Dragon Bound(9)

By: Thea Harrison

He made an incoherent strangled noise and rounded on her. She danced back another step and kept on her toes, both empty hands held up as she gave him a mocking smile.

“Where is it!” Spittle flew. “What did you take? Where did you hide it? FUCK!”

“You said it didn’t matter,” she said. As Keith advanced on her, she kept moving in counterpart, keeping a few feet between them. “You said your keepers—”

“Associates!” he roared, fisting his hands.

“—didn’t care what I took as long as it was from Cuelebre, since they had the means to verify the take. I suppose that means they can spell it somehow to prove it really is from him.” The back of her shin came in contact with the coffee table. She gathered herself and sprang backward as Keith made a lunge for her. She put a lot of push into her jump and landed in a crouch on the couch as Keith stumbled into the table. “And you know what?” she said. “I don’t give a damn, except for one thing.”

Pia paused and straightened. She bounced a little as Keith scrambled back to his feet. His good surfer looks had twisted into an expression of hate.

She wondered if it would occur to him that her backward jump had been too far and high for a normal human woman to make, but she supposed none of that mattered anymore.

“The thing about blackmail is it never stops at just one payment. All the TV shows say so, anyway,” she said. She didn’t know she had any more disappointment left until her stomach sank at the cunning expression that flashed in Keith’s eyes. “Did you think I wouldn’t guess you meant to keep using me? After all, why would you stop at just one theft? It was always going to be like, ‘Hey, Pia, I’ll keep quiet about you if you’ll do just one more little thing for me.’ Wasn’t it?”

His top lip curled. “We could have been a real partnership.”

He had the gall to sound bitter. Unbelievable. She dropped her flippant tone and became serious. “Either you would keep blackmailing me, or sooner or later—if you haven’t already—you would tell your owners about me. Or”—she held up a finger—“how about this scenario? You’re going to give them what I stole, which will prove to them you were doing more than just idle boasting. It’s going to make them take you seriously.”

His mouth tightened. “They already take me seriously, bitch.”

“Riiight.” She continued, “They probably promised to wipe out all your gambling debts if you could pull off the theft. Maybe they said they’d give you a good chunk of cash as well. You’re hoping this will save your miserable hide. Then they’ll finally sit up and give you the kind of attention you deserve. They’ll have to take you as a real player and not some chump up to his ears in bad debt. But don’t you see—if that happens, they’re also going to get seriously interested in how you pulled it off. They’re going to want to ask you a lot of questions.”

The anger faded from Keith’s face as what she said sank in. “It wasn’t going to be like that,” he said. “I didn’t tell them hardly anything about you.”

Hallelujah, it looked like he was turning thoughtful. Or what passed for thoughtfulness, for him. She relaxed enough to step off the couch and sit down. “You know, I think I believe you on that,” she said. “At least I think you believe it. But what you ‘hardly didn’t tell’ was already too much.”

She could see how his thought process would have gone. He was going to retain all the power. He would keep her strung along in a pseudo-partnership where he held all the strings and got her to do whatever he wanted. His “associates” were going to be admiring and respectful. He probably thought he would end up being a real broker for them too and get them whatever they wanted for exorbitant fees. Then Keith was going to get to live the good life.

“Okay,” she said, scraping at the dregs of her flagging energy to adopt a brisk attitude. She braced her hands on her thighs. “We have to step outside of Keith’s fantasy land now. Here’s how it’s going to be. You swore you would keep what I said in confidence. This is all about keeping a dishonest man honest. You blackmailed me, so now I’m blackmailing you, because however you look at the scenarios I just painted, I’d be screwed.”

He shook his head and said, “No, you wouldn’t, P. All you gotta do is work with me. Why can’t you just fuckin’ see that?”

“Because I’m not like you, Keith,” she snapped. “And damage control is the only way I have a remote chance of getting out of this nightmare.”

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