Skin Deep Page 3

“Not one of our smoothest interactions,” Tobias agreed.

Ivy sighed and sat down in Sylvia’s seat. “Better than last time, at least. She lasted . . . what? Half an hour?”

“Twenty minutes,” Tobias said, glancing at the restaurant’s grandfather clock.

“We’re going to need to get over this,” I whispered. “We can’t keep going to pieces every time romance is potentially involved.”

“You didn’t need to say what you did about J.C.,” Ivy said. “You could have made something up. Instead, you told her the truth. The frightening, embarrassing, J.C.-filled truth.”

I picked up my drink. Lemonade in a fancy wine glass. I turned it about. “My life is fake, Ivy. Fake friends. Fake conversations. Often, on Wilson’s day off, I don’t speak to a single real person. I guess I don’t want to start a relationship with lies.”

The three of us sat in silence until J.C. came jogging back, dancing to the side of a real server as they passed one another.

“What?” he asked, glancing at Ivy. “You chased the chick off already?”

I raised my glass to him.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Stephen,” Tobias said, resting his hand on my shoulder. “Sandra is a difficult woman to forget, but the scars will eventually heal.”

“Scars don’t heal, Tobias,” I said. “That’s kind of the definition of the word scar.” I turned my glass around, looking at the light on the ice.

“Yeah, great, whatever,” J.C. said. “Emotions and metaphors and stuff. Look, we’ve got a problem.”

I looked at him.

“The woman we saw earlier?” J.C. said, pointing. “She—” He cut off. The woman’s seat was empty, her meal left half-eaten.

“Time to go?” I asked.

“Yeah,” J.C. said. “Now.”


“Zen Rigby,” J.C. said as we rushed from the restaurant. “Private security—and, in this case, those are fancy words for ‘killer on retainer.’ She has a list of suspected hits as long as your psychological profile, Skinny. No proof. She’s good.”

“Wait,” Ivy said from my other side. “You’re saying that an assassin really did show up at dinner?”

“Apparently,” I replied. J.C. could only know what I did, so if he was saying these things, they were dredged from deep in my memory. I periodically looked over lists of operatives, spies, and professional assassins for missions I did.

“Great,” Ivy said, not looking at J.C. “He’s going to be insufferable to live with now.”

On the way out of the restaurant, at J.C.’s prompting, I looked at the reservation list. That simple glance dumped the information there into my mind, and gave the aspects access to it.

“Carol Westminster,” J.C. said, picking a name off the list. “She’s used that alias before. It was Zen for sure.”

We stopped at the valet stand outside, the rainy evening making cars swish as they drove past on the wet road. The weather dampened the city’s normal pungency—so instead of unwashed hobo, it smelled like recently washed hobo. A man asked for our valet ticket, but I ignored him, texting Wilson to bring our car.

“You said she’s on retainer, J.C.,” I said as I texted. “Whom does she work for?”

“Not sure,” J.C. said. “Last I heard, she was looking for a new home. Zen isn’t one of those ‘hire for a random hit’ assassins. Companies bring her on and keep her long term, use her to clean up messes, fix problems in legally ambiguous ways.”

I knew all of this, deep down, but J.C. had to tell it to me. I’m not crazy, I’m compartmentalized. Unfortunately, my aspects . . . well, they tend to be a little unhinged. Tobias stood to the side, muttering that Stan—the voice he hears sometimes—hadn’t warned him of the rain. Ivy pointedly did not look at the series of small wormholes in the post nearby. Had it always been this bad?

“It could just be a coincidence,” Tobias said to me, shaking his head and turning away from his inspection of the sky. “Assassins go out for dinner like everyone else.”

“I suppose,” J.C. said. “If it is a coincidence, though, I’m gonna be annoyed.”

“Looking forward to shooting someone tonight?” Ivy asked.

“Well, yeah, obviously. But that’s not it. I hate coincidences. Life is much simpler when you can just assume that everyone is trying to kill you.”

Wilson texted back. Old friend called. Wanted to speak with you. He is in car. Okay?

I texted back. Who?

Yol Chay.

I frowned. Yol? Was the assassin his? Fine, I texted.

A few minutes out, Wilson texted to me.

“Yo,” J.C. said, pointing. “Scope it.”

Nearby, Sylvia was getting into a car with a man in a suit. Glen, reporter for the Mag. He shut the door for Sylvia, glanced at me and shrugged, tipping his antiquated fedora before climbing in the other side of the car.

“I knew she had an angle!” Ivy aid. “It was a setup! I’ll bet she was recording the entire date.”

I groaned. The Mag was a tabloid of the worst kind—meaning that it published enough truths mixed with its fabrications that people kind of trusted it. For most of my life I’d avoided mainstream media attention, but recently the papers and news websites had latched on to me.

J.C. shook his head in annoyance, then jogged off to scout the perimeter as we waited for the car.

“I did warn you something was up,” Ivy said, arms folded as we stood beneath the canopy with the valets, rain pattering above.

“I know.”

“You’re normally more suspicious than this. I’m worried that you are developing a blind spot for women.”


“And J.C. is disobeying you again. Coming on his own when you pointedly left him at home? We haven’t ever discussed what happened in Israel.”

“We solved the case. That’s all that happened.”

“J.C. shot your gun, Steve. He—an aspect—shot real people.”

“He moved my arm,” I said. “I did the shooting.”

“That’s a blurring between us that has never happened before.” She met my eyes. “You’re trying to find Sandra again; I think you purposely sabotaged this date to have an excuse to avoid future ones.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies