He watched her retreating back as she followed after the tall redhead plowing through the crowd, but something else caught his eye. He wasn’t the only one watching them. A perfectly average-looking middle-aged man stood near the edge of the dance floor, seemingly engaged in a conversation with a group of socialites. But whatever the topic of conversation, it clearly didn’t interest him for his eyes were fixed on Fiearius and Leta as they moved across the room.
Liam might not have thought anything of it, had he not just been abandoned by two people who clearly thought something was amiss. But as it so happened, there was something about the man’s stare that bothered him. Something far too intense, far too meaningful, for simple curiosity.
Well, he hadn’t become an investigative journalist for nothing. He straightened his jacket and slipped into the crowd.
Leta followed on Fiearius’ heels, weaving herself through the throng of guests. She felt a stab of guilt at leaving Liam behind again, but she had something far bigger to worry about: finding the assassin that had infiltrated the party.
Fortunately, Fiearius seemed to know what he was doing. Or at least he was walking as though he did, stalking with the utmost importance through any clusters of people standing in his way. No one was foolish enough to try and stop him.
“What’s the plan here?” she asked, ignoring the strange looks she was receiving from the gowned women and suited men they passed.
“Well. The message said the deed had to be done before dessert’s served, right?”
“Why is that, do you think?”
“No idea,” Fiearius admitted, finally leading them off of the ballroom floor and into one of the support hallways that looped around it. “But it’s a starting point.”
“And a time limit,” Leta added.
Without hesitation Fiearius pushed open a set of double metal doors that led to the kitchen. Inside, wait staff flooded by with trays of drinks, entrees and horderves. Fiearius didn’t wait for one of them to notice him before he demanded, “When’s dessert?”
The sudden barking question startled a few of them. Confused a few more. Finally, a woman answered, “Fifteen minutes, sir. We’ll be happy to bring it to your table if you–”
But Fiearius had already stopped listening. Leta rushed after him as he abandoned the kitchen and started down the hallway again. “Then our assassin’s running out of time. We need to find him.”
Leta nodded, but of course, that was the best solution. Track him down before he’s able to act and put a stop to it. But as they passed by an archway that looked out onto the ballroom, she found herself slowing to a stop and staring.
“There were pictures in the file, I think I’d recognize his face,” Fiearius was saying, his voice ever growing quieter as he continued to walk away from her. “Maybe we can get some guards in on this. No, I don’t want to cause any panic. We need to be subtle, remove the threat, don’t let anyone notice. You and me can split up though, cover more ground, are you good at face descriptions? Am I?” Finally, he seemed to notice he was alone. “Leta?”
It was true, what he’d said. The assassin was running out of time, but so were they. And as Leta watched the masses of people flit and mingle and dance across the ballroom, it became abundantly clear that they didn’t have enough.
“Fiear, there’s no way we can find him in time,” she pressed quietly as she felt him rejoin her in the archway. “He’s only got fifteen minutes, he’s probably not going to wait til the last second and he’s likely not even on the floor anymore. We need a better plan.”
Fiearius faltered. “We could look for the weak points. Where he could make his strike. We could–”
“Fiear,” she cut him off, “There’s no time. This mansion is huge.”
Furrowing his brow, he moved his gaze to the dance floor. “We’re not too late, are we?” he breathed, sounding more fearful than Leta had ever heard him.
For her part, she didn’t understand. She’d never known Fiearius to be worried about potential assassins. Usually, he’d scoff at such a threat and dare them to try, but perhaps there was something she didn’t know here. Perhaps in their years apart, he’d experienced something that shook him. Perhaps he had reason to not be as confident as he used to be. Regardless, she didn’t like the look on him. “If we were too late, you wouldn’t still be standing here,” she pointed out gently, laying her hand on his arm, hoping he’d find it comforting, but suddenly he regarded her with a sharp, confused stare.
“What? What does that have to do with anything?”
Now she was certain she didn’t understand. “If it was too late, you’d be dead,” she elaborated more clearly, feeling a little less sorry for him now.
“Why would I–,” he began and then promptly shook his head. “You think he’s after me?”
“Of course. The note said something about a five-star funeral, it’s obviously referring to an admiral.”
“There’s more than one admiral here,” Fiearius said. “Why would you assume he’s after me?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him impatiently. “Who doesn’t want you dead?”
“But who’s stupid enough to try and off me?” he barked, apparently amused by the notion. There it was. The Fiearius she recognized. All shreds of sympathy left her.