The Exiled Queen
the table and into his pocket, his mind working furiously.
    What was she doing there? Cat had been born in the islands, but as long as he’d known her, she’d never strayed far beyond the few blocks that made up Ragmarket. Why would she leave when she had a good gang, good turf, and a good living?
    More important, how could he help her out of the mess she was in? It sure wouldn’t do her any good to land in a Delphian jail.
    He could accuse Boudreaux of cheating, but he’d long ago learned to keep his mouth shut in a tavern unless he knew the clientele. For all he knew, he was surrounded by Boudreaux’s best mates.
    Cat still stared at Han like he’d crawled out of the grave and given her a cold cadaver kiss.
    “C’m over here, girlie,” Han slurred, taking her elbow. “Le’s you and me talk.” Her body went rigid under his hand, but she allowed him to tow her out of earshot of the pock-faced sharp.
    When they were at a safe distance, Han suddenly sobered up.
    “What are you doing here?” he hissed.
    “I could ask you the same question,” she retorted.
    “I asked first.”
    Cat’s face shuttered tight. “I had to leave Ragmarket.”
    “Who’s streetlord, then?” Han asked, stumbling into speech. “What about Velvet?”
    “Velvet’s dead,” Cat said. “They all are—or disappeared. No need for a streetlord in Ragmarket now.” She shivered, her ragged nails picking at her coat. “They came right after you left. Killed everyone. I’m alive because I wasn’t there.”
    “Who came?” Han asked, because it seemed expected, though he already knew.
    “Demons. Like the ones that did the Southies.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes.
    Han’s mouth was dry as dust. “Did they — were they looking for me?”
    “Like I said, I wasn’t there.” Not an answer. “I didn’t know where you’d gone. I thought they’d hushed you too.”
    Bones. He left death behind him even when he went away. No wonder Cat was jittery.
    “I’m real sorry about Velvet,” Han said. “And — everything.”
    She just looked at him, eyes wide, shaking her head no.
    “Come on, girlie!” Boudreaux roared. “You two gonna talk all night or what? I want my money.”
    Han waggled his hand at the sharp to quiet him and leaned in close to Cat. “How much do you owe your friend over there?” he whispered.
    “Why?” Cat demanded with her usual charm. “What business is it of yours?”
    “I don’t got all night,” Han said. “How much?”
    She looked around the room, as if seeking escape from the question. “Twenty-seven girlies and some change,” she said.
    Hanalea’s blood and bones. Han had money, but not enough to pay off her debt and still get to Oden’s Ford. And he didn’t mean to beggar himself paying off a cheating needle point.
    Han tilted his head toward Boudreaux. “He’s cheating, you know.”
    “He is not!” Cat hissed, looking over her shoulder. “I’m cheating him.”
    Han knew not to smile. “Well.” He rubbed his chin. “He’s doing a better job.”
    Cat’s hand crept to the blade at her waist. “The thieving dung-eater. I should’ve known. Well, we’ll see how he looks without his—”
    “No.” Han put his hand on her arm to stay her. “I’ll play for you and win it back.”
    Cat jerked away from him. “Leave off, Cuffs. I don’t want your help. I got into this myself, and I’ll get out of it my own way.”
    “By cutting his throat?” Han shook his head. “In Ragmarket, maybe. You don’t want to get into trouble so far from home.”
    She shook her head. “I don’t want to owe you,” she said.
    Well, that he could understand. “You won’t owe me. I’m the one owes you a blood debt.”
    Again, she shook her head wordlessly, swallowing hard several times.
    “Let me do this,” Han said. “Please.”
    “Anyway, the needle point’s done,” Cat said. “He won’t play. He said so.”
    “He’ll play me,” Han said, pulling out a bulging purse and waving it under

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