Poison Study Page 77

“Unless she was going for a murder-suicide. A quick death instead of waiting in our dungeon to be hanged.”

“Possible,” I said, but I thought it unlikely.

“Valek must agree with you. The treaty discussions are proceeding as if nothing happened.” Janco yawned. “Well, now that you’re coherent again, I’ll get some sleep. It’s another four hours until dawn.” Janco pushed me back down on the bed. “Get some rest. We’ll be back in the morning.”

He studied me, indecision creasing his face. “Ari said you screamed and raved a lot while he took care of you. In fact, he said that if Reyad was alive today, he’d gut the bastard without a moment’s hesitation. I just thought you might want to know.” Janco gave me a brotherly kiss on the forehead and left.

Oh great, I groaned. What else did Ari know? How would I be able to face him in the morning? Well, I thought, nothing I could do about it now. I tried to go back to sleep, but my empty stomach kept growling. All I could think of was food. I examined my hunger, trying to deduce if it was a mental command from Irys like Mogkan had done to me before, but I couldn’t come up with a good reason why she would summon me.

Once I had decided to risk the trip, I strapped on my switchblade and made my way on wobbly legs to the kitchen, where I hoped to sneak in and grab some bread before Rand woke up to start his dough.

Slicing off a chunk of cheese to eat along with my loaf, I was about to leave, when Rand’s door opened.

“Yelena,” he said in surprise.

“Morning, Rand. Just stealing some food.”

“I haven’t seen you in weeks,” he grumped. “Where’ve you been?” He moved toward the ovens. Opening the first black metal door, he stoked the embers of the fire and added more coal.

“I’ve been busy. You know. The Generals. The delegation. The feast. Which, by the way, was magnificent, Rand. You’re a genius.”

He perked up after I appealed to his ego. I resigned myself to the fact that, if I wanted him to think we were still friends, I would have to talk to him. I placed my breakfast on a table and pulled up a stool.

Rand limped toward me. “Someone said you were sick?”

“Yeah. Stomach bug. Haven’t eaten in two days, but I’m better now.” I gestured to the bread.

“Hold off, I’ll make you some sweet cakes.”

I watched him mix the batter, making sure he didn’t slip in a poisonous ingredient. But after the cakes were under my nose, I dug into them with mindless abandon. The familiar scene of Rand making bread while I sat close by dissolved the awkwardness between us. We were soon chatting and laughing.

It wasn’t until his questions turned pointed and specific that I realized Rand was pumping me for information about the Commander and Valek. I clenched my fork, stabbing it hard into my sweet cakes.

“Hear anything about this southern treaty?” Rand asked.

“No.” My tone was harsh, and he looked at me with curiosity. “Sorry, I’m tired. I better get back to bed.”

“Before you go, you might as well take these beans along.” Rand pulled down the glass jar. “I’ve saut?ed, ground, even boiled them, but they still taste unrecognizably terrible.” He poured them into a bag, and went to check on his baking fires.

Watching him stir the glowing coals gave me an idea. “Maybe they’re not to eat,” I said. “Maybe they’re a source of fuel.” The southern pods had been delivered to Brazell’s new factory. Perhaps he was using them to heat his ovens.

“Worth a try,” Rand said.

I threw the beans into the hearth fire. We waited for a while, but there were no sudden flames or increase in temperature. While Rand switched his bread pans, I stared into the embers, thinking that as far as the mystery of the beans was concerned, I was out of options.

When Rand started again with his questions, I turned my eyes away from the oven’s fire. Pressure knotted in my throat. “I’d better get going or Valek will be wondering where I am.”

“Yes, by all means go. I noticed you and Valek have become close. Tell him, for me, not to kill anybody, will you?” Sarcasm rendered Rand’s voice sharp.

I lost control and slammed the oven door shut. It echoed in the quiet kitchen. “At least Valek has the decency to inform me when he’s poisoning me,” I blurted out, but wished I could pull the words from the air and stuff them back into my mouth. Blaming my fatigue, my anger, or Rand for my outburst wouldn’t erase what I had just said.

His facial expressions contorted and vacillated from surprise to guilt to anger. “Did Star tell you?” he demanded.

“Ah…” I was at a loss. If I said yes, he would find out from Star that I was lying, and if I said no, he would insist on knowing my source. Either way, he’d figure it out. I had just revealed Valek’s entire undercover operation.

Fortunately, Rand didn’t wait for me to answer before launching into a tirade. “I should have known she would tell you. She loves to play nasty head games. When you came along, I didn’t want to know you. All I wanted was the heap of gold credit that Star offered to apply to my debt if I spiked Valek’s test.” Rand pounded the table. “Then my damn morals and your damn niceness complicated things. Selling information about you, then having to protect you without looking like I was protecting you made my life hell.”

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” I said. “I guess I should be grateful, poisonings and kidnappings aside.” Sarcasm sharpened my voice.

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