On Casmin’s instructions, Stian met him and the Greysons at Rafe’s the next evening. Rafe caught him at the door, and looked him up and down. “You’re terribly over-dressed. We’ll have to find you something… less.” Stian frowned down at his suit while Rafe ran upstairs. He came back down and tossed him a rough shirt, a pair of braces, and a pair of work boots. “See if these fit. The pants’ll have to do: we’ll just dust them up on the way. You can change in the back.”
“Where are we going?” Stian asked. He gave the armful of clothes a sniff before wincing.
Rafe grinned. “The King’s Head.”
The tavern was nondescript from the outside. It occupied one corner of a neighborhood that had seen better centuries. Still, the storefronts were full, and the mood among the crowds along the street was weary but amiable. Inside, it was clean and well lit, if worn. The door opened into a spacious tavern, with the bar itself running the left side of the room while the back and sides were lined with high backed booths. The upstairs overlooked the main floor, with a circling balcony that both allowed the staff to keep an eye on things below and gave the women who rented the rooms upstairs an opportunity to advertise their trade.
As they walked in, they passed a waitress, who grinned. “Your booth’s open, Rafe.”
“Thanks, Ginger. Evening, Abbie,” he called out to another girl, whose artfully draped shawl slipped off her bare shoulders as she waved back, revealing nothing beyond a corset and chemise underneath.
“This is a… brothel?” Stian asked, awkwardly.
The five of them worked their way slowly through the evening crowd. “No,” Rafe grinned back. “Just a pub with a very friendly staff. And an extended menu. And rooms upstairs. And an absolutely amazing lamb stew. Looking lovely, Janey.” Edmund gave his younger brother a Look. “It’s not what it looks like!” Rafe protested.
A short, bountiful young woman with black hair in loose bun slapped his rear as they walked by. “Hello Millie!” He looked back sheepishly. “All right, that one was what it looked like.” By that point they had worked their way back to the corner booth, and squeezed their way into the benches while Edmund went to the bar for a round of drinks.
Casmin smirked at Rafe as they settled in. “Come here often, I take it?”
“I do a lot of business here,” Rafe said, more to Stian than to Casmin, who had joined Rafe at the Head on more than one occasion. “It’s busy, loud, and clean. And I wasn’t kidding about the stew.”
“The view’s not bad either,” Stephen said, looking around eagerly.
“Very true, little brother,” Rafe agreed. He laughed, then looked over at Stian, who was staring fixedly at the table top. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Stian said.
Rafe laughed harder, and said, “My god, Stian, you’re blushing like a virgin.” Stephen and Casmin joined in the laughter then, but all three stopped abruptly when Stian only blushed more deeply and squirmed.
“Wait…” Rafe said.
“You’re not.” Casmin said.
“I fail to see why this is an acceptable topic of conversation.”
“How did *that* happen?” Casmin asked incredulously.
“My family puts a great deal of emphasis on discipline,” Mogen said. “You know this.”
“Yes,” Rafe interjected, “But there’s discipline, and then there’s… whatever you’re doing.”
By this point Edmund had returned with a handful of pints. He set them on the table before sitting down and asking, “What are you cackling about, Rafe?”
“Stian’s a virgin.”
The topic of conversation slumped forward, knocking his forehead on the table.
“Really? I find it quite admirable,” said Edmund.
“Thank you, Edmund,” Stian said.
“In fact, I was a virgin once too. ” Edmund deadpanned, and the duke slumped again.
“But surely you had offers,” Rafe said to Stian.
“Well, of course,” Stian said. “ But given my position they were all… contingent.”
“Never stopped any of our dukes,” Edmund said drily.
“I doubt any of their offers came with these kinds of strings attached,” Stian said. “I do not want to lose my soul.”
“I didn’t realize you were a religious man,” Edmund said.
“He is,” Casmin said. “But I suspect he means that literally.”
“In any case, we could take care of this right now,” Rafe suggested. “There’s a reason Abbie’s so popular.”
“I don’t know,” Casmin said casually. “I think he liked the look of the redhead by the door better.”
“Look, there has to be a reason that we’re here other than to discuss my personal life,” said Stian with a growing pitch of desperation.
“We’re doing it, actually,” said Rafe. “The first victim had this place’s address in his pocket. The man we found yesterday was a regular here. It’s not much, but it’s what we have.”
“So the plan is…”
“We sit here, drink, and see if anything comes up?” asked Stephen.
Casmin traded his empty pint glass for Stian’s full one. “Best plan we’ve had all week.”
Rafe laughed again, but shook his head. “No. We’re here to meet one of my best sources.”
“And who is he?” Edmund asked.
As if on cue, one of the barmaids danced over to them and slid lithely into the booth depositing herself in Rafe’s lap.
“Hullo, Millie,” he said. “Boys, Millie. Millie, boys.”