Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(64) by Ilona Andrews
“I’m free tomorrow at five,” he said. “Bring the family.”
Rowena held up the paper. On it in large letters was written APPLEBEE’S.
Oh. “I’m not having dinner with you at Applebee’s.”
“Tomorrow at five. Thank you for inviting me into your domain. I am so glad we could do this. It will give me a chance to stop by our local office as well. I look forward to catching up.”
The disconnect signal beeped at me.
God damn it.
I reached over and carefully pushed the off button.
Julie exhaled and stepped out of the circle.
“Did that help?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said and looked at Ghastek. “I’m sorry I drew on your floor.”
He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “It’s fine.”
Rowena raised her eyebrows at him. “Did you forget how to write?” she asked softly.
Ghastek just looked at her. I understood perfectly. Being in the presence of Roland’s magic demanded your attention. You concentrated on blocking it until it short-circuited your normal thoughts. It was like trying to carry on an intelligent debate while being sucked into a maelstrom. You had to tread water to stay afloat and it took every iota of concentration you had.
I had come here intending to declare a possible war and instead ended up planning a dinner date with my father at Applebee’s. There was only one Applebee’s that had survived the Shift in Atlanta. The chain had started in Decatur, Georgia, in the 1980s, and a single restaurant bearing the name still stood there, claiming to be the first and original Applebee’s.
I would have to go to dinner. Stopping by the local office was a threat. I wasn’t sure if Ghastek and Rowena knew it, but I understood his message crystal clear. It was up to me how this surprise inspection would go and how many heads would roll because of it.
For a man who hadn’t been sure I existed for most of my life, my father got my number very fast.
Ghastek leaned back and crossed his arms. “I had a promising career. I had achieved recognition and some infinitesimal measure of security. And then you came along.”
Aha. He and the dozens of hostages working in this building could cry me a river. “Who taught you to draw, Ghastek? That doesn’t even remotely look like an apple. It looks like a butt.”
“More like a peach,” Rowena said.
“I have an inspection in less than twenty-four hours,” Ghastek said, his voice dry. “If we have quite finished critiquing my ability to draw fruit, I have things to do.”
I leaned back. “Are you worried about it?”
He looked insulted. “No. We can be inspected at any point, and we would stand up to scrutiny.”
“If you are anxious, I can make sure he eats something deliciously sweet before he comes over here. Like a generous helping of tres leches cake or a chocolate sundae.”
Ghastek stared at me. “Get out.”
I rose and made a show of sniffling. “Come on, Julie. Clearly we are not wanted here.”
“I will show you out,” Rowena said.
I went to the door, turned, and looked at Ghastek. My father had my number, but I was his daughter and I had made a career out of studying him.
“You keep thinking of him as a god. He is a man. He loves life and he pays attention to every moment. Each second is filled with endless wonder for him. He notices the texture of the couch under his fingertips and the color of the tea in his cup. This is how he stays alive, because if he ever grows bored and disillusioned with the world, he will become a shadow of his former self and die, just like my aunt. Treat him as a man. If you want to make a good impression, don’t do a big official welcome. Meet him yourself and make sure to afford him the small, everyday courtesies.”
I walked out.
• • •
“CAN I SPEAK to you in private?” Rowena asked under her breath as we walked into the lobby. “Outside?”
“Sure.” I had a pretty good idea how that conversation was going to go. Why didn’t you tell me you are my nearly immortal boss’s daughter? It didn’t come up. Where do we go from here? Ugh.
But she was bound to me by the oath she had sworn to the witches. I turned to Julie. “Go ahead of me and start the car, please.”
Julie gave Rowena a sideways glance filled with enough teenage scorn to instantly incinerate a small army and sped up ahead of us.
“That child is just like you,” Rowena said, her voice making it obvious it wasn’t a compliment.
We were almost to the door when a journeywoman with short dark hair nearly sprinted to us across the floor.
“Trouble,” I told Rowena.
She turned. The journeywoman ran up to her.
“Not now,” Rowena said.
The journeywoman gulped some air and whispered, “Frederick exposed himself to two young women in front of the ladies’ bathroom.”
Rowena’s eyes went wide. She turned on her heel toward me. “One minute.”
“Take your time. I’ll wait for you by the fountain.”
I walked out of the Casino’s doors. After the stench of the undead, the night air tasted refreshing, like a gulp of cold water in the heat of a summer day. I’d had enough of the People’s hospitality for one night. Maybe if I splashed some water from those pretty fountains on my face, it would wash the stench off.
A man stepped in my way. “Kate!”
How did I know him . . . I had seen him before. He stepped forward and the light shone on his face. Lago Vista. Except this Lago seemed to have lost at least two decades. The Lago I recalled had seen forty-five. In my head, his hair was thinning, his muscle drooped a bit off his frame, and lines had begun to crop up on his face. This Lago was in his prime. He stood straight, his shoulders were broad, his chest filled out his leather, and as he sauntered toward me, his gait betrayed no trace of a limp. His hair was thick, his eyes bright, and his smirk had gone from self-deprecating to smug.
All my warning sirens went off at the same time.
“Hey.” Lago winked at me. “Didn’t know you gambled.”
“I don’t. Strictly business.” There was something important I needed to remember about Lago. Something vital. It was making my head hurt, but when I reached for those memories, there was nothing there.
“I just wanted to tell you that you and I are cool. I don’t hold grudges.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Lago grinned. “That’s the right kind of attitude. Water under the bridge.” He waved his arm as if tossing an invisible baseball. “Whoosh, gone and forgotten.”
Okay. An important chunk of my memory was definitely missing.
“So where is your guy?”
“Oooh. Out on the town by yourself.” He nodded. “I like it. Come on, I’ll treat you to a couple of spins on the roulette wheel.”
“Can you afford to gamble, Lago?”
He reached into his jacket. It looked brand-new. New pants, too. New boots. Lago pulled out a wad of cash held together with a rubber band and held it up between his index and middle finger. “I’m flush.”
I could almost remember it. I could feel the tail end of a memory squirming somewhere just outside my reach. “You got a rich uncle I don’t know about?”
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