Taiisha looked at the man’s sleeping form in the dark, then got out of bed without disturbing him. The thermostat in the cheap hotel room was dialed low enough that frost was forming inside the windows. She preferred warm weather, but cold didn’t bother her unduly either. Outside, snow drifted down slowly, like a curtain. She turned the facts of her situation over in her head. The man’s name was Martin, and he was from Ile du Soleil. The Ravens had heard of the computer program Edward had found, and they were looking for him. This man was too self-assured, too used to surveillance on unwary citizens. Taiisha had spotted him almost immediately. Nikki should have as well, although the girl had made no attempt to deal with him. Martin had no idea who Taiisha was, and seducing him was easy. It would be easier to control the problem if she were with him, so she stayed.
She could feel Nikki ahead of them, as if the girl was a beacon, calling to her. Their window faced north, and she looked that way, as if she could see through the snow and the miles to where Nikki was. She could find Nikki whenever she wanted; the trick was to keep Martin and the powers that pulled his strings from finding her. If she separated from him, she doubted he’d blink an eye, but she wouldn’t know what he was up to, either. So she would keep her Italian accent, and pretend to be horny and harmless.
She didn’t want to wait, though. She was rarely impatient, and wondered what had gotten into her.
She heard Martin stir, then sit up. “Baby?” he called.
She resented being called anything other than whatever name she’d chosen for herself at the time. “What do you want?” she asked, not concealing her irritation.
She could hear him smile, the slick sound of his lips parting to reveal his teeth, and he sat up further, pulling the sheets around his naked hips to settle in for a romantic middle-of-the-night heart-to-heart.
“Just to talk. Why’re you over there?”
Oh, yes. She’d give him her heart, but he’d give his in return, and maybe she’d feed it to him. “I chose not to sleep.”
“Are you worried about your daughter?” he asked.
“Of course,” she replied. That was true, if not in the sense he meant exactly.
“I wouldn’t worry about her. If this guy left her alone and trusted her to do as he told her, he’s probably not gonna hurt her.”
“So say you. There are many ways to hurt.”
“I’ve read up on the guy. He’s not a total sleaze,” Martin replied. “Almost a decent guy, actually. I bet I’d like him, if I met him. And I probably will. Chicago is only a rest stop for them. My people think they’ve gone to meet a woman named Lexi Crane. Looks like we know who they’re selling the information they stole to.”
Taiisha frowned; she knew that Eddie had stolen the Ile du Soleil information on accident, and he wasn’t the type to risk the wrath of a spy network by selling information. His playground was almost exclusively corporate. “But who is this person?” she asked.
“It’s a degrees of separation game,” Martin explained patiently. “Sharp went to college with a guy named Ian Warnock. He’s nobody, an accountant at Ford. But Warnock was also a good friend of Lexi Crane and Warren Packard, the car guy who died recently.”
Taiisha nodded. “Go on.”
“Packard was an acquaintance–friend, maybe–of Dobie Cassarell, who, as you know, is a landowner and minor political figure in Ile du Soleil.”
“This name I know.”
“Well, Cassarell has placed a few calls to Ms. Crane in the past few weeks. He was also at her house recently, for an estate auction. And now, Sharp has placed a few calls to her house and I’m willing to bet he’s on his way there. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was selling the information to him.”
“And what for?”
“I have no idea. Ruben has just told me it’s my job to find out, and we have about a week to do it. Maybe less.”
The Ravens meant to disappear everyone involved, Taiisha was certain. She had heard of Ruben before as well, a thug whose fearless viciousness had impressed short-minded superiors enough to give him far more authority than he deserved. She surrounded by the stupidest operatives Ile du Soleil had ever produced. The Ravens she met were usually of much higher quality. “And in a week what happens?” she asked. “My daughter–“
“Don’t worry, Gray, she’ll be okay. I’ll make sure of it,” Martin said. “We’re going to go up there. You can get her out yourself.” He was smiling at her in the dark, as if he’d just proposed. “If I take you with me, that is,” he added.
Even though she knew he was working on making another excuse to make her have sex with him, Taiisha didn’t like the note of suspicion. “You don’t trust me?”
“It’s not my job to trust people, babe,” he said.
She supposed he thought he sounded intimidating and mysterious, like a character in a romance novel. Fair enough. She thickened her Italian accent and rolled onto him, pressing her body against his, feeling his warmth. “You can trust me,” she purred, feeling his body respond and knowing that any suspicion was forgotten. “How do we get to this place?” she said then, to keep him occupied with the sound of his own voice, which he seemed to like very much.
“Access to military pilots can be a wonderful thing,” he said. “You’re going to like this. The weather’s about to turn; they say Arcadia’s going to be nailed by a blizzard by the end of the week. The folks up there will just have to take in some lost travelers who are having car trouble, won’t they? We’re going to walk right into Crane’s house. We’ll play boyfriend and girlfriend–shouldn’t be too much trouble, eh?” He looked at her in the dark, as best he could. Taiisha kept her eyes on his. “You’ll be able to talk to your daughter face-to-face. It’d make great television.”
The insufferable idiot. Being face to face was the last thing she wanted. It would undermine the entire point of her exercise. And at this point, she couldn’t allow Martin to go without her. Not only would it destroy her masquerade, which hadn’t yet outlived its usefulness, but she wouldn’t be able to be at this place to get Nikki out before the Ravens arrived and burned it to the ground. Odds were she’d just be buried in an unmarked grave somewhere, which wasn’t a problem, but the information-mongers would also get her fingerprints and description before they killed her, in case there were some loose ends or unsolved issues that could be resolved with them, and that would prove very troublesome when Nikki turned up alive later. She wanted to strangle Martin, right here, and place a call to Ruben to tell him to back off, but knew the man was too stupid to be thwarted thus. Taiisha kept her conflict and irritation off of her face, and said nothing.
“What’s the matter?” Martin asked.
“My daughter…” Taiisha said. “It has been a long time. She might not know me.”
“Oh, you’re afraid she won’t recognize you?” He reached up and gave her breast a squeeze. “Don’t worry about it. I think that the mother-daughter connection is one that you can’t ever truly break. She’ll know who you are. And I’ll need your help, too. You gotta convince her not to warn Sharp.”
Taiisha clenched her teeth, hard, then relaxed. “Indeed,” was her response. She had heard enough from Martin tonight. After sex, he’d be quiet again.