“I wonder,” said Leta suddenly, “the kind of fundraising you could be doing right now if you were talking to investors instead?”
“Well I wonder how our investors are going to feel knowing you brought a shark into their midst, eh?”
“Shark?” Liam repeated with a laugh. “I’ve published nothing but good things about the war effort and our allies. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Well, Admiral,” Liam laughed, but his face was dark, murky, “Can’t say I know what I’ve done to offend you — “
“Nothing,” Leta interrupted, her gaze ice cold. “You’ve done nothing wrong. And you don’t have to answer to him. Let’s go find your banker — even that’s more worthwhile than this conversation.”
Leta gazed him one last cold glare before slipping to Liam’s side, taking her drink, and disappearing into the crowd of people. Fiearius watched them go, lifting his glass to his lips and taking a long sip. Well that hadn’t gone as he’d planned. Oh well. He had things to take care of anyway. Ignoring the group of guests waiting to talk to him, he wandered off.
This wasn’t Leta’s favorite way to spend an evening, but she was prepared to grin and bear it if it meant helping the war effort. Which was how she found herself at a round banquet table with six other strangers, eating dinner, drinking champagne, and currently forcing a laugh at someone’s joke that wasn’t funny. Anything to fundraise.
At her side, Liam was deep in conversation with an older man, discussing the state of media these days (“The Society has their hand in almost everything,” Liam was saying, “but they’ve inadvertently made room for independent journalists to break through the noise.”) While he was talking, he caught her eye and half-smiled.
Leta waited for a pause in the conversation before leaning her shoulder against his. “Hey,” she said quietly. “About earlier. At the bar.”
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but Liam brushed his hand sideways dismissively. “Don’t worry about that,” he whispered back.
“Really though,” she insisted. “I probably should have mentioned before. Fiear–Admiral Soliveré and I have a bit of…history.”
He looked more amused than surprised. “You don’t say.”
“I’m really sorry. He had no right to be such an ass to you.”
“It’s not your fault, Leta, really. Lots of people don’t like journalists. I’ve read the articles, he has a lot of cause to not like journalists. Hell, I don’t like journalists.” But it wasn’t just because he was a journalist, Leta thought privately, but Liam went on, “I can handle a little backlash from Soliveré.” His lips pulled back into a grin as he leaned in closer to add softly, “But if it’s bothering you, why don’t you make it up to me later tonight?” He squeezed her knee warmly under the table, and Leta finally felt herself relax.
She turned back to the table and engaged in a conversation with an older woman. Leta asked about her life and promptly forgot everything she was told, they covered a brief praise of recent Carthian victories, and then, just as the woman was asking her about medical school, Leta was suddenly interrupted. By Fiearius. Again. He materialized at her side and then jerked his head sideways and said, “Come here.”
“What?” Leta set her drink down, hard, with a bit of a thud. She lowered her voice. Hopefully he would leave before anyone noticed he’d arrived. “No, I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“I need to talk to you.”
“I’m in the middle of dinner,” she hissed.
“So? Come on.”
Leta could feel that they were attracting attention. The table grew quiet, and the woman at her right side was blatantly staring between them, her mouth hanging open. Fiearius glared at her briefly before focusing in on Leta.
“It’s important,” he grunted. “Trust me.”
He caught her eye meaningfully and then turned on his heel and stalked off, clearly expecting her to follow. Well she had no intention of doing that. After the way he’d acted earlier? She had no intention of spending any more of her evening arguing with this man. But–what the hell was so urgent? Leta sat there, torn and angry, before she finally —
“Excuse me,” she said, mustering a smile and rising from her chair, dropping her napkin back on the table. “I’ll be right back.”
Liam arched his eyebrows at her in clear disbelief.
“It’ll just take a minute,” she added, and then she went after Fiearius. He was waiting near the dance floor, and Leta hissed under her breath, “What the hell is the matter with you? This better be important — “
“Oh, it is,” Fiearius assured her. Then he took her wrists and started to draw her onto the dance floor.
Immediately, Leta dug in her feet, pulling her forearms back. “That’s what you dragged me away for? To dance with me?” She tore her hands away. “No, absolutely not. How dare you? I’m not here for –”
“Come on, I need a place no one can eavesdrop.” He tilted his head towards the clusters of people around them, in direct earshot. And then towards the dance floor, where people were traversing the space quickly, sparsely and under the spell of a song.
Leta groaned. Well, he had a point.
“Make it quick,” she snapped.
Leta put her palm on his shoulder, and his hand went to her hip, drawing her closer. Too close, like it was the old days. Before they could get too comfortable (Liam must have been in shock at the point), she muttered, “Well?”
When he didn’t answer, Leta was convinced that there really wasn’t any important news, he had just made it up to tear her away the table. She was just about to pull away sharply when he answered in her ear, “There’s a Councillor here.”
Leta’s whole body tensed. Her palm tightened on his shoulder. “What?! How do you know?”
“Gates gave me the guest list this morning. Told me to research the investors a little, y’know? Make sure I know who’s who,” Fiearius explained. “Most of them were just rich Carthians, as you’d expect, but there was one. One that stood out.”
He turned her around expertly, her skirt billowed out around her ankles. “The majority of these people, they have these long family histories. This guy? Just showed up about twenty years ago. No history before that. No family. Just…appeared. Around the time the Society first took a holding in Synechdan.” He lifted his brows indicatively. “I know the Synechdan Councillor was at one point involved in Carthian politics. Dez says he had insider info no one who hadn’t been involved could have. So how good of a cover, hm? Pull off your fake Councillor death, create a new identity and then use your knowledge to insert yourself in your enemy’s upper crust?”
It was a good cover, Leta had to admit. But, “Doesn’t that seem kind of risky? For a Councillor?”
“It does,” Fiearius agreed, “But if he can pass along details of Carthian war plans? Wouldn’t it be worth the risk?”
“Not if it’s that easy to uncover it,” Leta argued. “Surely someone else could pick up on the lack of history and–”
“And assume he’s just new money trying to hide it to save face,” Fiearius finished for her. “I talked to a very nice gossipy group of ladies. They all know. And they all have theories. But none of them are ‘secret Society Councillor undercover’, believe me.”
“Then how do you know those other explanations aren’t true? Aren’t they more likely?”
Fiearius just shook his head. “I’ve got a feeling. Maybe I’m wrong, but it all fits. And I want to check it out.” When she frowned in confusion, he elaborated, “He’s staying in the mansion for the week. Got a room in the guest quarters upstairs. I’m gonna investigate.”
Now, Leta was shaking her head. “Fiear, even if he is a Society Councillor, what exactly do you expect to find just lying around his room for someone to discover?”
“No idea, but if I’m right? This may be my only chance to find this guy. I have to take it. I have to at least try.” He squeezed the hand that he held as they danced. “You with me?”
Leta hesitated. It sounded farfetched at best, downright foolish at worst. But despite all logic telling her otherwise, there was something in Fiearius’ tenacity that made her question her own sense. After all, what if he was onto something? It really wasn’t a chance they could pass up. So going against all her better judgment, she nodded. “Alright. Let’s look into it.”
Unfortunately, investigating the man wasn’t quite as straightforward as Fiearius had made it sound. After failing to gain access to the upper level of the mansion from three different access points (the guards employed for the evening apparently wouldn’t even sway for an admiral and his questionable need to use the upstairs lavatory), Leta was quite certain it just wasn’t going to happen.
Fiearius, as always, had other ideas.
“Would you hurry up?” Leta hissed under her breath, folding her arms tight over her chest to combat the nighttime chill. She peeked around the corner into the still empty courtyard and the busy ballroom through the windows beyond and then looked up at the dark figure of the man carefully climbing the trellis up to the balcony. “What if someone sees you?”
“Isn’t that why you’re keeping lookout?” Fiearius whispered back. The trellis creaked as he moved further up the wall.
“Just–can’t you go any faster?”