“I have to ask again, are you an idiot?”
“You don’t have to be an asshole. I know how Keeping works, you giant shit, so you can back off and just assume I’m not asking or talking about the bond. Obviously you’re protective of her. Obviously you have to obey her. That has nothing to do with the way you’re looking at her right now.” Ezer rolled his eyes and flapped that away with a wave of his hand. “Anyway. There’s a job. It’s a recon, and if you, mister, can listen and follow a plan, then we could use you. If you can’t, then you’re staying back here.”
“You can’t give me orders,” Erramun snarled.
“No, but I can suggest things to Senga, and she usually listens, since planning these things is my job.”
“Okay, that’s enough.” Senga inserted herself between them. “Tell me about the job, Ezer.”
“It’s a reconnaissance job. Basic go in, find the information, get out. Allayne would be running lead on it, but I need someone who can be sneaky to get into their server room. And – if there’s something going on and we really are being set up, which seems more and more likely, I want you there,” he gestured at Erramun, “to back her up, because Allayne will have her hands full and Chitter is going to be in the van. And I don’t want her being shot full of holes again.” He lifted his chin and stared at Erramun. “I imagine you want – don’t want – the same thing.”
“You imagine right.” Erramun nodded his head slowly. “If sa’Monmartin will allow?”
“Sa’Monmartin will allow or she won’t be going on this mission,” Ezer snapped. “I’ll find another way in if I have to.”
“Ezer!” Senga glared at him, but he seemed completely unfazed. “You can’t just lock me out of a mission.”
“I can and will. If I don’t think you’re safe to go on the mission – that’s in our agreement, remember? So this time, you take the mountain there with you, or you stay home.”
Senga huffed. It wasn’t that he wasn’t right. It was just that she thought it was a stupid use of being right.
“Mistress?” Erramun’s voice had taken on a strange tone. She looked up at him: he was frowning down at her.
“This mission,” she muttered. “But not missions where the goal is to talk to people. Come on, Ezer, I don’t need a babysitter. I can handle myself.”
“I know you can. But right now, you’re in a bit of a dangerous spot, and I don’t want to risk everyone just because you’re feeling brave. So take the giant with you. It’s not like your aunt didn’t guess that you’d need a bodyguard, after all. Why else would she have given you him?”
“Well, possibly to piss off her daughters.”
“Maybe to piss me off,” Erramun added.
“Because I’m the white sheep and she wanted to put him on a leash but not choke him with it, which limits the people in her circle of acquaintances to – well, me,” Senga offered. Erramun grimaced.
“Because she wanted to put a leash on this one and knew that I would be more likely to accept a collar than this difficult woman here,” he countered.
“Maybe because there’s a sleeper command buried somewhere in this one that will jump out and screw with me – or make him kill me – when nobody expects it,” Senga added back.
“Maybe because it confuses far too many other people at that funeral,” he added, though his expression was getting more and more sour, “and if they think that I’m really Mirabella’s agent, maybe they’ll think she’s actually still alive. People have called me her dog before.” He didn’t look like he liked that. She didn’t exactly blame him for that.
“Maybe,” Senga offered, stretching to the bounds of credulity and beyond, “it wasn’t really her idea, but someone was secretly puppeting her. Maybe it was the lawyer, that obnoxious little prick. Maybe he manipulated her into putting things into the will – like that ‘If you bitch you get nothing’ clause… nah.” She snorted at herself. “Nah, too far.”
“Maybe they drew your name out of a hat,” Erramun offered.
Ezer did not look amused. “If you two are quite done, Senga. You going to accept the bodyguard or am I going to bench you?”
“Fine, fine. It’s extortion, which shouldn’t surprise me, it’s kinda bitchy, which also shouldn’t surprise me, and I suppose if someone gives one a really nice custom-build sports car, one ought to take it around the block a few times.”
“Speaking of.” Erramun’s hand settled on her back in a gesture that from anyone else might have read as possessive. “If the mission isn’t right now-”
“Tomorrow night at soonest.” Ezer agreed.
“-would Mistress like to take me back to her room and kick the tires?”
Senga looked at him. He looked not only sincere but interested. Then again, he might be able to look like anything he wanted. “Yes,” she agreed. “Ezer, briefing over lunch tomorrow? Try not to get in any fights about rooms, arguments with the staff, or fall in any traps until then, okay?”
“Should I have them send some food up to your room?”
“If they haven’t already figured that out-” Erramun looked unimpressed at the very idea “-then they are not nearly as good as I’d heard they were. Mistress?”
Senga found herself smiling, even though she sensed there were deep traps beneath every one of Erramun’s words and especially mistress. “Yes. Let’s go upstairs.”