Shield's Lady
her cheeks. For a few seconds she couldn't quite meet his eyes. "I'm learning here in Serendipity that one must occasionally make certain concessions to the local way of doing things if one wants to get anything done."
        "What a load of keenshee bird guano," Gryph retorted pleasantly. "No sane westerner, especially not a respectable clan like the Avylyns, would have dared tried the game you played with me last night. Not unless someone with an incredibly persuasive tongue talked them into it. It would take a real eastern sales exec to do that. You have my full and unreserved admiration."
        "Thank you."
        "I always admire professionalism when I see it. Tell me, what were you going to do with my weapon kit?"
        Sariana's gaze jerked back to his. "I don't know," she said honestly. "I didn't even know what it was, just that it was apparently very important to you."
        "Oh, it is that," Gryph assured her far too smoothly. "Very important. Did you think you could hold it or its contents for ransom? Use it to get me to agree to what you wanted?"
        Sariana's flush deepened. "I was getting desperate," she mumbled. "Nothing seemed to be going the way I had planned. You hadn't responded to my requests for a private meeting. The drug hadn't worked the way it was supposed to. You weren't being at all cooperative. You even turned down the Avylyns' offer of social introductions. You'll never know what it cost them to agree to such an offer, by the way."
        "I can guess. Fancy clans like the Avylyns sometimes find Shields useful, but they sure as hell wouldn't want their daughter marrying one. I agree with you. The Avylyns were desperate. But they wouldn't have had the guts to try drugging me and then stealing my kit."
        Sariana winced. "As I said, nothing seemed to be working properly last night. I was afraid you would walk out on us as soon as you regained consciousness. But when I touched that pouch I got the feeling you wouldn't leave the room without it." She glanced at the leather kit on his belt. The prisma in the lock shimmered slightly, reflecting color from every range of the light spectrum. It drew her, made her want to touch the valuable crystal. Sariana had to force herself to look away from it. "I just wanted to make you calm down and negotiate with me. You were behaving very arrogantly, you know."
        His eyes gleamed briefly with a combination of amusement and amazement. "And you weren't?"
        "Definitely not. I was simply trying to forge a business arrangement."
        Gryph's teeth flashed again in a smile that held as much menace as humor. Sariana shifted uneasily beneath that smile. She had never met someone who could convey both threat and amusement simultaneously. It was unsettling. Gryph Chassyn was just one more glaring example of the bizarre twist fate and civilization had taken in this wild land.
        "I think we'll discuss that statement later," Gryph murmured. "Right now we'd better get down to business."
        Sariana eyed him warily. "You really are going to work for us?"
        "For you. I thought I made that clear last night."
        "But it's the Avylyns who want your services," Sariana protested. "I didn't hear them asking last night. All I heard was your voice asking for my help. No mistaking that eastern, upper class accent, lady. It was you."
        "This is ridiculous. What difference does it make whether you work for the Avylyns or for me? The goal is the same." Sariana hid her flash of anger by reaching for the teapot and pouring herself a second cup. She must stay in control, she reminded herself.
        "The goal might be the same, but there will be one hell of a difference at the end of the job when it conies to collecting my fee."
        Sariana's hand trembled and laceleaf tea slopped onto the desk top. Her gaze collided with Gryph's. "What son of game are you playing?" she bit out.
        "I haven't decided yet."

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