“Fuck, it’s cold down here.” The words are out of my mouth before I can even think about their effect, but he just chuckles.
I roll over and pull myself upright, and wrap my arms around my legs. With the bright light now behind me, I can see his face more clearly, but I can’t read anything I see there. He seems calm, but I don’t trust it. But, then, I never trust it, with him. Not anymore.
“You left my cloak near the stairs,” he says quietly, as if to confirm my fears—but then just adds, “You want me to get it for you?”
I watch him carefully, replaying the words in my head, scanning for tone or subtext I didn’t hear the first time. But I find none. “My cloak”—there was a time that one little thing would have been excuse enough, regardless of what kind of mood he was in.
Something’s definitely up, tonight. Maybe I’d better save the credits for later.
“Nah, it’s okay,” I reply, as casually as I can manage. “Thanks, though,” I add. “How’s your shoulder?”
A scowl flickers across his face, but he covers it with a smile. “Just a scratch,” he says. “Could have been worse.
“Brennan and Tara tell me I have you to thank for that.”
He watches me intently, and I look away. Panic scurries around the edges of my mind, but I resist it. Brennan and Tara don’t know much about it, so he can’t either. He’s just talking about the warning. And I’m willing to take credit for that.
“Yeah, I guess we’re lucky I recognized, her, eh?” I try to laugh, but I don’t pull it off.
“Where have you seen her before? Tara said something about Rian?”
“Remember that hunting trip you took me on, a couple of years ago? To Rian’s estate?”
“She was there.” I take a deep breath and meet his eyes: “She works for him.”
“You’re sure?” he asks, dead serious. “I need you to be sure about this, Tiergan. We’re talking about war, here.”
I nod. My stomach sinks, but it can’t be helped. We didn’t start this. At least, not at this level.
He releases me from his gaze and stares off into the darkness. The muscle of his jaw tightens, but he says nothing.
I can guess what he’s feeling. Hell, I probably know the situation as well as he does. Rian is powerful—he’s wealthy and he runs a big family. A number of other, smaller families work for him, too. Faolan’s many things, but he’s not stupid about his odds in a fight. This is one we can’t win, and he knows it.
Not without help, anyway.
“Remember when we used to play down here?” he says, without looking up.
The question is an odd one, and it shakes me out of my train of though. I smile, almost involuntarily, but he doesn’t look at me to notice.
“Things were a lot simpler then. When Dad was . . . . “
He trails off, but the words fill in the space between us all by themselves—Running things? Alive? But he’s right—they don’t need to be said.
“Sometimes, I really miss him, Tiergan . . . . He was always so strong. So in control. When trouble came along, he’d just laugh. No doubts. No hesitation.
“Do you remember, Tiergan? Do you remember what he was like?”
Again, I try to catch his eye, but he doesn’t look over. I nod anyway.
“I try to be him, Tiergan. But I’m not. You all never say it to me, but I can see it in your eyes, sometimes. I got his build, his strength, his power. But you got his brains. And I don’t know that it’s enough, without them.
“He’d know what to do about Rian.
“He’d never have let things get this bad.”
I start to reach over to put my arm around him, but then think better of it. I know him too well. This mood he’s in, it will pass, and he’ll resent it all the more if he thinks I’ve felt sorry for him. Very soon, he’ll be himself again, and he’ll mow down anyone who remembers his weakness.
Better for me if I pretend I never saw it.
A half-truth bubbles up. I can see the danger in it, but a leader who is doubting himself, especially right now . . . Cormac might decide to take his chances. And then Rian wins, regardless. I take the smaller risk.
“Faolan,” I say, and turn to face him. His gaze stays fixed in the shadows. “You are the scariest, most brutal killer I’ve ever known. Rian tried to have you shot because he’s afraid of you. He doesn’t want to face you in fight because he doesn’t want to die.”
He looks up, and I continue, with the most dangerous lie of all. “When the time comes, I’m going to be there to watch you rip his throat out. And I’m going to cheer when you do it.”
A smile spreads slowly across his face, and I meet it with one of my own. Either he doesn’t see the truth, or, like me, is just ignoring it for now.
He chuckles and I know I’ve made the right choice. For the short term, at least.
“Thanks, Tiergan,” he says.
“You saved my life today, brother. I won’t forget it.”
He reaches over and pulls us together. “I’m proud of you,” he says.
Four little words. That I’ve been waiting for most of my life.
I hold his gaze and smile.
A few moments pass, and he breaks the silence. “Now,” he says, and a grin tugs at the side of his mouth. “Tell me about the guy on the roof.”