Home > False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(6)

False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(6)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Our kiss hadn’t lasted that long, but I was breathless as he walked away. I groped to fight off the disappointment of his touch, magical and otherwise, leaving me.

Tomorrow, he spoke into my mind as he walked out the door, we will go to see your people.

Thank you.

Nin, Dimitri, and Gondo were watching from the espresso stand, the very witnesses I’d expected. As Gondo sipped his coffee and smiled, I remembered that he was Willard’s informant now. News of the public kissing display would probably get back to her. Oh, well. She was rooting for a half-elf–dragon wedding, anyway.

“I can tell this is going to be my most interesting business,” Nin said.

My phone buzzed. My daughter’s name showed on the display along with a text.

Are we still on for sword-fighting lessons?

I winced because it was later than I’d realized. I’d either been caught up in the new vampire problem—all of Dimitri’s problems—or that kiss had gone on longer than I’d realized.

Yes. I’ll be right there.

5

We met at Yost Park, not far from Thad’s house in Edmonds. It was close enough that Amber could ride her bike over—though she complained vehemently about the hills along the way—so I wouldn’t have to pick her up. As far as I knew, Thad was still dating Shauna, AKA “the girlfriend,” a woman who had made it clear she found me loathsome and a threat, so I didn’t want to show up at their house or interact with Thad in any way that might make her jealous. I didn’t think she was a good match for him and hoped he dumped her of his own accord, but I wouldn’t do anything to prompt that.

“Wooden swords?” Amber eyed the practice weapons I carted out of the Jeep. “I was hoping to poke you with something sharper.”

“And were you hoping I poked you with something sharper too?”

“No. You could have a wooden one, and I could have a steel one. That would even the odds, don’t you think?” She smirked at me.

Her blonde hair was back in a ponytail, and I fancied we looked similar—exactly like the mother and daughter we were—but she would have objected to the comparison. I was in my usual jeans, combat boots, and tank top—it was warm enough that I left my duster in the Jeep—and she wore far girlier attire: teal printed leggings and a loose pink terrycloth hoodie that left her midriff on display. A few teenage boys in the swimming pool area watched her as we headed for the pickleball courts. They weren’t in use, so I planned to claim one as a flat practice area.

“For your first few lessons, we’ll mostly go over footwork. There won’t be much poking.”

“That’s disappointing. I’d really like to learn to poke people. Especially dragons.” Amber grimaced.

She hadn’t told me exactly what happened when Zav’s sister, Zondia, had shown up at the house to question her about me. All I knew was that it had bothered her enough that she’d asked Thad if she could learn how to use a weapon. Having me be her sword-fighting instructor had been his idea, not Amber’s, and I didn’t think she was excited to spend time with me. I wouldn’t get cheesy and emotional and say that I was excited to spend time with her.

“You don’t want to try that unless you get a magical sword,” I said.

“Will that happen? When I’m good enough?” Amber picked up one of the wooden swords. “I want to be able to take care of myself if any dragons show up and pin me down and hurt me.”

“I want you to be able to do that too.” My heart ached at the knowledge that she’d been hurt by dragons, not once but twice. And both times were because I’d made the mistake of inserting myself into her life. It was possible Zondia would have found out about her even if I hadn’t encountered Thad and Amber at the lake earlier that summer—Zondia had been thorough in her research—but I still blamed myself for all this. I would do my best to teach Amber.

We worked out for about an hour, and I tolerated a lot more lippiness than my combat instructors had ever taken from me, but she was a civilian as well as my daughter. I’d been in the army when I’d been learning this stuff. I remembered my mouth getting me in trouble and doing a lot of push-ups in between rounds.

During a break, with sweat streaming down her face, Amber lifted her hands. “When do we get to the part with the swords?”

“Soon.”

“You said that hours ago.”

“We’ve only been practicing footwork for—” I checked my phone, “—fifty-two minutes. Your swim team practices are longer than that.”

“We get to rest between sets. You’re barely giving me any breaks. These are different muscles than I use for swimming.” She waved at her thighs.

“Just be glad I haven’t made you paint a house or wax cars.”

Her forehead furrowed. “What?”

“I thought you watched movies from the eighties. Classics, right?” I’d been aggrieved when she’d called The Princess Bride a classic. How could movies I’d grown up watching be lumped in with those hokey black-and-white flicks from the dawn of television time? “You never saw The Karate Kid?”

She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like sports movies. Or Jackie Chan.”

I almost corrected her on Jackie Chan, then remembered that there had been a remake I hadn’t seen. “What kinds of movies do you like?”

She shrugged. “Stuff about high school kids.”

That sounded about as scintillating as watching paint peel. I groped for another topic to discuss while she rested, but I doubted we’d seen any of the same movies or listened to the same music. Thad had said she liked dresses and was into fashion, but as my wardrobe attested, I was not.

“Your father said you’re interested in beauty pageants,” I remembered. “Did you see Miss Congeniality?”

Amber hadn’t been born yet when that came out, but maybe it was another classic that she’d watched.

“Yeah.” Her eyes widened at some realization. “Oh man, Val. You’re just like the girl that Sandra Bullock played.”

“I’m not that bad.”

“Yes, you are.” She grinned. “Did you ever beat up a bully in grade school to save a wimpy kid? And then get rejected by the wimpy kid? And then punch him?”

“No. Your grandmother homeschooled me. I didn’t get any opportunities to beat up anyone at school until I was fifteen.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re so weird. And dress like Rambo.”

What did that mean? That homeschooling had shaped me or that a lack of kids to beat up had?

Did normal parents find things their children said mystifying, or would I be more in tune with her if I’d been around her whole life? Probably the latter.

I was about to put her back to work when my phone buzzed. I half-expected it to be Willard—she’d said she wouldn’t have a new assignment for me until next week, but it was possible Gondo had reported in and she wanted to goad me about the dragon kiss. But it was an unfamiliar number.

“Yeah?”

“Is this Val-mey-jar Thorvald?” a woman asked.

“It’s Val. Who’s this?”

“I’m Tanya Drake, the executive assistant for Mr. Bernard Weber. Mr. Weber is interested in hiring you.”

“To do what?” I hadn’t heard of a Bernard Weber and would look him up after I got off the call. My number was in the digital rolodexes of some locals with the means and need to hire an assassin with my unique skillset, but I’d heard of most of those people. “I’m pretty booked right now.”

Booked to go to Elf Land with Zav and learn wizarding skills.

“Mr. Weber needs you to drop your other clients and come work for him.”

“We don’t all get what we want.”

“He’s willing to pay you two thousand dollars a day for the next two weeks and will include combat bonuses if it comes to that.”

“Two thousand dollars a day?” I mouthed but didn’t say out loud. It was gauche for an assassin to be impressed by some rich guy’s offer of payment. “To do what?”

The executive assistant—I wonder if Willard called Gondo her executive assistant when she talked about him—had avoided mentioning that.

“To be his bodyguard while he’s in town and go to some events with him. He also wants you to take a look at the security on his estate. He’s had some trouble with corporate spies using magic and wants a professional assessment of some new items he’s installed.”

I thought of Dimitri’s bear-holding-fish statue that shot darts at intruders and wondered if those were the kinds of items this Weber guy had installed. For his estate. I smirked as I imagined Dimitri’s tacky yard-art defenses lining the mile-long driveway of some business mogul’s property.

“Are you interested, Ms. Thorvald? Mr. Weber heard you’re the best and only hires the best.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” I wanted to go with Zav tomorrow, but the idea of depositing a check for twenty-eight thousand dollars was appealing. With that much, I could finally pay off the auto loan I was still getting charged for, despite the loss of the vehicle at the beginning of the summer. “When would this gig start? Like I said, my schedule is full.”

“Mr. Weber wants to meet with you tonight to finalize the details. He’s in a bit of a bind and would like you to start immediately.”

If I accepted, there would be no trip to Elf Land, at least not for a couple of weeks. Would Zav mind delaying? It sounded like his horny bits would, but it wasn’t like I would instantly learn how to use my elven powers as soon as I showed up in their world. This would be a long process. Two weeks couldn’t make that much of a difference. Zav could hunt down a few more criminals while I was on this mission, and then we could go.

“What happened to Weber’s last bodyguard?” I asked.

“Mr. Weber hasn’t had one before. He travels in civilized society, not among hoodlums. His current problem is a recent development.”

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