I saw through everything in that magical ballroom. Chandeliers cast a warm glow, but I knew which shadows would hide me. The orchestra played a lively reel, but I knew the immense pipe organ in the balcony above could be problematic in an attack. The governor’s palace was lit with elegance as I joined Georgianna, Cynthia, Elizabeth and the other ladies in their chatter.
A heavenly beauty hung in the air, but it wasn’t mine to enjoy. Or so I reminded myself until William cleared his throat behind me. I turned and saw him, tall and handsome in his coattails and cravat. He offered me the next dance, stoic as always.
I smiled and nodded and he led me out to the floor.
We turned toward each other, assuming proper posture as the waltz began.
“If you keep smiling like that,” he whispered, his mouth beside my ear, “I might begin to believe we’re here for a ball and not a mission.”
My eyes narrowed. “We are here for the party.”
He was silent.
“William?” Suspicion bit at me. “What are you not telling me?”
He swallowed hard.
Apprehension rose when he didn’t meet my gaze.
“Other assassins are here,” he said eventually.
“Only as a precaution,” I whispered.
“Kascendra,” he said softly, “I’m giving you as much warning as I can give anyone.”
My heart pounded.
“Leave. As soon as the dance is over, don’t even thank the hosts—just leave.”
My knees buckled, forcing me to clutch his arm for support. I could’ve slapped myself. He couldn’t know how afraid I was.
I hid my fear under a guise of confusion. “Why?”
“You know I can’t answer that.”
“I know your organization would prefer that you didn’t.” I couldn’t help showing distaste. They represented everything I fought.
He sighed. “Please, just do as I ask.”
He twirled me, and when we reentered the closed position, I was strategic about how I rested my arm on his shoulder. I could feel his utility vest under his jacket.
“Who are you taking out?” I asked, softly.
“Just leave before I do it,” he replied. “They’ll check everyone for weapons, and you’re fully armed.”
I rolled my eyes. Of course he could feel the strap for my dagger sheath through my gown and corset. Since he knew I had a dagger, he also knew I had a pistol strapped to my thigh.
The dance ended without another word spoken, but as I left the floor, he caught my hand.
“Kascendra.” His tone was enough to stop me.
I reluctantly met his eyes.
He hesitated. “I’m not expecting this one to end well.”
Now it was clear why he wanted me to leave.
“I have to tell you before it begins…” His voice broke. “I love you.”
I’d always known, but never expected him to admit it. He kept his expression cold—his blue eyes like ice. I was the only one who ever saw behind that mask.
I couldn’t speak. Instead, I brushed his dark hair out of his face and kissed him on the cheek.
We went our separate ways, and I watched his movements as he wove through the crowd, praying he wasn’t planning what I feared. I took note of the six men he conversed with. Of them, he shook hands with only four, and each time he’d reached into his pocket just before. The four men had received instructions, passed in a note during the handshake.
I found Georgianna gossiping near the orchestra.
“Georgie!” I exclaimed, embracing her. “There’s going to be an attack,” I whispered before we separated.
Her face betrayed no surprise as she tactfully excused us both from the conversation. “On the governor?”
“Indeed. Five men are coordinating it.”
She scanned the room, attempting to identify them. “I’ll let the others know.”
There. I had done my part. I hated to cross William, but our line of business was risky, and we’d always known our separate allegiances might lead to something like this.
He’d asked me to leave so he wouldn’t have to fight me, hoping to protect us both. Grateful as I was, duty demanded I stay. While those William worked for would appreciate a dead governor, many more would be hurt by a change in power.
Love and duty—I knew what I had to choose, and I berated myself for letting the other interfere.
I glanced up at the organ and glimpsed motion by the keyboard. Someone was up there, most likely a sniper.
We ladies made eye contact before drawing our daggers. Cynthia and Elizabeth quickly eliminated two of William’s men, hiding the evidence in the hallway to delay the commotion. Georgianna and I tracked the other two men and did the same.
As the only one left, he had to be the sniper.
Someone had to eliminate the threat.
I didn’t want to be the one to confront him, but anyone else would kill him. Maybe, just maybe, I’d have an alternative.
William looked up from his half-assembled rifle as he heard someone approach, cocking the pistol he always carried for emergencies.
I emerged from within the pipes with my own pistol drawn. Disappointment crossed his face and he lowered his weapon slightly. “I told you to leave.”
I didn’t alter my aim. “Duty demands that I stay, no matter what my heart says.”
His cold façade warred with the tender look in his eyes as he raised his weapon again. He, like me, would choose between duty and love.
One of us would pull the trigger—only who?
Shots sounded, echoing throughout the organ’s pipes.
I woke up suddenly, panting from the nightmare. That night had been so close.
We’d both fired into the air, leaving our colleagues to assume one had killed the other, and we’d been on the run ever since.
“Kascendra,” William whispered, reaching for my hand. “Are you all right?”
I took comfort in his strength. “Yes.”