After Imogen left, I sat at the desk and tried to order my thoughts. Valentin waited for me upstairs, but I needed a moment to decompress. I hadn’t lied to Ari, I wasn’t going to go rogue and hit Adams tonight on my own, but the temptation certainly existed.
I let Valentin know that I was going to be in the office for a little while and then started going through the data Sawya had sent me. To say it was extensive would be an understatement. There were logs of when people left the building, including who, how many, and their destination. I shivered. Sawya would have just as much information on me, and they could’ve easily turned it over to Adams.
According to this, Adams had arrived a day after us, but he hadn’t wasted any time—he’d gone straight to Sawya. It made me feel a little better that he hadn’t been here for weeks.
He’d chosen his building well. There was no easy way to get a team in. We would have to draw him out or at least catch him when he was outside. Unfortunately, according to the logs, he let his lackeys handle everything. He rarely left the building.
I was going to have to play bait after all. I grimaced in distaste.
A while later, Ari stuck her head in the office. “Mind some company?”
I smiled at her. “Did Stella send you to ensure that I’d go to bed?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said with the worst attempt at a straight face I’d ever seen.
It worked, though, and I broke into laughter.
She dropped into the chair in front of the desk with her usual lazy grace. “Planning?”
“Thinking, mostly,” I said.
“I half expected you to sneak out, promise or no.”
I tipped my head in acknowledgment. “That’s because you know me.” I sighed. “But it won’t be that easy. Adams is holed up and breaking in is too risky.”
“Nothing’s ever easy,” Ari grumbled. She looked me over. “How are you?”
“Worried. Worn.” I paused and pursed my lips. “I accidentally told Valentin that I loved him.”
Her eyes rounded and she leaned forward. “What?! How did he react?” When I didn’t respond fast enough, her expression closed. “Do I need to kill him?”
I smiled. “He loves me, too.”
“Of course he does,” she said breezily, as if she hadn’t just threatened his life. “He’s a smart man.”
“Do you think I’m making a mistake?”
She gave me a soft look. “No. He makes you happy.” Ari wasn’t my best friend for nothing—she knew all of my weaknesses. “And you deserve happiness.”
I sidestepped the whole issue of what I deserved. “I’ll feel better once Adams is taken care of. And then after the war is over.”
“Do you think Quint and Kos will really be able to negotiate a lasting peace this time?”
I blew out a slow breath and leaned back in my chair. “I don’t know. There are plenty of people who don’t want peace, but I’m hopeful that there are more who do. Valentin seems convinced he can make it happen, and I wouldn’t bet against him.”
“I wouldn’t, either,” she murmured. “It would be nice to see some of my old friends, assuming they survived.”
I nodded in understanding. Many of those who had chosen the Rogue Coalition had done so out of desperation, often leaving loved ones behind. While they didn’t have to sever the relationship, it was often safer for both parties. Instead of direct communication, they scoured the news and passed along rumors, hoping to hear about the people they’d left behind without giving away what they were doing.
Ari cocked her head and her eyes crinkled with her smile. “Stella says that if we don’t go to bed, she’s going to come down here with elephant tranquilizer and she’s not going to be gentle about it.”
I’d never seen an elephant in person, but it didn’t surprise me that Stella had something in her bag of tricks capable of taking down one of the massive creatures.
“Now who’s the tiny tyrant?” I asked as I stood.
Ari rose with me and grinned. “I’m going to refuse to answer that for fear of sleeping on the floor for all of eternity.”
“Smart,” I agreed with a laugh. “Very smart.”
Valentin lounged against the headboard, with an arm resting on his bent knee. He’d changed into loose pants and a snug, short-sleeved shirt. His eyes lost their faraway look as I moved into the room. He’d either been using the net or going over the information I’d sent.
“Welcome back,” he said. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I chatted with Ari for a while.”
I turned away from the bed and started peeling off my clothes with nervous fingers. There was no reason that this had to be weird. Just because it was the first time we were alone together since I’d blurted out those three little words didn’t mean anything.
Valentin’s fingers closed over mine, and I jerked in surprise. I hadn’t heard him move. I’d been so busy ignoring him that I’d done it a little too well.
“Allow me,” he said quietly.
I dropped my hands as he easily unbuckled the shoulder holster that I’d been fiddling with. He left the cami and knelt, unlacing my boots. He carefully removed them and the knives strapped to my ankles. He peeled off my socks and tears welled unexpectedly at the amount of care he took.
I blinked them away.
Valentin rose and lightly rested his fingers on my waistband. He met my gaze, silently asking permission.
I swallowed and nodded.
He removed the holster at the small of my back, then unbuttoned my slacks and carefully eased them down my legs. His fingers trailed over my skin with reverence.
It was a long time later before we finally dropped into an exhausted, sated sleep.
The next morning came too early. Everyone at the breakfast table looked like they hadn’t gotten enough sleep, despite Stella’s admonishment. She frowned at us and shook her head, but she didn’t say anything because she wasn’t exactly looking bright and perky herself.
“Thoughts?” I asked.
“I found the floor plans of the building,” Eddie said. “I can get us in, but it’s broken up into a bunch of rooms like this.” He waved his arm around. “Seems like a good way to die.”
I’d spent an hour this morning, cuddled in bed with Valentin, going over the data. Eddie wasn’t wrong.
“Adams doesn’t seem to leave the building on any sort of set schedule,” Luka said.
“But his people do,” Imogen added. “They’re sweeping the surrounding blocks, same as we did. They usually go in pairs.”
“We could grab them,” Ari said, “but I don’t know if that will be enough to draw him out.”
If we had time, I would find a perch overlooking the main door to their building and wait for Adams to emerge. A single, long-range shot was far less risky than an in-person attack, but I didn’t think Sawya would be happy to wait that long.
And when Sawya became unhappy, things got messy.
“We could set his building on fire,” Eddie suggested. When everyone turned to glare at him, he held up his hands. “I didn’t mean we should. It was just a suggestion. I’m thinking out loud.”
I rolled my eyes. “Does anyone have a suggestion that doesn’t involve killing a whole block?”
When no one came up with anything, Ari sighed. “Your presence could probably draw him out.” Stella growled something under her breath and Ari nudged her shoulder. “You know she was already thinking it; I am just getting it out in the open.”
“Could you get Sawya to set up another meeting with him?” Valentin asked.
I considered it, then shook my head. “They don’t want to be involved, and if Adams is murdered while on his way to see them, that’s a little too connected. But luring him out for some sort of early meeting isn’t a bad plan, and Sawya might pass the information. We know where Adams is, but he doesn’t know where we are. That gives us an edge.”
I turned to Eddie. “You’ve looked at the floor plans. Is there a way out of the building that isn’t obvious?”
“No. Front and back doors only, unless they’ve illegally modified it.”
“So we could have a spotter on each door, and then when we know which way they’re going, hit them en route.”
“Attacking on the move leaves a lot of room for error,” Ari said.
“Which is why it won’t be expected. He’ll expect the trap at the meeting place, not on the way.”
Ari shook her head. “Not only is it dangerous for us, but if we go around murdering people in the street, then station security is going to take an active interest.”
I tapped the table while I thought. “That might be something Sawya can help with.”
A plan began to form. I let the others continue to toss out ideas while I thought it through. It was risky, but everything was risky at this point. If we couldn’t go to Adams, then making him come to us was the next best thing.
Ari and Luka got into a heated argument about who would be better bait: me or Valentin.
Finally, Imogen tossed up her hands. “None of this matters,” she said. “Adams is a coward. He’s not going to leave his safe house unless he thinks he can grab one of you without issue.”
I smiled at her. “That’s why you’re going to betray me.”