Ginna returned to her seat at first, swirling the brandy in her snifter while she watched him like a cat. He made his way around the room as if he actually belonged there, mingling with the guests, flirting with the women. He spent several minutes sharing conversation with Erikur, the two of them gawking almost hungrily at the bard singing Age of Aggression in the corner of the room. She needed to find a way to get close to him again, get her emerald back and maybe even slip some poison into his drink to teach him a little lesson.
No… that would be bad. As much as she wanted to strike him down for lowering his hand into her pocket, the Embassy wasn’t the place to do that, and certainly not in the midst of such an important job. Severus had taught her to tuck her grudges away if they weren’t a direct threat in the path of her mission, and for the moment, Brynjolf wasn’t a direct threat. If he got in her way, she’d deal with him appropriately. For now she had work to do. When the job was done, she’d hunt him down and take back what was hers, but in the meantime she couldn’t help feeling a little insecure. He’d taken her good luck charm.
She downed the last gulp of brandy in her glass, and lowered the empty cup to the table. She watched him saunter away from Erickur and make his way toward an empty table in the opposite corner from her. When he sat down, his gaze reached across the room, catching hers and holding it for a moment. The son of a bitch was actually grinning at her; confident, complacent. It was almost like he was daring her to lose her cool and make a scene, or challenging her to confront him, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction he was looking for on either fronts.
Instead, she grabbed another snifter of brandy from the passing waiter and rose slowly from her chair. She stalked toward him, watching his eyes light up with intrigue as she made her way across the room and then she cut left, sidling up to Erikur flirtatiously.
“I overheard you talking about Solitude. You’re a thane there? That must be a very important position.”
“I’m one of the most important men in Solitude.” He beamed over at her, delighted by her feigned interest. “The Lady Elisif looks to me on all matters, and I advise her accordingly. If I’ve told her once, I’ve told her a hundred times, the Imperials are good for business and business is good for Skyrim.” Sipping at his drink he lowered it again and laughed. “And that business is good for me.”
“I imagine you meet all sorts of interesting people in your line of work, a lot of women… A man as handsome as you must have to beat them off with a stick.”
His face flushed with the heat of desire as he glanced toward the bard in the corner again. “Between you and me, I’ve known more women than a married man should.”
“Oh, you’re married,” she lamented falsely. “What a shame.”
“That’s never stopped me in the past, if you know what I mean.” He lifted an eyebrow and she passed a glance toward Brynjolf again. He was still watching her, leaning back in his chair with one hand rested atop his thigh, the other clutched loosely around a flagon of mead. “My wife may as well bed dead, for all I care.”
“I’ve always had a thing for married men.” She returned her gaze to Erikur.
The man was drunk; she recognized it in the glaring, bloodshot vessels of his eyes. He’d be easy to lure away from the party, and even easier to ditch once they were lost together within the tangled maze of the Embassy. The statue was on display in the upstairs of the main hall on an end table. If she could just get him to keep drinking as he followed her up the stairs, the stamina draining draught she’d slipped into his drink would kick in and he’d be passed out on the floor before he even knew what had hit him. It was a risky maneuver. Men like him only had one thing on their minds, and sometimes not even alcohol laced with stamina poison was enough to deter their roaming hands and insatiable lust.
“And I’ve always had a thing for beautiful women.” She felt his hand on the small of her back, leaning closer to her to whisper, “What do you say we slip away from these boring drudges and find a quiet place to get better acquainted.”
Ginna’s eyes lit up with feigned intrigue and she looped her arm through his. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.”
They sauntered almost casually through the party, stopping to mingle and chat with the other guests, but Ginna kept her eye on Brynjolf as they moved. She couldn’t tell from his expression alone what he was thinking, but he was definitely fascinated with her. She passed by him on her way toward the hallway with Erikur still on her arm. She turned her head over her shoulder and winked at him, the corner of her full mouth quirking into a smug grin.
She was correct in her assumption that a man like Erikur pulled enough weight that they wouldn’t be followed by the Thalmor guards lingering at every door post. The Thalmor didn’t really seem to care at all, allowing them to pass and click their way up the stairs. She giggled and cooed as his wandering hands tickled at her waist while and slapped at her backside as she tapped her way up the stairs with him behind her. She turned into him, lowering her body against his to keep him enticed.
“I don’t even know your name,” he murmured, turning an eager kiss toward her lips. She moved her head back, his mouth brushing just beneath her chin.
“Isn’t it better that way?” she purred, hands lowering to the collar of his shirt to draw him further up the stairs.
Erikur growled like a saber cat, anxiously picking up his feet to follow, stopping several times to tip back his drink as he stumbled up the stairs to catch her. She walked backwards to entice him, wagging her finger so he would follow and then jaunting playfully down the hallway and cutting into the room on the right. She caught a glimpse of the statue, just where Markus had marked it on her map, and then she returned her attention to her prey. She quietly closed the door behind them and narrowed her eyes seductively at him.
Stalking toward him, his reaching arms tucked around her waist and drew her into his waiting mouth. He tasted of brandy, the wet slip of his tongue passing through her lips as his wandering hands began eagerly yanking up the hem of her gown. She untangled the strap of his belt, drawing the leather through the buckles almost aggressively and then holding them in both hands, she wrenched his body into hers. She needed that poison to kick in, and fast, otherwise she was going to find herself in a bad way and the wretched feeling would never wash off, no matter how hot the water she bathed in.
Her aggression only seemed to ignite his passions further, his wide blue eyes narrowing with intrigue as she pulled him around and backed him toward the bed in the corner of the room. She pushed him onto his back and his weight bounced atop the firm mattress. The jostling must have finally done the trick because he started to reach for her, and then he wavered to the side, shaking his head to try and loosen the grip of the harmless poison in his blood.
“You little vixen,” he growled, a slow grin drawing at the corners of his mouth. “Come to Daddy.” He reached for her again, his hand missing the target. Shoulders dropping back, he flopped onto the mattress behind him with a soft thump and his eyes fluttered back into his head before closing.
Ginna grinned, more pleased with herself than she’d been in a long time. Too easy, she thought, glancing toward the statue on the bedside table. She smoothed out the ruffles in her dress and jerked her head to the left, cracking the muscles in her neck as she started toward it. Reaching out, she caressed the marble, fingers dancing lithely over the curves. Denthor may have been a twisted wretch of a man, but he did have good taste.
She was lifting it from the table and preparing to lower it into her satchel when the sound of the doorknob turning caught her attention. Ducking into the shadow of the wardrobe, she watched it creak open. Her hand lingered on the hilt of her dagger, but for a moment the door only rested at half-open, and then he slipped into the room, scanning it cautiously before resting on her and closing the door behind him.
“Clever move, lass, luring him up here like that. I’m impressed.” There was admiration in his grin, a flash of respect as his stare roved leftward again to rest on Erikur, laying passed out on the bed with his breeches slack around his ankles. “You set it all up nice and easy for me.”
“For you?” she laughed. “I don’t think so. Back out of here nice and slow, and I’ll let you live… for now. But first, give me back my jewel.”
“You’ll let me…” His own chuckle echoed through the quiet room for a moment. “Let me get this straight. I walk away, and you’re going to let me live?” Returning his eyes to her, he squinted, beautiful mouth pursed tight into a challenging scowl. “I have you at the greater disadvantage. I don’t think that’s how it’s going to go down at all.”
“Do you now?”
“We can dance all night, Brynjolf, if that is even your real name, but I promise you only one of us will walk away from that dance alive.”
“Sounds like my kind of dance, lass. Let’s do this thing.”
Damn it! She cursed under her breath. If he botched this job for her… Ugh! She needed to calm her emotions, or she would be the one botching the job.
Drawing her dagger into the light, it glinted for a moment and he pulled up his own blades, bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet as he swayed. They spiraled and pirouetted around each other in a series of strikes and misses, lunges and back-ups as they sized up one another’s skill like two starved predators in a Cyrodiilian arena.
“You never should have come here,” she hissed, the tip of her blade catching his shoulder as she feinted left. It tore through fabric of his fine clothes, but didn’t slice the skin. Looking down at the tear, there was pure fury in his eyes when he lifted them back to her. She clenched the fist of her left hand and drew it back, catching him in the jaw and staggering him just enough to knock him off his feet with a heavy rush of her hard shoulder when she charged him. She found herself straddling his chest, the muscles of her thighs holding both his arms tight against him so he couldn’t move, the edge of her dagger pressed to his throat. “Who sent you?”
“I might ask the same of you.”
“You might, but seeing as you’re the one with a dagger to his throat, I think I’ll keep asking questions and you’ll answer them, or I’ll cut you. Now, who sent you?”
He was a big man and probably outweighed her by at least six stone, maybe seven. No matter how fast she moved, a woman her size wouldn’t dominate a man like him for long, which meant she had to act quickly if she wanted answers. But his mind seemed to work much like hers, and he wrenched his arms up to free himself. The movement caught her off guard and he sat up, throwing her back into the hard marble floor between his legs and pressing his weight against the backs of her thighs to hold her in place. Her dagger dropped from her hand when he’d thrown her back and skittered across the floor just out of reach. His large hand came up to curl around her neck, pinning her tight to the floor, but he wasn’t choking her.
This guy was good.
“Now who’s in a bad way?” There was that gentle fondness in his eyes again, an almost intrigued shimmer of desire as he pressed down harder to stretch her muscles until she actually winced in pain. “Just tell me who you are, lass and I’ll let you walk away from this still breathing.”
“You let me go, and I’ll kill you,” she promised in a hoarse whisper.
“What? And end this little dance of ours forever?” He shifted his weight again, dropping her legs down around his hips, but still holding her throat like a vice. His loose hair hung against the sides of his face, swaying every time he exhaled. “I don’t think you have the guts.”
“Try me.” It was a strange thing to notice, but she was positioned in such a way that she could feel his arousal pressing hard against her tailbone. Either he had a dagger stashed in a strange place, or their melee had turned him on. Ginna didn’t know if that fact should intrigue or disgust her, and for the moment she felt a little bit of both. A warm sensation stirred in her belly—desire mingled with distaste.
“What’s your name?”
“I am just a shadow. Shadows don’t have names.”
Her answer frustrated him, and for a moment he tightened his grip to remind her who was in the dominant position, his hips pressing harder, weight almost crushing her small body beneath him. “Who sent you after the statue?”
“You’re running out of time, lass. Pretty soon, someone’s going to realize we’ve all gone missing from their little party, and then we’ll both be in a bad way.”
“I guess you should just kill me and get it over with.”
“Killing someone with your particular talents would be a crime,” he pondered thoughtfully. “Just tell me who you are. I must know.”
“Get used to disappointment.”
Scowling, she watched his brow wrinkle with frustration, but his fingers around her neck started to loosen as if he planned to let her up. That was when the Thalmor guard charged into the room with their weapons drawn and their wide, golden eyes glistening with malice.
Her stare shot up to the man above her, their eyes locked in confusion as the head guard said, “Thank you, citizen, for your efforts in capturing this wanted criminal. Ginna of Cyrodiil, you’ve committed crimes against the Thalmor Embassy and the people of Skyrim. What do you have to say for yourself?”
There was no escape, even as Brynjolf began to release his weight from her, standing up and looking down at her with regretful, green eyes.
“You caught me,” she sat up and held up her hands to show them she had no intention of fighting.
Brynjolf stood in the shadow of the corner of the room, watching them search her person for stolen objects. And as they led her out of the room in irons, she caught his gaze from the corner of her eye. Brow furrowed, lips pursed tight in confusion, she swore she thought she saw him mouth the words, “Sorry, lass,” and then he lowered his head.