Brenden approached the castle with an invitation in his hand.
Oil greased his ebony hair, a and tight-fitting black and tailored white satin covered his body. He didn’t like it. It was rather embarrassing.
He handed the invitation to the hostess. The invitation was real and he hadn’t needed to forge it. There were plenty of them cycling through the Nobles Guild. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be a part of the event, and all Brenden had to do was intercept a few parchments heading to lesser nobles.
“Thank you, and welcome to the Lady Quinn’s engagement party,” the hostess said.
Brenden clinched his teeth, put on a fake smile, and nodded.
He swept past her and slipped inside. People lingered everywhere inside the ballroom. The chatter that filled the hall clashed with the music as guests danced and swept each other across the polished floor.
Brenden preferred to keep to himself. Instead of picking a dance partner from the collection of lonely maidens lined against the wall, sitting, and waiting for a potential suitor, he simply observed.
The king and queen stood on an elevated platform behind tables draped in red tablecloths. Elegant golden bowls and plates covered the platform, allowing the higher nobility to dine in relative peace away from the others, but also showcase themselves as being superior.
Brenden’s nose wrinkled.
Nobles. Too arrogant for their own good.
Brenden glanced at them for an instant, but it was long enough to see the queen lift her wine glass and glance at him. His cheek twisted, and he heat filled his face. He wished he could have argued a better way to infiltrate the castle…but he’d been overruled.
Security would be tight on the outside of the ball room with the celebration going on, but he could have managed to sneak around. He knew he could, but it was insisted that he come in the front.
Quinn walked past him, long white hair draping past her bosom against her dark blue silk dress. Her forehead and eyes were powdered with blue and her cheeks glistened with a light purple haze. She looked stunning. Brenden tried to look away, but he found himself caught in her gaze as she turned to study him.
“Lady Quinn.” He bowed.
She held her hand out, which he took in his own to kiss her knuckles. A strange sensation came over him, a tingle, and a spark of electricity.
“I don’t believe we have met. Who are you?”
“Bren—” He coughed into his shoulder. “Brenden.”
Her eyes twinkled as she squeezed his hand. She leaned close to him and whispered in his ear. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Brenden. I hope to see you around again.”
With one last appraising look at him, she turned, and walked away.
Brenden closed his eyes and gulped. He was a fool. Not only had he confessed his true name to her, but he’d stared at her like a fool, with mouth agape, and almost forgetting his mission.
Steal a family heirloom from her father.
After a sharp inhale, he turned away. Brenden clenched his teeth and shook his head. He needed to blend with the crowd. Now that Lady Quinn had shown him special attention, his job would become even more difficult. He could only hope the duke hadn’t noticed their brief exchange.
He scanned the crowd, and sure enough, he spotted the duke glaring daggers at him.
Well, I suppose I can’t have my first big solo mission go too easily.
He rubbed his knuckles across his chin, and looked away.
Just my luck.
In the corner of the room, an orchestra began playing. The tension in Brenden’s expression began to fade.
The melody soothed him, evening out the tension and fine lines in his forehead. The harp’s smooth twang mixed with the cello’s low hum. After a few moments, the viola mixed in to add a higher pitch to the symphony. He turned to watch the musicians and held his breath as the violinist brought her bow to the instrument. The higher pitch of the violin blended perfectly and he let go of his breath, chills running down his neck as he listened.
“Excuse me, would you like to dance?” a sharp, yet lovely voice asked him.
He turned around to see a woman in a light blue dress and deep, bright red hair.
His eyes bulged. “What are you doing here?”
She placed her fingers on his lips. “Shh, dance with me.”
The melody began to pick up and Brenden was dragged onto the dance floor. Several others were already dancing. Everyone was stiff, with fully erect posture, and uniform dancing.
Through clenched teeth, he repeated his question. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw you with Lady Quinn. She seems to have a liking toward you.”
“Though, I suppose you two would make an adorable couple. Provided you kill her fiancé first.”
“I suppose I could do it for you,” she continued, ignoring his protest.
“I said, enough.”
“However, with her in our lives we wouldn’t be able to spend as much time together. Oh, Brenden, I don’t know if I could handle that. You know how much I enjoy spending time with you.” She drawled her words out, dripping them with sarcasm.
“This is my mission. I can accomplish it without you.”
“Can you? I think one more look from Lady Quinn, and your knees will melt from under you. I am here to keep an eye on you. And—just to be clear—I can do this without you.”
“I was tasked with this mission, not you.”
“I do wonder why,” she said, lifting a brow. “You have such a hard time doing things in public.”
“Now is not the time.”
Brenden moved his left arm high and she spun around under it as the melody came to a conclusion. She stepped close to him, grabbing him by his shirt.
“Follow me, will you?” She raised a brow.
As she headed toward the double doors at the back of the room, he rubbed his forehead, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He wasn’t ready for the next step yet, but it seemed he was stuck with it.
When Keira was involved there was little he could do to argue.
He caught up with her as she reached the exit. The two guards eyed them.
“A little early to be leaving the celebration,” one of the guards muttered.
“Oh, we’ll be back.” Keira winked at the guard. “We’d just like a bit of privacy before things get started … is there a spare room we could use?”
Keira stepped closer to him, pressing her bosom against the guard’s chest to whisper in his ear.
The guard fidgeted as she spoke.
When she stepped back to Brenden, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
Brenden fought to keep himself from rolling his eyes. She’d already put the facade out there, and he was compelled to play along, despite how much distaste it gave him. He’d rather be sneaky. He preferred cloak and daggers. After all, that was how thieves were supposed to work. No one was supposed to remember you. Well, that was how it worked for him.
Keira was a different story.
She enjoyed the theatrics.
“Please, my good sirs. If you could direct me to a room, I’d be grateful.”
The younger guard who Keira had whispered to smirked. “Around the corner, third room on your right. It should be empty,” he said, and winked at him.
Inwardly, he cringed. Now the guards would think his sister was a harlot.
Better that than a thief, he supposed.
Keira grinned at him. She swayed her hips as she approached him. Her hand touched his chest as she leaned up to kiss the guard on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Brenden turned his face from the guards and rolled his eyes at this point. He reached over and grabbed Keira’s hand, dragging her away from the two guards.
He led her around the corner and to the room specified by the guards. They were still in view, as the younger guard stepped around the corner to watch them. Keira talked about nonsense as they walked, laughing and smiling the whole time. When they reached the room, Brenden grabbed Keira around her waist, and slammed her against the door. He leaned in against her ear as he opened the door. She grinned at him as she slipped inside.
Brenden took one last glance at the guard who wore a face-splitting grin as he entered the room.
Once the door was shut, Brenden rushed to the bed. He knelt on the ground as he reached underneath it, grabbing two large bags he’d hidden there. He dropped the bags on the bed, and began undressing. After he took off of his silks, he placed them in one of the bags. From the other bag, he grabbed his cloth cloak, belt, and sash, which he swiftly put on. The fabric felt good on his skin—much better than silk.
Brenden grabbed several daggers from the bag and attached them to his waist before turning around to find Keira with her own bag. She didn’t have a change of outfit, but she did begin putting knives in very interesting places.
“Leave the rest of this to me,” Brenden said. “After all, this is my mission.”
“I can’t believe they trusted you at all. Nobles, royal ball,” she listed, twirling her finger. “This has me written all over it. This job should be mine.”
Brenden titled his head, and met her eyes. “You’re just jealous.”
Keira placed her hands on her hips and huffed. “Hardly. I just came along to make sure you don’t get yourself caught, or killed.”
His face softened. “Thanks for coming,” he said, and she smiled.
“Did you think I’d sit at home and let you get into trouble?”
With a sigh, he shrugged. “I suppose it’s nice to know someone here has my back,” he admitted.
With a single nod, her smile widened. “Now, what do you need me to do?”
“Keep the duke distracted.”
“What about Lady Quinn?”
She raised a brow. “I’m sure you can figure out a way to keep her entertained as well.”
He turned around, stood on the bed, and moved one of the ceiling panels out of the way. Now, this was his style.
All stealth and silence.
“Brenden?” Keira whispered.
“Yes?” He glanced at her.
He smiled at her. “Of course, dear sister.”
Brenden climbed into the ceiling, then replaced the panel, disappearing into the darkness.