It was after four in the morning when Casmin and Stian finally collapsed into their respective beds. So when someone pounded on the door at ten, the sound was greeted by much groaning. Casmin staggered to the door, tipped the messenger, and brought the note to Stian, who was hiding his head under a pillow.
“Can it wait?” came the muffled reply.
“Probably not,” Casmin said.
Stian tossed the pillow aside and sat up, scrubbing his eyes. He opened the note, squinted at it, and rubbed his eyes again before reading.
“Interesting,” he said.
“Please tell me that’s not another of your understatements,” said Casmin.
Stian answered, “He’s returned the challenge.”
Casmin sat down and scratched his chin. “You’ll accept?”
“Of course,” said Stian. “Especially because he told me to bring two seconds.”
Casmin was too tired to conceal his bemusement. “He what?”
Stian handed him the note and he read it, an incredulous look on his face. “Is this a trap?”
Stian shrugged. “I think we should prepare as if it were.”
“Who else will you take?” Casmin asked.
Stian had to smile at his friend’s assumption. “Rafe, I think. Greyson will want to stay at the house.”
Casmin read the note again. He frowned. “He’s chosen the site for the meeting.”
“Indoors, yes. I don’t think he could make it any more obvious unless he’d sent an engraved invitation reading ‘Please stop by for our cunning ‘IT’S A TRAP’ party.’ But with only three of us there, even if it goes badly I can manage.”
After pulling themselves together and eating a quick breakfast, they went to the Greysons’, where they found Rafe just coming down for the day.
“Gentlemen! What’s on the schedule for tonight?”
“Well,” Casmin said lightly, “We were hoping you’d join us in walking into a painfully obvious trap set by an indeterminate number of werewolves at an abandoned warehouse in a shady part of the city.”
Rafe looked between the other two men, waiting for the punchline. “What’s in it for me?”
Stian answered, “We go in heavily armed, and if they so much as twitch the wrong way, you get to kill as many as you get can your hands on.”
“See you at seven, then?”
They arrived at the site early. It was well chosen, Rafe considered: the warehouse had been used for years to store wool bales, and the stench of lanolin overwhelmed any other scent. The building was long and narrow, with a high ceiling and entrances at each end.
“Anyone else feel like a fish in a barrel?” Rafe asked drily. He fingered the throwing daggers he had loaded at his wrists.
Stian on the other hand stood perfectly still, his arms crossed on his chest. He was dressed in black from head to toe, topped off by the sable-collared cloak he had worn the Saturday before. Casmin had come without visible weaponry, but the duke wore a broadsword strapped to his waist.
Before either of them could respond, the door on the far side of the building opened. The first man through the door was massive; easily Stian’s height and twice as wide. Three other men followed close behind him. Next came an older man, with a white beard. He looked frail, carried a cane, and was supported on his right by a boy of perhaps seventeen. Once the big man had looked around he stepped aside, deferring to the one with the white beard. He came forward, and looked them over. In spite of his infirmity, his eyes were bright and intelligent. They were also a startling shade of amber.
“I am Arseni,” he said, his voice thick with a Russian accent. “And this is my son and heir, Luka.” He nodded to the boy next to him. “You are Dag’s boy, yes?”
“I am,” Stian responded, his face impassive.
Arseni sighed. “I never thought I would see such a terrible day. I do not do this freely, you understand.” Stian frowned, but the big man’s head snapped around to stare at Arseni. “Forgive me. Your Grace, this is Anthony. He has been with us only a short while.” Stian’s frown deepened as he tried to grasp what Arseni was telling him. “As I was saying,” the man continued, “it is particularly ironic that I must challenge Beorn’s get, since I find myself so thoroughly locked in Vanya’s dilemma.”
“Oh, hell,” Casmin groaned.
Anthony snarled at the old man. “What are you doing?”
“That’s a really good question,” Rafe asked.
“This was a trap,” Stian said quietly. “Just not for us.”