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Authors: Livia Blackburne

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Assassins

Poison Dance Proofreading Epub (7 page)

BOOK: Poison Dance Proofreading Epub
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The jump ahead was two body lengths long, so Kyra backed away from the ledge. Ten steps, then she drew a breath and sprinted forward. She pushed off just before the drop, clearing a gap of three strides before softening her body for the landing. There was a slap of soft leather on stone as she hit the next ledge. The impact sent a wave of vibrations through the balls of her feet, and Kyra touched a hand to the wall for balance.

Too hard, and too loud.

Silently cursing her clumsiness, Kyra scanned the grounds, looking for anyone who might have heard her. If she squinted, she could make out faint outlines of buildings around her—some as high as her ledge, some even taller. The pathways below were lined with torches that flickered, casting shadows that played tricks with her vision. Since she couldn’t trust her eyes, she listened. Other than the wind blowing across her ears, the night was silent, and Kyra relaxed. Tucking away a stray lock of hair, she set off, dashing deeper into the compound.

Two days ago, a man had come to the Drunken Dog, introducing himself as James and asking for Kyra by name. He’d moved with a deliberate confidence, and his gaze had swept over the room, evaluating and dismissing each of its occupants. When Kyra had finally approached him, James laid out an unusual offer. There was a ruby in the Palace compound. He wanted her to fetch it for him, and he was willing to pay.

“The Palace is guarded tight,” Kyra had told him. “If you want jewels, you’ll better get them elsewhere.”

“This ruby’s got sentimental value,” he’d replied. Kyra didn’t consider herself the most astute judge of character. But she also wasn’t an idiot, and she’d swallow her grappling hook before she’d believe that this man would do
anything
for sentimental reasons. The pay he offered was good, though, and the job an intriguing challenge. The Palace was a far cry from the rich man’s houses Kyra usually raided, with their handful of sentries guarding two or three floors. The Palace’s massive buildings were patrolled by so many guards, it was impossible to walk the grounds undetected. Rumor had it that even the rooftops were closely watched.

Which was why Kyra was neither on the ground nor on the rooftops. Instead, she balanced on a ledge outside a fourth-floor window, darting from shadow to shadow. The moon had not yet risen, and darkness concealed her from the Red Shields below. Unfortunately, it also hid the ledges from her own sight; the boundary between stone and air was easy to miss. From time to time, she slid a foot out to check her position, tracing her toe along the edge to fix the border in her mind.

Yes, she could die tonight. But as Kyra crept through the darkness, her doubts faded against the excitement of a challenging job. Those who knew her understood her skills. They knew she had no fear of heights and never lost her balance. But not even Flick, the closest thing to an older brother she had, understood the sheer joy that came over her every time she raced through the night. There was something about the way the darkness forced her to rely on her other senses, the way her body rose to the challenge. Her limbs silently promised her she would not fall, and by now she knew she could trust them.

The buildings across the path gave way to a courtyard with three trees, and Kyra slowed her pace, counting windows as she passed. The seventh from the southwest corner, James had said. These outer palaces were guest rooms for country noblemen visiting the Council. They were built securely but emphasized comfort more heavily than the fortresslike inner compound. And thus, they had glass windows instead of shutters, making it easy to see that the bedroom inside was dark. A minute fiddling with the latch, and the pane swung open on greased hinges. There was a shape on the bed, snoring in the loud and punctuated way of men who had indulged too much in rich food and drink. Kyra wondered for a moment what it would be like to get fat, to eat so much, and work so little. No matter. Tonight, the nobleman would share some of his bounty.

She started with a dresser next to the bed, coaxing open the top drawer. Silk caught the dry skin of her fingertips. Apparently, the nobleman had a penchant for embroidered silk handkerchiefs. Not the jewelry box she sought, but Kyra took one and slipped it into her belt pouch. After checking the rest of the dresser, she moved to the desk. The latch gave easily to her pick, but there was nothing inside but documents and seals.

The sleeping nobleman shifted, and Kyra dropped to the floor. He rolled over, snorting loudly before his breathing once again settled. Kyra counted ten breaths, then went to the chest, taking care with the hefty cover. The top layer was fabric. Soon, she was up to her elbows in velvet night-robes, but still no ruby. If there were a jewelry box, it almost certainly would have been in the dresser or the chest. James had assured her that the nobleman wasn’t the type to hide his jewelry. Could he have been mistaken?

She combed the room again, feeling along the floors and walls for trapdoors, even running her hands over the bed’s thin mattress. Still nothing. Kyra bit her lip. The moon was rising, a thin crescent above the horizon that announced the coming dawn. She’d already stayed too long. Taking one last glance around the room, she crept back out the window.

Getting out was harder than coming in. Her limbs were slow from a night without sleep, and her nerves were frayed from being so long on her guard. By the time Kyra reached the meeting spot two blocks outside the Palace, the sky was visibly lighter, and she was in a considerably worse mood.

Two men awaited her at the street corner. They hadn’t seen her yet, and she took a moment to study them. The first was solidly built, with a stubborn jaw and brown hair curled close to his head—Flick. When Kyra had first told him about the job, he’d listed all the reasons she should refuse, from the dangers within the Palace to his suspicions about James. Her friend’s arguments had been more reasonable than Kyra cared to admit, but by then she’d already decided. Since Flick couldn’t dissuade her from going, he’d insisted on escorting James. The two men had watched her cross the wall a few hours earlier, and now they awaited her return. Kyra felt a twinge of guilt when she saw the tense set of Flick’s shoulders. He’d been worried.

Behind Flick, Kyra recognized James. He was slimmer but taller, with pale coloring and a wiry, athletic build. He exuded confidence, studying everything around him with languid readiness. His expression was impossible to read.

Both men’s eyes flickered to her hands as she came closer, then to her belt.

“It in’t there,” she said, answering their unspoken question. Perhaps her voice was sharper than it should have been, but she was tired.

There was a brief silence as the two men digested her news. Finally, James spoke. “What do you mean?”

“I flipped the whole room—the dresser, desk, the chest at the foot of the bed. No jewelry box.”

“You searched the entire room?” James raised an eyebrow.

Kyra spat on the ground. “Look, unless he sleeps with the rock in his smallclothes, it wasn’t there.”

“Maybe you went to the wrong place.”

There was a hint of derision in his voice, and it galled Kyra. Trying hard to control a flush of anger, she reached into her belt pouch for the handkerchief she’d taken from the noble’s dresser. She flicked it at James, who snatched it out of the air with surprising quickness.

“This handkerchief’s got the fatpurse’s initials embroidered on it. See if it matches your mark.”

Kyra made no effort to hide her frustration as James inspected the embroidery. Payment for the job depended on handing over the jewel, so she’d taken a long and dangerous night’s work for nothing. She felt a hand on her shoulder. Flick, knowing her temper, was silently warning her not to push anything too far. Kyra gritted her teeth. James studied the handkerchief, after a while not even looking at it, but through it. Finally, he looked up, and his demeanor abruptly changed.

“Very well,” he said, voice now smooth and agreeable. “Mayhap he didn’t bring the stone to the Palace.” James untied a pouch from his belt and tossed it at Kyra, who almost didn’t react quickly enough to catch it. “That’s the agreed-upon price, plus some extra. I believe this will cover your effort.”

Without another word, he turned and walked away.

Coming July 8, 2014!
Preorder the hardcover here
. (Ebook version will be available for preorder closer to launch.)

To be notified when
Midnight Thief
launches, sign up for my email list at
http://liviablackburne.com
.
 

Acknowledgements

I
T
truly takes a village to create a book. And since
Poison Dance
was my first self published work, this was doubly true.

Since I usually write about teenage girls, writing a story from James’s point of view did not come naturally to me. I credit Barry Eisler’s John Rain books, Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie Lacrosse Series, and Dan Simmons’s Endymion books with providing me with good models for badass male characters.

Thanks to my alpha readers Amitha Knight, Rachal Aronson, Emily Terry, and Jennifer Barnes for early encouragement and sniffing out of plot holes, and beta readers Coral Frazer, Anna Redmond, and Jessica Corra for looking over the completed drafts.

My editor Shannon Barefield offered fantastic insight into my story, and copy editor Mary Thompson put the finishing touches on the manuscript. Then proofreaders Letty Kwok, Joe Moran, Christine Hahn, Beata Shih, Bethany Lau, Tracie Chuang, and Cassie Eng were kind enough to give the book one more read through.

Thanks as well to my cover artist Lauren Kudo for a beautiful design.

The learning curve for digital publishing is quite steep, but I was lucky to have writer friends who’ve walked the path before me and offered valuable advice: Barry Eisler, Joanna Penn, CJ Lyons, David Vandagriff, Moses Siregar, and the very talented and generous authors of Marie Force’s self publishing loop.

Poison Dance is a tie-in story to my young adult novel
Midnight Thief
, which is published through Disney Hyperion. Many thanks to my Disney editor Rotem Moscovich and the rest of the Disney-Hyperion team for being open to experimentation, and to my agent Jim McCarthy for facilitating everything.

And last but not least, thank you to my husband, who doesn’t roll his eyes
too
often when I ramble on about James and Thalia. And a big thank you to my parents. To my mom, for buying me those first books, and to my dad for always having good business advice.

BOOK: Poison Dance Proofreading Epub
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