the only other illumination in the room was a delicate glass lamp perched upon a heavy wooden desk straight ahead. A willowy man sat behind it. The Chief Magistrate. The man Eline wanted dead.
I didn’t know his name nor anything other than what Eline had told me, but there was something about him. Something that tickled the back of my mind as I approached. The way his hand swept blond hair back from his face, the dimple in his cheek, his quill aloft like it was about to take flight.
Holy stars. No. It couldn’t be. How…
The man looked up. Ten years had flown by like the ships in the sky, and he hadn’t changed a bit, other than being too young to hold such a prestigious position. Tears I didn’t realize I still possessed blurred my vision. All that training. All that hard work. They were gone with the gaze of his dark green eyes.
He dropped the quill, his mouth falling open in a silent gasp.
The hand over my mouth tried to trap in the sobs threatening to spill onto my powdered face. It couldn’t be. After all this time. How?
He stood from his chair, his hands glancing off the desktop as he brushed past, heading straight toward me. “Lotte…is that…is that you?”
The stiletto burned against the inside of my leg as I shook my head, curls falling from their pins. “Adrian…I…”
I’m here to kill you.