But before Fiearius could step closer and knock out the guard, before Leta could yell to warn him, his foot caught on one of the velvet ropes that surrounded an exhibit and within a moment, he fell face-first to the ground. For someone usually so quick and sharp on his feet, he made a particularly gruesome thud.
The guard spun around at once, sloshing coffee all over himself. Slapping her hand to her forehead, Leta stood up, and locked eyes with the guard, who looked thunderstruck.
“What in the — devil’s name — you!” he gasped, hurrying to unlock his nightstick.
For a split second, Leta stood still. Her mind filled, at once, with an endless supply of ready lies: they were sneaking up here for a midnight stroll; they’d gotten lost on their way out of the party. Certainly she could weave together the proper words to get them out of this.
But instead, Leta acted: she suddenly brushed forward, seized a large clay pot off a shelf, lifted it in an arch above her and cracked it hard against the guard’s head.
With a groan, the man went still, then slumped to the ground at her feet, unconscious.
Shocked with her own daring, Leta slowly lowered the pot, grimacing in apology.
Fiearius, meanwhile, was pushing himself to his feet, already recovering with a grin on his face.
“That,” he said, eyeing her significantly, “was hot.”
“Thanks,” said Leta sarcastically, hiking up her dress and turning for the door. “I think. Grab the thing, please, so we can get the hell out of here.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
After a mad dash through the hall, down the street and through the Tarin main square, attracting more than a few stares from Ordenians and Tarinians alike, Leta was thrilled to find the safety of the Dionysian’s bridge. She kicked off her shoes and sunk into the co-pilot’s chair, her dress draping over the seat. Fiearius threw himself into the captain’s chair beside her, looking like he’d never had so much fun in his life, a dog who had been let out to play at last.
“Aren’t your legs aching?” she demanded, still out of breath; Fiearius both scoffed and grinned.
“I told ya, I’m all healed up now. Piece of cake.”
“You,” said Leta, “are completely insane.” But she was laughing, too, as she looked down at Cyrus’ gift in her lap. “So when are you going to give this to him?”
“For his birthday. It’s next week. I think? Probably.” Fiearius leaned over the dashboard, flipping one of the dials to set a new course. The floor of the cabin began to vibrate — the engine hummed to life, the ship was lifting off the ground, the landscape outside the window was beginning to show the night sky. And this, surely, was Leta’s cue to say goodnight; their long day together was over.
A lingering sort of lightness filled her chest: she wasn’t sorry at all she’d left the Dionysian this morning.
“Hey,” she said quietly, catching his curious eye. “Thanks.” She stood up, raising her bare feet to tip-toe to set Cyrus’ gift down in one of the Dionysians’ smuggling cabinets. “Today was — surprisingly fun.”
Her mouth quirked to a half-smile as she turned for the door. But she didn’t make it into the hallway before Fiearius lifted one hand and pushed himself to his feet out of his chair. “Wait, hang on. I’m not done trying to impress you yet.”
“What?” Leta laughed. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. One more thing.”
Leta watched, bewildered, as Fiearius started to bustle around the cabin: first he snatched a mysterious long green bottle — champagne — from a cabinet, followed by two flute glasses.
He filled her a glass, then handed it to her, which she accepted in confusion. Then, as if this weren’t enough, he reached to press a dial on the dashboard. Suddenly, an inviting crackle of big band music filled the cabin, warming the whole room like a bonfire.
But even this did not make Leta believe what would come next. No, of course he wasn’t…he wasn’t really…