Things were going well downstairs. The guests were happy, the drinks flowed freely, and the gambling tables in the back room were full. Hundreds of well-dressed idiots fairly begged to be stripped of their worldly goods. Enoch was well pleased. He'd spoken to the high-end patrons, checked that his best lad was indeed recovered from a nasty cold, and tasted the food.
Time for more pleasurable business.
Leaving behind the opulent rooms with the scantily clad young men and their patrons, Enoch climbed the stair to his private chambers on the third floor, undoing his starched cuffs and collar as he went. He was about to commence his second favorite pastime. Bargaining.
Opening the door to his sitting room, Enoch looked about, hoping his evening's dickering partner had not become bored and left.
Oh, the man was still there, a tiny, silver knife flicking over the slender fingers, the lithe body displayed to delicious perfection upon a low settee of plum velvet. Dark hair shot through with brightest silver poured loose over a blood-red blouse, the silver pin at the throat a fine filigree done by a master's hand.
Add to that slim legs in a rich black, soft shoes shining in the firelight, and the man gave a lovely image indeed.
''I hope I did not keep you waiting overlong.'' Enoch smiled, settling himself at a table, studying his guest intently.
A twist of the wrist and the little knife was gone, dark eyes meeting his own. ''Not at all. A man such as yourself leads an exceedingly busy life. Thank you for seeing me.''
Such quick, clever hands. Enoch could not help but wonder what else they were good at. ''So what have you for me?''
''I had the good fortune to come upon some fine, matched gems on my travels and the word is you are the man who might have interested buyers.'' Slick and soft, not musical enough to draw attention, but non-threatening -- this man was well-practiced, well-spoken. Well-watched.
''Indeed. I am always in the market for such things, though unaccustomed to dealing with people to whom I am unintroduced.'' He could play the game equally well, come to that.
''Cormac de Barrie.'' The lad -- for even with the silvered hair, the man was thin and small, cheeks smooth and eyes bright -- stood and bowed deep, hair sliding to brush the wine-colored carpet.
Oh, he did like a man with panache. ''Enoch Fairweather, at your service. How did you come to hear of me?''
He always asked. Enoch liked to know who was talking.
''A sweet, little bird with bright, blue eyes and a lovely plumage whispered it to me. Hopped right onto my bedstead, I swear it.''
''Really.'' Enoch pondered that, grinning at the thought that it was one of his lads that set young Cormac on him. ''I vow; I am amazed you still have aught to sell.''
''Oh, I believe the chick found his tail feathers scorched when he hopped too near the fire and chose to fly off with the treasure he'd been offered.'' Oh, those eyes were wicked.
So was the voice, thick with amusement and something like pride. Enoch liked a confident rogue.
''Very well, lad. Let us see what you have, and we'll dicker.''
With another motion, quick enough the slender fingers seemed to blur, three emeralds appeared, the size and shape of fat robin's eggs, so dark as to be almost black in the pale palm.
Careful not to react on the outside, Enoch took a deep mental breath. The emeralds were lovely, stunning, really. They would make wonderful additions to his collection.
''Well. You have been lucky.''
''I am oft-blessed by the gods of luck. It is a load I gladly bear.'' One gem was held toward the firelight, the pattern of green light dancing upon floor and ceiling. ''They are clear and all pure. A fine lot.''
''They are. May I?'' Enoch took one gem, wanting a closer look. Lovely, with a deep inner fire. They would look well with his eyes, and he was just enough of a dandy for that to matter.
''What sort of price are you looking for, so I can find a buyer?''
''Separately they'd draw two hundred of the king's coin, give or take a ducet. Together they're worth five times that.''
''I'd say three times, since you won't be selling them as family heirlooms, will you?''
He waited, watching closely for the reaction.
''Heirlooms? Surely not. No one would part with something so precious so readily.'' Clear and guileless, those eyes glinted at him.
''Precisely. Which is why you cannot expect fair market value.'' Sitting back, Enoch smiled and folded his hands, waiting once again. How he was enjoying this one.
''Ah, but where else would one find such a trio of stones. One could make a fine prize of them -- jewelry, a fine hilt. The options are immense.''
''Yet, could one display them in society without being set upon by the public guardia?''
''Of course.'' The pointed chin tilted, nose twitching slightly. ''The family who once claimed these are far away and long buried, I was assured.''
He raised a brow, impressed with such candor. ''Very well. I imagine I could get eight hundred.''
Cormac nodded. ''At what terms?''
Since he was buying for himself, he could afford to be generous. Besides, he wanted the lad to come back. Often.
That thin nose twitched again. ''Ten is much easier to calculate.''
Enoch sat, staring, moving not so much as a muscle. When the occasion called for it, he could be as stone.
''I could always take thirty.''
''You could, but thirteen would honor the gods and give you luck.''
Hiding a twitch of his lips, Enoch nodded. ''Indeed. And twenty would expand the luck you have, making them all smile upon you.''
''Fifteen, then, to allow for the need to tithe at the temples.'' Clever little ass.
''Seventeen five, and then we will both have enough to placate them.'' He could not remember the last time he'd enjoyed a bargain so much. Enoch met those sharp, dark eyes, smiling directly into them. With intent.
Again, he got a quick nod, eyes gleaming. ''Seventeen five it is.''
The lad stood, hand offered to him to shake.
Enoch stood as well, taking that slim hand in his, letting his grip linger. ''We have a deal.''
Quick fingers slid across his palm in a bare caress. ''It has been most excellent doing business with you.''
''Oh, I think our business is only beginning.'' He turned his hand, capturing Cormac's. ''At least I hope so.''
The scent of sandalwood and roses wafted up. As he stared down, he caught a glimpse of the barest hint of a blue crescent moon inked into the hollow of Cormac's throat, covered with a flesh-colored powder.
''I find doing business with you quite refreshing, sir.''
''And I find you most... invigorating.''