Assassin's Heart(10)

By: Sarah Ahiers

Val set his jaw stubbornly.

But I could be stubborn, too. “He’s right about marking kills. The cleaners will find my coin and spread word that the Saldanas killed a man tonight. That coin will give my kill a faster rebirth, will buy us respect and fear from the common.”

We stared at each other. Marking a kill wasn’t worth so much anger. Neither of us could resolve the politics between our Families.

Val tried to ease things with a grin. “Let the Family heads worry about this. Things will be finished soon enough.”

He held out a hand, and I took it automatically. He pulled me close against him. “Now, where were we?”

I smiled, but dropped my gaze. It was so easy for him to brush things off. To simply forget the argument.

“I think”—I swept a speck of dirt from his chest—“I was on my way home.”

He frowned. “It’s not that late. We can spend time together. Take a walk along the pier maybe. We could watch the sun rise.” He flashed his dimples because he knew I loved them.

“My mother would have my head. And my father would probably support her.”

He snatched my hand again, tugging on it, but I held my ground. I wouldn’t be bullied or persuaded in this.

“Please don’t go home. Come on, I’m begging you.”

He had to be kidding. “Yes, that’s clear.” I jerked my hand free. “It’s not very attractive. I’m going home, Val. I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe.”

“Lea, I’m trying to do the right thing.”

Whatever that meant. Pushing me wouldn’t get him the results he wanted. “I’m worn out.”

Val pinched his lips together, but I was too tired to care about his hurt feelings. It wasn’t always about him—where we should eat, what we should do, when to end the night.

“You’ll need this, then.” He held up an iron key. I clasped my hands to my chest, but my key was gone.

I stomped over and ripped the key from his fingers, the chain glinting in the moonlight. “You damn well know lifting keys is off-limits,” I hissed. When had he even taken it? The restaurant, when he’d brushed my neck with his fingers. I glared even more.

He shrugged. “I saw an opportunity and I acted.”

“Well, now I’m seeing an opportunity and leaving.”

“Fine.” He held up his hands, eyes cold. “Do what you want. Sleep well.” He stormed away.

The urge to call after him crawled its way up my neck, but my key felt heavy in my hands. He knew the rules we’d established. Keys were off-limits because they were connected to our Family homes. Not that Val or any of the other clippers knew where we lived, but still.

The safety of my Family wasn’t a joking matter.

I retraced my earlier path to the art shop’s hidden entrance. When I stripped out of my dress, something fluttered to the ground, a flash of white in the dark. I scooped it up. A white poppy, pressed between the pages of a book until it had become as delicate as lace paper.

The white poppy was the symbol of the Da Via Family. Val must have slipped it to me sometime during dinner, a gesture of affection for me to find later.

I twisted it in my fingers and sighed. He tugged me so many different ways. But it had been a tiring night, and I didn’t want to fight with Val. I wanted to rest.

I tucked the poppy into my spare saddlebag. It could wait there as a surprise for another day.

I finished changing and traveled to a secret Saldana hatch hidden behind a bush at the corner of a church dedicated to Safraella. It was apropos, my brother Rafeo would say. Then I would laugh at him and tell him he sounded much older than his twenty-four years.

I dropped inside and closed it above me. The black tunnel smelled damp, but I could find my way even blind.

A slight brush of air against my cloak told me I’d reached the first break in the path. There were many such splits, set to confuse and disorient any intruders who managed to discover the tunnel. The wrong path led to dead ends, tunnels that dropped into pits, or labyrinths to confuse even the cleverest.

The stone tunnels went on for what seemed like miles, but in truth the correct tunnel was just over a mile long, leading me to another hatch and the Saldana home. I climbed a short ladder and used my key. The hatch popped open. I ascended to the tunnel room, where all the myriad underground entrances to our house eventually ended.

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