Running in the Bear Empire 39: Prices and Paranoia

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Deline didn’t so much freeze as she tried to strip all tells from her body language and expression.  Where’s your loyalty?  That was a good question.  Did she want the answer?

“My loyalty?”  Carrone sneered at the Haloran spy.  “I’m a bounty hunter. My loyalty is to the highest bidder.”

“Then I’ll pay you more than whoever’s paying you right now!  Come on, you know the Haloran government has deep pockets.”

He turned to look at Deline, raised an eyebrow, and looked back at the bounty hunter.  She held her breath.

“You can’t meet what she’s paying me, I assure you.   And I wouldn’t want you to.”

He turned his back on the woman, who kept shouting.  Deline did not smile.  She held his arm and started walking, hoping he would walk along with her.

You can’t match what she’s paying me.

She walked slowly, speeding up only as the spy’s voice faded off into the distance.  “Am I paying you, then?” she asked in her softest voice, once they were well away from the spy and her shouting.

He stopped, both hands shifting to her hips, and leaned down to kiss her. She tilted her head up to his and tasted the smoke of the fire and the warmth of his hunger on his lips. “Only if you don’t ever make fun of my hunting skills again.”

“Is that your payment?”  She wrapped her arm around his waist and moved him closer to her.  “That I don’t make fun of you?”

“No.”  He kissed her, pressing his body against hers with one hand cupping her ass.  “No, you paid me in my life. Not being made fun of is just a condition of my continuing employment.”

She didn’t ask what will you do if you decide not to ‘work’ for me anymore? because she was fairly certain he was just grumbling to hear himself complain.  She bit his lip and then the edge of his jaw, working her way down to his neck. “Then I shan’t make fun of your hunting anymore. As long as-”

“Mmm?”  The noise turned upwards into a groan.  “As – bless the stars and damn the mountains, you’re good – as long as-?”

“As long as you tell me how you ended up with a Haloran spy with a knife to your throat.”

“Oh.”  The passion went out of his voice – almost everything went out of his voice – and he huffed.  “That. Pure stupidity. I was waiting for you to come back and, uh, mulling over what you’d said and the teasing you’d been giving me-”

“Sulking,” Deline translated.

“You could call it that if you really wanted to, I suppose.  And anyway, I heard someone coming, but I figured it was just you, coming back to show off what you’d managed to catch. And then she was up on me and I hadn’t even seen her coming.”

“Not a bad spy,” Deline had to admit.  “Too bad we can’t just recruit her. So.”  She kissed his neck again. “Were you tempted?”

“To let her go?  No. She threatened to kill me.  But I was, uh. Okay, yeah, for a minute, maybe.  Because it would piss you off.”

“It would,” Deline agreed.  “Turning her over to the Talon is bad enough.  I don’t know that the Talon isn’t also out to get me-”

“You know you’re starting to sound really paranoid.”  He made the accusation sound surprisingly casual.

“Well, can you really fault me?  There have been enough signs that something is going wrong, it’s obvious the Dekleg are on to, if not exactly what I was doing, that I was doing something, and there have been bounty hunters trying to kill me.”  She glared at him. “Yes. I’m a little worried someone might be out to get me.”

He cleared his throat.  “You, uh. You have a point.  I have to admit that. It’s, I guess, not all that paranoid if someone really is trying to kill you.”

“Thank you.”  She didn’t particularly feel mollified, and she was fairly sure that he knew that from the way that he looked.  “What – who – why are you suddenly concerned that I’m paranoid, anyway?”

He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “You want to leave again.  We found this place – all right, you knew about this place – but all this time getting here, working our way here, the Bear and the magic and the storms, and now that you’re some place that has wards and comfort – and a bed and food stores – and you want to move again.  I think you just don’t want to stay here anymore. I think you’re looking for excuses to move on.”

“I want to go home,” she hissed. “I want to get back to the capital; I want to report, and I want to do all that and sort out if anyone has betrayed the Empire and, if so, who.  But heading towards home seems like a good way to end up dead.”

“You’re not going to flush out an informant, though, here in a cabin.  So all you’re doing here in a cabin is waiting miserably and making me miserable by connection.”

She glared at him.  “You didn’t seem so miserable last night.”

He threw up his hands. “Is that where we’re going with this?  You are amazing, the sex is beautiful, and when I am with you, I am happy – except that you can’t seem to make up your mind.  You want shelter, you don’t like it. You want to move on, you don’t want to move-”

“I never said I didn’t want to move.  I want to move.”

“Then we have to flush out your spy.”  He glared at her. “Or we might as well set up housekeeping for good here in the woods.”

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