Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
A Hidden Legacy Novel, Book 4
by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
The trip home was taking considerably longer. The chauffer seemed in no hurry, and the Bentley all but crawled up the dark street. Runa’s rented Nissan Rogue had no trouble keeping up. She had insisted on following us with Ragnar in her car.
I sat on the backseat next to Augustine. The adrenaline had worn off, leaving behind a soft fatigue. If I wasn’t in the vehicle of a dangerous Prime, I would have closed my eyes and gone to sleep.
“Well done,” Augustine said.
I didn’t need his approval. “Nevada’s debt to you is paid in full. We’re even.”
“Agreed. Although technically it was a favor to House Etterson.”
“Your dealings with House Etterson are between you and Runa. I’m surprised you cared enough to get involved tonight.”
“I know what it’s like to be responsible for a younger brother.”
Oh. Humanity from Augustine. Unexpected.
Augustine tilted his head. “House Etterson may prove a valuable ally for you, if they survive. They now owe you a favor they can’t refuse. You need allies, Catalina. The reprieve granted to your House is about to expire. People will be coming for you and yours. You’re powerful but inexperienced, and because of your sealed records, you are an unknown. Unfortunately, being an unknown isn’t enough of a deterrent.”
“What are the terms?” I asked.
Augustine raised his eyebrows.
I counted off on my fingers. “You separated me from my family. You’re aware that my older sister and my brother-in-law are out of the country and are unable to advise me at the moment. It’s the middle of the night and I’m tired from expending magic. You’ve complimented me, you’ve mentioned the danger facing my House, and we are driving at barely fifty miles per hour. You have an offer for me. Let’s hear it.”
Augustine cleared his throat. “Good. Skipping extended explanations and hand holding makes things easier.”
“I offer a strategic alliance between House Montgomery and House Baylor. Occasionally, cases which are uniquely suited to the talents of your family cross my desk. I’d like you to handle them. In return, I offer generous financial compensation, access to MII’s resources within the scope of those particular investigations, and the benefits of an association with my House.”
He was offering protection and guaranteed income. More, he offered contacts and data. The MII maintained an extensive network of informants and observers. Very little took place in Houston without Augustine knowing about it. He hoarded sensitive information, holding on to it until someone paid or threatened him. Access to that database was truly priceless.
Augustine was also a master at determining precisely what people needed most. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that our most urgent need was security.
I had to make a decision.
“House Baylor is flattered by your generosity. However, at this time, we must regretfully decline.”
Augustine chewed on it for half a minute.
“You have made a similar offer to Nevada three times. I’m aware that she declined, and I share her reasons for it.”
“Indulge me,” Augustine said.
“Very well. The real value of this partnership for us wouldn’t be in money.” Although we could certainly use it. “It would be in the connections and the elevated profile that comes from working with a Prime clientele. A way for us to enter Prime society and forge relationships and alliances that would anchor our House.”
And of course, the database and access to the MII surveillance agents, who were legendary. We both understood that, so there was no need to mention it.
I kept going. “I want to underscore that I fully understand the value of your offer. However, currently there is a massive power imbalance between House Montgomery and House Baylor. I have seen how MII operates. If we agree to your proposal, you’ll expect us to abide by your contract, which may require us to compromise our ethics. We’re a family business. All we have is our name and our reputation. We follow only three rules. First, we try not to do anything illegal. Second, once bought, we stay loyal to the client. And third, at the end of the day we have to be able to look our reflection in the eye. Those are the principles my father laid out for us, they are the rules my older sister followed, and I will follow them as well. If we have an alliance with House Montgomery, we’ll enter this alliance as equals, not as vassals or subcontractors, and we will adhere to our own norms of behavior.”
The silence stretched out between us.
Augustine opened his mouth. “We’re not equals.”
“Exactly. House Montgomery is a behemoth and we’re small and new. As you have said, we may or may not survive. But we must stand on our own. We worked very hard to move out of House Rogan’s shadow and I won’t trade that independence for an easy paycheck.”
Augustine’s face was impassive. “Thank you for your honesty.”
“There may be a time I’ll come to ask for your help,” I told him. “If I do that, I’ll be sure to bring information of equal or greater value.”
The Bentley turned onto our street.
“Then I’ll leave you with this piece of advice,” Augustine said. “It’s free. Do not become involved in the Etterson case. I know exactly what you’re up against, and the price I quoted her was a gift. Sometimes when you search the night, you’ll find monsters in the dark. You’re not ready.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” I told him.
"Ilona Andrews" is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team. Ilona is a native-born Russian and Gordon is a former communications sergeant in the U.S. Army. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon was never an intelligence officer with a license to kill, and Ilona was never the mysterious Russian spy who seduced him. They met in college, in English Composition 101, where Ilona got a better grade. (Gordon is still sore about that.)
Gordon and Ilona currently reside in Texas with their two children and many dogs and cats.
They have co-authored several NYT and USAT bestselling series. They are currently working on urban fantasy of Kate Daniels, the paranormal romance of Hidden Legacy, and thjeir independently published series, Innkeeper Chronicles.
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