‘Move, fringe.’ He couldn’t come up with a name, but the Pits were always crowded. He couldn’t be expected to know the name of every lowlife who’d ever seen him fight.
The fringe stayed put. ‘Looks like you’ve got yourself a pet.’ He tipped his head, smiled, and ran his tongue over his fangs. ‘What have we got here? A new flavor of comarré? Dominic’s been holding out on us.’
Three rows deep into the crowd all eyes were on them. ‘I said move. I won’t say it again.’ Beneath his fingers, Chrysabelle’s pulse smoothed out. His gut told him that was a signal. Of what, he didn’t know.
He figured it out when her fingers brushed his knuckles on the way to her sword. He snagged her pinkie with his and brought her face around. ‘I will deal with this.’
For a moment, her lips ground against each other in a thin line. ‘As you wish.’ Her hand slipped back to her side, but her eyes held deadly intent.
The fringe laughed softly and dug a wad of worn plastic bills from his pocket. ‘How much for a taste?’
The sudden urge to reassure Chrysabelle, to tell her everything would be all right, staggered Mal. The voices, barely audible over the din, moaned. This was not the time to contemplate the meaning of such thoughts. Keeping Chrysabelle on his right, he ignored the fringe and pushed past him.
‘I asked you a question, Malkolm.’
Some fringe didn’t know when to give up. Mal kept Chrysabelle headed for the door. The air on his left shifted, telegraphing the fringe’s move. Mal feinted to avoid the fist as it shot past, then grabbed the fringe’s arm and snapped it cleanly.
The fringe howled. The crowd closed in around them. Damn. Maybe the holding cells would have been a better choice. Too late now. He held up his free hand, his other still securely fastened to Chrysabelle’s neck and burning like fire from being so close to her blade. ‘Back up and let us through and no one gets ashed.’
The crowd went still. A second later, familiar laughter broke the silence. Bodies parted and Katsumi, fringe vamp and former wife of a yakuza boss, strode through shaking her head. When she stood apart from the crowd, she stopped and smoothed the high-necked, long-sleeved black gown that hid a full body suit of tattoos. ‘Malkolm.’
‘Ane-san.’ Little sister, once a yakuza term of respect, now he used it to needle her. Back in the day, Katsumi had made mountains of yen off Mal’s fights. So much so that she’d shared a portion of her take with him. Enough to keep his strength up. Enough to keep him fighting.
She clicked nine long crimson nails together, the pinkie on her left hand missing from the last knuckle, a yakuza ritual done to atone. For what, Mal didn’t know. ‘Have you come back to fight?’
Her nails stopped. ‘You’re sure? Not even one?’
‘Pity. What then?’
‘Not your business.’ He took his hand from Chrysabelle’s neck to move in front of her. Katsumi was not known for delaying her gratification.
She smiled, mouth closed. ‘No, I suppose it isn’t.’ Turning back into the crowd, she waved her pinkieless hand in the air as if stirring an already boiling pot. ‘Kill him then.’
The roar deafened, the surge of bodies like a crashing wall of fangs and fists. A high, piercing cry cut through the bedlam. Chrysabelle. She leaped into position next to him, wielding her sword one-handed. Her other hand found his, pressed a bone dagger into his palm.
It stung, but he didn’t argue. There would be time later, when the killing was done and Chrysabelle was safe.
The fringe with the broken arm came at them first, sneering at Chrysabelle. A distant look glazed her face. Like she’d detached. That could be very bad. She tossed her sword into the air, reversed her grip on the hilt as it came down, then rammed the blade into the fringe’s heart. His sneer vanished into ash. Maybe detached was good. Depending on which side you were on.
She flipped her grip on the weapon again, this time waving the blade at the suddenly hesitant crowd. ‘Who’s next?’
Mal eyed her with new appreciation. She hadn’t flinched at killing the fringe. More than that, she’d done it with a steady hand and an unnerving grace. Maybe she deserved a little more credit for her training.
‘No one is next.’ The words echoed in the new silence, reverberating threat and menace.
All eyes shifted upward to a private balcony that overlooked the arena. Dominic’s hands gripped the glass rail, knuckles white. Mal had seen the tumultuous look on his face a few times before. It didn’t bode well.
‘You and you.’ Dominic’s gaze pressed heavy on Mal and Chrysabelle. ‘My office, now.’ With a forced smile, he addressed the rest of the crowd. ‘Please accept my apologies for this incident. Your accounts have all been credited with a thousand dollars in additional funds.’
A new cheer arose, and the double doors opened, ushering in a slew of servers carrying trays laden with pints of blood, shots of alcohol, and tabs of the various alchemical drugs Dominic made his living from. Chrysabelle blew the remaining ash off her sword before returning it to its scabbard.
Mal glanced at Dominic. Dominic stared back. Hard. Chrys -abelle grabbed Mal’s arm, turning her face away from Dominic and keeping her voice low. Her eyes held none of the distance they had when she’d pinned the fringe. ‘Am I in trouble?’
The question disarmed Mal. An instant ago she’d been an avenging angel blithely decimating her attacker, now her brows bent in uncertainty, yet he sensed no duplicity in her. He shook his head. ‘Dominic can’t hurt you.’