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Sayan Soul Chapter 2 Part 1 (Adult Content and Language)

Chapter 2 The Lion’s Lady

“Jealousy don’t look pretty on anyone, Cherie. Why do you envy those girls? You don’t know what they did to get what they have, or what they have to do to keep it. But me? I know.”—Raisa

Part 1

Exiting the pawnbroker, Raisa set her purse on her lap and told the driver to take her home. Money would be tight for a while. Too tight. A big deal or two, though, and she’d be back on top of the world. Back at the card table to redeem her reputation.

Damn him, Martin’s win was a one-time thing. Dons didn’t open their arms to newcomers on a whim. Associates were inducted after proving themselves worthy, and Brazelton’s crime bosses preferred men who wielded knives and cudgels to those who strummed guitars. There was no place for an entertainer in Lion’s network, unless that entertainer could be whored or exploited. Martin was a bad investment either way, and Raisa was certain she could get Lion to see it.

When the carriage halted at the manor’s front entrance, Daveed was waiting at the top of the stairs, casually leaning his backside against the marble banister. Raisa sighed and hopped out into the cobblestone drive. “Come to rub it in?” she asked, intent on getting Daveed’s harassment finished quickly.

“Me? No. Rub what in, the loss?” He enjoyed a contented smile. Drab locks fell in spirals, framing his narrow jaw and high cheekbones. “You got your public spectacle, but you weren’t the headline act. Don’t blame me if I saw the show as a comedy.”

“You’re an ass.”

He crossed his arms. “Maybe that simple bastard taking you down a peg makes me feel just a little better. And maybe it’ll make living with you just a little easier.”

Any cross thing she uttered could be thrown back as nothing but soreness. “Do you think he planned it?” she asked, playing instead on Daveed’s suspicious nature. “The bard knew exactly how to talk to Lion, and how to get under my skin. You think he conned us all?”

“More than likely he just walloped you and you’re grasping at straws.”

“You’re probably right.” She ran her fingers through fake blonde hair and repositioned her velvet bodice for maximum effect. “Have you seen Thorne? I sent him a message to meet me today.” Daveed’s rivalry with Thorne wasn’t a secret. Both suffered from too much pride. In their eyes, each exceeded the other’s abilities. Raisa shaped her lips into a pout. “I had a little snoop work that needed doing. Hope I didn’t miss him.” She shrugged and turned.

Daveed caught her arm. “What kind of snoop work?”

“The typical tail and tell. He’ll probably charge me too much, but you know what folks say about him, that he wears the night like a shroud. That he has a knack for staying unseen.”

“How much you payin’?”

“Four Lorraines. But he’ll probably try to gouge me for five.”

“Who’s the mark?”

“Who do you think?” She leveled a stern gaze on him.

“Four to bag that fool and take his winnings?”

“Not to mug him, just to follow him. See if he’s legitimate.”

Daveed guided her up the step and used his left hand to usher her into the manor’s front hall, still being scrubbed clean and aired out after the night’s festivities. “You don’t need to go outside the family if you’re looking to have someone followed. Or investigated.” His youthful voice had a raspy undertone, highlighted when he was eager or excitable. Raisa pretended to think about it while Daveed deepened his investment. “This is Lion’s house, and I’m Lion’s man, and you’re his…lady. If someone’s playing us, I ought to be the one to do something about it.”

Of course he’d think so. For weeks he’d done everything humanly possible to kiss Lion’s ass and stroke his ego. The port authority chaos was coming to a head, and he wanted to represent Lion in the most lucrative transaction of the year. Who wouldn’t? Thorne had been hanging around lately, too. Raisa admired persistence but poor mask-face didn’t see or didn’t care that Daveed had a short fuse and it was about spent. A dangerous position for a young agent overstepping his territory…especially if it was at Shadow’s request.

“Well, I sure would appreciate it, Daveed,” Raisa said, sweetening her voice. “I’d like to learn if Martin is who he says he is. Has a home, people know him. Make sure he isn’t some sort of malcontent or harasser come to do damage to me, or gods forbid, Lion.” The last bit she tacked on just to ensure Daveed would do his best. He wouldn’t care what happened to Raisa after she paid him, but sure as shit he’d care about Lion’s future. “Half now, and half when you tell me something.”

“Fair enough. I’m only following him, though. No rough stuff. I got other jobs to think about. I’m saving myself for those port assholes.”

“Rough stuff? We’re talking about a minstrel. You think he’s the kind to pack a pistol and ruin the fit of his trousers?” Anything to reassure the dolt ready to do her dirty work. “That fool isn’t looking to fight. It might mess up those straight teeth of his.”

If Martin was indeed just a costumed beggar, that’d be true enough. If he was Shadow’s hire, however, he’d be well-watched and wary.

Caught snooping where he didn’t belong, Daveed would quietly disappear and surface in the bay, and Raisa would have her confirmation that Shadow was using the bard as a tool to get to Lion. “Just check out his story. Where does he live and does anyone know him.” She took his hand and deposited two silver coins. “Get it done before the next moon cycle and I’ll give you a twenty-percent bonus.”

Entering the portrait hallway, Raisa concluded she should have explained to Cherie where she was going, and perhaps prepared her for the rumors and their viciousness. Her dark glare said it all.

Cherie charged after Raisa, into her bedroom. “You lost all our money?”

“Of course not,” Raisa said, as any adult would to a child, whether it was the truth or not. “What makes you think that?”

Standing as tall as Raisa, Cherie placed her hands on her narrow hips and scrunched up her face in a sneer. “The household’s all talking about it. Calliope said some new bloke took you bad.” She dug in her pocket and produced Thorne’s sapphire ring. “I suppose you’ll need this back. Don’t see why you didn’t take it to pawn, too, like you took the pearls you promised me.”

Raisa had given Cherie explicit instructions not to wear the ring, and she maintained her caution by sliding the jewel into her vanity drawer, without making skin contact. “I lost a little,” Raisa said, “but the rest I spent.”

“Spent? On a too big ring?” She looked down her nose and sniffed. “It ain’t even pretty.”

“Maybe not, but it’s special.” Raisa pushed the boot under the vanity again. “I’d bet you a handful of silver it’s magical. Some sort of charm or enchantment.”

Cherie’s eyes narrowed. “So it’s valuable?”

“I’m betting so. Doesn’t much matter what it does, Thorne’ll want it back. I can pretty much name my price.”

“So that’s your plan to break even?”

“Maybe. I haven’t decided. Like I said, I spent the money on an investment. I didn’t realize I had to ask your permission before buying us a business to run on our own.”

A pause hung in the air before Cherie started raining questions. “Really? A business? What’s its name? What kind of shop is it? Are we moving into an apartment? Where is it?”

“It’s called The Scarlet Spicehouse,” Raisa whispered, “and you can’t breathe a word of it to anyone. It’s just for us to know about. I mean that, Cherie. I seriously mean it.”

“Spicehouse,” the girl said with a sigh. “It’s going to be amazing!” She flitted her way to a dresser covered with glass bottles and tins. Her braids swayed under her kerchief. “You’ll make your cosmetics and teach me everything about herbs. I’ll tend the greenhouse. Does it have a greenhouse?” She beamed. “No matter. I’ll just…”

“It’s a brothel,” Raisa interrupted. “Isn’t even a nice one, but I’ve got plans for it.”

The disappointment came over Cherie’s sweet face like a winter fog rolling in on the port. Worse than Raisa predicted. Getting the truth out of the way, right away, was better than stalling. “It’s an investment, Cherie, not a life. We live here, at least for the time being.”

“But why buy a bawdy house? We’ve been talking about an apothecary since spring!”

You’ve been talking about it,” Raisa corrected her. “I can’t just buy a business on the right side of the river and thank Lion for supporting me for a decade.” She led Cherie to the window, where a balcony housed dozens of plants in decorative pots. “One day there’ll be a proper garden, my dear. A lovely cottage, and the smell of summer on the wind. But it isn’t today.” She opened her purse, removing a paper-wrapped parcel.

“What’s this?” Cherie asked, taking it.

“A gift for you,” Raisa said. “A promise.”

Cherie turned the parcel over and untied the string binding it. When the paper fell away, she held a porcelain box with yellow roses in delicate relief on the top. She opened it and music chimed.

The melody, Flowers of Vaardnell, took Raisa back to her childhood, to when Aunt Maeve used to hum while making straw dollies. A dreamy afternoon when Raisa and the other girls wore cotton frocks and white bonnets, before the leaves changed and the weather turned. They collected flowers in willow baskets while the mums and grans bundled straw and bound arms on each side, and sewed the little bodies up in triangular dresses. The flowers became necklaces and hair wreaths for the dollies.

Aunt Maeve used to leave a special surprise inside the one she made for Raisa each year. A heart of cattail fluff. Raisa always had her dolly with her through the winter months, in case she was caught outside and needed to use it as intended—to light a fire.

Once, she fell through the ice on a frozen swamp, losing a shoe and soaking her stockings and skirt. By the time the panic had passed, Raisa was out of the reeds and on soppy ground again. She huddled under a rickety old tree, pulling her straw dolly from her satchel, but she couldn’t tear it open to expose the kindling. One look at the crooked smile she’d painted with madder paste, and she clutched the dolly to her chest and ran home with wet clothes sticking.

At home that night, when Raisa tearfully explained the whereabouts of her shoe and why she couldn’t destroy her gift, Aunt Maeve smiled and dried her off with a blanket by the hearth. She didn’t scold. Instead, she drew a hot bath in the wooden washtub, and later tucked a clean and warm Raisa into bed with her straw dolly.

Next morning, next to her bowl of hot oats, Raisa found a leather-wrapped parcel that contained a bundle of cattail and a sheaf of dry grass, and flint and steel.

The following summer, the last Raisa spent with Aunt Maeve, there was a special straw dolly. It didn’t contain a heart of fluff, but a rose hip from her favorite tea rose that climbed the trellis over the front door.

“One day you’ll find place for this, my darling,” Aunt Maeve had said. “Perhaps when you tire of dolls, you’ll lay this one in the ground, and think of me as it grows.”

Outside the balcony window in Raisa’s sanctuary, in the biggest pot she could find in the market, the last white blooms of a trellised tea rose bush faded, readying for winter’s dormancy.

The notes from the music box slowed and then stopped, and Cherie closed the lid, setting it on the bedside table. “It’s beautiful, Miss Raven, but I don’t have anywhere to put it. I haven’t got a room like you, where I can keep things private and safe. All I got is a cot in the servants’ quarters.”

“One day you’ll have a splendid room,” Raisa said, opening her arms to pull Cherie into a warm hug. “Better than this one, Cherie, because this one comes with a price too steep to pay.”

Cherie’s voice was muffled by Raisa’s shoulder. “You keep sayin’ stuff like that, but it looks awful nice to me.”

Raisa sighed and squeezed Cherie extra tight. Of course Cherie didn’t know all the things Raisa had to do to earn her own private room in a don’s house, but surely she could guess some of it. “I bought the shop because if anything goes wrong here, we don’t have anywhere to go.”

“You mean it isn’t going to be a parlor?”

“Not really,” Raisa said, releasing Cherie from the hug, but keeping her hand. “I’ve got friends in the pleasure business. They’re getting on in years and deserve a peaceful retirement. I’m giving them the house, soon as I’ve got money to leave town. They’ll live there in the meantime to keep up appearances while I move things by drips and drabs. All my best stuff. Everything we’ll need to start a new life somewhere far from here…as apothecaries.”

Raisa wasn’t sure whether Cherie was squeezing her hand, or whether she was squeezing Cherie’s. Her eyes were blurry and she blinked back the tears. “I’ve got some plans, my dear, a couple big cons. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need you to just be quiet and patient. If all goes well, we’ll leave in the spring, as soon as the rains stop.”

“What’s the big con?”

“The port authority,” Raisa said, low, not even sure Cherie knew enough about it to try to explain. “But first, I’ve got a sure thing, with Shadow.”
Cherie’s face took on a pained expression, her brows pressed together in sad worry. “I’ve heard he’s a mean one. Calliope says he hit Rhynda. Hit her bad.”

Raisa pulled the drapes over the window, but left them open just enough to retain a view of her little white roses. “If you start worrying for me, you’ll get wrinkles like a Longnight apricot. I won’t let Shadow beat on me, not ever. I know what I’m doing.” Bringing her cheek to rest against Cherie’s, Raisa said, “I’m going to **** him so magnificently, he’ll walk bowlegged the rest of his life. And the best part is, Lion already set it up for me.”

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